28 July 2007

28 July 2007 – Settling in

Part of the challenge of settling in has been finding our way around the local supermarkets particularly when products don’t have labels that you readily recognise. We, primarily Marilyn, have explored the local town centre to establish where most things are. Both of us walked to the mouth of the river at the lake not far from the University Science Park and the town centre. This took us past the main Lutheran Church. The two major denominations here are Lutheran and Orthodox. Both have built large impressive buildings.

Marilyn has been proof reading a local student’s thesis primarily for English grammar issues. She may do this on a regular basis, as for most students here English is not their first language. Errol has done some work on the analysis of his interview data and worked on preparing a seminar to present his work at a local research day.

We were taken to a Brass concert at Lieska about 100km away. This was the beginning of a whole week of brass activities. It is a huge international festival in its 28th year. We had partly expected to hear brass bands but instead it was individual instrument performances mostly of classical pieces. This proved to be enjoyable and of a very high standard. At the reception after the performance, we were introduced to a number of local / national dignitaries.

We are told that the Finnish people pack in all their concerts and festivals into the summer period. During the winter months, they seldom attempt to go out for entertainment.

This trip took us through a beautiful part of the country and we stopped on the return journey (about 10:30pm) to take some photos of one of the many lakes as the sun was setting. There were a number of nice reflections in almost still lakes. When the sun sets, the sky loses its brightness and the locals refer to it as white night. It doesn’t really get dark. There is a long twilight.

We are taking so many photographs each that we are having trouble deciding which to load up on the site. We are also finding that the colours are not as bright as we remember them so obviously we are not getting the camera setting right for this environment. Errol will need to take his SLR camera on future outings.

25 July 2007

25 July 2007 – Establishing a routine

The last two days have been about getting ourselves established here in Joensuu and for Errol getting into the work that he is here to do. Today, he returned to the analysis of his PhD interview data.

With the long twilights, it is difficult judging the best time to go out on photographic expeditions. Tonight, Errol set out at 8 pm and found that the direct sunlight was already vanishing from the river scenes. When is the sun’s strength reduced enough in these regions to really bring out the colours and yet not weak enough to make the photos look cold? As the authors in the Outdoor Photography magazines say, it is necessary to visit places multiple times in order to discern the best time to get those magical pictures. Errol can see that he will be doing that here both in the morning and the evening.

One of the advantages of being here over this period is that we will see things in quite a number of different light settings. This could mean many photographic experiments and opportunities.

23 July 2007

23 July 2007 – Making contact

Errol started the day focussed on the ITiCSE working group paper before we were met and taken to the Science Park where the Department of Computer Science is based. After a tour of the site, we met up with those Errol will be working with and some planning for his time here was completed.

For the evening, we were taken to a lake side house where we had a traditional sauna and swim in the lake. This was between 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm. The lake water was cool but it was a very pleasant evening and the effect of a 100+ degree sauna made for pleasant swimming. This was followed by a meal (three course) and classical guitar recital. We arrived back at our apartment after midnight. The photo was taken at 10:30 pm.

22 July 2007 Joensuu

Well, we have finally reached Joensuu. It is almost 5 hours by (fast) train from Helsinki. We must report that at 8pm we were sitting at an outdoor café eating our evening meal, 3 degrees below the Arctic Circle. Again, we are discovering that Finland in summer is warmer than England in summer. Joensuu appears to be a lovely city, with wide tree-lined streets, many parks, and friendly people. The city is very flat and close to a big lake. Our nice, fairly spacious two-room apartment is very near the centre of the city and not too far from the university.

An email from Amanda told us of flooding around the Travelodge that we stayed in while visiting her. She also said that Heathrow was closed on Friday. It looks like we have managed to avoid the worst of the weather while travelling through the UK and Ireland. Amanda said that there was also flooding around Thatcham but as they are on a slight hill, it didn't impact them other than Phillip negotiating flooded roads to get home after work on Friday.

22 July 2007

21 July 2007 Harbour cruise

The plan for today was to catch the local Espoo ferry. However, we first met with Jenny (Yue) and Tomi, her Finnish husband. They had just returned from a celebration of their marriage in China. They want us to join in a celebration here in Finland while we are here.

We caught the ferry at a wharf that was a very easy walk from Jari and Christina’s. It took us out through the islands to close to the open sea. There are lots of small islands in the Gulf of Finland near Espoo. Espoo, Helsinki, and Vantaa are three cities that form the greater metropolitan area around Helsinki. Many of the islands are lived on or have camping areas. This being summer many people were taking the opportunity to camp on the islands. Jari and Christina assured us that in winter, it is possible to drive out on the ice to the furtherest islands. It was difficult for us to believe that these 20+ degree days could turn to such cold temperatures that the sea would freeze over.

The day finished with Jari cooking a BBQ. We really enjoyed the BBQ’ed fresh salmon and local meat. Over the few days we were with Jari & Christina, they made sure we sampled plenty of Finnish foods and experiences.

21 July 2007

20 July 2007 Science Park

After rising later than intended, we headed off for our day’s journey to the Heureka Science Park via the Central Railway Station where we purchased our tickets to get to Joensuu. After lunch at the park, we went round the exhibits which included a high wire bicycle which both Errol and Jari tried. This was a very interactive science centre, and certainly attracted lots of families.

The day ended with a traditional Finnish sauna at Jari and Christina’s home. The temperature in the sauna reached 80 degrees centigrade, that really cleared the pores of our skin and helped us get a good nights sleep.

20 July 2007

19 July 2007 To Helsinki, Finland

Yesterday, we said goodbye to Amanda. The children were at nursery and Phillip at work so we had said goodbye to them the previous night. We moved out of our room at the Travelodge Westbound on the M4 and moved to the Heathrow Travelodge Eastbound. These Travelodges are on the side of the motorway usually with other services such as petrol and food outlets. In the case of these two, there was a Travelodge on both sides of the motorway. In the case of the one on the M4 near Reading, it was only accessible from the motorway. For what we wanted, this was a little frustrating.

Today, we rose early so we could return the car and be checked in for our flight to Finland via Copenhagen. We were required to check in three hours before the flight so we had breakfast after check in. We arrived in Helsinki at 17:30 and were met by Jari, Christina, and Margit.

We found the long evening light and the fact that we had moved back two time zones meant that we stayed up later than we had intended.

18 July 2007

17 July 2007 Beale Park

Amanda had organised for us to go on an outing with her church playgroup to Beale Park. Not long after arriving it began to rain but this cleared once we entered the park while we were riding on the train. The park was a wildlife park with conservation in mind. There was an Australasian section and of course a number of owls. There was also a big play area which we visited after lunch and then evacuated as the thunder rolled. We just made it to the gift shop as it began to pour. Our day at the park was cut short by the changeable weather.

16 July 2007

15 July 2007 Attempted kite flying

Having brought a Thomas the Tank engine kite for Matthew and a big kite for Errol on Monday, we decided today would be a good time to attempt to fly them. Our choice of location was Greenham Common which is quite close to Thatcham where Amanda lives. Some may remember this as the location of the women’s peace protests in the 1980’s. At that time, it was a military airdrome with an emphasis on nuclear weapons. Now it has gone back to its original use as a common. The local council is endeavouring to encourage wildlife back into the area.

The kite flying wasn’t that successful due to limited wind. Matthew got to hold the kite but Errol picked him up and ran backwards to keep it in the air. With it threatening to rain we made our way back to the cars and our kite flying was over with only Thomas getting a brief flight.

14 July 2007

14 July 2007 Hawk Sanctuary

We had a later start today which was nice. After lunch with the family, we all, except Phillip, went to a hawk sanctuary not too far from Thatcham. There was plenty to see, although the children had difficulty finding some of the smaller birds in their enclosures. The public displays by the hawks, vultures & kites was amazing, one of the best we’ve seen from all the different hawk & owl sanctuaries we’ve visited. There was a good lot of owls for us to see, Marilyn got to hold a barn owl which was worthwhile. There is a wide variety of birds in these groups and this sanctuary had a good selection.

13 July 2007

13 July 2007 London

This was another day for shopping, mostly visiting a number of. bead shops in London. While Marilyn and Amanda selected beads, Errol got to explore some of the surrounding areas. A flight on the London Eye completed the afternoon’s activities ( which had included checking out Westminster Abbey) before meeting a fellow kiwi for our evening meal.

We both felt that the climb to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral at Christmas 2005 was much better than the London Eye even though at the top of the flight, you were higher than St Paul’s. From St Paul’s, you could see the Tower Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, and the Globe theatre. None of these were visible from the London Eye. Instead, we could see the houses of parliament, Westminster Abbey, and St Paul’s Cathedral. OK, there were probably more that we didn’t recognise but they didn’t stand out.

12 July 2007

12 July 2007 Canterbury

This was a journey that Marilyn and Errol completed on their own. We endeavoured to avoid the M25 around London and set out cross country on an A road. With all the small villages and local traffic, we took much longer than we anticipated to make the journey.

In Canterbury, we met up with the two leaders of the working group that Errol was involved with at ITiCSE (Dundee). An exploratory walk around the city centre showed how old Canterbury is. The University of Kent’s graduation ceremonies in the cathedral meant that it was off limits but the city had a lot of charm. A visit to the local beach town completed our time there. The boats in the harbour sitting on the mud showed just how low the tide was.

We set out on our return journey using the motorways. A detour took us to Sheerness and Sittingbourne where Marilyn’s grandfather had grown up.

11 July 2007

11 July 2007 Newbury

This was a quiet day with Matthew and Kathryn in Nursery. Amanda took Errol to her local gym. The gym is on the edge of Newbury race course and has a pleasant outlook. The centre of the race course is a golf course when there are no race meetings. With large windows in the gym looking over the race course, it is a pleasant environment in which to complete a work out.

After lunch, we went into Newbury and did some shopping chores. Marilyn & Amanda both took advantage of the clothing sales!

10 July 2007

8-10 July 2007 Grandchildren and shopping

These two days have been spent with Amanda, Phillip, and the grandchildren. Errol continued to learn how to play games on the Wii. He actually began to win a few games. The Wii seems to be a much better interactive device than the Playstation or XBox. It uses your hand movements rather than relying on the movement of a joystick so it feels closer to playing the real thing. Matthew demonstrated his hand-eye coordination with one game even being able to complete the game while being distracted by his father.

A shopping expedition to Reading primarily to buy Errol a tripod for his photography filled up most of Monday (9 July). Matthew and Kathryn got their first pairs of sunglasses. Kathryn models hers for the camera.

On Tuesday, Errol took Matthew and Kathryn for a ride in the buggy that gets towed along behind Amanda’s bicycle. A short kite flying session with a Thomas the Tank Engine sledge kite was an interlude to the cycling expedition. Marilyn helped Amanda around the house.

07 July 2007

7 July 2007 Catching up with the grandchildren

Jane took us to view the Stourhead gardens before we departed for Thatcham and to spend the next period of time with Amanda, Phillip, and the grandchildren. Stourhead was worth the visit and we could have spent a lot more time taking photos and exploring the place.

When we arrived at Amanda’s, Kathryn came out to greet us and then immediately ran back inside to cuddle up to mummy. After a while she settled down and began to chat to us. Matthew on the other hand wanted to do things with granddad almost immediately. It was late afternoon when we arrived so there wasn’t much time to do things although Phillip introduced Errol to the Wii game console playing tennis and ten pin bowling.

This was the first day that we had no rain at all and it almost felt like summer.

05 July 2007

6 July 2007 Catching up with family and friends

We spent the morning with Joan and Maurice Lee. Maurice is Marilyn’s father’s second cousin. We visit them whenever we are over in England. After going for a walk along the river Exe in the early afternoon with them, we departed for Wincanton where we meet up with one of Errol’s old school friends, Trevor Findley and his wife Jane.

This was a rather quiet day after some of the busy days over the last week.

5 July 2007 The journey to Exeter

We decided that we needed to see something in Wales, but didn’t really have enough time, so we spent the morning at the St Fagans National History Museum. This portrayed the development in Wales from its early history to modern times. In the two and a half hours we were there, we only covered about half of the park. It portrayed a wider range of the history than the Irish park which had missed most of the more recent developments. The area was also possibly larger. There were guides at each exhibit, and one of these said it would take a full day to see everything. In one area there was a working blacksmith and a bakery, so we had fresh scones for morning tea. We were very impressed by these two museums and could see possibilities for something similar at home.

Although the weather was overcast in the morning, it didn’t rain until we were about to leave the Museum. Once on the road to Exeter, it really rained making visibility difficult as we crossed the Severn Bridge into England and headed down the M4 to Exeter. It cleared as we approached Exeter.

04 July 2007

4 July 2007 Over to Wales

Today we left Ireland and crossed to Wales. Before leaving, we visited the Irish National Heritage Park at Wexford. This was a 35 acre park that depicted the early development of Ireland set out for each period during the history, eg Vikings, Normans, Stone Age & Bronze Age. We spent about an hour and a half wandering around it all.

The ferry terminal at Rosslare was protected from the open sea by a sea wall so once the ferry set sail, we were quickly out in open sea. Fishguard was a little better as it was tucked into a small cove. We were surprised at just how open these ports are to the weather. We drove over to Cardiff with a stop in a little village for a pub meal on the way.

03 July 2007

3 July 2007 Dublin to Waterford

Negotiating traffic seemed to be today’s focus. We didn’t go into Dublin but we did attempt to use the ring motorway around the city. Between the road works and the volume of traffic, this proved to be a very slow crawl. A travel guide said a third of Ireland’s population lives in Dublin. The consequence seems to be the same as Auckland even though Dublin in theory has more alternative traffic routes.

It wasn’t just Dublin that we crawled through or round because of the traffic. Gorey had a new bypass open the day after we struggled through the narrow main street in a queue of traffic. It wasn’t helped by those who attempted to park on the double yellows while they rushed into the shops. There were two other small towns where we struggled to pass through. Our destination, Waterford also provide difficult to negotiate.

Irish drivers seem to push into gaps in the traffic and hope that you notice. This makes it hard on the nerves.

To avoid some of the traffic, we took a coastal route and stopped at Brittas Bay for lunch on the beach. Offshore there was a row of wind turbines. Yes, they were in the sea and not on an island. One of the energy companies is promoting themselves as the green option and it seems that these wind turbines off the coast is one of their solutions.

The highlight for the day was doing a factory tour of Waterford Crystal. We watched the glass blowers and sculptors at work. We didn’t buy any crystal as it was too expensive. Some of the creative pieces were very nice. Waterford makes many of the crystal trophies handed out at sporting events.

02 July 2007

2 July 2007 Down to Dublin

Photo: Norman castle

We stared the day by driving up to Carrickfergus, north of Belfast, to look at the amazing Norman castle there. We wandered round the town and harbour too. Then it was driving, again through drizzly rain, down through rolling hills into Eire. We had been told to visit Newgrange with its Neolithic passage tombs (built before the pyramids of Egypt), so found our way there. But it was mid afternoon and the tour buses had got there ahead of us, so we had the prospect of a 2 hour wait before we could join a guided tour through them. Instead we thoroughly viewed the big displays at the information centre there, then continued on our way, with a small detour to make sure we got some good photos (between downpours)of the main tomb. We enjoyed travelling the lesser roads, rather than keeping to the main highways as we went down to Dublin.

Photo: Neolithic passage tomb

01 July 2007

1 July 2007 Family history relived

Today was a time for exploring possible sites where Errol’s grandmother (McAteer) lived and Errol’s great-grand father (Thompson) lived. We started out from Lynne and Allen’s at 10am and headed off toward Portglenone taking in Ahoghill on the way. The Irish ‘marching’ season starts on 12 July so we saw national flags flying and large bonfires being prepared. Near Portglenone in Slievenagh, we went to a farm where Lynne believed the McAteers lived. The current resident didn’t know the history of the area so we couldn’t confirm Lynne’s theory. She had searched the Irish valuation records and had Ordinance maps with us. At the end of the road, we found an old school site with one building that looked like a possible classroom still standing. Could Errol’s grandmother have attended this school?

Photo: Discussing the school site

From there it was on to Dungiven and the area of Banagher to look for the Thompsons. Although Lynne is a McAteer and not a Thompson, she had researched the Thompson material as well. This time, we had success finding six Thompson/Dunne graves at the local Banagher church and then locating the site of Errol’s great-great-grandfather’s farm (William and Sarah Thompson). Some buildings remain, but the house has been converted to a barn. It is on a hillside and they would have had a great view of the surrounding area. Errol was really excited by the find which was confirmed by the very elderly owner. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to talk to his brother who is a local historian.

Photo: A view from the Thompson farm

We also visited Lynne’s mother and her brother Ian and his family on the way back to Belfast, didn’t get back till after 8pm.

You might say the best day so far for Errol on this journey.