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Helsinki, Finland

Nice to get a look at Helsinki this weekend. One of the first things we did was go to the Design Museum but it wasn't very good: mostly it was modern art rather than design, and a fairly poorly-executed modern art exhibition at that. Where has the design gone, and why don't they leave the art to the art galleries? Hmm. Much better was at the Kiasma Modern Art Gallery which is a beautiful building with a really good collection of modern art, all kinds of great stuff I could tell you about...

Photo of interior, Kiasma galleryLooking at art

Yesterday we went walking. We stopped off at the Sibelius monument which is a great musical monument - many pipes which resonate in the wind (or if you put your head up one and sing). Then we went walking in the Laakso park which is a nice big chunk of park with some nice rocky/mossy wilderness bits.

It's been difficult to find a moderately-priced meal in Helsinki. The best meal so far is the highly-recommended Lemon Grass Thai restaurant, where some very friendly people served us some lovely tofu dishes. A popular little place (there was a bit of a queue for seats), it was dead nice.

The academic bookstoreToday we spent a long time in the extremely large academic bookstore, browsing all sorts of books. Massive place, so big it has two coffee shops inside.


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Us in Brecon

Last weekend we had a wicked trip to Brecon. The weather was good and we went for a couple of short walks, plus a visit to some extremely postmodern caves nearby (all dolled up with plastic diinosaurs, fake stone circles, petting zoo, etc). Plus of course the usual binning around in the cottage, where Chris's modified-Guess-Who game was the main attraction. Oh and Pete and Chris's breadmaking too.

Here's us at the top of an iron-age fort...

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Madrid

Just coming back from a weekend in Madrid. I had no particular thoughts/plans in advance, but it's a v pleasant city. On our first full day we went wandering around with our hosts (Julia and Mari) and got a good feel for the centre of town, wandered up to the Plaza Mayor and had a beer and some spanish food... I had the spanish equivalent of black pudding which has rice in it, surprisingly enough, and some cumin too, so it tastes a bit Indian. The portions were massive and we've no idea why the Spanish don't all die of heart attacks, they were mostly eating egg and chips.

In Madrid, by the palace

One of the most striking things we saw was in the train station. Pretty unique, you walk into the train station and there's... a rain forest, with full-sized banana trees and birds flying around, and a rock-pool with dozens of turtles, all different sizes. We watched the turtles for ages, seeing them swim around, occasionally dropping into the pool or clambering out onto a rock. Dead impressive to have all this in a train station, no idea how they came up with that idea but it's brilliant.

In Madrid train station - photo by KirstaNotKrista

Another weird bit of wildlife we saw (the day before) was in the Retiro park. Feral cats, that seemed to have taken over one particular little bit of the park. They didn't behave like normal cats - not even like farm-cats - they wandered around a little bit more like "normal" wild or zoo animals. Weird how obviously different they were, although they were physically just like house cats.

On the Monday we went to the Picasso exhibition in the Reina Sofia gallery. It was divided into four parts, representing four different chronological chunks, which was really useful to help us understand the way he developed and went through his different phases. But overall, although we found a couple of pictures we liked specifically, it turns out neither of us is much of a Picasso fan. It was good to be able to see [Guernica](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(painting%29) for real, and that's definitely a good thing to see, especially with the in-development photo sequence and the study sketches which give a real insight into the process of producing it.

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Copenhagen

Copenhagen has been a very nice city to hang around over the past week. One of the nicest things has been cycling around. I hired a bike to get between the different venues I needed to go to and it's been an amazing experience in contrast to cycling in Britain - not only are there big wide dedicated cycling lanes everywhere, but drivers and pedestrians recognise your right to exist! So cycling around is really safe and pleasant. On top of that, the entire city is completely flat so it's no strain.

A Copenhagen view

I cycled out to the wind farm at the edge of the sea once, and on my way back accidentally rode into Christiania, the alternative/hippy/whatever zone which apparently has a kind of independence from the state. I didn't realise where I was and was marvelling at the houses on this particular path, a mixture of brightly-painted shanty-like things and posh-looking eco houses made of wood and glass, just like the eco-friendly houses we explored in Inverness. I would 100% recommend checking Christiania out if you're in Copenhagen (forget the gaudy Tivoli theme park). Apparently some of the hotels recommend tourists not to go there, but locals have told me that it's not a dangerous place or anything and is a very friendly place to visit.

Other things I liked were the modern art in the town's art gallery - the really excellent thing about their gallery is that they support and promote young local artists, so there's all sorts of new stuff in there. The main exhibition was by someone called Sørensen and his stuff was all rubbish, actually, just shock-value stuff that wasn't really shocking. But there's lots of other really cool stuff there.

I also went in 12 Tonar, the Icelandic record shop / record label (nice surprise to find them in Copenhagen!). Their shop was really nice, and they offer you a cup of coffee when you sit down to listen to stuff. I bought a CD by Kira Kira which was good.

In Kongens Nytorv (one of the main squares) there was a dead good open-air design exhibition, full of lots of things. Some of the exhibits were clearly not innovative even though they were pretending to be, but some things were really interesting design-wise, such as a lifesavingly-rapid tourniquet for use by soldiers, and a strange folding bike in which the bike-lock was integrated into the structure of the bike.

Bike with unusual lock design

Near Kongens Nytorv is the Nyhavn (new harbour). We had a recommendation to head down there for food, so we did - but as it turned out, that's really a very touristy area crammed with over-expensive restaurants, and I totally wouldn't recommend that area for finding a nice meal.

Copenhagen is an expensive place (beer is particularly expensive) but as a Londoner I wasn't too shocked by the prices. And after a couple of days of wandering around the town we'd managed to find quite a few good places to eat for a decent price. The number one best food I had in Copenhagen was at Thai Home, which is mainly a takeaway (but with a couple of tables) and nice and busy, and their beef mussaman was absolutely gorgeous. I went back there a few times :)

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Woodland Cottages, near Inverkeithing

For our holiday we found a very promising cottage just over the Forth Bridge from Edinburgh, called "Woodland Cottages" on their website. (For address purposes, the cottage is Dales Farm Cottages - here's a link to the location on Google Maps.)

The cottage itself was really good. One of the nice touches is that the owners make wood furniture, which means that (as well as allowing us access to the small wood out the back) various pieces of furniture and fittings throughout the cottage were individually-crafted wooden items, giving the cottage a sense of character. The welcome from the owners was also very good - aside from the mere fact of letting us in and showing us round, they provided a bowl of fresh fruit and a bottle of wine to get us started, as well as various essentials like teabags and porridge oats.

There was a coal/wood fire which was nice to use, although the weather was quite warm so it wasn't often needed. One thing to note is that the cottage sits on quite a quite well-used B-road, and at the back of the woods is a motorway, so if you're looking for an absolutely tranquil location, this isn't it. But it's very near Inverkeithing, a nice small town to pop into for a pub for the evening or for a fish or haggis supper. And the trains from Inverkeithing to Edinburgh are convenient enough that we used them a lot.

Inverkeithing is the most pleasant small town in the area, judging by our experience, and one of the oldest too. More recently-built towns like Dalgety Bay and Kelty are kind of soulless and don't have much to offer. The walk around Loch Ore is very nice but there's not much point pressing on into Lochore town unless you want to visit the Co-op. But we did have some nice walks and we were blessed with the weather. One of the nicest walks was (after getting the train into Edinburgh) the walk up Arthur's Seat. It's so odd that such a goodly chunk of hill/crag is right in the middle of a capital city. Edinburghians (?) seem to appreciate it too.

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