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Tag: Finland 2014

Trail Wallet app review

I have never been a hard-line budget person. I always know what’s in my bank account (and what’s not) and I have a sense of how much things should cost and what is reasonable, so I just try to stick to what seems like a sensible amount to be spending. But ‘sensible’ is nebulous, and given my goals of a travel-based future in combination with my current credit card debt, I figured I should probably make more of an effort to track my spending, particularly while traveling. Being a little more hardcore about it will not only give me a very clear idea of where my money goes, but also of what I end up spending on that I might have avoided had I been better prepared.

There are a handful of travel budget apps out there. I chose to try Trail Wallet after I saw recommendations on a fair few of my usual travel blog haunts. I had also recently started reading the blog of the team from whence it came (Erin and Simon’s Never Ending Voyage) which I think is great. And I love that they built an app for fellow travelers as a source of income for their own life of travel. RESPECT.

Trail Wallet overview screen.

Trail Wallet overview screen.

Trail Wallet’s got a clean interface, and it’s intuitive to the point where I found my way around in about 30 seconds. This was particularly good as I’d forgotten to download it ahead of my trip and ended up hastily sorting it out around midnight after getting to Helsinki. I was tired. It was still easy.

The overview screen is very clear and it’s useful to be able to switch between currencies with a simple tap. I think the ability to see my totals in multiple currencies so often also helps me get a sense of the exchange rates much faster, which is the thing that teaches my brain what are good and bad prices locally without having to calculate back to pounds in my head all the time.

It’s also very fast and simple to add new entries, and you can go in later and add more detail to the notes if you want to. The categories are customisable, including the colours used to code them (attention to detail. NICE TOUCH). You can then look at your spending breakdown by category (nifty pie chart included) or by day. The by day breakdown is where you can get back into individual entries. The only thing I really wish you could also do is get into the same kind of list via the category breakdown. They do say there will be a big update soon so I’m hoping this will be included.

Trail Wallet category breakdown.

Trail Wallet category breakdown.

The other thing I wanted to mention was the budget comments on the overview screen. I didn’t actually set a trip budget for Finland because I just… didn’t. The app displays congratulatory or cautionary comments depending on how far over or under your budget you are. I was spending quite a lot of money but I had no limit set, so when I kept getting things like ‘Hope it was worth it…’ and ‘Over budget. No cookie for you.’ I was laughing, but I was also like, JUDGEY APP IS JUDGING ME. I like the comments, because I like when tech has it’s own personality, but I did find myself being all ‘Shut up, app, I’m not over budget because there is no budget, GEEEEEEZ’. However, maybe pointing out that I was spending a lot was no bad thing. You gotta stay in check in a variety of ways. I guess I just want to know what the default daily budget line is that makes it start telling me to watch my wallet.

This brings me to the way I feel about travel budgeting in general. While I don’t usually properly track things, I am hyperaware of how much money I’m spending all the time. In face, I often over-estimate what I’m spending on a daily basis and then exist in a near constant state of freakout about it. This really can’t be healthy and I wish I could cool it a little. I mean, of course it’s good to control your outgoings and of COURSE it’s good to be aware of your own financials, but life is about living. Sometimes I wish I could forget the money for two seconds and just realise that what I’m spending it on is likely worthwhile, as I decided to spend it on that in the first place and I have good judgement when it comes to my own enjoyment.

Yes, you gotta pay for everything, but I also believe that money is easier to make than memories (think I heard that first on Yes and Yes) and if you don’t go ride a rebellious elephant early in the morning after a big night out in Zambia just because of what it costs, you are probably gonna regret that. I know I would have. $80 is a day or two’s worth of smacking computer keys for me, end even if I had to do a bit more of that to make up for it, riding an elephant is worth so much more to me than the cash I paid for it.

I wish I would have had this app for Africa, because frightening as the final figure probably would be, I really would like to see how much I spent in total on that trip. You can’t put a price on happiness, but sometimes you can see how much getting there costs.

In any case, I am a fan of the Trail Wallet app and I’m looking forward to see what surprises the next big update holds. I think an app built by people who are living the lifestyle of the audience it’s aimed at can only be a good thing. And they seem to take constructive feedback from that audience, so I have a lot of confidence that the work going into improving it is well-aimed.

I have also just now decided that I’m going to use it to track my usual spending for September, and I AM going to set a budget based on what I should be sticking to to help reach my financial goals. I’ve got no travel planned in September so it should hopefully be a good control experiment. I’ll check in with the results at the end of the month.

Finland 2014

Suomenlinna island

Suomenlinna island

Here’s the final rundown of my Finnish adventure. This trip grew out of my trip to Africa. That’s where I met Johanna and Carolina and they were awesome enough to invite me to stay after Carolina told me about how great the Flow Festival was. They truly spoiled me! Finland was absolutely amazing and I hope I can go back, but that’s not surprising given my love of the Nordic countries and culture.

Photos

My full Flickr set for Finland.

Cost

I used the Trail Wallet app for the first time on this trip, which I will review in more detail in another post, but it definitely made it easy to keep track of what I was spending.

Trip total: £651.13

At 9 days, 8 nights, that’s an average of £72.35 per day, which is pretty high, but not outrageous considering the amount of stuff I did and the high cost of everything in the country where I was. I also offset this by renting out my flat for the week for £150 and putting £125 of some freelance income towards the trip.

Breakdown

£207.68 on food and drink. I didn’t actually do as much drinking on this trip as I usually do on holidays, but that’s because alcohol in Scandinavia is notoriously expensive. I was no worse off for it though. I had one night of beer variety which was part of the most expensive day, and the rest of the time I just had one here and there. The food was absolutely amazing all the time. Johanna and Carolina also did a lot of making stuff for me, which was so nice and VERY much appreciated.

£178.60 on transport. Including flights and local transport in Helsinki.

£163.64 on entertainment. Mostly of which was my two-day Flow ticket (£122).

£41.65 on gifts for other people. This was largely things for Carolina’s birthday and some hostess gifts. (I had no accommodation costs on this trip because she very kindly put up with me in her flat for a whole week.) I also got little stuff for my parents and candy to bring to work.

£35.52 on gifts for myself. One wooly reindeer hat and one cushion cover from Marimekko!

£24.04 miscellaneous. In this case it was sunscreen and the trail wallet app.

Posts

Not being early is not the same as being late

A hat for the next ten years

Work in the wilderness

The (unexpected) neverending day

Being a touristy-tourist in Helsinki

Coveting design, eating fish, and havin’ a sauna

Flow Festival 2014

Or: ‘How on earth is the food at a music festival THIS GOOD?!’

Such a brilliant setting for a festival

Suvilahti, such a brilliant setting for a festival.

Seriously. Flow was my first ever real festival experience and I think I’m spoiled now. I saw such amazing music and ate so incredibly well. There was no camping and no one was super drunk or rowdy. People were polite and happy and up for a good time. Maybe this is what an ideal society really looks like. Feed people well and provide excellent music, civilisation of the highest degree will follow.

Add to all this a fantastic location and visual landscape and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty perfect event.

First, the food. THE FOOD! There was a dizzying array of choices, and I was never disappointed. I don’t even think it was particularly overpriced considering the extremely high quality.

And the music! Saturday I saw Bill Callahan, Manic Street Preachers, Little Dragon, The National, and Poliça.

Little Dragon were great and dancey, and I stayed to watch Poliça mostly to experience the Balloon 360 stage which was enhanced by the full moon hanging around behind it.

Little Dragon in the Lumia Blue Tent

Little Dragon

Poliça on the Balloon 360 stage

Poliça on the Balloon 360 stage

Sunday was Tuomo, who’s Finnish and does kind of electro soul. He was one of Carolina’s favourites and I thought he was fantastic. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures.

We took a break before Janelle Monáe, who was just a powerhouse of badassery and awesomeness. The woman is a force and her music is so, so good.

Janelle Monáe on the main stage

Janelle Monáe on the main stage

And the icing on the festival and holiday cake was OutKast, which was pretty much the main initial draw for me. They were super fun. Did all the hits and kept me dancing and yelling for nearly two hours.

Outkast on the main stage

OutKast!

Coveting design, eating fish, and havin’ a sauna

DUNE by Daan Roosegaarde at Designmuseo

DUNE by Daan Roosegaarde at Designmuseo

I’m a big fan of Scandinavian design, so my one museum on this trip was always going to be Designmuseo Helsinki. Wednesday was Carolina’s birthday, so while she prepped her party, I went to wander around the Museum and the Design District in town.

The Designmuseo is perfectly sized for my lack of attention span for museums. The main floor is a permanent installation of the history of Finnish design. Super informative and really well-curated. All the descriptions are in Finnish, Swedish and English, and they manage to do all that without making anything look busy or flooded with text. It’s a really good overview with lots of eye-candy.

There were some design classics I knew were Finnish, but I had no idea Fiskars was! I have few brand loyalties but my Fiskars scissors are THE BEST. I’ve got a pair for paper and a pair for fabric, and they have both stayed with me for ages. When I was buying a multi-tool 10 years ago, I settled on a Gerber because the scissors in it were Fiskars, and to me, that meant the thing would be excellent forever. And thus far, it has been. Anyway, this was pretty exciting to me. I LOVE good design. And the thing is, they’re so good that despite really loving the Fiskars with Moomins on the handles in some of the shops, I totally couldn’t justify buying another pair because the ones I have are still going strong.

But I digress. Back to the museum. The top floor was an exhibition on Ilmari Tapiovaara whose name I didn’t recognise but I DID easily recognise some of the chairs he’d designed. And this man designed a LOT of chairs. He did loads of other things too. I was a big fan of the designs he did for Finnair, which included both the interior and exterior of the planes as well as things like departure lounges. He also did a set of dorm room furniture which was incredibly clever and probably way better than anything I ever had to deal with in college. Most of what was on display included background on how the designs came about and how they were developed, including sketches and photographs. This was endlessly fascinating to me.

The last stop was the basement, where there was an installation called DUNE by Daan Roosegaarde. It’s an interactive piece made up of a bunch of lights and sound that react to your movements. It was in a room almost completely in the dark, and there wasn’t anyone else down there when I arrived, so it took me a while to understand how it worked. But once I realised the lights were coming on and going off depending on how fast I walked by, I started swooping my hands around over them and playing with how the sensors worked. I basically played with a room full of lights for 15 minutes. It was brilliant. And the sounds that it used reminded me a lot of the weird clinky noises the frogs in the delta in Botswana made, which I loved.

A massive plate of Muikku fried in butter in Market Square. SO TASTY. So many fishes.

A massive plate of Muikku fried in butter in Market Square. SO TASTY. So many fishes.

After the museum, I went to the Market Square to get a plate of Muikku for lunch. I’d been told that it was the thing I needed to try. Muikku are just little white fish, but they fry them in butter and give you a huge pile of them. I got mine with potatoes and veg and they give you garlic sauce to dip them in and you just eat them bones and all. They were REALLY good, but I couldn’t nearly finish the whole plate even though I was starving my head off by the time I sat down.

Sufficiently fueled up, I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the shops in the Design District. I went into the big name shops like Marimekko and Artek and had many small internal crises about why I wanted some of these gorgeous things so badly. The furniture in Artek is stunning, simple, and EXPENSIVE. And regardless of the fact that I know it will last forever, I found myself arguing WITH MYSELF about whether or not spending upwards of €3000 on a chair is a justifiable thing. And I think it is, in some cases. But there were so many other things I saw in shops that day, big and small, that if money and space were no object I would snap up in an instant. Part of that is being a sucker for that kind of design, but I feel like the other part of it is something slightly uglier and unnecessary that has more to do with consumer culture and the need to BUY STUFF. Which I’m really trying to get away from. But in the meantime, I can just admire all this stuff and wonder if I’ll ever have a room that contains an Artek chair.

In stark contrast to my day of coveting design, we spent the next day at Johanna’s family’s summer cottage on a lake in southern Finland. When I booked this trip, going to the cottage was the first thing that was discussed, by way of this brilliant song by Ylvis:

We didn’t have spaghetti, but there’s no running water so we filled a bunch of bottles to bring up ourselves. I washed the potatoes for lunch in the lake (which was actually much better than washing them in a sink). And there was indeed a ramshackle collection of cutlery and dishes. But there was also a gorgeous lake, a hammock, a sauna, sunshine, good company, and hours to chill out and do a lot of nothing.

Ideal

This must be at least one of the definitions of paradise.

I went for a swim. I read about the horrendousness of the industrial food chain (I make strange holiday reading choices) just before being served a spread of food so far from industrial production it nearly made me weep with joy. I had a proper Finnish sauna experience, sitting in the heat for a while, going to dive into the lake, lather, rinse, repeat a few times. With a sauna beer on one go-round even. It was such a good day. I could have spent a full week there easily. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay the night because Johanna had to work the next day, but because there were so few distractions, the 8 or so hours we were there felt like ages and ages, in the best possible way.

Back in Helsinki on Friday, I was introduced to the Moomins via YouTube, and then Carolina and I took a bike ride to Arabia, which is the area where a lot of Finish design comes from. I avoided buying more stuff. Narrowly. And then we went to the amusement park Linnanmäki to ride the 64-year-old wooden rollercoaster, which was, of course, fantastic. The rest of the day was pretty low-key, because Saturday and Sunday were going to be full of food and music at Flow Festival, so we were storing up energy for the weekend.

Being a touristy-tourist in Helsinki

View from the rocks on Suomenlinna.

View from the rocks on Suomenlinna.

My first day in Helsinki consisted of a lot of wandering around the city centre, seeing lovely things and dodging the sun. We then got on a ferry to Suomenlinna island (which is part of the regular transport network so included on my two day ticket (!)), had a picnic, and then sat on the rocks and stuck our feet in the Baltic sea and soaked up the sun while eating fresh Finnish raspberries. Then I had beer brewed on the island and went back to Carolina’s apartment and crashed for some happy, happy holiday sleep. It was a damn fine way to start a vacation.

The second day, I decided that the city bus tour Johanna had suggested was a pretty good plan. I’ve never done a bus tour of any city before, so I thought I ought to experience one. This wasn’t the usual hop-on-hop-off city tour either, this was a pricier 2-hour cruise in an air-conditioned coach with commentary in all sorts of languages and the clientele you’d expect on such an offering. I usually like to experience a city on foot and just discover things, and you can’t really do that on any kind of bus, particularly a big fancy one. However, it was hot and we’d spent the previous day walking for quite a while, so it turned out to be a really good way to get an overview of the city while relaxing and not sweating.

I know full well that for a lot of people, this kind of tour is what travel is. It’s the only way some folks will see cities, and then they’ll go back to their hotels and probably pay too much for everything they eat and drink and not catch little details like the carvings in the Pohjola Insurance building or try lots of crazy different Finnish candy from a salmiakki kiosk. And you know, I guess that’s ok. Not everyone sees the world the same way. Not everyone wants to get into the cracks. They’re still seeing a new place and learning about it. And I think it’s worthwhile for me to see the more touristy side of travel sometimes, even if only to better relate to how other people like to get around.

So I enjoyed the tour. It made two stops at two places I really wanted to see (the Sibelius monument and the Temppeliaukion kirkko), and for the rest of the time, it took a nice leisurely drive all over town with pretty varied commentary on not just the buildings and sights, but also the culture and history and social structure of Helsinki and Finland. They covered how healthcare and school works and what sorts of living arrangements people have, and there was a good sprinkle of anecdotal detail, like how Finnish UN troops have even been known to build saunas when posted in the desert because the Finnish LOVE their saunas.

There was also, of course, a bit of marketing for the tour company tossed in. And the English track was read by what sounded like a very polite older British gentleman. They were definitely playing to their core audience. Some of the phrasing and light humour was pretty amusing at times, mostly because I knew I was NOT the type of person it was aimed at.

Overall, it was a nice way to get out of the abnormal Nordic heatwave and do some leisure learning. Carolina came with me and she said even she learned some things she didn’t know about a place she’s lived all her life. And later in the day, after a trip up the Olympic Stadium tower, I did my more usual tour of the beers (and whisky!) of Finland with the help of Johanna and her work friends Maria and Esko, who steered me to all sorts of very good places, nearly got locked in a legendary Finnish rock club, and taught me a useful yet slightly ridiculous Finnish expression to use after an excellent meal. (Stay tuned, I will get it in writing.)

Eating and drinking
Restaurant Suomenlinnan Panimo
Juttutupa
Feltbay Bar
Teerenpeli
Ravintola Ilves
Bryggeri

On the kindle
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The (unexpected) neverending day

Heathrow sunset

Waheyyyy! Bonus post! Because what was supposed to have been an easy 6-7ish hour travel home day has entered its 17th hour, and is now unlikely to end til well past the 20th. At least I’m now finally back on home soil, albeit in London.

But before I go on, I just want to say that one of the few shitty things about travelling alone AND living alone is that when you do experience one of these longest-ever-days of brain killing delays, there is no one at the other end you can call and A: ask if there is any food at all in the house (there’s not), and B: beg to go get you the one thing you really wanna eat when you collapse just inside your doorway.

Wauuuggghhhh.

It has been a Long. Day.

I got up before 5am, got to the airport in Helsinki and went through security only to find my first flight to Oslo had just then been cancelled. So I went back out into the check-in area and joined an unmoving queue, which took an hour to move AT ALL and two more hours for me to get to a ticket agent. And I was in the front 10% of that queue, so god knows what the people at the end were thinking. It was HORRENDOUSLY managed. I will leave it at that though, because I have no energy left for an explanation.

Anyway, I was rebooked through London on a flight leaving at 4.30pm. Mind you, it was then about 9.30am. So, I got well-acquainted with Helsinki airport today. I ate lunch courtesy of my original airline (not bad) and drank a lot of overpriced coffee. I answered emails from my phone. I read a lot on my kindle. I stayed awake. Like a champ. I was actually rebooked on Finnair which hopefully means I’ll now get miles for my flights home as that’s part of my usual alliance, so, silver linings.

Now I’m in London, slightly delayed again, but with not quite enough time to eat proper dinner before I got on the flight. And I was so freakin’ tired I went out through immigration control instead of going straight through flight connections. WELL DONE ME. There was a friendly UKBA dude who helped me out and laughed along with me at my stupidity though, so that was cool. UKBA people aren’t usually so jolly.

I’m really hoping Virgin Little Red serve complimentary booze, because I need a drink now. And a pizza. Which I will likely order from the tram ride home. If I manage to get a tram. If I manage to ever get home. I can’t wait to see Edinburgh now.

A full barrage of Finland posts soon to come.

Work in the wilderness

Feet in the lake.

Even though this is designated as a proper holiday, the day I walked into an amazing summer cottage by this lake in the middle of Finland, I got my first taste of what working on the road will be like.

I got an email and a phone call from a freelance client about a last-minute issue that needed to be solved same-day. I was actually amazed I had enough reception where I was for this stuff to get through, but get through it did, and since it’s MY client rather than the company I’m on official holiday from, of course it’s my responsibility to do what I can, whatever that is. Because I want to be awesome. Because that is how you get hired and paid.

At first I was annoyed, not really at anyone or anything in particular, just that I was shaken back to the money-makin’ real world the very minute I walked into such a relaxing, remote place. However, the world marches on, and I realised that while what I’m working towards involves switching off the 9-5, it does mean I’ll be doing a lot more of this problem-solving down a patchy interweb connection, quite often from places that people usually go to get AWAY from technology and work.

So. As work emergencies go, this wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was cake.

But there were also the all important LIFE/WORK LESSONS here.

One: I should have for seen the possibility of this particular issue before I left and done more to avoid the last-minute scramble it caused. It was no one’s fault, but I could have been more proactive.

Two: PASSWORDS. Remember them. And have an even better filing system for freelance info in general. I needed to sign into a service that I had no info for accessible from my phone. I found a way around it but again, I could have done better for myself with PLANNING.

And three: Readjust my idea of what work is like and where and when it should happen. I want to work less, but that will probably mean working in non-worky places. I took a breath, took my phone down to the dock, stuck my feet in the water and gave myself 15 minutes to focus and solve it. And that’s what I did. And it was much nicer than doing it from any desk.

Then I put my phone down and had the most chilled out day I’ve had in a very long time.

In the hammock on the lake in Finland.

I’m pretty sure this is what is usually referred to as ‘all good’.

A hat for the next ten years

New hat!

New hat!

I have so much to say about Finland already, but this will be a short one because posting from a phone after midnight just isn’t going to deliver quality.

Earlier this year on a tumblr project started by my friend Sara, I briefly described the loss of my beloved sheep hat.

Since then, I’ve been looking for my next signature winter hat. I thought when I went to Gothenburg in December, that surely I would find a suitable Swedish-made wooly hat, preferably involving some kind of antlered creature design. But I found nothing! In winter! In Sweden!

So imagine my delight when today, in the market square of Helsinki, in a 30 degree heat wave, I found a PERFECT wooly, Finnish reindeer hat. Which I bought without even thinking. I love it and I hope it lasts me at least another ten years.

Not being early is not the same as being late

Today was supposed to be my first trip on an Edinburgh Tram. I was TOTALLY looking forward to this. But then I failed to do my normal obsessive planning and checking ahead, and I ended up overheated and slightly harried. And on the Airlink bus.

I will back up.

I have friends of friends staying in my flat while I’m in Finland, and we all went to eat lunch and do some leisurely Sunday afternoon day drinking at Serrano Manchego before I headed off to the airport. I had two glasses of wine and a lot of fancy ham. I was feeling jolly holiday-ish indeed. Then I realised I needed to leave if I did not in fact want to miss my actual jolly holiday altogether.

I had bought my tram tickets the day before on the ever-so-useful mTickets app, but I didn’t check transport updates before I went trekking up the hill to the end of the tram line. Had I done so, I would have taken a bus and ended up on the tram eventually. But herein lies my ‘ALWAYS check’ lesson.

The trams were only running from the west end because of some march on Princes St.

Hell if I was gonna walk all the way to the west end. And I’m too stubborn to get on a bus to the tram FROM THE ACTUAL TRAM STOP. So. Airlink bus.

I should say that I actually love the Airlink. And I’m pretty sure it beat the tram we passed on the west end anyway. Plus free wifi. But I should have checked before I left. LESSON LEARNED.

Because I like being early. It calms me. It gives me time to eat things and have a ‘it’s holiday time’ overpriced airport beverage. It’s what I do. But not today. Today was a get-to-the-airport-as-late-as-comfortably-possible sort of day. Not late, mind you, but to me, that’s usually anxiety time.

I think I handled it well though. And then I handled it well again when, on landing in Stockholm with a fairly tight connection, the plane waited ages just before getting to the gate because the automatic guidance system wasn’t working. They had to wait for a human to guide the plane in. Quite literally 10 extra feet straight on. SAFETY. But what was I gonna do?

I got off the flight with just enough time to go back through passport control and security, trot to the other end of the nearly deserted terminal, make use if my very tiny Swedish vocabulary to buy some chocolate for dinner, and get right back on a plane. Again: not late, but not early.

But you don’t have to be early to get the job done. Sometimes you just gotta make it. And I did. And I’m in Finland!

(And I’ve also just written my first entry on an iPhone. WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE.)

Eating and drinking
Serrano Manchego

On the kindle
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

In the headphones
Smog