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Vintage Bicycling in England

A tad too big for a 2-year-old.
Couple of summers ago we took our kid to a photographer in Loughborough, England (who also is a friend of ours). During that trip I was introduced to this early version of what we now call a bicycle: the Penny-Farthing. The name is inspired from the size difference between old British penny and quarter penny coin, aka Farthing. The bike owner Mike, who is a relative to the abovementioned photographer, let us sit on the saddle for some high-wheeler tourist poses. He also taught me a bit how to scoot with the velocipede, but the actual mounting  seemed so difficult that we agreed I'd try the actual riding the next time. Mike himself had a sovereign command of Penny-Farthing riding. He made it seem so easy that I became determined to visit him again some day and learn to mount that damned vehicular structure.

Luckily we had an opportunity for another visit in less than a year, and this time I asked if I could try the actual ride on the Penny-Farthing. I have to say I admire the people who in their time used the high wheels for their everyday businesses, commuting etc. Penny-Farthing clearly had a mind of its own, and despite my repeated attempts, I managed to ride only few meters before the bicycle decided I should turn right into a ditch almost falling on Mike.

I made a small silent film pastiche video out of the experience. Yes, Ye Olde English used in the narration frames is very much pseudo old.


El Tintero

One of the greatest restaurant and eating experiences I've ever had was in Malaga, Spain. Picture this: A huge, covered seaside area with lots of identical tables with cheap paper linen on them, a big half-open kitchen with displays of various types of fish and seafood and tens of waiters constantly pouring out of the kitchen carrying armloads of delicious smelling cooked servings. And the noise. The noise! In an ordinary crowded restaurant it's obvious there's some background noise, but in El Tintero the cacophony is almost infernal. Not only because of the customers - it's mostly because of the waiters. They're not bringing by order made servings to the tables. They're trying to get rid of the servings they're carrying by shouting the name of the serving to the crowd. And each waiter tries to outshout the next one.

Yes. El Tintero is a strange kind of a food 'auction', where the paying customers have to be quick if they want to get that particular portion the waiter is carrying. Once you raise your hand in a 'bid' towards a waiter who is carrying something you would like, he will bring you a platter. Don't worry: if the next table gourmands hoard all those plates of prawns that man was carrying, there will be more available in no time. The waiters keep coming out of the kitchen with a variety of sea-swimming and bottom-crawling creatures, sardines, swordfish, mussels, cuttlefish, lobster, you name it. Just attract the waiter's attention and pick what you like. Order a pitcher of Spanish beer or bottle of wine along the food. Don't forget to get some salad, and e.g.  papas bravas con alioli. And grab that last platter of sole that waiter's carrying over there!

The restaurant first seems to be like an infernal chaos with hundreds of people making hellish clamour, but it soon starts to appear having its own laws of nature. Everything works here fine, just like it should. Once you get the idea of 'bidding' for the food, a collection of empty plates starts soon piling up on your table, especially if you're not alone.You can't resist picking one more plate of chanquetes as you listen to the guitar player who adds in to the racket by wandering among the waiters and tables singing Andalucian folk songs. When you finally decide it's time to go, you must call for a waiter with a notebook in his hand. He takes a brief glance at the stockpile of empty plates, bowls, pitchers and bottles on your table and quickly calculates the total sum and writes it on your tablecloth!

Visiting El Tintero is indulging oneself in a hedonistic eating spree, where the emphasis is not on the restaurant's fancy setting rather than on having lots of absolutely great food in good company. El Tintero serves all your senses.


Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Railway

Couple of years ago I discovered that my father's long-time dream had been to travel from Finland to Beijing, China by train. I hadn't actually paid much thought to the idea myself, but when I heard of my father's dream, I realised that it's something I definitely have to do too. It's the legendary Trans-Siberian railway after all. My mother didn't even consider going to such an exhausting trip with dad, and my wife told me that while she could imagine doing it at some point in her life, that point is not even close now. So, the logical outcome was that me and dad started planning the trip together.

We made the two-week trip last summer. I wanted to do the whole trip by train starting from my home town. It seemed (and still does!) more elegant than to fly to Moscow and take the train from there. And that's what we did. I wrote a blog in Finnish about the trip, and I guess I'll write more about the trip on this blog later, but meanwhile, here's a video in three parts I whipped up from the photo and video material of the trip.

Part one is mostly about the Russian part of the trip:

Part two, Mongolia:

Conclusion: China.


Car Rental Scam

We once rented a car at Hahn airport in Germany. I had compared cars and prices beforehand in the internet and ended up booking a car from Avis. Problems occurred in Switzerland when we found our car dented at the parking lot of our lodging. It had happened during the night, but the wonderfull staff at the lodging was able to deduce the culprit from the pieces of the turn signal and stoplight covering that was left on the site: It was clearly from a Volvo, and there was only one Volvo in that village, and as it happens, the Volvo owner had been watching the soccer game the previous night at the restaurant.
Our host calls the Volvo man, who, very shamefacedly, arrives and apologizes to us. We still have to do the paperwork that has always to be done when your rental car gets into an accident. We are in a long mountain valley, where the small villages are located in a line next to each other, and nearly not everyone has a police station. However, there happens to be an Avis rental in the next village, just couple of kilometers away. Since our car is still driveable despite the dent, we drive to the Avis office with the Volvo man.

The man at the local Avis is very helpful and we fill in the damage report. He assures we don't even need the police, because the culprit has by a written confession admitted being the guilty part. We double, no, triple checked that we don't need the police, and since the rental company guy himself convinces it's ok, we shook hands and continued the vacation with the dented car. Although, we decide to lower the deductible from € 750 to € 75 by buying a Super Collision Damage Waiver instead of the regular CDW. This time we were lucky we found the guilty part, the next time probably not.

About six months later I get a letter from the German Avis which claims that my credit card has been charged € 750 because the Volvo man has retracted his confession! And because we never called the police Avis can't do but charge the deductible from me! In about a week I received another letter with almost similar information, but in that one there wasn't any reference of retracting the confession. I was furious. That monkey had the nerve to withdraw his confession. Obviously he had finally got the bill and decided to change his mind. And wait a minute, that guy in the local Avis rental, where we did that paper work, he was of course a friend of that scum of a Volvo owner. Of course he convinced us not to contact the police so that his friend wouldn't have to pay.

I called my credit card company (American Express) explaining the situation and indeed there was a € 750 bill coming from Avis, Koblenz, Germany. Amex was most friendly to freeze that part of the bill and they said they will also ask for an explanation from Avis. I used hours to track the people that months ago were somehow involved, and finally, through one employee of the lodging I managed to get the information that the Volvo man had actually never retracted his confession. If anything, he had been wondering why the bill hasn't come. The plot thickens...

Should I have reported this too?
I had emailed  my complaint to Avis since the beginning and kept them updated about my investigations. They never contacted me back. Not when I asked them something, not when I submitted my findings about the Volvo man denying he's retracted his confession. Nothing. Zero. Nada. The only things I got from Avis was the two abovementioned letters in the beginning and of course the € 750 charge in my credit card bill. They also didn't give any kind of clarification to Amex, who, after a while, cancelled the € 750 part from my credit card bill. When the original rental became one year old, Avis lost its right to charge my credit card, and the situation was over.

Now, Avis tried to charge me the deductable by lying about the guilty part. They also gave me false information at the village office by assuring that we don't need the police. They tried to use that against me, even when I had obeyed their direct advice not to contact the authorities. Always contact the police. This is why I will never use Avis again. I know it's a bit unfair, since I understand the Avis offices work with some kind of a franchising principle, and you can't blame everyone if one tries a scam on you. But still...