My Name’s Not Bond

Casino-Royale-BondI really like the new James Bond film. I think what Daniel Craig has done with the role is excellent. I prefer the back-to-basic approach over the movies that relied on gadgets and digital effects. It’s more Jason Bourne and, for me, that can only be a good thing. This, however, isn’t a review as I am certain you can find plenty of decent ones if you Google.

I saw Casino Royale last Saturday. On the way home I mentioned – in passing – that I had always wanted to be a secret agent. I have always assumed that every kid wanted to be a secret agent at some point. Isn’t this is a perfectly normal thing to say? PY, however, couldn’t stop laughing. It was the kind of amusment that was induced as soon as he set eyes on me. His mouth would curl up and his shoulders start that laughter quiver; he had to look away. I was a little dumstruck. I take it for granted that I don’t look like a spy but isn’t that what being undercover is all about?

Sadly, however, I have to agree that I am not very spy-like. For starters I am not sure I could, Bourne-like, blow a house up with a toaster and a rolled up newspaper. I couldn’t leap building cranes with anything approaching a Bond-like skill. The final proof that I couldn’t cut the MI6 mustard is that I’m useless in foreign restaurants.

You may have gathered from Monday’s post that I am in Finland. I am on business but I am not with any colleagues. Sometimes I must eat on my own in a foreign city. I paced Helsinki the other night looking for a restaurant. I had forgotten my book which, as any solo traveller will tell you is the key to eating alone in restaurants. Have a good book and hide behind it. You eat slower that way and can hide from the local’s stares as they wonder why you have no friends and must resort to dining alone.

Had I been a Bond/Bourne spy I would have walked into the finest dining room in the city, ordered drink in fluent Finnish, had the maître d’ find me a decent table and have struck up an interesting conversation before they put the olive on the stick. Whereas I sulked in a corner and tried to not to lose my scarf.

You hear that travel broadens the mind (it’s like an exercise for the brain, apparently) but I don’t agree. I am sure a certain type of travel expands horizons but my kind only serves to expand the waistline (dining alone you comfort eat for a party of five). I’ve done the airport-taxi-hotel-office-taxi-airport run enough times to make almost every European city appear identical. This week’s arrival in Finland reinforced the feeling that I want to be here on holiday but not on business; I want to see something new.

The day was damp and cold when we landed and it was already getting dark at 3.30pm. I had hoped for snow but there wasn’t any so I got taken straight to my hotel. We passed the outdoor ice-hokey game which, I guess, must be everywhere in winter. I wanted to watch but I have no idea how to get to them. I worked in my hotel room. I didn’t sleep on the first night (I never sleep well on the first night in a hotel). I went to meetings. I drank too much coffee (do secret agents rely on caffeine too?).

It is a perfectly normal business trip. Sure, I hear you. Go out, mix with the locals, live a little. That, though, is a little too Bond-like for me. I guess Bond would have had a hidden revolver to get himself out of any local difficulties. I wouldn’t have made it through the airport with one and so, I comfort myself, that I don’t look good in black and, truthfully, Judi Dench scares me a little.

In The Air Again

Travelling again. And, once again I am heading for Oslo.

In The Air AgainPhoto at Flickr: In The Air Again – 29 Aug ’06, 2.37pm BST
I am off travelling again. This morning it was a very early start to get me to Heathrow so that i could make a flight to Oslo. To give myself some extra time because of the sceurity I arrived at 5am – only to find that check-in wasn’t open until 5.20am. Then a nice queue at security and a plane ride to get me here. I am now too exhausted to enjoy the lovely evening. Still, I hope I can get a decen’t night’s sleep so that I will be awake for tomorrow’s meetings!

Helsinki, February 2006

I have to admit that it is colder here than I thought it would be. It was below freezing last week in Oslo but not this cold. I took my gloves off to take a couple of these pictures and the cold became quite painful. I am certain that the locals would have been laughing. Still, the hotel is warm and the restaurant is quite good here so I will have no need to leave this evening.

Helsinki, February 2006 - It's cold here in Helsinki. There are people laughing at the tourist taking pictures. They're not laughing at the picture taking but at the fact that one minute with a hand outside of a glove is painfully cold.Helsinki, February 2006.
I have to admit that it is colder here than I thought it would be. It was below freezing last week in Oslo but not this cold. I took my gloves off to take a couple of these pictures and the cold became quite painful. I am certain that the locals would have been laughing. Still, the hotel is warm and the restaurant is quite good here so I will have no need to leave this evening.

I recall that on a previous occasion that I was here it was also snowing but that was April and it wasn’t like this. It’s interesting to note that many of the Flickr pictures of Helsinki right now are taken inside – can’t say I blame them. But there are some great ones of the snow.

Previously on Helsinki:

The Madness Of Business Travel

image from my hotel window with a view of the stage in the car park next door you can not see the loud musicIt’s taken hours and hours to get to Sardinia. I’m here for a two hour meeting tomorrow morning before I take the plane home. I am in a reasonably nice hotel but right now I really wish it had a pool as it’s so hot. There’s also some kind of concert that is taking place just outside my hotel window – you can see the stage on this picture. They are rehearsing right now and the walls are shaking. I am hoping that it doesn’t go on into the night.

UPDATE: 21 JULY – By the time I got back from the excellent meal with the customer and some other interesting folks the music had stopped.

Memories Of A May Afternoon

It certainly doesn’t seem like twelve months since I was sitting in Helsinki for the first time and listening to an afternoon, outdoor Jazz concert. It wasn’t what I expected of that city at all. And it looks like we may be doing more business in that part of the world over the rest of the year. I hope so.

Helskink Jazz
Sunshine & Jazz

I know y’all won’t care but I’ve said before that the primary reason for the existence of this site is for me and as a kind of diary/journal. The fact it is online is probably the incentive that makes me keep it up. The fact that you occasionally comment makes it feel more worthwhile. Ever since I introduced the ‘on this day’ link against relevant entries on the homepage I’ve found a great memory jogger. I end up re-reading entries from this day last year – or the year before. It certainly doesn’t seem like twelve months since I was sitting in Helsinki for the first time and listening to an afternoon, outdoor Jazz concert. It wasn’t what I expected of that city at all. And it looks like we may be doing more business in that part of the world over the rest of the year. I hope so.

Thursday In Milan

Flying into Milan yesterday I watched as the plane flew over the channel and across the French borders.

view of france from the planeFlying into Milan yesterday I watched as the plane flew over the channel and across the French borders. I have never noticed how beautiful the French countryside is from above, a big patchwork of browns and greens stretching before you. It was a lovely clear sky and thus I could see for miles. It really was a beautiful sight.

milan hotel barArriving in Milan and a 40 minute train ride into the centre of town I made my way to the Windsor Hotel – which was very nice and, despite its name, not very British. I spent most of the evening in the bar with one of the sales guys from our Italian office. Usually, these trips are pretty lonely as I arrive late and am holed up in a hotel room until it’s time to get up and make a meeting, taxi or office. This was nice but I still managed to get to bed at a decent time last night to make this morning’s meeting.

Paying A Quick Visit

Nineteen hours and a visit to one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and I saw modern transportation, dull office blocks and not much else.

So, what was it about Thursday that made me so tired? Well, I spent the day in Milan. You’ll no doubt have been able to tell that I travel for work occasionally. This, however, was an extreme trip. I rose at 4am and took a taxi to Heathrow. Then I boarded an Alitalia flight to Milan where I was met by the people I work with in Italy. In turn, they drove me to an office for a meeting. The meeting lasted until around 3pm when we went for a quick bite in a local cafe (all the Milan restaurants having shut after the lunchtime rush). After an hour in another office block outside the city I took the train back to a different airport to fly back to London. Eventually, after a Heathrow Express, London Underground and South West Trains journey across the city (which took almost as long as the time I was in the air returning from Milan) I walked back through my front door.

Nineteen hours and a visit to one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and I saw modern transportation, dull office blocks and not much else. I tried to capture the spirit of the day in some pictures that I took with the ‘phone camera. They’re not great and the won’t show you any of Milan’s fabulous architecture. They will show you most of what I saw. I promise myself that one day I will spend some decent holiday time in some of these cities.

Coming with me next time?

Dawn Traders

At 5am there was queues at bus stops that must have had ten or more people in some of them. There were many more twenty-four hour shops than I had imagined (why isn’t there one near me?) and plenty of road sweepers and street cleaners – people generally keeping the city going for the rest of us that usually awake later in the morning.

Yesterday, I rose at 4am and took a taxi to London’s Heathrow Airport. This is not an uncommon thing for me to have to do. However, I imagine that I must have been a little more awake than usual as I started to pay attention to a great deal more than normal as I was driven out to the airport.

At 5am London’s streets are far from deserted. In Shrewsbury, one of the places where I grew up, I am pretty certain it would have passed for a busy morning but for London it was quiet. People were walking all around the place. At 5am there was queues at bus stops that must have had ten or more people in some of them. There were many more twenty-four hour shops than I had imagined (why isn’t there one near me?) and plenty of road sweepers and street cleaners – people generally keeping the city going for the rest of us that usually awake later in the morning.

I worked a milk round when I was younger. I am used to people being up and around in the still hours before most people awake. This, however, was different. It was busy and, in places, bustling. It was not remarkable to see a few people in the streets but it was very startling to see so many people around.

When you walk home late at night and the buildings remain lit you imagine that, just like you are about to do, they will soon be settled in a dark sleep. Yet, as we sped through West London, I was struck by the number of buildings that contained offices or shops with all their lights blazing. Many of these were shut but were fully lit as though some invisible nocturnal customers were going about their shopping. Offices were lit as though an army of night-time workers were sat, invisibly, at terminals turning the wheels of trade. When you walk home late at night this seems normal yet, in the early hours of the morning before dawn, it seems eerie.

Most unusually there was a market stall selling, I think, fruit and vegetables. It was open and lit on one of the main roads heading westwards. I can not imagine there was sufficient trade but the stall was stocked, well lit and ready for the odd customer that would pass. Who is the strange stall-holder who works the dark hours sat by the street waiting for customers to buy his fruits? Shouldn’t he have been at New Covent Garden collecting his goods at that time, not sat on a cold A-road with no passing trade?

Then there was the man who pastes the new advertising billboards. At 5.15am he was on top of his ladder with a bucket of sticky stuff gluing a new poster for the morning commuters to see on their way into the City. I had always imagined these were changed in the mid-afternoon not in the middle of the night. It must have been far too cold to be doing that job.

There is a whole world that I am not familiar with. It’s really quite strange to come face-to-face with a city you do not recognise.

Thoughts on Helsinki

There are six things that I learnt on this trip to Helsinki. Well, six that I want to note right here. And Robbie Williams is one of them!

Thoughts on an November in Helsinki:

  • They recycle everywhere
  • The people are gorgeous
  • It’s not as cold as you would have expected
  • I missed the snow – it was a couple of weeks ago
  • I’ve just had the best pasta meal I’ve had outside of Italy
  • And Robbie Williams in appearing in town. You hear his name “Robbbbbbbbeeeeeeeee” everywhere

Snap Out Of It

I’m not sure what rot has set in but it’s about time I got out of it. In a bizarre way, a freshly ironed pair of trousers made my morning all the better today. I can’t explain that one and I am not going to try.

Yet again, I have been in Helsinki (see May or August) and yet again I did not get to see very much of it. This time, however, it is all my own fault as I did have a couple of spare hours after the meeting and I filled them by wandering around the shops rather than doing something useful.

In fact, this has been the theme for my life for the past week or so. I haven’t found the enthusiasm to do very much at all and given it was my birthday at the end of last week, this seems very sad.

I’m not sure what rot has set in but it’s about time I got out of it. In a bizarre way, a freshly ironed pair of trousers made my morning all the better today. I can’t explain that one and I am not going to try.

What have I missed out on while away? I don’t know what has happened this week in the Hutton Inquiry (which is I have been following with some interest). However, on a related note, Lord King was a guest on the BBC’s Hardtalk programme (shown on BBC World) on Tuesday and he provided an interesting insight into the politician/intelligence relationship.

On a lighter note, I have missed the start of The Salon (which is not bad thing) and Jase introduced us to the concept of Washboard Envy!

Helsinki Re-Visited

I am not exactly sure of the time at the moment for I am in Helsinki and my clock is yet to adjust. I am back in a city that I had promised to re-visit but I still am here on business with no time to see anything.

I am not exactly sure of the time at the moment for I am in Helsinki and my clock is yet to adjust. I am back in a city that I had promised to re-visit but I still am here on business with no time to see anything.

It was a pleasant journey indeed. I have never before been on a flight that had an all-male cabin crew. Despite what the Captain called “a bit of an incident” on a runway at Heathrow (no idea what) we managed to arrive in time.

Hopefully, I have packed all that I need to have – I tried to be organised last night but I failed. I did remember to call Barclaycard and tell them I was heading out of the country. They have started requesting that you tell them when you will be away so that they know the charges appearing on your account are not fraudulent. I think I should applaud that move but it’s a pain to remember to call. If you don’t you run the risk of the card not working upon arrival. I suspect I should be grateful but, instead, I remain paranoid that the card will not work and leave me stranded in some foreign hotel with no way of paying them.

Views of Florence

I’ve spent just a little over 24 hours in Florence. Most of the time I had a meeting and was working, but for the final hour of daylight I managed to walk around a little bit. The biggest surprise of all was how cold it was. There was a very chill wind and I could have used several more layers of clothing.

I’ve spent just a little over 24 hours in Florence. Most of the time I had a meeting and was working, but for the final hour of daylight I managed to walk around a little bit. The biggest surprise of all was how cold it was. There was a very chill wind and I could have used several more layers of clothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t get to see any of the art of Leonardo da Vinci (his apprenticeship was in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence in 1466) but I did get to see Duomo – designed by Arnolfo di Cambio at the end of the 13th century – and Ponte Vecchio (still standing from 1345).

It’s a old city with narrow streets and plenty of squares. The best way to get around seems to be on foot – or in typical Italian style on some kind of moped. Of course I had to take the final picture. What are they up?