The IMF, a Washington, US-centric ‘bank’, has handed out its first loan package to Iraq. The IMF may be best known for its help in bailing out the Asian and Pacific Island economies in the mid/late 90s from their economic recession. Thankfully, those economies were fundamentally strong (Indonesia, Thailand, etc) and were able to repay the debt. Many other IMF dependant countries (such as Brazil) have not been so fortunate.
I downloaded the Pre-Release version of Firefox today and I agree with the press, this thing is snazzy. Built in RSS, lots of cool plug ins, super fast browsing and tabs are just the icing. The one feature that has me sold more than any other is “Adblock”, an extension that allows you to block and remove ads from any site based on URLs the ads refer to. I’ve now blocked all Doubleclick ads, Google ads, MSN ads among many others. It’s so fool-proof that in many cases the page content just slides in to the correct place as if the ad was never there. If you use it on Hotmail, it makes using Hotmail exactly identical to if you had paid to get no ads. Even the RedYawning RTE (FreeTextBox) works. Quite an impressive browser, and I’m going to give it a shot to use as my primary web browser and see if it pans out.
Aparently going to Paris to check out the sites listed in The Da Vinci Code is the hotest rage and tourism to Paris is on the up due to it. My sister and her friends were saying sites like Saint Suplice have lines stretching out the building. Then I came across this: AAA Sojours: A Da Vinci Experience in Paris & London. Can you believe it? A whole tour package based on that book. Insane.
On Friday I went and saw Sacre Coeur and Monmartre before meeting my sister at 1PM after her classes. We went and ran some errands, sent off some post cards, chilled at a cafe avec un cafe then ended back up at Cite to move the last of her stuff to her 16th century apartment. My trip to Paris can be easily be described as 4 days of moving suitcases, either mine or hers. In the evening, we went and got Chinese food from this place right across the Seine from Notre Damn then went and tried to get ice cream from Bertillon (which I heard multiple times in Paris that it serves the best ice cream in Paris, perhaps even Europe), but it was closed so we got gelato at Amorino’s on Ile St Louis. After hanging out at Notre Damn, watching people failing to juggle fire and rollerbladers jump poles, we met up with my sister’s friend Alan (sic?) and went to get more gelato from another Amorino’s. Quite the day of good eats. After hanging out a while longer, my sister and I went back to her place, watched some TV then fell asleep so we could wake up to go to the Ganpathi temple in the morning.
Friday 9AM rolls around and we’re on our way to the 18th by way of Gare du Nord to check out little India of Paris. Actually, it’s a bit hard to tell if it’s a little India or more of a little Sri Lanka. Much of the goods in the grocery stores were Sri Lankan. We went to the temple, did our pooja thing, my sister bought some groceries (like Maggi and chewda) and we went back to the Ile. After finishing packing, we made it to Bertillon and I had a framboise ice cream/sorbet thing and my sister had a mint leaf ice cream. By George, those were good. Hands down the ice cream I’ve ever had. After doing a little more shopping on Ile Saint Louis, we jumped on the Metro for Chatlet to change for the RER B, my sister heading for Cite and me for Charles de Gaulle.
After 14 hours of flying, I found myself back in San Francisco. Charles de Gaulle is the worst airport in the world. It’s huge, confusing and poorly labeled, even in French. I ended up circling the place something like 3 times in the damned bus until I got off at the wrong exist and had to walk with my bags to the right terminal for American. Immigration and customs in Dallas was painless, although I was a bit disappointed that my passport didn’t get stamped in either Paris (in and outbound) nor in Dallas. As expected, the Dallas airport was full of hicks and people with American flag tshirts and the like. Gag. I killed time at TGI Friday’s at the airport watching Cops (call it Texas ethnography) and happily ended up back in home-sweet-liberal-San Francisco at 10:30PM. And with a bit of sadness to see it end, so finished my September 04 European trip.
Where did I leave off? Oh, the Jerry Springer Opera. Turned out to be really funny, it was about a bad day in the life of Jerry Springer and involved some really funny songs and an uncessary plot. There were times when I was brought to tears (from laughter, not drama, mind you). That ended Tuesday.
Wednesday, I was off to Paris. To get there, I think I used nearly every form of transportation known to man: the Tube (Picadilly – Kings Cross), the foot (Kings Cross – Saint Pancreas, because of construction), the train (Saint Pancreas – London Luton Airport Parkway), the bus (London Luton Airport Parkway – London Luton Airport), the airplan (London Luton – Paris Charles de Gaulle), and the RER (Charles de Gaulle – Cite Universitare). I’m never flying out to Luton again, it’s so out of the way. Terminal 3 at CDG is pretty junky as well, they have no jetways, it’s all bus and totally designed for low-cost carriers (e.g. easyJet). In any case, Wednesday was good. I met my sister at Cite and we then went over to her new apartment on Quai d’Anjou, which is right on the Sein. The location is amazing. You walk out on the the road and see Notre Damn. In the evening, we went out to a bar with some of her friends from her classes, all of which were nice and cool people. It’s awesome to be able to have a drink with an Austrian, a Spaniard, a German, an American, and a Dutch all at the same time.
I went today to Musee Rodin in the morning and got lost in the afternoon trying to find Sciences Po. After much headache, a totally paining and sore left calf (for some unknown reason) and a lot of walking, I managed to find the place. We bought a comfortor for her new bed, then I went to one of her lectures and fell asleep. After that, we went back to Quai d’Anjou, rested for a bit and then went out with some of her other friends for dinner. After sitting and enjoying a 3 hour Indian meal in the Latin Quarter, we came back to Cite via RER, which happened to break down right before Cite. The conductor got us off the train, and one of the guys who was stranded with us flagged down the next RER B that was coming, and it stopped to let the 15 of us get onboard. Now I’m back in Cite and going to help my sister move her stuff from the dorm to the flat. No pictures to post, since I haven’t had proper access with my own laptop.
I spent all day yesterday in meetings in the MSN office. Got lots of good working done. In the evening, I met my cousin Deepak at Waterloo station and we went out ot his house in the greater London area (can’t remember its name now) and met his parents and my other aunt and uncle. Good to see family as always and dinner was great. Spent today working on catching up on mail and in the afternoon went to the Saatchi Gallery on the Southbank of London. Southbank is interesting, I’ve never really spent any time there. It was incredibly windy, at times I was almost knocked over and more that once I had my entire body swayed by the wind’s force. The gallery was very interesting, it’s dedicated to new artists and had a lot of odd pieces such as: a formladahyde preserved sheep, a room half full of motor oil with a walkway out in to the middle, a self-portrait ‘sculpture’ of an artist made of his own blood in a refridgerator, amonst other things. Pictures are here. For a late lunch, I grabbed my London pub favoriate, a spicy bean burger at a local pub near Leicester Square. I went back to my hotel room and dug myself back in to mail. Tonight Megan and I are going to see the Jerry Springer Opera, a musical comedy that’s got all the rave reviews and is one of the hottest tickets in London right now. Tomorrow I head off to Paris via the incredibly inconvienent Luton.
Estonia, Finland and London. A page later in my passport, I’m in London. Spent the morning walking around beautiful Tallinn as I wrote about yesterday. I met Megan at noon in the Town Square and we did the highlights of Tallinn along with some shopping. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Tallinn is beautiful. Based on what I read, it seems like there’s a lot to be seen in terms of forestry and nature in the rest of Estonia as well. At 3pm, we left Tallinn via ferry and made it back to Helsinki, repacked some of our bags, and then headed over to the Helsinki-Vantaa airport to catch our flight to London. After spending too much time chatting, we almost missed out flight and barely made it to the gate as they were calling “Passsenger Bansod, please make your way to the gate”.
Going through London imigration was a breeze and we ended up taking a taxi (man, oh, man was that expensive) to our hotel (Saint Martin’s Lane, quite snazzy) since my feet had blisters like you wouldn’t belive and Megan had luggage of volume unhead of. After settling in to the hotel, I did some walking around outside since I’m only 2 blocks from Trafalger’s Square and Nelson’s Column. Amazingly enough, this is all so familar these days. I was at that same spot a year ago, and I remembered a bunch of the tube stations and locations (e.g. where Kensington was, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park, etc) from the many times I’ve been to London in the past as the taxi drove us through town. Today is chock full of meetings with the teams at the Microsoft office in town, then I’m meeting Deepak and family afterwards for dinner/etc. My aunt & uncle from Delhi are in town, so it seems like the starts have aligned so I can see a lot of family while I’m here.
Man, typing on these European keyboards is difficult. I made it to Tallinn last night at 930pm. Megan and I spent the morning of Saturday sight seeing through Helsinki the last remaining things that we wanted to see. We split ways at around noon, and I went to Stockmanns and got a book and a copy of Time Magazine (for easy lunch reading). I went over to this place called WineDeli on the Esplande and planted my self with a glass of pinot grigo, a goat chese and olive sandwich and a magazine. After sitting and reading for about an hour, I ran in to Minna and her cousin, so they joined me for a drink before head back out to do their own things. After I had finished reading, I went over and did some shopping to take back home and ended up running in to Minna again on my way to find a park bench to read at. We had already made plans (Megan, Minna and myself) to meet up at 5pm, and it was something like 430 at that point, so we went over to the hotel where we were meeting Megan. Make a long story short, Megan fell sick and had been lying down since we split ways. After some discussion, I decided to make the trip to Tallinn myself and for Megan to meet me in the morning.
So, I took the ferry to Tallinn. I must say, this place is UNBELIVABLE. It is so georgous here, it’s beyond compare. The hotel I am staying in is built in to an old Medevial structure. Tallinn Old Town at night is one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen. The whole city is lit up in beautiful lighting and makes the streets seem even more hallowed. I spent last night just walking the streets, taking pictures, popping in to bars, drinking some local beer and cider, eating some cake for a dinner. It was the most wonderful experience. If anybody is ever in the Nordic region, they must see Tallinn at night. It’s a bit odd being in an old USSR state, it seems that Estonia has had a jaded past in the 20th century. They’re a part of the EU now and have been for the last 4 months. There are buildings here that used to be KGB offices and such. It’s so amazing here, I can keep raving for hours on Tallinn, but I must be off as I’ve only bought 15 minutes on this internet kiosk (for 15 EEK!).
Yesterday Megan, Minna and I spent ~11 hour writing a 30 something page document ‘summarizing’ the findings and recomendations of our work here. We met at 10AM and and hopped from cafe to cafe writing on our three laptops not fininishing till something like 9PM. Now, we’re finally done! Before the write-a-thon, I woke up a bit early and walked around parts of Helsinki, visiting the Russian Church, taking a look around the German Church as well and the part that it was on. It was a nice and relaxing stroll in the morning before a greuling day of writing. Pictures are here.
After finnishing the report, we met up for dinner at a resturant (Koing?) off the Esplande, which had some great food and after a long dinner of talking and laughing, we went off to check out an “ice bar”, which ended up being way tourist trappy. Basically, this bar had taken a room and stuck a huge AC in it chilled it to around 20 F. Once the novelty of the bar wore off, we went over to another bar called “We Got Beef” (as suggesting as the name is, it wasn’t a gay bar) and talked for a while. It was a good way to wind down from an intense week of work.
Today (Friday) is some more sightseeing in Helsinki and then in the evening we say goodbye to Minna and take a ferry over to Tallinn, Estonia to spend a day there until we return tomorrow evening for our flight to London. Let’s see how the Tallinn trip goes. It should prove to be interesting. In any case, I’ll likely not be posting pictures or blogging until Monday (GMT) since I’ll be on the go.
Finished the last of the site visits and write up about half an hour ago. Between Sunday and today (Thursday), we’ve worked something like 80 hours and written something like 50 pages of documentation and reports. All that’s left now is the final write up tomorrow, which promises to be a day full of sitting around and writing, starting at 10 AM and hopefully ending early enough to enjoy what a Finnish Friday is. We’re going to have to generate some 30 – 40 pages of report that sums up this whole week’s work.
We met a ‘young professional’ women in her office today. She runs 3 businesses, which is crazy. Nearly every moment we were with her she was on the phone or the computer. A totally connected woman. The mobile phone and text messaging are such a normal part of Finnish culture. The cell phone has been here for ages, it was practially created by Nokia and has almost entered this position in local culture that it’s a utility in the same way your wallet is.
Not many pictures today, since we spent most of our time in an office and two hours between offices in a Greek resturant working on the report. I just head this a song from this album on MTV2. Sounds interested, it’s now on my Amazon wish-list. Hopefully Saturday will be rainless in Helsinki so I can spent the day sightseeing. Also, if you want a post card from here, leave a comment and I’ll try to send you one.