Tag Archives: travel

Turkey and burritos

On the weekend of the 23rd, we had an early Thanksgiving with John’s parents, George and Kathryn. I had made two practice pumpkin pies with the Halloween jack-o-lantern and although the third attempt was with canned pumpkin I was pretty pleased with the results. John’s turkey was very good indeed, and John got to open some early birthday presents, so a good time was hopefully had by all.

On Thanksgiving itself we were on a flight to San Francisco. We lucked out and had a row to ourselves, we watched the first ten minutes of Hustle, which was disappointing, How to Train Your Dragon 3, which was okay, and The Lego Movie 2 with I enjoyed more than expected. I then watched the first half or so of Ma, which felt like a lost opportunity.

9pm on Thanksgiving is not the best time to find dinner, but luckily Taraval had several options. We had a truly reviving hot and sour soup, plus a substantial set menu at 8 Immortals, and then walked to Palle’s for good company, cat cuddles, and sleep.

Over the next week we did a bit of shopping to take advantage of the sales, some minimal touristing, but mainly tried to fit in as many visits with friends as possible; we started Friday in Berkeley and then headed down to San Jose for a few days with Bryan and Mette and their adorable new kittens Heyes and Curry. The weather was truly terrible but we did manage a trip into town for Christmas in the Park.

Monday was back up to the city for lunch with Garcia at Super Duper burger followed by beer and pizza in the evening with Jade, Erik, and Joe Price at Cellarmaker in the Mission. Tuesday was John’s actual birthday so we got chicken and waffles at Lois the Pie Queen in Oakland, with key lime pie for dessert. We walked over to Emeryville for a bit of shopping and to see Knives Out, which was really great. And for dinner we met up with Anthony for more pizza and beer at Drake’s in Oakland. We ended with ice cream at the Humphrey Slocum stand outside, and barring Deb’s absence due to work it was pretty much the perfect evening.

Wednesday was our quiet day, so we stayed in the Sunset. Still, that involved breakfast at the Tennessee Grill, a long walk to collect my Xmas present from John, followed by coffee at The Beanery on 9th and Irving, a long walk back to Parkside with a stop at The Sunset Reservoir Brewery which had a lovely cucumber Gose, and we tasted a really nice chilli liqueur. The quiet day ended with burritos from EBX and a rewatching of Hot Fuzz.

Thursday we spent the morning running separate errands, I stopped by Borderlands, which is still looking great, then headed to the Haight to see Steve. We had beers, comfort food at Orphan Andy’s, more beer at Noc Noc’s, and watched the Harry Styles episode of SNL. Then Joe Price picked us up a traditional nightime drive through the Bay’s beauty spots.

On the drive back along Park Presidio we had noticed a big stately white building. I looked it up and it turns out it’s the home of the Internet Archive, at they do tours on the first Friday of each month. So on Friday that was our first bit of proper touristing, it was pretty neat and inspiring. For the evening we went south for excellent Spanish food with Leigh Anne and Leo at Iberia in Belmont, followed by cat play time with their lovely, fluffy new kitten.

And then it was my last day, we had a big breakfast at the grill, quality cat time with Harold, then suffered a replacement bus due to flooding in the West Portal tunnel in order to hit Ghirardelli for a decadent ice cream lunch. Santacon stragglers, holiday lights, and shopping crowds made me feel nostalgic and it was a nice way to end my trip.

Treats, mostly

Hot damn, it’s almost Halloween! (Guess who forgot to post her draft!?)

Inktober got rudely shoved aside so I could get art ready for World Fantasy. John helpfully worked around me as I buckled down and spent most of the month working on that, and I’m reasonably happy with the results. Next up is Novacon, which I’ll do regular 2D pieces for, as much for the variety as for the feeling that November isn’t really folding fan season.

We managed to get some fun in before and after I disappeared into all-fans-all-the-time; firstly we went up to Bristol to visit John’s friend Tony for the weekend. It was a nice weekend, a bit rainy but not too bad, and we played some boardgames in between exploring the city. We started off strong with a  burger at Three Brothers Burgers and a wander through the market, then went up to the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, which has my second favourite version of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, by Frank Dicksee. There is a bunch of other cool stuff there, ranging from local history (lots of lovely glass) to an Ai Wei Wei piece. On the Sunday we had breakfast at a place called Boston Tea Party, which for some reason really reminded me of the places I used to get breakfast back in the nineties in Lower Haight. We did some more wandering and saw the statue to Cary Grant, a Banksy, and the waterfront.

The next two weeks are a fugue of course, but then I packed up the box to ship off and I was free! And just in time too, because it was Tobes visit weekend. His plane was delayed, but finally arrived late morning. We fed him some espresso and then started an epic beer crawl through Southampton. We aimed for Unity to start but it was raining and there are two pubs on the way, so we stopped at the South Western and the Junction Inn before braving the walk along the river to get to Unity. The last bit was a bit muddy but we managed it and rewarded ourselves with pork bao buns from the Demaine Artisan food truck outside, plus of course beer. Out next stop was across the Itchen for a half pint at Paddle and Peel, followed by one last drink at the Butcher’s Hook before going home to dry our socks, have a coffee, and catch the train to Woolston where we crammed into Olaf’s Tun and ordered pizzas from Spitfire up the street.  

All of which was a prelude to the Woolston Craft Beer Festival! We didn’t know what to expect, Woolston is not large and it was in the local hall. But it was well supplied and busy, and we had a lovely few hours happily trying out beers, plus Bark and Brisket were there serving food so we had a late dinner of pork baps.

After Worldcon

After Worldcon we’d booked a late flight, so we’d be able to relax and play tourist. We had optimistically gotten 10:30am tickets for the Book of Kells, thinking that would give us time for a little lie in and breakfast. Of course, we had stayed late at the Dead Dog, so we still had to pack, check out of the AirBnB, and find a place to store out luggage! We managed by choosing to consider donuts as out breakfast while walking over to Trinity College.

We’d been warned that The Book of Kells exhibit would be crowded, and it was. The layout cleverly funnels the crowd so that you get a good overview of the history and the art form before you get to the actual book. The best item by far though is a medieval poem about Pangur Bán the cat, I dearly wanted a copy but the gift shop sadly had none. The Book itself is displayed in two volumes (the original tome having been rebound into four volumes) one open to text and the other to illuminations. 

After the room with the book you are funnelled up some stairs, where there hangs a beautiful linen set by Greg Whelan.

And then you enter the Long Room, which is the Platonic ideal of library basically, famously not the inspiration for the Jedi Library according to Lucasfilm’s lawyers. It smelled exactly like a room full of ancient and important books should smell, and it even full of people it was wonderful. It must be practically a religious experience to be in there when it’s empty.

It was starting to drizzle when we got out, and we were starving, so we walked back for one last meal at Dollard’s. Even sober the pizza was great, and I got to try Pomegrante San Pellegrino which I hadn’t seen before. We then made our way to Christ Church Cathedral, mostly because it was nearby. We booked a tour, which allows you to go up the bell tower and ring the bell! The tour guide was a character and had a smooth patter peppered with atrocious puns, so it was worth it anyway, but I highly recommend ringing a church bell if you ever get a chance. The tour ended in the crypt, which is huge and contains the gift shop as well as some treasures, plus a display of costumes from The Tudors. The tour guide endeared himself to me by pointing out the costume worn by Peter O’Toole by declaring him the greatest actor Ireland ever produced. Damn straight tour guide, damn straight.

We stepped back out into rain, which typical of the time we were there looked torrential but was actually not too bad once you were under it. We’d arranged to meet up with Liz, whose flight was also in the evening and whose suitcase was stored at the same place. She was there getting her stuff when we walked in and we got to hang out on the ride to the airport and for a little while in the food court before it was time for her to head over to the other terminal.

The convention was now truly over, but we did manage to squeeze a hot chocolate as one final treat before leaving Dublin.

Worldcon 2019 in Dublin

Waking at the crack of dawn got us into Dublin city centre by nine-thirty am on Wednesday August 14th. Too early to check into our AirBnB but a fine time for a hearty breakfast at The Bakehouse, right by the Ha’penny Bridge, and a wander through Temple Bar with a quick stop at Forbidden Planet and a look in at Gamers World. At eleven we collected the keys and dragged our suitcases up three flights of stairs. It was bracing, and even less fun at the tipsy end a long con day, but otherwise the place was fine – roughly a half hour walk to the Convention Centre Dublin, or a fifteen minute tram ride on the LUAS red line.

It was too early to get much done convention-wise, so we unpacked, had a lovely ninety minute nap, popped over to Tesco for coffee, milk, and emergency snacks, and finally headed over to the CCD to get out badges. We had the first of many donuts along the way, ridiculously rich confections from Rolling Donut, which basically substituted for lunch. We got our badges, and John also got snazzy Hugo Finalist (and guest) ribbons. The CCD foyer has benches along the sides which were a perfect vantage point to sit a minute and let the world come to you. Which we did, and the world did, in the form of multiple Bay Area folks including Chris Garcia and Vanessa Applegate, and the inimitable Chuck Serface.

Before we knew it it was 6:00 p.m., time for the Martin Hoare Memorial Pub Crawl. The first stop was a nearby pub called the Brew Dock, conveniently located and offering members a 10% discount. It was wall to wall fen when we got there. Despite the crowding we got to chat to Tobes for a bit, and Nelly Petrov, and at 19:15 we raised a glass to Martin’s memory. After a couple of drinks there we met up with Christopher J. Garcia and Vanessa Applegate and popped over to Temple Bar for an Indian meal at Sitar, followed by one last pint at the first not too tacky looking bar we could find on the way back. Then John and I got a relatively sensible early bed, a feat that would not be repeated.

Thursday as the first day of the con proper. We had a comparatively healthy breakfast at Panem, with spinach and everything! John ran off to do a panel while I walked the extra fifteen minutes to Warehouse One in Point Square, home of the Art Show. When I got there I was a little taken aback, the Odeon building was pretty much entirely, and there was almost no signage so itt was difficult to figure out if you were even in the right place. I was pretty bummed about it at the time, but on subsequent visits it became obvious that there was a fair amount of traffic after all. Nowhere close to the crowds at the CCD but there were folks going to panels and queues to register for various bits of programming, so it wasn’t quite the wasteland I had feared. Still, this year had no Artist GOH (three Featured Artists, to be fair), no art show booklet, no docent tours, and even now there isn’t a list of participating artists on the website. The art show staff were fantastic and ran one of the smoothest art shows I’ve participated in, they had good equipment and lighting, and the art on display was wonderful – but as a segment of overall programming it felt second tier this year.

After I finished hanging my fans, John joined me for a walk through of the excellent art on display this year. I bid on a Sara Felix piece but didn’t win, and we gazed wistfully at many other beautiful things. I should have taken notes at the time, since I can’t remember the names to go with many of the wonderful pieces I saw, hopefully once the convention posts the list of artists on their website I will be able to find them again. A few of the stand outs included two beautiful hand painted shawls, Didier Cottier’s cyberpunk mixed media pieces, the aforementioned Sara Felix, and Sana Takeda‘s prints.

Besides the art show and print shop, Warehouse One was also housed several cool displays and craft items. There were half a dozen large scale lego constructions, including a massive Star Wars one by James Shields, a Community Drawing Wall, and a wall of art by Irish artist, including some Steve Dillon comic pages and Ian Clark’s wonderful Dublin 2019 artworks. There was programming in the Odean movie theatre screen rooms, and next door at the Gibson hotel, and some of it looked quite good. But ultimately when deciding what to see I factored in the walk there and back, and unless there were two items one after another there just didn’t seem worth it – by the end I attended no programming at Point Square excepting the art show and artist reception. In retrospect the 7-day LUAS transit pass would have been a good idea, but we didn’t see that option in time.

Opening ceremonies was in the main CCD auditorium, and therefore a wristband event which we didn’t have the time/energy to queue for. Instead I popped into town, nominally to look for shoes for Hugo night. I did regret that a bit when we learned that Alice Lawson received a well deserved Big Heart award, while Bradford Lyau taking the Sam Moskowitz Archive Award, but I had a nice time wandering Temple Bar and beyond; vintage clothing, boutiques, murals and street art, and eventually resting my feet with a cheese toastie. When I got back John was stuck in the Mark Protection Committee meeting, poor thing, so I had a wander around the CCD to see what was what. I found the Fan Lounge, which was frankly less an lounge and more a handful of tables, and eventually ended up in the social heart of the con; Martin’s Bar. I found part of Team Journey Planet there, and had a nice chat with Vanessa about art and iPads until my next panel attempt. Martin’s was also where the flyer and freebie table was located as well, which I understand but probably should have been duplicated in the Dealer’s area where the fan tables where since I suspect a lot of the membership never thought to go to the bar.

Line management at this juncture was a bit chaotic, panels quickly filling up and no obvious queueing order, things were a bit shouty and stressful. Happily, the convention took note and by the next day there was a system in place, including volunteers supporting the CCD staff, people with clipboards of the programme grid for the day proactively directing folks, and taped out sections on the floor marking the queue for each room. There was also a Line Management Cyborg deployed to the Liffey Level, who quite rightly received a Hero of the Con award. The newsletter did a pretty good job with updates, tips, and relevant information.

For dinner we met up with Tobes and headed to Temple Bar to for a tasty burger at Bunsen, bookended with pints at Porterhouse and Underdog respectively. Then it was back to the CCD to check out the parties. The party floor was in the Wicklow floor panel rooms, and were somewhere between your traditional Worldcon party held in a hotel room and the London model of shared convention space. Separate rooms helped them feel distinct, but the rules of the venue meant limited drinks available and no decor permitted on the walls. Mostly they managed pretty well within these constraints, and it had the general vibe of a party floor to me. The Japan party was full most of the evening, and we investigated China and Nice, but spent most of the night in the DC in 2021 bid party room, which had red ale and stout and good conversation.

Friday we had breakfast at Dollards, a deli/restraurant/late night pizza joint which in retrospect may have been the best thing we found on our visit. Both of us went to the ten am (whhhyyy?) panel Apollo at 50, which had astronaut Jeanette Epps, Mary Robinette Kowal, Geoffrey A. Landis, and David Stephenson and was pretty good. At noon I went to 2019 in Film which veered almost immediately into a general discussion of dystopia, so I cut my losses. For lunch I went over to the Broadway New York Eatery, which should have been terrible based on the name/theme but was a pretty solid Italian American style diner experience, and quite reasonable to boot. Meatball sandwhich. I joined John for the last bit of a panel about tie in novels, which seemed enjoyable.

The artist reception was on at 17:30 in Warehouse Two, beside the art show. I guess it was sensible not to be around the art (though galleries manage) but I missed being able to wander the show and chat with folks about it while sipping wine. Still we had a nice chat with Meg Frank, Jo, wine and popcorn, fancy nuts. Ran into Sean and Tempest, whom we only saw for a brief second over the course of the weekend, Worldcons are funny that way. For dinner we joined Anna, Hogg, Emily, and Andrew for a meal at a place called Captain America’s. It’s an odd place, the decor is about 10% Captain America and 90% music memorabilia, the highlight of the latter being a plaque outside declaring that Chris De Burgh played piano there after leaving college. Friday’s parties were DC, Nice, Japan, and China, along with a private party at the end of the hall a book launch, I think. DC had more beer, and China had sweets and shiny panda pins, Japan was was packed and we didn’t actually make it inside.

Saturday’s first panel was at 11am, still too early, but doable. Titled Artemis: Apollo’s Big Sister, it started pretty general but got interesting in the second half as things got more specific about the plan to get humans back on the moon in 2024, and use that to go on to Mars. There was a lot of overlap with the previous day’s Apollo panel. Afterwards John went off to his panels and I found myself accidentally adjacent to some Journey Planet plotting, which I barely escaped with my wits intact. I queued for Masquerade wristbands, then found John for a quick lunch at BNYE before the Fan Funds Auction, which I was late to. It did well this year, with some nice bits of fannish ephemera going for tidy sums. I got outbid on some Star Wars swag for John, but snagged him a Lucasfilm baseball cap.

The Masquerade started on time and ran smoothly, with Ric Bretschneider serving as MC. The overall quality of the entries was very good. Some standouts in no particular order; Captain Marvel and Skrulls had a skit had very good costumes and a solid skit with a funny ending, likewise Raven and Reaper gals, two sketches that used light effects were at almost at opposite ends of the spectrum, the charming Twinkle Twinkle and the dramatic Best in Show winner, From the Dark – a stunning glow in the dark kelpie – though that last one almost gave us a collective heart attack when it came close to walking right off the edge of the stage.

We watched Mary Robinette Kowal absolutely smash Powerpoint Karaoke while the judges deliberated, and Chris Garcia do a more than passable job himself. But the party floor called to us, so we left before the judges returned. The parties were New Zealand, Memphis, Chicago, and Glasgow – all of which were jumpin’, but I spent most of my time in the Scalzi Dance Across the Decades, which was simultaneously too hot, to packed, and in far too small a room, and damned near perfect. Eventually they kicked us out, so I found John and we got some pizza at Dollard’s on the way back to the flat.

Sunday we got up late and took it nice and easy, starting with a full Irish at Panem, it was tasty but strangely came with friend banana. I had a wander through the Exhibits area and creator’s alley, the former had a cool Brazilian art display, and introduced me to the term AmazoFuturism display which was pretty awesome. An art credit had been added to the wonderful Cartoon Saloon Brian Boru banners, I had been baffled by the lack of credit the day before. I ran into Rina Weisman at the Tachyon table and it was nice to catch up a bit. Finally at 2pm John and I went up to the panel entitled The Golden Age of Animated SF, which was nominally about the fact that we are in such an age but spent the first twenty minutes on such topics as “what is animation” and “what is genre, does it even exist” so I ducked back out.

The big event of the evening was the Hugo ceremony, and of course John was nominated as part of Team Journey Planet, so I headed back to the flat a bit early so I’d have plenty of time to get changed. Of course John had the key to the AirBnB so that was no use to anyone, I sat and had coffee until he arrived and we both got into out evening duds.

The reception was fun, with an open bar and very nice snacks, It was also just nice as a party, getting to chat with folks I might not have managed to run into over the weekend. TJP and associated guests had a table to ourselves basically, I suspect it’s actually a pretty good way to experience the event. Chris and Vanessa, Chuck, Alissa and Andrew, and Alissa’s dad – who was fun to chat with, we chatted and snacked and admired the outfits – I have to say in the past decade or so fandom has really upped it’s red carpet game. Jeanette Ng had a peacock fascinator whose tail could open and close, the multi-talended Sara Felix looked stunning in an amazing space age dress she painted herself, Vanessa had made a beautiful headress which I lusted after in my heart, etc. Of the people I didn’t know I especially remember a fantastic zipper dress and a fantastic metal crown. It was all fabulous and extra, and Garcia even wore a jacket!

The ceremony itself was good, not too long, though not quite Picacio-on-rails. Afua Richardson was a charming and heartfelt presence, she had several costume changes, each more stunning than the one before – I loved the silver outfit especially. Turns out she can also sing beautifully on top of everything else. Michael Scott was an affable but professional presence, smooth but equally charming in his own way. The speeches ranged from heartfelt, to impassioned, to light and funny, and I agreed with the voters in most categories. Except maybe Fanzine, but I’m biased there.

We left the auditorium and boarded a bus in front of the CCD to head over to the Guinness Storehouse for the Hugo Losers party. We were among the first to arrive and were greeted with trays of something called a Black Velvet, which was prosecco and stout in a champagne flute. Then we were treated to an energetic drummer, followed by Irish dancing, and then Irish music for the rest of the evening. Which was fine, if not quite my cup of tea. Some folks enjoyed it immensely, and at least one grumbled continuously. The food was very good though, with a couple of hearty stews, a hot dog and carnitas roll stand among other threats.

I chatted with some folks I had missed earlier, the place filled out but was far from packed so it was surprising to hear people queuing outside had not been let in due to the venue being at capacity. Someone pointed out that in previous years we were on the ground floor so the fire marshal rules were probably different. There was a speech by GRRM, which fun but a bit dismissive of the problem, I wonder if the habit of hosting something close to the convention centre – where people have the option of just popping next door to the next party or evening event made it less obvious how inconvenient the situation actually was. We headed out early, and by then there was no one waiting outside, and took a taxi to get pizza with Dave O’Neill, Dollard’s betrayed us by being closed, so we went to the place across the street, which was more New York style. As we were chatting and eating our slices we froze in our seats when a bouncer walked up to Dave and asked “Where are you from?”. Dave launched into an explanation of his relative Irish/British/American-ness, but turns out the guy just had some dollar bills he figured would be more useful to an American.

And then it was Monday, the last day of the convention. We joined Anna, Hogg, Emily, and Andrew for a delicious and cheap breakfast at Loving Spoon. It was also pretty massive so the walk back did us good, the gang got more donuts on the way back but I was pretty replete. John and I headed to a The Good Place panel, it consisted mostly of everyone being happy that the show exists, which was perfect. John’s was on a Star Wars pane afterwards which was a fun and lighthearted way to end the con. We skipped closing ceremonies and wandered the dealers one last time, where I ran into Nicholas Jackson for a bit, and then Tom Becker who I had managed to miss all week!

For our last dinner in Dublin we met up with Tobes, Dave Oneill and his brother at the Brew Dock, which turned out to have very good food, and then all that was left was the Dead Dog. I got to chat with Bay Area folks, a few of whom I hadn’t really had a chance to see over the weekend, which was good. Then I suddenly realized that in my excitement at having sold all my art I forgot that there were some unsold TAFF pieces to pick up! After a bit of running around that got resolved and I ended up with some groats to boot, so I had a beer anda fun chat with someone who was at their first convention and trying to get a handle on fandom as a concept. I started fading a bit and was advised to fix it with another beer, but turns out a gin and tonic was exactly what I needed! We attempted to convince Liz into running a Thai Wordlcon, she refused our £20 but muttered about having to build a local convention fandom first, which isn’t a no so you heard it first here folks. Eventually it was midnight so we said our last round of goodbyes, got lesser pizza on the way home and collapsed in an exhausted but happy heap.

Kent!

On Friday the 14th (not quite as ominous, is it) I had a nice lunch with an old co-worker who now lives in Sweden and then after work John and I headed up to the Unity Brewing Taproom, which we had intended to go to for ages. Turns out it is moving near St. Mary’s stadium soon, so I’m glad we got to see the old digs before that. Back home we packed and got in a good night sleep in preparation for the weekend adventure exploring Kent. John’s parents got in around 9:30am and after a hearty full English at Miss Ellie’s Café in Bitterne Triangle, we hit the road.

It was early afternoon when we got into Margate, and after checking into our AirBnb we immediately walked down to the beach. It was a bit windy and overcast, but generally nice. We bought jellied eels in the spirit of experimentation, and agreed that while not as gross as the name suggests they are probably something we don’t need to have again. A soft serve ice cream palate cleanser followed shortly, then we explored the little cluster of boutiques, which had some really fantastic vintage clothes as well as other cool stuff. John and I had a cheeky snack of soul food chicken wings from the Smoke Shack at the Old Kent Market, a delightful gallery of food and shops which we meant to re-visit but didn’t quite manage. Then we met up with his parents and had a pint at The Lifeboat (not a Brewdog) before a proper dinner at a nice Caribbean place called Olbys

Sunday morning we drove to Whitstable for a walk on the beach. But first we checked out a quirky micropub called The Black Dog, a dark wood venue covered with cool art and serving very nice beers. We walked along the beach trail all the way to Herne Bay, the wind made the walk a bit more tiring that it would have been otherwise, but it was fun to see the traditional rows of colourful beach huts along the way. By the time we arrived back at the car it was time for our next beer, but sadly the place we had planned to go was closed on Mondays so instead we headed back to Margate and a tasty meal at a Sri Lankan place called Riz. We had dosas and a curry with an entire crab in it, which was messy but good, best was the mutton. After dinner we went to Fez, an even quirkier place than the Black Dog, and then one street over to The Two Halves, which was much plainer inside but made up for it with an seafront view. I was pretty tired by the time we got back but we did manage to squeeze in one game of Railroad Ink.

The flat we were staying in was cute and well located, but a bit warm – so I the next morning I started off a little bleary-eyed, though to be fair still far chipper than if I had been going to work. The plan for the day was heading first to Ramsgate, where John made his traditional pilgrimage to the local board game shop followed by a nice walk on the beach, which had more dead crabs than expected but was otherwise very nice. Then we drove over to Deal to check out Deal Castle, which is more of a coastal fort but pleasingly rounded and full of proto-stalactites. We had a walk along the waterfront and then drove over to Broadstairs four our last microbrew of the weekend, The Four Candles. Then it was back home for a dinner of fish and chips while watching the sunset.

And then it was our last day, we packed and put everything in the car with the plan to get some pastries at a bakery we’d spotted in the Old Kent Market. When we got there they only had some sausage rolls in the display case, so we walked down to The Coffee Shed, which had lovely pain au chocolat and au raisin, plus some delicious nata tarts. As we dug into out pastries, Ruth spotted the baker from the Old Kent Market bakery delivering a batch of fresh pastries, so it turned out we got exactly what we wanted anyway! 

Our last bit of sightseeing in Margate was the Shell Grotto – which is a truly wonderful mystery. A strange underground cavern/temple/folly/grotto encrusted in intricate shell patterns, built at some point before 1835, by persons unknown for reasons that seem likely to be religious but really who knows? It was great. The gift shop is pretty on point with its theming too, so I enjoyed the whole experience immensely.

We said goodbye to Margate and headed to our last adventure of the holiday; Canterbury! Or more specifically Canterbury Cathedral. Ruth and Charles had already seen it so they wandered the city while John and I spent the next couple of hours in the cathedral. It is currently undergoing renovations, because that’s what cathedrals do basically, and therefore there was quite a bit of scaffolding and whatnot, but it is a massive building with surrounding grounds and structures so we had plenty to see; the sculpture memorializing Thomas Becket’s martyrdom, beautiful stained glass, ancient murals in the crypts, plus Victorian graffiti. We even ran into someone who recognized John from Eastercon, because fandom is everywhere.

Eventually our eyes and brains were full and all that was left was the drive home with a stop for unexpectedly delicious Italian food at La Campania in Arundel.

Ferry to Helsinki

The Silja Serenade is apparently a cruiseferry, which is a term I wasn’t familiar with but which perfectly describes her. Sort of a plush ferry or downsized cruise ship whose interior has that casino feel and rows of cabins looking inwards. There was shopping and restaurants, a couple of bars and night spots, and even a casino with a live band, the casino was tiny but the band was exactly as cheesy as you would hope for. Most importantly there was a duty free, so we bought some gin to buffer us against the even higher Finnish liquor prices.

The best part by far was the deck; we all spent the first few hours drinking beer and enjoying the view. Sweden is basically a series of archipelagos and we watched them go by, first lots of them covered in houses with small boats all around, then still lots of islands but more trees and only the occasional home or small dock peeking out between the foliage. We watched a police boat go past and a couple of guys on jet skis play in our wake for a good half hour, but finally we were in the Baltic proper and there was almost nothing but trees and water as far as the eye could see.

We had a burger for dinner and then went out on the lower deck to see the sunset and watch the wake of the boat for a while, the white noise of the motors plus the fractal nature of the churning foam was mesmerizing and soothing. After a certain amount of running around and missing each other we ended up in the British pub with the gang. It had terrible service but was otherwise pretty alright, and there was even a group of Swedish fans in a corner booth who spotted John’s Helskini bid hoodie. We took over the booth beside them for a while, bar hopped a little, and eventually ended up back on the top deck, this time to watch the moon. I managed to spot a fallings star at one point, and it was all just generally pretty great.

Stockholm – Helsinki Worldcon day 1

The Helsinki Worldcon was many years in the making, so it feels a bit surreal that it finally came and went and is now just a memory.

Loncon 3 had been my first Worldcon outside of the US and now Worldcon 75 was to be my first one outside of the anglosphere. Having never been to northern Europe I was delighted when Bryan and Mette invited us to join in their plans to fly into Stockholm and then take the (in)famous ferry to Helsinki.

Altogether there were eight of us in our little group; Mette and Bryan, our intrepid local guides, Kevin and Andy, SMOF powerhouses girding their loins for the last Worldcon before chairing San Jose next year, along with Kevin’s sister Kelly and of course Warren from Vancouver.

John and I flew in Saturday morning, a few days after the rest of the group had arrived and made our way to the hotel, the Haymarket Scandic, an Art Deco palace which started out as a trendy department store where Greta Garbo worked in the 1920s and launched her career by modelling hats.

The flight from London was uneventful and transit into the city delightfully clean and efficient. We found the gang, dropped our suitcases off, and went to find our first Swedish meal! In this case an expensive (the whole place is expensive) but delicious repast of sandwich cake and an open-faced shrimp mayo kind of thing. Afterwards there was just enough time to freshen up before heading downstairs to get a beer and watch the Stockholm Pride Parade go right past the hotel windows. We had a prime location on the lounge level and it was a fantastic way to start the trip.

When the parade ended we wandered into the crowds and ended up at the Mosebacketerrassen at Södra Teatern, a terrace bar high on a hill overlooking the city. The view was spectacular, and although we got rained on a bit we did also get to see some vintage biplanes fly by, close to our own height.

We were driven back down to sea level by hunger but found most places packed with Pride revellers, and eventually descended further to a basement tapas bar. It was warm and had available tables so we settled in, but unfortunately the food was just okay and the service slow. The wait did allow us to marvel at the oddest bachelorette party entertainment I have ever seen, a magician/MC/stand-up maybe? There were haphazard costume changes and it was all closer performance art but trying to puzzle it out passed the time nicely. By the end of the meal we were falling asleep in our seats and I was feeling a bit unwell, so took the train back to the hotel, I crashed hard and slept until morning.

On Sunday morning after a lovely breakfast buffet we all went to Djurgården, which is basically an island full of museums.

First stop was Skansen, an open-air living history sort of place with buildings from different eras in Swedish history. A row of workshops at the start house at work, while further on the residences have guides in period costume who will explain the history and customs.  We got to see a glass blower making cunning little turtles, an 18th century blueprint printer (think of the fanzines you could print off that!), and learn a bit about linen processing and Sami culture. We also got to see reindeer with their calves, a pair of moose, and some trained seals in the indigenous animal enclosures. At midday we split the group, most opting for lunch while John and I walked over the to the Vasamuseet which the rest had already seen.

The Vasa is a 17th Century warship that sank on its maiden voyage barely out of port which was rediscovered and raised whole in the 1960s. Even realizing it was a flawed vessel, it’s a breathtaking sight; a massive oak ship, covered in ornamentation and bristling with cannons. The museum covers every part of its history starting with the context of its construction all the way to its preservation today, including an interesting look into the salvage operation. If you see one thing in Stockholm I doubt you can do better than the Vasa. We grabbed a little snack at their outdoor café to tide us over till dinner and watched the nearly tame, fat little sparrows that clearly live primarily on tourist snacks.

We rendezvoused with the group and took the ferry back to Gamla Stan, the crossing is short but fun and gives a better perspective of the archipelago that is Stockholm. We arrived just in time for our reservation at Aifur, a Viking restaurant!

Aifur is also a basement restaurant, with arched ceilings, decorated to evoke a Viking longhouse. We ordered a pitcher of mead for the table and for myself I got a lovely perch in a hazelnut sauce. John ordered boar meatballs, also delicious. The ingredients and recipes were period appropriate, the mead was great, and soon we were all happily tipsy.

And if one Viking experience is good well then two must surely be even better. We poured ourselves out of the restaurant and headed directly to Sjätte Tunnan (The Sixth Barrel) an bar attached to the Here we had lots more mead including some that resembled beer and a delicious blackberry one, and enjoyed listening to the revelry in the restaurant below where they loudly announce incoming parties in the manner of a medieval court.

By the end we were feeling very happy indeed, we had a little wander through the night streets and saw Stortoget plaza, scene of the Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520. On the walk back to our hotel we passed a group staging a sit-in to highlight refugee issues and joined them, though all too briefly, when we passed the next day they were still there fighting the good fight.

Our ferry was on Monday afternoon, so we had the morning to explore daytime Gamla Stan. We visited their excellent SF Bookstore, purchased Cuban cigars, tried some softserve ice cream with outstanding chocolate sprinkles, bought some honeycomb candles, and generally wandered about being touristy until it was time to make our way to the ferry terminal.

(Old post recovered from Dreamwidth)