Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Under and Over the Mountains

The tunnel was many kilometers long. We don’t have many road tunnels in Finland and none of them are in Lapland. Driving underground has been a new experience. This time we had the Pyrenees on top of us. We had decided to leave Spain while the weather was still good. Forecast promised rain and more snow to northern Spain during the weekend.

When the tunnel ended, I was again able to see the mountain wall climb high on my right side and… nothing on the left side. There was a railing though. The road even had two lanes, but it was still narrow. We were in a S-shaped tricky curve, when a truck appeared. We couldn’t pass each other – the road was just too narrow for our caravan and the truck.

The Spanish truck driver jumped out and started yelling. He determined that we need to back up. Uphill, in a curve, with a caravan that barely managed to fit in the curve. No way. The smaller cars behind the truck had also stopped and reversed some meters to make way. I listened the Spanish yelling for some minutes, lost my temper and replied in Finnish: peruuta nyt pari metriä, niin me mahdutaan ohi. That worked. The guy returned to his vehicle, reversed a little and we managed to pass, thanks to Timo’s good driving.

The Fourth Opinion

Statue in Zamora.
We had returned the rental car in Spain after 1599 km trip to Portugal. On our way back we had stopped in the old city of Zamora. Timo had booked us a hotel room. We found it was a hotel with a single room. Actually just an apartment. But it had shower, washing machine and WIFI – exactly what we needed.

Due the car repair we had to skip our planned vacation in Valencia. We had agreed a business meeting on the French side close to the border for next week. Even though the car was thoroughly fixed, the brakes in the caravan did not work properly. Perhaps something had been damaged during the towing? Thanks to the long tunnel, crossing the mountain area was surprisingly easy. Anyhow we needed to get the brakes working as soon as possible.

For important issues it is always good to have several opinions – just to be sure. For the brake problem we got many. First place noticed a bent bolt on the caravan coupling. That might prevent the brake system in the stabiliser coupling for working. But fixing it requires an expert. So we went to see caravan repair guy who announced the whole coupling needs to be changed. It would take two days and cost nearly 1000 euros. We didn’t have neither, so I googled another place near Toulouse. They noticed that the bolt had nothing to do with anything – it was not physically connected to anything! They tested the brakes (read: pumped the caravan to the back of the car several times) and announced that the coupling itself was ok, but the brakes not. They didn’t have time for fixing, but booked us a time to a caravan garage near Lyon, for the next morning.

So we drove 600km through the Massif Central. We spent the night somewhere between. I woke up during the night because my nose was cold: we had run out of gas – again. Come on Mr. Murphy, we dealt this already! Caravan batteries and electricity heating kept us warm even the night was very cold. In the morning we had to scrape the car window!

Our navigator didn’t recognize the garage address, but with Google Map we made it there – just 10 minutes delayed. So – in French culture that would be just in time. We left the caravan there and went to buy food and gas. The supermarkets in France are amazing combinations of services. You can find bakery, gas station, and laundry machines in the area. This time we found also a circus with lions, a tiger, monkeys and a zebra.

After two hours the caravan was ready. I paid 78 euros and we were back on the road. This time heading to east, to Switzerland, to La Chaux-de-Fonds where Ludesco is held. And afterall, it was not the brakes that were at fault, but the brake cable support strut had bent during the towing in Spain.


We have plenty on time, it takes only one hour to drive there.” Timo announced when we started next morning from a camping place. It was pouring rain. He soon noticed a weird sound. The car didn’t feel right. Could it be that one of the brakes is jammed? Or worn out? He seemed very worried so googled the closest garage – only 1,5 kilometer ahead.

We stopped in a tiny village. Right after we stopped, a truck was honking a horn and the driver yelled: ”It went off about a kilometer ago!” And then we noticed the caravan had only 3 tires left. I stared at the empty place. There was still some marker paint after yesterdays repair. They must have forgot to tighten the bolts! It felt surreal. Yesterday, after the repair I drove us to the camping. On a highway. What if this would have happened then?

We disconnected the caravan. Timo and Väinö drove back to look for the tire. My job was to explain to the carage owner why we had blocked his yard with our caravan. I had to use hand signs and my theatre skills because no-parle-angle.

It feels stupid to repeat in situations like this that ”we were lucky”. But we were. Timo found the tire, intact. It hadn’t hit any other vehicles or people. The only misfortune was that we didn’t have any bolts to install the tire. Two wise men – some local road workers – came to help: take one bolt from all the other tires, so you will have 3 bolts in each. Solutions for tricky situations can sometimes be simple!

Murphy Go Home!

Next bigger village had a garage which sold us the missing bolts. They also checked the brakes of our car. Now that the vehicles were working all right and had all parts with them, I was able to relax a bit and enjoy the scenery. The road we were driving – from Pontarlier to La Chaux-de-Fonds – followed a small river. It had eroded an amazing canyon to Jura mountains. All of a sudden Timo stopped the car. There where signs to a cave.

The cave was quite large, eroded by water. There were several small waterfalls in it. Signs announced it was a holy place. It served as a chapel. To whom, I don’t know. We were in the middle of nothing. There was only one restaurant next to the parking place.

I’m not a religious person. But after all these events I’m convinced we have several guardian angels, -fairies and/ or -dragons with us. Obviously very much needed. I thank you all for sending those to us. Could you also please call Mr. Murphy back home?

Friday, 9 March 2018

All-inclusive Relaxation

After snow in Spain I wasn’t expecting any sunshine in Portugal either. Weather forecast promised constant rain and heavy wind for the whole weekend. In this case, it was just one more good reason to stay indoors and play board games. That’s what LeiriaCon is all about.
Me and Paulo.

Because of the broken car we had to quickly do changes for the weekend. We emailed Paulo, one of the organisers of LeiriaCon, that we would need accommodation instead of a big parking place. I packed clothes for all of us, but It was a bit tricky because we only have one small suitcase with us. Väinö packed his stuff to his school bag.

We checked the fridge and emptied the trash bin of our caravan and moved game boxes from our car to the rental car. It was Thursday morning, LeiriaCon was starting in Portugal, and we had 800 kilometers to drive. Nevertheless, without the caravan, we should make it there for the evening.

Fire & Water

The rental car was also a VW van, but it lacked many of the nice features we had installed to our car - like navigator. Fortunately we have a good navigation app downloaded to Timo’s phone. Only tricky part during the way was the Portuguese road toll system. I highly recommend travellers to check different payment options beforehand.

When we were closing Leiria, the scenery turned spooky. We were driving thru the areas that had large forest fires in 2017. Black, charred trees stood silently on both sides of the road. In the heavy rain we were driving, it was difficult to imagine the draught and hotness there must have been just a bit over half a year ago.

All of a sudden the Atlantic ocean was again in front of us. High, whitecap waves crashed to a long beach. Wind was gathering small dynes of sand to a sidewalk. Right there, by the beach, was the Hotel Cristal Vieira Resort Praia & Spa where LeiriaCon was held.

Dress Code: Lipstick

Starters, main course and deserts. Drinks included. I love LeiriaCon!
We made it just in time for dinner. Unlike in normal fairs and many other conventions, in LeiriaCon you can get all-inclusive participation: accommodation, all meals and 24 hours in a day for board gaming. What an excellent concept and very welcome change for fair days without any food!

We carried our stuff to the hotel room and I wanted to quickly change clothes. I was still wearing the same outfit I had dressed for yesterday’s driving day: comfy, grey college pants, long woollen socks (it was so cold!) and sweatshirt. I unpacked from the small suitcase a new shirt and trousers for Timo, clean shirt and socks for me and… well, that was it. Several shirts, socks and underwear, but NO trousers for me.

I clearly remembered thinking of packing my jeans. But obviously that thought was never accomplished. I’m sure at least all female readers can imagine my feelings at that moment. Timo comforted me: “Come on, this is a relaxed convention for board game nerds, nobody cares what you are wearing.” There was nothing I could do for the situation, so I just combed my hair, put on some lipstick and went for a dinner.

Friends For Life and Laundry

Frank, Mauro and another game I liked and lost.
They liked Darwinning! I'm sure you will, too. Pledge now!
The rainy days of LeiriaCon were filled with good food (especially the deserts…), nice people and hours of board games. We, of course, played Darwinning with many Portuguese groups and promoted our Kickstarter campaign, but we had time to test other games also. Väinö learned to play Ex Libris with Inka and Markus Brand. Yet another proof of his much improved English skills. Sven and Frank from Happyshops had several prototypes with them. I enjoyed playing all of them, even though I lost most of my games. This was the first time I had a chance to give feedback of other designers games and give ideas for the future development.

The atmosphere was really relaxed and positive. Nobody mentioned my grey college pants. Nevertheless, on Friday after siesta I sneaked out to the quiet, rainy beach village to look for a clothing store. Most of the stores were closed due the low season, but I found one store with handcrafts and clothes. There were only one type of trousers available: black college pants. I bought those and knitting needles for Väinö. He must knit mittens for school and I forgot to take the needles from home.

Early Sunday evening, when the event was about to end and I had lost two rounds of Azul, I took an hour of my own time. The spa offered a relaxation massage, and after all the events of previous weeks I really needed one. I also needed some quietness and time alone. During the past month and a half that we have been on tour, I have met more people than I usually meet during a whole year. I have seen three oceans and climbed higher than I have ever been. There have been moments and experiences I will never forget.

This tour is also about networking. I have got many new Facebook and LinkedIn contacts. But what I really liked about LeiriaCon, is that there you can really get to KNOW new people. It is not only changing business cards.

How do you know you have made new friends? Well, they invite you for a visit and offer to loan their washing machine.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Palm Trees and Snowflakes

I woke up because Timo was moving in the caravan and checking our heating system. I crawled out of under my warm cover and noticed that the caravan was chilly. We had run out of gas during the night. Luckily we had bought another bottle just before we left the Alps.

Timo changed the bottle, but we couldn’t get the heating working. We had bought butane instead of propane. We learned that the heating system couldn’t use butane – and that butane does not like the minus temperatures there had been during the night.

”OK, so no heating. How is the tire?” I asked Timo.
”It’s flat.”
”What a lovely morning.”
The Cannes Game Fair was about to start in 5 hours at 200 kilometers away from us.

Mr. Murphy On Our Tour

At the Alps someone had broke the left side mirror of our car on a parking lot. Local car repair managed to change that. While we drove south from the Alps I googled for solar panel repair services, because the charger of that system had stopped working. I found a good place and we spent 7 hours there. We drove until midnight. When we parked for a night, we heard hissing sound from one the caravans tires.

Now the tire was totally flat. Luckily we had stopped at a service station, so we were able to fill up the tire. We drove 6 kilometers and stopped to check the tire. Still round, let’s continue to the closest tire repair. Yet another interesting googling task for me.

I have got the feeling Mr. Murphy is traveling with us. Or then we are just extremely lucky, because so far we have managed to solve every problem there has been. After we got to the repair place, the flat tire was fixed in less than 30 minutes. There was a screw in it. We got our car in a camping place and arrived to the fair only two hours delayed.

French Forms And Families

Cannes International Game Fair is a big event with over 100 000 visitors. In this case ”international” means ”French”. There where some foreign exhibitors, but most of the information is available in French only. Where Nuremberg fair failed to tell what all information they needed, Cannes fair had a good web-portal with deadlines and forms to fill in. Only in French.

I needed to sign a paper for that somebody can else can work and build up our booth. I entered the birthdays of all our exhibitors to the portal. No complaints about Väinö’s age. Even during the check-in I was reminded of one form, which was ”really important, must be at your booth all the time, show this when somebody asks”. When I asked what it was about and what I needed to fill in, the check-in lady couldn’t answer. So I kept the paper safe and threw it to the trash bin on Sunday.

Many families visited our booth and played Darwinning. Väinö has learned to teach the game in English. Sebastien, one of our translators, was presenting the games in French. I also found out the we have exceptional fans: Matthieu, one happy owner of Perdition’s Mouth, stayed at our booth several hours just explaining the game in French to others.

As usual, I didn’t have much time to look around other booths. But I happened to notice one interesting game: it was called Finnish pool. Combination of pool and Finnish outdoor game Mölkky.

Detour To The Top

The morning we left Cannes it was snowing. A lot. It was weird to look at palm trees and snowflakes at the same time. We had a long drive ahead: LeiriaCon was starting on Thursday in Portugal. We had one stop at a parking lot under the oak trees and next day a booked camping place near San Sebastian in Spain.

We were driving the road N-634 along the coast of Atlantic ocean. It was less that 10 kilometers to the camping place. The road was blocked. Stones – or actually a part of a cliff – on the road. There was a sign to a detour. The scariest detour I have ever been. Going up and down on very a narrow, curvy mountain road. The type we were hoping to avoid on this trip.

Even the camping area was located on top of a steep hill. Not the most practical location, but the view was magnificent. At the reception I told about our long and difficult drive and snow in Cannes. The lady in reception was very understanding and told the forecast promised snow in the area for tomorrow. Snow!? And we were in Spain.

When the Winter Came

Do you know Douglas Adams’ book ”The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul”? There is a truck driver, a kind of a rain god, forced to drive in constant rain. I started to feel we have a similar curse with snow. In the morning everything was white. From forecasts we found out there was a snowy front between San Sebastian and Cannes. The worst part of weather was around us.

We decided to wait two hours. Temperature would go higher, roads to be cleaned – or at least some of the snow could have melted by then. We had a proper shovel with us and Väinö cleaned the roads and stairs at the camping area.

Even though there were not many other camping wagons, we didn’t have much space to turn our caravan. I have already learned the camping areas are not designed for the largest vehicles. The front wheels of our car dropped to a slippery ditch. The engine howled. For a moment a though we would never get out. But eventually we did get out and to the motorway.

The engine didn’t sound healthy. After some driving we were barely moving. We managed to get our combination away from the motorway and stopped on a road side. We have been for years members of The Automobile and Touring Club of Finland (ATCF). I phoned to their emergency number.

Within an hour a towing car came to get our car. It would take much longer for them to organise towing for the caravan thou. Whole Spain was in chaos because of the snow. Towing cars were busy. Timo went with the car, Väinö and I stayed in the caravan. A security woman from the close by industry area stopped to ask if we need anything. I told we are fine, but would have to wait for many hours.

It had started to rain. Hard wind was shaking the caravan. It was chilly. We couldn’t put much heating on, because the gas was running low. Fortunately we had still our winter jackets.

”Now we would have time to play Darwinning!” Väinö said. ”I could teach you the two player rules.” What a clever boy!

PS. We played Darwinning and made dinner while waiting. Eventually we got the car to repair and caravan to a safe place. We were accommodated to a hotel. ATCF phoned the next day to check everything was fine. Everything was fine, we were on our way to Portugal – but that’s another story.