Sunday, 30 December 2018

Above the Arctic Circle

The scenery is black and white. There is no sunlight, not at this time of the year, but the full moon is really bright. Trees are covered with frost and snow. The river is frozen. It’s quiet. So very quiet. I can hear only my breathing. Then sudden cracks, howling and wailing. It’s the river ice singing. A welcome song to me. It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m back home. Above the Arctic Circle.
Finally, at home.

Friends, Farewells and a Ferry

We were not in a hurry. We had planned our trip back to Finland so that we could, once more, meet some friends on the way. It was time to say thanks to those who helped us. Time to say farewells and give hugs to friends we might not see again in a long time. Every stop was one step closer to home. I tried not to think about it. Not because I didn’t want the tour to end but because I was afraid of some jinx Mr Murphy might still place in us.

Vuosaari harbour in Finland the morning we arrived.
We took a Finnlines ferry from Germany to Finland. The ferry trip takes 27 hours. There isn’t much to do on the ferry, it’s not a cruise ship. But there was a sauna and excellent buffets. We got massages and played board games.

We spent some days in southern Finland since most of our relatives and Finnish friends live there. It was time to have delicious dinners and pre-Christmas parties with souvenirs and good stories. It felt strange to speak Finnish all the time.

The Insane Stats

The tour took 334 days. We drove over 39,000 kilometres, through 17 different countries. We visited 66 different campsites and stayed over 50 nights on the roadside, in friends’ yards, in lay-bys and other weird locations. The highest place we drove our caravan was the Pyrenees mountains, 1,632 meters above the sea level. The lowest place was 115 meters BELOW sea level - through the Channel Tunnel.

We participated in 19 big board game fairs and 4 series of smaller events. These conventions had a total of 607,000 visitors! While on the road, our company ran 2 Kickstarter campaigns, one Quickstarter and 2 Spieleschmiede campaigns. We produced and published 2 board games and one expansion. We transported over 30 tons of board games all over the world.

Reunion by the Arctic Circle

Our car with the broken engine was in Lapland before us.
We stopped close to Rovaniemi, a bit south from the Arctic Circle. It was time to change cars. The Mercedes Benz we bought from Germany had done a good job, but it needed some maintenance. We drove to a our friend’s garage. There, already covered in snow, was our broken VW. The insurance company had towed it all the way up there.

You remember Möhkö (good ol' Lump), the Suburban Chevy we were first planning to take on the tour? I’m glad we didn’t, because the roads in Italy and the parking in Spain would have been impossible with it. We moved all our stuff to Möhkö and found out the interior was way smaller than in MB. Luckily we had only a bit over 100km left. Some uncomfortableness was bearable.

When we crossed the Arctic Circle, I suddenly realised I have never before been on the southern side of it for so long. The world is different on the other side. You learn that, once you cross it. You can follow the life above the arctic circle in my new blog. I will write new entries once a month, starting in January 2019.

Happy New Year!

This year was an experience our family will never forget. I hope you, too, have had some good moments with us. The year 2019 will give us new challenges. Timo is going to do his studies in Scotland. He is actually living in the caravan again for the next 6 months. Väinö goes back to normal school. I will continue working in our company and doing also my theatre work in Lapland.

It has been a great year. Hopefully we left Mr Murphy somewhere along the way and the next year will be even better!

Friday, 14 December 2018

Yellow Rebels

Yellow vest demonstrators
at a road toll station in France.
“Are they honking at us?”, we wondered, at a French road toll station. They have really narrow lanes, so driving through requires caution with our combination. The honking came from the  other side of the road. There was a large group of people standing on and blocking the lanes. They all had yellow vests. Trucks were honking at them. To warn them, to vent frustration or to show support? No idea. “Yellow vests” were demonstrating against high petrol prices. We had read the news about the riots in Paris. Now the demonstrations had spread all over France and to our route to Barcelona.

Teenage Burglar

I found a website with a map of France showing the known sites of these demonstrations. There were several on our route. We had planned to stay overnight at a motorway rest stop. Some of them, especially the ones with a gas station, were occupied and closed by “yellow vests”. We drove through France until very late and finally parked next to some trucks at a rest stop. These motorway “Aires” have toilets, even showers and sometimes some snack machines.

Looks ok, but just did not work...
Our plan was to have a quick dinner, go to sleep and continue on in the morning but we couldn’t get into our caravan. The door handle was broken. It had shown some symptoms of not-working-properly during the year, and now decided to quit working. I got a flashback to the moments when I had lost my keys during my schooldays and was standing in front of our home door with desperate thoughts.

We had some small metal poles for the awning. With those and a teaspoon we tried to force the door open. After ten minutes, a truck driver came to offer help. He thought the lock was frozen and offered some spray. When he understood what the problem was, he just wished us good luck. The task seemed impossible. All of a sudden we heard Väinö’s voice from the other side of the caravan: “Mum, Dad, the kitchen window is now open, if you are interested…” Our twelve year old had used one metal stick to open the window hatches (even if we had told him not to).

We pushed Väinö into the caravan through the small window. He opened the door from inside and our night was saved. I thanked our teenager for not obeying his parents this time.

Turning Point

During the board game event DAU Barcelona, we stayed at a Camping 3 Estrellas, just by the sea. It was also right next to the airport. For the first 3 days we just heard waves crashing on the beach. Then, I guess, the wind changed direction and airplanes took off right over us. Anyhow, we didn’t find that noise disturbing. After 10 hours at a fair, you sleep almost instantly no matter how many jets fly over you.

DAU is the biggest board game event in Spain. We saw many familiar faces among the Spanish resellers and game designers. It was also great to see Inka and Markus Brand, who were guests of honor this year. “These are the crazy Finns!” they introduced us to their Spanish host. We met also other Finns. Quite a lot of Finns move to live in Spain, at least for the winter time. After spending over a month in Spain this year, I totally understand. It’s an enjoyable country with good food and low prices.

For us, Barcelona was the turning point. Our tour ended, no more fairs, just the long drive home. I watched the sun rising from the sea. A scene I will not see again for a long, long time. It was a moment of conflicted feelings: sad, relieved, proud, amazed and wistful.

Morning sun at the turning point.

Yellow Ribbons

On our way back we drove to a caravan repair shop to get the door handle fixed. Väinö had been climbing through the window every evening to let us in. It was clearly not a longterm solution. The roads had some weird lane markings: yellow circles with two tails, like ribbons. At first I thought they were some warnings for roundabouts, but there were no roundabouts. Then I saw the railings on a bridge covered with yellow ribbons. I finally understood: we were in Catalonia and the yellow ribbon became a political symbol there in November 2017. Obviously, the opinions were still strong.

Our door handle was fixed, even though we arrived at the garage just before their siesta. I gazed at the amazing scenery, framed by mountains. During our stay in Barcelona, the Pyrenees had become covered in snow. The winter was coming, and we were heading north. At home, there would be a proper, white winter.

Bon Voyage!

We had to drive through France, again. Yellow vest demonstrators had blocked many exits. We saw police cars and warnings on the road information signs. We approached another road toll station. Every entry was manned by people in yellow vests. We stopped and carefully opened our window to talk with a man standing next to the payment machine.

“Good day, do you have your ticket?” he asked.
Timo gave him the toll ticket. He took it and smiled.
“Have a nice trip!”
We were a bit confused. The traffic lights at the toll were red, but all barriers were open. I had read on the news that these demonstrators want to let people drive for free. So we just drove (and saved 55€).

There was a quiet moment in the car.
“We just participated in French civil disobedience.”
“Yeah. One more thing to remember from this year.”

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Roller coaster of Life

The Essen Spiel starts the same way every year: you arrive in a busy hall filled with vans, forklifts and pallets. The aisles are filled with packing material and other trash. It takes several hours to get your booth ready, then a quick dinner and some sleep. The next morning is the “run and fight for your table” -competition in the novelty room. Every year over 1300 new board games are published, and most of them are presented in Essen Spiel. This year we presented Darwinning!, The Revised edition of Perdition’s Mouth and the Hideout expansion. My hands were shaking when I tried to set up all components for the press to wonder. I was sweating and cold at the same time. Once the novelty room set up was done, instead of staying at our booth, I went to see a doctor. The stubborn Spanish ‘flu was still making my life miserable.

The doctor’s appointment wasn’t as smooth and quick as in Spain. I had to fill up several forms: permission for saving my personal data and an affirmation that I haven’t arrived in Germany just to get medical care. They photocopied my passport and made me wait an hour. This time the doctor did speak English, and after listening to my lungs, he wrote a prescription for the same antibiotics I got already in Spain. In addition to that, he prescripted several herbal products and an extra dose of zinc and vitamin c. In Finland, you never get any prescription for herbal products. I bought all the stuff and hoped they would help me to survive hectic Essen Spiel.
Our booth was filled with players during Essen Spiel. 

Novelty Trashes

Lee is showing Dwarf prototype for I-Play-Red.

I know that the best medicine for a ‘flu is rest. But that was not possible to arrange. This year our booth with six tables was filled with gamers, all the time. All of a sudden it was already Saturday, and I remembered our games were still in the novelty room. I was supposed to pick them up on Friday evening. I soon learned I was not the only one who forgot the deadline. On Sunday, after closing time, I entered the novelty room with some other publishers. We found a massive pile of game components, tablecloths, roll-ups and brochures. Novelties were just waiting for a trash bin. I was lucky and found our games at the very front of the pile, some components were a bit crushed but mostly ok.

Novelties on their way to the trash bin...
The room had been locked and not used after Friday. Why the organisers had just to swipe everything to a huge pile of trash? Is it really that difficult to create some system to serve exhibitors with a bad memory? On the other hand, if so many publishers just do not care about the material they put out to novelty room and don’t bother to pick it up, perhaps they should pay some extra fee.  I felt awful when I left the room. I really hope Friedhelm Merz Verlag would do something to improve the practical arrangements of the novelty room in Essen Spiel. Not only for the benefit of small publishers with a lousy memory, but also for the environment.

Stop and Go Punishment

The Friday after Essen I was driving a German autobahn towards Leipzig. We had had a couple of relaxing days with a proper sauna at the Camping in Naumburg, which have become our second home during this year. All of a sudden the car started shaking, a lot. I thought a tire exploded and drove to an exit. On the ramp, the car just stopped. I tried to turn on the engine. Nothing.

The membership of The Automobile and Touring Club of Finland (ATCF) proved again to be worth every euro. The car was towed to VW repair store and our caravan to the other side of the street. Our not-invited travelling companion Mr Murphy had clearly thought to stop our tour by busting the car engine. How wrong was he! Already on the same evening, we had organised a rental car to pull the caravan. We created a Quickstarter fundraising campaign and asked for the help of the board gaming community. The community replied, and our campaign was funded within some hours.

Potato Peeling And Steaming Advocaat

30 tons of games arrived
after 6 days of waiting.
The following days were quite a rollercoaster, with events and emotions. Of course, we had allocated that time as vacation time. Instead of relaxing we ended up solving one problem after another. In addition to the car issue, we had 30 tons of games stuck in German customs, due to a missing hyphen in freight papers. When Kickstarter threatened to suspend our Quickstarter, and one promising car turned out to be a fraud, I sat by the kitchen table shedding tears and writing an update to campaign backers. I had to remind my self that I shouldn’t try to solve everything at once. A huge pile of potatoes can be peeled only one potato at a time.

It’s important to ask for help when you need it. We contacted all our German friends with the car issue. They offered translation help and searched and other car sales platforms. Most of these friends we have met for the first time on this tour. Like Sven and his family, who we learned to know during the hot summer, at a beach by a German lake. When we had promised a place for a night with sauna in Lapland to Sven and his friend on their tour to Nordkapp next summer, we didn’t know how important that connection would be. During this crisis, we found out he is the most amazing, good-hearted man in Germany. He promised to help us with the registration of the new car.

We also had unforgettable, good moments during those days. We visited a spa, Leine Bad. They had several saunas. Unlike in many other spa saunas, these were unisex and still, people were naked. The only difference for Finnish sauna was that people were not allowed to throw water on the stove. It was the saunameisters task. German saunameister is a profession, and throwing the water is a half an hour show. We were lucky to experience one of these shows. The guy poured to the stove some advocaat mixed in water and spread the löyly with a big fan. The seats were covered with red-faced, sweating and puffing Germans and some Finns, smiling widely and clearly enjoying themselves.

Our new car and caravan at our warehouse in Leipzig.

Anti-Stress Surprise

Väinö was teaching Perdition's Mouth
for boys his age in Spielwiesn.

Ten days after the engine suddenly died out, we bought a car, Mercedes Benz Vito with automatic gears and 4-wheel driving. It is always risky to buy a used car, but we were really out of options. We filled the van with our games and booth equipment and drove to Munich.

Spielwiesn turned out to be a great event with many visitors. Yet again, we were the only foreign exhibitor. Besides of boardgames and delicious snacks, the fair offered an exhibition of Lego constructions.

So many Legos, so neatly placed...

I was explaining the rules of Darwinning at our booth when a woman came with a surprise present. She had read about our problems from Spieleschmiede’s Facebook update and wanted to meet us and help us. She gave me a yellow “DDP” car and an Anti-Stress postcard. I shed some more tears, but now because of joy and sentiment. We are not alone on this tour. There is a whole community travelling with us.