воскресенье, 28 августа 2016 г.

The city not to visit on Monday (Zagreb, 8.08.2016)

If you are staying in Zagreb for one day, make sure it is not Monday because almost all museums are closed in the capital of Croatia. However, if it is not Monday, make sure you're staying in Zagreb for more than one day because in that case one day will be not enough. Unfortunately, I learned all that only after the tickets were purchased and the hotels were booked.

Besides the museums, there are three locations with intriguing names (Medvedgrad Castle, Zrinski Mine and Veternica Cave) on the slopes of Medvednica mountain situated to the west of the city. All of them were also closed on that day. So what did we do?

First of all, Zagreb is a nice place just to stroll along the streets enjoying the calmness. That is probably not what you expect from the capital of the country and its largest city. A week later, I had an impression that the most part of 800k Zagreb citizens moved to Split. The latter one, despite having four times smaller population, was much more noisy and much more crowded.

Secondly, "almost all museums" didn't mean all of them. Well, our choice was pretty limited. I'm curious, what would you choose to visit first: the Museum of Broken Relationships or the Museum of Torture? ;) Wanna more positive plan? So did we, that's why our choice fell on the Museum of Illusions and the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art. The former one features lots of well-known optical illusions supported with "What to do" guides and "What's going on" explanations. The display, which impressed me the most, was 3D "image" which looks like 2D picture rotating around you while you're moving along it. The rotation effect will take you by surprise, and even after some time you'll not get used to it because the "corridors" seem to rotate faster than they could in real life. As for the second museum, the most appropriate words for it are colorful and funny, and you can see why.  
In the absence of wide choice, the most obvious location to visit was Mirogoj - the large cemetery in the north-eastern part of the city. It is not only a cemetery but a masterpiece of architecture and sculpture at the same time, that's why you will meet both tourists, who came there to take pictures, and locals, who have more sorrowful reasons for a visit. Mirogoj is vast, so you'll soon feel alone. It is hypnotizing, and I believe it'll be even more if you go there in snowy winter (one of my favorite movie scenes tells it can't be otherwise. By the way, that mesmerizing graveyard from the movie, unfortunately, doesn't exist in reality) or just at the sunset.

In conclusion, here are some tips for you (or for me in the future if I will ever visit Zagreb again).

  • If you're searching for currency exchange (by the way, Croatia, which recently joined European Union, is outside not only the Schengen Area but also the euro area, thus having their own currency), just stroll along the main street (called Ilica), you'll find plenty of exchange offices offering reasonable rates there. Not sure if you'll come across them elsewhere.
  • If you've found a nice place to have an evening meal on the web, make sure to have alternatives. When we came to Konoba Didov San, it turned out that all tables were booked in advance. 
  • If you're not tired and you don't have a bus early next morning, check out Park Zrinjevac (located opposite to the Archaeological Museum). As I deduced from the timetable, it hosts dancing open airs every evening. If an evening is devoted not to the dance you're familiar with, no need to worry, just look down, the ground is your best tutor ;)


суббота, 30 июля 2016 г.

A glance from above (Helsinki, 9.07.16)

When I was thinking what to do once I come to Helsinki for the next time, I understood that in my three visits to the capital of Finland I had never looked at the city from above. It was time to fix it!

I heard about two places where you can see Helsinki spread out before you. One of them is the Olympic Stadium Tower. I decided not to go there because the Stadium was kinda out of the way. Luckily, I didn't waste my time for that because as I've just learned the arena is closed from the end of 2015 and until 2019 due to the renovation.

The other opportunity is Finnair SkyWheel, the large observation wheel near the Market square, i.e. in 5-10 minutes walk from the only station of the vintage tram.
I always thought that Ferris wheels perform smooth and slow non-stop rotation at a constant speed. However, here the situation was different. The wheel rotated faster and stopped from time to time for a couple of minutes. During these stops, passengers of four capsules (the lowest ones at the moment) left while new ones boarded the wheel. Your ride lasts four laps, neither more nor fewer. Therefore, don't board the wheel if your train departs soon, you'll spend there longer than you expect ;) The weird thing about the wheel was that the same person checked the tickets (which, by the way, have a lovely design),
opened/closed the capsules manually and started/paused the rotating mechanism. Why aren't doors of the capsules automatic? Why don't they hire more people or make it possible to start/stop the wheel distantly? It is hellish work for one person because there is no chance to have a break, even the shortest one.

The views were diverse. Half of the lap I enjoyed calm water sceneries,
the other half I viewed the dock and various buildings nearby. 

Unfortunately, the altitude was not enough to see the distant parts of the city. As a result, "to see Helsinki from above" is still on my long list of travel goals. If I visit the capital of Finland anytime after 2019, I will definitely climb the Olympic Stadium Tower!

суббота, 23 июля 2016 г.

Vintage tram ride (Helsinki, 9.07.16)

Don't think that since I visited board games store, I ran out of the ideas what to see in Helsinki. After leaving Fantasiapelit (which was a kind of achievement. Believe me, this store won't let you go so easy!), I headed to the next destination on my list.

I went to Helsinki on the week-end only because I wanted to take a vintage tram ride. There is one, departing from Kauppatori every Saturday and Sunday. Riding in the 96-year-old tramway car without window panes was an unusual experience. I could lean out of the window or, at least, stick the camera out and watch the camera display. I had to be careful though because from time to time modern trams drove towards us via the oncoming lane.

The car without window panes follows its "elder brother", 97-year-old car. However, nobody except for the driver usually sits there. You would also prefer open-air options to looking at the sights through glass, wouldn't you?
The tram goes along the circular route without stops. Well, actually, it stops from time to time at traffic lights. Unfortunately, that usually happens near the least interesting spots along the route while the most attractive sights are passed at full speed.

Although I know the part of the city where the route goes pretty well, during these 15-20 minutes I discovered for myself great looking House of the Estates.

By the way, if you're hunting for animal signs and are less successful than me so far, the ride may help you to find some of the address plates that you missed.

The most atmospheric part of that ride is the waiting for departure inside the tramway car. Watch the new passengers coming in and listen to them chatting in various languages. They're all excited about the mere idea of that ride, thus they're all smiling and laughing. The conductor shares the same mood, so will you. Thus, wait until the tram arrives, get on immediately, choose the best sit, purchase your vintage ticket and start observing ;)

воскресенье, 17 июля 2016 г.

The shop you would never drag me out of fifteen years ago (Helsinki, 9.07.16)

Certainly, I wasn't searching for animals on street signs for the entire day in Helsinki. I had several more plans for those ten hours. To be precise, I had specific plans for shiny and rainy weather. Saturday morning was sunny. Around noon the weather became sweltering, so I decided to
to hide from that scorching sun for a while resorting to a "rainy-weather" plan.

Luckily, I went beyond writing down the address of a shop I was heading to. I made some valuable notes, and learned how the entrance looks like thanks to a photo found on the Internet. Fantasiapelit is not only hidden inside a city block, it is located in the same building as a Subway restaurant. In order to find the shop entrance, you have to go through that fast food restaurant. Finally, you open the door and... well, I was stupefied by the scale and the assortment.

Fantasiapelit is mainly about fantasy related board games. What do you imagine when you hear the words "a board game"? There are at least three options:

  • a card game (such as "Magic: The Gathering" in case of fantasy settings),
  • an average board game with a map, counters and dice,
  • and finally, more of a floor game rather than a board one, with models of soldiers, fortresses and sometimes even with artillery shooting with plastic missiles (such as a board game version of Warhammer).
I used to be a huge fan of the last type of games. I still have a huge collection of models for Russian "Бронепехота" and "Битвы Fantasy" game systems. At the time, when they were bought, i.e. in the early '00s, you could come across a set or two in many toy shops in Saint Petersburg but I have never seen such long shelves packed with that kind of goods. In Fantasiapelit you can find models of any possible type for various game systems. Wanna play right now? There are tons of boxes with the models which are ready for fight. Do you enjoy the process of designing the view of your troops? There is plenty of sets where all models are waiting to be colored. Maybe, you like constructing the models by yourself from small details? You can find many of them in Fantasiapelit, too. This astonishing shop has no fewer games of the first two types, as well as books and comicses about fantasy universes of every sort and kind, but who will look at them after all that wealth?


They sell not only sets of models, but also tools for coloring and even... terrain! Should your today's battlefield be covered with snow? Has the skirmish occurred in the desert? Is the theater of war covered with green grass? Now you don't even need to imagine that because you can buy everything, including terrain. Actually, such "terrain" pack is just a bag with colored powder or fluff. Surely, you can prepare it on your own (especially if you are patient enough to construct and to color the models) but nowadays, when supermarkets sell grated cheese (as if you can't rasp it), why not to sell pouches with white fluff calling it "snow"?

I ceased to be interested in board (or floor?) battle games around 2005, giving preference to PC RPGs and strategies which had pretty good graphics by that time. However, certain things remain unchanged. For example, I would still like to learn how to draw. Of course, I talk about sketching simple objects, even they can be a problem for me now. I don't really like most drawing books because I have no desire to make a picture of what they suggest. Immediately after entering that awesome Finnish shop, I noticed a book which explains how to draw exactly what I want! I nearly bought it. At the last minute, I remembered that, as I read before, prices in Fantasiapelit are too high compared with other places. Indeed, the same book is about two times cheaper on Amazon, let alone the Kindle version (around three times less expensive). Therefore, I postponed the purchase. Hope that in a couple of months I'll share some of my drawings with you ;)

I didn't buy anything but that tour around the shop was incredible!

вторник, 12 июля 2016 г.

On animalized addresses and random ideas (Helsinki, 9.07.16)

Wanna learn how animals are called in Finnish or Swedish? Then I have a trip idea and a quest for you! But let me start from the very beginning.

Last August when I was returning from Tampere through Helsinki and took a short stroll around the main railway station of Finnish capital I came across two unusual street signs. On one of them I saw a dromedary and on the other one a unicorn. Pictures were accompanied with animal names in Finnish and Swedish, and that's it. You'll find no addresses, no other useful information on them... Well, it was my first impression last summer. Later I found out that these animals are (or, at least, were) addresses on their own! Each quarter in that part of Helsinki has its own animal, and, as the above link tells, there're at least twelve of them. So here is my quest for you: find them all!

Last Saturday, being in Helsinki for the fourth time in my life, I tried to accomplish it, too. This time I found nine animal signs, and I have no idea where the remaining three (or even more?) are (assuming that they're near the below ones).


Even that was not easy. On the weekend, street musicians and jugglers are here and there in Helsinki, so it's easy to get distracted, to stay at some street for a while enjoying the performance, and to forget where you were heading to and where you have already been. After two unsuccessful attempts, I told myself: stop doing that! Concentrate for just twenty minutes and traverse all the streets in that part of Helsinki like a snake... I'm talking about the snake from the world-famous computer game of late '70s. At that moment my mind was picturing how that snake is crawling through the city map. And this is exactly how all more or less valuable ideas come to my mind - at random. Strangely, it looks that nobody has already created map-based snake game. It would be funny to try it out :)

суббота, 2 июля 2016 г.

A flashback into the previous summer vacation, or How I will be more effective this time

Two years ago I had an academic stop-out, hence there was no difference for me between summer months and the other ones. Before that, I just didn't care about my efficiency during July and August: I was doing what I wanted to do at a specific moment, and enjoyed that until last weeks of the summer. Then I realized how many projects I had in my mind and how few of them I completed but it was too late. I spent the previous summer in a much better way in terms of efficiency. My regular activities included:
  • creating new content for CodeFights in full-time mode;
  • playing blindfold chess against my dad (8 games in total);
  • attending an awesome course in French grammar (8-9 lessons in August);
  • training for programming competitions (I chose an unusual strategy by making short (most usually, an hour length ones) but frequent (I trained on 51 days of July/August) sessions of coding and spent the time trying to come up with ideas of solutions while being on public transport).
  • jogging (six attempts totaling 52 kilometers - not as regularly as I would like but still not that bad. It turned out that enormously hot weather is a much bigger problem than exams: during the single month of June 2015, I made the same number of attempts and showed results very close to July-August ones);
Impressive, right? However...
  • Doing very similar things throughout two months is boring. When you are bored, you are not as effective as you could be. Good news is that our platform has improved a lot since then, work shouldn't be monotonous anymore.
  • Blindfold chess is very tiring and time-consuming activity. Our games lasted for two-three hours on average. Moreover, this way you improve only your calculation skills but the strategical thinking is no less important, let alone the knowledge of openings and endgames. To sum up, now I'm going to spend the same twenty hours differently in order to get better in more than one aspect of the game.
  • Yes, the grammar course was amazing but each week I had to go to the language anti-café which is located far from my home, and Vasileostrovskaya metro station was closed at that time, therefore on each such day I spent around 3 hours on the way there and back (in total). It's also worth noting that although French language is not only about grammar, my activities amounted to grammar exercises that summer. I stopped doing even them once the course was over. Now my goal is to revive the acquired knowledge and to put it into practice... without leaving home. Certainly, I could read, write and listen to native speakers before. Now I have an excellent opportunity to speak to my French-speaking friend as well whenever we both have time, so I can work on all four language aspects without leaving the chair I'm sitting on now.
  • I couldn't crush the barrier preventing me from making any substantial progress in competitive programming starting from the first year at the university. I haven't taken part in any contest from the beginning of 2016 and I'm not going to. These 7 years were great, but it is time to go further.
  • Finally, you can't be effective if you don't make short breaks from time to time to distract yourself from daily routine. Last year my "summer break" started in the end of October. It will be fixed this time.

воскресенье, 26 июня 2016 г.

My impressions of Russian fantasy musical. 9.04.16

Being a fan of musicals and a fan of fantasy literature, I couldn't miss such a phenomenon as a Russian musical "The Last Trial" (this is just a literal translation of its original name, "Последнее испытание", which I came across on the English-language fan site) based on the second trilogy set in the famous Dragonlance universe created by American authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Although the stage version of this musical was set in Moscow, they came to Saint Petersburg twice. The date of their autumn performance, unfortunately, didn't suit me, but in April I finally watched the fantasy musical.

Two years ago I listened to audiobooks corresponding to the first trilogy ("Dragonlance Chronicles"), so I was familiar with the setting and most of the main characters of the "Dragonlance Legends". However, I had almost no idea about the plot of the second trilogy because I started to read it only a week before the performance. Now, after watching the musical and reading the entire trilogy, I can tell you that:

  • You don't even have to be familiar with the setting (i.e. reading neither the first nor the second trilogy is not obligatory) to be able to understand what is happening on the stage (tested on my friend ;) ). In other words, it's not like the "Harry Potter" movies.
  • You can watch the musical and read the books in either order. They have so many differences that you will not spoil the pleasure for yourself (well, even if we omit all the small details and minor storylines, it's enough to note that books and musical end in completely different ways). Maybe, you'd better watch the musical in the first place because this way you'll find more surprises. 
One more source to consider is the history of the musical (which originated at the late 90s and featured plenty of dramatic moments since then). Almost twenty years have passed from the idea was born till it materialized on the stage. Stories told by the authors explain why the musical is so different from the books.

Although the stage version of the musical is more than two years old, it's under constant refinement. You can watch parts of the 2014 year version online. This April, multimedia stage sets were much better (I especially liked the way they used two semi-transparent screens, one behind the other, combining the images on them and putting the actors in between, as if they leave the stage and enter the digital background), acrobatics was much more advanced, and the goddess was able to fly above the stage at she should be. Unfortunately, several previously existed scenes (which you can find in 2014 year version) were cut off. However, the show duration was almost 2.5 hours even after that.

Besides the great stage sets, this version showed a minotaur (!) walking on stilts (for the first time ever). Also I enjoyed the aria of Kingpriest very much (the aria itself starts at around 1:05): church-style music of pipe organ with proper visual accompaniment (sadly I failed to find it) and understandable text can be fascinating.  

Adding a fly to the ointment, I should mention that

  • An actor playing Caramon Majere (one of the main characters) was more likely yelling than singing.
  • I was disappointed not to see barely any stage sets in the second half of the performance. It looked as if they didn't manage to complete them in time.
  • During the duet with Crysania, Takhisis's microphone suddenly refused to work. As later the actress, who was playing the dark goddess, confessed, the mic wire (!) was accidentally cut during backstage costume change.   

Got interested? Even though you cannot watch the musical now, why not to listen to the free full audio version? You can find it in the middle part of that page on the left.