Billund Chronicles

Tuesday 24th September

Alarm around four. Porridge, backpack to back and luggage over one shoulder, into the darkness, bus number three A. Empty Tampere centrum, everyone still sleeping. Half a kilometre walk from the stop to bus station. Maybe twenty minutes waiting, did I read a book? Bus arrives, boarding, Circle's "Telescope" live album playing, it's over two hours. Valkeakoski, Hämeenlinna, sunrise - Bus half full, people going into business meetings as usual. Unusual smoke from side of the bus, at some point alarm sounds, steady screech. Bus goes maybe ten minutes with it, then stops next to the motorway to Helsinki, it might be the most used on Finland with 120 km/hour limit. Passing trucks wave the bus, driver checks the engine. Water hose broken, water on engine, can't drive. Should be at Keimola to change into airport bus in twenty minutes or so; another local bus should arrive in ten minutes. It takes around fifty. Change line will wait in Keimola and I had reserved over two hours for airport, it's still very stressful. But we make in eventually, bus especially leaves us at terminal one. I leave my luggage, it's full of creations. I usually travel only with cabin bag, but obviously not this time. I go through the security, find my gate, and eat a sandwich. Then the gate opens; at least I didn't have to wait at the airport.

It's quite full flight to Copenhagen. I read the book - Laura Luotola's Suoja II, Veteen heijastuvat kivet. Finnish fantasy-scifi metamorphose. It was released few days ago in a party in Sörnäinen, Helsinki. I was there but I got the book earlier. I made a map for it. A2, watercolour and markers. Lots of names, some ornamentation. Cool work which I enjoyed. Now I can actually read the book - characters a new and unknown, but I very well know every inch of the world. Geographically, at least. One hundred pages during the flight; arrive at Copenhagen. 

Copenhagen airport is huge. There are two LEGO stores. I didn't visit them, though - my transfer was only 40 minutes, and I was heading for Billund anyway. It was a long walk and when I made it to my gate (in lot more peaceful part of the port) the gate was already open. I showed my boarding pass to gate machine and it let me through. There was a bus waiting, with maybe two dozen salarymen and two tourists in it. I waited in the bus for ten minutes or so, and my phone rang. They were some SAS officials asking if I'm coming to the flight. Gate machine somehow hadn't managed to sign me into the system; I went back and scanned it again. They didn't know what was happened. But we made it to the plane, which was a small propeller-powered one. My seat was near the engines so I could study them during the flight; they're bit less harmful to environment than jet-powered ones.

45 minutes and I was in Billund, in middle of Danish countryside. I claimed my luggage in few minutes - it looked alright - and headed for a bus that took me into LEGOLAND Castle hotel. Two almost identical grey fortresses in a field; quite absurd. There are heroic castle music and battle sounds effects coming from speakers all the time, and some large brick-built characters outside, but otherwise the hotel didn't feel very LEGO-ish, which was bit a shame. I stepped inside, received a key card for my booking (which I hadn't done personally) from kind reception personnel and headed for my room. What a pleasant surprise there were for me! 4000026 LEGO House Tree of Creativity, timetable for tomorrow and - above all - food! Excellent filled bread was, as you will hear, one of the best culinary experiences of the journey. The room had overall castle theme, based on the not-that-much-loved last one. I liked the brick-built models and big stained glass light. I tried to take a nap, but felt too excited, so I went for a walk.

I first checked the main LEGOLAND hotel, which had quite De Stilj -esque wing with black, white and clean pure main colours. Then I took a long route to Billund centre; mostly it went next to LEGOLAND fence. The park was closed. Weather was grey with touch of mist; the empty Miniland and vacant stopped rides looked somehow sad. Billund centre was quite small, and very different from Finnish towns on same size; buildings are older and made of bricks (bricks baked on clay). And it the middle there was the LEGO House - imposing building made of shining white ceramic tiling. It was closed, too, for some event. I headed past it, checked Billund Center with church, library and some other municipal actions. It had quite an interesting masonry.

Next to it began the art trail of Billund's sculpture park. It was heading to the right direction, so I give it a go. There were several interesting sculptures, including "Hello Golems" and "Fabulous Animal". There was even a little LEGO reference. Little polecat figures were among my favourites.

Back in the hotel I solved the puzzle inside and received three copies of Mini Ultimate Batmobile polybag (quite weird gift but alright). Then I took the nap, hour or so, and headed to meet Matt Goldberg who I knew would be there for tomorrow. We went for a dinner in Billund centre. Matt's company was convenient, Danish cuisine less so. Billund has three steak house pizzerias and that's it. I ended up ordering kebab sandwich (what an odd concept) and it was huge, like a big pita kebab. The worst part was cheese. Kebab doesn't need cheese. But I made it to (almost) end, as sort of prelude of my culinary adventure. We headed back to hotel and saw the building site of new LEGO headquaters. It had large 2x4 bricks on facade.

Wednesday 25th September

I woke up, eat the hotel breakfast (3/5 no porridge but plesant personnels) and went outside where I found Matt and some other folks. A bus took us to LEGO House, where we were hosted by Jan Beyer, Stuart Harris, Mike Ganderton, Birte N. Knudsen and some other LEGO personnels (who didn't hand out their minifigs, which means I can't recall their names). When it comes to us visitors, I'll quote LEGO House's press release;

Eero Okkonen, Finland
Marion Weintraut, Germany
Matthew Goldberg, USA
Milan Sekiz, Serbia
Paul Hetherington, Canada
Ryan van Duzor, USA
Simon Hundsbichler, Austria
Stephen Gofers, Netherlands
Sven Franic, Croatia
Jason Allemann & Kristal Dubois, Canada
Timofey Tkachev, Russia
Caroline Mockett, United Kingdom
ZiO Chao, Taiwan
Hsinwei Chi, Taiwan

(I don't know why my name is the first one.)

We took our heavy baggages to their conference room (LEGO Forum) and were taken into a guided tour by Stuart (who looks like Aavikko's Tomi Kosonen without moustache) and Mike. They told us about the actual huge Tree of Creativity, which amusingly combines rock-hard mega-scale LEGO engineering with nostalgic and creative little details. There is a main staircase around it, something like Le Corbusier's architecture boulevard, which ended up to the final floor, with big round skylights inside the studs of huge 2x4 brick on top of the House. In the space - can't really call it room - there was three large brick-built dinosaurs - from Dublo, SYSTEM and TECHNIC - and empty glass cases lining the walls. I took a peek and yes, found my image and plague on one case, in the corner over minifig scale World Explorer. As you all already figured out, I was there to display my models in Masterpieces Gallery alongside fantastic fellow fans.

We didn't get into work yet, though. We were given a tour around play experience zones in two groups. I was in Stuart's group and his facts about World Explorer were especially interesting as he had been one of the main designers of it. I was also very pleased with city planning zone, which is near my current studies, and helped to perceive functions of diverse cityscape to children and adults alike (it also involved building). Another fantastic thing was the frog building spot. There was a own spot for frogs! They were built on lilypads (green 8x8 tiles) and floated around in a pond similar to an air hockey table. There were also spots for building bugs and flowers: Pleasant and colourful things, I was a fan.

We were also taken to the basement (though I was not entirely sure was it on this point) to see the museum of the company's history and the nostalgia Monolith in the core of the building - a brick-shaped room including some classic sets along the decades. There were all six Toa Mata, fortunately, and actually twice - in the monolith and in the timeline. Some of them were posed badly ("päin helvettiä") following the glorious traditions of Bionicle display. The museum also hosted some interesting minifigure and minidoll prototypes and concept art. Also huge multi-layered LEGO logo built by some artist was fascinating and we spotted several strange and unusual pieces from it.

We went to set up our models. I unpacked Circle - I think the order was Jussi, Janne, Pekka, Julius, Tomi and Mika. It didn't take that long. They were quite well-preserved despite having been thrown around by airport crews, and I had set it up for exhibits two times before, in Hupicon and Harjavalta's Palikkapamaus in 2018. I think my experiences with going to events via public transport carried fruit (so to speak) in this project. Only problem was the cables (official LEGO string) of maybe Julius's and Jussi's amplifiers that were knotted. Fortunately one of the personnels (it was probably Birte) pronounced that she is a mother and solved it easily. I carried the figures and accessories to my case, next to Caroline's pleasant micropolis. After some suffling of display blocks I managed to have Leppänen's drum podium higher than the others. I did want to have the other musicians on the same level for equal coverage. My model also needed a bit less space than my neighbours, we centered the micropolis between Circle and Lego7's various models. That meant we had two rock bands in the case - though Hsinwei's band consisted of animals.

We were offered a lunch (including chicken legs and cauliflower) in the middle of set-up time, and after some of us were finished, we were asked to build birthday-themed builds for the House's second birthday for tomorrow, using the parts available at building zone. I hunted for bright light orange and magenta pieces to make a slice of cake with rather psychedelic frosting. Mike gave us an extra tour in the museum. It was nice. After everyone had set their things up, we went and printed our own six 2x4 combinations. It's one of the most interesting concepts of the House. As you know, one can (or can't, because one will die of old age sooner) connect six 2x4 bricks in millions of different ways Or tens or hundreds of millions. Anyway, there are darn many connections, and as they are not such valuable currency, everyone who visits gets their own, printed on high-quality plastic card and accompanied by freshly molded six bricks. I can't recall the number of my combination, I've put the card in some safe place or another. Anyway, it was a good combination (they don't give out fragile ones with bricks connecting only with one stud).

But that was not all. As we were important visitors, or artists displaying our work, we get to put our combinations with personal messages into glass case in the lobby! It had combos and messages by previous displayers (we were the third batch, once per year) and some celebrities, like some guy from Metallica (I'm not sure but it would feel logical to be the Danish guy). I wonder if Circle members would be qualified into the wall. They encouraged to make the messages in our own language - which was cool, as Finnish is beautiful and interesting language and I was the first Finnish person on the wall. I ended up with fitting reference to Circle's Rakennus ("Building") live album from 2007 and small self-portrait I tend to draw on messages like this. Wittiest readers might notice that I almost typoed T but it turned out fine in the end.

We were taken back to Masterpieces gallery, where we were given little trophies designed by Stuart. They were brick-built and sturdily glued, featuring large white 2x4 bricks. Then we went downstairs and had some nice time eating dinner, discussing things related mostly to LEGO and enjoying some drinks. Afterwards, there was a LEGO House quizz (I got six out of ten right, I think) and some cool presentations by Stuart (about designing the big models and assembling them in Czech Republic) and Mike (featuring Galidor walrus projected hugely into LEGO House's forum space's wall - also Piraka - I would have liked to had a picture about it but I don't). In end of the day, around eight'o'clock after twelve hours of brick activies, we were given goodie bags, hugs, handshakes and a bus drive back to the Castle; The bag included LEGO House Dinosaurs set, minifig accessory -like tea mug, couple of keychains and a book about the House, with plenty of beautiful pictures. In the hotel I built my dinosaurs to moderate my excitement levels. It had been a fantastic day, with such nice people. One of the best. And the next day was going to be a busy too.

Thanks, LEGO House team!

Thursday 26th September

Thursday was the AFOL day in the LEGO House. After packing and breakfast I walked there with Catherine. Jan Beyer helped me to get key for one of them big lockers to get my luggage into it; then I went to listen to the opening speech. There was about 600 AFOLs around. I also met Jonas Kramm and some other German builders; Jonas was my rival at Iron Builder couple of years ago. After the speeches (There was talk about sustainability and monorail) they play experience zones opened. I wandered around, read some books, talked about my Circle, met some people like Are J. Heiseldal, journalist and På Kloss Hold host, and Tim Johnson of New Elementary. I played with bricks. I tried to make realistic self-portrait mosaic in green. I built a frog for the the frog pond (it used a rare technique even) and a purple flower for the meadow. I took photographs. And around ten minutes before the line for the LEGO store opened I went to the queue, and it was worth it!

They took only certain amount of people in at a time, fortunately, and I was on the first batch. I heard that most people were in for the House exclusive sets, given that they're only sold here and double their price on the other side of Atlantic, but I wasn't interested in buying those (I already had two of three, and I'm a builder, after all). I was in for the parts. And the Pick-a-Brick was absolutely fantastic. In addition to the normal selection they had cardboard boxes of unusual fan favourites and some plastic boxes of more random stuff, maybe some Systar System things and dark red Star Wars junk. I ended up with four large tubs of parts: Plenty of bright coral things, teal round things, pearl gold 1x1 round plates with handle on side, dark green baby bow wedges (both sides!), dark red and dark tan tiles, lime green baby bows, trans-clear 1x2x5 bricks... to mention some. Random boxes included for example newish 2x4x4 half-cones and teal 3x3 dishes.

The store had also another surprise for us. They sold build-a-minifigure parts for some price as PaB, limited one small cup per person. I've not so much interested in minifigs, as I usually work in larger scale these days. But that was a great deal anyway, and there were, after all, plenty of accessory pieces to use outside minifig scale (I already got use for some shark-printed surf boards). But honestly, I got minifig parts too, pieces I had missed due to not buying CMF for few years, and parts suitable for 110-years-ago aesthetics of my Art Nouveau modulars. I got some elvish lady torsos and some dual-molded legs, nice berets to be used as caps and umbrellas I didn't have any; I also got some 10-20 golden lassos. Maybe I'll find a use for those. The PaB was crowded, but minifigure part section was completely full of people scavenging. I was easy to see why. I made it out alive and 680 crowns poorer and felt that it was completely worth it. I was also very hungry, so I left my loots to the locker and headed for Mini Chef restaurant.

The restaurant worked on interesting concept. You got a polybag of bricks and an exclusive minifig, built your meal on different ingreients using the bricks, inserted the "MOC" of five parts into brick-built machine which scanned it, and then your meal arrived in a box via corkscrew track and was pushed to you by a couple of robots in bow ties. My machine recognized the creation in third try, but the robots had a bug when my meal arrived to them. I watched them spinning their little hands for five minutes and then asked the waiter to give me my meal; The guide said that the robots have some loose screws but I still don't know if it was an intentional feature or some sort of bug.

The food was good. It was also the one of the two vegetarian meals during the trip. However, the vegetarian options were lame. Well done, good quality, but you can't substitute the main dish with potatoes, almonds or not. It was slowly dawning on me that vegetable proteins are unknown concept for the Danish, sans maybe trendy Copenhagen area. I'd suggest LEGO House crew to look out what can be done with things like falafels, lentils, soy or oat; they'd be amazed. I was not left hungry, and the restaurant concept was witty, but there was still room for improvement. I filled a survey, too.

During the final opening hours I wandered around, met some people and took photos. I tried to overall photograph all cases and plagues in the Masterpieces Gallery, but Beyond the Bricks was interviewing Jason Allemann & Kristal Dubois at the time and I didn't want to bother or photobomb them, so I don't have exact pictures or Jason, Kristal and Marion Weintraut's case. Fortunately I took some photos on them in Wednesday.

After the experience zones closed down, I went downstairs, talked to people, filled a survey about the day to get Emmet's Piece Offering polybag and fetched my luggage. I went outside to look for the bus that was arranged to take fans from LEGO House to Skaerbaek (Surprise!). There was a bus waiting but no information. On the yard I met Bogdan, alias BrickBlues, a Serbian AFOL who was working as an architect in Prague. Sadly I don't remember his Croatian friend's name, but we had a great time. Finally the bus driver arrived (he looked exactly like a stereotypical Finnish bussikuski so I recognized him immendiately) and we set out to south. We talked about local customs, architecture, Prague, LUG politics and everything; they were cool company. Radiant City was mentioned. The bus arrived to Skaerbaek, a Jylland town of around 3000 inhabitants around six'o'clock. I set out for the train station,which I found in growing dusk. The town was small, but there was a ticket machine in the station and it was quite cheap. The train took 12 minutes to Bredebro where my AirBnb was. Big windows and very clean train, but there wasn't many passagers. I Finland, Denmark is seen as highly developed, modern and trendy; but that wasn't the case. The infrastructure was good, but people still preffered personal cars.

Bredebro (Bridge of Brede-river) was even smaller, with little more than one thousand residents. It was dark and raining. I was hungry and there was one restaurant in the town: The ordinary pizza place. It had three tables in quite large hall. Lad behind the counter was younger than me. I ordered a pizza pretty much in random and the lad started to bake it behind the counter. It had sausages, or frankfurters; Hot dog is the national cuisine of rural Denmark. Fortunately they had curry powder on top so I could imagine eating a currywurst (I ate fantastic currywurst in Berlin's Mauerpark in 2018). I ate few slices and tucket rest of it under my rucksack's strap. I visited a local supermarket (which was probably closing down, but I didn't see opening hours anywhere) and went over the bridge to find my accomodation. It was dark and I didn't remember the right address so I went to the wrong house. They were very helpful, the right house was next door. With some rummaging in the dark I got in, sorted some parts, and slept.

The next episode "Skaerbaek Chronicles" will be published soon.



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