Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Trip to Finland: Part 1

My long-weekend trip to Helsinki, Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia, this past weekend was a wonderful adventure. As my first trip out of the UK since I got here, and my first time on continental Europe in over a decade, I was certainly apprehensive. Considering how it went though, I have a hard time imagining how I could possibly have had more fun.

The whole story really started on Thursday night, when I went out for "a pint" with my co-workers. As seems to be the way of things, "a pint" turned into "home at 11, stumbling in the door barely able to stand." Quite a fun evening at the pub. Given that I was in no state to be packing my luggage, I went straight to bed, and did a rush job of packing in the morning. Surprisingly, I didn't actually forget anything. I did have to take all my electronics chargers to work with me though, so I could charge all the things I had meant to charge that night.

Friday turned out alright, despite the excesses of Thursday evening. Around 3:00 I left the office with my suitcase, and caught the tube to Paddington station, where I got on the Heathrow Express, which only takes something like 18 minutes to get all the way out to the airport. The journey there, checkin, security, and all that was pleasantly uneventful, and I found myself in the departures lounge over an hour before boarding.

I saw a book store in the departures lounge, and thought it would be nice to read an actual paperback on the flight, a change from reading on my palm, which can sometimes be a bit hard on the eyes. I looked for Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter House Five, but was told that it had been sold out since his death. I wandered disappointedly back towards the seating, but decided after not long that I still wanted a book. Eventually, my eyes strayed upon jPod, a Douglas Coupland book, that I'd heard was good, so I got it. There was a sale on, half price off a 2nd book, so I also got the new William Gibson novel, Spook County. It wasn't until I was a couple chapters into jPod that I realized both books are by Vancouver authors, and jPod actually takes place at a game development company in Vancouver. I wonder if that was some subconscious thing, or just pure coincidence.

Eventually, they called for boarding for my flight, and as I wandered toward the gate, I spotted a familiar face. My co-worker Jari, who's family is Finish, and who is from Toronto, was also on the way to Helsinki for the weekend, though on a slightly later flight. He told me it was a long walk to the gate, so I didn't stick around to chat too long. When I got to the gate however, boarding was delayed due to some sort of small problem, I think with the gangway. My flight got underway about 20 minutes late, and I felt the thrilling rush of acceleration as over 50,000 pound-feet of force launched the 80 tons of Airbus A321 and cargo into the air. I love flying.

The flight was quite uneventful, and not very full. I had a window seat, with nobody in the two seats between myself and the aisle. As we approached the coastline of Holland, I could see the enormous blades of a wind farm in the ocean off the coast. It's hard to imagine exactly how big the must be. I was 10 kilometers up, and the blades looked to each be about 1/4 the length of the cargo ship that was passing by them, which means they must be huge.

Passing through security in Helsinki, I received the first stamp (of hopefully many) in my passport. The UK doesn't stamp it because of my right of abode. When I picked up my bag and went to the arrivals area, I didn't see anyone that looked like the photos of Oliver I had seen. Our emailing before I left had been somewhat disorganized, and I wasn't actually sure if he was going to be meeting me, so I waited around for about 10 minutes, before heading for the lineup at the taxis. While I was waiting, I texted Elizabeth (his mother) to get his mobile number, something we had both forgotten to exchange by email before I left. After only a few minutes of waiting in line, I got in a taxi and headed toward Helsinki. About 5 minutes away from my hotel, Oliver called me, having gotten my number from his mom. It turns out that BA had said my flight was delayed, so he had arrived at the airport in time to meet me coming off the late flight. Unfortunately, they had made up time en route, and my flight arrived in time, so we missed each other at the airport. He came back and met me at the hotel after that.

Once we had finally connected, we wandered out of the hotel, and out into the streets of Helsinki, where festivities were still ongoing. Without intending to, I had arrived during the yearly Helsinki Art Festival, so there were streets closed to traffic all over, and people partying in the streets, parks, and squares. We went and found a pub about 10 minutes walk from the hotel, and I had a pint of Budweiser Budvar, proper Czech beer.

To be continued


Anonymous said...

It was Yosem's final day at Fiver yesterday, so we all gathered for drinks at Salt, located in Blood Alley, where, should the unwary stray into without backup, they'd soon find themselves stripped of their belongings, and possibly missing a kidney.

The exclusive drink of choice for the night was coincidentally, Czechvar, the localized name for Budvar; Proper indeed. We drank several litres (the metric system?) each; In fact, we drank the establishment out of their supply. That's when things went south, and thus began the jump kicking...

Looking forward to Part 2, unabridged!

Anonymous said...

Salt is excellent and the risk of kidney loss makes it even better. I especially enjoy the chalked signs that are nearly impossible to see from the street. Vancouver's hippest must all dine there.. (you decide if hip is compliment or otherwise).

So where's part II! Sheesh!