Two $980 round-trip plane tickets, eight months of waiting and two flights later, Cavan and I arrived in Helsinki, Finland. We had no idea where we would sleep that night, or where we’d go the next day. What we did know was that we had each other, our packs, a bit of food, a bit of money and a huge case of wanderlust.
For the next the next thirty one days, I’ll recount our trek across Finland, Estonia and Sweden (plus a little of Norway and Latvija) as if it’s happening in real time. There will be blood, thievery, epic folk metal, a meat-eating vegetarian and other scintillating things you definitely don’t want to miss.
Lands of bog, lake and troll: day 2
(archive: day 1)
Sunday 7, August 2011
We stood reeling for just a moment, oblivious to the crush of other passengers, eager to get their bags and get out. They were Finns and thus, all the beautiful, long-winded words posted in the terminal currently casting a spell upon us (words that probably meant ‘bathroom’ and ‘Gate A this way’ and ‘don’t stop and stare like those two stupid Americans–keep moving, god dammit’) were just commoner’s drivel.
But let them be angry–this was our moment! I’d been waiting for it for seven-ish years, since I was fourteen and discovered the beauty of Finnish metal (and in later years, the beauty of the Finnish language, folklore and culture).
But the spell couldn’t last forever. Next step: reclaim our home-in-a-sack (aka, our packs).
Once our trance wore off (probably after being jostled one too many times by the irate disembarkers behind us), we realized that just below those wondrous Finnish words were the (much shorter) words of our homeland. So finding the baggage claim wasn’t hard. Even had there not been signs in English everywhere, getting there would’ve been simple, thanks to the–painfully obvious–Canadian girl ahead of us asking every few people down the hall for directions. The painful obviousness came from her brilliantly red and white shoes and the Canadian flag patches pinned to her rumpled canvas jacket.*
Spotting our packs was also quite easy; they’re strange looking contraptions with sandals and sleeping bags and water bottles and tent parts strapped to every conceivable place that could have something strapped to it. We heaved their dead weight off the long, black tongue of the conveyor belt, slammed them onto a bench and stuffed even more dead weight into their bellies; without our food sacks (which we had carried onto the plane), they weighed 10 kilos (mine, about 22 lbs) and 12 kilos (Cavan’s, around 27 lbs). Add a few pounds of food, plus jackets, plus sleeping pads, plus camera/ipod/kindle/paper notebook and our packs were a stupidly heavy weight to cart around for a month (unlike our housemates–who’re traversing central Europe this summer–we tried to save money by bumming off of my parents’ old bakcpackinggear, rather than purchasing feather light, but absurdly expensive gear. Granted, they did get a great 50% off coupon from Mountain Hardwear, so maybe we’re the dunces. We did buy our own tent, though. But the sleeping bag and therma-rest sleeping pad Cavan used both belong to my mom, though).
Now that we had our packs, all we had left to do (ah, if only that were true) was find Helsinki. Because who puts airports in the middle of a city? That’d be too convenient, wouldn’t it (and consumptive of space, I suppose. And loud. And create huge traffic jams)? As expected, though, Finland has an excellent transportation system and was ready with a bus to take us downtown, leaving from the airport every fifteen minutes. Only it costfour euros and I had no euros…
“One hundred and thirty dollars.”
I stared blankly at the soft green wad the stoney-faced money-exchange man had placed in my hand. “But…” I finally said, “I wanted euros.”
He just barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. I could see him restrain himself.
“But you said one hundred and twelve euros and I thought you wanted that amount drawn from your account and given to you in dollars, because you are returning…” He looked a crestfallen now and very, very confused.
“Oooh. No, I just arrived in Helsinki.” I bit my lip.
So here I was, on Finnish soil for just twenty minutes and already, I’d nearly made some poor Finn cry (not to mention myself). This did not bode well for the trip.
“This is a problem,” he told me, “Because the euro amount and the dollar amount is of course different and I don’t want to charge your account more than it should be charged. I’m not sure how to do this.”
So he called his manager and after a few moments of quicksilver Finnish and rapid-typing on the keyboard, everything was resolved.
“Next time,” the man said, now cracking a smile and handing me my euros, “You can use the ATM over there.” He pointed to a spot on the wall a few steps away.
The ride into Helsinki was quick and almost familiar. At home in Cascadia (if you aren’t a persnickety, I-love-my-homeland rebel like me, that’s be Washington state, USA), it’s very green with pewter skies and lots of tree. The difference is that in Finland, they have birch instead of alder and all of their trees puny. And there no mountains (I’ll admit, just thinking of mountains makes me a bit homesick). Add to that the fact Finns tend to be on the diminutive side, I feel distinctly taller here.
The wooded areas soon gave way to the steel and concrete forest of the city and the bus dropped us off at the train station, a huge building with high, airy ceilings, guarded by these sentries of stone:
When you first arrive in a big city (such as Helsinki), try to get yourself a really good map. We, of course, didn’t do this. We make the mistakes so you don’t have to! (We could start a business with that slogan, don’t you think?) Instead, we wandered around the city for three hours, encountering only penguin-paintings, confusing crosswalks and plenty of hostels with no rooms left.
Dusk found us wandering circles on the edge of the Kamppi shopping center, trying to find our last hope–an apparently sizable hostel that hopefully still had rooms to spare. But despite its size, we couldn’t find it. The map said it was right there, but the map was also crap. Halfway into circuit number two, we did manage to find a sign for the place posted on a locked door, so we loitered around sulkily, but purposefully-unsuspicious until someone else came by with a key card and held the door open for us.
Unfortunately, it was just a bunch of dorms and we could feel the beady eye of a security camera upon us, so we scuttled out of there fast as we could and returned to our circle-turning. Another half an hour of this and we finally broke down and decided to ask the receptionist at a nearby hotel just where we might find the Hostel Academica. She glanced out a window and pointed to a small hill we’d just stalked–er, followed–two Brits with rolling suitcases down, hoping they’d lead us to the hostel. Apparently we hadn’t followed them far enough. So I smiled, thanked the receptionist and asked her how much a double room at the hotel would be, just incase our non-existent-hostel luck was really, really out.
The hostel had rooms all right, but they were just five euros cheaper than the hotel’s. What happened to hostels being affordable abodes for road-weary (and extremely poor) travelers? We had nowhere else to go, though, so we handed over the money and dragged ourselves off to the room.
(looking out the window from said room; the mini-Pyramide du Louvre gave a view into the dining hall and the squat yellow-walled building is the sauna)
1.5 hours of shut eye, 12 in the air, 3 counties, 3 hours in the streets of Helsinki–we look like hobos not tourists, 15 minutes of Borat, 30 of AVATAR, 10% of a zombie apocalypse, a few hundred pieces of the world’s crunchiest cereal, 2 apples 1 banana, a taste of buffalo jerky, 2 things I can’t remember, hugs, farewells, 2 security checks, 6 hours of sleep, ? attempted hours of sleep, 1 bar of Luna (not the 14 year old cat) and 2 hostels later I have found a bed.
*If it wasn’t for this reason, then my other guess is that she was going to a cosplay event as Canada from Hetalia.