Anyhow, my second guest blogger (the first was Santa) had an altogether different experience of travelling on business to the Finnish capital.
A Formal Introduction
KT is my favourite
KT's Actual Blog-Post
Warning: Swearing ahoy!
When Telefinn asked me to write a guest post for his blog my first thought was: “Are you mad? Have you read my blog? Are your readers really ready for that many profanities and use of the phrase ‘front-bottom’?” Closely followed by: “I know absolutely fuck all about Finland.”
And then I remembered that wasn’t quite true. I have in fact had a first hand experience of Finland, dating back 7 years now, when I was asked to take a trip to Helsinki on business. Excitedly, I accepted. Foreign travel, for free, to a place where they were generous enough to all speak English so I didn’t have to trouble myself with so much as turning a page of a basic language guide? Bring. It. On.
And then this happened.
It was June 2006 and I was 6 months into my current job and required to go to Helsinki for a Group HR meeting (I know, control your excitement). One of the most annoying things about flying to Helsinki is the fact the flight leaves Heathrow at 7.30am. When you live many miles from Heathrow, this takes a hell of a lot of planning and organisation to get there on time. Not, it could be argued, my greatest fortes. Working backwards, I knew I had to check in by 7am, so I probably needed to leave home by 5am to get there on time. What can I say? I am ever the optimist. (To put this into context, on a clear day the drive from my house to Heathrow is about 1.5 hours. I know. I KNOW.)
Unfortunately, I hadn't accounted for the fact we had reached Holiday Season. Thousands of desperate holidaymakers, all fighting to reach the airport and get out of Britain. Consequently, the roads around the airport were blocked, and 7am was ticking ever closer. Eventually I reached the airport, having pre booked parking. Could I find the pre booked parking area? Could I fuck. Stopping just short of dumping the car in the middle of the road, I found the nearest - and most expensive - airport car park in the vicinity and shot off to try and find the bus to the terminal.
Arrived at the terminal: 6.55am. Should be fine, just so long as there are no ... fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Queues. One huge queue, in fact. For international departures. Snaking right out the doors of the airport. Damning my Britishness and hence the total impossibility of me even considering pushing in, I sprinted to the back of the ever increasing queue and hoped for a miracle.
By the time I reached the check in it was 7.10am. Attempting to brazen it out, I put my suitcase onto the conveyor and slapped my ticket down in front of the BA staff member. "I'm terribly sorry, your check in has now closed." "But it can't have, I have to get to a work meeting." (I know, I was sounding like one of those maniacs you see on the Airport/Airline programmes.) "I'm afraid check in closed at 7am, you should have been there for then." "But it's not my fault"
Nothing doing. She’d clearly passed all her Don’t Give Into Desperate Passenger Training with first class honours. Right then. This was it. Time to pull out the big guns.
"I was in a car crash. That’s why I was late."
I know. Straight to hell. (Or into the back of another person’s car, if there’s any kind of karma-style justice in the world.) I have no idea what made me say it. I was bloody convincing though, 3 years' of acting training being good for something at last. And it worked: immediate sympathy, arm round shoulders, glass of water proffered. "Look, don't worry. We can't get you onto this flight but we'll try and transfer you free of charge onto the next flight at 10.30am." Wonderful. Brilliant. Thank you. I am a bad, bad person.
Usually, I don't think there would have been any issues with transferring me. Unfortunately, it materialised that the cultural event of the year was occurring in Helsinki. (I still have no idea what this might have been. Any Finns reading care to enlighten me?!) [Editor's note: There was the Heart Failure Congress in Helsinki in June 2006, could that be it?] Ergo, every last flight out of Heathrow was full. I was sat in a holding area with various other incompetents requiring transfers: desperate businessmen, separated families, small children and random old women. Finally, the announcement was made: "We are extremely busy today and there are almost no spare seats." Nooooo, I'm still new at this job, I can't fail and go home and tell them I've cost them £300. "We will be accepting two passengers on this flight, Mr blah blah blah and Mrs Kathryn *****. Please board immediately."
Oh thank god, thank god, la la la la la. I leapt like a leaping thing onto the plane, ignoring the other potential passengers' trauma and resentment, and immediately fell asleep. It's a stressful thing, all this lying.
Two and a bit hours later we arrived at Helsinki airport. I traipsed through the terminal, wearing (as usual) entirely unsuitable shoes, and limping where the strap of the shoe had cut into my foot, leaving a trail of blood. I could tell those all important first impressions on my HR colleagues were going to be… memorable. Arriving at the bag collection area I waited to retrieve my suitcase.
And waited some more.
After twenty minutes or so of waiting at the carousel it became quickly apparent that I could wait there all night and it wasn’t going to result in the appearance of my suitcase. No, my pink suitcase had gone somewhere else entirely. That is; not Helsinki. No, further investigation revealed that both myself and the other transferred passenger had had our bags left ... in London. Talk about karma.
Finally arriving at my hotel - sans bag - I phoned the Helsinki office to tell them I was running late (understatement of the year) and asked the friendly hotel staff for directions to the nearest shop. Sweat soaked, flight worn, dribbled on (I was sleeping, okay) clothes, no toiletries and no hairbrush do not a good first impression make. They pointed me out the door and I wandered off, still wearing the entirely unsuitable shoes.
I'd only been walking for a couple of minutes when a random Finnish man pulled up in a car next to me and got out. In a very friendly voice, he asked me whether I'd like to have dinner with him that evening, and could he come back to meet me at my hotel. I spent a microsecond wondering whether this was standard Finnish hospitality before realising that no, I had in fact acquitted myself in my regular skill of Attracting The Weirdoes even more quickly than normal. Not particularly wishing to start my Helsinki experience with a mugging/date rape I muttered a rapid string of pathetic sounding excuses before attempting to run away from him in my stupid shoes. Looking at my uncoordinated exit he clearly made the executive decision not to follow me, having realised he’d actually had a very lucky escape from the English Freak.
Attempted kidnapping experience over, I realised I had got impressively lost. As my sense of direction is about as well honed as my dance skills, this came as no real surprise. In the boiling 30 degree heat I had wandered off my path, and now appeared to be walking down the side of… a motorway. Surely not? No, I was. I'd missed my turning and walked straight up the slip road onto the motorway which blocked my way to the mall. As you do. I reversed, with quite startling speed for one wearing such ridiculous shoes. And found the underpass. Quick ’10 minute walk’ having turned into a 40 minute plus epic, I finally made it to the clean pants shop.
Events kind of continued in this vein. My bag eventually arrived. At 3am. I was kind of cool with not knowing about it, but the mad hotel staff were clearly so excited they thought they would rush up and break the news to me. AT 3AM. I leave you free to imagine my reaction…
The next day, I caught a taxi to the airport. It was driven, unsurprisingly, by a Finnish man. Perhaps also unsurprisingly, based on my visit thus far, he was entirely mad. He wanted to talk to me. In depth. ABOUT BRITAIN’S WATER INFRASTRUCTURE. As I know about as much about Britain’s water infrastructure as I do of Finnish, you can imagine how that taxi journey went…
And then finally, my exit from Finland, on the journey home. Again, with my unnerving ability to attract unwelcome travel companions, I managed to seat myself directly behind Vomiting Guy. Vomiting Guy started before we’d even finished the taxi onto the runway and continued pretty much until we touched down in London. So impressive were his vomiting skills, he actually got through ALL THE SICK BAGS ON THE PLANE. To this day, I am still stunned by such a feat. His vomiting caused almost untold excitement amongst the air hostesses, who ran up and down the aisle yelling "he's used up all the sick bags, does anyone have a bag, DOES ANYONE HAVE A BAG." Yes, and I bloody well hope it's coming back with me this time.
So there you have it. My Finnish Experience. I have to say, all of the above has developed a serious rosy tint over time; not only is it one of my favourite stories of all time to retell, Helsinki has also become pretty much my favourite destination I’ve ever visited, thanks to the sheer comedy gold of such a trip.
I’d love to make a return visit. However. Based on the above, I’m not entirely sure Finland’s ready for me.