Friday, August 26, 2011

Suomi Finland Tourkele part 1: Cross The Dark Into The Light

7/29 - Beverly

As a clear indicator that I'm getting old, we had a 401k presentation at work yesterday. The plan rep was nice as normal, but a little surprised that nobody mentioned wanting to travel in retirement as an investment goal. This is an international company, sure, but traveling only when you get old is super dumb. Life is not guaranteed: if you decide to wait till you're 65 to see the world and you end up dying of a rampaging brain tumor at 40, what the hell did you work all your life for? Go now, while you're still relatively young and strong: do it now while you can still do hard modes, live cheaply, and have dangerous adventures. If you haven't gotten to "the other side of night and day", as Dan Gold puts it, yet, you owe it to yourself to boldly go as far as you can, do as much as you can handle as cheap as you can swing it, and prove to yourself that "adventurer" is a title that can yet be earned in these fallen modern days.

001. Landmobile/airmobile gear in airmobile configuration. Note the fat crashbag and 'tucked-in' side pouches; this'll break apart to go on the plane, and keep the shit in the pack from breaking once on it.


The unexpected strikes anywhere; check-in was a little delayed due to a Danish youth orchestra coming back from a Midwest tour. That being resolved, it was quick and easy through security and just enough time to pick up a pub lunch before the inevitable pileup of boarding begins. My only concern is for my pack getting lost in the shuffle of drums and tubas. However, I should be in Helsinki long enough to pick it up. and Icelandic didn't lose my gear in the 10 minutes I was in Reykjavik on the 2009 tour.

7/30 - Reykjavik, Iceland

The flight was shorter than expected, but allowed an unexpectedly large amount of reading-Finnish-aloud time due to my mp3 player being dead, likely from terminal overwork coming back from HK and not being charged since. We'll see if it picks up any when these French people clear out in 45 or so minutes and let me surreptitiously connect to the outlet in the baseboard. Still, the practice was good, and the views coming down into Keflavik at dusk -- about 11 PM, of course -- were pretty class. It's currently night now, about half past midnight, but who knows how long that's going to last.

Along with a $4 bottle of water and a $4 yogurt -- airports are the same everywhere -- I picked up a mp3 player as a replacement, despite derping myself out of the battery needed for it. Fuckit; in Finland or on the boat if the old one stays busted. This did proc me nearly all the coins I needed, but then I had to toss back my ISK 50 piece on dinnerfast because I was ten kroner short between the coins I had surplus. "I had it right in my hand!"

With the extra breathing time afforded by the layover, you get more of a sense of the airport, if maybe not of Iceland as a whole. You see people, mostly European residents as you'd see anywhere else in western Europe, poking their way between continents on the cheap, and you also see Icelanders going around their own country, which even in the summer is largely inaccessible from itself by road. Whether to Charles de Gaulle or little gravel strips on the east coast, most of it goes through here.

You know you're in Europe, even if you happen to be physically on a volcanic rock in the middle of the North Atlantic, when you see middle-aged women going about in silver-sequinned high-top Chuck Taylors. Not even lying here. It would be literally impossible to invent that sight unseen.

The plan is to stay awake-ish until boarding, then sleep on the plane. The weird hotel situation (explained when I actually get there) will require me to be on full power when I hit the ground in HSK. The darkness of the night, though, is impenetrable -- and it's well past two. Shit needs to light up soon, if for no other reason than to take pictures of the dawn through the rain clouds.

I finished the Finnish dictionary in this interim, retention probably about zero. I'll need to watch TV in the hotel and listen to people on the street to get pronouncing things correctly. The main takeaway is pretty much that Monty Python's famous attraction is actually a tongue-twister in suomalainen (säkilaunen sisään sali!). The other cool thing is learning how Finns see the world: the way that the sekoitta/sekoittamaton construction is set up, "neatness" is the negation state (-maton), absence of mess or things jumbled together. We'll see when we actually get in, but Finland and stuff randomly piled together at least has the potential for the gewöhnlichkeit factor of garlic in Korea.

On standing up and taking a look around, I may be the only person -- aside from staff kicking around on classic scooters now and again, Iceland is too sensible (or maybe broke) for Segways and Razers won't cut it -- awake in this entire airport. The last time I overnighted in a terminal was in Frankfurt, which was the total opposite: here, there, everywhere, always in motion. Here, silence and emptiness, and a dawn that's not coming.

002. Viking ship model.

003. Viking swords and display.

The dawn's starting to come up now, by fits and starts. I should get some decent pics. somehow, over the next four or so hours.

004. Krona i hatt. This is 156 ISK, or somewhere around $2. I'm not sure, though; the only definite point of comparison I have is that 4000 ISK ~= 25e. Regardless, it's getting a little why-are-you-still-minting-ish, if not quite to the levels of South Korea.

005. Sculpture and advertising. The sculpture is cool; the ad there for contrast; back at the food court, there's another of them that uses the word "nutricious"; I suspect that this is a portmanteau of "nutritious" and "delicious", but it's a wasted one, because most native English-speakers are either jingoistic assholes who'll assume it's been misspelled by foreigners, or too stupid to notice in the first place, and non-native speakers, at least the ones I know, mostly throw the nine billion ways English does the suffix pronounced "-ishus" to the winds and don't care about it. Maybe Icelanders are proficient and reflective enough to get it, but this is an airport, one that's overwhelmingly a way station for other people, and all told, there's probably a better ad that could go there. Still, this is the country that came up with Lazy Town: weird things in English might almost be expected.

006. Deep blue clouds of dawn. It's about 3:30 and the scenery is pretty boring; I may end up packing it in after all.

So I gave up, entirely as expected, and napped fitfully for the better part of two hours. Half an hour or so onto the plane, and I can allow myself to sleep for real.


I didn't get any photos from the airport, but coming into Finland this way makes a deep impression. The airport's about a 40-minute municipal bus ride outside the center of Helsinki, and still surrounded mostly by forest, great stretching expanses of pine and birch, rather than suburbs. Hella cool to look out into stands of trees past the runways. The bus is through more of this forest towards the motorways; deep and dark and green in the summer, and you can imagine how feral and forbidding it must get when there's three inches of snow on the roadways, deep drifts under the trees, and more coming down on the other side of the year. And then you get further in, through high-density suburbs, something that's really jarring to me for whatever reason: I can take the endless highrises of Hong Kong, but single-family houses packed in next to each other cheek by jowl, like here, just really drives a sense of despair and disillusionment. The dream of your own home's being sold, but it's transparently an illusion, one that people are desperate to be fooled by, or they'd never move out here. I'd rather take my chances with an apartment in the city center; packed technically-separate houses like this on the British model manage to pack in all the disadvantages of urban and suburban living spaces with none of the advantages of either. Oppose.

Once in Helsinki, of course, things got a lot better.

007. First view from the station.

After a while, I figured out which way I needed to be pointed from here, and set off to the south and mostly east.

008. Sculpture while crossing the street.

009. Black and gold domelet, headed east.

010. Orthodox cathedral from along the eastern harbor. Yes, we're right next to Russia.

011. Ships standing at anchor.

012. Awesome old boat boarded up for the weather.

013. Cathedral up close, by a floating restaurant.

At this point, I was running below empty; I ate a big lunch in Boston, and then some yogurt at Keflavik, but that was it in about the last 20 or so hours, most of which had been spent awake. I pack extra energy around my gut for times like these, but a sustained body fat burn isn't as efficient as actual food. Fortunately, I was closing in on the hotel.

014. Self-service check-in. I got an email from this place with two codes in it. The first one got me into this room; the second opened up one of these boxes. "Only take your own key", it says, and apparently it works. Just Say OK.

So I got through that piece, showered off, and went out to get some food from the market. This place has a kitchenette, so I can make actual food as well as takeout.

015. Cool architecture by the hotel.

016. Ferry pulling out from the slips. Easy to find for Monday.

017. Neat metal cladding coming back.

I've got work to do picking out points for tomorrow, then eventually repacking my gear, but for now I might as well rest and make good on my sleep debt.

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