A Post in Two Parts. With an Interlude that’s Nothing But Links. Warning: may be long.
Up at 4:30 to catch the 5:33 train to have enough time at Schiphol for my 9:55 plane, because I’d been warned about the enormous holiday queues. But of course holiday queues don’t happen at 7 in the morning so I breezed through everything, even security (they had a nude scanner but still thought it necessary to pat down my leg, and only my leg, for some reason). It’s not the security people’s fault that it’s uncomfortable (I have to keep repeating that or I might forget it).
Boarding pass on my phone: best idea ever. I didn’t bother to find a printer at Worldcon, though I suppose Ops would have had one, to have a paper copy for the way back. I had a paper copy for the way out but never needed it.
Also I did this. Cheesy? Yes. Ugly result? Yes! But great fun, and it fit my mood exactly.
Breakfast at the post-security self-service cafe. The bread products and fruit salad were nice but nothing special, the coffee terrible, but the view made up for that: my actual plane, being unloaded of the previous flight’s luggage.
It left about ten minutes late, because of “catering issues” and “a very small takeoff window” as the purser, called Daniella, explained. She thanked us for our attention to the safety instructions in English and Dutch, drawing my attention to the fact that she’d given the safety instructions only in English.
On my left: a large sweaty smoker, who at one point went to the toilet and came back reeking even more of smoke. Don’t they have smoke detectors in the toilet and penalties for smoking? I considered telling the flight attendant, or Daniella herself, but didn’t want to have to sit next to the man after reporting him, and sending email to KLM probably doesn’t have any effect a week and a half after the fact.
On my right, in the window seat: a young French-Canadian student (as I saw later when she read her college yearbook) braiding a red/white/blue bracelet that she’d pinned to her trouser leg with a small safety pin.
Clouds from above are amazing. I never fail to notice that.
Turbulence happened just when I was trying to eat my lunch –pasta that was called “arrabiata” but didn’t taste of anything– and drink tea and read all at the same time. Annoying, but I don’t think I’m physically capable of getting airsick.
I knew that the two women in front of me must be speaking Finnish, but I couldn’t hear them properly because of the noise. Across the aisle, a boy of seven or so knew about air traffic routes! And told his (probable) mother and brother all about them! I wish I’d been able to understand more.
Ooh, that sweet spot at the beginning of the descent when the plane seems to stand still, Scary and exhilarating at the same time. I could see lots of thickly wooded little islands across the Canadian student.
And then a very neat touchdown, quick baggage claim (Helsinki has everything in the open, not a separate baggage claim hall) and a long, long passage to the train station where two helpful railway people sold me a 24-hour ticket for Helsinki as well as a ticket from Vantaa, where the airport is. On hindsight a single ticket to Messekeskus in the morning would have been cheaper, but I didn’t know at the time that the hotel was smack in the middle of the city center and close enough to the station not to need any public transport.
Nice hotel room (it’s the window next to the second Ä), though the bed was a bit too soft and the duvet turned out to be too hot so I threw it off every night. And at 3am the world insisted it was morning. I’d never been this far north before! Move over, Nykøbing Sjælland.
Roommate arrived at dinner-time so we went out to the Nepalese restaurant Base Camp just around the corner. (Nepalese seems to be what Finland does instead of Indian: we saw at least two more Nepalese restaurants.) Decent food, reasonable prices, neither too salty nor too sweet, good choice of vegetarian dishes.
I finally got to taste the halloumi burger! At the Central Station. The halloumi was very thinly sliced but tasty, and there was sweet onion chutney with it! And the onion rings I also got were nice and crispy. I’d been considering the restaurant we’d passed almost daily where they had Chinese buffet as well as sushi, but I didn’t think I’d have enough time. Instead, I bought half a litre of fresh peas from a stall to shell and eat on the train.
The train was packed: no more than half the trains were running, after all. I was being pushed into an ever tighter corner by a pushchair, but the occupant was a very cute toddler so I didn’t mind much. This toddler later had a screaming contest with another toddler with huge brown eyes, pushed by a woman in a green headscarf, which the other one eventually won. A smaller kid, perhaps nine or ten months old, smiled at me around the partition and grabbed my hand and used it as a rattle. I obligingly said “rattle rattle” in Dutch, because I didn’t know it in Finnish, making the kid smile even more.
Helsinki Airport is VAST, or at least EXTENSIVE, and half of it is just Finnair so I had to ask someone in a Finnair uniform where to go for KLM. I was so early that my plane wasn’t on the boards yet, and the KLM baggage-check people were just opening their desk. My suitcase had grown from 16kg to 19.6kg with the pickled herring and cider and cheese I was bringing home as well as the books I bought and the books I got for free and the hardback I didn’t have in my carryon bag.
This time there was a short queue for security, and I got a taste of security hell or at least security purgatory: the scanner beeped for (possibly) the stays in my bra, and I got not only a full pat-down but also a swab test for explosives. Everything negative, of course, and the security woman said three times that it was completely random. I might have believed her if she’d said it only once; now I wondered if it was anything to do with the fact that I was wearing a long mediaevaloid dress.
Then I urgently needed the toilet (not only for its intended purpose, but to be alone for a couple of minutes as well!) and found that it had a recording of birdsong playing. Probably intended to be soothing, but it had the opposite effect on my already frazzled nerves. When I went again later, just before boarding, it was silly rather than aggravating.
Not nearly enough of a view through that window, but I didn’t want to sit on the tiny outside terrace with the largish group of people already there who looked somewhat fannish but didn’t include anyone I recognised. In fact there was nobody I recognised at the whole airport! On the Monday, there were so many people going home from Worldcon that they had an impromptu fan meeting there and then.
I sat drinking beer and eating quite tasty nuts (“sweet and salty” fruit and nut mixture) and tweeting and whatsapping –using up more of my data pack, because if Helsinki Airport has wifi my phone didn’t find it– and listening to the announcer pronouncing “priority” as “pry-oh-RID-dee” until I thought I might at least go and find the gate.
What I found was not only the gate, but a much better bar with a much better view.
Wine & View bar. Picture heavily cropped in order not to include any passengers. The view from my table was of a plane that I (correctly, it turned out) assumed to be my plane: boarding in 25 minutes.
If I’d found this bar right away I could have had more interesting beer than default Karhu and at a lower price at that, but I’d been so thirsty that I hadn’t looked any further than the first place that looked okay. Instead of beer, I got the smallest possible glass of Albariño and a small plate of “Nordic Tapas”: marinated and grilled beetroot, and smoked [fish I didn’t recognise and don’t remember the name of] with a mousse of [that same fish] roe on dark rye bread.
It set me back more than 16 euros, 10,65 of which for the wine, but it was good extravagance. (Those are the 16 euros I saved because I didn’t fall for the upgrade to a seat with ever so slightly more leg room that KLM wanted to push on me, anyway.) Positively amazing. There were about ten different Nordic Tapas, but I couldn’t have eaten or indeed afforded them all so I took the two that looked yummiest.
Extravagance, at this point, was exactly what I needed.
This time I had a window seat, though right on top of the wing so I couldn’t look down on the land much without getting a crick in my neck. And my immediate seatmate was a much smaller, quieter and less smelly man than on the other plane. My bag was literally on my feet, so I could reach it to eat chocolate or get a different book.
At the safety instruction the people in the exit row, a few rows in front of me, got extra instructions: “if there is fire or smoke inside, please don’t open these doors but use the ones at the front or the rear”.
Dinner was identical to Tuesday’s lunch: uninteresting pasta. My theory is that KLM has only one non-special-needs inflight meal. It was even vegetarian, so I probably couldn’t have specified any preference without being flagged as “weird religion”. But I could get real milk in my tea, at least.
More amazing cloudscapes.
A cropped version of this, without the bit of wing, is now my Twitter header. There were even more amazing cloud formations but the fact that the plane was going south-west, in the direction of the setting sun, made it hard to take pictures. At one point I saw the north coast of the Netherlands lying there like a map! But I didn’t manage to take a picture of that either.
Getting home took an hour longer than usual because of railway works, but then there was a shower and clean pyjamas and people I loved and beer and cheese and no need to put all the fannish debris away at once.