I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the road to HEL

Ooh, a bed. I like beds. I slept in one last night, and as I type I'm lying on the one in which I'll sleep tonight. It's Wednesday 29th September 2010, and I'm in the Holiday Inn Helsinki-Vantaa, a hotel close to Vantaa airport which serves Helsinki. I'm sure you could have figured that out from the name.

Tomorrow and Friday night I will not be sleeping in beds.

Well, I guess I will, kind of. Not proper beds, but big fancy seats which kind of turn into beds, in the business class cabins of Turkish Airlines and Thai Airways planes. This is assuming I get the types of plane I'm expecting (and, in fact, deliberately engineered my trip to try out). Unfortunately both of these airlines are moderately notorious for swapping out their planes at late notice, so I'm just keeping my fingers crossed for now.

Aaaaanyway. I'm in Helsinki. This morning I was in Surbiton. This is how I got here.

Last night I booked a cab for 9am today to take me to Heathrow terminal 3. This morning a cab turned up at about 8.43am ready to take me to Gatwick. Score minus one for Mogul Cars, Surbiton.

Cab driver was friendly but boring and didn't really want to talk. Think he thought the same of me, but really I was just finding him sort of hard work. So instead I had conversations over SMS and twitter. Some of the SMSes were keeping up with t'other Darren, who happened to also have a flight from T3 this morning, leaving 35 minutes before me. We'd arranged to meet airside for a pint and some breakfast before making our way to our respective gates.

Check-in was a bit messy. T'other Darren was embroiled in lengthy process grief with a Virgin agent, while I was foiled by BA's policy of only opening bag drop 2 hours before the flight. I'm sure it used to be 3 hours. Sure.

From check-in to sitting down with a pint took 20 minutes. People bitch about security lines at Heathrow all the time, but even the long lines really don't take that long to get through. This without fast-track, on an economy ticket, etc. Meh. The whole place is a fucking zoo though, so so crowded land- and airside.

Guinness. T'other Darren wanted an ale, which looked like it was going to be Bass on tap until at the bar I spotted London Pride on draught. Phew! Also ordered two breakfasts, and sat back down. T'other Darren then consulted his boarding pass, which said he should start boarding at 1015 for an 1130 departure. You what? Even for transatlantic that seems like a huge lead time. Nonetheless, it was already quite beyond 1015 so he cancelled his breakfast, got a refund, and buggered off.

Unfortunately (and through no fault of his own, just misunderstanding with the bar staff) he also cancelled my breakfast. And I couldn't be bothered to order again, so I just finished my pint and started taking notes. Tell you what, my new pen's nice. Not that it's particularly new -- I was presented with it as a gift on my last day of a 2 week work trip to India back in February, and have only now got round to using it. Interesting, huh? Moving on...

Point is, I was now on me own. When I first started travelling around the world by meself, I took incessant notes and wrote loads of blog posts. I lost myself for 90 minutes just reliving my own trip from September 2006 the other day, and am trying to blog this trip (as you can see). It's all a bit different now: lots of the experience isn't new, and I've got someone at home to think about and miss. Will I be more boring, less boring, will I sustain it? Who knows.

On my last foreign trip, the only way to sustain a useful UK plug-adaptor-wall socket relationship was to construct a banana/travel hairbrush contraption on which to balance the various parts. Since I'm travelling solo and thus have no hairbrush, I figured I'd buy a new adaptor. Yes, I could have bought a hairbrush, but I'd have felt a bit daft doing that.

Gate 24 at T3 is more like a bus station than an airport gate. Especially because you can't board planes from it, only buses. Which take you to planes, admittedly, but still.

I left the UK without Marmite.

BA flights within Europe are thoroughly unremarkable. I had an exit row seat which didn't feel particularly legroomy, but I did think it felt wider than usual. Which actually means I feel/am narrower than I used to be.

The food was an egg and ham roll, in a plastic bag which was all blown up and mine made the loudest pop in the cabin when opened. Had a beer and water to wash it down, then there was a second drinks run. "Did you want another beer?" I was asked, to which I (of course) answered "yes". The bloke next to me asked for a coffee; she said "OK, but you'll have to wait. Beer is easier, see". SCORE ONE (more) FOR BEER.

Other than that, I spent most of the journey alternating between reading the Independent/flight magazines, listening to music, dozing off. and dicking around with the note taking stuff on my mp3 player. My phone has no such app, what the fuck? The Cowon one allows for 60 notes of 200 characters each. The on-screen keyboard is nice, but it could do with the word completion and mis-hit detection that the HTC has,

The approach to Helsinki was gorgeous. Loads of lagoony lakey watery bits, loads of trees and fields, very sunny, it was just all lovely. But I have no photos (even if I had my camera out it was "turn yer devices off" time).

At the airport, there was no-one else at immigration when I went through. Don't know how that worked really, I was nothing like first or last off, and neither hurried nor dallied. Anyway, the guy didn't even stop chatting on his mobile as he waved me through. My bag was 3rd on the carousel and I headed out into a very very empty arrivals bit landside. Couldn't find an ATM nor easily spot my hotel shuttle bus stop, so asked about both at tourist information. I'd walked past the (rather large and obvious) ATM twice. There are 2 slots to put cards in and I chose the wrong one first (it told me so). Odd.

The free bus to the hotel is called "Free bus" and has "FREE BUS" written on the side in massive letters. Handy.

I might go eat reindeer. Except it doesn't sound too appetising. But the Finns do do good vodka.

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