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

Friday, October 01, 2010

HEL ain't a bad place to be

I didn't eat reindeer. I ate a bowl of peanuts and a chicken+bacon+bbq sauce sandwich (which was, actually, gorgeous). I also didn't have vodka, being too scared to ask how much it was after reading the beer menu.

I know as much about Helsinki and Finland as I do about Seoul and Korea. Which is to say I know what it's like to stay overnight in an airport near the hotel, doing nothing but free shuttle bus / hotel bar / sleep / free shuttle bus. Occasionally I think to myself, Foreman, what the fuck are you playing at? Go and see these places you twat. But then I think, meh, I kinda like doing the in-and-out passport stamp box-tick incursion. Because those are the only reasons I've been to either place, really; that and the expedience (by which I mean cost saving) of flying through each city rather than a more direct route.

So. The Holiday Inn Helsinki-Vantaa. My room was basic, small. The shower is just a slightly dipped part of the floor with a hole and a curtain. It was also massively powerful, and I kind of maybe sort of broke the switch which turns it from normal shower to power painful jet of doom. Perhaps. The TV had more channels on crap quality analog than half-decent digital, and BBC World rolls its news every 30 minutes or so these days. Bah. BBC Entertainment wasn't very entertaining. I fell asleep catching up on videos from vbs.tv (there's a 3rd series of Thumbs Up, in China! Yay!) before going to the hotel bar.

It was €7 for my first beer, 400ml of a Finnish brew whose name I can't recall. Not Lapin Kulta though; that's what some of the Swedes who pitched up to buy beer for their sauna visit got. €7 is about 6 quid; 400ml is 70% of a pint. The Guinness was €8,20 for a 440ml can. The Budvar Dark was the same price for a 500ml bottle. Finland is not a cheap place for the sauce.

Slept for 8 hours or so, which is unlike me. Skipped breakfast, preferring instead to just loiter in my room listening to music until check-out at midday. Before leaving the UK I had thought I would make use of the hotel gym on both Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. Meh. Bothered. I think that was the first hotel room I've ever stayed in which didn't have a clock, either a bedside thing or summat built into the TV.

Back at the airport courtesy of another almost-empty trip on FREE BUS, I checked in immediately for my flight. This despite worrying I'd be stuck landside a while because the website led me to believe check-in might not open 'til 90 minutes before departure. They sent my bags all the way through to Sydney, but I could only get boarding passes to Bangkok. Last leg wasn't yet open for check-in. Directions were given to the lounge, including the warning that it was at the opposite end of the terminal and in the Schengen area, but the flight was leaving from a satellite gate in the non-Schengen bit requiring a bus ride out to the plane.

Had beer. And some kind of salad stuff which claimed to have shrimp in it but didn't. Free wireless worked fine. It always does in airports, right? Oh, no, of course not.

Heeding the check-in girl's warning I set off moderately early to the gate. There was a long queue at passport control between Schengen and non-Schengen, but I realised after a minute or so that it was for the "all passports" line; the EU/EEA line was empty. So I scooted through unhindered. Was at the gate way too early. Bah.

They announced boarding, and said business class and star alliance gold passengers could board at their leisure, in the separate line. But they didn't open up this separate line for 10 minutes or so, and when they did I was the only person to use it. As promised we were bussed to the plane, which was parked out on a stand, nearest the gate the lounge was next to. Bah. Thought for a while I'd be the only person in business, but eventually there were 2 of us. Or 6. I got confused by row 6.

Take-off was delayed by 30 minutes. I had champagne. Food service started pretty promptly once airborne and I can say without hesitation that Turkish Airlines do the best short-haul business class food I've ever had. Not that I've masses of experience with short-haul business class flights (hmm, BA, Qantas, AA, think that's the lot) but really, this spread rivalled some of the long-haul meals I've had. I've got photos which I'll put up soon. Though photos of plane food really is a niche interest...

I realised onboard that Helsinki is the furthest north I've ever been, and on the way home I'm transitting Auckland, the furthest south I've ever been. That and a circumnavigation; I am really putting in a shift on this trip.

With the post-meal beer in hand, I tried to recline my seat. It went with a jolt and I only narrowly escaped full-scale spillage disaster. Twat.

Put my mp3 player on. I'm trying to be good, and not fast forward tracks I don't like in a knee jerk fashion. Open my mind a bit. So far this plan is doing nothing but make me hate wedding dress music even more than before. Ebony Ark and Epica are just dreadful, dreadful bands. Fell asleep with music on; woke up to a Righteous Pigs song about dying in a plane crash. Awesomes. Why am I sleeping so much?

I made a note on my mp3 player that I need to make more notes on my pad, so I can write more that I remember. But now I'm looking at this 'ere post and thinking, shit, if this is how much I write without proper notes, how bored are people going to get reading the rest? Fucking hell.

I took lots of photos of clouds, and experimented with the fake HDR and "commercial" settings. I also have an HDR photo of my face, which may or may not be made public. The Black Sea looked nice, as did the Bosphorus.

Istanbul airport was way more impressive, modern, airy, and large than I remember it being from the last time I was there. I found the CIP lounge and got angry at the wifi. Many many people had iPads, more than I've seen on commutes in London. I guess Angry Birds is a worldwide phenomenon.

Right. I need a shower and a massage and to buy something for t'missus and then to get back on the sauce. Oh, one last thing: you can fly from Helsinki to Tallinn. Yes, there's water in the way, but there's a regular ferry service. A 63 mile flight just seems ridiculous.

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