Kade kneels next to a stream formed by the San Francisco Glacier, about two hours outside Santiago, Chile.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Helsinki, Finland

I flew out of Tashkent on April 15th, a day later than I should have.  I had "stumbled out of the gate" in a very embarrassing way the previous day, the actual day of my flight, when I realized I could not find my airline ticket.  I was at the airport in the wee hours of the morning, and a number of my Uzbek friends and students were there to see me off.  When the ticket fiasco occurred, I got very red in the face, and explained that I had to come back the next day instead after procuring a replacement ticket.  But I told them not to dare come out again to see me off!  None did!  Funny thing is, the evening of the day I missed my flight, I ended up finding my ticket in my carry-on, and actually had it at the airport with me the whole time!  I felt beyond embarrassed, and told no one!  To make matters a little worse, when I arrived in Moscow for my connecting flight to Helsinki, I had no transit visa to get from Airport 1 to Airport 2!  In the end, after almost having a panic attack, I was given permission to be carried by car, driven by an airport official, to Airport 2.  Thankfully I made my connecting flight!

When I arrived in Helsinki, on April 17th, it was still cold.   I took a bus into the city center, near market square. I don't recall having a guidebook or having really researched anything.  Although I had been e-mailing for a couple of years, this was long before the Internet had grown into what it is today.  After half-heartedly looking for a hostel, I decided to get a room at Hotelli Seurahuone Helsinki for one night. The hotel was less ritzy than it looks today, but it was in the heart of the city, right close to the port where I would take the hydrofoil to Tallinn, Estonia the next day.  I had no contacts in Helsinki, and had no idea about what I wanted to there.  If only I had had this article, the experience would have been different.  Therefore, I mainly just walked around the city center and into shopping centers. I grabbed a burger and some fries - yes, an American meal!!! - and stayed close to the hotel.  The hotel TV, unlike most hotels in the US at the time, had an "adult movie" channel that, if you watched for 30 seconds, would stay permanently on and you'd get charged the $10 or so on your hotel bill the next morning.  What kind of young man could resist that marketing device?!?!?  I couldn't!

My plan was to leave the very next day for Tallinn.  In retrospect, traveling alone like I was, at the baby age of 23, I was experiencing both exhilaration and unease.   I was enjoying the freedom and the adventure that lay ahead, but at the same time longed for a travel companion or friend.  I was already eagerly looking forward to meeting my great-uncle in Prague, who'd be arriving at the airport to travel with me for a couple of weeks.

The next morning, the day of my departure, I walked to the Central Railway Station, which was near my hotel, just to look around.  I do remember it was very early in the morning, and there were not many the people there.  However, one thing that startled me was a man who walked up to this other gentleman, shouted at him, and then simply walked away.  The other gentleman remained composed and still, and just didn't react.  I left quickly.  Back at the hotel I pigged out on cheeses, sliced meats, yogurts, bread and cold cereal.  I then checked out and walked to Market Square and the nearby port.

Arriving at the port, I bought a ticket for an afternoon speedboat to Estonia.  I was going to arrive in the capital city Tallinn in the early evening.  But before I boarded the boat, I had a couple of hours to kill.  I enjoyed walking around Market Square, especially the areas where you could buy fresh fish and produce of all sorts.  I remember the strawberries in particular looking very red and juicy.  There were also kiosks and counters where you could buy delicious baked goods, chocolates and fresh coffee.  I was mesmerized by the whole experience, and don't even know if I bought anything or not.  It was a super busy, and felt unsure about attempting to order when they wouldn't really understand.  I just remained a voyeur!  The thrill of simply observing was fascinating enough!

I boarded the boat at the scheduled time, took my seat and contemplated what I'd do next.  In the big area where I was sitting, there was a huge TV monitor.  This video was being played very loudly, and I thought the lyrics were catchy and the dance beat was cool.

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