I got off the plane in Frankfurt completely unclear on where to go. I knew my flight number and time, but I didn’t have a boarding pass, or for that matter even the knowledge of which gate I needed to go to. I located the nearest screen that contained flight information and scanned through it for mine. It wasn’t listed. The flights were in order of time, and my flight wasn’t leaving for over three hours. The board barely made it to 5:15PM. This was rather unfortunate. I attempted to locate a Lufthansa desk, but could only find the one back at my arrival gate that was actually staffed.
The woman was able to give me my boarding pass, which required me to pull out my luggage check again. She pointed me toward A18. which she said was forward and to the left. I followed the signs in that direction, and walked down a staircase to a connecting tunnel behind an Australian couple with big backpacks. The excessively long tunnel was kind of cool – it was full of different colored lights and moving walkways. The Australian couple, for some reason got off the walkway at the first break. I think they were under the impression you couldn’t walk on the moving walkway, because I heard the girl say, “See, he’s doing it,” as I passed them at double speed. I caught up to the woman who had the dog on my plane, who was walking her dingy poodle through the hallway. The dog was very curious and was checking everything out.
At the end of the connection tube, there were no stairs to walk up, only an elevator. About eleven of us crammed inside, including the poodle, who wasn’t the least bit phased by the close quarters. This exited on the opposite side into Terminal A, which was the same one I’d left from when I went to Dresden. I leisurely strolled towards gate 18. The electronics store was on my right, and I was still amazed to see the price my Razr V3 goes for here. Craziness. I continued on to the gate, and located a table by the windows. I didn’t initially see any plugs, so I decided it was a good use of the battery at this time.
I hooked up my underused Hotspot connection, and connected Skype. I wanted to call home, and it wasn’t going to cost me much to do it. First I tried my parents at the office, but they weren’t there. Odd, since it was almost 9am on a Friday in Houston. I tried their house next, and they were just running late today. I let them know I was in Frankfurt and that everything in Dresden was done. They were happy to hear from me, and Mom said she was still on the Berlin log. I know, they’re long! Trust me, I know, being the one who’s writing them! This was good news though, since I was still three days behind. I told them I’d let them know when I got to Helsinki.
Brian was simultaneously talking to me on Trillian, and I made a quick call to him as well. Bianca was also talking to me, and she hooked up her Skype as well and we had two conversations over the time I sat there. A group of blonde blue eyed Germans had taken a seat next to me, but when they left, they didn’t take their trash. Bleh.
A man walked up to me randomly, and asked if I was German. I said no, and he asked for a favor. His PDA’s memory card was full, and he needed to swap some things around. I was going to help him with this strange request, but as it turns out I don’t have an MMC reader, which is what he needed. Everything I have takes compact flash, so that’s all I had. I apologized, but he understood.
I noticed about now that there was a plug in the wall next to this table. As I talked to Bianca again on Skype, I changed seats in a systematic fashion, moving all of my things over to that table. When I managed to get over there, however, the Hotspot connection went dead; I guess there is a timeout. It had already happened twice. Grr. Bianca pointed out to me that there’s actually a volcano near Helsinki, but it’s been dormant for some time. She and Aaron are moving into their new house tomorrow, I’m sorry that I can’t help them move!
I called Deb at Eureka to give her a status update, and things were going okay there. As I was talking, however, I heard something about a gate change, but I missed most of the announcement. A moment later, they announced the flight boarding, and even though it was early, I got off the phone quickly, put everything away and checked. The gate was now for the plane to Stuttgart, and I used what little information I gleaned from the previous announcement to determine that the actual gate was now A20. I walked set of gates down and found I was correct.
A chocolate shop was nearby, and I stopped inside to get a gift for Anj and D’Arcy, some champagne truffles from a German chocolate maker. Across from there was a gift shop, and I actually found some of the “Germany” labeled shirts which Bianca was interested in. Now she wanted a Finland shirt for herself too. :) I returned to the gate, not willing to get the computer out again, and sat near the ticket counter waiting for boarding.
A few minutes later, they announced it, and the crowd instantly became a mass in front of the gate, just as in Dresden. This time there was an automated gate to the right, but as luck would have it, it was broken, and everyone had to mush their way through the single gate. I was lucky and made it through early. I was really impressed by the jetway area as it had just been rebuilt and actually was a very cool-looking building. I was in the back of the plane again, this time in a window seat next to two Finns. They were part of a much larger group who were in surrounding seats, and who were all talking to one another.
This was my first exposure to Finnish. My thoughts were that it didn’t sound at all like I expected it to; my original belief was that it would be similar to Swedish somehow, and it’s not at all like that. It actually sounded like a cross between Spanish and Portuguese, like I should have been able to pick out words here and there. Of course, this wasn’t the case, and I was again plummeted back into darkness even further than I had been in Germany. This also made me realize that I was now headed to what is for me the most foreign country I’ve ever been to in my life. I’d learned about Japan and Japanese culture before I’d gone the first time, so even it wasn’t that different for me. Plus I spoke some of the language the first time. I could at least say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in German, and had taken a cultural class before I left. Here, however, was a language I knew absolutely nothing about, and had no knowledge of how the culture worked. I could do or say something and suddenly piss everyone in the room off. It was a very scary feeling.
The tall, long haired Finn next to me got up, presumably to go to the bathroom. However, just before takeoff, he hadn’t returned, and I was concerned. Where had he gone? I sat up in my seat and recognized his bright red hair – he’d moved up two rows to the window seat. No problem there, more room for me! The plane pulled out of the parking area and taxied to a long line of planes, each waiting for takeoff. I took note of all the different planes along the way; there were more airlines than I’d ever seen here! Every time I saw a new one, it was something like “South African Air” or some random corporation I’d never even known to exist. I counted at least fifteen just on the brief taxi. One of the planes outside my window on the line (there were two waiting lines, coming together in a Y, which crossed a runway that alternated land-takeoff-land-takeoff) a 747 was sitting next to us. I’d forgotten just how BIG those planes are! It was an Air India, and the windows had red painted surrounds on them, making them appear to be similar to those you might see on the Taj Mahal. It was interesting! Off in the distance, a bunch of bright stars denoted different jets on approach. Our turn finally arrived and the jet made a quick launch into the sky. A few moments later, we were high into the sky, and I could see an orange glow on the horizon. I said goodbye to the sun, and we were off to the land of the 3 hour days.
I took out my laptop, and since the tall Finn had left, used my trick from the last Japan trip. I set it on the middle tray table, turning it sideways towards me and worked on some log files. The noise canceling headphones were hooked into my MP3 player, and I was comfortable. I couldn’t get the seat to go back for some reason, but I really didn’t need it to. They served dinner to us about 30 minutes later, which consisted of chicken ravioli in a cream sauce, a cold roll, and some weird vanilla pudding that was grainy. It was actually very tasty, and had a little custard influence. (Weiss-pudding?) The ravioli was probably one of the best meals I’ve had on an airline as well. The drink cart came around, and I tried to be cool by ordering “wasser mit gas”, but the flight attendant saw right through this. She asked in English if I’d like coffee or tea additionally, and I told her coffee, smacking myself again for trying to fit into the culture. She gave me a sparkling water and weird yellow coffee cup, which looked like an upside down hat for a cartoon character.
As we ate, the captain came on. They announced everything in German, then again in English, with absolutely *no* pause between them, so I’d be not paying attention, and the English part would be half over before I noticed. This announcement was no different, but I heard something that made me perk up and review what I’d just heard.
“…Northern Lights are visible probably from the right side of the aircraft as well, but the left is a better view. The conditions are good for them right now, so if you’re going into Northern Europe, you should be able to see them quite a bit.”
Northern Lights??? Like THE Northern Lights? My face smacked the window so hard I probably bruised it. I began to strain, using my hands and shields as they had the cabin illumination on, and it was *very* hard to see outside. Come ON! You just announced something cool, and I can’t see *anything*. Best I could see was what looked like a line of clouds, so I gave up. I finished my dinner. After they came around for the dishes, I put my tray table up, then casually looked outside the plane.
“OhmyfreakingGod.” Outside the window was a similar cloud structure that I’d seen a little while earlier. Only this time, the clouds were in a bunch of what looked like parallel vertical ribbons. This in itself was weird, but what was weirder still was that they were *changing*. Clouds don’t appear and disappear that quickly, and they weren’t moving with the plane’s movement. As far as I know, and at the time I was positive, those were in fact Aurora Borealis, a phenomenon that occurs basically because solar radiation interacts with gases in the atmosphere producing a spectacular dancing light show. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t have my camera on me, but even if I had, the lights in the plane made it nearly impossible to see outside, so I doubt anything would have shown up anyway. I kept craning my neck and shielding my eyes to see outside, so much that my neck started to hurt. When they died down somewhat, I finally had to stop as I was really thinking I’d be in pain longer than for just a few minutes.
Several minutes later, they announced the decent into Helsinki. All the electronic equipment was put away, and the plane pitched slightly downward. We entered a cloud bank, and the plane was instantly immersed in a smoky haze, illuminated slightly by the lights on the wings. What really weirded me out is that the simple gray color of the clouds began to change. It went from the colorless substance to a deep orange, brightening with each passing minute. Within a few moments, the plane was surrounded by a bright orange glow, which was very disturbing. Any minute I expected to look out at the wing and see a bizarre creature jumping across the wing, ripping cables aside. The clouds were now brightly lit and I was very freaked out. The orange finally began to fade, and was replaced by a heavy white one.
The cloud layer broke, and I had my first view of Finland from the air. The initial thought that came into my mind was how illuminated it was. I totally expected Finland to be very, very dark, but the entire landscape was easily visible from the air. Fields of white separated houses and trees; it was completely covered in snow. This I had expected at least. However, the visibility made it appear that everything I was looking at as it panned by was a model in a Frederico Fellini film. Very, very unreal. The plane touched down on a runway surrounded by a plain of white, but surprisingly had no trouble coming to a land-based speed.
We taxied for a few minutes, the hot jet exhaust melting the snow on the ground around us. The plane docked at the terminal, and I managed to peel my face from the window in anticipation. I was even more anxious to get off the flight than I was in Frankfurt, but no longer from claustrophobia; this time I was eager to get a look at the country from the ground. For some reason, it took an extremely long time to get them to open the plane door, but people finally began to move off. As I stepped out into the jetway, my hand touched the outer wall of the plane, but instead of the smooth surface of the plane, I crunched into an icy slush. I shook my hand dry, and walked up the hallway to exit into Helsinki.