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26 July 2007 @ 09:09 am
Finland trip notes  
15 July

I did finally get to Finland, though it took more than a day extra. Anybody attempting air travel in the eastern half of the United States a couple of days ago knows what I mean. A big storm system bollixed up air traffic from New Orleans to, well, Bangor, Maine.

Nothing got out of Bangor. The only hotel was so crowded I had to sleep on the floor, in front of the reservation desk. Finally, at 2 a.m., they had a "cancellation," and for only $150 I got a bed for a few hours.

(I leave to your imagination what actually caused this "cancellation." I don't think anybody called up at 0200 and said he couldn't make it.)

When I finally could get out of Bangor, I had to spend ten hours in the Boston airport. If I'd had less luggage I would've just taken the T into town and gone to a couple of movies.

Then four hours in the Paris airport (CDG, fortunately) chasing down my lost luggage. Air France was extremely friendly, and when I was about to miss my flight to Helsinki, they escorted me through security and then let me rest rather than stand in line for boarding.

And on the flight the wine was free. And French.

I missed all of the other foreign contingent in Helsinki, but a fine fan, Otto Makela, met me at the airport and facilitated chasing down my luggage, which had preceded me by almost a day. Then he drove me into town and got me settled in the Holiday Inn by the train station, and took me to dinner. Fandom forever!

A newspaper reporter who had interviewed the other foreigners met us at the restaurant and we did an interview over drinks. He was unusually well prepared, (He'd been disappointed that I'd missed the general press gathering the day before. I was the only American author there who had a book in Finnish translation -- I guess he'd had to read THE FOREVER WAR, and then I didn't show up!)

Had a nice Finnish breakfast -- meatballs and hot dogs and beans with bread warm from the oven -- and then Otto helped me over to the railway station. A pleasant enough three-hour ride up to Jyvaskyla, though tranferring in the middle was a trial. I have four bags -- the unwieldy Breaktoe guitar, a rollaboard, a general bag, and a computer -- and they wanted to go every which way while I staggered aboard the new train.

Will continue this tomorrow. It's 5 ayem Jyvaskyla time, and I'm no longer able to compute what time that would be on Norton Island, which I think is on another planet.

16 July

Packing up to leave for Helsinki. Have a couple of days to be tourists. The
convention was well run and interesting, though with the travel problems and
my ailing toe, I was not my usual high-energy self.

This group of fans does only the one convention, most years, and they put everything
they have into it. A lot of enthusiasm and seriousness.

Yesterday we went to the fanciest restaurant in the area, up on a mountain from
which you can see the whole city in one panorama. Gay and I and Ellen Datlow
all had the double whammy -- reindeer soup followed by broiled reindeer. When
I asked the waitress for reindeer parfait for dessert, she was kind enough to
pretend that had never happened before, and laughed.

The reindeer was as tender as a fifty-dollar steak. The soup was an elegant
cream concoction. The wine was a French Pinot Noir, fine.

I had a kaffeeklatch in the morning, well attended even though no one had signed
up two hours before. That seems to be the Finnish way.

A two-person panel with John Clute on science in science fiction was very intellectual
and (for me) entertaining, with a SRO audience. John is a great partner in
enterprises like this, always ready to step in with a clarification or expansion
if you start to falter. And I was in a faltering state, not sleeping well,
still kind of stunned from travel problems, eight time zones away from clarity.

No better at a seven-person panel on Robert Heinlein. Actually, I had more
to say than I was able to get in. Maddeningly bad acoustics in the huge hall;
I couldn't hear the other panelists well, and so was reluctant to reply to what
they said. Hate that -- had to fall back on set pieces.

Went off to a sauna in the evening, and it was really fine. Guys separate from
girls, which I disapprove of, but of course here the sauna is not a special
social thing; it really is a natural part of life. Our hostess said college
kids go in mixed gender, but usually not people who are older or younger. I
guess that makes sense.

With my wrapped-up toe, I didn't go jump in the cold lake, but (like many other
guys) just went out on the cold porch and cooled off between sweats. I did
four iterations and it felt great -- the birch switches don't hurt and they
smell wonderful -- and then two of the female fans gave me a wonderful massage
afterwards. I've never had two masseuses at the same time. It does make you
feel special.

Managed to give myself a case of the hiccups with a slash of what looked like
plain vodka but was really peppery -- note to self: put on reading glasses
before sampling new boozes. Drank more water than I usually do at parties,
but didn't really stop the hiccups until I could get home and lie down.

Headed down for breakfast and then see whether the train's running -- there
was a breakdown last night, so we may have to bus to Helsinki. Only a couple
of hundred miles.


17 July

Yesterday started with a stroll over to the train station carrying too many
bags. Then changing trains with too many bags, And then when we got to Helsinki,
Otto was waiting and helped us drag our many bags to where his car was parked,
and while we were loading many bags into his car, I had a freak accident. Hauling
on a strap I lost my grip and my hand flung up to my face and I almost put my
eye out with a sharp thumbnail. The only result, fortunately, is a small red
crescent a half-inch under my right eye. And a determination to bring fewer
bags next time.

Gay and I hit the bricks and found a nice bite at a clean, well-lighted place,
and then met Otto and Tino Warnowski to see some sights on the way down to the
ferry. The first was in our own hotel, or rather over it. Above the thirteenth
floor, you go up a tightly-wound spiral staircase to a lounge with a lovely
panoramic view of the city. Had a beer and viewed and then went down to walk.

We mainly went to the blindingly white marble capital building. Impressive
but evidently not the best choice of materials, since the marble degrades under
low temperatures, and the facade has to be continually replaced.

Then we wandered down by the docks and took a ferry over to the island where
the naval/coast guard establishment is. My foot was hurting too much to walk
easily on cobblestones, so I just held down the fort at a tavern for 45 minutes.
 Pleasant sitting in the sunshine reading the local tourist paper, drinking
a dark beer that tasted sort of like a British black & tan.

Another pleasant ferry ride, maybe twenty minutes, back to the docks, and we
went uptown a ways to Kappeli, where we met a bunch of people from Finncon,
and went back to the hotel area for dinner, a fancy place called Juuri. Pleasant
but pricey.

First we had a wonderful assortment of appetizers. There were eight of us,
and 17 starters on the menu, so we cast out one and ordered one each of all
the others. So everybody got a bite of everything. Decent French Pinot Noir.

For a main course I had duck that was barely cooked, which I think is the way
rich people like it. Flavorful with a sweet/sour berry sauce, but too tough.
 For dessert a small assortment of Finnish cheeses and a sweet French wine.

Then stagger home - literally, in my case, but not from intoxication. The combination
of bad toe and bad walking surfaces has given me a gait like Popeye on LSD.

19 July

Our last day in Helsinki, Gay and I went down to the dockside market, looking
for stocking-stuffers for Christmas. I picked up a new wallet as well.

Met Tino for lunch at the fancy place on the Esplanade. Pricey but good. Crayfish
had come into season, and Gay and I both had crayfish salad, odd and good.
Washed down with iced cider for me, drier than most British ciders.

Worked on the Hemingway speech a bit and rested. Then went with Tino and Otto
to the Arctic Ice Bar -- a small bar completely carved out of ice, in a freezer
about three by four meters. They dress you in insulated clothing and offer
five or six drinks, the pretty barmaid also in a parka. All Finlandia vodka;
I was a purist and just had a shot of their lime flavor. It wasn't really all
that cold, about minus five or ten Celsius. Cold enough to be glad for the
insulation after a couple of minutes.

They have to rebuild the place every six months; the ice slowly sublimes.

On the way to dinner we stopped at a knife shop and I got a nice filleting knife.
 Now find time to fish.

We took a dinner cruise that went out into the archipelago for two and a half
hours. Good fixed-price dinner. Best part a roulade of smoked reindeer with
cream cheese and chives. Saw a lot of rich people's summer houses. In the
winter you can get to them over the ice, skating or walking. I wonder whether
that's a security headache.

Back fairly early. Flight out at 5 ayem.

Now we're home safe and more or less in one piece -- one suitcase has gone missing.
 All the flights were uneventful, but all of the connections were tight, except
Atlanta. We got to hang around there for a few hours.

Somewhat beat after 21 hours in transit. Had a can of beans and some Jon Stewart,
then a much-needed bath and crash.