Monday, June 27, 2011

Adventures in the North! Chapter 1: Limbo

In the days building up to my Nordic journey, I was gripped by all sorts of emotions: excitement, terror...okay, excitement and terror were pretty much it. Yet when I stepped onto the bus which would carry me to JFK airport, a calm passed over me. I was alone. I had no other responsibility other than getting myself on the plane. I could read without interruption. I could listen to music without worrying that mischief may be occurring. I cataloged each shift and bounce of the bus, ready to reference them should any turbulence hit on the plane. By the time I reached the airport, I was in an excellent mindset for the flight. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed for two hours. Refusing to despair, I decide to avail myself of the terminal's nifty amenities, namely a pedicure at the massage parlor (hello, decadence!). Then it's delayed another two hours due to weather in the area. The attendants reassure me that despite the delay and the worker's strike going on, I will catch my transfer flight to Helsinki. Crappy coffee, overpriced muffins, and after a while we are finally loaded onto the plane. I found myself wedged between a sweet Canadian girl and a quiet Finn.

We arrive at Keflavik, all of us confused and searching for answers. The place is a ghost town. After abandoning one empty service desk, we find another, and I find from the friendly attendant that I'm out of luck, stuck in Iceland. He hands me a small pack of vouchers, supposedly guaranteed to take care of my transportation, accommodation for the night, and meals. I make my way out, finding a surly taxi driver to convey me to the hotel. Upon arrival, the driver swipes all of my vouchers, claiming I won't need them. I protest, but he insists upon keeping them. Panicking and too exhausted to put up a fight, I tell him I will pay the fare as long as he returns the vouchers. He finally accedes. Good thing too, as I did need the damn things. Welcome to Iceland!

Always look on the bright side of life, as they say. I was a bit dispirited that I was losing one of my precious Helsinki days (as I only had 3), but decided to check out the little town of Keflavik.

Not too much going on here. There was a 24-hour convenience store nearby, so I got a kick out of checking out the local candy. Had I been less wiped out and more adventurous, I would have tried to find a way to Reykjavik, but after all, I had an early flight to catch. Heh...yeah.

Sleep was not forthcoming. There was a sense of unreality there. The sun did not set, rather faded to a muted glow over the horizon, then brought a brilliant dawn at 3 a.m. I gave up trying to rest and instead admired the view from my hotel room.

At 5 a.m. I went to catch the shuttle, only to be informed by the exquisitely pretty concierge that my flight was pushed back 2 hours. Ergh. I enjoyed a fantastic breakfast, the first of many (if there's one thing the Nordic countries do well, it's breakfast), then returned to my room to watch some tacky British television (seriously- a Cops knock-off) and count down the minutes.

Go back down, catch the shuttle, arrive at the airport, check my luggage, and immediately after find that the flight has been pushed back another two hours. This, as Jayne Cobb would say, was beginning to damage my calm. I took a deep breath, got myself a coffee, and perused the swanky stores the airport had to offer. I buy a small, beautiful Moomin sketchbook and set to drawing. The two hours pass. Another two are tacked on. My second day in Helsinki is fast slipping away. I go to the service desk, where a pleasant and apologetic fellow informs me that the flight has been delayed due to technical issues, that no matter what is announced it was unlikely that I would be leaving before 4 p.m., and that any other transfers wouldn't get me there until the next day anyway. Jittery, exhausted, queasy, and clutching a meal voucher, I began to plod back to the dining area. I was feeling pretty hopeless then. The vacation I had planned for well over a year was falling apart before my eyes, everyone at home was asleep, and I was feeling utterly alone. Normally, I like being alone, but the absence of my loved ones, especially seeing the families bustling about around me, was hitting me pretty hard. The longing to be back with Pete and Maeve was almost physically painful. Despair was beginning to take hold, and then... my cell phone went off. Poor Ben was subjected to my pathetic blubbering, and quickly dragged me out of my gloom and brought me back to the realm of (relative) sanity. I will always be grateful for that- thanks, Ben. With renewed spirits, I returned to the food court, drew a bit more, waited until it was decent to call Pete and Maeve on Skype, and caught them up on my progress, or lack thereof. Maeve declared that she was "super angry" for me, and squinched up her little angry bird face. I missed her even more then, and fought the urge to hug the first little kid to come within reach. Then, I just passed the time. Ate some decent yogurt, then some terrible, limp fries. Tried to nap. Eventually, eternity ended, and we boarded the plane. The view leaving Iceland was breathtakingly beautiful, and you may be able to make out a dragon cloud in that second picture.

We landed at 1 a.m. in Helsinki. Via cell phone, I was immediately greeted by Pete, who had been remotely tracking my progress (Did I mention that I love my support network? Because I do. A lot.). Caught a taxi into town, which was still lively and bright and full of people. Upon arriving at the hotel, I immediately smashed my big toe into a metal peg in front of the door. I didn't care. I was finally in Finland, and my adventure had begun in earnest.