This morning, or was it yesterday morning, I boarded a plane to get from Washington DC, to Helsinki, Finland. I was going to Worldcon 75 to celebrate the glories of fantasy and sci-fi writing with a couple thousand of my fellow nerds.
After a short hop over to JFK in New York, I was on my trans-Atlantic way to the country I’ve only heard sung about in Monty Python musicals. It was an extremely pleasant flight, thanks to an open seat with extra legroom and an engaging Puerto Rican engineer skydiver named Antonio. (Yes, he’s real. I’m only good at making up stories about other people)
I landed in good spirits, if a little exhausted from being up for more than twenty-four hours, and gamely attempted to save a little money by taking public transportation. Now, Helsinki’s transport system is actually tremendous, but a jet-lagged delirious American with two large bags would find it difficult at the best of times.
The kindness of a stewardess from my flight got me onto the train toward the city center. I was given directions to then take the metro two stops to the neighborhood where I’m staying. My addled mind and trembling arms took longer to process than necessary and I think I might have taken a more circuitous route to find the metro than I’d been instructed.
Exiting the train station, I followed the instructions of yet more kind strangers down one set of stairs, up another, across the transport station, through a herd of boisterous teens, and out into the sunlight. It was not where I’d expected to end up. I stood on the sidewalk, blinking in confusion, until my eyes lit on what I was looking for–the metro sign. The sight of that large orange and white “M” staved off a potential meltdown. By now, I felt like I was on a bizarre scavenger hunt and my quest was to find my Airbnb.
When the metro finally spat me out at my stop, I was fading fast. But the joke was on me. My saga wasn’t over yet.
The corner on which I stood had zero signs for its six intersecting streets. Zero. It wasn’t like there were some I simply couldn’t understand due to the language barrier–there was nothing there. I searched high and low, but I might have also gone blind with exhaustion.
A stroke of luck brought me Wi-Fi for about five minutes, and I was able to plug in the address. A quarter of a mile. That’s all I needed to walk. I set off in that direction, confident I was on solid footing again. A quarter mile of hauling two forty-pound suitcases over cobblestone, made me rethink that assumption.
As if that weren’t enough, when I reached the building, I couldn’t find my host’s name listed. I would later learn that she had just moved in and her name plate hadn’t been changed over yet, but at the time, I was nearly defeated. Wi-Fi was gone again, and I had no way to let her know I was standing on her doorstep, waiting to be let in.
Once again, the good citizens of Finland came to my rescue. A little old woman generously tried to lend me her phone, but it too was having trouble connecting.
At the bottom of the building where we stood, a restaurant owner lounged outside his establishment smoking a cigarette. When he noticed our distress, he asked the woman what was wrong. He spoke very little English, so she translated for us.
Two minutes later, I was standing behind his restaurant counter, logging in to Airbnb on his computer. I sent a message to my host and she was downstairs a minute later. Needless to say, that man will be seeing me a few times over the course of this week. The least I can do for all his help is eat at his restaurant.
From there, the day went mostly as expected and ended on a high note with friend reunions and a live podcast featuring George R R Martin where the subject of Game of Thrones was studiously and hilariously avoided. By the time I returned to the apartment, I had been awake for at least thirty-six hours straight.
As I sit here writing this, partially refreshed from a long overdue nap, I can’t help but love the day despite its challenges. To me, the best part about international travel is throwing yourself in the deep end and learning to swim.
If all else fails, at least it makes a good story! Be sure to stay tuned this week for what I’m sure will be more exciting tales of my misadventures across the pond. Goodnight, everyone!