Finland/Sweden 3/7/2023 - 3/8/2023


For a long time, we have wanted to visit northern Scandinavia, to learn about the Sámi people, the only indigenous people in the European Union. We have learned about their culture of reindeer herding on TV, and have wanted to see them firsthand. Although we have traveled to Iceland and Greenland, we have never actually been above the Arctic Circle. We researched Sámi cultural trips, and found that wintertime trips include such fun activities as ice floating, dogsledding, and riding in reindeer sleighs. With Craig's Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and sensitivity to heat, traveling in the winter is ideal.

Finland is also special to me because when I was growing up, my next door neighbors were an elderly Finnish couple. They were my "Täti" and "Setä" (aunt and uncle in Finnish) and were essentially surrogate grandparents to me. They passed away years ago, but I have always been curious to see where they came from.

We initially chose a group trip to northern Finland offered by Wilderness Travel. We don't take group trips lightly; we never want Craig's condition to adversely impact others in the group. We studied the itinerary, and were sure that Craig would be able to successfully participate in all of the activities on offer.

Craig got in touch with Wilderness Travel and fully disclosed his MS, and gave examples of other active trips that he has completed. We sent them our website so that they could look at our past adventures, and even offered to get them in touch with former tour leaders if they had doubts. We told them that Craig's health is stable and we even have evacuation insurance should something go wrong. They insisted that as long as Craig was confident that he could do the trip, they were happy to have us.

Over 6 weeks later, when it was time to finalize our booking, they changed their minds. Apparently, the guide was not comfortable having Craig on the trip. This was heartbreaking, and seemed quite unfair. In some past trips, companies have asked Craig's doctor to provide an opinion on whether or not he could adequately participate in trips. Here we were given no such opportunity, just unceremoniously dropped from the trip.

Wilderness Travel said that we should consider other trips that they have on offer. No, thank you. We don't want another trip. We want a Sámi cultural experience. It is the company's decision to make...However, now it is our decision to never ever use their services. We feel that they did us wrong, and we will not consider them for any future trips.

Luckily, Abercrombie & Kent also have a Sámi tour. It is more cushy than Wilderness Travel, and a bit less "active", but we have had great experiences with A&K in both Russia and Türkiye in the past, so we knew that they would take good care of us. We booked with them, and their trip had the added bonus of going to Sweden in addition to Finland.

Tuesday 3/7/2023 - Wednesday 3/8/2023- Boston to Frankfurt to Helsinki

We woke up at 8 a.m. We showered and did some last minute packing. Logan Way car service showed up 15 minutes early. We left the house at noon as scheduled, and got to the airport at 12:30 p.m.

There were no other customers at the Lufthansa counter. We were literally the only ones in the security line. It was really strange that the international terminal seemed so deserted. We got lunch at Monica's Mercato: big, filling, made-to-order BLT subs, chips, and orange Gatorades. It wasn't cheap, but it was a great lunch and we likely wouldn't have to eat again any time soon.

The flight to Frankfurt was ontime at 3:50 p.m. We had 4 seats to ourselves, which made it easy to spread out. We just zoned out during the duration of the flight, listening to Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour on our iPod. Craig had teriyaki chicken and I had pasta for dinner, though we were still quite full from our big lunch. We tried our best not to fall asleep, since we wanted to try to adapt to our destination time zone.

Shortly before landing, they served us breakfast of blueberry muffins, fruit, and some very nasty "orange juice."

We arrived in Frankfurt just after 5 a.m. Craig chooses to use a wheelchair in airports, as it is difficult for him to walk great distances at the pace that is required in an airport, especially after sitting on a flight for hours where his legs get stuffed and locked up. Wheelchair services at the Frankfurt airport were particularly efficient. They took us through immigration and we got our passports stamped as we entered the EU. The airport was dead. We were brought a long way to our gate, which happened to be just across from a very cool miniature Lufthansa plane for kids to play on. It was made of heavy duty aviation grade material. I climbed inside it and went down the rear slide since there was nobody else around. We felt like little kids.

I got Euros from an ATM right near our gate. Then I went to get us each a cup of coffee to try to keep us awake for the duration of the day. As more people arrived to the gate, we could see adults and children eyeing the little Lufthansa plane. They seemed as infatuated with it as we were. We saw 2 little twin boys playing on the plane and it was adorable; they were so excited.

We had to take a bus to board our flight to Helsinki. We were supposed to take off at 9:25 a.m., but the luggage crew wasn't there yet, so we had to wait on the plane. By the time they showed up an hour later, our pilot and copilot would have exceeded their flight hours for the day, so they needed to wait for a relief pilot and copilot. You can't make this stuff up! We finally took off at 11:12 a.m.

It was a 2 hour flight. When we arrived in Helsinki, we didn't have to go through immigration since we had already done it in Germany. Having not done much traveling in the EU, we were surprised that you can go from country to country without going through passport control.

We got to baggage claim and were awaiting our luggage when there was an announcement that the cargo doors on our plane were frozen shut, and we would need to wait for them to thaw. Seriously?! Another 30 minutes was lost, but at least our bags finally showed up.

Abercrombie & Kent representative "V." picked us up in a nice sedan. We left the airport at 3 p.m. and had a nice chat with her in the car on the way to downtown Helsinki. There was snow on the ground, not too much, but snow in southern Finland increased our confidence that there would be enough snow up north for our winter sports. The roads were not plowed down to the tarmac like they tend to be at home in the wintertime; and many people have studded winter tires.

We arrived at Hotel Kämp at 3:30 p.m. We checked into room 623. The room was very nice, with a foyer for the luggage, a spacious bathroom, and a large bedroom with a sitting area and desk.

We were a bit jet-lagged, but we wanted to go out and get some photos before it got dark. So after settling into the room, we went out at 4:30. We had no particular destination in mind, and decided to just wander.

Our hotel was right on the esplanade, a long narrow park which contains fountains and statues. We started out there and took some pictures. We walked down the laneways close to the hotel and admired the architecture. We saw many gargoyles and other interesting architectural elements as we wandered around. This is a very swanky section of town. The Louis Vuitton store had a very interesting window display which consisted of reflective chrome spheres.

We were somewhat hungry but indecisive about eating. We were feeling a bit out of sorts, having just arrived and having not slept. We knew that we didn't want a huge fancy meal. But we weren't sure what we did want. We went into a small supermarket, thinking we might buy some prepared food. We enjoyed looking at the variety of things on offer, but nothing caught our fancy. We also looked into a cafe, but they just had sandwiches and coffee, and we wanted some alcohol. So we went to the Pyynikin Taproom, a bar right across the esplanade from the hotel.

The menus were in Finnish, but the friendly bartender translated for us. Craig ordered a Fat Lizard Spiny Lobster West Coast IPA, but the bartender accidentally gave him an Espoon Oma Länsi-Metro Jhatke IPA. She was apologetic and ready to pour it out, but Craig offered to take it anyway. He had wanted an IPA, and was sure that it would be fine. He ended up really liking it, but then of course he also had to try the Fat Lizard. I got Happy Joe Crispy Pear Cider.

We sat at a window booth looking out onto the esplanade and people-watched. They were playing 80's music in the bar. We eventually decided against eating and just went back to the hotel room at 8:00. We would get a good night's sleep and then get full bellies at breakfast tomorrow.

Back at the hotel, I crafted a Facebook post. I also looked at the Helsinki cat cafe online. I volunteer at a cat cafe at home, and we wanted to check this one out. It is not a far walk from the hotel, and they had availability for the next day, so I made a reservation for 3 o'clock. That should give us time for a liesurely morning, and still get us back to the hotel in time for our tour group orientation dinner.

We have a Finnish friend from the Tom Waits Raindogs fan group who lives in Turku, Finland. Her name is Outi. We had written to her to tell her that we were coming to her country, on the off chance that she would be able to meet us or at least provide some suggestions of what we could do while in Helsinki.

She called us on Messenger, and it was perfect timing, as we had just gotten back to the hotel. It was really nice to chat with her and she gave us some suggestions for things to do in the city (including the public pool not far from the hotel). We wouldn't be able to actually see her as she will be leaving for the UK in a couple of days, and has to work night shifts between now and then. But it was really great to reconnect with her after first meeting her 19 years ago at the Berlin Tom Waits concert in 2004. We chatted for around 20 minutes; it was a nice, personal welcome to the country.

We went to bed at around 9:30 p.m.

Hotel Kämp
Playing around at the airport

Playing around at the airport

Helsinki Esplanade

Helsinki Esplanade

Enjoying the architecture in Helsinki

Enjoying the architecture in Helsinki

Helsinki tram

Helsinki tram

Coffee kiosk

Coffee kiosk

Pyynikin Taproom

Pyynikin Taproom

Hotel Kämp

Hotel Kämp

See all photos from March 7

See all photos from March 8

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