My flight to Finland was through Dusseldorf, Germany on April 15th. The flight to Dusseldorf went fast since I sat next to a French lawyer who recently quit her job in Paris and opened a bakery in Miami beach with her brother. My layover in Germany was nine hours so once I got there I checked my stuff into the airport baggage check and took the train into the city center. It was a nice day so I walked around taking pictures. Here you can see the nice waterfront along the Rhine river:
There were also these awesome buildings by Frank Gehry:
after walking for hours I had to get a German lunch. (Beverage not pictured)
Overall I enjoyed my day wandering the city and it was worth leaving the airport to kill my long layover.
A couple hours later and I was sitting at my gate in Dusseldorf airport waiting for the flight to Helsinki. They made an announcement that the flight was delayed and I thought it was no big deal. Lots of people were on their phones but that's normal in an airport right? Fifteen minutes later they announced the flight was canceled and we were to go to the Air Berlin ticket counter. WTF was it canceled for? It was a sunny Thursday evening! I didn't know what was going on and followed the crowd to the Air Berlin desk. Why were some people running? It was not until I joined the MASSIVE line that I overheard people talking about a volcano. I had no idea there was a volcano erupting! I started talking to people and finally got the story. Man I wish I had a smart phone and it worked in Europe but I had neither. An hour or two later when I got to the front They told me I was booked on another flight the next day and that they gave me a free night stay at the Hilton. Sweet. This ain't so bad.... I dropped my bags and bicycle, yes a bike in a box, at the bag check and headed to the hotel. There I met up with the people I was talking to while waiting in line and we discussed the situation. Will we fly tomorrow? Will we never fly and have to find another way home? Some people were panicked. Not me. No big deal. I can wait a day or 2...
The next morning we found out our flight to Helsinki was canceled again. Then myself and my three new friends got more nervous. We all spent the next hour online reading up on the volcano and looking for other ways to Finland. It was so hard to know if the flights would go soon or not. Some websites said no. The airlines said they would update things later that day. I decided to stick around another night since it would not be easy for me to take all my bags and a bike on a train or bus. One woman who was with us was desperate and said a group of Finns were going to take a van taxi to Finland! That would be more than 24 hours of driving! Do their meters go that high?
We went back to the airport, waited in line, got free food, and were booked on another flight the next day. I think I was on German TV. There were people laying everywhere and film crews were all over it. That woman and some other Finns left in the taxi. Now the group was me, Gary and Mervi. Gary is an artist/photographer from Canada who grew up in England and has lived in Finland for the past 20 years. Mervi is a Finnish waitress who was on her way home from working the past 4 years in Bermuda. We headed back into town and found a hostel.
The rest of that Friday and Saturday I spent confident that the planes would fly soon. I explored the town more and got to know Gary and Mervi. I spent some time reading about the volcano situation and checking online for other ways to Finland. Trains and busses and ferries were all full for the next few days. It finally sunk in on Sunday that I would not be flying to Finland. I waited in line at the train station for hours with hundreds of other stranded people and bought train tickets to Stockholm for nearly $300 that did not depart until Tuesday. Damn that's expensive! If I could get to Stockholm then I could take a ferry to Finland. I then walked to the bus station and found out there are bus tickets to Stockholm on Wednesday for more than $150 less so I bought those. Then back to the train station to cancel the train tickets. The bus station lady had said to come back the next day to see if spaces had opened up on an earlier bus.
Monday morning I went back to the bus station and found out there was space on a bus leaving that afternoon. Mervi and I bought tickets. Gary decided to take a different bus to Estonia and try to cross into Finland that way. Now what to do with my damn bike. I wish I never brought it. I went to the airport and got all my bags and bike out of the bag check. $100! WTF! It seems like everyone was profiting from my misfortune. My plan was to ship the bike to Finland. With Gary's help I got all my stuff on the city train and we went to the post office.
WHAT!? The bike box is too big to ship to Finland!!? WTF am I supposed to do now? They won't let me on a full bus with all this crap! Oh, I can ship it to Estonia? I think I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who lives there. An hour and a few phone calls later my bike was on its way to someone I didn't know in Estonia. I guess I will have to take a trip to Tallinn...
Mervi and I boarded our bus to Stockholm. We planned on 24 hours of (not) fun. We only got 2. Had to change buses. Then we got another 6. Time to change buses. At midnight we were standing at a bus stop in Hamburg Germany with 40 other Swedes and Finns all trying to get to Stockholm. Finally our bus showed up...FULL! It was already full of people going to Stockholm. They oversold the bus (and at an inflated price I might add). Panic overtook many people standing on the curb. There was a rush of people past the driver, yelling, pushing and soon the bus was full of people standing who demanded to be taken to Stockholm. Extremely lucky for me, Mervi was one of the first on the bus and claimed two of the very few empty seats for us. I put our bags under the bus and pushed my way to our seats. The bus driver tried to clear the people standing in the isle but no one moved. He had to go get security from the bus station to do it. After the people were cleared and bus tickets checked a woman ran onto the bus with a crying baby and pleaded with people to give up their seats! Seriously. No one moved. We pulled away from the bus stop and watched 30 pissed people fade into the Hamburg night.
All that took time. Now we were late. Guess what? Rookie bus driver! We got lost multiple times and people would go to the front of the bus and loud arguments ensued. Where was the GPS you many ask? He had one but he didn't know where the gas stations were that he was required to go to. And then there were those times we got lost due to road construction... We drove the bus onto 2 ferries to cross from Germany to Denmark and Denmark to Sweden. Skipping a few rest stops we made it on time to Stockholm the next afternoon in time to catch the 16 hour overnight Ferry to Helsinki.
The ferries are hug cities. There are shops and shows, restaurants and bars, pool, nightclub, and even a barber. I took a bed in a dorm room for $40. I have actually taken this ferry before. I really enjoy the view because the boat winds through hundreds of islands, many of which have little summer cabins on them. For a picture of what I am talking about check out this old blog post of mine: http://mikerwallace.travellerspoint.com/18/
Here is my artsy shot from the ferry:
FINALLY IN FINLAND!!! 24 bus hours, 16 ferry hours and 6 days late I arrived in Finland! My lovely girlfriend Sanna picked my up and it was time to start living in the country of a thousand lakes (187,888 to be exact)!
Where is my bike?
Why don't I see any ash in the sky?