2am is a bad time for an alarm to go off, even to go to Finland. I made it to Heathrow with no problems: well, I made it to the edge of the airport with no problems. A mis-reading of the satnav led me to the gates of the staff car park with no easy way to escape. It’s effectively a slipway off the road that runs around the airport so you can’t just turn round and go back to the traffic lights you shouldn’t have turned right at. Obviously I couldn’t go in and straight to the exit because I’m not staff so there were a few panicked minutes of “What do I do???” before I spied the gap in the bollards between the entrance lane and the exit lane and managed to reverse to it without hitting the handful of incoming cars.
Next problem: got through security just before 5am to find my gate wasn’t announced until 6.30. Excellent. That gives me a leisurely hour and a half for breakfast! But at that time in the morning, there was nothing open except Pret, and they don’t do toast. The pink place with the “Instagrammable Lattes” menu opened but they only had pretty toast, not proper toast. Spuntino’s does proper toast. The internet eventually told me it opens at 5.30 but it didn’t actually open its doors until 5.45 and then I had a second lot of toast and I was still desperately trying to catch my waiter for the bill at 6.27 so I was rushing after all.
I snoozed on the plane until Denmark. Followed the west coast up to Skagen, across to Sweden, all across the south of Sweden, across the Gulf of Bothnia, across lots of tiny scattered islands that actually weren’t the coast of Finland and then we were in Finnish airspace and making our descent. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed a desceent quite as much as I noticed that one. It felt like a long, controlled dive. Which it is, but usually it’s fairly gradual and you don’t feel it.
Vantaa is a fairly small airport, at least in comparison to a lot of capital cities. There were 21 passport desks and only four open – two for people with real passports and two for the rest of us so that was a bit of a queue (and then she stamped my passport in the back instead of the front!). Lots of food places, cafes, restaurants, supermarkets etc in arrivals. I got some crisps and chocolate for the journey, since breakfast was fairly early and I’d missed lunch. I found the station, which is down at least four floors in an open-fronted lift that just plummets into the abyss (I did it twice, once because I needed to and once because I wanted to film it) and then went down to the platform. I’d planned to get a five day AB ticket but Vantaa is in zone C and it worked out cheaper to get a five day ABC ticket than my planned ticket plus a separate ticket from and then back to the airport. It’s a nice easy train, much easier than figuring out (or checking in advance…) which bus to get.
I sat in the sun outside the central station to eat my little lunch and then, since my room code wasn’t going to be delivered for another two hours, I left my luggage in a locker and walked down to the harbour. There was Allas Sea Pool, sparkling in the sun. I’d considered bringing my swimming things and spending the afternoon in the pool but in the end, it seemed easier not to pull my suitcase apart on the floor of the luggage room at the station and I hadn’t bothered. I did get a ticket for the Flying Cinema, though, since it’s right there. It’s a bit like FlyOver Iceland – a drone film of spectacular scenery and they swing you around in a big chair and spray you with water to make you feel like you’re up close to waterfalls. It’s not quite as good as FlyOver, though. For one thing, just as you’re starting to feel like you’re zooming across a landscape, it abruptly changes. The movement is sometimes jerky and it really felt like it was struggling up one mountain. And FlyOver lifts you up so your feet are off the ground and you’re sitting above a huge concave screen that fills your entire vision, whereas Flying Cinema leaves your feet on the floor, the screen is the usual big rectangle and you have to wear 3D glasses to feel like you’re in it, which is awkward for those of us with glasses. But it was a good way to fill 15 minutes and I do recommend it.
I checked my phone when I came out and I had my message from the hotel. Room code! So I walked back to the station, retrieved my luggage and walked up to the accommodation, not helped by my phone refusing to use the mobile data. The map that I followed halfway there abruptly decided it wasn’t going to work so that was good. I knew by that point that I had to walk up the top of the hill, turn down that road that I can see from here and it’s a street or two down on the right and I soon came across the street sign so I knew I was in the right place.
Once I was in and could be bothered, I went out for some real food. The tiny supermarket across the road didn’t have anything except too many people so I put the chocolate and the basket back and went to the big one up the road, which is indeed big and laid out bewilderingly. I got everything I needed eventually. Finland is big on “tummaa leipa” which is dark rye bread and anything else is hard to find but there are ciabatta rolls which go nicely with the butter I found. You have to weigh them and print the label for them so thank you to the people I witnessed doing that.
When I’d eaten, I decided to go to Allas for the evening. It was still sunny and warm. I got down there, queued in the shop to be told (at 7pm) that they were full and only had slots for 7.45. Pool closes as 9, which means they lock the door. You have to be out by 8.40, so I’d only get an hour instead of the three hours you usually get. Fine. I went back to the rooftop bar to look at it while I waited. This is full? I have had baths that are more crowded! No one in the sea pool, two people in the kids’ pool and maybe eight people in the geothermal pool. No one sunning themselves on the decking anymore. Unless the saunas were packed like sardines, Allas has a very odd idea of “full”.
I understood a little better when I finally got in. They’re very short on changing space and lockers. That’s definitely something they need to improve because if a dozen, maybe a couple of dozen, people on a sunny Saturday afternoon constitutes “‘so full we’ve closed our ticket office”, that’s a problem. This is a glorious geothermal pool right in the heart of the capital of the country that invented sauna. This place should be heaving! The Blue Lagoon would laugh in their faces.
They could learn a lot from the Blue Lagoon. I didn’t even try the cold sea pool. The kids’ pool was lukewarm, which is cold when you’re on the edge of the Baltic in a swimming costume. The geothermal pool was better but I’d expect heat, not warmth. It was warm enough to drift back and forth as the sun went down but definitely not the “‘geothermal heated pool” I’d expected. The sauna was quite pleasant and definitely warmed me up quickly, after scurrying the entire length of the decking back to it.
I didn’t stay for the full hour. It was about 8.35 by the time I decided the sauna was getting too hot. I got changed, I walked back to Senate Square and took the tram back to the top of the hill above the little tree-filled square opposite my hotel and when I’d hung everything up and eaten some chocolate, I went to bed. It was only about 10.30 when I turned off the light but that’s 8.30 at home and that’s a good thing after getting up at 2am.