What’s a 47-Letter Word For ‘Up’?

Winter Street Scene, Helsinki, Finland
Winter Street Scene, Helsinki, Finland

I’ve got nothing against the Finns. During my brief sojourn in Finland they were nothing if not polite, helpful and friendly. Their language however, is a different story. I have never seen so many characters in one paragraph than I did in Helsinki during December of 2011. Considering I arrived in the morning after an overnight flight from JFK, it is conceivable that my impressions were tainted by the effects of jet lag. But there’s no way around it: Finnish is a difficult language with an abundance of letters in seemingly every word. And don’t even get me started on the double vowels. For the rest of the trip, any time a waiter or customs official seemed to be taking a long time to do whatever it is they were doing, it inevitably led to one of us saying, “He’s probably doing a Finnish crossword puzzle,” which would likely use up the majority of daylight hours your average Finn has available in the winter months. I shudder to think at what a classified ad would cost. Probably $100 just to say: For Sale.

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Linguistics aside, the rest of my Finnish experience was rather uncomplicated and simple. A 20-30 minute bus ride from Vantaa Airport brings you to the heart of Helsinki. Cable cars compete with other traffic through an architectural mix of modern and classic buildings all with that hard to describe Scandinavian look. The subway is clean and easy to navigate, with underground shopping venues that seemed a particularly wise location in December.

A Quiet Corner of Soumenlinna Fortress
A Quiet Corner of Soumenlinna Fortress

Just a short ferry ride from the harbor is a cluster of islands that make up one of the world’s largest maritime forts, the Soumenlinna Fortress. This World Heritage Site was good for a few hours of meandering the ramparts, giant cannons and support buildings, and if there were a few extraneous vowels, no one seemed to mind. When I left for India later that evening, I drifted off to sleep imagining what Wheel of Fortune would be like in Finland. (Contestant: I’d like to buy an ‘A’. Pat Sajack: There are 29 A’s)

My return voyage also brought me through Helsinki for one night, allowing me some time to do some shopping and walk the amazingly orderly streets, leading us to muse at how ironic it would be to navigate the traffic chaos of India only to get run over in a Finnish crosswalk. It also allowed me to participate in the quintessential Finnish experience of a hot sauna, which basically consisted of me sitting in a steamy wood-paneled room with five naked Finnish men. To combat the absurdity of the scene, I directed my eyes to the floor and my mind to trying to decipher what they were saying along with trying to conceive exactly what sound thirteen consecutive ‘A’s’ would make. When I felt my pores had released enough toxins, I politely gathered up the damp complimentary butt napkin you take in with you, and bid them all good night.

It’s been several years since my jitney to Helsinki, and while I don’t see a particular reason to return, I am glad that I saw it. I’m sure it is even better in the spring and summer months when the weather is warm and the days are as long as the words. There might even be enough time for a crossword puzzle or two. Just please…no more vowels!

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If You’re Going to India, Turn Right at Finland (And Other Stopover Ideas)

Many experienced travelers are familiar with the art of the stopover—that bonus destination on the way to your intended destination. For the novice, this is when your flight passes through another city on the way to your final destination, and you’ve arranged to stop over, and spend some time there before moving on. For many, any unnecessary stops are a nuisance, but if you play your cards right, you can use such stopovers to maximize your trip’s experience.

 

I’ll get into my “maximizing” concept in another post, but for now I’ll just say that those pesky stops on your way there or back can offer the chance to sample a destination you may not have initially targeted. And if you’re already in the neighborhood, why not take the time to stop over and smell the roses?

 

A Day in Helsinki Was A Free Bonus On My Trip To India
A Day in Helsinki Was A Free Bonus On My Trip To India

As a case in point, on my way to New Dehli, our flight (on Finnair) stopped in Helsinki, arriving at 8 in the morning and not continuing on until 8 that evening. What to do with that long layover? Why, head out into the city and explore, of course! Our group had coffee downtown, toured the sprawling World Heritage Site at the Suomenlinna Fortress, and navigated the subway system before returning for our onward flight. Did we see everything? No. Did we see enough? I think so. And in this case, the gray, Scandinavian orderliness served as a tremendous contrast for the colorful chaos of India. The best part? There was no extra charge for seeing firsthand another world capital and gaining some insight on another culture—albeit it one with far too many vowels.

 

Sometimes airlines will charge a fee for a stopover, but usually this isn’t much (less than a hundred dollars). Almost always it’s worth the price. Traveling on Iberia Airlines, my wife and I enjoyed a few days in Madrid on our return from Rome—for only about $45 apiece. Definitely worth it to see some original paintings by Dali and Picasso in the capital of a former empire. Not to be forgotten too is arranging stopovers on award travel. So long as the space is there, often airlines will be willing to oblige at least one stopover on your itinerary. And again, if you’re not paying for it, why not?

 

When in the neighborhood, why not stop in Hong Kong?
When in the neighborhood, why not stop in Hong Kong?

A key factor in effective stopovers is your choice of airline. Most national carriers have their hubs in key cities. So if you’re heading out to Bangkok and always wanted to see Hong Kong, try Cathay Pacific. If you wanted to see Singapore, use Singapore Airlines. I think you get the point. Your routing makes all the difference as to which stopover options are available.

 

So instead of selecting the nonstop only button when choosing your flights, why not expand your horizons and see where that stopover might take you? The bonus experience will be the icing on your trip’s cake, and allow you the chance to explore yet another small piece of the big wide world.

 

Have you ever deliberately arranged a trip to take advantage of a stopover? Leave a comment for us all to discuss.