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We 'Finnished' with Icy Tears

The person who said getting there is half the fun must have traveled before TSA and never traveled in the midst of continent-wide protests and strikes. Finland was gearing up to do a strike that included most of the public sector: grocery stores, public transit—and all airports. Our plan was to spend a week with a friend and her family at her home in Finland. A week before we were to arrive, the airline canceled our tickets. I hadn't seen my friend in close to 5 years, and I took the news hard. But you know the old adage, where there is a will, there is a way. We re-booked on a different airlines, only to have them cancel within the hour. We looked at car rentals and trains—but they were all expected to be affected by the strike. We tried different airports, we took expensive taxis to re-route us around some of the protests. We finally got a call that a Dutch airline added a flight that would arriving in Finland at 11:55 p.m. The airport was shutting down at midnight. It was the last flight in. They told us if there was any delay, that we would be rerouted to a different country. We crossed our fingers and boarded the plane. I texted my friend, “We may see you in a few hours... or Ireland.” We had bought tickets to Ireland—just in case! It was a smooth and quick ride, and before we knew it we landed in Helsinki. The airport was empty. It was eerie to be in such a large area where everything was locked up and dark. The arrival/departure board was solid red with cancellations. Our carousel was the only one running. There were not trains or trams running, and only a handful of opportunistic taxis operating. We paid through the nose to get to my friends house just 10 miles away. But when we arrived at 2 in the morning, in the midst of the hugging and the tears, all the stress and money to get there became a distant and worthwhile memory. Everyone else went to bed, but my friend and I sat on the floor, like school girls at a sleepover, catching up on everything in our lives. The next morning we had to make new plans. With the country in strike, there would be no transportation, so for the next several days, we could only go where we could walk—and even then most of the businesses were shut down. We ended up drinking Finnish tea, playing lots of board games, and walking around on the icy lakes near her home. It was surreal to walk around big fishing boats all iced into their harbors. I think Finnish people must have antifreeze in their veins. While we were busy putting coats on our coats, my friend was making plans to take us swimming at one of their favorite pools. "I'm so cold, the idea soaking in a steamy hot tub while the kids splash in the pool sounds amazing!" I said. I should have caught her smile for the red flag it was. An hour later, we arrived, at an outdoor pool floating in the frozen bay. It was heated enough that they they only had to break the ice on the polar plunge side. “When in Rome...” The icy water took my breath away. Even swimming hard didn't keep my teeth from chattering. My second red flag should have been the locals swimming in stocking caps. Yet when they got out, they moved languidly around the pool. The women wore stocking caps and bikinis. If it wasn't for the surrounding ice and the stocking caps, you would have suspected they were at a Caribbean pool. When we could no longer feel our feet, we made a mad dash for our towels and hobbled to the locker rooms. At least all of us but our oldest. He had sat alongside the pool bundled up in ski gear the whole time. He said even the polar bears were smart enough to stay out of that water! Thankfully, no matter where you are in Finland, you're never far from an sauna, and after an hour of thawing out we could walk normally again. The week ended just as it started, with lots of hugging and tears. Life is meant for good friends and great adventures. We had spent 5 glorious weeks experiencing both—now it was time to go to our favorite place in the whole world, the Pacific Northwest.

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