Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Going Past The Finland Station

Finns call their country 'Suomi'.  So when I got off the ferry, I dropped to one knee, stretched out my arms, and sang:

Suomi, how I love ya, how I love ya
My dear old Suomi
I'd give the world today
To be there sweatin' in my S-A-U-N-A
I know the Sami are waiting for me, praying for me
Up in Helsinki
The folks down South will see me no more
When I get to the Suomi shore

And why shouldn't I be exultant?  Not only was Finland my final European country, but it was also number 200 on the Century Travel Club list.  And since I can't imagine that there are more than 7,000 people in the world who have done this, I was now finally one in a million in something.

Of course all the hundreds of other people getting off the ferry were looking at me kind of strange.  Especially because I had all that whiteface on.  So I got up and set about trying to find my hostel for the night.

It would later prove to be about two blocks away, but thanks to Google Maps I ended up walking over a mile and a half.  Down dirt paths and over railroad tracks in the gathering gloaming.  I finally found it: an old, small, defrocked cruise ship that now housed, among other things, an HI hostel.  I crammed into my small cabin, extending the nautical theme for one more night.

The next morning I took a Turku city bus to the downtown terminal, where I boarded another bus for Helsinki.  This was my big chance to see rural Finland, but, as with Sweden, it looked a lot like upstate New York or down province Ontario.  About 3 pm I was disgorged unto center city Helsinki.

Not much to see here.  I got my bearings, and once again tried to follow computer directions to my lodging for the night.  After only a few wrong turns, I actually found it: the fifth floor of an apartment building that called itself a hostel, but was really ten small rooms mostly housing single men of various ethnicities.  Kind of a 21st Century boarding house.

My small room was kind of big though, and even with peeling paint was pleasant enough.  Besides, the hot water and wifi worked, and there were no lines for the tiny bathroom.  And I said I wouldn't whine any more, but these days that's what $75 buys you for lodging in Helsinki.

The next day was supposed to be warm and sunny, but instead was cold and drizzly.  No matter.  I had determined yesterday that an hour seemed to be more than sufficient time to 'get' Helsinki and move on out to the airport.  Now usually I have low opinions of places when I first arrive because I am tired and grumpy and confused.  And usually the next day sets me right.  But, rain or shine, it was clear that my first impression had been correct.  Prague and Paris had absolutely nothing to worry about.

Nonetheless I hopped on a ferry for a short ride out to Finland's biggest tourist attraction, the Suomelina Fortress, which is a mile or so out in the harbor.  It was kind of cool to be 50 miles from Estonia and 250 miles from St Petersburg, but the fort itself had to be the lamest, most prosaic one ever.

Kind of like Helsinki itself.

So I went back to my room, collected my stuff, and headed out to the airport.  Good thing I did, since the plane left earlier than I had thought.  And I couple of hours later I was wandering around the Warsaw airport.  Well, now things should be getting interesting.  Indeed by 4 am their time I was deplaning at the Tbilisi, Georgia airport. wandering in and out of REM sleep. 

I took a taxi to the main marshrutka stand, where maxi minibuses squash around 20 or so customers within themselves and then take off for various cities in your typical ex-Soviet country.  It was now 5:45 and one was leaving for Kutaisi at 7.  Kind of a wait, but then I got to choose the first seat.  And then once we got to Kutaisi it was easy to find another marshrutka going to Zugdidi.

I got off at Zugdidi where my Google Map told me to, but it turned into a two mile trudge through the hot sun to find the actual address.  And me with no sleep.  But once the place and people were finally found, everything became honky dory.  I went to a Georgian restaurant where I decidedly overate some of the most delicious food in the world.  I packed my mini-backpack for tomorrow's adventure.  And then I took the opportunity to catch up on that missing night of sleep.


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