(In part two of this series leading up to NHL Premiere 2010, featuring the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, we look at pricing, funding and planning the trip.)
Never is all as it seems when planning international travel. Ever. Large corporations will tell you that, small families from different countries will tell you that. Never, ever accept full price when dealing with transcontinental (or, in this case, intercontinental) travel. Timing is everything is cases like this.
And, thanks to some Greek pensioners, we caught some great timing. How so? Read on...
It is now mid-May, and my wife and I are hemming and hawing over whether or not we can go to Finland. We go back and forth, pointing out to each other the pros (we actually have something to go there FOR; there will be others, as it's a tour group) and the cons (individual travel where we would be stuck in a foreign country where no one knows the English language, etc.) of such an undertaking. My wife opined that it would be fun to see more than just Finland while we're over in Europe: point taken! She was right! It would be fun to enjoy more of Europe than you would see from a tour bus for six days.
Haven't you wanted a croissant, from where they were first made? A Danish from Denmark? Shepherd's Pie from Britain? A real Swedish meatball? Real German pilsner beer, fresh from the tap, not carried across the North Atlantic in some cargo hold? Borscht from next to the Borscht Belt (the real one, not the one in NY State)? All the sights, the sounds, the experiences... all out there, waiting for those who are willing to explore. And, at the end, some good ol' NHL hockey, to boot. You can't pass THAT up, I thought.
Then, thanks to the Greeks, the Euro drops precipitously, making an international flight to London (Heathrow) and home directly from Helsinki to Minneapolis/St. Paul under $1,000 each (taxes and fees included). Much better than the rates quoted to us previously (see Part I for that info.) I am almost cheering on the rioters in Athens on CNN, as the Euro keeps on sliding downward in relation to the U.S. dollar. I feel much better about this trip now, and more importantly, so does my wife. Now, at that moment, was the time to book!
Why London? Our decision was partially based on the fact, that our first night in Europe should be somewhere where we could actually get our feet under us after a 8 hour, 20 minute flight. Due to the late hour of departure from the USA (9:40 PM, Central Time) we would be tired going into the flight, and then the Trans-Atlantic ordeal, Her Majesty's Customs, and getting into the city itself will probably take care of any starch in our systems, once we get there.
So now, we are looking at the news every day, also working online sites for a cheap airfare to Europe somewhere, while reading how easy it is to book European travel online at websites such as the highly-recommended http://www.seat61.com/, who expounds the bravado of booking your own travel online, through six different reservation systems, while travelling through seven different countries, en route to Helsinki. Thru a number of websites, a plan is formulated: travel via train from London to Stockholm, via Paris, Cologne and Copenhagen; a ferry across the Baltic Sea to Mikko Koivu's hometown of Turku, Finland; and a Finnish Railways 'Boat Train' from Turku Satama (Harbor) to Helsinki. Total travel time, London to Helsinki, including all transfers: 51 1/2 hours. Not bad considering you are travelling almost the same distance (1946 miles, or 3139 kilometers) as Twin Cities to Vancouver, BC (via Amtrak).
And even in the train travel, we are finding early booking discounts of upwards of 50%, especially on the two overnight segments: the Deutsche Bahn CityNightLine train, which we will utilize as a 'hotel on wheels' from Cologne to Copenhagen, and the Viking Line ferry 'M/S Amorella', which will be our overnight accomodation on the second night from Stockholm to Turku. Now, can I book all this while the rates are still low in relation to the US Dollar?
That's where the funding comes in. In Part I, you may remember that I had mentioned the starting of a savings account. Yeah, that one. Here's where it starts coming in, the saving, the lack of decent road trips last season (which helped), the deal-searching, the pouring thru numerous timetables, websites, and some good old-fashioned calling, both near (to South Minneapolis) and far (to Stockholm). All in search of a good deal. And, they're out there, until...
(to be continued)