Friday, October 1, 2010

Finland X: Highballin' to Helsinki, Part One

(In this tenth installment of my blog series leading up to NHL Premiere 2010, featuring the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland, we look at the first half of the trip to Helsinki itself; some surprises, and some disappointments.)

We are finally on our way to Helsinki.

After eight months of planning, saving, more saving, more planning and still more saving, the hockey holiday has indeed begun. And so far, the only glitch is that we didn't start this trip sooner, so as to enjoy more of what modern, united Europe has to offer.

We would have arrived London sooner than we actually did, but for the British Airways Authority (BAA) not allowing planes to land outside of their alloted 'slot time'. As it was, we were both so screwed up over the 6-hour change in time that the first thing we did in Europe, was...

...take a nap.

Friday, it was up REALLY early for the first Eurostar train of the day thru the 'Chunnel' to Paris. Travelling thru the eighth wonder of the engineering world is really something, especially when one considers that plans for a trans-English Channel link had been in the works for nearly 150 years when the Channel Tunnel opened in 1995. It was really an eye-opening experience as we sped across northeastern France between Lille and Paris, with other trains passing us every 4-5 minutes.

We arrived Paris 4 minutes late (due to SNCF commuter train traffic, just north of Paris) then, after spending a few minutes reconnoitering our position, we spent the day trying to ascend to the summit of the Eiffel Tower. The operative word here is TRYING. Not succeeding. There was a four-hour wait to ascend from the second level to the summit. The people were packed in like sardines in a giant steel can, waiting in line, after line, after line, to be elevated to the summit level. Some, like us, just gave up. Others decided to just stand there and wait, and shuffle, and wait some more. It was not the way we wanted to spend our day in the fabled City of Lights, so we moved on.

We had a delectable lunch at the Brassiere Terminus Nord, directly across the street from the station where we had arrived, and were also due to depart later that afternoon. A real, French, white-linen, businessman's lunch. My wife enjoyed it immensely, and we both had a wonderful time.

We then went across the street, back to the station where we were to depart for Cologne (en route to Helsinki) on another high-speed train, this time the Thalys high-speed service, which uses the same tracks between Paris, and the outskirts of Lille, that Eurostar uses. So, more 300 KPH (186 MPH) running thru the light rain that was falling as we sped towards Brussels, Liege, and eventually Cologne.

There we changed again, this time to the overnight German 'City Night Line' sleeper train for Copenhagen. This would be the longest single train trip in our itinerary, covering 661 miles (or roughly the distance from Fargo to Chicago) in a shade under 12 hours. Our room was already made up as we boarded in Cologne, and after a few formalities, we quickly fell asleep. In the morning, we were in Denmark, which reminded me of parts of central Minnesota in that there cows, cows and oh, yeah, cows. Windmills (old style and modern-day turbines) abound. Also, the bicycle as a commuter tool is very much in vogue in Denmark, as well. No wonder why Europeans are generally healtier that their American counterparts. Our train lost an hour of running time (we had to go in the siding for other passenger trains no less than four times in Denmark alone) so we arrived Copenhagen one hour late.

After another train change, we now departed for Stockholm aboard a Swedish X2000 high-speed train, as we departed Copenhagen we were just settling in as we arrived at the stop for Copenhagen's Kastrup Airport. Or so we thought...

(to be continued)

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