Will there be PJs? Return to Finland

My Qantas flight is a Finnair "wet lease", meaning it's Finnair equipment and crew but Qantas supplies including food, drink, amenity kits etc. The most talked-about feature of Finnair's product is the "no-recline" business seat.

Sounds odd but I think it works quite well. The seat itself is generously proportioned, at least in its sitting portion. There is a wide, curving backrest that doesn't move in any way, and a flat bed that is divided into two parts by two tilting panels. For normal sitting, these panels are rotated down for the passenger's feet to rest on the floor, and to lie flat, they swing up to form a continuous horizontal surface extending into a rather narrow footwell.

You want to lie down, just swing the panels up, move your bum forward, and lie down.

View attachment SYD-SIN Seat 02.jpg



View attachment SYD-SIN Seat 03.jpg
Looking at the thing, front to back, you get a tunnel for your legs. This is my main criticism of the seat, but it's not a huge one; the tunnel is a little cramped and rolling over from one side to the other could be a little difficult for side sleepers. The bulkhead seats have a more generous tunnel, so that's something to consider in seat selection.

For takeoff and landing, the bedding and spare pillows go in hear, quite out of the way because of course you are sitting up. For other times, if the seat is in the lie-flat configuration with the middle panels raised, best to spread out the bedding. The FA can do this.

For the Qantas wet-lease, mattress toppers are provided that fit the standard Qantas seat and not the Finnair seat. They are okay, just not optimum.

View attachment SYD-SIN Seat 04.jpg

Above the foot tunnel is a generously-sized flat touchscreen. This doesn't move but is fine for viewing either seated upright or lying flat. There is a controller provided for those with shorter arms but I found it a little fiddly and preferred, with my more simian arms, to touch the screen to select my preferred options.

The middle section of the seat has two panels that swing up and down to form the footwell for seated mode. The front panel is kind of skinny and is manually operated with a handle on the aisle side that needs to be pulled out and moved up or down as required. This can be a little awkward to reach and operate. For best results, get up and stand in the aisle.

Behind that is a powered panel that is operated by a button on the control strip that forms the side of the side armrest/work area,

Beside these two panels is a hinged lid for storage. Down, it forms part of the bed. Raised it reveals a good-sized storage department including a bin that will handle a full-sized laptop. Inflight magazines, safety cards, and menus go in here and there is heaps of room for other stuff. It becomes difficult but not impossible to reach under the bedding if you are in lie-flat mode.

There is also a circular well that holds a drink bottle.

Behind the footwell is the seat itself. This is where you put your bum when sitting and your head when lying. Probably best to ensure the bedding covers this region.

The backrest is tall and curved, providing a little privacy, especially when sleeping. All in all, this seat is extremely generous in its room and can be configured with pillows and cushions like a lounge. Small children can comfortably sit or lie down with their parents.

There is a side cushion topped by a blond wood (or wood-look) armrest that is large and flat and great for more storage. The top surface has a built-in charging panel with little rubber strips that hold your smartphone in place. There is a row of buttons to control lighting, footwell panel, and tray table.

Tray table is pushed out with a press of the button (and is spring-loaded when pushed back in) and can be unfolded to hold a meal tray, laptop, or whatever.

The footwell also has a universal AC outlet and USB port, along with lowlights to show where the bits are. This cannot be easily accessed with the seat in lie-flat mode, so best to plug your stuff in and ensure that nothing gets dislodged when raising the flap.

There are three seatbelts. A normal lap belt, a sash that attaches for takeoff and landing, and a sleep belt lower down.

SYD-SIN Seat 05.jpg

As part of the backrest, another storage compartment is covered by a padded door. Open it up and you have headphone storage compartment and socket, a couple of USB ports, screen controller in its own little niche, and enough room for a couple of small items.

On the Finnair flights the entertainment system has a short film explaining how the seat works and another going into the design process. I found it to be an elegant, practical, and efficient design that is roomy where it counts. Because there is no need to accommodate motors and gears to move the seat up and down, nor room for these things to move, the passenger has access to all of that space.

The colour pallette is muted and restful.

I love it.
 
My Qantas flight is a Finnair "wet lease", meaning it's Finnair equipment and crew but Qantas supplies including food, drink, amenity kits etc. The most talked-about feature of Finnair's product is the "no-recline" business seat.

Sounds odd but I think it works quite well. The seat itself is generously proportioned, at least in its sitting portion. There is a wide, curving backrest that doesn't move in any way, and a flat bed that is divided into two parts by two tilting panels. For normal sitting, these panels are rotated down for the passenger's feet to rest on the floor, and to lie flat, they swing up to form a continuous horizontal surface extending into a rather narrow footwell.

You want to lie down, just swing the panels up, move your bum forward, and lie down.

View attachment 380210



View attachment 380211
Looking at the thing, front to back, you get a tunnel for your legs. This is my main criticism of the seat, but it's not a huge one; the tunnel is a little cramped and rolling over from one side to the other could be a little difficult for side sleepers. The bulkhead seats have a more generous tunnel, so that's something to consider in seat selection.

For takeoff and landing, the bedding and spare pillows go in hear, quite out of the way because of course you are sitting up. For other times, if the seat is in the lie-flat configuration with the middle panels raised, best to spread out the bedding. The FA can do this.

For the Qantas wet-lease, mattress toppers are provided that fit the standard Qantas seat and not the Finnair seat. They are okay, just not optimum.

View attachment 380212

Above the foot tunnel is a generously-sized flat touchscreen. This doesn't move but is fine for viewing either seated upright or lying flat. There is a controller provided for those with shorter arms but I found it a little fiddly and preferred, with my more simian arms, to touch the screen to select my preferred options.

The middle section of the seat has two panels that swing up and down to form the footwell for seated mode. The front panel is kind of skinny and is manually operated with a handle on the aisle side that needs to be pulled out and moved up or down as required. This can be a little awkward to reach and operate. For best results, get up and stand in the aisle.

Behind that is a powered panel that is operated by a button on the control strip that forms the side of the side armrest/work area,

Beside these two panels is a hinged lid for storage. Down, it forms part of the bed. Raised it reveals a good-sized storage department including a bin that will handle a full-sized laptop. Inflight magazines, safety cards, and menus go in here and there is heaps of room for other stuff. It becomes difficult but not impossible to reach under the bedding if you are in lie-flat mode.

There is also a circular well that holds a drink bottle.

Behind the footwell is the seat itself. This is where you put your bum when sitting and your head when lying. Probably best to ensure the bedding covers this region.

The backrest is tall and curved, providing a little privacy, especially when sleeping. All in all, this seat is extremely generous in its room and can be configured with pillows and cushions like a lounge. Small children can comfortably sit or lie down with their parents.

There is a side cushion topped by a blond wood (or wood-look) armrest that is large and flat and great for more storage. The top surface has a built-in charging panel with little rubber strips that hold your smartphone in place. There is a row of buttons to control lighting, footwell panel, and tray table.

Tray table is pushed out with a press of the button (and is spring-loaded when pushed back in) and can be unfolded to hold a meal tray, laptop, or whatever.

The footwell also has a universal AC outlet and USB port, along with lowlights to show where the bits are. This cannot be easily accessed with the seat in lie-flat mode, so best to plug your stuff in and ensure that nothing gets dislodged when raising the flap.

There are three seatbelts. A normal lap belt, a sash that attaches for takeoff and landing, and a sleep belt lower down.

View attachment 380213

As part of the backrest, another storage compartment is covered by a padded door. Open it up and you have headphone storage compartment and socket, a couple of USB ports, screen controller in its own little niche, and enough room for a couple of small items.

On the Finnair flights the entertainment system has a short film explaining how the seat works and another going into the design process. I found it to be an elegant, practical, and efficient design that is roomy where it counts. Because there is no need to accommodate motors and gears to move the seat up and down, nor room for these things to move, the passenger has access to all of that space.

The colour pallette is muted and restful.

I love it.
Have you the heads up on a cabin swap with your friend in Y @Skyring ?
 
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Flight 2405
Tuesday 16 April 2024
QF 191 SYD-SIN
A333 OH-LTS (wet-lease from Finnair)
Scheduled: 1025
Boarding: 1000 (Seat 4L)
Pushback: 1038
Takeoff: 1050 to south
Landing: 1650 from west
Gate: 1653 (C18)

My Singapore flight is indeed the same plane that flew in from Singapore. It and the Bangkok flight at the next gate along must run a shuttle service to and from.

There’s way too much standing around as we wait for the word. I could have stayed in the lounge and worked my way through another thimble of coffee. Or maybe two.

Oh well. I watch the passengers around me grapple with the wait. There’s a toddler keen on finding freedom and his family members take it in turns to retrieve him from imminent disaster.

I've got a grandson just like that and my dear wife has him all to herself today. His 3YO sister normally completes the set but she's picked up gastro from Petri-Dish Daycare and is staying home under the care of her afflicted father, I’m informed via terse text.

Meanwhile, I’ve escaped and have a long day at the luxury end of airline transport ahead of me to endure. I hope my family is still in one piece, or at least on speaking terms, when I return.

Best stock up on some fancy foreign Finnish treats to distribute amongst the surviving members.

Boarding eventually commences. We all pick up our bags and toddlers, produce passports and boarding passes, and find our seats.

I have a problem. It involves a package of Ferrero Rocher which needs to be slipped to the cabin crew as a bribe for some advice on swapping seats with my friend on the next flight.

This is a delicate and subtle matter, and I’m not noted for either of those things.

I find my seat, fussing about as I pull out various cables and devices. The no-recline seat has some generous storage pockets, one big enough for a full-size laptop and a smaller square space beside just right for a pack of delicious chocolate treats.

One of the cabin crew - Effendy, as I later learn - spots the golden balls and asks, “Oh, are those for me?”

Problem solved. “Yes, they are,” I say, offering the box.

But he waves them away with a laugh and asks about my preference for pre-departure beverage.

Champagne, of course.

SYD-SIN Seat Bear.jpg

I pose Routebear for a photo and he attracts a little attention. Senior citizen with a toy bear. Dementia alert.


Not to mention someone with the possible ability to scoff a whole box of chocolates on an eight-hour flight.

Boarding is completed soon enough. I have the empty glass on my swing-out tray table, the box of Ferrero Rocher beside it.

As my glass is collected I hand over the chockies. “A gift for the crew,” I say.

SYD-SIN Bubbly FR.jpg

This time it is accepted. By a different crew member. I've printed out a picture of AI's idea of what flight attendants might look like running a marathon in Helsinki, along with some words thanking the crew for being on their feet the whole flight, walking a marathon to the destination while I sit back and watch TV.

SYD-SIN Views 01.jpg

This pilot demurely taxis us to the northern end of the runway, puts his foot on the loud pedal, pushes the throttles to buster, and zooms us up into the morning.

SYD-SIN Views 02-2.jpg

Some great views of the coast before we head inland and the landscape changes.

SYD-SIN Bear nuts.jpg

Once we're properly airborne the crew bustles around. I invite Routebear to my bubbly and nuts party. Almonds perfectly roasted and salted.

Lunch is served after. Finnish crew presenting the Qantas fare.

SYD-SIN Menu cover.jpg

SYD-SIN Menu 02.jpg

SYD-SIN Menu 03.jpg

SYD-SIN Pork.jpg

Salad and pork belly skewers to begin. I’ve been reading the forum on Qantas tucker and the pork gets high marks.

Deservedly so. It is succulent, sweet, and melt-in-the-mouth tender. Devastatingly delicious. I choose a chardonnay to accompany it.

SYD-SIN Snapper.jpg

Snapper for the main. Beautifully balanced plate of textures, tastes, and colours. There's a sauvignon blanc to go with it. Yum.

The dessert is another big plus from the discussion board. Pat and Stick's Caramel Pecan ice cream sandwich. I'm trying to give big sweet buckets of sugar a miss on this trip - and in my life - but it's described in glowing terms, and I'm not made of stone.

It's worth it. I might have photos in the next segment; I'm limited to ten images per post here.

There are also some stunning views out of the window. Flying over Central Australia might be short on settlements but high on extraordinary landscapes.

While we are waiting for the next post, I make my seat into a bed with a couple of button pushes and a flick of the bedding. Kind of amusing to see the Qantas bedding - designed for a different seat entirely - pressed into service here. But I don't chuckle too long or loudly; it's been a while since I had a decent sleep and I zonk off for a bit, content in my comfy little bed in the sky.

Just as I close my eyes, a flight attendant delivers a set of grey Qantas pyjamas. Oh man, great timing!
 
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Flight 2405
Tuesday 16 April 2024
QF 191 SYD-SIN
A333 OH-LTS (wet-lease from Finnair)
Scheduled: 1025
Boarding: 1000 (Seat 4L)
Pushback: 1038
Takeoff: 1050 to south
Landing: 1650 from west
Gate: 1653 (C18)

My Singapore flight is indeed the same plane that flew in from Singapore. It and the Bangkok flight at the next gate along must run a shuttle service to and from.

There’s way too much standing around as we wait for the word. I could have stayed in the lounge and worked my way through another thimble of coffee. Or maybe two.

Oh well. I watch the passengers around me grapple with the wait. There’s a toddler keen on finding freedom and his family members take it in turns to retrieve him from imminent disaster.

I've got a grandson just like that and my dear wife has him all to herself today. His 3YO sister normally completes the set but she's picked up gastro from Petri-Dish Daycare and is staying home under the care of her afflicted father, I’m informed via terse text.

Meanwhile, I’ve escaped and have a long day at the luxury end of airline transport ahead of me to endure. I hope my family is still in one piece, or at least on speaking terms, when I return.

Best stock up on some fancy foreign Finnish treats to distribute amongst the surviving members.

Boarding eventually commences. We all pick up our bags and toddlers, produce passports and boarding passes, and find our seats.

I have a problem. It involves a package of Ferrero Rocher which needs to be slipped to the cabin crew as a bribe for some advice on swapping seats with my friend on the next flight.

This is a delicate and subtle matter, and I’m not noted for either of those things.

I find my seat, fussing about as I pull out various cables and devices. The no-recline seat has some generous storage pockets, one big enough for a full-size laptop and a smaller square space beside just right for a pack of delicious chocolate treats.

One of the cabin crew - Effendy, as I later learn - spots the golden balls and asks, “Oh, are those for me?”

Problem solved. “Yes, they are,” I say, offering the box.

But he waves them away with a laugh and asks about my preference for pre-departure beverage.

Champagne, of course.

View attachment 380474

I pose Routebear for a photo and he attracts a little attention. Senior citizen with a toy bear. Dementia alert.


Not to mention someone with the possible ability to scoff a whole box of chocolates on an eight-hour flight.

Boarding is completed soon enough. I have the empty glass on my swing-out tray table, the box of Ferrero Rocher beside it.

As my glass is collected I hand over the chockies. “A gift for the crew,” I say.

View attachment 380473

This time it is accepted. By a different crew member. I've printed out a picture of AI's idea of what flight attendants might look like running a marathon in Helsinki, along with some words thanking the crew for being on their feet the whole flight, walking a marathon to the destination while I sit back and watch TV.

View attachment 380475

This pilot demurely taxis us to the northern end of the runway, puts his foot on the loud pedal, pushes the throttles to buster, and zooms us up into the morning.

View attachment 380479

Some great views of the coast before we head inland and the landscape changes.

View attachment 380471

Once we're properly airborne the crew bustles around. I invite Routebear to my bubbly and nuts party. Almonds perfectly roasted and salted.

Lunch is served after. Finnish crew presenting the Qantas fare.

View attachment 380476

View attachment 380477

View attachment 380478

View attachment 380480

Salad and pork belly skewers to begin. I’ve been reading the forum on Qantas tucker and the pork gets high marks.

Deservedly so. It is succulent, sweet, and melt-in-the-mouth tender. Devastatingly delicious. I choose a chardonnay to accompany it.

View attachment 380481

Snapper for the main. Beautifully balanced plate of textures, tastes, and colours.

I skip the dessert and make my seat into a bed with a couple of button pushes and a flick of the bedding. Kind of amusing to see the Qantas bedding - designed for a different seat entirely - pressed into service here. But I don't chuckle too long or loudly; it's been a while since I had a decent sleep and I zonk off for a bit, content in my comfy little bed in the sky.

Just as I close my eyes, a flight attendant delivers a set of grey Qantas pyjamas. Oh man, great timing!
On board with you and your Bear @Skyring - lovely words penned to the crew, I like your style.
Now, to find some prose for Mrs Skyring after a day with the toddler 🤔
 
SYD-SIN Bed.jpg

At this point in a long day and a half, I care naught for pyjamas. I’m dressed in reasonably dishevelled fashion - rumpled polyester trousers and a cotton shirt that has lost any freshly-ironed sharpness it may have had twelve hours, two cities, and a bus ride back - and my brain is shutting down.

I tick off the pyjama box, push them to one side, and continue the shutdown process.

As an aside, I’m currently wearing these fabled garments, somewhere high over Kabul on my return trip, with enough time, alertness and sobriety to take up the tale once more. It’s been a busy few days. Bear with me.

Oh yeah. I'm jumping about a bit but here are the icecream sandwich shots.

SYD-SIN Pat and Sticks.jpg

I'm going to have to hunt these things down for real life. So good!

View attachment SYD-SIN Pat and Sticks unwrapped.jpg

View attachment SYD-SIN Sakt lake.jpg

I wake after a couple of hours. Lie-flat bed it may be but there is enough light, noise and movement in the cabin that I’m roused to consciousness now and then - rather like my elderly cat at home trying to find a comfortable space in front of my nose - and eventually I’m awake for good.

Not to worry. I’ve had my kip, and I have work to do.

I poke my head into the galley, find Effendy doing flight attendant stuff - there’s a selection of snacks and drinks I would once have regarded with interest - and ask him if he can help me with a problem.

I outline the sharing seats situation for my next flight and he indicates that something may be arranged so long as I let the cabin crew know what I want on boarding.

At this point the CSM - Florence - arrives with a bag of goodies that blows me away.

It’s not the Qantas cap, playing cards, key ring and a few other things. It’s the card thanking me in multiple languages, signed by the entire crew.

SYD-SIN BwE and card.jpg

Including the flight crew.

This is thoughtfulness far in excess of me buying a few chocolates in the supermarket.

I am touched by this kindness.

Florence, once she understands my request, smilingly indicates that she may be able to arrange things with the next crew, but otherwise Effendy’s advice is good.

I’m on top of the world for the remainder of the flight. And, well, well into the next day or so.

Not that the remainder of the flight is without interest in its own way.

View attachment SYD-SIN Arrival meal.jpg

We have another meal about mid-afternoon Singapore time that could be breakfast or supper. Whatever it is, it’s delicious with some fabulous prawns and a careful balance of spice.

SYD-SIN Changi 2.jpg

Outside, as we approach Singapore, is an ever changing view of islands, ships, and ultimately airport.

SYD-SIN Ships.jpg

SYD-SIN Shiphotel.jpg

SYD-SIN Ships 02.jpg

In theory, as we taxi to the gate, I’ve got about five hours here, with two or three before the Qantas flight from Melbourne arrives with my friend aboard.

There’s a shower with my name on it somewhere in one of the lounges. And a shave etc.

I ask Effendy for his name as I leave. I have it in mind to say some nice things about him and his CSM to both Qantas and Finnair.

He obliges with a postit note containing both names in biock letters. No flies on Effendy!

And it is such people, clever, thoughtful, perceptive, diligent, who can make a flight a delight.

As it has been for me.
 
From research in this forum, I find that the Qatar lounge consistently rates high out of those available to oneWorld members, at least those at my OWS level.

I found the place without difficulty - up the first set of escalators, turn left - and when I ask about the showers a series of smiling staff wave me through.

SIN QR Bathroom.jpg

My, but that's pretty!
View attachment SIN QR Orchid.jpg

Somehow I had mislaid the little ziploc bag with my fluids. Toothpaste, shaving oil, etc. I'd put it in a safe place for convenience and then forgotten the place. It seems that they don't bother with that nonsense any more but still, here was I needing to shave and brush my teeth after the shower.

So I swiped a couple of the freebie packs. Quite a good Schick razor, I noticed, but I had my own so I left the razor in my AirBnB a bit later on, a cut above the disposable Bics the host had supplied.

Later on, I found that I'd put the ziploc bag in a side pocket in my backpack, but hey, more little tubes of stuff to carry around!

Feeling vastly more human with one of the last spritzes of my ZZegna aftershave wafting out, I looked into the dining room. In theory I had over two hours until the Melbourne plane carrying my friend Megan arrived and it was time for a decent dinner.

I have to say that the Qatar lounge looks the business. Qantas is a bit basic, at least the standard lounge, but Qatar is snug and elegant.

The menu can be accessed online by a - heh - QR code: https://www.qatarairways.com/content/dam/hia/pdf/qr-singapore-lounge-en.pdf

Easy choice for me:

View attachment SIN QR Salmon.jpg
Smoked salmon with capers.

View attachment SIN QR Rose.jpg
Rose Champagne

View attachment SIN QR Lamb.jpg
and lamb rack.

Divine, all three, presented with impeccable service to a bloke in rumpled clothes with a toy bear poking out of his backpack.

I could have taken a few more hits of the Rose and maybe a spot of dessert but on checking with Singapore arrivals it looked like Megan from Melbourne was arriving on QF 35 a lot earlier than I'd calculated, like about five minutes from now.

I picked up my lamb chops in both hands, gnawed the meat off, drained the pink bubbles in a gulp, wiped my lips with the tablecloth and hurried out, waving at the staff in passing.

View attachment SIN QF A333.jpg

She was just pulling in as I hurried up to the gate and then it was a bit of a wait until she emerged from the back of the bus. Still, there's no point in taking a chance of missing her, and I'd be able to guest her into the lounge after we'd seen a bit of the airport. Finish off the bubbly, maybe get a dessert or two …

You know the airport scenes in Love, Actually? Friends and family overjoyed to see each other. Genuine emotion on public display.

When you get down to it, what we have are memories. The body changes with the years, skills and interests and opinions decay or grow or develop, but what really makes us the person we are are memories.

I see Megan walking toward me with a smile on her face - mirroring the one on my own, I know - and I'm thinking of all the adventures we have shared around the world, all the magical moments, the glasses of wine, the books, the sights, the friends.

So many shared memories of good times.

Later on, I make Megan cry, but we'll get to that.

For now, I grab her carry-on bag and we head off into the magical tourist resort of Changi.

She wants to show me the Butterfly Garden and I reckon that's another bit of magic I could add to the total.

It's an AirTrain and a few questions away but we know when we get there. The air and the vegetation are tropical, and there are butterflies fluttering around, gorging themselves on pineapple slices, and people pointing phones everywhere.

SIN Butterfly.jpg
SIN Butterfly 02.jpg
Not a great variety but they are certainly pretty good to look at.

After we've had our fill of flutterers we make our way back to the Qatar Lounge. Our boarding passes are scrutinised carefully. "You may come in, sir," the gate guy says, "but your friend is travelling Economy and this lounge is for Business Class passengers."

I feel I've been scammed again but after some careful reading of the access policy I find that he's right.

Oh well, Qantas is available as a nearby backup, and we sit down, recharge our devices, chat, and enjoy a latte or two until it's time to board the Finnair flight to Helsinki and find out if my careful preparation and yummy chocolate gifting has paid off.
 
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Flight 2406
Tuesday 16 April 2024
AY 132 SIN-HEL
A359 OH-LWO
Scheduled: 2150
Boarding: 2115 (Seat 2L/62C)
Pushback: 2203 (Delay while awaiting luggage transfer from another terminal)
Takeoff: 2206
Landing: 0628
Gate: 0631

My plan had been to approach one of the crew in the gate lounge but I see that it is manned entirely by Singapore Airport staff. So scratch that. At least I hustled Megan through the priority lane for security. "She's with me," I said to the guy checking BPs, and it worked.

View attachment SINHEL A350.jpg

Plan B. We'd do the reverse for boarding. Wait until general boarding was called and then front up at the Business entrance, explain the situation to whoever was manning the door, and see what happened. Megan's boarding pass had not elicited any sort of cheerful beep at the lounge entrance, so I guessed one of us would be making the walk to the back of the bus.

Right at the back. She was in 62C, a fair hike from my 2L seat, which as far as I'm concerned is the best on the plane. A window seat, so it has a view. A bulkhead seat, so it has a more generous foot tunnel than those behind. And it was a "seat-left" configuration so the foot tunnel bent in the optimum direction for my preferred right-side sleep position.

I had to steer Megan left for the forward entrance, where I knew the greeter would have already welcomed most of the Business passengers and might have time for a chat.

His name was Faizal and he had a couple of rank bars on his jacket. I began to explain but he said that Florence (from my previous flight) had been in touch and all was fine. He showed us to my seat, where I stowed my carry on bag in the rack (because I would be returning to my seat halfway through, and wouldn't need anything from it during the economy part of my flight) wished Megan a good sleep, and headed back, clutching her BP. On the way through the galley I handed my second box of Ferrero Rocher to a flight attendant.

SINHEL 62C.jpg

The cabin wasn't completely full, I noticed as I made my way back. In fact, I had a row of three to myself. Boarding not yet complete, though, so my lie-flat Economy bed might evaporate.

I was beginning to hope when a young lady stopped at Row 63 and indicated that she had the window seat. Oh well. I unplugged my charging cables and my hopes, stood up for her, and smiled.

A few minutes later the "boarding complete" announcement came and she turned to me, pumping her fist in the air. We had a vacant middle seat. I liked this woman. Obviously an experienced traveller, she knew what was going on and had prepared her carry-on gear for a long flight in the window seat. Later on, after meal service, she did the middle seat tray-table shuffle to help out the flight attendant collecting the trays. Pretty much a female version of myself, I thought, because I would have chosen more or less the same extreme rear window seat on this plane. If I can't sit ahead of the wings, I like to sit a reasonable distance behind so that I get a clear view. And on the port side too, so that the rising sun would be on the other side of the plane.

Based on something Florence had said on the previous flight, I suspected that the empty middle seat was our doing, blocked off for my comfort. Whatever, I'll take the win. We both piled the empty seat high with our pillows and blankets and grinned at each other.

View attachment SINHEL Flightcam 01.jpg
No window, so I turned on the flight camera, giving a handy close-up view of Changi's runways until they dropped away and things got rather black and boring outside.

SINHEL Dinner 01.jpg
SINHEL Dinner 02.jpg

While Megan, she later assured me, was tucking into smoked salmon and champagne, dinner was served to Economy. No meal choices unless you wanted vegan or halal or whatever. Everybody gets the same meal. Spicy noodles with edamame beans, and Tom Yam rice, whatever that is. Both were yummy. I - along with my seatmate, I noticed - declined the roll. The Kitkat I stowed in the seatback pocket for Megan to discover later, along with her boarding pass.

I settled back to enjoy the entertainment. Finnair still maintains a healthy audio selection though it seemed to me that the movie offerings hadn't changed much since last time I flew with them in June. Still, I dialled up Bridges of Madison County, a movie I love, but only got about halfway
through before sleep beckoned.

I turned off the movie and tried to drift off. Tried in vain. An economy chair is just not something that fits my frame for sideways sleep. Another few hours of this and I'd be desperate.

Four and a bit hours into the flight - quite a lot earlier than I estimated - Faizal appeared out of the darkness and told me that the swap was on. I grabbed my things and followed him into the land of luxury and lie-flat seats. Megan was grateful for the meal and the comfy chair - my pleasure, I told her - and Faizal led her off into the gloom.

For me, I was horizontal as fast as I could get there. Goodnight!

===

After a few hours, I woke, resumed my movie, and awaited breakfast.

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Here we see the route that flights from Asia have to take to avoid Russia and Ukraine in the north and Iran in the south. From further north, places like Osaka and Tokyo, where Finnair was positioning itself as a quicker way to get to Europe via Helsinki, avoiding Russia and potential diversion airfields is all but impossible.

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Breakfast arrived, along with a glorious savoury aroma from the quiche. I devoured every morsel of this huge offering, sparing an occasional thought for Megan, who was doubtless being served a bowl of gruel somewhere in the distant seats. With a Kit Kat. And a puzzled seat companion.

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Sunrise somewhere over Poland, and in due course we were gliding down to Helsinki.

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I lingered on the way out. Only one airbridge door in egalitarian Finland, and I knew that Megan would be some time in the Economy scrum. I hunted up Faizal and asked his name so I could report him to Finnair HQ. As I had done with Florence and Effendy from the previous flight.

He looked alarmed, "Uh, good or bad?"

I bust out laughing. "What do you think?"

I thanked him again for his efforts and his kindness. The thing had gone better than I'd hoped, especially with a personal guide to help clear the way.

Broad smile and hearty thank you as I went out of the door to wait in the airbridge access for Megan.

And that, as they say in the movies, was …

Fin
 
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Red Umbrella tour group at Senate Square, Helsinki​

I love Helsinki Airport. Straightforward, practical, efficient, elegant. I walked with Megan to immigration and drew her aside into a central hub where there were padded lounges for sitting, resting, or sleeping. In a continuous screen above, surrounding the space, images and sounds of Finnish forest and lake scenery played. Birds flew across the scene, bugs crawled on the tree trunks, the leaves moved in the wind.

Hard to think of a modern airline terminal where good prime commercial space is given over to the people.

Once we had our passports stamped and our bags collected, we dived in and put on some heavier outerwear. I had my warm jacket strategically placed on top of everything else, hat and gloves nearby.

The plan was to take the train into Helsinki Central Station, leave our bags in a locker there, and take a Red Umbrella tour around the central city. A free tour but of course one tips the guide.

The train station is about a hundred metres below the terminal level and there is a truly epic bank of escalators to descend to platform level. You can take the lift if you want — or have a lot of baggage — but we went down through that immense space.

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Megan regards the void — image by author​

I sidetracked a bit and we took a good look at the space from a walkway off to one side. Here is where you can see both banks of escalators at once, because there is another set almost as high off to the left. Kind of vertiginous, really.

There is also a regular shopping mall landside. Food court, supermarket, pharmac_ etc. where the prices aren’t jacked up and the wares aren’t luxury goods. Nice touch, that.

Trains to Helsinki are about 4 Euro a ticket, pay with card. Very handy if you arrive without local currency. Plenty of room on the frequent trains for bags and it takes about half an hour into the city.

Finland, it must be said, has an excellent railway system. We could have bought tickets straight to Tampere (with one change at a suburban station) and the trains between Helsinki and Tampere go every fifteen minutes or so.

Megan wanted more of a look at Helsinki and to be honest, so did I. Otherwise we’d arrive in Tampere midmorning, long before check-in and have to bum around the town feeling tired and listless.

Instead we found the luggage lockers at Helsinki Station, put on gloves and beanies, and spent the time before our tour began by taking a walk down to the waterfront and back, finishing off with a leisurely coffee in a thankfully warm cafe.

I spent most of a twenty-three-hour layover here last year, so I was able to be a bit of a guide, retracing the steps I’d taken in my increasingly fruitless search for a good cheap dinner on the longest day of the year.

This time, at least, places were opening up as the spring day brightened rather than closing down while the sun still shone in the sky as had been my experience.

There was coffee to be had and breakfast for those who wanted it.

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Our meeting point for the tour was the statue of Tsar Alexander II in Senate Square, in front of Helsinki Cathedral. I posed my travelling companion bear while we waited for a guide with a red umbrella to show up.

Bianca. Red umbrella, blue cap, great English, boundless enthusiasm, and a library of information about Helsinki.

She was expecting eight booked tourists but only four and a half showed. All Aussies, including a couple from Dubbo on their honeymoon.

We got to know one another while waiting for the no-shows. Bianca is a student from the other side of the Gulf of Finland, supplementing her income and practising her English by running tours. The two from Dubbo had been together ten years, had a child under biological clock pressure, and decided they might as well get married. Their three-year-old daughter was astonishingly well-behaved and spent a lot of the tour asleep under warm blankets.

I regarded her with some envy.

It wasn’t what one might call freezing but it was certainly on the cold side of cool. Gloves, warm hat, scarf; about all you could see was a nose pointing in the direction of the various landmarks Bianca indicated.

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I must say that Senate Square is a splendid piece of civic architecture. Parliament and University face each other on either side, and the cathedral is raised above, up an impressive flight of wide stone steps that must be perfect for onlookers to regard fairs, celebrations, protests and gatherings of all kinds. Such as the proclamation of Finnish independence from Russia in 1917.

History right here.

We went inside the cathedral, a grand Lutheran production, an IKEA in comparison with the Catholic cathedral we looked at later.

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Helsinki Cathedral — image by author

I made a vertical pan shot up to the lofty dome. Gosh, this must be a hard place to heat in the depths of winter.

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No tourists, members only — image by author

On that note, a sign outside advertised a performance later on that I was certain wouldn’t be visually impressive but most likely an experience to be shared and talked about for years to come.

Across the way we looked into the old municipal library. A grand edifice in the old style, welcoming of visitors.

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Megan snaps at books — image by author
There was a dome and multiple balconies, surrounded by books. A coffee shop in the basement, so obviously still in heavy use.

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Vertical interior pan — image by author
Oh boy, was this a library and a half. We had a look at the new one a little later on, one equally impressive though in a very different style.
 
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Helsinki street signs — image by author
Once we were outside again — in the cold — we were given some information on street signs. Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish, so every official sign has both languages. And in the old days, for those who couldn’t read either one, each city block was also identified by an animal. In this case, Bianca pointed out, a serval cat. With labels in Finnish and Swedish, of course.

“Well spotted!” I said, as she pointed to the picture, but I’m afraid that one went over her head. But that’s okay. Even fluent English speakers sometimes don’t respond to my jokes. I’m used to it. I no longer take it so hard, simply resolve to put more into the delivery.

We moved along and down to the waterfront, where we saw this museum piece on display:
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Sailors beware! — image by author

Our guide explained this ship was a kind of seagoing lighthouse, moored near navigational hazards, showing a flashing light at night to warn of the peril. A lightship.

I dug into my own maritime resources to add to the information. “Ships like this,” I explained, “needed a large crew because many hands make light work.”

Bianca didn’t flinch as this one shot over her head as well, but the other three adults in the party suggested that I was sailing into perilous waters myself, and that I should finish on that high note.​

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Catholic Cathedral — image by author

Not too distant was the Roman Catholic Cathedral — or possibly Orthodox, I dunno — a little more grander than the previous. In June I had seen people sitting on the hillside quite late in the evening enjoying the sunlight. Not so much now. It was more like the inside of a fridge than anything else. At least outside.

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Horizontal pan — image by author

We left the cathedral somewhat in awe, and found ourselves in a rich people street. Apparently the millionaire author of the Moominland books once lived here. This is one of Finland’s major exports, it seems. In Helsinki airport there is only one Starbucks but two Moomin shops.​
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Street of famous people — image by author


There were many more sights to be seen as our tour concluded. A sauna on a giant ferris wheel. A sauna on the waterfront. The exterior of the Art Nouveau central station. The new library, a gleaming steel and glass edifice.
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Pose before the sign — image by author​

And a pile of dirty snow on which to perch Routebear in front of the iconic Helsinki sign.
So that’s goodbye from me in Helsinki. Next stop, the wonders of the provinces.

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Even in church the gloves don’t come off — image by author​
 
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Railway station ​


Apart from the BookCrossing convention, I had no reason to visit Tampere, Finland’s third largest city — and the biggest inland city in all Scandinavia — beyond the normal traveller desire to see everything in the world.

There was a fair bit of beer drunk, I took a sauna, and participated in the local Saturday parkrun. I’ll touch on these things, though if you are really into parkrun, here’s my full post with more pictures than you probably want.

After the Helsinki city tour concluded, we looked into the new library — a startling contrast in its ultramodern architecture and massive open spaces. Signs proclaimed that the building was open to all and if you just wanted to hang out and never even look at a book that was fine.

Then back to the station, where we retrieved our bags, had lunch in an Italian joint just off the platform, and awaited our train.

I’ll say it again. The Finnish railway system is superb. Frequent trains, comfortable, well-equipped carriages, stations to match. Our basic train had in seat power, luggage lockers, toilets, a restaurant car, plenty of room in the seats, tray tables, even a playspace for children.

Tickets could be booked online or bought at station kiosks. Naturally the earlier you bought tickets, the cheaper they were. Megan booked our rides and sent me a copy of the ticket for me to display on my phone where the QR code could be scanned.

The train arrived in plenty of time. We found our upstairs seats, put our luggage in a locker downstairs, and enjoyed the ride, leaving precisely on time.

Expressways are much the same the world over — boring — but Finland by train is pretty scenic. After the suburbs disappeared there were forests, farms, lakes, marshes, small towns; an everchanging view with the occasional pile of snow.

We were met by another BookCrosser at the station, Caloling from Germany, who guided me to the R-Kioski where I picked up my AirBnB key (the owner was spending the day in Helsinki) and then took Megan to their shared accommodation.

I had a kilometre or so down the main street, over the river and down a side street. I was getting pretty weary and my brain was beginning to seize up. I had to find 36B in Longnamestreet and I read this as 368, plugged it into Google Maps and went the wrong way for a block or two before turning and trudging back the other way.

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My AirBnB is in there somewhere … ​

The snow in the image is from a few days on. We hadn’t had that bit of excitement yet.

OK. It's 36B I’m looking for, and it’s the second entrance in one of these buildings. Naturally, it wasn’t at the close end of the block. I found the door, my key opened it, and I went into the foyer.

Right, which apartment was mine? I had the name of the guy, and when I scanned the list of names, it was apartment 40. Problem now was to find #40. I had a tiny lift, just big enough for me and my bags, or a spiral staircase to haul them up.

Oh, and one of those light on a timer things. While I was working out my strategy, the light went off and I contemplated the gloomy treads of the staircase with unease. Best to use the lift before I was completely buggered, fell down, or both at once.

I filled it up with me and my bags and decided on an incremental approach. The 36A entrance most likely served a number of apartments - fewer than 40, obviously - and I had no way of knowing how many were in this bit and where they were located. I could be looking for a flat on the top floor or it could be just up these stairs.

First floor began with apartment 31 — right beside the lift door, so I could check the number without unloading my stuff — and I went up a floor at a time until I found what I hoped was the right one.

Sure enough, as I hit the timer light switch and hunted along the corridor, there was number 40. My key fit in the lock but didn’t turn. I turned it upside down and tried again. No joy. Maybe there was another key or further instructions in the envelope I’d been given at the station? Nope.

The light went out, and there I was, tired after two long days of travel and a bunch of sightseeing and a long schlep with bags.

Readers, I was close to tears.

Luckily my phone still had some charge, so I opened up my AirBnB app, looked for the inbox and my guy had sent me checkin instructions while I was in the air.

Aha! Apartment #31. The owner’s name was a red herring. I was at the wrong apartment and if there was anyone inside, they were likely calling the cops.

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Huge relief! 
Back down to the first floor, stick my key in the lock, twist, and great success! I was in! I had a place where I could collapse into bed and recharge my batteries

I shot off a photo to the AirBnB guy to confirm I’d arrived and before I entered the realm of slumber, pulled out all my stuff and plugged everything in to recharge. Laptop, watch, toothbrush, two phones, three iPads, two cameras, two power bricks … I was travelling light.

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Twee ​

Quite a nice little unit, actually. Furnished by IKEA, I suspect, but there was scads of room for a lone traveller and best of all two tables to clutter up with all my stuff. Electronics, books, Tim Tams, wrapping paper …

For the next four days the kitchen table was a tangle of cables, just ahead of my bedside table. My best piece of travel kit is an Australian powerboard with a couple of USB sockets. Put a travel adaptor on the business end, plug it in, and all my regular chargers work fine.

I checked the BookCrossing discussion board and WhatsApp. The early arrivals were planning Wednesday dinner somewhere but were still working out where to assemble. I added a note that I might join them once they had made a decision and settled down for a quick nap.
 
It was Thursday before I was conscious again.

Not to worry, Tampere was full of lunches and dinners and beer tastings and social activity. To be honest, the books are an excuse for a four-day feast.

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Harald’s Harald's Viking Restaurant 
The supposedly Viking restaurant just around the corner was a place for carnivores and corny jokes and beer.

I was in heaven.

The Finns have a great system for payment. The waiter makes a note of which chairs are occupied, what meals and drinks are served to that place, and at the end of the meal prints off a series of bills, one for each seat, itemised. Just pay the amount with a tap of your credit card.

I barely needed to dig into the wad of Euro I’d gotten out of an ATM.

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Beer cellar ​


We had a beer tasting evening. Six modest glasses of lager, stout, an IPA, a porter, weißbier, and a pilsener. Varied and yummy, each one described in loving detail by a couple of chaps who knew way more about beer than is entirely reasonable.

And three meals in brewery restaurants. These Finns are serious about their drinking, I’ll give them that.

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Plevna Brewery in Finlayson ​

I’d selected this place for one of my meals because they offered pavlova as a dessert and I was with child to see what the Finnish version looked like.

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Um, really? ​

A tiny swirl of meringue, some fruits in syrup, and a blob of cream. All very pretty and technically correct but we Aussies looked at the dish with bemusement.

The best part about this joint was the wide range of excellent beers served in serious-sized glasses. Half a litre at a go. I had two refills of a delicious dark bock.

Back at the AirBnB I was less than happy about the coffee. Yes, it was actual ground coffee and I could make a mug in the drip filter machine provided or, when I got myself organised, in the Delter press I’d brought with me.

But it didn’t taste right. Something was off. I needed coffee to function.

I looked at the package. Aha. A blend of Arabica and Robusta. Heavy on the latter, I suspected.

No choice but to go out and hunt through the many nearby supermarkets. There was a Lidl on the next block, a Prisma across the road, a K-Supermarket a block past that.

I love browsing through foreign supermarkets. The grog section in these were all the same: a couple of shelves of wine, a few spirits, some ciders and spritzes and such, and a couple of aisles of beer, groaning under the range.

Took me a while to find a coffee brand I recognised and could trust. Illy, expensive but yummy.

I also hunted down a couple more containers of Ferrero Rocher and some tiny cards.
 
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Naturally a visit to Finland involves sauna. “Sow-na”, as they say.

There was some discussion about etiquette from the various nationalities. The Germans were quite comfortable with public nudity, others were horrified. I’m kind of in the middle. I used to hang out on nude beaches as a young man — my all-over tan was the talk of the regiment — but nowadays I’m not quite so lean and trim as I once was and when I regard myself unclad in the full-length mirror nowadays I am conscious of two things:
1. I really should work on my fitness more, and
2. I’m about to be escorted out of IKEA.

Besides, I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to regard many of my fellow BookCrossers in the raw.

Relax, the organisers assured their nervous attendees, it will be a mixed sauna, but public and bathing attire must be worn.

Great. More clothing to lug along to the other side of the planet.

There were three or four evening sessions scheduled, sign up ahead of time for whatever works. I chose the Friday night one that didn’t clash with the Thursday beer-tasting.

Public transport from the venue was a breeze. A regular sauna attendee — well, I guess they all are here — guided us along a few streets to a bus stop, we jumped aboard Bus #2, paying with credit card in my case and public transport card for those more organised.

I pride myself on collecting metro cards from various cities but while I can contemplate returning to London or San Francisco time and time again, I wasn’t so sure about Tampere and I’d undoubtedly have to leave a few Euro on the thing.

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Sauna on lake ​

Not too long a ride to the shores of the northern lake. This one, we were kind of alarmed to discover, was frozen over and many places had drifts of snow and ice. In the panoramic image above, the sauna buildings are seen at extreme left and right. In reality they are one long building. Pay at one end, saunas and change rooms at the other. Men to the left, women to the right, change into your swimming costume, take a shower, enter the sauna, and — if you wish — take a dip or dive in the lake.

The saunas themselves are not segregated but in effect the larger sauna at the men’s end is mostly male and vice versa for the smaller on on the other side of the female change rooms.

Inside the sauna there are three levels of wooden benches, sit on any one you want, if you can find room but although all are hot, the steam rises to the top and this level, I found, was all but unbearable. After a few minutes I climbed down and went out to try the frozen lake.

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Lake dip and dive ​

This was the part I was worried about, to be honest. Saunas I’d had in my younger days, but jumping into an ice-covered lake? Would I survive the experience?

The ice cover on the lake didn’t extend all the way into the sauna’s private cove but the water was plenty cold. Walk out along the rocks — a non-skid surface and rope was there for the really icy days — down a set of metal stairs into the water and either continue on, swimming, or — like me, make the turn hip-deep and retreat back.

It wasn’t as bad as I imagined, to be honest. My body was basically radiating the heat it had soaked up in the sauna and even after my dip in the water, standing all but nude in the air at 1º below, I wasn’t feeling the cold. Strange.

I went back in and had a second go, this time avoiding the top level. I could feel the sweat pouring out. This had to be good for the skin.

One more dip, and then I showered, changed back into my street clothes, and stood around waiting for everyone else. Some finished early but most stayed a bit longer.

Oddly enough, I felt the chill more when fully clothed with a scarf and gloves on than I had when wearing just my swimmers.

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Smoke sauna tent ​

There was some kind of tent arrangement which was the “smoke sauna”, presumably the fair dinkum stuff with the birch leaves and the whipping but after the summer of 2019/20 in Australia where we had been basically breathing smoke for months on end and my lungs had taken a hit, I wasn’t chancing it.

It began to snow while we were waiting for the bus. After dinner at the Plevna Brewery it was still going and beginning to pile up on the streets, on parked cars, and any flat surfaces. I don’t see a lot of snow up close, even in Canberra, and here were these big fluffy flakes floating down around me. Surreal.

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Evening snow cover ​

I went to bed and looked out around midnight. Fresh snow everywhere, gradually getting deeper. This was a worry because I had my parkrun in the morning and I hadn’t really counted on running in snow.
 
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Morning snow cover
Oddly enough, it hadn’t melted and vanished overnight. Parkrun in Finland begins at 0930 and I made my way down to the start point, a couple of packs of Tim Tams in my bag, about nine, crunching gingerly through the snow. Normal running shoes, some thick socks, track suit trousers, light merino T-shirt under a thicker woolen long-sleeve number, a blue polyester vest, gloves and a warm hat.

The blue vest I’d picked up in an op-shop the day before for three Euro and it had some Finnish sporting type logo on it. It also had zip-up pockets where I could stash my AirBnB key; if I lost that I was in serious trouble.

I’d sussed out the start point on Thursday and it was basically just down the street, cross a bridge over the river and there it was. Perhaps I grew over-confident taking a straight line through virgin snow but when I reached the riverside street and crossed over where the cars had compacted the snow, it was essentially ice, I was changing direction, and doing my normal heel-toe walking.

Down I went! Not a bad fall but enough to make sure I was pretty wary about where I was putting my feet from then on.

A handful of volunteers at the start point. I introduced myself, handed over the Tim Tams, and chatted with the regulars as they arrived. One showed me a better way of running in the snow.

“Put each foot down flat,” they advised, “because you’ll get more grip. If you land heel-first, that’s not enough to hold on a slippery surface and over you go.”

I thought I’d better try this clomping gait before running for real, so off I went.

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Pete in snow — image by Megan, used with permission​

I clomped off, turned — carefully — and made my way back.

“Pete!” someone called, and I looked over at three Aussie BookCrossers who had wandered down to see the grand sporting event. I was, as you see, delighted to see them.

My photochromatic glasses had decided that the light bouncing off the snow was the surface of the Sahara and darkened to inky black though I could see out perfectly well.

I was impressed with the fact that the volunteer crew had set out a table of refreshments for the returning runners and that my Tim Tams had been added to the array. Chocolates, juice, hot coffee. And Tim Tams, frozen solid!

It was, after all, 5º below.

The course was a simple out and back along the lake shore, turning in the city arboretum. Beautiful in spring and summer, I’m sure, but it had its own Arctic charm.

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Snow runners​

As an aside, I like parkrun photography. Not often I get such smiles from lithe and beautiful women just walking around town.

My own running was careful and slow. If not for the danger of slipping I could have made a personal best time on the dead flat course but here on the far side of the world — travel insurance be damned — a broken limb would screw up my holiday trip.

A unique experience for me, I have to say. Shambling along in the drifting snow, crunching through on every step, careful where there might be packed ice, sneaking a glance out over the lake whenever I could.

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Whatever winter parkrun in Canberra might throw at me in the months to come, it wouldn’t top this!

All in all, I enjoyed Tampere. A lovely town, there were a lot of new and interesting experiences, and I got to hang out with my BookCrossing friends and drink a lot of beer and coffee. All good!
 
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Not too distant was the Roman Catholic Cathedral — or possibly Orthodox, I dunno — a little more grander than the previous. In June I had seen people sitting on the hillside quite late in the evening enjoying the sunlight. Not so much now. It was more like the inside of a fridge than anything else. At least outside.​
That's the Uspenski Cathedral, the main church of the Russian Orthodox religion over there. The biggest denomination are the Lutherans, used to be a state religion, effectively. The second largest are the Russian Orthodox though tailing faaaaar behind the Lutherans in numbers. Roman Catholics, Muslims, and others are small minorities.

The Orthodox churches are much more splendid than any other over there. There's a lot of iconography which makes it visually rich and intricate.

There's an Orthodox church also in Tampere, near the Ratina Stadium (which you'd know from the parkrun). The local Roman Catholic church is in the Amuri neighbourhood. If you want to see a good "IKEA of churches", head out to the Kaleva church a few km out of he city centre. That's my pilgrimage when I'm over there.

Thanks also for the streetscape photos! I happened to grow up right there so have roamed on those streets a million times. I'm trying to spot the exact locations from the images. :D
 

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