Intro


Hello. My name is Isaac, 35 years old from Vancouver, Canada. I have set this blog up to document my journey following Mark Knopfler’s 2013 “Privateering” tour, from April 25 (Bucharest, Romania) to July 31 (Calella de Palafrugell, Spain).

Due to Despite the tour’s obnoxious schedule (thanks, Mark), I cannot be entirely sure that I will attend all concerts. That being said, I will try. You are more than welcome to sit back, relax, read, and comment. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed (see the “Subscribe for Updates” box at the right hand side of the page. For standard RSS readers, select the “Atom” option).

Have fun,
Isaac

Note: The contents of this blog are also available in hardcover and paperback formats. For more information, click here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/isaac_s

Monday, June 10, 2013

Amsterdam, The Netherlands to Helsinki, Finland (June 8–9, 2013)

Arriving exhausted to the Steigenberger Hotel after the concert in Zwolle, I took a shower and went to bed immediately. I was so tired that I’m not sure I even finished showering before embarking on my first trip to dreamland.

The flight to Tallinn was scheduled to depart at 9:15am, and Schiphol Airport being a major European transportation hub, nobody wanted to risk long security line‐ups: therefore, it was decided to take the 7:00am shuttle to the airport, which meant waking up at around 6:15am. Not much time to sleep.

Everything went according to plan. Made sure that the necessary adjustments are made upon check‐in, as we were originally booked for a flight to Moscow through Tallinn (to catch the shows in Russia, which were later cancelled), and were going to break the itinerary in Tallinn.

If you happen to book a flight with multiple connections, and later decide that you would like to drop off somewhere along the way, you should mention it to someone when you check in, unless you want to be separated from your luggage as the latter proceeds to the original final destination.

The flight from Schiphol to Tallinn took less than three hours.

Tallinn’s airport is small, having only one runway. Locals call it “Europe’s cosiest airport”. I don’t know about cosy, but it is indeed very nice. Gate seating:

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I have heard before that Estonia is beautiful. That’s why, once the Russian concerts were cancelled, I was debating whether I should spend June 8th in Tallinn or in Helsinki. Eventually I decided in favour of Finland as my friend Laura agreed to have me over and show me around (we’ll get to that).

From the airport, it’s an easy 20 minutes bus ride to the ferry terminal. The bus goes through the city center, which, I must say, doesn’t look too astonishing. Once arrived at the ferry terminal, about two hours prior to departure, it turned out that there is more than one ferry terminal in Tallinn and the one serving Linda Lines (Linnahall) happens to be a couple of kilometers away from where we ended up (Terminal‐D). Too tired to walk, a taxi was hailed and ten minutes later I was in the correct terminal.

The Linnahall ferry terminal is small. Very small. Inside the terminal—I have seen bigger cafe’s, actually—nothing to either see or do, except a rather desperate cafe serving “food” and “drinks” to whomever had the misfortune to arrive at that ferry terminal hungry (or thirsty). Well, I suppose there’s a reason why ferry fares in Linda Lines cost about 50% less than those of the bigger companies.

When you’re hungry and thirsty, however, you eat and drink whatever’s available. An hour or so later, the check‐in counter was opened and we all boarded the ferry.

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I mentioned before (I’m pretty sure) how fond I am of water in general, and the sea in particular. Perhaps not coincidentally, I love ferries. My first ever ferry ride was in British Columbia, taking the ferry from Vancouver’s lower mainland to Vancouver Island, in the summer of 2002 (before I moved to Canada; it was “just a trip” back then, which happened to be when I originally fell in love with that wonderful country) and I remember it vividly. Here’s a negative scan (see the printed date):

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Once seated upstairs, I somehow managed to work the on‐board Wi‐Fi but not for long.

A particularly suspicious individual who happened to be taking the same ferry struck a conversation with Jeroen and myself. I made it clear that I wasn’t in the mood for any chit chat as I have much to do; unfortunately, Jeroen wasn’t as lucky and was dragged into being endlessly pestered by an individual who clearly had absolutely no conversation skills whatsoever. I excused myself a few times to the ferry’s deck, both to avoid that annoying passenger as well as enjoy the view of the water and the cold, revitalizing wind.

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As you approach Helsinki, many tiny islands start appearing. I took quite a few shots, generally failing to capture the atmosphere.

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Finally arrived in Helsinki. I was very happy to finally be in Helsinki, even though I was planning on spending the minimum amount of time possible in the city.


I met Laura in March 2007, when I was living in Waterloo, Ontario. Waterloo is a students’ town; students from all over the world take their studies in one of the two universities there. Laura was one of them. Back then, I rented out a couple of rooms in my house to students, so that’s how the connection was made.

I usually wasn’t much into establishing friendships with people who cohabitated with me. I have my own life; my circle of friends is small and changes slower than the earth’s landmass as it is. Laura, however, was an exception as she struck me as a rather unusual lady. Very quickly, we became very good friends—spent tons of time chatting about all sorts of things, reaching conversational depth that I could rarely reach with others at that time.

I was sad, then, when Laura finished her studies in Waterloo and decided to head back to her native Finland. She came back to Canada (Vancouver this time) while I was busy scorching Europe’s railways following Knopfler’s Get Lucky tour, and left back to Finland before I decided to move west. In total, then, we haven’t seen each other since August 2007.

When the concert in Helsinki was announced, it was time for me to pay an old debt: visiting Finland and have Laura show me around her home town of Hämeenlinna, located about an hour north of Helsinki—which is precisely what I ended up doing.


Arrived at Helsinki’s ferry terminal, where Laura and her friend Outi were already waiting. Was great to see them both—hugs, the works. Jeroen headed out to a hotel in the city, and the three of us—Outi, Laura and myself—headed to Laura’s car, and drove to Hämeenlinna.

First, of course, we drove circles in the city. Turned out that the city of Helsinki decided to welcome me by calling an impromptu samba party in the city center, resulting in traffic chaos. Took about 20 minutes to find our way out of this mess, during which I got to see some of the city’s landscape—clean, tidy, but really nothing way out of the ordinary.

Heading north, though, the scenery changed. Leaving the big city, the landscape took on a lot of green and the terrain became hillier. Even during the ride, I still couldn’t believe that I was actually headed to Hämeenlinna after all these years.

If you ever used a computer program named Sibelius for transcribing music, then you should know that the program is named after Jean Sibelius—a famous Finnish composer who was born and raised here in Hämeenlinna.

Arrived at Laura’s apartment, unloaded everything and the three of us immediately went out again, not before Laura packed a few snacks. Laura, much like myself, is a big fan of nature, so we headed to a nearby place called (take a DEEP breath) Aulangon Luonnonsuojelualue.

A picture I posted on Facebook, showing the view in relatively low resolution (using my phone’s camera), turned out to be rather popular. Here’s what the view looks like when taken with a proper camera:

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A few steps away, there’s a tower that you can climb to get a better view of the surrounding area, but it was already too late—it closes at 7:00pm.

“7:00pm?” you might ask; “look at the sky. Isn’t it noon?”

No. It’s 7:00pm.

The closer you get to either of earth’s poles, the more variance you get with respect to daylight vs. darkness hours. The more you’re headed north, the longer daylight time is during the summer time of the northern hemisphere (heading towards the south pole, it’s the other way around). Finland is, I think, the most “north” that I had ever been before. In Finland’s south—that is, the Helsinki area—sunset time on June 8th, 2013 was—are you sitting?—10:40pm. That’s just for sunset; when the sun sets, it’s still not dark. When is it dark during June? well, that depends on what you consider “dark”. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get completely dark in June (see below).

On the other hand, once winter hits, things turn around: it gets dark (that is, completely dark) very early—as early as 3:00pm (!). The sun hardly ever shines.

Freaky, isn’t it? and that’s just the south of Finland. In the north (for example, in Lapland), the situation is more extreme. Around the time of this writing, it doesn’t get dark at all in Lapland.

HELL. I need to see this. Added to my bucket list: experience Lapland in both the summer and the winter.

Drove down the hill into a nearby lake for a very pleasant walk.

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It wasn’t before 8:30pm or so when we arrived to Laura’s apartment again. Next up: dinner. Delicious pasta with a sauce involving avocado bits and other goodies (sounds strange? I know. Try it. It’s extraordinarily good), followed by good white wine—excellent.

At around 11:00pm—still light outside, yes?—the three of us headed to a nearby pub. Alcohol consumption is a national sport in Finland: according to Laura, the Finnish are used to drown their misery, resulting from prolonged winters and the accompanied never‐ending darkness, in alcohol. Small, cosy pub in the city center—I let the girls drink up while I stuck to my guns and avoided alcohol altogether (that glass of wine after the pasta was more than enough, thank you). We kept on chatting on just about everything for a couple of hours, until the pub became so noisy that we just had to leave.

(I drove.)

(A manual shift. Still got it, apparently.)

It’s past midnight already. Looking at the sky—yes, it is obviously darker than before but still not a complete darkness. Dropped Outi at her place (thanks Outi—was great to see you again!) and went back to Laura’s apartment, then out again for a walk in the bush conveniently located steps away from the building. Funny, it was about 1:00am when we were walking through that forest and we could still see our way. Here is what it looked like at 1:03am:

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Headed back and off to a good night sleep after a perfect day.


June 9th, woke up to a beautiful sun (well, it was there all along anyway), quick breakfast and we went to climb that tower we had missed the day before. Here is what it looks like. Sit tight:

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And… a panoramic one (this one you should click):

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Mama Nature… I love you.

Afterwards, it was time to bid Laura goodbye. It wasn’t pleasant: I dislike bidding people I like farewell.

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Thank you, Laura and Outi, for everything, and see you soon in British Columbia!


Booking the Helsinki stay on June 9th—the day of the concert—was tricky: we were looking at a very early (7:15am) flight the next morning, so it made a lot of sense to stay in the airport area. Jeroen’s hotel for the preceding night was at the city center, which is south of the airport. Therefore, we made plans to meet somewhere between—well, actually, closer to Helsinki than to Hämeenlinna—and get to the hotel from there. This is a bit scary when you don’t have any way to communicate with the outside world (for example, if a train is delayed, or something else pops up. My SIM card didn’t work at all in Finland—not for data, not for voice calls, nothing). Luckily, everything went according to plan and we met in Tikkurila—a short 20 minutes ride north for Jeroen and a 50 minutes ride south for me—and from there, took the bus directly to the hotel: Cumulus Hotel Helsinki Airport.

The main problem with hotels in Helsinki is that they are ridiculously expensive (the same holds for the rest of Scandinavia). A hotel room in the city center can easily cost €250–300 a night (that’s $340–400 CDN), and we’re talking about a hotel room. Outside the city center, prices become more manageable, around the €100 mark.

The Cumulus Hotel provided good value for money, although I didn’t get to enjoy much of it. Shortly after checking in, we made our way to the hotel’s restaurant for an early dinner (cheapest entree in the venue: a vegetarian dish for about €15. Steaks went for €50–60), and then headed out towards the venue. That required taking a bus, plus walking about a kilometer and a half.

Phew.

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The Hartwall Areena (not a misspelling) is a gigantic multi‐purpose arena located at the north of Helsinki. It was built to host the Ice Hockey World Championship in 1997 and can seat about 13,000 for a concert.

After picking up the tickets, killed some time in a nearby grassy point enjoying the sun and the perfect weather. Entered the venue about half an hour before the show, and we split up: Jeroen was in charge of buying two bottles of water, and I was in charge of looking for the nearest restrooms. When we finally met at our seats, I was informed that the water wasn’t there.

Apparently, this venue allows you to buy water on‐site (€3.50 a bottle, thank you very much) but you are not allowed to bring any drinks to your seat. Hell. So far, I have encountered venues who wouldn’t allow you to carry bottles to your seat (emptying your bottle into a plastic cup instead); I also encountered venues where you may take a bottle with you to your seat, minus the cap (because, apparently, some people are in the habit of throwing full bottles of water onto the stage to express some sort of idiocy). Not allowing to bring any liquid in any sort of container? that’s a first for me. Ridiculous.

Somehow, however, an arrangement was made whereby the cup of water was waiting for me with a venue staff member who agreed to watch it. Headed there, consumed the entire thing on the spot, thanked her for watching over my precious water and headed in for the concert, which started a minute later.

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After the sauna‐like conditions in the Zwolle concert, it was good to be in a properly air‐conditioned, ventilated venue. Band members appeared to be more comfortable with the temperatures being lower than the earth core’s, and proceeded to deliver a great concert, featuring a similar set to the preceding one with the exception of Song for Sonny Liston replacing Gator Blood.

As Mark currently uses Postcards from Paraguay to introduce the band, with each band member starting to play right after they are introduced, it is always a challenge for the last two being introduced—John and Mike—to synchronize with the rest of the band and start playing exactly when they’re supposed to. This is mostly due to the chords’ structure of the repeating intro, which gives John and Mike the opportunity to join on a 16 8 bars’ interval (in other words: the intro consists of 16 8 bars, repeating; John and Mike can only join once an entire 16 8 bars sequence is played).

Watching closely, you can see John and Mike using all sorts of facial gestures in order to be in sync and start playing exactly at the right moment. Yesterday, Mike was just about to start playing in entirely the wrong time (at the 8 4 bars’ mark), signalling to John. John’s response was priceless: a huge smile and an even bigger nod for “hell no, not now”.

That was the point when I started laughing uncontrollably for about a minute. One of the funniest incidents I ever witnessed in a concert. At some point, Mike noticed me laughing and started laughing himself, two seconds before he had to play again—sorry Mike, didn’t mean to throw you off balance.

It was interesting to witness the difference between the Finnish audience and the Dutch audience from just two nights prior. The audience appeared to love the show and threw much love, hugs and kisses at the band, but even then, you could see that these people are different: more reserved, less expressive.

Remember the Running of the Bulls? the concert in Helsinki provided for a new term to be coined: the Walking of the Swans. At the beginning of Telegraph Road, a few people from the back approached the stage. Slowly, more and more people joined in, almost each one of them looking hesitant. No violence, no running, no pushing, no shoving—all was done beautifully and in good spirit. Thumbs up to the Helsinki audience for being great that way.

Concert ended after slightly less than two hours. Walked back to the bus station—full daylight, again—and hopped on the bus back to the hotel for a very short night.


Signing off this post from the lobby of the HI (Hostelling International) hostel (yes, hostel!) in Hamar. Chose to spend the day‐off here—it’s always better to get travelling done on a day‐off.

Isaac

9 comments:

  1. Yes, water disaster! I did not remember their rules, so I have to throw away two water bottles when entering arena. Then I bought two water cans and what? I couldn´t take them to arena. Really nice indeed.

    About the hotels in Helsinki: Normally in a city center a bit better hotel room than in Cumulus airport hotel is about 80-130 euros per night when booked in advance.

    Safe travels and see you again!

    Ville

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    1. Hi Ville,
      We booked hotels in Helsinki months ago and the prices in the city center were nowhere close to 100 EUR... Maybe we were looking at the wrong places.

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    2. Hi,

      Yes, maybe you looked at wrong places. I think that most hotel rooms in Helsinki are clearly under 200 euros per night. But airport hotel also has advantages, only approx 10 minutes bus ride to terminal. Feel free to consult next time if needed.

      Cheers,

      Ville

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  2. Hi Isaac. First: I love following your blog. I live in Bergen, Norway but sadly I'm not going to the concert this year (went in 2005 and 2008). Would love to recieve you here but the house is occupied by my wife's family from Brazil. However: Just ask if you have any questions about the town or Norway in general (lars.olaussen@gmail.com). Another thing: You might consider adjusting that bucket list entry to Lofoten, Norway to make sure you get mountains, sea AND the midnight sun. Just google it;) Have a nice trip. Will be reading. Best regards, Lars

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    1. Hi Lars,
      Thank you for the kind words and your attempt to help out! I actually do have a question - I'll email you shortly.

      Added Lofoten to my bucket list. :-)

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  3. Beautiful pictures, another one on my "countries to visit"-list. Enjoy and see you soon

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    1. Thanks Ingrid. I highly recommend it. Avoid the big city and just go north. See you soon!

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  4. Hello Isaac,
    If you ever get a chance to travel to Lapland, I recommend you go beyond the Arctic Circle, up to the northernmost tip of Finland, called Utsjoki. The landscape there in the valley of the River Teno is spectacular. Believe me, I used to live there. The wilderness is breathtaking both in summer and in winter. Thanks to the Northern Lights, the bright stars and the snowy fells that seem to reach half way up the sky, the winter darkness there is never depressing (as it can be in the slushy streets of the cities in southern Finland), although the sun doesn't rise above the horizon for two months. In winter you can see the full moon shining early in the afternoon, and in midsummer time you can bask in the sun at one o'clock at night!
    P.S. I saw you in the ticket office at Hartwall Areena. I would've wanted to thank you for your blog, but being the shy and reserved Finn that I am, I hesitated, so you (and Jeroen?) left before I could steel myself for coming over to say hello. But I'll thank you here and now. I very much enjoy reading your informative and entertaining blog and seeing all the nice pictures you take. You're a great writer!
    Who knows, perhaps I'll see you again in Malmö, Sweden on Saturday.

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    1. Hi Leena,
      Wow, my bucket list is becoming more and more full of places I've never even heard of before... thank you for the tips.

      I understand that you're a Finn. I am not a Finn, so it's OK to come over and say hello, don't be a stranger. See you in Malmo.

      Cheers
      Isaac

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