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Started: 2017-08-23 19:42:38

Submitted: 2017-08-23 22:32:17

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator takes his family to Helsinki for the 75th annual Worldcon

When we made our travel plans to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, we were constrained by various factors: Worldcon's schedule, Kiesa's shortage of vacation time, my work schedule, Calvin's academic schedule, and Julian's daycare schedule. (Combining all of those factors it's a minor miracle we managed to do anything at all.) We decided to leave San Francisco late on Tuesday, 8 August; attend Worldcon from Wednesday through Sunday; see Helsinki on Monday; fly to Copenhagen on Tuesday; see Copenhagen on Wednesday through Friday; and return home on Saturday the 19th of August. We had no particular reason for visiting Copenhagen except that it sounded neat, and was kind of in the neighborhood.

One of the advantages of living next to an international gateway airport is that we can in fact get direct flights that depart for Europe late in the day, local time. One problem, though, was that Kiesa wanted to work a full day at work, so she didn't think she could make it to the airport until 17:00 -- which meant we couldn't take a flight that departed earlier than 19:00 if we wanted any reasonable time in the airport ahead of the flight. (When flying with a toddler, I'm inclined to agree with Kiesa that it's a good idea to get to the airport two hours in advance of the flight.)

There was one flight that departed San Francisco that met our criteria: a direct flight to Helsinki operated by Finnair that departed at 19:10. Finnair happens to be in the OneWorld airline alliance with British Airways, so I booked the flight as a codeshare with British Airways so I could get a relatively direct return flight from Copenhagen at the end of our trip (with a stop in London). Booking as a code-share meant our ticket slipped through the cracks of the airlines' travel-management software, so we couldn't select seats until it was time to check in

(We also learned that the European Union's airline regulations apparently do not let passengers take car seats on board for children over the age of 2, unlike FAA regulations, which require air carriers to make accommodations to allow passengers to use FAA-certified car seats. This meant we couldn't bring a seat for Julian, so he was somewhat dwarfed by his full-sized seat. This did not really average out my being too large for my seat.)

Our final preparations for departure were somewhat hampered by the fact that I spent two weeks immediately prior to leaving for the convention in Omaha, from which I could commute to my employer's data center across the river in Council Bluffs. I returned to San Francisco on Saturday morning, giving me the rest of the weekend to unpack and immediately repack, then two days at work before leaving again.

I left work early on Tuesday to head home, complete my last-minute packing, and herd Calvin and Julian out the door to the airport, with the help of our au pair Sasa. (She pushed Julian in the stroller, giving me the chance to pull both suitcases down the hill.) We met Kiesa at the airport, checked our bags, made our way through airport security (regretting that the TSA doesn't let foreign-flagged carriers participate in PreCheck; and wondering whether this violates equal protection under the law), ate burgers for supper at the end of the concourse, tried (and failed) to get Verizon to sign me up for prepaid international roaming, and boarded our flight for Helsinki.

Jaeger, Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin on Finnair flight 12 to Helsinki
Jaeger, Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin on Finnair flight 12 to Helsinki

We flew on an A330, with a 2-4-2 seat configuration in economy. I picked two window sections on adjacent rows, with Calvin (in the window) and me (in the aisle) in front of Julian (in the window) and Kiesa (in the aisle); though Calvin spent most of the flight with his shade closed watching his electronics, so I couldn't help but think that the window seat was wasted on him.

We departed San Francisco on schedule and settled in for the long flight to Helsinki. I ate supper (again) when they served the in-flight meal, and managed to get about six hours of sleep on the ten-and-a-half-hour flight.

At one point, roughly while we were flying over Greenland, I had a dream that we were still en route to Helsinki but we had landed on the west coast of Greenland and were driving across the island to the east side, and we were just driving into a large city on the east coast (where, presumably, we'd catch another plane to resume our journey), and I could see an attractive modern suspension bridge spanning the harbor (possibly what a Scandinavian-designed Brooklyn Bridge would look like if built out of brushed aluminum).

Then I woke up and was somewhat disappointed to see that we were still en route, with hours to go before we would land.

When the route map indicated that we were flying over Norway, I looked out the window to confirm, but could only see clouds. I caught a glimpse of the countryside of northern Sweden; then we flew over the Gulf of Bothnia on our way to Finland. By the time we reached Finnish airspace I could see the forest-covered countryside, which gave way to industrial sites surrounding Helsinki. (I'm sure at least one of them was a paper plant, but I'm not sure how I got that idea.)

Julian traveled fairly well on his first intercontinental plane flight. He recently developed an interest in the iPad, which made it easier to entertain him. Kiesa managed to stack enough pillows around his seat to give him something of a nest to sleep in, though he was still recovering from being sick immediately before we left and was a bit fussier on the flight than he might otherwise have been.

We landed in Helsinki at 15:30 local time and disembarked at the end of the international terminal. I stopped at convenience store inside the concourse (before we'd even had the chance to officially enter the country) and picked up SIM cards for our phones on the local DNA network. We went through immigration, got our passports stamped to enter the country (and the Schengen Area in general), claimed our luggage, walked through customs, then found the suburban commuter rail train station to take us to the suburban Airbnb where we would be staying. (Here we found a machine that American credit card companies don't believe exists: a credit card kiosk that would only accept chip-and-PIN cards. We do, in fact, have a card with a PIN (even though our credit card company insists on us using a signature when we're buying something from a human).)

Apartment tower in Vantaa, Finland
Apartment tower in Vantaa, Finland

We met our Airbnb host outside her apartment in the suburbs of Louhela, a neighborhood in the city of Vantaa, immediately north of Helsinki, conveniently close to the train line connecting the city to the airport. We stayed in a sixth-floor flat in a nine-story building with an elevator without an inside door -- which worried me every time I rode it. Our host showed us around her apartment, pointing out various features, then left to let us get settled.

Elevator warning sign in Helsinki apartment building
Elevator warning sign in Helsinki apartment building

By that point it was late in the afternoon. I took a shower, immediately felt more human, and we headed into Helsinki to pick up our convention registration and orient ourselves to begin the convention in earnest the next day.

We took the train to Pasila, the second-to-last stop, and found the convention center Messukeskus, on the north end of a somewhat-confusing maze of small planned streets. We picked up our convention packets and looked around the convention grounds. It was the first day of the con, and the food court wasn't fully open, so we took the train one more stop into Helsinki to a Chinese restaurant with reasonable veg food, then took the train back to Louhela. It was getting late, local time, though we were far enough north that the sky stayed bright well into the night. Calvin and Julian went to bed almost immediately while Kiesa and I studied the schedule to try to decide what we wanted to see at Worldcon the next day.