Helsinki

I was in Helsinki for only one and a half days. On the first (half) of the day, I visited Natasha at her home and met with the whole family – the last time I saw everybody was in March!
This time, the situation in the world (and on the war front) was different, so our conversation was much happier, even in view of the European energy crisis.

On the second day, I did some work, mostly interacting with our London-based team, and then Boris and I biked to IKEA – something he had wanted to do for a while. He already made a couple of solo biking tips there, and he wanted to do it with me as well. We declared a late lunch to be our primary purpose, but it is impossible not to browse what’s out there!

On Tuesday, we had a very early flight to Amsterdam. Since Boris has Finnair Gold, we could hang out in the Finnair lounge and have breakfast there (and I forgot to take pictures :)).

Also, I upgraded us to Finnair Plus, so we had these cool seats with lights and elevated leg rests 🙂

Post-Pandemic Travel – One More Time

It’s funny how things are these days! When I wait in the long lines in crowded terminals and see people everywhere – shopping, eating, just wondering around – only two years after I first boarded the plane after the start of the pandemic – I can’t help but think how nobody believed it would be back to normal.

I believed, but most people around me were saying that “it will never be the same.” Yea, indeed!

There is no more testing requirement for entering the US, there are no more attestation forms, and flights to the US are overcrowded! The last time I flew back to Chicago, I got “plus” seats for nothing, not even being at a Silver tier. Now I am Silver and I had an assigned seat in the 50-s, and the closest one I was able to get without the upgrade was 40C.

On another note, when I flew to Helsinki, I was not able to receive a boarding bass when checking in at home. The website suggested uploading the COVD certificates, I did, but mine do not have a QR code, and nothing happened. To my surprise, next morning (still before my flight, I received an email that read:

Dear Hettie, 

You sent us your coronavirus related documents for a pre-check for your journey from Chicago to Helsinki on 19 June 2022. I have now checked your documents, and everything is in order for your journey. 

To receive your boarding pass, please log in to our online check-in service. In case you prefer a mobile boarding pass, just open Finnair mobile app to access it. 

Please remember to take the required coronavirus certificates with you when you travel, as you may be asked to show them at any point of your journey. 

With your certificates checked and the online or mobile boarding pass in the pocket, at the airport you can go directly to Finnair bag drop or via security to your boarding gate. To make your departure a smooth one, we ask you to arrive at the airport latest 2 hours before your flight. 

I wish you a pleasant flight with us. 

With kind regards, 

Ve-a,

Pre-check team, Finnair

So, even though I uploaded my hand-written certificate, they manually checked it!!!!

Vilnius

I am in Vilnius first time after 33 years. I visited it several times before when I was still in school (the Baltic countries were “affordable West”), and 33 years ago, it was our first romantic getaway with Boris. After that, he visited Vilnius several times for many conferences, but not me.

I was looking forward to DevDays Europe in Vilnius, but then as I mentioned, they moved online.
I could cancel the hotel, but as for the plane tickets, I could only move them to a different date. I thought: we talked about going to Vilnius before, so why not now?

I moved a hotel reservation to the end of the week, cut one day off our stay, and moved the plane tickets, so here we are now! The hotel location is perfect; the room is super cozy, the weather is sunny, and the food is great and half-price of what you have in Finland.

The Lithuanian cuisine highlight – the zeppelin
Fied (“second-day”) zeppelin
Lithuanian kvass – to die for!!!

Last Days In Helsinki

My EDB hoodie arrived after both events were over, but it still looks great!

Initially, we planned a short trip to Tallinn on Saturday, mostly for the sake of the COVID certificate for my flight back on Sunday. But it turned out that after most COVID restrictions were lifted, only a small number of cruises provided testing on board, and there was no testing on Saturdays. Fortunately, one of my new colleagues told us about another budget option, “9Lives”, and I used it on Saturday.

They have multiple locations, including the one in Kamppi, and they open every day from 7 AM to 9 PM. I was very happy that I had this option, especially because the weather on Saturday was horrific, with exceptionally strong winds and some flurries. I didn’t want to go for a walk in this weather, but I also didn’t want to sit inside all day long. To have a purpose for getting out of the house, Boris suggested we go to IKEA – since I moved to the city, I lost easy access to the Schaumburg store and had to switch to online shopping. I can order almost everything online, but it’s nice when you can see how things look in real life :). So we went and had lunch there, and then walked from IKEA back to the train station.

This time, I had checked luggage because Boris wanted me to take home a bottle of cognac gifted to him a couple of years ago by somebody who didn’t know (or didn’t believe) he does not drink alcohol. And since I already knew I would have checked luggage, I bought a lot of dairy products to take home.

***

On Friday, one of the Nordic Day participants informed us that he tested positive for COVID. I was in very close contact with him, so I became nervous. Since I expected that something like that might happen while attending public events, I brought four at-home tests with me. Noth Boris and I were negative, and I took the test to enter the US; everything was negative. The organizers encouraged us to keep testing, and I took another at-home test on Monday when I came back home. At that time, I used a test from a different vendor, and I forgot that the colors in this test were reversed. Also, I had to orient the test differently. So at first, I thought that I was positive. I even speculated for a couple of minutes how it could possibly be if I had zero symptoms, and then I realized that there was only one stripe :).

Then, a day later, another participant, this time from PG Day Paris, informed us that she tested positive, and once again, I was in very close contact with her! And again, nothing wrong with me. To be honest, I think there were plenty of other opportunities in Paris to get COVID!
At least now, I think that it will be from some other place if I get it.

***

At the airport, I stopped at the kiosk to get my last cup of Finnish coffee with the last cinnamon bun. The cashier asked me whether I would like to round my total to aid Ukraine. I said – sure, why not, and thought that’s a good idea. The posters about helping Ukraine were everywhere in the city, and I felt that people were taking it seriously.

I am sure I didn’t buy a seat for my flight back, but somehow I ended up being in a preferred seat, which was nice. I sat very close to the aircraft door, and I had extra legroom, and very nice seat, and a kit with toothpaste, face moisturizer, and other nice extras.

However, the ORD was crowded, not even “as before the pandemic” but as ” I can’t remember when I last saw anything like this.” The passport machines were closed again, and there were lines to the border control. I was first sent to one line, where I had to wait a lot because there was a family of six, and then two other people, and then they said that they are closing that line/ And guess what – in the line where they sent me, another family of six just started their process!!! There was even a long line for agricultural control and a traffic jam outside the terminal.

On the positive side, despite the sky-rocketing gas prices, Uber’s cost was a record low.

Last Days In Helsinki

The remaining week in Helsinki was all work. I stayed on my US projects, so I had some free time in the morning and then worked from after lunch until bedtime. I did some clothes shopping on Wednesday morning, and I met with my friend Natasha on Thursday, and Friday morning was all spent trying to get a COVID test.

Although my flight back was not super-early, we both did not feel comfortable relying on the test at the airport and tried to get something in the city the day before. One of the clinics, which is relatively close to Boris’ place, was presumably doing tests for travel for everybody. When we came in, they told us that yes, please go to the lab and take the number. We did and waited in line, and then the nurse said – no, they can’t take me if I am not registered with their system. It was very annoying because we had already spent all this time, and now had to look for another place.

Long story short, I got the test, but I have to pay over 200 euros for it! Indeed, the ferry to Tallinn is the cheapest way to get the test, even with the fare and breakfast! I was tired and upset, but I had to buy some chocolate to take home, so we went to Stockmann, and I barely made it to the start of my workday.

One funny picture from the center of Helsinki – this is granite which is going to be used to mark the bike paths – love these giant “shopping bags” 🙂

Both flights on my way back were half-empty, and the food was surprisingly good. It looks like SAS either didn’t reduce their menu during COVID, or they already returned to the pre-COVID times. It is hard to believe, but I had to take additional layers with me because it was way colder in Chicago than in Helsinki!

Maybe It’s Just Me, But..

On one of the last year’s trips, I had to check in my carry-on red Samsonite (yes, I had two, both gifts from Boris, both weight virtually nothing, and both cost a fortune). It came back with the broken zipper lock. It broke because I didn’t secure the ends of that zipper. And I didn’t secure the ends because I had trouble unlocking them a couple of times. Boris always insisted that I should lock them in because that’s what they are for, and I was always afraid I wouldn’t be able to unlock them. That time last year, I didn’t plan to check in this luggage, so I didn’t bother, and as a result, the entire lock was gone. I was still able to close the zipper with my fingers all the way, but I lost the flexibility of being able to do it from the middle. So, everything still worked but was inconvenient, and I started to think that I needed a new carry-on. 

The Samsonite holiday sale was on, and this exact model, which was not sold in the US before, showed up. After joining EDB, I decided I could give myself a gift and purchased it.

When the luggage arrived, I kept it in the closet and didn’t even look at it – I knew exactly how it looked inside and out. And then, before my trip to Milwaukee, I pulled it out and realized that it was locked! The lock was slightly different from the previous luggage, and I had no idea how to open it! Finally, I managed to open it by trial and error, and guess what I found?! The instructions on how to open were inside!