Hey there dear readers! Last time out on the blog I hinted that my next post would be about my trip to Finland but before I delve in to that, I thought it’d be good to give you a little bit of background so I’m giving you a bonus post this week to whet the appetite a bit.
Some of you will already know this but I grew up living with a Finnish grandmother and consequently Finland was always a country which held interest for me. Truthfully, I wish that I’d shown more interest whilst she was still here. I’m sure that she had many great stories of life in Finland and it would have been nice to have been better connected to that heritage but I was a kid when she died and perhaps didn’t fully appreciate that luxury at the time.
Nevertheless Finland was always somewhere close to my heart and any vague connection to Finland pleased me. Be it vague Finland mentions in a movie, Lordi winning the Eurovision Song Contest or Tottenham’s first Finn (Teemu Tainio) representing the football club – I’ve always felt that little bit closer to the country when I see the country venturing in to popular culture.
Teemu’s arrival at Spurs was particularly pleasing. I’d grown up watching legendary Finns such as Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypia play for clubs such as Liverpool but to see a Finn playing for Spurs, not long after my Grandma’s death, made me instantly connect and root for Teemu.
That Finnish heritage has meant that Finland has always been a country that I’ve wanted to visit. It was a dream destination for me to one day visit Finland. My sister shares that same dream and we’ve lived off of the scraps and stories we’ve heard from family that have visited (Dad, Aunt and one of Grandma’s brothers).
Speaking of the latter, every year as kids myself and Natasha would receive a phonecall directly from Lapland. “Santa was on the phone ready to wish us Merry Christmas”.
How cool is that? Santa had our home phone number and phoned every year! Apparently he had a really good relationship with Grandma!
Anyway, I’ve always wanted to visit. I’ve come close a couple of times in the past but both of those ideas fell through. In August 2014 Tottenham arranged to play a friendly against Scottish team ‘Celtic’ in Helsinki – a weird location for such a fixture but a tempting excuse for a visit to Finland.
In the end I thought better of it. Did I really want my first trip to Finland to be football related? Perhaps had it been Finnish opposition but a battle of Britain game?? Being a friendly in a foreign country I couldn’t envisage much trouble between the two sets of supporters, nor much interest in either set of fans actually traveling to Finland but nevertheless a trip with a bunch of drunken British football fans didn’t quite appeal enough to make my first Finland visit.
A few years later I booked myself flights to Helsinki. I was running low on annual leave in 2018 but the dates fell really nicely for a New Years trip to Finland at the end of the year.
Alas Haleigh decided to make her first visit to England at the end of that year so that plan quickly fell apart. I contemplated whether myself and Haleigh go but then remembered that I’d also actually RSVP’d to a 31st December wedding so abandoned any hopes of celebrating the New Year in Finland.
There was definitely a twinge of disappointment at missing out on my first trip to Finland. Come the first payday of 2019 I was adamant that I’d be going to Finland this year. I worked out my budget for the first six months of the year, mapped out my travel plans (here) and booked myself that flight to Helsinki – a three day bank holiday getaway! Hurrah!
I was so excited to finally be going to Finland but I had such a busy start to 2019 that it was kind of easy to forget about until nearer the time. I’d had a pretty quiet end to 2018 where nothing seemed to be going on and then 2019 went completely the other way.
My social life went in to overdrive, Tottenham’s new stadium opened their doors which brought back an enthusiasm to going to the football. I visited Germany, Belgium and the USA in the first four months of the year. It was a crazy, crazy few months that seemed to absolutely fly by.
I returned from Washington at the end of April and sure enough, the first May bank holiday was just a few days later. I was sad to leave Haleigh behind in Washington yet again but so excited for a trip to Finland in just SIX days! I’d barely stepped foot in England and was off on my travels again for the first of three, maybe four trips in May!
and then for the first time in my life it really dawned on me that I was going to Finland. It’s hard to explain but as much as I felt connected to Finland, it had always been a bit of an illusion. A place of magic and fantasy.
Finland was my dream destination and although I’d ticked off other dream destinations such as Sydney or New York City, I don’t think I really realised how much visiting Finland meant to me until the week leading up to the trip.
Finland was no longer a mythical country that I’d only ever dreamed about – my European Disneyland. It was flawless. I loved Finland without having ever stepped foot in the country.
Now I was actually going – “Fuck..”
I liken it to Disneyland and I don’t even know that I’m exaggerating there because in 30+ years on Earth it had never crossed my mind that Finland was anything other than perfect. It’d be easy to assume that’s childish delusion but then as you grow older you learn more about the world and Finland ranks high on a number of issues – education, environment, blah, blah, blah. Finland is perfect!
Then a couple of days beforehand the thought crossed my mind – “what if it’s not?”
It was a question that I’d never asked myself until now – days before going to Finland. You don’t want to take your kids to Disneyland only to find out that Mickey’s a bit of a dick. You’d be better never taking them to Disney and believing what you want to believe rather than learn a reality and have their dreams and beliefs shattered.
“Mum, does Mickey hate me? Does Mickey hate children..?” – Ooof, heart-breaking.
FYI I absolutely believe Disney is a magical place and does a fabulous job of selling that. Mickey is also lovely, obviously, but you get the point.
What if instead of being the 12/10 destination that I’d always known, Finland was only actually an eight? Or dare I say a two or a three? What’s Helsinki going to be like? Am I going to like the food? Are the people going to be friendly? Everyone says Finns are standoffish and reserved. Am I going to HATE Finland?
Any traveler will tell you that you don’t love everywhere that you visit. There are some places on my travels that didn’t wow me or I just didn’t seem to connect with. What if Finland was to become one of those countries for me? All of my beliefs about Finland were now unraveling right in front of me.
I came to the realisation that if Finland wasn’t as perfect as I’d always believed it to be that I was going to be crushed, heartbroken even. I wasn’t prepared for that. Nobody ever tells you that your dream destination might not pan out as you’d hoped.
Where there should have been excitement for this trip, I was now petrified. The nerves had taken over. In my head there was SO much pressure on Finland to deliver and just keep my Disneyland vibes intact.
I couldn’t shake the feeling leading up to departure. I’d stayed in a hotel at Heathrow on Friday night which made traveling very easy the following morning. On Saturday I went to the airport where usually any jitters evaporate but in my head the over-thinking was still eating away at me.
“What if I don’t go..?”
“You’re at the bloody airport Jason..”
The gate number pops up on the screen at Heathrow. Still plenty of time to change my mind but I wander over to my gate nonetheless. There’s a little wait before we can board and I’m just sat in a nearby seat – legs visibly shaking, head all over the place.
“No, nervous Finlander..”
It’s easily the most nervous I’ve ever been before taking off. This trip had the potential to shatter every illusion I had ever held about Finland. My nerves settled enough for me to at least board – window seat!
It was quite nice flying in Europe on anything other than Ryanair or Easyjet – my go-to for European adventures but on this occasion I was “treated” to a first flight with Finnair.
Would I love Finland, would I loathe Finland? Who knows but either way this was it. I was going! A few hours later I’d be landing in Helsinki and I’d be getting my first taste of a country I’ve dreamed of visiting for a lifetime.
More on that in the next post. Stay tuned!