Right there at the top of my to-do list. I almost got there when I backpacked through Europe with my daughter, a long time ago. The truth is, it was our first day ‘on the road’ and we got very lost. I’m not talking about lost in a city here, I’m talking lost in a continent, namely northern Europe.
We’d planned as far as flying from London to Helsinki, but no further. On the flight across the Channel we actually looked at the map and worked out where we would go once we got to Helsinki, since we didn’t actually have any plans to stay there – it was just a stepping stone to somewhere else.
While resting from our flight over the Finnish equivalent of a Big Mac, downstairs at Helsinki Train Station, the train we had planned to take was pulling out of the station upstairs, without us.
But in free-spirit style, we just got on the next train, with no idea of where it was going. Maybe we knew then, but I can’t remember now, other than a vague recollection that our skewed thinking may have tempted us to think it would be going in the direction of our previously, albeit hastily made plan. So there we were, kicked back and toasty warm (did I mention it was -24 degrees when we arrived in Helsinki at 4 pm?), and enjoying what scenery we could see as the train sped out of the city, because by now it was dark. At some stage, one of us had the sense to consult our trusty map, and it was then that we discovered we were heading in the wrong direction. Also by now, we realised the train wasn’t stopping very often, in fact, hardly ever. Around 8 pm we arrived at Tampere Station and made a quick decision to disembark and catch the next train back to Helsinki. That idea sounded reasonable, in theory, except there wasn’t going to be a train going back until the next day.
My observation skills aren’t the best, but I did notice that it was extremely cold when we walked out of Tampere Station, and I’m talking seriously cold! Since our research prior to the trip hadn’t included such trivial matters as ‘temperature in Finland’, or ‘what accessories will I need to beat the cold?’, we found we were seriously lacking in warm accessories.
That was another thing we’d somehow overlooked – how much local money do you need, bearing in mind there could be minor emergencies – like getting stuck in a country that you had only planned to pass through? So there we were, on the street, freezing, very little local money, and everyone with any sense tucked away inside a nice warm building, so there wasn’t even anyone to ask directions from – not that either of us spoke any Finnish. Another minor technicality in the great scheme of things.
After a quick deliberation on the consequences of standing out there in the freezing street all night, we decided the only sensible thing to do would be to go back to the railway station and sleep on a bench until morning.
So there we were, safe and warm for the moment, but feeling like Cinderella with midnight fast approaching. While we sat and pondered our upcoming night of sleeping on the street, miraculously an approaching train was announced, and just as miraculously I found an ‘older’ gentleman who spoke English and I was able to ask him, not where the train was going (we really didn’t care), but what time it got there. His response solved our accommodation dilemma. It would arrive at 6 o’clock the next morning, and it was going to Rovaniemi. I’m writing this recount on the 24th August and the temperature in Rovaniemi at this very minute is 9 degrees Celsius, and they’re not even in winter yet. So picture the scene awaiting us in that cold December a long time ago, especially since Rovaniemi is north of Helsinki; very north of Helsinki; I’m talking about 800 km’s north of Helsinki, in December. We were never so happy to jump on a train than at that moment. And even more grateful we’d bought Eurail passes before leaving Australia so we didn’t have to worry about tickets, especially since no-one had asked to see our passes yet, which meant that we kind of got an extra day or two out of them, which is just as well since we were in the process of wasting two whole days being lost.