116-118 (Finland 2016)

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116. Edinburgh-Stockholm (SAS) 14/04/16: This trip had been booked six, long months previously. All my hopes and prayers had finally been answered; Finnair were starting a direct Helsinki-Edinburgh route. No more Stockholm-Arlanda, and no more six-to-ten hour journey times. Naturally, having probably single-handedly created the online demand for the route with my constant searching, I wanted to be on the first direct flight from Edinburgh to Helsinki. But after initially being offered for around seventy pounds, the prices shot up to over two hundred; surely too much to pay just for the novelty of being on the first flight? But then I realised that the actual first flight would be from Helsinki to Edinburgh; what if I flew out a few days beforehand with one of my usual carriers, had a weekend in FInland, then returned on the landmark flight? This turned out to be a much more sensible and cheaper option.

After so many visits, I naturally have several friends spread across Finland, and I’ll always try to catch up with them if I’m in their neighbourhood. So it was just a little bit unfortunate when it transpired that one of them, Miira, would actually be arriving for a weekend in Edinburgh on the exact same dates that I would be in Finland. To add insult to injury, she would even be arriving on the same aircraft that I was departing on. I had hoped that we could try and arrange to pick the same seats on our flights, so that maybe she could hide some chocolate or something under the seat for me, but it didn’t happen. But as I stood at the gate, watching the aircraft arrive and the passengers disembark, I did try and keep my eyes peeled for a tall, blonde girl coming down the steps, (not easy on a flight that had just arrived from Stockholm). Strange to think of one of your friends being on the same aircraft just before you…

117. Stockholm-Helsinki (SAS) 14/04/16: Me and SAS had seen plenty of each other over the last eighteen months, but there was every chance that this might be the last time we flew together. Naturally I had accrued a considerable amount of Eurobonus points in that time; not enough for a reward flight, but certainly enough to purchase some free beers on board. But when I had ordered said beers and handed over my Eurobonus card as payment, the stewardess looked a little confused, as if I had just handed her a teddy bear with its legs missing. Apparently using points to buy goods onboard wasn’t that common. I actually had to use my credit card as payment as well, as they had no way to tell if I had any points on my card. I don’t know if that was due to a fault in the card reader, or if was the usual practise, but it was an awful lot of hassle that I’m not sure I could be bothered going through with again.

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118. Helsinki-Edinburgh (FInnair) 18/04/16: Finally. Being a bit of an aviation geek by now, I knew that airlines generally made a bit of a fuss when a new flight was launched. So I arrived at Helsinki-Vantaa in a good mood, despite having to get up at half-five on a Monday morning. When I arrived at the gate, the airport had certainly made an effort; free tea, coffee and oatcakes were laid on for the departing passengers. A large display, (with a slightly rubbish photograph of Edinburgh), proudly announced the launch of today’s new route. And there was even some bagpipe music drifting around the departure lounge, provided by a guy in the corner with a laptop. I happily got in the spirit of things, getting my picture taken with the sign, and showing some of the marketing girls some real pictures of Edinburgh on my phone. They were actually quite impressed that I had flown to Finland specifically to be on this flight, something I don’t think any other Scottish people had done. The flight was fairly standard, although I did get a free drink; when the drinks service came round and I asked for a beer, I was happy to pay for it. But the purser went to the front of the cabin and returned with a Karhu, and told me not to worry about it when I made to pay for it. I had noticed business class was practically empty, so he probably had a surplus of complimentary drinks sitting down the front.

As we started our approach to Edinburgh, I noticed the crew were actually getting quite excited, taking every opportunity to peer out the windows at the landscape below, even taking pictures. I supposed it must be a novelty for them, flying into a new city, even if they were only going to see it from above before leaving an hour later. But I noticed that they kept looking out of the wrong side of the aircraft. So when the purser passed, I got his attention, and explained that, when approaching Edinburgh from the East along the Forth estuary, we would have a view of the entire city to the port side of the aircraft. He was grateful for the local info, and it was only fair that I had told him; I did owe him a beer after all. Plus I couldn’t bear the fact that people were looking at Fife and getting all excited, thinking it was actually Edinburgh.

On arrival, I knew that we would get a water salute from a few fire tenders on the apron, and I wasn’t disappointed; something to tick off the list. But we had an extra welcome waiting for us at the gate, as we were piped off the aircraft. The tarmac was crawling with photographers, and pretty much every passenger stopped to take pictures and video too. For once, nobody was in any rush to get out of the cold and into the terminal. Finally, the crew came down the stairs and posed for more pictures with the piper in front of their aircraft. There were smiles all around, everybody certainly seemed very happy that Finnair were finally in Edinburgh, nobody more so than me.

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114-115 (Germany 2016)

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114. Edinburgh-Stuttgart (Easyjet) 04/03/16: Another of those ‘flight number xx should actually have been…’ stories; in this case, number 114 should have been Edinburgh to Vienna, then onwards to Berlin, as I tore the continent up on my annual birthday pub crawl. But a combination of illness and lack of funds resulted in a last-minute cancellation. So when I was feeling a bit better (and wealthier), a few weeks later, I quickly arranged a substitute break. Nowhere near as long or lavish, but much-needed all the same. When I had first gone to Stuttgart I hadn’t really known much about the city, plus I didn’t feel I had really done it justice on camera. And it was still one of the cheapest options for a flight and accommodation from Edinburgh, not to mention the abundance of great beer and sausages on offer. Throw in a night of drinking with Heike for good measure, and it made all the sense in the world to make a return trip

Stuttgart to Edinburgh (Easyjet) 06/03/16: Another flight home from Germany after getting drunk the night before, would I never learn? I seriously contemplated rebooking my flight til the next day and adding a night to my hotel, but I eventually decided I would just have to get on with it. I wasn’t too bad by the time I had made it back to the airport, which is more than could be said for a bunch of Scottish lads who were waiting for the same flight home. In fact, these guys had been on the flight out with me on Friday. And I had also seen them in Mata Hari, (my favourite Stuttgart bar), on Friday night. And I had even seen a few of them at the football on Saturday; I’d been in a quiet corner of the stadium concourse, enjoying the novelty of currywurst and beer at the fitba, and spotted them getting pished at one of the bars. It seemed I was not the only one aware of how cheap a weekend in Stuttgart was. In fact, it’s no secret that a lot of British football fans are heading to Germany each weekend to enjoy the experience of a Bundesliga match, and why not? A great atmosphere in large, modern stadia, much cheaper ticket prices, plus you could drink beer at the game. Although it wasn’t the main reason for me going to Stuttgart, I was certainly happy to catch a match while I was there. I probably let the novelty of drinking at the game get to me though; five pints is probably a bit much when you’re going out to meet your mate later on.

109-113 (Finland, Sweden and Belgium 2016)

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Approaching Stockholm-Arlanda yet again

109. Edinburgh-Stockholm (SAS) 07/01/16: I was in understandably buoyant mood for this trip, having left my job of seven years the day before. I’d felt slightly guilty about having to leave the guys to get on with it, as there was no apparent replacement for me on the horizon. But I wasn’t feeling bad for very long, because I was going to Finland deep in winter, and for Lux Helsinki too.

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Lux Helsinki

110. Stockholm-Helsinki (SAS) 07/01/16: The staff at Stockholm-Arlanda were reassured to see that I was getting on the five-thirty connection to Helsinki as usual, instead of that weird Berlin trick I had pulled on them last time. But I was getting sick of the sight of gate 10 in terminal five…

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leaving Tampere-Pirkkala, the ghost airport

111. Tampere-Stockholm (SAS) 12/01/16: Most of my visits to Finland had involved leaving Helsinki to somewhere like Pori or Savonlinna, then wasting time and money, (and possibly a night’s accommodation), by going all the way back down to Helsinki for my flight home. Wasn’t there any other airports with international connections so I didn’t always have to do that? After some research, I found that there was a daily service from Tampere to Stockholm, which seemed ideal; no pointless back-tracking to the capital, a night out in one of my favourite drinking cities in Finland, plus I’d wanted to see Stockholm in winter. It was even an SAS flight too, earning me more Eurobonus points. And I could easily get an onward flight home from there too.

I arrived for my night in Tampere two hours later than intended. I was originally booked on the short train journey from Toijala at half-eleven. But the night before, I had made the earth-shattering discovery that there were actually two pubs in Toijala, who knew? I had befriended a few locals, and had entertained them with my karaoke skills until the wee hours. So I figured it would be no big deal if I took advantage of my hotel’s midday check out and had an extra hour in bed to recover. I was at the station in plenty of time, and had bought a new ticket for the half-twelve train. I was amusing myself in the waiting room by mentally translating the station announcements, when I realised that one of them was actually the train I was supposed to be on. It was at the other side of the station, and was already departing even as I got up to make a half-hearted dash for it. So, as nonchalantly as I could, I strolled back over to the ticket machine, bought myself another new ticket for the half-one train, and settled down to wait for another hour.

Once I eventually made it to Tampere, I had a couple of things to do before anything else; firstly, I needed to get some loose change to leave my bags in one of the lockers at the train station for a few hours, as it was too early to head to the hotel. Secondly, I needed a local bus pass for twenty-four hours, as my hotel was too far to walk, and I would need it to get to the airport tomorrow. So I struggled with my luggage in the snow to the nearest cash machine, and was more than a bit miffed when, after great deliberation, it informed me that it was now out of service. Sod my luck. Down the street to the next one, and, bizarrely, I got the same result. And again at a third one. Was the whole banking network of Finland collapsing today, just when I needed to use my card? I couldn’t see how there could be a problem with it, as I had used it earlier (twice!), to buy tickets at the train station at Toijala. But I got the same result at a fourth machine, and had to wonder if the card was maybe damaged in some way. What was I going to do? My hotel for tonight was already paid for; it was a bit of a walk, but doable. But there was no way I could walk to the airport tomorrow. And even if I somehow got there for my flight, it was completely impossible to walk from Stockholm-Arlanda into the city. I used my smart phone app to check the balance on my card, just in case, but there was still over three hundred pounds on it. Maybe the card was damaged, but I definitely had money; how could I get to it?

The worst case scenario (apart from wandering Finland homeless for the rest of my life), was using my card online to purchase a train back to Helsinki and then a new flight home, neither of which would involve using physical cash. It’s not really what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t see any other option. As I wandered aimlessly around the city, considering my next move, I found myself outside the Western Union. Unlike that similar situation in New York two years ago, I no longer had some random souvenir bank notes in my wallet to exchange. But maybe I could use my card to actually buy some currency.

So I went inside, asked if they sold currency, and the girl behind the counter was happy to inform me that they did indeed. So I asked if I could I buy some Euros, much to her surprise. But I explained the situation, and she agreed to try to help me out. Unfortunately though, she couldn’t do it with a credit card, only a bank card. Dammit. However, she confided, (looking around nervously as if she might go to jail for what she was about to tell me), there was another currency exchange in the Koskikeskus, I could try down there. I thanked her, and trudged back off into the growing darkness. When I got down there, I saw that they had their own cash machine, so I decided to try that option one more time before embarrassing myself by trying to explain why I wanted to buy some Euros from them. And lo and behold, there was all my money, delivered with a particularly enthusiastic beep. What had been the problem all this time? I’ll probably never know, but at least I wasn’t finishing my holiday early or being found frozen solid on a park bench. Ironically enough, by now it was so late that I didn’t even need change for a luggage locker, I could go and check in to the hotel now. And I wouldn’t have to walk out there either.

Tampere-Pirkkala airport reminded me of Puerto Princesa, except for the heavy snow, complete absence of any other passengers and it’s distance from the city. It was about the same size though. It was slightly eery, walking into the empty terminal building, checking my bags at the automatic machine, sending them through on the baggage belt, all without another soul in sight. The only indication that I wasn’t in some strange, aviation-themed horror movie was the faint sounds of laughter coming from the kitchen of the small cafe, so at least somebody was in the building somewhere. According to the departures board, my afternoon flight to Stockholm was the only flight remaining that day, (even though it was only just after two o’clock). My fellow passengers started arriving in one’s and two’s over the next hour or so, and I realised that I could easily have arrived later. But when I thought of all the hassle I’d had in much busier airports around the globe, I reckoned the people of Tampere had it pretty cushy.

112. Stockholm-Brussels (Brussels Airlines) 14/01/16: After an extortionate break in the Swedish capital, my trip home would involve my first visit to Bromma, Stockholm’s second airport. Much closer to the city, but still just as expensive to get to using the Flygbussarna. And after over a hundred flights through countless airports, imagine my mortification and embarrassment at forgetting to take my belt off before security. Schoolboy error.

The terminal was about the same size as Tampere-Pirkkala, but with people in it. Most of the other passengers were business types on early flights somewhere important, and were presumably more intelligent than the kind of people I would usually fly with. So why would they start queueing at the gate when everyone can clearly see that the aircraft hasn’t even arrived yet? I mean, wouldn’t the captain, first officer and cabin crew sitting behind us in the lounge drinking coffee suggest that there wasn’t much point standing up to get in line? And why do people bother to queue anyway, we’ve all got a seat booked…
The flight itself was pleasant enough, though I made a mental note not to pick a seat underneath the wings on an Avro aircraft, as the overhead luggage bins were a little smaller in that section of the cabin. The buy on board food was actually quite good too, a really nice turkey meatball sub provided exclusively for the airline by Panos.

113. Brussels-Edinburgh (Brussels Airlines) 14/01/16: As I had suspected, there were plenty of options for flying back to Edinburgh from Stockholm on the dates that I wanted, but one stood out by a mile as being far cheaper than the rest; Brussels Airlines. When I checked the details a little more closely, I saw that it involved a lengthy stop of over six hours at Brussels, which probably explained the price. But surely I could kill six hours in the airport of the beer capital of the world, especially if the Quick restaurant was open again? In fact, why did I have to spend the time in the airport at all? If my luggage was already checked through to Edinburgh, and I had an EU passport, was there anything to stop me leaving the airport and spending the time in the city instead? I couldn’t see any reason why not, but I took the time to message the airport on their Facebook page and check; they told me it was okay, as long as I remembered to allow enough time to go through security again on my return.

Naturally I wasn’t going to visit Brussels without trying to visit Simona, and luckily she had time between work and her Thursday night tango class for a few drinks at the city’s newly opened Brew Dog bar. I was a little worried about leaving enough time to get back for my flight; with Europe on high alert after the recent attacks on Paris, I didn’t want to be responsible for checked luggage flying out of Brussels without its passenger. Simona assured me I would only need about ten minutes to get through security again, and she used the airport far more heavily than me. But I reckoned it would be at least fifteen minutes, so we made a bet on it, with the loser buying the drinks next time we met up. And, annoying as it was to wait nearly twenty minutes to get my bag screened, at least I know I’m getting a pint out of it someday.

105-108 (Finland 2015)

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105. Edinburgh-Copenhagen (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 09/12/15: On my way to Finland yet again, with a few friends commenting that it had now taken over as my new Australia. As it happened, my seventh visit there had been for a ridiculously short time (six days), and it was mainly to see a redhead. And my seventh visit to Finland would also be for a ridiculously short time, (barely two days), although in this case, the hair was only dyed red.
Any of my overseas trips have to be accompanied by a little movie, preferably soundtracked by a local artist, (I mean, if I went on holiday to Canada, I would seem a bit odd to use an Australian band’s music for the movie soundtrack). So, despite struggling initially with their huge volume of unlistenable heavy metal, I had managed to find some good Finnish artists whose music I could use for my little travel films. Paavoharju was my preference when it came to slightly creepy time lapse films, but, for radio friendly indie pop, Anna Puu was definitely the go-to choice. I had first heard one of her songs whilst I was sitting in a pub in Toijala; I was so keen to know who the music was by, I was prepared to foot the considerable cost of Shazaming something whilst using roaming data to find out. Now she was on tour with the noted UMO jazz orchestra, performing a set of Finnish christmas carols. This tour would include a show at Temppeliaukio, an underground church in Helsinki. I’d visited it several times, hewn out of solid rock in the middle of the city, and it was one of my favourite buildings. I knew that any concert there would have fantastic acoustics, and always wondered what a concert there would be like. And if it was going to be my favourite Finnish singer, in one of my favourite buildings, doing christmas carols? I couldn’t miss this.
Unfortunately, when you’re the manager of a fast-food business, taking holidays in December is a bit of a no-no. So the best I could manage was a flying visit for a couple of days. It wasn’t easy getting flights at a decent price at this time of year. SAS would obviously have been the preference so that I could continue to accrue more Eurobonus points, but they had no cheap routes on the days I wanted. So I had to settle for Norwegian Air Shuttle again. They were a decent airline, but the route would involve a long stop at Copenhagen, as well as arriving late and departing early from Helsinki. But I wasn’t going to miss Anna Puu singing Pieni Rumpilipoika in an underground church.

106. Copenhagen-Helsinki (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 09/12/15: Five hours is a long stop in any airport, though there are a lot worse than Copenhagen. Money wasn’t really an issue, the WH Smith’s sold Irn-Bru and there was free wi-fi after all. But you can only film so many time-lapse segments of aircraft landing and taking off before you get bored.
When my connecting flight finally left, I wouldn’t be arriving in Helsinki until around eleven at night. And as I was departing at seven the day after next, I had decided not to even bother going into the city. If I stayed in town, it would be too late to really go out and do anything after my arrival, plus I would have to get up really early to get back out to the airport for the flight home. So I opted to stay in Forenom, the budget hotel five minutes walk from the terminal buildings. I’d stayed there before, and I knew each room provided a fridge, kettle and microwave. So I could pick up some groceries from the twenty-four hour supermarket at the airport on my arrival, and just base myself out there for two days. I would go into the city in the morning, do some shopping and sightseeing etc. Then I could leave any bags in a locker at the railway station, go to the concert, retrieve my stuff aftrerwards, and head back to the airport for my morning flight home. That is, unless the Aussie Bar was doing Little Creatures Pilsner for four euros…

 

107. Helsinki-Oslo (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 11/12/15: Despite only having had effectively a single day in Helsinki, I’d enjoyed my flying visit; Anna Puu had been great, I had my first taste of a Finnish christmas market (and glögi), and my bag was full of all my favourite Finnish groceries. Although the stop at Copenhagen on the way out had been fairly long, the stop on the way home would be the opposite, just forty-five minutes. Although I’d flown with Norwegian a few times, this would be the first time I actually flew through Oslo with them. On paper, the transit time looked alarmingly short at less than an hour. But I figured that, since this was Norwegian’s main hub, they must know what they were doing.
I was very nearly caught out on arrival as, not knowing the airport, I almost missed the small sign directing me to my onward connection. And for some reason, although I was transiting through two airports inside the Schengen area, I would have to go through security screening again. This was a complete surprise, and not a small inconvenience, especially as there was a large group of teenage school kids in front of me. Practically every single one of them had something in their bag or on their person that they shouldn’t, slowing the whole process at the small checkpoint down to a maddening snail’s pace. And as it turned out, when I finally got my turn, I still had something in my hand luggage too; two bottles of napapiiri flavoured Jaffa. If I have any loose change on leaving a country, I’ll usually stick them in a vending machine at the airport or whatever and grab a few drinks or sweets. It was better than simply wasting the money. I’d forgotten all about them now, understandably not expecting to go through security again. The offending bottles were binned, and I had about ten minutes left to catch my connection. My gate looked pretty distant judging by the size of the terminal, and I knew that I must have to go through passport control at some point beforehand too. So I reluctantly had to sprint in the direction of my flight, and hope that there wasn’t a sizeable queue at border control. Fortunately there wasn’t, and I arrived at the gate during boarding. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow such a short stop at Oslo on my itinerary again.

108. Oslo-Edinburgh (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 11/12/15: I was slightly out of breath as I boarded, and definitely could have used one of those bottles of juice; I would have to wait until the cabin service began though. But the flight was pleasant enough; spectacular views over the dramatic Norwegian coastline at sunrise, which I happily shared around the world using the free wi-fi

103-104 (Germany 2015)

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103. Edinburgh-Stuttgart (Easyjet) 16/11/15: It had become noticeable to friends and family that I seemed to be taking a lot of holidays this year, even by my standards. But what I knew, (and nobody else did), was that I was quitting my job at the end of the year, so I was making the most of my salary whilst I could. Officially, I was flying to Stuttgart to catch up with Heike, who had just moved down there. Easyjet had just started a direct service to Stuttgart and it was pretty cheap, as was accommodation in the city. Unofficially, I didn’t know when my next holiday might be after I left my management position, so I doubted I would make it over for her thirtieth birthday in Berlin next year

104. Stuttgart-Edinburgh (Easyjet) 18/11/15: Clearly I hadn’t learnt my lesson from my last visit to Germany in September, going out and getting pished the night before my flight. Luckily, this one wasn’t at nine on a Monday morning though, so I was at the airport in a fairly relaxed and not totally crap mood. I was slightly less relaxed on my arrival back in Edinburgh, with an urgent message from my deputy telling me that the owner of the company was in Edinburgh today, and was keen to see me. So with great reluctance, I headed to work straight from the airport, only to find that he wasn’t there yet. I had to call him, and he asked if I could wait for his arrival within the hour, and of course I had to agree. I could only assume that he had heard of my resignation and, just like last time, was keen to talk me out of it again. Turned out he didn’t even know as nobody at head office had told him, so I had to tell him to his face. Not really what I wanted to have to do when I was tired, hung over and desperate to go just home and unpack

100-102 (Iceland 2015)

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100. Edinburgh-Reykjavik (Easyjet) 03/11/15: I had enjoyed my brief visit to Reykjavik last November, coinciding as it had with the Iceland Airwaves festival. Even though I hadn’t had a ticket for the official festival, the atmosphere had still been great throughout the city. This year, I did have a ticket, and I was eagerly looking forward to seeing some of my favourite Icelandic acts performing live.
Today’s flight was also something of a celebration, as this would mark a century of flights. Knowing that this milestone was coming up, I had decided that, whichever flight this occasion fell on, I would treat myself to business class for once. Unfortunately, being an Easyjet flight, that wasn’t possible. So I settled for booking fast-track security, and having a celebratory glass of prosecco before my departure. However, the celebration nearly turned sour before it even got started, as my card was declined several times when I tried to pay for my drink. Luckily, it was simply down to the card machine playing up. The payment went through easily when the barman tried it on a different machine, much to my relief.
On the aircraft, it appeared that pretty much everyone onboard was headed to Reykjavik for the same thing. There were plenty of drinks being bought, and there was an almost party atmosphere onboard. The cabin crew were happy to join in with all the drunken banter too, and they didn’t seem too worried about keeping the alcohol flowing for everyone. Perhaps my fellow passengers were all just celebrating my hundredth flight for me.

101. Reykjavik-Belfast (Easyjet) 06/11/15: The only drawback with this trip had been that, due to staff shortages, I wasn’t able to stay for the full festival. So after a great few days, I headed back to Keflavik with real regret, still wearing my festival wristband and promising myself that I wouldn’t let this situation happen again in future years. Going home early would mean returning on one of the days that there wasn’t a direct Reykjavik to Edinburgh flight. So after many long hours of searching, I had found myself a cheap route home via Belfast, flying with Easyjet on both legs.
The stop in Belfast was about four hours, and I wondered whether it was worth visiting the city for an hour or so. But I knew nothing about Belfast, and couldn’t think of anything I was remotely interested in seeing, so I opted to stay at the airport. Whilst wandering the various shops, I was delighted to find that the duty-free store stocked West Coast Coolers. ‘I hear you can’t find these over there, is that right?’, asked the cashier. ‘No, you most certainly cannot’ I replied, as I rammed as many of the things as I could into my backpack. I did manage to leave a little room for a Titanic chocolate bar though, and some cool, retro White Star Line postcards, just to say that I had kinda been to Belfast.

102. Belfast-Edinburgh (Easyjet) 06/11/15: On my flight that morning from Reykjavik, I had noticed that there was a little pile of crushed debris on the floor beneath my seat. It looked like someone had dropped a crisp, and then subsequently stood on it, crushing it into the carpet. It had obviously gone unnoticed by the cabin crew during the aircraft’s last turnaround. So when I boarded my flight home at Belfast, and sat down in seat 9A as usual, I was amazed to find the same little pile of crushed crisps was still sitting on the floor at my feet. I was clearly on the same aircraft as this morning, but where had it been in the intervening four hours, on a quick return trip somewhere exotic perhaps? If they had known I was going to be on this aircraft again anyway, would they have let me simply stay onboard for the duration, rather than having to kill all that time in Belfast international? Probably not.

95-99 (Germany, Finland 2015)

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95. Edinburgh-Stockholm (SAS) 03/09/15: By now the cabin crew on the SAS flights from Edinburgh were more or less on first-name terms with me, as were the staff in some of the bars at Stockholm-Arlanda. So you can probably imagine the confusion it caused when I didn’t board the five-thirty service to Helsinki, and instead headed south on a completely different flight to Berlin. There were other ways to get to the German capital, most notably the direct Easyjet flight. But I had decided to become an SAS Eurobonus member, and their route to Berlin, whilst slightly longer and more tedious, would earn me miles, plus it was pretty cheap too.

96. Stockholm-Berlin (SAS) 03/09/15: A few months earlier, during an afternoon in North Queensferry with my favourite ginger Berliner Heike, she had asked about the new bridge across the Forth, construction of which was well underway before us that day. Would it be hideously late and over budget like the trams had been, she had asked in a slightly teasing tone. I politely responded by pointing out that the contractors who had built that tram network had been German, and incidentally, was anyone ever gonna finish that Berlin Brandenberg airport anyway? Whilst that political saga dragged on for a few more years, Berlin Tegel would have to manage. I’d heard that the airport was always horrifically over-crowded and chaotic, operating, as it was, way beyond any originally intended capacity. Still, I found it wasn’t too bad on my arrival; I have a somewhat confused memory of lots of stairs, and hexagons. Plus the girl at the BVG desk was very pretty.

97. Berlin-Helsinki (Air Berlin) 07/09/15: Finland was absolutely, totally on the way home from Germany, or so I told myself. In fact, the Finnish part of my trip to Berlin would actually be longer than the German part with a considerable detour as well, but what did I care?
I had originally booked this flight for the day after, but I realised that would mean watching the crucial Euro 2016 qualifier between Scotland and Germany in Germany. I wasn’t keen on ‘enjoying’ the potential spectacle of the world champions taking us apart at Hampden in a Berlin bar, surrounded by celebrating opposition fans. So I rebooked the flight for a day earlier, preferring instead to track the game on my phone in an almost deserted bar in Pori. However, that meant I was now flying out early on a Monday morning. Aside from the fact that I was out getting drunk with Heike the night before, I doubted that it would be fun braving the S-Bahn with all my luggage during the morning rush hour. I was right. And the bus connection from Beusselstraße to Tegel was even worse. I stood patiently on the pavement with around a hundred other people, patiently waiting my turn as bus after bus was filled up by more rambunctious travelers, until I finally managed to squeeze myself onto one too. As we approached the airport, a German woman around my age who was standing behind me made some request, presumably to try to get past me and disembark more quickly when we arrived. Unfortunately, the vehicle was so full that I was quite unable to move out of anybody’s way, and she muttered and cursed to herself in frustration, practically launching herself in desperation at the door when we arrived.
Flying with a hangover was nothing new sadly, but flying with Air Berlin was. The flight up to Helsinki had been reasonably priced, and the airline seemed to have plenty of decent reviews. I had been tempted to pre-order an onboard meal, (the currywurst had looked particularly tempting), but, given my condition, it was probably as well that I didn’t. The flight was pleasant enough though, and the free chocolates when we disembarked were very welcome.
By now I had seen plenty of Helsinki over the last two years, and I saw no reason to linger on my arrival, having already booked myself on a train straight to Pori that afternoon. This would involve me changing trains at Tampere, so I took the opportunity to quickly message Sonja to say hello during my brief, eight-minute visit to the city. I was slightly surprised at the immediate reply, asking what train I was on; it turned out that she was on the Pori train too, sitting in the carriage behind me no less. I don’t know what the chances of that were, but I suspect it was probably as likely as being in Tallinn at the same time as Morgane and her family

98. Helsinki-Stockholm (SAS) 12/09/15: Just as I had done on my arrival in Finland, I shunned the delights of Helsinki prior to my departure, preferring instead to make my way down from Toijala on the morning of my flight; the departure time wasn’t until mid-afternoon anyway. The train ride had been fairly eventful too, as I had been taking advantage of the onboard wi-fi to listen to the Freo game, as they edged past the Swans in the Qualifying Final. I was so happy on my arrival that I didn’t even care about paying seven Euros for a celebratory pint of Karhu

99. Stockholm-Edinburgh (SAS) 12/09/15: There’s a royal family in Sweden, and the locals are very fond of them indeed. As luck would have it, this latest visit to Stockholm-Arlanda, (which was fast becoming my second home), coincided with the wedding of HRH Prince Carl Philip of Sweden, Duke of Värmlandand, and a former glamour model, Sofia Hellqvist. Nope, I have no idea who they are either. It seemed a pretty big thing though, and everyone in the airport seemed glued to their television screens as the ceremony unfolded.