Tuesday, June 25, 2013

En Route to Ukraine: May 21-22

I left for SFO early Tuesday morning. My adventure started when I checked in at the front desk. The attendees at the front desk at SFO needed to verify that I wasn’t breaking any Visa related laws. The very talented employees who did this first asked, “Which country is Kiev in? Germany?” I told them it was in Ukraine. They asked if I had a visa to Ukraine. I told them I didn’t need one if I was staying less than 90 days. They asked if I had a return flight. I told them that my return flight was over 90 days away, but I would be leaving the country on a bus before that. They were kind of suspicious of this. The woman working at the desk called one of her supervisors over. They told me that I was allowed to go on the flight, but it was up to the digression of the immigration officers in Kiev as to whether I would be able to enter the country. This got me worried how everything might be handled once I got to Ukraine.
My first flight went pretty well. I landed at JFK, tried to find a place to charge my phone and laptop, unsuccessfully, and then discovered the airport didn’t have any wifi. I complained about first-world-problems for the last time.
My second flight was 8 hours. I slept a bit. I had a 7 hour lay-over in Helsinki, so I decided to leave the airport to go look around town. When I got to border security, I had pretty much the opposite problem as I had when checking in at SFO.
“So what brings you to Finland?”
“Just traveling.”
“How long are you planning to stay in Finland?”
“I actually have a flight to catch in a couple of hours.”
“Where are you flying to?”
“You know you’re supposed to be on that side of the terminal.” He points behind me.
“Yeah, I know. I have a while so I’ll be back soon.”
He looks confused, but says ok, and stamps my passport.
I thought it would be funny if he ended up stamping my passport again when I came back to the airport, and thought about joking with him about how I'd see him soon, but I decided it would be best to not joke with passport control.

I exchanged some US dollars to Euros and then took the bus into the city. Helsinki was very cold and wet. When I first started walking around, it was just sprinkling, but after wandering around for a little bit, it started pouring. I wanted to make the most of the time I had in Helsinki and didn’t want to let the rain stop me. I walked a bit more and eventually ended up at the warf. There were tends along the side of the water selling different types of food. I went into one and got a crepe with spinach and feta cheese. The woman working at the counter commented on how cold and wet I looked and asked me if I wanted coffee or tea to warm me up. Throughout my time in Helsinki I was really impressed by all the languages spoken. The lady at the crepe place spoke Spanish to some other people she was serving, and everything anywhere I went was written in Finnish, Swedish, and English. Quite a few things were in Russian as well. A lady at another place offered me a sample of some fish from Lapland (in the north of Finland). It looked a little gross, but actually didn’t taste bad. It was crunchy and salty. I came back later during the day and got a plate of fish and vegetables. I felt like I should have felt sick after eating it and needed to force myself to eat more, even though I didn’t finish it. I kept on walking around, and wandered into Martin Luther’s church, the big church in the center of the city. I took a few pictures nearby it. Overall, the city was real nice. There were shopping malls scattered all over the place selling things that were well out of my price range. After walking around a bit more, I took the bus back to the airport. I went through passport-control once more and then spent my last couple hours in the country in the lobby of the airport before I caught my plane.

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