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Planes, Trains, and Governmental Agencies

What brought me here today:

I’ve always liked traveling. Exploring a place, culture and people that are not familiar to me is something I enjoy quite a bit. It’s almost a surrealistic experience for me. All of the experiences that I have while traveling have to be incorporated into every other thing that I know, or have experienced. As an artist, I’ve always loved smushing-together things that seem different. Things whose only connection is me.

But there is a distinct difference between traveling for fun/pleasure and traveling because you’re moving to a new city, and in our case, another country. Every aspect of the travel takes on a distinctly laborious aura. Missing a connection, or being held-up by various governmental agencies are somehow more stressful when you’re trying to get through an airport with all of your possessions in four suitcases.

Flight plans:

Without giving too many details, we had several flights to get to our final destination. My husband and I were divvied-up the travel tasks. My husband handled the airline reservations. I handled the busses, trains and hotel reservations. We were both well-versed in bus, train and taxi travel within Finland. So I had little difficulty with my tasks.

Neither one of us enjoys being on transatlantic airline flights, but we had no choice. It was going to have to be done.

Checked baggage:

I’ve written in a previous post about how I had to break apart my artwork to get it into shipping containers as well as my luggage. When we moved to Finland, we had four large suitcases that were all well over the weight limits for checked baggage. I think I remember that we paid close to 400€ in overages alone. I attributed this to the two of us taking so many things with us because we didn’t know if we could find similar items in Finland.

With this move, we knew where we could find replacement items of clothing, technology, cosmetics, etc. We weeded out any items that we could replace in future. This made a lot more room for my artwork and art supplies too.

Weather and holidays:

When the airplane reservations were made, we hadn’t thought at all about Juhannus. It’s a huge part of the Finnish summer. And it was happening smack in the middle of when we clearing our of our old apartment, and moving back to the US. We were incredibly lucky that the formal business holidays didn’t occur on the actual solstice, 20 June.

Accidentally coinciding with Juhannus was a heat wave that just about killed my husband. It was close to 30° C (86° F). I know that doesn’t sound bad, but Finland is built for cold temperatures, not hot ones. Most homes don’t have air conditioning. This is one of the many reasons why Finns head to the lake cabin or out into nature once summer temperatures arrive. It’s just too hot indoors!

Many years ago, my father (a former Marine) told me to always pay attention to how much I drank and urinated (gross, sorry) while being physically active in extremely hot, humid weather. It got a little scary during the last week in our old apartment, because we were constantly drinking, but going to the toilet maybe once a day. This was not good for our health.

On the move:

Once the apartment was cleaned and vacated, we still had a lot of travel ahead of us. And the temperatures just kept climbing. I know that travel causes a considerable amount of anxiety for my husband. I wanted to make sure that any possible sources of stress were eliminated beforehand. Staying in three hotels seems extravagant. But the good beds and air conditioning helped my husband manage his anxiety levels.

When we arrived via train in Helsinki, it was already 32° C (89.6° F). The city felt like it was closer to 38° C (100° F) with the heat from all the stone and concrete, plus the humidity. It was exhausting to be dragging 50 k (110 lbs.) of luggage around in that kind of heat and humidity.

We wanted to walk around and eat in a park, but we were just exhausted from cleaning, packing, wrangling out suitcases and checking in and out of hotels. We hit a good  R-Kioski. Bought food and drinks. Then headed back to the hotel to rest and chill out. We had to be up at 3;00 to catch a train!


Getting to the airport in Vantaa was super easy. We bought two tickets at an automated machine and found our train. It was one of the first trains departing the main Helsinki train station for the airport that morning. Our flight was leaving at 7;00. Traveling early in the morning was part of the plan.

I cannot tell you how happy we both were when we checked our bags! FREEDOM! I felt…well, around 110 pounds lighter! We also didn’t have to pay any fees for our luggage at all. Three of our four bags came in at around 23 k (50.7 lbs.). YES!

We had a short connecting flight to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. It was uneventful. I actually fell asleep during the flight.

Governmental agencies:

We had an incredibly strange interaction with passport and border control police at Schiphol. I went first in line and was asked a few questions then was waived through. For some reason, the police detained my husband. They seemed upset that neither one of us had a Finnish identification card. When we told them that we had to turn them over to Finnish immigration prior to leaving the country, they didn’t seem to believe us.

At one point, they seemed to think we were lying about coming from Finland, or that we had even lived in Finland. They kept trying to trip us up by asking us “How long did you live in Sweden?” and “When did you decide to move to the Netherlands to study?” When what I told them didn’t change, they kept on questioning us. At one point, I was getting a little pissed. One of the officers turned to me and said to me in a very condescending tone, “Why are you so upset?“. I bit my tongue.

I could not help but notice that all of the other people passport and border control were detaining were not caucasian. Part of me wondered if they were trying to make it ‘look better’ by stopping the two of us. In the end, one of the officers took our paperwork and went to call Migri in Finland. He came back a few minutes later (too quick if you ask me) and said we were free to go. One of the officers tried to joke with me and I stopped him. I was in no mood to joke around with someone who had jerked us around for absolutely no good reason.

Flight across the pond:

Apparently, the Universe wanted to make it up to us. When were seated for our flight, the person sitting in the aisle seat noticed that there were a lot of empty seats on the plane. They asked a flight attendant if it was okay to move to an empty seat. It was totally okay with the attendant. So my husband and I had a much more comfortable flight.

I slept. Watched movies. And periodically, the attendants came through and gave us food. Pretty good food for airplane cuisine too. I stuck to drinking water and hoped at some point I would return peeing normally. (Sorry. It’s really gross, but true.)

Oh wait! More governmental agency hoops! Wheee!

This wasn’t incredibly pleasant either. Re-entering the US as a citizen was a breeze compared to getting through Schiphol. The only thing I hated was having to go through the wierd, rushing, screamy search of my carry-on bag and the removal of my shoes. I found it incredibly humiliating and de-humanizing.

Aaaaand again, I had to get felt-up because I wear a bra with an underwire. At least this time, the woman doing the pat-down was much more gentle. She asked permission before touching me. And, just one look at her communicated to me that she knew exactly what an underwire was, and why some women need to wear bras with them. She was quite a nice woman who joked around with me easily. She knew that no one likes getting felt-up by a total stranger.

One more time for each:

Our last flight was delayed three separate times. We were so tired that we didn’t care a whole lot. A friend had arranged transport for us from the last airport to our last hotel room. And I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that. It’s one of the nicest and most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received in my life.

The hotel was pretty good. But when you’re so flippin’ tired from traveling, any place with a toilet, decent shower and comfortable bed is going to feel like a five star accommodation. The next morning we walked to a Starbucks one street over and met the nicest baristas who made us feel incredibly welcomed and at ease in our new city.

We had the hotel call us a taxi to take us to our new apartment. We could have easily walked up the street to our new apartment, but the thought of dragging our luggage was not something either of us wanted to do. The driver and taxi were lovely. We made sure to get his card, because he’s a one-man business, and we want to give him our future business.

So, now what?

We met our new landlord and got the keys to our apartment next. One of the strangest coincidences of our whole experience of moving back to the US is the fact that our new landlord in Finnish. But that’s a story for another blog post.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.