Sunday, August 30, 2015

Finland/Iceland trip diary - day 8

Breakfast at the Skandic Grand Marina was a bit of a surprise, after the sleepy rhythms of Inari – the buffet was vast and frantic, surrounded by people with heaping trays desperately circling in search of a free table. After surviving that we left our bags and headed out for a final stroll in Finland. We walked north from the hotel, following a new section of the coastline. After an hour of winding round the water, we were about ten minutes from the hotel on an as-the-crow-flies basis. At one point we passed what may have been Finland’s entire naval fleet; otherwise it was mostly elegant old buildings and water views, an easy-going Sunday morning feel. There’s a little island called Tervassari, connected by a bridge, and we walked around that. It has a dog run and a playground, not too much else. Based on our admittedly limited experience, Finnish dog runs are usually small and bleak.

We walked back through the centre, reliving some previous locations such as the biological gardens. We went into Helsinki’s big book store. I think it’s the biggest, but seems to emphasize presentation and carefully selected choices over completeness – the movie section had about fifteen titles. I guess that makes sense when everything else is on Amazon anyway. Even last night from here, since we were talking about it, I ordered some books for Ally on In the course of our trip we’ve done a little bit of reading. I downloaded the latest New Yorker and got through that; I also finished a short book on Michael Powell’s A Matter of Life and Death and I’m now reading a book on Bernardo Bertolucci. Ally read all of Paul Auster’s Sunset Park and is just starting on John Irving's In One Person. We both read the news and other transient Internet material more than anything else though. Certainly a change from when we started traveling and the search for an English-language newspaper (often a day or two old) was part of the daily routine. So far the Wi-Fi has always been super-high-quality and always free (in the UK a few months ago, hotels were still charging extra for it).
The strangest thing in this bookstore was that although they carried The New Yorker, it was the July 6th edition i.e. 6 or 7 issues out of date. Distribution obviously can’t be that far behind. Maybe they think this was by far the best recent issue and they’re stubbornly sticking to that until a better one supplants it. It did have an interesting if not very uplifting account of trying to get hostages out of the Middle East. Anyway, the lucky streak I mentioned yesterday continued into today – the weather was gorgeous throughout our walk, then darkened as soon as we were done – by the time we were settling down in the airport lounge (courtesy of Icelandair’s “Saga Class”) it was pouring, although later it cleared up again. The taxi driver told us that fares to and from the airport are capped at 39 euros, regardless of what the meter says; funny how the previous three drivers failed to mention that. We gave him the difference as a tip.

And that’s it for Finland. I don’t think we ever absorbed a single word of Finnish, except for “ravintola,” which you soon learn means “restaurant.” Of course, a restaurant that needs to include the word “restaurant” in its name isn’t always of the highest quality. The three-and-a-half-hour flight to Reykjavik took us a good chunk of the way home, although it didn’t exactly feel like that. We seemed to be alone in the front section, until a half hour into the flight when another woman appeared, from the direction of the cockpit, disappearing back there half an hour before the end (she spent the intervening time watching sitcoms). Is that how Icelandair flight audit works maybe? Now, on all of our trips we like to go to one movie if we can. Ideally this involves (a) a movie we couldn’t already just have seen back home, or (b) a different kind of movie theatre, by virtue of its vintage quality, or quirkiness, or whatever, or (c) ideally, both. It didn’t work in Helsinki because the movies were all entirely familiar and everywhere just looked like another multiplex. But through Internet research we’d identified that Reykjavik has a new art cinema, the Bio Paradis, which is currently showing the French (but English language) film Love. It’s on at 5.30, 8.00 and 10.30 – given the time change (i.e. 5.30 would feel to us like 8.30) only the former was really a possibility. So, much as this might seem like a strange approach to a new country, we planned basically to arrive in Iceland, check into the hotel, go to the movie, and leave all the other discovery for later.

It worked, but just barely – at 4.10 we were still waiting for our bags, with Reykjavik 50km away (and of course 50km can take 25 minutes or 75 minutes depending on local conditions). We got to the hotel at around 5.05 and it so happened that the movie theatre was on the same street so we achieved it easily (especially because they had fifteen minutes of trailers, but then you can never count on that either). It’s very funny to have had the experience of essentially flying halfway across Europe to get to a movie on time. The film itself was a bit of a gamble too, having not impressed too many people at Cannes with its vast amount of explicit sex (and in 3-D!) and reportedly clunky story-telling and character-building in other respects – there was a risk that Ally in particular would just hate it, especially as it lasts well over 2 hours. But in the event we both found it very interesting, certainly not unflawed, but with flaws (or ambiguities as the case may be) that sustained several hours of conversation afterwards, which is really the main test. And so Love joins our classic pantheon of movies – Brothers Bloom in Jerusalem, Weekend in Copenhagen, Two Days in Paris in Hong Kong, and the rest.
Of course, there was more to our first day in Reykjavik than just that. But the rest can wait…!

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