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When luggage goes astray you’ll freeze in Finland

You know what sucks? Being cold. You know what sucks a little more? Being cold, and having no way of warming up.

And what sucks even more than that? That’s right. Being cold, and knowing that you’re going to stay cold until your luggage gets back from a little trip to Norway.

I’m well-qualified to make these sorts of claims. I have found myself standing on the streets of Helsinki, vibrating with cold, dressed in nothing but chinos, t-shirt and a hoodie. If you’ve never experienced something like that, let me fill you in: the wind over there seems to think that it’s made of needles. It pierces its way through paltry layers of inadequate clothing and flays the skin beneath, chilling you to your very core. The only thing worse is the smug faces of your friends on either side of you, cheshire-cat smiles shining from the depths of fur-lined parkas.

Yep. My friends were the grand architects of my suffering, and they seemed to be swelling with pride as they grinned at their handiwork – me, glaring daggers at the pair of them through eyes that already felt like they were freezing shut. Although in hindsight that may have just been down to their layers and layers of warm clothing.

Let me explain. The three of us – Jimmy, Anthony and I – had just travelled from Norway to Finland – a leg of our journey I had been really looking forward to. Several bands that I have been very much into ever since I was a teenager hail from Finland – Nightwish, The Rasmus, and of course, HIM – and now we were facing the prospect of seeing one of these groups perform live on their home soil. I was psyched.

In preparation for the transition from cold Norway weather to warm airport weather, we’d all stuffed our heavy Winter gear away in our suitcases. The plan was to pick up our cases at the carousel in Helsinki, kit ourselves out with fur and fleece once more, and then venture out into the biting cold of Finlandia. And so we had – or at least, they had.

That morning, we had left Todd, our new couch surfing American friend (currently living in Norway) and driven our hire car to the airport. In a moment of altruism that would have raised alarm bells had I not been so hungover, Jimmy had offered to carry my suitcase out to the car. At the airport, it was Anthony’s turn top be helpful, taking my case along with his to get checked onto our flight – and again, I was oblivious to any ulterior motives.

I blame the Norwegio-Americans – those dudes really know how to party.

Long story short, my helpful friends had left my suitcase in the boot of the hire car.

So there I stood, in a bitter state of mind, and in a bitter state of weather. Even hailing a cab was difficult, as it exposed my armpit to further assault by the wind – but fortunately the ruddy-cheeked driver immediately popped open the door, and stepped out to take our bags. Jimmy gave him the address of our hostel and we were away; speeding through the snowy streets at a speed I wouldn’t have dared attempt if I was driving. The legally-required snow tires coped effortlessly with the slick roads, but I consoled myself all the same with the thought that if the car span out of control and slammed into a wall, I would probably be too numb to feel it.

Finland would probably have been amazing even if my view through the taxi’s window hadn’t been chipped into a hundred glowing refractions by the ice crystals suspended from my eyelashes; as it was, it was incredible. Lights twinkled and glimmered everywhere in the dusk, bouncing off the snow, and making the whole place seem Christmassy. In March.

I couldn’t wait to see it in the daylight.

When we arrived at the hostel, after thanking and paying the cab driver, we headed inside to register. My first priority was to use the hostel’s phone to call Todd – I’d spoken to him from Helsinki airport, and he’d kindly agreed to swing by the car hire depot on his way to work that night. Diamond that he is, he’d already been to the depot and picked up my case; after his shift finished, he promised to send it first class via an international courier service – and I promised that Jimmy and Anthony would reimburse him.

The hostel was a relatively understated venue, but that was all we wanted – we wouldn’t be spending a lot of time there, so any luxury or additional comforts beyond hot food and a bed would have been wasted. We were escorted to our dorm, and there we met our roommates for the few days we’d be spending there.

Konsta and Niklas, a pair of Finnish teenagers in town for the same reasons we were, made us feel immediately welcome. The second our escort returned to the front desk, Niklas held up a bottle of chilled vodka, and said something in Finnish, laughing. I don’t speak Finnish, but the last word he said was definitely ‘drink’ – which rendered the whole sentence universally relatable.

“Hell yes.”

We shared a few shots between four of us – Konsta was laying in bed, looking distinctly unwell, and turned down the bottle whenever it came his way. It turned out that he’d come down with a cold the day before – I heard that, and winced. Someone from Finland – a hardened native, accustomed to fur balaclavas and thermal undercrackers and Christ knows what else – had been struck down by the cold. What the hell sort of chance did I have, in my thin jumper and thinner trousers?

Conversation (such as it was – Konsta spoke a little more English than Niklas, albeit between hacking coughs) inevitably turned the gig the following day – HIM would be playing at a venue in downtown Helsinki, and through the majesty of the internet café, the three of us had reserved tickets. Konsta and Niklas planned to go, too, although they were worried that Konsta’s cold might complicate things.

We hit the hay pretty early that night, for various reasons. My friends and I were pretty tired from the hassle of our flight, Niklas wanted to be fully refreshed for the concert, and Konsta felt like hell. We dug ourselves out of bed with some regret the next day, loath to expose ourselves to the cold air, but the promise of breakfast proved greater than the desire to drift off to sleep again.

Niklas and Konsta joined us at the breakfast table, both looking slightly more awake than they had the night before. Immediately behind them came an exceptionally pretty girl that we didn’t know – she smiled in our vague direction as she picked up a cereal bowl, and my friends sat up like a pair of meerkats. They continued to gawp over my shoulder at the back of her head as we ate.

When we finished, I decided to delicately ask the question that had been at the back of my mind since we arrived – if Konsta felt too ill to attend the concert that evening, would there be any chance that I could borrow his thick, wind-proof jacket?

Unfortunately, Konsta reported with a grin that he seemed to be over the worst of it, and asked if we wanted to team up and head to the show together. We said sure, why not – if nothing else, I’d need all the body heat I could surround myself with. I didn’t have the funds to buy another Winter-ready coat.

Niklas and Konsta offered to show us around Helsinki after breakfast – they’d been there longer than we had, and had already discovered some of the best drinking establishments the city had to offer. That was a great day – we moved from bar to bar, sampling the local beers and ‘glögi’ – a Finnish take on mulled wine – and listening to my friends harp on about the pretty girl we’d seen at breakfast.

In the last bar we came to, we found a huge group of HIM fans, eagerly awaiting the concert that night. After a few more rounds, we managed to coax the crowd into a roaring singsong of ‘Funeral of Hearts’.

I’ll never forget that moment. HIM isn’t a band for everyone – they describe their own genre as ‘love metal’. If I tried to initiate a singalong to their music back home, I’d have been thrown out. But here, in both the spiritual and literal home of the band, even the barman was soon cheering along to the lyrics. I’ve never felt more musically fulfilled in my life.

We headed back to the hostel after that, to force down some hot grub, and get ready for the show. My grimacing, self-hugging, miserable gait drew fresh taunts and laughter from Jim and Ant – which drew fresh insults and threats from me – and I vowed to myself that I’d pay them back for this. If I could work out a way to avoid getting shot or arrested for terrorism, maybe I’d set fire to their suitcases before we headed off to Germany. We’d have to see how things panned out.

A quick shower (I didn’t want my only change of clothes to get smelly) a quick shave, and we headed down for dinner. The atmosphere was electric inside the canteen; I don’t even know if all of the guests would be heading for the gig too, or whether our excitement was just infectious. Anthony was craning his neck all over the room, trying to spot mystery girl, and Jimmy kept glancing toward the doorway. I was on the lookout for a pretty face too, I admit, but I chuckled to myself how blatantly they were going about it.

They were disappointed, anyway – she didn’t show. We cleared our trays, left the canteen and headed for the stairs. I was lagging slightly behind the others, checking my phone – then as I set my foot on the bottom step, a voice rang out behind me. A female voice. A voice with broken English so perfect, any Bond-girl would cut off her hands to have those vocal chords.

“Excuse – boy?”

Above me on the stairs, Jimmy and Ant spun around like they were on the receiving end of synchronised hammerblows from Mike Tyson. The way their jaws fell slack told me everything I needed to know about what I’d see when I turned – and sure enough, there she was. Smiling. At me.

“Uhh – hi there.”
“You still need coat? I, umm – spare.”

She was holding up a fur-lined parka so thick, it looked like it was holding her. Just looking at it made me feel warmer.

“Wow, yeah – that’d be – yeah, brilliant, cheers..”

I’m not at my most eloquent when I’m put on the spot in front of pretty girls. Fortunately, she seemed to find my painfully-English-flusteredness somewhat endearing, and handed me the jacket with a grin.

“You are coming to show, yes? HIM tonight?”

My friends threw me a couple of looks that quitely clearly told they thought I was the luckiest S.O.B on the planet, and that they would never forgive me for my good fortune, as they stomped away up the steps. That was fine with me – and it looked like I had my revenge.

I would clap them both on the shoulder later, and thank them for pranking me re: the diverted luggage – because without them, none of this would have happened. Payback was very sweet indeed.

Natashka (Man alive, even her name screamed ‘Bond beauty’) and I took a seat in the lobby and got to know each other while the others headed up to get changed. By the time they reappeared, Natashka and I were getting on very well indeed.

On the walk to the concert venue, I reflected on the irony of the situation. The last time I’d walked this route, I was frozen, miserable and fruitlessly plotting revenge. This time I was blissfully warm, walking arm in arm with a beautiful Russian girl, off to see my favourite group play a show on their home ground. What a difference three hours can make, eh?

The show was amazing. I jumped around like a maniac and screamed myself hoarse – and when Natashka climbed up on my shoulders to get a better view, gently holding my hands, I thought Anthony was going to have a coronary embolism.

The walk back to the hostel was just as fun. The Christmassy twinkle that I’d seen from the taxi the night before was back, and the city seemed to hum with activity as we tromped through the snow. By the time I slipped back into the men’s dormitory, Anthony and Jimmy were determinedly feigning sleep.

The next day passed in a blur – we had a long way to fly, so we left the hostel early. To my delight, my suitcase had arrived early that morning and was waiting for me at the front desk as we came down for breakfast. We left a goodbye note for Konsta and Niklas, leaving our e-mail addresses so that they could stay in touch, and I exchanged fleeting goodbyes with Natashka.

We hailed another taxi, Jimmy and Ant by now in a distinctly anti-Finnish mood. That was all sour grapes, though – I thought Finland was a fantastic place, I’ll be booking my ticket back there the second that HIM announce another Finland tour.

As our next plane took off, Anthony and Jimmy seemed to begrudgingly forgive me for catching Natashka’s eye. I even got an apology of sorts, for ‘forgetting’ my luggage in the first place, and Jim proposed a pranking truce. That sounded fine by me – I planned to quit while I was waaaaaay ahead.

As for Natashka, we stayed in touch for a good few months over the internet, and then we gradually drifted apart. Don’t tell Anthony or Jimmy, though – the look that creeps across their faces whenever she’s mentioned is too beautiful to pass up.

Dan Hart is an amateur travel enthusiast, with over ten years’ writing experience. Having recently cracked open his old travel journals, he is keen to share more memorable moments from his journeys worldwide. He’d also like to remind you never to leave home without the number of a decent international courier service – you never know when it might come in handy.

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