May 31 – Raleigh, North Carolina
I had intended to write up one final post on Helsinki before we left, but here it is almost two days since we touched down in Raleigh and I’m just now getting around to it. I’m still technically on vacation (i.e., my first day back to work is tomorrow), and today we enjoyed a vacation-like (i.e., expensive) lunch at our favorite sushi place.
Saturday we spent most of the day walking around Suomenlinna, an island fortress initially built in the late 1700’s to defend Helsinki. It passed into Swedish and Russian control, then back to Finland, and there are artifacts from all of the above. My vote for coolest of the lot: big early-20th century cannons overlooking the sea.
Suomenlinna is actually composed of four interconnected islands and there are several museums as well as all the outdoor stuff, which is free save for the cost of the 15-min ferry ride. Gina was operating at well below 100% fighting a cold, but we had a good time including a delicious lunch at the brewpub situated near one of the ferry docks. They make all the beer right on site and both my amber ale and Gina’s tart cider were excellent.
Photos from Suomenlinna
The voyage home on Sunday was mercifully uneventful. We were in close proximity to an unusually large number of small children, but all of them were remarkably well-behaved and we heard nary a peep out of any of them over the whole 8h 30m flight.
Arriving in Raleigh, the first thing I noticed was the heat–and the humidity. I haven’t been in air over 78 degrees for five weeks, and as noted earlier, the weather in Helsinki was anything but warm. Walking out of baggage claim felt like stepping into a sauna, one of the things we didn’t get around to doing in Finland.
Today we’re supposed to hit 96 on Mr. Farenheit’s scale. It’s as if Raleigh is saying, “welcome home! Remember this?”
The strangeness of returning to the US after an extended trip overseas is already wearing off. Still, there is this lingering twinge of melancholy. Part of me is very glad to be home, especially with respect to sleeping in our best-bed-in-the-world, but another part of me is sad to see the trip come to an end.
This isn’t because I just don’t want to go back to work–in fact, I’m looking forward to it, which is a first. I’m psyched to start my new role. No, this has more to do with saying goodbye to the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been. I’ve done this international travel thing a few times now and I know better than to think maybe I’ll meet up with so-and-so again, or come back to one place or another. In my experience, it just never works out that way.
The one possible exception to that is Yanni. I think there is at least a chance that our paths will cross again someday, if only because Gina and I have talked about visiting Australia before–it was one of the first ideas we had for this trip–and I know we will get there eventually. If by then I’m still able to get in touch with Yanni, and he happens to be in his native country, then we will surely meet up with him in Sydney and paint the town.
For now, I’m looking forward to settling back into home life. I’ve gone through the mail, both e- and snail-, and been to the grocery store to restock the refrigerator, which resembled Edward Norton’s in Fight Club (“a fridge full of condiments and no food”). I unpacked all the shot glasses (5) that we’ll add to our collection, and washed all my clothes. I even got back on the ice for the first time last night, which was great, and I wrote a check for the mortgage, which was less so.
I hope this blog has been as enjoyable to read as it has been to write. It’s been fun playing travel writer, and probably all the more so because it isn’t actually my job. As great as it sounds to get paid for writing about your adventures in foreign lands, I imagine that, like everything else people do for money, at some point it would feel more like work than, well, travel.
One thing is for sure, though: it will not be nine years (time since my last big trip, Japan) before I get out there again with a backpack and a very loose itinerary. I strongly believe that visiting other places, especially ones that are far away from one’s home, is the single most enriching thing that an individual can do. We all need a bit of cross-pollination in our lives, and there is simply no better way to get it than on the ground, in country, in person.
Just remember not to get off the train too soon or get on the ferry too early, even if that’s where everyone else is going. And try to hold onto your passport.