It’s been a decade, which means it’s time to renew a couple of passports.
The US embassy in Finland seems to be in a bit of a slight time warp. Their mail-in application for passport renewal requires a check. Yes, that’s right, a bank check for payment. A relic of the past, no different than a fax. Before I left the US in 2011 I actually did still receive my pay in the form of a check. Even then checks had been dying an incredibly slow death. Checks have been long gone in Finland since the 90s, most young people here have absolutely no idea what a check is. I actually remember the difficulty in trying to explain to a co-worker what a check was. “So can’t anyone just change the amount to whatever they want?” Yes… but that would be fraud.
This lead me onto the hunt for a check. I went to my bank to ask if I could get one. “We discontinued that service several years ago.” I decided to ask the embassy if there would be an alternative form of payment. In lieu of a bank check I was given the option to pay with a just as obsolete personal check. As they seem to be consolidating branches, I went out for a drive to the nearest Nordea bank I could find. A good hour in line to ask, can I get a bank check? Pankkivekseli. The bank clerk a little confused went to ask his manager if that was possible. I was asked a couple of times if I was sure that was what I needed. He brought up the embassy’s website to double check. Then went back to his manager that made a few phone calls as they had no idea how to issue the check. In his entire career he had never once written a bank check. After getting all the paperwork sorted and the check in hand the clerk just shook his head in disbelief “why?”
Since I have been in Finland for over five years one of the difficulties I encounter when looking at US documents are the massive walls of text. Finland is said to be a very direct culture. Forms tend to be straight to the point. Job descriptions are never more than page long, if that. E-mails might only consist of a couple of words. Even with the so-called paperwork reduction act in the US, looking at page after page of confusing criteria and definitions starts to become a little overwhelming. The same goes for reading a job description that go into detail about every possible task you might ever have to do, or even for details of day-to-day services and purchases we all use. In some cases, we see words like unlimited redefined to include limits. Such is the US. I do believe this is something cultural; looking back to e-mails I use to send during my work and studies in Kentucky I find exchanges were written with unnecessarily long fluff. But then again, even in conversation it’s expected to ease into your topic with what is “common courtesy.”
With the form filled and sent off, I couldn’t help but reminisce over the history behind the last ten years’ worth of stamps. Sixteen countries stamped, an additional five through the Schengen area, and another eight prior to the last ten years. At least that’s what I can remember. 29 countries. Next month I will add another four. Much of the travel consisted of stupid luck. “I’m headed home for the weekend, want to join?” and off I’d go to Saint Petersburg.
Stamped: Denmark, Chile, Costa Rica, Spain, USA, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Peru, Netherlands, Romania, Ireland, United Kingdom, Turkey, Egypt, and on a different passport: Russia
Unstamped: visits through Schengen: Hungary, Germany, Austria, Estonia, Italy
Previous: Mauritania, Malaysia, Indonesia, Belgium, Mexico, Singapore, Japan, France.
Ok, so five of those may have been long layovers. I count them, you might not. Still, places I set foot in.
For now, just a very brief review of how these trips have come to be.
The US, Chile, Romania and Finland are home. Places that are connected via family and friends. With homes this far apart trips tend to be few and far between. Expenses cause it to be prohibitive. Fortunately, I recently was able to snag airline tickets to the US when prices had briefly plummeted. It’ll be the first visit in many years. Romania will come soon enough. Chile? who knows when. 15,000 kilometers is quite the distance.
Sweden and Estonia are very common trips. Ferries take you for less than it cost to ride the city bus, and often free during the off-season. These trips become pretty routine for those who live here in Finland. As a student I use to organize trips for large groups of students at nearly no cost. A good experience for all.
England had been a visit to an old friend out in the countryside. Some pretty nice scenery all around. From across the sea I had the chance to see Scotland if that counts for anything.
Denmark. My brother had been dragged there to an academic conference. Usually what makes travel possible in Europe affordable are the incredible low-cost carriers like Ryan-Air or Norwegian. At the time there was no such option to Denmark from Finland. But with a family spread out throughout the world it was worth the hit. Luckily enough an overbooked flight combined with the EUs generous passenger rights reimbursed the cost of the flight and left enough to cover the cost of a hostel for a week. Denmark would again be briefly revisited at a later time.
Spain was an invitation from neighbors I had become acquainted with in Finland. A week in Barcelona and a week in Madrid for the Christmas holiday.
Germany, Italy, and yet again Spain would be visited on a quick trip through Europe. Low-cost airlines meant a total cost of 100€. Sleeping at airports and bus stations and visiting the city during the day.
Costa Rica was a graduation gift from my father. Each day we would take local transport to random locations throughout the country.
Italy. Once again. Saved enough through work to visit old friends.
Ireland, Netherlands, and Hungary. In a previous article I had briefly mentioned the circumstances that lead me to move to Europe. The economy hit hard making what was already a struggling Kentucky economy worse. My brother that had been teaching in China at the time had received a three thousand dollar voucher from American airlines due to a series of overbookings. The problem for him was that these vouchers were useless to him as most flight options originated from the US. Before they expired I snatched them up. In an instance I was off to Europe to job-hunt with the final destination of Chile in case things didn’t work.
I started my journey in Ireland. There I would stay with an old friend from China in the middle of his Master’s. It was December 1st, 2010. I remember this quite well as there had been an unprecedented amount of snowfall. Snow that Ireland was not prepared for. All outbound flights would be cancelled; all public transportation would shut down. My friend came by to pick me up and we headed back via taxi. Even by taxi, the driver was unwilling to exit the highway. A highway with sides littered with abandoned cars. We would have to walk the rest of the way. Ireland was in pretty bad economic shape at the time. No one was hiring. Ads to work in the Czech Republic were plastered over billboards and busses. There was a bounty of IT jobs listed. I would call and ask about the positions, but without the right to work in the EU absolutely no recruiter was interested.
Next stop would be the Netherlands, where after speaking to several recruiters I would land an interview. Same story as before. No work permit meant no work.
Then to Finland where I would stay with a good friend. A friend whose invitation had been the reason to head to Europe in the first place. After some time, I was finding life in Finland unmanageably costly. An 8€ flight to Hungary would fix this. A 2€ a night hostel meant my financial worries would be gone for the time being. A unique owner who would listen to coast-to-coast AM believing every word. Plenty of good stories out of here. Eventually my time ran out and to Chile I’d go.
As the story goes, I had applied for Master’s studies back in Finland. I had been accepted. The round of free flights had netted me enough miles for a free one-way ticket back to Finland. Six years later and still looking towards what’s next.
where too next?
Switzerland and Turkey were just layovers that lasted nearly a day.
Egypt was yet again a trip to visit family working there.
I would head again to Russia, but this time as part of my Cross-Border Master’s programme. A programme that eventually got shut down due to funding. We were given the option to switch programmes or complete the current one with additional course requirements. Everyone in my class switched. Except me. I was in no rush. I’d end up completing the programme with honours.
Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden. This was a rough trip. The death of immediate family meant we had to drop everything and go. Death is never easy. A car left as the only reminder. We would bring it back to Finland. Due to how foreign licenses are recognized through Europe we would be forced to take a longer route through central Europe.
What about the rest of my life? That’s a story for another time. There is more to be told about every one of these trips. stories of the people I met and the events that transpired. Adventures too be told another day.
Now to wonder where to next?