Archive for December 29th, 2007

Sweden and Ireland, Flying a lot

Is anyone else wondering where all the wacky of this blog went? I must admit this place used to be somewhat humorous but now its just annoying blabber and pictures. Right? Some boring blabber from our 2 weeks in Sweden and Ireland are all in the photo slideshow for this trip. There are a record setting 27 pictures in there.

When we pulled into the Kiruna, Sweden airport we deplaned using stairs and walked across a huge sheet of ice into the airport. This place is cold. When you get inside all of the hotels and resorts are holding signs to pick up their guests. A woman was holding a sign with “Van der Zandt” on it. Heather and I mumbled to each other “I wonder if that’s us” and chuckled that it couldn’t be. Heather made me ask anyway. I asked what hotel she was from. She mumbled something that didn’t sound like our hotel and so I walked away. After we got our bags, two gigantic 60lb each bags (my status with the airlines makes it so I don’t have to pay extra for these), we discovered that our ride to the airport wasn’t there. It’s ~3:00 in the afternoon, cold and dark and we have no ride ~100 miles inside the arctic circle. Heather went and asked miss “Van der Zandt” for more info and discovered that they had just mis-interpreted the spelling of our name. Further, she’s the shuttle for two hotels and only bothered to tell me the name of the “other” hotel.

That night, after arriving in Kiruna, we took a snowmobiling trip with the intent of seeing the northern lights. Heather had booked this trip through the hotel before we even left India and when we showed up things went pretty smoothly. ~30 minutes prior to our scheduled departure for the trip we went down to the “lobby” and picked up some cold weather clothes. These were, thankfully, not your average snowboarding outfits. The jackets were these huge down jackets that weighed about as much as a loaded backpack. The pants were nothing to shrug off and were also thick and filled with feathers. These things keep you warm. Lacing up our boots a truck pulls up in the driveway and in walks a young guy. I asked him if he was taking us snowmobiling and he said yes. So we followed him outside and hopped in the truck. Exchanging smalltalk along the way we learned that his name was Eric and that Heather and I were the only two people brave (dumb) enough to be doing this on this particular evening. I also learned that the white stuff falling on the truck was indeed snow falling from the sky, not snow blowing from the side of the road. Hmm. If you can’t see the sky you can’t see the northern lights. Do we get a refund? We pull into the parking lot of some cafe / tourist souvenir shop and park next to 3 snowmobiles that are just sitting there. We put on our special “helmets” (by helmet I mean really cool hat, not a helmet to protect your head in the event of an impact with something hard). Eric asks if I’ve ever driven a snowmobile before. I tell him that I have, I’d been out a time or two with my Uncle Ray a bunch of years ago. He says “ok, let’s go.” So we jump on the machine and take off.

To make sure you don’t think I’m leaving out important details I’m going to highlight the things that, were we in California, just wouldn’t happen:

- I have no idea what the name of the company that Eric works for is
- We did not have the option of wearing helmets
- We did not sign any waivers
- There was no credit card deposit
- There was no lecture on damaging the machine and having to pay for it

This didn’t really bother me all that much but when you think about all of the bureaucracy and all of the lawyers in, especially, California this just sounds odd.

So we snowmobiled along. We rode across a frozen lake after Eric parks us and says “stay here, I’m going to go check out the ice first.” He forgot the instructions for if the ice breaks and he falls in and we can’t rescue him.

We pulled into our little camp site where a teepee had been setup for these tours. Unfortunately the heavy winds had nearly blown the thing over. All of the supports had spread out from the sides and the teepee was around 4′ tall instead of 8′. So Eric and I climbed inside the teepee and started trying to fix it up. We got it to stand around 5′ tall and gave up. He pulled out a hatchet and made some kindling out of wood already in the teepee and started a fire inside the teepee. Yep, we burned wood inside of an enclosure that had a marginal at best exhaust mechanism. After around 10 minutes we evacuated the teepee and stood outside. I setup my tripod and took pictures of the northern light-less sky. In the end we had a fantastic evening and if you are up there and have a chance to do this sort of trip I recommend it.

Part of the reason we took this vacation was to accrue some frequent flier miles. Before leaving Bangalore I had ~90,000 miles accrued this year and if I could get to 100,000 I would reach the next level of status with United. With some careful math we calculated that I’d hit 100,300 miles when we landed back in Bangalore.

As it turns out SAS isn’t super friendly to its star alliance partners: If you fly on the cheap fares you only get 25% of the miles you’re supposed to get and worst of all, all intra-Sweden flight is ineligible for accrual because of some Swedish law. We of course didn’t know any of this until after we flew. So I did not fly 100,000 miles this year. I flew 98,472 miles over the course of 28 flight segments during the past 12 months.

UPDATE: After writing to united (a phone call didn’t work) and explaining my situation united gave me the 1K status I was after. SWEEEET!

Slightly more wacky than this was when we were at our hotel in Kiruna and I, preparing for a shower, was walking around nekked. The sharp-witted guy at the front desk (this is a really tiny hotel) told the maid we had checked out and to go clean our room (there isn’t daily cleaning service here). Yeah that was scary. Perhaps slightly more wacky than this was that on the same trip in the same country but at a different hotel Heather was walking around in nothing more than a towel when the maid busted open the door! What the crap! Leave us a-lone!

In the end we had an absolutely fantastic trip. I wasn’t terribly impressed by Sweden and I especially wasn’t impressed with the inflation there and the fact that somehow the exchange rate is completely broken. In every country I’ve ever been to a McDonald’s hamburger costs roughly 1 US dollar. In Sweden it costs, I kid you not, 10 US dollars (if you’re wondering, we did not eat at McDonald’s). It costs 10x what it should cost! We ate food at a food court in Stockholm and paid 30 US dollars for the two of us to eat and have a small soda each. 30 bucks for mall food! I won’t tell you what our nice dinner cost.

Ireland was, however, impressive. Had we traveled during a different time of the year I may not have been as happy with it. Going around Christmas time was key to there not being a ton of tourists and us being able to just drive around and do what we wanted to do. The Dollar -> Euro exchange rate has been better in the recent past but still goods and services were appropriately priced, unlike Sweden. The natural beauty of Ireland is apparent, as it is with every country I’ve ever been to, but the lack of people and the overall relaxing theme of our trip made it especially great.

I’d return to Ireland. I’d probably skip Sweden given an opportunity to pay for my own vacation there again.

1 comment December 29th, 2007


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