The Islands of Finland

The familiar feeling hit me as soon as the plane began it’s taxi. The feeling of solitude and peace as you disconnect the cables that hold you to the life of place you just left. I try push away the feeling of frustration that the most irritating part of today’s journey across Europe was the bus in Ireland from Limerick to Dublin. It took five hours, like are you actually having a laugh. Between Spanish tourists demanding their money back and a “pure Dub” aka lunatic running across the car park with his arms flapping signalling the bus to the airport was about to finally pull in. (which we could all clearly see) (We – the hundred or so people stranded at the red cow roundabout, only in Ireland.) The driver then packs everyone’s luggage aboard only to realise for the second time today he didn’t have enough seats in his bus. “Tis unheard of so it tis. I dunno whats going on!” The tourists gawk in shock as he makes them find their luggage and get off, all of which takes another half hour. I can hear the clock ticking as my flight’s gate open and begin to close. I was fully aware of the fact this is the first flight I have ever gotten paid for by someone who’s not me.

I am off to represent Ireland as a water sports coach as part of the European “Get Wet – Be active” project. Final destination: Finland. Somehow watching the madness descend on stressed tourists and late bus drivers helps me settle into my aura of calm travel mode – a place where I haven’t been for a few months. I calmly walk into the airport 25 minutes before my flight. I could literally feel a switch flicker where the only that exists now is my travel plans and me. I just look after myself and my needs only. Accepting that if I had missed my flight it was completely out of my control as I had left home six hours before the flight time. Beyond ridiculous. So I just calmly smiled back at the flight attendant as he checked me blurting in panic “ Your gate closes in 15 minutes and its on the other side of the terminal.” This is why I always travel in flip flips or runners. I smile widely, it was a brief smile as I saw the twenty minute line through security. I go left, to the left line always as most people subconsciously get drawn to the right hand side queue. I only have carry on so its heavy plus my laptop bag, I struggle to eat my yogurt with a plastic spoon as I line up. Sincerely hoping the yogurt split down my chest isn’t seen as liquid explosives. “Jaysus, tis yourself! Jessica.” I turn around, a load of rowers on their way to Rotterdam for the Worlds that weekend. I rudely try to explain why I literally don’t have time to talk to these poor people whom I haven’t seen in three years. Handing my yogurt carton to the security guard I hurry through. Then I tie my bags on tight and music up loud, I run like it’s about to pour rain.

Luckily good ole Norwegian air can be relied on to be delayed ensuring that I just made it on board. My reflexes firing after running haphazardly through so many people, I took some deliberate deep breaths. The feeling of freedom as we line up on the runway overtook me, my travel playlist blaring in my ears. As we hit take off speed a tired smile spread across my face with the excitement of the unknown. I count 19 roundabouts out the window before we hit the Irish clouds looking down as the last of the summer sun shines. The severe exhaustion of working a full outdoor summer season and coaching took over and I slept soundly until Norway. (Honestly I never sleep on flights.)

Oslo airport welcomed me back like an old comforting friend. I only had one layover there (9hrs) but it felt like a home. I enjoyed the same psycho expensive pizza slice and drink, I sat in the same spot using the same socket to charge my phone, just for music though I was practicing disconnecting. (Yes it is a conscious effort for me these days.) I started to fall asleep on and off. Head falling sharply on pizza plate kinda sleepy. I gave in and tied my bags to me, spreading out on the chairs. I casually checked in and hoped on my flight to Helsinki feeling great about myself.

Helsinki (Octopus made from plastic found in the ocean.)

I arrived into Helsinki at mid night completed wired from a bag and a half of haribos! I used my couple of researched Finnish words to ask for a receipt from the taxi. (How exciting! I am moving up in the world claiming expenses!) There was absolutely no need though as he had better English than me. I checked into my hotel super excited by all the facilities – I could fit in both yoga and supping before my first meeting thing, maybe even time to explore around via a jog. I enjoyed a shower and sat my alarm to have the usual six hours sleep. I sank into the white comfy bed and conked.

Some weird noises stir me. Someone else’s ringtone.




I wake up with a start. Silence but for the drone of the air-con giving me a longing for actual hot countries, why is there even air-con in Fin… BBRRRRINNG! The harsh ring had me jumping up looking for the fire alarm. I see it – a phone – well of course there is a phone in a hotel room. I answer it on autopilot. “Jessica?!” A relieved sounding deep voice questioned. “Am, yes.” “Hi, It’s Marco, we emailed and I was going to meet you this morning? But I thought you must have already gone into the city.” “Ah, no.” “Well let’s meet at one in the lobby instead.” “Yes.” I hang up relieved and not fully awake. I check my watch and nearly throw up, it is ten minutes to one!!!! In the day!!!! What!!!! SHITE!!!!! Panic rises sharply in my chest. Anyone who knows me knows I am literally nearly always on time. I cannot stand being late, for anything, it goes against my basic principles of respect. Now I am a total of FIVE HOURS LATE!!! How does someone sleep in for five hours!!! Representing my country as a development coach and everything. I felt like I had committed a cardinal sin. Will people think I’m too egotistical for missing an intro meeting? I get dressed and I am out the door determined in under two minutes. What an earth happened the four alarms I had set?? Who sleeps in this long?? OMG!! Were those bangs in my dreams actual knocking at the door? Can I actually just go back to bed?

Marco and I.

Turns out Marco is a chill Portuguese and his sport is surfing. Nothing intense was happening I had not heard on the phone but it was just an invite to lunch and he wasn’t even around this morning in the end as his flight was delayed by ten hours.

Finland turned out to be AWE-INSPIRING! We got so much done in just a few days. From Finnish saunas to National Parks, it mostly didn’t feel like work in the slightest. Learning about how sport is developed in other European countries was insanely interesting. Having a conversation with Finnish people asking about gender equality in sport, it seemed like a foreign concept to them, why wouldn’t it be equal. They looked at me like I was in a panda suit! Asking how they deal with two sporting clubs fighting over athletes – they again stared at me – but surely clubs all work together you can only get fitter, faster and stronger. No kidding.

On the flight home I found everything was too overwhelming to take in from the few days. Unbelievable. Feeling very educated, proud and grateful, I smiled to myself for the next week 🙂


A sporting Institute dropped in the centre of the National Park



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