Lahti and beyond (well, back to Helsinki really)

Trip Start Aug 23, 2009
Trip End Sep 02, 2009

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Flag of Finland  , Southern Finland,
Wednesday, August 26, 2009


24 hours ago we were on a coach. There were 30-odd of us and we were all excited and nervous in anticipation of the first England game of the Euros. We all had flags and voices. Margaret Brown had her Chinese hooter. But there was no drum. Pete had been entrusted with the China drum, but had left it at home because he couldn't fit it in his case.

Yesterday morning Lisa and I took our time getting ready for the day. Kick off was at 5.30 (Finn time) and we were meeting up with everyone at the Holiday Inn hotel in north Helsinki (the players' hotel) at 3pm. So we knew there wasn't much point making any plans for the morning. We strolled up to the Scandic and met the Carney's, Bernie, Gavin, Steve, Mike, Pete, Emma and Richard in reception. A 20 minute tram ride north and we were there, ready to go. Pav & Joanne Rozze were looking after us and we all waited fairly quietly for the coach to arrive. It turned up about 3.20  and Mike was already starting his pre-match pacing. The coach journey took about 1hr 30min, and there was a steady stream of sweets, sandwiches and beer (for Mick, Bernie, Gavin and Steve anyway), as well as Mike's nerves and face painting to entertain us all. Marie decorated her hands with Haribo rings, claiming that Mick had been out to buy her jewelry earlier on in the day, and we all fought over what we thought was the only packet of Wine Gums in the FA goodie bag. (There turned out to be another packet, but Lisa only discovered that on the way home.)

We arrived at the stadium about 20 minutes before kick off, just as the starting line-up was being announced: Browny, Alex, Casey, Faye, Neets, Jill, Katie, Faz, Sue, Kaz and Eni. The Essex FA had made a giant flag (out of many smaller flags signed and decorated by teams in Essex), so we laid it out over all the spare seats in our block (eventually, we had it back-to-front and then thought it was upside-down, but it turned out to be a 2-way flag) which kept me, Mike and Marie, plus a few others giggling for a little bit. The big China flag was draped over the top to weigh it down and then we all took our seats.

Right next to the stadium are 3 ski jumps (presumably for the winter Olympics) which can be used with snow and without snow. Most of us paid more attention to the crazy ski jumpers coming down the ski jump than the warm-ups, and they were a little distracting during the game as well!

28 minutes in Casey was the last defender, got her finger stuck in the collar of the opposition's shirt and the Italian went down. Casey got a straight red. This was not what we wanted or needed. Unsurprisingly everyone was gutted. And it seemed to shake the team somewhat as well. It didn't help the already shaky looking start. The girls regrouped, though and Kaz was awarded a penalty. Faz, in true style, put the penalty away and we were 1-0 up going in at half time. Eni was subbed of for the start of the 2nd half and Kelly came on. Italy equalised about 10 minutes in, but we kept on attacking, leaving Alex on her own at the back each time we went forward. We seemed to be having the majority of chances for a while (and the majority of the offside shouts!) but the Italians scored a glorious goal in the 80th. The game finished 2-1 to Italy. Not the way we wanted to start our tournament.
We trudged back to the coach after the game, and were then told we could join the players for food in a small canteeny sort of thing by the ski jumps before going back to the hotel. So, yoghurts, bananas and coffee it was, after stopping for photos by the ski jumps. Hope called us in to eat (Lisa & I are now being called number 9 & the other number 9 by Hope (remember the printing on our shirts? do keep up!) - does this mean we're in the squad now?! Or is it just an English version of Thing 1 and Thing 2?) so naturally at a shout from the boss we jogged (yes, we actually jogged!) in to join the players and the families for a bite to eat in the canteen-type place (or portacabin as we affectionately called it).
The players were given the option to travel back to their hotel with their families, so Kaz, Kelly, Leanne, Jonno, Jody and Rach joined us on our quiet trek back to Helsinki.
Back at the players' hotel we were given instructions to sit in the meeting rooms and wait for the players - we were allowed to have the drinks on the table but were not allowed to eat any of the food. They had Ribena on the tables, how very exciting! That cheered me up no end! The players joined us after their meeting and we watched them eat. Hope then allowed us to eat after the players had had their fill, and the food was fab. Can now understand why they always rate their chef so highly - he can come and cook for us at home if he likes!

Mike had found out what time the last tram left from outside the hotel (presumably from the tram stop), so at 11.15 we all said our goodbyes and walked the 100 yards from the hotel to the tram stop to catch the 11.22 tram back. On we all got (buying tickets, of course!), and off we set. Only to stop at the next tram stop and be told by the tram driver that that was the end of the line for us as he was now off duty and returning to the tram depot. He told us to wait at the bus stop (a little bit back up the road we had just come down) and wait for the 69 bus, and that our tram tickets would be valid on the buses as well. We all trouped down to the bus stop (about 20 or so of us) and found out that we had a 20 minute wait for the next bus (which was also the last bus of the night) but we didn't know where it was going - the bus stop told us the final destination of the bus, but that meant absolutely nothing to any of us. After waiting 10 minutes one of the gang ran over to the train station (which was behind us) and came back with news that there was a train leaving at roughly the same time as the bus, which was going back to the main train station in the city centre. So the group split in two, with half heading over to the train station knowing where they were going to end up, and the other half of us waiting for the bus hoping it would take us to roughly where we wanted to go. On paper we had just enough time to ask the bus driver where he was heading and then run over to the train station if he wasn't going the right way. As it was both modes of transport arrived at the same time, and fortunately for us the bus was going right by the Scandic Continental and then onto the city centre. Night buses in Helsinki are nothing like the night buses at home. They are well lit, clean, don't smell and aren't full of noisy drunks. A 10 minute (and some would say uneventful) bus ride later, the Carney's, Mike, Bernie, Gavin, Pete, Emma and Richard were safely tucked up in their hotel and me, Lisa and Steve arrived back in the city centre, all with a 10-minute walk back to our respective accommodations. There's always something with us lot. At least the police haven't been involved (yet)!

So that was yesterday. Today has been a much quieter affair (and yet it's silly o'clock as I'm writing this, I don't think we understand the term 'early night' on a football holiday!). We went out for a stroll before lunch and actually managed to do just that! We had a little explore of the east side of the city, and there wasn't much there to report about. We both now know why there isn't much about the east side of the centre in the guidebooks, it's because there isn't that much there. We found a small food market and bought some (scrummy) blueberries and strawberries as well as the famed and in season (not quite as scrummy) cloudberries. We also discovered another ferry point that will take us to the zoo, on a shorter and possibly slightly cheaper (or should that be not quite as expensive) than the main harbour by the main food market. So guess where we're going tomorrow?! We had coffee and cake (giant cinnamon roll) in Cafe Java just round the corner from our new findings, and how jolly yummy it was too. And then strolled back to the apartment for a gentle couple of hours, some more food and then on to the double header of matches this evening. Well, that was the plan until we decided to learn how to use the washing machine and dishwasher. Unfortunately neither of us are fluent in Finnish (cake, coffee, thank you - that's about it) and the instructions for both appliances were only available in Finnish. The internet let us down with providing online manuals (except in Finnish), so it was down to intelligence and pot luck. Lisa was spot on with the washing machine and we now have various items of clothing hanging around the apartment drying (no drying areas outside, bit weird). I was slightly less lucky with the dishwasher and it was only after *cough* amount of time that I finally saw a small on/off lever type thing on the tap (in my defense, it is part of the tap fittings, not something I have ever seen before, and very small) which magically let the water into the dishwasher to clean all the dishes. Whilst I was not understanding the Finnish dishwasher Lisa kept herself entertained by hoovering and mopping the floor! I then made lunch/tea (salad with meat (don't know what sort as still not fluent in Finnish) and cheese), and after we'd eaten we realised that it was impossible to get to the stadium in time for the Denmark match at 5.30pm. So instead we had another cup of tea and left a little early for the Finland game. Which was a good job, as it had decided to start raining, so we got a tram up to the stadium, and then had to stand in a queue to buy tickets for the match from possibly the slowest people I have ever come across. It took him a good few minutes to change six 20euro notes into 10s, and we had to stand in the rain watching him do it.
The match itself was great, with Finland winning 2-1 and going through to the quarter-finals. (Oh to take the easy way through the group stages by winning the first two games, where's the fun and entertainment in that!) It was a good crowd, just over 16,000 attended and that included a drumming band (did they get that idea from the Denmark fans?), as well as a group of about 20 blokes who were standing in the open air end (getting very wet as it poured down through most of the game) who were able to get the whole crowd responding to their chants. No idea what they were saying to get a response, but it got a huge 'Suomi' from the crowd in reply. Fab, entertaining evening rounded off by blueberries, strawberries and Moomin biscuits (must buy more of them, they're lovely).

Tomorrow (if it stays dry, as there's just been a great thunder and lightning storm) we're off to the zoo, which is on an island to the east of us. And when I say on an island I mean the whole island is the zoo! 12euros for the return boat trip and entrance fee from our newly found harbour - bargain! Followed by a cruise around the islands to the south, or maybe shopping, who knows? No football, though that's for sure. Gearing up for the Russians on Friday.

That's your lot for today - we're off to bed.
Night! xx
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