The bags are packed. Accommodation is booked. Everything is in order. Everyone is ready for the their Arctic trip. Alex, Annie, and Mark had recently finished their final examinations and were in need of some serious relaxation. They know all too well that lots of studying and no downtime can have serious consequences on their wellbeing. So this trip came at a perfect time. And mom and dad were also looking forward to the time away from the bustling New York City life that they’d become so accustomed to. Plus, they always encouraged new cultural experiences for their children. They fully embraced the unknown, coming from very different backgrounds and lifestyles themselves, and wanted their kids to grow up doing the same.

On November 24th, it was time to leave. The Finnair flight, leaving from John F. Kennedy International Airport in NYC, would depart at 5 P.M. Already a traveling bunch, they knew they’d have to be at the airport a few hours before, to make sure they had enough time to get through check-in and security. Taxis from Manhattan into Queens are absurdly expensive, and they knew how to find more economical ways of doing things, so they decided on taking the Long Island Rail Road into Queens, and then the Airtrain to their designated terminal. Another plus, they’d beat the crazy traffic that would build up throughout the day. It was, at this point, a holiday weekend, and EVERYONE was traveling.

They arrived at the airport around 2, checked in, and headed for security. Alex and Annie, being super interested in languages, had done some brief reviewing of basic Finnish phrases. As they headed for the check-in desk, all they kept saying was “Terve!” and “Hyvää paivää!” in quite comical American accents. The ticket agents were all amused. Mark was not. He always got super anxious before flying. As much as he loved to travel, planes were not his thing. Alex and Annie were the complete opposite. They loved the feeling of being high above the clouds, knowing that they were setting out on a new adventure.

They got through security pretty quickly and were lucky enough to get to the airport before the security lines got too crazy. Once at the gate, they had a bit of time before boarding, so they sat for a bit talking about the journey ahead. Everyone had their own ideas about the kinds of experiences they’d have, but knew it was always best to go somewhere without any expectations. They’d get more out of the experience when they accepted and opened themselves up to new ways of thinking and living.

A few hours later, they were settled into their seats and ready for take off. The pilot announced they’d be be on schedule for arrival in Helsinki at 8:30 AM. It was time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the next 8 hours in the air. For everyone but Mark, this was a breeze. He, however, was not feeling well. For one thing, there was a crying baby next to him. He was sitting alone in a middle seat, and was totally squished and feeling very claustrophobic. Plus, he absolutely HATED airplane food. It’s notorious for being poor quality, and he was dreading dinner being served. He was pleasantly surprised, however. The flight attendants offered him something he’d never tasted before- a kind of potato, vegetable stew, with a delicious piece of chocolate cake. One small step in the right direction. Now all he needed was a good movie- and this baby to stop crying.

The rest of the bunch were doing much better. Mom and dad had finished their dinner and talked for a while about their journey, until they both passed out with their mouths open and faces up to the sky. Not uncommon sights to see as you walk through the aisles of an airplane.

Alex and Annie had managed to switch seats with someone so they could sit next to each other. They’d eaten, and taken out their snacks for the rest of the journey. Both were very health conscious, and enjoyed making homemade trail mixes and snacks for on-the-go. The night before, Annie whipped up some homemade nut bars that she made with peanuts, cashews, dried figs, dates, and coconut flakes. Alex had made a batch of his famous popcorn, with coconut oil, sea salt, and nutritional yeast. These two were quite the experimenters. Both in food, and in life. They’d compiled lots of research about Finland, and were happy to be sitting next to each other so they could share what they’d found. They discussed the local cuisine, the weather, the most popular sports, the history. Annie shared that apparently there are about 188,000 lakes in the country! Alex revealed that you can actually meet Santa Claus in a place called Rovaniemi, in the Arctic Circle. Finland, apparently is the third country on a list of cleanest air in the world, and it’s especially cleaner as you go up North. Now that’s some serious stuff. And then there of course, are the Moomins, Marimekko, and the magnificent nature and wildlife. It’s quite an interesting country, yet it seems not many people know about the many things it has to offer. Finland is a hidden gem, and they hit the jackpot.