Summer in Scandinavia Part 7 – Nakemiin, Hej Hej, and Goodbye

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Waiving bye-bye to Europe.  See you next time!

Summer in Scandinavia: Preview

Summer in Scandinavia Part 1: Gear Up and Go!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 2: Well Connected

Summer in Scandinavia Part 3: This Is The Way We Board The Plane

Summer in Scandinavia Part 4: Hello, Helsinki!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 5: Old Town, New Adventures

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6: Hygge With A Chance Of Downpour Part 1

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6: Hygge With A Chance Of Downpour Part 2

And now, the conclusion….

Our trip home was, admittedly, long.  We left early in the morning from the Copenhagen airport, which is relatively small and easy to navigate.  There are a couple lounge options for Oneworld flyers.  We stopped at the “Apartment” lounge, which was the best option at the time.  However, CET has been back to Denmark since and they now have an even better option near the British Airways gate, past passport control that’s worth a visit.

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Entrance to the non-Schengen (International) lounges.  There’s a business class and first class side.  First class for Emerald, Business for Sapphire

From Copenhagen, we connected back to Helsinki to catch our return award ticket to JFK.  This gave us a chance to spend a few hours in the premium first class Finnair lounge accessible from the international gates.  It’s always fun to check out the best lounge at a Oneworld airline’s ‘home’ airport.  This one is unmistakably Finnish, complete with a real sauna, right in the airport (yes co-ed and everything).

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We both took showers before the flight home, CET tried out the sauna as well.

There are also plenty of good food and drinks, as well as a nice kids’ are with all kinds of books, blocks, and other toys.  Baby Flyer had a good time making a mess, which in the Finnish tradition, we then cleaned up ourselves before heading to our flight.  This lounge, with or without littles, is worth a visit.  It’s less crowded (at our flight time anyway) and with a higher level of amenities than the Finnair Schengen lounge we went to on our way to Copenhagen, and even that one wasn’t too shabby.

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I don’t even know what half of this is, but I’m going to eat it.  Plus, their glassware game is on point.

The Helsinki airport is clean, lovely, and quiet in comparison to many others, so we were able to let Baby Flyer stretch her legs on the way to the gate.  She, of course, insisted on carrying her own passport.  If you’re so inclined, there’s also plenty of food and shopping options along the way.

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HEL Airport, middle of the travel day.  Blissful.

The boarding process was fairly orderly, and we pushed back on time for JFK.  With a few exceptions, flights from the US to Europe are overnights, with the return trips being in the day.  This is good and bad- you don’t feel like you’re up all night, but babies also don’t sleep for as much of it.  Plane time is play time, at least for awhile.

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Baby Flyer checks out her Junior Aviator Logbook.  Even though it’s an AA thing, all our Oneworld crews have happily signed it.

Finnair gave Baby Flyer an activity/coloring book, and another Moomins cloth/blanket for the flight.  We’d packed all kinds of toys and entertainment, so she made herself at home in front of our seats to play.  The food, drinks, and IFE were much the same as on the outbound, and we picked up a couple more of the Marimekko amenity kits to take home.

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Setting up shop on our Finnair a330.  Soft sole ‘airplane shoes‘ are a must at this stage when they’ll be climbing on you, as well as the floor and everything else for 8 hours.

We made it back to the US fine, but ran smack into a painfully long line at immigration/customs.  We have Global Entry, but Baby Flyer didn’t.  This meant we had to wait in the ‘regular line’ which was an hour long, even for the automated passport control.  This mistake won’t be made again, thanks to our Amex Platinum’s generous reimbursement program for Global Entry, all three of us are signed up now!

We did finally clear, and then had to pick up and re-check our bags to LAX.  That all finally completed, we had a brief stop back in the Flagship Lounge to recharge for a few minutes.  Really, the travel caught up with us when we boarded the flight home from JFK to LAX.  Thankfully, seeing this coming, we’d cashed in some AA miles and booked two business class seats on AA’s best domestic plane – the 321-T.  It’s business class is as good as many international routes, and features fully lie flat seats in a 2-2 configuration, which is perfect for two people and a lap infant.

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Feels like coming home.

We barely made it through the meal service before all three of us fell soundly asleep for the remainder of the five hour flight.  It was just what we needed to be in good shape to navigate LAX on landing, and get ourselves safely home.  What is nice about the return flights is that they land later in the day on the west coast, so even if you don’t sleep much on the flights, you can go home and get everyone to bed and beat the jetlag.

They say that travel with kids isn’t a ‘vacation,’ it’s a ‘trip.’  It’s a good way to put it.  You definitely have to plan more, improvise more, and have patience.  Overall, though, the memories are worth it, and sometimes it’s nice to slow down and just do simple things in another country- like watching street musicians, or hanging out at a playground.

This trip was definitely one we’ve since looked back on fondly, even though we definitely learned a thing or two about what works traveling with an 18 month old, and what doesn’t.  That’s all part of the adventure though, and as it turns out, we’re even going to try to do it all again, now with a 2.5 (!!!) year old.

Thanks for reading & Travel well.

~CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

Summer in Scandinavia Part 3: This is the Way We Board The Plane…

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Here we go!

….Board the plane, board the plane.

The story so far:

Preview: Summer in Scandinavia

Part 1: Gear Up and Go!

Part 2: Well Connected

After our early morning and hop to Boston, it was nice to make it to our final stop before Europe.  We don’t routinely find ourselves going through JFK, so spending a little time there was a nice change.  Plus, we were traveling internationally and so CET’s American Executive Platinum status got us into the Flagship Lounge half of the Admiral’s Club.

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Busy afternoon at the JFK Flagship Lounge

We had a couple hours before our flight, since it was an overnight (as most transatlantic flights tend to be) and so had time to have a meal at the buffet, and let Baby Flyer roam around.

This lounge has been recently re-done, and they did a good job.  However, during peak times even this expanded space is full to capacity.  We ended up grabbing a couple chairs along one of the walls, but almost every seat was taken.

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Full buffett

The food consists of a full hot bar, as well as snacks and desserts.  The drinks are self-serve, and included a wine/champagne bar, as well as a station with a refreshing ‘signature cocktail.’

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Baby Flyer loves some lounge time, and especially enjoyed looking at the planes outside while walking along the wall of windows that makes up one side of the lounge.

At about 45 minutes out, we headed to our gate.  They hadn’t started boarding yet, but it was good we were there on the early side as they needed to re-check our passports (standard procedure).  Since we were in business class, we boarded early.  Baby Flyer LOVED getting to walk down the jetbridge on her own two feet, and holding her own passport!

The plane was one of Finnair’s a330 workhorses.  It has two classes- business and economy, and while the seats were lie-flat and functional, could use some updating.  Finnair has been doing just that through their fleet, including newly purchased a350 long haul aircraft that look amazing inside.

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AY a330 Business Class

We sat in 1A and 1C, which was a window seat and aisle at the front of the cabin.  The interior is laid out in a 1-2-2 or 1-2-1 layout, depending on the row.  This gives good options to both individual travelers and couples.  One thing the service lacked was any kind of mattress pad, which would have been a welcome addition since the seats were on the hard side for sleeping.

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Baby Flyer shows us how to fasten our seatbelts

Finnair does its best to be quintessentially scandi with their decor, including brightly patterned marimekko pillows and blankets, as well as amenity kits.  Their signature pre-departure drink was sparkling wine and blueberry juice, served in ice patterned glasses.

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Inspecting the amenity kit

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Signature drinks before takeoff

The IFE was solid, and included a lot of things you don’t find on AA or Qatar, or probably anything outside of Scandinavian TV, including plenty of nature specials and outdoor adventure documentaries.  Ice.  So very much walking around on ice.

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Rocking out!

I always enjoy checking out new airlines.  Even though Finnair isn’t a true luxury airline like Qatar or Cathay Pacific, it’s a solid choice with pleasant service and a good reputation.  What’s even better about them is that they’re a way to get to Europe that can both avoid the huge award fees that British Airways and Iberia tack on, and can let you skip the chaos of connecting in Heathrow.

The key to award travel to Europe is to just get to Europe, pretty much anywhere in Europe, and then connect from there to where you actually want to go.  Bonus if you actually want to go to the destination, like we did with Helsinki.

The flight itself was long, and not too long at once.  It was an overnight but only 8 hours including taxi, take off, landing, and meal service.  This is the downside of flying East Coast to Europe- even the longest flight only provides for about 4 hours sleep if you’re lucky.  We took off and watched the sunset out of the windows before settling in.

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We’d brought her plenty of pack-able toys, and she was entertained for a few minutes here and there by watching the IFE, or listening to the ‘Finnish Kids’ song station through our Bose.  She also played at our feet for awhile, and set up a fort of sorts in the bulkhead.  They handed out Moomins themed towel/blankets to the kids, and she enjoyed ‘going ny-ny’ on hers.

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Everything is Moomins

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Making a fort

Traveling with a lap infant, especially a lap toddler, is infinitely better the more space you have.  She eventually fell asleep, first on CET (much to CAR’s delight), and then moved over after awhile.  We didn’t sleep much at all, but she did, and woke up grinning and happy on final descent.  We should all be so lucky.

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Someone got to sleep at least

Overall, it was a comfortable way to get the three of us to Europe, especially since we could handle some lost sleep since we didn’t have immediate plans for the day once we got there.

Travel well,

~CET

Up Next- Helsinki!

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Hyvää päivää!!

Trip Preview: Summer in Scandinavia

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Nyhavn, Copenhagen.  No, we’re not staying at this floating hotel….but It looks nice, right?

We’re packing again!!  This Summer has already been busy, with trips to Mexico and Seattle, among others, but this next trip is the one that’s been on our calendar for almost a year now.  We’re getting brave, and taking Baby Flyer to Europe!  It’ll be a week and a half of Oneworld award flights, Scandinavian Airbnb rentals, and a few side jaunts here and there.

Our itinerary starts off with a 787 Dreamliner flight to ORD and two nights in Chicago, which we added because our tickets start there.  Since we love that city, we added some time so we’ll have a day there to take Baby Flyer back to Millennium Park.  From there, we head to Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), and Copenhagen (Denmark).  The international part of the trip lasts 10 nights (plus one on the flight out), and includes plenty of planes, trains, but not really many automobiles.

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The canal in Ruoholahti where we’re staying in Helsinki

This trip was inspired by Finnair opening up some award seats to Oneworld partners in business class for the summer.  Since premium mileage tickets are notoriously hard to find without big taxes and fees, we jumped on them and booked a round trip ticket from JFK to Helsinki in business class for some miles and about $60.  It will be Baby Flyer’s first long haul international flight, but hopefully having the extra space and lie-flat beds will make it reasonably comfortable.

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How Finnair claims we’ll sleep** on their international flights.  **Baby not pictured

Once we get to Helsinki, we’ll have three days and nights to explore the city.  Given that this is a family trip, we’re planning baby friendly activities, and luckily, Scandinavia in general is overall safe and welcoming for family travelers.  Highlights we’re hoping to hit include the ‘Children’s’ Town’ museum- an interactive exhibit where everything is play-with-able for the little ones, and importantly, is indoors, making it a good rainy day option since we’re likely to get at least one of these this time of year.  We’re also hoping to take the boat out to Suomenlinna island, for a little outdoors time, hiking, and sightseeing.

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Tallinn’s Old Town

The next part of the trip is taking the Eckero Line ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia for two nights.  We’re staying in the ‘Old Town,’ which is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.  Our plans here mainly involve exploring the medieval town, food and shopping.  We may venture out to Kadriorg Park, which includes palace grounds, as well as gardens, and several museums, and checking out the KGB museum at the Hotel Viru.

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Eckero Line- M/s Finlandia

As for the ferry, we booked the Eckero Line through Direct Ferries.  It’s a 2 hour crossing on a ‘ferry’ that looks more like a small cruise ship, and we went all out (all extra $40 of it) to book a 4 birth cabin with our reservation.  It’s not really necessary, but since the crossing times just about hit Baby Flyer’s naptime, we thought we might find a little privacy nice.  It also means we’ll have a private bathroom as well.

Once we get back to Helsinki, we’ll be off to the airport once again to catch a short flight on Finnair to Copenhagen.  We booked these tickets separately, and they were reasonably priced, so we didn’t use miles.  Technically, if we’d flown Norwegian, we could have saved a few dollars on the ticket price, but this was one of those lessons for people who don’t look hard enough at discount carriers.  Given that we’re Oneworld elites, we have free checked bags, and free advance seat assignments as long as we stay on partner airlines.  Had we flown on Norwegian, our ‘savings’ would quickly have been more than eaten up by the added charges.  Plus, because we’re flying Oneworld, we’ll have lounge access at Finnair’s comfortable and full service lounges before our flight.

We’ve been to Copenhagen before, and it’s stuck in our minds as one of the places we really wanted to get back to.  We’re spending four nights this time, and are looking forward to seeing the city as a family.  Copenhagen has plenty of kid-friendly places to visit and things to do.  It’s full of parks and playgrounds in the city center (Danish companies design the majority of new playground equipment around the world), and since everyone bikes, walks, and takes the train, it’s easy to get around.

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Central Copenhagen

This trip will be the test of our planning, and also of our Airbnb skills.  We’re staying in a suites hotel in Chicago, but once we cross the ocean, it’s all Airbnb all the time.  To start things off, our accommodation in Helsinki is a three bedroom flat in Ruoholahti.  It looks to be an easy walk to the city center, or a very short tram ride.  It will be nice to have the space to give Baby Flyer her own room, so she can go to bed before we do (hopefully!)

Renting an entire flat or house really makes traveling with babies more enjoyable over a traditional hotel.  Having the space, as well as a kitchen, and if you’re lucky, laundry goes a long way.  There are of course some draw backs as well.  If you haven’t seen the property before, there’s really no guarantees on what it will be like, aside from reviews.  Plus, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that’s really baby-proof, but the same goes for hotels in general.  If you’re lucky, you can generally find a reasonably priced rental as well, especially when compared to the pricey hotels in this part of the world.

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Deer Park (Dyrehaven).  One of my favorite pictures from our last trip there.

After our time in Copenhagen, we start the trek back home again.  We first have a flight back to Helsinki, then a couple of hours to enjoy the airport lounge and collect ourselves before flying Helsinki to JFK, and JFK back to Los Angeles.  That will make for a long day, but it gets us back home seamlessly, and I managed to find some award space in business class on American’s premium transcon plane, so we’ll have space for the three of us.

Wish us luck & happy summer travels to you all!!

-CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

Snowed In, Flight Changes, and Other Adventures

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Baby Flyer and I went to Massachusetts last week for a family visit.  It was just the two of us on the trip, so I had to brush up on my ‘flying alone with baby’ skills, but all went pretty well considering.  I’ve come to realize that while flying with our baby-turning-toddler is definitely different from our old flights, it can be pretty fun nonetheless.  It’s definitely more active, but she can be a pretty great travel companion.  Plus, it’s honestly surprising how kind other travelers can be when you’re doing your best to entertain a baby through a flight.  Baby Flyer has made her share of ‘in-flight friends’ already.

We were supposed to leave to fly home Tuesday, but in anticipation of what’s turned out to be the biggest winter storm of the year, American Airlines emailed me at the end of last week offering to waive the (usually significant) change fee if I changed our flight in advance to avoid flying on the day the storm was predicted.

Though adjusting plans is never simple, I’m so glad I changed early when there were still plenty of options and seats available, because our flight was understandably cancelled.  Since my original flight was already confirmed in first class, I really didn’t want to be a victim of post-storm overbooking, and stuck in the back of the plane in a middle seat with a busy toddler on my lap.  So, I jumped at the opportunity to change early.  We’re now set to fly back to LA on Friday.  The whole process of changing our ticket was actually incredibly easy.  It’s all done online now when there’s a weather emergency.  No waiting on hold!  You log in to your American Airlines account, find your ticket record, and then you can search for and see the available options.  Our new ticket ended up being $1.87 cheaper so we now have a $1.87 credit.

So, that taken care of, we could get back to enjoying our time away, and settle in to wait for the snow.  However, this same climate we were now enjoying tends to highlight how much I’ve (surprisingly) gotten used to not having this be our normal.  Baby Flyer loves being outside!  Unless it’s pouring rain, getting some fresh air is part of our everyday routine.  Since she was born, I’ve appreciated our mild winters SO much more.  I keep saying I would have to learn how to be a parent of a young child in a cold climate.

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It’s cold out here!

It’s not just me either, I’m pretty sure Baby Flyer has gotten pretty spoiled with our typically nice weather.  Case in point- one afternoon we bundled Baby Flyer up for a short walk on a beautiful new handicap accessible trail.  It ended up being particularly windy that day and we had to cut our walk even shorter.  Even though only part of her face was sticking out, I’m not sure she enjoyed the wind all that much.

Fort River Trail

Photo Credit- Trip Advisor

When we were flying in last week, I was surprised to see no snow on the ground.  This is Western Massachusetts at the end of Winter.  I was expecting at least brown crusty snow, and instead was greeted by grass and bare trees.  The week before we got here, they had unseasonably warm temperatures and all the snow melted.

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The backyard ‘before’ picture.

So, when I learned that a big snowstorm was predicted, I was pretty excited!  It was just what I was craving.  As crazy as it sounds, I was actually looking forward to shoveling (and grateful that I was here to help my parents do it).  And this snowstorm did not disappoint!

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Coming down

All in all, we got about a foot of fresh powdery snow!  There was plenty of playing, and yes, shoveling to satisfy my itching for a good workout after being in the house too long.

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It’s thiiiiiiis deep!

We were lucky enough to be able to borrow a snow suit for Baby Flyer since we all were pretty excited to take her outside for her first real snow day.  Once the snow wasn’t quite as heavy, we took her out and she LOVED it!  She kept trying to step on top of the snow, like she does with stairs (she loves stairs lately).  She didn’t want to come in but we were worried her feet would get chilly since she only had on a pair of sneakers.  The next day, we borrowed a pair of boots for her.  I couldn’t wait for us to go outside.

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Playtime!!

Baby Flyer was pretty fascinated with the snow in general, even from inside.  She liked standing on the back of the couch looking out the window and watching it fall.  She seemed so intrigued.  The first time she looked out the front door, she seemed so puzzled and took a good long look.  It really reminds you how much we take our own understanding of the world for granted when you see her mind working on a new experience like this.  These are the moments where I really appreciate being able to travel and show her different parts of the country and the world.

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Watching the transformation outside

All in all, we are making the most of our longer trip.  The town was pretty quiet on Tuesday with most places closed.  We stayed home all day, since the roads were pretty snowy.  Today though, regular life is resuming as people dig themselves and their cars out.  I even ventured out for a 5 mile run this morning.  It was slow and slippery (not surprisingly).  There were snow banks I had to leap over, but it was perfect- sunny and barely any wind.

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You don’t see these in Los Angeles!

In the end it was a fun adventure, and a longer trip than anticipated.  We definitely made the best of it, and Baby Flyer got her first real snow day!  Now we’re headed back to LA for a week or so before a trip to Seattle.  We’re pretty sure we’re in for some authentic rainstorms up there, but hopefully nothing this dramatic!

~CR & Baby Flyer