Tag Archives: Air travel

Travels. And Homecoming Gifts.

My work trip to the nation’s capital last week was like jumping on a treadmill that was moving at an ever-increasing speed.

dc national mall ud116The approaching spring was evident, but so was the stress level. Luckily Dylan has trained me well so I could keep up with the people buzzing on the streets.

washington monument ud116I managed to run fast, sit in countless meetings and accomplish my mission. But it felt good when I was finally on my way back home.

reagan airport at sunset ud116The darkening city after sunset looked deceptively peaceful from the skies.

sunset over washington dc ud116It took a couple of days of dipping my toes into the serenity here at home before I felt the last traces of stress leaving my body. But I knew where the medicine cabinet was. At the salt marsh. Dylan and I went for a walk there late on Saturday – after I had spotted two tiny chicks in the nest from our terrace. The sun had already set when we walked the south side of the marsh right below the Osprey nest. I was breathing peace. Papa Stanley sat on the perch, and while he’s usually not tolerating people who walk there, he didn’t say a peep when Dylan and I admired him…and the moon. He just nodded his greeting.

papa osprey and the moon ud117

moon ud117Then, finally, this morning, I took a long walk at the salt marsh. And boy, did I feel welcomed by all! The first thing I spotted, even before reaching the park, was the Little Blue Heron. He was confidently balancing on the wooden fence.

little blue heron ud117And when I looked up, I saw Papa Stanley returning to the nest with a brand new mattress for the babies.

Papa osprey went shopping ud117

papa osprey comes home ud117Mama Sandy was shielding the babies from the sun, and paparazzi, but soon she got up and started making the bed.  And reinforcing the security of the nest.

mama osprey working ud117Then she sat down again and realized it was lunch time. She asked Stanley, in no uncertain terms, to go fishing. Right now.

mama osprey wants fish ud117He obliged, and I walked around the marsh to say hello to the residents who happened to be at home. First I spotted a visitor from the bay side, a Cormorant, close to the nest.

cormorant ud117.jpgAnd then I saw the older Great Blue Heron, the Mayor. He was standing in the shallow water and shaking his feathers. It looks more and more likely that he has a nest at the marsh. You see, last year during the nesting season I hardly saw him, and now he is present every time I visit, including late at night. He even posed for a portrait as soon as he had settled in his office.

mayor is wet ud117

the mayor great blue heron ud117It’s always reassuring to see him. To my delight I saw that the “Clown”, aka the Reddish Egret, was there too. He was faithful to his manners and put up a show in the middle of the marsh. I tried to tell him to come closer, but somehow he preferred the waters far away.

reddish egret 2 ud117

reddish egret 1 ud117But then I finally realized why he stayed right there. Silly me. He had an admirer! A beautiful, shy lady was observing him from an islet closer to me…straight line of sight.

another reddish egret ud117Hmm. Maybe something’s going on there. I continued my walk and spotted a Great Egret walking on the east fence. Look at that neck!

great egret in our garden ud117And her smaller cousin, a Snowy Egret was walking in the water nearby in her beautiful breeding plumage.

snowy egret ud117Papa Moorhen was minding his own business, or perhaps he was looking for some good bites to take back to Mama in the nest.

papa morrhen ud117Arriving back to the Osprey nest, I noticed some White Ibis foraging in the grass.

while ibis ud117.jpgAnd  suddenly something bright red flew past me. And then something orange swished by. I realized I had spotted the first Northern Cardinal couple at the marsh, ever. Yay!

male cardinal ud117

female cardinal ud117They looked for food in the grass, and I was so focused on them that I didn’t notice Papa Stanley had returned with a fish. He had already given it to Sandy and was sitting on the perch while Sandy was feeding the chicks.

papa osprey ud117So I started to walk home. Happy after seeing so many friends at the marsh, but a bit disappointed because I knew there were at least two chicks in the nest I wasn’t able to see. Reaching the street, I looked at back at the nest. And couldn’t believe my eyes. I spotted two little heads reaching for food!

mama osprey feeds two chicks ud117

Mama osprey feeds two chicks 3 ud117There could very well be three of them because it looked like they were in different places. Time will tell. But I am happy I could see them, and my last shot of the first-born was quite decent.

mama osprey feeds one chick ud117They are not yet pretty, but will be in a few weeks. Whether they are two or three, I hope all of them will survive. Exciting times, indeed.

Thank you for being here. We wish you peace.




R & R Part I: The Nostalgic Journey

The close to 26 hour travel from Florida Gulf Coast to my R & R destination in Finland was remarkably comfortable. Much thanks to my habit of paying practically everything on one airline card. Quite enjoyable indeed from the colorful, Africa-inspired sendoff in Philly to the delicious Money Monster accompanied dining onboard. Points still work.

airport entertainment UD75

my suite UD75

cheese plate UD75After actually sleeping quite a bit over the Atlantic, and everything running on time in London, I arrived in Finland surprisingly intact. For someone who gets to see family ‘back home’ only about once a year these trips are always nostalgic. Many kinds of pictures from the past suddenly surface. Me as a toddler moving into our new home with mom, dad and baby sister. A home built by our dad. A home that still stands tall, here pictured on a moonlit night the week before last.

Mikkos house at night 2 Finland Aug16 UD75Me in elementary school. And the memory of laying down on this very school yard bleeding profusely after being hit right on the nose with a baseball bat by a fellow student in the PE class. A ring of worried people bending over me when I wake up. This eight year old’s Miss Universe dreams brutally smashed.  But at least she got a few days off school while her eyes couldn’t see anything but the humongous nose.

my primary school 2 UD75Me in high school, and then as an undergraduate and graduate student in the big city of Tampere about 45 miles away from home. That was a wild time. Initially. But then we all mature and somehow life finds its intended path. I pass familiar places, but they are not the same. Like this old Orthodox Church next to my university. It used to reach for the blue skies all alone, but now has a backdrop of a brand new hotel tower. Progress.

Tampere Orthodox Church and Hotel Torni UD75When I pass my high school, I notice the Lutheran Church completed while I was a junior. Very modern architecture at the time, and in my eyes it still holds lots of appeal. I find comfort in the fact that at least a few places look like I remember them.

Kaleva Church 2 Tampere Finland UD75On the 3.5-hour journey from the capital to my childhood home, more familiar places fly by the window. Now illuminated by the late afternoon sun. And my early years come back to me with a profound sense of gratitude.

Lake view Finland Aug16 UD75And soon I was there. At the lake that belongs to my childhood more than anything. And one that still symbolizes peace and tranquility in my life.

rainbow Finland Aug16 UD75That first night I couldn’t resist going out to the backyard after the late dinner. I was marveling at the fact that dusk arrived only around 10 p.m. And the fact that my dear dad still kept a thriving garden.

lake and dads garden Finland Aug16 UD75

evening light on the lake Finland Aug16 UD75That moonlit night I felt the peace of this wonderful spot on earth. And I knew those precious, long-awaited moments with family had arrived.

moon light on the lake Finland 2 Aug16 2 UD75The toddler, teenager and adult merged into a surprisingly balanced whole and let out a long exhale into the cool night air.

Nonstop You. In the Friendly Skies.

Seven flights in seven days. Without a hitch. The effective travel machine of “right-place-right-time-friendly” United and “nonstop-you” Lufthansa took me around North America, Middle East and Europe to all my 26 meetings. On time. What is the likelihood of that?

the intern ud51I traveled with celebrities like Meryl Streep (Get Ready for Ricki) and Robert de Niro (The Intern) among many others. And my feather-light laptop of course. I ate all kinds of meals at odd hours. Lured my body to believe it was dinner time when it was anticipating brunch. And slept a few hours here and there. You know, the kind of sleep where you are aware of most things around you. And wake up instantly when a whiff of coffee reaches your nose.

I have to say coffee was my faithful buddy on this trip. And I have many iPhone pictures (didn’t carry my camera gear) to prove it. Like this one in Frankfurt, where my friend kept me and my luggage company for hours. Four cappuccinos went down before it was time to board my flight to Amman, Jordan.

coffee in Frankfurt Germany UD51My arrival was greeted by a gorgeous sunset. And after our descent through the cloud cover, the ancient city revealed itself, sparkling like a diamond.

Arriving to Amman ud51My modern business hotel was situated in the newer part of Amman. From my window I could see a hillside condo building of beautiful limestone, typical for this area.

view from my window Amman ud51The highlight of this short visit came on my second night in Amman. A friend of mine, with whom I had worked in Egypt three years ago, invited me to her beautiful home for dinner. What an evening that was! Sumptuous dinner with delicious Jordanian dishes and wonderful company of my “Jordanian family” – an experience I will always treasure.

Jordanian Dinner ud51When I left her home late at night, I snapped a picture of this hilly neighborhood, very typical for Amman.

Amman at night ud51After two days full of meetings, I left Amman on a flight just after midnight. The rich history of this fascinating country made me want to return with proper time to explore all its famous sites, including visiting the ruins in Petra and floating in the Dead Sea. Just like the man in this photo by Pete.

1024px-Dead_sea_newspaperUpon landing for the second time the next morning, I found myself in West Indies. In the heart of Geneva, Switzerland. A charming small hotel with its Indies-inspired rooms decorated in warm saffron and pepper colors, offered an exotic interlude for this weary traveler.

hotel room in Geneva ud51By this time my body clock was very confused. It would put me to sleep or wake me up to do some work at any time I wasn’t with my clients. And it kept me updated on the primaries in Florida. Whether I liked it or not.

hotel TV ud51But it was nice to me too. Unlike at home, it allowed me to eat whatever my heart desired. Like rich croissants for breakfast. Two cups of coffee for lunch. And a huge pizza for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. Life was good.

pizza ud51The days and nights melded into one long string of working, sleeping and eating. Until it was time to carry my luggage once again up the 16 steps to the aircraft.

alps ud51I learned (again) that traveling light, while it ensures your stuff goes where you go, is actually quite heavy.  I also discovered that with a dose of divine protection “killer trips” are indeed survivable.

I’m happy to be back home again. Hoping for a gorgeous sunset tonight. Just like this one the day before I left on my trip.

sunset ud50I wish you all a wonderful week ahead. Peace.

My Shopping Mall in the Skies

On my recent trip to Northern Europe, I was shopping on all six flights. I like shopping in the skies as the “merchandise” on each flight is unique. And it’s completely free, I just put it in my basket and enjoy.

The mall in the sky offers a beautiful variety of landscapes. Most landscapes I shop for include some water views. Or cloud formations.

Preferably both water and cloud formations. But no birds. Please don’t get me wrong: I love birds, but prefer to enjoy them when they are the only ones flying.

When the evening comes in the skies, the sun is sending god flight wishes in splendid colors. Mine to enjoy for free, and yours too.

After the sunset there might or might not be something more to shop. One of my flights met the dim light of dusk over the Big City. I just had to shop for this look. So deceptively peaceful.

In another country, the following day, there was fog and low-lying clouds. Only a token brave tower reached its head above the clouds. It looked pretty funny, I think. Like  saying “hello there stranger”. Had to put it in my basket.

Then, after flying a short night when going East, one suddenly meets the first light of the new day. Far too soon – the body says it’s only just an hour or so after midnight. But of course that doesn’t count.

At first there are just faint colors signaling that the sun is waking up. Then, in only a few minutes, it raises its head above the sleepy horizon, coloring the clouds, the sea and the tiny islands. Very pretty.

And then the shopping trip in the skies was over. I had arrived with my basket full of free gods, courtesy of Mother Nature.

Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

I love eventless flying.  Just simply transferring from point A to point B. And at times further to point C and D and E.  The more I have to fly, the more I want it to be…well, just plain travel, with no trials or tribulations to spice up the journey. You know, when everyone is there on time, including the flight crew, and the plane actually leaves the gate at about the promised time. When the taxi way is not crowded with 15 planes to take off before ours, and no last-minute thunderstorm makes us return to the gate, wait 3 hours and then get cancelled. Go nowhere. I mean, I love it when it all works. Plain and simple. And most often, luckily, that’s just what it is. But those of us, who need to travel places or have to commute to work by plane (that’s a different story), know that sooner or later we’re going to experience some bumps on the road, not necessarily on the way to the airport. Like many of us, I have my list of memorable flights from the most amazing to the scariest. This story is about a few of them. I’ll start from the scariest end of the spectrum to put some perspective on the fact that over 99% of my flights have been there in the middle somewhere, eventless and effective in taking me from here to there, and that we’re talking about the less than 1%. Airplanes My scariest flight was on a calm Friday night when I was going from Washington D.C. to Europe on vacation on a major European airline. We left Dulles almost on time. I sat in coach towards the back of the plane, happy to finally be on my way. We were ascending, already close to our cruising altitude, when suddenly a loud explosion shook the plane. Since I sat in the back of the 747, I immediately saw what was happening. One of the four engines was on fire. It was already dark and the fire lit up the air and the whole left side of the plane. People closest to the window started screaming and crying. Close to panic. I saw the flames and could hear them too, but somehow I just remained completely calm. Don’t ask me why or how, but in my gut I just knew nothing terrible was going to happen. Not my time. I started calming the young couple next to me. Said everything would be fine. After a little while, the fire was extinguished. And shortly after that the captain announced that we now had three engines. And while we technically could fly on those three, he didn’t think it was a good idea. I’m sure most of us agreed, I did. So we would go to JFK after dumping enough fuel to be able to land safely. We circled for quite a while and then went down for an emergency landing.

Airplane engine fire
Airplane engine fire

The welcome committee was definitely there. We could see two rows of emergency vehicles lined up next to the runway, lights flashing. No other traffic coming or going. We were the only ones around in the air. And of course it all went pretty well, considering the other options. Four hours later about half of us boarded another plane, lots of space now, and had a completely eventless flight to London. Little shaken and probably listening to the engine sounds little more attentively, most of us didn’t get much sleep. The connecting flight to my final destination was peacefully eventless and I slept the whole two hours. My bumpiest flight was on a beautiful, breezy summer day from Joburg, South Africa to Lesotho’s capital Maseru on one of the two planes of that small country’s airline. I’m told this flight is almost never completely smooth due to the mountainous geography and wind conditions, but my flight was rough. From start to end. It was like being in a shaker, up and down, from side to side, constantly without a break. Many of us got to get familiar with the little white bag in the seat pocket. And had it continued for another 15 minutes, I would’ve too. I was pale and unsteady on my feet for hours after the jumpy landing. And very happy to be on solid ground.

My luggage tags from the Air Lesotho flight
My luggage tags from the Air Lesotho flight

My most spectacular flight was from Harare to Nairobi on a reputable African airline. It was a brilliant sunny day and the ride was smooth. After about half an hour into the flight the first officer announced that the flight would be about twenty minutes longer. We had to go around a large storm front. Look to your right and you will see it, he said. And we did! I sat at the right window and saw the spectacular sight. The cloud was formed like a cylinder.  I could see its shape from  the side, its “bottom” and its ”top” as we slowly circled its left side. The most spectacular light show I had ever seen was in progress inside the cylinder. Thousands of lightning strikes in many colors were going in all directions simultaneously, blinking and coloring the different parts of the cloud – bright, white, purple, yellow, red, pink and blue. All of us on the right side of the plane were transfixed on the display, with our heads pressed against the window. That was a stunning spectacle high in the sky!

Thunder cloud in the sky
Thunder cloud in the sky

My most surprising flight was in Europe on a small charter airline, which is no longer in operation. It was the week before Christmas and I was in a hurry to get home after a long business trip to four countries. I was driven to the airport in Skopje, Macedonia by a nice driver from our office. He asked where he would drop me off, what airline I was taking. I told him. He was quiet for a moment and I thought he was doing the cross sign before speaking.  No one flies on that airline. Are you sure? I looked at my ticket and said I was, and asked him why was that. He pretended not to hear my question and quietly dropped me off wishing me a safe trip. Walking into the plane I started to feel I would soon find out. I was entering a very old Tupolev, probably retired from Aeroflot several years earlier. All signs were in Russian and I could observe the old age of the plane everywhere. The ceiling and the inside panels were repaired God knows how many times, and the vinyl covered seats were torn and really worn out. I could see some of the screws and nails sticking out. Were they loose? The cockpit door was open but no sight of the pilots. Unmanned aircraft? Oh, there was one male steward in the plane. I didn’t run away…simply because the only way to get home was to catch my flight from Zürich that same afternoon. I sat down and quietly studied the Russian signs.

An old Tupolev aircraft
An old Tupolev aircraft

Around the departure time the pilot appeared. A pilot, not in plural. He was a short older man with long white hair reaching to his shoulders. He wore jeans and a bomber jacket. He swiftly sat down in the captain’s seat and revved up the engines. The cockpit was dimly lit, lights blinking. I could see it all from my second row aisle seat, all the way to Zürich. At take off, I scrutinized the insides. Everything was vibrating, shaking and making noise. But up we came. The guy in the bomber jacket knew what he was doing, had done it many years, that was obvious. The trip progressed absolutely fine and the steward served coffee. Finally we started descending. I looked out and saw huge snow flakes flying hard against the side window, full snow storm. Now what? I had hardly finished that thought when the plane dove steeply…seemed like for several minutes. I held onto my chair. And then the old Tupolev planed again… and we had landed!  Soft and smooth. Walking out at Zürich airport I looked at the monitors and saw that all other traffic had been rerouted elsewhere due to the severe snow storm. I had been on the only flight that had landed! And the only one to land in the next hour or so. The old fighter pilot had done the trick and I’m sure it was not his first time. I caught my flight home, many others didn’t. There are many other memorable flights, such as my air safaris or my trips on the super jumbo, A380, but I have to end my story by telling you about my most luxurious flight. Just because there are pleasant surprises as well.  This was a fairly recent flight from Switzerland to the States on a well-known European airline. I was coming home after three days of 24/7 work in Europe and was happily surprised to have been upgraded to First. I could use some rest. When I entered the first class lounge, the Associate asked me to give her my boarding pass and my immigration documents. Now go sit down and enjoy the food, we’ll get you when it’s time to board, she said. Ok, I did as told and enjoyed the modern, stylish environment and sampled the lighter fare among the great food offerings.

First class cabin on AF Airbus 380
First class cabin on AF Airbus 380

I got a bit concerned when I noticed that the time was 20 minutes before departure, knowing that the formalities on US-bound flights were extensive. Had they forgotten me? So I went to ask. She smiled, not yet time, go back and relax. More strong coffee and then, about 10 minutes before the departure time, she came for me. With her was a younger woman dressed in a yellow airport outfit with V. I. P. printed in black letters across the back of her coat. She took my carry-on, follow me, she said. And we walked a short while, not towards the boarding area, but to an elevator that took us directly down to the tarmac! A black Mercedes was waiting outside the elevator doors. My carry-on was lifted into the trunk, I got my documents and the door was opened for me. The car took off and…stopped at the plane. I was taken through small stairs directly to the jetway next to the airplane door and further to my seat, or rather to my suite. Bon voyage! And so it was! I watched films from my private library on the 24″ TV and enjoyed the exquisite food…and drink, I must admit. When I got tired, a comfortable bed was made for me and my privacy screen was deployed. Sweat dreams…. On one out of 100 flights, it’s good to be pampered, to feel like they appreciate your business. I hope you agree.

In the air
In the air

So we continue to take the shortest route to our destinations despite the occasional trials and tribulations… like an old Finnish saying goes “By flying you would be there already”. Safe travels, sit back and enjoy the ride!