It was hard to believe we’d already gotten to this part of the trip. Finland. This part of Europe is so far north the sun barely sets during the summer. Before heading there, we make a trek to Sweden to spend a few days with Helen, one of our exchange students and her young family who live just outside on of the most beautiful cities I’d ever seen – Stockholm. From there we took an overnight cruise destined for Helsinki. A cabin on a cruise ship was included in the price of our Euro rail passes. It wasn’t much – a typical steerage room which Chris astutely noted as “located even below the parking level.” The compartment was slightly larger than a coat closet and featured four fold down beds.
We gave the kids some cash and the disappeared into the floating city. Donna and I strolled across the artificial turf deck and leaned against the polished wood railing and waved goodbye to Sweden. The islands of green trees passing by reminded me of my Pacific Northwest. I thought of college days – that first weekend that I showed Donna my home town. We took a ferry across Puget Sound and she seemed so delighted. I took her photo with the blue October skies and dense green forests behind her. A special smile adorned her face. It all reminded her of her Finland, a place she wanted me to see.
“See?” Donna said. I smiled and nodded in agreement – no wonder so many Scandinavians settled in the Pacific Northwest. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. The aroma was so familiar – fir trees nourished by months of fresh rain, now soaking up the summer sun along the shores of cold water.
This felt like home.
Adapting to campus life was difficult for me. My brain hadn’t been challenged much while selling basketball shoes. My classes were difficult and I found myself struggling. Hobie had set me up with on-campus living so I could focus on studies, but it turned out to be a distraction. I was surrounded by a bunch of 18-year-olds tasting freedom for the first time. I was almost 22 and felt decades older than everybody. The dorm was always loud and felt like a perpetual party. I’d have loved this four years earlier, but suddenly was growing old. Even the older students, who were close to my age seemed immature. None of them had done much time in the real world yet. Most came from well-off families and had known nothing but comfort.
Our hall director Sandy was a couple years older than me. She was Chinese and had lived in many different cities and traveled around the world. We became friends right away. One night my roommate talked me into stopping by a little café on campus. He was trying to pick up on a couple freshmen girls and thought they might be there. I wasn’t looking forward to spending an evening engaging in mindless banter. We poked our heads inside and saw Sandy sitting with a group of people from the dorm, she waved us over. Next to Sandy sat a girl I hadn’t seen before. Her beautiful eyes caught my attention. She had a maturity about her and I wondered if she was another hall director. She was seated too far away to strike up a conversation. She noticed me and smiled. It was one of those awkward moments realizing nobody was going to introduce us. My roommate saw the two girls walk by outside and hit my arm. “Let’s go!”
NEXT: Traveling Treats