I have never visited Finland

After visiting Bronydays in Paris last year, I got myself interested in the brony convention scene. Besides organizing a convention in the Netherlands, I got a position as a volunteer for Crystal Fair Con in Helsinki, Finland. As a result, a little over a week ago, I found myself on a plane to the land of a thousand lakes for my convention/holiday. Let’s walk through the days.

Careful, it’s a long one. Also, no pictures, because it’s late and I don’t feel like uploading all that. I didn’t take that many pictures anyway, because for the most part, I was busy having tons of fun.

2/7 – I have never been on my own at an airport

This day was something. I don’t believe I’ve ever felt this nervous before.  I couldn’t quite pinpoint what caused it, but I’m fairly sure it was a combination of different factors. For starters, the three nights before this day were cut short for various reasons. On top of that, work for Hearth’s Warming Con has been pretty hectic. And lastly, I was about to go on an awesome adventure a large distance from home, which though exciting, also made me pretty nervous. There were a lot of things I wanted to do before leaving, but in the end, I spent most of the day lying on either my bed or my couch, trying to get some rest.

Finally, at 15:30, it was time to go. And so my journey started, first by bus, then by train and then for the first time in my life, alone by plane.  The trip was fairly uneventful. Both flights were pretty short and I slept through most of the second one. During the transits at the airports, I did some more work (thank you for free wifi!). And about five hours after leaving, I arrived at my destination.

3/7 – I have never gone sightseeing in Helsinki

It wasn’t technically until this day that I set foot in Finland. At 1:45 (local time), the plane landed at Helsinki Airport. I was confronted with my first Finland experience straight away, because even at this hour, the sky was still blue, albeit a darker shade of blue. It wasn’t that big a deal, as it was still dark outside, but it was surely a strange sight to behold.

Travel to my hostel was about as uneventful as the rest of my journey. Following the instructions from their video was easy enough, and before long, I was in bed.

Before we continue, this could be a good time to explain what exactly it was that I would be doing at the convention. My job was being the vendor manager, which meant that I would take care of all the vendors that came to Crystal Fair to sell their wares to the visitors. Together with FushigiOoka, we formed the vendor team, which was a sub-team of the merchandise team, which in turn consisted of Opaque, Ava, Heikki and Pinja. Both the vendor team and the merchandise team were lead by Nani. In the preparations, the merch and vendor teams shared a Skype group, which has lead to many off-topic shenanigans. Needless to say, we knew each other pretty well going into this.

Anyway, after waking up on Thursday, I agreed to meet up with Opaque at Finlandia Hall: the convention site for the weekend. We tried to also meet with Nani, but she was busy, so we went to a nearby terrace to grab a tea and hang out. When we got back to Finlandia, we were told that Nani would be right out. It wasn’t until she told us “See you morgen” that I realized we had just met with Yuukon, another Dutch volunteer, for whom I had even brought a cheese (according to her, Finnish cheese is horrible).

As Yuukon had said, Nani was there shortly after. After getting some Subway, she gave us and one of the vendors who had arrived early a tour of the venue. After that we went to see a bit of Helsinki, including the Helsinki Cathedral. We didn’t get to see too much, though, as we had to go back to Finlandia for our briefing, where we met with Heikki, Ooka and Pinja.

The briefing took longer than expected, so after rounding up that and grabbing something to eat, we went back to our respective hostels and hotels. I chatted a bit with Moontune, who had arrived at the hostel as well, but went to bed early. The following day would be a long one.

4/7 – I have never worked at a convention

The first day of Crystal Fair for me started at 6:00. After getting up, taking a shower and all that jazz, I walked to the venue, where I finally met the last member of the merch team: Ava.

Setting up the vendors went as smooth as we could hope for. When the doors opened at 10:00, we were ready to receive the crowds. After that, Ooka and me were tasked with being available in case anything is needed, which wasn’t all that often. So whichever one of us was on duty, mostly just walked around the two vendor halls, talking a bit with the vendors. I met a guy called Adrian during these rounds. Adrian worked security and had about as much to do as we did.

It turned out Adrian and I had a few things in common. He plays Dota as well, and turned out to live very close to Nani and Pinja, who I would be visiting on Monday. So throughout the convention, we mostly walked and talked.

The first day of the convention went well, without much of a problem. After clean-up, most of the merch team went out for a Chinese buffet. It was tasty, but I was pretty tired, so I didn’t eat all that much.

During dinner though, we got a message that the guests of honor would be somewhere in the city. Unfortunately, we weren’t told where they would be. After waiting for quite some time (and an adventure to get a single pizza), we decided to head off for the night. It wasn’t until I got on the wifi at my hostel that I received a message about where I could go, but by that time, I was already a half-hour walk away from the city center, so I decided to get some sleep for the next day.

5/7 – I have never seen Daniel Ingram perform live

For the vendor team, the second day of the convention was even easier than the first. Most of the vendors had opted to leave their wares at the venue overnight, so there was no need to carry more things inside. We had improved our break schedule, as only one of us was needed at any one time.

After cleaning up at Finlandia after the second con day, Ava’s boyfriend was kind enough to drive the merch and vendor teams to Nosturi, where the evening party would be held.

At Nosturi, I didn’t have any tasks, so I decided to check out the party. I was really happy to hear EileMonty perform live again. Her cover of The Moon Rises in particular was extremely beautiful. As it turns out, the Crystal Fair committee also managed to get Anneli Heed and Daniel Ingram to play one song live.

After those performances, I stayed for a bit of the RainbowCrash88 set, but decided to hang around the merchandise table downstairs after that. I was waiting for a SimGretina set, but it turned out that he wouldn’t be performing that night. That was a bit of a bummer, but I also understand.

I didn’t stay for too long after finding that out. Walking back to the hostel took about an hour, after which I just went straight to bed.

6/7 – I have never placed a bet on an auction

Fourth day in Finland, last day of the convention. As the previous two days had been, this day was again nice and quiet. It wasn’t until the ending ceremony that we picked up speed while trying to escort all the vendors out of the building. In the end, though, this went extremely smoothly and almost everything was cleared within an hour.

After that, we went outside for our final debriefing and a group picture. And that concluded Crystal Fair 2014. It was a good convention and I had a lot of fun, even though I didn’t follow much of the program. The important thing is that I made some new friends, both during preparation and the actual convention itself. Also, I learned some things about the organization of conventions that will no doubt be of use for Hearth’s Warming Con.

After a last dinner with the full merch and vendor teams, we started heading our separate ways. In the end, only Heikki, Opaque, Nani and I were still around and up for doing something (even though Nani was tuckered). After tossing some ideas around, we decided we would visit the casino, but before we even got there, Insomnia, the convention chairman, notified us that he would be around for a final drink.

We met up with him and a few of the other committee guys and chatted a bit, but after last call (which came surprisingly early), all of us went to our hostels and hotels. Crystal Fair 2014: over.

Oh, and maybe I should explain the auction bet. For the charity auction at the convention, there was an handmade plushie of Aurora, the convention mascot. Merch and vendor teams decided to place an internal bet for fun, where the winner would get ice cream from the loser. I overestimated the amount it would get by… a lot, but still not by enough to be the worst guesser.

7/7 – I have never visited Tampere

Even though Crystal Fair may have been over, my time in Finland was not yet up. I had originally planned to stay in Helsinki until Wednesday, but Nani and Pinja invited me to visit them in Tampere. I’m all for adventures, so of course I took them up on their offer.

My bus to Tampere would not leave until 19:45 though, so I had some time to kill. I spent a little time with Moontune before I went to wave Heikki and Nani off with Opaque. When we got back, most of the group of bronies hanging around the train station had left, but there were still a few there, who said they were going to visit a tea shop and the cinema to see Maleficent. Opaque and I decided to join (one of the best movies I’ve seen this year), after which we went our separate ways as well.

After stopping by the hostel to get my belongings, I went to the bus station to meet with Adrian again, who had been so kind as to take care of my bus ticket. The trip itself was fairly uneventful. We had some talks about Dota, education, work and all those kind of things.

Finally, upon reaching Tampere, Adrian guided me to my sleeping place for the next two nights. As Nani was still in Helsinki and Adrian had some family business, Pinja and I just had a calm night playing video games. We didn’t stay up too late though, as she had to work in the morning again.

8/7 – I have never felt this cold

When I woke up, Pinja had already left for work. I contacted Adrian, but he still had some things left to do. As I didn’t have a key to the apartment, that kind of meant I couldn’t really go outside, for risk of being locked outside.

So I played some more video games, until Adrian stopped by at about 3pm. We went to get some food at the supermarket, as my eating schedule had gotten kind of messed up, as it tends to do during holidays. At his place, we were shortly joined by Nani, and later Pinja as well. They all wanted to show me around the city, so we took the scenic route to an Irish bar, where we played some Boss Monster and darts (again, the winner receiving ice cream).

In the evening, we went for the most unforgettable experience of the trip. Nearby Nani’s place, there’s a beach to a lake. We decided to go there, in our swimwear. Thing is, the water was cold. As in, “my feet went numb if I stood in it”-cold. We hung around it for a bit; I sat on a springboard, enjoying one of the most astounding views I’ve ever seen. The lake was absolutely huge, and you could see all sorts of island floating about. With the setting sun behind it, it made for quite a sight.

Anyway, Pinja eventually dared enter the water, after which Adrian and I had no choice but to follow her example. Being in the water was absolutely cold and horrible, but after getting out, I felt refreshed and it did feel like an accomplishment. Totally worth it, not doing it again.

It was getting late by that time, even though the sky didn’t show it (I never did get used to that). Pinja had to get up for work early again, and I had to catch an early bus out of town, so we headed back and called it a night.

9/7 – I have never had a 6-hour flight transit

Four hours after going to sleep, my alarm sounded. I managed to get myself out of bed and into some clothes, said my goodbye to Pinja, and started my journey home. At the bus stop, me and Nani, who had escorted me there, waved each other off as well, which meant that for the rest of the journey, I would be on my own again.

My first stop was the hostel in Helsinki, to pick up my Huize Entree hoodie, which I had apparently forgotten there. Luckily, they found it and kept it safe for me. It’s not an expensive hoodie, but it sure is extremely valuable.

After that: the airport. Again, nothing of particular interest happened, and my departure from Finland occurred without a hiccup.

Flying with Lufthansa, my intermediate stop was in Munich. Unfortunately, during reservation, I hadn’t looked at the transit time, which turned out to be six and a half hours. I actually spent more time there than on planes. Anyway, I did bring my laptop, so I didn’t have to spend the entire time looking at walls or something. I also ate extremely overpriced dinner there, as I couldn’t find a budget food option. Really, the curry sausage was tasty, but I wouldn’t say it was worth the 9 euros I paid for it.

My arrival in the Netherlands went less smooth, though. According to 9292, my plane would land at 22:30. The last train home would leave at 23:07. 37 minutes was plenty of time, but still felt like I had to hurry up. Luckily, the plane arrived 15 minutes early, giving me some breathing time. Unfortunately, the luggage conveyor belt had a technical issue, taking my time advantage away again. Also, my the handle on my bag broke, which means I won’t be using this one anymore after this.

Anyway, I made it to the train well in time. On the train, I listened in on a radio station to see how the Netherlands were doing in the World Cup. From the sound of it, they were playing a decent game, though they didn’t score. And finally, when I arrived in Deventer and walked home, I received the news that we didn’t make it through. I guess you can’t have everything.

13/7 – I have never written a blog post this long

Normally, I’d read through this post again to make some small changes, but it’s 1am and I’m kind of done with this, so it’ll have to do.

I will write up a short conclusion though. My holiday to Finland has been one of the best, if not the actual best holiday I’ve ever been on. Finnish people were very nice and we had good weather the entire week. The long days were slightly confusing my bio-rhythm, but that was only a minor thing.

Working for Crystal Fair has been an absolute blast, and if the opportunity presents itself again, I will apply for a volunteer position again next year. I’m not sure if I would go for the same position yet. Vendor team was fun to do, but kind of quiet at times, although I must say that was nice for a change too.

The best part of my trip would have to be visiting Tampere afterwards, though. It’s really a shame I could stay only for a day, and I will definitely try and stay for about a week next year, whether there is another Crystal Fair or not.

That’s it for I Never this month. I realize this entry kind of grew out of bounds, but for an event of this scale, I think it’s worth the write.

Now, good night!

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