Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Helsinki, part II

To keep things balanced, some things I did NOT love about the hotel:

- Reception kept directing me to the children's play area, which was allegedly situated in the dining room. Perplexed as to why I could never find it, I asked restaurant staff. It has been closed for "renovation", possibly never to return. So, a) one of the draws of the hotel didn't exist and b) front desk staff and restaurant staff (maybe 50 meters from each other) don't talk :-(

- on our first day, when our room hadn't been cleaned yet at 5pm and we headed out for dinner I asked at the front desk for housekeeping to go right away as we wouldn't be gone long. On the second day, as the cleaning staff was on our floor when we left for the afternoon I didn't feel a need to specifically ask that our room be cleaned. Silly me. I had never felt the necessity of daily room cleaning in my pre-toddler life, but really for us it is a necessity. Room cleaning should be a no-brainer for a hotel.

I'd still go back to that hotel chain, but not that hotel.

Our second night we ate at a Finnish restaurant where the meal was similar but not quite the same as the Lappish place. Terry has completely fallen in love with lingonberry and we tried to figure a viable way to bring some back with us but it wasn't to be. We'll just have to hope that it will grow it at the cabin.

The train ride back was an experience. We had booked the first class sleeper compartment, which has 2 bench/couch/beds and a small amount of space in between. Terry has posted photos so they should explain this description. Soon after we departed, one of the ladies who worked on the train (what are they called? They were basically stewardesses) came and asked if we wanted tea or coffee. It cost 60 rubles for the 2 drinks, which was actually a pretty good deal given Terry's 1.80 Euro coffee on the way there. A couple of hours later they came by again with beer or juice - free. Yes, FREE beer, but coffee will cost you. I love Russia!

The other highlight of the train ride was the sleeping daughter. When the sun started going down, we gave her about 90% of her normal bedtime routine, then lay her down on one of the beds, turned off the light, lay down ourselves, and hoped for the best while not even remotely believeing it would happen. She fell asleep with no crying, and only a few turns of sitting up and being reminded gently by her parents to lay her head down and go to sleep. It was a solid 1.5h before we came into the train station, and she even made the transition off the train and into her stroller without a major, full-scale wakeup.

This is where I extol the virtues of Ladybird Taxi. It's a great concept. The drivers are all women, and they only accept women as passengers - they will take a man if he is with a woman or a child. They carry car seats in the trunk, women's magazines if you want them, etc etc. They only speak Russian so I had asked Alex's babysitter to make the arrangements for me as we didn't have our car seat with us so it seemed like the best option for getting home at 11pm from the train station. Although the train came in 10 minutes before I had asked them to be there, my phone rang the moment we stepped outside the station. Unfortunately, there had been some miscommunication between our babysitter and the booking person, because the lady was waiting exactly at the location I was told she wouldn't be. But she gamely hung on the phone with me and talked me through getting to where she was parked even though I only understood about every 5th word she used.

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