Our room is opposite the stairs. This means we hear all the departing guests, leaving for silly o’clock flights. We are persuaded by the jolly receptionist, who is probably on commission, to invest a few extra £ in a taxi, as opposed to waiting for the shuttle bus. Snow is falling inconveniently steadily but the received wisdom is that flights will go. Gatwick has instituted something called operation ‘Polar Bear’ to cope, meaning, in theory, all staff from captains to cleaners will be wielding brooms on the runways hmmm, We arrive at Gatwick at 10am for a midday check in. We sit somewhere that resembles a soft play area that is back achingly uncomfortable.
We check in on time. This is the usual farce. Despite notices saying you can have one large or two small pieces of hand luggage, when we approach with two we are told no, one. We cram two bags together and Chris takes boots out of his boot bag and puts them on, shoves shoes in his rucksack and boot bag in his case. Then Miss not-very bright Monarch Airlines says ‘do you have a boot bag to check in?’ – well we did…. Security is as bad. Chris still hasn’t quite grasped the ‘no more than 100ml of liquid’ rule and jettisons his deodorant. Shall I have to keep my distance for the rest of the holiday? He is carrying my camera case. He obviously looks dodgy as this is removed to be swabbed for drugs. Fortunately I haven’t been photographing any cannabis lately, so there are no issues. We wait for some time to learn which gate will be ours. At this time there is said to be a 45 minute delay. Once at the boarding gate we chat to some others heading for Levi. One lady passes the time discovering new pockets in her thermal trousers. In the end the delay is longer than expected as the walkway is wet but we are just pleased to be going at all as 20% of Heathrow flights have been cancelled. Operation Polar Bear is obviously working. Everyone we have spoken to has been to Finland before and all seem to think we will have a good time. Next we need to be de-iced. This conjures up visions of armies of people with bottles of blue liquid. Pity Graeme’s PhD (something to do with ice on aircraft wings) didn’t make this unnecessary. Flight MON4218, after an interminable taxi, finally takes off two hours late, Not sure what this bodes for our evening meal. Good job we took full advantage of the all we can eat breakfast at Premier Inn Gatwick South.
My in-flight reading is Antonia Fraser’s The Weaker Vessel about the role of women in the seventeenth century, chosen for its length. The delay means I am already 150 pages in to its 600 pages. The (expensive) in flight café takes ages to arrive. It is bad luck if you were expecting food as almost everything anyone orders is in short supply and they have no change, so the whole procedure is a lengthy one. The gentleman in our row is planning to consume two cans of lager and two brandies in what is left of the three hour flight. Good luck to him – ah no after ten minutes he is on to his second can of lager and his second brandy. After some turbulence I get my food out of my bag. My Graze boxes have blown up with the pressure. More turbulence. What part of ’return to your seat and fasten your seatbelts, the wash rooms are closed’ do a large number of people in a queue for the toilet not understand. In the end the stewardess locks the toilet so it appears engaged – that fooled ’em.
At Kittila we meet our Inghams’ reps. I am convinced I have seen one of them before, Chris says I can’t have and I am racking my brains to work out why he looks familiar. We are transferred to Levitunturi Spa Hotel, passing snow clad forests and beware of the reindeer signs. We hear of frozen lakes with 80cm deep ice. It is by then 9.30pm their time. It feels like about midnight, although for us it is 7.30pm. Our room is, as promised in the brochure, ‘superior’. It has mood lighting, a balcony, random bits of decorative wood, sauna like temperatures and a mini bar. Don’t think I’ve stayed anywhere with a mini bar before but I’m not sure their putting Pringles in the fridge was a good idea. A Eureka moment, I remember that the rep appeared on heavily trailered reality TV programme. A quick Google shows I am not wrong – vindicated! We even get a meal – kiev, broccoli, thin chips and rice in a bizarre sauce. It had probably been kept warm for the two hours we’d been delayed but it was food. The accompanying hot berry drink was very tasty.