Getting there is half the stress…

Kuortane’09, getting there…

So the day starts early, at around 0330. Alarm goes off after about two or three hours of sleep, and it’s up and shower and say a sad goodbye to herself indoors and off to the car and the airport. Unfortunately I managed to drop my mobile phone along the way, which is a bit of a nuisance when you’re going abroad.

The Aer Lingus checkin was painless enough, there was the usual goldfish bowl observation as we get the kit inspected by the checkin desk, then seal the cases up with locks and duct tape, the range kitbags go through normal checkin and the rifle cases and ammunition box go through the odd-sized luggage inspection route, and we go through security and head for some much-needed coffee. The flight to Schiphol was fairly fast, mainly since we slept through most of it (Daniel managing to sleep through crosswind turbulence on takeoff that had even me worried for a moment), and we landed in Schiphol and did the long trek from plane to baggage carousel to find our rifle cases and ammo box going round and round (the range kitbags were checked through, but Aer Lingus and KLM couldn’t agree on how to do that for the rifles so we had to check them through ourselves).

And that’s where the first unpleasant shock to the system happened – KLM charged us excess baggage on the rifle cases (which Aer Lingus hadn’t done), pretty much out of the blue. And once we’d gotten over that shock, they then told us it was all a mistake, because they’d accidentally charged us on Aer Lingus’s rate, which was lower, and so they recharged us on KLM’s higher rate.

€210 for me, €240 for Daniel (with his smallbore ammo box). We were not happy puppies at this stage. But, that’s all that done and dusted, right? So they check through the cases and ammo again, we go back through security (by the way, if travelling, beltless trousers and slipon shoes are a great idea, if you can afford the extra weight), and we take a few minutes to grab food, email home and do some shopping (AA batteries for cameras and so forth). We agreed to meet up at the gate, so that’s where I headed and sat down with a cup of coffee to watch them load the plane.

I’m sitting there listening to airport announcements when I get the second unpleasant shock when Daniel turns up in the rather professional company of two rather heavily-armed security guards. Somehow our names were called out on the airport announcements and despite listening to them, I’d not heard it. I still don’t know how. Anyway, it turns out that while KLM were very diligent in bending our wallets over a table without much of an introduction, they hadn’t actually bothered to notice that the cases contained firearms. After all, we’d only told them twice and they’d only read it off their computers from the Aer Lingus desk. Anyone could make that mistake…

So it’s out with the licences and the europasses and the passports and there’s some going over the documentation and at that point the guards relax a lot and we relax a lot more and there’s much wishing us luck for London in 2012 and they go back about their normal duties and we sit down for the third unpleasant shock of the day, by this time no longer thinking of keeping KLM on the christmas card list.

There’s something about baggage handlers that suggests that one day they’ll earn the majority of the Darwin Awards. Or at least that’s what we were thinking watching one of them test my Peli case to its limits with the luggage loading conveyer belt, and then testing to see how flat he could make Daniel’s range kitbag (the damage was fairly thorough, we discovered later on in Helsinki), but we became sure of it when we watched the senior baggage handler (a man smart enough to wear his tie loose and flapping about while walking around running jet turbine engines) pick up Daniel’s ammo box under a wing full of fuel vapour about seventy yards from a crowded passenger terminal, hold it upside down by his head and then shake it to see if there was any loose ammunition inside that might accidentally go off. Now you and I, having been around ammunition for a while, know it’s not quite that sensitive; but in fairness, had he been right, few of us would have been about to congratulate whatever bits of him remained afterwards. I don’t think being right is quite worth that much.

Now thoroughly annoyed and stressed, we got onboard and flew to Helsinki. Not much else went wrong, the landing was a bit rough but so was the weather, and we had no trouble collecting our range kitbags and rifle cases and ammo box from the carousel. We headed into customs to check them through to find there was noone there at all. We looked about for a customs agent, knocked on office doors and still found noone. We did find an intercom for out-of-hours customs though (this was around five pm on a saturday so fair enough), buzzed it and let them know they had two Irishmen with obviously very dangerous firearms, and would they like to check the paperwork? What did we have? well, a dangerous air rifle and an even more dangerous smallbore rifle, coming from the EU. No, no need to see those, go on through.

Can I just point that one out again for any officials reading this please? We went to Finland, where they’re mid-debate on changing the firearms laws because of an actual school shooting, and they didn’t give a fig about air rifles or smallbore rifles. So would everyone in Ireland and Amsterdam please calm the bleep down about these things?


Can you tell we were stressed by the trip?

Anyway, we finally get out into the lovely -6C Finnish air, caught the complementary taxi to the airport hotel, dropped our gear in the rooms, ate dinner, realised we’d just spent 14 hours travelling, and went back to our rooms to crash and sleep for about 12 hours. And that was day one.