Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Just playin around

Monday, feeling fresh from sauna the day before, we headed to Muurame to stay with the Kujalas now that the wedding festivities and stress have died down. We stopped to get some groceries (notes: unbelievable selections of fish and cheeses, the supermarket is part of a departments store, and gatorade is hard to come by), then headed to their house.

After unloading and unpacking, we drove 10 minutes to Muurame golf course. I played with some family friends (I think) of the Kujalas in the pouring rain (borrowing clubs from Eija's godson, a local pro). The course had just opened for the year 2 weeks ago, so was still a bit rough around the edges, but the setting was unbelievable. Everywhere you looked, there was nothing but hills and trees.

The course itself was short compared to what I'm used to, but very very narrow with pretty small greens. We wound our way all the way up a huge hill, then descended rapidly on the 16th hole. It was almost a completely different game for me, playing with borrowed clubs on a very different layout measured in meters in the pouring rain. But I made a bunch of pars (missed easy birdie putts on the two finishing holes) and got home with my dignity.

We sauna-ed again last night here at the Kujala's house (they have a beautiful new electric sauna and a little kids swimming pool outside for the cold water part), then got up this morning and headed to the gym. Not a whole lot to report there, except that there were no water fountains to drink from (so I've been chugging since I got back here).

Tonight we head to Helsinki, then tomorrow we take the ferry 2 hrs to Estonia, driving a bit then to the old city of Tallina. We ferry back that night, then spend the next day in Helsinki until our ferry back to Stockholm that night. We have another day and night in Stockholm, then board our SAS flight (thankfully the strikes have ended) back to the US, arriving home on June 2nd. I make no guarantees as to whether or not I will have internet again, as I had not found it anywhere other than here previously, but if I do I will be sure to tell the world more of our travels.

lost in translation

In an effort to make the blog shorter and easier to read, here are a few mildly humorous snippits of language use and misuse:
  • At the wedding, Nana was drinking a lot of water. My mom, trying her hardest to learn and use Finnish, said "Vessa! Vessa!" thinking she was saying water. Nana replied, "Why do you keep saying 'toilet'?" Oops! The word Mom was actually looking for was "vessi."
  • One of the big buildings on the outskirts of Helsinki has in very big letters "FAG"
  • One of the big supermarket chains here is "KKK."
  • One of the things you can buy at that supermarket is a brand of chips called "Megapussi"

Monday, May 28, 2007

mmmmm sauna...

So once I finally got up and moving Sunday (up a bit before 1, moving towards 2:30, out of the hotel closer to 3 or 3:30), we were picked up by Saapi and taken to Tuukka's family's summer house and sauna, about 35 minutes outside Jyväskylä. Their house is next to their cousins' house (the twins I sat next to at dinner) and another local friend's. In all cases, the houses were built by hand by the grandfathers in the early 20th century.

Everything about the places is very traditional Finnish, though they do have the aid of modern electricity (though still no running water and one still uses a wood-burning stove). The rugs in the houses are all traditional rag rugs--woven out of discarded and worn out clothing torn into strips. All the decor is traditional and has been there forever. As they have added family members, they have built new small buildings around the main houses. They spend much of their time on their summer weekends at these houses doing repairs and building new things (the big project this year is to level the sauna, which has begun to tilt towards the water).

There is a true sense of tradition and family about the group of summer houses and saunas that is unmatched in the US. I am forever grateful that the families were so welcoming of us into their community and traditions.

After our tours of the houses and different kinds of saunas, we went back to Tuukka's family's house for many leftovers from the wedding (the soup was again a favorite). We ate and drank until it was time for sauna (ladies first).

The sauna gets up to over 100 degrees celcius (really freakin hot). The sauna we went in involved a wood-burning stove beneath the rocks on top. You heat the sauna for 3 hours (depending on the type of sauna), then strip and go in. In the sauna, you pour water on the rocks to create humidity and make the body sweat, purging you of all dirt both inside and outside of your body. In the traditional sauna, they also have a bundle of birch branches and leaves that you thwap yourself and each other with to get the circulation flowing even more. They say that in the sauna, without clothes on and subject to grueling heat, everyone is equal.

After a few minutes in the sauna, and a few spoonfulls of water on the rocks, you run down to the lake (very cold at 14 degrees) and jump in. If you were to hit the water without the sauna, it would be unbearably cold; however, with the sauna, the cold feels incredibly refreshing and makes your blood really pump. After a quick dip (before you come to your sense about how freaking cold the water is), you head back to the porch of the sauna to dry off and have a cold (ideally, though most here is warm) beer. Rinse and repeat as desired (up to 5 or so times at the lake).

The feeling you experience after you come out of the lake is ubelievable. It is the single biggest high I have ever experienced. You feel refreshed, clean, and you've completely forgotten about all your worries in the world. The beer feels like ice running through your veins, and the world around you is beautiful. You go from the hottest heat of hell to the cold of the polar icecaps in a matter of seconds, and your body feels as satisfied as if it had just experienced every sensation there is in life.

After we journeyed from sauna to lake and back 3 times, we went back to the house to enjoy homemade Finnish desserts (Finnish pancake with jelly, chocolate cake, lemon cake, and gingerbread and cheeses). After that, I sat motionless in a hanging chair for quite a while, content with everything in life and enjoying the melody of my own thoughts.

After a bit of time, we had some sausages and mustard (very different from Milwaukee style, though) and hit the road. I mentioned it before, but I can't help but repeat how overwhelmed I was at the priorities of the Finns: family, friends, and tradition before all else. In conversation at the wedding, despite not knowing me, few ran out of topics enough to ask me my age or profession. To them, the more important things in who I am are where I'm from and what I like. To me, that's beautiful.

My new goals in life are to emulate those priorities....and own a sauna retreat on a lake.

A real Finnish wedding!

Now comes the fun part. We slept in quite a bit, got an expensive (about €7 apiece) breakfast of coffee or smoothie and croissant at a local starbucks equivalent (though they serve beer and cider, which many were enjoying on a cool Saturday morning), and got ready for the big wedding.

Much like the preparation, the wedding ceremony itself was relatively casual and short by American standards, though it was in a beautiful old church in the very center of the city. The ceremony was similar to a basic American wedding (just enough to be classy without any overkill on religiosity and hymns and prayer and such), though Uuso (guitar) and Rasmus (snare) were kind enough to help play the recessional. The married couple made their getaway in an old green Fiat (similar to a VW Beatle) and the rest of us boarded the busses to the reception.

The reception was at a beautiful old farmstead (though I suppose there was far far more woodland than farmland) about 20 minutes outside downtown (which means way out in the country). We were first invited into a very old, historic wood building to drop off presents, greet the newlyweds and families, and make a traditional toast with sparkling red wine.

Then, at about 3pm, we were ushered into a slightly newer, but similarly designed building about 50m away for dinner. We started with some delicious black root soup with croutons, then moved onto a buffet of pasta salad, potatoes, smoked salmon, and roasted and smoked moose (which Tuukka's father had killed and prepared). I have to admit, I was very surprised to find that I loved smoked moose! After some time and plenty of wine at our tables, we enjoyed some wedding cheesecake and coffee with either Bailey's or cognac. I was seated at a table with Wilma, Uuso, Tuukka's twin cousins (5 weeks older than Tuukka), all their significant others, and Tuukka's French friend JB. They all were very good at translating for me and teaching me what to expect from Finnish weddings: people get very drunk, dance a lot, and become more and more willing and excited to speaking English with you. Man, were they ever right.

We went back and forth between the two houses over the next few hours for various games and traditions (having games is a tradition, though the specific games are up to the bridesmaids). The games included the bride and groom picking out which pile of random objects the other one bought them at a flea market. The traditions included a long speech from the father of the bride, which Tuukka's father decided to follow with his own speech about Tuukka. Oh, and did I mention all activities involved more eating and more drinking?

After some slideshows and mingling and such, the night turned into drinking and dancing in the older house, with music provided by Uuso, Rasmus, and some of their friends. It was fun to watch my parents relive their younger years, cutting a rug to The Beatles and many other favorites from their hayday (perhaps helped by my mom's insistance that it was impossible for her to to get drunk off Finnish beer, and subsequent efforts at it).

After a few drinks, though, I couldn't believe the friendliness of the Finns. Countless people would just come up to me, introduce themselves, and start talking about whatever it is they felt like talking about. I was blown away by the friendliness, and their English abilities! I met a former World Cup skiier, an advertising executive, a former head of the last surviving Finnish shipping company, and a marketing executive for a software company (among many many others). Saaku (Nana's husband) was even so kind to lift me up on his shoulders (beer in hand) so I could get a clear view of the traditional first dance--a Finnish waltz. They were all so happy and amazed that we made the trip all the way from America to Jyväskylä. I was just happy and amazed at their abilities and friendliness!

After the wedding (the busses left at around 1am), dozens of friends I had just made (mostly in their late 20s and 30s) insisted that I come to the club with them. Oh, did I mention it's okay to have open containers in vehicles over here, as long as it's not the driver drinking? Anyway, I sent my parents to bed (though they said they struggled to sleep thinking about what I was getting myself into in this foreign land) and hit the club. Juha (the advertiser) brought me in, bought me a shot and a beer, and gave me the tour of the place (introducing me to as many girls as he could as "coming all the way from America").

The club had four areas (far bigger than any bar I had ever been to): a main bar by the front door, a euro-pop/rock dance club, a "suomi-pop" (Finnish pop) bar area, and a discoteque (with both european and american classics and current pop) upstairs. After the tour, we wound up spending most of our time upstairs, and after a couple more drinks I wowed a few of the fellow wedding-goers with my American white-boy moves (you've never seen a more intense rendition of "YMCA"). Among others, I met the back-up goalie for the Finnish national hockey team (who had just won silver at the World Cup) and a Spanish girl with her upper-gum pierced.

Rasmus (who I hadn't seen much at all, but who is nearly my age) apparently had some drinks and then told a friend (or maybe Uuso) "Okay, now I am ready to use my English." He found me in the upstairs club and we hung out for quite a while. His English was incredible, especially since, as he said, he's never had a chance to use it (except a very little at my brother Jed's wedding). He's a very very cool and nice guy, a drummer in the Finnish army at the moment, and insisted that he show me a real Finnish time (this was after 2:30am). We went back to the front bar area (a little quieter) where he bought me a Jaeggermeister shot and a "long drink" (a delicious sort of grapefruity drink), the combination of which he insisted was most Finnish.

When the club closed at 4am, we went with his bassist to a friend's nearby apartment to hang out more and have a bit of a snack (which I didn't need or want, but Rasmus insisted "you must eat like a Finn!"). We finally left around 4:45, making it back to my hotel around 5am, sun fully shining. I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable days and nights of my life, even though I couldn't understand 98% of the words I heard throughout the day. The Finns are so friendly people, and strikingly similar to Milwaukeeans (perhaps why Finns that move the US tend to congregate around the Great Lakes).

The boat and first day of Finland

We got on a cruise ship Thursday night from Stockholm to Helsinki. I can't begin to estimate how many people were on the boat, but the boat was 11 stories. My parents were generous enough to get a first class cabin in my honor, which meant that we had a window and our own bathroom, though the room itself was as small as you would expect on a cruise ship (with fold-down bunk beds and the works).

Shortly after boarding, we ate a nice buffet dinner (a perennial highlight for many travelers) with as much Finnish beer and wine as you can drink. We had a table near the front window of the boat and had a nice view of the thousands of islands in the Sweedish archipellago. Sweedes generally own a summer home on one of the many islands, and enjoy a simpler life (with lots of fish) in the warmer months. I was astounded at how many islands there were, and there were houses on each of them til the very end (which we did not reach til it was dark--at around 10pm).

After dinner, we sat on the top level of the boat and took in the scenery until it got very cold and windy and we got kicked inside. We were nearly alone on the top deck, as the cruise (as we later learned) is often used by the Sweedes and Finns as an excuse to buy alcohol from the tax-free shop and get drunk. We reset our clocks to Helsinki time (an hour ahead), grabbed a drink at the bar, and went to bed around midnight by our new time (still jetlagged) as the boat was pulling away from its only stop--an island, whose name escapes me at the moment, which is technically Finnish territory, but is rather independent and has many of its own laws.

I slept very soundly to the purr and rumble of the motors (though I had never had the sensation of a shaking bed previously), and my parents suffered yet another nearly sleepless night. We awoke to a delicious breakfast buffet before pulling into Helsinki around 8am. Saapi, our host along with his wife Eija, picked us up and drove us to Muurame (the 9,000 person town of which his is mayor, among many other responsibilities--though he and Eija have spent much of their lives as doctors).

Finland, like Sweeden, is built largely on rock. However, unlike the part of Sweeden I saw, Finland has 40,000 lakes and millions of birch and evergreen trees (an integral part of their biggest industry: paper). The whole country has 5 million people (about the same as Wisconsin) and Helsinki (the biggest city) is smaller than Stockholm. The country is officially bilengual (Finnish and Sweedish--not nearly as similar as you might think; Sweedish is far more western) and everyone learns a third language (usually English, sometimes German or Spanish) and spends a semester abroad--quite impressive, no? The countryside is very beautiful, but it makes for a rather monotonous 3 hr drive from Helsinki to Muurame (and while Saapi is incredibly nice and smart and tried his best to make it better, English is his 5th language which makes normal conversation understandably difficult sometimes).

We got a quick tour of the Kujala's recently renovated house (in Finnish style, they pack an incredible amount of space into a house that would be small by American standards--the key is being very organized and having great designs of storage spaces), then were shuttled to our hotel in the nearby city of Jyväskylä (pronounced: yu-vas-kay-la)--population 90,000. The rooms were again small by American standards, but very very nice and comfortable (hardwood everywhere and an Indian theme in the decor).

As we walked around town to find some lunch, I was a bit surprised by the differences between Finland and Sweeden, especially the people, having come with the assumption that they were rather similar. In style, instead of the chic European fashions of Stockholm, most teens were dressed in goth-punk black outfits. In manor, Finns are far more reserved and seemed to keep to themselves when possible. Once you begin a coversation with Finns, however, they are infinitely nice and speak very good English (though they hate to admit it--they are born perfectionists).

We exchanged some dollars for euros (yay! i have a € key!), grabbed a mozarella sandwich at a cafe, and did some more wandering around the city before heading back to the hotel. I grabbed a nap (which my parents had trouble waking me up from--I apparently didn't respond to door knocks or phone calls) and we again got picked up by Saapi and taken back to his house for dinner and a pre-wedding meeting.

Now for the fun part: names. Eija and Saapi have six children; from oldest to youngest they are (and I will undoubtedly butcher the spellings): Uuso, Nana, Sanra, Wilma, Mina, and Rasmus (oldest and youngest are male, middle are all female). Uuso, Nana, and Sanra are all married and with children (Nana has her 3rd on the way), Wilma's boyfriend's family owns a bookstore in another part of Finland, Rasmus and his girlfriend live in Jyväskylä, and Mina's wedding to Tuukaa (an extreme skiier) is a main reason behind our trip.

Right, so...we went to the Kujala's for a dinner of Finnish pizza (similar look to ours, but different toppings...very delicious) and some chatting. Unlike American weddings, the night before Finnish weddings is inconsequential. In fact, this meeting was very unusual, even though it was a very informal runthrough of the timing and responsibilities of the next day (Eija was kind enough to translate the occasional word to keep us on topic: church, rice, dancing, sausages).

After the meeting, Wilma and her boyfriend drove us back to our hotel and related information about how Finnish tv was largely American TV, but 2 years late with subtitles (throughout my time, many have quoted episodes of Friends, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons). We also discussed how Finland can produce 60 NHLers (plus many world class javeliners, skiiers, and rally racers), while similarly sized Wisconsin has 2 or 3. Pretty incredible stuff.

We had our complimentary welcome drink, a Finnish beer of sorts, in the hotel lounge and watched the sun get close to setting around 11pm (it gets dark between 1am and 2am...then gets light again). Then to bed for the wedding the next day...

Travel and Stockholm

WOW! First of all, my apologies for not blogging nearly as much as I had promised. The only time I have found internet access was on a cruise ship between Stockholm and Helsinki and I could only afford 4.5 minutes of dial-up speed internet (enough to check e-mail, but not blog).

Anyway, I have quite a lot to talk about and will separate it out over multiple blogs. First, the travel. We left Chicago at 4:25 on Tuesday, as planned, flying SAS to Stockholm. Being a Sweedish airline, they gave the announcements primarily in Sweedish, though repeated everything in English. The flight attendants and other travelers started speaking English if they didn't know which language you spoke, then changed if they found out you spoke Sweedish. However a trend that began on the plane and has continued throughout my journey is for everyone to speak Sweedish (or more recently Finnish) to me, thinking that I am a native. I sort of got the same treatment in Germany, though I was much younger and generally around family, so maybe I am more European than I realize!

Anyway, the movies on board sucked (I watched Hoodwinked and some unnecessarily long Matt Damon flick about the CIA) so I tried to sleep some, but to no avail. I had forgotten to bring headphone on board, so I bought some very nice (though cheap compared to competitors) noise-cancelling phones in the Charlotte airport--a very VERY good purchase for reducing stress on ears and thus tiredness and headaches that tend to come with plane rides.

After flying over the longest part of Canada's northeast and through the Arctic circle, we arrived in Stockholm early in the morning. We grabbed our bags, changed some money (Sweeden is not EU, so 7 of their currency is about one dollar (and there is no dollar sign on this Finnish keyboard)), and made the 30 minute busride to downtown, past the site of the European Masters golf tournament among other things.

The first thing I noticed about Stockholm (other than the overwhelmingly gorgeous women) is the mixed-use buildings, with lots of retail and many companies sharing the other floors (all adorned with huge logos on the outside of the buildings). We got downtown to the bus/train station, got our 24hr passes (good for both bus and train), grabbed a banana, and hit the train north to our hotel. The train system (and bus system) is incredibly efficient, with many lines running all over town, and you never have to wait more than 8 minutes to catch a particular train. The terminals are generally clean, as far as subways go, and the people are friendly, though not everyone uses their English readily.

Our hotel was very nice, though very very small by US standards. We had 3 small beds and a small TV and not much room for anything else, and a bathroom where you're nearly sitting on the toilet when you shower. The people working there spoke very good English and were helpful whenever we needed them (they even let us keep our bags there before they were ready to check us in and after we had checked out so we wouldn't have to lug them around town).

We spent much of the day in a historic district towards the south side of town--a very touristy area, but beautiful all the same. After taking a self-guided walking tour that I was too tired and jet-lagged to remember much of (I remember the buildings were very pretty), we ate lunch at a Sweedish-Italian retaurant. It was a nice, classy place and I ate some good, homemade ravioli in tomato basil pesto sauce, but I was also struck by the fact that Pearl Jam was the mood music. The thing to do in Sweeden is to go out to lunch (most places have specials for 60-80 kr (their currency)) and get food from the grocery store for dinner, as prices in restaurants increase significantly.

We sat by the river for a bit after lunch before doing a bit more walking around the district. On our way back to the train, we saw some sort of shtick (presumably for a Sweedish Jackass-type show) being performed that involed a man in a gorrilla suit carrying a shouting man in an animal cage. I'm sure it would have been more amusing if I had a clue what they were saying.

We got back to the main station, grabbed a coke and coffee (we were really hurting from jet lag and no sleep) and set off again in hopes of finding our second (or fifth) winds. We grabbed a bus towards the big garden in town and drove past lots of waterfront and museums. Once we got there, we turned around and immediately headed back a few stops to the shopping district. If you're unfamiliar with the stereotypes, Sweedes care a lot about appearances and wear very expensive designer clothes. Yep, that's for sure. As much as I wish I could pull off a European-cut (very tight) suit and tight jeans, there's no way I could afford them. To make matters worse, every pair of underwear in the mens section is either briefs or boxer-briefs. Apparently, they like it tight.

We headed back towards the hotel from the shopping district, picked up some cheese and crackers from the store for dinner (a simple salad for one costs 70 kr, or about 10 dollars--we think Sweedes stay so thin by charging so much for small portions of food), and sat in our room eating and trying like hell to stay up til 10 as we had been told to do to minimize jet lag. I crashed out around 8, I think, and slept clear to 9ish the next morning. We had a nice breakfast in the hotel and headed out.

As our 24 hr passes had expired by the time we left the hotel, we decided to walk around near our hotel. Stockholm is about the same size as Milwaukee (though with more tourists), so it's not unfathomable to walk everywhere. We discovered that we were closer than we realized to one end of the shopping district (where the few cars that drive on the roads give the absolute right of way to pedestrians in the street). We stopped in a few stores along our way, but found ourselves near the University.

We climbed the biggest hill to the observatory and looked out over the city (I have some nice pictures, but also managed to forget my camera's transfer cord). It was so unbelievably beautiful and pleasant that we sat there for nearly an hour. We noticed that the young women there took very good care of their babies, and it was definitely very trendy to be seen in public with a stroller--a good thing since the Scandanavian countries are well below zero population growth and need desperately to produce more children.

On our way back to pick up our bags from the hotel, we stopped for lunch at a great local sandwich/coffee shop. Going to a place like that which was not touristy at all meant the people working there didn't speak very good English, so we had to do some stupid-American pointing to order. On a whole, though, I am very impressed at nearly everyone's ability to at least get along fine in English. And while they are very courteous and kind, it makes me feel like a very stupid American not to speak their language. I am now reminded of another huge difference-- you have to pay 5 kr to use the bathroom (or water closet as it is called everywhere here) in all public areas and in any place you are not paying to eat or drink.

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel, grabbed our bags, hit the subway to the station, then the bus to the dock where we got to our cruise ship...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

We're not in Davidson anymore...

As I sit in the international terminal at O'Hare (yes, my passport came in about an hour ago...thank God), I can't think of any more drastic a change from Davidson than this terminal. Sure, we have (some) diversity at Davidson, but nowhere near the diversity here. I can't count the different languages I've heard in 2 short hours on my fingers. Then there's the fashion--from nordic drab to Japanese uber-hip and everything in between.

Just as immediate of a departure from Davidson as the diversity is the security. All the airport security in the world can't make me feel as safe as I did in that bubble, surrounded merely by good people who rely merely on each others' word to know that they are safe from theft, lying, and cheating. If I were to get up to get a bite of food or go to the bathroom in even the most public of places at Davidson (ie-Union, Baker, Library), I would absolutely feel secure leaving my bookbag, laptop, or even my wallet lying around. Here, I probably won't leave my seat for hours because I don't want to lug my 50 lb bag around.

Another difference is people's intentions. At Davidson we look out for each other, lending a helping hand to strangers and friends alike without expecting anything in return. Here people are cold and frigid to each other, as if suspecting each other of being dangerous. I admit, I was blindsided by a man who asked me where I was going as I wandered around the baggage claim area looking for signs to the international terminal. He told me I wanted Terminal 5, and to put my bag on his cart and he'd take me there. I did, and he did, and in my own ignorance (I'm not stupid, just too used to Davidson), I offered him what I would at Davidson for his troubles: a genuine "Thank you" and a firm handshake. This was not acceptable. He demanded payment, which I, startled, gave him.

I wish people would share more in this world: ideas, information, services, support, whatever you have to offer that someone else might need. I know that this is an impossible goal, as people are naturally ultimately self-interested, but I believe the more we share, the better the world we live in will get.

On a related note, though not necessarily relevant to my trip to Finland, what do people think about the RIAA going after the radio stations for royalties? In my mind there are 3 ways this can go: 1) Radio stations are forced to pay up, making even the top independent radio stations suffer immensely without the operating budget and national support of ClearChannel; 2) The plan backfires and radio stations start getting their music from non-RIAA labels, boosting sales of independent music through the roof and essentially hitting "restart" on the music industry; 3) ClearChannel pays, independent stations find other music, and ClearChannel is forced out of business (my favorite, but clearly the least likely). At any rate, I think the RIAA is again being unnecessarily desperate for funds in an industry that just happens to be sprawling away from major labels. But maybe that's just me...what do you think? (Pssst-that's a hint to comment)

Monday, May 21, 2007

The anticipation is killing me...

Welcome one and all to my new blog about (at least initially) my post-graduation trip to Finland, Sweeden, and Estonia. I graduated from Davidson College yesterday, and tomorrow (hopefully) I leave for Europe with my parents. We are visiting my mom's former foreign exchange student from her high school years and her family, both for vacation and to attend the youngest daughter's wedding.
As it stands, it is currently about 24 hours before the last check-in time for my flight from Chicago to Stockholm and I am sitting outside a friend's house in Davidson, NC without a passport. Problem? I think so. I had applied 3 months ago (thank you President Bush for increasing security measures but decreasing funding for passport services) and have called many times to help expedite the process and have received promises that they would bump me to the top of the list and overnight it to me, only to call back the next day and find no such thing happened, nor can they give me more information (damn you, Patriot Act).
So it looks like I might have to change my flight to Chicago to tonight, find a place to crash, and get to the passport services office in Chicago at the crack of dawn in the hopes that they will, for whatever fee it takes, process my application and get me a passport in time to catch a train to O'Hare and check in by 3:30. FUN!
If that doesn't work, this blog will promptly shift topics, as I will be sitting on my butt in Milwaukee (as a transfer of international tickets costs as much as we paid for our tickets, not to mention I'd miss the boat from Stockholm to Helsinki and have to purchase another not-cheap ticket).
Let us hope and pray that my passport comes in the mail today or tomorrow, or that the folks at passport services are more helpful in person...