The main snag is that this takes a lot longer, so between this and LARP I've already booked most of my annual leave for the year. It's also more expensive than flying, so I don't think people are going to abandon air travel en masse while it's quicker and cheaper. The other complication is that I've had to book my travel from lots of different companies, and the tickets have become available at different times, so this has been an ongoing job for several months. (I registered for the swimming races on 2013-06-19 and booked my final train tickets on 2014-01-24.) On the plus side, I think that travelling by train is generally more civilised than going by plane (e.g. I can take a bottle of water with me and I get more legroom), and I should get the opportunity to see a bit of the various cities when I change vehicle.
Here's my schedule for the outbound journey:
|Mon||2014-03-17||Streatham||13:38||London St Pancras||14:10||First Capital Connect||£2.30||£2.30|
|Mon||2014-03-17||London St Pancras||15:04||Brussels||18:05||Eurostar||£44.50||£44.50||Arrive at St Pancras at least 45 mins before check-in|
|Mon||2014-03-17||Brussels||18:25||Cologne||20:15||ICE||€19.00||£15.96||Dinner in Cologne?|
|Mon||2014-03-17||Cologne||22:28||Copenhagen||10:07||City Night Line||£54.00||£54.00||Sleeper train "Borealis"|
|Tue||2014-03-18||Copenhagen||11:16||Stockholm||16:39||SJ2000||SEK 196.00||£18.42||High speed tilting train|
|Tue||2014-03-18||Stockholm||20:00||Turku||07:35||Viking Line ferry||€91.50||£76.86||Dinner in Stockholm or on the ferry?|
|Wed||2014-03-19||Turku Satama||08:30||Helsinki||10:58||VR train||€35.95||£30.20|
In case it's not obvious, I'm using ISO 8601 format for the dates and the 24 hour clock for the times. All times are in local format, e.g. it's actually a 2 hour journey from St Pancras to Brussels even though the departure time and arrival time are 3 hours apart. Finland is 2 hours ahead of the UK.
I'm using the following conversion rates:
* €1.00 = £0.84 (Euro)
* SEK 1.00 = £0.09 (Swedish Krona)
Obviously these will fluctuate a bit, but it gives a rough idea.
The actual event runs from Thu 20th to Sun 23rd March, then we'll be leaving on Sunday evening. Here's my return journey:
|Mon||2014-03-24||Helsinki||17:02||Turku Satama||19:12||VR train||€36.94||£31.03|
|Mon||2014-03-24||Turku||20:55||Stockholm||06:30||Viking Line ferry||Breakfast on ferry?|
|Tue||2014-03-25||Stockholm||10:21||Copenhagen||15:32||X2000||SEK 196.00||£18.42||Lunch/dinner in Copenhagen?|
|Tue||2014-03-25||Copenhagen||18:46||Cologne||06:14||City Night Line||€59.00||£49.56||Sleeper train "Borealis"|
|Wed||2014-03-26||Brussels||10:56||London St Pancras||11:57||Eurostar||£34.50||£34.50|
|Wed||2014-03-26||London St Pancras||12:04||Streatham||12:35||First Capital Connect||£2.30||£2.30|
(I haven't included a cost for the ferry between Turku and Stockholm, because I bought a return ticket rather than 2 singles. I haven't actually booked the tickets between Streatham and St Pancras, because I'll just use my Oyster card each day. This plan assumes that I'll go via the lido for a quick swim on my way there and my way back, but the alternative is to go to/from Croydon.)
So, the total cost for all this travel is about £580.
By contrast, here's the rough plan for the flying route:
Total cost ~= £196, excluding travel to/from Stansted. (I'm guessing that they'll need to drive to the airport for the flight out, although they could take train/tube on the way back.) The rest of the team will be on the same trains to/from Rovaniemi, so I'll meet them at Tampere.
That is quite a significant difference, so I can't really fault anyone else for flying.
When I was booking these tickets, I noticed that I had to use different names for a few stations depending on the language of the website I was using. In particular:
|Brussels South Stn||Brussels Midi||Bruxelles-Midi||Brussel Zuid|
|Cologne||KOELN HBF||Köln Hbf|
On a related note, there are 2 stations in Turku: "Turku Satama" is at the harbour, right next to the ferry port, and "Turku" is about 3 km away. For some reason, it takes 20-30 minutes for trains to get between those stations, even though they're so close together. However, the ferry just refers to Turku (not Turku Satama) so it can be slightly confusing.
Once I get to Cologne, I'm taking the City Night Line train to Copenhagen. Seat61 advised "always book a couchette". I tried to book this through the SNCF website, and they listed prices but they kept saying that tickets were unavailable, so I phoned the London booking office. When I phoned (2013-12-14), they could only book me a seat for the outbound journey, not the return, and I was a bit uneasy about that; my concern was that I'd get stuck with a ticket I couldn't use. (I later resigned myself to buying tickets piecemeal, with calendar reminders for when each leg of the journey would go on sale.) However, the website quoted me £131.50 for a place in a 6 berth couchette and booking it over the phone only cost me £54.00, so that was a significant saving! For the return trip, I used the DB Bahn website, and they charged me €59 for 1 person in a 6-berth cabin. I could also have paid €69 for 1 person in a 4-berth cabin, but if I'm going to be sharing a cabin with other people then it doesn't really make much difference to me whether I'm in a double bunk or a triple bunk.
After Copenhagen, I'm taking the SJ2000 (high speed tilting train) to Stockholm. There's a significant difference between ticket prices here:
* Refundable = SEK 1383 (~= £130)
* Rebookable = SEK 287 (~= £27)
* Non-rebookable = SEK 196 (~= 18)
Those are all 2nd class tickets, so it doesn't make any difference to the actual seat. However, the cheaper tickets are only released 90 days before departure, so this was another job for my calendar reminder. I've got the cheapest ticket, and I think that's decent value for a 5 hour journey; this price includes internet access for the entire journey. They do have food on the train, with a SEK 16 discount if you pre-book, but the veggie option is curry (which I'm not keen on) so I'll try to forage for something on the day; hopefully I can pick up a sandwich or something in Copenhagen.
After Stockholm, I'm taking the overnight Viking Line ferry to Turku. As with the overnight train, I needed to choose where I'd sleep. The prices vary quite a bit, depending on how swanky you want to get, e.g. €400 for a 2 bed outside cabin. Looking further down the scale, I was amused by the prices for a "B2P inside cabin" (2 beds): €40 for the whole cabin, or €42 for 1 bed male. I'm not sure why anyone would want to pay an extra €2 for the privilege of having an unknown roommate! Those prices are for single journeys, and if you buy a return then you don't get an option for individual beds, just the whole cabin. I opted for the "Inside Piccolo Two, 2 beds" (the cheapest option) which is recommended for single use. Maybe it's like camping, where an "n-person" tent is really intended for n-1 people.
I'm using VR trains to get between Turku Satama and Rovaniemi, and they have different types of ticket. I went through a booking agent, and I've got Basic Eco tickets. These are more flexible than Advance Eco (I can pay €5 to change the ticket, up to 24 hours after departure), but they're also more expensive (e.g. Helsinki to Rovaniemi costs €62.88 for Advance Eco or €104.80 for Basic Eco). If I'd gone through the website then I would have opted for Advance Eco, but I wanted to get into the same carriage as the rest of the team (who booked separately) so I needed to go via an agent. She didn't ask which type of ticket I wanted, and I didn't explicitly say, although I have already needed to change one ticket (after I got mixed up between the Turku stations) and she didn't charge me extra for that, so I'm not going to complain.
Once I arrive in Rovaniemi, I'll be staying at the Hotel Aakenus with the rest of the team.
The return trip is pretty similar, except that I'm taking an overnight train from Rovaniemi to Helsinki, so I'll be in a berth (cabin) with a bunk bed. That then means that I have 8 hours in Helsinki between trains, which will give me the opportunity to explore the city a bit.
As for the event itself, I'm doing 1 swim each day:
* Thu 20th = non-competitive seal (25m).
* Fri 21st = breaststroke (25m).
* Sat 22nd = non-competitive polar bear (50m).
There are also relay races on Sunday, although I'm not taking part in them. I don't have any illusions about my speed (my goal is just to survive the experience), and I don't want to slow other people down. I'm trying to organise a group to take part in the show swim event on Sunday (following on from our pantomime), but that's still up in the air at the moment.
When I'm not swimming, there will be other ways to keep myself occupied. There's an opening ceremony on Thursday, a gala dinner on Saturday (in the Hotel Santa Claus), and a closing ceremony on Sunday. The official website also has a list of activities, e.g. hiring a snowmobile and going out to see the Northern Lights, and I may see whether I can get Santa to send a postcard to my nephews.
I've also been pondering clothing. As for as the swimming goes, the rules say: "It's recommended the swimsuits not to have leaves or legs." That baffled me at first: are they expecting people to have strategically positioned fig leaves? Someone else then figured out that they probably meant "sleeves" rather than "leaves", which makes a bit more sense! More generally, the IISA (International Ice Swimming Association) follow the same rules as the English Channel Swimming Association, and I'm guessing that the WSWC have the same idea in mind. They said "recommended" rather than "compulsory", but after the leaves/sleeves mix-up this may just be an error in translation. That means that neither of my current swimsuits (baggy shorts or "jammers") would qualify, since they both go down to just above my knees, so I've bought some Speedo briefs to get into the spirit of the thing.
Once I'm out of the water, I'll obviously want to wear something a bit more substantial! When I'm indoors, I'll probably be fine with jeans and hat. For outdoors, I've still got my ski jacket (which I wear as a general purpose coat at this time of year) and I think I'll take along my ski trousers and base layers too. That should be useful for the snowmobile, if nothing else. This is further north than I've ever been before (5km outside the Arctic Circle), so I'd welcome advice from anyone else with relevant experience.
As for general planning, I recently read a guidebook (Finland - Culture Smart!). That seemed quite informative, although I won't really be able to judge how useful/accurate it is until I get there. I've also bought a language guide by the same author (Teach Yourself Complete Finnish). I was tempted by From Start To Finnish, since I admire a good pun, but the other book seems more relevant to me based on reviews. Apparently the guide I bought goes up to level B2 of the Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR); based on Durham's guide, that's equivalent to an A or A* grade at A level. I don't expect to get anywhere near that level before I go, so I'll be happy if I can just learn the basics, e.g. counting to ten and asking for directions. Hopefully there will be people there who speak English, but I think it's polite for me to make a bit of an effort.
Aside from all that, I just need to practice the actual swimming. We've had relatively mild weather, so the water in the lido was about 4.5°C yesterday. (The lifeguards said 5°, one of the members said 4°, and another member said 4.5°, so either the thermometers aren't calibrated properly or the result varies depending on the time of day and the depth of the water.) Normally I wouldn't complain, but in this case I hope it does get a bit colder before March, to help me acclimatise. Ah well, I'll just have to see what happens.