On a wing and a prayer


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PAUL WYPER

CAS­TLE HILL, NSW ONa freez­ing Fe­bru­ary morn­ing, I ar­rived at the small domestic air­port of Ro­vaniemi in north­ern Fin­land. I checked in my knap­sack, col­lected my board­ing pass and, like a true Finn, headed straight for the bar.

A hard week of cross­coun­try ski­ing had left me ex­hausted, and with a long flight ahead, I was in des­per­ate need of a drink. I plonked my­self down at the bar, or­dered a beer, and looked out the win­dow at the blue ice on the tar­mac.

As the out­side tem­per­a­ture plum­meted, I watched the in­bound planes care­fully ne­go­ti­ate the sub-zero con­di­tions. One af­ter an­other, each pi­lot shrewdly cal­cu­lated his fi­nal ap­proach and, with breath­tak­ing pre­ci­sion, brought his air­craft to a slid­ing halt on the icy run­way.

It was a beau­ti­ful sight. A young man sit­ting next to me seemed sim­i­larly en­thralled.

‘‘So where are you fly­ing to?’’ I asked. ‘‘Helsinki,’’ he replied. I told him I was also headed there.

The young man smiled. ‘‘Well, in that case we should have a drink,’’ he said and un­corked a large bot­tle, filled two glasses, and toasted, ‘‘To a safe land­ing in Helsinki.’’

I downed the shot. A warm sen­sa­tion rushed through my veins and flushed my cheeks. ‘‘Wow,’’ I gasped.

He ex­plained it was Fin­nish vodka. ‘‘Strong as an ice-bear, and twice as deadly.’’

I laughed. He poured me an­other.

For the next hour, we went back and forth, talk­ing and drink­ing, and be­fore long both of us were pretty tipsy. Af­ter two hours, we were smashed.

Fi­nally, an an­nounce­ment came over the loud­speaker: ‘‘Pas­sen­gers are ad­vised that the flight to Helsinki will be board­ing shortly. Please make your way to Gate 14.’’

‘‘Well,’’ I said, strug­gling to stand, ‘‘we should prob­a­bly start head­ing over.’’

‘‘Re­lax,’’ he slurred, pour­ing him­self yet an­other shot. ‘‘Our flight isn’t go­ing any­where.’’

‘‘What makes you say that?’’

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