11 September 2006

Halfway to Haukipudas

I’ll confess to being fairly obsessive about travel planning. I try to buy a detailed map ahead of time to maximize efficiency. Conventional street maps have real limitations, however. Once, prior to a brief visit to Athens, I plotted a walking route that would take me directly from my hotel to a famous antiquities museum. On the map it appeared to be a straight shot. On foot, it entailed climbing up and down an appalling precipice. The “streets” were actually stairways verging on toeholds. With a topographical map I might have seen this coming.

If distances are too great, or routes too arduous, I take public transportation. A route map--here in Finland it's called a linjakartta--often can be downloaded from the internet. In Helsinki, for example, I learned from my linjakartta that the 3T and the 3B trams could take me virtually everywhere I needed to go, and so the first thing I did was to purchase a five-day pass at the office of the city’s public transport authority (it’s called HKL). It cost only about a third as much as a Helsinki Card.

Like every other city in Finland aside from Helsinki, Oulu has no subway or tram lines, only buses. Service is good, but bus systems are inherently complicated. You need to do your homework. Even then, buses, unlike trams and subways, can easily be rerouted—because of road construction, for example—and those kinds of refinements seldom find their way onto bus maps or timetables. All of this is by way explaining how it was that I boarded a #24 bus intending to go to the university and ended up halfway to Haukipudas, a town on the Gulf of Bothnia about twenty kilometers north of Oulu.

I knew I was in trouble when the 24 bus zoomed past the entrance to the university. I pulled out my map and just stayed the course to the end of the line, which is in the town of Kiviniemi—about ten kilometers from Oulu. The bus was entirely faithful to the published route—except of course at that one crucial point where I needed to have it turn onto Yliopistokatu (University Drive). Luckily, I had my cell phone with me and was able to rearrange my 10:00 appointment.

At Kiviniemi, I explained to the driver where I wanted to go. He had no English, but he understood when I used the word for university: yliopisto. And he made it a point to shout it out as we approached the stop closest to the university. I jumped off and hiked a kilometer or so to the Humanities Building on the far side of campus.

I still haven't figured out why the linjakartta led me astray. Until I do, I'll stick to the 4, 5, 6, and 7 lines. I know from experience that I can count on them. And I'll ponder the practical limits of such abstractions as maps and timetables. Really, someone should write a book.