Travelling alone is different from travelling with friends. Doing it as a solo female? Even more so. Now, I’m lucky in that I have two travel buddies – Ron and Kerry – and wherever I want to go, one or the other of them is also interested. However, each of them also plans trips of their own and, while I’m always welcome to come along, sometimes I just can’t swing it. So much as I might have loved to, say, visit Ukraine with Ron or France with Kerry, those were ultimately solo trips for them.
After hearing their stories, solo international travel became an experience I wanted to have, so a few years back, when planning a trip to Finland, I claimed it for myself. Since I was going specifically to see an opera, a type of performance Ron doesn’t enjoy, and since it was in January above the arctic circle and Kerry hates the cold, they were both happy to say, “You have fun with that,” and leave me to it.
An overnight stop in Rovaniemi, early in the trip, drove home just how different things were going to be. After only a few hours of strolling around the city, I’d realized that I should have planned a proper stay, not just a stopover of a few hours. Said realization was only reinforced after a visit to the Paha Kurki Rockhouse.
The Paha Kurki Rockhouse is a heavy metal bar, an idea that warmed the cockles of my headbanger heart. My going there for a beer was a no-brainer, and when I arrived and saw the signboard out front, I knew it had been worth the walk through a snowstorm to get there.
Stepping through the door, I was overcome with a feeling of being home – no matter that I was thousands of kilometres away from Canada. It was just perfect. It’s a small, cozy place with subdued lighting and awesome decor, and while I don’t remember specifically what music was playing, I do recall that it was, “Fuck I love this song!” after “Fuck I love this song!” all at the perfect volume – loud enough to hear but not so loud as to be overpowering.
I settled into a booth with a Karhu, a Finnish beer recommended by the bartender, happy to rest after my long afternoon walk, gently banging my head along to the music in my own personal little bubble of contentment. It being a snowy weeknight, there were only a few people there, something which, in the long run, worked both for and against me – for simply because I prefer to hang out in pubs when they’re quiet, and against because it made me more visible to the other patrons.
One such patron was a very, very, very drunk man who, after the people he’d been hanging with at the bar left, plunked himself down across the table from me. He sat there silent for a moment, weaving back and forth with his eyes fluttering, before he spoke to me. The first thing he said?
“Why are you here alone?”
(Guys, can I just throw out a word of advice? If you want to talk to a woman on her own in a bar, make sure the first words out of your mouth don’t point out how vulnerable she is.)
In between his bouts of dizziness, he asked if he could buy me a beer. I said no, and after a long period of silence where I refused to engage with his slurred attempts at conversation, he got up and staggered his way back to the bar. I thought that was the end of things, but a few minutes later, he was back with a fresh beer. And beyond that, the bartender was making her way across the pub with a beer for me.
“I don’t want that!” I said to her. (I still feel bad because I was so freaked out I kinda barked it at her.) She gave me a startled look, then asked if this guy was bothering me. I said yes, and she took one look at him – One. Look. – and he got up and sheepishly left the bar.
The bartender then told me to let her know if anyone else was bothering me because, “We don’t put up with that here.” She stayed to chat for a bit, and told me that the owner of the Paha Kurki Rockhouse is a woman who has a zero-tolerance policy – treat female employees and patrons with respect, or get out.
I cannot tell you how good it felt to know that even though I was alone, someone had my back. Normally after such an experience with a guy making me uncomfortable, I’d have left and made my way back to my lodgings. Being frightened puts a damper on the fun, after all. But the bartender was equal parts fierce and kind, and I had no doubt she meant what she said.
So I ordered another beer.
And because I felt safe, I ended up chatting with some other patrons: Micah and Yanni, a couple of guys of the non-jerk variety. (Even if they did insist that Halifax is in Québec.) They taught me some Finnish swear words and gave me tips of things to do in the upcoming cities on my itinerary, and were just generally friendly and pleasant.
The sad reality is that women live their lives constantly aware of how threatened and vulnerable they are. My first solo trip outside of my own country, where I was truly alone and out of my comfort zone, only heightened that feeling.
The Paha Kurki Rockhouse was a welcome respite.
To read more posts in the Pub Crawl series, click here.