I promise to finish writing down the tales of our travels! I think I have been subconsciously protesting the return to routine by not scheduling time to do it, rather, instead looking through photos and reading more widely about the culture and people of the places we’ve been. We’ve so many wonderful memories! But it’s great to be home - really great - we’re reminded how lucky we are in so many ways.
The Viking Line M/S Mariella!
Helsinki was, partly by chance and partly by design, quite the change of pace for us. This year, Helsinki is the location for World Design Capital this year (see http://www.worlddesigncapital.com), which meant between events, exhibitions, installations, museums and pop-ups, there was whole lot of creativity, design, and architectural goodness going on for us (me) to oogle over. Way in advance I’d booked a luxurious night’s stay at Klaus K Design hotel, so we were expecting one night of luxury, but fortune would have it that the best deal I could get on accommodation of any sort for the remaining three nights was a deal on lastminute.com for the four-star Scandic Grand Marina. 4-nights of luxurious privacy it was!
But we had to find it first, and partly due to delirium but probably mostly due to Google-maps instructing us that the Viking Line’s port was on the opposite side of the quay than it actually is, we walked, with luggage, a decent half-hour in the incorrect direction before realising both that it was the incorrect direction, and that they street signs are both in Finnish and Swedish. Why? I mean, sure, that sounds quite friendly and all, but one name ought to be sufficient, no? Our Google-map was in English. Who’d have thought the street names would be translated three ways? I’m not sure what the Swedish or Finnish translation for thunder-storm is, but then there was a cracker. Imagine our surprise, when after we were “sure” we were again heading in the correct direction, wet and disheveled towards the elusive schwanky “design hotel”, we turned a corner, and there, bodly, glistened the bough of M/S Mariella in the rain. Ha! Not as close to our intended path as we thought we were. It was more than a bit lucky that next to the port was the Scandic Grand Central Marina, and at this point I marched straight in there and begged for assistance to find our way to a different hotel than theirs, pretty please and seeing as thought we’ll be back the very next day. The extremely lovely, obliging staff armed me with a Finnish map, and we speedily made our way to the warm, comfortable (swanky) bed at Klaus K, for a well-needed nap!
Fresh and vibrant, we arrived at Oslo Central station, with an hour to calmly change platforms and board the train to Stockholm, which of course I could never manage and decided to add some excitement by leaving my mobile phone amongst the (very comfortable) bed sheets of the night train. (Shock, horror? No. No-one reading is surprised.) Phone retrieved, we set off on an uneventful but scenic day train-trip to Stockholm.
From Stockholm Central to the port of the Viking Line “Ferries”. In hindsight, I don’t really know why I was expecting a vessel (I swear, named a “ferry” in all the booking documentation) to carry us 14-hours across the sea to be similar in stature to the Manly-ferry; maybe because our private-sleeping-compartment tickets only cost a $38 supplement each to our Eurail pass. I did enough research to know that we would arrive in Helsinki, eventually. I didn’t do enough research to have been able to anticipate a massive 1980s (original décor!) booze-cruise-liner, complete with casino, sundeck (alas, no sun), spa, multiple bars and discos, restaurants, cafes and all night duty-free shopping - populated by, as far as we could tell, a significant proportion of the still-mobile senior citizens of Scandinavia (yet again, not the blonde Swedes Sean was wishing to encounter), and a smattering of other just-as-stunned backpackers. We boarded the ship ridiculously early (true to my new-found punctuality), chucked our bags in our cabin, conveniently located two levels below the cars and trucks (convenient to the bottom of the ocean, should we need to evacuate) and headed up for a look around. Still sixty minutes before departure, the window-seats at the bar were all occupied by sixty-plus Swedes, clearly brimming with both experience of and enthusiasm for the journey ahead, pre-priming themselves with the €3 beer-and-shot offer before hitting the buffet, soon-as. Oh dear!
We gave it a real good go, being sensible, eating our pre-organised food we’d brought with us, getting a good night’s rest and the like, but indeed the nostalgia of our Spanish travels got the better of us (we’ll run with that excuse!), and before we knew it we were a few cheap tapas and wines down, buying duty-free shoes and side-stepping festively-wielded walking frames. Not a word of a lie - there was a Tina-Turner tribute concert on board. Oh dear indeed!
I just checked by trip-advisor.com, to see how well-advised we ought to have been before making arrangements. I’m not sure if I’ve already mentioned it, but when we’ve been bored, Sean and I have been reading the reviews of places we’ve been and things we’ve done. We do this purely to laugh at the bad ones, at people’s petty complaints and “different” perceptions of things. Or in the case of our Venice hostel, to puzzle over the (two?) positive reviews. One quite disgruntled reviewer of the Viking Line, I reckon, put it perfectly, “Imagine a gas station restroom, a trashy casino, and a city bus: all in the same horrible place, but on a boat”. Ironically, those were precisely the aspects that made this trip so awesome for us - it was hilarious!
In the morning, over our headaches, we ate our fruit for breakfast and admired the lovely view through past the Finnish archipelago before bemusedly disembarking in Helsinki and realising that we forgot to photograph the fantastic interior of this ship! Shame – but also probably best that what happens on the M/S Mariella stays on the M/S Mariella.
For a laugh (and also to confirm that I was not the only traveller surprised by this experience), read also http://manhattan-nest.com/2012/07/14/the-end-of-the-trip/
and then also about the Viking line’s other vessel, Cindarella,
http://www.iamstaggered.com/featured/stag-do-idea-fear-and-loathing-in-stockholm/. As a savvy user of the internet, there was no excuse not to be properly informed! Ha!
So we did indeed make it though the day, with extra-ordinary occurrences including, but not restricted to, the construction of a water-proof-plastic-bag-in-the-shoe-foot-rescuing-device since the shoe-repairers of Bergen were for some strange reason too busy to help a touristy-lass with her sopping wet hole in the shoe problem “in a hurry”. We were indeed also provided with a most friendly level of customer service, by a very polite waitress whose face was suddenly startlingly familiar, that is, we recognised, as she presented us with our drinks, that she was (one of the) woma/en in the way-too-interestingly-artistic full-frontal nude photograph on the wall facing us. A pity, as we eventually squirmed our way out of there, rather than basking for hours in the goodness of a warm and dry place to while away the hours for the cost of the almost-$10-each hot chocolates (did we mention that Norway is expensive?). Instead we ended up back at the train station a good 3 hours in advance of our train, munching on a salad I whipped up in the travel tupperware.
True to Norwegian form, though, the sleeper train was awesome!