Friday, November 16, 2007

Logbook: Finnish Finish

Finnishfinish1Sunday dawned with the prospect of decent weather for my day-trip to Helsinki, so I got up and moving pretty early. I've never been much of a "morning person" but the first blast of freezing cold wind woke me right up and I had a very brisk walk to the ferry terminal. Because I only had a day for my excursion, I opted for one of the "fast ferries" which is a smallish catamaran -- about 200 feet in length -- driven by some kind of "jet" propulsion. Looking off the back of the boat I saw what looked like a lot of steam but figured it was just water mist being kicked up by the "jets." On closer inspection I realized that it was indeed vapor caused by the relatively warm water being churned up and hitting the freezing cold air, just like your breath in winter. The thought of the Baltic Sea water being that much warmer than the ambient air was a bit of a surprise to me, but there you have it. As for the boat itself, with a cruising speed of about 40 knots it is indeed very fast, but I also found it to be very uncomfortable. You know how much I like being on the water, but I didn't really enjoy this ride. Instead of the usual "rolling" that ships do, the fast ferry does more of a side-to-side and twisting motion. I suspect this has something to do with the nature of the wide set hulls, the lack of ballast and who knows what else, but the highly touted "stabilization system" didn't impress me. Nevertheless, an hour and a half later I arrived in Helsinki, cleared immigration and hit the streets.

Finnishfinish2My first impression of Helsinki was pretty positive. It is an attractive capital city with a wide variety of buildings from the obviously very old to the also obviously very new. Its most outstanding features -- as I have come to be familiar with in practically every other city I've been to in the region -- are its many, many churches of all sizes, shapes and styles. One slightly odd thing I noticed immediately was that there were practically no people to be seen anywhere. I chalked this up to it being a cold Sunday morning and the fact that the decent weather I had hoped for based on conditions in Tallinn did not pan out in Helsinki. It was pretty overcast and actually quite dark, so I figured people were probably just staying inside. Undaunted, I enjoyed a lengthy walk pretty much all over the city, listening to some podcasts on my iPod and snapping the occasional photo. By a little after noon I was pretty hungry and very cold, so I stopped in a cozy looking restaurant for lunch. Just about the time my soup arrived at the table, the really inclement weather arrived in Helsinki with freezing rain, high winds and really, really dark skies. I lingered over my lunch for about as long as I could, but the weather persisted so I decided to abandon my exploration in favor of an earlier than planned return ferry. Thus ended my brief but satisfactory visit -- a "Finnish Finish" to my "Baltic Bound" exploration -- and an even more miserable ride later I was back in my room in Tallinn. It has been a really great few weeks visiting very interesting places, but trust me folks, this is not the season to see the Baltic States at their finest!

Monday was a general mixed-use day and Tuesday afternoon I headed back over to the ferry terminal to catch my ride to Stockholm, the first of two legs that would get me back to Gdynia, Poland. The ship was another of those huge vessels that I have become accustomed to, made to feel even larger by the very few passengers on board. Thus, it was a bit of a surprise when I checked into my cabin and found three Russian men already there, sitting in their underwear and drinking vodka. Why the ship booked us four in a cabin on an practically empty boat I will never understand, but that's the way it was. We all grunted greetings at each other and I tossed my bag on my bunk then headed right back out to find someplace to hang out and enjoy some quality iTunes time with my Mac. (Note: I need more iTunes money!) At about midnight I finally went back to the cabin and found it unoccupied so I climbed up on my rack and went to sleep. At about three in the morning my Russian roomies returned -- obviously from their comprehensive investigation of every bar and club on the ship -- and made just about the kind of ruckus you'd expect. In due course the alcohol must have finally kicked in because the lads pretty much passed out and I got a few more hours of sleep. In the morning I got up and found coffee, then whiled away the time until our arrival in Stockholm and disembarked promptly. Although my ferry ride was pretty bad, I humored myself that it had to have been better than the bus ride would have been.

Finnishfinish3At the port in Stockholm I took a shuttle bus to the central train station and began another "Deja-Vuish" experience. I got a ticket to Nynsham and got on the train, paying close attention to the station stop where I had to make the train change that I had almost missed the last time I did the trip. Arriving in Nynasham again was similar but different, owing primarily to the amount of snow that was on the ground -- What a difference a month can make! -- and the walk to the Polferry was correspondingly similar and different. The ferry itself was almost exactly the same, except for the fact that there were even fewer people on board than the last time. To my sheer delight I had a cabin all to myself and proceeded to stretch out for a nap before having dinner, watching both on-board movies and calling it a night. I was up early enough yesterday morning to enjoy our approach to Gdansk, then disembarked from my highly satisfactory second ferry ride. After a routine stamping at Polish immigration I got a cab here to my favorite little Villa Admiral in Gdynia and enjoyed a delightful return welcome followed by a lengthy coffee-chat about my Baltic exploration.

With that, The Voyage has reached the end of another "phase." With northern and eastern European travels behind me, I will now start heading south to begin my central European exploration. Meanwhile, I'm delighted to be back in Gdynia for a few days to catch up with myself and make some plans and arrangements going forward. Stay tuned!

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