During the weekend, I made a short cruise from Stockholm to Turku and back on the Silja Europa, one of Silja Line's very large cruise ferries crossing regularly between Sweden and Finland. The Silja Europa was built in 1993 by Meyer Werft at Papenburg in Germany and - when first completed - she was the world's biggest cruise ferry. Originally ordered by Rederi AB Slite, the Swedish part of Viking Line, she was in the end delivered to their main rival, Silja, in controversial circumstances.
I boarded the vessel in Stockholm at 6.30 am on Saturday - it was very, very cold - and I was immediately shown to my cabin, well forward on Deck 9. This was very clean and compact.
Having dumped my rucksack in the cabin, I went back to the main public room decks to investigate the possibilities of breakfast. It was notable how the lower I got in the superstructure, the more evidence I found of the remnants of the serious partying which had taken place onboard the previous evening - and, no doubt, well into the morning - as the ship headed overnight from Finland to Sweden. Although I was told that it was fully booked, there was hardly a soul around. No doubt, they were all trying to sleep off their hangovers in their cabins.
Down on deck 2, where the least expensive cabins are located beneath the vehicle decks, there were a lot of Finnish students who simply hadn't realised that it was now morning. They had partied all night and were still partying when I boarded. They were all rather jolly and staggering around, kind-of half-dancing to music from their own personal electronics. It was rather surreal at 6.45 am.
Wisely, perhaps, in Silja Europa's nightclub area, the carpet has a barf-explosion pattern, all the better to hide explosions of barf.
Empty Food Market - only darkness to be viewed through the expanses of windows.
Out on deck - minus 11 celsuis - but plus 35 inside the Sauna Beach, the ship's swimming and spa complex.
Wintry scenes in the Stockholm archipelago.
The morning procession inbound for Stockholm: Silja Festival arrives from Riga, followed by Silja Symphony. The blue-grey light of dawn gives wonderful photographic possibilities.
Next, Viking line's Mariella passes at the end of her overnight crossing from Helsinki:
Finally, Tallink's Victoria 1 emerges from the narrows at Oxdjupet, en route from Tallinn to Stockholm:
After the photography, it's time for breakfast in the Maxim Restaurant. A steaming bowl of porridge forms the first course:
After breakfast, I am greeted by Santa.
Meanwhile, some of my fellow passengers have surfaced and headed straight for the bar to begin a day's serious drinking. I estimate that at least 95% of the Silja Europa's passengers are Finns. I like Finns a lot - they're tremendously straight-forward and well-educated. Yet, many of those onboard look a bit like the product of a sexual encounter between Ozzy Osbourne and Moomin Mama. They are characterised by a 'wild man of rock' meets 'plump white creature with beady eyes who's just come out of the forest' look.
Illuminated notices advertising the onboard entertainment - oh deary me! Below right: a variety of creatures not allowed in the swimming pools and sauna. As one of the attendants told me 'working on this ship, I've seen everything!'
Below: passing Furusund - while my fellow passengers enjoy their cigarettes in the warmth of the hallway.
Birger Jarl passes to port in the middle distance on her way from Mariehamn back to Stockholm:
Plastic and tupperware are very bad for the digestion, I believe, so this is sound advice:
Time to visit the shopping centre - where a wide variety of quality souvenirs are for sale:
The tax-free supermarket with rows of shopping trolleys and drink piled high in mountains. One can even buy a trolley pre-loaded with four big boxes of beer:
Souvenir t-shirts - ideal for a bar crawl.
On the approach to Mariehamn, the Galaxy emerges from banks of freezing fog. Her wonderful paint scheme is by the Estonian artist Navitrolla.
Rosella passes between two islands, half hidden in a bank of fog; Mariehamn looks cold and sleepy.
Heading for Turku:
Meanwhile, in Joe's Place, the ship's pub, a trobadour is leading the drinkers in rousing renditions of Finnish folk songs. As I listen, I get the distinct impression that the (nearly) all-male audience's renditions of the lyrics aren't exactly faithful to the originals. Their new spontaneous versions provoke much hilarity, so I assume that they are very, very mucky indeed. Alas, I don't speak Finnish - but I wish I did. It's a wonderful-sounding language in which one imagines one could swear most effectively.
The a la restaurant area is another world, viewed through glass panels. Within, all is pristine and civilised. This is Alexandr, the Russian a la carte restaurant:
Live music and afternoon dancing in the Ocean Club, the main nightclub: there were two bands onboard - one was a dance band (pictured) and the other was a Finnish rock group. Dancing to Finnish rock music is not easy - but that didn't stop some from trying.
Abandoned beer cans and Christmas lights: the man crouching in the corner (below left) did not look at all well. A combination of drink, smoke and thumping guitar rock appeared to have left him completely blitzed out.
Our evening arrival in Turku:
When the cabins were vacated, the true extent of the cleaners' task became apparent. They had only one hour to return the ship to a semblance of order - a tough task as the students had been throwing toilet rolls and bed linen at each other in the cabin corridors:
Cruise Clean's squad get down to action. Below are a couple of typical cleaning tasks:
I, meanwhile, headed for dinner in the Maxim Restaurant - and this was superb.
The main course - venison - was one of the best I've had on any ship. After that, I went to bed while another ship-load of Finns got ready to party.
Me with the ship's DJ in his booth, displaying his extensive collection of garage and heavy house CDs.