Saturday, 30 June 2012

Midsummer in the Åland Islands

Last week (21-26 June), I made a photography trip to Finland in order to take some midsummer photographs of the big Baltic ferries from the Åland Islands, accompanied by my good mate, the Finnish shipping expert Kalle Id from Helsinki. I flew to Helsinki, stayed overnight there with Kalle and his wife Maria, then the next day, Kalle and I took the train to Turku.

Finland in the early hours of the morning, approaching Helsinki Vanta Airport (above).

The Helsinki-Turku Inter-city train at Pasila station:

Turku station:

Downtown Turku:

A former Turku tramcar in use as a snack kiosk. Kalle told me that Turku only finally removed its tram system in the 1980s, which seems incredibly short-sighted:

Yet another design festival - how imaginative (just because Helsinki is having one, I suppose):

Remnants of La Belle Epoque:

The Municipal Museum and Art Gallery:

Old and newer, yet both pink:

Turku neon signs:

Remnants of the birchwood buildings of which Turku once was largely comprised before 1970s-80s redevelopment:

The River Aura:


Kalle spotted the hull of what was once a Sweden-Findland steamer, now in use as a bar and restaurant:

Knud E. Hansen A/S-designed former Sundbuss:

The old Crichton-Vulcan shipyard:

Ferry across the Aura:

Toy version of same:

Excursion ship decorated with birch fronts for midsummer, as per Finnish maritime tradition:

A quick visit to the former Sweden-Finland steamer Bore, now used as a hotel and museum ship:

We should have been there on that day instead:

The Bore's lovely wood-panelled saloons:

Since my previous visit to the Bore, a lot of work has been done and the ship is now getting to be in a pretty fine condition with interpretive displays about her history in some of the cabins and public rooms. A visit is highly reccommended:

Short afternoon nap under a tree:

Time to check-in for our Silja Europa trip:

Disembarking passengers, struggling with their drinks purchases:

As it was midsummer eve, the Silja Europa was fully booked with over 3,000 passengers:

There were many Japanese tourists:

So it was a good thing that Silja Line had updated their dinner buffet menu to include sushi:

Boarding felt a bit like Tokyo metro at rush hour - so the Japanese passengers probably felt at home:

The ship's photographer at work:

A moomin:

Silja Europa's big multi-level entrance hall with glass elevators:

My cabin:

Having dumped my rucksack, I headed straight for the sun deck as our departure was slightly overdue. It doesn't matter how many ships I go on, I still get tremendously excited when sailing time approaches and the ropes are released:

Isabella at the Viking Line berth:

Silja Europa was decorated with birch fronds for midsummer in best Finnish maritime tradition:

Playing with the rope mesh on the helicopter landing platform:

The deck bar:

Convenient ferry-watching platform (though I bet they told the planners that it was for bird-watching):

Farewell, Turku:

Twelve decks below, a swimmer, clearly delighted to be sharing the same water as the Silja Europa:

A lovely old wood-fired sauna, down by the water's edge:

A charming villa of the type inhabited by wealthier moomins:

Unlike so many other ferries of recent vintage, the Silja Europa has generous sun decks and one can even stand facing ahead - which is my favourite shipboard position:

Inboard, near the Sauna Beach:

Japanese tourists exploring Silja Europa's many wonders:

Retail therapy in the shipboard shopping mall:

The tax-free supermarket:


Slightly jingoistic t-shirts:

I best liked the Valmet tractor one:

Dinner time:

Food on ferries must always be photographed, as Kalle demonstrates:

A lovely view through floor to ceiling windows (too bad nobody had bothered to clean them, though):

My main course:

Midnight on deck:

Meanwhile, in the cocktail bar:

The Ocean Club in full swing:

Stockholm the next morning - grey and damp - but already we're on our way to Mariehamn:

Passing Silja Symphony and Silja Festival:

Silja Europa's shops come to life once more:

In the Food Market restaurant:


Crossing the Åland Sea in pouring rain:

It was still raining when, early in the afternoon, we berthed in Mariehamn:

Silja Europa heads back to Turku:

A small motor boat in Mariehamn, also decorated with birches:

Kalle contemplates the Finnish cruise ship Kristina Katerina in Mariehamn:

Rigging of the preserved sailing ship Pommern:

Kristina Katerina leaves and Rosella arrives:

Mariehamn signs:


Vintage tractor:

Evening entertainment option:


World headquarters of PAF, who supply slot machines and gaming tables to all the ferries:

A propeller from the Ålandsfärjan, one of Viking Line's first ships:

Strandbergs Stugor, where we stayed while in Mariehamn. It is a charming group of little summer cottages, owned by the same family as first established it back in the 1930s:

Sauna bath:

Me, red and steaming slightly:

Late -evening ship photography session:

Silja Symphony:


The next morning, the sun was shining brightly:

Early-morning ship photography, featuring Cinderella, Birka Paradise and Birger Jarl:

A ship-spotting duck:

Then , we went to the fishing barbour to hire a small motor boat to visit Kobba Klintar, a small island in the archipelago off Mariehamn that used to be a pilot station. I had noted it when making numerous Baltic ferry crossings in past years and thought to myself 'that would be a wonderful place from which to take photographs.' Now, finally, I had my opportunity and in pretty much perfect weather conditions:

The boat to Kobba Klintar:

On the island:

The old pilot station, built in 1910 and nowadays maintained by the Friends of Kobba Klintar (a charitable organisation) as a museum:

Plastic model with pilot's uniform:

Incredibly creepy waxworks of a mechnaic in his boiler suit in the generator room:

Vintage fire-extinguisher with splendid period graphics:

The kitchen:

Up to the clerestory in the attic:

Ferry photography time:

Rosella chugs past:

Silja Europa on the horizon:

Isabella next:

(Such good forward-planning on Kalle's part to be wearing the correct colour for photographing Viking Line ships!)

Isabella and Amorella:

Galaxy and Silja Europa outbound:

Followed by Amorella and Isabella:

(Well, that was all good fun!)

Back in Mariehamn, a rather surreal piece of random grafitti:

One more evening photography session, beginning with Rosella's arrival:

Here comes Gabriella:

Silja Serenade:

Baltic Queen:

How fortunate we were on Sunday as, on Monday, it was pouring with rain again and it rained all day long without a break. Kalle spent most of the day sleeping in his bedroom next door, while I read a book manuscript in mine:

Tuesday - and there was a little sunshine in the morning, enabling photography of the laid-up ro-ro freighter Hornbeam, which has a rather famous Swedish funnel marque:

The Pommern:

Then it was time to board Viking Line's Isabella to return to Turku:

Ville the Viking (cat) with toddlers (above):

A couple of splendidly dressed romany ladies on deck for a cigarette or two:

The last time I was on Isabella, the glass screens around her sun deck were covered in all-over sticky-back advertising for Bacardi, meaning that it was impossible to enjoy the view ahead. Happily, these have now gone:

Shortly after departing Mariehamn, it began to rain again:

Kobba Klintar in very different conditions from those in which we had experienced it two days previously:

Then, the weather cleared up:

The Isabella's conference suite, temporarily converted for the summer season into a very fun-looking childrens' entertainment centre:

A large round hairy object with long limbs and beedy eyes, posing beside a purple spider:

Ferry photography team:

Viking Line entertainment:

I bought the CD and, listening to it here at home in Scotland, I am immediately transported back to the Isabella's nightclub. I'm not suggesting that's necessarily good or anything:

Isabella interiors: one observation I'd make is that, in recent years, Viking Line's ferries have accummulated a lot of random clutter. They look a bit messy with advertisements stuck up all over and seem to lack any sense of 'design' and co-ordination in their public circulation areas. I wonder if this approach actually falls short of what today's more sophisticated consumer expects?

(As an aesthete, I find it a shame that such externally smart-looking vessels look so tacky inboard - and it is also telling that the crews don't really like passengers taking photographs)

Dinner in the steakhouse part of the Food Garden: this was very, very, very good indeed:

Steak and chips - mmmm!

Arriving back in Turku, followed by the Sea Wind:

Silja Europa in Turku:

Cruise Clean ready to get to work on Isabella with a fearsome-looking industrial floor cleaner:

Turku harbour station:

Back home in Helsinki, Maria Id with gifts from Kalle (note the Silja Line seal toy):

Ville the cat, who took up residence on me:

What a great trip. Thanks a million, Kalle.