Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ferry Ride Stockholm to Finland

Written April 2, 2008

Ferry Ride, December 22, 2007

We were amazed to be up, packed and waiting in the Ferry car line without much trouble—Hunter didn’t even cry much. He was just full of more questions than we were prepared to answer early in the morning. Before we left our room, we saw our ferry pull into the harbor.

We were among the last to get on the ferry, among diesel trucks and busses. The fumes were pretty terrible, so I was glad when they shut the end doors and we could bolt out of the car area.

It was obvious from the outside that the ferry was enormous. Red carpet, themed decorating every floor and event/shop reminded me of a casino. It was simply mind boggling to wander around in search of our cabin. Our cabin was several floors up from the car area. We saw smoking forbidden signs as well as people smoking outside their tiny rooms and foot-smashing their cigarette stubs into the red carpet. More fumes in enclosed spaces . . .

Eventually, we found our cabin—a mirror instead of window, two sets of bunks folded against the wall, a tiny, but adequate bathroom, television and closet space. By the time we had climbed stairs and wandered up and down halls, we were interested in eating the Scandia-packed breakfast we’d been carrying around.

We went in search of a windowed sitting area to eat our breakfast, but all of the available seats were within restaurants. I asked a hostess where a good place to eat a sack meal would be.

She said, sternly, “You aren’t even supposed to have food on the ferry except what is purchased and eaten in the restaurants.” We stood there with our white-handled red paper breakfast sacks, SCANDIA written on the side, a bit dumbfounded. We slunk back to our cabin to consume our ill-gotten breakfasts.

We went out onto a huge fiberglass enclosed deck at the rear of the ferry to view the archipelago P. told us to watch as the ferry pulled away from Stockholm. We were worried it would pass while we were hiding out in our cabin. But the air and wind were extremely cold and we could get no good photographic visibility for the tall, scratched fiberglass. The upper viewing decks were closed due to the possibility of ice (we asked). There were also little messes on the deck undiscovered by cleanup crews which didn’t help what nausea already tried to visit. We went back inside to find more windowed areas. We realized that the archipelago went on for at least three hours of the twelve hours we’d be on this ship

You wouldn’t believe the tiny mounds of land people build houses on. There were homes with narrow front, side or back yards, the water came that close. I wondered how they shopped for food and visited the doctor, I didn’t see many boats (it was December). One man told me, when I commented on this, that most of the homes are exclusively summer homes. The ferry passed rather close to many of these homes. And this ferry passage was for several ferry lines and many ferries passing on the hour. What must it be like to live on the water and have the shadows of ferries falling over your house multiple times per day? Getting a good photo was a challenge due to the fact that we were steadily moving past what we saw. I finally gave up getting great shots and just taking photos to remember things by. Maybe they’ll come in handy for painting.

There was a play area on the ferry. Hunter was delighted by the presence of other children (he’d been out of school for sickness and then for Christmas break, so he was hardly with children). He went completely crazy trying to enjoy every toy and make friends even with the babies. We found out that we could leave Hunter “at his own risk” to go do other things, that there was not really an overseer. The person at the desk was available sometimes, but generally parents sat with their children. Phil and I decided to divide our time between enjoying the views and watching Hunter, separately. We both wanted to hog the view-time and had a difficult time getting the one who’d been enjoying the view to free us up from the play area. Gradually, as Hunter understood to play a bit nicer, etc., we began leaving him for 15 minutes at a time—sometimes a bit longer.

We tried to get into the huge buffet restaurant that our friends (P. and M. to be their names throughout this and other Christmas pieces) had raved about. It was full the first time we checked it out. Then we came back in time to eat for ½ hour. The hostess (the same lady we encountered in the morning) turned us away saying, “You don’t have enough time to eat. This meal takes two hours.” It was already 1 pm and Hunter was going to climb the walls if he didn’t get something to eat. We went back to our favorite viewing area at the front of the ferry where there was a buffet restaurant. We ate heartily of typical Swedish options like baked chicken, meatballs and filleted fish with plenty of mashed potatoes, gravy and lingonberry sauce and a healthy salad.

“It’s a good thing I love bare trees—the subtle colors of the tips of their branches, especially whole woods of them,” I told Phil while we ate.

He responded, “Yeah, there’s not much else to see other than the water and the trees. Either you hate it or love it.” I could tell he loved the view too, by how many photos he took (they are probably immensely better than mine).

Though the day before was rainy and gloomy, this day, among the shortest all year, displayed a clear sky speckled with stars, at first, then that brilliant sapphire which lingers an hour or two before sunrise. Sunrise came about ten in the morning and filled the whole right side and front of the ferry with light so intense with oranges, yellows and brilliant white that it was almost difficult to visit in one of its rays. The camera registered everything as too bright, for awhile, but the sky grew more and more blue. Phil and I were pretty ecstatic that the day we had nothing to do but ride the ferry, we’d get such a beautiful day. The sun highlighted the reds and yellows of branches of the woods covering larger land masses in the archipelago and brightened every undulation, wake and spray of the water around us.

Sometimes we would randomly search out other areas to view what passed, outside and on other levels inside. We found the spa area with a whole section of floor devoted to hot tubs, but we hadn’t known about it and had left our swimsuits in the car (we weren’t allowed to go to our cars during the trip). I avoided getting an espresso near the same place, though it sounded really good after getting up so early in the morning. Furthermore, I had not been drinking coffee since my illness and antibiotics. We let Hunter go back into the play area so Phil and I could spend some time shopping in the shopping hall, doing some last minute Christmas shopping. When we went back to find Hunter, we couldn’t find him anywhere. He wasn’t sliding down the slide into the colorful balls, or finding people to attack with armloads of balls as they slid down, he wasn’t coloring or shooting the basketball. I was frantic because he is so independent and knew the ferry quite well by now. Phil asked if I’d looked in the movie room. I didn’t even know there was a movie room. There he was, the only one in a tiny amphitheater-style space with pillows, mesmerized by a Winnie-the-Pooh movie. My heart nearly fell to my shoes with relief! Hunter asked to watch the rest of the movie. Since I was so reassured, I told him he could watch another 15 minutes of it.

Sunset started early, as usual, but Hunter and I could not wait and watch it, we were so tired. We curled up in one bed, each, and fell sound asleep in minutes. Meanwhile, Phil wandered around getting sunset shots before he found his way into the cabin for a nap. We had slept half an hour when a loud buzzer came over the speakers and a voice announced, in who knows how many languages, that we needed to have our bedding ready at the door for housekeeping to collect.

We were not to dock for another three hours, but cleaning for the next set of people had already commenced. I could no sooner wake myself, let alone Hunter. Phil woke up completely and didn’t know what to do about the bedding when there were people using it. Hardly any timed passed before a housekeeper entered the room, look around and asked something in Finnish, said, “Oy, oy, oy,” tisked at us and thumped a new set of sheets and towels onto the shelf above the coat rack. Phil glowered at me. I still wasn’t awake enough to move, only to see what I’ve written, here.

We did finally manage to get ourselves out of bed. It took a cartoon on the television to pique Hunter’s interest enough to slowly waken him. Phil felt like a caged rat and announced that he’d be walking around outside but I waited until Hunter started asking questions and moving around to leave the room. Meanwhile, I packed up our backpacks and balled up our sheets and towels. It was strange they wanted to change everything (understandable, too, when you consider they unload and load in 30 minutes time) before we were finished using the room. For the rest of the trip, we did our best to only air dry our hands and not to sit on the beds.

We decided to do one more walk around the ferry to see everything once more. We saw a live cover band singing songs in English while people danced on a small dance floor. We saw people eating in various restaurants which had not been open previously. We let Hunter look at the toys in the toy store. We went through the grocery store that was barely more than a glorified liquor store (there are no liquor taxes on a ferry, so many people take a roundtrip ride just to get sauced and carry less expensive liquor, by hand truck loads, off of the ferry). We bought some Mummin (the little white hippos characterized in Finland) gum, Christmas candy, salt licorice for P.’s birthday because he LOVES it, and a huge box of chocolates to give P. and M. for a host and hostess gift.

Of course, it was dark enough out the windows, now, that we could easily see the lights of Finland in view and drawing closer. We greatly anticipated being with family-like friends after feeling so removed. We also felt low on appropriate gifts—good thing they told us we’d have some time to shop in Turku or Raisio before Christmas Eve!

It was fortunate that we had been able to take a ferry to Turku. P. and M. had taken quite a chunk of time out of their visit to Stockholm earlier in December to help us get tickets at a fraction of the cost of airfare for three. Phil says that even with a fairly expensive hotel room, the gas to drive to Stockholm, drive around Turku and Raisio, and drive back to Stockholm, we spent much less than we would have on airfare. Plus, it gave us much more freedom.

We were off of the ferry very quickly, right behind the semi’s and busses and before many of the other cars. A short way off, I saw P. in a long black p-coat waving at us (don’t know how he knew it was us—he’d never seen the car). His wife was not far off in their car, so P. hopped in with us and we followed M. to our “hotel” for the week and unloaded our baggage. (We would be staying in P.’s parents’ lovely apartment, complete with art from local artists, while they were away in Spain).

From there, we took a brisk walk in the winter cold so P. and M. could show us the downtown Turku, Finland, walking street lit up for Christmas and to show Hunter the motion displays in the shop windows.

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