Day 24 - Stockholm to Turku

Trip Start May 20, 2013
Trip End Jul 05, 2013

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Flag of Finland  , Stockholm County,
Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The alarm went at 0500 this morning. The joys of early morning ferry departures. As always when catching a plane or boat in the early morning, I didn't sleep particularly well. The Magic Bus was off and running by about 0515 and got to the ferry port by 0530, and joined the line of mostly motorhomes waiting for the gates to be unlocked. There was also an Italian helicopter waiting in the queue. It was on a trailer and its main rotors were removed but it did give us a surprise in our half asleep state.

One of the advantages of travelling by camper is that you can always brew up a coffee in situations like this. There was no urgency now, as I felt that we were going nowhere fast. My half awake brain cells had gradually become aware of one great lack in this great Baltic crossing enterprise. No ferry. Just a huge empty dock.

Oh ye of little faith. Just before 6 a block of flats masquerading as a ferry reversed into the link span. The Baltic Princess started to spew out cars, lorries and buses, and the check in process began. Being good international travellers, we had read and digested the terms and conditions of carriage. We had our booking number, our payment receipt number, our passports ready for inspection. We even had a magnetic GB plate standing by to be slapped on the back of the bus before you could say 'International Convention for Motor Vehicles 1947' if anybody took exception to our SCO/EU number plates.

However when we got to the head of the queue, the check in lady just said 'You are Alison and Alistaie?' We readily agreed, although it comes hard being reduced to being a spelling mistake at my age. Boarding passes for the bus and the two of us were instantly issued. 'Line 5', she said. Perhaps the terms and condition of carriage had not been updated since Schengen.

Lots and lots of lorries boarded the ferry, then the cars, then the motorhomes ( and the helicopter). All these vehicles made the ferry look much busier than it actually was, however. When we got to the passenger decks it was half empty. We went outside to watch our departure from Stockholm, only a few minutes late, and then crashed out in a theatre/bar with nice comfy seats. Four hours later we finally left the Stockholm archipelago. Yes, it really takes that long to thread a way through the thousands of islands off Stockholm, sometimes through channels not much wider than the ferry. Mind you, I expect that the driver on the bridge has a GPS.

Much of the facilities on board are closed. I was expecting hundreds of young drunk Swedes hitting the duty free as soon as we set sail, but it appears most of the passengers are old farties like ourselves. The most exciting thing to happen was a sound check in the theatre. Hopefully they will get new batteries in the radio mics before the afternoon performance.

Around about lunchtime we paid a brief visit to Mariehamn. This was to let passengers and cars on and off and to let the ferry company sell duty free. Apparently the island is a bit like the Isle of Man, in that, although part of Finland, it isn't in the EU. I have no idea how this came about, but virtually every ferry in the area calls in there so that they can bypass the 'no duty free sales in intra EU voyages' regulations. Mind you, they sell Bellhaven in the 'pubi' on board at €5.90 a pint, so just how duty free is duty free?

We ate our packed lunches outside the 'Grill Room' restaurant, much to the disgust of the staff in the very sparsely populated eatery. We weren't alone in doing so, and it must be an age thing, because the staff's disapproval didn't worry us a bit.

Then back to the theatre for a quick post prandial kip. Sadly interrupted by a kids' magic show with working radio mics. Not that it made much difference to me as it was all in Finnish, which must be just about the only Western European language I cannot follow at all. Ah, well, I guess I'd better get used to it. (Taking the positives from all this, at least the 'magician' kept some of the eight year olds away from the 'over 18' gaming machines for a few minutes.)

We continued our voyage through the squillions of little low lying islands. Imagine taking a ferry through the lagoon on Loch Lomond at full speed and you'll start to get the impression of what goes on. I wouldn't like to do it at night. I wouldn't like to do it during the day for that matter.

It has to be said that when you get used to hurtling through wee impossibly close islets at full speed, it becomes a bit boring. So when we arrived in Turku at 1915 Finnish summer time (GMT plus 3) we were glad to get off. The deck crew are not as slick as they are on an English Channel ferry, but eventually we disembarked.

We checked out a couple of wild camping spots around Turku, but eventually settled on one that allowed 12 hours parking at the side of a harbour in town. They had an interesting selection of restaurants there and the Chief Chef was in no mood to cook. Maybe it is just Wednesdays, but a lot of them had loud live music. Too loud for us pensioneers. The Turku branch of what seemed to be the 'Easy Rider' Appreciation Society (Senior Division) revved up their engines in a totally non-threatening and quite environmentally responsible way.

Eventually we settled on a boat restaurant cum pub with live tango lessons on the quay outside. Therefore at a pleasant volume on board. We ordered fish and chips with garlic mayonnaise and a beer. We sat and watched the wee chain ferry shuttle back and forth. We puzzled at what I can only describe as a barge with bow and stern thrusters that appeared to be a mobile fish and chip shop. On deck there was a kiosk frying fish, tables and chairs, and a couple of bogs. A large LED matrix sign flashed up what we think were the menu and prices. Sadly it was in Finnish, so it might just have been advertising lottery tickets. We think you flagged it down, got your fish supper, ate it on board while the barge zig zagged down the river collecting more customers. Presumably at some stage you got off, but whether they dropped you off near home or you had to hoof it back was not clear.

It was nice to have a meal without looking wide eyed at the menu muttering 'how much?' under one's breath. The waitress gave us our first Finnish lesson, then we wandered down the quayside and looked at some of the vessels of the Maritime Museum. Then I felt tired as the previous night's lack of sleep started to catch up on me. So back to the bus and to bed. Finish the blog in the morning. Zzzzzzzz.........

I had been told that the Finns are a grumpy reserved miserable lot. (Think Kimi Raikonnen without the talent) Obviously you shouldn't judge an entire society on one experience, but if last night was anything to go by, they are actually a lot of fun.

Mileage 3225.
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