Ferry Ride to Finland: Homesick for Canada

a followsummer travel memory from 2004

The alarm goes early – 5:30. For a change, it wakes me.

The coffee is ready-to-go, and although I am not interested in food, I have my cereal with yogurt and a banana. At 6:00, I make sure Greg is awake, and by 6:30 we have packed the car and are driving away from our apartment.

Right on schedule, at 7:00, we pull into the line-up to check-in for the ferry to Finland. The ferries that ply the Baltic are not like ferries we have in North America – they are luxury cruise ships. Their primary purpose seems to be to provide a weekend getaway with a day in Stockholm or Helsinki or Tallin, and amazing duty-free shopping. Silja Lines proudly tells you that they are the 2nd largest duty-free vendor in the world, after London’s Heathrow Airport.

On board the Silja Europa

The day is foggy, and we sense the islands in Stockholm’s archipelago more than we see them. We quickly get the feel of the ship, and we retire to our cabin, pull open the berths and spend the morning napping. When I open my eyes, the fog has burnt off and the scenery is beautiful – we are passing through the islands, heavily covered with trees; it could be the 1,000 Islands in the St. Lawrence. We go up on the Sun Deck (today, for once, this is not wishful thinking), stand and watch until we pass out of the archipelago into the open water of the Gulf of Bothnia, when it fogs over again.

Draped in Fog

After lunch, we dock in Mariehamn, a Finnish island in the Gulf. As soon as we pull into the open water, the fog envelops us again. We retire to the cabin again and nap the afternoon away. The trip remains foggy until we reach the islands close to the Finnish mainland – the fog clears, the sun is shining, and the sense of being in the north is overwhelming – from the quality of the light, from the smell of the pine trees, from the water everywhere. 11+ hours after we departed, we arrive in Turku. There is chaos getting all of the cars and trucks out of the terminal, but everybody is graceful despite the length of the trip. We check into our hotel, then make our way into town to find a bite to eat. By now it is almost 10 p.m., and although the light has only started to fade towards dusk, the restaurants are a different story.

Back at our hotel, we are able to get a bite to eat, and when we turn off our lights at midnight, it is still quite light outside.

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