August 2019. So what’s the best way to get from Stockholm to Helsinki? Cruise there! Yes, the Viking Cruise Line has an overnight ferry that connects the two cities. So we get our transportation and our hotel all in one cheap price. Add in The Buffet in the evening and the breakfast the next morning and it’s still cheap – under a hundred dollars each. Now if we had been transporting a car like most of the folks on this boat, it would be a different story.
There are three of us now; my niece Carly has joined us. She was the original inspiration for this trip, having taken a travel class for interior design while a Senior in College. I fell in love with Scandinavia at a distance through her FB posts. Now she’s joining us for the last couple legs of our trip.
Her first question when we got on board was “Did you get us a room with a porthole?” Uhh, no. Notice the term “Economy” next to accommodations. I figured it’s only one night, and we can manage anything, right? But really, did they have to put us in the basement with all the Swedish school groups? We were on Floor 2 and nowhere did we see an elevator button that said Floor 1. One set of elevators didn’t even have a button for Floor 2: we had to take a flight of stairs down when we got to the bottom of that elevator. Seriously, even the car decks were above us.
The cabin was built for four people. Thank God there were only three of us. The cruise line kindly painted us a big porthole, but it didn’t help much. The berths hung two on a wall. Given the need to have space to store our luggage on the floor, we opted to use two uppers and one lower. Kay and I volunteered to sleep in the upper berths. When I struggled to climb the ladder in the middle of the night, I cursed myself for choosing unwisely.
We got out onto the upper decks ASAP; we needed air. As the ship pulled away from the dock, we enjoyed shoreline views of Stockholm. Gradually the cityscape turned to islands with cottages (how do the people get out there?) and then to uninhabited islands and vast amounts of water.
It was right nippy on the windy decks so we explored the rest of the ship. It had several restaurants besides the main buffet, shops, a spa for massages and facials, a night club, an outdoor bar with entertainment, and a sauna with hot tubs. Of all of these, we were most excited about the sauna and hot tubs, and determined to do this right after dinner.
We were hungry by the time we went to eat. We had the first seating at 5 pm in their restaurant called The Buffet. I’ve never seen anything like it. The list of the items on the menu was mind boggling. The cold herring choices alone numbered nine. We ate a lot of pickled herring back in Manitowoc, especially during the Christmas holidays. I recall going into a butcher shop just before Christmas to find a huge sign over their herring offerings: “Holiday Herring Headquarters.” My prior experience made me excited to try some different types. It turns out I only like the kind I grew up with: Ma Baensch’s pickled herring with onions. The blueberry herring was particularly awful.
But there was so much other food that I didn’t miss the herring. The one thing that didn’t seem well represented was vegetables. Well there was that lettuce salad that no one took.
If the dessert table could groan, it would have, laden with so many choices my teeth hurt just to look at them. I have to confess that the three of us ate so much that we went into a collective food coma.
Carly was jet-lagged, and Kay and I hadn’t slept much the previous night. So we agreed to take a little nap before hitting the sauna, hot tubs, karaoke bar, and seeing a nightclub act or two, perhaps watching moonset over the Baltic Sea. Next thing we knew it was 7 am. Dang. We rushed off to breakfast, again at The Buffet Restarant.
Up near the Arctic Circle, it doesn’t take too much travel to find yourself in another time zone. I hadn’t realized that Helsinki would be one hour ahead of Stockholm and two ahead of London. It appears that the cruise line understood this and the need for people to be ready to disembark the next morning at 9:15. So they cleverly showed two hour hands on the clocks, each with their respective country flag.
By the time we had finished breakfast, and went down to the room to finish last-minute packing and brush teeth, it was 9:15. Time to say good-bye to our floating hotel room, with regrets that we didn’t take advantage of some things we could have done. But on the optimistic side, we will be better prepared the next time we do this. And really, was it so bad sleeping underneath the car decks?
For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:
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