28 May 2003 - Somewhere in the Baltic
Sailing to Stockholm on Viking

I'm sure there's a pun somewhere involving Finland, Sweden and Vikings, but I'm just not able to think of one just now. Never mind, I can tell you that I am taking the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm, that it's an overnight journey that will dock at 9.30 in the morning (Swedish time) and that it gets bloody cold up and out there on the topmost deck at six in the evening.

There is a certain romance about sea travel in this jet age, just as there is with rail travel. It's looked upon as a luxury, it's like the people are saying "we want to travel like this because we can afford the time and the money to".

Why else would you want to go from point A to point B on something that is slower and usually not much lower in price (and sometimes, more costly)? It's the lure of romance, when travel was adventurous, when men were men and women journeyed on silk sheets and the finest wines.

Well, the truth isn't always like that. You must remember that there is a good reason why you don't always see people ambling about on deck in Nordic seas. It's because the wind is fr&&@ing cold out there, even in springtime. Plastic chairs set out on deck are blown about with abandon, and woe betide any person whose surface area to weight ratio is too large. I have no problems, being short, small and dense, but my mum risks becoming a human kite if she weares the wrong type of jacket.

We braved the weather and the fine sunshine for all of half an hour before combing the decks. For all it's size, cruise liners don't actually offer all that much. Apart from the decks (which included a bar at the stern), there is one floor of restaurants and a casino, and one floor of shops, a children's play area and a café. All the rest are cabins and crew areas.

The cabins range from 'the finest luxury money can buy with incredible views of the ocean' to 'the ones under the car deck that have no windows because all you would see is sea water, with some froth, if you're lucky'.

We actually got ones above the car deck, because it cost about the same for a double-decker bed above the car deck as a side-by-side arrangement under it. Of course, we had no windows. We didn't even have pretend windows like some of the other cabins. At least we could pretend we were in luxury by staring at a mural of an ocean-swept rocky isle, but we were even denied that opportunity. At least we had one shower and a WC with a sink and sheets and towels. I did notice a sign in one of the pamphlets that notified passengers that 'for the first two hours of the journey, channel 8 will be playing a video on safety precaution'. As we didn't have a TV in our room, I assumed that those of us in the inner cabins in deck 5 were to fend on our own and were probably expendable anyway in the event of an emergency.

The main reason why these liners are so cheap to travel on (if you consider paying RM400 for two people in a cramped cabin 'cheap') is because of the amount of duty free they sell and gambling that takes place on board.

You cannot turn a corner on the restaurant or duty free deck without seeing a line of slot and poker machines. The casinos open at 9pm, at about the same time as the performance shows. I didn't witness any of this as I was fast asleep by ten, and didn't want to be seduced by wine, women and gambling chips anyway.

The more amazing thing were the duty-free shops. From the time the shops open (about an hour into the journey), they were full of people carting away as much alcohol as they could. They even sell beer cartons that come with free trolleys so you can pull it off the ship. There are limits as to how much you can bring off, so I wonder exactly how much these guys drink in order to bring the carry-off amount under the limit. Not that customs seem to care too much - I didn't see a single soul pulled over or move through the red lane.


posted on Friday, May 30, 2003 - permalink
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