Monday, September 30, 2013

Across the Baltic Sea

A big ferry

We left Saint Petersburg to board a ferry to Sweden.  Now, this could have gone one of many ways.  I (Chris) had planned for an austere, bare bones, but comfortable trip for two nights across the Baltic on a Russian ferry.  What was emerging was a new approach to a ferry system; the Baltic had been without a ferry service serving Saint Petersburg for 15 years until this new one began in 2010 – the Saint Peter’s Line.  A western, “market based” approach with Vegas-style burlesque shows, casinos, and huge capacity – serving Russians.   Late September meant fewer choices yet smaller crowds so we ended up
a quiet moment staring ahead
with the best of both worlds -   a ship with all the comforts of a big scale ship with crowds at about half capacity - and all in Russian.  Bonus: Travelling on the weekend meant the European Russians were as occupied with televised football (soccer) as Yanks are with the NFL and college games on weekends. We had the ship to ourselves anywhere out of range of an onboard satellite television.  We found no other English-speaking passengers – and while the ship staff did speak English far better than we spoke Russian, it was clear (and only right) that they catered to their Russian clientele.  No Issues.  Except when
Helsinki's farmers market
we began seeing lots of references to Finland and we were convinced that we had gotten on the wrong ship. Glasses of champagne only heightened our confusion and concern.  Sure, Saint Petersburg to Stockholm was less than 400 miles, so two nights and 38 hours of steaming probably didn’t add up – but we really don’t do much math while using public transportation internationally.  We asked the staff in simple English if we were stopping in Helsinki – and we got looks
Knitting and Selling in Helsinki
deserved of the idiotic question we asked – well, yes!  Steaming across the Baltic was beautiful. “Archipelago” hadn’t had much meaning for us growing up on in the Mid-Atlantic states and living for 30 years in Colorado – here we sailed through the definition of the word – the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland are studded with thousands of islands.  We found a quiet lounge that looked forward from the bow and, like on the trains, we were pasted to the window – watching the narrow navigation channels between small islands and rock outcroppings, the
Steaming through the Swedish Archipelago
approaching Stockholm at dawn
dim lights on the larger islands, the sailboats making the last trips of the waning summer, and the commercial traffic that keeps the Baltic an active and vibrant sea-faring region.  Six hours in Helsinki was a huge bonus!  A beautiful city by the sea, rich in 14th century architecture, hosting a
Dueling Ferries
wonderful farmers and local crafts market on a clear and crisp Saturday morning. 
Blankets are standard issue at
Stockholm's Gamla Stan
outdoor cafe's
We found restaurants focusing on varieties of fresh pickled fish that were filled with families and friends in their “Sunday best” enjoying multigenerational meals overflowing with warmth and laughter. 
We re-boarded the ferry for twelve hours to Stockholm and found ourselves in another archipelago city – with ten times more islands guarding the city than Helsinki.  Stockholm is larger and for the first time in a while, we felt like we
Gamla Stan - Stockholm's
13th century old town
were in a well-established western democratic city.    We enjoyed a larger historic center and a concert in a cathedral with a history dating to the 13th century.  A well-established and seemingly well-respected arts community thrives in
a cool sunset
Stockholm side by side with a strong tourism sector that sells the Swedish equivalent of the American rubber tomahawks.  
We began this journey together on an equatorial island surrounded by the South China Sea.  We crossed the Eurasian  continent as we transversed Mongolia and Siberia.  And, we returned to sea and the far north archipelago in the Baltic Sea.  Later this week, we return to the top of the American continental shield just below Hoosier Pass.  A good end.

1 comment:

LN Fitz said...

Caught up with your adventures on the 30th... Just as you are winding your way home. These, as well as the many others you guys have shared, will keep you spinning yarns as you rock the days of retirement away;-)