Saturday, May 19, 2007

Will drive our ships to new lands

There’s a saying in Helsinki that the largest building in the city leaves for Sweden every night. This isn’t not too far from the truth. The Viking ships which carry people between Finland, Sweden and Estonia are huge and would probably put up a good challenge if stood next one of the “skyscrapers” in the CBD.

A recap: I’ve just made it to the Helsinki-Stockholm Ferry and haven’t been able to secure a cabin for the night and have been instructed by the ticket seller that I should enquire about it while onboard.

With the uncertainty about if I’m going to be staying up all night guarding my stuff playing on my mind, a bright flash goes off and a smiling guy standing behind a camera thanks me in Finnish. I had just been captured by the ship’s photographer, and was quickly armed with the instruction on how to purchase the photo while on board. I see that he is using a 30D as well, make my usual comment (snap. pat camera at my side you got one too), and hand over a card. He thanks me for the card, I enter the ship thinking nothing more of it and stow my bag in the luggage room. Time to explore and find people to hang with. I see old people. Old people all around. It’s like pension day at a discount dentures store. They are everywhere. More chasing someone to chat to rather than to stay up all night drinking duty free booze while avoiding being busted in the corridors, I was looking for anyone under 40. I was expecting at least a smattering of people under thirty, even the odd middle ager, but no. Wall-to-wall mothballs and crochet. My host in Tampere said that this boat trip is a big part in the right of passage for Finnish youth. According to her, the Finns lose their virginity under three different conditions: On midsummer’s night, on this boat or on this boat on midsummer’s night, with the last one being a highly converted form of getting one’s cherry popped. The only thing at risk of being popped onboard tonight was someone’s hip joint while doing the maceraina. I go up to the top deck and watch Helsinki slip away from view, with the little islands in the bay, each with their own personality, sliding past he sides of the boat. The pointy fortress of Suomenlinna passes by. After that the islands thin out and for something that had been talked up quite a lot, the little islands come to unexpected and rather unsatisfying end.

I walk past a big display of all the photos taken earlier that day, and just as I spot my picture, the photo guy comes over and we start chatting. Travelling, photos and cycling. Turns out that he is has just signed up for couchsurfing, he will be doing a bike tour through Germany real soon and loves taking photos. After a bit of chatting I ask if he knows where I can ask about cabins and he just says "well, let's make this my first couchsurf. You can take the spare bunk in my cabin" Photographer. Cyclist. Couchsurfer. Friend.

Thomas asked me to swing by his stand at 11pm, so I kill time watching the on-board musicians going through the numbers, play with some video editing on my computer and occasionally go outside to soak in the 8-10pm twilight. I stand on the heliport and Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song plays in my head. Ahhh Ah. I get some stares. I've got to stop singing to myself, a curse left over from driving to Vegas without a radio. I go back inside and chat with a few other people on board. I go into the duty free store and start chatting with the bored looking girl who’s giving out free samples of chocolate and Baileys. She seemed happy to have someone interact with her on a deeper level than the primal grunts of ‘give me more baileys’ she had been getting all evening. I leave the store and spot a small group of spotty teenager boys and girls huddled around a non-functioning air hockey table, sneaking sips of poorly hidden vodka. I get the odd feeling that even though I once was a teenager, the thought of having some random 28 year old guy approaching me and a group of friends to strike up a conversation was something of an oddity, with the older person being relegated to the weirdo file soon after. I avoid talking with them and end up chatting to a bunch of older Swedish and British ladies who were celebrating the birthday of two of the girls in the group. “why are you talking to us love? You be off charming some young girl.”

11pm comes and I meet up with Thomas. He has some reprints he needs to process and takes me to the development machine room. The idea that the ship has its own photo lab astounds me. Even though I’ve often thought of being a photographer on a ship, capturing people’s holidays, but I never considered the printing. With the prints taken care of, we go grab a beer and then watch the dance show, with the Estonian and Russian dancers Thomas had befriended recently. Once the show ends, we join them in the stairwell (‘our change room’), behind the stage and drink champagne and with strawberries, while several infractions of the recently enforced no smoking on board policy occurring. I meet some of the members from the house band and get the impression that old soviet countries throughout Eastern Europe is where the richer, western countries source their entertainment from. When we finished the bottle of bubbles, we hit the dance floor in the discotek a few rooms over. By this stage I have a little booze under my belt (I’m a cheap date, it really doesn’t take much), I start dancing around like a bit of a loon, with the thought that I’m in a nightclub on a boat floating somewhere between Finland and Sweden giving me energy to bounce around. The music stops and the ugly lights come on at 2am and Thomas and I head back to the cabin. As soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m asleep, only waking briefly to catch a glimpse of Åland out of the curtains at 4am.

Tomorrow I will be in Sweden. Valhalla, I am coming!


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