Sunday, 28 September 2014

Twenty years back

Imagine it's 1994. You're about to depart from Tallinn on board a fancy, unsinkable ship with a great symbolic value. Perhaps you're very excited, perhaps a bit sad to be leaving. Are you going to work, to visit friends, on a vacation, maybe to attend an event? Maybe you just closely missed the departure due to some frustrating inconvenience. Or you just boarded and found everything you'd expect to find - restaurants, stores, a night club. Are you stunned by the beauty of the ship or is it something so usual you don't even notice it?

The ship departs, hours pass. What are you doing now? Are you enjoying the show in the nightclub? Or perhaps in your warm cabin bed resting after a long hard day, maybe a few drinks at the bar? Maybe you're doing your job just like the rest of the crew? The weather is stormy and the ship rolls heavily, the sun decks are closed and even if they weren't, they're definitely not the place you want to be right now. Even without the help of a drink or two it's hard to walk straight. Perhaps the rolling worries  you, or are you so used to life on the sea that no little storm scares you?

Suddenly the ship lists heavily. You fall out of your bed, you find it very difficult to not fall over wherever you're standing. The chair you're sitting on slides away, taking you along. Maybe you do fall over, maybe you manage to grab something and hold on. People around you, as well as yourself, realize that something is wrong. People are screaming and trying to run, some are apathetic, some are doing everything to prevent others from escaping. Many are injured, you might be as well. Water is pouring from toilets, wetting the floors and feeding the panic. The list keeps getting worse, you try hard to make your way upstairs, which gets more and more difficult by the minute. Maybe you're stuck in your cabin with nothing to use to climb up and out of the door, and you realize that your only option is to go down with the ship. 

Perhaps you're one of the lucky ones to make it on the sun deck. It's cold and windy, the waves are very high and you see that you have to climb over the railing and stand on the side of the ship - the ship has turned to her side. You notice people launching liferafts. Maybe you'll be lucky enough to join them, maybe not. Do you jump in the freezing water right away or try to stay with the ship for as long as you can? The ship blasts her final horn; it's a long, long blast. Before it ends, her funnel sinks in the sea. You see lights from liferafts and other ships and a guy flashing his camera. You're standing on the bottom of the glorious cruiseferry who will pull you down with her, probably for good, if you don't leave her right away. 

Now you're floating in the freezing water, swimming, looking for a liferaft or something to hold on to. Maybe you're already in a liferaft. The waves are making it difficult to see what's going on around you, throwing you around so that it's hard to get anywhere. There's a lot of water in your liferaft from the heavy waves, mixed with some vomit from the severely seasick people in your liferaft, probably including yourself. The beautiful cruiseferry that brought you here is nowhere to be found. Maybe you witnessed her final minutes from your raft, maybe you were too busy saving your own life. 

The first ships have arrived on the scene. You see one guy climbing up a ladder on the side of an enormous white Silja Line cruiseferry. At this point you're probably too sick, tired, weak, frozen, injured to do anything. Maybe you're lucky to be one of the first to be picked up by a helicopter, maybe you've had to wait for so long and you see the sky slowly getting lighter as a new day dawns. Are you even alive? 

Even when you're finally being pulled up towards a helicopter, you're still not safe. What if the rescue equipment of the helicopter lets you down and you fall straight back into the freezing water? Maybe you're once again lucky to be safely on the helicopter. Maybe it takes you to one of the nearby cruiseferries, maybe straight to the shore. You're being taken care of and constantly bombarded with questions while finally starting to grasp what has just happened. Eventually you learn that you were one of a few to survive.

Maybe you missed the fateful departure or never even intended to be there. You woke up in the morning from your comfortable bed to hear the news. Is it some kind of a joke? Surely it can't be real?

Unfortunately, it was all real exactly 20 years ago, when the glorious cruiseferry Estonia, a symbol of the regained independence of the namesake country, was tragically lost at sea along with the majority of her passengers, becoming a synonym of the worst peacetime disaster to occur in the Baltic Sea.

1980 - 1994

The disaster led to many changes in ship safety and the order of handling such situations. Most Estonians lost someone or knew someone who lost someone that night.

It occurred nearly two years before I came to this world and I'm not the result of any incredible survivals; no one I'm related to was lost either. Still, even years later the event has affected me deeply. I've read countless stories, watched hours and hours of related videos and movies, which enabled me to write this post in the first place; whenever I travel, I feel completely secure boarding my ship, I trust it fully. I'm sure the people boarding the Estonia before her final departure were mostly feeling the same. Of all the horrible shipwrecks, this one happened to a ship of my favourite kind, a Baltic Sea cruiseferry, a descendant of Finnjet. I don't even want to know what I would've felt, had I lived that night.

May the souls of the 852 people who were lost with the ship rest in peace. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Experience: Gabriella + final days

This is the 5th part of a trip report; The whole story can be found under the tag I Must Travel Otherwise I'll Die 2014; First part can be read here.
Shortly after my arrival in Kirkkonummi I met my friend Victor who hosted me for the next few days. It was quite a nice change from the big cities, being a very nice remote forest place. Most of the time there was relaxation at it's best with not much to do besides probably the best sauna I've ever had. One day was almost entirely spent in Serena.

Remote forest place
Inside Serena - the yellow tube slide was the best!
The weather wasn't exactly what it had been a few weeks before, but still bearable enough to go outside as well...

... so we did.

On the penultimate day of my trip I moved back to Helsinki and met up once again with Tuulia to spend some time in the city walking around, doing some little shopping and a really nice lunch. Later in the evening I had one last walk and the next morning I had to wake up early to catch Gabriella back home. Despite the efforts, it was a very close call; I made it to the harbour about 10 minutes before the departure and I was one of the very last to board.

Astor in Helsinki
Silja Serenade, same place
Balmoral, Brilliance of the Seas and a bit of MSC Poesia in the West Harbour
Mandatory funnel picture
Not-so mandatory mast picture
Linda Line's fast catamaran Karolin approaching...
... some minutes later, the Finnish Border Guard's patrol ship Turva followed. She's the first patrol vessel in the world powered by LNG and the 2nd such ship to enter service in Finland, first being the Viking Grace.

Under the bridge. I quite enjoyed the colouring of the sundeck. 
Ella's Italian-American Restaurant
The fun club on the Gabriella was almost exactly the same as the fun club on her sister Amorella
Staircase art on the remote deck 11
Met the Finlandia closer to Tallinn
Quite a contrast between the weather in Helsinki (left) and the weather in Tallinn (right)
Soon after we entered the wall of thick fog surrounding Tallinn, Baltic Queen appeared, heading to Helsinki. She had replaced the Silja Europa some weeks before.

The weather in Tallinn really was bad; Gabriella's windows are not the clearest thing in the world either. Superstar departing and Marina.

Europa at the "Baby pier"
Marco Polo and Marina
Costa Fortuna coming in about 20 hours early again; the itinerary was probably changed after the cruise ship schedules were published.

Viking XPRS after freeing her spot for Gabriella.

The movement was necessary, because the gangways over the pier to the right are being rebuilt, therefore Viking XPRS had to free her spot for the short time Gabriella needed it.

But hey, who needs gangways anyway, right?

This crossing also marks that I've travelled on every Viking Line ship currently in service. My favourite is definitely the Viking Grace; I may write a separate post about the company when the time is right. I'd also like to give a million thanks to Tuulia, Inkeri, Nelly, Marcus, Steven, Victor and everyone else who made this trip what it was, including every single one of the wonderful people I first met during the trip. If any of you happen to be reading this by any chance, I encourage you to contact me. I wouldn't trade this amazing experience for anything at all and I really hope I can return to some of the cities I visited and ships I sailed very soon. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Experience: Amorella + Stockholm

This is the 4th part of a trip report; The whole story can be found under the tag I Must Travel Otherwise I'll Die 2014; First part can be read here.
Missing dearly my poor imprisoned suitcase and cursing the cold rainy weather I returned to my hostel. This time I was staying on board a small ship named Gustaf af Klint. The location of the ship is perfect and the stay was quite cheap, but so was the quality, not to mention having to pay additional fees for things that are elementary elsewhere. Unlike on the Bore in Turku it wasn't easy to forget being on board a ship here because she was swaying remarkably. It was never a problem, though. I was in a very tiny cabin with three other people. Although I hardly spent any time at the hostel during the Stockholm days, having no space whatsoever bothered me. Joining Hosteling International earlier in Turku didn't benefit me either because Gustaf af Klint is simply not a member. I'd suggest the place if you only wish for a bed.

Gustaf af Klint as seen on; I didn't take any photos of her.
I had arranged to meet a friend at 9 the next morning and needed a couple of hours to prepare. The terminal opened at 6:15 in the morning. I was wide awake about an hour before, after only four hours of bad sleep made much worse by concerns about the safety of the suitcase and even a related nightmare. I was the first person to rush into the terminal once it was opened; the relief when the locker opened revealing my untouched suitcase was undescribable. Happy, I returned to the hostel and started getting ready.
After collecting my suitcase I witnessed the arrival of the gorgeous Viking Grace
... exactly 24 hours after arriving with her.
I met my friend Steven at 9 in the morning, just as planned. We spent the morning walking around the city until Gröna Lund was opened at 3 in the afternoon. I found Gröna Lund surprisingly small, in fact, even Linnanmäki seems to be on a larger area.

Jetline and Vilda Musen
Insane really was insane
It's the same type of rollercoaster as Kirnu in Linnanmäki, just about twice as big and three times as intense.
World's tallest chain carousel, apparently. Amazing view up there.
Lustiga Huset, or funhouse. I think there's one of these in some form in every amusement park, with mirrors, crooked stairs, illusions, spinning rooms, angled rooms, bridges etc. 
Vilda Muset, or Wild Mouse. In the background the tall drop of Jetline.
"This. Ride. Sucks."
Well, not really. 
A nice fountain and Kvasten on the background
Gröna Lund in one photo
After Gröna Lund we went to a cinema. Since I'm not exactly a movie person, the pick was almost random. I went there hoping for a laugh and I got more than plenty of that, so I'm satisfied.

The next morning I had a plan of going to Vaxholm, taking a Waxholmsbolaget boat my friend Nelly was working on. The departure was at 8:15 in the morning; I returned to my hostel at about 2 o'clock at night. Before getting on the boat I would've had to get ready, check out from the hostel, find a shelter for my suitcase and get to the ship. Considering the fact I was already severely sleep deprived it didn't seem wise, so instead I slept as long as I could and chilled with Steven for the rest of the day. 

Europa was anchored there all day, transporting passengers ashore with tenders.
Birka Stockholm coming
Birka Stockholm moored...
... and maintained
Birka Stockholm going
Viking Cinderella going
Amorella coming to pick me up
In the evening I boarded the Amorella to return to Turku. I had quite the average B2 cabin in a remote location on deck 6, aft. The walk to civilization from there was long, but I enjoyed being able to go to the ship's spa in a robe and flip flops without the fear of being seen too much, because the spa is located at the forward part of the same deck. Alas, it wasn't even close to what I experienced on the Grace. It wasn't bad; a couple of nice jacuzzis and saunas made it a nice relaxing treat, but I really missed having big windows or, in fact, any windows at all.

My little cabin
There was no TV in my cabin, but this was just as nice
Bye bye, Sweden.
Stairway to heaven
Wonderful sunset as we sailed from Stockholm
Mandatory funnel picture
met Teaterskeppet on our way out
Halfway from my cabin to the spa - or was it vice versa?
The general plan of the ship. There are C class cabins under the car decks that I might even try out one day when I feel crazy enough.
Restaurant deck. The ship was quite empty and there wasn't much to do on board...
except for watching the show...
... which was a really well done tribute to Madonna.
Silja Galaxy in Turku as we approached the next morning
Quite a lovely name, huh?
Sea Wind coming in after us
In the morning I woke up early again as it was necessary, this time without any mishaps. I had plenty of time to get ready and pick up my takeaway breakfast, which proved to be useful. After disembarking in Turku I only had a couple of hours as I was just passing through. I would've gladly spent a few more days there, but my plans didn't allow it. I walked straight to the train station and took a train to Kirkkonummi.

Next post - Final days & Gabriella