Thursday, 22 January 2015

My 2014

Another year has passed and it's about time to sum it up, as I have already done twice before. These summaries help to reflect and have a brief overview of where I started and where I am now. To anyone who reads this it may also serve as a kind of a guide on what to expect from the blog posts of that era. This year I'll also try to include some ship-related happenings that took my interest at that time. Enjoy.


 To me, the only remarkable event of the month was a daycruise to Helsinki in the start of it. It involved Viking XPRS I had been on numerous times already at that point, but the return journey was on the beautiful Viking Cinderella who was on the route for only three weeks. It was a lucky catch, because on her usual route, she will remain out of my reach for some years due to age restrictions. Some time after she left both she and Viking XPRS hit the docks and had their liveries refreshed. Viking XPRS was also reflagged to Estonia. 


A quiet and difficult month that to me was mostly about getting started at a new job I didn't need to seek for long. I still work there now. This blog hit 10 000 views, which is by now much over 2,5 times that. 


On the first of March I was so happy that the cold and dark winter months are finally over, until the snow came down again the next day. Nevertheless, after letting go of something that had been deteriorating for months, my life got eventful. I won the single main prize at an essay contest with my essay on piracy and copyright protection and did a rather spontaneous daycruise to Helsinki on the Viking XPRS for my first pay. 


Although not as eventful, April was great. I did a lot of walking and shipspotting as the weather got better. In addition to that I was making plans when the cruise schedules were published and in the end of the month, the first cruise ship, the Discovery, called here in Tallinn. Unfortunately, the beautiful ship is no more since she was scrapped in October. I also tried the Titanic Voyage annual roleplay which ended for me when I accidentally returned to my cabin when it was already submerged. On the last day of the month I was lucky to interview the head of the Estonian branch of Eckerö Line, who was very helpful and hospitable.


  In the beginning of the month I gave my bicycle a new look and rode it extensively over the month. I witnessed the opening of a new cruise quay and the calling of the largest ship ever to sail these waters, the Royal Princess. I also got another, seasonal job and had a weekend trip to Helsinki on the Finlandia, which turned out quite fun and random, despite the fact I had been making preparations for a while.


Most of the month was spend working hard and looking at wonderful cruise ships as I had the access to see them close up. Mariella and Gabriella of Viking Line started doing quick trips to Tallinn which was also a thing to see. Had the chance to see David Guetta live in Tallinn. In the end of the month I took a very useful practical sailing course. 


As the month begun, so did the planning and preparing for a longer trip. I attended the Estonian Song Celebration, this time as a seller (I have participated as a singer numerous times before).  On the 6th I visited a calling ship for the first time with a bunch of friends who came here from Finland to see her. The ship was Gann - a Norwegian school ship who does some cruises during the high season. I spent a day working on a sailboat, transporting passengers between two harbours for Tallinn Maritime Days. On the 24th I visited another calling cruise ship, the Legend of the Seas, after being invited by a kind crew member I had met at work. On the 27th while the weather was very lovely here in Tallinn, it was raining and flooding and Stockholm and Mariella broke loose from the quay.  


Month way too
eventful for just
one image
Choosing a photo for July was hard enough

A big part of the month and the big memory overshading everything else was the two week trip I had in the middle of the month. Shortly before it started, Silja Europa made her final trip on the Tallinn-Helsinki route; she was replaced by Baltic Queen and to replace the latter, Romantika came to Tallinn from Riga. My trip involved Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, Mariehamn, Stockholm, Kirkkonummi and Helsinki again, each one of the five Viking Line vessels I had not yet sailed on (Mariella, Viking Grace, Rosella, Amorella, Gabriella), many old and new friends, three amusement parks and a waterpark. Altogether the trip is without doubt the brightest memory of the year - perhaps the fact it took me 5 posts to sum it up shows. The experience also remarkably changed my future school preferences. Shortly after the trip I officially became an adult. 


Early in September I finally received my GMDSS Restricted Operator's licence, having completed the course more than a year earlier. Later, just when I entered the cruise area to take the final photos of the season of Mein Schiff 2, my loyal camera broke down and I got it fixed some weeks later. On the 11th I worked as a volunteer on the sailboat LuLu, taking a bunch of tourists on a fun ride on the bay. We started with sailing closer to the Silja Europa who was laid up in Paljassaare, but as the fog rolled in I couldn't see her anymore and I haven't ever since. I also took a guided tour to the Muuga cargo harbour. In the end of the month my favourite band announced an upcoming concert-cruise on the Baltic Princess (yet to happen) and I immediately looked into options to attend... 


... and on the first days of the month it bore fruit as I booked the cruise together with three people I had never met before. I met one of them face to face very soon afterwards and his help was irreplaceable when I had a weekend trip to Helsinki later that month, going there with the Superstar but hopelessly missing Baltic Queen to return home. Before the trip I finally moved out from under the rock when I received my final birthday present, my first ever laptop. 


Compared to the previous months, November was relatively quiet and difficult. I saw Tarja Turunen live which was a very nice experience. Plans were made for the end of the year. Tallink announced intention to build a new LNG ferry for the Tallinn-Helsinki route and plans to move Sea Wind to Tallinn-Vuosaari route, where she's already serving as I write this. 


For the caption this photo may need, see previous post
Early December was mostly spent working and trying to get everything over with at school. After that was done, I cruised to Stockholm on the Silja Symphony. After the cruise I spent only two days at home and then left for the other home in Finland to spend the rest of the year there and welcome 2015 on the Viking Grace, who had become my favourite ferry during the year.

To sum up, last year was nothing like I expected it to be - it was much, much better and definitely by far my best year yet. To continue what I said last year - 2015 has some even more serious competition. Right now it's looking very promising and will probably bring major changes I'm quite looking forward to. 

Friday, 16 January 2015

Experience: A Graceful New Year

 I was lucky to greet this New Year in the best place possible - on board my favourite ship, the Viking Grace. The New Year's Eve started with a car ride from Tervakoski where I was staying to Turku. Arriving just in time to walk around a bit and do some last minute shopping, I was convinced once again that I really do like Turku.

At 6 in the evening, when the shops closed and shooting fireworks became legal, we drove to Ruissalo, which is an island in the southwest of the city. Since it was dark it was impossible to do any sightseeing, instead we went up to a small floating pier to watch Baltic Princess and the Viking Grace come in.

Baltic Princess came in first..
...and took her spot

I really think her funnel should have the whole frame in white, like on her sisters and the Star.
After a while of waiting, the Grace came in too
Yep, it is her
turning around to back into her spot

Before the Grace turned around it was time for us to drive back to the harbour because the time was right to board. Since she stays in the harbour for just an hour, we parked the car near the harbour and did the check-in right away. Just like last time, the cruise schedules were introduced in the waiting hall before boarding. The introduction was in Finnish, Swedish and Russian, the last of which caused a surprised wow and passionate cheering in the end from the crowd who probably didn't expect that.

After boarding I went straight outside to take photos of the city and fireworks, which proved to be difficult. After trying for about 30 minutes it got a bit cold and I went back inside. 

Leaving Turku behind

Grace's gas tanks, built on the outside for safety
Behind Club Vogue
Smokers' deck as I like to call it and the atrium
Mandatory Funnel Photo
Not-So-Mandatory Fancy Ceiling Photo
My shoes in the cabin "spotlight"
The New Year was celebrated three times - Russian (St. Petersburg) time, Finnish time and Swedish time. We chose to only attend the Finnish time party, not only because it's our time zone but because Finnish time is also the ship's time and it was likely to be the best. In addition to that, when we went to buy the cruise boarding photo we were offered a photo shoot by the photographer. Afterwards, since we were disembarking early in the morning he offered to print out the photos and show them to us some 15 minutes before the Finnish New Year (if you're reading this, thanks a million!). The photos turned out great; we bought two of the best ones, one for each of us. 

 It was quite the classic New Year party, with a countdown and dancing and flying confetti in the Vogue club. After the celebration we stayed up for some hours, watching the Långnäs stop, sitting in Retro bar and enjoying.
31.12.2014  23:59:56
The New Year photo posted by the Viking Grace Facebook page; We should be somewhere riiiight behind the blonde head.
After a few hours of sleep it was time to disembark. I have never seen a city as dead as Stockholm at 6:30 on the 1st of January. The first sign of life we saw besides fellow disembarkers was an open McDonald's restaurant at Slussen. We chose to have breakfast there, resulting in probably my weirdest McDonald's experience ever. Unlike the city, it was absolutely packed with a rather colourful contingent, very dirty and seemed to have gone through a few attempts of cleaning with some of the chairs on the tables. There was also a system error that prevented the placing of any orders which made most of the people angry. After we had finally received and eaten our food, we were just about to head out and witnessed attempts to clean up the place - a bucket full of water was thrown to the floor and no one seemed to care besides us. Luckily, we ran outside just in time. 

After leaving our luggage at the hostel we were staying at, we had some 6-7 hours to kill before the check-in opened. The fact we were dead tired and most stores were closed wasn't helping. We looked around a bit in the center and Gamla Stan, then spontaneously took a ferry named Djurgården 10 to the namesake island where we found a really neat buffet restaurant. After killing lots of time eating there, we took a tram back to the center and soon headed back to the hostel on Långholmen island. It was a nice refreshing walk away from the Hornstull metro station, not too far away from the center, especially if you have transport cards. Långholmen is an old prison island, nowadays a popular recreation area with lots of greenery. Since it was cold and we were tired and the island wasn't too appealing in winter, we didn't spend any time looking around, but I'm hoping to return at some point. 

Waxholmsbolaget ferries
Gröna Lund from sea
Leaving the center behind
The courtyard of the buffet restaurant, looking absolutely lovely even in winter.
A nice pillar in a tunnel near Hornstull metro station, made of  bas-reliefs of human body parts
The hostel itself was a remarkable experience too, being entirely prison-themed. Although a bed sheet rental fee came as an unpleasant surprise this time, making the stay somewhat expensive, it was still quite an experience and I wouldn't mind staying there again. 

Luggage locker
Entrance to the museum
Our room
Mirror. Selfie not intended, honestly!
After doing the check-in it was finally time for some well-deserved beauty sleep and so we didn't wake up until early next morning, just in time to get ready to board the same sweet Grace again. Before boarding we had breakfast in the same McDonald's restaurant again, which, unlike on the day before, wasn't messy at all. The ship seemed quite empty this time with under a thousand people on board - from being almost sold out before, it was a nice contrast. The whole day on board didn't turn boring for a bit. First of all, after departing, we went to look at the ferries who were coming in one after another.

First of all, Silja Serenade of TallinkSilja, from Helsinki
Fortunately that morning wasn't near as foggy as the time I was taking photos of the Grace from her sister Silja Symphony.
Soon after her came Princess Maria of St. Peterline. Usually on the Helsinki - St. Petersburg route, I believe she was doing a seasonal cruise that brought her to Stockholm.
Built in 1981, still going strong
Bye bye
Soon afterwards, the Grace's fleetmate Gabriella followed, coming from Helsinki.
The only decent side view I got of her
Three in one
And finally, after a while of waiting, TallinkSilja's Romantika came in too, from Tallinn.
By the time she turned her back to us, the other vessels were long out of sight.
Absolutely Mandatory atrium photo that was taken in the meanwhile. That place looks totally different each time. 
Yes, we felt quite welcome, thank you ☺
Soon afterwards it was time to claim our spa reservation. The spa is probably my favourite place on the Grace; in addition to the majestic view out of the panorama window, the nice hot saunas and a snow cave, it's the small things that matter. For example the provided robe in addition to the usual towel, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner next to every shower, free fruits and water, and I couldn't help but notice that even the pool ladder side rails were heated.

As we were getting out of the spa the ship started rolling heavily, which was a sign of leaving the Stockholm archipelago. We killed some time in Retro bar until the Mariehamn stop when I went to take pictures. The weather outside was a weird mixture of very nice and very unpleasant; I didn't like the heavy rain at all, but sailing through a double rainbow was lovely. 
out near Mariehamn
Meanwhile on the other side
Baltic Princess heading out to continue to Turku
Galaxy following to continue to Stockholm
Sailing to heaven
Amorella and port of Mariehamn
After the Mariehamn stop I had to dry myself once again since I was absolutely soaked. Some more time was killed in the Retro Bar and in the shopping world once it opened. Unfortunately we were a tad too late for the Bingo, so instead we went to Rockmore Bar to wait for the karaoke to start. There low amount of passengers kind of reflected, although there weren't many seats available, it took a while to get the show going. Still, I sang some songs as well as many others did. The selection was at least as wide as on the Silja Symphony, but to me it seemed to be a much better selection, with at least 10 Nightwish songs in addition to many others. In the end I was very proud of myself for getting Matti to sing the Phantom of the Opera with me. After the karaoke it was just about the right time to pack up and get ready to disembark. Since it was quite late when we arrived back in Turku, we drove straight home, ending the best New Year celebration I've had so far.