Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Originally, I wanted to go to Lapland (northern Finland) for Christmas, but with little snow there for skiing and other winter activities, I decided to do something different. One thing that is relatively commonplace in this part of the world is to take ferries to different locations and have a floating party along the way. Silja Line departs 5 p.m. from Helsinki each day, arriving 9 a.m. the next morning. The ferry then departs at 5 p.m. from Stockholm, arriving 11 a.m. the next morning in Helsinki (the two-hour difference being time-zone changes). You can see the ferry in this picture from earlier in this blog. I booked one of the last available rooms on the ferry, and the boat holds about 1500 people when full.

Nearly everyone I met was Russian. At dinner one night, I sat across from another single male, who was a Finn and an accountant. Russians celebrate the new year to a much bigger deal than the Finns do. They believe that wherever you are on New Years Eve and what you are doing is a symbol for how your year will go. Many of the Russians take the train to Helsinki as part of a tour group, then ferry to Stockholm, and then go skiing in northern Sweden or just return.

The first night on the water was, by most standards, pretty rough. Once we left the protective shelter of the Finnish archipeligo and entered the open gulf, the waves got pretty big and started rocking the ship. You would be dancing or walking down the hall and be jerked off to one side. Given the size of the boat, the waves that would suddenly rock the boat from its normal swaying must have been pretty impressive. Despite the reputation of this being a party ship, the nightlife was dead by 11 p.m., as everyone was either in their room asleep or vomiting. (I had smartly taken motion sickness pills earlier in the night, so I didn't feel close to getting sick.)

The next morning was a breakfast buffet, which everyone decided they were going to descend upon at the same time. I had to wait 20 minutes to get inside the buffet room, and there were people waiting before me. The doors finally opened. I observed that people were very rude, cutting in place, pushing, taking your seat when you got up to refill your drink. It sure took a lot of fun out of that experience. In fact, that was generally true of most of the trip. People were not patient, in general, on this ship.

In Stockholm, I visited Gamla Stan (the old town where the Royal Palace and quaint shopping district is). There was a light rain, which was bothersome because it kept getting on my camera lens. Visually overstimulated after five hours of walking, sightseeing, shopping, and taking pictures, I returned to the ship.

The second night featured smoother waters, so revelling continued well into the night. People were generally dressed quite nicely (and I had a jacket and tie on, so I fit in), with the women wearing incredibly low-cut dresses. The ferry trip included special activities for this night, including two bands and a singer-songwriter in the Irish pub. The two bands were expert at playing good cover songs. The crowd favorites included
Bon Jovi, anything by Abba, and, shortly before midnight, "The Final Countdown." I was surprised to hear this band play country songs with a natural-sounding southern accent, as well as "The River" by Bruce Springsteen---not what you would consider your typical slow dance song. The ship celebrated three New Years (Russian, Finnish, Swedish), once for each time zone, so there was a lot of alcohol flowing and many toasts. After the arrival of the Finnish new year, the band stopped playing and the dance floor was cleared for a dance performance by the ships' entertainment: Riverdance. I think I could have done without that. :-)

The breakfast buffet was noticeably less crowded this morning.


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