Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cruisin' the Baltic

Our ship, the Viking Lines' Gabriella, left Stockholm in rain about 5PM. Our stateroom, on deck 2, was actually fairly nice, for the price...larger than many guest-house rooms we stayed in in Nepal, with private bath, hot and cold water, heat, etc. Luxury for $26 a night, including the trip. Thanks, Vicki.

It's not exactly a cruise...the travelers are about 55% Finnish, shopping in Stockholm and duty-free, 40% Swedes, partying, gambling, and shopping duty-free, and 5% actual tourists like us. The ship stops briefly in the Aland islands, an “autonomous” province of Finland, and that makes it an international (as opposed to inter-EU) voyage. The duty-free prices were only a little better than Stockholm, IMHO.

The Stockholm archipelago runs for more than 100 miles and contains some 24,000 islands and skerries. All of them are glacially-polished metamorphic rock masses, most large enough to accommodate forests, most with summer and other homes, but few permanently inhabited. The cruise-ship/ferry route runs up through these islands, staying fairly close to the mainland for a couple hours. Then it enters open sea for a bit, and, then, the Aland islands, another archipelago, this time with even more islands. Fly-over in Google Earth and you will get some appreciation of the matter. I had no idea there was any topography on earth like this. Then some more open sea, and you enter the archipelago around Helsinki, more islands, more forests and red-painted houses and buildings. The cruise/ferry route is pretty well established and marked, and there is radar and GPS, etc. Some of the islands we passed were scarcely 100 feet away, really close for a 50,000 ton ship moving at 20 knots. It's hard to imagine doing this 100 years ago, or 200, or 1000. Little wonder the Vikings became such proficient sailors.

Our ship, the M/S Gabriella

A tall ship entering Stockholm harbor as we leave

In Helsinki old harbor

Skerries in the rain

More islands, now near Helsinki

The buffet menu (see next entry)

Midsummer's eve sunset

Us ringing in the new...wait a second...summer solstice

The Gabriella's midsummer's eve entertainment extravaganza

Midnight sun...well, not quite at this latitude...it just never gets very dark

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