Finland and Eastern Baltic
In June and July of 2019 I traveled to Europe again to sail with many ferries and meet up with many ferry friends I’ve met throughout the years, that I’ve had this passion.
I flew from Brisbane to Stockholm via Dubai, arriving 22 hours later. The next morning I boarded a bus at Stockholm Cityterminalen, that took me to the Stockholm terminal of Viking line. (Since Viking line is Finnish, Viking line is pronounced Vick-Ing) I boarded Viking Grace for a day crossing to Turku. Quite a splendid vessel, constructed by STX Europe -Finland, Perno yard. The interiors are quite impressive, quite stylish and modern. During the voyage we passed the Viking Line veteran Rosella.
The arrival at Mariehamn was quite spectacular, as its the meeting point for the east west bound competitors of Viking line and Silja Line on the Stockhom -Turku route. Offering some good photo opportunities of the other ferries.
After the quick call in Mariehamn Viking Grace set off for Turku, with Baltic Princess not to far ahead. Arrival early evening in the port of Tuku where I disembarked.
Turku is an interesting City for any one interested in maritime history, having a rich ship building history, especially with Wärtsilä and successive companies. Indeed our very own Spirit of Tasmania I & II were constructed at the Perno yard of then Kvaerner Masa Yards, now Meyer Turku. I visited this yard during my visit to Finland in 2018. You can see some photos in the section Ports/Ship yards.
Next stop was Helsinki where I met up with a friend and fellow ship enthusiast Kalle. Helsinki was also the departure point for me to sail to Russia with the SPL Princess Anastasia. The next evening I set sail for St Petersburg, Russia. A place I didn’t have a whole lot of desire to visit, but was keen to sail with Princess Anastasia, who remains in mostly original, a good opportunity to sail on an 80s cruise ferry and step back in time. Also I was interested to see how the Italian Moby line along with the Russian SPL crew worked in together and what the end product was like for passengers. I had heard a fair bit about it from my European friends, and it wasn’t all good.
The boarding Process was rather drawn-out with only 2 staff involved in checking in passengers. After about 45 mins in queue I got my boarding pass. Next through customs and on to the ship. The interiors are starting to show their age, but still in acceptable condition for the most part. Some of the furniture dates back from her days as Olympia, with their 80s colors. After a few hours into the voyage I Purchased my ticket to the buffet, which is done at the reception desk. 37euro if I remember correctly, which is rather expensive at about AUD$60 and no where near as good as Viking and Silja who charge about the same price. The food was ok, bit of Italian twist with some Russian influence. My Finnish mate Kalle had traveled onboard Anastasia before Moby brought the ship and joined the partnership. He had said the food was very basic and not up to the standard expected in this part of the world. It should also be noted that a good deal of the passengers on SPL are Russians, so to them its probably very good now.
After enjoying my dinner I retired to my cabin, around 10pm, the sun still well up. Unfortunately I had a case of bed bugs, in one bed in my four bunk cabin. Only the second time I’ve had this in my life, the other time being on the Italian ferry GNV Auzzura. Since I was alone in the cabin, I just moved to another bed and the problem was solved. I had a good nights sleep to the gentle throb of the engines, bliss! 😀
Next morning on my way to breakfast, I reported the bed bugs to the purser which resulted in a Russian-Australian culture clash, as she was rather annoyed I didn’t report it the night before, when I felt nothing could have been done been done at that time of night, short of moving cabins, an inconvenience I didn’t want. We Aussies are to easy going. Breakfast was good, and the arrival in St Petersburg was spectacular!
Disembarkation was the worst of any ferry in the world, no question!! Well in fairness disembarking the ferry only took an hour but clearing customs took a leisurely four hours. Finally with a stamp in my passport I was in Russia, with a 72 hour visa free visit, which is part of the deal with Moby/SPL and the reason most people chose this method to come. Visas for Russia are expensive and can be complex to obtain.
St Petersburg was a real surprise to me, a very clean and interesting city. I had two nights booked in a hotel which was done via Moby at the time of booking, a package deal. I did the usual tourist things, the open top bus is a good way to get around. I visited the Cruiser Aurora, a Russian war ship from 1900. Although some doubt that its the original vessel itself, since its a welded hull and not riveted like the 1900s one, a modification not really possible.
I found the hydrofoils quite interesting looking, they run from St Peterburg to Petergof, but I never had time to take a trip unfortunately. On the afternoon of the 3rd day I met back at the location where the shuttle bus leaves from, nice and early as to avoid the long queue experienced on the way in. Some other Australians who I’d met on the voyage over were there as well, so was nice to have a chat. This end was relatively painless, with another stamp in my passport I boarded the Anastasia for the voyage back to Helsinki. This voyage was better than the way over. In the cabins, its evident Moby have spent some money with new mattresses (no bed bugs in this cabin) new toilet and general painting of the vanity unit etc.
Arrival in Helsinki the next morning, a whole day to tour the city before a night crossing to Tallinn with Silja Europa.
Silja Europa is a ferry I loved from the first time I saw her, in photos as a young enthusiast. Such a massive ferry who would pass for a cruise ship to most average people on the street, except she has a car deck. This crossing was done with Kalle, who kindly offered to accompany me on a voyage someday, so it was really nice to have some company, especially a very knowledgeable shipping author.
The Helsinki- Tallinn route for Silja Europa is a bit of a strange itinerary, she departs Helsinki at about 7pm and sails down to Tallinn arriving at about 10pm and remains moored until after lunch the next day for her passengers to go shore in Tallinn, then sail back to Helsinki, to come back in a few hours, so a very easy life for her. We ate in the Buffet, probably the best meal on a Baltic ferry I’ve had. We had a good explore around the vessel, very nice, having only been refitted a few years ago, after she’d been in Australia!
Silja Europa had come to Australia on charter to Bridgemans, a company supplying accommodation to workers in off shore activates, like offshore wind etc. In this case she was moored on Barrow Island, a remote island off the Western Australia coast line where oil is plentiful. She was moored there for about two years whilst workers built oil exploration infrastructure.
Once the charter finished she went to Singapore to be returned to her original state. After that she returned to the Baltic where shes been on the Helsinki- Tallinn route since.
After breakfast in the morning I disembarked to have a day around Tallinn. My first “Port of call” was to visit the memorial of the sinking of the Estonia back on 28/9/1994 where 852 people perished in the Baltic sea. It was particularly saddening to see so many names. The rest of the day was just seeing local sights around the city before .
In the afternoon I boarded Viking XPRS for the trip back to Helsinki, another nice modern vessel. One of my favorite parts where all the nostalgic photos of Viking Line ferries from the 60s. Some live music was being played on the aft deck, which gathered a good crowd. I had meal in the cafeteria before the evening arrival in Helsinki. (Still full daylight at 9:30pm)
Next day I farewelled Kalle and his family, who had been very kind to me! (See you next time mate!) then on to the train to Turku for an early evening departure back to Stockholm, aboard Baltic Princess.
The Turku – Stockhom (And Vice Versa) is very popular with travelers to sail without a car, just for a “Mini cruise” experience and a shopping trip to buy alcohol and cigarettes onboard.
After exploring the ferry (Having been with the sister Galaxy last year) I found her quite nice overall. I had dinner in the table service restaurant at the advice of some fellow enthusiasts, which was nice, but was a bit posh for me I think, with small servings and high price, but maybe others have found it better. With the early arrival into Stockholm the next morning I went to bed. Next morning, early arrival in Stockholm, a fair bit earlier than Viking line. Disembarkation is always smother on the Finland- Sweden line with very good port infrastructure. I was off in no time and heading to the Stockholm metro to go to meet my train to Gothenburg… see you in Part 2.