Last weekend we decided to celebrate Tiia’s birthday by going on a Silja Line cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm. This time, we ended up taking the “day in Stockholm” kind, since our all time favourite band Poets of the Fall took the stage on the first night of the cruise.
We were also familiar with a comic shop called the Science Fiction Bokhandeln in Stockholm’s old town, and wanted to re-visit it on the Saturday.
These boat cruises from Helsinki have been around forever and are very well-known among us Finns. To some, the cruises to Stockholm mean tax-free shopping, while others get on the boat to simply get drunk with friends on a night or two. Some come for the food, while some make it a family thing.
And when a popular band like Poets of the Fall are playing, there’s always that handful of fans from Finland, Russia and many other countries that simply come for the concert.
Our trip was a combination of almost all of the above.
The most common cruise types are the 24 hour kind (the passengers stay onboard throughout the journey) and the two day cruises, with two nights on the boat and one onshore. The usual big cruise ships have massive tax-free shops, fancy restaurants, cafes, pubs, nightclubs, gyms, pools, spas and fun play areas for kids. I can even recall going to the movies on one of these cruises once!
And the ships really are big – we’re talking apartment building size, with long corridors and several elevators taking you up to the 11th deck and late night disco on the 12th.
The size of these ships always reminds me of a fun story: some of them leave from Turku and sail past Ruissalo, the location for one of the biggest Finnish rock festivals. So, to get to the open water, they have to sail through a really narrow strait right next to the beach stage of Ruisrock. During an Oasis concert years ago, a cruise ship happened to sail past. The guys on stage noticed it, and I think it was Liam who shouted into the microphone: “what the f*ck is that?!”.
Our ship, Silja Serenade, left from Eteläsatama that’s right next to Helsinki’s most famous market square, so getting there was (and always is) very easy. And this time, even the weather was on our side. We’ve been on these cruises in chilling winter weathers, rain and storms, but during this cruise we even got to spend some time on the boat deck, watching sunsets and the waves and the beautiful islands both on the Finnish coast and the Swedish.
I arrived to the harbour really early, as I was travelling as a Poets of the Fall crew member. Satu followed a couple of hours later. We said hi to the guys, spent some time at the night club watching their soundcheck, then headed out for some birthday drinks and people-watching.
Plus some really unfortunate cartwheel attempts (see video below).
Around 10pm that night we headed back to the night club to get good seats, but once the concert started, we couldn’t just sit, we needed to JAM! So, we ended up watching the gig not very far from the stage, singing and dancing along as usual. Good times!
We spent the rest of the evening bumping into friends and checking out everything that was going on in the pubs and night clubs. Before going to bed, we went for an extremely delicious and healthy (I say “healthy” with a sarcastic voice) hotdogs and meatpies at the boats’ late night cafe. I paused my munching to personally congratulate a random passenger for choosing to put ketchup on his pizza slice. Great life decisions, man! Pizza Ketchup Club 4eva!
We got up fairly early and went for breakfast, then made plans to meet up with the guys to go to Stockholm. We discussed calling a cab, but opted for Tunnelbana (Stockholm subway) instead as it was a pretty simple journey. And off to Gamla stan (the old town) we went!
First we visited Comics Heaven, a small shop with lots of comics, t-shirts and some other merchandise to offer. Friendly staff, too! Next, we padded along the familiar old town street to Science Fiction Bokhandeln for more treasure browsing and geeky goodies.
We checked out the Pop Vinyls, the Game of Thrones merchandise, the Doctor Who items. We browsed through the t-shirts, the badges, the keyrings, all the little things that we enjoy looking at. We ended up buying a few Pop Vinyl figures (The 10th Doctor! Sam Winchester in an FBI suit! Ronan the Accuser! A tiny Adipose!) and a couple of other things and left the store with big smiles on our faces.
As we’re no strangers to overdoing it when it comes to All Things Delicious, we went for iced coffees and muffins first… and then, less than an hour later, got the massive cravings for some frozen yogurt. (I mean, we didn’t even think we’d ever manage to find anything as good as Orange Leaf’s in New York, but we decided to try anyway.)
We quickly googled a local froyo spot, and the nearest one turned out to be the Frozen Yogurt Factory in Gallerian shopping centre on Hamngatan. And boy, it was gooood! They had less froyo flavors than Orange Leaf, but it was still spoon-licking delicious.
The second night on the boat went quite smoothly. We had a few drinks again and went for a stroll on the deck to admire the gorgeous sunset, but spent most of the night enjoying a luxurious dinner with the guys at a restaurant called Bon Vivant.
We were actually so comfortable hanging out in our cabin that we almost forgot about it, until we got a phone call saying “errr, are you girls still coming, we’ve been waiting outside the restaurant for a while now?” Oops. Classy, Fangirl Quest. Classy.
The dinner was amazing. Beautiful appetizers, lovely main courses and plenty of wine tasting… and of course, so much laughter and jokes that our cheeks hurt. What a bunch of dorks.
Even though our tummies were fully-full, we decided to check out what’s going on at the nightclub and the upstairs disco. For some reason, we also thought it’d be a great idea to have some Fireball cinnamon whisky shots. It wasn’t. It’s still a pretty horrible drink, no matter how you practice. (Yet somehow, it’s also amazing.)
That night, we got a good night’s sleep, what with all the walking & talking, dinner and shots, and woke up to a sunny morning in Helsinki as the boat arrived back to the harbour.
We’ve both been to a dozen or more cruises during our lives, but it’s not even that uncommon for a Finn to spend a weekend on a cruise ship every year or two. Sure, the cruises have been pretty much the same over the years, although the restaurant menus and other details change a bit, but they’re quite affordable for the common folk as well.
It’s not very exotic, it’s not always very stylish (what with most of the people getting blind drunk and some behaving badly), but if you’re looking to get away for a day or two, it’s not a bad choice at all. And if you’re in Finland for a holiday, it’s quite amazing that you can experience either Stockholm or Tallinn so easily. No flights, no rush, no fuss, just get on the boat and enjoy.
You can even get to St. Petersburg in Russia on a boat, but we haven’t tried that one yet. Maybe in the not-so-distant-future, though… who knows?
As a bonus, here’s a few wintery photos from 2013, from our cruise to Stockholm with Viking Line.
If you’ve been on a cruise like this and wasn’t familiar with the concept before you went, we’d love to hear what you thought about it! Was it nice? Was it weird? What did you do and see?
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