Swedish Rhapsody August 2009
Thursday 13th August 2009
Oh dear, it was to be another very early start, going by Tunnelbana to the Silja Line terminal at Varta Hamnen. It was sunny but cool when we left at 5.30 a.m. but today was the day of the DYNAMIC PACKAGE – Silja’s capitals, not mine! We had booked to travel on the 7.10 a.m. sailing of SILJA EUROPA from Stockholm to Mariehamn, in the Aland Islands, where we would arrive at 12.30; we would then have to disembark quickly and walk along the overhead terminal walkways straight on to GALAXY, which sailed at 12.40. She was due in from Turku in Finland. I guess this was the dynamic part of the day, because hundreds of us had booked to do this, as had hundreds of others doing the reverse journey, all along the same walkways but in separated lanes!
So at 7.10 we sailed on SILJA EUROPA under a cloudless blue sky but with a piercing wind blowing, and my goodness – from the top deck of this vast ship we could see the morning cavalcade coming towards us, heading into Stockholm’s ferry and cruise terminals. It was the most amazing sight. First came AZAMARA JOURNEY, followed by JEWEL OF THE SEAS.
then came Tallink's ROMANTIKA, then SILJA SERENADE,
followed by GABRIELLA, then BALTIC QUEEN
Then there was a short gap where we could go inside and look at the atrium with glass lifts, and the facilities of this huge ship, which included children’s playrooms, restaurants, cafes, shops, bars, conference facilities and a vast tax-free supermarket with shopping trolleys plus twenty checkout positions. I thought the pattern of one the carpets was worth a photograph.
It was interesting to see everything but it looked as if out-of-reach decorations or furnishings had been left undusted for a long time, but the ship generally was in remarkably good condition after 16 years of intensive use.
Finally there was time for breakfast, in the Maxim’s Restaurant on board. After such an early start, and all the ship-watching in the fresh air, it tasted wonderful, from the moment we were handed a glass of sparkling wine as we walked in, to the fresh raspberries and porridge, and through all the other hot and cold choices in the buffet. Even petit fours were there but they proved too much to contemplate…
I wanted to admire the views from the stern two-deck vast Moonlight lounge after that, although it may also be true that my eyes closed for a while, but I was soon ready for the next shipping to pass us on our way to Mariehamn.
As we approached the channel into the port, we could see GALAXY astern and admire the giraffes and penguins painted on her hull, and knew that the ‘dynamic’ part of the day was about to start. We tied up and were soon disembarking onto the upper walkways, heading straight for GALAXY, which had also just tied up.
It was all very organised and in no time at all we were on board and sailing off, back to Stockholm. Moments later SILJA EUROPA left and followed us close astern, heading to Turku in Finland.
No sooner had we cleared the quayside than two Viking ships (ISABELLA and AMORELLA) arrived, moments apart, tied up, disembarked and embarked passengers, and could soon be seen sailing out again. Phew, that was extraordinary and very exciting to watch.
GALAXY proved to be in complete contrast to the morning’s SILJA EUROPA. I was underwhelmed by the Wine Bar styling, but liked a view of one stairwell.
I remember reading about her coming into service in 2006, and I’ve travelled on one of her sister ships - BALTIC PRINCESS - so I knew what to expect, but the state of the ship just amazed us. She was dirty, filthy, and smoky, with sticky carpets;
she was littered with cigarette ends on the outside decks, and discarded drinks cans inside, and it was immediately obvious that several human bodily functions had not all taken place in the appropriate place. That’s my polite way of putting it – there were notices everywhere asking passengers please to use the toilets, rather than corners of the hallways and the sun deck; I saw one group of ‘skinheads’ sitting on chairs on deck drinking heavily, and one of them sitting down on the actual deck had a trail of liquid starting from underneath him.
I didn't know until much later that my companion had actually taken this photograph of the man as he was lying on the deck, presumably after doing his trousers up again. It would appear, from his horizontal position, that he had not used the Toilet inside by the Bar, and had even caught his travelling companion's bag.
The carpets were mostly in a dreadful state and because it is a big ship of 48,000 tons, the two cleaning ladies we saw had a hopeless task, and simply picked up litter inside the ship during the journey. We went to see the Starlight Palace show lounge on a tour of the ship, and that smelled absolutely revolting – "as though a hippopotamus with irritable bowel syndrome had been let loose". It was a shame to see how quickly this relatively new ship had become so nasty, and in need of a deep clean.
I tried to admire a few things, and one was the central light fitting in the horrible-smelling Starlight Palace. I didn’t stay any longer than necessary in there, but the light fitting reminded me slightly of the Sibelius memorial in Helsinki, Finland, and was the same as that on the BALTIC PRINCESS. In the stairwells I admired the paintings of giraffes whose long necks rose through several decks to the top of one stairwell. Another stairwell picture was of a tall mountain with penguins and mountain goats on mountain side ledges on the various levels. The funnel was also a lovely sight out in the sunshine, even if it had recently reminded me of ‘Jaws’.
Hunger pangs sent us into the Grill Restaurant where we enjoyed freshly cooked meals. This area was clean and comfortable, in such contrast with the rest of the ship.
As we approached Stockholm storm clouds gathered overhead, the wind rose and heavy rain started, with lightning in the distance. Ships now started coming out of the port towards us, which was a good distraction. The sky was so dark that it made my picture of SILJA SERENADE and ROMANTIKA look unreal and rather eerie.
We also remembered reading in a free newspaper in the Silja terminal that today was International Left-Handed Persons Day. As we neared the terminal, we passed the Amusement Park, and could see the building site next to it. Once again we had to smile at the sight of the two cranes disguised with fabric covering their whole height – the fabric was printed with giraffe skin and head patterns – at a little distance it simply looked as if two giraffes were standing there!
On board we left the drunken and drinking Finns to their devices, and prepared to disembark at 6.30 p.m. after a fascinating day on the Dynamic Package – SILJA EUROPA especially being highly recommended and in a different class from the GALAXY. We took the Tunnelbana back to the other side of the city, and walked back to the Log Inn alongside flooded roads, so counted ourselves lucky to have missed this localised rainstorm. A snack on the hotel ship completed a very enjoyable day.
Silja Europa, Cristal Symphony, Jewel of the Seas, Azamara Journey, Silja Serenade, Romantika, Baltic Queen, Cinderella, Birka Paradise, Birger Jarl, Via Mare, Amorella, Galaxy, Isabella
To be concluded