Helsinki and Superstar Games

13 Aug

Travel brings out the gaming instinct in ordinary people.

Gaming is a relatively new verb for an ancient instinct.  As well as being applied to video gaming, it can be applied to the way people play a situation or system to their advantage. The competitive instinct may be consciously attenuated, or dulled with age and weariness, but it is omnipresent nonetheless.

Case in point, boarding MS Superstar, our Tallink ferry to cross from Helsinki, Finland, to Tallinn, Estonia, this morning. 

This massive modern ship (complete with wifi) carries vehicles and about 1,900 souls across the Baltic Sea strait on a two-hour crossing three times a day. We’d booked the 10:30am departure and dutifully checked in an hour beforehand. 

There was no sign of the ship. A board indicated departure would be at 11:10am. All seats in the waiting area were already occupied so we settled ourselves on the floor, backs and baggage to the wall, to pass the time reading and chatting. 

Hordes of people flowed in. Soon bodies were standing shoulder to shoulder in all the available space in the waiting room and stretching many metres back.
We overheard an employee explain to a disgruntled passenger that, due to bad weather when leaving Tallinn that morning, our ferry would be at least thirty minutes late. Much jockeying for position with several brazen individuals shouldering their way to the front of the crowd and small children wailing.

When the glass double doors to the 450 meter long walkway to the ship finally opened you’d think an olympic games starter gun had been fired. They were off! Dragging suitcases or pumping nordic walking poles, all ages, sizes and nationalities walked briskly down the corridor heading for the most comfortable, scenic sections of the ship. The halt and lame brought up the rear.

Australia and Britain were well represented, we were right up there amongst the front runners, snaffling the prize of a starboard side view seat in the cafeteria. No doubt the same process will occur now as we disembark, but we’ll leave them to it. We have a 750 metre leisurely walk to our home for the next two nights, a  harbourside hotel. 

   
MS Superstar and samples of sophisticated electronic ferry ticketing.

 Helsinki Harbour   
  A cruise ship heading out to sea.
View through the bow window of MS Superstar.
 A sample of stunningly simple Finnish semiotics aboard Superstar.

I promised in the last post to return to our time in Helsinki. Logistically we rate Helsinki as one of the easiest cities to navigate. Signs are in at least four languages, people are polite, if a little dour (example provided below), and the public transport system is efficient and cheap. We caught local trains, trams and walked during our two days there (pre and post-St Petersburg). 

   
Once again (this is beginning to sound like a broken record but, what can I say, it’s our dumb luck) we’ve had sunshine and 24 degrees celsius daytime temps. Sunday was spent walking the very flat downtown and cruising the harbour and archipelago on a boat tour. Everywhere men had their shirts off, girls in tiny bikinis sunbathed on any spare patch of grass in the parks, or on gravelly beaches, and blonde families mucked about in small boats. We passed tiny wooden sauna-boathouses and jetties with substantial white wooden houses set back in the trees. One jetty even had a seaplane beside it.  

An enviable life during the summer months for those who can afford it. 

    
    
    
    
  St Nicholas’ Cathedral.  
 Yesterday we gave in to the inevitable post St Petersburg ennui and made the most of our comfortable, well-designed one-bedroom apartment. Laundry (yes Cassie, all pockets were carefully checked), postcard writing, sleeping, watching English language TV with Finnish subtitles, and eating home-cooked meals may sound boring but it was exactly what we needed. 

    
We rather liked the smart black and white bathroom decor.

  Travel laundry lines are marvellous.  
The apartment building was a refurbished 60s construction with its original elevator.

   
I’ll relate one true story I believe may illuminate the Finnish nature a little. I undertook supermarket shopping on my own whilst Stuart napped. Twice around the aisles and I couldn’t find any humus, a vegan staple. I asked a young man wearing the supermarket uniform if he knew where it might be. He stood still, put his head on the side and thought for a full ten seconds with a blank expression before asking, “Is it dried?” I said, no, it’s usually in the refrigerated section. He then went to his colleague at the checkout and asked him in Finnish the same question I’d asked. The young checkout man did exactly the same thing, head cocked, expressionless, thinking silently for a full ten seconds before replying with the equivalent of, ‘I don’t know’. I said, ok, no problem, and continued my selection. Five minutes later the first man came up to me and said they did, in fact, have humus, and led me to a small tub of it high up on a refrigerated shelf. Still no expression. I thanked him effusively. I wonder what they make of Latin Americans in Finland?

I finish, as Julia would say, on a practical point that may be useful to fellow travellers. As our flight landed in Helsinki at 11pm I’d booked us into the Airport Hilton, a five minute covered walk from baggage collection. It was extremely comfortable and had a fantastic breakfast buffet. Our St Petersburg boat wasn’t leaving until the following evening so we had a whole day to explore. A thirty minute 3 euro train ride took us to the central station and we were able to store our luggage in lockers for 6 euro (Stuart) and 4 euro (me). On our return it was then just a 12 minute 3 euro tram ride back to the harbour. Well played Helsinki.

 

2 Responses to “Helsinki and Superstar Games”

  1. neilson1 August 14, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

    I didn’t notice any bamboo undies in your washing, have you decided they loose elasticity too quickly? I have. Cx

    • Sharon Tickle August 15, 2015 at 6:01 am #

      He still has them Cassie! They are so heavy and take so long to dry he swore he’d throw them out but they’re still tagging along. Stuart hung out the laundry in his inimical style, which is to say he flung it out. I have to firmly restrain myself from rehanging it ;-)) Sxx

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