...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Packing our bags and going to the neighbor's

Part 1 of 3 of our Finland cruise story

If you go out of our apartment and walk a hundred meters, you will already have passed 2 cruise-line travel agencies, 4 charter-trip travel agencies and the currency exchange office. I used to wonder about the proliferation of tourist agents here, but apparently group charter trips (not even speaking of Ryan Air trips that can be booked online) sell like hot buns. My Sweden "Culture Smart!" book attributes this to the long Swedish winters:
Winters are long , dark, and cold, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), "the Lapp's disease", is so common that many Swedes have taken to combating this with exposure to special light panels, regular trips to suntanning salons, or winter travel to sunny destinations. The average Swede is exceedingly well travelled for this reason... [Swedes] travel a lot, especially during the winter months, and group charter trips are both popular and inexpensive.
So, join the bunch, I say! For little more than 750 kronor each, Marcus and I managed to book a cruise to Helsinki, Finland (Swedish: Helsingfors) between the 14th and 16th of February, just before they hiked up the prices in time for sports holiday week. The price includes two nights' stay in our 9-square meter cabin, a buffet dinner and buffet breakfast in the boat, and bus transfers between here and Stockholm. Food and entertainment during the 7 hours we will actually be in Finnish ground isn't covered by the cruise price, but we've already thought of a wallet-saving strategy by eating at Subway and Hesburger, the finnish version of McDonald's. :-)

A postcard picture of M/S Silja Serenade, the boat we're traveling in.

Two things of note here: (1) I know Finland isn't exactly a "sunny destination" in which to escape SAD, but hey -- the winter hasn't exactly come "for real" to Sweden this year and now it already feels like spring! ... What SAD? Say what you want about the climate (like the earth "drastically" getting warmer due to some "pertinent threats"), but it actually made this winter lighter to bear. Now that the days are getting longer and we can actually see the sun, why not celebrate by burning some more fossil fuels on a 200 meter (600 foot)-long boat? (Insert enemy-of-the-earth-laugh here. Muhuhaha!) Okay, okay... we actually pay a kind of environmental "carbon emission" tax as part of the cruise costs. Not that this reduces emissions, but still...

(2) The second note is that, no matter what you think, we did not book this cruise specifically for Valentine's day! The fact is, taking the cruise on week 7 costs half as much as in week 8, when all children and parents are free for the sports holidays. By then, our tiny 9 square meter cubbyhole (which costed us 300 for both days), would have cost a full 1000 kronor more! Who are they kidding? Anyway, there was no choice for us but to book a trip with the rest of the lovebirds, which I now believe to be not as bad idea after all. I mean, even my mom and dad went on a Valentine's day cruise to Singapore once. This makes me feel so... adult. Haha!

Now we come to the "reputation" of the Finland cruises. In some circles, they are actually infamously called "drunk cruises", a nickname that probably explains itself. See, unless you live close to Denmark, everybody knows that taking a Finland or Estonia cruise is the cheapest way to get alcohol tax free. Since alcohol is hugely expensive in Sweden (it is taxed by alcohol content, making Swedish Absolut Vodka even more expensive in its home country than elsewhere in Europe), Finland cruises fulfill a kind of consumer demand. In fact, tax-free desperados may take a ferry that goes to Mariehamn (an island between Sweden and Finland) that turns back after shortly parking there, just so you could enjoy some hours of tax-free shopping.

Indeed, while searching for "Finland cruise + blog" over the Swedish Google, I had the impression that those who wrote about their experiences weren't the most articulate, smartest, nor most abstinent writers in the blogosphere. ("WHAT A PARTEEEEH!" + a series of drunk pictures -- End of entry.) What the...? They never even bothered to report what was on the pricey dinner buffet? Tsk tsk. Anyway, for the reasons above, we consciously chose the "sober line" (Silja Line), which according to everyone we asked, was the saner choice between the two cruise companies (And yes, all the drunk bloggers chose Viking Line). Still, I wonder how our experience will be. With no pretensions that Silja Serenade is luxury liner of some sort, we're really mostly in it for the cheap vacation, the chance to see Helsinki and to shop for tax free Finnish chocolates (oh, alright, and maybe some tax-free booze while we're at it, haha). Stand by for the next entry when we get back from Finland! I've already spent hours planning, as usual -- printing maps, borrowing guide books and researching tram routes, café prices, and even where one can go for a free whizz. I just hope I don't get sea sick in the boat...

a route map from Silja Line's website

Back on Saturday!


Anonymous ria said...

your post made me remember my trip to vasa, finlad as a 16 yr old...aside from the very short trip (which was between 4-6 hours), the only thing i remember is that there were lots of nivea creme, fazer chocolates and those fruit flavored marshmallows in gigantic packages bought at tax free..hehehe!

anyways, my friend who is working in helsinki told me that alchohol consumption in finland is so crazy it is not uncommon to find drunk finns out on a work night, close to passing out, really "bakis" the next day and couldn't remember for their dear life what happened on the night out....*grin*


11:54 AM


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