If I had been the itinerary planner for this cruise, I would have put at least one sea day between St. Petersburg and the next port. With St. Petersburg culminating a first week of destination touring on steroids, a day at sea would have been a lovely and most welcome interlude. However, navigational factors put us in nearby Helsinki the day after, and fortunately, for us, it was to be a perfect, laid-back day because we were to meet up with a local friend.
A civilised 10 a.m. meeting time just outside the security gate found us with Teijo Niemelä, known to the cruise industry community for his incredibly well researched, written and designed Cruise Business Review magazine and website (http://www.cruisebusiness.com). Teijo divides his time between his adopted New Jersey (where I grew up) and his Finnish home, so we were incredibly lucky to be able to connect during our port call.
Next post will be my blog relating the long tale of my lost iPad. Knowing it was lost, you can imagine that my first question to Teijo was not if he could show us the sights of Helsinki – a destination new to both Terry and me, but “where’s the nearest computer store??” (A girl without her iPad is like a corned beef sandwich without yellow, Brooklyn mustard.) Local knowledge and a car are incredibly good things, so within 5 minutes, Teijo drove us over to an amazing computer/home warehouse store, Verkkokauppa.com, at the port. Obviously targeting Helsinki’s huge Baltic/European ferry traffic, this multi-level shop is open 24 hours a day, and has wonderful sales people who speak perfect English – as well as other languages.
On the ground floor of the building is a small shop which sells stuff specifically for the tourist – Finnish SIM cards, maps, transportation cards, etc as well as a foreign currency exchange. Climbing on to the long up-escalator and reaching the top, I was in IT heaven (me, an old geek from way back). Not wanting to hold our host up for too long, I resisted the temptation to have a good look around the store, having a quick look at the printers (rejected that as an idea), and about 15 minutes later walking out of the store with a brand new iPad, bright red cover and stylus. (If Teijo reads this post, perhaps he can comment and add the name of the store.)
Back in the car, it was time to start our introduction to Helsinki. Of course, the main theme of my and Teijo’s conversation was cruise ships, ferries and ports, and whenever we saw a cool vessel in a berth in Helsinki’s widely dispersed harbour(s), we got out of the car, armed with cameras and took a photo or two. Like train spotters, or perhaps like two excited kids who love things that float.
Our first port of call (on land) was the Sibelius Monument, slightly out of town. Teijo thought it would be a good sight-to-see, given that all of the Helsinki shore excursions have it on their routes, and indeed, it was. An extraordinary monument to this wonderful composer whom I think does not get enough attention.
Driving out to the monument, we also saw the Nokia headquarters as well as some of the shipyards where some of the world’s largest cruise liners have been built.
Back in town, we parked up, and then had the lovely experience of walking up Helsinki’s elegantly beautiful Esplanade, watching the people, street performers and beautiful summer day.
From there, a chance to visit some of the extraordinarily lovely and iconic shops lining one side of the Esplanade – Iittala with its extraordinarily gorgeous homewares, glassware and kitchen utensils, all representing modern Finnish design.
And Annikki Karvinnen, a lovely fashion boutique and only one of two or three “preferred” shops for cruise visitors to the city.
We had a quick look in Stockmann’s, the wonderful rabbit warren of departments which make up this large, iconic department store sprawling over many sites (sort of like Myers in Melbourne) – and wishing I had time to shop, and a bit longer to browse through the adjoining extremely large English language bookshop owned by Stockmann’s – a bookstore which I dare say rivals Borders or Whitcoulls.
Back in the car to continue our overview introduction to Helsinki, passing many of Helsinki’s famous landmarks, and of course, more ships and ferries. Eventually, we made it back to the ship for lunch, to give Teijo an opportunity to have a look around the Prinsendam, beloved in its present incarnation, and in its first, as the Royal Viking Sun. Teijo walked through the ship, pointing out features that are the way they are because of its original build as a luxury cruise ship, including the reason for the odd-shaped rear lifts. Of course! They originally had glass backs! That explained the reason why the back of the lifts are wider than their entrance.
During lunch came the highlight of the day, though. Teijo rang his wife back in New Jersey and when he put me on the phone, I had a chance to tell Carolyn that her husband took me shopping. Don’t worry – she got it. It was she who suggested that we have a quick look around Helsinki’s gracious shops. But…she acquiesced to Teijo’s retail tour only if I promised that my next time in Helsinki would coincide with hers so that we two girls could do a big spend up. Carolyn: name the date. I’ll be there. (That is, only after the four of us go cruising together and/or after your possible late 2013 trip to my turf down under.)
Time to say goodbye, feeling destination-refreshed and longing to come back.