The sun is warm and I can feel soft mild wind brushing my face. The seagulls are diving and gliding around the stern. Looks like it will be a glorious day.
We arrived at Helsinki, Finland. I will visit Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland) a fortress built on six different islands and a UNESCO designated world heritage site. The Swedish commenced structuring of this fortress in 1748, and after 1808, Russians extended in building this sea fortress when Finland was under its control. Today, Suomenlinna is an independent governing city with schools and shops.
According to my tour ticket, the scheduled meeting place is at the pier. When I check-in with Alex, a Princess tour officer, I told him that they sent me on a wrong tour yesterday. This is the first time he learned about this. He briefly jots down my cabin number and says he will check into it.
While waiting for the tour to commence, I checked with Alex twice to make sure that he will direct me to the correct bus. On the bus ride, our tour guide, Aana, passed out receptors and earpieces. These gadgets allowed her to talk directly to us. I can roam around a short distance away and still be able to hear her. We arrived at Market Square in the center of Helsinki and from here we will take a ferry to Suomenlinna.
We walked through a produce market piled with fresh products and it is superbly clean. There are many colorful vegetable and fruit stands. Outside, at the marina, boat owners are standing inside their boats with tables set up selling potato, flower and fresh seafood. There are huge tents selling pastries and sandwiches in front of the Market Square where people are sitting on benches eating them.
The ferry ride to the Suomenlinna fortress is smooth and quick. When we arrived, I feel I stepped into a completely different environment compared to the hustle and bustle at the market. Here is tranquil, there are lush grass, full grown trees and moss on top of the fortress.
We walked thought the granite gates of the fortification walls, Aana tells us that inside was occupied by soldiers as their residence. It’s spacious and cool. On the other side, we entered into an open spaced yard with lush trees. It is misty and humid in the air. I walk away from our tour guide to take a better look around while still listening to her voice in my ears. There are canons fortified on top of the wall. In a distance, there are 2-floor red brick garrison buildings still completely intact. We continued our walk to an operating ship yard. I want to remember this picture perfect story book image right now completed with cool breeze and lush green grass. Who knows when will I ever visit this place again?
On the Susisaari Island, we walked on the uneven cobble stoned walkway. Because the weather is cloudy, I am having a difficult time seeing things without squinting. There are so many picturesque views. I particularly like the aged old stone bridge romantically built on a shallow pond. I see many families picnicking on the lush grass next to the pond. I wish I packed a picnic basket and is now taking a nap on the grass.
We stopped at “Café Piper”, a wooden villa in Finland’s oldest English-style park. There are three wooden picnic tables already set up with plates full of Finish pastry for us.
“I learned that the Fins have an inferior complex because you were ruled by Sweden and Russia.” I said to Aana.
“Yes, it’s an accurate description.” She said, “When I was a child, my grandmother told me that she had to relocate and leave her house after World War II because that territory now is a part of Russia.”
“So when European Union was established in 1993, we quickly passed the vote to join EU with a large majority in 1995 because we felt it would provide security to be a part of a larger community.”
Also as a part of Eurozone, Euro became Finland’s sole legal currency. Unlike Sweden, even though it is a part of the European Union, the Swedish decided to use Krona as their currency. Now, products are more expensive in Sweden than in Finland.
“Could you tell me about the educational system here? Do you have to pay for your education?” I asked.
“No we don’t have to pay for our education. We get free education even at the postgraduate level.”
I wish I have the luxury to be educated in a free tuition system. Even with a 3.23% interest rate, I won’t be able to finish paying my graduate student loan until I turn 60.
My heart flutters as I watch dock workers unknot all the heavy braided anchor ropes. We are about to set sail. When will I visit Stockholm again? I feel so despaired and dreading to attend dinner as a single traveler. As usual, the Maitre d’ seats me at a table for eight. I feel very insecure sitting there by myself. What if no one shows up? Am I going to eat all by myself at this big dining table? I am sure no one is staring at me; they are all busy having their own conversation; still, my face is flushed like a spot light is shining right at me.
Finally, a grandmother and her grandson are seated next to me. They are from Thousand Oaks, California. Then two couples, one from Connecticut and another from Ohio are seated. As soon as we exchanged names, I blurred out about my terrible day.
“The tour guide sent me on a wrong tour. I wanted to visit City Hall but instead I was sent on a city highlight tour.”
“When we flew into Copenhagen couple days prior to our cruise, our airline lost our luggage. So we have two days with no clothes to change into.” The women from Ohio said.
“The hotel was nice to offer us some robes to wear.” Her husband said.
“Well, I would ask the airline to compensate you.” The grandmother from Thousand Oaks said.
I wonder if this cruise line would compensate me?
What a waste of a day! The tour guide sent me on a wrong tour and now there is no time for me to visit City Hall where Noble Prize Banquets are held annually. What a big disappointment and complete regret! When will I fly half across the globe to Stockholm again? I am fuming with tears in my eyes!
All the pictures I took provide no joy to me! The beautiful historic buildings built on Riddarfjarden (a Bay of Lake Malaren), the Stockholm Cathedral where a bishop gave a short prayer in English and the many public parks filled with lush green trees are vanishing out of my mind now that I cannot complete my goal of visiting what I ‘wanted’ to visit. My head is exploding!
Before departing from home, I researched all the ports I will visit and I purchased all the tours online prior to the cruise. For Stockholm, I purchased “City Highlights and City Hall” tour because I want to visit where Nobel Prize Banquet is held each year in December.
On cruise embarkation day, all tour tickets were delivered to my cabin. Today when I showed my tour ticket to the tour officer, she should check my ticket carefully then put a sticker on my shirt which correspond to the tour I purchased. Obviously, she didn’t check my ticket then provided a wrong sticker. As a tourist, I am a part of a herd and I just follow a group that has the same J2 sticker and we all got on the same bus.
After a choreographed walk around Gamla Stan, on Stadsholmen island, the Old Town of Stockholm, our tour guide says we will have 20 minutes on our own then to meet her at an obelisk on the eastside of the Royal Palace. This is when I ask her are we going to visit City Hall next?
She replies that we will not go to City Hall. We will be heading back to the ship. Ugh!
Right then, a squad of six Royal Guards, all look about 15-year old, dressed in perfect royal blue uniforms, perfect white belts and gloves, shinning black boots, silver helmets with gold Royal Coat of Arms, and carrying long sharp saber rifles, are marching in perfect unison in front of the Royal Palace. It is time to change the guard.
Even this rare sighting does not cheer me up as I am waiting to be taken back to the ship and thinking what a disappointment today turns out to be!
4am! Bummer! I can’t sleep any more. I flew across nine time zones just two days ago, of course, I have not adjusted to the local time yet. It’s good that Horizon Court is open 24 hours. Sluggishly, I crawl slowly step by step with slouched shoulders up 5 decks to the rear of the ship for a much too early breakfast. I am surprised that there are already a few people enjoying their breakfast. From the buffet counter, I select egg benedicts, salmon, sunny-side-up and some potato; realizing that I am actually quite hungry. As soon as I sit down, an efficient server automatically serves me some coffee and orange juice.
I am sitting next to a floor-to-ceiling window which provides a picturesque view of the archipelago. Baltic blue sea is crisp clear and there are luscious green trees on the islets. I see ripples created by the ship as it graces smoothly through the channel created by the last Ice Age. Patches of white soapy foam, formed by those ripples, dissipate as they emerge back into sea in a rhythmic tranquil pace. I synchronize my breath with those ripples while enjoying a cup of dark brew coffee. I feel relaxed.
I see my reflection on the floor-to-ceiling window with my loyal server standing right behind me, together we stare into the abyss. Time is standing still. A seagull is flying parallel with the ship leading the way to Stockholm a city consists of fourteen islands.
I finally decided to drag my body out of bed. The luxury of a vacation is that time has no essence. I splurge in pampering myself from head to toe then disgruntledly walk up five decks for the Horizon Court buffet line.
I found a table to sit and ordered a cup of coffee. The server asks why I am traveling by myself.
“There are many happy when you travel with a friend or your husband.” He says. “Are you married?”
“How old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?”
I shake my head while laughing.
“Are you in your thirty’s?”
“Wow, you look you are in your twenty.”
“Well, thank you very much.”
I ask him to tell me about the Philippines because I never been there. He tells me about the weather that it’s hot but no humidity and because of this it is easier to get a tan. He asks where I am from and where is my family. He tells me that I need to get married because I don’t have much time if I want to have any children. The Filipino culture emphasizes a strong family bond so I understand why he is very concern that I really need to have a husband quickly. Then he advises that I should find a “Good” man. I think I am going to have Ronnie as a friend.
It’s exactly six o’clock as the taxi pulls up right in front of the drop off location at the Copenhagen dock. Instantly, I feel a sense of relieve. The ship is scheduled to leave at 6:30pm, perfect timing! The luggage valet eagerly takes my luggage just as the taxi driver takes them out from his truck.
“Welcome aboard.” He greets me.
“Thank you very much!”
Briskly, I walk to the check-in area despite my exhausted and stiffed body after 24 hours of plane ride.
“Welcome aboard.” The woman at the check-in counter greets me. “Do you have your boarding pass?”
“Sorry, I didn’t print it out.” I smile.
“Well, do you know what cabin you are in?”
“No, I don’t remember.”
“Are you sure you are supposed to be on this ship today?”
“That I am certain.” My smile widens even more.
“Okay, let me have your passport and we will see what cabin you are in the system.”
“Cabin D516; because the scheduled mandatory muster drill is already over. There is a makeup muster drill, for the passengers who check in late, at 7:30pm. Please make sure you attend.”
“Oh, I was hoping I don’t have to do.” After cruising several times on X company’s ships, I can probably give a muster drill presentation myself.
“Here is your cabin card and the gangway is on the right following the sign. Enjoy your cruise.”
I take my cruise card that she hands me and skip to the gangway. It just happens that a family is descending down the stairs. It’s the end of their cruise and the beginning of mine as we cross our paths…