Ferry, Stockholm to Turku on the Baltic Princess (Silja line)

Ferry journeys to Finland are great. Inexpensive, and known for their party-friendly overnight timings, but with inexpensive cabins in case you want to ignore all that and sleep through. I did, and booked into a shared cabin for €24. The cheapest are around €20, which perhaps are more likely to be grabbed by the partiers. But even then, if they are out all night, they’ll hardly disturb you. The ferry left promptly at 19:30, turfing us out of cabins at 6:30, ready to dock at 7. I had a slight shock at that, as Finland is an hour ahead – beware, one hour fewer than you may be ready for.

Stockholm City hall, from the water
Stockholm City hall, from the water.
Waiting room, ferry. Ships are 'fartygen'
Waiting room, ferry. Ships are ‘fartygen’.

Check in is straightforward, and the whole process uses digital technology for convenience. You can go to one of the windows, shown in the window above. But you can use technology. There is a bank of machines, and a quick scan of the QR code sent via email will check you in and give you a boarding pass. In Finland I caught two trains, this ferry and went to an ice hockey match and museum, only needing paper for the museum and ferry, and even then those pieces of paper were scanned by machines. There are still plenty of staff standing around to help, or just to greet you, spared scanning duties.

4 person cabin
4 person cabin – only two of us in there, it was still cosy.

There is nothing behind the curtains in this cheap cabin, but they do the job of making it look like there is more to the place than there really is.

Boarding pass and key
Boarding pass, wifi code and cabin key.

I clicked the link in the email I received on booking, and that sent me to a webpage with the QR code on. Nothing I couldn’t have got from the email itself, but using the webpage version to check in meant I got further info. As soon as I had checked in, the page updated, telling me my cabin number (also on the boarding pass), its location and other info. That page then updated itself as the journey progressed, giving directions to town as the boat docked.

Silja line booking information, updated on check-in
Once checked in, the webpage updates to show boarding time, cabin number and so on.
Docking in Turku
Docking in Turku.

We docked in the dark. Buses were available right outside to take people into town. Passengers disappeared as I got my bearings, choosing to walk into Turku. It’s about 3km, through a quiet park and along quiet streets.

Turku in early morning light
Turku in early morning light. I walked there, so you could get there in the dark on the bus.

Not believing everything could be on time, I had booked the 1pm train, so had time to pass in Turku. I walked along the riverfront for a while, then headed for the public library. It’s a good place to pass some time, and even has some English-language books (graphic novels, at any rate). Turku itself has everything you need and is an easy place to stroll around. It was a little cold to explore too much, but I still enjoyed my view of the place.

Graffito with name of the city, Turku
Turku graffito
Turku public library
Turku public library.

Life in a community, Salt Spring Island

I picked Salt Spring Island on a whim. Canada is, or seems, less expensive than the US, so I was looking to save money, and not to stay in the city, Victoria. Beyond that, I had few criteria, so spotting a cheap bunk bed option on AirBnB that would allow me to hop on a ferry and see somewhere new was a win. There is no sting in this tale – Salt Spring Island was everything I might have hoped for, and more.

A view of the community. Trees, fire pit, cars
A view of the community. Trees, fire pit, cars.

The community is a farm, though they don’t seem to grow massive amounts of food. Enough to use themselves, perhaps, without selling great quantities, though there is a farm store out the front. Paying guests, staying for varying amounts of time, bring in cash, while others join for the community atmosphere, with meditation at least once a day, a sharing circle on a Monday evening, potluck dinner on a Sunday and other activities depending on who is there. Ju-jitsu on the Tuesday, for instance.

People are friendly and respectful, with the sharing circle there to allow for venting and self discovery. The potluck dinner is another excuse to talk to people, not that much is needed. Some of the longer-term residents – other than the owner, I met one who had been there for three years, working locally – take a while to warm up to newbies, as visitors wash through all the time, but none were unfriendly.

It’s also a great place from which to explore the island. Doing so is easier with transport; it’s not huge, so eminently cyclable, so long as you are not averse to some hill work. Hitch-hiking works, generally, so long as you can take rejection. And there are buses, though maybe not many per day. At least their sporadic nature helps the locals not see hitch-hikers as total freeloaders. I had to wait a little, but found it straightforward enough to get lifts to Ganges, the main town. Fulford, which has a couple of restaurants and a small grocery store, is 2.5km away, which makes for a decent walk. Particularly as it is downhill. And I ran to Ruckle park, chilled out by the water for an hour and ran back; it’s a great island to run round, hills and quiet roads with drivers well prepared to move over and give space to other road users. There are a number of short hiking trails, too, to give some variety.

The island has 9 fresh water lakes, all of which you can swim, paddle, kayak and so on in. No motorised transport is allowed as they provide the drinking water, so each is a little oasis of calm. Less confident swimmers should take a friend, as at some there may be little infrastructure and the water is murky. I swam in Weston, which is lovely – there’s just one entry point, near to house no. 740. Usually there are a few cars there to mark the spot. And Cusheon is larger, and is a km or so walk from a junction. I mention it because that is a natural junction for drivers to drop you if you are heading for Stewart Road rather than the West of the island or Fulford.

I made sure to join in with all the activities I could, had a fabulous time talking to people from around the world, and left only after hugging everyone in sight.

 

Hitch-Hiking around Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island is just to the North of Vancouver Island, a ferry ride away from Swartz Bay, which is itself an hour plus bus ride from Victoria. Not a difficult trip, just one for which to allow some time. Ferries leave frequently, see www.bcferries.com (Southern Gulf islands) for info about times and prices. I left the hostel at 11 and was in Swartz Bay in plenty of time to get a ticket and hop on the 1.10pm ferry. Just be sure to find your own way to the berth; the ferry to Vancouver (Tsawwassen) is the big event, so most people wait for that. Don’t be sucked in.

 

 

The island is just over 70 square miles; small enough to cycle around, though be prepared for some hills and narrow roads. I walked up to my accommodation, a community at Aloha Aina farms, from Fulford, which was a hilly but not overly difficult or stressful walk, despite being along a roadside. People here are well accustomed to give pedestrians space, or lifts.

Plenty of berries to pick
Plenty of berries to pick, just up the hill from Fulford.

On the latter subject, I hitch-hiked, which is a first for me on my own. It is super-safe here, everyone said, and the best way to get about. On Saturdays there is a market in the main town, Ganges, so I headed there. It took 10-15 minutes or so to cadge a lift, first from a yoga instructor who was happy to chat about life on the island, telling me all about the long weekend (which is now), life on the island, and the main event tonight, a gig with Ganga Giri and the sound of the didgeridoo, in Fulford’s community hall. My second lift was a gent who was just as happy to sit in companionable silence, dropping me in the centre of Ganges itself, right by the market.

Produce for sale. Outside most places
Produce for sale. Outside most places.

I wandered around the market, which was varied and lively, but not particularly interesting to someone unbothered by collecting any more things. There was food, but much more arts and crafts. I was more interested in the view of the waterfront, and in looking round the antiquarian and nearly new (plus, not-so secretly, some new) book shop.

 

 

Walking on a little, I had already decided to turn right along Upper Ganges road before I saw the sign saying ‘Cold beer, 1 min walk!’. That convinced me, though, and any thoughts of a cheap late lunch from a shop disappeared into Moby’s pub and its beer and burger. With a view over the harbour, US sports on the TV and wifi, for multiple distractions.

 

 

Returning, I hopped into a wagon driven by a lady who sells leatherwork at the market. It must be going reasonably well, as she was out of buckles and other parts. She dropped me at a junction, and although traffic was sparse, shortly afterwards a car dropped a passenger on the other side of the road, then cruised up to me. The lady driver became the second of the day to recommend Ganga Giri at the community hall – she was on her way to pick up a friend and eventually get down there herself.

 

 

I thought it was only 5pm when I returned, but it was soon 7.30, so I probably read it wrong. With a community, including visitors, of about 30, people came and went from house to land (it’s not a garden, but space that includes a fire pit, drive, parking, sitting area outside the kitchen and so on) and around; in the melee, there was no clear idea of whether people were headed down to Fulford or not, but just as it got dark, decisions were made and a couple of cars left. A fellow guest had put it when I expressed curiosity as to how a didgeridoo group might sound “Is it worth $25 to you to find out?” and I decided it was. As we milled about outside, it was clear that we were not too late – the intro DJ was still playing. Time to be greeted with hugs by Doug and Phil, pay and move in. I lost my group immediately, some of them I’d only seen in passing, so might not recognise in any case. Standing at the back, it took me some time, at least 15 minutes, to get into the swing, but after that, the DJ did a job in starting the party. Ganga Giri, on stage around 10.30, got us moving with thanks to the traditional owners of the land, several guests singers who melted back into the audience after their piece. Most of us stayed on the dancefloor throughout, enjoying the mix of reggae, dance and didgeridoo. The audience was mostly fairly young, but all ages were there and welcome, with all sorts of styles and work put in on the dance floor. I felt out of place for a few moments; I knew none of the locals, and my only interesting facial hair was a result purely of not shaving. But I soon picked up on the fact that there was a lot of love in the room; there might have been a lot of E or something similar, too, for all I know, but it was friendly for sure. By the end of the evening, even with all the doors full open, there was a lot of sweat, too. Anyone with slick-soled footwear had long-since abandoned it in favour of bouncing around barefoot.

I hadn’t realised I needed to move so much, but still left 15 mins or so before the end; the offer of a lift up the hill, avoiding a 45 minute walk, tilting the balance away from staying to hear every minute.

Ganga Giri in Fulford
Ganga Giri in Fulford.

I got back to the farm/community in which I am staying a little after midnight, full of love for my hippy companions. It is a very lively and tolerant place to be. Even being in a ‘stage 4 drought’, encouraged to swim in one of the fresh-water lakes nearby rather than shower and to keep showers under 3 minutes if we absolutely must. After a week or so, we’ll all smell the same anyway. And why be a hippy if you’re not doing it properly?

Seattle to Victoria on the Clipper

The Victoria Clipper is a ferry service from Seattle’s waterfront to Victoria, BC, in under 3 hours. It is busy in the summer, so boarding takes a while, but seemingly against all odds we got away on time and pulled into Victoria in good time. If you can avoid checking luggage, you will be among the first off, though the line was still pretty long to go through immigration.

Book a week in advance, at www.clippervacations.com, and you can pick up a slightly cheaper fare – mine was $155 (US). It might be worth signing up to their email newsletter in hope of a special offer, though nothing came through in the few weeks I was signed up. It is summer, though, so there’s probably no need to entice people in.

Victoria Clipper in Seattle

I settled down to wait to board, chatting with an older couple who had suggested they needed a t-shirt like mine (slogan “Scruffy on purpose”) for her son. They are, she reckoned, now too old to take on long travel via airplane (“but we’re still alive, so let’s just enjoy that!”), but happy to pop across on the clipper overnight in order to watch baseball. They had arrived at the stadium last night only to discover they’d left the tickets behind, but as they searched for a taxi they lucked out, and after a bus driver wasn’t able to call them a taxi, he took them to their hotel and back. People can be great all over.

The journey was smooth. There’s at-seat service of food and drinks, if you want it, and a customs declaration to fill in. I slept a little, listened to podcasts and peered out of the window at the sunny view as we travelled. The crew pointed out, in brief, a few attractions to left and right; the various islands we passed, a lighthouse and so on.

Immigration wasn’t too painful – we had a conversation, with a few leading questions, but seemed happy enough to let me back into Canada.

Victoria, BC, waterfront

Canada seems a better fit for me, at least this trip, than the US, and the cosmopolitan, decent-sized but very walkable, Victoria, seemed immediately welcoming. Some of that must be in my mind, of course, but Canada feels more comfortable. I’m not sure if it is more European, more relaxed, less rough round the edges of a combination of all of those. The city is pretty busy, at any rate, but without the obvious homelessness and mental illness problems of US cities.

I checked in to my hostel, with a particularly warm welcome thanks to the staff member sharing my birthday. He was older, to set me fully at my ease.

It was already early evening, warm and sunny, though with an obvious chill creeping in to the air. When I arrived in Canada, in late June, the coolness of the air was welcome, and though I soon found 17 degrees a little too cool, I was happy to be able to walk and run distances without worrying about the humidity and heat sapping my energy totally. It is warmer than that here now, but even after a warm summer (so far) in the US, it feels like the end of that summer is arriving a little quickly, and the cool of the evening set in a little too quickly.

Still, I took myself on a wandering tour of the parks, down towards the water, with the sun setting over the rocks a particular highlight. The streets were full of people and traffic, though without seeming gridlocked, and cars were slowed by tricycle and horse-drawn cart transports. Friday night in Victoria, in the heart of summer, a pleasant atmosphere for all the family.

Langkawi to Koh Lipe by ferry

The journey between the two islands (and two countries, stepping from Malaysia to Thailand) takes 90minutes. From the Malaysian side it costs about 110rm, a bit less from the Thai. We booked with an agent in Pantai Cenang for 115rm, which included a transfer to Kuah, and the jetty. It’s all pretty simple, though less agile people might struggle a bit with hopping out of the ferry onto a water taxi on the Koh Lipe side. It’s a pretty cool way to arrive, though, going from ferry to taxi, then clambering over the side into the water, and walking up the beach to immigration. The Island Drum website has more about the process, though it suggests you pay for the water taxi, and they didn’t charge anyone on the way in or out for me. We were there in low season – as an idea of how low, one bar had a notice that they would reopen again in October (this in June).

They take your passport from you for the ferry ride, so you reclaim that from the ferry office, then head to immigration. From there, much accommodation is a walk away, but there are taxis to take you to the further flung places.

It’s a beautiful island, but small. It really suffers, of course, from plastic and other detritus being washed onto the shore. Sunrise beach, on the East coast, is probably the highlight – it is long and large, where other beaches are more littered, and have little space before the water.

I travelled with a few people from my hostel in Langkawi, which meant that we had a social time of eating, walking, swimming and drinking at the Akira resort when happy hour kicked in (4-7, cocktail fans). It also meant I turned round and followed them back to Langkawi for more of the same, rather than travelling on into Thailand. Otherwise, Koh Lipe is a good place to charter a boat and island hop, or go snorkelling and diving.

Sunrise beach.
Sunrise beach.
Jungle, West side of Koh Lipe
Jungle, West side of Koh Lipe. This was the end of my run, though it looked like it was possible to scramble down to the beach.
View over Edigyur beach (Pollo on maps.me), a walk down from the forest track, West of the island.
View over Edigyur beach (Pollo on maps.me), a walk down from the forest track, West of the island.
Maja and Malou photograph their coffee.
Maja and Malou photograph their coffee.
Tremendous snail
Tremendous snail.
Fishing boats, sunrise beach
Fishing boats, sunrise beach.
Beach, water and boats
Sunrise beach – a little splash through the water to get round.
Driftwood floating in the water.
Driftwood floating in the water.
Shoal of fish near to shore
Shoal of fish near to shore – it is quite deep just there.
Near Mountain Resort, Koh Lipe.
Near Mountain Resort, Koh Lipe.
Beach with driftwood and seaweed, hills behind.
Sunrise beach.
Akira beach club, Koh Lipe.
Akira beach club, Koh Lipe.

 

Interislander ferry, Picton to Wellington

I had to check my blog to find out, but I had travelled on this ferry before. Then, I used the intercity bus pass, which just charges you the hours the crossing takes. With a single fare around $50 for a 3.5 hour crossing, while passes are around $8 per hour, it’s a cheaper option.

Not as cheap as free, though, and my crossing was covered, along with that of the SUV beast I was driving, by the rental company, via the transfercar website. Loading was slick, too – the ferry left on time, yet not much more than half an hour before, all the car and campervan traffic had been parked in lanes on the land.

Last time I went North-South, which leaves the scenic part to the end. I preferred this way; staring out at the green, tree-lined shores, wondering at life in the houses which can’t have any road access, then settling in for the rest of the crossing wherever I could find a seat.

Interislander Ferry To the South Island

To the South Island
Kaikoura, New Zealand

Kaikoura, New Zealand

My second early start in three days. Purely symbolically I set my alarm a few minutes later, but I was still up around 5.30 so I could hop on a bus and then get the train and shuttle to the 9.00 ferry. I left at just the right time for a hug from the hostel manager, an early riser, and set off in the dark. The 6.33 train is a commuter special, and it felt like a familiar Monday morning feeling as we trudged up the stairs. Paraparaumu had by far the most people getting on the train, I’m not sure why but was glad there weren’t more cramming on at the next stops.

The ferry is a big one. There are a few but I was on the Interislander because the flexi bus pass allows passage at the normal cost in hours. That is to say, flexi passes are sold in blocks of hours, and each bus trip’s scheduled length is chopped off your total hours’ credit as you go. It works out at about $7.5 per hour, which is cheap for the ferry, which is 3 hrs 10. Check in took about as long as it does when getting on the intercity busses; about 3 minutes, and I was shot of my bags. Phew, now I’ve got all my clothes back it’s all a bit full again. The advice is to pack and then take a load of stuff out, but I wouldn’t have believed I could do without so much stuff without being forced to. Lesson learned for next time, I think – mostly that it’s much easier if you have some space in the bag. A tightly packed bag will only sometimes go back together neatly, and if you’re travelling a lot you’ll have to pack and repack so much that you’ll start to dread it.

The ferry trip is pretty scenic, though of course I was dozing through a lot of it. Cutting through the islands on the way to Picton is stunning, a great introduction to the island even kiwis recommend. “Just wait till you get to the South Island”, even North-islanders will say.

View of vineyards backed by mountains on the coastal road
South Island, coastal road.

The German girls in Waipukurau had not liked Blenheim but loved Kaikoura so I said yes to that thought and was booked on the bus at 1pm. Baggage reclaim was busier than the busiest flight, with the same ‘got to stand by the carousel and wait’ twit factor crowding the whole space, but I was able to grab my bags after a short chase and dive through the crowd*. The bus driver was keen to commentate during our two hour ride, mostly on all the settlements (rather than the stunning countryside) and how busy they were. That’s a level of ‘busy’ that is pretty quiet to an English person but still, a bit of local colour. Kaikoura looks a great choice, with mountains in the background and the sea crashing in. The hostel backs on to the railway tracks – “be careful, and if the train’s there, go round, not under” said the hostel owner, “don’t give Fred a heart attack”. Not so much ‘no trespassing on the rails’ as ‘don’t scare my mate, yes of course I know him, we all know each other’. A quick and careful walk and you’re on the beach, pebbly but with wash crashing in dramatically enough that swimming probably isn’t a good idea outside the safe spot nearer town.

*actually I asked and was allowed through.

A view of the beach, blue sea and mountains in Kaikoura
Kaikoura hills and beach.

Reading: Updike, Rabbit is Rich. Brilliant books. Midlife crisis in this one. Nothing that can’t be avoided by not having a marriage or kids. As I sit in the sun and plan my next move, pondering which sights to see, that seems like truth.

A river wends through town, mountains behind
Town centre.

Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island
Rottnest Island, Australia

Rottnest Island, Australia

Named for the ‘rats’ spotted by an early visitor, Rottnest island is 18km from the port of Fremantle, served by ferries from there and Perth. It has variously, and interchangeably with changing times, been used as a resort, prison and military base and now takes 350,000 visitors a year.

Multicoloured sea time
Multicoloured sea time.

Those ‘rats’ were and are in fact small marsupials called Quokkas. I took two walks to explore, one a left turn from the main jetty and one a right. On the former I didn’t see a single quokka, but couldn’t miss them on the second walk – my first was in front of the old cottages in front of the beach, the next two in the campsite and then a gaggle appeared on the road, allowing me to test how close I could get the camera. Close enough that I reckoned the next move would be for quokka Dave to take the camera and a picture of me.

I travelled on the 9.30 Rottnest Express ferry, which takes under 45 minutes. The boat looked too small for the number of people waiting, but we all got on. It was the first day of the school holidays for many, which may have made a difference, but this looks like a profitable route. I was reminded of the Arran island operators in Ireland, admittedly off-season, but all offering deals and discounts to try to get you onto their boats. This was quite different, just two operators and the cheaper deals are done way in advance.

The ferry across may have been busy, but once off the boat people disappeared into the island quickly-there’s plenty of space. No one else joined me on the walking route, and though I was delayed slightly by picking up a map and checking where the path started, I didn’t catch anyone else on the walking trail, passing only cyclists when I switched to the road. The path takes you out to the old barracks, parts of which still have barbed wire protection just off the path-leave it at your peril, the sign more or less says. Within 30 minutes I was passing deserted beaches, so hardly any travel is needed to find some solitude. The flies, though, were doing my head in.

Unused train platform, turned into an exhibit of itself
Waiting for a train that never comes.

Australian flies are persistent-wave one off your left ear and it’ll be round at the right before you know it – and happy to sit on you even if you’re moving. I’d learned at Fremantle prison that the ‘Aussie salute’ is a single-handed wave, popular because we’re all trying to be rid of the flies. They also ship in dung to draw in flies and let dung beetles rip, mercilessly consuming flies. Here’s hoping that intervention doesn’t cause another unexpected infestation, Australia suffers from enough as it is. My tour mates at the prison had been similarly plagued on Rottnest, but that warning does little good unless you either don’t go or take a netting mask of some kind-a few people had them. I was glad of a spare map to wave incessantly. It would have been entirely unnecessary if flies could be shocked by liberal use of the phrase “fuck off!” though.

After a quick, fly-free break in the dark of the old ammo store, I continued, with a fabulous view over the sea from the peak the barracks command. Leaving, I got a little confused about which track to follow and completed a small circle, so after a quick, fly-free break in the old-well, you know how that goes. I decided not to follow the full walk up to the lighthouse and nine inch guns, seeing as I’d seen the site of the six inch ones. They were put there in WW2 to protect the port of Fremantle. Again I was reminded of Ireland, and the Napoleonic fort there; grand, equipped with big guns, never used. The story is told with slightly more bombast here, though, which I preferred-less of a feeling of “oh well, maybe we shouldn’t have bothered” and more of a “we needed it! We built it! Now you can see some of it!”.

Returning to the settlement I wandered round the museum. It is small but perfectly formed, and gives an overview of the life of the island. I thought the photo books were the highlight, giving a view of prison, holiday and military life, though I was fascinated by the brief accounts of prison life from Aboriginals who had been locked up there.

For my afternoon stroll I headed north, away from the banging tunes of the hotel, which looks (sounds) as though it provides much of the nightlife. That route took me past the old colonial cottages-the originals, painted ochre when they realised that white was making everyone slightly blind. Most buildings are now used for holidays and I passed big cottages, small huts and a campsite. If not for the flies I’d go for a tent, myself; still, a big one would work as a refuge, I think, without being too claustrophobic.

A Quokka, up close. Small, furry and tame.
Ya, hi.

Soon the road becomes a marked out cycle way, and the small hills on this part of the route looked tailor made for fun on two wheels. I cursed an injury that had flared up despite inactivity – I’d brought my running kit, aiming to explore that way, but it just wasn’t going to happen, so I carried it round all day instead. There are lockers in the settlement if you don’t fancy following in my footsteps, and a shower if you manage the run.

I’d seen mention of the road round-trip being 28km, so the place is perfect for an easy-to-follow long run. I found another quiet beach after a short descent and chilled out there before returning to the settlement for ice cream on a different beach. Lovely island, beaches everywhere. I don’t think I’d explored even half, was near the settlement where everyone lands and yet I still could have had a monastic retreat from life if I’d wanted.

On the beach

On the beach
Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

Green walkway, coaches parked in the road to the side. City skyscrapers and a mountain poking up behind
Welcome to Busan.

Up, shower, walk. Ferry port. Ferry. Pulls away, up onto hydrofoils and after less than three hours of smooth gliding; Korea. Out. Walk. Subway. Push, jostle-all counties full of barbarians to Japanese eyes. I see why.

Haeundae beach resort, tumbled together mass of tall and small buildings, restaurants, pubs – I want to say bar overseas, but they adopt the word pub themselves, it seems.

Wow! Hostel. That’s its name, rather than description, but it seems cool.

Lunch. Convenience. Beach. Ahhh.

Reading: Updike, Rabbit, Run.

Appilike: Korea subway lite. It’s not pretty, it’s not searchable, but it lets you check which way you should be going and how to get places whilst offline. If you’re online there are better options.

Finland, Finland

Finland, Finland
Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland


After what wasn’t the best night’s sleep, I woke for the last time around 9 and figured it was about time to have a look-land should be visible within an hour of docking. The ship is more like a floating hotel so, unlike on board the train, I could at least shower before going upstairs. I would not ming in Helsinki as I had mung in Copenhagen.

Land was just visible-just over an hour before docking- and I took a turn round the decks before spotting it was a bit cold and deciding that I wasn’t totally fussed about watching land get closer.

We docked. Leaving the ferry was easy, and I walked straight out onto the streets of Helsinki. I was relying on a paper map-copies available on board ship-but had no idea where I was, and wasn’t successful in street name spotting. No matter, follow the crowds and you’ll be in the city centre before you know it. Turned out we had docked on the east of the city.

Wide promenade, Helsinki
The Promenade.

I was too early to check into the hostel on Erottaja – I guess that’s the area name, what an excellent one – but could pay, pleased to use the credit card I’d heard about in Ireland, applied for in Wales and had delivered just before I went. No charges for use abroad, like the good old days with nationwide. I left my bag and wandered to the city museum which, unlike most of the other museums here, is always free.

It’s small and cool, if housing an eclectic mix. Ground floor, the interesting places, such as parks, of Helsinki, and what they mean to the people. Second floor, some pen portraits of Helsinki folk. I’m not sure how much I learnt-there’s a brief timeline, but so much more to be said about a place that only got its independence back in 1917-but the projected pictures, or recreations of pictures of the Helsinki folk fascinated me. They’ve filmed actors dressed in period costume, had them keep still then blink, use a fan, read a letter. Not sure why that’s so fascinating but I liked it. There’s also an area with beanbags and wifi, in which I collapsed, and a separate exhibition space, currently housing Signe Brander photos. She was a photographer active at the turn of the c.20th, technology has just become good enough to recreate the photos from the old big negatives and they were very evocative of the period.

Wide cobbled streets near the Forum, Helsinki
A central bit.

Later I snoozed while the sun kindly came out from a grey day, and finally dragged myself off for a run about 5. A few miles in I was ready to write it off as a failure. I’d headed West from Uudenmaankatu, hoping to avoid the ports but hit the waterfront. Helsinki is on a peninsula, but it’s not a simple u shape, more a star, so you can be close to water but turn a few degrees one way and find only land, as you move down a point of the star. I’d lost my bearings, covering several miles with no sign of sea or anything very interesting but then I spotted the Olympic stadium. Want-to-see exhibit a, it was at the top of a recommended run loop I’d seen, with a park somewhere over what looked like a large road. As it turned out, there are miles of running trails behind, and no big road to navigate so I lost myself happily. Far too well, in fact, and thankfully I’d saved my hostel location into the garmin and could point it at home. Over 50mins into a putative hour’s run and I was 3.7 away-and that in a straight line. I ran down main road, not recognising anything till 200m from the front door because this, although at the very end right in the city centre, was uncharted ground, and just an urban setting. The sights of Helsinki are in a tightly packed centre, I think. I realised on the run that I’d had the first casualty of my trip, my towel not making it from its hanger where I had left it to dry in the cabin. I can’t even count it as a problem, in honesty.

Yellow and apricot coloured buildings under a blue sky in Helsinki
Helsinki.

The hostel is lovely, 3rd floor of an apartment block and quite a difference from the party/noise central of Copenhagen.

Summary: reading Jack Higgins, Eye of the Storm, to see if vintage Higgins is better than the more modern one I read. It isn’t. run: 1:16:44, 15.85km.

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