A few days in Helsinki and Tallinn: the unique experience of the ferry ride across the Baltic Sea

Helsinki to Tallinn

Saturday, April 18, 2014. Departure of the 8 o’clock speed boat from Helsinki to Tallinn. Passengers are not yet quite awake. The smell of coffee and warm croissants. An atmosphere of routine, like a shuttle, with absent-minded commuters on their way to work or on a regular trip to visit friends or family, or back.

The ferry leaves the harbor, and smoothly makes its way in between the numerous islands. We pass by our dear friend the Suomenlinna islands, and the surrounding tiny islands with their red wooden houses.

The sea is flat like a frying pan, even though the wind is blowing a little bit. The temperature is cold in this mid-April day. Let’s us not forget, the Arctic Circle is not that far away.

It is chilly and really windy on the back deck of the boat as it reaches its cruising speed, and only a few brave passengers come out, some for a look around at the sea, others for a quick cigarette, but all rush back inside after a couple of minutes. It is a great spot to take pictures however, and Francois is determined to show off he has the stamina of a true Viking. He takes pictures as we cross other ferries, cargo ships, fishing boats. The scenery is fascinating, with the perfectly flat line of the horizon, the sun light shining at a very low angle, the dark blue colors, and not a single cloud in sight to spoil the harmony of the perfect sky. Were it not for the tail of the occasional boats, we would feel like we are looking at the frozen landscape of the North Pole….

La Baltique
La Baltique

Tallinn to Helsinki

Sunday, April 19, 2014. After a 2-day visit of Tallinn, we are on our way back to Helsinki, on the same speed boat line as we came in. Departure time is 5:00 pm, and as we will soon discover, the experience will turn out to be a little bit of a surprise.

Le ferry à Tallinn
Le ferry à Tallinn

In the terminal, we take our place in the queue waiting to board the ferry. We notice then that quite a few passengers are pulling small trolleys on which they have stacked up packs of beers and bottles of vodka. We are intrigued because it all looks very ordinary and customary. Seems like these folks are simply on their way back home from the neighborhood market to fill up on missing essentials. It is all so very business-as-usual.

But the fact and the matter is, because alcohol is expensive in Finland and cheap in Estonia, people make regular quick round trips to Tallinn from Helsinki and back to stack up on booze.

Giant liquor stores in the form of big warehouses filled up with all kinds of alcohol, have set up all around Tallinn’s harbor to cater to the demand of the ever-thirsty ferry travelers. How convenient it is to be able to do your liquor shopping right before you board the ferry.

A l'arrière du ferry ...
A l’arrière du ferry …

Aboard the ferry, the atmosphere is very friendly and easy-going. Passengers are traveling with their families or with friends. On the back deck, which is the only area where you can step outside, it is a little bit less chilly than the early Saturday morning when we came in, and this time around, a good bunch of passengers are out on the deck, wearing short-sleeve tee-shirts, talking and laughing. And drinking. Some are drinking their own cans of beer, while bottles of vodka and whisky are passed around from one hand to the other, whether an acquaintance or not. Men and women, young adults to the early grandpa’s and grandma’s. It is very natural, social, and friendly. Nothing unusual here. On the contrary, it is totally ordinary and calm. People are not looking at getting drunk. They are simply having a good time with friends and fellow passengers, enjoying the moment on the way back home as the weekend is getting to a close.

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