Day 14

Sunday, 30 August 2015
Start: Helsinki (FIN) 11:10
Arrival: Turku (FIN) 16:15
Total: 280 km


Breakfast in prison

We had a good night's sleep in prison and woke up refreshed and ready for our last day in Finland. Breakfast was served in the cellar, a rustic affair with tin mugs and a thick slab of butter on a plate from which every guest (uhm, sorry, prisoner) could cut off a slice for themselves.
Right next to the breakfast hall were the former individual holding cells for prisoners punished by solitary confinement. There was such a hustle and bustle at the buffet, that "solitary confinement" sounded almost tempting.
Even though the place had a complete overhaul when it was turned into a hotel, some parts of the prison were kept as a hands-on museum, and guests are encouraged to explore them. After breakfast, my sister and I had a look at the larger cells, where groups of prisoners had to sit in dark, low-ceilinged compartments on rough-hewn stones. I can only imagine how cold and dreary it must have been in there.



The big plan for today was catching the night ferry from Turku to Stockholm. But Turku was only a few hours drive from Helsinki und it was still early in the morning and it promised to be a bright, sunny day. So we decided to head back to Porvoo, a little town east of Helsinki famous for its old town centre.
In no time whatsoever we reached Porvoo and parked the car on the outskirts of the town. But in which direction was the historic town centre? There were no signposts, so we headed off towards the nearest houses. The houses were few and far between and the overgrown paths and woodden porches looked historic enough to us. But the place looked absolutely deserted, not a single soul around. Sonia decided to ask for directions in an arts and crafts shop. The owner of the shop seemed delighted to greet a customer. However, he slyly refused to give out any information unless we bought some of his wares. Well, we weren't really in the mood to be blackmailed. So my sister struck a deal with him: we would advertise his shop in exchange for him telling us the way. Sonia received a leaflet and the task of honour to promote his business back home. But just sticking a flyer onto a lamppost in Luxembourg would not get him much publicity. So we decided to post it here on my homepage, prominent and for everyone to see. If you read this and ever go to Porvoo, make sure to say hello for us!
Enlightened as to there we need to go, we headed back to our car and further along the river. Crossing a little bridge, we finally reached the quaint little town centre. At first glance, it looked picturesque enough, with cosy red and white houses huddling along cobbled streets. But we were more attracted by a sign advertising a prehistoric hillside. Let's discover it! Up a village lane and straight across a hilly meadow, we soon found ourselves in a forest. It seemed a popular getaway for families, and indeed the forest paths were most pleasant. We strolled around and enjoyed the sunshine. But where was the alleged prehistoric site? We didn't find it. Maybe the entire hill was the site? That reminded us of Markovi Kuli in Prilep, Macedonia, where we had searched in vain for the remains of king Marko's castle. In any case, it was a nice walk.
Later, we crossed back into town. At the old parish church, a mass was being celebrated. We listened to a couple of young people holding sermons. Interestingly, some of them seemed to speak Finnish, the other Swedish. Nice, such a multilingual church service.
The main street was a typical tourist trap, souvenir shops and clothing stores galore. We didn't find anything that struck our fancy, so we treated ourselves to a yummy slice of chocolate cake on a terrace outside a little café (the rose-coloured house to the right, in the picture). By now it was so hot that the patrons of the coffee shop all sought shelter under large parasols. What a difference to two days ago!
Around half past one, we headed on toward Turku. We had just found our way back onto the highway, when the weather changed dramatically: from one moment to the next, dark clouds blocked the sun, the rain battered against the windscreen and lightning and thunder followed in quick succession. Good thing we had visited Porvoo in the morning. Lucky us.



Shortly after four o'clock we arrived in Turku. Way too early for the ferry, but just in time for a quick castle visit. But first, I posed for a picture in the meadow at the castle entrance. Big mistake: the grass was swarming with tiny little flies, and they all thought I was their next snack. This was the first time on our trip that we encountered the dreaded Scandinavian gnats. We quickly sought shelter inside the castle.
The medieval castle is really worth a visit. So many rooms to see, with innumerable displays of antique furniture and tools. There was also a huge exhibition on a movie that had been shot on site in the castle: The Girl King, a period film about Queen Christina of Sweden. We hadn't seen the movie, but the props and period costumes on display were quite remarkable. She seems to have been a really interesting person.
Unfortunately, there was not much time for the newer parts of the castle. We rushed through it, but soon the castle would be closing for the night. When we asked one of the hall attendants for information, the lady as good as threw us out. Fair enough, she didn't want to work overtime, but it was still a good quarter of an hour before they closed. I thought that her manner was rather uncalled for.
So we didn't get to see the dungeon. No matter, our feet hurt anyway and we were really hungry. Yummy cake for lunch only gets you that far. The medieval castle was conveniently located right next to the sea, so we didn't have far to drive. Soon we found the gate for the ferry to Sweden. At this time in the afternoon, the whole port area looked completely deserted. All the counters, shops and cafés in the boarding centre were closed. Outside, we found a hotel with a restaurant which was open for service. There we had pasta. Well, it wasn't the best tagliatelle we'd ever had, but it filled our tummies.
At a quarter to seven, we checked-in and got in line for the ferry. The huge boarding area for cars looked a bit like the waiting lines for the Eurostar. Naturally, it's sort of the same thing, just on water instead of on rails. All around us, there were Swedish cars, but also drivers from the Netherlands, Denmark and even some British vehicles. While the line behind us was getting longer and longer, a group of German bikers drove slowly past. We were really an international bunch.
At check-in, we had been asked for our final destination. All the cars heading for Stockholm had to display a large red S in their front window. Those that got off at Mariehamn, on the island of Åland between Finland and Sweden, received a large M and needed to use a different line. Mariehamn was our first stop, and it wouldn't do if a driver headed for Stockholm were gently snoozing in his cabin with his car standing squat in the Mariehamn-line, thus hindering all the Ålanders from getting off the ferry!
Slowly, the lines were filling up. But still no ferry in sight. We had made ourselves at home in our car, cosying up with a Martha Grimes novel destined to be "set free into the wild". The book hadn't been thad bad after all. The series was pretty repetitive, but so were most crime series. And the dialogues involving Melrose Plant were truly hilarious.
At half past eight, we were finally allowed on board. I manoeuvred the car up the steep entrance and along the narrow strip reserved for our line. To maximize the number of the cars on the ferry, all the vehicles were parked fender to fender. Not wanting to spend a lot of time in the garage, we quickly headed up on deck. The ship was not at all what we had expected: instead of a sterile and functional ferry, it looked more like a cruise ship, not that much different from the cruise ships we had boarded over the years. Maybe not quite as much bling, but that was rather a boon.
Our cabin for the night wasn't ready yet, so we used the time to explore the ship. Lots of bars and lounges, plenty of slot machines, a huge duty-free shop selling perfumes, alcohol, chocolates and anything else that one might or might not want to purchase. Judging from the mass of people inside, many of them were more than ready to part with their euros. We preferred to step out on deck and watch the ship glide out of the harbour.
Our cabin was also unexpectedly comfortable. Tiny, yes, but new and cosy, with a private bathroom and a porthole to watch the Finnish seafront pass by.
Later in the evening, we felt a bit peckish and decided to treat ourselves to the huge all-you-can-gobble-up buffet in the main restaurant. We paid at the front desk and were given a table number in the middle of the room. With hundreds of people inside the restaurant, the noise level was as high as could be expected. We settled down and inspected the buffet. Hm. A notable lack of starchy foods. Sonia surreptitiously heaved some mashies from the kid's corner onto her plate. Maybe I should try the stuffed aubergines? Come to think of it, they didn't look too appetizing, too greasy for my taste. I finally made up my mind and opted for a bit of everything. Most of the food was lukewarm and too mushy. The bread was good though. But the soft drinks from the free dispenser weren't all that great. Not really the wow-buffet I had expected. I eyed the couple sitting at the table next to us. Seafood lovers, no doubt of it. He had piled up as many scampi as would fit on his plate, and she was just going for her second helping. And later her third. I watched her lick the juice out of the lobster shells. Maybe the à la carte restaurant would have been a better choice.
At eleven o'clock, we retired to our cabin. We would have to be up real early in the morning, so better get some shut-eye. I turned off the lights and curled up under the blanket. An icy draft wafted across my face. What the...? I hadn't noticed that before. I buried my nose in the pillow. Meanwhile, the draft cooled my right ear down to frost-bite temperatures. I lifted my head and imagined that my breath was coming out in white, smokey puffs. "Can we turn the air conditioning off?" Grumbling, my sister inspected the offending device. As expected, it couldn't be turned off. Contrary to other cruise ships, it couldn't even be turned to a higher temperature and thus be tricked into blasting less forcefully. "Live with it." My sister crawled back under the blanket. Easier said than done. There was no escaping the dry, icy blast. Why is it that the air conditioning is always directed precisely at the people, instead of at, say, the ceiling? That would cool the air just as well. Not that the Finnish air often needs much cooling, I suspect.
I had just drifted off to sleep, when a commotion outside woke me up. A loud hum of machines, a ruckus of gears, hubbub and much ado in the corridor. Was the ship sinking? Had we hit an iceberg? Was there a suicide bomber on board? Curious, I peeped out the porthole. Ah, we were approaching the harbour of Mariehamn. The ship seemed to enter the port backwards. Interesting. A horn blared. Another one answered in reply. "I want to sleep," my sister complained. I looked at my watch. Almost one in the morning. In five hours, I had to be behind the wheel of my car. It promised to be an interesting day.


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