by John Pagni
Viking Line organised a day trip for a group of fourteen on the last day of May. Unfortunately, while Christa Blomqvist, VL’s Communications Manager Finland, organized a great trip for the group, she and colleague Jaakko Ahti, Tallinn-Helsinki Route Manager, were unable to participate on the outward journey, but did meet everyone for the return trip and gave presentations.
The itinerary was relatively uncomplicated: the large catamaran HSC Express – branded Viking FSTR for its summer charter – to the Estonian capital, and the Viking XPRS fast ferry for the return voyage. As the outward leg started at 0800, this required an early rise to get to the Viking Terminal in Katajanokka for 0715 as check-in for all departures finishes 20 minutes before departure and boarding 10 minutes later.
For those who were punctual, the unexpected but wonderful sight of the Danish Royal yacht Dannebrog being escorted into Helsinki’s South Harbour by the Finnish Naval vessel Pori could be photographed. The yacht was carrying Queen Margrethe for the Nordic Heads of State meeting in Helsinki. Latecomers missed this opportunity.The weather was inclement, with grey angry-looking clouds overhead threatening to make the crossing unpleasant. But as the group was in the Club Lounge astern, the breakfast offering with sparkling wine was soon lifting any gloom the weather may have induced.
On arrival in Tallinn at 0945, participants split into those wanting to see Kumu art museum and the Lennu Sadam maritime museum. The former is the main Estonian art museum showing traditional paintings from the 18th Century until World War two. There was a temporary exhibition showing various sculptures under the title “Be Fragile! Be Brave!” by local artist Anu Põder and others depicting the mental and physical states of daily life in female world.
Kumu completely contrasts with the Estonian Maritime Museum at Lennu Sadam which focuses on the harsh reality of life at sea – including seaplanes, which is what the building used to house and whence its name derives. Now it has various maritime artefacts from throughout the ages from an original Viking longboat to the restored Estonian Navy submarine Lembit along with other marine displays under, on and above the surface.
The “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.” exhibition simply, but effectively, demonstrates how much time and effort is put into saving lives of those in distress in water – many of those involved being volunteers. One poignant exhibit was one of the lifeboats off the sunken ferry Estonia. Whatever choice was made, it was under the same cloud with a sprinkling of rain now and again though the wind remained constant and chilly.
One of the plus sides of both museums – and Tallinn generally – is there is a café on the spot which serves hot or cold drinks – or food if required. After the museum, it was another cold, wet walk through the Kalasadam neigbourhood to the newly-refurbished and recently opened Baltijaama Turg. The former market now consists of stalls still with shops, cafés, restaurants and a supermarket on three levels. The Kalasadam group met in one of the restaurants for a cold, amber refreshment.
Thence to F-hoone at Telliskivi a short saunter away for lunch. It was packed as usual with lunchtime clients, but the table had been booked in advance. The Kumu group awaited the maritime museum band and lunch was taken. One of our esteemed participants picked up his scarf left behind on a recent evening there. After dining, people went their own way until 1700, when all had to be aboard Viking XPRS for the presentations.
Surprisingly and unlike the morning departure, everyone was there in time to be greeted in a conference room by a radiant Christa and smiling Jaakko. Mr A’s presentation was informative, so much so he had many questions to answer, which meant the group was late going to the ship’s Wine & Dine à la carte restaurant for a 3-course dinner. A range of numbers and information nuggets on the Helsinki-Tallinn route both in general and specifically were revealed. For example, market shares.
Before this, there was the small matter of Viking Line’s new cruise ferry to be built in China, which Christa talked about with a husky voice. Though appealing, it was caused by a sore throat and not her naturally attractive soprano. As the dinner bell was calling, her vocal chords were not overworked.
Each course was introduced before it arrived with the entrée being accompanied by a flute of champagne and consisting of archipelago lamb carpaccio, beetroot purée and lemon mayonnaise with dark bread. The main dish was whitefish fried in butter with asparagus and chive butter sauce, plus a choice of red or white wine. Dessert, for some the pièce de résistance, was a freshly-made chocolate fondant and berry salad sauce with dessert wine.
The conversation suitably ebbed and flowed and although cabins had been arranged, nobody used them for more than an outsized luggage locker. Time seems to fly by on such occasions and it seemed that in no time at all the ship was approaching Helsinki. Somehow, Christa had brought the sun to Tallinn from Helsinki as the Finnish capital was bathed in rays – though the wind retained its edge.
The EJN – and those from the Finnish Travel Writers Guild (Kilta) who were invited along – would like to pass on their thanks to Viking Line and Christa Blomqvist in particular for a really nice trip and getting to experience the two ships first hand as well as insight into Viking Line.