Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Crossing the Baltic Sea

I've done most of my journey so far by train and loved every minute of it. But trains aren't the only way to travel. I'm heading to Germany and it's time for something different.

So here I find myself aboard the Superfast VII overnight ferry from Helsinki in Finland to Rostock in Germany, a journey that runs most of the length of the Baltic Sea.
And I'm loving it! All the things that make rail travel so enjoyable are also here on the ship (meeting interesting people, watching the world go by, super relaxing), with the added bonuses of having heaps of room to walk around in and a really good restaurant. I wish it were a longer voyage than just one night.

The ship is a huge ice-breaker ferry that seems to carry a lot of freight trucks between Finland and Germany, but also caters for private vehicles and foot passengers like myself. But being winter, there aren't many passengers on board and the lounges and restaurants are pretty empty. However the people who are here have plenty of time to chat and are very interestiInter for some reason though are hardly any kids on the ship, and also hardly any women. Out of the 40-odd passengers floating around, there are probably only 5 women and 4 kids.

I'm sharing a 4-berth cabin with 2 other guys. A very talkative Estonian guy in his 50's called Ian, and an awesomely friendly Finn guy in his 30's called Mikko.

Initially, Ian took me under his wing and was very keen to discuss all things Estonian, European, and Australian. But mainly Estonian. His English was very good but his accent still made some words difficult to understand. I thought it was quite funny that he was giving me grief about my Australian accent.
Sadly though what began as a very interesting two-way conversation slowly turned into a lecture seemingly for him to feed some inferiority complex he had about Estonia towards the west. I'm happy for people to love their homeland and be passionate about it. That's great. I've had many conversations with such people through Vietnam, China and Russia and loved them all. I've been really lucky with the people I've spoken with. But sadly by the second day, Ian was just being a dick.
I explained that the reason we didn't learn about Estonia in school was because it was part of the former USSR and when I went to school (during the cold war) everything behind the "Iron Curtain" wasn't really talked about in Australia except in the context of World War 3. This was seemingly proof that our entire education system was totally dysfunctional (which may be true, but has nothing to do with the Cold War or our Estonian school curriculum). Meanwhile his encyclopedic knowledge of Australia included impressing me with such pearls of wisdom as knowing that Rip Curl jeans came from Australia. He even came up to me in the bar while I was enjoying a nice quiet game of Black Ops and forced me quit the game, open a web browser and google "Estonia". He told me my homework was to learn about his country. Dude, WTF. I'm 38 years old, and on holiday. I've got a better idea. Why don't you Google "pretentious tool" and see if your photo comes up? Those baddies in Black Ops weren't going to shoot themselves you know. I've got work to do that's far more important.???

There is one thing I'm grateful to Ian for though; introducing me to the Estonian liqueur "Vana Tallinn". That stuff is delicious!
?????????Mikko on the other hand was pretty quiet to begin with, but slowly opened up during the voyage to Germany. By the end we were having a ball, and we ended up facebook friends - perhaps the benchmark of friendship. (Hi Mikko if you're reading this!). Although I had some trouble connecting with some Finnish folk while in Helsinki, I had no problems with Mikko. He's just an uncomplicated, down-to-earth, genuine, friendly guy. I've got all the time in the world for him.
He also introduced me to the Finnish drink Salmiakki, a salty liquorice alcoholic drink best served ice-cold.  I was a skeptic at first because I'm not a huge fan of liquorice, but absolutely love it now.  Mikko was generous enough to buy me a bottle to take with me when I leave the ship. What a champ!

And finally, there's Lance. He's a 40 year old American bunked up in the cabin next door, and he's a fascinating character. A quiet, softly-spoken guy with a profound air of sadness about him, but not in a self-pity kind of way. Not at all the stereotypical American. He's not looking for sympathy, but he is definitely searching for something in life which he hasn't found yet. He kind of reminds me a bit of Toby's character from the US version of The Office, but with more depth and a much more interesting backstory.
Originally from Indiana, Lance made his career as a professional poker player and moved to Europe to pursue his gambling over here. But he soon burned out and became disillusioned with that way of life, and I get the feeling he hasn't felt really settled since. That was 13 years ago. Since then he's lived in numerous European countries, but spent most of his time in Finland due to the fact he has a 12 year old son there.
He now makes his living coaching basketball to Finnish high-school kids, and while he seems to get great satisfaction from seeing these kids improve, I get the impression that coaching isn't his true calling in life.
After a while, our discussions turned to the state of the world and he started talking about how man needs to reject *all* technology and return to manual farming methods for the survival of the planet, and he also started talking about the end of the world, armageddon-style. Right about this time I began to really wonder about his life and the thoughts he had floating around his head. He really does seem lost in life.
I know I won't ever see Lance after I get off this ship, but I get the feeling he's one person I'll look back and wonder what happened to. He's such a good natured guy, he deserves to be happy.

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