Got up at 8.30 this morning – it felt earlier as we were now two hours ahead of the UK in line with Finnish time. We were booked to go on a half-day tour of Helsinki and we had to assemble in the Neptune Lounge at 9.40am, giving us an hour to get ready and have breakfast.
We went out onto the balcony to watch with interest as the Bolette manoevred herself into her berth. The sky was blue with wispy cirrus clouds and the air was crisp and cool. Then we went up one deck to breakfast in The View. Captain Mikael had told us yesterday that the Bolette would be the first cruise ship to arrive in Helsinki this year. He was very excited to be spending the day here because it was his home town, and he’d invited some of his family and friends on board for lunch. 🙂
We’d only ever visited Helsinki once before, in August 2002 on Cunard’s Caronia, so we were looking forward to seeing it today.
Once we’d had our breakfast we popped outside onto the stern decks; I didn’t have my coat on and it was rather chilly so we didn’t stay out long. There is a small outdoor pool on the rear deck and also the figurehead that used to be on Black Watch. The figurehead from Boudicca is on the Borealis. It’s nice how they keep a little part of those much-loved vessels.
We disembarked the ship at 9.50am and made our way to the line of waiting coaches. Then off we went, through the pleasant roads, alongside which was much woodland. Finland is a huge exporter of timber; in fact 80% of its sawn timber is exported to 28 countries.
We also passed through a colourful, open air market in the main square, before coming across the Olympic Stadium. Finland last hosted the summer olympics in 1952, but the stadium is used these days for other sporting events and big musical concerts.
Talking of music, our first stop this morning would be to the Sibelius monument. Jean Sibelius is probably Finland’s best-known classical composer, for his piece called Finlandia, which features the distinctive Karelia Suite. Even if you don’t recognise this title, you will definitely know the tune! In fact, I am humming this as I write! 🙂
We arrived at the park where the monument was, and the bus parked up and we all alighted into the crisp, clear sunshine, walking along a small path towards the unique steel structure. It was unveiled in 1967 by the Finnish sculptor Eila Hiltunen and consists of more than 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave-like pattern. The monument weighs 24 tonnes and measures 8.5 by 10.5 by 6.5 metres. Hiltunen wanted it to capture the essence of the work of Sibelius (think of the way the music in the Karelia Suite ebbs and flows) but the structure was met with a certain amount of scorn as it appears to look more like organ pipes, whereas Sibelius hardly composed any work for the organ. To appease her critics, Hiltunen created a sculpture of the composer’s head, which is next to the monument. I didn’t really like the head; it looks as if it is disembodied! Why not just create a bust of Sibelius? 🙂
Back on the coach we continued on our way, and soon parked up near the Helsinki Museum of Art. I was fascinated by a huge seagull sculpture over the main entrance to the museum. I wouldn’t have wanted a bird that size to fly over my head, ha ha. 🙂
Our next visit was to the amazing and unique Church of the Rock, better known as Temppeliaukio Church. Excavated directly into solid rock, the church is situated in the heart of Helsinki, at the end of Fredrikinkatu. Because of its special architecture, the church, completed in 1969, is one of the main attractions in Helsinki. We’d never seen anything like it, it was incredible. I loved the way the windows and roof were created to make the most of any daylight.
Our next stop was to Senate Square where we had a bit of free time. The square was dominated by Helsinki Cathedral, which was originally built from 1830 to 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was also known as St Nicholas’s Church until the independence of Finland in 1917.
A series of wide, shallow steps led from the square to the entrance of the cathedral, but that would have been impossible to get a decent photo of the building with its large central dome surrounded by four smaller domes, so I photographed it from Senate Square.
Even though it was a lovely clear sunny date, it was still pretty cold; a brisk little northern wind just prevented the weather from being really pleasant. Helsinki was, however, our most northerly port of call on this cruise, beating Oslo by just a smidging. 🙂
All too soon we had to be back on the bus to return to Bolette; on the way back to the ship we passed another distinctive cathedral, this one was called Uspenski Cathedral and a quick look at Google told us that it was an Eastern Orthodox place of worship, consecrated in 1868. I thought the building looked older than that.
We arrived back at the Bolette just before 1.30pm after a most enjoyable morning. I was able to get a couple of good bow shots of the ship; she is certainly a lovely, well-maintained vessel and we’d seen many workmen in white overalls painting and patching and keeping her in good nick. Certainly different from the poor old rust-spotted Arcadia we’d sailed on at Christmas.
Back on board, we dumped our stuff in cabin (suite!!) 7036 then made our way to The View for our lunch. I partook of a crisp salad with some cold meats accompanied by a glass of chilled rosé wine. Then we wandered around the ship for a while before returning to our cabin for an afternoon power-nap.
At 3.45 we did the usual – pop along to the Morning Light pub, perch on ‘our’ barstools and take part in the Afternoon Trivia. Did we win? Did we ‘eck as like! 🙂
Then we returned to our cabin where we relaxed, read, watched TV (Trevor was interested in the football scores!) and I did some of this blog. Just before five o’clock the bing-bong of the PA system preceded the sing-song, cheerful voice of Captain Mikael who announced that the Bolette would soon be sailing for her next port of call, Stockholm. We had our balcony door open and we heard the three symbolic blasts of the ship’s horn as she slowly moved away from the dockside.
As we made our way back to the open sea, we passed several little islands which we were surprised were inhabited; here and there in the woods we could see colourful houses. An apparently idyllic place to live, but I dread to think what the winters would be like.
I decided I wouldn’t go up to dinner tonight until the coffee-and-liqueur stage. It is far to easy to eat and drink too much on a cruise ship and already I was starting to feel the bloat that accompanies over-indulgence. Once Trevor had left to go down to The Terrace restaurant, I took my time getting ready then took my laptop along to the Morning Light pub where I enjoyed a ginger ale and ice while doing some more of this blog; it’s easy to fall behind otherwise. 🙂
The entertainment tonight featured the vocal talents of a bloke called Shaun Perry. We recognised his name from our cruise on the Boudicca in January 2019. He is an excellent instrumentalist, playing the guitar and the piano accompanied by his powerful, raspy voice. We enjoyed his show a lot.
Then it was, as ever, along to the Morning Light pub for the quiz. We have called our team of two “Cruising, Boozing & Losing” which just about sums it all up. Nope, we didn’t win. We decided we’d go up to the Observatory at 10.30pm and play the game called “Majority Rules” and try our luck there.
As it’s name suggests, Majority Rules consists of 10 questions and you have to try to guess the answer you think the majority of people will put (even if the answer if factually incorrect). For example, if the question was “Name a common garden bird”, possible answers could include blackbird, thrush, robin etc. but if most people said blackbird, then those people with that answer would get a point.
We got our 10 answer sheets and a pencil, and gave ourselves the same team name as we had for the quiz. Teams were allowed a maximum of six persons; there was only Trevor and me in our team. The first question was “Name a popular flavour of crisps”, and we decided (correctly, as it turned out) that most people would say cheese and onion. So the quiz continued, with many bones of contention along the way. One of the questions was “Where’s the best place to go on holiday?” and some people said “Benidorm” or “Majorca” but most people predictably said “On a Fred Olsen cruise!” 🙂
At the half-way mark, the ‘scores on the doors’ were announced; Trevor and I were not even in the top three teams. 🙁
As the game continued, however, we didn’t get any more answers wrong so when they announced the top three teams in reverse order, we were hopeful we’d get an honourable mention at least. When they said “and the winners are… Cruising, Boozing and not Losing” we were amazed, but we’d scored 8/10, so not bad at all.
Our prize was a goody bag of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines merchandise, but there was loads of stuff in it. Maybe we were just meant to pick a prize each and give the rest back. Trevor asked the girl if all the stuff was ours and she said she’d originally made up the pack for a team of six, but as there was only two in our team there were duplicates of several of the prizes. We’d said we’d take what we wanted and return the rest for someone else to win. 🙂
As it was, we got a mini-rucksack, an alarm clock with world times, a hard-backed notebook, a couple of light-up pens, a luggage strap and a cool little shoeshine kit. Not a bad haul at all, and more stuff to add to our collection at home of free FOCL merch won over the years. 🙂
Flushed with success at last (!) we celebrated with another drink and remained in the Observatory for the Abba disco party. We didn’t get up to dance on the packed dance floor, but we sang along with the music and enjoyed people-watching until well after midnight. Then we took a glass of ginger ale back to our cabin (suite!!) to enjoy with some of our gratis Famous Grouse as a nightcap. We propped the balcony door open and enjoyed the gorgeous sound of the sea as we settled down for the night after a great day. As we were heading west again, the time zone would change once again to BST +1, so we’d gain an extra hour in bed again. 🙂