Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Finland XI: Highballin' to Helsinki, Part 2; Helping to clean up the Swedish gene pool

(In this 11th installment of my blog series, leading up to NHL Premiere 2010, featuring the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland, we look at the second half of the trip itself, featuring three different modes of transportation, several hundred drunk Russians, all in the same place; and one very dumb Swede.)

As we sat and waited to depart Copenhagen's Kastrup Airport rail station, our Swedish SJ conductor came on the public address system and started to go on about something. It took him a while to get all the info out, but then, they came back in English, and said:

"There is an accident ahead on the tracks just east of Malmo. You will stay on this train to Malmo, then you will take the bus to Lund, where another train will then take you to Stockholm."

In other words, we are getting bussed around whatever the hell happened up there. At this point, we didn't know what it was, nor did we really care. There were 1 1/2 busloads of really sullen people on this train, then, as we crossed the Oresundbanen (Oresund Rail Link, the tunnel and bridge connection across the North Sea between Denmark and Sweden) and headed on into Malmo.

At Malmo, it was mass chaos, as we tried to get off, and everyone from the connecting train (they got bused to Malmo from Lund) was trying to get on, all at the same time. We finally found the right buses and settled in for the short, 25-minute bus ride to Lund. The bus had to pick its' way thru the center of Lund on a Saturday shopping day, so it was not exactly the fastest trip in Swedish history. At Lund, we found out what happened:

Some idiot in a private auto tried to play 'beat the train' at a grade crossing, one of the few on that route segment, and lost the bet. I do not know if the driver was injured or killed, but if there ever was a reason to shoot a Swede, that moron would have been one, right there. The Swedish national traffic management agency (Trafikverket), responsible for safety of all modes of transport within the country, had shut the railway down in that immediate area, to conduct their investigation of the accident, so that precipitated the 'bustitution' of our train around the site.

At Lund, we found our new X2000 train waiting for us, but it was one car short of what we had originally had. Instead of a 6-car train, we were now a 5-car set, departing Lund 40 minutes late, and going upwards of 180-200 KPH over the Swedish mainline towards Stockholm. I had made arrangements to have lunch on board the train, which, it turns out, was a very precipitous move, as we would see when we got into Stockholm Central station.

The rest of the afternoon was spent quietly observing the Swedish countryside, a far cry from the bustle of the previous day in Paris and Cologne. No wonder why so many Swedes come to Minnesota each and every year; it so much reminds them of home in Northern Minnesota, that they come over in droves. I though for a minute or two several times we were up near the Iron Range as we shot past smaller Swedish towns, each of which had a neat, tidy station on the main line from where the locals take local trains to larger towns, where trains like ours stops, and then takes them to Stockholm or Copenhagen to fly from there internationally (like, overseas.)

The X2000 arrived Stockholm 40 minutes late, just as it had left Lund; now the problem was how to negotiate the labyrinth, which is the Central Station -- Cityterminalen complex to find our next transport; the Flygbussarna bus to the Viking Line ferry dock at Stadsgarden, where our ferry to Finland would be arriving at the same time as we would be.

My wife bailed us out here, as she acutely observed that there was a red line on the floor, to direct people to Cityterminalen across the street. We dutifully followed the red line, and made our way first to the Viking Line ferry office to buy our bus tickets, then out to the bus itself, in order to get out to the ferry slip.

The bus was not full by any means, as we departed on time at 6:30 PM for the Viking Line ferry terminalen at Stadsgarden, which is about 5 miles east of Central Station. We then proceeded to obtain our ferry tickets and the all-important coupon for the Viking Buffet dinner service, then waited in the terminal's waiting room until the ship's 7:40 PM boarding time.

That's when the drunk Russians showed up. One even managed to get himself dragged onto the boat by his buddies, he was so in the bag before they even opened up the ferry for service, and even more Russian alcohol consumption.

The Russians love to drink. And drink. And, drink. And drink some more. There were so many drunk Russians on this boat, no wonder why they painted the outside of it red; to honor the bloodshot eyes of all the hung-over ex-Soviets who ride to and from the West on 'booze cruises' whereby they go to Scandinavia to get away from their bleak, Russian existence. Now, I had been warned prior to starting this trip (by several people, mind you) that there would be a LOT of drinking on this trip. Not even those warnings, dire as they sounded, could have prepared me for what was to come.

The dinner buffet was an exotic array of dishes from all over the place, but what impressed the most is the amount of Russian alcohol consumption in the buffet, where the beer and wine were all included in the price. The best thing about all this is when we retired to our cabin, and we could lock the door and peacefully sleep, knowing full well that we wouldn't be disturbed, so long as the bars and cocktail lounges on the ferry stayed open. After that, all bets were off.

As we passed thru the night, we went thru the Aland Islands, stopping at Langnais, then it was on towards the Finland coast, and our date with a train Sunday morning at Turku Satama (Harbor) station. Towards morning, when the last of the bars closed, the hallways started filling with loud, drunk Russians, all trying to find a place to sleep it off before starting in again.

As our ship neared the Finnish coast, it was time for breakfast, so it was back to the buffet line we went, only to find that the Russians were already there, trying to eat as much as possible, before boarding their buses to take them home, from their three-day drunkfest. They were rude, cut in line frequently, and the crew could do nothing about it, as there weren't enough of them to take on the number of Russians who were causing the trouble. All this, while the Finnish coast was quickly coming into view, in the fog of a Sunday coastal morning.

The boat docked at 7:35 AM, right on time. The passengers were led down the gangway, and all was going well, until someone stopped the whole thing by falling down...drunk. We won't tell you the nationality. (Do we HAVE to by now?)

We quickly made our way the one-half block to the Turku Satama train station, where our Finnish railways train to Helsinki would shortly arrive. And in it came from the fog, a six-car train with a locomotive at each end. We boarded, found our assigned seats, and found that we were the only ones booked in Business Class for the 197-KM (122 mile) trip to our final destination of Helsinki.

Despite having what one would call 'normal' equipment, we still clipped along at 75 MPH across the south of Finland, which reminded me of parts of the Iron Range, where everything is covered in rock. Granite predominates in these areas, as we shot through on a very sleepy Sunday in super-Lutheran Finland. You didn't expect anyone on Sundays, but we picked up a pretty fair number of passengers as we approached Helsinki.

Once in the suburban train zone, we started seeing something we hadn't expected: Minnesota Wild apparel! Seems that the Mikko Koivu influence on the young of this country means that there were a lot of Wild-apparelled families on trains to Pasila, the station which is direct across the parking lot from Hartwall Areena, where NHL Premiere is to happen on Thursday and Friday.

Final arrival time at Helsinki was one minute early, at 10:56 AM, local Finnish time. We had done it! 1766 train miles, 162 nautical miles by seas and the 22-mile bus ride from Malmo to Lund. And my wife's final comment at the end of it all?

'Let's got to the hotel, and take a nap.'

And so, we did.

(to be continued)


  1. So, why did you take the ferry to Turku and then the train instead of taking a direct ferry to Helsinki?

  2. Good question, and one that deserves an answer. The last direct ferry of the day, from Stockholm to Helsinki departs at 17:00, and our X2000 from Copenhagen was not scheduled to arrive Stockholm, until 17:39 (as it was, we were 39 minutes late arriving Stockholm, so we alminst missed the bus to Stadsgarten for the Turku ferry, as well.)