Monday, 17 March 2008

The Voyage Of The Damned

So I'm possibly building it up a bit much, but the 16-hour ferry trip from Stockholm to Helsinki does feel like this monolithic thing that's somewhat loomed over the rest of the trip. Anyway...

3pm - We are waiting for our ferry boarding call, whiling away the time by playing the thoroughly enlightened game of 'call the female ferry passengers you're going to have sex with during the journey'. Um, yeah, irony... No, I feel dirty. Anyway a girl who, blessedly, we didn't comment on comes over and introduces herself. She is Australian! She is traveling alone! Her name is Nicole! We are a little concerned that she heard our previous conversation and is unaware that we are enlightened gentlemen, but hey-ho. In any case, we see why she came over, as I guess the combination of price, obscurity and chilliness means there seem to be barely any English-as-a-first-language speaking travelers around these parts.
3.01pm - Nicole is the most boring Australian I've ever met. I mean, yeah, once again, a blow against national stereotypes, but when your national stereotype is 'being fun' I'm not so certain that blow is particularly necessary. Anyway, she was harmless, but like how a benign growth is harmless - she just sort of sat there and didn't do or say anything and if it could be a lot worse, after a while you sort of figured that given a choice you'd rather she was not in fact there.
3.45pm - We board. Our cabin, located somewhere beneath the car deck, is smells like a tomb and looks like a tomb. Considering how little we paid for it, I don't suppose we can really grumble, and bonuses come twofold, in that the third bed is empty (christ knows where we're going to put our backpacks on the return voyage - and yeah, I said voyage, okay?), and also the room has an antique phone which can be tuned into a radio station playing even more antiquated Europop. Weird, but nice.
5pm - We have set sail. Hurrah! The plan is to take a bit of a kip, then later grab a couple of drinks and a bit of food. There's little chance of us getting drunk as the on-board bars are only marginally cheaper than those in Stockholm. The sun is going to go down soon, so before our sleep we head up on deck to gander at the view. The Swedish coast is lovely; lots of tiny, tranquil islands, not exactly bleak, but a sort of bucolic austerity, sporadically dotted with neat, brightly-coloured barns and houses. It's a bit weird to see that they don't really seem to be clustered into communities, just spread out at isolated intervals. Keeping oneself to oneself appears to be something of a national pastime here.
5.30pm - Oh yeah, Duty Free, forgotten that exists. We sack off the nap in favour of buying a bottle of mystery liquor, some sort of weird bread, a tube of smoked cheese, and a salami. Oh, and a crate of beer. In retrospect I'm not entirely certain what we thought was going to happen if we bought such frankly heroic volumes of booze, but the crate cost only a shade more than two beers at the bar and we figured we could take the left-overs to Helsinki.
9pm- We have drunk quite a lot of alcohol. It is going down very nicely, thankyouverymuch. Nicole is hanging out with us and seems much more agreeable when one is too tipsy to feel uncomfortable about the fact she isn't saying or doing anything.
9.30pm - We go out on deck. The full enormity of how cold this trip is going to be starts to trickle its way into our alcohol-fugged minds. Fear is tempered by awe at our own bravery. Truly we are heroes.
10pm - The mystery spirit is all drunk. The crate has taken some serious hits. It begins to dawn on us that we might actually finish it. Truly we are as the gods of yore.
11.30pm - The ferry makes its only stop between Stockholm and Helsinki at a little island town called Marielburg (?). Weirdly/ridiculously I hadn't expected to encounter any snow before the Arctic, but the stuff is coming down heavily and the town looks like a Christmas card-maker's wet dream. It's unbelievably pretty, and though my brain is now enshrouded in a blanket of purest drunkenness I am somewhat overcome. It's about my last coherent thought of the evening, so nice to make it a good one.
Midnight - Something very wrong is happening. It's called the California Show, it's taking place on the stage of one of the ferry's two nightclubs, and it seems to involve all my worst nightmares about circuses blended with all my worst nightmares about musicals. I more or less freak out for the entire duration. For some reason I decide the best way to cope is to line everyone up with outrageously priced shots of Jaegermeister from the bar.
Some time later - We are dancing in the boat's other club, which is mercifully free of cabaret from hell. I keep saying I want to go to bed, but my words are hollow, not least because I can no longer remember where bed is. Or what bed means. We're hanging out with quite a lot of other people, but I can't remember names, faces, or even if they spoke English. The fact the ferry requires two nightclubs to accommodate all the drunkenness does, however, speak volumes for the general atmosphere on board. It's like the Masque Of The Red Death, only with Eurodisco. It's amazing.
Maybe about half three, I dunno - I finally make it to bed. Mark does not. His recollections of this period are as hazy as they are probably fabricated, but I'm happy to believe the bit where he says the people he was drinking with tried to go to bed and more or less had to slam their door on him to stop him partying them into the grave. He finally gave up, but not before writing his MySpace address on said door. In eyeliner.
4.30am?- Mark burst into our cabin, raving about how my life would more or less be a dead loss if I didn't come up on deck and see the 'blue dawn'. I know I've joked about our heroism, but I think the fact I actually agreed is a more or less textbook case of going above and beyond the call of duty. Anyway, the position of the sun behind the clouds and the general blueness of the ocean made everything look a bit blue. I guess it was okay. I dunno, I was in a horrible state. I think Mark was under the impression that it was some sort of awe-inspiring meteorological phenomena up there with ball lightning and the Aurora Borealis. The cynic in me would suggest he felt this way because a) by now he was so far gone he'd probably have felt the same about running tapwater, and b) he was maybe paying a bit too much heed to the ramblings of a bandanna-wearing Finn, the self-styled weather expert who was the only other person drunk enough to be out on deck at that time in the morning.
9am - I wake up, somewhat disorientated, to my alarm. I feel HORRIBLE. I'm not really in any sort of state where I can feel things, as such, but on some level my brain registers mild relief at the fact a fully-clothed Mark is lying face-down in his bunk, snoring the vile honks of the damned.
10am - We dock. I try to rouse Mark. It does not go well. He curses my name. He claims to have pneumonia. He suggests that Finland is not one hour ahead of Sweden, and that its being on GMT +2 is actually a conspiracy cooked up by me to deny him an hour of sleep. Nicole swings by to leave the ferry with us. Proving that old adage about silver linings, Mark mopes around for so long that she decides to go on her own, after all.
11am - We arrive at the hostel in Helsinki. Our beds wont be ready until 2pm. We head out to chemist to buy things to counter Mark's alleged illnesses.
11.15am - He buys four different substances, none of which he is particularly certain as to the identity of. He balances them on a dustbin in the street as he knocks them back one by one, pausing only to drop a pill on the pavement and scrabble around to pick it back up, whereupon he crams it down his gullet. Around us the immaculate buildings of Helsinki's historic town centre are matched only by its pristine, elegant citizens.
Midday - We have sat down to have a coffee. With crushing predictability Nicole has stumbled across us. Luckily for Mark, the combination of sleep deprivation and the chemical cocktail raging inside him means he rapidly passes out, leaving me to talk to her. After swapping our general first impressions of the city we come to something of an impasse.
Me: So you're off to get some food then?
Her: Yup.
M: Cool. So I guess maybe we'll see you later?
H: Yup.
An awkward silence
12.05 pm
M: Er, so would you like to sit down and join us?
H: No, I'm off to get some food.
M: Cool. So I guess maybe we'll see you later?
H: Yup.
An awkward silence
12.30pm - She leaves
12.40pm - Mark wakes up and freaks out that Nicole has apparently vanished before his eyes. I tell him he fell asleep within one minute of her turning up. He gives me a weird look and tells me we have to get out of the coffee shop because he doesn't want to fall asleep here. I reiterate that he has already blissfully slumbering for a good half hour, but he doesn't seem to hear me. He gets up and leaves. It is literally the most motivated I have ever seen him.
1pm - We are back at the hostel. On the way Mark has not managed to put together a single coherent sentence, but from what I can piece together he is complaining about the sky being orange (when I point out it's not he compromises with 'yellow, then'), disconnectedly mumbles about how he's upset he can't pull his weight at the hostel and will later rectify it with 'broad shoulders... towels', and when I suggest this is so far more hardcore than our trip to Transylvania, he looks at me vacantly and says 'I'm sure that's really funny but I just don't understand anything anymore'. Mercifully his bed is ready early. As he gets into it, he asks if I can stay and keep talking to him so he doesn't pass out, as he's heard how people about to freeze to death get really sleepy before they die. I realise arguing with him over this is pointless, so ask does he want to stay awake, yes or no. His only response is to twist his face into a mask of bestial bewilderment as he stares at me, before mercifully falling asleep. I go off to have a nice day in Helsinki, more of which later. However, for those left worried, Mark has not met with a frozen death. Though I'm increasingly thinking it's only a matter of time.

1 comment:

Loganoc said...

I was kind of hoping/fearing that you'd get drunk enough to end up in a threesome with boring Nicole. You're doing ok on the drugs front, needs more sex & rock'n'roll.