The Overnight Ferry
On June 24, after a week in Tallinn, Harper and I took an overnight ferry to Stockholm. It didn’t leave until the afternoon, so we had one last goodbye lunch meal at Rataskaevu 16, where we tried out a couple of last dishes we hadn’t eaten yet and hung out with our friends there. And then, after some sad goodbyes and photos, none of which came out well, we walked to the port.
Harper and I didn’t talk much on our way there, we were both a bit sad and in our own heads, I think. It would’ve been a perfect moment for quiet contemplation, except for the fact that our rolling suitcases roared so deafeningly as we walked them along that they drowned out our own thoughts and caused every person within a block radius to haul about and look quizzically in our direction. My suitcase, in particular, is thunderous; it’s one of those nifty new four-wheelers, and, while it’s agile and stealth-like on the smooth surfaces of airport floors, it makes just an astounding racket on sidewalks—it’s as if double the wheels makes four times the amount of noise, in some sort of yet-unexplained squared relationship between wheel-count and decibels.
This is the sort of thing (as in, being the cause of annoyance to those around me) that used to make me want to melt into the ground with embarrassment—I hate to feel I’m ever an inconvenience to anyone, to a totally asinine degree where I often inconvenience myself instead. Traveling has helped me get over this to some extent, and by necessity; I’ve found myself being a bumbling fool so many times over that I had no choice but to grow a thicker skin, lest I be eaten alive by my own anxiety about it. So I found the whole thing about the clamorous bags rather funny, instead of embarrassing, and I’d just look straight ahead while walking by anyone looking our way in exasperation, and repeat to myself one of my travel mantras that helped me recover from tense or awkward situations: “whatever, they’ll get over it.”
Once at port, we boarded the S.S. Romantika, which, along with the series of increasingly cozy and romantic AirBNBs we’d been staying in, once again ironically underscored the incredibly platonic nature of our trip. (Side note: all my AirBNB reviews talk about how “Erica and her boyfriend” were such great guests. I can see where they got the idea, as we were sharing a bed and the showers were often just part of the main room, with glass shower walls—until the steam added opacity, it was very much just showering with a (highly amused) audience.)
For some reason, I was certain that I’d booked two beds in a four-berth chamber and that the other two would be enormous and smelly Russian men (here be stereotypes, alas). However, when we got to our room, it was blissfully just two beds, with hardly enough space to fit our bags. We were physically and emotionally spent, flopped down on our separate beds, and erupted into giggles about silly and nonsensical things. After two weeks of intense travel, making strong connections and fast friends, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves now that it was just us, and we had hardly anything left to say to each other. So we went to the bar and got some truly terrible white wine, and waited until 6pm for the Russian restaurant to open, more out of boredom than of hunger. We got caviar, chicken Kiev, and a whole bottle of (less terrible) wine.
I’ve never understood the desire to travel by large boat, or the appeal of cruises. It seems not like true travel, but rather just so artificially manufactured, nothing but a perfectly contained ecosystem that could be indistinguishable from anywhere else. But I can’t deny that there’s something dreamlike about it as well—the gentle movement of the ship makes it all seem a bit floaty, and it feels like another world, completely untethered from outside life, and outside reality. You can pretend to be anyone on a ship like that, leave your troubles on the shore, and the freedom is almost intoxicating—or perhaps we were intoxicated, as I’m not sure if we felt unsteady from the swells or the alcohol.
We walked around the entire ship, which seemed largely under-booked. Our tentative excitement about maybe staying up and dancing late into the night were dashed when we visited the Sport Disco Sport Bar, as well as the Starlight Palace and the Children's Playroom, and found them all dreadful, sad places, with nearly no one there. We opted to go to bed instead, and in our tiny, windowless room we experienced our first dark night since arriving two weeks earlier, and slept like the dead.
The next morning, I opted for the breakfast buffet, though Harper had doubts about it, and I really should’ve trusted his reservation. As I was groggily trying to locate the coffee station in the maze of buffet stalls, full of generally unappetizing cafeteria-style food, to the tune of screaming children, the spell from the previous night was broken, and I saw this boat for what it really was: total hell. We watched green and rocky shores slide by the window as the enormous ship wended its way past the hundreds of tiny islands off the Swedish coast, making our way to Stockholm.