I have been reading your articles for many years. Some of your best were your descriptions of cruises you went on. I, at last, will be going on a Baltic cruise and have become very interested in Finland, which I know I can look up on the Internet, but would like a first-hand experience so to speak of someone who has been there in circumstances like mine, meaning I know the cruise line advises what tours etc., to take, but which ones did you go on?
I do not remember details of that cruise you went on but would like your advice on clothes, etc. A group of us are going at the end of August, early September.
Dear "Dedicated Reader:
Thank you for your call and kind words.
My Baltic cruise was many years ago, but it is still vividly imprinted in my mind. So below is an edited version of Finland, some of which I know will still be relevant (especially the part of strong-willed women and the duties men perform as we heard recently about the new Prime Minister of Finland—a woman—and her husband's words about the importance and relevance of the stay-at-home father).
The clothes you take also depend—to some extent—on what type of cruise you are going on. I know I am probably regarded as a bit old-fashioned (thank you very much), but the totally relaxed recommended wardrobe of some cruise lines of jeans and flip flops (or recommendations of that ilk), are not my idea of going on a cruise.
See below an edited version of my previous column on Finland. I, of course, cannot tell you if these particular excursions are still available, but you can certainly try asking about them!
"So what clothes do you take on an elegant late summer cruise? Ladies, for day and evening, mix and match like crazy. Two or three jackets, trousers and/or skirts, two turtle-neck sweaters, a warm scarf or two and a good windbreaker. If you are the jeans type take a pair, but please not skin tight. Socks and comfortable walking shoes are important. For casual evenings three easy to pack dresses or skirts with matching tops and three non-glitzy cocktail outfits. Pack perhaps two elegant evening gowns for the two or three formal dinners at which your significant other is expected to wear a tuxedo. He should also pack a blazer, a lounge suit, three long-sleeve shirts, ties, casual trousers, polo tops, a sweater and a windbreaker.
And, as you will read, it is also wise to remember what your friends have on as you venture into new countries.
Sandwiched between Norway, Sweden and Russia covered by thousands of lakes and forests that produce 20 per cent of the world's newsprint, lies Finland.
On a pale, sunny morning, we sailed into Helsinki through a narrow break between rocks as old as the Ice Age. The Finns are skilled in the making of icebreakers and ships. In fact, 20 per cent of the world's enormous and ever increasing in size cruise ships (including some of the vessels of Royal Caribbean), are built here. They are mad about technology and must have a very rich telephone company because they claim to be the biggest users of cellphones in the world.
But the amount of lakes in Finland and islands in this archipelago stated by our guide Helga caused us to react with disbelief. She claimed that there are 188,000 lakes and 188,000 islands! Digesting the Swedish count of 24,000 islands in their archipelago was hard enough, 188,000 of anything boggles the mind. Do they count every protruding rock in the gulfs of Finland and Bothnia, I wonder?
Finnish women are apparently very strong-willed (good for them), because one household duty that the men apparently perform is the washing and cleaning of carpets. We passed an area of wooden tables populated by men; young, middle-aged and old who were dutifully performing this task.
Sweden again (as in Norway), played an important part in the history of Finland and the official languages are Finnish and Swedish. But it was Russia to whom the Finns belonged for over 100 years before their total independence. Their troubled relations with Russia were bittersweet and a war was fought between them only 59 years ago.
We travelled in a (rather strange looking) bus – to the old town of Porvoo. By strange looking, I mean that the clean looking buses of Norway and Sweden had now been replaced by a decorated bus that looked suspiciously Caribbean. There was a carpet on the dashboard, decals and what looked like Christmas tree bulbs on the rear window. The air-conditioning was defunct, as was the bathroom because the driver rather grumpily, in a heavy accent said he had no chemicals. Yup, there was a definite Caribbean feel about this bus. It was Russian. But we had our delightful moments when Helga on a portable tape recorder played a cassette of Jean Sibelious', haunting "Finlander". We stopped at a park dedicated to this famous Finnish composer and then visited the Lutheran Rock Church, spectacular in its simplicity and blasted out of granite rock.
Our next stop was Porvoo, which was established in 1346. Filmmakers use Porvoo and indeed other parts of Finland to make movies (Gorky Park and Reds were made here) about Russia, when they cannot get authority to film in Siberia, this apparently upsets the Russians. The buildings of Porvoo are quaint and wooden, but the cobbled streets are harder and sharper than the streets of Oslo and Stockholm put together.
Lunch was at the Hotel Haikko Manor; a gracious building set amid brilliant green lawns and tall trees. 200 of us sitting close together at long wooden banquet tables were efficiently served and feasted on fresh water salmon salads and a tasty beef stew with candied potatoes. On re-reading my notes and information about Finland I realise that they also like to serve reindeer, bear and elk, though it's too late for this thought, I sincerely hope that the beef stew I presumed was some good old cow was not Rudolph or one of the other two animals just mentioned. The dessert, which was particularly delicious, was made from the famous berries of Finland.
We were due to sail at 6 p.m., so we hurried back to the ship in our Russian bus and that was the start of the little mix-up in Helsinki. Two couples in our group decided to get off the bus to shop on the main street, promising faithfully to return on time. We reminded them that the next port of call was Russia and they could not go traipsing there alone because though one couple had visas, the other did not. One of them asked me to keep looking out for them to ensure that they safely embarked – and if they did not, I was to contact the captain and stop the ship.
Now, I took this responsibility very seriously so I positioned myself on a deck overlooking the gang planks about one hour before sailing time. Other buses drew up with returning passengers; our friends were not amongst them. Half and hour was now left to sailing time. I sought the advice of the calmest and most intellectual member of the group and we patiently waited on deck watching taxis roar up and late arrivals spill out. Our four were still not seen. By now we had recruited some members of our group to go to a particular deck to try and find them, others were asked to telephone the cabins of the adventurous four – but no luck. The gangplanks were raised, the ship's horn started to blast its mournful cry and we gravely decided it was now time for the captain.
No one, of course, sees the captain just like that so we approached the purser's desk and explained the situation. "Can you" we asked, "announce their names?" At first they said that names of passengers were only announced in emergencies. We assured them that it was an emergency, to which they replied "only our emergencies", to which I replied they must have had a few because I had heard (what I assumed to be) other passengers' names being called before. Okay, they said quickly but first they asked us not only to describe them but also their attire. Have you ever tried to describe your friends to strangers and do you remember what they had on when you last saw them? Though I could remember what one wife had on and another lady in our group could remember the outfit of the other wife, none of us (including the other males) could describe the attire of the respective husbands ("Did he have on a sweater boy or a windbreaker?" "No man, he had on a jacket").
The purser's assistant announced their names and telephone calls flew back and forth between security and the desk, no sign of anyone arriving. We waited thinking unsettling thoughts and then - the phone rang again - the delinquent four were returning the call from the 10th deck to inquire who wanted them and why was the ship not sailing. They had boarded early and wondered where the rest of the group had disappeared!
But descriptions of people and what they wear in strange cities are important and I made a mental note to be more observant about the attire of our group".
Dedicated Reader, I wish you and your group an absolutely marvellous trip and I hope your entire group keeps safe!