“To a willing foe and sea room” is supposedly the favoured toast of Admiral Nelson, a fitting statement to accompany the patriotism and glory of his naval campaigns. If I were to come up with a similar toast to our sea-faring journey it would probably be more like “to russian karaoke and a toilet that flushes!”. Maybe not as gung-ho but just as evocative I think.
We boarded the Princess Anastasia on a cold, grey afternoon after causing some confusion at the check in desk. It seems the majority of passengers take advantage of a round trip offered by the ferry company which includes a 3 day stay in St Petersburg before they must return to Stockholm. There are lots of Ts & Cs surrounding this because it involves visa free entry into Russia which is not straightforward. We informed the check in attendant that we did not intend to return to Stockholm and in fact were continuing on into Russia. She looked confused, thumbed through the paperwork on her desk and then consulted with the attendant next to her before realising we had our own Russian visas. “Ah OK – this means you can do whatever you want” she said, putting away the stack of conditions she was about to impose on us. It was very liberating to hear that we could, officially, do whatever we wanted. Unfortunately the truth is that our Russian visas are actually quite restrictive. I think the reality behind her words was “Ah OK – you aren’t my problem anymore”.
The Princess Anastasia was a fairly grand ferry, and if the word grand conjures images of an impressive but slightly outdated interior then I have used it correctly. Turns out that it’s 3 years older than I am and at one stage it was called the Pride of Bilbao having been ran by P&O ferries between Portsmouth and northern Spain. I had a brief look at what else occurred in 1986 and was childishly amused to discover that the Voyager 2 space probe made its first encounter with Uranus. Unfortunately the engineers working on the Anastasia were not inspired by this event to make their ship as adept at handling encounters with Uranus (tee hee).You see, the toilets did not flush. Our first cabin toilet not only did not flush but had not been cleared since the last inhabitants had used it. I’m not going to go into more detail but after much convincing we were moved to another cabin and proceeded to only use the public restrooms which were designed with a more heavy-duty drainage system it would appear.
One good thing did come of this inconvenience though. The public restrooms were located within earshot of the sports bar and on a late night trip I overheard some muffled wailing. I cautiously climbed the stairs until I could see into the bar where two Russian men were doing karaoke. I couldn’t understand the words but from the baking music and their tone of voice I can only imagine it was a very poignant song about loss so tragic we can only bear to see it at the bottom of a glass. Or they were very drunk and singing about the first encounter of the Voyager 2 space probe – it’s one or the other I’m not sure which.
It was a very pleasant journey. Sitting in the bar watching the boat pick its way through the Stockholm archipelago was a tranquil and satisfying farewell to such a pleasant city. There’s a lot to be said for arriving in a new city feeling well rested and it’s tough to do that by plane, even using a sleeper train it can be a challenge. By ferry it is very possible and I’m glad we took this trip rather than navigate the overland route to Russia by train.
Here are the full set of pictures we took from/of the ferry: