I wandered back to the hotel, through Helsinki’s dark, icy streets. Past the brutish contrasts of the heavy, carved stone of Central Station, looking like a set piece from a Gothic Batman movie, and the blinking illuminated signs on the side of the angular glass office buildings.
After packing the essentials into a back-pack I flicked robotically through the TV channels, from CNN to the Russian variety show and the incomprehensible Italian chat show. Ernest Finns peered through the screen, while Arabic soap operas played out their coquetish attempts at intrigue.
An early morning wake-up call had me up and out in 20 minutes and sailing through the still-dark street in a taxi to the ferry. By the time I’d bought my ticket and boarded the freey with the other Finnish and Estonian day-trippers, all wrapped up tight against the freezing elements, the sun was coming up over the port. The container ships and oil tankers looked almost warm, bathed in the morning light.
We set off for Tallinn. Inside, the ferry was a mix of 1970s cafeteria kitsch and mid-80s discotheque. With the obligatory “nautical” themed nets and ropes.
But the early morning passengers weren’t allowed to rest their heads for the four hour journey. For – oh joy – on came the ships band (three middle aged men, a synth, a drum machine and a twangy guitar) to play an “upbeat” mix of Beatles and Dire Straits. “Here gum johnny, he do the valk off life, oh yeah, whoo hoo.”
Coming into a modern looking ferry terminal four hours later, I stepped outside to see two symbols of Tallin’s past and future. One was the medieval turrets of the old town. The other was a forest of cranes hanging over skyscrapers to the city’s south.