In 1996, my lovely Zambian friend Marjorie invited me to spend some time with her in Sweden, the week before Christmas.
As much as I love the sun, I also adore snow, so I was delighted and snapped up the offer straight away. When I phoned her to let her know that I had booked the dates off at work, she excitedly exclaimed, “Oh great! Now I don’t want you to resist. When you come over, I am taking you to Finland. It will be my treat, so you are not paying for anything. Now, don’t argue with me, just accept. Good!”
I sat in silence, grateful to be blessed with such a generous friend but my mind was also trying to imagine the trip across the waters from one Scandinavian country to the other. I saw myself on the top deck of a little motorboat that was racing towards the shore. My hair was blowing in the wind and the waves were lapping against the sides.
I was certain that our transport would look something like this;
Marjorie was particularly excited about taking me to the famous Stockmann department store in Helsinki, which was founded by Heinrich Stockmann in 1862.
She had always desired to go, but needed a friend to accompany her around this incredible shop.
As we descended from our Swedish plane and walked into the Finnish airport, I could see many water vehicles moored outside.
“Where’s our little dingy?” I asked my friend. She just grinned and replied, “Come on.” dragging me towards the exit that directed us towards the dock.
Well up until then, I thought I had a great imagination.
Remember the picture above? The boat I thought we would be travelling in? We turned the corner and like a tour guide, Marjorie flung out her arm and proudly presented what was to be our accommodation for the next 24 hours. It looked like this:
Being someone who always talked about her love of geography, I suddenly felt very stupid indeed. I had no excuse, because I’d been on a day trip to the Isle of Wight many times and despite being only a few miles away from the coast of southern England, the ferry was huge. So why was I expecting something so puny to take us to a country that was many miles away from it’s neighbouring nation?
The Silja Symphony is colossal. Right in the middle of the ship is a shopping centre which they called the Promenade, which runs from end to end with shops, cafes, restaurants and bars of every kind. There is even a discotheque at the stern.
Marjorie had booked us a Promenade Cabin which was a beautiful cosy room with two interlocking windows at the end, that overlooked the high street. It seemed strange at first, lying on top my bed, looking down at people strolling from boutique to off license to perfumery.
Later in the evening, I was treated me to a delicious meal at the Bistro Maxime, before I whisked her off in search of the saunas. Not to sit and sweat – just to say I’d seen one, as I’d lead a sheltered life. Don’t tell me to join a gym where there are plenty – this was Scandinavia! I wanted to see people bashing their backs with twigs and rolling in the snow to cool off. Yes, there was snow on the top deck.
Stockmann turned about to be great too and with 17 milion customers visiting it each year, it’s no surprise that people want to come back again.
I thank God for such lovely friends and that this below zero temperature experience will stay with me for many years to come.
As for Marjorie, well she hasn’t seen snow for years as she’s now happily settled in her native land working very hard in a country that reminds her of the saunas. (I’m only jealous!)