July 2 and 3 - Andrew Fernando
We boarded our cruise vessel Princess Maria well on time. We got a similar Premium cabin, but we wanted a better one. Our cabin had two narrow beds, hardly the luxury room we expected. We went to the reception desk inside the ship and asked whether it is possible to upgrade our room. Surprisingly, there were upgrades. We paid extra for the upgrade, and we got a room on the sixth floor with a big double bed. We had a good sleep that night.
We met Fiona again and had dinner with her. She was on her own and could not make a reservation for a table. We asked the reception to add her to our table. We got a good table with window seats.
When we came out of the terminal, Fiona met us to say good bye. Strangely, her hotel Scandic was right next to our hotel Crown Plaza. We were taking a taxi to the hotel. We invited her to come in our taxi and all three of us came in the taxi. Fiona, thanks for your company. I am sure our paths will cross again in the future.
Our hotel, Crown Plaza, was very ordinary compared to other Crown Plaza hotels we have been to. It is supposed to be a four star hotel, but it was three star material. We have asked for an upgrade when we initially booked the hotel on line. We did not get it. We requested again for an upgraded room on our second visit. The receptionist, a young boy, agreed to give it, but for a higher price than the on line upgrade. When we asked the reception, their reply was that to get the lower price, we have to request the upgrade on line. That was exactly what we did when we booked the hotel in the first place. So we asked to talk to a manager. The manager, a woman, came out and decided to go through our booking record. At the end she agreed to give us the upgrade for the lower on-line price.
We checked in and later went to the city centre in a tram. Then it started raining making us to stay in one department store for more than two hours. We have already seen the city and all the attractions during our previous visit. We came back to the hotel hoping to enjoy the evening food in the hotel lounge. The lounge food was hopeless and was compounded by rather poor service. One person came and left two food baskets on the table and went away. In other hotel lounges, we found people serving you, pouring drinks for you and making cocktails and coffee for you. This was a poorly managed hotel doing everything to drive away the clients.
Next day, on July 2, we had our flight from Helsinki to Stockholm in the afternoon. Helsinki airport is a small airport not bigger than our Katunayake airport. There were a couple of small restaurants serving cold salad sandwiches. I was reluctant to eat cold food. We found one place where they serve hot dogs. We had hot dogs and coffee for lunch. Our flight was on a small Finnair plane which took only forty five minutes for the trip. There was no immigration counter coming from Helsinki. It was more like a domestic flight. We collected our bags and walked out through “Nothing to
Declare” exit. A free airport shuttle took us to the Hertz Depot where we had to collect our car. We have booked an automatic Volvo V70 wagon and we got exactly what we asked for. It was a black diesel powered Volvo wagon, quite roomy and very long. We had no problem in putting our luggage in the boot. There were too many features to learn about. We mastered the basic features, then connected out Tom Tom navigator to the car and started driving. Mala was driving the car. I was looking at the navigator and telling her wherwe to go and which turn to take etc. Mala is used to driving the car on the right side of the road. The car was fine, but the seats were not comfortable. This would be a problem when we have several days of long driving almost six to seven hours behind the wheel.
We have booked out first hotel, Clarion Gillet Hotel, in Uppsala only about forty five kilometres from the airport. A sudden unexpected downpour made our drive slow, but we came to the hotel and checked in. We had to park the car in a private parking station just below the hotel. There were many restaurants close to our hotel. We have been eating Finnish and Swedish food for a cweek and we needed a break. We went to an Italian Restaurant and had Pasta. It was very well prepared using fresh ingredients.
On July 3, Sunday, we got up early and had early breakfast in the hotel. We had to cover a little over 300 kilometres on our way to Sundsvall. The weather was beautiful, sunny and bright. We brought too many warm clothes expecting cold weather. We may still need them when we go to North Cape.
On our way to Sundsvall, we stopped at a few places, once to put diesel to the car and once to have lunch. Petrol stations are all automatic and accepts only he credit cards. You first insert your card and ente3r your pin. Then the machine validate the card and your pin and allow you to fill diesel or petrol. First petrol station refused to accept my cards both Visa and Amex. It somehow recognized I am from a foreign country. We went the next petrol station which was not very far away. It accepted my Visa card. We decided to fill the tank every two to three hundred kilometres, because in some remote areas, the machines may not accept my cards.
Sundsvall is another big town we have to stay for one night on our way to North Cape. The shops were closed early on Sunday. There was a factory outlet like a place called Birsta City about seven kilometres from the city which was open till late. We went there and spent a few hours and came back to the hotel for dinner.
Sundsvall is a remote town. All the roads are paved with cement bricks and there are not many cars on the road. Most people use bicycles and there are special parking places for bicycles. I have seen this in many other European countries. Europeans are very conscious about smoke pollution and avoid using cars.