STAR, SUPERSTAR and the Tallinn Maritime Museum

STAR, SUPERSTAR and the Tallinn Maritime Museum

by Kalle Id

 

MaritimeMatters’ Helsinki correspondent travels once again to Tallinn, this time taking a Business Class trip on Tallink’s ferries STAR and SUPERSTAR to see the impressive Estonian Maritime Museum at Lennusadam.

Tallink official website: www.tallink.com

Estonian Maritime Museum website: www.meremuuseum.ee

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are copyright © 2013 Kalle Id.

The British-built Estonian submarine LEMBIT is the main exhibit of the Lennusadam maritime museum.
The British-built Estonian submarine LEMBIT is the main exhibit of the Lennusadam maritime museum.

 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Quite a few of the reports I have written for MaritimeMatters seem to have been about visiting Tallinn. What can I say? There is so much to see in the city and so many ships that can take you there that there’s definitely enough to fill several Ferry Tales. This time is somewhat out of the ordinary, however, as I received a voucher for a free Helsinki-Tallinn return trip in Business Class from a friend who works at Tallink.

Before we start about the trip itself, it’s perhaps prudent to say a few words about Tallink themselves. The company begun operations in 1990, with a single second-hand ship sailing between Helsinki and Tallinn, offering three departures per week from both ports. Today, Tallink are one of the leading ferry operators in the World, and certainly the leading operator on the Helsinki-Tallinn line, offering seven daily departures from both ports with their three ships, the fast ropax ferries STAR (2007) and SUPERSTAR (2008), as well as the cruise ferry SILJA EUROPA (1993).

The STAR is notable for having a much more sedate livery than most other Tallink newbuildings. She is seen here arriving in Tallinn, with the city's famour television tower in the background. Photo copyright © 2009 Kalle Id.
The STAR is notable for having a much more sedate livery than most other Tallink newbuildings. She is seen here arriving in Tallinn, with the city’s famous television tower in the background. Photo copyright © 2009 Kalle Id.

For our trip, my wife and I chose to sail to Tallinn on the STAR’s 10.30 departure from Helsinki and return on the SUPERSTAR’s 22.30 (10.30 PM) departure from Tallinn, handily giving us a chance to see both ships and ten hours to spend exploring Tallinn.

Embarkation at Helsinki West Harbour was very smooth – a short time spent queueing for the check-in, a short wait afterwards and a quick walk onboard the awaiting STAR.

The 2007-built STAR can without exaggeration be said to have started a traffic revolution on the Helsinki-Tallinn route. Before her arrival, traffic on the route was dominated by elderly second-hand ships taking three-four hours per crossing, with fast catamarans offering a faster (but more expensive option). Tallink decided to combine these two ships types and build a large, conventional ferry capable of making a crossing in two hours. The STAR – modeled on the English Channel ferry SEAFRANCE RODIN – was an immediate success and, together with the 2008-built fast ropax ferries SUPERSTAR and VIKING XPRS transformed the route: both the elderly second-hand ships and the fast craft disappeared almost completely, outdone by their more efficient rivals.

The corridor connecting the supermarket to the entrance vestibule onboard the STAR.
The corridor connecting the supermarket to the entrance vestibule onboard the STAR.

Upon boarding, we proceeded to take a short tour of the STAR’s interiors before settling in the Business Lounge. Even though the crossing time is just two hours, there are a large array of venues available to choose from. The entrance deck (Deck 7) hosts a large Supermarket, the Business Lounge and a Pub. Deck 8 above is largely dedicated to restaurants, with a Scandinavian-style buffet, an à la carte -restaurant and a cafeteria. Deck 9 has further a fast food restaurant and a Comfort Class lounge (the latter is a forward observation lounge that was originally open for all passengers). In addition to all the other spaces, the STAR also offers the option of a cabin for 520 of the 1 900 passengers carried.

The Snacktime cafeteria is one of the four restaurant options found onboard the STAR.
The Snacktime cafeteria is one of the four restaurant options found onboard the STAR.

After our short tour we landed in the Business Lounge. This pleasantly functional space is located immediately across from the entrance. Additional amenities in the business class are a self-serve buffet for both food and drinks (including a large array of alcoholic drinks), free wi-fi, a large selection of magazines available for reading, and a small shop located in the lounge itself.

Mrs Id enjoying the amenities of the Business Lounge.
Mrs Id enjoying the amenities of the Business Lounge.

We proceeded to enjoy a bit of fairly traditional shipboard breakfast, including karelian pasties, a traditional Finnish food that is not normally a breakfast item – except onboard ferries.

A very businesslike breakfast, with added credibility given by the papers in the background – even if they are a drinks list and an application to joint Tallink's Club One frequent traveller programme.
A very businesslike breakfast, with added credibility given by the papers in the background – even if they are a drinks list and an application to joint Tallink’s Club One frequent traveller programme.

Overall the Business Class experience was rather pleasant. The ships on the Tallinn route are often crowded – sometimes to the extent that you cannot find a free seat anywhere – and having a seat in a quiet, dedicated lounge was very pleasant indeed. What was odd was the smoking arrangement in the lounge: as per the local smoking regulations, there was a smoking room – but this was not separated from the rest of the lounge in any way, making a large part of the lounge uninhabitable (unless you want to sit surrounded by cigarette smoke, that is).

That small gripe aside, the two-hour crossing passed pleasantly and we soon arrived in Tallinn ready to tackle our main objective for the day: visiting the 2012-opened Lennusadam maritime museum.

Lennusadam is located a one-kilometre (0,6 mile) walk from the main passenger harbour. The main pedestrian route there is the Kultuuri kilomeeter, a former railroad trackbed converted into a (theoretically) culturally themed walkway. Lennusadam itself is a bit out of the way from the main walking route, but can be found with minimal effort, although the signage could definitely be better.

Sights to see along the walking route to Lennusadam: an abandoned and partially burnt house.
Sights to see along the walking route to Lennusadam: an abandoned and partially burnt house.

The Lennusadam building itself could easily be mistaken for a product of Soviet era concrete architecture, but it in fact dates from 1917. It was built as an operational base for seaplanes as a part of Peter The Great’s Naval Fortress, an series of defensive fortification established by Imperial Russia to protect their capital Petrograd (present-day St. Petersburg) from naval attacks.

Even though fal from a small building, Lennusadam is surprisingly well-obstructed when approached from land.
Even though far from a small building, Lennusadam is surprisingly well-obstructed when approached from land.

With funding from the European Union, the long-abandoned building has been converted to one of the most fascinating maritime museums that I have ever visited. Visitors enter the main exhibition hall one floor above the ground and the exhibits have been laid out in such a way at that the upper-floor level is essentially sea level, crossed by walkways. The various boats exhibited are suspended from the ceiling so that they “float” on the “surface”. Once you descend to the ground floor, you have the fascinating chance of seeing things from a “fish perspective”. The underwater ambience is furthered by creative use of light filtered through a layer of water.

Boats and buoys “floating” on the “surface level” of Lennusadam. Closest to the surface is a haabjas, a boat carved from a single log of aspen.
Boats and buoys “floating” on the “surface level” of Lennusadam. Closest to the surface is a haabjas, a boat carved from a single log of aspen.
The remains of the oldest boat in Estonia.
The remains of the oldest boat in Estonia.

The main exhibit of the museum is without question the Vickers Armstrong -built submarine LEMBIT from 1936. Named after Lembitu, a 13th century tribal elder and one of the earliest known individual Estonians, which can be explored inside and out. Probably inspired by the LEMBIT, there is a large section dedicated to the development of the submarine.

On the bridge of the LEMBIT.
On the bridge of the LEMBIT.

Other exhibits include various types of private boats and pleasure craft (including traditional boats carved out of a single aspen). Perhaps more interesting are the various interactive activities offered: there is a Sopwith Camel flight simulator, a chance to dress up in period naval uniforms, remote-controlled boats and an AA-gun simulator.

Uniforms to try on.
Uniforms to try on.

Outside the main building there are several retired ships of the Estonian Navy open for visitors. What is in my opinion the most interesting of all the exhibits, the hundred-year-old steam-powered icebreaker SUUR TÕLL (“Tõll the Giant”), was unfortunately closed. The icebreaker has a fascinating history, having served under the flags of four different countries. It was originally built in 1914 as the TSAR MIHAIL FEDOROVITS for Imperial Russia. Following the October Revolution it was renamed VOLYNETS. In 1918 the VOLYNETS was captured by Finnish forces, brought to Finland and renamed WÄINÄMÖINEN (after a figure in the Finnish national epic Kalevala). By the terms of the Treary of Tarto, what formalized the Finnish and Estonian relations to the Soviet Union, the WÄINÄMÖINEN was ceded to Estonia in 1922 and renamed SUUR TÕLL. Following the Soviet conquest of Estonia in 1940, the ship reverted to the name VOLYNETS and remained in service until the 1980s. Plans we drawn up to convert the ship into a fuel barge, but intervention from the Estonian leadership secured her return to Estonia in 1987 and a restoration process begun soon afterwards.

The impressive SUUR TÕLL, sadly closed to the public as it is under renovation.
The impressive SUUR TÕLL, sadly closed to the public as it is under renovation.

Lennusadam is easily the most interesting maritime museum I have visited to date; it managed to make warships and pleasure craft interesting even to someone such as myself, who is particularly interested in these fields of seafaring. What I did find odd was the fact that museum completely ignores Estonia’s commercial seafaring tradition. After all, an Estonian company – Tallink – is one of the leading ferry operators in the World today, and surely this would have at least deserved a mention.

Out of their element: Estonian naval craft on dry land.
Out of their element: Estonian naval craft on dry land.

Upon returning home I discovered the Estonian Maritime Museum actually operates in two different premises: in Lennusadam and the Paks Margateera (“Fat Margaret”) tower in Tallinn’s old town. The latter appears to be oriented towards freight and passenger shipping – but certainly it is odd the collections of the museum have been divided between two different buildings, especially as this means that anyone wishing to get a full overview of Estonian maritime history will have to arrange time to visit two different museums (and pay two different entrance fees, even if these are not particularly large).

On the bridge of the preserved minehunter SULEV (originally the German LINDAU).
On the bridge of the preserved minehunter SULEV (originally the German LINDAU).
The SULEV (ex-LINDAU, left) and WAMBOLA (ex-CUXHAVEN, right) moored outside Lennusadam.
The SULEV (ex-LINDAU, left) and WAMBOLA (ex-CUXHAVEN, right) moored outside Lennusadam.

After the end of our museum tour we walked to the Old Town and decided to have a late lunch (or arguably an early dinner) at what has to be the most fantastic restaurant in all of Estonia: the Olde Hansa. Located in a Hanseatic merchant’s house, the restaurant serves genuine medieval north-european cuisine in an equally genuine medieval setting: the dresses, the decor, everything in the place is as it would have appeared in 15th century. No electric lighting, no plastic, no dishes made out of potato or other New World plants. The only non-authentic thing is the fact that the staff are to be fluent in a multitude of languages – and you can pay by credit card, which certainly wasn’t possible back in 1413.

The Olde Hansa.
The Olde Hansa.
Our Olde Hansa starters: Neptun's Feast (the Finnish name, Anteliaan Ahdin Juhlawati, is much more amusing).
Our Olde Hansa starters: Neptun’s Feast (the Finnish name, Anteliaan Ahdin Juhlawati, is much more amusing).
Main courses: Grilled Salmon with forest mushrooms for me, Five delightful tastes of vegetarian origin for Maria.
Main courses: Grilled Salmon with forest mushrooms for me, Five delightful tastes of vegetarian origin for Maria.

Following our delightful visit to the Olde Hansa, we walked around the town some more, checking out the shopping opportunities and stopping for a coffee later on, until it was the time to make our way back to the harbour and the awaiting SUPERSTAR.

The Superstar's unusual exterior livery tends to cause less-than-favourable comments. Photo copyright © 2010 Kalle Id.
The SUPERSTAR’s unusual exterior livery tends to invite less-than-favourable comments. Photo copyright © 2010 Kalle Id.

Although the STAR and SUPERSTAR are similarly named, they are in fact of completely different designs both inside and out. The Finnish-built STAR, as noted above, is based on the SEAFRANCE RODIN (today just RODIN), while the SUPERSTAR was built in Italy to the same design as Italian Moby Lines’ three-ship MOBY WONDER -class.

The business lounge on the SUPERSTAR was more spacious than the corresponding room on the STAR.
The business lounge on the SUPERSTAR was more spacious than the corresponding room on the STAR.

While the box-like SUPERSTAR cannot be said to be beautiful on the outside, her interiors are arguably superior to those of the STAR: there is a three-deck high observation lounge forward and a two-deck high one aft. Between these are a horde of restaurants, shops, and (of course) the Business Lounge. Reportedly there are even cabins for over 1 200 passengers, although because the STAR and SUPERSTAR alternate departures, only the same number as on the STAR are actually available to passengers.

The SUPERSTAR's impressive three-deck high forward lounge offers rather splendid views of the sea outside – not that it would have been of any use on a midnight crossing. Photo copyright © 2010 Kalle Id.
The SUPERSTAR’s impressive three-deck high forward lounge offers rather splendid views of the sea outside – not that it would have been of any use on a midnight crossing. Photo copyright © 2010 Kalle Id.

On the night crossing the Business lounge did not show its best side. Because the ship was largely deserted, there was no added value in the guaranteed seating or the quiet ambience of the lounge. While the breakfast service on the STAR had been quite good in the morning, the dinner service on the SUPERSTAR was unimaginative and lacked taste – worst of all, included in the selection were raw chicken legs. All this was okay as we didn’t pay extra for the Business lounge, but considering the normal price for a Business Class ticket is almost triple that of a standard ticket, this is definitely not acceptable.

In addition to having been built in Italy, the SUPERSTAR's interiors were designed by Italian architects and even given Italian names – rather unusually for a ship sailing on the Gulf of Finland. Photo copyright © 2010 Kalle Id.
In addition to having been built in Italy, the SUPERSTAR’s interiors were designed by Italian architects and even given Italian names – rather unusually for a ship sailing on the Gulf of Finland. Photo copyright © 2010 Kalle Id.

A short nap on the business class sofa and a quick tour of the ship later we found ourselves back home in Helsinki (and discovered that our home city’s public transport doesn’t work too well past midnight). While the Business Class experience on the STAR and SUPERSTAR had ultimately been somewhat disappointing, Lennusadam and Olde Hansa more than made up for that and overall this was one of the best short city breaks I have ever done.

 

End of STAR, SUPERSTAR and the Tallinn Maritime Museum.

 

Special thanks to Maria Id, Mika Tuomolin and Martin Cox.

For more photographs by Kalle Id, visit kships.blogspot.com.

Kalle Id

Kalle Id

Kalle Id, MaritimeMatters' Helsinki correspondent, is a Finnish maritime historian, photographer and journalist, with a Master's Degree in history from the University of Helsinki. His early-age exposure to ferry travel led to a lifetime fascination with passenger ships, both the cruise ferries of his home waters and the cruise ships and ferries of further afield. Kalle maintains his own ship photography blog at kships.blogspot.com. Contrary to the popular belief, he writes under his real name.
Kalle Id
4 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

MENU
login