Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Åland Islands, Finland (June 2015), Part I

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We wanted to do something special for our first wedding anniversary in June 2015, so we decided to book ourselves a couple of days in a cottage in the Åland Islands. Have I ever mentioned how much I love the Åland Islands? They are in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden and belong to Finland, but mostly everyone there speaks Swedish as their mother tongue and I guess in general feels more connected to Sweden than Finland. There are more than 6500 islands altogether, and the region is autonomous, having its own flag, stamp and police force. It's such an idyllic place! Julcsi had never been there before, either, so we figured it'd be the perfect getaway to celebrate, and to kick off our summer holiday as well. Also, we decided to take our car with us, too, which is something that I'd never done before - travelling on a ferry with a vehicle, that is. We usually travel with Viking Line as they are quite an inexpensive option. You get good package deals for trips including a vehicle as well, and it makes sense to depart from Turku instead of Helsinki as the trip takes only approximately five hours as opposed to the 11 from Helsinki.

We caught the morning ferry from Turku, which is why we decided to spend the previous night in Turku as well, hoping to do some sightseeing there. On the way from Tampere to Turku, we stopped at Urjalan Makeistukku for some cheap sweets - a tradition I guess a lot of Finnish families have had since way back when :). Once we were back on the road, the weather suddenly turned absolutely appalling - it was raining so much that it was impossible to even see out of the windows - so once we'd arrived in Turku, it was an easy decision to not leave our Omena Hotel room until the following morning after all.

Day 1

In the morning, we got up, got the car and drove to the harbour to queue for the ferry. I was panicking a bit as it was my first time doing something like this and I had no idea what to expect. Everything went really smoothly, though - there's someone to show you where to go and how all the time, so no need to panic at all. We got a hanger with an "Å" for Åland, and were signalled to drive to the area designated for the cars going to Mariehamn (the ferry continues all the way to Stockholm).


Ka on the ferry!

Once we'd successfully parked the car, we went to the sundeck to wave goodbye to Turku, and then ended up in the ferry club for some non-alcoholic drinks and a music quiz to keep ourselves entertained for a couple of hours.



Arriving in Mariehamn (the capital of the Åland Islands) with the car was simple enough, too, though we ended up needing to show our IDs and a registration document for the car in the harbour before driving off to our accommodation.

We'd booked to stay at a cottage at Gröna Udden where I'd been once before with a group of students and a colleague. It's in Mariehamn, within walking distance from everything, but still a bit secluded so that you get that countryside feel to your stay. You can have a cottage or a camping area for your own tent. The cottages are equipped with a small kitchen, but the bathroom area is in a separate building not far away from the cottages. For the cottages, you need to bring your own sheets or, alternatively, rent your bed linen from the reception.

Once we'd checked in and left our stuff in the cottage, we decided to go for a walk to get to know our surroundings. We ended up walking all the way to the city centre...

Gröna Udden.


The Mariehamn Town Hall.


Julcsi in downtown Mariehamn. The place closes down at around 5 pm so make sure you get whatever you might need in time.



It was quite chilly outside, so we decided to go to Bagarstugan for some Ålandspannkaka, which is an oven-baked pancake with rice or semolina in the dough. Superdelicious with some jam and whipped cream, and an absolute must in the Åland Islands! Bagarstugan is just about the cosiest coffee shop you can find as well - highly recommended!

 




After our pancake session, we continued exploring the town...


Fart = "speed" in Swedish :D.

Pretty wooden houses...



We ended up wandering all the way down to the harbour to check out the museum ship Pommern from the outside before actually going in on another day.



Pommern, the museum ship.



Eventually, we were starving and managed to find the best pizza place ever - Diablo. Seriously, so good!! Definitely among the best pizzas I've ever had anywhere! We were so impressed that we went back for more the following day...:D




After our pizza session, we walked back to our cottage, completely exhausted and freezing our butts off, and pretty much spent the rest of the evening in bed, reading travel guides under the blankets. Word of advice - bring warm enough clothes even if you go in June!

Gröna Udden cottages!

Our cottage from the inside.

Day 2



A picnic in the cottage!

Our second day was all about roadtripping as we had several destinations: Taffel Factory Shop, Kastelholm Castle and the Fortress of Bomarsund. All of these places are pretty close to each other, so they are easy to visit in one day. You can do these places in the aforementioned order as well - very practical!

Taffel is a company that produces crisps, and the factory is located in the Åland Islands - hence the factory shop. We ended up getting quite a few things...


Julcsi smiling in front of a toilet...:D This happens to be the only good picture we managed to take inside the shop.


After our shopping break, we continued towards Kastelholm. It's actually a castle ruin so you will mostly be walking in the open air with no roof over your head. In addition to the castle ruin itself, you can visit Jan Karlsgården, which is an open-air museum dedicated to the building traditions of the islands, and a prison museum called Vita Björn.

Driving to the castle.


Kastelholm Castle.









In the Åland islands, the granite typically used on roads is red, which can maybe be seen on the tyres...We ended up having a little break in the car because it started raining, but once the sun came out again, we walked up the hill to check out Jan Karlsgården.








Our next stop was the Bomarsund Fortress - read more about it in my next post, as well as hiking in Geta and visiting Pommern :)!

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