Okay, Åland. I really do not know what to say here. For years I’ve been hearing how Åland is a lovely place to visit in the summer, but somehow I’ve never actually gotten around to visit the islands. That was, until this summer.
Åland is a strange little group of islands in between Finland and Sweden. Åland is officially part of Finland, but the official language is Swedish. It has its own flag and license plates. They have their own laws and regulations and special freedoms. Did you know that Finns living on the mainland are not even allowed to buy property on the island unless you are born there? Well, at least not unless you apply for a special permit. Somehow this whole thing is so disturbed and confusing. Is the place actually part of Finland, or is it Sweden, or possibly something completely different? Even though I just visited there, I’m still not sure. All I know is that I’m still confused.
I did go to Åland with some high expectations, remembering all the nice things I had heard of the place. And was disappointed, badly. Okay, I do have to say that we arrived in Mariehamn at 4.50am on a Wednesday morning, with a ferry straight from Tallinn. It was dark and rainy, there was absolutely nothing to do, everything was closed, naturally, and even the hotel was closed. We did drive around a bit and luckily found a service station where we could buy some snacks. And then we just sat in the car, listened to the rain and waited. Yes, travelling can sometimes be so much fun!
The morning came and the hotel reception opened as well, after some long hours in the car. We were lucky enough to get our room almost immediately. Huge thank you to the receptionist at Hotel Savoy, the service was just superb (unfortunately can’t say the same about the hotel though)! So, few hours of sleep and then it was time to go and explore the main island! I’ll tell more about the main attractions on the island a bit later, but I think it is safe to say that they are all seen in less than a day if you have a car, so do not expect too much of those.
But Mariehamn, the “capital”. That, I want to discuss now. Only because there is not much to say. The place was dead! Everything closed at five at the latest, there were no people in sight, no matter what time of the day you were there. There is only a handful of restaurants (well, not a huge surprise if there is no-one around) and we did not find a single cafe that was open at 4pm. Even s/v Pommern’s, the four masted sail ship’s doors remained closed, and it is supposed to be one of the main attractions in Mariehamn… The city was just such a depressing place even on a sunny afternoon and I was just so disappointed, was this really the place praised by so many people?
The city centre at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon, pretty crowded, eh?
There was one exception though. The maritime quarter in the eastern harbor. Olli had been forced to listen to me whine all day about how Åland was not at all what I expected of it, but after a few moments in the maritime quarter, I heard the question “So, is this what you expected then?” YES, this was exactly what I had imagined I’d find when visiting Åland! Red wooden buildings, some fishing boats, blue sea, blue sky, fishing nets here and there and a cozy little pub just next to the pier. Although, I must say, I had still expected to see more people, but you can’t have it all, can you?Even though it is unfortunate that only a tiny part of Mariehamn met my expectations, I’m glad that we found this place, just few blocks from the center. Without the visit to the maritime quarter, I would’ve thought that the place I had expected to see, only existed in my imagination so as we stopped for a beer at the little pub in the quarter, I was finally relieved. The place was real, it only was limited to a much smaller area than I would’ve ever expected.
As a final remark I do want to point out that in this post, all opinions reflect only the experiences from our first day in Åland, which we spent entirely on the main island. I know that Åland consists of over 6000 islands and they are all different. We did pass by a set of smaller islands as well on our trip, and I’ll tell more about that part later.