May 24, 2008Ferry: Stockholm, Sweden to Mariehamn, FinlandHotel: Stradnas Hotel, 63EUR ($100)
The breakfast spread at the Sign hotel this morning in Stockholm was very good! We left the hotel and caught a taxi to the Viking ferry terminal. We were planning on visiting the Aland islands, an autonomous Swedish-speaking province of Finland. The Alands had passed between Sweden, Russia and Finland over the years. They have their own flag different from Finland & Sweden. Finns and Swedes take day ferries to Mariehamn to stock up on duty-free booze.
We arrived almost an hour early but there was already a huge crowd waiting at the terminal. It smelled like some of them had already gotten a head start on the drinking! We got our boarding card and soon boarded the ferry. We had gotten the cheapest cabin for the 5hr trip; it was an inside cabin in the bilge of the ship, several levels under the cars! Which suited our needs fine as we planned to sleep most of the way over anyway. We dropped our bags off then wandered up to the top deck. A gorgeous day in Stockholm! The ferry soon departed and slid off through the channels. It started getting chilly as the breeze picked up so we headed back down to explore the ship some more. There was a casino, bar, Wii room and several restaurants. Of course the most important part; the duty free store, but it hadn't opened yet.
We headed back to the cabin for a nap.
We woke up a few hrs later then walked around the ship some more. Getting on one of the elevators, whew. We got a a contact buzz just from the booze fumes. :) Lunch in the cafeteria was good, we loaded up with Swedish meatballs. Food portions were charged by weight here. There was also another prix fixe buffet, but at 24EUR was a little steep. The ferry soon started approaching the skerries near Mariehamn. The Alands are composed of thousands of granite islands, from small rocks on up. We docked in Mariehamn, at the same time the ferry coming from Helsinki
arrived. Most of the passengers on either ship got off here only to get right back on the other ship heading back to Stockholm or Helsinki, wheeling their trolleys full of booze.
We were one of the few passengers to actually stay here. We caught 10EUR a cab to our hotel, the Stradnas, which ended up being a good distance out of town. We were in Finland now and they use the Euro. It wasn't yet summer here so some hotels weren't even open yet for the season. We asked about renting a car for the day, luckily we were able to arrange one at a nearby gas station, 62EUR for a day and 250kms and we could drop it at the ferry terminal the next day. By this time it was about 3PM.
We drove up off to the north of town, planning on visiting the eastern part of the islands. We drove through the small towns of Jomala and Godby on our way to our first stop, Kastleholm, a 14th-century keep. The setting was quite nice on the shore of an inlet. According to our book, the castle was closed but they were open when we arrived.
We decided not to go in and just wandered around outside. There were some gardens next to the castle that had a model village and some windmills. Next we drove to the ruins of the old Russian fort of Bomarsund. The Bomarsund fort was unique in its exterior was composed of hexagonal blocks. It was destroyed by the British during the Crimean war. Prasto (Priest) island was just across the straight from Bomarsund, this is where the cemeteries for Bomarsund were located. The Russian garrison had been quite ethnically diverse; there were cemeteries here for Russian Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim soldiers. They were kind of hard to find, after driving down one road to the end we finally found the right path. There were still several Jewish graves here and looked well maintained.
Post & Customs house, Eckero, Aland Islands
On the way back we decided to strike out straight through the woods, it was tricky going as the ground was spongy moss covering loose rocks.
Prasto island is the end of the road here; the road does continue on the next island but requires taking a ferry. We didn't want to get stuck so we turned around and headed back towards the town of Sund wheretThere was a really neat church. Each major town here has a good sized church, all have uniquely shaped rounded steeples. We did a loop around through Saltvik
and stopped at the church in Jomala before heading to Lemland, yet another province. There was an old stone chapel here near Lembote. Summers in Scandinavia are great, it stays light forever.
It was already nearly 8PM and we were quite hungry. We headed back into Mariehamn to see about dinner. The town was completely dead! According to the LP you could fire a cannon down the main street and noone would notice! We ended up eating at Dino's which turned out to be where everyone else in town was. There were pictures of dead rockers on the wall, Stevie Ray Vaughn was staring down at us while we ate.May 25, 2008Ferry: Mariehamn, Finland to Stockholm, SwedenHotel: [url=http://www.clarionsign.com]Clarion Hotel Sign Stockholm[/url], reward night (10k Choice Points)
We were heading back to Sweden today but still had until 1PM before the ferry left back to Stockholm.
Yet another gorgeous clear day. Today we planned to drive to the western part of the archipelago. Our map listed several cloverleaf 'interest' sites, most of these turned out to be windmills. The windmills here are different style from those in Holland, these are boxy-shaped with a bar coming out the back; the entire box must be turned unlike Dutch style where only the top of the windmill rotates. All of the farmhouses, barns, and windmills here are painted a uniform red with white trim. We drove quite a distance to an isolated cloverleaf on the map at Stromma, only it turned out to be yet another windmill. We suddenly felt like Don Quijote! We headed next to Eckero
island, a popular holiday spot for Swedes; but it was still very quiet.
We visited the old postal museum/customs house in Storby. This had been built by the Russians for the mail run from Sweden to Finland; it was quicker to offload the mail here from boats and take it overland, then back on boats to the Finnish mainland than to take it on a ship the whole way.
It was about 11AM so we decided to head back to Mariehamn; the drive went alot quicker on the way back so that still left us some time to kill. There is an old sailing ship here in town, the Pommern, one of the last sail-only ships (not a steamship) to be constructed in the early 1900s. It was used for the run to Australia, taking several months! We're so spoiled these days in it only takes ~20hrs. We headed to the ferry terminal, dropping off the car keys in the bin, yet still had a half hr wait or so.
Both ferries soon pulled up to the dock, trading their crowds of inebriated passengers. We hadn't gotten a cabin for the return trip so we stashed our bags in the left luggage room then wandered around the ship awhile. There was a room full of airline/lounge style seats, but these get claimed early on and all were in use or had bags in them. The return trip was uneventful, other than eating lunch during a karaoke competition.
We arrived back into Stockholm around 4PM then took a cab back to the Sign hotel. I had booked another two nights on points here, a great deal at 10k/night. We then caught the metro down to Sodermalm and had dinner at Jerusalem Kebab. We then walked all the way back to the hotel via Gamla Stan, stopping along the way at a creperie for dessert.