Åland is one of those great places one’s never heard of, and doesn’t know how to pronounce. Tiny, clean, and not much to do but enjoy the fresh air and beautiful autumn. On a humid and high-pollution Beijing day, it certainly seems like another world. Click through for some pictures, and a few views of Oslo’s quirkier side.
From Iceland, we wound up in Stockholm. It was late September, 2005.
We visited the Vasa, or Wasa, museum – home to the ill-fated ship of the same name. On its very first voyage on 10 August 1628, it sailed off from the dock and promptly sank. It hadn’t even gone 2 kilometers before its top heavy design succumbed to a light breeze and sent it to the bottom of Stockholm harbour. It was raised in 1961 and is quite a sight.
Lucky for us our modern ferry was better designed. We arrived in tiny Åland in the middle of the night and found our way to the campsite. Åland is part of Finland, but autonomous, neutral, and Swedish-speaking. It’s also very pretty.
Yes – I know.
But they are so funny.
The Flying P-Liners
Tiny Åland was home to the famous Pommern, a windjammer that sailed the difficult UK-Australia grain trade right to the end of the 1930s. Unlike the famous clipper ships, like Cutty Sark and Thermopylae, which were wooden, fast, and most famous for the China tea trade in the early 1870s, windjammers were steel or iron, slower, much larger, and carried much more cargo. Cutty Sark held the record for the UK to Newcastle, Australia route when it served on the wool trade – 77 days out and 73 back in 1865. Pommern’s fastest one-way run from Port Victoria in South Australia to the UK was 93 days in 1937. But unlike the glamorous tea clippers, these windjammers had no reason to rush, and compared to the clipper’s typical 1,000-1,5000 tonnes of cargo, Pommern carried closer to 4,000.
Ever since I’d seen Cutty Sark in drydock at Greenwich as a “wee bairn” in ’79, I’d loved the romance of the tall ships. I enjoyed crawling over Pommern and imagining living and working aboard for two thirds of the year, hauling grain through the Roaring 40s and around Cape Horn.
Pommern had a fairly comfortable looking interior, but it must have been a hard place to be after 100 sweaty and wet days on the open sea.
After all that time in Iceland, we were really starting to starve. We persuaded ourselves that trying the local burger chain, Hesburger, was a good thing to do. And it was. It even spawned a song: “Hesburger, Hesburger 1, 2, 3; If you want a Hesburger, come with me”. Hell yeah. Hunger does things to a man…
Our food cravings weren’t satisfied for long by a Hesburger, of course. So on the ferry back to Stockholm, we went to the all you can eat buffet. It seemed like a fortune at the time – 30 euro per head was more than we’d normally spend on food in a week. But it was a very happy night.
We had a few days left before heading to Eastern Europe. We spent them in Norway. In Oslo, we couchsurfed with a lovely woman who made the most remarkable feast. Things were really on the up in the food department – fresh salmon pancakes, reindeer stew, and more desert than we’d seen in what seemed like a decade.
I really enjoyed the Fram Museum, home to the ship of the same name (yes, I recycled that sentence). The Fram was a polar exploration ship, sailed by Nansen and Amunden on their Arctic and Antarctic journeys, including Amundsen’s in 1910-12 when he became the first person to reach the South Pole.
But Oslo stood out the most for its quirkiness. We found a great district with welcoming semi-underground hangouts. Graffiti, art, and genuinely creative people.
Bergen and other bits
Sometimes it’s ok to follow the herd. Not everything has to be done the hard way. So we paid up for “Norway in a Nutshell” transport passes, and spent a few easy days on a fjord and on some comfortable trains.
By now we’d given up trying to economise on food – six weeks of austerity in Iceland seemed like it warranted a few square meals in Norway. We ate a lot of reindeer in various forms. And potatos. And it was yummy.
From here, refreshed, we headed to Eastern Europe. But because I can’t resist finishing as I started: