Saturday, August 27, 2011

Where in the World Are We?


Map picture

I will give you some clues. We are in the middle of an island chain which is comprised of some 15,000 islands. If you only count the islands which are as large as a football field in size, then there are only 6,500, and of those, only fifty five are occupied on a permanent basis. This island chain is an independent Republic, a member of the EU, and the legally required language is Swedish. The capital city is Mariehamn, which was founded in 1861. So, my friends – do you have any idea as to the name of this autonomous area?

Now I played a small trick with my question. The autonomous area is known as Aland, and while it is independent, having its own parliament and Prime Minister, it is also, in fact, a completely self-governing region of Finland. But wait a minute you cry – I thought you said that Swedish was the official language. Well, you heard correctly. As strange as it sounds, we are in an interesting place that is quite unlike any other I have seen, where they are officially a part – albeit a distant part, of Finland, but where they speak Swedish. It was created in 1921 by the League of Nations, and today is home to over 28,000 people.

The islands are to be found in the Gulf of Finland located halfway between Finland to the East, and Sweden to the West. Our stop at the capital city of Mariehamn was only for 4 hours, and so we elected to participate in a ship sponsored tour. Sadly, that meant that many things which we saw, and which were worth a photograph, can only be taken away in our memory because it was not practical for a bus to stop too often for pictures – there just was not enough time. I will tell you that what I saw was perhaps the most idyllic and picturesque island I have ever encountered. There was way more land than people. Even in the dark overcast of the day, the temperature was moderate, and the landscape beautiful.

People here enjoy a very high standard of living and are very well educated. They enjoy all the modern conveniences, but in a small and caring environment. In the last 20 years, there was only one murder, and people never even consider locking their homes or cars. The islands are connected to Helsinki and Stockholm by a very active ferry system. Both ports can be reached in a short 3 hour ride, and the transportation is cheap. This makes these islands a favorite vacation area during the holiday season, but that ended last week, and during our visit, it was very quiet and tranquil.

We took a scenic 45 minute drive into the countryside to visit Bomarsund Fortress, which was built by the Russians, and then destroyed by the French-English navy during the Crimean War.

Mariehamn, AlandNow I have to admit, viewing the ruins of a very old and much destroyed fort is not my idea of the perfect tourist spot – but hey, when in Rome and all! So, we came, took a couple of pictures, and got back in the bus for our next exciting stop. This time we visited another set of ruins of Kastelholm Castle; a medieval castle from the 1100’s that had been partially restored by some prisoners who were housed nearby, but who were moved in 1980.

Mariehamn, AlandIt offered one or two interesting pictures, but our guide, who very much loved to hear himself talk, turned what should have been a 20 minute photo stop into over an hour of listening to an endless stream of minutiae.

At this point, we were running late, and so we quickly walked uphill through the adjacent Open-Air Museum which houses historical buildings moved here from around the islands in 1931 for preservation. With no time to stop really, we grabbed a few quick pictures, and boarded our bus back to the ship.

Mariehamn, Aland

So, I do think you will enjoy the pictures, but from my perspective it was a long and not very interesting day. However, I would willingly come back to visit this quiet tranquil place, and take the time to explore.


P.S. When you look at our pictures, you will see some very beautiful photographs that were taken in Helsinki, Finland yesterday. Having been to Helsinki many times, we decided to take a day at leisure for ourselves and had not really planned on leaving the ship. Two things happened to change our minds. First, our ship docked literally in the center of town, and second, the day was bright and sunny. From our room, we could see some very interesting pictures, and so we went out for about 90 minutes to walk around. Not much to tell, but some interesting photographs to enjoy.

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