6,500 islands with an approximate population of 28,000 inhabitants, situated roughly between Sweden and Finland. The latter country owns it and the former country is their national language. Class dismissed.
I had never heard of these islands before, and never expected to venture here even if I did know it existed. However, many months ago, two lovely ladies whom I met in La Paz gave me the promise of paradise in Summer if I ever did arrive. Fuck it, why not? A plane from Copenhagen to Stockholm, a 1 hour bus to the city, another 2 hour bus to a port, and a 2 hour ferry to Mariehamn: the main island.
Surprisingly, I’m not fluent in Swedish and didn’t know the loudspeaker told me to vacate the ship when we docked. I was happily drinking a beer and was wondering why I no longer recognised the other people on board. Curiously I looked out the window and realised I am a twat. The last person off the boat, running with my bags and tax free alcohol, to meet a very annoyed (but hopefully amused) Lisa. Thanks for waiting :)
After a quick shower we were off again to meet a gang of Lisa’s partners friends, at a beautiful summer cabin on the water. As we are so far north the sun practically doesn’t set. 20 hours of perfect sunshine means perfect drinking weather. And these locals love to drink. I was wondering if I was going to be a little lonely as everyone would be speaking Swedish, but it soon became apparent that Scandinavians speak better english than Australians. And if Swedish broke out, someone would say to speak English for my sake. Tak, guys!
After lots of pre-drinking we were off to the club where some solid dancing took place. I couldn’t believe how friendly everyone was. Maybe it was because I was a foreigner but people loved to chat. I’m no longer nervous about being a lone traveler. I recommend it!
I woke the next day in a house I did not belong in. Lisa ran in and said we had to get home. The hope of sleep was quickly shut down when her parents wanted to go out on the boat to another island. It will probably be the worst first impression I’ve ever given. A smelly, hungover Aussie surviving off one hours sleep, and your daughter met me in the dirty city of La Paz. The day was nonetheless wonderful even though I rarely spoke and passed out numerous times while pretending to read. Although I did often wake up only to jump into the ocean to cool down (tough life). Your hospitality was amazing and I hoped I redeemed myself a few days afterwards after less partying and more sleep.
I can understand why the locals are so patriotic. Thousands of tiny islands to explore and escape to. Imagine packing a picnic and setting sail to find a little place to bring a date or family. It’s perfect. Not to mention the abundant sunshine bleaches your hair and tans your skin. I’m the still the whitest guy alive but I look healthy..er, thanks to this getaway.
So is it a paradise? Yes it is, but not the cliche beach oasis paradise that we think of. It doesn’t have the hot sun and amazing beaches Australia boasts, and I can imagine the dark Winters would be harsh, but it does provide a lot. Most citizens here have a main house but also a summer house, next to the sea canals that riddle the islands. And every house has a boat for fishing or sailing, and a sauna right next to the water. I don’t think there is a greater feeling in the world than sweating profusely in the sauna and then running out to jump in the cold sea. Such a natural, wonderful drug that I will forever be thoroughly addicted to.
One of the best days of my life went something like this. A friend from Stockholm’s summer house, casual drinking, talking shit, fishing for pike off the boat, playing music, eating Swedish meat balls, partying until late, embarrassingly introducing myself to Lisa’s sister even though I met her 1,000 times before, and then the after party at another summer house. We watched the sun rise and the fog rolling in as we run from sweltering sauna to refreshing ocean. The only regret was Lisa being too drunk to attend the after party! On that note that’s something we Aussies need. More after parties and sauna.
I spent the remaining days sobering up and enjoying the landscape of the Åland islands. As I sit on the boat on the way to Stockholm, I feel a deep sadness leaving two good friends Lisa and Isa, but I know I will return. If anyone ever ventures to Sweden, you have to get your anuses to Åland. A beautiful, peaceful (yet hectic if you want it to be) 6,500 islands with an approximate population of 28,000 people. Just remember they’re Finnish yet they speak Swedish. Class dismissed…