EU-Trip 2023 | Week 7 (03.04 – 07.04)

EU-Trip 2023 | Week 7 (03.04 – 07.04)
Photo by Waldemar / Unsplash

It's already week 7 of my trip, following the post about week 6. Have no clue/context, then the original post, It's finally time for an adventure, is for you.

03.04 – A long day in Åland

First, strictly said it was yesterday, the tax-free store and the people drinking on board is INSANE. These guys and ladies really can drink. Holy crap. The tax-free shop was basically tobacco and beer, wine etc. I didn't see anyone leaving without at least 4 packs (each is 24 bottles!) of beer or a basket FULL of wine. Seems like they drank a bit already on board. Then going to the pub … even the elderly people. Very interesting to watch. Hearing stories about it is one thing, but actually being there – that's an experience.

Initially, the plan was to only visit Mariehamn primarily. But as all good things in life, plans change. So let's start from the beginning. Woke up at 05:30, realizing it was far too early. So took a shower, got to bed again. And somehow missed my alarm, but that was no problem. Because the reception called everyone personally to tell it's time to wake up, at least for the people who had to leave in Mariehamn. Since the ferry continues to Helsinki, that was really neat. Other people could still sleep, for the people having to disembark there was a personal call. Really, a pleasant experience.

In the end, I got out at 06:30 in Mariehamn, with freezing -10 degrees outside. Somehow, in Scandinavia, social life just starts at 10:00, always wondered why. The cold, icy weather might be an answer. Especially since the days are long and way warmer when the sun comes out a bit.

Greeted by this giant sign

Since there was plenty of time for me (and no place to warm up) had open, thought, okay, let's start with the “sightseeing”. Mariehamn is small, that was clear to me, but it was really minimal and walked everywhere with ease. So had just to stop by the waterside, enjoying the view in the early hours of the day. Fascinating view, seeing the iced pier and walking on the frozen planks.

Frozen pier

Making my way towards the maritime museum, not to go in, but enjoy the view from there, which should be pretty impressive from what I have seen online. It was not too bad, but there will be A LOT more images for today, already had a hard time limiting them.

The sun was getting stronger, so felt confident enough to go to the Mariehamn vaateplas, since the view point obviously needs to be higher, there would be a lot of wind. Arriving there, it was still cold, but the sun made it feel just a bit chilled.

Me on the plateau

Also made some photospheres, which you can (soon) find on Google Maps.

Strolling around the city, to my fascination many places are really like from a children's book about Sweden. The typical building style all over the place. Stone buildings are really more the exception.

At 09:30 the city was slowly waking up, so decided to go to the city center to find a coffee place.


Went for Kanebullar and a good old black coffee. The owner spoke a few words of english to my rescue, so we found our way. He was really introverted, though, something that was the norm for everyone that I watched. They're also seemingly knowing each other, not talking a lot. Already heard that about Finnish people, but seems Åland is no exception, even though it's independent.

Checking the list, basically all the things I wanted to do initially were either not possible because the places were closed, or too far away. The day has not even started, and I have one day left, so that shouldn't be it?! Brainstorming for solutions or things to do – what about taking a car? Can take up to 24h for them to process, but tried anyway. With a bit of luck, I had a car ready at 15:00!

So strolled around, awkwardly watching people living their daily life. To my surprise, most of the people spoke Swedish! And literally all of them seemed very leaned back and introverted. Something I hadn't expected in that combination. As it was slowly time for check-in, went towards the hotel. On the way, I saw so many embassies along the way. Germany, Russia, Sweden etc. Just a fact at this point: All of them were built like regular houses and had no special protection, except for the Russians.

Grabbing something to eat, at the only Asian restaurant in the entire town. The worst food of my life. But it was okay still, serving its purpose.

Checked-In at 14:00, rested a bit and going to pick up the car. At 14:50 I was a proud owner of a white VW Polo (for the next 24 hours).

VW Polo & me

250 km are included, so that needs to be used! Probably won't go here again, so will use the time and make the best out of it. Shortly checked Maps with interesting places, set up a route, driving right away into the adventure.

First stop of the “Mini-Roadtrip”: Bomarsund. Quite a historical place with the ruins of a Prussian castle. Must admit that the ruins were not that impressive, but the surrounding landscape was astonishing.

View next to the ruins

From there went to Ödkarby, which is like a rural area, nothing special in any regards. A bit disappointed, went to the next stop: Eckerö.

Boat houses and frozen lake

The side towards the inside of the island looked so stunning, the water was still frozen and there was no one else. It has something really peaceful, also imagining how it will be in summer, when everyone is sailing, swimming, just enjoying the time.

Sea view

The view of the sea was different, the rocks are very red on the entire island. If my research on this is not wrong, this is rapakivi granite. Although the stones look gray on the outside, they are really red on the inside, you also can see some on the right side. Two gorgeous sides of the same coin.

From there, driving to Styrsoe. And the road there was so spectacular, the fanciest I ever took in my life.

Road through the sea

Also stopped further down the road, wherever possible, to dedicate time to this spectacular view.

Another part of the road

At some point, I stopped realizing which islands I had actually been driving on, according to my Google Maps timeline, I almost drove until Järsö. It was just really nice driving, also the speed limit there, depending on the section, allows 50/70/90 km/h which made it a really pleasant experience. Loved driving there, and at the end it was almost about 160 km of driving. A total of 3:11h in the car, according to the board computer. Feeling a bit bad about the “unnecessary pollution” from driving, but it was worth the experience for me.

Arriving at the Hotel, after a short stop at the grocery store to grab something to drink and fruit, enjoyed the view from my hotel room.

View from the hotel room

All in all, it was really a long day, saw a lot, spectated plenty of people. It is an entirely different kind of mindset compared to what I have seen in Scandinavia so far. It's fascinating to see such a small independent country (that somehow is also part of Finland still …) composed of connected islands. For a dedicated flight or trip, it would not have been worth it for me.

Never thought, I would spontaneously rent a car for a day and drive around a small independent island group / state on my EU trip, or probably ever. Satisfied in the end to have done it. Definitely an experience that will stay forever in my memory.

04.04 – Last day in Åland & Ferry to Helsinki

TODO: Add images (doesnt work because of internet block on ferry)

Learning from my mistakes, got up already late around 09:00, went to the breakfast, the first proper one for years. Spent the rest of the time sleeping in the hotel room until noon. Now it was a lot warmer outside, which made it a lot easier.

Checking-Out, using the rest of my included kilometers and rental time to drive toward Lumperland, the only island which I haven't been to yet, that is accessible by car.

Red streets, colored from the granite they seem to use for everything here

Stopped by in Jomala on Lemmland for the nice view over the frozen lake there.

Frozen lake

They way to the water and the place in general was a bit steeper. Although not really a hill. After a while, the locals seemed to cut down some trees, resulting in noisy chainsaw action. So decided to let them do their thing and go on.

Lemmland itself was, itself, really different from the rest of the islands. A lot more forest area, less water. Moreover, not many people seemed to live there.

Since my rental period almost ended, as it was already 13:00, and had the car until 15:00 drove towards Mariehamn again. Stopped by at Nabbens Våtmark, featuring a really delightful wooden way through the area. In the end, I used 230 km and drove for five hours. The car  rental was worth it, for sure.

On the path (to heaven?)

Twenty minutes before the end of my rental period, returned the car after filling it up. From there, going on with my backpack through almost all the streets that the town had to offer. As I still had almost seven hours until departure, decided to go towards the harbor to see if my backpack can be dropped off there at a luggage locker. Fortunately, it was possible, so dropped by backpack there, having my bag for the rest of the day with me containing the basics.

Strolling around the streets, along the water, watching locals doing their thing. Ended up at the other side of the island, where there was a steep hill towards the coast. Thought it might be worth it, went up there, through the snow and besides a fence barbed wire. And yes, the cliff had a nice view to offer.

View from cliff

Hanging out there for a few hours, enjoying the warmth of the sun as well as the view. Then I heard some German people talking. No freaking way! Literally, everywhere where I have been so far, there were Germans. Even on a cliff, off-season somewhere in Scandinavia.

As the sun raised down slowly, decided to go back to the cruise terminal to wait there. Unfortunately, it was closed and would open up one hour before departure. 23:45 was a long time away, so went to the grocery store for now. Warming up a bit and grabbing ear plugs for the rest of the journey. All the cafés were already closed, the next bar a bit far away. So decided to walk around keeping warm, as long as the sun was there, that worked out. Ended up at the grocery store (again), warming up.

On the way back to the cruise terminal (no, this is not the actual ferry)

A good hour before departure, walked back, only to find the cruise terminal still closed.  There was also a lady waiting, after saying Hej, we started a long conversation. She was actually from Finland, here for a job interview at the government. In agriculture, she actually also met the whole government, since their office would be next to hers. Furthermore, to my surprise, she told me, there is usually not that much snow in April on the islands. As we had to wait really until departure, we talked a lot about this and that. After asking where I was from, she switched to german, which she said was easier for her than talking in english. Chit-chatted a bit until we both got into our cabins.

05.04 – Helsinki

Staying on the ferry was a very pleasant experience again, could also sleep really peacefully thanks to the ear plugs. In the morning got a message from my host on Thursday in Helsinki via Couchsurfing already giving me a few nice tips. Someone from Valga responded, so maybe can also utilize Couchsurfing there. For today will stay at the Airbnb overnight, also wash my stuff again in the evening.

Coming out of the ferry, it was light, but there was no sun, so a typical day here, as the charming lady told me. Although she said it was pretty sunny the last weeks, so possibly just bad luck today.

My first stop, although I am not the “church tourist”, was the cathedral Uspenski. Quite fun to watch, but the firefighters taking photos with a car in front of it was more amusing for me.

When the visit so lit, the firefighters have to calm it down (sorry had to bring this one)

Subsequently went to the tram museum, was really curious how they looked like in the old days, especially since it is a lot colder here. Quite nice, you can freely move around in many of the old trains, leading to a different experience.

Feeling like in the ol' days

Hungry, went to a Lebanese restaurant for lunch. It not only looked really delicious, but also tasted it. Completely forgot to take a picture … sorry about that.

Strolling around for a few hours around the city. And it really felt weird, even at rush hour it was pretty quiet. Even the full tram was almost completely quiet. Everyone was staring at the floor or outside the window. It was the same on the streets, so quiet as everyone seemed to be really introverted. For me, that was a really odd atmosphere. Didn't see anyone who was exceptional in some way as well. Okay, that sounds a bit harsh, but that's what I observed. Hearing jokes like “How can you spot an extrovert in Finland – He looks at your shoes instead of his own”, thought this was just an extreme rare thing? More of an exaggeration, but that was exactly true for most people.

Streets, stores as well all felt a bit boring, it was all clean, even though some houses looked a bit messed up, but that was really an exception. It was not really polished like experienced in Switzerland. More on the boring side of things.

Still had an hour until check-in at the Airbnb. Hanging out a bit in a coffee near the place. Arriving there, right in time like a good german, was already greeted by Dadas. He welcomed me, we got in the elevator, dropped my backpack in the room. He was really curious and interested in why, how long I would stay in Finland and so on. We also talked about the trip, his life as a DJ and YouTuber.

Felt a bit tired, so went for a short nap, shortly after waking up, he knocked at my door. “Hey, there is a student here, from Austria – in case you are keen to join our conversation” – curiously went to the room next to mine, where a young student from Austria was greeting me with a hug. She is doing an abroad semester here in Finland, just coming back from Norway. Still not sure where they knew each other from, for some reason also didn't ask. Talked a lot about travelling, Austria, life and Norway. Dadas moved here almost 15 years ago, while she was just here for a few months now. Both were fascinated, would even go that far and say in love with this introverted, silent atmosphere. Seems like in summer, as the days are longer, there are some crazy underground parties here, but that's not a reason for me to like it anymore. Simultaneously to our conversation could wash, dry and package my clothes, giving me more peace of mind.

With the clear intention to also use the rest of the day, went towards the sea-side, also hoping for a nice view from the harbor. As it was not really sunny today, the monotonous view just got worse. The Art wall, that seemed interesting on the images, was also just disappointing. A bit sad, went back to the Airbnb, wasted two hours. From there, just grabbing a snack from the bakery, returning to my place for the night.

Let's see what tomorrow brings, maybe Julia with Couchsurfing will change my view again. Obviously, also checked if I missed something from the landscape here, but very generally spoken there is much I haven't seen in some way in Norway, Sweden, or Denmark already. So, this part of the journey was really just for culture and people.

06.04 – Helsinki Day 2

Sleeping until noon to avoid the cold in the morning. After coordinating with my host for today, Julia decided to go to Suomenlinna first and come to their place later on. Originally, the intention was to visit Sveaborg and explore the island. So took the ferry to there, and the whole atmosphere was not there, simply. Still decided to go to the castle, which really gave some Cold War vibes.

On the island

Not even an hour later, took the ferry back, a bit disappointed by the experience. Checking my phone, got a couchsurfing offer for Tallinn, tomorrow.

From there took the train to my couchsurfing host, orientation worked out pretty good, so got there right at the time we agreed on. Opening the door, the first thing I saw, they had a pull request open. So talked about tech first. As they needed to go out for a walk to free her mind, went outside talking about LGBTQ, life, tech, and life here. Not really surprisingly, they had the same experience with people here in Finland. Introverted, sometimes even a bit awkward trying not to meet people.

The rest of the evening/night we talked while they played Dead by Daylight and Chess with some breaks in between. Really fascinating background with Russian parents, living in Finland. Due to school and family spoke english, Finnish, Swedish, and Russian. Also took a look at the current project for university, gave them a few tips as well as making their pipeline a bit more robust. They were pleased about it, making their life easier in the future.

Before going to bed, they asked me if I wouldn't be bored or annoyed by people asking the same questions or stuff that I do every day in private. Everyone who met me, knows that's definitely not the case. Can talk about tech all day and wouldn't be bored. That conversation made me realize how much I actually missed tech stuff during the trip. For future trips, maybe work & travel is a better choice for me or not a longer time without doing something tech related at least.

06.04 – Tallinn

Since I went to bed pretty late yesterday, had around five hours of sleep. A bit sleepy, went to the train, from there to the cruise terminal in Helsinki. This time, didn't make the mistake of arriving there too early and having to wait outside. Already from far you could see the crowd, waiting in the departure hall. Plenty of human crowds, babies screaming and annoying voices could finally get on the ferry. Really, an interesting mixture of languages here, can't really identify all of them. My couchsurfing host for today hasn't yet responded to my confirmation to the stay, as a backup still have a hostel, so hoping for the Best here.

Going off the ferry, which took ages, since so many people were on it, went to the old quarter of Tallinn. As the people got less, it was a fascinating language mix. Finnish, Estonian, a lot of American English, also, to my surprise, a lot of german. The old town of the city was really nice and charming. Walking by different kind of building styles, architectures, and centuries. From wooden buildings, brick stone buildings, regular stone houses, panel buildings, over skyscrapers in the background. A good half of them looked like they were abandoned, but you could see from people going out of the houses, or decorations behind the curtains that there live folks.

One of the charming streets

The town wall, one of the things I was most looking forward to, really was well integrated into the city, giving it a really charming look

Me at the town wall

When coming out more in the residential area, you had plenty of panel buildings. Just assuming, at this point, most of them are still from the USSR. While most people find them kind of ugly, sometimes even sad, from my perspective that is a good and efficient way of providing payable space for numerous humans.

Panel buildings next to the tram rails

As my host didn't respond by 17:00 decided to checked-in at the hostel. Going from there, I accidentally crossed the central station. You heard right, accidentally. Also serving as a passage for pedestrians, walked by, returning a few minutes later, realizing this was actual the central station of the capital. Really, a pity I won't use the trains here, but just heard too many bad stories in these forums and that is a mess to use the interrail pass in the Baltic States. So will sadly have to buy bus tickets between the three countries.

Especially from the way of the center, assumed that it would be rush hour, the traffic was a bit more compared to when I arrived, but it was still pretty quiet. Everyone was driving really civilized, no honking or anything like that. Furthermore, the entire atmosphere is really leaned back, no one seems to be rushing.

Check-in at the hostel was really smooth, most signs are in Russian, but that doesn't genuinely matter since I have to use Google Lens for them anyway. The lady at the counter was really friendly, especially after she saw I am from Germany, for some reason.

Resting a bit and ordering Georgian food, which, by the way, was excellent. But again I messed up creating a proper image, the one I took doesn't tribute the actual taste, which was really astonishing. Unfortunately, couldn't find an Estonian restaurant that made me feel like I needed to go there, which at the end was the right decision for me.

With refreshed energy and mental capacity, strolled around also more in the residential area and also towards the harbor. The feeling here is not describable for me, not in a particular or good manner. Trying to describe it as feeling as the city has a cold soul, but the people are really warm-hearted, but also very leaned back and calm. Really never encountered such an atmosphere before, which made me wonder.

On the way back to the hostel, also stopped by at a grocery store, already expected the prices to be lower here, than in the other countries. Especially coming from Scandinavia, the prices were looking really low.

After a long day and plenty of impressions, decided to chill for the rest of the day and go to bed early. Especially, since I didn't sleep too much the night before.

Recap of the seventh travel week

Åland was a fascinating experience for me. Never had been on an island group before, driving there was really a special thing, definitely an experience that will persist in my mind.

Finland is the least attractive Scandinavian country for me, simply because of the people. My ranking would be in order from high to low sympathy:

  1. Sweden
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Finland

Estonia has really given me an unexpected positive experience, also a strange feeling that I need to figure out. The Baltic States were never really on my radar until now, so pretty excited about how the other two countries in the bundle will be. Maybe will have to do a dedicated trip, or even work & travel here, but lets see what the next week will bring.

Looking for other posts around the trip? - Check out the tag EU-Trip 2023