We decided to travel the slow route to Sweden rather than take a direct ferry from Turku to Stockholm, as our harbourside neighbours were doing.
Here they are the night before departure showing just how hard it is to wild camp inconspicuously when your bed is on your van roof.
We went along the south west coast and drove into the Turku Archipelago, going by road as far as could and when the road ran out….
….by the free ferry the rest of the way to the island of Nagu.
We planned to spend one night wild camping there but the island wasn’t quite what we expected. The coastline was mostly hidden by trees …..
…and Galtby, the spot which on the map looked like it could be idyllic, was right beside a military zone.
…so not what we envisaged for a relaxing night’s camping.
On the spur of the moment, we decided to skip the Turku archipelago altogether and move on to the Aland islands a day earlier than we’d booked – if we could that is. The only ferry off the island that day was full. We watched as all those with reservations boarded…
….and thanks to a ‘no show’ got the last space on the crossing to Kokar, one of the smallest of the 6,700 Aland Islands which lie between Finland and Sweden. The islands are a part of Finland – though the relationship with the mother country is a bit complicated- but the first language is Swedish and the islands have their own government, flag and postal service.
Kokar was exactly what we’d hoped for… a bit scrubby and rocky but not hidden by dense forest.
And the campsite beside a little harbour was probably the nicest we’d ever stayed in..there was something very chilled out and relaxed about the place. We spent a couple of days there, one day exploring on foot…
…and the next day..
…by bike…which took a few attempts to capture on film.
Nope, too far…
…eh, wrong way….
And we achieved our aim of having a sauna where you cool off in the sea. No shots from inside the sauna (thankfully!) but here’s our view along the boardwalk into the the Baltic.
Get chewing the hat Susan – the water was wonderful! Cold but not icy so it was bracingly refreshing.
We were sorry to leave the little island of Kokar but it was time to move on to the biggest of the Aland islands and to its main (only!) town Mairehamn.
We boarded another ferry….
…and by staying at least one night on the smaller island saved ourselves around 400 euro thanks to a fare structure designed to encourage the spread of tourism.
In Mariehamn, we visited the excellent Maritime Museum where you can walk into the luxurious captain’s saloon from the Herzogin Cecile , the barque which mysteriously ran aground off the Devon coast in 1936. Here’s the actual room…..
.. complete with maple panelling and skylight, as salvaged from the ship before it sank under the waves.
The captain’s wife Pamela recounts her experience of the wreck and salvage in her book ‘The Duchess’ which I bought at the museum and look forward to reading to find out more about this intriguing story.
We spent our afternoon at this….
….along with Viking children….
…listening to a Viking rock band….
….watching Viking fire lighting…
….and some Vikings fighting….
…but some things were for Viking eyes only.
Next day the market over, it was back to reality for those vikings. No longboat for the two hour crossing to Stockholm, just a car ferry along with the rest of us civilians.
And before leaving the Aland Islands, we had some local fare…three types of fish, salmon, herring, mackerel and potato salad served with black rye bread.
So hello Sweden and hello Stockholm….
…where, of course, our first stop had to be the ABBA Museum.
Before delving into the group’s story there was a chance to relive some magical Eurovision history…
…ah, good man yourself Johnny…
…and how did I forget that it was Eurovision that gave Celine Dion her big break?
In the museum proper, we saw the costumes ABBA wore for ‘Waterloo’ in the Eurovision at Brighton…
…had numerous cheesey photo ops which, of course, could not be resisted……
And I had the honour of my life – the opportunity to sing on stage alongside Agnetha, Frieda, Benny and Bjorn.
‘And I say thank you for the music……’ I think it’s going well but maybe throw in some dance moves for the big finish….
Yes, it was a privilege to sing with these legends. I never in my wildest dreams expected this would happen on our trip…….
‘Holograms? What do you mean? Don’t crush my dreams people!
Up the road from the Abba Museum, we headed to Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum. It was dotted with farmsteads and grand homes from the different regions of Sweden and dating back to different periods of Swedish history.
And there were a few specimens of the local wildlife too.
….and the most famous of all ….the moose.
Our first impression was that it was all a bit Disneyland-ish what with the costumed guides and numerous retail opportunities with ye olde chip and pin machine (we are finding Sweden to be virtually cashless).
But it’s more authentic – the farmsteads have been moved timber by numbered timber from their original locations so we were walking round the original buildings albeit now in a new location.
And the guides were really interesting and happy to chat about the lifestyle of the families …..
…and very happy to indulge in the happy snapping.
About to leave the park, we followed the sounds of jazz where this great trio were making great music and were happy to indulge an audience member in some Sinatra crooning…
…so we stayed on to listen and in the queue for more drinks heard there was another jazz concert that evening on the park’s main stage.
If at the Positivus music festival in Latvia, we were the oldest by, say, 20 years, well here we were practically youngsters. It was like stepping on to the set of ‘Cocoon’ though the coolest Cocoon ever.. ..Judging by this audience, Swedish people do old age very, very well.
And from the hill at Skansen, there was a great view over Stockholm…
…though the best views came when we took the Hop On Hop Off boat and travelled between the city’s islands along the river…
..very happy to look at the funfair rides from a safe distance…
Up close we strolled around the old town which is pretty splendid….
…and did as the locals do and had fika – a small word which somehow summarises the Swedish custom of meeting friends for a coffee, chat and a cake…just like these ones cardamon flavoured bath buns.
At beer o’clock, we found plenty of options for good ale so Stuart can carry on his Beer Gallery research …
…and then it was dinner time where we felt we couldn’t leave Stockholm without trying a plateful of meatballs with lingonberries….
Stockholm is in festive mode preparing for the Pride parade later in the week but we will be missing it….
…and we will also be missing this event so will never find out what ‘very British things’ will be on sale. …
….as we are heading northwards up the coast of Sweden to join a VW rally.