Where ‘o Where are the Aland Islands?
August 2008: Aland Islands, Finland
I’m not entirely sure the Aland Islands exist because everyone I mentioned them to had never heard of them, including the tour agent who sold me the ticket there. You’d think that might have tipped me off that this is a place I didn’t want to go.
I was looking for a cheap way to get from Helsinki to Stockholm and the girl at the Finland state-sponsored tour desk sold me a “deck seat” on a boat leaving at 5:00 pm and arriving at the Aland Islands at 4:00 am the next morning.
I thought I could disembark the boat, wait around until sunrise, stash my backpack, then maybe rent a bike and explore the islands a bit before crashing at some semi-cheap hotel. I would stay on the islands for a total of 36 hours, then claim another “deck seat” for the 6-hour continuation trip to Stockholm. This was my grand plan. Now, I had just been on the hydrofoil to Tallinn, Estonia, which was lovely, so I figured that a “deck seat” would be just fine, like an airline seat. (Note: This is how I mostly travel…just figuring that it will all be OK!)
After I bought the boat passage, I tried to book a hotel on the Aland Islands for a night, but there were no hotels to be found — on the internet, in my trusty tour book or anywhere else. I was starting to get a little worried and the morning that I was due to sail, I went to the boat slip to talk to the crew myself. When I tried to check in, the girl at the check-in counter looked at me like I was crazy. (Well, yes, but what’s your point exactly?)
As it turns out the “deck seat” was just that: a wooden chair outside on an open deck that I had purchased the right to sit in all night. For two nights actually. This was obviously not ideal. It’s cold in Scandinavia – even in summer. With the boat clerk’s help, I ended up trading my deck seat for a shared berth in an inside cabin with 3 other women.
In a weird twist, the berth was actually cheaper than the “deck seat,” and I received 3 drink coupons in the transaction. Whoo-hoo! Iced vodka drinks here I come!
This little escapade turned out to be a genuine stroke of luck. The boat wasn’t any kind of ferry or hydrofoil, but a full-blown cruise ship – big enough to have carnival acts in stilts greet us as we embarked and a Bollywood show bonanza scheduled for later that night.
After a quick tour of the ship, I promptly positioned myself on the deck (yes, in a “deck seat” which was far more comfortable now that I knew I wouldn’t have to spend the night in it) to wave goodbye to the city of Helsinki and toast to my next destination of Stockholm.
Feeling mighty fine after trading in all three of my drink coupons, I headed straight to the outdoor, solarium-covered Jacuzzi garden.
Here I sat amidst the bubbles and literally counted my lucky stars. Ahhhhhh, I could nearly touch the heavens that night (and maybe, just maybe, that dude next to me in the Jacuzzi…Just joking!)
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 and is filed under Europe.