Story from the Taste of the Baltic Sea
A bubble of melancholy expands in my chest each time I look at the map thinking this back about my family’s road trip alongside the Baltic Sea coastline. We travelled a long way, and my God, there was so much to see and take in – museums, landmarks, and scenic overlooks kept us busy. We made new friends, strolled along some of the countless golden-sand beaches that extend to the ends of the horizon, took many boat trips, jumped on the islands, climbed lighthouses, went to historic places, took some good photo shots, wandered through towns and cities absorbing their atmosphere and discovering their charms. It was worth all the sleepless nights and effort we invested in planning and putting this project together. The smell of the sea, the views, the blowing winds and grey rainy clouds, the sun that burned brightly for most of the time, the rich natural and cultural heritage, and the people we met on our way – they were all part of our big adventure. I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
The Baltic Sea doesn’t work its magic straightaway and, at the first glance, it may lack the glamour of other seas – there are no great mountain ranges rising above its shore, no volcanos, and the waters are not the world’s warmest. But its beauty and temperament are subtler. Mystique waters, fiords, cliffs, sandy beaches, picturesque harbours, Medieval cities, the Scandinavian metropolis, and wild nature – all kinds of fantastic scenery pleasurably mixed with a rich history of the Viking Age and the era of the Hanseatic League. Moreover, the circumstances of the region – its climate, geography and sites, align perfectly with the Homer’s stories described in “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”, which is in the opposition to the conventional wisdom placing both poems in the Mediterranean world, but that’s a topic for another story.
It all got started with one single spark of inspiration in mid-2012. Having made a decision to set out, I and my wife Sylwia spent weeks planning our project. It was like one of those ‘dot to dots’ activities where, by joining up a few dots, you reveal a beautiful butterfly. The more closely we looked at the map, the more the journey grew in size and scale, so we started thinking of simple steps we could take, decided to split it into a few Episodes, and, bit by bit, adding just enough focus, passion, discipline and determination, we brought the journey to fruition.
The route begun in Stockholm, rolled to northern Sweden, then took us across the land of sauna – Finland, all the way south to Helsinki, and further down through the three Baltic republics – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. We continued our journey through Polish and German coastlines before traversing Denmark – home of the Little Belt, the Great Belt and the Øresund – three straits which drain and connect the Baltic Sea to the Kattegat, which drains further west to the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. And finally, we cruised the ‘Swedish Riviera’ and the Great Circle was completed in Stockholm.
It was like flipping through the pages of National Geographic.
We jumped on the picturesque island of Ulvön and were blown away by the stunningly beautiful Höga Kusten – the High Coast, stretching over dizzying landscape with many mountainous summits and valleys dipped down in the waters of the archipelago. We wandered through the streets of cosmopolitan Helsinki nestled in the archipelago of 315 green islands, and savoured aesthetic pleasures as we strolled around astonishingly well-preserved Old Town in Tallinn. We made a stop at the Cape Kolka, with the nearby waters being considered the most hazardous when navigating the Baltic Sea, and crushed for a day at the Curonian Spit – a 98 km long piece of land created by wind and tides that shaped the highest drifting dunes in Europe, with Parnidis Dune being its crowning glory. We swing by the cobblestone streets in Gdańsk discovering some of its most important sites and saw spectacular Chalk Cliffs in the Jasmund National Park on the island of Rügen. We got seduced by Copenhagen and its colourful façades along the Nyhavn canal. We visited the mysterious and intriguing island of Gotland and spent a day on Fårö, just off north of Gotland, allowing our eyes to absorb some amazing sceneries and taking a quintessential photo of Helgumannens fishing village. We enjoyed a rough beauty and fresh air of Ålands archipelago – a little Paradise at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. And finally, we experienced charms of the pastel-coloured Gamla Stan in Stockholm where we explored gift shops and were inspired to pick up some souvenirs.
When we hit the road in the first Episode, our daughter Klara was only a year old and Laura was three. I thought about the challenge it was for them – the constant movement, early mornings, and different beds for each night. In the same time, it has been an amazing experience to observe them evolving into avid globetrotters with each of the Episodes that followed after. We travelled for a total of 70 days returning to the region at various times between years 2013-2017 and covering more than 6000 kilometres of the coastline. Now, when the Circle has been completed, I can get a real sense of the scale and the size of the Baltic Sea – it just seems like we have seen only a small portion of it all. But it was much more than to circumnavigate the entire region with thousands of kilometres in between. It was about spending quality, uninterrupted time together.
Someone said that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Those who truly believe in their dreams are willing to work for them, to take the necessary steps to turn fantasy into reality, and wishful thinking into positive action. I know that it’s not always easy to follow our dreams, but I believe in the power of setting goals and working towards them. Part of the process is just to try. If we fail, then that’s fine, as long as we give it a good chance. But bringing ideas to life – from the beginning to the end – certainly gives a Zen-like experience of enlightenment and satisfaction.