Saturday, 04 November 2017
A bubble of melancholy expands in my chest each time I look at the map thinking this back on my family’s journey alongside the Baltic Sea coastline. So, I thought I would tell a bit of our story and zip the adventure in a single essay. The purpose for our project was also to increase awareness of numerous treasures of the region. It was not always easy to keep the account of all of them, but you will find here a reference to numerous sites, landmarks and scenic overlooks.
Fantastic scenery pleasurably mixed with rich history
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 volcanoes, and the waters are not the world’s warmest. But its beauty and temperament are more subtle. Mystique waters, fiords, cliffs, sandy beaches, picturesque harbors, 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 which places both poems in the Mediterranean world, but that’s a topic for another story.
Nice little full circle story
With one single spark of inspiration it all got started 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, 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 through Skagerrak to the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. And finally, we cruised the ‘Swedish Riviera’, progressed north, and the circle was completed in Stockholm.
When we hit the road, Klara was only a year old and Laura was three and a half. They are five and a half and eight now, and it has been an amazing experience to observe them evolving into avid globetrotters. We traveled for a total of 70 days returning to the region at various times between years 2013-2017 and covering more than 6000 kilometers of the coastline. And my God, there was so much to see and take in, that I think it’s not even possible to point out the most beautiful places, because there were simply so many of them…
Alice in Wonderland
We were blown away by the stunningly beautiful Höga Kusten - the High Coast in Sweden, stretching over dizzying landscape with many mountainous summits and valleys dipped down in the waters of the archipelago, or by the Finish island of Hailuoto, which appeared from the sea only less than 2000 years ago. On the island of Hiiumaa, in Estonia, we were rewarded with a spectacular view from the 42.5 meters tall Tahkuna Lighthouse, while standing at the Kape Kolka, in Latvia, we could feel the power of the nature as the nearby waters are considered to be the most hazardous when navigating the Baltic Sea. We were on the Curonian Spit, in Lithuania - 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 took a stroll alongside beautiful beaches in Krynica Morska, Ustka, Kołobrzeg, Rewal or Świnoujście on the Polish coastline, before jumping on the German island of Rügen where we saw dramatic Chalk Cliffs in the Jasmund National Park. The legend says that when God was well near done with creating Scandinavia, he was left with a bit of superfluous material from the creation: a little water, earth, rifts, dales, fine-grained sand, and not least cliffs and large rocks; he threw it all into the heart of the Baltic Sea, and today, this beautiful Danish island is known as Bornholm, which was one of our destinations. We cruised across the Øresund - a strait which forms the Danish-Swedish border; the road that links both countries tunnels under the water for about 4km, then goes through an artificial island for another 4km, and finally sails over it through the mighty Øresund Bridge for 8km, and it’s one of the engineering marvels to be admired for its own sake. We enjoyed an off-season routine on the Swedish island of Gotland which is like Mount Fuji for Japan or Grand Canyon for the United States, and experienced an unspoiled nature and fresh air of the Åland Islands, which are considered to be one of the most underrated travel destinations in the world - those who seek Paradise on Earth should definitely come and see this beautiful archipelago nestled at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. It was also hard not to get seduced by cosmopolitan Helsinki - the Daughter of the Baltic, dominated by the magnificent Helsinki Cathedral, or by Copenhagen with its colorful façades along the Nyhavn canal, or by Stockholm with its vibrant pastel-colored Gamla Stan. We felt in love with the Old Towns in Tallinn, Riga and Gdańsk, and got a first-hand look at the charm of Lübeck - the “Queen of the Hanse”.
Now, when our project 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.
We made new friends, strolled along some of the countless golden-sand beaches that extended to the ends of the horizon, took many boat trips, jumped on the islands, climbed lighthouses, sat in cafeterias drinking coffee and eating ice creams, 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.
Never be shy about seeking help from others
But, I must admit that we couldn’t have done it all alone. Maybe that’s the best thing that we’ve learnt and could share with our little daughters - never be shy about seeking wisdom and help from others! There seems to be also an unwritten law, that when we are doing something for the money or the fame it can bring to us, people will sense it, but when we are doing something for love, people start being generous to us. It just made me amazed how people, and the companies they represented, were open to make things easier for us - it’s unbelievable feeling to know that life is not just business, work and money. May the generosity they shared with us be returned to them a hundredfold. [Readers, please see the thank-you list here.]
Big dreams often come in small packages
Family travelling is a fabulous way to strengthen the relationship between parents and children, that’s so much a part of the kids’ education. Discovering new places, meeting new people, trying new things together, in many ways is far more important than any lessons obtained from years in schools. As parents, we strive to give our daughters the best possible childhood and upbringing, and I believe that giving up the comforts of our own home, taking them on the trips and exposing to new environments since their early days, is going to be the best investment in their education.
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.
The journey alongside the Baltic Sea coastline was our dream. The dream became a goal, the goal became an adventure and the adventure became a pivotal point of our life and a prelude to our future family-travels. It proved that nothing is impossible if we apply certain amount of energy in the right direction. We wanted to do it, we said that we are going to do it, and we made it happened. What a great lesson it was for our little daughters.
For the whole generations the Baltic Sea was a world of trade, work and pleasures, hopes and tragedies, warfare and conflicts. People used to come there from the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, or by way of rivers - the Tornionjoki, Kemijoki, Neva, Daugava, Vistula or Oder. With all the personal memories and stories it carries it’s a curious region worth exploring - a charming place for travelers and summer vacationers, but sometimes life-threatening for professional sailors.
I’m going to close this essay for now and get on with other travel projects I wish to tackle together with my family. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, so please give us your thumb up on our Facebook. Big dreams often come in small packages - it’s the small things done consistently, that make our big dreams come true. And remember, you are not alone, and you are better than you think - never stop dreaming, never rest, move around and make each day a new horizon…
Much love to you and yours,
Michal & Family