Sunday Special – Åland Islands, Finland


Want to practice you Swedish while in Finland? Then head to the autonomous Finnish archipelago of Åland, just off it’s southwestern coast, in the Baltic Sea. This region of Finland is completely neutral, demilitarized, and is strictly Swedish speaking and has been since 1921. It is comprised of 6,700 named islands and 20,000 that they haven’t named (that would be a big project). I’ve heard you can even rent an island if you so wish.

The capital of Mariehamn is a wonderful starting point and is best explored by foot. It seems a quaint city with plenty to explore and cafes to rest your wandering feet.  Island-hopping is a popular way to see a number of these islands. Take a ferry and go off to see the Franciscan monastery on Kökar or explore the historical paintings on the church in Kumlinge.  Looking to stay active? Then cycling, hiking, fishing, and spending time on the water in a canoe or kayak are available. And don’t forget to try some of the local craft beer produced by Stallhagen with many varieties. They have even recreated the world’s oldest known beer when a crate of the beer was salvaged from a shipwreck at least 170 years old. Now that is a brewery that I can admire.

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Stallhagen’s historic beer – looks tasty! – Photo credit: Jonnie NordStallhagen Historic BeerCC BY-SA 4.0

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View of ship in Mariehamn, capital city of the Aland Islands, Finland – Photo credit: DigrAX Mariehamn viewCC BY-SA 4.0

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Kokar Island, one of the numerous Aland Islands in Finland – Photo credit: MuymuymyuKokarCC BY-SA 3.0

 

 

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Sunday Special – Sardinia, Italy


Note: I apologize for note posting the last couple of weeks. I’ve had some personal issues to deal with. Though I will continue on now.

Time for island life! Let’s head to the Mediterranean Sea to Sardinia. This autonomous island of Italy is the second largest island in the Med. The island has numerous languages spoken there and all of them share equal recognition.  The capital city is Cagliari which is also the largest city.  The main draws of this destination are the lily-white beaches offset by the bluest waters. Along with beach life comes water sports along the lines of windsurfing, boating, surfing, scuba diving – to name a few. Although these are the biggest tourist draws there is some more to this warm and balmy island.

Heading into the interior of the island will take you away from the tourist crowds to where some locals reside. The topography is rocky and hilly with some of the oldest rocks in Europe. Much of them are part of the Gennargentu Range. There is even a ski resort in the area and Gennargentu National Park.  The interior also is home to a number of ancient megalithic structures dating back to the Nuragic Civilization of the Bronze and Iron Ages. Appearing to be buildings, these Nuraghes are listed with the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It would seem you have a bit of variety on this Mediterranean island. Perhaps I’ll have to make a trip out there one day soon.

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The clear and blue waters of La Pelosa Beach, Sardinia – Photo credit: goldpicasa, Stintino, La Pelosa beach – panoramio (1)CC BY 3.0

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One of Sardinia’s lush beaches – Photo credit: trevis_lu (Luca Giudicatti), Spiaggia rosa, isola di budelli, sardegnaCC BY-SA 2.0

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An ancient Nuraghe found on Sardinia, Italy – Photo credit: WikibiroGonnesa-Seruci02CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunday Special – Meteora Monasteries, Greece


On the mainland of Greece in the Plain of Thessaly are unique rock pillars that rise up from the ground. Composed of a blend of conglomerate and sandstone they were formed millions of years ago by the earth’s movements and eventual wear resulting in astonishing vertical pillars reaching for the heavens. This area is known as Meteora which means “suspended in the air”. Perhaps that is what the builders of the Eastern Orthodox monasteries were aiming for, to be closer to the heavens along with a place of quiet and isolation. The monks that originally dwelt here were master rock climbers, scaling the daunting cliff sides to make their way to the buildings they erected. Over time they used pulley and ladder systems to make their way up the pillars and to the the neighbouring monasteries. When the Turks invaded (or danger was imminent) the ladders and ropes were reigned in and helped to ensure the survival of those residing in the 24 complexes of the time. Today only six remain and are still in use. In 1988 they were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today visitors are welcome to explore the monasteries and neighbouring town of Kalambaka. Along with the area’s history it also draws people in with its natural beauty and hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing options. 

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Meteora, Greece – Photo credit: LucT, Stefanos Monastery, Meteora – panoramioCC BY-SA 3.0

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Meteora Monasteries, Greece – Photo credit: Thanos KoliogiorgosMeteora monastery 2CC BY-SA 4.0

 

Sunday Special – Tikal, Guatemala


Found in the dense Guatemalan rain forests in the northeast of this Central America country are the ruins of ancient Mayans. One of the largest and most significant archaeological sites is Tikal. This pre-Colombian city was an important political, military, and economic area and was inhabited from 600 BCE to 900 CE.  The site of  Tikal not only includes its buildings and monuments it encompasses the vast jungle and nature surrounding it. The area is located within Tikal National Park in the Peten Province and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, including both the historic buildings and the diverse nature of the land.  Tikal is a popular place to visit by both those touring Guatemala and day trippers from Belize’s San Ignacio Town as it’s only 2 hours away.

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A wild turkey making its way around Tikal – Photo credit: Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, Wild Turkey Struts by Temple II – Gran Plaza – Tikal Archaeological Site – Peten – Guatemala (15870775832)CC BY-SA 2.0