Our evening routine has become quite simple and boring; I let him snore on the sofa, and I work with my laptop until midnight when I finally pull him up from the couch and force him to continue
snoring sleeping in the bedroom. When the weekend arrives, so arrive Daniel’s children, which means our house is full of bustle until Sunday. On Monday we go back to our boring routines.
To get a little break from this routine, I wanted to plan a small birthday surprise for Daniel. With the help of his colleague, I organised him a day off from work for the Friday following his birthday in mid-May. In the morning of his actual birthday, he found a mysterious birthday poem taped on the steering wheel of the car.
For the following week I kept dropping annoying hints on Daniel’s Facebook page about where we might be going and how should he prepare for the upcoming trip. The target was that he wouldn’t have a clue where we’re heading to until we’re at our destination.
It was such a shame that our dear friend Facebook ruined the surprise.
How I ended up choosing Åland Islands?
I had a few criteria that our surprise holiday destination needed to meet. First of all, I wanted it to be far enough from home for us to leave the boring routines and work stress behind. But not too far – we only had a long weekend to spare, and I wanted to leave enough time for relaxing and, well, being lazy. And for us two, of course.
Usually, our trips are far away from a relaxing holiday. A hotel room is booked only for sleeping. During the day we’re exploring the new destination either by foot or, in the case of a road trip, by car. On a city break, we might easily walk 35 kilometres a day. As much as I love it, our way of travelling has nothing to do with resting and relaxing.
I ended up planning a cottage holiday in Åland Islands, the weird and autonomous group of islands resting at the Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden. Why weird? Well, Åland belongs to Finland, but only a few people actually speak Finnish there. In Åland, the language is Swedish and even the speed limits on the roads are Swedish, but it’s all Finland, my friends. And my British-born spouse had never ever stepped a foot on Åland Islands, which made it a perfect weekend getaway destination.
For years, Daniel and I have shared a dream of a beach house by the sea. A cottage holiday in Åland Islands would prepare us perfectly for this dream, because… well, it has to become reality one day, there’s no other option.
What also made Åland Islands such a perfect destination was that thanks to the car ferries from Turku to Mariehamn, we were able to travel by our own car. In case we’d get bored with relaxing and being lazy, it would be very easy to explore the islands by car. I had already done my explorations on my earlier trips to Åland, so I wouldn’t feel sorry if we never left the cottage. On the other hand, if we did, Åland Islands would still have plenty of new adventures for one more visit.
In Åland Island, we had all the options available. Exactly what I wanted.
At this point, the destination would have been quite clear even without Facebook ruining the surprise. Can you sense the excitement?
Relaxing started already on the ferry. Weekend getaways are ♥
Big Brother is watching you – How Facebook ruined the surprise
So, it was clear I would organise a cottage holiday in Åland Islands, but I didn’t even consider any of the many cottage villages. I wanted us to have a complete privacy, with no other tourists nearby. I found a cottage called Mickelsöstugan on Airbnb, and it seemed perfect for our purposes. Located on the island of Töftö, right next to the main island and approximately 40 kilometres from Mariehamn, this cottage would have all the advantages of a private beach house with fewer costs and much better views than any hotel room could ever provide.
For the whole week, I kept giggling at Daniel’s attempts to guess our destination. During that week, I learned a lot about my other half: he’s not particularly keen to mysterious surprises. For every guess and question, I answered the same way. “Oh, but I don’t know.”
My vague answers really annoyed him. Occasionally they annoyed him so much that at some point I thought I’d take this trip by myself.
Despite a few snarls from Daniel’s part, I had such a fun week with my hints and secrets. Until the day prior to the departure our dear friend Facebook f***ed it up.
How is that possible?
Mickelsöstugan cottage has a Facebook page. To thank the cottage owner for keeping such a good contact and sharing great tips for our upcoming trip, I liked the page. Little did I know that Facebook would show my ‘liking activity’ to Daniel.
“So, we’re going to Åland”, he called out after returning from work on Thursday evening.
“Damn, f***ing Facebook.”
The lesson learned: we live in a digital world now. There’s no room for secrets and surprises on the digital era. Big Brother is watching you day and night ruining even the best-kept secret when you least expect it.
A surprise that surprised even after exposing
As much as I wanted to keep our getaway destination as a mystery until the very end, the big exposure came with some positives: the birthday boy did all the driving. I was left with the codriver’s role. Once we arrived at Mariehamn harbour, we headed for the Töftölinjen cable ferry and the cottage in Mickelsön, the island of Töftö.
Sure, I had read carefully the Swedish description of the cottage on Airbnb and looked through all the photos several times before booking, but God, how my excitement grew the closer we got to the cottage. During the short drive, we were admiring the Archipelago Sea sparkling in the May sun, the deer cheerfully leaping at the edge of the forest and the red-glowing roads of Åland Islands. The short cable ferry trip was like stunning fireworks of sunshine, approaching summer and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes.
Åland Islands is a fantastic travel destination, even for a Finn: it’s in Finland, but it feels just like abroad!
In spite of all the information I had about the cottage, it was all we ever wanted, if not even more. As close to the sea as a cottage could be. As cosy as a cottage could be. So authentic, so traditional… and so peaceful. Nothing like the crowded holiday villages where you need to share a sauna with 20 other guests. Besides the private, very recently renovated sauna, there was a rowing boat, a barbeque and a large and sunny summer terrace decorated with utterly beautiful sea views.
This is the place to be.
Dinner for two, anyone?
A surprise trip doesn’t need to cost a fortune
Whether you’re arriving at Åland Islands from Finland or Sweden, travelling there is easy and very affordable. Excluding fuel and food, this trip cost me less than 100 euros per person. In Finland, I’d hardly get a night in a hotel for the same amount.
The return trip with Viking Line ferry between Turku and Mariehamn cost 59 euros for 2 adults and 1 car. The rent of the cottage was 70 euros a day (Airbnb charged a 22 euro booking fee on top of the rent). After using a 25 euro PayPal voucher, I ended up paying 137 euros for our two-night stay at the cottage. It would have been extremely difficult, if not even impossible, to find a cottage in the mainland with this price.
Excluding the fuel, our travel expenses were 98 euros per person for a 3-day getaway. It means less than 33 euros per day. As stated in the post title, a cottage holiday in Åland Islands was worth every cent.
If you enjoy a little wine, beer or sparkling, you can purchase them quite cheaply on the ferry. We spent approximately 60 euros on our drinks and ended up bringing the most back home. For groceries, we spent 30 euros in the local supermarket. We brought some of the food back home as well. Having your own car as a travel companion has many advantages.
A cottage holiday in Åland Islands gave us two, as a couple, exactly what we needed. There’s no more snarling caused by stress, fatigue or annoying surprises. Instead the lame sentences like “I love you” and “yes, dear” have returned to our daily routines.
The best of all, even after a week it still feels like we’ve been to a proper holiday abroad, even if we never left the country. Åland Islands are very different to the Finnish mainland, and they’re worth travelling to, even if you’ve been to Finland before. And my British-born other half is still convinced we were in Sweden.
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