Baltic Islands

August was an unusually briny month for us, as we spent some time first in Iceland, and then a few more days in Stockholm, and then a week and a half with a Backroads tour around the Baltic Sea.  Several stops involved islands, including chances to paddle at a couple of places.

Stockholm itself is a largely island-based concept, like Venice (“holme” is the Swedish word for “island”) — but it’s also completely navagable by foot.  At the same time, the roughly 30,000 islands in its neighboring archipelago offer a change-of-pace from museum-going.  We had made arrangements with a company called Green Trails, which offers a variety of adventures, kayaking among them.

Our guide, Ben, drove us out through Ingarö to a wildlife reserve called Björnö.  Offered our choice of double kayaks, we picked a Looksha, as presenting a smaller profile on a somewhat breezy day.  We paddled out among some reeds and around a peninsula to a nice beach, entering the scene below from the left, and then landing at a spot beyond the little shed.

This place was the childhood home of Doris Stuga, whose family farmed and fished here, and whose donation forms one of three parts of the reserve.  Posters in Swedish and English relate her story, or it’s available electronically as well.

We ate lunch here after a pleasant nature walk to another sunny beach on the other side of the isthmus that lies beyond the boats.  We picked our own lingonberries and learned about other useful plants.  We had seen several osprey just after launching  (rarer than back home in Seattle) and possibly, at a great distance, a fish eagle, a bird with a six-foot wingspan.

Islands are such an important idea in Sweden that, if yours isn’t accessible by a bridge, the government offers to get you there by boat.  That principle helps to explain the charming scene below, one of many we saw later as we set out on our cruise:

Why are so many houses painted this same dark red color?   When it became fashionable to build structures with bricks, there weren’t enough to go around — the islands, like much of the country, are composed of granite.  The next best thing, apparently, was to paint houses a color that represented brick; and there it is.

The other island we visited before the start of our cruise was Vaxholm.  The fortifications in the picture below have been there since the 1500s to defend the city of Stockholm.  The clouds are there to tempt soaring pilots.  We arrived by a combination of speedboat and ferry, for the first day of riding with our Backroads trip.

There was one more paddling opportunity on this journey:  St. Petersburg! Our ship was docked there for three days, so there’s more to read about this stop on our page about the cruise.  On the third day about a dozen of us opted for kayaking, and we were taken to a rowing club on Krestovsky Island, given a brief demonstration of technique, and put into Wavesport (formerly Perception) Horizon kayaks, which have pairs of molded-in handles fore and aft. No attention was given to fitting, and I never located any foot pegs, but the weather was good and the outing was a lot of fun anyway.

Krestovsky was an early venue for all kinds of genteel outdoor sports.  Grand residences and, later, institutions sprang up in this little group of islands to the north of Petrogradsky.  There was more history here than time for telling, but for instance we paddled under the Old Bridge, where the body of Rasputin was found after he met his sad end.  I believe that this next picture is of a palace on Kamennyy  Island:

Such is the geography of the Baltic that, even after all this, we weren’t through with Swedish islands yet — we would later call at Gotland, to explore the town of Visby, which still has its medieval wall.



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