Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2010/22 posted by hidden europe on

While much of the world worries about the possible impact of rising sea levels on coastal communities, the Kvarken islands have the opposite problem. This archipelago in the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland is still on the rebound - as it were - after having been relieved of the burden of ice that covered the region during the last Ice Age.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

While much of the world worries about the possible impact of rising sea levels on coastal communities, the Kvarken islands have the opposite problem. This archipelago in the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland is still on the rebound - as it were - after having been relieved of the burden of ice that covered the region during the last Ice Age. So the Kvarken islands have been rising for the past few thousand years and look set to keep doing so for a while yet.

Folk in the Kvarken islands are pretty used to dealing with the everyday oddities caused by living on an area of land that is gradually rising. Harbours silt up, properties built on the coast find themselves stranded inland and adjacent islands merge into single entities.

The long term prospects for RG Line, the company that runs the ferry service from Vaasa (Finland) to Umeå (Sweden) are not good. The company regularly makes the four hour crossing across the Gulf of Bothnia, and on a good day there are wonderful views of the Kvarken islands en route. But fast forward a few thousand years and the ferry service will certainly be redundant, for as the Kvarken islands rise up out of the Gulf, a new overland route will emerge linking Sweden and Finland, so leaving the northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia as an inland lagoon.

From time to time during icebound winters, travellers have used the Kvarken route to walk from Finland to Sweden. Indeed, for decades it was a regular post route, rather like the post route from Stockholm to St Petersburg across the Åland Islands about which we wrote in hidden europe 9. Napoléon encouraged the Russians to cross the Kvarkens to invade Sweden. "This ice augurs well for the soldier," wrote Napoléon enthusiastically. The outward journey of the tsar's troops was successful, but the retreat a disaster. A memorial on the island of Valsörarna records the fate of those soldiers, many of whom starved or froze to death.

hidden europe 31

Valsörarna is just one of the many places featured in hidden europe 31, which is published today. This remote island in the Kvarkens is like so many of the spots that are described in this new issue of the magazine. Off the beaten track, often unsung, and invariably with a tale which is well worth telling. Thus we also report from the Faroe Islands where we learn something of priests, poets and politicians who contributed to the early shaping of national identity in the islands.

Borders are always interesting and in hidden europe 31 we explore two Italian extremities. We look at Trieste and the nearby community of Muggia where Italy nudges up against the frontier with Slovenia. And then we hop to Liguria, and see how the border village of Latte, just a stone's throw from France, has variously served as lazaretto and temple to consumerism. A bit of a first for us, as we always said we would never write about shopping in hidden europe. But the tale of Latte di Ventimiglia was just too good to miss. This small village has a huge supermarket that panders to cross-border trade. Customers wander with dazed faces past mountains of plastic dolls and on through a deep chasm lined on each side with cleverly stacked Panettone.

Elsewhere in the new issue, we report on a village museum where a preserved larynx is the star attraction, board a car train to Avignon and ponder why it now takes twenty minutes longer to fly from Dublin to London than it did a dozen years ago. We find the perfect partner for the German industrial town of Herten, explore the link between two communities in northeast Spain and ponder the challenge of the Mixdorf maze. You can see the full table of contents of hidden europe 31 online and purchase the issue via our webshop. Or, if you prefer, call us and we shall gladly take your order over the phone.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.