Around the Baltic Sea in 70 days
Written by Unity Line   

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Michał Cichecki, his wife, and their two daughters travelled over 6000 kilometres along the coast of the Baltic Sea. At the first stages of the expedition, the younger one, Klara was one and Laura was three years old. Getting up early, living on the move, or sleeping under a different roof every night did not stop them. Great vistas, emotions, and family time made it up to them for all the effort.

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A sea one of its kind

The idea to travel around the Baltic Sea dates back to 2012. Michał admitted that it was planned down to the last detail. ‘It resembled connecting dots when a beautiful butterfly emerges from chaos. The more we looked into the map, the larger the journey grew. We decided to divide it into several phases and implement step by step with passion, focus, and persistence.’

Why the Baltic Sea? ‘Its magic may not catch on at a glimpse, it may be short of the splendour of other seas as it has no great mountain ranges or volcanoes near the coastline, its waters are not the warmest either. Its beauty and temper are subtler. It has other advantages: the mysterious aura, fjords, cliffs, sandy beaches, picturesque ports, mediaeval towns, Scandinavian metropolises, untamed nature, and the abundant history of the Vikings and the Hanseatic League,’ explained Cichecki.

The starting point was in Stockholm. The route then wound up through northern Sweden, Finland, south to Helsinki, and then through the three Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Next, along the Polish and German coastline, to Denmark, the ‘Swedish Riviera’ back to Stockholm. Total of 70 days of the journey in five stages in 2013–2017.

Stage I: Fjords and the Santa Clause

The first stage included going from Stockholm to Tornio and to Helsinki. One of the most interesting points on this route was the High Coast, or Höga Kusten in Sweden. It is the highest coastline in the world left after the recent ice age. From land located at 300 m above sea level, they enjoyed astonishing landscapes featuring grand fjords. The sea cuts into deep valleys between rocky hills covered with dense forests. In 2000, Höga Kusten was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

After a week on the move, Cichecki and his family reached Finland. They stopped in Rovaniemi, the hometown of Santa Claus. ‘It is a magical borderline between fairy tale land and the reality where you recover your excitement and child-like imagination. I imagined what this place might look like in winter, covered in snow, with carols, tinkling bells, and hosts of smiling people. But I didn't regret we were there in summer. Our visit to the Santa Clause village was special and I will remember it forever,’ said Cichecki.

Stage II: Back to the Middle Ages and Lithuanian dolphins

The second stage started off with a bang. The family visited Tallinn, the capital of Estonia known as Europe's medieval pearl. ‘When you get there, it's hard not to notice the architecture. When we walked the squares and streets of the city, we were mesmerized by its beauty. You can take in the whole Old Town from viewing platforms on the Toompea hill. In the old days, the gentry living on the hill came there to look at merchants and artisans in the town below. You can still sense the spirit of that time in Tallinn,’ assured Cichecki.

After Estonia, it was time for the other Baltic States: ‘We travelled through Latvia and visited such places as the beach in Saulkrasti, Riga with its fairy-tale Old Town, a modern resort Jūrmala, or Ventspils, which is a real haven for children with its numerous playgrounds. In Lithuania, we went to the dolphinarium at the Sea Museum located on the Curonian Spit near the entry to the Klaipėda port. We also enjoyed the unique landscape with the largest migrating dunes in Europe.

 

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Stage III: Looking for memories and hobbits

Michał, his wife, and daughters live in Ireland. The Polish stage of the journey was a great opportunity to visit friends and family and remember old times. The memories were particularly vivid in Krynica Morska during a stay with his sister: ‘When we were kids, we used to spend the whole summer holidays in Mikoszewo, 30 kilometres from Krynica. It was a great time. I was happy that I could have a dinner with our families in similar circumstances after all these years. When on the Polish coast, Cicheccy stayed in the Tricity, Władysławowo, Ustka, Mielno, Kołobrzeg, Rewal, and Świnoujście, all with charming spots and a moment to catch a breath.

On German land, they came across a wonderful surprise, a small fishing village of Gothmund on the outskirts of Lübeck. ‘We have visited many beautiful spots during our journey but Gothmund was beyond any doubt one of the most magical locations we have ever seen. Cosy brick houses, perfect lawns and streets, idyllic gardens and orchards. All without a trace of a car, slightly unreal, as if the time froze. The village looked like Lord of the Ring's Shire. All it needed was a few hobbits,’ said Cichecki.

Stage IV: Both sides of the longest bridge on Earth

The next episode took place mostly in Denmark and Sweden. ‘We were enchanted by Copenhagen, its colourful façades along the Nyhavn canal and the Tivoli Gardens amusement park. We promised we would come back. Another memorable event was the ride on the Øresund Bridge, the longest bridge between two countries in the world. It includes a 4-kilometre underwater tunnel, 4 kilometres on an artificial island and 8 kilometres over the Øresund Strait. It is an admirable engineering wonder,’ appreciated Cichecki.

In Sweden, they visited Malmö to see the Turning Torso tower, Kåseberga with the Ales Stoner stone ring made up of 59 boulders referred to as the Swedish Stonehenge, and Ystad with its narrow streets made famous by crime novels by Henning Mankell. The crowning jewel was the Danish Bornholm, an island believed to be made up of the best parts of Scandinavia that God has thrown into the middle of the Baltic Sea.

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Stage V: The missing piece  

After four years, they decided to complete the circle around the Baltic Sea. Starting in Ystad, the family enjoyed the soft coastal landscapes all the way to Karlskrona, stopping for a hike in the Stenshuvud National Park. Next, they visited a charming little village of Kristianopel and headed to Kalmar and then to the Öland island where they saw one of the highest and most famous lighthouses in Sweden, Långe Jan. Then they travelled to the intriguing island of Gotland and reached Stockholm, their starting point after driving through several cities.

From the capital of Sweden, they caught a ferry to the Aland archipelago made up of 6500 islands. ‘We bounced from one island to another enjoying the austere beauty and fresh air of this small paradise at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. The primary attraction was a hike on the troll path in Geta, where we were rewarded with astonishing views of the sea,’ recalled Michał Cichecki.

 

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Invaluable wisdom

We are limited in what we can fit into the magazine, not all details of the journey could be presented. If you are interested, visit the blog of Michał Cichecki at www.dusy-dreams with a day-by-day account of the adventure.

‘Travelling with your family is a great way to improve the relationship between children and parents. It is also indispensable for their educational background. To discover new places, meet new people, or try something new or anew together is much more important than classes. It was an outstanding experience to watch our daughters become keen travellers over the years. We strive to make sure our daughters get the best childhood and education. I believe that giving up the comfort zone of your own home, taking them on trips and exposure to new environments from the early years is the best investment in their education,’ explained Cichecki passionately.

He stressed that without the help of others, their plan would not come true. ‘It may be the best thing we learnt and can share with our daughters: never be shy about seeking wisdom and help from others! I have noticed an unwritten rule that if you do something for money or fame, people can sense that but if you do it because you're passionate about it, they become generous. I was astonished by the friendliness and readiness to help people showed us. It is an incredible feeling to know that life is more than business, work, and money.