Åland Islands: Sun, Sauna, Music, and Pancakes

Passepartout Duo just finished a 2-week-long artist residency in Åland Islands, at the Eckerö Post and Customs House.

You're either from this area of the world, or you're like us, and you have no idea where or what the Åland Islands are. We had absolutely no expectations, but it has turned out to be one of the most beautiful and unique places our music has taken us to so far!

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Åland is an archipelago/autonomous Finnish region in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. People there mostly speak Swedish, and it has one very zig-zaggy land border which is shared with Sweden on an uninhabited skerry. In case you're not skerry-savvy: skerries are little, rocky, and mostly uninhabited islands that sometimes disappear during high tide. They're uninhabited by people, but birds definitely inhabit them.

We came to Eckerö by boat. Traveling from Rome, it was a long journey: a plane from Rome to Skavsta, Sweden, a long bus ride to Grisslehamn, and then a ferry ride to the Islands. The boat was packed with a cruise-culture driven bunch, primarily seniors, that were embarking on a duty-free journey to international waters, with alcohol priced on the euro. When we arrived in Åland three hours later, we were very surprised to see that almost none of the passengers left the boat: they were only there to shop.

In 1809, Sweden lost Åland, along with the rest of Finland, to the empire of Russia. Since Åland is in a western location on the Baltic Sea, the post office and customs house was completed in 1828 to fill an important role for the state in dealing with imports and exports. Now it's one of the most well preserved empire-era buildings in Finland. 

As much as Ólafsfjörður, Iceland's culture was deeply linked to the fishing industry, in Åland the culture is fundamentally linked to shipping. Shipping seems filled with bad and good news: you can see model ships hanging throughout public spaces that are traditionally built by shipwreck survivors of the vessels that nearly killed them, before being publicly displayed; from those same shipwrecks also came the remains of a long-lost beer that a local distillery recreated into its new production.

All these years later, the Post House belongs to Åland and is a hub for cultural activities and craftspeople. Besides housing a museum about its history, it contains Tsarevna Café & Bistro, Mercedes Chocolaterie, and a residence for a resident-artist (with sauna!). 

The closest grocery store was a near hour-long bicycle ride away. That was truly a blessing in disguise, giving us some much needed exercise, and an overview of the entire area. In fact, the whole archipelago has incredible bicycle infrastructure, with separate bike paths alongside every road.

We were here from mid-late May and, in being so far north, we experienced some pretty serious sunlight. The sun would visibly set at about midnight and rise a couple hours later. We found this made us very productive, and gave us so much extra energy. 

The capital deserves a few extra words too: it has a world-class contemporary art museum, the most ubiquitous public wifi system we've ever encountered, and you can enjoy some unique Åland pancakes.

Musically, we were also busy at work. Most of our time now has been spent exploring a new way of making our instrumentation portable. We're using a 37 key midi controller, amplified vibraphone bars, and a midi percussion pad to make this possible. This time, we presented our work through an open studio where people visiting the café and museum could visit us to see what our music is about, and the local newspaper "Åland" even wrote about our projects.