Umeå is small, bustling, and charming. Or, well, the town center is. When you arrive by ship, you’re not actually in Umeå. You’re in a port area, industrial looking and grim, but bordering lush forests as well. A gaggle of buses waits for the ship to take tourists into town. It takes about half an hour each way, and it’s almost as expensive as the ship passage itself, but you don’t really have a choice. So you hop on the bus, put your small daypack on your knees, and wonder where it will drop you off. Past woods you zoom, past fields and the inevitable IKEA, and then you’re there.
Once you’re in town and get your bearings, you’re happy that you came all this way. It’s a true university town. It has all the shopping and entertainment a student populace needs, including at least one (hey, I was there for a day, I can’t check out everything!) bar with a very impressive selection of beer. Of which you clearly won’t drink too much, since this is Scandinavia, and alcohol is expensive. What’s not expensive is other kinds of entertainment. Coffee shops abound, so you’re never far from a chance to sit down and relax for a bit. The Swedes are big on “fika,” coffee breaks with food, typically small sandwiches or cinnamon rolls. Most any cultural practice that has coffee at its heart is alright by me, so when in Umeå, we did as the Umeåns do.
Ah, Umeå. Even just walking around town is a nice thing to do. Drop in a shop here or there and see what wares are on offer, and if you have room in your bag to bring them back with you. There is an old and well-stocked music shop, a cinema, bookstores and clothing stores, crafts and kitchenwares. All within a few minutes’ walk. When you’re done browsing, sit down on one of the many seats and benches spread around town and just rest a minute. Take in the scenery of charming wooden buildings, of which many more still stand here than in Vaasa, on the other side of the Gulf of Bothnia. Or wander down to the water and follow a canal to the Bildmuseet, the local art museum. It’s a modern building, smart, impressive, and: free to visit. If you’re into visual art (and if you are reading this blog, something tells me you might be), how could you not take that as an invitation to spend part of your afternoon there?
Despite a lot of walking and the typical tensions that arise when people find themselves with different preferences and needs for sustenance in a tourist destination, our day in Umeå was an utterly pleasant one. At the end of it, we made sure to catch the shuttle back to the ship, and gorged ourselves on the Scandinavian style buffet dinner laid out for hungry travelers in the old ferry’s main restaurant. As the four large Wärtsilä engines rambled into gear, I sat at my table, gravad lax piled high on my plate, and fried salmon and shrimp and potatos joining it for the ride, and clinked glasses with Finnish beer, as the Wasa Express once again set out, back to the place that had given the ship its name.
Editorial note: I simply took too many pictures in Umeå for one roll of 36, but I didn’t want to spread them out over two posts (I don’t have that many slots to go until 52, and many more rolls that I shot and that would lend themselves to be posted here). So here are rolls 44 and 44B.