Trip Archives: Bouldering to the North

A month of train-traveling in the winter of 2016, once more to the north of Finland. I tried to visit as many bouldering gyms as possible.

Tallinn

Ok, last night’s hostel was another failure. No storage space for stuff, noisy people at night, half the stuff is not working (shower head is off the pipe, bathroom door can’t be locked, half the lights in the bathroom not working – I have no clue whether my hair is looking proper today!), and who the f*ck allowed rummaging through plastic bags in a dorm room in the middle of the night???

Speaking of which, did you know that Rwanda has banned plastic bags completely since 2008? That’s the way to go. Not these half-assed announcements to maybe ban them 2025 or whenever.

Anyway, new hostel, and it’s great. Got stuck there chattin’ away and finally fixin’ my bike’s sneakin’ flat (hopefully for good) until it was too late to get far out of the city center. Also, it’s quite cold (-3°C or so).

Tallinn’s old town is very pretty, in many ways. Pretty beautiful, pretty expensive, pretty touristy.

And I got a bit annoyed by them many tourists that flash their expensive cameras but don’t pay attention to what they’re actually photographing – kind of walk ‘n click. The same goes for those who take pictures with their mobiles. So, in protest, very few and very carefully taken photos from me today. ;)

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Tallinn's Paljassaare & the Ministry of Climbing

Spent the day out in the ‘countryside’, on Paljassaare peninsula at the northeastern end of Tallinn’s Bay. There are some old military structures there, and some can be accessed, but those I found/looked at weren’t very spectacular. There is a lot of snow there but cycling went well on footpaths with somewhat compacted snow and ice. It was a lot of fun actually.

In the evening I went to the Ministry of Climbing, one of the climbing gyms in Tallinn. It’s been more than a week that I last went bouldering (Minsk!). Ronimisministeerium is pretty cool. It’s not very big but the space is used well and the walls are laid out in quite an interesting fashion. The site is some kind of old factory (my wild guess).

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Tallinn - Helsinki (- Ivalo)

Taro, owner of the hostel I stayed at in Tallinn, had the grand idea to send a letter to his 94-year old grandmother not by ordinary mail, but by other people. I am happy to be The First Bearer Of The Book, as it were, a notebook that contains the letter to his grandma, and into which every future Bearer can add their own page full of greetings, stories, or whatever, before passing it on to the next person who will hopefully carry it closer towards Japan.
It is made of a recycled book, see below, maybe you come across it one day. The title aptly translates to “Affections. Scenes of Time and People”.

Interestingly, I also started to draw after an interesting discussion which raised the question whether everybody could be an artist.

After the ferry to Helsinki today, I am now on the night train to Rovaniemi – the first on this trip that was supposed to be about bouldering and night trains.
I’ll be in Ivalo tomorrow, where I’ll stay with my friends for a few days.

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Ivalo - Rovaniemi (- Helsinki)

The past week I spent at my friends’ place near Ivalo. All the grand plans of going on long skiing tours on Lake Inari and camping somewhere on the ice were drowned by the warmth and coziness of their place. Short trips had to suffice.

The weather was mild, just a few degrees Celsius below zero.
Interestingly, between the top-most layer of snow and the frozen lake, a layer of unfrozen water develops. This makes things very interesting when taking the snowmobile off of the established tracks, where ice and snow are very compacted. It also makes walking difficult, skiing is the best mode of transport. Cycling (with narrow tyres) didn’t work at all. Surprise. surprise.

And I saw my first northern lights. Amazing. Photographing them was a bit of a challenge and I’m not overly happy with the results.

Today I took the bus to Rovaniemi and am now on the beloved night train to Helsinki.

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Helsinki - Turku (- Stockholm)

Sunday morning in Helsinki… let me just say that Sunday morning coffee/café culture leaves a lot to be desired. :)

I went bouldering at Kiipeilyareena. They claim to have the highest rope climbing walls in Scandinavia, and indeed do they have some high walls! There are multiple storeys/levels, kind of stacked on top of each other, and there is one sector with a number of routes which cover the entire height. They also have some fancy auto-belay system installed on some routes that lets you climb without a partner. The bouldering area is not very big and almost all walls have overhangs, something I’m not too fond of. Also, there were quite a few children and beginners there who didn’t pay much attention to the simplest of rules: don’t walk under other climbers, and share the routes. Overall the experience was mixed.

Train to Turku in the afternoon, which is a pretty town.

I’m on the ferry to Stockholm now. The trip is almost over.

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"Don't argue with me, I'm a female!" (Stockholm - Göteborg - Frederikshavn)

The nice thing about traveling by ferry with a bike is that usually I am the first to board and the first to leave.

So I had solid Swedish soil under my tyres and sped to the train station. I got a ticket for the last available seat on the X2000 to Malmö, took the bike apart (Hello Belarus!), and left Stockholm less than an hour after arriving there.

Then I had the chance to re-rank both Sweden and Belarus in terms of bike-friendliness and conductress-friendliness: The conductress, upon entering the car to check the tickets, got quite upset about the bike.

She said bikes were forbidden to be taken on board, unless taken apart and wrapped. I had asked in Stockholm when buying the ticket and had received an OK. She said that by buying a ticket I had agreed to SJ’s (the train company) terms of service, which state the wrapping is required. That is not entirely correct, because nobody had even shown me their terms of service, of course. She cut me off mid-sentence. She said that the bike was a safety hazard in case we had an accident. I pointed out that neither did I want to be hit by any of my fellow travelers’ hard-top cases. Tucking the bike in some corner or locking it to a spare table (for wheelchair users; none aboard) wasn’t an option for her either.

Conductress: “My highest priority is safety, safety, safety, safety. Next is that the train is on time. Service is very very low.”
Her words.

“Yes, I noticed.”

Then the discussion took a most unpleasant turn:

Conductress: “Would you argue with somebody else?”
“Err, yes, of course.”
“Would you argue with a police officer?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Or are you arguing with me because I am a female?”

Dafuq???

“Are you making it more difficult for me because I’m a foreigner?” Unfortunately, I didn’t say this.

To make it clear again, I was ‘arguing’ because I had paid 750 Swedish kronor (~80 Euros) for a valid ticket, and I had checked in Stockholm whether taking the bike like this was ok. Now she tells me I have to leave the train and buy a new ticket if I manage to wrap the bike and take the next train. So I am losing both time and money. Instead of killing the conversation with such a ridiculous kill-all question she could have offered a solution. Because, is that really the standard we have reached in society? Do I have to obey every female now simply because they’re a female? This is a stupid and dangerous development.

Well, I had to leave the train at Norrköping, somewhere between the middle of nowhere and the end of the world (i.e., not far from Stockholm). When I was about to disembark, people came forward and apologized for the hassle. One suggested I throw the bike away to be able to continue traveling. Yes, thank you, I see you fully understood the problem.

What is wrong with this country? There are numerous cycle tourists traveling in Sweden every year, and it is impossible to quickly take a bike on a train??? Even a proper folding bicycle has to be wrapped in a ‘protective case’, whatever that is and whoever or whatever it is supposed to protect. And what’s with the weird attitude?

I was unable to find a suitable cardboard box in the sleepy town of Norrköping at 8.30 in the morning. It is also impossible to take bikes on SJ’s regional trains. So the only option was the bus. This is how I got to Göteborg, fortunately a port city with frequent ferry connections to Denmark. The original plan had been to be home tonight. I scratched that.

Well, I apologize to Belarus and all Belarusians for previously calling their country the most bike-unfriendly one. Sweden just took over that title with flying colors. And it is also the first country where I have been confronted with this new social mis-development of weirdly misguided feminism, even though I am sure society is just as f*cked up in other places as well.

I did get a full refund of the train ticket in Göteborg thanks to SJ’s unfriendly but fair José. However, that still leaves me with an additional ferry crossing and hotel to pay for, an additional day of traveling, and a lot of annoyance.

I feel like avoiding Sweden in the future, I am so fed up. But I guess that will go away after a good night’s sleep. I’ll avoid SJ for sure, though.

Göteborg is nice nonetheless.

I’ve crossed the Kattegat already and am in Frederikshavn, northern Denmark, now.

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The End

I’m taking trains through Denmark today and I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight.

A pretty cool trip, if pretty expensive. Trains in western Europe are not exactly cheap, especially if not pre-booked. It is also slightly annoying to be limited by few connections per day, or even weekly or no connections at all, like in the Baltics and Belarus. Of course, buses to the rescue, if you’re into that mode of transport (I’m not, and they’re not necessarily cheaper).
I don’t think I’ll travel like this again.

The robbery in Minsk and yesterday’s experience in Sweden make for good stories to laugh about.

However, taking the bike – best decision ever. It adds so much mobility that’d simply be impossible to be had otherwise. Yes, it made things more difficult sometimes, but it was well worth the hassle.

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