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.
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.
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.
I stayed with my friends for a while and then returned home by bus, train and ferry. Here are a few photos I took during that time.
Trip: To the North
Today was the culmination of the awesomeness of the previous days. The weather was again perfect for riding fast (if a little chilly at times); the countryside reasonably beautiful to not be too boring, and not too exciting to be distracting either. Consequently, I stopped only a few times when hunger (or reason) made me want to eat (and when another spoke or two snapped and needed replacing).
I followed road no. 4/E75 through Sodankylä and Sariselkä and made it to Ivalo by half past 9 or thereabouts.
Crossing the 200km mark on the last 10km from Ivalo was the icing on the cycling cake, as it were. That’s 540km in three days, since Oulu.
I’m at my friends’ place now and will stay here for a few days. How I will return is undecided yet.
Trip: To the North
Yesterday was an exhausting day. I set out from Oulu at 11am and followed E75 for a while, which was bad enough.
The ‘funny’ thing with Finish cycle lanes is that they are not very well sign-posted, that is, there are pretty much no signs telling me where a particular cycle path leads to. And while they usually follow a major road, their direction is not always obvious at junctions where they sometimes lead through tunnels underneath the road.
Anyway, I left E75 and turned north at Simo, to sample some of the wilderness of Northern Finland. I cycled on gravel tracks and did soon have to fight with the wildest and fiercest of Scandinavia’s inhabitants – mosquitoes. And a hell of a lot of them. I was quite unprepared for their onslaught when three spokes snapped in quick succession and I had to stop to install replacements. I put on almost all the clothes I had to cover up everything except my hands. Pitching tent in the evening was a similarly adventurous endeavor.
Today, then, I joined road no. 4 somewhere south of Rovaniemi, stopped there for lunch and to buy mosquito repellent, and continued north. Road no. 4 is the one I will follow up to Ivalo and a little bit beyond, that is, for the next 200 kilometers.
I pitched tent just a few meters off the road, behind some bushes, deep in mosquito territory.
Trip: To the North
Last night saw me at an annoying hotel in Pori, for lack of a camp site near-by. There was no reception and one had to book online in advance or through a terminal in the ‘lobby’. Payment by card only. Their mail server (DNS, really) is badly configured, so that I didn’t receive their confirmation email with the access code for the door, and had to call them twice on an expensive phone number.
The temperature inside the room, once I finally got there, was too high for my taste, but it was not possible to open the windows or to adjust the aircon.
Anyway, enough of the rambling. After yesterday’s maths puzzle I decided to hop on a train and travel to Oulu (takes ~650km off my route) on my ‘day off’ today. Finish trains are nice. Comfy, with uncomplicated wi-fi, and proper aircon. :)
Oulu is probably my favorite Finish city (for its location), before Helsinki (for its size and architecture) and Uusikaupunki (for its name). However, the fee of 23 Euros for staying on the local camp site is even more ridiculous than in Uusikaupunki.
Six years ago I came through Oulu on my way down from Ivalo. I wanted to stay on the same camp site I’m on now, except that they didn’t want me. Apparently I showed up a few minutes after closing time, and even though there were still people working at reception they didn’t let me in anymore. I can’t for the life of me remember where I ended up pitching tent. Maybe on their premises anyway, maybe outside.
From here it will be some 500km to the shores of Lake Inari, which should be easily doable in 5 days, Insha’allah.
Trip: To the North
Yesterday didn’t end that bad after all. Eventually, the sky cleared and the sun came out. I rode the 2 or so kilometers to the city for some dinner and karaoke.
Today was slow again. I had a late start (11.30am) and the winds didn’t help either. They had shifted by almost 180 degrees two days ago already and were blowing from northerly directions again today.
However, the (remainder of the) weather was fine: not too hot, not too cold, and no rain! And the wind turned out to be manageable as well. The route changed direction so many times that I enjoyed everything from headwinds to tailwinds.
I also did the maths and figured out that I won’t make it to Lake Inari until July 18 (still ~1200km to go).
Trip: To the North
The ferry at 9am brought me to Finland proper. I was slow from then on, though, being very tired.
First I went eastwards, and then north. The countryside is flat, with very minor hills, some agriculture and some forests.
I am now in Uusikaupunki (funny name) on a camp site for which I paid 19 Euros. Wait, whaaat?
The weather is crap crap crap. I’d like to go back to the city center, but not in this rain.
I made up my mind last night and decided to end the Northern Europe trip here. I’ll catch a bus to Oulu today and then take a train to Helsinki. From there it’s a 29h ferry ride to Germany.
It’s been a great, an awesome trip. Scandinavia is filled with natural beauty and I’ve met many a nice person. And I cycled pretty much exactly 7000km since I started in Trelleborg 3 months ago.
The reasons for ending this here and now are, basically, that I’m looking forward to a break from the break, and that I’m required to take a break from the break, i.e. there’s work to be done.
The blue line shows my route up to here. Click the map for a slightly larger version.
Didn’t sleep too well. The wind got stronger during the night and shook the tent quite a bit. I woke up with every bigger gust.
Got up shortly after 6am, packed, and had a hasty and disgusting breakfast. By now, I seriously hate that porridge-style stuff that I’ve been having for breakfast for pretty much all of the past 3 months, despite it’s usefulness when cycling.
Left around 7.30. The wind was still blowing strongly straight into my face, but I had all day for the remaining 141km to Ivalo. Got offered a ride to Finland 2km from my campsite but turned it down, I was feeling well enough. The road continued to be pretty flat most of the time and I didn’t see much besides trees along the road (and everywhere else, too) and the water of the Lotta river, shimmering through the branches, which the (quite excellent) road followed. Traffic was negligible. About 15km from the border, however, the road was under construction, and the surface varied from uncompacted sand to uncompacted gravel.
The Russian Customs officer was happy to report that he’d been at a Beck’s beer tasting in Bremen. Border formalities went smoothly on both sides, and I was back in the European Union!
Finland greeted me with rain. A short shower only, fortunately.
The last 50km to Ivalo where quite a windy PITA. I seriously feel all of the 300km in my legs now. Went to the first supermarket and immediately fell in love with Finland. Like in Russia, one actually has some choice here when shopping. I’m quite happy that Norway is the only exception in that regard. Found a campsite near the town.
Today we wanted to go to the border, and possibly a bit beyond. However, we managed to take a wrong turn, as it were, and walked on the wrong track for about an hour before we realized our mistake.
Reached Piilolakoia, another open cabin very close to the border at half past 2pm – and had a nap there. Then we crossed into Finland at Piilolaporten, ate a few blueberries there, went back to Norway where the blueberries taste better, and walked back to Ellenkoia.
The countryside was relatively flat and the track follows the shore of the Ellenvann most of the time. There were a few muddy places and rivers to cross (either by hopping from stone to stone or, where that wasn’t possible, by using some rudimentary bridge the maintainers of the track had put there). We never got wet feet.
There’s a number of info posts along the track that tell about e.g. an old partisan hut that was used in WWII by Norwegian and Russian resistance; hunting methods; farming; and wildlife.
Very much to our surprise we didn’t see any of that wildlife. No reindeer, no elks, no lynx, not even a tiny bear. Most of the time, there weren’t even any birds to hear and it was frighteningly quite in the forest. The only seriously dangerous (due to their numbers) predators we encountered were the local mosquitoes.