Tour "Around The Baltic Sea" report - Report 7; Mainland Finland & Helsinki; 13/8.06 – 21/8/06.
Robert Laing (Szkocki Bob)
Upon entering Finland from Russia it was difficult to stop making comparisons. The difference is that in Finland everything works! The toilets are clean and flush. There is hot water, the soap dispensers have soap and there is toilet paper. The road surface is smooth without potholes and the car drivers are even more considerate to cyclists than in Denmark. And there are wide, well maintained, sign-posted cycle routes – very often separate from other traffic.
The real culture picked up on the way to Helsinki. Many churches to see and the route is intermittently on and off the King’s Road between St Petersburg and Turku in West Finland. Along the way we visited Hamina which is famous for its circular town plan with concentric streets around the town centre. And to demonstrate the many border wars fought in the area during its history the town has either been the eastern most Swedish or western most Russian merchant town.
One of the loveliest places visited so far of the whole trip was Povoo about 50km east of Helsinki. Picturesque wooden houses alongside the river, cobblestone streets and it was easy to see why this place has attracted and inspired many Finnish poets and artists. The national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg is said to have enjoyed eating cylindrical cakes here for breakfast so we had to do the tourist thing and have a Runeberg cake and coffee in the café opposite where he used to live.
Our third night in Finland turned out to be a typical BalticCycle SNAFU. A lot of culture at the start of the day left us with a lot of cycling to do and many of us did not arrive at the intended sleeping place until after 8pm for wild camping. No sooner had a few tents been put up than someone came along to tell us it was private land. As usual however Sigitas eventually found us a place which was rather rough even by BC standards – but we coped. Being far away from any shops we were all settling down for a quiet night. Then Yannick suddenly produced vodka and a few beers. Then a bottle of brandy appeared. Party On! This was followed by another bottle of vodka and I remembered my bottle of red wine stored on the van. Don’t remember much after that!
At Helsinki we were joined by Waldek (head honcho of Crotos), and his wife Gosia. Ewa and Tomos left us just before Helsinki and the group is now down to around 25 people compared to the peak of around 60 through Poland. Rest day in Helsinki was spent doing a bit of washing before hitting the city to do some sightseeing of cathedrals and the harbour. Then it was back to the campsite for Valdeck’s birthday party. Wine and the best vodka with bison grass and very civilised with apple juice plus sausages and roasted potatoes. The party ended with a thunderstorm.
Another two thunderstorms through the night confirmed that despite painting my tent with some special fluid – it still leaks. I ended up having to sleep in the kitchen. Later that day while putting my rubbish in a bin I found a soaking wet tent. It seems someone must have had an even wetter and worse night than me and had given up camping. I rescued that tent and I’m pleased to say it has already proved itself through a wet and rainy night. Not bad for free!
The night after Helsinki the sleeping place was in the grounds of a training college for municipal trade union workers. In the morning, 18th August, was my birthday and it started with a superb breakfast in the college restaurant. In the evening, as seems customary on BalticCycle it was my turn to get the drinks for a party. Just my luck to have to buy them in one of the most expensive countries for alcohol on the tour.
Anyway we managed enough to have some fun with beer, 3 litres of red wine, vodka and some apple juice. Plus one of my birthday presents – a bottle of whisky. Other presents were a bouquet of wild flowers, a birthday card of a photograph of myself wearing tinsel on my head (where was that taken?), and a kilt made by Maryla from a Crotos flag. A good night and many thanks to BalticCycle cyclists for helping to make it so. As I said at the time if I could not celebrate my birthday at home with family and friends what better alternative than with BalticCycle cyclists who are so friendly they are just like family.
Next year however, if BalticCycle does go to Turkey hopefully I will celebrate my birthday in somewhere like Ukraine or Bulgaria where I can buy ten times as much beer and vodka for the same amount of Euros I paid in Finland.
I end this report with some thought provoking statements from the Helsinki cycling map:
- By bike one is quite soon at one’s destination.
- By opting to use one’s bike instead of the car, one gets a good feeling.
- The well-being benefits of using a bike are 15 to 20 times greater than the risk of an accident whilst using the bike???
Now for a few days on the Alund islands on the way to Sweden.
PS. In every report so far I have mentioned how fortunate we have been with the weather. Locals are telling us is has been the best summer for 40 years. In one of the campsites the showers were switched off to save water and it is obvious there has not been much rain from how the grass is everywhere. And even when it has been raining almost everywhere else in Sweden, Poland and 2 days out of St Pete we have been dry. Almost as if we have our own micro-climate following us around the Baltic Sea. But it couldn’t last. Somewhere between Porvoo and Helsinki the rain found us. And again in Helsinki. And a few times since on our way from Turku to the Aland islands. Fingers crossed the weather on the islands will be dry.