Archive for the ‘Finland’ Category

Going east

9 August 2018

Helsinki to Kouvola by train – Kouvola to Kotka by bike

Our Warmshowers host Hannu is a photographer, among many other talents. Here are the results of a photo session is his garden this morning!


We had time before taking our 1.19pm train to visit the Sibelius Monument in a park near the city centre. Note to others intending to do this: go early in the morning and beat the rush! It was seriously overrun with tourists who had arrived in large buses and then climbed on and draped themselves over the bust of Sibelius. Many photographs and selfies were taken! Two young cellists put on a free performance and played well. The sculpture is by Finnish artist Eila Hiltunen – not really to my taste.


Our train ride was excellent –  free wifi, train left exactly on time, bikes in a special storage area. Because we were unable to take an earlier train our day was back-to-front with the riding part at the end. We had to cover just under 60km after leaving Kouvola at 3pm to travel to Kotka on the coast. It was warm and sunny with a cool breeze, flat terrain, low traffic, plenty of bike paths and an unremarkable but pleasant route through the Finnish countryside.

Kotka is an interesting town with a huge modern maritime museum. We had a beer in a grungy bar and observed a well-attended community singing session led by a musical duo (guitar and squeeze box) in the main square. We are accommodated in a budget AirBnB run by Igor who speaks only Russian – getting us into the vibe for the week ahead!


Travel dilemmas

8 August 2018

Helsinki, Finland

#1 – Ian lost his jacket, left behind at the Chengdu restaurant last night, now retrieved.

#2 – if we leave Helsinki tomorrow and arrive in Vyborg, Russia, on Saturday we will have to sleep on a park bench, therefore train assistance is needed to get there on Friday and this was more complicated than we expected, but everything has now been arranged.

Our hosts gave us some Helsinki recommendations for today so we began by breakfasting at Karl Fazer Cafe in the city centre, established in 1891 and still providing a delicious buffet breakfast.


A 5 piece busking band (2 trumpets, drums, tuba and saxophone) were playing nearby so we listened to their versions of an Abba classic, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Sunny. They were pretty good!


Then we took a short ferry ride to Suomenlinna, an island with a fortifications and military history as well as a good view of Helsinki. The Finnish Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral is a major landmark with its green roof and golden onion domes. We went inside to see the impressive painted decorations covering much of the walls and ceiling and pictures of saints.


Last on the program was a place recommended by both Jarrah and Hannu – the Sompasauna, a free unofficial sauna built and operated by volunteers in the most grungy industrial location at the far end of an old harbour that is currently under major redevelopment. We chatted with a Finnish man who told us about the elephant sculpture as well as about the etiquette of the sauna. Ian felt that he had been roasted enough during the hot weather of late, but I stripped down (not off) and went in to join 3 others in the 75 degree heat. That was intense but good. Better in winter though I reckon!

Tail wind to Helsinki

7 August 2018

Lohja to Helsinki, Finland

We joined the VR railway workers for morning coffee at the old Lohja railway station, then a brisk tail wind blew us in to Helsinki.

We are staying in a huge house with large garden on the island of Kulosaari where Hannu and his household have welcomed us. We have planning and organising to do for the next stretch into Russia – no time to write more!

Finland – best country!

6 August 2018

Salo to Lohja, Finland

Finland is regarded as one of the best countries in which to live. As a non-expert on Finnish social policy I have heard that they provide excellent family support services (heard of the baby box?), place a high value on education and hold teachers in high esteem. They have good public transport services with bus stops along almost every sealed road to benefit rural dwellers and to feed train services. Finns are proud to pay taxes that we might consider rather high because they know that they will be well spent and benefit the population.


This morning we left the retirees’ resort after eating a substantial breakfast and making friends with the button accordion player and with Sarah, the singing teacher and mother of 6, who wants to take her family on bike riding holidays.

We travelled on quiet country roads through fields of wheat, barley and beet, along gravel roads and forest tracks, then a secondary road with a low to moderate volume of traffic.

Our coffee stop was at Karjalohja, a small town with several cafes and a large church with the bells pealing.

Our accommodation tonight is at Lylyisten Kartano, a couple of km off the road near Lohja. It is a low-brow establishment near a lake with several cottages as well as rooms in a large building. The proprietor seemed rather fierce as we cycled up to meet her outside the office and she confirmed that there was no food or beer available. Fortunately, after a rest, a trip of about 3km brought us to a small supermarket where the staff member kindly helped us to identify the items we wanted – the milk and yoghurt sections can be confusing. We have now cooked our first meal since leaving home!

King’s Road from Turku

5 August 2018

Turku to Salo, Finland

Our digs last night were an Airbnb room in Oskari’s 5th floor apartment in Turku, small and stuffy due to the weather, but spacious compared to our place in Stockholm.


Turku style!

The day began with grey skies and enough drizzle to make us wet. We took the 110 road, the old highway with a nice bike path, out of town. We spoke to a young woman who confirmed our proposed direction. She said that last summer they had 2 days when the temperature exceeded 25C, this summer over 40 days of 25C+.

Traffic avoidance took us to Paimio and then to Hakala where we were inspired, by a sign indicating coffee, to stop at Tromperin Kestikivari. This is a historic house that shows aspects of country life in Finland from the past. We were fortunate to find two young women inside providing hot drinks and cakes. Sofia (trainee hairdresser) and Ada-Lotta (about to commence studies in medicine) were running the cafe as a holiday job. They were short of customers so were pleased to see us. Sofia gave us a brochure about the King’s Road (Kuningkaantie), our intended route that will take us to Helsinki and then on to Vyborg.


As we were about to ride away from the cafe, a heavily laden cyclist came speeding past. This was Christian from Frankfurt, who is doing a similar route to us but in the opposite direction and at a greater velocity. He told us that he had a lot of rain in Poland, broke a tooth on a hard Russian biscuit, found Russian traffic a bit challenging and made it from St Petersburg to Vyborg (130km) in one day. We hope to avoid all of the above!


We are now at Lehmirannan Lomakeskus (Leaf Beach Hotel according to Google), a modest country resort in a beautiful location by a lake and surrounded by forest. It’s a kind of hostel with activities, swimming, exercise and wellness aimed at retirees. An old bloke is playing tunes on the button accordion in the cafe and the Finnish retirees are all singing along. But they don’t provide dinner here so we have to make do with cafe snacks and save up for breakfast as we are 13km south of the nearest town, Salo. We rowed across the lake in the hope of finding a kiosk but no luck – only a big sandy beach with lots of kids jumping into the water off diving platforms unsupervised by any lifeguards.

Viking Line

4 August 2018

Stockholm to Turku, Finland by ferry

A slightly cool breeze blew as we boarded the Viking Line ferry, Grace, this morning.

Our long (11 hours) ferry ride was impressive in many ways. The scenery was amazing as we passed thousands of rocky islands of all sizes, some with little room to spare on either side of the boat. Any that are large enough are inhabited.

The ferry provides for everyone. You can begin on your first beer just after boarding at 7.45am! There are several levels of cabins and reserved seating which we did not use. There are bars, cafes and an all you can eat buffet where patrons are requested to avoid food waste and ‘eat as much as you desire but only fill up your plate with what you bare (sic) to eat’. There is also a casino, pokies, night club with live band (open during the daytime), bingo, children’s entertainment, on deck pedal car track and Twister game and duty free shopping.

The ferry called in at Mariehamn (nicely executed 3 point turn to back in to the ramp) and that was when we found out that Åland is in Finland, not Sweden. On board we observed several Finnish Roma, indentifiable by their distinctive clothing – the women wear long velvet skirts with a kind of hoop just below waist level that give them an unusal line!

We arrived in Turku at 7pm and found a lively riverside beer and food festival in progress.