It was on 24 July when our train reached the final destination – Helsinki, Finland. It took a while to get all our stuff from the train and put them in a shade on a platform. Before Jakub started assembling our bikes we stopped for a moment, looked at each other and smiled: Here we are, Europe!
Our next move was explore the city a little bit. And we couldn’t be more excited. After long 9 months in Southeast and Central Asia we saw again fancy cafes, interior design’s shops and modern architecture. We sometimes felt like we are back in New Zealand than in Europe. Which didn’t surprise us because our almost-4-years-old memories of Europe had faded away.
But one day in Helsinki was more than enough and the next day we went to the town Karis. First to see my schoolmate Radka and her family and second to pick up some parcels we let to ship there. We spent 3 days together enjoying beautiful finnish summer – days were warm and long. And I mean really long. It was almost midnight and it was still bright outside. Henri, Radka’s husband explained us the rules of having finish sauna (which means there are no rules at all) and in the end it was actually very hard to leave and start cycling again.
But we had to. The next destination was Joensuu. More than 500km on the northeast. So which way should we go? We have learnt that national parks are usually the best choice. So we did. We visited Nuuksio NP, Repovesi NP and Kolovesi NP and it didn’t take long we agreed we fell in love with Finland. We cycled on small gravel roads, cyclepaths or hikingpaths, we camped on beautiful spots and there were only trees around us. And lakes of course, where we had a dip in the end of each day. The weather was still good so even we are not the best swimmers we enjoyed it. But we weren’t as hardcore as most of Fins we met. They were able to go for a swimm even at midnight. Crazy…:-)
One of the highlights of our way through Finland was definitely the Mäntyharju-Repovesi MTB trail. The 35km long trail is perfectly built, we rode through forest, blueberries and rocks and we were more than happy. But then we got some wasp’s stings, mosquitos didn’t allow us to stop and relax and so when we heard first thunders we gave up and hurried to a shelter. The last 10km we cycled in a storm and we arrived completely soaked. Fortunately here in Finland there are many lean-to shelters, or Laavu. It is a shelter with a campfire place, sometimes with a toilet or occasionally with a sauna. Beautiful views plus a lake or river nearby are matter of course. And the best thing? They are free and almost everywhere. Once we discovered that, we basically planned our route from laavu to laavu.
We reached Joensuu on 9 August. We were welcomed by Laura, Jakub’s friend and her partner Sebastian. They treated us like we were royalty and we could start our second part of Finland refresh and clean again.
There was another national park right behind Joensuu – Koli NP. When we were climbing maybe the 50th hill of that day I was wondering who said that Finland is flat. So once again: no, it is not flat! But when we reached the last and the highest hill – 347m asl. – I stopped complaining and just admired the beauty surroundig us. And couple of minutes later we refuted another myth. People said Fins were very shy and introvert. We didn’t think so. On the way down from the viewpoint we met a cyclist Mikka. We chatted for a while and then he offered us to stay in his room with sauna in his harbor’s restaurant. It was getting cold so we took his offer happily and looked forward to have sauna again.
The next morning when we left the national park, the weather changed rapidly. It looked like someone simply turned the summer off. It was raining, cold and windy. We cycled through forest on small roads. We were quiet. We just didn’t want to talk. Our mood was low. When we reached a laavu, we were soaked, tired and hungry. It looked like a miserious day. We were almost ready to pack ourselves, book a ticket and go home. But then Jakub lighted up a fire, I cooked a dinner and then we sit by the fire with cups of tea in our hands. We were still quiet but now we were happy. I just realised that everything was as I wanted. Yes, we had couple of horribe hours but that day as a whole was amazing. Amazing experience.
So we carried on. Every day we moved further to the north. The landscape changed. There were less lakes, less trees and finally it looked like a flat. Hurray! We were again able to cycle 70-90km a day.
After 30 days we had to say good bye to Finland and there couldn’t be a better place than Laavu. That Laavu we found was one of the best but we didn’t enjoy the night. The night was cold and it took us a while to start moving in the following morning. Fortunately th sun was shining and with a cup of hot coffee the world was a better place. But I didn’t forget the night and all the way to Tornio, the last town before we would go to Sweden I was thinking what to do. Behind the Arctic circle the nights will be much more colder… I made the decision. In Tornio I bought a hot watter bottle. My old best friend from New Zealand. Ok, I am ready, Sweden!