TnT Bicycling in Finland, Summer 2007


We don't have an opportunity for a longer ride this Summer, so we compensate the pedaling urge with three shorter trips. The third one also marks a farewell trip for the bicycles we bought in the States and climbed the Rockies with.

We took the bikes to the shop for total tune-up and cleaning job for the period we were traveling in Canada and the States in July and August. The guy from the shop gave us a call to Vancouver for the cost estimate: 0 (zero) euros. The parts of both bikes are so worn out that it would cost more to replace them than to buy a new bike. We are kind of relieved by this message: now we can dump the bikes and get brand new ones with clean conscience. Thanks go to both GTs! Great job you did by providing us reliable company and taking us to so many wonderful places!

Porvoo, July 7 & 8

We spend the weekend riding to (and back from) a small coastal town of Porvoo (popul. 42000), situated about 50 kilometers east from Helsinki. Porvoo is pretty popular destination for bicyclists, probably because there is a relatively flat bicycle lane most of the way from Helsinki to Porvoo.
At Söderkulla we stop at a grocery to by some water and pizza that powers us up until our destination. We make another brief stop before Porvoo as a thunderstorm surprises us, but barely get the rain gear on before the downpour stops. We reach Porvoo and Kokonniemi Campground just before 2PM after riding 54.3 kilometers in 3 hours and 36 minutes. Since several thunderstorm are in the vicinity and it is just about to start raining again we opt for a cabin instead of a tent site. And they do have one free cabin for us ...
Porvoo is a major tourist attraction because of its old town and cute location by the sea. For its disgrace the town allows driving in the old town, which makes it quite annoying for tourists to constantly try to avoid pumping into slow moving vehicles. Here it is the pedestrians that need to be aware.
If you wonder what the building wrapped in a green cover on the left is, it is Porvoo's old church that was ruined by arson a year ago. Three drunken teenagers decided it would be cool to burn down the historic building --- they could not give any other reason for their act. Here you can see some pictures of the fire. The main actor in the arson was sentenced for 6.5 years in prison.

We enjoy a substantial lunch at Timbaali. The restaurant specializes in escargot, but we have "Finnish Fish Buffet" with all sorts of cured fish instead. We have several ours to spend before the late dinner we reserve at Paalaamo (in Finnish only, sorry). We spend the time watching Wimbledon women's final, walking in the old town and having a couple of beers.

Porvoo has several nightclubs that open late, something like 10PM or later. On the other hand, the bar scene is not very interesting. We briefly visit Glory days for a couple of Leffes served in badly stinking glasses. The next place we call, Street Bar & Cafe (also in Finnish only, my apologies) is more promising. This relatively recently opened place has a decent selection of beers and one truly enthusiastic bartender.

In Street Bar & Cafe we are lucky to find some Finnish micro-brewed porter that we cannot get in Helsinki. Huvila's porter is toasted and dry. For comparison, we also taste Anchor's porter, which is overly sweet, tastes more like molasses.
Rise and shine! We are among the first lining up for showers in the morning. If something distinguishes Finnish campers from Americans, it is that the latter are up and going as early as six o'clock in the morning and by eight the campground is empty of RV's and tents, whereas Finns are still tight asleep in their tents at 9AM. And guess who stays up later in the evening!

Of course there is another (more obvious) issue that separates us Finns from Americans: Finns don't smile or say hello to strangers.

It is not easy to find a place for breakfast. We end up riding quite a bit until we get to Hamari, a small seaside community and service harbor for fishermen and other boaters, and apparently bicyclists, too. The view is also nice --- see the picture on the upper left. The picture on the right is to Sköldvik oil refinery taken from Emäsalo bridge. Some kids were bungee jumping from the bridge (shown on the lower right) as we crossed it; dangerous business.
We have some coffee by the Emäsalo bridge, and listen to the local people sharing their thunderstorm experiences from the day before.
We take another route back to Helsinki and pass some picturesque scenery. Our last stop is at The Church of St. Lawrence, which is the oldest building in the Helsinki metropolitan area, dating back to 1450's. We have some more coffee and a vegetable pie. We have less than ten kilometers to ride home. It has not rained today, even if black clouds have surrounded us in every possible direction. We have had abundant sunshine the whole day, with the exception of the early hours.

Altogether we rode 132 kilometers this weekend. The total riding time was a little more than eight and half hours. We plan some more touring for the next weekend. Stay tuned ...

Tammisaari, Fiskars, July 14 & 15

What a gray morning greets us when we wake up at 7AM! The weather forecast says it is going to be partly cloudy and relatively warm. Warm it is. We ride our bikes for a couple kilometers and take them to the train with us to Kirkkonummi in order to avoid riding through the boring suburbs of our Western neighbor Espoo.

It is still gray in Kirkkonummi, but at least we see some blue sky in West. That's where we are heading to!

We start riding at 9AM. We follow The King's Road west. It is an old postal road that connected the Eastern and Western parts of the Swedish empire, and it was used by artists, travelers, as well as postal services and army as early as in 1300's. These days it is the major scenic route running through Southern Finland and mostly Swedish speaking municipalities.
The landscape is mostly rural with rolling hills covered by trees --- alder, aspen and birch dominating --- and farmland with tiny villages of houses mostly painted red. Wild flowers are plenty and in many colors: different shades of violet, yellow, white, magenta, and periwinkle.
On our way we make frequents stops at rural communities and tourist attractions, not just to enjoy our own snacks but to savor some local delicacies. In Degerby we have some crepes made to order at their Saturday market. In Fagervik, an old iron works made into museum district, we have some coffee and tasty pies, one with (a lots of) feta and spinach, and the other one with fresh domestic berries.

Note the rare breed of fish that has given its name to a whole municipality here in Finland, but has not been encountered here ever (as far as I know).

As we get closer to Tammisaari (Ekenäs in Swedish) the sun comes out. We book a tent site in Ormnäs campground, which is located about 1.5 kilometers from downtown Tammisaari. So far we have ridden 80.9 kilometers in 5 hours and 25 minutes.
The campground is really crowded, you cannot imagine how tight they pack the RV's and other vehicles to their respective areas. There is practically no privacy. Anyway, Finnish campers go to sleep early, so the partying is not a problem.

The bar scene in Tammisaari is as pathetic as in Porvoo, if not even more so. Practically the only bars (we find) belong to a yacht club or a hotel. The former has Brooklyn lager and Hoegaarden in bottles (in addition to the domestic beers). In the latter we have some unnamed red wine; Tempranillo is the grape, but wine is not spectacular, actually quite boring. It seems that most tourists, majority of which are Swedish speaking boaters, drink irish coffee and cocktails.

Actually, the best place is located right within our campground. The place is called Bossa Nova (who knows why). We have a couple of last drinks there before crawling into our tent. The picture on the left are from Bossa Nova, and taken around 11PM.
At some point during the night we start feeling cold. We put fleece jackets on, which means we do not have pillows anymore. At another point during the night it starts raining. And it does not stop raining until we catch the train in Karjaa the next day.
We are up at eight o'clock. Despite dull rain we start riding in an hour. We stop for breakfast at Motel Marine, and recall that this was the place we stayed overnight on our last bike trip before moving to the States. The breakfast costs us 4.20€ per person, and consists of standard selection of a Finnish hotel breakfast buffet: hot oatmeal and cold cereal, eggs, some cheese, ham, tomato, and cucumber to go with bread, and drinks such as milk, juice, coffee, and tea. Pohja ("Bottom" in English, meaning that the town is situated in the base of a bay), is our first destination of the day. The road there is mainly unpaved, which is bad since it is raining. However, the nice thing about starting riding early is that the most obnoxious drivers are not on the road yet, and it is quite peaceful out there. Only a couple of cars and campers pass us during the first two hours. The road is idyllic, and we even see a deer couple. And they see us.

After Pohja, we head to Fiskars, again a former iron works turned into a museum district inhabited with numerous galleries and artisan boutiques. We stop at Cafe Antique for coffee and pastries. With our muddy biking outfits we are a bit oddballs among classy tourists in white sneakers under golf umbrellas.

Rain won't stop so we go on towards Karjaa (Karis in Swedish), since it is our closest option to escape the lousy weather of Western Uusimaa (Uusimaa, literally meaning "new land", is the Southern region of Finland). And why? Because we can take a train to Helsinki.

So, in case you wonder why there are no pictures of all those interesting places we visited, I can assure you it is not fun to stop when raining. The water makes cleats really grumpy and attempt to detach the shoes poses a risk of a twisted ankle (and I already have one).

Rain stops when we are approaching Karjaa and we even see a few glimpses of sun. Bummer! Instead of taking the first fast train to Helsinki, we decide to enjoy the ambiance of Karjaa's old railway station for a while. We have a couple of beers and something to eat before hopping onto the passenger train later. It turns out we are not the only ones with bikes in that train.
Altogether we rode 128.4 kilometers this weekend. The total riding time is 9 and half hours. We covered half the distance we did on Saturday in approximately the same time. That probably tells what difference the dirt road and rain makes.

Lohjanjärvi, August 18 & 19

This trip neither starts nor ends well. In between, it is great and we have some fun and enjoy some nice scenery.

We don't feel like getting up when alarm goes off at 6:45AM., but give ourselves one more hour to snooze. Then we are ready. We kind of have a late start to the train, but we make it to the station on time. Otherwise, we would have a thirty-minute wait for the next train. After fitting both bicycles with the panniers to the elevator (to access the platform) we hit the alarm button by accident. Then the elevator does not move anywhere! In panic, we push the bikes up the stairs just to miss the train by seconds. So, we end up having a thirty-minute wait ahead of us, anyway.

Finally, we are in Kirkkonummi 20 minutes past 10AM. to start our newest adventure. On the gravel road from Kirkkonummi to Siuntio a motorbike rally comes up. It consists about 50 to 100 riders on old mopeds, some of them dressed in vintage riding outfits and steering their lightweight mopeds like Dennis Hopper rides his Harley in Easy Rider movie poster.

Siuntio greets us with a short and intense rain shower, but just long enough for us to get the rain gear on and seek for cover at the next bus stop. We continue towards Lohja and then to Sammatti. The serpentine road is very hilly, and we make slow progress. After 4PM. we are in Karjalohja (sorry, in Finnish only), and Päiväkumpu Spa, the only lodging in this town with population of just shy of 1500.
A room at Päiväkumpu costs us some 110 euros, including the buffet breakfast. There's nothing much to do besides eating and drinking: dance starts only later.

We walk "downtown", but there's nothing there either, but Unkan baari, which is kind of popular. We have a beer there. The most common pastime in this place is scraping lottery tickets.

We return to the hotel. The dance is about to start. The strollers are already lined up by the dance floor. I probably forgot to mention that our arrival did not shift the residents' average age to either directions --- it's probably way over seventy with or without us.
The hotel bar has an excellent selection of wines, especially reds. Tomi's "moron magnet" attracts some heavily intoxicated company, which we try to deal with while tasting some wines.
Next morning is sunny. Serious sun screen application does what it usually does; sooner than later thick clouds cover the blue sky. It is still warm, though. We start on a hilly and curvy road, but soon we hit a nice wide highway. Now we can actually ride! But not for long. Tei's front tube bursts by the valve, and we make a lengthy effort trying to fix it. Eventually, after using all our patches and spare bandages, we give up and start walking. The sun comes out.

Not a single car stops and asks if we need any help. What we should have done is to walk up to some house, and ask for a phone (this time we do not carry either a cell phone or a spare tube, which would have spared us all the trouble in the first place. Next time we'll have both.)

After ten kilometers we reach Cafe Ekkulla (funny red building on left is the outhouse of the cafe), and inquire about a gas station or a general store that probably carries spare tubes. The next town is some three kilometers away and has a store. However, despite quite extensive selection of all sorts of stuff, it does not carry tubes. Luckily, the there is a bus leaving to Helsinki in two hours.
We spend the time waiting for the bus in a bar called "Wild West". They have all kind of American Indian paraphernalia around plus a Swedish ice hockey jersey. That must be the 'wild' part. We split a meal that is of 'gas station quality'; I guess everyone in Finland knows what that means.
We only log some 80 riding kilometers in this trip. On Saturday we ride 70K in 4:55, including a ten-minute rain stop in Siuntio. The distance we cover during the weekend is 93 kilometers, and total traveling time riding or walking the bikes is 8 hours 37 minutes.