We have spent the last 8 nights in Finland and Sweden. Sweden was pretty much a stopover so we could add it to our country bingo card. Sweden being country 9 on our travels.
We really had not thought this part of the journey through as we spent all our planning time on Norway and so as we entered the country we really knew nothing about it. All the feedback from Fins we met on our travels about the best route to travel south had been non-comital and we understood why when we started to travel there. We crossed the border onto a gravel road which turned out to be roadworks, after that we can say that the entire run down to Helsinki can be described as safe, flat and a bit boring. It really is one big forest from top to bottom, roads are straight for miles, speeds are high and other than the occasional panic as a reindeer would run out in front of us, it was not the best ride on a motorbike.
We didn’t know how to take the Fins either. They have what they call grit or sisu, they are quiet and don’t talk a lot, something we took for being unfriendly. They will stare and not even acknoweldge a hello most times. You might get a response from a smile but that’s your lot. That is until we got all the way to Helsinki where the culture appears to be more open from what we can see.
Camping in Finland is easy as long as you don’t mind mosquitoes. We can confirm they don’t go hungry here, they simply take a nibble from you when they want to. We stopped on two campsites before Helsinki, one in Hetta we will remember after spending an hour talking to a local woman whose husband had passed away a couple of months previously which was very emotional. The other site was deserted, we were the only people there other than two guys who seemed to be in a cabin and worked locally and one motorhome. It was a big site that had gone to ruin to some extent and it was very spooky being so utterly quiet.
In between the two camping nights we had a two nights in Haparanda in Sweden. It was so close to Finland that our phones kept flicking between Swedish and Finnish phone providers. The big issue being that Sweden is an hour behind so we often didn’t know what time it was. We stopped in a bargain basement hotel which was actually pretty nice and walked back into Finland in the day.
After Clair had a puncture in Norway we thought we were doing pretty well until I took us on a wrong turn as we neared Helsinki and she dropped her bike turning it around. No damage done to her or the bike fortunately!
Eventually though we made our way to Helsinki though and it was here that we camped for four nights at Rastila, a state run campsite and got to see another side of the country. We bought a tourist pass which is excellent value, it gives you unlimited travel using public transport and access to tours, ferries, and museums either for free or at a discounted rate.
What we saw was a country that is very proud of its status, its freedoms and equality, being one of the first countries to give women the vote. Helsinki is a very vibrant city with lots of cafes restaurants, shops and a superb public transport system that makes getting around easy. Walking and cycling in the city is very popular, there are loads of rental bikes, electric scooters from lots of companies and they are everywhere if you want to rent one and whizz off somewhere. We really went for it as tourists, hopping between metro, tram, island ferry, tour boat and bus cramming in as much as we could. Our last day touring was slightly interrupted by Vladimir Putin visiting which led to several major roads being closed but by this time we felt like masters at cutting through shops and alleys to get where we wanted.
So, that’s Finland. I don’t have the words to describe the highs and lows of our travel through a beautiful country. Onward we go to Estonia.
With musical accompaniment: Louis Armstrong’s what a wonderful world. Quite fitting really.