Coming out of the Cold
By the time I was done buying stickers at Nordkapp it was already 2pm. The next place I wanted to be was Rovaniemi – on the edge of the Arctic Circle in Finland. Getting from the Arctic Circle in Norway to Nordkapp had taken me 3 days. I punched it into my phone, and George reckoned 11 hours to get there. Next time I looked, it was 24. Restarted and back to 11 again. I decided to believe the more optimistic estimate and started riding. Embarking on a 11 hour ride at 2pm anywhere else would be completely retarded, but I had a number of things on my side:
- My supply of daylight was infinite
- One of those hours was actually a pretend hour stolen from my life by time-zone-black-magic
- Most importantly, George gives me no credit for my Rossi-like riding skills and tends to underestimate how quickly I can get down empty roads. And roads up here are pretty empty, given that there’s not a whole lot of people around.
The road back from Nordkapp was just as lovely as it’d been on the way up, except that every moose or reindeer in Norway seemed to have come out of the woodwork to see me off. I’d never even seen a moose until I got this far north – Joseph had even driven me around in Sweden just so that I could see one but to no avail. Now, however, they were around every single blind corner, and this continued all the way to Rovaniemi. My only consolation was that I had my GoPro on and I was going to get some sweet reindeer shots… except that I later found that a raindrop had landed exactly on the lens and stayed there the entire time I’d been recording, ruining every single photo. Sigh. Please accept this artist’s impression instead.
Screw you, I'm a moose!
I’d always considered reindeer to be some kind of exotic, nearly mythical animal known for pulling Santa’s sleigh about and little else. On the road to Finland I got to know them as the road pest they are though – what the kangaroo is to Australian drivers, the reindeer is to the Finns. To be honest that’s not even a fair comparison, seeing how a kangaroo moves around a ridiculous amount and as a result is quite visible – through some miracle of either evolution or intelligent design (read: god messing with me) reindeer are impossible to see until you’re right next to them, even if they’re standing on open ground. You’ll be riding along happily and then suddenly there’ll be a reindeer standing right in the road, 5 metres away looking straight at you. You can practically hear it saying “Sup bro!” as you panic-lock your rear wheel. I’m completely confused as to why people hunt these things – how hard can it be to kill something that willingly runs in front of moving vehicles? I came out of a tunnel in Norway only to find the exit blocked by a whole gang of loitering moose – I half expected them to be spraying graffiti or something.
I considered drawing some moose on this one too but I guess the joke is wearing thin
Around the Finnish border I lost my magic hour and the road stopped curving left and right and started curving up and down instead – miles and miles of dead straight road consisting of millions of elevation changes. I amused myself by trying to get some air off them but wasn’t successful. Mainly I was just happy to be gaining ground so quickly. Around about 9pm I was only 80km from Rovaniemi, but needed some petrol and figured I’d better get some food too. After some pasta and frankfurters I came back to my bike and had a look at the rear tire.
The Pirelli Scorpion Trail's soft nougat centre
Ahhhh shit. I’d realised my rear was looking a bit bald but I hadn’t seen a motorcycle shop since I rode past Tromso, Norway… over 1000km ago. I realised that the safest thing to do here would be to find some other way into town and come back with a tow truck for the bike later. Obviously what I actually did was put my helmet back on and limped the last 80km into town, every second expecting the rear to blow out and send me sliding across the wet road. Fortunately the closest place that had a tire turned out to be Rovaniemi, so the next day I limped out again, found the only motorcycle dealership for 100km and got a new tire. Unfortunately all they had in Os’ size was a stinking sport-touring tire, making my pretend-adventure-tourer even more of a pretender. :(.
As soon as I went inside the dealership the heavens opened... just check out all the water landing on that mower.
Once I’d figured out my tire issues I had the rest of the day to explore Rovaniemi. I had a quick look at the museum there, which is supposed to be one of the best in Finland. Says a lot about Finland’s museums I guess… I was far from impressed. Rovaniemi’s claim to fame, however, has nothing to do with museums and everything to do with Santa Claus. I’m not sure how exactly it came to be, but somehow Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa Claus during the off-season. I thought he was supposed to live on the North Pole rather than the very edge of where the arctic circle used to be, but maybe I’m just a purist. The result is that on the main road there’s a Santa’s workshop where you can get your picture taken with the man himself, surrounded by a metropolis of dodgy Christmas-themed souvenir shops.
Damnit, I just couldn't resist
I just couldn’t abide being in Lapland and not going to meet Santa Claus. He’s actually a very talkative fellow – I almost felt bad for the elves trying to get him to shut up so they could take a photo and usher me out of there. Upon me saying I was from Sydney, he said “ah yes, near Turramurra?”… which is two suburbs over from where I actually live. I was pretty impressed. Rovaniemi also has the world’s most northerly McDonalds – fans of will be happy to know that this one too is surrounded by dodgy teenagers getting into fights on a Saturday night, just like every McDonalds in Australia.
One side cold, one side hot
I’d had just about enough of freezing my arse off in literally arctic conditions though – it was time to head south. Because my retarded plan hadn’t taken me to Stockholm when I was in Sweden, I stayed on the Swedish side of the Gulf of Bothina, had an uneventful stop in Umea and found myself in Stockholm the next day. It was a nice little town that I probably should’ve stayed in for a bit longer. It was the first one on my trip to have a specific “Old Town” with narrow streets and cobblestones and so on – a pattern that would become very very familiar as I made my way down through Eastern Europe. The best thing I saw in Stockholm was easily the changing of the guard. Unlike boring old Buckingham Palace, the guards at Sweden’s palace wear shiny spike helmets and they have a full marching band mounted on horses that whirls around playing music. It’s pretty cool.
THAT HORSE HAS DRUMS
Although I do love Sweden, it quickly came time to move on. I planned to take the 7:30am ferry across to Helsinki and enjoy a day of watching the islands go by and writing my blog. Cleverly, after failing to obey my alarm and taking way too long for breakfast, I turned up to the port at 7:25am, to find the gate firmly closed and the ferry pulling away. Damnit. Forced with the choice between a more expensive overnight ferry ticket or an equally expensive extra night in Stockholm, I chose the overnight ferry. Never been on one before, might be fun. The ferries between Stockholm and Helsinki have massive reputations as party boats – sailing between the two countries allows for duty free alcohol to be sold on board, so it’s bought, consumed in the rooms and then there’s a big party later. Or so I’m told – I barely saw another person my age on board, it mostly looked like families and pensioners. After going to the bar and seeing a lot of middle aged people dancing to Boney M (not that Boney M isn’t awesome) I decided to take advantage of the fact that no one else was in my room and enjoy a rare night in private quarters.
Rolling off the ferry in the morning, I met up with Ahmed, a guy from couchsurfing who’d kindly offered to host me – I didn’t even send him a request, he just saw that I was looking in Helsinki and said I could come along. The fact that he didn’t have any information on his profile at the time made me a bit suspicious, but he turned out to not only not
be a serial killer, but also one of the most interesting people I met while travelling. Ahmed was from Iraq, of all places, and had come to Finland because he’d worked as an interpreter for the coalition forces there, and when the insurgency found out he and his family were threatened. As a fluent English speaker with an IT background he tried to make it to the UK to apply for asylum, and figured the easiest place to enter the EU would be in Finland, miles away from the Middle East or Africa. While changing planes in Finland, he lost his passport during the flight, thwarting his plans to get through the border unnoticed – his only choices were to apply for asylum in Finland or go back home.
I have a *massive cannon* between my legs, if you know what I mean
Ahmed was a really good host – he took me around some of the sights and some of the bars at night, as well as for a walk around the area where he lives. Helsinki wasn’t what I expected at all – it’s the capital of Finland, but it’s *quiet*. Oddly the city it reminded me most of was Canberra, the capital of Australia and regarded by most Australians as one of the most boring cities on the planet. Which isn’t to say that Helsinki (or indeed Canberra) is boring, they just both have this empty feeling – you can walk for an hour and only see a few people. The night-life in Helsinki seems very similar, with small, not particularly special places gaining massive amounts of significance just because there’s not that many people or that many places to go.
This part of Helsinki looks *exactly the same* as a suburb of Canberra called Kingston. Freaks me out
That said, Helsinki’s saving grace is that it is basically a factory for beautiful people. Have you ever watched a video clip for a song that shows some street scene where every pedestrian just walking by is impossibly attractive, and you’re thinking “well that’s just silly, no street anywhere looks like that”. That is what Helsinki is like. Going out on a Saturday night there poses a danger of spinal injury as your neck twists left and right – it’s not even a voluntary, you can’t help yourself.
Unfortunately I don't have any pictures related to this, so have a picture of some water instead. Sorry lads!
The journey down from Nordkapp had been a blast, but it was time to kiss goodbye to the brutal prices of the Nordic nations and say hello to Eastern Europe and being able to afford something other than sandwiches. Next stop Estonia!