Friday, August 16, 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Vaasa to Tampere

Vaasa coast
I spent half the day in the public library in Vaasa, but it was just too good. Unlimited internet access and I could even upload pictures onto my blog. It was 3 pm when the library closed and I was thrown out. After a late lunch on the bench in front of the library I had to face cycling again - my first cycling in Finland. The way out of Vaasa was very nice and offered fantastic views over the bay of Vaasa. I still made good kilometres before I turned off the main road onto a dirt forest road on my usual quest for a campsite. Because like in Sweden the forest is rocky and overgrown. My strategy worked in Finland as well as in Sweden. A short ways (and several raspberry picking stops) into the dirt road an overgrown track branched off and offered decent camping plus an obscene amount of mosquitoes. But the real problem arose in the morning: After packing up I pushed my bike back onto the main dirt road when I suddenly twisted my ankle on the rough overgrown path. What an irony: I never sprained an ankle on a hiking trip, but now it happened on a bike trip! Well, I probably did not sprain it, but it hurt like hell and is still hurting now, 4 days later. But I have 10 more days before I start my hiking trip so the foot should heal until then.

Although the weather was not quite as bad as expected, the endless days of glorious sunshine were gone. The forecast was for rain and it did indeed start raining on and off in the afternoon - after I had taken a wonderful swim in a lake. I still did over 90 km before calling it a day in a very forested area. Same procedure as every day. Turn off the road onto a forest road, look for an overgrown trail - but in this case it was a newly sanded track that ended abruptly after 100 metres. Great! This was completely flat albeit hard camping and the sand would absorb the rain perfectly. My timing was perfect. As soon as I had set up camp it started to rain very hard - but I was dry in my tent watching intently if it was completely waterproof. It seemed so.

Next day I needed internet to confirm my arrival to my couchsurfing host in Tampere. I did not find wifi, but free internet in the public library at Parkano. Unfortunately I checked to weather forecast and it was bad, bad, bad. I decided to cycle as far as possible that day because the next one would be rain the entire time. I had hoped to make more than 100 km but of course this was the day when the route was on dirt often and the landscape was rolling hills. I struggled to cycle 90 kms before 8 pm but I had to seek refuge from the rain a couple of times, too. That night I found the campsite of all campsites, the way I had dreamt camping would be like in Scandinvia. In a light pine forest the ground was flat and soft and mossy. No rocks! I could not believe it. There weren't hardly any mosquitoes!

But of course I woke up to rain. I packed my tent in rain. And when I was just about to leave, a guy in an electric wheelchair and a dog showed up. I don't know how he managed the forest trails but he did - and was very much surprised to find me there. First he asked me something in Finnish, but changed to fluent English. He even invited me to stay at his place next time - which even includes a sauna. A nice prospect with a day of constant rain ahead. The weather proved the forecast right. It rained the whole day turning it into the most miserable day of the whole 3 month trip. My rain jacke was leaking, everything was soaking wet and I was cold. I only had to cycle 60 km to Tampere but it took forever. When I sought refuge under a bus shelter people waiting for the bus showed up! Totally unheard of! I thought bus shelters are for cyclists.....

When I finally made it toTampere I was a bit too early to go to my CS host and therefore I decided to warm up in a museum. The first museum on the way was the workers' museum and although being very interesting it was the complete wrong choice for my purpose: All the building were open air and unheated! Luckily there was a nice and warm cafe were I sat for half an hour drying off and reading the English exhibition translation. Coincidentally I sat next to a large group of German speaking middle aged ladies who were talking about Finland and gave me some nice (and secret) insights as I did not show that I could understand every word they were saying. I learnt from the museum guide that Tampere is an old industrial city - and therefore even has another workers' museum that I would visit next day.

But I was off to my CS host now who greeted me with "Would you like to go into the sauna?". Yes, I liked to indeed and two hours later the world looked much nicer. I had eaten, showered, sauna-ed and my clothes washed. I felt like a new human being and started looking forward to visit Tampere. My host Sanna generously let me use her computer and I could finally plan out and book the rest of this trip in the morning before embarking onto more sightseeing. Sanna had recommended to visit Moomin-Valley, and that did not ring a bell with me. She then patiently explained to me the Moomin world: The Swedish Finnish writer and cartoonist Tove Jannson had invented the fantasy figures for a comic cartoon in 1946 and they became widely popular all over the world. The moomins are round shaped hippopotamus looking figures who live in Moomin valley together with other fantasy creatures and of course stumble from one adventure into the next one. Tampere has a Moomin museum and of course I had to visit it now! I was immediately intrigued by the Moomin world that not only attracts kids but has a deep philosophical meaning underneath it. Unfortunately photography was forbidden in the museum so I can only show the exhibition poster.

Swimming at the sauna
In the evening Sanna took my to another Finnish highlight: The public sauna in Rauheiniemi. I had thought that I am a hardy sauna type because I had visisted saunas a lot when I was still working in Germany. But compared to Finns I am a wuss! The sauna was a great experience: Very cheap for only 5 EUR, but also rather basic. Men and women go into the sauna together but wear swimsuits. The sauna is huge and despite the fact that people are constantly coming and going outrageously hot. You stay 5 minutes in the sauna and then go outside to swim in the ice cold lake. And then repeat that 5 to 10 times..... After 3 times I was already exhausted and after 5 times nearly dead - but felt incredibly clean and relaxed. Sanna (and everyone else) did not seem to suffer, whereas I just thought of how to survive.... Finnish people are strong!

My bike trip is coming to an end now. I only have 230 km left to cycle to Helsinki from where I will take the ferry to Germany, the train to Berlin and then embark onto  my next adventure. It is about time to leave: The weather is turning bad with more and more rain every day. I would either have to stock up on better rain gear - or go back. But I am not sad about leaving soon: I am pretty sure I will come back to Scandinavia next year....

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