Friday, August 23, 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Tampere to Helsinki

The last leg of this trip was dominated by the weather. I had three days to get to Helsinki and I wanted to arrive as early as possible on the third day to do some sightseeing. The forecast for day one was good, continuous rain for day two and sunshine again for day three. I therefore had to make most of the distance on day one - which was the day when I left Tampere. Experience had taught me that I never get an early start after a town day. Sleeping in a bed, internet and Lidl are too tempting and as expected it took me till noon to get away from my host's lovely house and Tampere's city Lidl. On the whole trip I have cycled more than one hundred kms per day only four times - and this day was one of it despite my late start. I cycled till 9 pm and was so exhausted that I skipped a cooked dinner but I made it. I ended up in a nature reserve close to Hämelinna which looked good on the map but was a bad choice. Being so close to town it was a popular spot as I could see from the huge parking lot. But it was too late to look for another place. And althpugh I heard mountain bikers and runners pass my tent in the morning no one disturbed me.

Haeme castle
Hämelinna's most famous sight is the huge castle but just this weekend a huge mediaeval fair was taking place - and cost 15 EUR. I decided to skip it but still enjoyed all the dressed up people in the streets. Only Jehova's witnesses who had a stand next to the fair looked a bit out of place.... But the sky was turning greyer and greyer and I pressed on. Exactly as forecasted the rain started in the afternoon and was as bad as expected. But despite having to wait out particularly bad spells under bus shelters I still made almost 100 km that day and ended in the last big forested area along my route before Helsinki. I cooked my last dinner in Finland (fried zuccini with couscous and tomatoes) and looked forward to Helsinki.

Experience also taught me that cycling in and out of a big city is a pain and takes forever. Helsinki was no exception: Although the distance was only 40 kms it took me over for hours to get to Helsinki centre. This was a Sunday and my only chance of doing museum sightseeing because everything would be closed on Monday. I visited the Ateneum art museum and the National Finnish Museum and because they were both rather small compared to their Danish or Swedish counterpart I made it before closing time.

Helsinki cathedral
The next day, my last full day in Finland was just perfect. The rainy morning I chatted away with my CS host and as soon as I mounted the bicycle to go into town the sun came out. I strolled through Helsinki centre and saw the famous imposing cathedral (that is almost empty inside), the interesting and free Helsinki city museum and a bookstore where I studied guidebooks and maps for my next trip to Finland. And what would be a fitting end of my last full day in Finland? A visit to a sauna, of course. My host had suggested a public swimming pool close by and this is where I went. 6,30 € buys you entrance to several saunas, a huge swimming pool and even a warmer fun pool. Who says that Finland is expensive.... It was so incredibly relaxing in the sauna that I came back to my CS host beaming with joy.

Sunset seen from the ferry
On August 20th, my trip came to a slow end. I took the ferry from Helsinki to Travemünde in Germany. In hindsight this was probably not the cheapest option although it sounded very good first. The ticket for a passenger in a seat only is 155 €. But then it all ads up: Bringing a bike is 30 € extra. The ferry trip is 26 hours and therefore you either have to buy the expensive food on board or bring your own. Then the ferry arrives in Travemünde after dark, so wild camping is difficult and you have to pay for a hostel or campground. Plus I still had to pay for a train ticket to Berlin. But the ferry trip was quite nice (there even is a sauna on board) and I did not have to deal with bike boxes and disassembling the bike for flying. And most importantly there is a daily ferry and there is always space for a single passenger with a bike whereas you have to plan way ahead to get a cheap plane ticket.

In the end the ferry ride was quite ok. I chatted a lot with two German cyclists, spent a lot of time in the sauna and read two books - but was glad when the long trip was finally over. Still it was a Grande Finale when the huge ferry slowly turned into the bay at Travemünde, turned 180 degrees and docked. By the time cyclists were allowed to leave it was already 9.30 pm and pitchdark. Luckily I knew from previous research were the campground is. Actually this campsite is very convenient for ferry passengers as it is less than 2 km away from the port and even signposted on the bike path. As they are used to ferry passengers reception is open in summer until 11 pm. According to their price lost it costs 12 € for a one tent and a bike but the owner only charged me 10 € because "he was in a good mood." Although I think that this campground is the best solution for late night ferry passengers it was not a very pleasant experience and reminded me why I usually avoid commercial campgrounds. The ground was hard, cigarette butts lying around everywhere and when morning commuter traffic started at 7 am on the nearby highway I could not fall asleep any more. After a hearty Aldi breakfast I wanted to take the train to Berlin. But, bad surprise: the train was late, I missed the connection and arrived in Berlin later than expected.  Welcome back to Germany!

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