Thursday, 31 July 2014

Last days in Finland

Rapids on Kymijoki River
 It is hot now in Finland, hot, hot, hot. I hadn't thought that it would get that warm here for such a long time. It hasn't rained for over two weeks. Forest fire warnings and heat warnings have been issued. I jump into every available lake to cool off but it doesn't last long. And I am facing a new problem with stealth camping: I need a campsite with shade in the morning or I'll be turned into a grill sausage after 6 am - sunrise is around 3 am... I am not even cooking any more and have lost all appetite for chocolate. Don't get me wrong: I am not complaining about the weather. This heat wave is just totally unexpected after a record cold June.

I am now cycling towards Kotka in the Baltic Sea coast and try to camp close to town. My quest for a nice, flat and morning shade campsite brings me to quite an attractive spot. I had turned off the highway towards the Kymijoki river when I hear some rumbling in the distance. Following the noise I come to some impressive rapids and I am glad I am cycling and not paddling. There even is a flat and shady campsite and not a single car comes down the dirt road all night long.

Museum facade
Kotka houses the Finnish National Maritime Museum, a huge modern building and the main reason I came here. Again I managed to coincide with a festival, the biannual maritime festival. There is a big fun fair in town, right in front of the museum. Fences and security guards everywhere. I play stupid tourist but no chance: they won't let me in with my bike. It is hot and I am totally annoyed. I don't want to leave my bags unattended on my bike in the sun but it is too far to carry them to the museum. After arguing with the security guys for 15 minutes I turn into a bitch and ask where I can complain. They call their supervisor. More arguing, but surprise, surprise: they agree to watch my bags for free. Luckily the museum is airconditioned. I wash my hair in the bathroom although hand soap probably isn't the best shampoo. I finally even see the museum which is huge and my enthusiasm for it dwindles as much as my hunger grows. Eventually I face the heat again and eat some sunbaked avocados and ham croissants out of my hot bike panniers.

I can't find a good swimming lake before setting up camp but next morning I pass a swimming beach and can't be bothered what the guy mowing the lawn on the opposite shore thinks about me skinny dipping. Lovisa has a Lidl and a Hesburger. I am not eating fast food but Hesburger has free wifi and I spend an hour outside (luckily in the shade) organizing my couchsurfing stay in Helsinki. Then onwards to Poorvo where I arrive late. Finding a campsite so close turns out to be even more difficult than expected. There aren't that many Finns but every single one of them seems to have a summer cottage here. Wherever I turn there is a cottage and now in summer people are also staying there. It is getting later and later and all I can find is more cottages. Finally a piece of pine forest with nice duff and even flat spots. There is morning shade but I can't enjoy it. I want to get up early to get into Helsinki in time to see the art museum.

As usual the last kilometres into town drag on forever. I stop to buy icecream. My GPS performs the usual nightmare and shuts down several times. Maybe it's too hot for it.  But I finally arrive at the Ateneum with 2,5 hours for sightseeing - and a hefty entrance fee of 12 €. It is not really worth it because one entire floor is being renovated and not accessible.

Helsinki Rock Church
Then on to my CS host Niklas where I ended the day discussing Buddhism while eating vegetarian lentil spaghetti. Next day was Monday when all the museums are closed giving me a good excuse to do nothing - or almost nothing. I updated my blog, visited some churches and had to make a decision. My ear has been bothering me since January. After endless ear infections my doctor had declared me fit for travel but my ear was still hurting. Not much, not always but whenever I thought the ear problem was finally over it started hurting again. Helsinki was my best bet for finding an English speaking ENT doctor - but was it with the trouble. Niklas helped me a lot by explaining the dual Finnish health system: there is public health care and private health companies. He showed me where to go and I was amazed by the efficiency of the system. A friendly receptionist explained in perfect English that right now no ENT doctor is in call in this specific health centre but she gave me an appointment for next day in the city centre. Perfect!

Upenski Cathedral
After another night under a roof and more enlightenment about Finnish politics I leave my friendly CS hosts to have my ear examined. Again nasty instruments are stuck into my ear and gunk is sucked out. The verdict is good though: no further ear infection, only an irritation. Ear infections take a very long time to heal completely I am told, so don't worry. It was a pleasant although a bit expensive experience with Finnish health care. I reward myself with a Chinese AYCE buffet before I head to the ferry to Tallinn.

I am a bit sad to leave Finland where I have had such a good time. But I have one consolation: in the travel section of Helsinki's biggest bookstore I found brilliant nautical maps of the Finnish Lakelands - I am already thinking of coming back for a paddling trip.

So now I am back in the Baltic States where I will slowly cycle along the Baltic Sea coast towards a ferry back to Germany and my next trip. But I guess I'll still be cycling for another three weeks or so.

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