Reflections

23 Oct

7,700 km, 5 months, 10 countries,
Red=bike, green=train, blue=boat

We’ve been home for several weeks, and have made a trip page for this year’s bike trip in Northern Europe.

What was different about this trip than others we’ve done is that we arranged to meet friends and travelled with them for various segments:  Suzanne and TT in the Baltic countries, Ingrid and Kristian for Lofoten in Northern Norway, and Jiggy in Belgium and France for a visit-on-wheels. This meant a little more careful planning and scheduling than usual, but we managed. Other social highlights of the trip included seeing friends/relations in Hamburg, Oslo, and Paris, and getting a glimpse of the world of elite orienteering as we watched our daughter compete at WOC in Finland.

From Lübeck until Tallinn we rode through former Warsaw Pact countries: Former East Germany, Poland, and former Soviet Republics: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. New museums document their grim eras, and ruins of collective farms dotted the countryside. We felt we learned more about Estonia than the other Baltic republics due to the enthusiastic presence of TT, Canadian-born of Estonian refugee parents.  We learned about Sami culture as we rode through reindeer herding territory in Northern Finland, the white sand beaches of Northern Norway were a stunning surprise, and ancient Norse history came to life in Jutland, Denmark.

Our ride north through Finland and in northern Norway opened our eyes to how WW2 played out in Arctic Europe. In Finland, an extended version of the war was fought on the eastern front, and territory lost to the USSR. There is little love lost to Russia in Finland. The Germans also occupied Finland, retreating northward with an efficient  scorched earth policy, so northern towns are relatively newly built. In Kirkenes (northern Norway), however, the Russians are viewed as liberators, for having entered to rout the occupying Germans and then retreated.

Bunkers everywhere.  Missile testing grounds at Peenemünde. So many losses; crosses to the fallen everywhere in Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  Russian crosses; German crosses;  does it matter which is which? Endless row of crosses in Belgium and France. Bronze tiles to mark where Jews were arrested and taken away.

These embedded bronze plaques are called “stolpersteins” or “stumbling blocks.” The monuments are the work of artist Walter Denning, and commemorate individual Jews and individuals from other groups targeted by the Nazis (i.e. Roma), both those who died and survivors. This photo is from Lübeck. We also saw them in Polish and Baltic Cities.

Herewith a few of the mundane trip statistics. Our longest daily distances were nothing too extreme, though I guess we’re doing okay for a pair of sixty-year-olds.  Interestingly, there is the same two-humped distribution we always seem to see; there must be two natural types of touring days.  One is getting to a nearby day’s destination, to a logistical point (boat, train), or doing an errand; the other is a “real travelling day.” Some of our travelling days are getting quite short these days — perhaps we’re just learning to smell the roses.

And here’s a summary of where we slept in each country. (Note: I’ve removed the orienteering week because it was atypical for bike touring.) Proportionately, we camped more in Finland and Norway. This was to extend our  budget in these expensive countries, because accommodation was often widely spaced, and because wild-camping is easy here under Every Man’s Right. It was easy in Denmark, too, where simple lean-tos are provided for hikers and walkers, though sometimes it was a challenge to find them.

Accommodation by country

It is strange how travel makes you look at the news in a different light when you see connections to places you’ve been and things you’ve experienced. Was it coincidental that I commented on Roma issues in Europe in the last post, and then we returned only days later to a sensationalist story about a Roma couple in northern Greece who had come under heavy suspicion of having kidnapped a blonde child? The couple’s story of a desperate woman having left the girl with them was highly doubted by authorities at first, but turned out to be true. The biological mother, also Roma, came forward to confirm the couple’s story. Will her desperation bring more attention to the plight of the Roma in Europe? I haven’t yet seen a journalist spin a sympathetic and broader look at the plight of the Roma from the original story.

It’s always a bit of an adjustment to come home. “Re-entry” is a well-documented psychological phenomenon that people don’t usually include in their travel accounts. We’re busy catching up with many home-owner jobs that need dealing with, and we enjoy being part of a familiar community again, but our minds continue to process this recent journey. They also turn to future travels.

M

One Response to “Reflections”

  1. kris November 18, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Thanks for an insightful and interesting summary! I’ve been meaning to read it for a while now, but been busy with work etc.. If you end up touring somewhere in Europe/Asia next year – shout out!

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