Category Archives: Finland

Borderlands

2013/07/22: 36 km to Kirkenes
2013/07/23: 64 km to Grense Jakobselb
2013/07/24: 22 km part way back to Kirkenes
2013/07/25:  55 km to Kirkenes
Having arrived at the coast well in time for a planned rendez vous in Honningsvåg, we had time for explorations.  After a chat with the information office lady, we bought a few days’ worth of food and headed east on a road that ended at the north-easternmost coast of Norway. Grense Jakobselb is a tiny settlement at the mouth of the small river that forms the Norwegian border with Russia. It was once a fishing village; now there are a few houses used only in summertime when the road is open. There is a small Norwegian garrison here. (There is pretty big military establishment with airport just west of Kirkenes.)  Border posts mark the river banks on either side, and watchtowers dot the Russian side. We understand there is also a big fence on the Russian side exactly like those we have seen along other former Soviet borders,  designed to keep people in.  The Norwegians only build fences to keep the (domesticated North Sami) reindeer in.

Midnight Sun

There is also a lovely beach here, where we camped and spent a relaxed day and a night of eternal light. A focal point is the small stone King Oscar II Chapel, built as a way of establishing the border position and to settle fishing disputes a few hundred years ago. Apparently the construction of the chapel was suggested by a naval officer as an alternative to sending more armaments. Its tiny cemetery holds the graves of Norwegians, Sami, Russians and Finns. The east side of the river was part of a Finnish corridor to the Barents Sea between the two world wars.

We began to make our way back to Kirkenes in the late afternoon, camping on the way.  Back in town the next morning, we visited the Borderlands Museum (Grenselandmuseet) and learned more of WW2 as it was fought in the Arctic, and why locals view the Russians as their liberators.  We then patronized the local swimming pool with its showers and sauna, and washed our dirtiest clothing by hand in the sink before eating our supper in the town centre where Russian women sold their wares.

After a wet night in the woods just outside town, we rode into town for coffee and waffles, then to the dock to board a Hurtigruten boat for Vardø on the Varanger peninsula.

M

Note:
We have edited our four most recent Flickr photo sets.
These are FinlandOrienteeringFinnish Lapland, and Finnmark.

We will likely add more to Finnmark. Earlier sets, especially for the Baltic countries, still need work.

Random Thoughts

Some things do not naturally go into a blog post that chronologically records events. Here I put a few of these sort of thoughts. I also test writing from my cell phone.

Nights without Darkness
These are a great asset to bike touring. The need to cook supper and pitch tent before it gets dark is gone. Without this time pressure, it’s easier to stop and smell the roses. Surprisingly one still makes the intended progress and time is found for sleep.

Everyman’s Right
This longstanding tradition has become part of common law. It is well accepted in Scandinavia.  It allows you to camp, even on private land, without needing to ask permission. It is a boon to the traveling cyclist, especially when there is no darkness to aid stealth camping.

Norwegian Drivers
These are the best we have ever experienced. They overtake bikes as if these were cars, with the same rights to the road. Any car that has not done this to us in Norway has had Russian number plates. This safe behavior will have us coming back, despite the very high cost of living here.

Public Picnic Tables
A common sight in North America, these are an endangered species in Europe. In Norway they are almost as prevalent as in North America, but the quality is inferior.

Toilets
Here Finland wins, although the 1 Euro charge is high (but normally avoidable). Finnish toilets come with a handheld spray jet that can have its temperature adjusted. This can be used to clean the bowl or used as a bidet.

Borders
With the coming of the Schengen Zone, these have all but disappeared. This is great progress. But now the major borders such as between Norway and Russia with their heavy military presence, barbed wire and long lists of things you may not do, look very draconian.

Insects in Lapland
This was the non-event of our trip. By far the worst insect problems were in Estonia and Poland. Everyman’s Right does help however, as there is no need to hide in the forest (where insects are more prevalent) to camp.

C

Reaching the Arctic Ocean

2013/07/19: Resting and touristing in Inari
2013/07/20: 101 km to 50 km South of Norwegian Border
2013/07/21: 76 km to about 30 km west of Kirkenes, Norway

Inari

The Sami Flag

We had a tiny campground cabin here on the outskirts for two nights. It had a hotplate, and the campground had WiFi  –of sorts. Inari is the Sami capital, with a Sami cultural centre cum parliament building, as well as a museum called Siida that documents the history of the Sami people. We visited both of these. The cultural centre was a striking piece of architecture that blended with the stark landscape; it had conference rooms and an auditorium was abuzz with women doing crafts, and had a well-appointed library with most books in Finnish, but also with some in each of the three local Sami dialects: Inari Sami, North Sami and Skolt Sami. At the Siida museum we had coffee with Antje, the solo German cyclist we’d met the evening before.

The Final Stretch North
About an hour out of Inari we reached a junction; if we’d stayed on the main road we could have spent a night in a hostel a few kilometres further along. We opted to turn off northeastward towards Kirkenes, the easternmost town in Norway. We are ahead of schedule for our meeting with friends at Nordkapp, but were looking forward to dabbling in new landscapes. We also met a Swiss woman -a little older than us–travelling south on her own. This adventure that had taken quite some planning as she was not prepared to camp on her own, and not wanting to cover long daily distances.  She was pleased when we bequeathed her our cycling map of Lapland.

Reindeer
We must have seen hundreds by now, and are getting quite casual about sightings. They usually trot off into the forest, glancing backward disdainfully at us as they go.  As a result of tightening northern border controls after WW2, herding in Northern Finland was organized into several large co-operatives, There is miles of fencing along the roadside, but where fences cross the road, there is no cattle guard (except at the international border) to prevent a creature from skipping across. Instead, there are flapping plastic bags and bits of flagging hung from the wire strands at either side. We expect the idea is to frighten the reindeer so they wont even try to scamper along the road through the fence gap. Chris had noticed an electronic device mounted on a post as we crossed one of the fence lines, but I hadn’t seen it. A very loud siren suddenly went off, nearly frightening me off my bike! It was no doubt a very effective reindeer scaring device.

Just in case you thought they were  still pulling Santa´s sleigh!

We’d polished off our reindeer salami, but as we entered the Skolt Sami village of Sevettijarvi, we saw a sign that informed us bluntly how most reindeer end; there was a meat outlet here, and I think the building behind it was an abattoir. In the café, we had the squares of a reindeer mincemeat pie for lunch. A little further up the road was a fenced structure for loading reindeer into trucks.

Skolt Sami
In Sevettijarvi we saw a display about the Skolt Sami people who resettled here when Finland lost part of its territory to Russia at the end of WW2. Their dialect, which they are working very hard to preserve and to revive, borrows words from Russian, and we could see a Russian flair to their costumes that the other Sami groups do not have. At a craft display at the school, we met Hannah. a Skolt Sami woman who had spent her teenage years in Toronto. We were impressed with her plans to develop local tourism, and especially with her idea to organize ski touring outings with support by reindeer for hauling heavier gear.

Changing Landscape
After endless stretches of managed forest, the trees were getting smaller. Pines grew gnarled from wind exposure, and birches grew as low sprawling multi-stemmed shrubs rather than  as upright trees. In addition to huge Lake Inari to our right, there were many smaller lakes that looked like sprawling alpine tarns in a landscape that is now rocky, divided by eskers and moraines, and dotted with huge erratic boulders. Our final campsite in Finland was an idyllic lakeside, where we sat quietly to watch the sun dip low without setting. The next day, we crossed into Norway in the early afternoon, after spending our remaining euro coins on chocolate bars at the last Finnish shop. Our first Norwegian campsite was on a small point of land that reached into Munkfkord, an arm of the Arctic Ocean. M

Into Lapland

Lapland is the area inhabited by the Sami people. There are more reindeer here than people. As you move north, the trees in the forest become smaller and finally the landscape becomes open fell land. In 1945 Hitler´s retreating army had a scorched earth policy, so nearly everything from Rovaniemi north is constructed post-war. A notable exception is Sodankyla´s small wooden church built in 1689. It is very plain inside, almost like a Quaker Meeting House, although there is a simple altar.

Sodankyla´s church built in 1689 using local labour. On the roof are three tall decorations probably having roots in Sami pre-christian religion.

North of Sodankyla, the road crosses a divide between the Baltic Sea and Arctic Ocean watersheds over a pass of about 350 m in open moorland.

Fence protecting the road from snow drifts at the Baltic/Arctic watershed divide

Crossing this divide brings you into Northern Lapland.

Side road in Inari

2013/07/14: Train from Kajaani and 13 km to Santa´s gravel parking lot

We had a slow morning cleaning our apartment and arranging for our orienteering gear to be taken back to Canada. We took the train to Rovaniemi, where we had a supper of pizza. We then rode out of town on a bike path signed ¨Napapiri¨ (Arctic Circle) and camped in a gravel pit with some RVs.

The Arctic Circle is presently moving north at 15 metres per year, so there is no road marker for it Rather there is a Santa Claus resort, built just north of the present location of the Arctic Circle presumably so over time it will remain close to the circle.

2013/07/15: 75 km to Dairy Farm Hostel ¨Visatupa¨

Better keep producing, or you’re a hamburger!

In a short day with the wind at our backs, we made good time but stop early to stay at a dairy farm. Prior to stopping we saw our first reindeer and met a young Polish lad pulling a Polish-designed “extra wheel” and carrying six large panniers. He is doing Poland to NordKapp return living only on food he had dried himself in Poland –quite a challenge!

At the farm hostel we met friendly Danish and Swedish couples. Margo took a tour of the farm to see the herd of Ayrshires plus a few Holsteins being milked. The farmer was very friendly and informative. At breakfast the next morning we learned that because of the need to assert Finnish sovereignty in the post war era, there are today many more farms in Finnish Lapland than in Swedish Lapland. Entry into the EU has caused subsidies to decrease but improvements in farming practices have kept farms profitable.

2013/07/16: 100 km to Camp by lake

After a pleasant breakfast with the Danish couple we pedalled back to the road. We took a picnic lunch in Sodankyla, and visited the church. Bought spare links for our chains in local sports store, along with mozzie hats and a bright safety singlet for me. Camped in a pleasant site by a lake with reasonable protection from the wind because the weather was changing.

2013/07/17: 88 km to in Camp open forest

Strong winds in our faces greeted us when we return to the road in the morning. We started to see lots of reindeer, and reindeer products in stores. Bought reindeer salami from a store that also had bear and moose (elk) salami. Through the day the trees got smaller and further apart as we cycled north. Camped in picturesque site near stream. All signs had become bilingual (Local Sami dialect – Finnish)

2013/07/17: 79 km to Inari

Woke late. Over breakfast some reindeer passed by. One of them was white, it is said to be good luck by the Sami to see a white reindeer. This is the second white reindeer we have seen, but no good luck yet.  Apparently the Sami make shoes from them.

Had large buffet lunch in Ivalo including game meat stew. Pleasant ride along south shore of Lake Inari. Stopped for a rest at a picnic stop by lake and had a long talk to a German motorcyclist who was on tour that took him to Kazahkstan and Russia. He reported no issues with police in Russia. Stopped in evening in Inari in a very small cabin. Did laundry and showered!

C

An Orienteering Interlude

2013/07/6-14: World Orienteering Championships and Kainuu Orienteering Week
This was Louise’s seventh World Championships. It was the first time we’ve attended, however, and our first time participating in a large European orienteering event. It was good to get an insight into Louise’s experiences.

For a perspective on the the Canadian team’s experience, have a look (if you haven’t already) at the Team Canada Blog.

The Kainuu Orienteering  Week  runs as an annual event in orienteering-crazed Finland, but this year it was run in conjunction with the World Orienteering Championships  as the “spectator race”, with over 5000 participants. Nearly all participants have assigned start times, and there were five start locations.  It was interesting to watch these running like factories that discharged orienteers into the woods up to eight at a time, once per minute, for hours and hours.

We guess that over 90% of the KOW participants are Finns. At the first of our four events, it was a little tricky to know where to position oneself to best listen for a call-up time time announced  only in Finnish, and one’s name read with an unfamiliar pronunciation. I knew my watch was not set accurately. My technique was to peer at other participants’ bibs, find someone with the same start time, remember the colour of their clothing, and glue myself to that person.

For our first two events, we trotted through open stands of Scotch pine with beautifully soft and springy ground cover. There was a symbol on the map that was new to me: a black circle. When I first came to one of these, I saw it was perfectly round pit, clearly man made many years ago. The Kainuu region is one that produced tar from pines during the 19th century, shipping it downriver to Oulu from where it was transported via the Baltic to the ship building nations of Europe and used as a waterproof caulking. The second two days were in denser spruce forest, more reminiscent of home terrain.

Chris and I are casual orienteers, happy to remain free of lofty orienteering ambitions. We both reached our goals of completing A courses in our age groups, and of not coming last in all the races. We found it odd that my D60A courses were only about half the length of Chris’s H60A courses. In Canada a women’s course is usually only about 25% shorter than the same-age-group men’s course. We wonder what this implies about sport culture across genders in Finland compared to Canada.

Yesterday was the last day of WOC. We did our final “spectator race” in the morning,  then watched the relays in the afternoon while sitting sociably with some relaxed and friendly Canadians. The relays involve a mass start, and are the most spectator-friendly of all –a great finale!

We were lucky to share our dorm this week with three Finnish fellows: Pekka, Ossi and Jaako. All were serious master’s athletes and top contenders within their age classes, in addition to being lively flat-mates with great senses of humour.  Early in the week, they came home singing “We are the champions!” after a Finnish man won the long-distance final,  and poured us vodka and a Finnish liqueur made from sea buckthorn berries. On the Saturday, we rode with them to the final event, and Jaako sang us the Finnish national anthem as he drove! Thank you, lads!

Where-is-Waldo socks were
this week´s fashion rage

We’ve spent this morning packing and cleaning the apartment, and hope to offload laundered orienteering clothing to Meghan before taking the train to Rovaniemi this afternoon.
We’ve started a photo set for this week.
It will be good to get back into the flow of the road. Onward to Nordkapp we go.
M