Finland


Finland and the Islands of Åland

had enjoyed Estonia so much and I wondered what Finland held in store for me. It put the country at a disadvantage. Read on.

After I had spent the last few weeks almost exclusively in forests, it was a shock to emerge in the center of Helsinki. There were way too many people, too much traffic and noise.  The tourist information office wasn’t were the GPS showed it on the map. I continued the search amongst a lot of construction sites. Finally, I found the tourist information hidden away in the railway station and by then I was exhausted.

When I started this bike tour, I hadn’t planned to cycle in Finland. I didn’t have any maps or other information about the country. At the information center, I got a map of Helsinki and the surrounding area. About 25 kilometers away was a camp ground.

During my search for the tourist office, I had already seen enough of the city and now headed for the camping site. I had barely left the city center and when things got quieter. My GPS guided me on pretty and small forest roads and bike trails next to the road. At a gas station I quickly checked the price of beer. Expensive. A can of beer was more than Euro 4. Probably also more expensive because I looked at a gas station.

At the camp ground there were already several cyclists. Finland is very popular among cyclists. I’m sure I annoyed people because I kept talking about Estonia and how much better things were there.

Next day: rain. The whole morning, I took advantage of the amenities: a room and power outlets. Shortly before noon, I decided to continue anyway.

So far, the Finns didn’t strike me as very friendly. No one smiled, no one returned a greeting. Everyone walked past me with a grim look on their face and completely ignored me.

At a shopping mall I met a Finnish cycling couple. They also had this strange behavior. The man was a bit more open and told me about the archipelago around Turku. It was supposed to be very pretty and from one of the islands I could reach Åland. I didn’t know much but I knew I wanted to visit Åland.  And the archipelago sounded tempting.

First, I wanted to cycle through the lake area. Unbelievable how mountainous the region suddenly became.  Short and steep ascents over the rocks.

Once I left the greater Helsinki area, I began to enjoy Finland more and more.

I only planned to cycle through a small part of the country and I took a lot of detours and reached very remote corners.

At a beautiful place where I expected to find a camp ground, there was a church facility instead. I was allowed to camp in the furthest corner. The man at the reception was as somber as all the Finns I had met so far. Even when I tried a small joke, he didn’t smile.

The lake was pretty. I didn’t feel like swimming because I was happy to finally be dry after all the rain.

When the weather improved, I decided to take advantage of the „everyman’s right“ to stealth camp. Of course, one needed to keep to the rules. For me they were the same as elsewhere: the spot shouldn’t be visible from the road nor accessible by car. Just as I didn’t want to be bothered, no one should be bothered by me.

If a dog found me, at least I didn’t feel that I was doing something unlawful. It was quiet and beautiful, and I slowly warmed to Finland.

From Salo I was again on the EuroVelo 10 route.

The marker was barely visible any longer.

The archipelago bike trail was much better indicated.

before I arrived in Turku, I left the mainland at Kaarina.

Maybe I shouldn’t have done this on a Sunday because there was an unbelievable amount of traffic. There were bike trails but, at least in the beginning, they were parallel to the road.

I didn’t count all the islands. Sometimes I didn’t know if I cycled across a river or if I had reached another island? Didn’t matter, it was beautiful.

Late afternoon the bike trail finally left the road. Away from a quiet road, I found a nice place to camp.

It was over 30C and a ski jump looked rather out of place.

I couldn’t imagine that it’d snowed here. I climbed to the top of the jump in the hope to have a view of the sea.

I didn’t see the sea and I also didn’t want to race down that slope.

Every once in a while, there wasn’t a bridge but a ferry. They continuously went back and forth. Most of them were free of charge.

At Korpo I left the Turku archipelago to reach the islands of Åland.

It was a larger ferry for which I had to pay. There were many cyclists.

Unbelievable how many small islands there were.

And they all looked the same and were very quiet.

To reach Åland, I only needed to change ferries at Kögar, but I liked the little island so much that I stayed. At least for the night.

As soon as I stepped on to the island and couldn’t believe my ears and eyes. I was welcomed and people smiled at me. Everyone said, “Hi, hi”. How nice! Of course, I immediately felt better.

It was so pleasant, I abandoned my idea to stealth camp.

At the far end of the island, there was a harbor,

The small sailing boats gave off such an air of tranquility. Next to the harbor was a pick nick area which look perfect for camping.

I asked the few people who were still around, if they minded if I camped. They didn’t have an issue with it or thought it would bother anyone. In a way, such a small harbor is like a camping site.

It was fantastic to have such a nice view from my tent.

Some of the sailors were from Helsinki. Maybe all nice and happy Finns were  on holiday? The next day some stopped by to ask if everything was alright and if I had slept well, so nice.

Slowly I packed my things, but I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere a bit longer and wrote my diary. The ferry to the main island of Åland departed at 12:30.

I left before 10 am to have a look at the island. I really enjoyed this place with all its rock formations. I didn’t hesitate for long when I saw the hiking trail which led to an archeological site only 600 meters away. Old stones which apparently had belonged to seal hunters some 3,000 years ago, didn’t mean much to me but the scenery was something different. And off I went. The trail was well marked with white points and was very pretty through bushes and over rocks.

I reached the site quickly and wanted to turn around. Simply follow the white markers. But suddenly there were so many white markers. Everything sort of looked alike but I was pretty sure that I hadn’t come this way. Nevertheless, I continued until I was certain that it wasn’t the right way. I realized that I had made two mistakes: I didn’t bring any water and I didn’t mark on my GPS the point where I had left my bike.

At least I had the GPS with me and the hiking trail was on it. I realized I headed in the completely wrong direction. Now it was a long way to return to the place where I thought my bike was parked. The ferry left in one hour and I needed to hurry. The worst thing that could happen was that I’d miss the ferry. And that wouldn’t be so bad. But it was stupid that I didn’t have anything to drink.

I jogged back to the road where my bike waited with two liters of water. This was my little adventure before I left the small island.

I just made the ferry and a few hours later I was on Åland.

The group of islands belongs to Finland but is an autonomous region. The administrative language is Swedish, they have their own flag and own number plates. Payments are in Euros.

There were canals with rotating bridges.

It might appear that suddenly a sail mast crosses the road.

On the ferry, a nice old lady gave me a map of the island. I was very happy to discover that there were bike trails the crisscrossed the whole island.

They were well marked, and one could cycle them easily on a normal bike. No tandem needed.

The trail went to all the sightseeing points

and other remarkable sights

on the island

In between there were mountains, forests, rocks, and of course lakes.

Could there be anything nicer than such a pretty beach with no one on it? I didn’t hesitate and jumped in with all my clothes on. I swam a few laps, and everything was clean again. The temperature was over 30C and everything dried quickly before other people arrived.

All the way up north, at Geta, there was a bicycle ferry to cross a bay. It went only once a day at 11 am. I arrived around 1 pm but even if I could have taken the ferry, the price would have turned me away: Euro 22, 15 per person and 7 for the bike. That was the same fare that I had paid from Helsinki to Tallin. The island was so small that I could easily cycle its perimeter.

In the evening, I looked for a place to camp in the forest. I wonder who had put the fir needles into such a neat pile.

When I looked more closely, I saw the ants. This was a rare sight in the northern hemisphere. I decided to camp elsewhere.

Quickly I had cycled around the island and reached Eckerö from where I took the ferry to Griselhamn in Sweden.

 

After my initial hesitation, I had enjoyed Finland a lot. I especially liked the gorgeous scenery and the quiet of the Åland islands.

Next time you can read about Sweden.

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