Alexey Moskvin

Baltic Exchange and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Finland

Rovaniemi to Gällivare

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Lingonberry shower gel, lingonberry shampoo, now I smell like some lingonberry. 5 miles to the Santa’s office with my shirt flopping around – it’s way too hot, even for 8-something in the morning . Some Russian family having breakfast at one of the tables at the roadside. I am looking at the Arctic circle sign when a man approaches me ‘Hello friend, where did you come from?’ ‘London’ I say and switch to Russian. ‘I have a meeting with Santa, have you met him yet?’ ‘Yes, I’ve seen him twice. They do a video recording and photos there. I was quite shy at first so didn’t like how it looked, so didn’t buy it. But on the second time I was playing for the public a little, it’s much better. So, just relax.’

I am thrilled to bits, like a kid. Santa is exactly like in pictures, I always knew he was real! Warm handshake and nice voice. ‘We were worried about you.’ His gift is a wrapped so I can’t see what it is. A small cube packet tied with a ribbon. ‘ A piece of the Arctic’ he says. I’m very grateful to Rovaniemi Tourism & Marketing Ltd for organising this.

Skinny dipping again on my way to Sweden.

The rain is ahead of me… A few times it looks like rain passed just before I get there leaving for me only the smell of wet pine and fresh tarmac.

The Torne river between Finland and Sweden. Pello. A police car is passing back and forth across the border. I know, I do look suspicious, can’t help it. Really. But I ought to walk to the middle of the bridge to look around. A small canoe is floating about.

Swampy landscape. I am so tired and stop to walk around what looks like clearing in the woods with a river going through it but I see my shoes are being sucked into the wet moss and brown water as I approach it. Cloudberries and greenery. Not a chance to sit somewhere here, even if looks inviting.

I walk back to the rocks and branches and find a spot. Sit down. Then stretch on the ground for a snooze, ignoring the horse flies and ants.

Hostel has a kitchen but I can’t be bothered to cook. It looks like there are a few people just living here. The owner switches to Swedish between every three words and apologises for it every time. I think I can just about catch what she’s trying to say. Her English is good but I don’t know a word of Swedish. ‘That will be 300 kronors’ she says as we pass through a bunch of young guys in the kitchen to my room ‘I don’t have cash – just crossed the border a couple of hours ago’ ‘There’s cash machine up the road, just leave them in the drawer as you leave tomorrow. Put the key there as well, just remember that you’re locked out when you do that’.

Gällivare on saturday evening is totally empty, maybe I’m just spoilt by London and other towns. I walk around town but cannot find anything better than a hotel next door for a beer and some dinner.
The guy at the next table is talking on the phone with a proper Essex accent. Smoked through laugh. Is he really discussing me eating my hamburger or am I getting paranoid?

The time seems appropriate, so I set off to the top of the Dundret mountain. It’s 9th of July, the midsummer ends on 12th, I’m just in time. It’s cloudy so I’m not expecting to see the sun but at least I know it will be there. Running low on fuel but it should be enough to go there and I’ll just coast most of the way back. The road is narrow but the tarmac is good. Light is sensational, blue and eerie, not entirely dark but doesn’t feel like any time of the day. Evening? Night? Early morning? I could’ve never guessed the hour. I got there just as a large bus of tourists is unloading, it’s windy and people walk on rocky path looking around and holding their hats. Swedish I think. Lights and water far away.

Telegraph poles propped by big rocks like they grew out of the ground, pushing them away, making a space for themselves. Imagine the new sprouts of a pole getting out of the ground with fresh drops of tar on it’s stem before it gains strength, developing the wire buds that grow and pop releasing strings that will link the stem with the other poles nearby. At least, that’s what would’ve happened in Narnia.

Anyway. The lights in the cafe are on, I look inside. It’s run by a few local teenagers and they are open till 1am. ‘I heard a lot about your waffles’ ‘Only good things I hope’ ‘Certainly. With cloudberry jam. And a coffee please.’

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Oulu to Rovaniemi

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Tar ice cream? Smoked raindeer? I love this town. Burnt down a few times but still standing strong Oulu has a lot to offer. Kaisu and Karoliina pick me up at the hotel at 9am and we are setting off for the town to walk about and say hello to the Botero-like policeman in the middle of a square – another symbol of the Arctic Gateway, made by Kaarlo Mikkonen. Oulu has the sea, beautiful waterfront and free wi fi on the streets (up yours BT), what else would one need? I feel welcome, I feel at home.

Market supplies us with coffee and fresh salmon sandwiches with rieska. I hope that guy with the mobile phone is not going to step on the little boy. Shame if the bright future was knocked off the edge because of some dude too busy chatting to look around. Finland is getting more land every year because the earth is rising after being pushed down by the masses of ice from the ice age. I wonder if it will ever join with Sweden. ‘Again’ says Kaisu and smiles. A bit more of sightseeing and then we meet Suvi, who gives me a bag with a t-shirt and other bits.

I set off for Rovaniemi. Breaking off from the sea, to conquer the Arctic circle which sounds quite glorious but it’s still around 30C, so doesn’t feel arctic at all.

The road is following a river, on one side first then on the other. It does feel like a break now, so I take a random turn to get closer to water and come across the dam. The landscape turns for being rocky, really does look like the ice’s been there. Using the absence of people and unwillingness to carry on with wet towel and swimming gear, in we go as we were born. The current is very strong that I’d rather not swim further than a few metres away from the shore – it would’ve been funny to get carried away all the way back to the sea and discovered somewhere in Sweden.

Further down the river Rovaniemi appears. It’s a great sight when approaching from behind the hills, crossing the Jätkänkynttilä bridge (try saying that a few times) to get into town. It’s a quiet evening. Very hot.

The hotel is very pleasant, sauna in on the 4th floor. I unpack, shower (as, of course, is tradition) then stroll around town, along the embarkment, suburbs, people doing barbeques, a street theatre with a couple of actors at the back looking bored and I’m almost tempted to approach them but then chicken out. Oh well, there’s plenty of bored actors in the world, I guess. It’s time for the sauna anyway.

Just as I’m walking up holding my towel I meet Petri, a Swede visiting his mum but choosing to stay at the hotel. We chat in and out of the heat, he’s got some beers that he shares with me. Taking out a round box. ‘What’s that?’ ‘Snus. Have you tried?’ I open it and sniff – it looks disgusting. Minced tobacco. ‘Never seen it before’ ‘Goes underneath your lip’ ‘Oh, ok’ ‘Pure nicotine, but healthier – no smoke’. He is a great company so we decide to meet at the bar for another beer afterwards. I think that’s going to be my dinner tonight. After another beer curiousity takes over and I take a small ball of snus. It starts burning straight away but bearable. After a few minutes I start feeling the effect of Mr N. If I remember rightly that’s how a cigarette feels… but stronger. ‘How long do I need to keep it for?’ ‘One can do for about 45 minutes but for a start don’t hold too long. When the juices start making their way into your stomach you can throw up, you’re not used to it.’ He laughs. I’m feeling woozy already. Time to give up, spit the thing out and splash my face with water. And get another beer. And then a pint of Synebrychoff cocktail. What were we talking about? I can’t remember the details. The age must be creeping up.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

21 July 2011 at 01:49

Jakobstad to Oulu

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Another quiet day. But with Oulu Finland comes to life. Buzzing and young, it feels nordic and different. I end up in the middle of the Nallikari seaside resort village where Karoliina welcomes me at the hotel, giving an information pack. Oulu is known for it’s air guitar festival and music bands? Well, I don’t think Liepaja can compete in air guitar but they also grew many famous musicians there. There must be a link – they are just on the other side of the sea.

The day was hot. It seems to get hotter the further north I go. Once I felt the sea getting close as the temperature dropped by about 5 degrees but the sun is doing its job very well up here.

On the way I found out what wooden piers are used for – beating out rugs! Easy answer really and explains why there are rugs and some cleaning stuff always lying around. A woman brings some but didn’t want me to take a photo of her. Fair enough. I didn’t.

Smoked sausages and cheese that mum gave me still bearing well, alongside with cookies and water. Finland is great for sitting around in just your underwear at lunchtime – no one minds. Water is still a bit numbing though, so I didn’t go further than dipping my feet.

Sat nav kept directing me into cycling lanes – I don’t think cyclists want to see me there. Not that I want to see them that close either, so I keep looking for other ways to get out on roads.

I meet Elina Ursin, the journalist, at the hotel at 7pm, we chat a bit about life and projects and I’m thoroughly enjoying her company. Elina’s gift is a pen, silver, with a black tip and Kaleva written on the side – that’s the name of the newspaper. She says it’s just like 20 other pens that she sometimes gives away but I explain that this one is different. To me it is unique, I know that with this pen she was marking something in her diary and the day before she was making notes about the new stadium and the interview with an archeologist when they found some 5000 year old tomb. Elina is amused that Santa will receive the pen.

For the rest of the evening I just wander around the beach. People have to go very far to get to the swimming depth and I’m quite content with my earlier swim at the hotel’s pool, so not very tempted by the water.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

18 July 2011 at 10:21

Jyväskylä to Jakobstad

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We part at a car park. Now I’m on my own again. As with anything, too much of a good thing is taking its toll. I think I am having a hangover after a monthly overdose of family and friends. In other words, I’m feeling lonely.

The landscape is pretty much unchangeable – the red wooden buildings are scattered in between trees, expands of water in between forests. I wonder whether it’s possible to name all that – the water systems seems to be one and many – everything is interlinked, flows in and out of each other. Just look at the map!

Closer to the sea landscape changes to less ever greenery and more leaves. Lakes have the wooden mini piers for… I don’t actually know if they are for anything else but swimming but they have benches so I have my lunch on one. Interesting how Finns use wood and man made structures looks elemental, close to the nature.
I can hardly see any people. Even in towns and villages streets are empty. Maybe it’s a wrong time of the day or just a massive exodus to some place in southern Spain or some equivalent. Or, one might suggest, there’s just not many people in rural Finland.

An odd device by a river.

Jakobstad greets me with hotness, beautiful sunlight and annoying teenagers on cars and scooters. Everyone who has some half decent two or more wheels seems to think that everyone enjoys hearing their tires scream when going around corners and the sound of exhaust should be used in a national anthem.

I am thinking about the crowd of people doing aerobics outside of the hotel in Jyvaskyla.

I unpack in the hostel and go to explore the town. The park bit at the west part of town looks particularly appealing as it goes out to the sea. I take a wrong turn and end up going through a cemetery, how inappropriate my coffee feels in this place…

Wooden houses and gravel roads. I peek into someone’s window.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

14 July 2011 at 23:20

Take 2: St Petersburg to Jyväskylä

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Leshka picks me up from the flat. It’s so cool to have him near. He was the one to meet me at the border, he is the one to take me through it this time. We’re setting off early in the morning to beat the crowds.

It’s terrific to be on the road again. I’m thrilled by the road lines. Anticipating getting being reunited with the bike. Great. Inspiring. It’s been restarted. I’m awake and my senses are on again. Thank you all who didn’t let me come back on a ferry.

Thank you Richard
Thank you Mark G
Thank you Michael
Thank you Jon
Thank you Edward
Thank you Oded
Thank you Mark D
Thank you Frances
Thank you Olivier
Thank you Stephen
Thank you Susan
Thank you hubs
Thank you Nigel
Thank you Peter
Thank you David
Thank you all who participated and supported me.

It’s funny how the first couple of weeks were dragging along and felt like it would take forever to get to St Petersburg. Now the rest three weeks of the journey feel like nothing. There is nothing that I couldn’t deal with, I am calm and relaxed, even if some of the rebuilding and re-planning isn’t finished due to everyone seems to be on holiday. But at least Lesha is with me and the first night we are staying in a hotel in Jyväskylä.

After a chat, handshakes and paperwork we are setting off from Lappeenranta towards the depths of Finland. The bike handles well, sounds slightly different, probably because of the new exhaust manifold. I am feeling a bit tense but get better as the miles ticking by.

Mixed roads, rocks, evergreen forest and plenty of water. Beautiful but does get samey after a while. One can only be entertained by the colour of the rocks – any possible combinations from gray to bright orange and purple.

Jyväskylä looks like… well, it doesn’t really look like anything. Nice waterfront, railway lines, pedestrian roads, cyclists, over and underpasses (the waterfront seems to be cut off from the center of town by a motorway). We’ve done quite a lot of miles today and just wandering the streets looking for beer, food and wi-fi. And we end up in a pub after all where I have breaded raindeer liver and a pint of Kilkenny. I still wonder why I can find that beer everywhere in the world but not in London. A reason for a journalistic investigation, no less.

A bunch of teenagers stop me on the main street, asking to take a picture of them. Cheeky and shy at the same time, they probably didn’t expect me to seriously respond and line them up in the middle of a street. I leave them my email address to get in touch for pictures. Annalee shakes my hand and Tanya shouts thanks when we part.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

10 July 2011 at 11:24