Alexey Moskvin

Baltic Exchange and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘photography

Nyköping to Kalmar

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And it is raining.

Marika’s gift is a bottle of tabasco. ‘I want to give it to you with a message’ she says. ‘Everything in life should be taken with a bit of spice’. I promise to pass it on.

I’ve got plenty of time in the morning. A petrol station offers full buffet breakfast for next to nothing and I’m happily stuffing myself. Getting seriously addicted to the tubed caviar – especially with boiled eggs. Or in sandwiches. Or with anything.

The weather is clearing up. What’s left are the puddles and wet grass in the shade. Looking for a place for lunch and picking smaller roads next to the sea I end up on some rocky camping grounds. Smoothness of red and brown rocks, interwoven only with patches of grass and roots of pine trees, go right into the sea. People are swimming, the sun is at its full blast and I’m happy to shed my biking gear. The water is bracing but so clear and pleasant – it’s my first swim since Luleå.

A guy with a couple of kids play ball and he strikes up a conversation first about the water. Then about football. I probably wasn’t nodding in the right places as he quickly realised it wasn’t the best subject. ‘Where are you coming from?’ ‘London, but the long way around the sea, through St Petersburg’ ‘Are you driving?’ ‘No, by bike’ He whistles. ‘How many miles do you do a day?’ ‘About 150-200, give or take’ He is looking amused.

I jump from the diving board a couple of times and go back to my stuff on the rocks. ‘Hey Englishman!’ I turn around. There’s the guy and his whole family under a tree, he points at my biking gear ‘You are on a motorbike! I thought you were cycling, now I’m not that impressed any more. Do you want some coffee?’ They stopped for picknick before going to Oxelösund to see a huge nuclear safe bunker that was built to defend Sweden against Soviet invasion.
‘I shouldn’t talk bad about russia then.’ Of course you should. ‘You’ve got so much forest, so much space – huge potential. But never used.’ I nod.

Because I left so early I got to Kalmar much earlier and have about 2 hours to spare until Maria comes back from work. Kalmar itself is well looked after, the streets of cobblestone. I stop for a coffee and a delicious coconutty cake in a typical coffee shop, crowded, I squeeze through to the far end with all my gear. Debating with myself about whether I have time for Öland or not and Öland wins – it feels like even a peek would be worth the trip. I’ve been looking forward to it.

The bridge is long and windy. The island looks tamed near the bridge but the feeling dissolves quickly as you go further along the coast and towards the south point of the needle like shape. Dying to pee and although I’m in the middle of fields there is nowhere to hide – I’m always in view of the road or windows. The rain spits every now and again, the landscape changes every minute, barren, fields, bushes, stone, colours merge one into another, bunches of old windmills and wind farms on the horizon are spinning like crazy.

Charming and quiet Maria talks to her cat and all animals. Her house in Orrefors, near the crystal factory, used to be a school. The school was closed because it’s a bit too near and a possibility of contamination. Fine for adults though and Maria’s flat is in the attic.
‘You’ve got a few copies of the same book’ ‘I liked the covers so I bought them’.

After dinner we set off to her friend Anna’s to look after her house. It’s getting dark but the forest road is gorgeous. We spot a cow on the road and Maria stops for us to try and figure out whose it is – it shouldn’t be walking about. After trying a couple of houses the owners are found and the whole family sets off to catch the beast.

Anna’s house is in the woods, guarded by a grey wolfhound – massive, kind and deceptively quiet. ‘But when he smells a deer and you see him go, you really don’t want to be on the deer’s side.’ We open up the house, it smells of wood and a bit of mould and homely, like a country house would. Anna rents it and lives there with her kids, there are family pictures on the wall.

They have three horses, chickens and all kind of stuff growing in the garden. I walk around the house as the evening descends before we settle in for a nightcap and a chat.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

24 May 2012 at 20:19

Gävle to Nyköping

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Olle’s gift is a pyramid. It was left to him by his ex wife and we tread carefully on relationships. Olle has ‘widowed’ as his relationship status on Facebook. But giving it away, it feels like’s getting rid of something for him, just as I felt giving away the first wooden statue that started the project. The pyramid is made out of stone. I put it next to the sleeping bag, in the bag on the saddle, praying it will be ok. If I left it in one of the inner bags, aided by vibrations, it would’ve poked the hell out of everything in there.

I challenge the satnav and take smaller roads towards the coast, eventually I end up in a resort town of sorts. Getting a pizza for lunch plus a couple of coffee refills.

A disheveled guy approaches me at the car park and tries to make a conversation. I had a Harley, he says, very heavy. Is yours heavy? He reaches out and tries to lift it up by a handle, I grab his hand. You better not, mate, you’ll drop it. I ask to take a photograph of him. He smells of wine.

Puffing, I roll out the bike backwards, two older guys on the bench are watching. I smile and nod and set off, trying to look natural.

There is something I marked on the map and I can’t remember what it is. It’s taking me a bit out of the way and onto a forest path. There is some archeological site or something of that sort and I’m driving slowly, trying not to miss it. And I missed it – I can’t see anything there that’s worth looking at. Nevertheless, I drive all the way until it ends at somebody’s house. The fields are marked with electrocution signs, must be to keep horses in? Or out.

Meeting Marika. We walk around town, moving towards the harbour. The castle on the way. We talk about the town and Marika tells me the story about the key that was thrown into the river. It was the key from a cell in which a king’s locked his two brothers. He starved them to death. That’s what Nyköping is famous for.

It’s a quiet town. Amusing demolition works, the silo with bits sticking out. I am mesmerised.

We are dining in one of the places on the promenade. There was something happening earlier but we were a bit too late for that, we arrive just as everyone leaves. I tell Marika about that music event in Gävle. She is quiet and laughs easily, we don’t talk about anything in particular, we just talk about life.
It’s starting to rain and we are catching a cab back.

Oh, hello Tony. The toilet brush looks like Tony Blair. I’m not sure if that was the maker’s intention.

Marika has to leave early next morning, ‘I’d feel bad to kick you out if it was raining’.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

4 March 2012 at 01:34

Umeå to Gävle

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The next day I spend exploring their house, sacrificing Sundsvall for a day of rest. I have to make up for it tomorrow but I think it will be worth it. The massive boiler dominates the bathroom, toilet paper roll on a stand deserves it’s on space in the middle, entangled cacti on the window cell, two chairs with baby shoes on the wall in between, chickens, cellar for fruit and veg, shed with a bread oven – have they ever used it? That would be a cool thing to do.

The day is spent catching one’s breath – surfing the net, chatting, photographing. It’s a sunny morning and we are outside in the garden but clouds come again in the afternoon and bring some drizzle with them. That’s when we decide to go out for a swim. The first lake isn’t usable, the second looks great, even if it’s getting rather cold and wet. It should feel warmer in the water. And it does.

Anders works in a travel agent, Tore is a gardener. They collect sand from all the beaches they’ve been to. In the evening, over another glass of wine we teach each other rude words in Russian and Swedish. I can’t remember what they taught me – maybe it’s for the best – there’s still a half of the country to go through.

Their gift is a box of seeds, the metal box was given to Tore by his father, it has a few compartments. The seeds are of different sorts of sweet chilli and tomato, as they go well together. Alongside with a note in Swedish and a couple of chocolates. Olle will be able to read it. I hope he likes tomatoes. But even if he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter – it’s a gift.

An early start the next morning – I have about 350 miles to go to get to Gävle, even if cutting some of the route. The guys give me a packed lunch and I roll the bike out of their garage. It’s been a wonderful day and a half.

To do the distance in reasonable time most of the way has to be on a motorway. But it’s ok – even the motorway has gorgeous sweeps as one comes to Sundsvall. I stop for lunch just before Höga Kusten Bridge – the tallest bridge in Sweden to look at the scenery. The temperature is dropping and the wind on the bridge is a bit scary.

In the afternoon I stop by what’s called an antique shop. A bric-a-brac rather. I drive a bit further, all the way to the water, around the warehouse building. The wooden platform that is bobbing up and down, making me produce a bunch of blurred photos with tilted horizons. That’s where I have some more fish paste and bread. The clouds are taking over in the afternoon again. Some museum, the ship, railway bits and the shop. I walk up and down the corridor, it’s stuffed with everything from mildly interesting to a complete junk, a smell of wood and mould. Small things I’m after, in one of the cupboards there are some shot glasses and other cutlery. I pick up one of the metal (tin?) mini mugs – it looks like it’s made out of metal, with a [sheep] embossed on it, some writing alongside. I take it and walk up and down again. And then again. And again, trying to find anyone to ask about it or pay for it.

When I get to Gävle it’s sunny again. Olle Oljud is shouting hello from his window on the N-th floor. Oljud means cacophony. He’s got a balcony and a great view.
Sound designer, artist, composer, however you call it, Olle is a talented creative. What’s your favourite sound? He thinks for a while. Steps on gravel. I’m listening to my steps, the sound never leaves me for the rest of the walk.

Gävle is small and charming, the river runs in the middle, some festival is kicking in, gathering a crowd in the middle. We decided to stay out of it. We agree that it’s way to popular for both of us.

Olle shows me a graffiti underpass, he left his trace there too.

It’s getting darker and I’m sleeping on the futon, in the same room. Funny how light changes, I’m only a couple of days away from the midnight sun. We listen to warped white noise, different frequencies and controlled clicks – all kinds of home made Olle’s sound boards – his neighbours must be amused. I’m thinking of those Tate live sound events with Ova, Scanner and those people as I’m falling to sleep.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

26 January 2012 at 01:00

Luleå to Umeå

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You know you’re in Sweden when people talk about driving snow mobiles and have mashed caviar spread for breakfast. But at least I learnt that å actually sounds more like o than a. After the loneliness of Finland and reservedness of Gällivare I am glad to be in the warmth of a friendly place. But saying bye to Cecilia and me and Jakob are setting off to see the Storforsen – a humongous current in the north east from Luleå. It’s not exactly on the way but well worth seeing.



Jakob’s object is vial of cyruped birch sap. It’s very nutritious and was done more as an experiment than anything else. He took it out of the freezer, the vessel has that white porcelain top with a rubber ring and a metal spring, but but the sap should keep for a while even if melted. That’s what makes the project go ahead – a little thoughtful artefact that tells a bit about Jakob’s thoughts.

In addition, Cecilia gives me a tiny felt rabbit she made. I’m not giving that one away.

We unwrap the gift from Santa Claus I give them – it’s a snowball. That anti stress thing that you squeeze hard when want to calm your nerves – it makes the sound of a real snow. It has a white rubbery slightly textured surface and Cecilia says it must be stuffed with rice. It’s pleasantly heavy and comfortable to hold.

Jakob’s bike is one of those dirt ones, caked in mud and with an extra large fuel tank wrapped around it. He kicks it into action. I’m thinking of ride we did with Jan in Pärnu along the coast as I avoid lumps of mud falling off Jakob’s bike and jumping on the tarmac.

Storforsen or ‘Big Stream’ (no shit) is a natural reserve. That landscape of polished stone and pine trees, where the rapid used to cover the entire area but now tamed and reduced to the stream. Nevertheless, it has an awe inspiring force. The wooden bridges and viewing platforms erected next to it are there to protect one but you can only feel it’s strength by standing on the rocks next to it. The energy, the unimaginable masses of water, the sublime natural force that makes you feel very small and feeble. The rock plateau underneath the clear sheet of water seems so near but completely inaccessible as the innumerable tons of water that pass there every minute would reduce you to vapour within seconds.

In the smaller streams and pools around the area people are swimming and jumping into from rocks. It’s extremely tempting but the time (and clouds) stand in our way – it’s about to start raining and we left our gear uncovered next to the bikes. We should rush back to the parking lot and cross the swimming off the list.

Some more palt stuff in the local cafe, followed by waffles. The rain really does it, we got there just in time. Books, films and the usual chat makes the time pass before we can set off again. On the way back we pass the village where Jakob grew up and say goodbye shortly afterwards.

I’m on my way to Umeå, wondering which way the clouds go and hoping we are not going in the same direction – the rain is still here. I’m getting quite late, so wouldn’t like to do much stopping. But do twice just to adjust my helmet, have some water and one of those pastries from yesterday.

The Myrbäck village consists of 6 houses, it’s about 20 miles away from Umeå. Tore and Anders are walking towards me with the dog as I clumsily ride up towards their garage. It’s a wonderful house, homely and stylish. We start with whiskey, just before dinner, later switch to wine, they even found some Kilkenny and I’ll have to think about describing the house tomorrow as tonight we are getting sloshed.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

25 November 2011 at 00:56

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.’

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

St Petersburg to… WTF?

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The sterileness of the trip is shattered, blown apart and the whole thing is swirling up in the air. The only thing one can do is to jump up, collecting pieces and trying to glue them together. The ‘everything according to plan’ is no more. This is the thick of it, this is the Ultimate Riding Experience and not some BMW slogan. Just a couple of minutes ago I was sliding down the road, caught between the truck and my motorbike, yelling out and waiting for the bone to snap. It didn’t, thank you the unhealthily, by Russian standards, smooth tarmac and the Dainese boot that can be added to the list of victims as the second worst.
I unzip the boot, sliding my hand in, expecting to see blood – I can almost feel warmth filling up my right boot. A surprise: fingers are dry, there’s only a smudge. The truck’s driver is coming towards me, walking slowly. I yell ‘What the fuck was that?’. He just glances at me and looks away. I explain to him who he is. ‘What are we supposed to do now?’ ‘Call the police’ and walks away to his truck.
I dial 112. Blah blah for police press 2. No answer. I dial again. No answer, just tones. Is that an emergency number? And this is the emergency, is there anyone alive or is that part of town is already eaten by some postapocalyptic monster?
Dial again. No answer. A police car passes by slowly, I wave at them, they look at me but don’t stop.
Well, ok, I’m not lost in the debris of Finland but just before the ring road on my way out of St Petersburg. There is a great comfort in being able to call ‘Dad, I’ve had an accident, I need help’. ‘Fuck! Are you ok?’ Yeah, I’m fine, leg hurts but I’m ok’. ‘Where are you?’ ‘Industrial’ny, just before the viaduct’ ‘Wait for me there’.

It’s raining and everything is slowly being splattered by dirt – it’s a busy road. Someone’s running towards me, he stopped his red Volkswagen on the opposite side of the road. ‘Do you need help?’ I limp towards him ‘Yes’ ‘Ambulance? Have you called the police?’ ‘I’m fine. No one answers at the emergency number. A police car just passed by but they didn’t stop.’ ‘They never do. Calm down, I’ll sort everything out’. And he does: police, an evacuator. ‘I’m a biker myself, it’s always a good thing to stop for such things. I’ve had my misfortune today too – some bastard crashed my ass’, he points at his smashed car boot, funny I didn’t notice that before. There must be something about today. Someone else stops. ‘Do you need help? I’m a biker too, so I thought I’d stop to ask’ ‘No, I think we’re fine, just waiting for the police now.’ ‘If you have nowhere to take it to, I’ve got some space in my garage’. ‘Thanks! I’m not sure what to do yet’.
They look at my number plate. ‘Where did you come from?’ ‘London, all the way by land’ ‘Wow’ ‘Yeah, 3500 km, just to meet the bloody truck.’

I’m sitting in a mini van taking me to Sortavala – the town in Karelia, where I didn’t manage to get to a week and a half ago. From there I can get to Valaam – the island where in Soviet times disabled people were sent to, away from public eyes. Maybe, now my bruised leg now fits the purpose better than the fully healthy me, I don’t know. Since the rude interruption there’s always a strong feeling that I was left here on purpose and now, each day, I’m trying to figure out what it actually might be. There’s something left to do and I have to catch up – trips, meetings, something ought to point me in the right direction eventually. The girl in the opposite seat is eating sunflower seeds and I’m thinking of Ai Weiwei but the whole thing is so far away now. Pretty, slender, slightly cold features, a small bruise on her right wrist, next to a tangle of silver bracelets. Yellow t-shirt and a purple mobile phone.
‘Hunting by permission only’ posters are flying by ‘Keep fire away from forests, in an emergency call 112’ aha, we know that one. The driver has three orthodox icons glued just above his head and Pet Shop Boys are playing on the radio.

Back on the road a blue green van is pulling over, a guy jumps out ‘What happened?’ ‘He got cleared off the road’ ‘I can take him in’ ‘Thanks, we’ve already called an evacuator’ ‘I’ll call Alekseyich, he’ll help you’. The police comes. Taking photographs, measuring everything ‘What happened?’ ‘The guy decided to stop suddenly and reversed into me.’ I say ‘Wet road, fast traffic on the left so I did emergency braking too, managing to stop just before him. Just as I started to move backwards to clear and move out to the left he reversed into me, destroying the front, flipping the bike on its left side and do you see that white line? That’s where he dragged me backwards from, all the way down. My leg got caught between the bike and his bumper, so I couldn’t get away. I guess, he missed his turn and panicked but instead of going a long way around just decided to stop and reverse…’ ‘Well, you can celebrate today as your second birthday, looks like you were born in a very thick shirt, as they say. A couple of bumps along the way and you would’ve been minced. Your luck the road is so even. Come to…’ he gives me an address ‘we’ll sort it out there.’
But we have to get the bike to Alekseyich first. The evacuator comes and so does my dad. I thank the guys that helped ‘It’s fine’ they say ‘that’s what brotherhood is there for.’

Alekseyich, smiley eyes, trimmed beard and blue fingers from spilt ink shakes my hand and shakes his head: ‘I can put it back on the road if we bypass the smashed immobiliser but to get it back as it was would be too complex. Don’t go to the dealers here – they’ll rip you off and it will take ages with customs and all. It’s only for rich kids. I’d suggest we take it to Finland – BMW there will do a better job and new parts are cheaper and quicker to get in Europe. I can pick you up at 4am tonight’.

We exchange phone numbers and I head for the GIBDD where we wait and wait and wait in the company of other losers. The trucker is there too.
I call Finland to find out where and how to repair the bike. They recommend the one in Lappeenranta and I set up a meeting ‘Ok, we’ll take you in but if parts are coming from Sweden it might take 2-3 days, Germany – 5-7 days.’ ‘Fine but please do it asap, I have to carry on’, I tell them about the trip around the Baltic Sea.

We fill out the papers and then carry on waiting. Everyone’s friendly, we chat a bit. An officer comes out for a cigarette. ‘What’s next?’ I ask. ‘Well, we finish with the paperwork today, then, in about a week, you both would have to come back for questioning before we can do a statement and close the case.’ ‘I don’t have a week. In fact, I don’t have any time, can we do everything today? I have to put the case to the insurers and get out of here, transport the bike to Finland and start repairing it.’ He looks at me. ‘Ok, let’s see what we can do’. He reappears in about 10 minutes and lets me through to a back office.

A guys is sitting at the desk. ‘Hello Lyosha. So, the nearest available time we have is for the 9th of June.’ ‘No way, sorry’ I say ‘I can’t stay in St Petersburg for that long. Can we organise everything today? Both of us are here.’ ‘Sure’ his voice gets quieter ‘How much have you got?’ I get slightly lost for words ‘I don’t know’ ‘So, how much can you pay?’ ‘I’ve no idea – a thousand? Two? I don’t think I’m your first so, how much do you take?’ ‘Ok, I feel for you, you’ve been through a lot today.’ he smiles ‘Two thousand. I need to make a call, put all the stamps and the case is closed, you’ll have the paper for the insurers now’ ‘Fine’ I say and hand folded notes under the desk. Later I find out that the usual price is 3000 roubles.

The rest is a regular case of bureaucracy – the insurers are not the friendliest kind. Not the most generous either, the limit on pay outs is about £2000 but hardly anyone saw even that – the ‘experts’ look for the part prices on the cheapest US websites and labour is valued for next to nothing. The agent comes in a couple of days later to note the damage. He doesn’t know anything about motorbikes, so I just point at the damaged bits and he takes photos.

Phew, at least the next morning we can set off for Lappeenranta where, despite the bank holiday of sorts, Mikko is waiting for us at the workshop.

5am, the sunrise and Alekseyich and I are in the blue green van with the bike wrapped in rags. We talk about all kinds of paranormal stuff that sounds very real when he talks about it. I believe him but there is a lot of googling to do… Plasmoids, ends of the world, extra senses, faiths, evolution, planets, places – everything is arranged in an orderly fashion in a bottomless pot that is Alekseyich’s head.

Apart from being a brilliant technician. And spending two months in Chernobyl, saving the Earth. ‘Did you go there at your own will?’ ‘Who did?’ ‘I thought some people did’ ‘Of course not. Everyone was drafted. They looked at your age, family, social status. And I was an exception – young, with a kid but they didn’t care – they needed numbers…’

Written by Alexey Moskvin

10 June 2011 at 16:03