South for the Winter
-- Story by Erin --
We are in Tanumshede, Sweden now and the weather has been
picture-perfect throughout Sweden and Finland since we left Norway more than 2 weeks
ago. Of course, as soon as we crossed the border from Norway into Sweden, the clouds
parted and the sun shined. Mother Nature finally took pity on us and granted us some
nice weather for a change.
On Thursday, July 29, the day we crossed into Sweden, the
first thing I noticed was how dramatically the scenery changed. Everyone told us how
comparatively flat Sweden and Finland are to Norway but I didn't expect to see it so
immediately. I noticed that the mountains quickly turned to rolling hills and there
was forest for as far as you could see. It reminded me a lot of the "Big
Sky" country of Montana and Wyoming back in the States. It really did feel like
the sky doubled in size!
scenery was beautiful in it's simplicity and consistency, and definitely different from
the dramatic cliffs, steep mountains, and deep fjords of Norway. Although the sun
shined on us the day we arrived in Sweden the temperature was still pretty cold. We
got a late start driving that day so we decided to drive later into the evening than usual
to make up some distance. We called ahead to a campground in Älvsbyn and reserved a
cabin for the night.
We arrived in Älvsbyn around 9:30p.m. and met the
caretaker, Kent, just before he was leaving for the night. He showed us to our cabin
and said he would be around first thing in the morning if we needed anything. After
he left, I promptly locked ourselves out of our cabin---it was one of those automatic
locking doors! Well, we called an emergency telephone number and another nice
gentleman came to let us back in. Whew!
The campground was situated right near a lake but within
walking distance to the center of town. It was a lovely setting and we could see the
sun set through our little window in the cabin. The next day was as gorgeous as the
last and we decided to stay one more night and enjoy the scenery. While I did the
laundry, Chris was talking to Kent, the caretaker about our Round-the-World journey.
Kent thought it would make an interesting story for their local newspaper so he
asked if we would give an interview. We were flattered. So, he arranged for
the interview and we met the reporter, Ida Fredriksson, that evening. We chatted for
an hour and she took pictures of us on our bikes with her digital camera. We also
took pictures of her with ours. She said the story would be on the website the
following Tuesday, and sure enough it was! When we arrived in Stockholm about a week
or so later we received 2 copies of the newspaper where the article appeared. We
have kept in touch with Ida and hope to in the future.
Saturday morning we bid goodbye to our new friend Kent and
his wife and the lovely little campground in Älvsbyn. We had a long day's drive
ahead of us, about 600 km's to get to Kuopio, Finland. Kuopio is in the middle of
the Thousand Lakes region of Finland, and we were meeting our friends Pekka and Kati at their boat. We were introduced to Pekka and Kati by
our other friends in Belgium, Rudi and Martine (from Chapter 10). Pekka has an R80GS
with a 45 liter gas tank. When we contacted Pekka he immediately invited us to come
by for a visit and go out on their boat. The day we arrived we still had perfect
weather. So perfect in fact that there was very little wind----not good for a
sailboat. But that didn't squash our enthusiasm for getting to know new friends as
we sailed (uhhh, motored) to a little island not too far from Kuopio. Pekka and Kati
are terrific people and enjoy many different hobbies like motorcycling, sailing, skiing
(they both are ski instructors), and creating things (they both take pride in designing
and creating things they need).
When we arrived on the little island the sun was beginning
to set. We walked up from the docks and were greeted near the
campfire/barbecue by other boat club members and their families. It was a lively
group of people, many who have sailed extensively in their lives. There was no
electricity or running water on the island. I hadn't been anywhere like this since I
was a kid! It had 2 outhouses out behind a wooden clubhouse. The outhouses
bordered on the fence that separated the house from the farm next door where you could see
cows grazing. The most outstanding part of our evening was the time we spent in the
sauna. The women could use the sauna from 6-8p.m. and the men used it from
8-10p.m. After that individuals could come and go pretty much as they pleased.
Since we arrived to the island late Kati and I had to wait until the men were done before
we could go in. Pekka took Chris in first. The sauna is heated with burning
wood and makes for a smoother feel to the heat, and the water is brought from the
lake. When it was our turn, Kati took me in and showed me how it works. After
we sat for a while in the sauna we stepped outside, took a few sips of our beer and jumped
into the lake. It was so cold I almost couldn't go all the way in! But, I
managed to dip in up to my shoulders long enough to appreciate how good it feels to get
out. Then we repeated this process for about an hour. Kati told us that most
Finn's have sauna's in their homes. Pekka even agreed to help us build our own sauna
someday when we finally settle down somewhere!
We wrapped up a perfect evening drinking wine, eating
traditional Finnish sausages, corn on the cob, and bananas filled with chocolate on the
BBQ! Thanks Kati for that little tip about the bananas! Yummmm. As most
people slept on their boats, Chris and I slept in the old house along with another guest.
It was so peaceful we didn't wake up until 10a.m. the next morning. After a
quick stop in the outhouse, we set off for Kuopio and had breakfast on the boat. We managed to get just
enough wind to unfurl the sail and go an average of 2.5 knots/hr.---well at least we were
sailing. Back on shore Pekka took us on a tour of Kuopio. In the afternoon the
four of us hit the road heading south on some beautiful back roads, which included some
dirt and loose gravel (thank you Enduro Park!). We enjoyed a nice dinner in
Savonlinna before we said goodbye to Pekka and Kati.
We rode until almost midnight and arrived at the campground
in Lappeenranta, which is near the Russian border. In the morning, we went to the
harbor to catch a boat for our one-day tour to a small Russian town called Vyborg.
Vyborg was Finnish before World War II but was taken by Russia after the war. Pekka
had arranged the tour for us the previous week (special one-day visa) when we discovered
we couldn't got to St. Petersburg as we originally wanted. The visa process for St.
P. would have taken 2 weeks so we opted for Vyborg instead. The round-trip takes
about 14 hours----most of it is on the boat. The boat takes the Saima Canal,
including 28 locks, until it reaches the territorial waters of Russia. Once we
arrived in Vyborg, we only had 2 hours to explore. At first I thought that it was
too little time, but I soon discovered it was just enough.
Where the boat docks in Vyborg there is an old
castle/fortress. It makes for a nice "first look" at the city. As we
walked along the streets we noticed the roads were in very bad shape, and the cars were
mostly very old Lada's and some other old brands. It was rare to see a newer car.
The buildings that looked old but which had beautiful architecture we soon saw up
close were crumbling. They had not been painted in years, many had all of their
windows smashed and were not boarded up. The sidewalks were a complete mess of
broken cement, rocks and sand. It was easier to walk in the cobblestone
street. Then we noticed the way people looked, not happy like we had seen elsewhere
on our journey. We stopped to ask a young military man where the railway station was
and he "shooed" us away with a mean scowl. It took us 3 banks and a hotel
before we finally were able to change some money into Rubles---everyone giving us the same
scowl. They definitely did not like tourists.
Well Chris being Chris decided we must buy a few things with
our 400 Rubles (or $16). So we went into a few shops (mostly selling food stuffs)
and bought 1 liter and 2 smaller half liter bottles of Russian Vodka, some strudel
pastries, cookies, candy, and peanuts. We still had $6 left so we went to an outdoor
cafe and had two very big Heineken beers.
|Of interest we saw their Red Square with a
statue of Lenin, an old Orthodox church, and the marketplace. Oh, we think we also
spotted 2 young, slick looking Russian men who must have been Mafia connected because they
got into a brand new Mercedes coupe with tinted windows. It was then time to get
back on board the boat and return to Lappeenranta. Am I glad I went? Yes, but
it unfortunately confirmed our expectations about what life might be like in Russia these
We spent Tuesday exploring a little of
Lappeenranta, a cute little town with a pretty harbor filled with sailboats. We also
replaced my DID chain (after about 16,000 km) which began stretching at an alarming rate,
indicating it definitely had died. Anyway it was easily changed at the BMW
dealership in town ($117) and the next day we were on our way to Helsinki.
We arrived at Kati's apartment in Helsinki on Wednesday
afternoon, she had invited us there when we were together in Kuopio. It was great,
just like being back in our New York apartment! Kati lives in the heart of the city
in a lovely neighborhood. She spent Wednesday evening and most of Thursday showing
us some of the sights like the open-air museum on a little island near her apartment, a
wonderful little cafe that serves fresh baked pastries (cinnamon rolls, yummy!), the
downtown area where all the shopping is, the harbor with it's market, the Orthodox church,
and the very impressive Lutheran Cathedral.
Kati is a nurse and works the night shift so
we spent the next day and a half doing some more exploring of this wonderful city.
That included a trip to the fortress island and wandering around the streets admiring the
architecture and the pedestrian promenades.
On Saturday, August 7, the 3 of us had an early dinner with
and said goodbye to Kati before we boarded the ferry to Stockholm. The ferry, which
was more like a huge cruise ship, took 13 hours. We left Helsinki at 6 p.m. and arrived in
Stockholm at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning (Sweden time). When we departed Helsinki the
sky was a beautiful blue with thin strips of clouds crossing the sky, and the sun was
sinking on the horizon. As this was my first "cruise" experience we
decided to explore the duty-free shops and check out the various bars and restaurants on
board. In the duty-free shop we bought some snacks, some cheap
mixed-alcohol-drinks-in-a-can, and a box of red French table wine. (I learned from 2
Finnish guys in Norway that a box of wine travels better on a motorcycle than
glass!) The entertainment that night consisted of a (pretty good) folk singer in one
bar, really bad Karaoke singing in another, and a magician in the main nightclub lounge.
Well that was about as much as I could take for one night so I retired to our
little cabin and Chris tucked me into the bottom bunk bed.
When we departed the boat on Sunday morning we were very
pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Chris' "uncle" (really his mother's first
cousin) Ferenc and his son Daniel (Chris' second cousin), and our old friends Gherbi and
Catarina from Norway (see Chapter 11). Both Gherbi and Feri were armed with digital
video cameras to film the occasion. Daniel greeted me with a bunch of beautiful
roses. Catarina showered us with kisses, it was just a splendid welcome to
We've spent the past week relaxing,
seeing many of the sights (such as the Water Festival, the Royal Summer Palace, a museum
with a raised sunken ship called the Vasa from the 1600's, and a nearby town called
Dalarö which is uniquely Swedish). We even gave an interview to a magazine
published by the young liberal party (arranged by Daniel). Most of all it was a
relaxing escape from our mostly hectic schedule. Chris' family made sure of it!
While in Stockholm we had our teeth checked and cleaned (by
George, a Hungarian family friend who is a dentist), my hair cut and colored (by Chris'
aunt, Iren), and special stickers made for the bikes (by another Hungarian friend of the
The visit was not only restful but also
productive! Chris' uncle also took us to a weekly motorcycle gathering at a nearby
cafe. Joseph (who made our stickers), and his wife have a Honda scooter and they go
there often. At first we thought it would be a small gathering, maybe 20
bikes or so. Boy were we surprised when we showed up and saw more like 250 bikes, of
all makes, models, and ages! It was really a great evening, getting to meet
local motorcycle enthusiasts, see some really cool old bikes, and marvel at the hot air
balloons that passed directly overhead. There we learned also that Sweden has the
largest number of Harley Davidson owners outside of the U.S., and we've seen it! It
was such a terrific week, spent with a really caring family.
It was hard to say good-bye, but it was time to leave,
heading south. On Friday, August 13 (thankfully it was a lucky day!) we headed out
of Sweden, accompanied by our new friend Gherbi. Gherbi drove about 50 km with us
before turning back and saying our final good-byes to him. We then headed for
Karlstad, where we made a scheduled stop at the BMW dealer there, MC-Techno, to change my
front tire. The friendly salesman, Jimmy, showed us an excellent place to have lunch
right by the river. He sat with us for awhile and filled us in on the local doings.
From Karlstad we headed for our final destination, Tanumshede (2 hours north of
Gotëborg), where we were to meet up with the EP-IV rally.
The rally is put on by the European branch of the Internet
BMW Riders group, and EP stands for Euro Presidents. They are a great group of
people and very international. Countries represented included (but not limited to,
and in no particular order) Italy, Germany, England, the United States (more than just
us), Sweden, Ecuador, Belgium, Portugal, Russia and the Netherlands. I'm sure I left
out several others, so my apologies in advance. If you would like to know more about
them, here is there website: www.europrez.org.
On Saturday morning we drove from our campground to the
seaside hotel where the EP-IV group were staying. We were also scheduled to meet a
journalist and a photographer there from Allt om MC (www.fabas.se)
magazine (a big motorcycle mag. in Sweden). Chris' uncle Feri had arranged for this
as well! The interview was originally going to be in earlier in the week, but they
couldn't get to Stockholm in time. When we told him we were going to be near on the
west coast for the weekend, they arranged for a journalist and photographer to ride up and
meet us. I think they were impressed with the EP-IV group, because they took quite a
few pictures and spoke for a while with the organizers and several attendees.
We spoke to the journalist for a while about our motivations
and planning for such a trip. After that we got on the bikes and the photographer
took pictures of us while he rode backwards on another bike. It was a special
experience for us as we had not done anything like this before. The journalist and
photographer could not have been nicer people. Both also talked to us about special
stories about Sweden and good places to go visit. Before leaving they promised to
send us a copy of the mag. which should be out in October.
We spent the rest of yesterday afternoon driving through
picturesque seaside towns with some members of the EP-IV group and working our way back up
to Norway. Yes, I said Norway. Tanumshede is just south of the border with
Norway (near Oslo) so it was an easy ride back up for one last quick visit----with NO
RAIN!!! At night we enjoyed dinner and a few drinks with the EP-IV gang before we
said goodbye to them.
Now its Sunday, August 15. Today was a lazy day, Chris
on the computer and me taking a walk to some local rock carvings and a museum of the
Bronze Age. This is a very pleasant area of Sweden, quiet farmland bordered by
beautiful seaside towns. It wasn't in my guide book but it should be!
Tomorrow we head down along the scenic coast
of Sweden towards Helsingborg where we catch the 20 minute ferry to Denmark. Our
next destination is Copenhagen. By the end of the week we'll be back near Munich for
the start of the Transdanubia Race (Aug 21).
We've gone as far north as we will this year. For the
next 12 months, our route is southeast -- trying to stay out of winter's reach.