Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650

Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

August 15, 1999

Heading 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!

Crossing into Sweden -- See the rainbow?!The 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 and PekkaKati 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 Pekka and Kati's boat -- "Tempestas"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 days. Orthadox Church

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.

Farmers selling goods from boats in the Harbor Lutheran Catherdral

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, The Majestic Gabriella -- Same as my Mother-in-Lawtook 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 Stockholm!

Iren, Ferenc, Erin, Daniel, and Chris (At the Royal Palace)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 family, Joseph).

 "Thanks Josi"

Iren doing Erin's hair

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 Euro Presidents of the IBMWR

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:

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 ( 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! 

Rock carvings from 1,000 BC

More Carvings

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.

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