August 5, 2012
I leave St Petersburg somewhat reluctantly. I have enjoyed this city, and our apartment, and would like to spend more time exploring the Russian market we have only just discovered at the end of our street, and visiting Catherine’s Palace, out of town, and the many museums and galleries of the Hermitage.
I am also worried about getting out of the country safely. We have tempted fate without insurance, not even the third-party insurance we read was compulsory. We have no idea what the road will be like on the way to Finland (as it turns out it’s much better than the road in from Estonia).
And I don’t have much of a plan for Scandinavia. I haven’t yet studied the Lonely Planet book Jeannie gave me for my birthday. My focus had been on the Baltics and Russia. Time to get organising again.
The general idea is to get into Norway as quickly as possible and then give ourselves time to play around the fjords and glaciers.
Since Glenn won’t be in Helsinki we’ll skip the city route and keep to the country.
So it’s across Finland to Vaasa, the late-night ferry across the gulf to Umea in Sweden, then across the mountains to Trondheim, where we’ll start our Norwegian adventure.
I pick Trondheim not just because of its location but because it features in a Monty Python skit about the Trondheim Hammer Dance. Makes me smile.
Graham and I have already been singing Monty Python’s Finland song “the country where we most like to be” as we ride into green fields, neat farms, red timber houses and excellent roads.
Heli and her husband and son greet us warmly. We have their whole guesthouse to ourselves. It’s Heli’s old family home, built by her grandparents after they were forced from their land near Vyborg when that part of Finland was handed over/taken by the Russians in the 1940s.
There is the family’s traditional Finnish sauna. Would we like to use it? Yes please!
It’s not so much a sauna as a bathing ritual. Graham, the sauna master, tends the fire and we strip off and wash ourselves in the warm water and soak in the heat and gentle steam of the sauna house. So relaxing and refreshing, good for the soul as well as the body. We vow to build one at home.
We spy sauna houses at almost every property as we ride on through the countryside.
The Finns are fantastic builders (the world’s best we were told in Tallinn) and it’s evident everywhere we look, but especially in the bridge-building. Beautiful timber formwork that’s an art in itself … and finally, after so many countries, a workforce that looks like a team, in uniforms and safety gear. Not like the road crew in thongs we saw in Estonia or the plasterers in T-shirts in Riga.
We find most people here speak English, the food is becoming bland, the beer expensive.
But we discover a delicious Finnish sweet treat at a roadside cafe, where the couple are friendly and talkative. She is off to a music night and he’s a keen motorcyclist who tries to get away for a trip each summer. He’s been to Nordcap.
He is retired he tells us, although he looks too young for that. Bad heart, he says, as he sucks on yet another cigarette. The smokes are still cheap.