Archive for 2004
Well, I arrived back in Vancouver as scheduled on October 1st and have spent the time since I got back starting to explore my next options (job here, job elsewhere, more school?), starting to work part-time at UBC (to pay the mortgage and feed the cats while I do the previous item), restoring/imposing order on my apartment and getting back into rugby (got my first bruises already – yay!). But there’s one last little travelogue to be written before the story of Barney’s and my European Adventure is over.
My plan for the last week of the trip was to be in Norwich and sell Barney. I was on the home stretch, about 10 miles out of Norwich at about 11 o’clock on Sunday night, thinking about these plans and thinking how good Barney had been, not a single breakdown or problem in the 6500 miles we’d been together. I really should have known better than to even let these thoughts cross my mind (having been a victim of this kind of thing before – never say negative things about a place or you’ll be towed back, don’t voice pity for people with flat tires when your spare is buried under all of your earthly belongings), because right about then, on a deserted stretch of the A11 dual carriageway, Barney suddenly stopped going forward. The engine was running, but I had no go. Pulled over, pulled Barney up on the side, wished for a cell phone and hoped someone would stop. No one did. Apparently no one does. Finally loaded up my backpack, walked 1/2 mile to the nearest exit and then into an industrial estate, where, luckily, there was a trucking company working all night loading milk into trucks. Once they’d gotten over the shock of seeing a strange woman in gear walking up to them at midnight, they were nice and gave me tea (being England) and let me use the phone. I called the insurance company – luckily I hadn’t quite made it home yet, as my breakdown coverage only covered Europe and to and from the port! At about 1 am or so, the chatty tow truck driver showed up and we went back and got Barney and drove him back to Norwich.
It turns out that it was only Barney’s belt which had burst (without doing other damage), but it still wasn’t fixed when I left so Barney has not been sold. Also, it was completely the wrong time to try to sell him as all the bike shops were completely loaded up on bikes. So, I’m going to list him on eBay or ask the bike shop to take him to auction, but I probably will lose money on the deal. No matter, it still beat renting and was totally worth it.
So, going back to the last leg of the trip, from Utrecht to Norwich. I set out late in the evening of September 14th from Utrecht, heading for Antwerp (still fairly boggled at crossing countries in so little time). Called the hostel ahead and they said I had to get there by 11 – no problem I thought – they also said to take the ring road, which I did although it looked like the freeway would be better, and gave me rudimentary directions. I’d just like to point out one of my pet peeves about driving in Europe at this point – street signs – they’re hidden away on the sides of buildings if they exist at all, making it nearly impossible to find out what street you’re coming up to in time to do anything about it. So, after a detour through a big tunnel and back, I finally found the hostel by sheer blind luck. The next morning I found out that the planners in Antwerp had decided to close ALL of the exit and entrance ramps from the freeway that circles the city AT THE SAME TIME to improve them. Hmmm.
I set out for Ghent and then wandered around that medieval city for a bit and enjoyed the buildings, before heading for Paris on the back roads, only getting misplaced for a bit in Mons (which looks like somewhere worth getting back to –windy cobble-stone streeted hill city with a cathedral on top). After a lovely jaunt through the French countryside, rolling hills with lovely towns and silhouetted castles and cathedrals on the hills, I got to Paris in the evening. I then tried out lane-splitting/filtering on the freeway (adrenaline filled fun really, though I kept pulling over to let faster two-wheelers by). Then I got to drive around Paris looking for a hostel. Riding in Paris is interesting – traffic is a fluid dance and requires complete concentration – the only rules seem to be not to drive in the oncoming lane, though that’s a little relaxed for 2 wheelers. I’m a little too conservative of a rider for Paris though – I don’t ride up the centreline or the bus lane or filter between cars nearly often or fast enough. And Barney was right at home – never seen so many big scooters. (Which fits really – I decided a long time ago that Barney was male, and I thought he was gay, but someone pointed out that he could just be metrosexual, which I think fits better – and Paris would have to be the home of the metrosexual). Scooters are the most logical form of transport in Paris though, and you see all sorts of people and things on them – saw a nicely dressed couple with the woman holding a lapdog as they rode along. Also saw people smoking and sending SMSs (text-messages). Made me think about how in the Netherlands the bike is the most logical form of transport, and how bikes there follow their own set of rules, and the same for scooters in Paris. Also that in North America, where the car is king, the bike and motorbike are extra-ordinary and require special gear for most people, whereas when both are so common, people just ride in whatever and find a way to fit their lives onto them.
After a couple nights in the hostel I moved to the place of a friend from university – a really spacious place at the top of Montmartre, on the 6th floor with an amazing panoramic view of the city, including the Eiffel tower. I spent the days wandering around Paris on foot. Actually the first day I spent many hours at the Louvre, and of course only managed to see half of it. I saw the Arc de Triumph, the Champs-Elysee, Notre Dame, the Parthenon and many of the other famous places and buildings of Paris (not forgetting, of course, Amelie’s café). I also watched the sun set from the top of the Eiffel tower, watching the city change from it’s daytime grandeur through the glowing whiteness of twilight to the glowing redness of sunset and finally the glittering jewels of night time. And then there was being inside the elevator down with the strobe-like sparkling lights went off, as they do for 10 minutes of every hour. Paris really is all that – great food, lovely presentation of produce in produce stands, well-dressed people and everything else you think it is.
I found that I can speak some French and they did understand me mostly. I could also read enough to understand the things at the Louvre (of course the French don’t put anything in English) and I can understand a lot of what’s said. My head does hurt by the end of the day though. And I still reach for Spanish or Korean first.
It was also nice to feel tall again. Normally, at 5’7” (170cm) I’m on the tall side, but mostly people think I’m even taller. When I’ve travelled before, in Central America and Asia, I’ve been a giant. In the Netherlands I was at or below average for a woman – depending on the statistics I found online, the AVERAGE woman is 5’7”-5’8” (and the average man is 6’1”!). I found a very interesting article examining the reasons for this in a New Yorker article
Anyway, I went from Paris to Chartres (stopping at Versailles for a quick look – not nearly as good as the Hermitage), where I spent the night and then looked around in the morning, including climbing the 296 stairs to the top of the steeple – it really is a beautiful little place. I then headed for Cherbourg to catch the ferry to Poole. Pushed myself a little too hard, and was stupid that night – thought of stopping in Caen and catching the ferry from there, but I wanted to see the D-day beaches. Of course, by the time I got there, it was dark, not to mention somewhat rainy and miserable. But I made the hostel just after 11 and then got up for the 8 am ferry. No dinner, just a power bar.
Slept a bit on the ferry, but then spent some time in Poole looking for (another) right mirror (well, see, I write my route (which little roads to take) on a piece of paper which I stick in my pocket – I’d lost one and had to redo it – then the second one fell out, and being in such a hurry to retrieve it before it blew away I didn’t make sure the bike was stable before getting off, and the kickstand was on a little rise so it toppled over – luckily this time some French guys stopped and helped me pick it up – it wasn’t broken off, but some plastic was broken and it kept drooping). Finally found a mirror, but they wouldn’t sell me just one, only two, so I decided to try duct tape, which worked quite well.
I also had to decide where to go – should I head to Norwich directly, or take a long detour. The weather was looking bad, but it was supposed to be clearing so I decided on the long route and headed west for Land’s End, over the moors, shooting through narrow roads tunnelled by shrubbery and then coming out onto vistas of hills and fields and sheep and ponies. Was absolutely lovely. But I had had some problems finding the first road up to the moors, so it got dark sooner than I thought. The only hostels I knew of were a ways away, and it was cold, but I didn’t want to spend time finding rates for hotels etc so I kept on. By the time I got to the hostel in St. Ives some time after 11 I was absolutely and totally exhausted – I stopped about 10 for McD’s (bleck, but open). Fell into bed and slept until noon.
Next day (Friday) got up and looked at St Ives a bit, then went on to Land’s End – beautiful scenery out there, but the tourist trap on the end is something else! Then headed back, sticking mostly to secondary roads. Stopped for fish and chips in a little place (lured in by the advertisement of a toilet – they have nice free public ones in little towns all over England) and an older couple eating there started talking to me – they told me there was a hostel close by, and I thought I should stop (was almost 8 at this point, and I knew I shouldn’t push myself again, though I was tempted), so I decided to go there. They said they’d lead me there, then came out and asked if I wanted to stay at their place instead. So I did. Quite nice couple – he used to fly for British Airways – went for beers at the local yacht club and then got on my way again in the morning.
Lovely ride to Bath – tried to decide whether to stay there or go on – was about 8 when I got there, then called Oxford to see if there were rooms at hostels, and then thought about staying in Bath, decided not to, but then checked out the youth hostel and found it full. At which point I started to feel really tired, so thought I should stay. Then couldn’t find my way back into the city (really confusing roads) and so decided to go on to Oxford. I got a bit out of the city and knew I shouldn’t be riding anymore. Went back to the city, managed to find my way into the city, found one of the two backpacker places. They were full and sent me to the other, which I wandered around forever trying to find, only to find it was full too. They sent me to the YMCA, which was just up the street, but which I couldn’t find. Finally asked a bouncer where it was, and found it close on 10:30. Luckily they did have a bed but thank god for earplugs ’cause there were two snorers in there.
In the morning went to the Roman Baths museum, which is actually very interesting, and then tried the water in the Pump Room. I then rode to Oxford, stopping at Avebury henge (the other henge, not as complete as Stonehenge). Looked around Oxford, including Christchurch College and Cathedral and then left there at about 7 and headed for Norwich. Had that little breakdown problem then spent the week reintegrating my stuff and getting ready to head back and trying to sell Barney. Took a night bus directly to Heathrow from Norwich and had a most uneventful flight back, including getting three middle seats to myself to sleep on.
I really did not want to come home and face reality – would have easily kept travelling for longer. However, the money was getting low and it was starting to get cold, and I really do have to begin the next chapter of my life, whatever that turns out to be. But I know I’ll do it again sometime. Riding is definitely the best way to travel.
However, next time I’ll get a real bike. Barney had his points – the underseat storage was nice and he was fairly comfy and handled decently. He was exactly what I needed for this trip, still being nervous from my crashes on my Ninjette, but I’ve pretty much got my confidence back and want something a little more powerful – I’m thinking some kind of BMW, since every touring biker I talked to loved his (and they were all men – I didn’t talk to another woman riding the whole trip and only saw a couple of them). BMWs also have a lot of safety features and are made for touring.
I haven’t decided yet whether I’d want to travel with someone next time or not. This was the first long trip I’d ever taken by myself as well as my first trip riding. It was great because I didn’t have to discuss my plans with anyone, or make any compromises or worry about stopping wherever I wanted or getting to a certain place. And I had experiences that I never could have had had I been travelling with a companion, like getting invited home over fish and chips. And I met a bunch of cool people in the various places I stayed. Plus, I never felt unsafe, probably because of the countries I was travelling in. However, it would have been nice to have someone to eat, drink, camp and explore cities with on a more regular basis – that could get kind of lonely. And given my propensity for pushing myself beyond what is normally considered wise, it might be good to travel with someone who could occasionally talk some common sense into me. So, if the right person was around for my next trip I’d probably take a companion – otherwise, solo is not so bad.
So, a few pics:
Bike parking in Paris – anything on two wheels
Filling the tank on the street in Paris
Giant scooter with leg covering – saw a lot of these, even on bikes
Drool (and note the bumper sticker – Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot – didn’t meet a single European who liked Bush)
The result of filtering – note the variety
Actually, you can park anywhere in Paris
Paris at night from the Eiffel Tower
Barney in the French countryside
If you look closely you can see the little (live) dog on the back seat) – spotted in Poole, England
Road over the moors
In Cornwall, heading to Lands End – note the sign saying the road narrows (more) ahead
Me at Lands End
Road through English countryside
Me at the Glastonbury Tor
The University of East Anglia in Norwich at dusk
And the trip map
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St. Petersburg was definitely worth the hassle. I spent four and a half days there and could have spent much longer. There are so many museums and cultural attractions, not to mention that being in Russia is interesting in its own right both because of its history and what it is now (I was there before any of the recent developments). It’s definitely on my list of places to get back to someday. Highlights include the Dostoevsky Murder Route Pub Crawl (which traced the route that Raskalnikov of Crime and Punishment took to murder the old lady, and involved several stops for libations), the Hermitage (amazing, of course), blini, and meeting a nice Dutch boy at the hostel. Anti-highlights would be things like the breakfast cereal (flour paste held together with glue), getting yelled at on two consecutive mornings by the breakfast babushka for taking too long to eat, and surly customs officials (who really are still Soviet-style surly, but didn’t give me any hassle at all).
The trains were also interesting – on the way to St. Petersburg I was on the Russian train, complete with compartments and free food (choice between bun, sausage and beer or croissant, yoghurt and juice), but on the way back I was on the Finnish train, with modern seats and an expensive snack bar. Going into Russia my compartment mates were two Danish girls who were studying Russian and a Russian lady who spoke no English but guessed my horoscope sign without even talking to me. She and her husband (who had studied English on his own and spoke quite well) helped us all take the metro into the downtown, as the train station was new since the publication of the guidebook. Coming back I had no company so I was free to ponder how it feels coming back to a rich country from a less developed one. Everything seemed so safe and secure and sleek, like a plump domestic cat, whereas Russia seemed more like a street savvy tom – not starving, but definitely having to work hard for everything, and not so trusting or trustworthy.
I spent the night in Helsinki, and then took the ferry, no make that cruise ship, back over to Stockholm. I splurged a little on this ferry and took a sauna before heading to the elaborate smorgasbord to stuff myself silly on Swedish and Finnish delicacies in the company of my roommate, a spacy Japanese architecture student. This all-you-can eat bonanza included free wine or beer while eating, so of course I had a few glasses, and then a beer at one of the pubs. Of course, this made me a wee bit nervous when I got off the ferry and found a bunch of police officers with breathalysers. See, in Sweden, the limit is 0.02 and it’s quite possible to blow over in the morning and face harsh consequences. Luckily, I wasn’t over (I hadn’t had THAT much).
I then spent a couple days in Stockholm with a relative, and quite enjoyed it. We saw what he called Sweden’s first “gated” community, which is only gated in the sense of not including social housing, which most Swedish developments do, so only those who can afford to buy can live there. It’s also fairly green – see Hammarby Sjöstad (click on “in English”).
I then headed south. The first day was fairly long – I planned to get to Öland, and, goshdarnit, that’s where I was going to get to. Of course, this meant that I ended up on Öland at about 11 pm, without a hostel reservation or even a real idea of where one was. But again, the fates were smiling on me, as I found a very cute little hostel, and the proprietor was still up because Sweden was doing something well in the Olympic games, and he had a room left. Amazing really.
The next day I rode around Öland. Of course, when the Lonely Planet description starts “More windmills than Holland?” one can be prepared for a little wind. And in fact, it was fairly windy, but it was steady, so bearable. Stopped to see a rebuilt fortress and World Heritage Site at Eketorp, then got off the island and into Kalmar, where I stopped to see the castle, which was pretty cool – the interior is museumed and somewhat refurbished (unfortunately cameras weren’t allowed inside). Then by about 6 I got on the road, heading for Lund.
Of course, I’d spent so much time in the north that I had forgotten about night. You know, the cold dark thing. Which is even more fun if combined with rain. Before the rain started I spent quite a long time singing a song to the moon that I made up as I went along, a sort of one use only song with no real artistic merit (about her unrequited love for the sun), but it kept me occupied. Then it rained and I just focused on riding. Brrr. But I made it to the hostel, which turned out to be one of those things that seem cool in the guidebook, but are a bit lacking in reality. See, the hostel is in train cars in a park, but the cars are extremely cramped and it was a challenge to get even my meagre belongings to fit in.
The next day I strolled around Lund for a little while, catching the Philedelphia Boys Choir in the cathedral when I went in to see the amazing astrological clock, and then shopped a little in Malmö before heading over the bridge to Copenhagen. In Copenhagen I decided to follow my principles and go for the hostel that was the “greenest”. It was kinda sketchy and warehousy though, and the staff was young, looked perpetually stoned and were not so helpful or informative, and the “greenness” seemed limited to recycling and using green cleaning products. After wandering around Copenhagen the next day (including the free town of Christiana), I wasn’t too sad when I couldn’t get a bed at the green hostel, and headed for the regular one, which was huge and much nicer, though way out of the city centre. My roommate was an older Norwegian woman who was so spacy that it took her until the next morning to figure out that I was riding (somehow walking in with my gear hadn’t registered). She kept calling things (like her coffee and mangoes) “the best in the world”. The world she inhabited seemed to only briefly touch on reality, though it seemed like a very nice place.
The next day I headed for Germany, planning to spend the night in Bremen, where there was supposed to be a hostel. After riding the freeway down to the ferry, I stuck to backroads in Germany since Barney’s top speed is the minimum speed on the autobahn. It’s much nicer on backroads anyway, cruising through farmland. I made it to Bremen before 8 pm and started looking for the hostel. Of course in my attempt to avoid freeways, I’d managed to miss the centre entirely, and ended up in a suburb. After trying to get directions from a middle-aged gas station attendant (a sign of the high unemployment in Germany) who didn’t speak English but tried his best to help me anyway, a customer (and rider) who did help me.
After we’d got the directions sorted out, I asked to use the phone to call and say I was coming, only to find a message, in English, saying only that the hostel was closed for repairs until May 2005. So my new friend helped me look in the yellow pages for a guesthouse and gave me directions to there. After some circling, I found it, only to find it closed and no answer at the phone numbers provided. So, it was cold, dark, raining intermittently and I had no idea where to stay without spending a ton of money, and I was hungry, not having eaten dinner yet – I was despairing. Luckily, about then, a pair of German technicians who were staying at the guesthouse came in. They thought that the place was full, but had colleagues staying at another place, so they called them, called the hotel, and then got into their van and guided me over there and translated for me with the older proprietor. So, for only a bit more than a hostel, I got a nice single and got to spend the night without listening to anyone else. Amazing how things work out.
Of course, I really need to start learning to call and make plans BEFORE I get somewhere, but I’m always afraid that I won’t make it to where I plan.
The next day I rode to Utrecht in the Netherlands, where I’ve spent the last 2.5 weeks, with a couple side trips to Amsterdam. I’ve been relaxing at the home of the nice Dutch boy I met in St. Petersburg, and exploring Dutch culture. It’s been nice to get a more personal look at what it’s like to live here rather than staying at a hostel and only looking at buildings.
One Barney related matter here – some knob knocked off or stole the other mirror so I had to get it replaced. Found a replacement with no problem, but the guy didn’t think he could get it on that day since the windshield had to be replaced. But I just did it there. OK, it was easy, but it still felt good to prove that I wasn’t useless with tools.
Anyway, I’m leaving Utrecht now, and heading towards Paris. I probably won’t make it there tonight as it’s a bit far, and the weather is kinda overcast and windy, (which is more unpleasant because there are really only freeways in the Netherlands because of the population density). From Paris I’m going to go back to England, sell the bike and head home on Oct 1st. If something else doesn’t change.
Quaint Tallin (you don’t see the McDonald’s behind the tower)
Parked beside two of these in a row – love motorcyle parking in Stockholm.
Old and modern windmills in Öland
Motorcycle cop in Copenhagen
Bike parking in Amsterdam – the other kind of bike
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I tell you, the trip to Norway was absolute torture. Terrible. On the one hand the scenic little villages, steep mountains, glaciers, glass-calm water and constant sunlight were so photogenic that I wanted to stop and take a picture every time I went around a curve. On the other hand, well, there were a lot of curves and the weather was perfect, and I was having so much fun riding that I just didn’t want to stop. Absolutely dreadful being torn between choices like that. I managed to find some kind of halfway point between the two and stopped to take pictures only when I absolutely couldn’t stand the beauty any more. Though I knew I was ready to leave when I was like “ho-hum, another village of red houses perched above still water with a towering glacier-carved mountain behind it, nothing special”.
I left Umeå on the 20th of July and headed up for the mountains. I left late in the afternoon, and had a lovely little ride up to the interior, sweeping through pine forest along the sun dappled Umeå river and associated lakes along pleasantly windy roads (that’s with turns, not with wind – wind is never pleasant on a bike). The only minor drawback was that I was riding due west, and very long days mean that that dangerous driving time just before sunset is greatly expanded. Spent the night in Tarnaby at a youth hostel/ski chalet that looks like it would be great fun in the winter, as there was a chair lift right outside the hostel.
I went over the mountains in the morning, up in Sweden and down in Norway. Landscape changed from mostly coniferous forests to alpine, with blue and white mountains circling meadows and little red huts dotted everywhere. Going into Norway there was no big “Welcome to Norway” sign, let alone a border, but several things changed. The speed limits went way down (in Sweden they’re 90-110 kmh on two lane highways and 70 through towns, and there don’t seem to be many towns – in Norway, they’re 80 on most highways, and 60 whenever there’s a house), the road markings and signs changed, the houses went from red to brown and the electrical wires went above ground. The scenery continued being, well, scenic, as I descended to sea level again.
After a brief stop in Mo I Rana, I continued up the coast, which is where the fun really began. For one thing, many roads in Norway are about 1.5 lanes wide, with no centre line – two cars can get by each other, but just. And the roads wend along the sides of the mountains, just above the water, which means they twist and turn. And then there are the tunnels, ranging from a few hundred metres to 7.6 km. These tunnels are dark and uncovered, so all you see is rough hewn walls. They are freshly cool and have a clean dirt smell. On a bike the darkness makes them a little scary, especially the first one, since it’s not marked very well. You round a corner, and all of a sudden you’re in a narrow dark tunnel with sunglasses on and cars coming straight at you. At least that’s what happened to me and to another biker I talked to. Visor up quickly, and sunglasses snatched off. Whew. After that, I watched closely for signs and made sure to have the sunglasses off before the tunnel.
After about 11 hours on the road, over 400 km and a couple of ferries (including the one on which I crossed over the Arctic Circle), I found myself in Straumen, where there is a great tidal current – two neighbouring fjords are forever trying to equalize, causing whirlpools and quickly rushing water in the narrow passage between them. At the changing of the tide there is a roar as the water changes direction. The fish, the fisherman, and the sea gulls love it. When I went down to see it, I started talking to a biker camping near there and then decided I was too tired to go on, and decided to camp. I ended up camping near a party of Norwegian bikers, on 8 bikes and with a car along. All the women were passengers (as I’ve seen a lot here – very few women on their own bikes). They were not extremely friendly, and I ended up hanging out with the Swedes across the way who tried to feed me reindeer meat. The next morning as I was packing up it was very strange – the Norwegians were all sitting around in a half circle facing my tent, talking to themselves and not to me as I rolled it up. I felt like I was the entertainment. But then they got more friendly and waved madly as I left. Strange.
I took the ferry over to Å that night (yup that’s the whole name – actually two of them on the islands, but everyone knows the southern one). Å is a little restored fishing village on the southern tip of Lofoten. Filled with tourists of course, and a lot of them trying to catch fish, but very picturesque with lots of little traditional fishing shacks on stilts on rocks over the water (now vacation rentals). The whole town is a museum, and the hostels are in old houses two. Lovely.
The next day I went up the islands, almost all the way to the top. Another long day of riding through fjords, finishing at about midnight, as I found a camping spot along the beach by the light of the midnight sun, seeing which was the whole purpose of going up to the northern part of the islands. At midnight the whole sun was just above the horizon, and then it descended slowly until at about 1 am the top edge was showing. This top edge then moved along the horizon, never quite going down, stuck between sunrise and sunset. I went to bed before it came up again.
Of course, as beautiful as the sun was, it was a problem. At least I’m blaming it for what happened next. I think I must have had a touch of sunstroke, and not enough water. Yeah, that’s it.
After getting up fairly late and chatting with a German couple touring in a Smart car (which they let me sit in) who had stopped to take a picture, I went to the northernmost tip of the islands, Andenes, and cleaned up in the gas station and refuelled the bike and myself. I got on the road again in the mid-afternoon, heading south, aiming for Kiruna, Sweden. I was about an hour south of Andenes, riding through some mildly winding roads with almost no one around. My mind was feeling slow, and suddenly my eyes started doing those long blinks that presage falling asleep. These blinks are the human oil light, especially on a bike – they mean “You must pull over now, no matter where you are, or you will stop running!” Luckily, there was a big gravel parking lot off to the side, so I pulled in. I got to the end of it, and put down the kickstand, killing the engine. I’m not sure if I put my feet down – I definitely didn’t take any other gear off, including the helmet. I remember leaning backwards to rest, thinking, oh no, there’s soft food in there, and leaning forward, resting my head on the console and thinking I’d just rest my eyes for a bit. I’m not sure how long I stayed like that, but I know I was dreaming because it was sometime during that dream that I was rudely awakened by a loud crash as the bike fell over on its right side and I went sprawling out onto the gravel.
Well, this did wake me up, and I immediately went to pick up the bike. Luckily, it’s not very heavy, and I was able to pick it up while standing on the right side and grabbing the front and the back. Once it was upright, I let it go over a bit to the left, to rest on the extended kickstand. Which gave out, sending the bike over to the left side. I lifted it again, and rested it on the kickstand, this time ensuring that it was stable. At which point I noticed that the left mirror was still on the ground. Closer examination showed that the stem had broken in two – not repairable. And it was Saturday night, which meant that nothing resembling a repair shop would be open until Monday morning.
I reevaluated my plans of making Kiruna, Sweden that night, and decided to go to Narvik, still a couple hours away, figuring that if anything might be open on Sunday, that was the best bet. Slept in a conference room of a hotel which became a youth hostel in the summer. Tried a couple of gas stations in the morning, but no luck. Pressed on with only one mirror for the 176 km ride to Kiruna – just a short ride, no problem I thought.
I reckoned without the wind. Before that point I had never really understood the what clouds roiling out of the mountains really meant. But the wind was so gusty and and so strong that I was being pushed all over the road. I was fighting the whole time to keep the bike in my lane and on the road, while going up a winding mountain road. No where to stop, no time to think, just kept going on sheer adrenaline. When I got over the mountains it was better, but then the rain started. I was really glad to see the terraced mine leaving that used to be a mountain that dominates Kiruna.
In the morning, found the only bike repair guy in Kiruna, who almost had a mirror for me, but alas it was for the right side. Then went down the mine, had a very facts and figures filled propaganda tour while the Argentinian woman I was doing it with and I acted like the bad kids on a field trip. But it was interesting nonetheless.
That night, due to my lack of planning, I had to switch hostels. Due to a cancellation I found a bed in another hostel, and ended up sharing the room with a Chilean PhD student from the university in Sweden where my friend in Norwich went, who knew the Norwich friend. The world is entirely too small, and subsequent meetings have only confirmed this. In Helsinki on my first night I shared a room with a woman doing her MA in Planning in Germany (in Helsinki to do a course, on which there was a woman from my program at UBC). The next morning in the sauna I met a woman who used to play rugby for UVic, Velox and Canada, who is now doing her PhD in New Zealand. Very odd.
Back in Kiruna – had an interesting and fun discussion about economics with the Chilean, then the next morning went out to the Sami (Lapp) village of Jukkasjarvi. This is famous for two things – the ice hotel in the winter, and the Sami museum and cultural exhibition. Decided to only go to the cultural exhibition and had a lovely little tour with a Sami girl. Got to pet reindeer and feed them. They’re nowhere near as big as you expect, and they have really cool feet – they’re in four parts – two front shovel like hoofs, and two back spur like parts. They make a clicking sound when they walk. Rode down to Haparanda that afternoon.
Next morning went to the tourist info booth in Finland. The women there were excellent – actually all of the tourist info people so far have been great and extremely helpful. These Finns found the bike shop in Oulu and called down and made sure they would have a mirror for me. Very wonderful. On the ride to Oulu passed Ii, which would have been a contender for shortest name if it was only one i, and still might take up less space. Got the mirror, got it attached and rode on to Kuopio, about 300 km away, which is where I planned to spend the night.
Just after I left Oulu, the skies opened up and it proceeded to pour for the entire ride to Kuopio. I heard later that on this day there was more rain than Finns normally get in the month of July. And my pants aren’t very waterproof. And there is absolutely nothing between Oulu and just north of Kuopio – just mostly straight roads through pine forests. About an hour and a half into the trip I could feel the water dripping down the back of my leg, and by the time I got to Kuopio there were puddles splashing out of my boots when I walked.
During this rain my mind was in sort of a strange place and reality was shifting. At one point (while stuck for quite a while between two semis blasting up water) I had decided that since you cannot prove reality outside of yourself (and sometimes not even within yourself), that the cars that were coming only winked into existence before the straight parts of the road, and then stopped existing immediately thereafter.
Also, at some point I started to have a problem with the throttle – I give it gas and get nothing, and my speed would drop. But then it would come back. A little scary, but intermittent, so I didn’t stop.
The next day I did absolutely nothing. Stayed in bed and read and listened to the rain, outside where it belongs. Lovely. On the next, it was still raining so I went out and saw a couple of museums in Kuopio, then drank some vodka with some drunk Finnish boys.
Next day (we’re onto Saturday, July 31st by now), I rode to Savonlinna to see the castle and see if fate wanted me to go to the opera. Got there just after the castle had closed, managing to avoid the rain the whole way. At the castle the sky opened up, and a Finnish man waiting for his wife (they were going to the opera) shared his umbrella with me. Turns out he used to ride, and he was most skeptical about my scooter. But he got me in to take a quick look around the castle before the opera started. After which his wife arrived, and made sure to grab his arm very quickly – I think she was a little miffed that her husband was talking to a strange Canadian woman.
Leaving Savonlinna, tried to Heinola, where the LP said there was a hostel. Didn’t manage to avoid the rain, and got to Heinola, to find no hostel, and that the ones in the next town would already be closed. Camped at a campground, which luckily had a drying room.
Next day the sun finally came out and I had a lovely ride down through the historic town of Porvoo and to Helsinki. Took backroads where I could and revelled in the sunshine. Lovely.
Then spent just over a week in Helsinki looking into and getting a visa for Russia. Still complex – need to get an invitation letter from a hostel and have everything arranged just so. Went out and saw Helsinki some – nice enough place but not terribly exciting. Also got the bike looked at and the oil changed – turned out the throttle problems were from water in my air filter.
Also went to Tallinn, Estonia for the night on Saturday. Lovely little place – good for a nice stroll, and food was cheaper than Finland so I had a nice dinner at a sidewalk restaurant. Lovely. Sooooo many tourists though, the whole place was full of them. But a nice place to spend a few hours. I had been tempted by the idea of going south through the Baltic states and to Eastern Europe, but decided that that’s another trip. Anyone for an Eastern Europe excursion in the future?
Anyway, Russian visa is arranged, train tickets are booked (Barney is staying here at the hostel), and I’m on my way to St Petersburg in less than an hour. I’m coming back here on Monday, and then I’m taking the overnight ferry to Stockholm on Tuesday (I’ve even booked it – uncommonly forethinking for this trip). Then back through Sweden and Denmark, to Paris and on to Spain. I’m booked to come back to Canada on the 1st of October.
Sunset in Sweden
In the Swedish mountains, almost at the Norwegian border
Along the fjords
More fjords – Barney is below
Small Norwegian town
Bridge over tidal rapids at Straumen
Never ending sunset
Camping in the midnight sun – photo taken at about 12:30 am
At northernmost point of trip
Wind in the mountains
Holy Overcastness Batman!
Crossing back over Arctic Circle
Wet pants in Finland
I miss detailed curve signs
Old Norton in Porvoo, Finland
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Well, I’m finally about to set out from Umeå. I came up here only knowing that my great-grandfather had come from this area in the early part of the century. I thought I’d meet a couple relatives, get a little family history and be on my way. A couple of days at most. Well, no. I got here and it turns out that my ancestor came from a very large family. My grandfather had 44 cousins, and my mother has 134 second cousins. Many of them still live in this area, often in houses where they grew up, or very close by. I’ve been eating for a week and a half, going for dinner and fika (coffee) with many of these relatives and getting family history etc. It’s been really great, and I’m really glad I could take the time to do this.
Anyway, before I came up here, I spent a few days travelling up the coast. Uppsala, just north of Stockholm, is the historic capital and has a lot of great site – I only saw a few of them. I left Uppsala late in the evening and drove on. That night and the next morning I realized that something protects stupid people. I hadn’t bothered to make a reservation or anything, and when I got to Gavle at 9 or so, the hostel’s reception was closed, of course. I decided to keep going, finding camping later. By 11 or so, I was getting low on gas, and in a fairly desolate stretch. And there are VERY few all night gas stations in Sweden. I finally saw a camping sign (Swedish roads are well signed) and went there. Turns out there was a non-affiliated hostel by the campground, so I didn’t even have to do the tent thing.
The next morning I got gas and went to the next big town to get some food. Just as I’m coming up to a gas station I notice the oil light was on. So I pull in and get oil. But what kind? I’d neglected to ask when I bought the bike – I think it’s likely 10W40, but, who knows. Ask if there’s a Honda dealer in town. No go. They say they have motorcycle oil – it’s synthetic 10W40 and costs $27 for a litre. Ouch. So I buy it and put it in. About half of it. Get on the bike – oil light still on. Think maybe I need to ride it for a bit to get it to go off. No such luck. Now I’m in the parking lot of the supermarket – go buy food, pondering the necessity of calling my breakdown cover and taking it to the shop. Come out and the light is still on. Hmm. Maybe it takes more oil than I thought possible. Add more. And more. Most of the bottle – but now it’s too full, and I’ve had it on the side stand. I realize that I have to take some out. I try to do this. Then I think, “oh ho, I should have it on the centre stand to get more out”. Do so. Open it up. Oil gushes out, all over the parking lot. I get a lot of it back in the bottle. And then some more out. Finally try starting it again. The light is still on. And I know there is more than enough oil in there. Hmm. Finally notice a little slot below the oil light that looks as if something can be inserted – a key perhaps. Try that. The oil light clicks to green. I gather some gravel and cover up the oil and am thankful I know no one in this little town who could have witnessed this.
Of course this was before coffee. I should know better than to do ANYTHING before coffee.
Just a side note – there are many good things about my dash that all motorcycles should have. A fuel gauge. A clock. Self-cancelling turn signals. The oil light needs work though.
I then drive on a bit, stopping in Sundsvall for coffee and lunch (at, I kid you not, Wokie Dokie). Wander a bit – there’s a street fair going on, and it looks to be fun to drink beer there, so I decide to stay the night. Went down and drank some of the beer (not bad, but pricy). Stayed up late, woke up late, talked to the person working at the hostel – a woman who used to ride on the back with an ex, and now wants to do it herself. Cool.
That day was grey and between a drizzle and a rain, with some nice wind as well. I rode north anyway, stopping a few times for coffee etc. Actually, at one point, I was so cold and wanting warmth that I was actually promising myself that I could stop at the next McDonalds. Now those who know me know I never eat at McDonalds, ever. But that’s what I wanted, I guess something familiar, where I’d know what I was getting. I had a fish burger, coffee and an apple pie (no fries, cause they’re not vegie).
Anyway, I got to Umeå that night and to the warmth of my relatives.
The next stage is to go north to Norway and ride along the fjords a little, heading over to the Lofoten islands and then head over to Finland, perhaps going to the Opera Festival, and then leaving the scooter in Helsinki and taking a train or bus to St. Petersburg (insurance doesn’t cover Russia) and maybe take a side trip to Talinn as well. Then I’ll take a ferry back to either Stockholm, Poland or Germany, as my insurance doesn’t cover Latvia or Lithuania either. Beyond that, who knows – Paris and Spain are high on the list. It looks now like I’ll be coming back in mid-September, except I still don’t want to really go back to Vancouver.
And now I’m off again – here’s the map to date.
And some other pics.
Bridge in Stockholm – riding along and this is one of the vistas
Parked at the bell on the bastion in Uppsala – note cathedral spires
From the bastion, looking at the castle
Motorcycle parking by the main square in Sundsvall. We should be so civilized
High Coast Bridge – long and windy (that’s plenty of wind, not many turns)
Arriving at relatives place near Umeå
The lake my family lives by
Boating on the lake
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So, I’ve made it to Sweden, and in Stockholm at the house of some very distant relatives. I took the ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg, Denmark and then rode up to Fredrikshavn where I took a ferry to Gothenborg (where an ex-teammate lives), and then rode over to Stockholm.
Denmark was very scary, not because of the roads (nice, well-paved and laid out, mostly flat and straight) or the drivers (good, courteous), but because there was a wind and rainstorm for the first two days I was there. The second day especially was terrifying. The trees were being pushed over, and I was being pushed all over the road. I kept stopping and waiting for it to die down, but it didn’t. I ended up camping in a little town, not having gotten very far that day. By the way, Joe Rocket Ballistic pants are not entirely waterproof (leaks along the zippers), but the jacket and pants together do make a good sleeping pad.
Since then the weather has been better and I’ve been enjoying travelling about, stopping in towns and cities that I would drive by in a car, and wouldn’t be able to get to as easily by train or bus. It’s really nice being able to have complete control of my trip like that, and being encouraged to stop and enjoy places because riding is more tiring than driving, and stopping for coffee is always a plus. In a car it’s just easier to keep going.
Sweden has been cool too, very nice – sort of like BC without the mountains in some parts (trees and rocks) and this amazing rolling farmland in other parts. Since I’m at 59N, it gets dark really really late, and there’s this cool light blue twilight for a long while in the evening. Stockholm is an amazing city.
Motorcycle related reflections. England was the land of sportbikes, not surprising really given lots of little twisty roads. Also a lot of scooters, especially in London. In Denmark, I didn’t see a lot of bikes, but given the weather, perhaps not surprising. I did see a lot of little scooters and mopeds – they’re allowed to go on the cycle paths, which are everywhere. Here in Sweden, I’ve seen mostly cruisers and tourers with the odd sportbike thrown in – again may reflect the roads, which have so far been pretty untwisty and the longer distances, or maybe a different biking culture. A fair number of scooters as well. In Denmark they were pretty laid back about parking and parking on sidewalks was fine (and most other things – drinking in public places, smoking everywhere). In Sweden I was informed very politely by a parking lady in Gothenborg that parking on sidewalks is not allowed (after I had done so for several hours without a ticket). However, there are motorcycle parking areas, and scooters seem able to park at the ever present bicycle parking areas. (Interestingly, Sweden is much more restricted about alcohol – can only buy in state stores, and smoking isn’t nearly as prevelant or allowed). However, the Swedes like to go a lot faster, though they are very polite about allowing passing and passing.
Anyway, a few pics.
Setting out from Norwich
Hmm – using a lot of wind energy=windy country? Nah…. And this wasn’t the bad day
Camping in the rain
At least it’s good for something
Me at a Viking graveyard in Aalborg, Denmark
Road near Flakeberg, Sweden. Notice two cruisers on other side of road.
Nice camping in Mariestad, Sweden – it’s 9:50 at night
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