Up and out and over to the ferry. Again its really really quiet.. like we’ve arrived 5 hours to early or something. A few cars and trucks but not a ferry full for sure. How on earth some of these companies survive is beyond me. Government subsidies I guess.. but what other options are there.
30 minutes later and we’re on Finish soil. We’re directed towards a little shed and I see a woman who’s totally enveloped in plastic, like she has fallen on one of those luggage wrapping machines at the airport. Shes walking towards our shed .. here we go .. they’re going to tickle my brainbox and test my gag reflex with cotton buds .. good luck with that .. my gut is fully loaded with my favourite spew ingredient of carrot .. and the JCB has yet to move it all to the exit .. this could get colourful and she’ll need that suit
Turn into the shed and there are 2 pretty young blonde ladies in full Finland border force uniforms.. except for the slippers . I point to her feet and she just laughs .. ‘Well we’re not busy and spend most of the time just sitting in the hut relaxing so I like to be comfortable’ .. good girl .. she wants to see our QR codes .. waves her phone over them which pings obediently and we’re through Dunno what the woman in the tight plastic wrap is doing .. maybe that’s just how she feels comfortable.. interesting
Within 20 yards I go straight over a roundabout because I’m distracted.. WTF is this about? Reminds me of what I see if I mistakenly open my eyes in the middle of the night when sharing with Brian ..
I always assume that an unknown capital city is going to be a pretty big place so I go for a hotel in the centre. We looked for hotels with parking but with no luck unless we wanted to use our special issue asbestos credit cards that were issued specially for this trip.. these cards are the only ones that can take the heat of Scandinavia without having a meltdown the second someone tries to charge £100 for a banana on them ..
So we turn up at the hotel hoping to find a nook or cranny or ditch we can park the horses in.
We’re greeted by a lovely young white blonde lady talking in her sing song English accent. ‘Can we park the bikes here?’ No I’m afraid not, parking is by the hour on the street and is charged in testicles .. I could maybe risk an hour . maybe an hour and a half .. but definitely not two .. then she tells us about a ‘parking hole’ .. Brian and I look at her.. and look at each other.. neither of us want to say the wrong thing here .. apparently the ‘parking hole’ is available for €36 .. for all night … now depending on if this is a translation error or an extra service the lady provides.. is either fucking ridiculously expensive .. or very cheap and it would be rude to refuse ..
Still confused we decide to just smile and take the keys and say we’ll move the bikes in a minute .. When we were coming into the city I spotted a bike parking bay about 800m away. The street parking stops at 9pm so we ride the bikes down to the bay and walk back. We’ll collect them after dinner and park in the street close to the hotel.
The hotel is a bit tired.. well .. knackered really ..
but.. it meets all my criteria so I’m happy. Another random room for me to load a 3d image into my brain so I can negotiate it in complete darkness and so not piss all over Brian in the night .. again ..
We’re here quite early, we’ll go for a walk around, so we go and ask the young blonde with the parking hole where would be good to go.. like an old part of the city .. but there doesn’t seem to be one so we just head off towards the water
Gets bloody cold here in the winter obviously .. so cold you have to wear cushions .. I’d like to see the shot of her just dressed in earnings ..
I have to be honest.. I’m quite disappointed with Helsinki. I’m certain I haven’t seen the best of it in an afternoon and I’d happily take recommendations of things to see here. It has a certain atmosphere but it just doesn’t have the feel that a vibrant major city has. My phone camera is showing a sad face .. so I go out for an hour while Brian sits like a teenager on his phone and look for places to eat later.
a real sign of the times ..
We head out later to eat. Everywhere costs an arm and a leg so Brian feels he is old enough and had enough use from his limbs to exchange them for a small plate of food, but I go to the supermarket and raid their ‘fill your own tub’ meat and salad bar for about €16 a kilo..
Every day you open your eyes from sleep .. in a lovely dry warm bed.. wondering what the day will bring. It sounds like somebody is throwing pebbles at the window.. maybe its the blonde receptionist trying to attract my attention .. maybe I’ll open the window and she’ll start singing and throwing me flowers .. or maybe Mother Nature has had an argument with Father Nature and she’s in a rage. Its absolutely twatting down and throwing it hard against the windows. We have breakfast and tell the receptionist where we’re planning to go today.. he suggests we stay another night ..
We run to the bikes to pack as quickly as we can but even by the time we’ve done that, then we have wet hands trying to slide into gloves and visors that have got water on both sides. So off we go into the storm. We’re headed for Kuopio but a mate has told us about an Ace Cafe in Lahti and asked to get him some mugs. By the time we get there we’re both soaked and cold. We’re like 2 sponges plucked from a bucket as we walk in leaving a pool of water at every step. This place is a LOT bigger and better than its London counterpart. Its part of the chain though. They’re all over the world now apparently. The owner and his wife are there. He’s an ex motorcycle dealer and has a lot of contacts in the racing world. He has exhibitions that he changes regularly and he’s put a lot of effort in
We feel duty bound to spend enough money for them to pay the cleaner to mop up all of our mess, and we’re both freezing cold too, so we sit for an hour or so and consume as much as we can for our body furnaces to fire up and keep us alive for the ride north. No British fat boy fry ups here though unfortunately
Fuck what a day this is turning out to be. The rain has wicked it way down my buff and my (2) jumpers and my TShirt.. my waterproof leather trousers gave up completely some time ago and I am soaked to the skin. We’ve done a couple of hours since the Ace and the furnace went out some time ago. I’m properly cold and I’m shivvering, and its still pissing down. Sometimes .. just very very occasionally I get to a stage where I just don’t know what to do. My body has all the warning lights flashing and its sirens are all going but its just about keeping going and upright as the little voices run about in my head deciding what to do. There really aren’t a lot of options up here unless your plans include trees. Then.. in the gloom we see one of those 200ft tall signs like they have in the USA. An ABC. A service station. Thank fuck for that. By the time we get inside I’m shaking so much I can’t even use the phone. Brian disappears to get something to eat then returns with a plate piled high with hot meat and veg .. I’m expecting to see smoke coming from his wallet where his credit card has caught fire but between quick mouth fulls he says he’s found an all you can eat buffet for €10 round the corner.. and he’s dived right in.
I’m still soaked and shivering so I need to sort myself out first. Years and years ago I was on a trip somewhere in Alaska with Nick Sanders and he came into a cafe all wet and cold. He went round the place taking every newspaper he could find and stuffed them under his clothing. I remember thinking if ever I get to that state when I look like a vagrant pikey and I’m resorting to sticking newspapers under my jumper then please shoot me. Well .. shoot me now ..
I go round the tables taking all the newspapers I can find and stick them under my clothes to absorb all the water and try to warm me up. By the time I get to the hot food counter I look like a bloody scarecrow with newspaper poking out all over the place. I’m not in the mood to brood though .. I’m in the mood for food. Never has warm food tasted so good. Brian and I just sit like two foie gras geese and stuff down hot foot until I’m about to burst.
Brian is an amazing bloke I have to say. I just keep forgetting he is 77. He just ploughs on and on through everything you put in front of him. I’ve been all over the place with him and he never complains.. he just goes.
I take out all the wet paper and replace it with dry, hopefully that and all the food will keep the shivers at bay for a few more hours. We get to Kuopio early evening and locate the house. Its a AirBnB type arrangement tonight. A room in a shared house. We get inside and wander about, not really concentrating, through the living room, into a bedroom with 2 people asleep on a bed .. I’m not thinking about being in someones room, or that they’re in our room .. I’m just wondering how warm they are and if I could just slip my freezing .. wet .. tired body in there for an hour just to bring myself back to life.
These are my favourite places. The unique smell every house has. The feeling of being at home but not. Bumping into random strangers on the landing at 2am. Mismatched towels and cutlery and cups. Looking through cupboards for TBags, or opening the fridge and just seeing into other peoples lives. The couple from the bed wake up and wander in but they dont speak much English. We want to try and dry our clothes and there are fireplaces here but they say NO.. no fires .. definitely no fires. There is a sauna in the basement, and, luckily a washer and tumble drier. We put most our clothes in and wander down to the supermarket for some tea. My leathers are all soaked, so I decide that the weight limit on the drier door is advisory only and throw them in for an hour. When I go to take them out I’m not sure if the strange smell is drying leather, or dying electrics. The leathers are still steaming and I leave them to hopefully dry overnight.
Nothing beats that exact moment when you climb into a warm bed, lay horizontal and let all your muscles know their work is done for the day..
Wake up.. and the rain has stopped.. thank FUCK for that.. my leathers are still damp and pulling them on is a cold and unpleasant experience. Coffee and some buns we bought last night and we’re off. Its getting more and more remote up here with a lot less traffic.. you can almost feel yourself climbing up this giant ball that we all inhabit.. climbing up and up towards the Arctic Circle. We thought about going to the Nordkapp but Brian has been before and I really have no massive desire to tick that particular box so we’re just headed as far as Rovaniemi today. It sits just below the circle and we can head in tomorrow and visit a certain gentleman in red tomorrow too. I just hope hes wearing a jacket and not red speedos..
Its quiet.. its cold .. its lonely and it feels a lot like parts of Siberia .. and I love it.
And just like Siberia, or the Alaskan Highway, or a million other lonely roads there are little random places in the middle of bum fuck nowhere that your body can mysteriously detect from miles away .. maybe a scent of cooking travelling through a cool breeze.. maybe a happy face travelling in the opposite direction .. maybe the distant sound of a truck accelerating away with a driver considerably heavier than when he stopped an hour ago .. whatever.. your mouth starts salivating.. your bladder starts to relax at the thought of relief .. and then you see it. Not some characterless cookie cutter branded place where you’re served by a disinterested youth whose only thought is how they are going to pay for their next tattoo .. but by a husband and wife making a living keeping travellers alive and satisfied. Warm and friendly, cooked from scratch. No heirs or graces.. my favourite places ..
You can genuiniely feel it … honestly you can .. I’m sure anyone that has been this way will tell you the same. I’ve been to these latitudes elsewhere but often travelling east-west instead of due north .. and this time it really fells like I’m riding to the top of the world .. like the sunshine is pushing me up the slope .. its such a lovely feeling. Seeing all the houses with their roof ladders to take the snow off.. and Randolf’s relations all roaming about..
Get to Rovaniemi after another stop for a service station gutbustathon and this time we’re trying another accommodation option, a flat in a little tower block. Collect the key from the local Chinese resturant and off we go. New and shiny and now with the added odour of riding boots.. I’ve no doubt the maid will be very happy indeed. Got to the supermarket and get an ‘indoor camping’ meal .. then sit cross legged on the floor and eat it with a spork .. just like the real thing ..
I’m really not sure I’m going to sleep tonight.. I’m soooooooo excited … I’ve got my list and I’ve checked it twice .. guess who we’re going to see in the morning ..Next: Fast Fjordward