Monthly Archives: August 2013

Estonia

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Leaving Tallinn we headed east following one of the local cycle routes not sure what to expect. We discovered that Estonia is brilliant for cycling. It has well signed routes which follow quiet roads through beautiful countryside. There is an excellent network of cycle routes shown on a map available from cycle shops.  It is also mainly flat and  campsites are excellent value.

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An Elk which crossed the road behind us.

An Elk which crossed the road behind us.

Our  plan was to follow Eurovelo 11 an international cycle route that heads south through Estonia on to Latvia and Lithuania. The route took us along the pretty northern coast by empty sandy beaches along to one of the many National Parks, Park Lahamaa. We passed huge flocks of ravens on the way. The park is home to beavers, elk, bears and even wolves. Similar to Finland there are campsites with drop loos and a tap where you can camp for free.  The roads were very quiet, the few drivers considerate giving us a wide berth.

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Estonia has been a free country since 1991 but there are still remnants of communist rule. Vast tenement blocks crumbling seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Other parts are far more affluent with modern summer houses and tidy villages.

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We hit the 3000km mark of our route by the side of Lake Peipus the third largest lake in Europe and mainly populated by Russians. On the other side of the lake was Russia. It had a different feel to the rest of Estonia, the lake seems more like a sea as it is vast. It was lined by small wooden houses mainly single story and most had seen better days.

We came across thousands of Jackdaws in Tartu the largest city in Estonia coming home to roost.

 

 

Wonderful, wonderful Tallinn!

 

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Tallinn is the most beautiful city we have seen so far. We arrived on the short ferry ride from Helsinki to a view of the spires, towers and cupolas of the old town. We wandered into the old town in the evening , small cobbled streets filled with medieval buildings . It was hard to imagine how these had survived communism, but in the last 20 yrs of Independence most had been restored, many with plaques detailing their history from the 13th century onwards.

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Heading South

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The weather has become autumnal in Finland, their very short summer is over and it is time for us to start heading south. We dallied in Helsinki for a few days. It has a very different feel to Stockholm, it feels more laid back and less aspirational. The cycle routes are brilliant with great routes into the centre and cycle paths all through the city. The routes are not well signed but there is an excellent free map available so you can work out where to go.

Kiasma modern art gallery

Kiasma modern art gallery

Suomenlinna, part of the huge fort spread over 6 islands dating from the 18C

Suomenlinna, part of the huge fort spread over 6 islands dating from the 18C

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Finland

 

Kokar island

Kokar island

From the Aland Islands we took the route south and the ferry that took us through the islands of the Turku archipelago. The islands grew rockier with fewer trees. We stayed on Kokar, a small island approximately 8 km across, with a campsite and a shop. Then took another couple of ferries before we hit the mainland and on to Turku the main town and former capital of Finland.

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Too much cycling can have a shrinking effect!  Outside the excellent Maritime Museum in Turku.

Too much cycling can have a shrinking effect!
Outside the excellent Maritime Museum in Turku.

The whole area is set up for cycling with good cycle paths and lots of routes through the islands. From Turku we started heading for Helsinki along the oldest road in Finland the The Ox Road of Häme, which has been used for over a 1000yrs.

The Ox road

The Ox road

There are excellent cycle routes through Finland but very few signs. You need a good cycle map to make the best of them. The scale of Finland also makes planning your route important as well as there are few campsites and other forms of accommodation. We hit some major thunderstorms and were lucky to find shelter as the heavens opened.

Finland has many national parks some of which you can wild camp in and even fish and light fires. Something that would be unheard of back in the UK. Nuuksion national park is only 40 km north west of Helsinki and is a mixed forest with lakes and marsh harboring some rare species including the Siberian flying squirrel. You can walk or bike in the park but motor vehicles and motorbikes are not allowed.

wild camping in Nuuksion

wild camping in Nuuksion

 

We headed into the west of the park and camped by one of the 43 lakes. Unfortunately we had not bothered to check out the weather forecast. We had a beautiful evening and met a Finnish couple who turned up with a huge Bernese Mountain dog to barbecue a few sausages and very kindly share a few beers before they headed back home. We enjoyed the rest of the evening sitting by the campfire overlooking the lake. Rain sent us to bed for an early night. The rain steadily got heavier and the next morning it was still going. We packed our sodden tent and headed on through the park along mountain bike trails through the pouring rain. Drying out in a pizzeria on the road to Helsinki.

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The Aland Islands

DSC00807 A short 2 hour ferry ride brought us to Eckero the most westerly of the Aland Islands. An archipelago of about 7000 rocky islands sitting in the baltic sea which freezes over in winter. They are brilliant for cycling with excellent cycle paths and road signs, quiet roads and good campsites. They are connected by bridges or small ferries that are free to cyclists. DSC00815 DSC00822   DSC00818 They are also excellent for kayaking and we hired a kayak for a couple of days when we were staying on Sund. Seeing plenty of birdlife including a pair of magnificent White tailed sea eagles. DSC00813 On the eastern edge of Sund were extensive ruins of a huge Russian fort built in the 1850’s to try and protect the routes through the baltic. The remains were still impressive with huge cannons and walls made of huge interlocking stones. DSC00797

Stockholm

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We had found cycling to be pretty easy so far in Sweden. Quiet cycle routes usually well marked on empty roads. There weren’t large numbers of cyclists around, a lot fewer than in Denmark, but Sweden is a much bigger country. The roads got a lot busier nearer to Stockholm and the cycle paths fewer, we often ended up cycling down some pretty busy roads with no prospect of any alternatives. Things improved when we got nearer to Stockholm though and there were good routes taking you directly into the city.

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Cycling around Stockholm is fun, and a lot better than in most cities in the UK. Stockholm is spread out over  several islands and a bike or a boat is a great way to get around it.

Even London doesn't have these.

Even London doesn’t have these.

One of the highlights was the Vasa museum. http://www.vasamuseet.se/en/ Pip was hooked and it took me more than half a day to get her out of there.It’s an amazing galleon that sank 1.5 km into it’s maiden voyage in 1633.

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Getting out of Stockholm was relatively easy we picked up the Baltic route that took us along the coast past countless expensive houses and marinas and then North to Grisslehamn to catch a ferry to the Aland Islands which are owned by Finland and whose inhabitants are Swedish.

The ferry to the islands is super cheap,  about £10 each, a tenth of the cost of getting to Gotland. We found out why on board, it was a booze cruise. Alcohol was sold duty free and the thirsty Swedes were buying crates of the stuff.

 

Gotland

DSC00758 (1)From Kalmar we had a several options we had been told that the 400km of road to Stockholm was through miles and miles of pine trees. We could head inland or take the easy option and cycle up to Oskarshamn and take the ferry to Gotland and see the medieval city of Visby.

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We took the easy option, Gotland is rated as a safe and easy place to cycle measuring about 100km by 40km, but waiting for the ferry there were only 4 pedal bikes, hugely outnumbered by latter-day middle aged vikings on their pristine Harley Davidson motor bikes.

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Visby the medieval city is a world heritage site and was worth coming to Gotland for. Pip was in ruin heaven and we spent 2 days expioring the city and the excellent museum. There are 16 ruined churches in the city some right next to one another, Pip managed to get me into one before I rebelled. It is cycle friendly but like all small islands there are not that many roads and you end up sharing them with the usual suspects.

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