Rain, rain go away, come back another day…

20120724-142006.jpgIt started raining more or less regularly in Hamburg. All the big cities save Magdeburg and Riga greeted me with a heavy rain: Hamburg, Berlin, Szczecin, Gdansk, Kaliningrad and Tallinn. It became a tradition in a way, entering a city soaking wet and muddy. At first I did not mind it. I managed to cycle between storms and find a roof of some sort to have a lunch or chill out. After spending most of my time outside, I learnt to appreciate such a simple invention as a roof. Trees are good, but a man-made roof is way better. Oh, those small perks of technological progress and civilisation. Riding in a light to moderate rain is not that bad provided adequate rain gear and frequent chain greasing. My rain gear could be better, but at least it dries quickly. “Rain” pants are particularly bad – crap at breathing and crap at stopping water (for the curious the pants in question are Montane Featherlight). After Berlin rains became more intense and more frequent. In Szczecin I first began toying with the idea of taking a ferry to somewhere. There were no ferries and it stopped raining soon enough, so I continued my journey on bicycle. Rains kept on on a regular basis though.

In the vipassana LINK retreat I experienced periods of intense sudden fear, where I pictured situations of riding in prolonged rains. As it turned out, this exact thing happened to me and the reality was not that bad at all. At least it was not cold and I managed more or less to keep my stuff dry. I had enough of this on my arrival to Lithuania from Russia via Curonian Spit. That day it rained almost non-stop all day long. I was tired, hungry and pissed off too. On top of that, the forecast for the next few days showed only rain, rain, rain. So upon my arrival to Klaipeda I had two things in mind: a hostel and a bus to Riga. The hostel did not become a reality, but the next day I took a bus to Riga breaking my streak of travelling by bicycle only. In Riga it continued raining, violent thunderstorms this time, so the choice was right indeed. On the day if departure it was sunny and hot weather for a change, but alas the momentum was gone. So I took another shortcut, a train to Valga, the Latvian-Estonian border. In Valga I almost jumped on a train to Tallinn, but since the weather was still sunny I figured out one more day of riding would do no harm. The next day I arrived to Tartu and soon enough the rain resumed and continued all the way to Tallinn.

So there you go, one month of raining and three shortcuts. In the beginning I did not set any goals to do all the distance by bicycle, but nonetheless I had mixed feelings about the whole matter. Of course it would have been nice to do the entire route on bicycle, but I had enough of the rain after a month of wet riding and at that point I wanted to go home as soon as possible. Taking shortcuts is a good reason to visit Baltic states on bike again. Especially as it turned out there are things to see here, such as abandoned Soviet military objects.

The Stormy Hamburg (Part 1 of 2)

Estimating travel times is hard. I started a journey to Hamburg just outside of Lübeck, some 50km to the destination or about two and half hours of riding. The plan was to arrive early to catch the legendary Sunday fish market. I woke up at 5:30am and was on the road half an hour later. Fifteen minutes into the ride it started raining and the rain continued until the evening. In fact the weather was stormy during almost the entire stay in Hamburg. Continuous rains did not spoil my impression of Hamburg, but on contrary they complimented the character of the city. Anyway, I arrived to Hamburg soaking wet and muddy around noon just in time to see flocks of trucks leaving the market square… Two and hours turned somehow into almost six hours. If that was not enough, my phone experienced a temporary water death. Fortunately I had a place to stay thanks to Helge and Ina. Helge was my roommate at vipassana for ten days, most of which we spent not communicating with each other. It almost felt like being roommates in Finland. Well this time we had plenty of communication and I benefitted from the knowledge of the locals. Thank you, Helge and Ina.

I did not know anything about Hamburg in advance, apart from the fact that The Beatles had started their career there. The biggest feat of Hamburg is of course its harbour, which is the second biggest in Europe after Rotterdam. It occupies the other bank of Elbe, making a neat split between industry and living. Unlike in Göteburg, where the harbour looks sort of out of place in the heart of the city, the harbour of Hamburg fits nicely in the city landscape. As well as horns of passing by ships compliment the soundscape of the city. The harbour is a subject of pride among Hamburg inhabitants, as it has historically been the main source of wealth of the city. There is even an annual celebration dedicated to the harbour. What other city can boast something like that? The harbour creates an illusion as if there was an open sea just behind the harbour. All the channels and rivers make the impression complete that Hamburg is a sea-side city. When I shared my thoughts with Ina, the answer was that there is indeed nothing on of the other side of Elbe. I dedicated one day to exploration of the harbour and as it turned out there is well nothing much to see. Heavy industry, even heavier fog and flocks of trucks, not much in terms of sightseeing. The harbour looks much more appealing from the other side of Elbe.

There is a municipal river bus cruising Elbe. I experienced a cultural shock, when I realised that there was a bar on the municipal river bus. Completed with tables and chairs too. All for the price of a bus ticket (drinks are not included). Suomenlinna ferry has got a long way to go. Maybe in the year of 2107. One can only hope…

Helsinki – Berlin

41 days, 2264km (+ distance covered by ferries)

Helsinki – Stockholm – Jonköping – Uddevalla – Götebörg – Helsingborg – Helsingør – Copenhagen – Roskilde – Køge – Møn – Lolland – Fehrmann – Lübeck – Hamburg – Schwerin – Güstrow – Müritz – Magdeburg – Potsdam – Berlin

I am roughly half way through. I will leave Berlin tomorrow and will head back home via Baltic states. ETA is the end of the month, but I am notoriously bad with estimating arrival times.

I <3 KBH

I visited Copenhagen three years ago in the winter of 2009. It was cold, it was stylish, it was expensive. This time it was different, at least in terms of temperature and general vibe. As with all the Scandinavian cities Copenhagen truly comes to life in summer. There’s life on the streets, bicycles bustle back and forth and terraces are packed never mind insane prices. Combine this with the stylish architecture and the famous Danish design and it almost made me to move here.

I longed for a company, but the days of “forestation” had left a mark. I felt lonely in the city full of people. Urban alienation at its best (or worst). I was not mad enough to strike conversations with random strangers. So I spent time cycling around admiring the excellent cycling infrastructure and pretty buildings. Cycling in Copenhagen is an experience itself. Bicycles are of all forms and shapes, can be found everywhere and thanks to the flat landscape they move fast. There is no room for solo cruising or interpreting try traffic laws in a creative manner here, you are part of the traffic. Rules are to be obeyed and your manoeuvres to be advertised using hand gestures. An intense experience, which requires your undivided attention, just like driving a motorbike in Vietnam.

20120710-135629.jpgI went to Christiania in the morning, but found only an unkept and messy area. Just llike a hippy commune that has not be cleaned up for ages, a strike contrast with the rest of Copenhagen. In the evening I rendez-voused with Teppo and I got the company I had longed for. We talked and the signs of the untalkative mood were completely gone. It is so true that in order to get into a talkative mood you just have to start talking. We visited Christiania again and this time it was full of people and there were no signs of the dirty hippy commune I had found in the morning. Just warm, laidback and cozy atmosphere. I stroke conversations with strangers and asked for tips on what to see in Copenhagen. Invariably the answer was always the same: Christiania. Well, there are definitely other worthy things to see in Copenhagen (the Little Mermaid status is not one of them, though), but Christiania is a truly liberal oasis in the heart of Scandinavian order and structure.

I enjoyed Copenhagen a lot and wished I would have spent more time there, but once again the journey had to be continued towards Germany and Fusion. Copenhagen to be filed under the “to visit again” category.

West Coast, yo!

20120710-130212.jpgI did the west coast very quickly and reached the point where I just wanted to get out of the country. The reason was the wind. This soul sucking, hope crushing wind. It started winding since I had left Uddevalla and went on all the way to Denmark. At times I regretted the whole enterprise and just wanted to stop pedalling and magically transport home. What is the point in keeping on, when you put so much effort and get so little result. I developed an aversion to open areas as well. I felt like a small animal in the field and just wished to escape to the forest. Alas there were only a few forest routes on the way. As a side note I solved the mystery of why the wind is always the headwind. The reason is trivial. Tailwind is unnoticeable apart from the effortless pedalling. No sound and no clothes fluttering in the wind.

Enough about wind and other unpleasantries, though. Tjärebro and the surroundings were pretty amazing. It is called the most beautiful road in Sweden for the reason. Some nice fortress and castles were encountered on the way: Bohus, Tjolöholm, Varberg. Bohus was particularly bad-ass. Built to be invincible, it has indeed never been captured during its long history. At that point I had not seen enough castles yet, so anything medieval was a welcome sight. I exited Sweden in Helsingborg by taking a ferry to Helsingør. I spent only a couple of hours there, but it made a good impression. Slightly bigger than an average Swedish city, more walking streets, more history, more pretty architecture and an overall good sunny vibe. In fact it is the third city in Sweden I would like to visit again after Stockholm and Göteborg. Another side note: what is the deal with Helsing* and why Helsingfors is so far away? The moment I crossed the strait the sunny weather turned into the rain, but the wind changed the direction, but this is a story for another time.