Baby, we were born to ride!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Trapped in Turku!

We packed up the next morning and headed for Naantali, planning to reach it by around noon, explore a bit and then head further south towards the islands. This plan was disrupted when a snap on my pannier hit my back wheel and broke a spoke just after we left the campground. Thus began a many-hour adventure to try to get my spoke repaired. We were soon to discover that while nearly the entire population of Finland has a good understanding of English, bike store employees, for some reason, don't. Furthermore, they don't like repairing spokes! Map in hand, we went to a bike shop, where we were informed that such a repair couldn't be completed that day, and were directed to a second shop where we were assured it would be no problem. On arriving at this shop and explaining the problem through a complicated game of charades, we were told that the repair couldn't be completed that day, and directed to a third shop. At this one, we were told that it could be done the following day, but could not be completed immediately. We moved on to a fourth shop, where we found someone who spoke English, was sympathetic to our problem, but directed us to a fifth bike shop, this one on the other side of the river. Upon arrival, we were again told that the simple repair could not be completed. By this point my wheel was starting to bend, it was getting towards noon, and we began to feel like we would never get out of Turku.

Out of desperation we headed to the Turku tourist information office, where I delivered a very effective sob story and was immediately assisted. The person I was talking to gave me the address of her own bike shop, called ahead to ensure that the repair could be completed, and even wrote a note in Finnish to the shop owner explaining our predicament. We biked over the Aura River a second time, got lost, and finally found the shop. The very helpful shop assistant fixed my wheel in about 20 minutes. With the spoke issue solved, the bike store assistant inflated our tire, but it deflated shortly. We changed the tube, re-inflated it and headed on our way, only to find it deflated again in another two blocks. We stopped and removed the tire, and found that it was punctured by a thorn that had now punctured the new tube as well. After 15 minutes of patching, we were finally on our way.


Following our stay in Pori, we decided to take the train down to Turku before starting our exploration of the Archipelago Sea between Finalnd and Sweden. Turku, the oldest city in Finland, is known for its deep history and high concentration of students. Upon arrival, we had the pleasure of running into Moritz and Elisabeth, who were on their way to Helsinki after staying a few days in Darryl and Kiira's apartment. We got some good food and sightseeing tips, and then headed off to track down the apartment.

After months of living in our tent, having access to a kitchen was excellent and I spent the night cooking supper and enjoying the privacy while David started exploring Turku by bike. The next day we headed out to explore, touring the medieval Turku Castle and checking out the Turku cathedral. The evening was spent enjoying a beer on a boat on the River Aura. These boats line the river, and provide drinks, food and entertainment.

Darryl and his family arrived the next day, so we moved out of the apartment but decided we didn't want to leave Turku just yet. We biked out of Turku to Ruissalo Island, slightly west of the city. It was lovely and quiet, with a very nice campsite, and made an excellent home base for some more exploring and odds and ends. After arriving and setting up camp, we headed back into Turku to pick up some needed items (biking gloves that we had forgotten in Switzerland, a clock, sunscreen, etc.) and work on the blog. We then checked out the Turku Kauppahalli (market hall), and I met Darryl and his parents for a beer at the Panimoravintola Koulu, a former school house that is now a restaurant and brewery.
Our day in Turku complete, we picked up some food for supper and headed back to Ruissalo, and I completed the 7th Harry Potter book on the bus there. We had a nice evening, complete with an hour of sauna before turning in for the night.

Return to Pori

We returned to Pori and decided to stick around a few more days. Pori Jazz, an internationally known jazz festival that has hosted musicians such as Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon, was approaching and we were reluctant to leave all of our new friends. One of the most interesting sights we saw was the Juselius Mausoleum, a mausoleum built in 1902 by a local industrialist for his daughter who died at the age of 12. The mausoleum itself is an impressive structure (see photo at left), but the interior in quite remarkable, decorated with intricate paintings depicting the natural cycle of life (long before Elton John and The Circle of Life did the same thing).

Kiira's family organized a great surprise birthday party for Jodie - one of the best gifts was ant bait (see below) to prevent repeat infestations! We all enjoyed cloudberry liquor and delicious dessert.

After a few days in Pori, we said our goodbyes and made our way towards south towards the city of Turku.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

After the wedding, we all made our way up to Kristiinankaupunki, where Kiira's family has a summer house. Most people were driving the ~100 km distance, so Jodie and I threw our gear in a car and hopped on our bikes. It was generally a nice ride, but strangely similar to riding in Canada. Given the similar northern climates, the vegetation and geography are very comparable.

Once we got to Kristiinankaupunki, however, we once again noticed we were thousands of kilometers from home. The town is located on the Western part of Finland, and is actually predominantly Swedish (not that it really mattered to us, as both are pretty darn hard to understand). The summerhouse, located a few kilometers out of the town, was right on the ocean and featured a wonderful wood-fired sauna.
It is worth mentioning that Finnish Sauna is different from saunas in the rest of the world. Rather than being relegated to swimming pool change rooms, saunas are a central part of culture in Finland. They are a place for friends and families to gather and socialize, and even for births (although less so these days). Food like sausages are often cooked on the coals, and enjoying a beer in the heat is not only tolerated but encouraged. Nearly every campsite we visited in Finland had a sauna, and certainly every apartment, home, and hotel would have at least a few.

We spent a few great days in Kristiinankaupunki, exploring the town with its old wooden homes, watching the 1 AM sunsets, and eating wonderful food (smoked fish and Karelian pasties being a highlight).

Monday, January 14, 2008


Eventually, it came time for the main event of our trip to Finland - Kiira and Darryl's wedding. After a lovely ceremony a the Pori Church, we boarded a cruise boat to take us on a two hour journey to the coast, where the reception was being held in a beautiful clubhouse.

(For those of you wondering, I didn't read through Europe with a pair of nice shoes, a dress shirt, and a tie. Our good friend Jordan Bober lent them to me.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pori, Finland

Most of our time in Finland centered around Kiira and Darryl's wedding (Darryl is a good friend of Jodie's). We quickly made our way up to the town of Pori, a very pretty town on the west side of Finland. We planned to stay with Kiira's family while in Pori before moving on to see other parts of Finland(Check out this map to see all of our travels in Finland).

We encountered our first surprise immediately after getting off of the train - Finland has no pay phones whatsoever! Cell phone usage is so high in the home of Nokia that pay phones have been entirely removed. This caused us a few problems because we had planned to phone Kiira's family to get some directions. We managed to find our way over to their house nonetheless - actually, her sister found us a little way from their house and we followed her.
After meeting Kiira's family and having some supper, we made our way to what would be our home for the next few days - a Finnish kindergarten. Actually, it was a duplex that was acting as an overflow kindergarten, which Kiira's mother administered. After a few months of setting up and pulling down our tent every day, it felt downright luxurious to have a space to call our own - even if everything around us was sized for 6 year olds!

We spent one day at the nearby seaside town of YYteri, famous for its sandy beach. The water was very cool and nearly fresh because of the limited mixing with the rest of the ocean.
That evening, we met up with Jordan Bober, a close friend of Darryl's that Jodie had met previously in Europe. He was also staying at the kindergarten, so we his luggarge off and went out to explore the town a bit.

Jordan speaks quite a few languages, including Finnish and Swedish, so he was able to act as a guide as we tried to experience the local sights.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Arrival in Helsinki

Our Ferry pulled into Helsinki at about 8:00 AM local time, under drizzly and gray skies. We had decided to take the train to Kiira's family's house in Pori (check out this map to see the locations of all of our stops in Finland). We wandered around Helsinki for a few hours, having only enough time to see the major sights such as the Helsinki Cathedral and the Dormition Cathedral. After a few hours we got on a train to Pori, which had some of the neatest bike racks we encountered. The rack extended down from the roof, hooked onto the handlebars, and was spring-loaded to automatically lift the bike vertically against the wall. Then, a key on the lock could be turned and kept until the end of the train ride to ensure no one walked off with our bikes. The train also had special enclosures for cell phone use, which are ubiquitous in the country that is home to Nokia (much more prevalent than here - there are many more cell phones in use than there are people. In fact, the public payphone is essentially non-existent in Finland because of this.) Otherwise, the trip was unremarkable and we watched the countryside slide by on our way to Pori...