This blogpost is pretty much a copy of the travel diary that I made during my trip to and through East Finland last weekend. A translated version as the original is a mixture of English, German and Finnish. Maybe it’s more a memory aid than a blogpost. So look at the images if you don’t want to read that much.
Day 1 – July 17th
(written: July 17th)
Woke up in Helsinki at 6 am. Cloudy.
8:12 am – train: communication with conductor in Finnish about how to put the bike into the “stand” (hanging thing)
10:55 am – arrived in Mikkeli. Old woman carries one of my bike backs out of the train. The conductor asks where I’m going. I say (in Finnish): “To Imatra – tomorrow.”
The bike trip now actually begins.
I bike directly towards road number 62. The first km on the big road, then I turn onto road 62. The road that has been recommended as “one of the most beautiful roads in Finland” by at least 2 different Finns independently.
The first big bridge follows immediately. Fabulous view over a lake. I expect to see more of those during the next few days. So let’s start!
Already after a few km an unexpected sign: The bike route turns left, leaves the big road 62. 62 is pretty wide at that point, also quite busy. I decide to take the sign-posted bike route. It’s a small asphalt street. It also goes to a ski-resort. After the ski-resort the street stays asphalted for a few km. Close to a stone pit (or what else?) the asphalt is replaced by loose gravel. First test for the material. The signposts stay. The route is beautiful; guides along small farms; first oat fields; some cut meadows; every now and then through some forest a view onto water. Occasionally I think “The street is quite busy for it’s condition.” That must have been when 2 cars followed each other. Mostly the sound of my tires on the gravel is the loudest I can hear. Sun and clouds alternate.
Approximately 10km before Anttola the bike route turns back onto road 62. A few extra km, which where really worth it. The 10km to Anttola feel longer on eternal seeming straight streets parts.
Around 1pm I arrive in Anttola. I look for the direct way into the center; find the harbor including a self-proclaimed tourist guide called Tiina and a small cafeteria with water terrace.
On the way from road 62 a grandma had waved at me from her garden swing (German: Hollywoodschaukel). She made me think of my grandma.
I eat salad with cold-smoked salmon, enjoy the view onto the lake; a couple just starts a seemingly multi-day canoe-trip.
Around 1:30 I get back onto my bike. From Anttola I follow route 62, sometimes absorbed into my thoughts, sometimes I enjoy the diverse scenery: single farms alternate with oat fields and meadows, only one barley field, not a single field of rye or wheat. The hills start to be a bit steeper.
Shortly after bike routes 5 and 14 unite, a somehow funny scenery: 2 people are on their way to hang up posters on old bus stop houses. I think I’ll never get used to the fact that in Finland posters are hanged with tape outdoors, but not using wallpaper paste. The couple with the posters I outpace another two or three times. An unequal competition: the speed of hanging posters vs. bike travelling.
Around 3pm I arrive the small café in Pistohiekka. I had been “warned” that this region is especially beautiful and I fully agree: more gorgeous than a picture book! The street sometimes left sometimes right lined by water. Partly the islands are connected through dams over which the 62 leads. At other times there are bridges. I grant myself an ice cream and enjoy the view over Saimaa Lake. I rise onto a rock from where I get some kind of overview but on the other hand I don’t: Too many islands extend into remoteness; impossible to recognize where one ends and the other begins, where lake ends and lake begins.
From here it’s only few km towards the camping site in Pistohiekka, which is situated beautifully, including a view onto the blue water and islands on Saimaa. Nevertheless, I decide to bike the 20km to Puumala. Tree-covered and damn hilly! One time I even come to bethink of getting off the bike and walking it up the rest of the hill. However, in the end I don’t and get rewarded with a rapid descent, which is followed by the next steep hill.
Finally the bike route turns off road 62 about 8-9km before Puumala. The following km gravel path, small houses near the lake. A topless biker passes by (no luggage). The last km to the camping site are asphalted and less hilly.
Around 4:15pm I arrive at the Puumala camping site and I immediately recognize that the way was worth it: From my tent I can see Saimaa Lake. The price is just 18€ and includes a fully equipped kitchen (I still have to get used to that as a standard in Finnish camping sites), two barbecue places and a morning sauna for an extra 2€. And just before arriving I had thought that the only thing to make this day perfect would be a sauna (yes, I’m turning Finnish). But the day becomes perfect anyways: I reward myself with a swim in the clear and relatively warm water of Saimaa Lake. After that 1h boat tour for 12€. Not cheap but the experience was definitely worth it.
Dinner in sunshine on a bench.
Next to my tent are 2 Germans with their converted VW-bus. I had already met them at the ice cream site in Pistohiekka.
Somewhere between Anttola and Pistohiekka I wondered if these Finnish “National Cycling Routes” are used by anybody else but me? At least ones a day? As evidence a maybe 60year old women with a travel bike bikes towards me. And some time later a woman in tennis skirt. Sporty but without luggage. At the ice cream site I meet 2 German-speaking women. They have luggage but obviously no tent, are also going to Puumala. They complain about the “mountains”. I answer that I hadn’t noticed the hills too much yet. I had been enjoying the landscape way too much. But from now on I notice the hills a bit more than before.
All together a pretty perfect day. I think that that it will probably be hard to get better from here!
Day 2 – July 18th
(written on July 19th)
It’s time for a summary of 2 days. Yesterday I was too tired. Not really surprising after about 130-140km.
The day had started with breakfast on the bench on which I had already enjoyed the evening before. Before I had morning sauna, where I made a fool of myself again (at least kind of): I went to swim naked in the lake after the sauna… The other woman tested the water temperature first and put her swimsuit on after that. Well…
My breakfast was spiced up by some tea, served by a couple from Cottbus [same federal state that I come from], that travels to Finland every 5years.
Around 10am I left the camping site. Around 10:30 I also left Puumala after handling some stuff (cash!).
Uniqueness at the beginning of the tour: The official bike tour leads through an elevator! I take the elevator towards the bridge going south from Puumala. It’s a bit hilly here also. Already after a short while the well sign-posted bike routes 5 and 14 leave my route towards the left. I continue on bike route 62, which equals road 62 at this point. However, after 10 more km my route should have turned from the road but I cannot find a sign. Only after the turn-off towards Hauklappi (what a beautiful name!) I notice that I missed the turn-off. So I turn from road 62 here and go to Hauklappi, in order to escape the at times dangerous road 62 (especially with Russian drivers and trucks it got dangerous for me several times). After a few km I search for the bike route 62 again which should go towards my right from here. No signs but I still try my luck in the gravel road. I get rewarded with a long wooden bridge. It is directly on the lake. No car, no human being. The mirroring of the clouds in the water jumps into my eyes. Just idyll.
I continue on a hilly gravel road, up and down mostly through pine forests until I finally end up on road 62 again.
Already at the next turn-off the bike route should turn right. No sign again. The map says I should turn anyways. Only 30km on road 62 to Imatra. I turn right towards Utula, where I arrive after 30min. Predominantly pine forest, few cars, asphalted street, very flat, so that my travel speed goes gradually up. In Utula I see a local food store including a café. Some km away I take another look at the map in order to find the right turn-off. I figure out that in a few km I need to take a boat in order to continue towards Imatra. My bike map states a phone number. I call and the woman on the other end luckily speaks English. She explains how to find her family’s house and tells me her son could “give me a lift”. I think: all right, and get going towards my “ferry” (that’s what I thought was waiting for me).
(written July 20th)
And there he is, a 12-13year old boy. He rows me, my bike and my luggage in about 20min towards the other side of the late. Well, for an amateur it’s hard to find out where the other side really is. Matter of expense: 10€. I only have a 20€ bill, he has no change, so I pay 20€. Well it was worth the money!
During the boat ride it had started raining. Just a few drops. I look at the clouds and think it should soon be over. So I get back onto my bike, without rain gear. For the next few km there are even signs for the bike route. I had already given up on that.
The rain gets more intense and I decide to take out the rain jacket and bike gaiters. Of course I hadn’t thought of rain and packed them far down in my bags… The rain pants I don’t need, it’s a warm summer rain.
I go on straight (probably it’s here where I should have turned left). After about 5km I arrive at a dead end, just a private house. It’s still raining so I’m too lazy to take out my bike map and decide to trust Google maps on my phone. Google knows a shortcut towards Imatra. Yes, that route is much shorter (from where I am currently) but probably the path through the forest hasn’t been used in at least 10 years. The longer I bike the thicker the scrub gets. Google says it’s not far to the right street. At some point I get off and walk my bike. Luckily somewhere I arrive at a forest path. It leads back to the right street. From this side the path has a “Passage prohibited” sign and a barrier. Well, Google.
I bike towards a dam, which leads to the next island. Here I try cleaning the rain jacket and gaiters in the water to get rid of the seeds and grasses.
(written July 21st)
After a short break I start the ca. 25km to Ruokolahti. Those are a sheer torture. It goes uphill and downhill through pine or birch forests (more pines than birches). In between meadows and relatively small oat fields. I should really take a proper break in order to regenerate a bit, but because it’s already quite late I cannot bring myself to do it.
Just before Ruokolahti also my water supply ends.
When crossing the bridge to Ruokolahti I can see Imatra for the first time. Industrial plants and chimneys just next to Saimaa. I understand why the travel guide doesn’t have Imatra on its list of most beautiful cities. Nevertheless Imatrankoski is supposed to be a tourist attraction.
In Ruokolahti I quickly stop at a wooden bell tower from the 17th (?) century. Rugged but not simple, pretty amazing.
I continue towards the Neste gas station, where I grant myself a rice pirakka (decorated with cucumber and egg) and a glass of milk. (Being served milk in a gas station, probably that’s only possible in Finland!)
The last 12km to Imatra I follow the bike route next to road 62. It’s an easy ride, only few hills. At the S-Market I get some fresh Paprika and a sider for the evening.
Then I continue to the center. The path goes over a nice old steel bridge.
Next I follow a park along the river to Imatrankoski. I arrive at 5pm, so I have 1h to look around. I walk the bike a few blocks, looking for a tourist information, which could help finding a place to sleep. There is a sign towards one, but then I cannot find the information. I ask a Finnish couple near the Valtionhotelli (state hotel). It turns out that they are tourists as well and that they have just arrived. They look for a camping site on their phones, but I know that there are none available. The couple invites me to fill my water bottles in their hotel room. They also try to convince me to take a shower. I say no anyways, fill my water bottles and we go together to see how the water gates are opened to Imatrankoski.
I was told to go to the platforms downstairs from the Valtionhotelli, because one supposedly doesn’t see much from the bridge. Instead, at the wooden platforms there are many tourists. Just before 6pm one can hear classical music. Shortly after I see the water falling down from the gates. First it’s just around the gates that the water flows into the otherwise dry channel. I climb onto the rail, but am told to get off shortly after. Slowly the water starts flowing into our direction. It’s a little spectacle, the splashing, the riffles, the counter flows. All together the spectacle takes about 30min until the water is cut off again. Most of the tourists leave already after 10min. Well, that gives me the chance to enjoy the spectacle for a bit longer.
Afterwards I eat a pizza. The tiredness breaks through. I ask the waiter if he knows of a place to sleep. He offers his car until 4:30am (when they close). I decline again. I meet a Russian bike traveller who recommends a swimming spot 40km away. Ville had recommended the same, so around 7:30pm I decide to go there.
Against my worries I get forward quite quickly. The pizza and 2h break were worth of gold. It’s not as hilly any more. Pine forests. Sometimes mixed forest of pines and birches. Passing by small lakes. Some farmhouses. A bar is still open and well frequented even though it’s in the middle of nowhere.
The last 1-2km hillier but around 9:30pm I arrive at the swimming spot. It’s quite close to the street, but the ground is smooth and the grass short. The lake is as smooth as a mirror. Except me there is also a caravan staying over night.
I build up my tent, then I have a swim. The sweat of around 130km needs to be rinsed away. The Finnish couple (about my age) invites me to sit with them at the fire place. They grill Makara’s (Finnish bratwurst), later marshmallows. I grab some of the latter. Besides I drink my sider. The couple tells that they are on the road for 2 weeks now. They’re proud having only spent one night at a camping site. Well, that’s much easier if you don’t need to worry about electricity and water supply. Off to the bed with me!
Saturday, July 19th
(written July 21st)
In the morning the sun wakes me up around 6:20 am. My tent is getting way too warm. I’m still staying in bed till 8:00 am. Next a swim in the lake. The tent is even dry when I pack it. Breakfast and then back onto my bike.
It’s only 80km to my final destination Savonlinna. That has to be done within a day. After 2h my water reserves become scarce and there is no café or shop in sight. The landscape hillier again. Around lunchtime I arrive in Punkaharju. My bike map ends here. I really need to find a tourist information now. The salesman in the supermarket recommends me to get off the more traffic route through the Punkaharju-islands. It’s one of Finland’s national landscapes. Views over the water in pretty much all directions. But after I have already crossed Pistohiekka (which wasn’t mentioned in the travel guides) my excitement is limited. Maybe it’s also about the cloudy instead of sunny blue sky.
I find a tourist information and there an event guide for Savonlinna, including a map of the Region. That way I don’t need a new bike map.
I have a swim at the Valtionhotelli (state hotel) in Punkaharju. It’s quite obvious that usually the guests are much richer. For the first time in my life I see a dog wearing a life west!
I decide to get off the traffic street 14 in Kulennoinen. Without knowing I land on bike route 14 again. The route mainly leads through fields with oat that’s still green. Also a wheat field. And finally even a potato field. On a few meadows grass turns into hay.
In Lähdenkylä I leave bike route 14 and take instead the gravel path to Pitkälä, where I get onto bike route 14 again.
Now more forest again until I arrive in Savonlinna. There it is easy to find the way into the center. I stroll for a few blocks walking my bike. Then I decide to first put up my tent on the camping site and return into the city for dinner. To the camping site it’s 7km, easy to find, well signposted. Only one mountain, which is crazily steep.
The camping site is also situated on a hill, but it’s really nice, pretty cheap (15€ – including the morning sauna). I build up my tent, sleep for an hour and bike back towards the inner city. It’s a nice atmosphere here. One can notice that many tourists come.
I really want to eat salmon today. In the first restaurant they only have sprats. I meet a medialabber, whom I only know from seeing. He recommends a restaurant next door for salmon. It’s expensive but worth the money: As much salmon as one can eat for 19,80€.
When I arrive there I meet the two motor bikers, whom I already met at the camping site reception. They invite me over to their table. He is Irish, she’s Spanish, they live in Palma de Mallorca. 3 months bike-tour from Barcelona to the North Cape and back. It’s a nice conversation. I probably eat a whole salmon or more. Finnish specialty: flamed salmon! It was so worth the money.
On the way back to the camping site: flat back tire. Only the 3rd gas station has a pump. I can bike back to the camping site and hope that in the morning there will still be air in the tire. I still have a shower, then I go to sleep.
July 20th 2014
(written July 21st)
On Sunday morning even before morning sauna I figure out: hole in the back tire and I forgot the pump at home.
First I’ll have my sauna.
Then I find a tent neighbor with a pump. He is in a hurry, so I cannot patch the tire, just pump it ones. Ok, and the hope that the air will hold till the gas station.
But no, it doesn’t. I ask at the reception but they also don’t have a pump. That means walking the bike to the gas station. I carry the tent on my back in order to get some weight off the bike. 2km before the gas station stops a German couple in their car. They have a ball pump on which I can put my adapter and it fits the wheel. I can start patching! The couple leaves me with the pump. Their sons are waiting for breakfast at the camping site. I am in good mood until I figure out that the rubber cement volatized. Expiration date: 2 years ago. 5min later stops a car on the parking place. I ask the driver for rubber cement. He doesn’t speak English, even though he’s between 30 and 40. I show him what I need. He calls his girlfriend. They live in one of the neighboring houses. They have the rubber cement. He’s back after 5min and helps me with the patching. The inner tube seems repaired. I put the bike back together. I pump as well as possible with the bike pump. As I have agreed with the German couple I leave it under the tree. Unfortunately I also forget my adapter, which I only realize at the gas station. Damn it! I try to find a pump in the S-Market next door. Nothing. I’m close to giving up and walking, when a woman asks me if I needed a pump. Her husband refuels. She has a selection of pumps. One fits! She saves my day!
Finally I can bike the 3-4km back to Savonlinna. At the train station I get a ticket for the train leaving at 3:30pm.
I have 3 hours to get to know Savonlinna. I bike to Olavinlinna (the castle) and pay the 6€ for entering. After seeing Hämeenlinna and Turku castle there isn’t much new to see. However, there are super nice views through the fortification walls and of course the modern addition of seating for the opera shows. The views towards the surroundings are gorgeous!
At the exit I meet the German couple again, this time with their 2 sons. I conduct a bit of culture mediation (“everything is so expensive! Ice cream 1 ball 3€. If you multiply that by 4… that’s impossible. How much does the average Finn earn in order to be able to pay that?”).
Next I go to the beach. It’s situated really nice between castle, museums, inner city and sailing boats. A last swim in Saimaa, for this trip at least.
I decide not to try finding the gallery, to which the medialabber had invited me. Instead I grant myself a Lörtsi on the market square. Lörtsi= regional specialty, light pastry with filling. It’s good but a karjalainen pirakka (Carelian Pie) would have been just as good ;)
The last 30min before my train leaves I spend lying around in the grass at the lakeshore (shade!).
And then I leave the east-Finnish loneliness towards Helsinki. Well, it really wasn’t very lonely. When travelling alone it’s really easy to get to know people. Alone with a bike and as a girl, it goes even faster.
Some random thoughts:
– In Imatra they have a pretty good concept. Their main attraction, the opening of the gates of the damn they do daily at 6pm. Package tourists are gonna be rare there. Who wants to leave in the evening at 7? It’s a well thought tourism concept.
– The Finnish nature around Imatra sometimes reminded me of my Brandenburgian home: pine trees and a lot of water, then the hills of the “Ruppiner Schweiz” (the Switzerland of that region). The only thing we’re missing are the birches. Instead we have some more mixed forests. Both regions are more and more discovered for tourism.
– The camping site in Puumala reminded me of Nonnevitz (the camping site we used to go to 3 weeks every summer when I was a child). Camping in pine forest with view towards water. Just that the Saimaa Lake rushes much less than the Baltic around Nonnevitz.
All together a really great trip! Some impassibilities and the request for flexibility. But those were rewarded with gorgeous impressions that are hard to put into words.