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Shop window – Stockholm.

I know you have been looking at our photos of the beautiful, red painted buildings of Sweden and thinking, ” I have a shed in the garden that would look just fab in that colour “. Well I have been doing a bit of asking around, and when we got to the bit, ” then you add Rye flour “, I looked it up on the WWW, just to be sure.

Riding into Stockholm.

The paint consists of water, rye flour, linseed oil and tailings from the copper mines of Falun ( that’s in Sweden ), which contain silicates, iron oxides, copper compounds and zinc. The current recipe was finalized in the 1920s. Aging Falu red will flake off, but restoration is easy since only brushing off of the loose flakes is required before repainting. The dry part of the recipe gets heated on a fire in a pot, and then it gets turned into a paste and finally a paint.

Nearing our hotel in Stockholm.

I think it is more of a pain to do than they make out. Which is why, in doing the research, I found offers of holiday jobs all over Sweden, offering a ” stay in a wonderful cottage “, in return for painting it. You could do much worse.

Stockholm with summer clouds.

We had done our research well, and even got a good price on a hotel in central Stockholm just an athletically chucked pebble’s distance from the train station. We have a chosen mantra, ” It is not worth cycling into major cities and getting killed just to say that you biked every last centimeter “. We got to the station and asked for the tickets to central Stockholm. ” That has building work, so you can not get off with bikes. You need to get off a station earlier “.

Royal Palace, cloud and con trail, Stockholm.

Stockholm sits on a group of islands. Which adds to it’s charm, but makes getting around by bike a bit of a navigational conundrum. Yes, I hear your cries ” Warren, it has the finest integrated transport policy in Europe, with a million kilometers of bike lanes “. Well yes and no, and do you not think that you are exaggerating a bit there. If you were not born in the city or worked your gap year here as a cycle courier, bike paths are only as good as the signs letting you know where they go.

Relaxing in Stockholm.

Praise be to St. Garmin of gps our guardian above. You can see where you want to go, but fast roads and train tracks dissect the city. There is a great deal of going left a bit in order to eventually go right. It is hard on the brain, and we get to our hotel and sit in our room, too tired for tourism.

We do eventually find the energy to stroll around in the evening and most of the next day and find it every bit as charming as you would imagine. We sit in our cycling kit in the hotel lobby just before the cycle to catch the Finland ferry, watching ‘ Le Tour ‘. Wiggins in yellow and Cav’s win a great way to say farewell to Sweden. After Portugal, it has been the second best place to tour, and quite an unexpected delight.

Ferry to Finland.

Every ferry terminal considers bikes a nuisance. You are a mongrel, part foot passenger but not quite transport. Most deal with the problem by letting you find out for yourself where you have to go. Here, we pay with the foot passengers, but line up with the cars. The whole loading thing today is directed by two sixteen year old girls who have borrowed hi-viz jackets from their Dad. They split their time 80:20, between texting their boyfriends and doing the job. Fun is had keeping the cyclists waiting till almost last.

In the right place at the right time.

Farewell Sweden, we liked you more than we expected.

Early next morning, we arrive in Turku. One time capital of Finland, but on a rainy Monday morning, looking as if it had peaked a little early.  As far back as the 1500s, Turku introduced the fork and the ABC book to the rest of Finland, and last year was European capital of culture. Today at 7.30 am, it was McDonald’s that drew us from the rain. Sorry Turku.

Tree of life and Shaman signs on the church roof.

We could camp, and we could bike on in heavy rain. Or, we could book a room at a hostel nearby, right-off the day but cook a feast. Good choice. On the way to the hostel, we came across an intriguing church. Built in the C14th, it has pagan symbols and a Shaman that were for many years chalked over. The child-like style is put down to them being done by the builders rather than artists. Wonderful.

€7 for a 3 course buffet lunch — we could not ride by.

There is less prosperity in Finland than Sweden. That was clear within the first few K’s, with pot holes and houses that need more than that coat of paint. Sweden has SAAB, Volvo, IKEA and ABBA driving the economy. Finland has Nokia, and within a few days of our being there, it closed it’s doors here, having spectacularly dropped the ball over the last few years.

The ‘ Old King’s Road ‘ Makes it’s way across Finland.

Back in our hostel room Esther had found an article ‘ ride the Old King’s Road ‘. A route that follows the ancient royal mail route across Scandinavia, and picks it up in Turku. It almost goes where we want to go, and so we have a plan and follow it out of town. Signs disappear within the first k’s and we are left to improvise our route in and out of the light industrial units that sprawl out into the Birch forests and farmland.

Rolling countryside of SW Finland.

We have lost another hour from our day. Our second time zone since we started in Europe, and such a huge distance here that I wonder why the USA needs four. Or is two not nearly enough? I am wondering this, when we stumble across a sign for the Kings Road. We are following signs for Piikkio and have, by street cunning alone, ended up on the right road, the 2340.

Field and barn, Finland.

The sun comes out, and then goes behind clouds but some how the temperature gets up to 25’c and it is topically muggy with it. The main thing is that it remains dry and spirits are high. This is a good thing today, as our trip around the bathroom warehouses and car dealerships of Turku means that Finland is having a hard time taking centre stage after Sweden’s triumph. We end the day on a campground near Salo situated on a small island that sticks out into a finger of the Baltic.

Fins are more noisy campground neighbours than Swedes from this sample of one. It also rains overnight which is worrying, but then dawns a perfect sunny morning. Finland, in common with the rest of Northern Europe, has had a record breakingly miserable summer. Ever since we arrived here we have met people apologising,  and then saying that the forecast from Wednesday onwards is spectacular. It has cheered up this Brit to see the weather such a topic of conversation and news.

Dirt roads in the morning.

We had decided to take a road along the Baltic coast. It looked great on the map, but straight away it turns to dirt. For lack of any more technical word, I had been calling the roads of Sweden ‘ dirt roads ‘. This was perhaps a bit harsh, but here they are dirt. Any amount of rain, and they would quite quickly be mud. We are more than pleased when we return to tarmac, as we turn to ride up the coast.

Bilberry harvest starts.

The road becomes ‘ lumpy ‘.

We have the usual Pine and Birch forests surrounding us. But here they look different and even smell strange. Gone are the Oaks along with much of the soil. Granite outcrops, of speckled pink and quartz are everywhere. I stop to take a photo of the forest, picking my way through bilberry, long grass and fallen branches and almost put my foot straight into an ant’s nest. As soon as we stop, horse flies are onto us, driving us mad with deep bites.

Old farm house on the 1825.

We go along the coast till near Teijo, and then turn left onto the 1825. It is now 28’c and the road is as lumpy as anywhere since very Southern Germany. The Pines are giving off that wonderful fragrance that happens above about 25’c. It wafts up to meet us in between that of hot tarmac and five day old cycling kit. We breathe it in on great lungfuls, as we labour slowly up steep hills.

Second cousin to a Cornish Pasty, the Pierogi.

There are more colours here than the standard ‘ red ‘.

We have an appointment to meet friends in the town of Fiskars. It is a bit of a tourist honeypot, but beautiful none the less. We spend the afternoon together and then, because we have painted ourselves into a corner, drive the bikes to Snapertuna. We are back on the ‘ Kings Road ‘, and happy to be in this beautiful area.

Roadside forest near Fiskars.

Birches and lake near Fiskars.

I have been curious at the signing here in Eastern Finland. There are always two names for everything. It becomes a little strange when you find out the politics behind the road signs. This is a Swedish speaking area, having once been under it’s rule. If there is 51% of the town considering themselves to be Swedish, then its spelling comes top on the sign. If it is 50:50, then the birth of a single child to a Finnish family will lead to new signs being needed. It must be a nightmare.

Swedish home – flag flying.

The nightmare that is signs here.

You can tell the Swedish homes as they have a version of the Swedish flag flying. They are everywhere as we ride along the 1050 towards Inga, and turn right onto the 51. We are now just 50k away from Helsinki, and things are becoming more busy. For one thing, there are more cyclists. Mostly commuters, few return our waves. This is puzzling until I am told a joke about the reserved nature of Fins. What is the difference between a Finnish extrovert and an introvert? ” The introvert hangs his head and stares at his shoes as he talks to you, the extrovert on the other hand, will stare at your shoes “. They can be painfully shy.

Saxifrage on rocks – a rare high mountain plant in the UK.

Corn and Birch trees. A late harvest ahead.

It is 25’c early in the morning, and now 27’c with high humidity. We are riding through a flatter area with much more intensive agriculture. Corn stretches to the horizon in large open fields. To me it looks more than a month behind where it should be, but I am told that this is normal. It all comes together in the last few weeks, turning golden just before harvest after long, hot and very light summer days. I would be too worried to sleep if it was mine.

Red painted houses.

Flat fields in the afternoon sun.

Old barn and touring cyclist.

The last pleasant kilometers.

The final 15k to our camp at Oittaa is as exciting as a bike ride in the suburbs of Coventry. Suddenly there are industrial units and fast food outlets on every side. I have no idea when it started, they just came in ones and twos and now we are pinned in and working hard in the heat. We camp, leaving about 30k to a ferry at 9.30 the following morning.

Entering Helsinki.

We know it will be a navigational challenge of the highest order in the morning. It may be that, and it certainly does not help being under the flight path into Helsinki. Yet it may even be that we are camped on the site of the most well known unsolved murders in Finnish history. Whatever it is, we do not sleep well.

Our ferry up the coast from Helsinki.

I will say this one more time, just in case you are new here. ” Thank goodness for the gps “. We make it to the harbour, just opposite the parliament with 25 minutes to spare after the most challenging navigational 30k of all time. We get the bikes onto the boat and head off, very slowly.

I think I could swim faster. No, indeed lets change that to I know I could swim faster than that boat. The scenery however, was unquestionably stunning on this perfect day.

Almost four hours latter we pulled into Porvoo’s old town district. Back onto the bikes and off we went to our friends Leena and Georg’s house in Ilola where we have been staying for a few days now. Just 1k from here, our meter turned to 7,000k in Europe and a total over 24,000k. It has turned to summer here, just in time for Autumn on the 1st of August. Berries are ripening and every biting and stinging insect is having the time of their short lives.

Summer fruits – the weather has been spectacular.