Disclaimer: Due to the number of comments that have been received it has been felt necessary to clarify that this trip is in no way based on "The Long Way Round" which the authors of the trip were not aware and nor was it first broadcast of at the time at which this trip was drunkenly conceived. The authors of this trip would like to distinguish their intended trip from the journey undertaken in "The Long Way Round" in that unlike Charlie Borman and Ewan McGregor they are not experienced riders (they have both only been riding motorbikes for just over one year), they are not receiving sponsorship and they will not have a support crew with them at any point on the journey. Just to avoid any further confusion it has been thought that it would be helpful to point out that Tom Horovitch and Peter Caley are both fictional characters and are not famous film stars.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Oulu, Finland (south of the Arctic Circle) 3820 miles from London

Oulu, Finland
Oulu
We crossed the deserted border into Finland from Norway in the rain just after midnight last Monday and went straight to a campsite about 500 metres away. I had noticed that an unusually large number of insects had been hitting my helmet visor for the last 60 miles or so and should have realised from the stories I had heard about northern Finland that I was riding through swarms of mosquitoes. It was hard work putting the tent up which was made a little easier by wearing a head mosquito net given to me as a leaving present at work and the fact that it wasn’t in the least bit dark.
Tom in a mosquito head cover at campsite near Karigasniemi, Finland
Putting up the tent at 12.30am

In the morning we left as soon as the rain stopped and headed along long straight fast roads (unlike many of the roads in Norway) through monotonous wooded countryside and past reindeer to the town of Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, about 260 miles to the south. We had once again crossed the arctic circle which runs slightly to the north of the town and upon which Santa Claus lives. We went back to meet him at Santa Claus Village where the official arctic circle marker and Santa's post office, which receives over a million letters a year, is located. He was extremely personable and much more charismatic that the lookalikes I had encountered as a child. He promised to bring me world peace even if I was in India where they don't have chimneys.
Tom on the E75 from Karigasniemi to Rovaniemi, Finland Santa Claus's Post Office, Napapiiri, Finland
On the ride to Rovaniemi (left); Santa's Office (right)

I imagine is strictly against the rules but very good of him. Peter and I also got talking to one of his elves, who was a normal sized woman called Sini. The whole experience was pretty surreal and made more so when we later bumped into Sini outside our hotel in the early hours of the morning (in bright sunlight!) and she invited us to her friend's flat. We gratefully accepted and we were treated by Sini and her friend Leena to a variety of different types of alcohol and an interesting insight into local life. It was really good talking with Sini and Leena and it a good example of how friendly and welcoming we have found the people in Norway and Finland to be.
Drinks with Leena and Sini in Rovaniemi, Finland
Drinks in Leena's flat

The next morning we left the town where it is Christmas every day and which was built in the shape of reindeer antlers after its complete destruction by the Germans in 1944 and once again headed south, this time for the town of Oulu on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia. We booked into the Radisson hotel which, for what it is was extremely modestly priced. We have been in Oulu for a few days now, relaxing, making use of the pool and the sauna and taking a deep breath and preparing to cross the border into Russia. We realise that this is probably the last of the easy life and that things will probably get pretty tricky from Russia onwards. Despite the proximity we have found that very few Finnish people that we have met have been to Russia and most we have spoken to don't have a good word to say about the country. Given their history with Russia we have tried not to give to much credence to some of the extreme stories we have heard.
The Radisson, Oulu, Finland The view from the hotel window at the Radisson, Oulu
The Radisson Hotel and the view from our hotel window
The guide book we have doesn't really do justice to Oulu but I suppose if you are on a short visit to the region the lack of tourist “attractions” that the town has may be a factor in deciding to visit Oulu or not. That said we are really enjoying it here. The weather is perfect, with clear blue skies and a slight breeze and there is a pretty nice beach that a local told us was the northern most beach in Europe. The harbour front bars are full and the town is lively and friendly in the sunshine. It is dificult to imagine what it is like here in the winter when we are told that the atmosphere is totally different and many people get very depressed in the darkness months. We have hired bicycles and have joined in with the local cycling culture. Crime here is so low that people don't really bother to lock their bikes up. Here are some facts about Finland:
Approximately 70% of Finland is covered with forest, the highest proportion in the world;
There are 187,888 lakes in Finland;
Nokia is a company founded in Finland in the town of Nokia which is on the banks of the Emäkoski River in the region of Pirkanmaa and the province of Western Finland. According to Wikipedia "nokia" is short for nokinäätä which apparantly means "sable". A sable is a small mammal, closely akin to the martens, living in northern Asia and used to live in European Russia and Scandinavia;
Finland used to be an expensive country like Norway but now and from our experience it is not very different to Britain;
29% of Fins think that immigrants should go back to their countries of origin;
25% of young men consider themselves somewhat supportive of the skinhead and anti-immigrant activities in Finland
Things may be improving. In 1993 61% of the population had negative attitudes towards accepting foreign workers compared to 38% in 2003.
(Racism statistics are from a English langauage magazine I was reading called SixDegrees - the next day we saw a man dressed in WWII Nazi uniform driving around the main square in Oulu in a vintage American car, playing Nazi marching music and giving the Hitler salute).

Written by Tom

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At Mon Mar 16, 09:53:00 am GMT, Blogger jowdjbrown said...

It was hard work putting the tent up which was made a little easier by wearing a head mosquito net given to me as a leaving present at work and the fact that it wasn’t in the least bit dark.Foto Andørja

 

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