Hi all, I am cycling fully loaded from Helsinki in June to Nordkapp and beyond - Have not heard many stories/cycle itineries from the Finland portion of the trip. Looking for any suggestions ie coastal, middle or eastern routes, and advice on which areas to avoid, being a solo traveller. Would like to include a hike or two up the north east, and wondering about the wolf/bear situation.
I did this ride last year, so have a bit of hopefully useful information.
Language: I learned the total of 1 word of Finnish (notoriously difficult for anglos to learn): Kiitos (pronounced "Key-toss"), which means "thanks".
Swedish is the official second language of Finland, but more people speak English than Abbaish.
Roads: pretty good. Traffic: pretty well behaved. Find will not slow down for you, but they will invariably go around with plenty of room - regardless of what is comming ahead!
Almost all roads are numbered with 1, 2, 3 or 4 digits. Pretty much all roads are built to a uniform width (ie no shoulder), and only the primary single digit roads (and the 2 digit roads in the south) need be avoided.
Maps. Particularly difficult. My Aussie purchased atlas proved more accurate than the "Karttahuone" map I purchased on arrival. This map was bi-lingual (Finnish & Swedish) aimed at Swedish tourists, and was so inaccurate as to be useless. Avoid.
The only useful looking maps I saw in Finland were sold as a 2 volume set for 30Euros ($55) in (almost) all service stations. (White cover, blue writing, only in Finnish) They are the equivalent to the NRMA/RAC atlases and their maps were very accurate, and included town maps (very important). If I were going again, I'd get a set of these, tear out the pages I wanted/needed, then ditch (or post home) the rest.
Road signs in Finland are almost as good as Australia ... but ... town names in Finnish can be spelt differently depending on the context in which they are used. Into Sydney, Out of Sydney, through Sydney or just Sydney will all appear on a Finnish sign as one word, with a significantly different spelling. You *need* to know the route number of the road you are taking.
Accommodation: I camped everywhere. In Finland, and all the Scandinavian countries except Denmark, you are legally allowed to camp anywhere - within reason (not <100m form someone's home, not on a crop). I used 4 formal camp grounds, and the rest of the time I camped rough. There is very little public land in Finland. Almost everything is forest, and almost all of that is privately owned and subdivided up. But finding somewhere to camp is not particularly difficult.
Food: Almost ever dot on the map represents a shop of some sort. Some places it is only the shop. Most small towns have at least 2 but usually 3 small sell everything supermarkets. This was true throughout the country. I'd been warned that north of Kemijarvi I'd find nothing, but it wasn't true.
Finish bread is this black, stodgy stuff. They tell me it's really good for you, but the best I can say about it is it's doesn't look as bad as it tastes. Finish staples are meatballs with potatoes. While it might look like PAL comming out of the tin, it doesn't taste that bad IMHO. The Fin's idea of exotic food is lettuce & tomato salad .
Route: Well, I took an inland route, hoping to find more remote wilderness and avoid touristy areas. This turned out to be .. well .. a bit boring. Having seen some very impressive coast lines in my time, including having lived on one for a while, coastlines need to be pretty good to impress me, so I don't feel I missed much skipping the Baltic coast of Finland. But there *is* a decent looking route up the coast.
Terrain: Reasonably flat. There were no major climbs, and even though I had headwinds every day, averaged over 20kph every day.
I only met one person in Finland who had even claimed to have seen a bear. and that was in 1970. I've had other people ask me, and I've tried to find out about the possibility of encountering bears in "remote" Finland, but no-one can tell me where they are and what precautions to take.
After touring Alaska and Yukon I routinely burn all my food evening scraps now, but I'd be very surprised if anyone need to take any more bear precautions than that. I did have to give way to an Elk once though.
Unlike Finland, Norway is spectacularly beautiful. The most beautiful place on earth that I've seen.
But it is most definitely a different country.
Prices: 2-3 times that of Australia for everything, except smoked salmon.
Beer prices: Join AA now.
Roads: A bit more variable. Often very good. Occasionally not so good.
Traffic: like Australia (not intended as a compliment).
Terrain: Mountainous/Very Hilly. Norwegian pass signs rather annoyingly appear less than half way up the climbs. You often never really know when/where you've crossed the summit.
The main road up to Nordkapp is fairly busy. Not dangerously so (not that I really know, I avoided it), but you certainly don't feel like you are in one of the most remote places on earth. There isn't actually anything at Nordkapp except the vistor's centre (entry fee of $40!, but waived for me after I suggested I ridden there from Australia) and the smell of overflowing septic tanks. There is a long (7km I think) undersea tunnel on that road, with 200m climb 10% climb at each end. Lots/most cyclists (there were heaps up there) rode through it. None told me they enjoyed it. And there is a toll ($20 IIRC)!!
I used the coastal ferry from KjÃ¸llefjord to Honningsvag (nearest port & town to Nordkapp), and then after visiting Nordkapp from Honningsvag to Havoysund. This was the best route decision I made on that whole trip. I did it to avoid the undersea tunnel, but both alternate routes turned out to be fantatistic in their own right. They were spectacularly beautiful, completely deserted and unbelievably remote. In contrast the main road felt like the slip lane to Disney Land.
All of the above information was great - cycled around 4000km in Scandanavia - thoroughly enjoyed the Eastern lake district in Finland, and recommend it as an alternative to just cycling through from Helsinki to Oulu, the scenery is much more satisfying, and relaxing (no bears). Nordkapp to lofoten, spectacular, words cant describe. I was in rain often, and occasionally wind chill made things a little difficult, but with the right gear!!! would definately go back through Scandadavia, especially Norway - now that I know where to find the cheap bread!!
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