September 24, 2005 GMT
Tromso to St.Petersburg

The usual route from Norway to Central Europe (and vice versa) is either by Denmark or Germany. Another familiar option is ferry to Newcastle with a second crossing at Dover. There is a third alternative, through Finland, St.Petersburg and the Baltics, but even as a Norwegian I’d never met anyone that done this drive. A widespread belief is that it is unsafe with high risk of being harassed by authorities and mugged by thugs. But is it true? There was only one way to find out.

An offroader was bought during winter. Evidently the bike broke its first owners leg. So the guy said, selling it in fury, meaning I got it cheap. I kinda liked its rebellious past, and with the exception of being a tricky fire up it seemed in good health. Tromso was an excellent point of departure with only a few hours to Finland and the first smell of EU. The border crossing is not much to talk about. I didn’t stop, just drove through, a nice advantage of the Nordic union of trust. From there it was hours on end with forest and reindeers until it became very late and I had to pitch the tent at a bus stop without seeing much because it was dark. Too late I noticed the unpleasant smell of what I then assumed was the result of car drivers yearning for a remote bus stop like this one to relieve themselves. Unfortunately it was worse. The tent stood on the same spot where a camper van had emptied the toilet tank, probably last year since the pulp was dry, but still…

The shops in Oulo offered a wide collection of flashlights. The city is an excellent hang out. Yet being in biker modus I decided to look for some nice coastal roads further south, only to discover that Finland doesn’t have any. It is a nation of lumberjacks. They have built their roads where the trees are. Trees is said to be of their main export articles, though the whole statement seems odd as I drove hundreds of kilometres without noticing any missing. Further down the road a crack in the rear tyre de-routed me to Kuvan Moottoripalvelu in Jyväskylä (www.kuvamp.fi). The motorcycle store is a knockout. Not only did they have the tyre in stock. The chief mechanic identified the start-up trouble by just staring at the bike for half a minute. Allegedly it was not a mechanical problem but a problem with a previous mechanic, and while he worked on it the shop crew gave me a chair under a sunshade and served me hot drinks. Another cup of coffee Sir? Yes, thanks. In the end I was presented the bill, expecting the worst, but facing a zero less than my minds most pleasant suggestion. Next I met my good friend Paula who was planning a conference at a fashionable hotel downtown. By being mistaken for her husband a fruit basket and a bottle of champagne was delivered to the room with compliments from the hotel manager. Yepp, the benchmark was definitely rising.

seagulls2.JPG
Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress: A trained eye will see that one of these seagulls are fake

I used a Helsinki agent for obtaining a Russian double entry visa, and the Ingostrakh (Russian third party insurance) was for sale at the border. Everything went smooth. So much had been said about the troubles to expect, and I would lie if I said I was not anxious driving alone on the boulevard to St.Petersburg. I had arranged reservation at a hotel with guarded parking, thinking it would cover most security issues, and a flow of relief went through when I finally saw the sign. But the feeling was soon replaced by something quite the opposite. The biggest annual motorcycle arrangement in town was arranged that evening, and of all places it was held on the parking lot of my hotel. A rock’n roll stage was built in the middle and everybody was welcome. Oh God, there would be hundreds of wannabe bikers dribbling all over my horse. Yes, tomorrow it would be nothing there but an empty spot.

rvenice.JPG
Why they compare St.Petersburg with Venice
(for some reason they never compare Venice with St.Petersburg)

Now, these fantasies were highly exaggerated. The following day I got lost in the subway system (when having a hangover the Russian alphabet can be somewhat confusing). A woman pushed me back into the train and guided me all the way to my correct destination. She never said a word and disappeared into the crowd like it was routine before I managed to express my gratitude. And when leaving St.Petersburg I stopped in some dubious looking suburbs to have a second glimpse at the map. A bypassing car hit the brakes, a man with a grim face ran out, and I prepared myself for assault. I recommend you go there, he said, pointing on the map, showing me the best way to Estonia.

estbord.JPG
Two errors at the Russian/Estonian border:
1. Don't wait in line with the cars
2. Don't take a picture of a Russian border

Posted by Erik Saue at September 24, 2005 07:25 PM GMT
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