13th JULY 2018
I’ll finally be leaving Finland today having spent one month cycling from top to bottom. Assuming I make it to the Mediterranean, this will be the longest I’ll spend in any one country. I’m quite looking forward to arriving in the smaller Baltic States and being able to reach a new country every few days.
Mr Trump and Mr Putin will be meeting in Helsinki on Monday, so I want to be long gone before the city goes into lockdown. Without realising, I’ve arranged to depart on Friday the 13th, which isn’t a great omen given my history of being sick on boat crossings. I haven’t actually booked my ticket yet, meaning it will cost more, but will also give me a bit of flexibility with ferry times. This is a lucky bit of foresight on my part as getting to the docks proves far from straightforward. It’s only a 15km journey but I have to pass through the city to get there. If I was driving I could shoot straight down the motorway, but that’s out of bounds for a cyclist. I try to follow the busy road as best as I can on cycle paths, but often end up in industrial areas or suburbs with no real clue as to where I am. Goodness knows where I’d end up if I didn’t have Google Maps to keep me right. Frustratingly, it takes me over two hours to cover the short distance and reach the docks. I really dont enjoy cycling through cities that I don’t know.
At the ferry terminal I have to ride round to the vehicle check-in with queues of cars and trucks. Once through, all the bicycles, motorbikes and other oddities are herded into a small group of their own. I get chatting to a young Finnish couple who are going over to spend a long weekend in Tallin. They are taking their bikes across so they’ll have transport to get around the city more easily, which strikes me as a very cool thing to do. Bicycles are led onto the lowest deck along with lorries and trucks, probably to make sure we don’t scratch any nice new cars. An Estonian speaking docker puts us right at the back of the ship and we shackle our rides using heavy duty straps attached to the inside of the car deck. We then have to climb six levels to reach the passenger decks, where the ship’s interior makes it look like a floating bar. The Gulf of Finland is flat calm today, so I’m unable to continue my tradition of throwing up in every major sea or ocean I’ve sailed across.
When the boat docks in Tallinn we have to wait at the rear of the boat while all the lorries with their choking fumes disembark. Having survived that, there is then an odd, long circuit of the docks to navigate before I’m finally released into the city. Finding my way through Tallinn is an absolute breeze after Helsinki and twenty minutes later I’m at my hostel. I’m not quite sure what to expect as I haven’t stayed in a dorm room in a hostel since I backpacked round Australia in my twenties. I have hazy memories of staying in some cheap, grubby establishments in those days, where your room mates were more likely to be cockroaches than fellow backpackers. Fortunately, times move on and standards have clearly improved since then – this hostel is clean and bright with a well equipped kitchen, a TV room with comfy bean-bags and a pool room with a bar. There is even the option of ordering breakfast for the following morning if you want. They let me chain my bike to a railing inside reception, while all my camping gear is locked in the beer store. They could not have been more accommodating, although they do have a rather strange ‘No Shoes’ policy once you pass reception.
I’m in a dormitory with five other blokes, so odds are there’ll be one heavy snorer amongst that total. An old Canadian guy goes to bed early, then I’m next at about midnight. A couple of the young crew are just leaving for the pubs, so I hope they don’t come crashing in drunk at 4.00am. If they do I’ll get my revenge by crashing round the room tomorrow morning on my way down to early breakfast.
I don’t hear the kids returning during the night but their bunks now contain comatose bodies to prove that they did. I creep down to breakfast silently to reciprocate their quietness of last night. What is laid out on the table is more of a feast than a breakfast – there’s cornflakes, about ten slices of ham and salami, five large slices of cheese, ten slices of mixed bread, tomato, cucumber, an apricot yoghurt bar, a banana and unlimited refills of tea. I have to ask if all of this is meant to be just for one person. I get stuck in but have to save the yoghurt bar and the banana for later. It seems like gluttony, but I know I’m going to need all that energy over the next few days.
I take a stroll into the Old Town in the afternoon to wander round the narrow cobbled streets and marvel at the medieval buildings which have somehow remained intact since the 1300’s. Part of the Old Town still has the original stone wall round it from when it was fortified against attack and a few tall defensive towers still stand guard like sentries. There’s a great viewing platform amongst the buildings on the hill where you can look down on the fairytale architecture and gothic churches below. While I’m taking photos, a woman behind me is playing classical music on an organ and is seemingly unfazed by a seagull that’s just standing on top of her instrument without a care in the world. The only drawback are the hordes of tourists that crowd the bars, streets and restaurants, although I can’t complain too much today because I’m one of them. I get to thinking that it would be a great city to visit for a mini-break when it’s slightly quieter.
Back at the hostel I watch the World Cup 3rd / 4th Place play-off game with an American girl and the old Canadian guy. For North Americans their football knowledge is surprisingly good, although she slips up once by calling the players ‘Soccerballers’ while I try not to visibly cringe. Tonight we have four guys and two girls in our dorm, and once again I’m getting into bed at midnight while a couple of the kids are heading out. Unfortunately for them I will definitely be up and moving about early tomorrow morning as I prepare to leave Tallinn and see what the rest of Estonia has to offer.