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Article on crossing Romania by bicycle

Posted: 2007-12-21 11:48:30, Categories: Travel, Romania, Moldova, Cycling, 75 words (permalink)

A while ago a friend from the Finnish-Romanian Friendship Association asked if I could write an article about my bicycle tour in Romania for their magazine Viesti-Veşti. The article was published in the most recent issue and it's also available online (in Finnish).

I haven't actually seen the printed version yet, but as far as I know it was published unedited in full lenght. My visit to Moldova is also included in the article.

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Route planner for cycling in the Helsinki region

Posted: 2007-09-04 15:24:46, Categories: General, Finland, Helsinki, Cycling, 159 words (permalink)

I just noticed that in addition to the public transport route planner for Helsinki metropolitan region, there's now a similar service for cyclists at http://kevytliikenne.ytv.fi/.

The system knows about cycling paths through parks and forests too, so the suggested route is often a nice one, at least based on a few quick tests. The "print route" feature is well done, showing both an overview map and detailed maps for the route. Cool. :-)

Of course all cyclists in Helsinki should also get the free Helsinki Metropolitan Area Outdoor map (Ulkoilukartta in Finnish), available e.g. from Jugendsali, Pohjoisesplanadi 19. The city has also produced some suggested loop routes in the city center and in many suburbs, describing the history, buildings and other features of each area. I'll have to check out some of those routes myself. Most of them are only available in Finnish though. The cycling route planner mentioned above works also in Swedish and English.

Thoughts after one year on the road

Posted: 2007-08-30 23:00:40, Categories: Travel, General, Work, Free software, Ecology, Cycling, 1074 words (permalink)

Posing for the camera at the Panchgani hill station, India. Having settled down in Helsinki at least for a while, I've had time to think what my long tour in Europe and Asia has given me and what I want to do next. Here are a few thoughts about travel and life in general after spending a year on the road.

Enjoy the unexpected, trust the unknown. Little by little, I learned to plan less and to enjoy uncertainty. I had traveled without a detailed schedule and hotel reservations before, but this time I went one step beyond that. I took roads not marked on the map, arriving in unknown villages just before sunset and got invited in to local homes. Even when I had made plans, I often changed them based on new encounters or feelings about a place. I certainly wasn't the craziest traveler out there and tried to avoid unnecessary risks, but also wanted to get rid of being a control freak. The balance shifted a bit towards adventure, and I enjoyed it.

Traveling alone is not lonely. It was never difficult to find people to talk with, and without a group of friends around I was spending more time with the locals. Of course, the majority of those encounters were rather superficial. To have deeper discussions, one usually needs to spend more time with the person and share experiences. That's the best part of having a travel partner: you can compare thoughts about an event or situation, or just start a topic which is completely detached from traveling. Having traveled both alone and with friends, I still cannot say which is better. I do know that a big group is not the way to go for me.

Travel gives new perspective for ecological living. Environmental protection might not be part of their everyday thoughts, but most people in developing countries live a fairly ecological life. Many environmentally unfriendly habits are also expensive so they simply cannot afford them. Traveling through poor areas shows that hot water is a luxury, air conditioning is rarely really necessary, and that it's easy to live by following the daily cycle of the sun, minimizing the need for artificial light (at least when the days and nights are approximately the same lenght). It can be a culture shock to come back home in a rich country where climate change is in the headlines but a lot of energy is being wasted everywhere. On the other hand, proliferation of plastic packaging and other non-biodegradable goods in the developing world produces another kind of shock. In the absense of proper waste management, residential areas are turning into big landfills and waterways getting polluted. People are used to throwing waste simply to the backyard — it didn't matter earlier but with the new materials it does.

Free software remains one of my passions. I didn't keep myself very well up to date with world news during my trip. To avoid spending all the time in Internet cafes, I dropped many mailing lists and web sites which I used to follow regularly. However, I continued to read the weekly editions of LWN.net during the whole year. That was the best way to keep an eye on what was happening in the free software world. I love the freedom, the community involvement without excluding commercial activities and the good match with mobile lifestyle. I can carry a virtually unlimited amount of interesting applications, information and art in digital form without possessing many material goods, and free licenses guarantee I can share what I have with my friends too.

A full-time job is not the only possible choice. A long break from work gives a good opportunity to think what kind of role should work have in one's life. Before my trip I had a well-paid full-time job, something which is respected and even envied in the society. Now I'm not so sure I want to continue the same way. I'm not alienated from work, but managing my own time as a freelancer sounds tempting. A normal full-time position is not out of the question, but if something is going to take the most of my time five days a week, eleven months a year, I'd better really like it. The standard five weeks of vacation per year may be enough to rest before getting back to work, but it's not long enough to focus on any other big project.

Changing the environment from time to time is good for me. Since I got my first job abroad in summer 1999 (in Geneva), I've never stayed very long in one place. The longest was almost three years in Finland before my bicycle tour — and it was starting to feel too long. I have a tendency to get involved with various volunteer activities and to pick up other hobbies, which are interesting but gradually fill up all my free time. Moving to another country provides a natural cut-off point to leave some of them behind and be ready for new challenges. It's already a way of life for me and it's difficult to say when, if ever, I'll settle down somewhere permanently.

A month, a year or undefined time for travel — all very different. It was obvious already when I left that traveling for a year was going to be different from the short trips I'd done before. I had time to stop for days or even weeks when I wanted, and I created the route plan on the way. What I didn't think about was that traveling for a year is still very different from traveling for an undefined period of time. I met many who were on the road for at least several months but rather few who were roaming around with no end in sight. Those who did, had often given up the notion of considering any single place in the world as their home, which made a big difference. I didn't have my return date set in stone, but it was still clearly a plan for one year. I had rented my flat out for one year, taken travel insurance for one year and, more importantly, it was a one year plan in my mind. I did consider continuing, but decided it was good time to stop for a while. Being constantly on the move is liberating but also tiresome, I need breaks from traveling too. However, it's not a given that those breaks would necessarily be in Finland.

Inside the midnight clouds

Posted: 2007-07-23 16:11:07, Categories: Travel, Norway, Cycling, 717 words (permalink)

Compass needle pointing north at the northernmost point of mainland Europe. My second trip this summer brought me again to latitudes above the arctic circle, actually several hundred kilometers further north than the midsummer camp at Tuntsa. At Kinnarodden, the northernmost point of mainland Europe, the sun never sets for more than two months, but that doesn't guarantee you can actually see the sun. The picture on the right shows how Kinnarodden looked like inside the midnight clouds, after a 25 km hike to get to the spot. Oh, the wind was quite strong too.

This time I was again on the road with my two old cyclist friends Mikko and Sami. We took first a train to Rovaniemi and continued by bus to Karigasniemi, which lies just before the Finnish-Norwegian border. Then we continued by bicycle towards Nordkapp, but found out on the way that everybody goes there and that Norway has decided to collect 190 krones (about 25 euros) per person just for the entrance at the site, not yet including some tunnel fees on the way there. Besides, Nordkapp is on an island and not even the northernmost point on that island, so we decided to do something else.

The route to the northernmost point of mainland Europe was different. First it was small roads to Mehamn, a small fishing town, followed by a full day hike over rocky fells to the end of the Kinnarodden cape. The hiking trail was marked by small piles of rock every kilometer or so, but cloudy weather made sure that a compass was much more useful than the markings. Besides, the line drawn on the hiking map photocopy we got from the Mehamn hostel helpfully didn't follow the marked route.

We didn't see a single person during the hike. As a matter of fact we didn't see much else either as it was cloudy, the clouds were hanging low and the scenery consisted mostly of rocks followed by more rocks. In particular, we didn't see whether it was really the last bit of land at the end of the cape, because there was some 200 meters of cloud between us and the sea somewhere below. But I guess that was it and we took a group picture at midnight. Actually we took two, first in a wrong place, and that picture was slightly better. Never mind. A Czech cyclist we met on the road had done the whole hike two ways in 23 hours without a map, but he had good weather and must have been a bit crazier than us. We were exhausted after just going one way, very happy to sleep after cooking some dinner and setting up our tent. Next day it was still cloudy and we walked back to Mehamn. As we summarized in our travel journal: The shoes got wet and also otherwise it was fun.

To be honest, we did get a half-decent view of the scenery a few kilometers before the tip of Kinnarodden, and the fjord between two high-rising rocky shores looked magnificent. It ended to an almost white sand beach, a very uncommon feature among fjords in Norway. The whole area must be quite spectacular in clear weather. Even on a cloudy day it was one of the most special places to go for a morning swim. We had of course set up our tent just next to the beach and we had it all for us.

Except during the hike to Kinnarodden we were actually quite lucky with the weather during our two-week trip. While southern and central Finland were suffering from heavy rains we were enjoying sunshine more than half of the time, day and night. Superb wild camping spots by the seaside or by a river with plenty of fresh drinking water were easy to find. We set up the tent facing north, leaving the entrance open to watch the sun through the mosquito net until falling asleep.

From Mehamn we took a ferry to Hammerfest, spent a day there and then followed the coast southwards until Skibotn. From there it was a short ride back to the border, entering Finland at Kilpisjärvi. In addition to admiring the fjords we met some nice people and spent one evening at the Riddu Riddu festival. We have a more detailed travel diary in Finnish which will be published later — when it's ready.

Return to Helsinki

Posted: 2007-06-16 21:22:42, Categories: Travel, Finland, Thailand, Cambodia, Helsinki, Cycling, 473 words (permalink)

Signs of cycling routes on the way back from the airport. My return trip which started from Phnom Penh went rather smoothly. I pedaled towards the Thai border on the southern side of Tonle Sap lake, stopping mainly to eat and sleep on the way. In the afternoon I sometimes had a bit longer break to escape the heat, which exceeded 35 degrees on some days. In Phnom Sampeau I was once more hosted in a Cambodian family, this time a restaurant owner with his wife and a few months old son. He was searching for a foreign partner to open a guesthouse in Siem Reap. I wasn't ready for that but it was still interesting to talk with him.

Near the town of Pailin I crossed the border to Thailand and met my friend Phisit again in Chanthaburi. We visited once more his sister's fruit garden and returned to Phanathikhom. After one day of relaxing there I had my flight back to Helsinki from Bangkok airport. Once more I had to try to get through without overweight fees. I put my luggage on the scale, with the bicycle only halfway there — the display showed 23.3 kg and the girl behind the counter just smiled as they always do in Thailand. I smiled back and even the extra bag containing a selection of exotic fruits went through without problems.

In Finland I started by cycling from the airport to my parents' place with my friends Mikko and Sami. I wore only a t-shirt and shorts, which was a mistake resulting in a flu for the next couple of days. Mikko and Sami weren't suffering from cold in the same outfit so apparently my resistance to less than 30 degree weather had weakened in the warm countries.

In Helsinki it was surprising how easy it is to fill again your non-existing calendar. During the first six days I already met friends from the MikroPC magazine, hosted two French cyclists for a couple of days, visited my grandparents near Kotka and participated in my friend's graduation party. I also moved to my apartment in Haaga (in Northern Helsinki) and started to carry stuff back in. I began with the most important things such as installing the cd player, amplifier and loudspeakers. Otherwise arranging the flat hasn't progressed much, but it doesn't matter: I've got plenty of time to do it during the summer.

I won't stay in Helsinki for the whole summer, however. For the midsummer I'll head to Lapland beyond the arctic circle. Believe it or not, although I've lived in Finland for almost all my life it'll be the first time for me to experience the real midnight sun. I've seen plenty of nights during which it never becomes dark, but I have never been far enough in the north during the middle of the summer to see the sun up in the sky still at midnight.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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