Bike Touring Scandinavia – Finland

Route 1: Rovaniemi – the home of Santa Claus

Chances are, you won’t be cycling through Finland in the dead of winter – but if you are, you’ll want to visit Rovaniemi – the “Home of Santa Claus.” We were here at the peak of summer, so the allure wasn’t quite the same…

What Rovaniemi looks like in the winter (credit to http://visitrovaniemi.fi)

Notes from the Road: We are meeting more people in Finland; the culture is a little more outgoing. If you were to draw conclusions from the slice of people we have met, you would conclude that Finland is made up of fishermen and crazy people. Well, those are the two types of people who regularly approach us. Yesterday, upon hearing we were from California, a woman said, “California is for lovers.” She seemed to feel guilty for saying this, so followed up with, “Well, Finland is for lovers too.”

During the summer, Finland becomes an outdoor lovers paradise. Fishing is certainly the most popular sport in this country that is dotted with lakes everywhere. Just looking at the map, I shuddered thinking “mosquitos.” As soon as we arrived (late June), we were there for the beginning of the mosquitos. Apparently, you can avoid them by going a little earlier in exchange for colder weather. With the application of DEET, they were not that bothersome – but we were informed that this was very light mosquito times: they would worsen as the season progressed.

In Finland, the galoshes isle is easily 10 times longer than the produce isle.

In Finland, the galoshes isle is easily 10 times longer than the produce isle.

Art structure in Kuhmo

Art structure in Kuhmo

Notes from the Road: English is of surprisingly little use in Finland. In Norway and Sweden, we could pretty much read every sign and food ingredient lists. We even read the Bible one night in Swedish. Here, even using a lot of imagination, coupled with the iPhone Finnish dictionary produces strange results. I’ve seen signs pointing towards Päänti Päärties, and I have paid money for porkkana pussi.

Finland shares the same ease of camping as Sweden and Norway – but with fewer, smaller shelters than Sweden. The shelters in Finland are called “Lavuu,” which translates to “lean-to.” Most seem to be placed along trails, however we found some at important moments while cycling along roads. Finland and Sweden both have “Everyman’s right,” which is a law that says you can sleep anywhere for one night (perfect for bicycle tourists who are “moving through.”) The basic rules are that you need to stay away from people’s houses and you can only build a fire in certain areas. In essence, you need to practice what we in America call “low impact camping” and “leave no trace” ethics.

After a day of cycling in heavy rain, we chanced upon this Laavu.  It came at the perfect time!  All of our worries of discomfort melted away when we found we could fit the tent in this dry shelter!

After a day of cycling in heavy rain, we chanced upon this Laavu. It came at the perfect time! All of our worries of discomfort melted away when we found we could fit the tent in this dry shelter!

Taken around midnight at our tiny cabin for the night.  While beautiful, these cabins are small and unplumbed.

Taken around midnight at our tiny cabin for the night. While beautiful, these cabins are small and unplumbed.

One thing we discovered while cycling Finland was the number of extensive canoe routes. These routes are official routes with designated campsites! The campsites are somewhat developed, but still pretty rustic. For us, this trip was a cycling trip, but we came across enough of the canoe route signs to be impressed and intrigued by these watery thoroughfares leading off into the woods in either direction.

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Another attraction to the cycle tourist is the existence of the Iron Curtain Trail. The Iron Curtain Trail is a Euro Velo bike route. This route generally follows quiet, cycling friendly roads. Cycle-tourist oriented facilities and historic attractions are plentiful along the route. There are maps and guides available. If you’re interested in learning more about this bike-friendly route, please check here.

Along the Iron Curtain Trail, we stopped at outdoor museums where you could read (in English and Finnish) about the history of the wars in this area.

Along the Iron Curtain Trail, we stopped at outdoor museums where you could read (in English and Finnish) about the history of the wars in this area.

It's easy to love "Everyman's right!"

It’s easy to love “Everyman’s right!”

Another attraction in Finland for nature lovers is the Lintutorni. Lintutorni means “bird tower,” and we found that these were fairly abundant. You’d climb a couple of flights of stairs, and suddenly your flat perspective would be changed – you could see beautiful vistas and watch birds.

Arriving at the Lintutorni usually involved boardwalks and overgrown vegetation.

Arriving at the Lintutorni usually involved boardwalks and overgrown vegetation.

View from a Lintutorni

View from a Lintutorni

The Sibelius Monument found in Helsinki. Dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

The Sibelius Monument found in Helsinki. Dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

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