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Summer in Finland, part I: Cycling Oulu – Kajaani

Summer in Finland, part I: Cycling Oulu – Kajaani

This summer we’ve spent our three weeks of summer holidays in Finland 🙂 We drove from Tromsø to Oulu, breaking the long trip in half by staying in a cabin overnight. We had stayed at the same place before, one our way back from Easter holidays in Luleå. The cabin was at Muodoslompolo, try to pronounce that 😀 In Oulu, we parked our car in a parking garage for a week, and on a sunny Sunday morning we started our cycle trip to Kajaani – we would cycle just over 250 km in 5 days…

A map of our route from Oulu to Kajaani, with our hotels indicated by a house. The GPS ran out of batteries on the third day, where it looks like we cycled over the lake ;) Proof: Finland is NOT flat!! :) We cycled uphill for most of our trip, though I have to admit it was hardly noticeable

Day 1: Oulu – Utajärvi (61 km)

Oulu is a very cycle friendly city, so it was easy to get out of town. We followed the Oulujoki (Oulu river) all day, though we could only glimpse the river every now and then, hidden behind fields and forests. We mostly cycled through farmlands…

Some of the typical views along the way, I love these old sheds You could often see small-scale drying of grass - the old fashioned way without any plastic!

It was a pleasant day of cycling, on quiet roads. We soon found we were following a hiking trail called the Tar Route, a nearly 100 km long route from Rokua National Park to Oulu. Tar production used to be very important in this region, and the barrels of tar were transported along the river to Oulu, which is represented in the logo of the hiking trail.

Cycling along quiet roads The Tar Route hiking trail, which we followed almost all the way

We arrived at our accommodation at 18:00, and dinner would be served at 19:00 – perfect! We stayed at a manor house called Merilän Kartano, a really nice place on the river. Besides a couple staying in a cabin, we were the only guests. Dinner was a buffet, we had to be careful not to eat more than our share and leave the other couple hungry 😉

In the evening we watched the most amazing sunset from behind our room… the sky turned this deep pink/purple, even though it was raining at the time. We also saw a hedgehog 🙂

We found this sad looking owl on a walk near the hotel We watched the most amazing sunset that evening...

Day 2: Utajärvi – Rokua (34 km)

The next day started perfectly sunny, and after breakfast we cycled to nearby Utajärvi to buy some supplies in the supermarket.

Our hotel in the morning sunshine The wooden church in Utajärvi

We didn’t have very far to cycle that day, so we took it easy with lots of breaks along the way 🙂

The landscape changed to pine forest, moss and heather The moss was nice & soft :)

We were now cycling through the forest, with a thick moss covering on the ground – very pretty.

Paul in the ethereal forest My turn to pose in the forest

Unfortunately it got more and more cloudy throughout the day. We had a final stop at Ahmas Kalevala Heritage Village. The Kalevala is the Finnish national epic, published in 1835. I didn’t even know what a national epic was, but Wikipedia has the answer: “an epic poem or a literary work of epic scope which seeks or is believed to capture and express the essence or spirit of a particular nation”. The village of Ahmas was famous for  bards, folk singers and poem singers, and part of the source material for the Kalevala came from them. There was an open air museum with beautiful buildings and interesting stories… there was nobody there and apparently it’s free to wonder around and even go inside some of the buildings. An interesting stop!

The forest road An old cabin in a sort of open air museum

It started to rain while we were at the heritage village, so we decided to cycle the last 9 km to our hotel as fast as we could.

Our hotel (Rokuanhovi) was located inside Rokua National Park. We went for  a long walk before dinner, but we didn’t take many photos as it was raining. It was beautiful though – it’s a landscape shaped by the last ice age. The soil is mainly sand, shaped into crescent dunes, but now covered in a thick forest and an incredibly thick layer of reindeer lichen.

Day 3: Rokua – Manamansalo (58 km)

The next day we did see some sunshine, but there were lots of rain showers around. Somehow I decided to be very Dutch that morning and I took some extra rolls of bread from the breakfast buffet to have for lunch. Lucky – as we didn’t come across a singe cafe/shop the whole day!!

Our hotel in Rokua No lack of wood in Finland :)

We cycled through the forest, following a route that Google maps suggested (I used my iPhone and a Finnish sim card that gave me unlimited data for nearly nothing (0.66 euro per day), with excellent 3G reception in even the most remote places – brilliant!!). It was a nice route, but what Google didn’t tell us, was that the dirt road we followed would turn into a nearly-impossible sandy road…

Nice place to sit - pity most places on the lake are private! Rain showers were approaching here... Through the magical mossy forest near Rokua, on a dirt road. The only person we saw was a guy in a van, collecting moss!

The only other person we met was a guy in a van, collecting moss… I know reindeer lichen is used for Christmas decorations in the Netherlands, and it’s quite expensive – so this might be a great business?! 🙂

We were very relieved when we got to the end of the crazy sandy road, and back on a tarmac road… We cycled to the ferry to Manamansalo, an island within Lake Oulu.

It's a bit hard to see in this photo, but the dirt road was really bad in some places, with deep sand The ferry to Manamansalo

A thunderstorm was following us from the ferry to our camping site, but luckily we only got some light rain. Our accommodation for the night was at Manamansalo campsite, where we rented a cabin. The cabin was very nice, though in a way not such a good deal compared to hotel rooms – the price was the same, but linen was not included and neither was breakfast. There was a small shop on the campsite where we bought a luxury meal: a tin of meat balls in brown sauce and instant mashed potatoes 😀 It actually tasted very good after a long day of cycling 🙂

Our cabin was next to a small lake, with great reflections…

Threatening thunderstorm behind us - but we managed to avoid most of it View from our cabin by the lake - fantastic!

We went for a walk after dinner, but after only 15 minutes we ran back to the cabin to avoid another rain shower 😀

The shore of Oulajärvi, or Lake Oulu The view of the lake never got boring, even when the skies turned grey

Day 4: Manamansalo – Paltamo (48 km)

The next day wasn’t the best: it rained all day, and it was quite cold and windy too. And when we stopped at a cafe for a break and some food, I discovered I had a flat tire. Well, at least it was better to find that out while at a cafe with a covered outside area, than along the road in the middle of nowhere.

A rainy day...

We didn’t stop all day, except for another tea-and-cake stop at a cafe. Our destination for the day was Paltamo, and it was the only night that we hadn’t been able to book accommodation for. We knew there was a hotel, and we had tried to call them several times, but after asking the lady if she spoke English or Swedish, she would just hang up! Luckily the hotel did exist and her husband even spoke some English. It was quite a special place, frozen into the 70s. It was cheap though, and warm, and dry, so I wasn’t complaining 😉

We walked around Paltamo in the evening – a very sleepy town with basically nothing to see or do. We were hoping for a restaurant, but the only option was a burger at the petrol station. There was a big supermarket though, so we stocked up on snacks and lunch, and breakfast, as the hotel didn’t provide that.

Day 5: Paltamo – Kajaani (53 km)

The next day was warmer and dry – but still rather cloudy. We had to cycle along a relatively busy road for a while in the morning.

Our glamorous hotel in Paltamo

Later we took another forest dirt road (never trust Google maps :P) and we visited the Paltaniemi. This village is famous for its pictorial church. It was impressive indeed, an old wooden church full of paintings of various scenes from the Bible on the ceiling and walls. Above the door there is a large painting of heaven and hell, but a large part of hell is missing. Apparently, it was removed as it was so shocking that ladies were fainting… it makes you curious what it was showing 😉

The church in Paltaniemi This old church is famous for the paintings on the walls and ceilings, and also called a pictorial church. Impressive!

I liked the bird :) Of course there was a nice illustration of what hell is like... but a large part at the bottom is missing, as it made ladies faint - wonder what it showed!!

After a tea and doughnut, we cycled the last 9 km to Kajaani, the final destination of our cycle trip. It looked like a pleasant town, but we didn’t explore much as it rained heavily that evening and the next day. We relaxed in our hotel, and took the train back to Oulu the next day.

It had been a nice trip, though we were a bit unlucky with the weather. As long as you don’t take Google-shortcuts, the roads are great, though you sometimes have to cycle on quite busy road (where the speed limit is 100 km/h). Usually there are alternatives though, and near towns there are often very nice cycle paths. Paul would have preferred to cycle longer distances each day, but I am not sure I would find that so enjoyable – though with the large distances between places (shops! cafes!) you might be better off.

Tromsø to Finnsnes – by bike!

Tromsø to Finnsnes – by bike!

Paul came back from a work trip to Boston last week, and when I picked him up from the airport he asked me to help carry his luggage. I wondered what the problem was – he only took one bag. Then I noticed a big cardboard box on the luggage band, clearly containing a bike… 😀 It’s a hybrid between a road bike and a touring bike, a model he tried to order in Tromsø but none of the shops was willing to get it. Well, I guess it’s easier to import it yourself then 😉

I also finally installed a carrier on my mountain bike, and I bought a set of panniers. The weather looked ok for the weekend, so a plan was quickly made: we were going to cycle to Finnsnes! We left on Saturday morning, and cycled towards Sommarøy. Here is a map, with our route for day 1 in red, and for day 2 in blue.

Paul and his new bike near the top of Kattfjordeidet

The part I dreaded most was crossing Kattfjordeidet, where the road climbs up to nearly 200 m – a loooonggg climb. But by going slowly in the lowest gear you eventually make it to the top – and of course the best bit is the downhill reward 🙂

We cycled to Brensholmen, and took the ferry across to Botnhamn on Senja. Guess what happens when two people who’ve been cycling all day in grey/windy/rainy/cold weather get inside a warm ferry that makes gentle rocking movements?? ZzZzzZzzz….

From Botnhamn it was about an hour to our destination for the day: Fjordbotn Camping. A great location, and a fantastic view from our cabin – but we did think the campsite was messy and that our cabin was really expensive for what it was (we paid 800 kr for a very worn cabin with a kitchenette and bathroom, without bedding or towels!).

Total distance for the day: 57 km from Tromsø to the ferry, 12 from the ferry to the campsite, making a total of 69.

The cabin we rented at Fjordbotn camping We couldn't complain about the view from our cabin! Around midnight the light and clouds were very pretty

We were really hoping to wake up to a sunny day, but unfortunately it was even worse than the day before. The weather forecast called for “mainly dry” but the first part of our day was “mainly wet” 😉 Still, it was a pretty ride along quiet roads, with nice views of the coast.

Up and down along the quiet roads on Senja Very pleased with my new bike setup (carrier + panniers + handlebar bag)

We only had 45 km to cycle that day, so we had more time to take photos 🙂

Some pretty views along the coast Wow, so fast! ;)

From Finnsnes we took the fast ferry back to Tromsø, it only takes 1 hour and 15 minutes! We had never been on one of those, but it was very comfortable, with scenic views. A great way to come home 🙂

Cycling around Hiiumaa (Estonia)

Cycling around Hiiumaa (Estonia)

(Better late than never right? This cycling holiday in Estonia was 3 months ago…)

We visited Estonia in early May, and after a few days in very pretty – but very touristy – Tallinn, we left for a cycling trip to an island called Hiiumaa. We rented bikes from Citybike who are based in Tallinn. They are excellent! They can arrange almost everything. You can book complete trips with accommodation included, but we decided to design our own trip. We arranged a transfer from Tallinn to Haapsalu, an easy cycle away from the ferry to Hiiumaa.

Here’s a map of our 5 days of cyling… (click to enlarge)

Map of our cycle trip on the island of Hiuumaa.

Day 1: Haapsalu to Orjaku (36 km of cycling, plus a ferry crossing)

We had visited Citybike the day before, and picked up our panniers so we could pack them with our clothes and quite a lot of food. We knew we’d be staying in quite remote areas without many facilities so were took almost all the food we needed with us. We left the rest of our luggage behind at City Bike.  Toomas (the owner) drove us and two Russian ladies to Haapsalu, which took about 1.5 hours. From there, it’s 10 km to Rohuküla, from where the ferry to Hiiumaa departs.

I managed to buy a gps map of Estonia before we left Norway. This was quite a challenge as the Garmin website (and instructions) were only in Estonian, and credit cards were not accepted for payment, but the customer support people were really friendly so I managed in the end. I had preloaded our planned routes into the gps as well. This was a HUGE advantage on our trip, as we never had to study the map. The gps even worked as a satnav, and came up with alternative route suggestions if necessary.

After a quick stop for lunch at a supermarket, we left Haapsalu. It looked like a really nice town, full of colourful wooden buildings housing art galleries and cafes. Too bad we had a ferry to catch! Just outside Haapsalu we came accross the old train station (not in use anymore) from where there used to be direct trains to St Petersburg. Now there is a museum and lots of old trains on display. The second photo was taken just before the ferry crossing – lots and lots of wood coming from Hiiumaa.

One of the old locomotives at Haapsalu station. There used to be a direct connection to St Petersburg from here. A preview of Hiiuumaa: LOTS and LOTS of wood :)

The day had started grey, but on the island we had sunshine. It wasn’t very warm though, we were actually really happy that we brought gloves with us! After the cars from the ferry had passed us, the roads were almost empty and the cycling was very easy.

Nice and quiet country roads Paul cycling on the Kassari Peninsula

When we crossed the bridge to the Kassari peninsula, we noticed lots of people. They were all fishing 😀 This turned out to be a very popular activity on Hiuumaa, the only times we saw lots of people were at fishing spots…

Fishing is very popular, we didn't meet a lot of people on the way except when we passed a stream full of fish...

We reached our accommodation in Orjaku at around dinner time. We stayed in wonderful Dagen Haus, a beautifully renovated old building. Look at that window in our bedroom… I could watch that view for days! We were the only guests, and we used the kitchen to make dinner. Afterwards, we went for a walk along the water. This area is perfect if you like bird watching 🙂 I wished we could have stayed there longer, it’s one of the prettiest areas of the island.

Our lovely room at Dagen Haus. I could sit there and watch the birds all day! During a walk in the evening, watching lots of birds - I think I counted 25 swans on the water behind us!

Day 2: Orjaku to Ristna (52 km)

The next day we woke up to… SNOW! Can you believe it? It was wet snow and luckily not sticking on the ground, but this shows what the temperatures were like. The owner of Dagen Haus prepared a really nice breakfast for us, including a large slice of cake :D. By the time we left, the snow had turned to rain. Our destination of the day was the western tip of Hiiumaa, and to get there we took minor roads through the central part of the island. These are all dirt roads, and with the rain we ended up caked in mud…

Still, it was nice cycling through the countryside, with very nice farmhouses.

Dirt roads through central Hiiumaa - in combination with rain it resulted in VERY dirty bikes/trousers One of the many deserted houses we passed, though this one seems to be in use as a shed.

After a while, the countryside gave way to a forest. There were hardly any houses in this part, and we didn’t see anybody for hours.

Central Hiiumaa is mostly forest, for miles and miles...

Later on we joined the main road again and shortly after we reached the Kõpu peninsula. The road here was asphalted, and very straight. It was a bit of a tough day, with so much rain and quite a distance to cover. We were really glad to reach the Kõpu lighthouse, which was open AND it had a cafe! Tired, cold and hungry, we couldn’t believe our luck 🙂 The tourist season had only just started, the lighthouse had opened just 2 days before, on the 1st of May. There were 2 guys in 2 separate parts of the building: one selling tickets to visit the lighthouse and also running a small tourist shop, and one running the cafe. I honestly think we were the only tourists on the island that week so I bet they were glad to see us 😛

After cycling through the rainy forest for hours, this cafe was a very welcome break Tea to warm our hands up, while waiting for sausages with fries :)

After a nice meal of sausages and fries, we visited the lighthouse itself. Kõpu lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, built in 1531. A very interesting building! We enjoyed our visit, even though it was cold and windy on the top. From our tickets, we could see we were visitors number 2 and 3 that season, no surprise 😀 but I do wonder who the first one was!

Kõpu Lighthouse, dating from 1531! Insude Kõpu Lighthouse - endless stairs

From the lighthouse, it wasn’t very far to our accommodation. We rented a cottage from the owner of Dagen Haus, the small Puumetsa cottage. On the way, we passed a small farming village where we found this Russian phone booth. The other photo shows our cottage, very pretty! It had a fireplace, and a wood-fired sauna, which was excellent at the end of such a cold and wet day 🙂

A Russian phone booth in the middle of nowhere. Next to it was a disconnected modern phone... odd! Our little house for 2 nights, wonderful! It had a fireplace and a wood-fired sauna :)

Day 3: Around Ristna (about 10 km)

We booked the cabin at Ristna for 2 nights, so that we could spend some time exploring the area. Close to the cabin, we came upon this abandoned Russian building. Estonia was part of the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1991, and you can find traces of this everywhere around Hiiumaa. On the walls of this building were layers off wallpaper that were peeling off, and underneath were Russian newspapers from the 80s. This illustration is about the Falkland War…

An abandoned building that belonged to the Russians. Looks like it used to be quite pretty! The rooms had several layers of wallpaper, including a layer of newspapers from the 80s. This article is about the Falklands war.

We also visited this Russian watchtower. Paul was brave enough to climb to the top, I didn’t like the look of the falling apart building and preferred to stay outside. Afterwards, we visited Ristna lighthouse. This one also opened on the 1st of May, but we couldn’t find any sign of somebody to buy tickets from. The door was open though, so we climbed the tower anyway.

An old Russian watch tower - Paul was brave enough to climb up! Ristna lighthouse, at the western most point of Hiiumaa.

When I came down, somebody had arrived so we bought our tickets 😀 She also ran a small cafe which unfortunately didn’t serve warm food yet, instead we stocked up on crisps as we were quite hungry!

Impressive door to the lighthouse On top of Ristna lighthouse, with the cafe in the background.

Afterwards, we went for a walk along the beach. We hardly saw anybody all day, it was lovely. Close to the sea we found this funny hairy flowers.

Skies cleared up in the afternoon and we went for a nice walk along the beach We found this funny hairy flowers close to the beach

Speaking of flowers, here are some more flowers I found on Hiuumaa. So pretty!

Speaking about flowers, these were everywhere in the forest. So pretty! Especially as it was still early spring and not very green otherwise And some more pretty flowers :)

Here is Paul cycling back to our cabin at the end of a fun day 🙂

Cycling back to our cabin in the evening sun

Day 4: Ristna to Kärdla (47 km)

The next morning the sun was still shining and it was noticeably warmer. We had breakfast outside, with this view overhead…

The view from (or rather: above) our sunny breakfast table in the morning

The cycle from Ristna to Kärdla was really pretty, especially when we followed minor roads through the forests. We found this windmill, slightly falling apart. We also visited the Hill of Crosses, an impressive place full of crosses made of natural materials. If it’s your first visit to Hiiumaa, you’re supposed to add a cross to the hill. You can read more about the origin of this place here.

A slightly falling apart windmill A break with some chocolate at an old church

We reached Kärdla, the capital of Hiiumaa in the early evening. What a nice town! It mostly consists of detached houses with large gardens, and it feels more like the countryside than the capital. We stayed in Nordtooder, a hotel right on the central square. It’s really nicely decorated. They were just changing ownership, and the restaurant wasn’t actually open, but it was a very friendly place. In the evening we tried to go out for dinner, but everything closed very early as it was still off season. Finally we had a burger in the supermarket cafe 😀 and bought some more munchies and a game of dominos to entertain ourselves in our hotelroom.

Kärdla is a very sleepy but friendly town, full of detached houses with nice gardens Another pretty house in Kärdla A nice park near the sea in Kärdla, with lots of wood carvings

Day 5: Daytrip from Ristna to Tahkuna Lighthouse (47 km)

We had breakfast with pancaked, yum! It was served by one of the owners, a very quiet man. Suddenly he grabbed a guitar and started singing. The song was in Estonian so I have no idea what it was about, but it was beautiful and full of nostalgia… so beautiful. What a surprise, a serenade for breakfast 😀

We started our day by visiting the tourist information, where they were very happy to see us, and really helpful 🙂 We also went to the bus station, where we were supposed to leave our bikes later in the day, to be sent back to Tallinn by cargo bus. It was a bit of a hassle, as they said the bikes would have to be packed in cardboard, but luckily a quick phone call with Citybike sorted everything out. After buying some food for lunch, we were off on our daytrip to the Tahkuna peninsula.

We took a small road through the forest and reached the northern part of the peninsula relatively fast. Our first stop was the lighthouse 🙂 A very pretty white one. The top had been replaced at some point, and the old top was standing in the garden.

Paul cycling on the deserted roads near Tahkuna lighthouse The old top of the lighthouse

The views from the lighthouse were very nice, you can see a lot of the coastline with beautiful sandy beaches and the forests behind. After our visit, we had lunch on the beach with a nice view of the lighthouse.

Enjoying the views from Tahkuna lighthouse The beach seen from Tahkuna lighthouse... ... and Tahkuna lighthouse seen from the beach :)

But first we also visited the memorial to the MS Estonia, a ferry that sunk on 28 september 1994, killing 852… I remember watching the news of this terrible accident back then, I was 13.  Tahkuna was the nearest bit of land to where the ship sank, that’s why the monument has been placed here.  It’s a bell hanging from a cross, and apparently the bell starts ringing in strong winds. That must be eerie… The bell had childrens faces, obviously modelled from a doll.

A memorial for the MS Estonia, that sunk not so far from here on 28 September 1994, claiming 852 lives. The bell will ring in strong winds... The monument is dedicated to the children lost in the disaster (all children on board died), those who lost their parents, and children who will never be born because of the disaster... I find that last one a bit odd!

There are many Soviet bunkers on the Tahkuna peninsula, and all of them are open for exploring! You’re even encouraged to bring a headtorch and have a look around. And so we did… of course these bunkers have been stripped from almost everything they contained, so there is not that much to see. I can’t stand walking around in these cold, dark, concrete buildings for very long, but they used to have electricity so perhaps it wasn’t so bad back then.

One of the bunkers we explored Bunk beds in a bunker... cosy! But they did have electricity then, so I am sure it used to be nicer

Most of them are small, but we also visited a large one which had several floors. Suddenly we heard voices in the distance… you’d never believe it, but a whole group of DUTCH students was entering the bunker with a tour guide. During our entire stay in Hiiumaa we didn’t meet a single tourist, but here in an underground bunker we meet a busload of Dutch ones 😀 I think they were students on some kind of history tour.

Paul exploring the multi storey bunker Me sitting on top of the big bunker, we could actually hear the guide speaking down below us :D

After our visit to the bunker, we had to more or less hurry straight back to Kärdla, as we had to deliver our bikes to the bus station before the office closed. The road went mostly through the forest so we didn’t see much of the beaches. At some point we found a little path leading to the beach, so we went to have a look. So beautiful… we were both frustrated that we had to continue instead of spending more time at this lovely coast.


Hiiumaa has many beautiful beaches! The beautiful coastline, pity we couldn't see much of it from the road due to all the trees

We went for dinner at the restaurant by the sea, which was closed the night before. This time it was open, but they were holding a belly dancing event, so we were asked to sit in the corner. It turned out the local belly dancing club was giving a performance, and it seemed like everybody in town was there to watch! It was a lot of fun watching everybody arrive and seeing some of the dances. After dinner, we went for a last walk around Kärdla – we were leaving the next morning.

Wooden boats at Kärdla Swan swimming in the sea

Day 6: Kärdla to Tallinn (by plane)

On Saturday morning we had an early breakfast (without any concerts). The bus stop for the airport was just a few steps from the hotel. The bus was tiny, and we were the only passengers. For the enormous fee of 0.60 euro per person we had private transport to the airport 😀 It’s located 7 km out of town and it’s very small. One of those airports where  everybody is multitasking 😉 The flight to Tallinn takes only half an hour, and there were 2 more passengers besides us. We only paid 20 euros each for our tickets… crazy!

The small plane at Kärdla airport

It was a pretty flight, and the flight attendents came about 3 times with a bowl of sweets 😀 What a nice experience!

In Tallinn, we delivered our panier backs back to Citybike and picked up the rest of our luggage. We took the ferry over to Helsinki in the afternoon, where I was attending a course for a week.

We really enjoyed our trip to Hiiumaa, it’s a very pretty laid-back island without much traffic – perfect for cycling. I’m sure it gets a lot busier in summer, which will add a bit more life. We’d love to come back when it’s slightly warmer and we can swim in the sea 🙂 We’re hoping to come back at some point, and also explore the island of Saaremaa to the south. It was such an easy cycle trip to arrange with the help of Citybike, can recommend it to anyone!