But they're not all sharks.
We spent a few rad days in Tallinn with Nick. We ate Tallinnese food (though it seemed a lot like modern cafe food everywhere), wandered around the old town (which is awesome), saw some churches, drank the beer, and generally had a good time in the sunshine.
We met a crazy drunk Russian guy (the bearded guy who isn't me in the photo) who claimed he was my disciple, and said he needed help. From me. At least some of these claims were true.
From Tallinn, we took a ferry to Helsinki. We were feeling the pressure to get Theresa to Tromso in a hurry since she was due to get her ass to Hawaii and tell the world about her Cardinalfish (Theresa recently handed in her PhD thesis on mating systems, behaviour and genetics of a coral reef fish, the pyjama cardinalfish). You can camp wherever you want in Finland, as long as you don't destroy crops, annoy people, or other things like that. More or less, don't be a dick, and you're welcome to put your tent in basically any place. We we tired and cold that first night, so we thought that we would check in a campsite that might have showers, electricity and all those mod-cons anyway. It was going to be an absurd price, so instead we drove to the other side of a lake and pitched the tent for free. And Theresa got to test her new Lifestraw bottle.
It was a fun night and we choofed off in the morning. As the day progressed into rain and cold, and we realised we were making fewer and fewer kilometers than we needed to to make it comfortably to Tromso the stress mounted a little, and it was with kind of frayed nerves that we stopped at another ABC (you know this if you're Finnish.. if not: it is the local everything venue.. fuel, supermarket, restaurant...). We decided to make for Rokua National Park: we could pitch a tent. Have a fire. Jump in a freezing lake, and sit near the fire. That was the plan.
Instead, on the way into the national park, lost, trying to figure out the multitude of micro dirt roads and what seemed to be huts, owned by Fins, in the middle of what we though was a national park where huts don't belong, we ran into these three gentleman who arrested our progress, and forced us into their hut for coffee. Well, let me be clear: there were three older guys, and two younger (about 25 or so).
It might be a midnight-sun thing. Normally, if you sit down for a polite beverage with your mates the sun sets and reminds you gently to go to bed. Often you can even choose the sleeping surface. I suspect that if the sun never sets and you don't get this reminder, you might end up not ever realising you should sleep, and instead continue drinking. I think that's what happens. The guys were drunk. I have been drunk before, and for a short while held the world record for most drunk, but these guys blew me out of the water. In we went for coffee, and as we went in, the two younger guys outside casually cleared out. Clearly the last victims of "come and have a coffee", they hadn't found a reasonable way of extricating themselves from these older guys, saw their chance and bolted. Theresa and I were stuck with the three who were so rollicking, I was left to wonder how yhey maintained verticality. Over a coffee they decided they liked us, and insisted we stay in their cabin.
That was a bit awkward: how could Theresa and I possibly stay in a cabin with these guys? It was a small cabin, and the couch already had one napping occupant (he wasn't allowed to nap long and was frequently reinvigorated with vodka... or similar: Soumi Viina, I think). The air was flammable, and we were both already light headed from the fumes.
The thing is: polite refusal can be difficult if you barely have a common language (we didn't), if 3/5 people are blind drunk (they were), and if 2/5 can't figure a smooth way out of the situation (we couldn't), then extracting yourself might not be easy. At this point, we had out helmets off (for drinking coffee), our gloves off (for holding cups), our boots off (for entering cabins): there was no quick-dash-option.
One of the guys, the only English speaker, had a joke: he would spit on his palm, comb his hair over, and in his best American proclaim "I'm George Clooney", and we would all laugh. So let's call him George Clooney (he's on the right in the photos). George took me outside, and showed me this:
This was going to be our own cabin, they had an extra cabin! In the foreground is the outside sauna. We called it that to distinguish from the inside sauna. Which we used. A sauna, a cabin, a walk in the national park. A bed. Curtains to block the midnight sun, a comfortable sleep. Hamburgers, Siina, coffee. That is what these guys gave us. Just because they were awesome. That is the only reason I can think of. In seriousness, they lifted our spirits, warmed us up, made us laugh and shared everything they had. It was a great night, and Theresa and I now have standing obligations to be kind to every Fin we ever see, and possibly to deliberately seek out a few, and be nice to them, too.
Where do you even go from there? The park was awesome. The night was awesome. There was only one place to go the next day: North! to the arctic. Towards Tromso. And so, off we went, and saw for real our first midnight sun (the lower latitudes have a bright midnight, but the sun dips below the horizon for a brief period, cheapening the whole experience).
One last thing to leave you with before we leave Finland: reindeer! How cool!
I am posting up some videos of the kind of driving we see around Europe. We have been in 5 countries in total now, and the driving style is pretty variable but at the same time, quite consistent within countries.
[check out the overtaking]
If, like me, you learned to drive in Australia, and have been driving overseas, it is clear that Australians are the best drivers in the world, and that within Australia, NSW drivers are better than QLD, Territorians are nuts, and everyone else is better than Victorians (sorry, Tassie, WA, SA: you don’t get your own mention). Australians have a quiet respect for other drivers’ “personal” space, don’t tail gate, don’t cut each other off,and definitely are always on the look out for bicycles. We always indicate. We use our lanes properly, we’re courteous, and respect each others’ right to be on the road. Alive. Or so it feels when you first drive in another country. But it turns out, it is just a matter of adjustment. So let’s adjust to the locals, in order of appearance.
The French (and mostly here I mean Ariegois) are interesting: they seem impatient, always tailgating, hovering left to right to see past you to overtake (and they will, corner or straight, clear vision or no). But you can stop in a French village, put the hazards on -blocking the road-, get out, buy a baguette, have a chat, roll a cigarette, and everyone behind you will wait. I think the unspoken rule is you have 3 or 4 minutes and everyone behind you will simply wait patiently. Start going again, and the tailgating and overtaking begins again in earnest. The other part to this is that they expect people to make crazy manoeuvres in front of them, and although the cars are all bashed up, I never once saw anyone hit another vehicle, and they are super courteous to cyclists and give them lots of space (take note, Australia). It takes some getting used to, and it can be frustrating when you’re in a hurry and every man and his dog is stopping for chats and baguettes all along the street. Indicators are used if you like.
The Germans on the other hand understand that indicators and a precise driving style is what keeps everybody alive and going. The Germans are neat drivers and prefer you to follow the rules - you overtake in the overtaking zone, when it is safe, and you do it fast. It is no surprise to many people in theory, but when you first see for yourself just how fast Germans can safely pilot their sport-suspended, well-maintained, super-cars down the autobahn (300km/h happens often enough, but 220-250 is common), you’ll be impressed. It is no wonder the F1 drivers come from Europe: an F1 is simply another car you’d causally drive, except it doesn’t have surround sound music and taught black leather interior, so why would you? Taking on the autobahn on our first day on the bikes in Germany was entirely taxing to me; it rained, and our overburdened bikes were wheat to the scythe on the A1. The Yamaha complains over 130km/h, though the BMW had no such trouble. After that first day, I never wanted to drive the autobahn on the Yamaha again. We did though, on the second and third days, and it got better. I got better. You learn to see one eye on the mirrors (take note, Australia). If you think you’ll overtake a truck (limited to 80km/h), you check the mirror, indicate and smoothly pull out. Well, really, you only do that once because in the time it took you to indicate and being sailing over to the left, Michael Schumacher has come caning down the lane from 10km behind at 300, and scares the bejesus out of you. Keep your eye on the mirror, indicate for long than you think you should, and his well-balanced car with brakes capable of stopping a freight train, and a computer system that maintains traction and straight driving have plenty of time to slow down for your lumbering 600cc.
Then one day you find yourself in Poland. Crazy. People demand that you move over to let them overtake! There might be an entire lane they could use, but they sure aren’t going to. You’ll move or it will end poorly. The flip side is that thumping along, waiting to overtake someone only requires you to indicate your intention, and the car in front of you has conveniently moved aside and you can plough on by without driving down the oncoming lane. It’s convenient, and some of the roads are even built especially for it. As you move along the baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), this become more and more pronounced, and people become more and more keen to overtake, and to get you overtaking. Two lane roads don’t exist here - all roads are four lanes, two in each direction. They’re no painted that way, but when two oncoming cars move to their respective sides, two other cars (or trucks) can “comfortably” overtake at the same time, barely brushing wing mirror as the scream past (and I screamed overtime for the first day, let me tell you) at a relative speed of 260km/h, straight on. But they won’t take no for an answer. On the bike you’re expected, even obliged to overtake people as they ditch they cars into the emergency lane to get out of your way. Conversely, you must absolutely stay to the edge yourself or the driver in the (by the time you’re in the Baltic states) fairly old BMW/Audi will simply not understand why you would be so rude as to deliberately foil his attempts to get somewhere.
So I think now I am a much better driver than I was, at least as far as expecting the unexpected goes. I’m almost bomb-proof, and very nearly always know who is behind me, and when they want to overtake (always). All this happens at highway speeds of about 130 (take note, Australia), and so far, and I hope for my entire trip, I haven’t seen a single incident. Mostly everyone understands that everyone else wants to get somewhere, and has something to do. It’s wonderful to watch, and great fun and occasionally shit-scary to be part of it. And I’m hooked.