Monday, September 25, 2017

72 Hours in Russia

Our arrival in St Petersburg, Russia, by ferry.  A long awaited dream come true.  There are few sites/locations that I have on my list of places I'd really like to visit, St. Petersburg is one of them.  Rick, our team lead, figured it out.  To get a Visa for Russia, we would each need an appointment at the Russian embassy.  The first appointment available would be in 2 weeks. HOWEVER... we could visit Russia visa-free for 72 hours via a ferry "tour" package: buying for one of their "city tours" (we chose the shuttle bus to the historical district), and proof that we had a place to stay, easily done by booking an Air B and B. The visa-free visit meant that we had to stay on the ferry until 2 pm, (we landed at 8 am), then we could disembark, making sure we check back on the ferry 72 hours later.  It was perfect timing for us and let us do what we really wanted to do:  walk to the sites, plan a few excursions, and eat good food.  AND we had fantastic blue sky and sunshine weather.  Here's what we found:
Amazingly delicious fried and sugared treats, served with milky, sweet coffee -we made sure to make this stop part of each day.  And we found it the first afternoon! Other great food included chicken kabobs, a "working man's" lunch (soup, a wide variety of Russian entrees and salads and several kinds of desserts and really good oven-fired pizza.  Prices were far more affordable than we'd found in Scandinavia and when we needed to find something specific, someone seemed to be there to help us out in English.  St. Petersburg we are told, is an academic town.  Five million people and many who are there as students at the numerous universities.
The Church of Spilled Blood was insane -  mosaics floor to ceiling -   I'd say, zillions of hours went into its creation.

 Tarn's favourite room at the Hermitage - treasures from ancient Egypt.

Dresses of the children of the Czar - better than Disneyland princesses.

 The paintings and incredible designed spaces throughout the Hermitage buildings, the Winter Palace, and the General Staff Building.

I loved it all.
Tarn celebrated his 13th birthday on September 23.  What a place to celebrate!  We had a good wifi connection so were able to video Skype my brother Bill in London and hear Happy Birthday sung by his fiance Ellie, and her family there. We now officially have three teenage boys.
We landed by ferry back in Helsinki this morning.  We are packed up again for biking and booked for the evening ferry to Tallinn, Estonia.  A two hour ferry, but a surprisingly good deal to stay on board for the night (only 16 Euro more for the family.)  So we will be on the bikes southward bound tomorrow morning.

AND, it is because Rick's foot is ready to ride.  It fits in his shoe, wounds closed up and swelling and pain gone.  It's great to have both world-wide health insurance and good doctors.  Something in the rare times that health issues have come up in our various travels, we've had covered.

Special request by some of my readers...some of the challenges in our travels:  leaving behind a toiletry bag, easily replaced but signalling that mom and dad need to double check kids' rooms.  Making smoother changes to plans when opportunities come up that some of our family want to do.  Establishing a successful routine for accomplishment of some distance learning work.  And the challenge that's always a goal: clear, kind and respectful communication between all. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fast Forward to Helsinki

Container stage silliness passing a wet day in Kemi, Finland waiting for our train.  Just next to this site was a great disc golf course which of course we had to play!

Markos and Sampson anticipate their next adventure, it's always fun to take your bike with you in a different mode.  Have you ever lifted four fully loaded bikes up a meter to fit into an already packed train baggage car in the couple minutes the train stops at your station?

Antti meets us at the Helsinki Station.

Our sunrise welcome tour as Antii introduced us to Helsinki by bike, it could have been a chapter out of  David Bourne's  Bicycle Diaries.
One of the fun fountains - Helsinki centre

Tarn is being sucked into the Sibelius sculpture. Notice the shadow from the sunshine!!!

Change of plans...Rick's infected, and now treated foot callous needs time for recovery.  Help is in Helsinki.  Our Tall Dog (RAGBRAI cycle team) friend Antti lives there and encouraged us to come directly to be his guests and to have Rick's wound heal properly.  We made the tough, but obvious decision to forgo biking the lower half of Finland and get to a place where Rick could take all the time he needed to get his foot back in shape to ride.  (The cold, wet weather and spendy accommodations in Tornio definitely influenced the decision!!!) We rode an easy 26 km to the train station town of Kemi (Tarn doing the majority of the pushing on the tandem while Rick steered), and boarded the all-night train south.  Antti met us at the Helsinki Railway Station and styled us with a sunrise tour of Helsinki centre and a meat pie (Lihapiirakka) breakfast at the Market Square.  We are comfortably settled into his apartment looking out onto a historic gas plant and access to all the major sites-to-see within minutes bike ride on city bike paths.  We combine this recovery for Rick with the known need for time to figure out our visit to St. Petersburg. And now, those plans are made.  No tourist visa necessary, just a 72 hour visit via an organized ferry transit and a documented "tour" (basically a booked bus ride to the centre of St Petersburg.)  We will boat to Russia Wednesday night.

Yesterday we bike toured Helsinki on a sunshine day (without Rick, he had to stay home).  Fantastic architecture and learning.  Finland is a country with strong nationality and pride.  The Finnish architects and poets are a strong part of the connection with country.  Part of our grasp of this was viewing the frescoes at the National Museum of Finland portraying scenes from the Kalevala - the recorded epic work of Finnish lore and mythology.  We plan to visit the Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, exhibit tomorrow at the art museum.  With Sampson, Markos and Tarn spending serious time on their distance learning schoolwork, I have time to focus on learning about what I experience!!!  The internet is an outstanding accompaniment to my real-life observations.

For Sampson's musings and outstanding photos check his blog out at

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Seeking Saunas

We are now traveling in pine and meadow landscapes with fairly easy going roads as we head south along the Finland/Sweden border.  We usually choose the Swedish side it has far less traffic.  Here is a glimpse sun, we haven't had much of late!!!

We've had numerous campfires for WARMTH. It's been a cold, wet week.  At lunch and camp times we seek out shelters that have fire options.  A campfire ring just outside a three sided structure, a barbecue grill campfire for lunch break inside a wooden tee pee.  And then the saunas....  
This is the splash and scrub room just outside the sauna space pictured below.  The black water cauldron in the bottom left corner of this photo has a wood fire box in its base.  We filled the vat with water, built a fire below it, and heated up the water inside for our scrub down after the sauna...all made especially meaningful as it was our third or fourth day of cold rain biking and we are camped outside by a community building.

This butterfly came to life when we built a lunch fire inside this roadside lunch shelter.

The boys take in a round of miniature golf while Rick and Tanya do the final spruce up of the room we had rented for the night.  Having arrived wet as rats after four plus biking hours of cold soaking rain, we took the option to dry up at a riverside resort.  A tall floor to ceiling closet air-dryer worked through the night on all our wet gear.  Thank goodness the space had all linoleum flooring.  Rick cooked up a blood sausage stew that was hearty and delicious for our insides and the sauna did its job on our outsides. 

The rain continues.  However, it is now our second rest day in-a-row in the town of Tornio, Finland.  Jens-Ole, our friend from Rick's high school year in Storslett, Norway, has driven to meet us and to celebrate we got an  Air B and B.  Additionally, Rick's pinky toe got infected days ago and the doctor here prescribed antibiotics and pain meds.  Elevation and rest will hopefully get Rick back on the go for tomorrow.  If not, we'll give it the time it needs. No one here is complaining about another day in the warmth of a beautiful home.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Riding along the Finland/Sweden border

Looking back towards the mountains of Norway.
Exploring a hidden German bunker.  One of numerous signs of WWII activities in this area.
Morning breaks on our camp.
Sampson attacking a breakfast burrito.  Meals outside require the right bug-deterrent apparel.
Crossing a stream on our way back to the road.  We wild camp off side dirt roads like this one.
The fall moon.  Living outside allows us to be really in touch with nature.
Getting water from a well.  There is a lot of backpacker activity in this border land of Finland, Norway and Sweden and some of the backpacker huts have wells.  We also drink water straight from the flowing streams.  Very sparse human population allows the natural water to be pure and drinkable.   We've had four days of sunshine now so we choose to camp outside but if the weather is inclement we might opt for the close quarters some of the unlocked huts.backpacker huts. 
We have crossed our first border, Finland and then our second, Sweden.  We are following the Könkämäälven River which separates the two countries at this point.  Sweden had the town for our supplies so we crossed over.  The topography and scenery of Finland and Sweden in this area north of the Arctic Circle is dramatically different than that of the towering glacial mountains and fjords of Norway.  We have entered more of a tundra zone of low brush and small birch, wetlands and rivers.  Fall arrived full-on this week.  One day I noticed one dry leaf, clit-clatting across the road.  The next day the leaves were blowing by.  Golds and reds, greens turning bronze.  It’s like Finland and fall arrived together.  Wild camping has been easy.  The boys on their bikes are strong.  The serious climb near the Norway/Finland border dropped down into a roller coaster foothills landscape and then into the flats of  birch forest wetlands.  On this day off we are in the Swedish welcome centre conference room, sending electronic schoolwork and accessing learning videos on-line.  So far, all the prep work to set up distance learning for Sampson, Markos and Tarn is going smoothly!  After making camp, dinner prep and a some disc golf, the boys settle into their tent for a couple hours on their schoolwork…  I love the nights that I hear notes coming from Sampson’s travel guitar too!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Destination Sommarøy: Rick's 50th year birthday bike ride celebration

Sampson, Markos and Tarn with Judith, the mother of our dear friend Nils-Jørgen. Two Wheel View Norway bike trips have the special treat of visiting her home across from the Lyngen Alps and being served coffee and Norwegian lefse.  I have now fulfilled a commitment and dream of mine to bring my boys to meet her too.

Markos is geared up for the day's ride after a night stay at Arctic Fjord Camp.  Traveling with our friends from Calgary, Nick and Jonah Twyman and John and Garrett Larsen, we are enjoying the warmth of indoor accommodations during this two week 50th birthday bike tour and warm-up ride for the McFerrins.

A glacier view prior on our way to Øksfjord.  Bike travel along and between the fjords of Norway features incredible scenery - it's hard to select just one shot but that's how I simplify this blog!  Check out Sampson's blog for numerous scenic shots.

Reindeer stampede by us on a narrow one-lane tunnel bypass.  Today we've seen reindeer throughout the day, along the fjord, in the countryside, and on the road.

Our 50th Birthday ride crew.  The weather's been cool and rainy but everyone has met the challenge and made it a super trip.

Happy 50th birthday Rick!!!!

Tromsø to Tokyo begins tomorrow.  The two week birthday ride following the Two Wheel View Norway circle route is complete.  Calgary and Oslo friends arrived, Tromsø friends hosted.  Fun and sweat was had and our bodies and bikes are ready.  Summer is done, school by laptop computer on the road begins.  Our plan is to head to the Finnish border, 150 km, and then ride over the following weeks along the Finland/Sweden border to Helsinki. I am excited to begin the routine of the road and the comfort of the camp.  In these first days traveling on as a family of five, each of us will find roles that make this lifestyle smooth and allow for maximum intake of the incredible unknown before us.

a realization from Markos: "when all the voices around me are in a foreign language, I am not distracted at all"

a bit of Tanya text:
Saturday Aug 26 Gildetun to Arctic Fjord Camp, 44 km

magenta thistles
periwinkle harebells
white to powder-pink yarrow waving in the wind
volumes of water coursing down mountain streams
white-cap waves cross the fjord
water splat car wheels round blind corners, predicting the continuation of the hill you climb

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Quetico Canoeing and Artic Landing

The entrance to the Quetico Provincial Park - a 7 day canoe trip is planned for Rick and Tanya, the boys are at summer camp.
Rushing high water between lakes, we took the portages in between.
Chanterelle mushrooms I found on the trail, just before I stumbled with a heavy pack and sprained my ankle.  It shortened our trip canoe trip but the good news: just a stressed ligament, biking will be no problem in when we head to Norway next week.
We spent time checking out with North American friends and family - this is my dad and I, we started our canoe trip from his cabin in Northern Minnesota ...
and then we checked in with our wonderful friends, Maria and Nils Jergen in Tromso, Norway.  We will spend our next days preparing the bikes for our journey and touring this region above the Artic Circle on a 2 week 50th birthday trip for Rick with friends from Calgary.
Arctic flowers on a day hike on Vangsoy Island.
Here are the youth of Rick's birthday ride warming up at a Tromso play park. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday Night Speedway Surprise, Camping at the Grand Rapids County Fairgrounds

July 3rd - leaving Calgary for Minnesota
We have set the stage for our expedition.  Our house is in order and in the care of dear friends for the time we are gone. Vera our cat has a loving adopt-a-family. Sampson, Markos and Tarn are enrolled in the Alberta Distance Learning Centre.  Rick's youth development organization, Two Wheel View, in is the capable hands of a strong staff. Tanya's Day Home kids have exciting plans for next school year.  Rick and Tanya have 5 or so weeks ahead to sort some remaining matters and Sampson, Markos and Tarn get to go to Camp Mishawaka.  Our flight to Tromso, Norway is August 14th.

50 meters from our campsite....

July 15

Towering white pines over a sunshine grass expanse, a sole tent on the far-off side, basically a campground to ourselves.  It invited disc golf and hanging of a clothesline to air gear.  The picnic table, a perfect setting for packing camp duffles (off the ground and free from the tiny ant hills that dotted the ground). A shower house.  What more could we ask for on our last family night together before dropping Sampson, Markos and Tarn off at Camp Mishawaka for the next four weeks?

THEN…from the grandstand... up until now quiet and empty on the other side of the forested slope dropping from the campground…a scratchy blaring voice broke the peace: “Welcome to the Grand Rapids Saturday Night Speedway”…. a familiar “OH CANADA” followed by a rather grandiose recording of “THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER”.  An evening disturbance of incredible volume had begun.
Racing engines, floored motors, skidding tires sliding out at the turns, bunched up beasts threatening disaster.  Two+ hours ensued.  A teasing silence between heats the only break from the deafening racetrack roar.  Enough time to make a joke that could be heard…..
Tanya repaired swim trunks.
Markos threw the disc.
Sampson, Markos, Tarn and Rick went to go swim.
Names were labeled on rackets, shoes and all else packed into camp duffles.
Dinner was eaten (re-invented leftover taco meat, shredded cheese and bbq sauce on a bun, romaine salad, kale, tomatoes and more…leftovers from the last days’ family reunion at Breezy Point). 

Go-Carts turned to Stock Cars.  Our solace I suppose, to the unbelievable immersion-by-proximity,  was free viewing of the races from the path in the trees.

Eventually...the anticipated end came.  Grandstand goers filed off the bleachers...the moon rose.  Silence and peace returned to the grounds. As I walked  to the shower house in the darkness a voice rose from a quiet campfire, "THAT, was insane."

Truly, this night goes down with our travels' handful of unforeseen extreme evening disturbances.