Saturday, September 30, 2017

We begin Eastern Europe in Estonia

These gigantic large-people communal swings pop up everywhere you look.

Asters - the flower of Fall.  Sampson took this photo of a butterfly on a late afternoon snack break the night before we arrived Tartu.

We spotted a sign for disc golf in a small village - this was an extended course, 18 holes and most long, par 4's.  Discs are an important part of our travel gear (up there with our solar powered tent lights.)
This type of black and white stylistic wall art has appeared repeatedly throughout Estonia.

Our tiny kitchen at the Air BNB in Tartu.  The clothes washer is the appliance in the corner, the shower door is a meter from the table on the wall opposite the window.  It was perfect for a rainy day off.
Tarn perusing the English language book selection at the hipster coop collective of Aparaaditehas, Tartu.

Great things about Estonia:
Fall days and sunshine. Quiet roads following the EuroVelo Route 2 and 4 so far.
Gorgeous, old stone masonry walls of houses, farm buildings and bridges.
Old, old, buildings.  Some refurbished and in continued use, others in ruin along the roadside.
A history to observe.  Manor houses remaining from the time of Germanic dominance, windmills upon hill crests.  Roads leading to tiny villages lined with planted mature trees.
A welcoming and kind population.  Easy camping and access to daily shopping and clean water.
Hipster black and white spraypaint art on city walls,
Kids' little plastic potties and child chairs in restaurants and gas stations.
Solid rye bread and more affordable prices on the grocery bill and boxes of wine.

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!