Finland: Northern Highways

Finland: Northern Highways
2,500 miles around Finland and Lapland on a Yamaha TDM 850 and a BMW 850 GS

(Translation by Colin Brunskill)

We took the night ferry, the M/S Finnpartner, from Lübeck, Germany, to Helsinki and after a calm crossing left the ship shortly after 7 a.m. At this time of day the morning rush hour had not started and the streets were free of traffic, enabling us to make an undisturbed orientation tour of the Finnish capital. The 14-day tour was planned in a counterclockwise direction, heading first east towards the Russian border and then north to the Arctic Circle and Lapland.

Our first destination was the town of Porvoo. Shortly after leaving the city, the scene pleased our eyes: roads with almost no traffic, bordered with masses of lilac lupines and 'Danger: Elk Crossing' signs. In the forest clearings, traditional wooden houses, red with white window frames, gleamed in the sunlight. Porvoo is a town with many old wooden buildings, narrow alleyways and nice cafés in its center.

Continuing on through Kouvola, we reached the area of the Finnish Lake District, starting with the fish-rich Lake Saimaa, also called the 'Lake of the 1000 Islands.' The lake flows into the river Vuoksajoki through the town of Imatra where a hydroelectric complex has been built. Every evening, to an accompaniment of classical music, the sluice gates are opened and the water tumbles down under a bridge into the old riverbed.

Numerous bridges, embankments or levees, and ferries, mostly free of charge, ease the progress through the Lake District. We found the embankment by Punkaharju especially attractive. Enjoying the natural beauty of the area, we took it easy and stopped for a break on the lakeside, aware of the feeling of peace and quiet. Someone warned us about the mosquitoes, but not a single one had been encountered as far as we could tell. This is truly a paradise where one could stay and relax.

In Savonlinna, we checked into the Town Hotel for two nights, something that would not have been possible in July when the world famous International Opera Festival takes place in the court­yard of the Olavinlinna. Nevertheless, it was midsummer here in the Land of the Midnight Sun. The street cafés were full until late into the night and out on the islands in the lake bonfires were lit, an annual event known as the Johannis fires, to celebrate the arrival of the summer equinox, the longest day of the year.

North of Savonlinna, on the road to Kitee, we crossed into the province of Karelia, the most easterly in Northern Europe. This extensive, slightly hilly, wooded area is interspersed with lakes, peat bogs, and marshland and power lines. Highway 500 took us through lonely forests, where we kept a watchful eye out for elk or possibly bear or wolf crossing the road. Near Sarivaara, we turned off onto a forest trail, heading east, until we reached a multilingual stop sign. This was as far as we could go. Beyond this sign begins the 3,250 ft. strip of No Man's Land between Finland and Russia. Turning back to the highway, the next village we reached was Ilomantsie. The houses are set well apart along the main street, but more important for us was the gas station.