Last year has been a very intense motorcycling year for me. Lots of riding, and the highlight was a trip around northern Europe in four weeks. Thought I'd share the ride report with you.
Starting on June 30, I rode through Germany, Finland, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and France back to Switzerland on July 30.
My other videos can be found here: AlpineGuerrilla
Here's the approx. route:
(red = car train/ferry)
This trip has been something special for me. I've never been away from home for that long, not solo, or through such different countries as Russia. That said, I made a lot of research and careful planning. But still, there were a lot of unknown things. But that was supposed to be part of the trip.Part 1: Northbound
So that's me, I'm 23 years old, riding bikes since 17. I "upgraded" from a 125cc bike to the SV650 in 2010, and made a lot of trips to the Alps, for example to Nice or Lake Garda. But I felt the urge to go further.
After months of waiting for the day to come, the last week working flew by insanely fast. I got home at 5PM, packed the final stuff and headed to Germany. The terminal for the car train to Hamburg is only half an hour from my home. The train rides from southern Germany to Hamburg over night - so I begin my trip the next morning in Hamburg. I have a lot of time on my hands, the ferry to Finland goes at 3AM the next morning, and I can embark at 9PM. That means a whole day for 70km where the crow flies. I take my time and look for some small backroads. The land is very flat with no twisties, so the bad roads are the most interesting. A pretty cool road...
After arriving in Helsinki, I make my way along the coast to the russian border. The sea only shows itself a couple of times.
I still haven't arrived in the trip entirely. Only when standing at the russian border I realise what I'm about to do. Well, there's no turning back now. It takes three hours to go through the border. In full gear and 30°C (86°C). There is no information about where I have to get which form and where I have to get a stamp after I filled it out. I get screamed at by an old hag (probably called Olga) for parking my bike where the cars are parked. Or so I guess, since I don't understand a single word of russian. Two swedes help me out with the forms, they are heading to Siberia on shiny new KTM adventure bikes. Another checkpoint after the border and I'm finally in Russia!
It's been a long day. I decide to take a random track into the woods and pitch my tent.
The next day it's time to ride to St. Petersburg. The roads are sometimes only a patchwork of potholes and gravel, and sometimes it's freshly paved. But alltogether no problem.
Two days later, after sightseeing in the city and meeting and being invited for drinking with a group of russians I get out of town and in direction of Murmansk!
After a day of riding through a lot of villages, bad road works and amazing forests, I pitch my tent in the woods, again. The place is a jackpot.
Three russians take the same random road (what a coincidence, the next village is 50km away!) and we keep company for the evening. Swetlana, Aleksandr & Sergei are from Moscow and they're back from a trip to the Barents sea. Only Aleksandr knows a little bit german, otherwise the communication consists only of signs.
Long and straight roads, endless landscapes. That's new for me. It's mesmerizing to ride.
I meet a lot of nice people. Even without words, they invite me for a vodka. But it's easy to change the Vodka to a tea by showing the "throttle" gesture.
Karelia has amazing lake landscapes. Wow.
Well, guess which idiot forgot his note with important russian phrases and the cyrillic alphabet at home? It's pretty difficult to order food at restaurants. I remember that "salad" is the same in russian. So I order a salad. But apparently there are multiple salad menus. So I point to one on the menu. The waitress is still not satisfied with my order and asks something. "Da" (yes) is not the right answer. I have no idea what she wants to know. After a few minutes she gives up and just brings me a salad. Success!
The food alternatives from the roadside shops are not worth a consideration. It still looks a lot better than it tastes!
Getting gas is interesting, too. Park the bike at the desired pump, go to the clerk and order the needed amount of gas. Sounds easy? Guess again.
Show the amount of litres with your hands, point to your bike repeatedly and get a puzzled look. Write down "95" on a paper and try again. Start over again because the clerk doesn't believe you only want 3 liters of fuel (I was a bit overly cautios).
I meet some russians in Apatity, with whom I wrote a couple of times on Couchsurfing. They wanted to take me on a hiking trip to the Chibiny mountains. The three-day hike was pretty cool. These mountains are really untouched by humans. There's no cell phone coverage, no signs or anything else. One of them does commercial tours of the mountains and is now on a private trip. He got a boatload of emergency stuff (Spot Messenger, anti Bear spray, emergency food kits, etc.).
Did I tell you, I'm already north of the arctic circle? This picture is taken at 3AM. Above the lake you can see a small road that ends at the lake. That's where we started a few hours earlier. The Russians carry a lot of food and alcohol. Good thing I brought my swiss kirsch. They compare it to self distilled Vodka. I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not...
It's the warmest days of year, culminating at 28°C (82°F) - that's extremely hot for that latitude! So there's a lot of traffic to the lakes.
I finally arrive in Murmansk, where I stay with one of the hikers.
Aljosha statue in Murmansk, the 46th-biggest statue in the world.
The next day, I head west towards the norwegian border. A lot of military bases with old monuments, most of them from soviet times. Oh, and ugly cities that only exist for mining metals.
The russian border. There's one thing russians seem to take serious and that's their borders. 60km prior to the border is the first checkpoint. Barrier, machine guns and passport control. Same procedure 40km later. Additionaly, the militia recites his only english sentence. I have to ride the next 20km to the border in constant speed, stopping is not allowed and taking pictures - dont even think about it! I only understand "Suzuki" and a few numbers when he talks to his radio. Along the road are some watchtowers, so I follow the given orders.
The border itself is an adventure, too. I already know the forms and they're filled out easily. The militia guy asks me some questions about my trip and finds my maps. The maps I printed out from yandex, the russian Google Maps. His face turns dark. He doesn't like the detailed maps and my handwritten notes. His boss joins and they talk furiously. I keep my poker face and only speak when spoken to. Again, they want to know about my notes and where I got the maps from. I ask if there's a problem, apparently not.
They let me go. My guess is, their day was boring (I haven't seen anyone else driving or riding to the border) and they wanted to scare that strange young dude with his bike.
But at least I get some cheap cigarettes from the duty free shop and take a picture of the border.
I leave Russia with a strange feeling, I don't know what to make of my experiences. Very nice and open people, beautiful landscapes on one hand, but everyone who is at work seems to be harsh and not cooperative at all. I guess that's the remains of the soviet times. But one thing I know: I will go back to Russia for sure!
Norway. The weather has been great for the last few days, they haven't dropped below 25°C (77°F).
The norwegians take this border serious, too. Well, it's a NATO-border.
The temperature drops at night and I wake up with rain and 6°C (42°F). I dry my stuff at the hotel the next night.
The lonesome and remarkably beautiful road to Hamningberg, almost as far north as the Nordkapp.
On the road to the Nordkapp.
The difference between Russia and Norway is intense. Suddenly, everyone speaks perfect english, there's a lot of tourists and motorcyclists and everything's expensive. It takes some time to acclimatize.
The Nordkapp is the turning point of my trip, from now on I will be riding south. Stay tuned for Part 2.