We’ve been sleeping unusually late the past few days, sheltered from the incessant lightness by the window coverings in our hostel room. Today however, we were up ridiculously early to catch the ferry, even though we’d been up half the night processing photos and posting journal entries.
The ferry boarding was slow and tedious and by the time we boarded, I was ready to go back to sleep. We wandered the boat looking for a place to sit down, but seating was in obnoxiously short supply. We found some annoyingly placed chairs near a bathroom and shivered in the over-air-conditioned room until I fell asleep. Ben took some time to go back to the perfumery where he apparently sniffed every scent in the whole place – again.
Soon, it was time to head into town. We rolled into town and right into the waterfront market. In addition to the arts and crafts and other touristy stuff, a large fruit and vegetable market was taking place. The carrots were a vibrant, tidy orange: clearly the most beautiful carrots we’d ever seen. We ultimately just bought ourselves a half liter of deliciously ripe blueberries before we headed up the hill to see Church in the Rock, which was the most highly rated Helsinki attraction in our guidebook.
Thankfully the church was not very far away and the hill not very steep because the church, blasted out of a big rock in the 1960’s was impressive only in its disappointment. The church, as promised, was made mostly out of rock and copper, the design uninspiring and underwhelming. The place was packed full of tourists snapping pictures, which killed any ambiance there might have been in the first place (Ben’s note: While our guidebook tends to be pretty good, it totally let us down this time. The church was the only attraction in Helsinki that was awarded 3 of 3 diamonds, the rest ranking either one or two).
We laughed at the total cluster that swarmed around the church and then cruised back through the center of town. We rolled through the main tourist district, snapping a handful of photos of things that looked vaguely interesting, but ultimately, our interest in another big city was pretty low. We headed north to pick up our rental car.
Of course, we were right on time to pick up our 12:00 rental, where found a sign that announced that they were closed for lunch until 12:45. A bit annoyed, we rolled around the block to find lunch of our own at the street market across the way. We enjoyed potato dumplings and salad under another bright Scandinavian afternoon before heading back to see about the car.
As we stood in line at the counter, I managed to figure out that the car I’d reserved was the one parked outside in front of the building. I nudged Ben to point out the car and he hissed back at me, “there’s no way we’re going to get our stuff in there!” Indeed, the car was even smaller than the Fiat Panda that we’ve had in the past, and getting all our gear in the Panda was already a feat.
With the tiny car in our possession, we drove around the building and parked on the side of the road where we got to playing a real life game of tetris as we tried to stack everything inside. The car didn’t even have a real hatchback, just an oversized window where we carefully placed our bike frames, broken in two halves. We pulled pedals off Ben’s bike and turned handlebars sideways, removed tires, and slowly stacked everything piece by piece, cramming our sleeping bags and mats and clothing in in any spare space available. It seemed dubious at first, but after a half hour it was pretty clear it was going to work!
(Ben’s note: As we stacked bags and bike pieces throughout our car, I couldn’t help but laugh at the coincidence – Just the previous night in Tallinn somebody was watching The Simpsons in the common room. The episode included this gem of a clip, resulting in the Tetris theme song being stuck in my head for the following 3 days)
Having avoided the tiny car crisis, we were ready for the next phase of our trip. Our original plan was to tour Finnish Lapland, and though we were excited to see the far north of the country, we were worried it might not be exciting enough to make for a proper trip finale. It was with this in mind that Ben made a ridiculous suggestion a few days ago that we should drive to the Lofoten Islands.
We’d discussed going to the Lofoten Islands weeks ago when we were actually in Norway, but they were so far from where we were that getting there was entirely too expensive and too difficult. Now, with a car for an entire week, and since we were planning to drive to the far north of the continent anyway, it was at least sort of reasonable. That is, if you consider an 18 hour drive reasonable.
Though the idea seemed a bit far-fetched, it stuck with us and for the past few days, as we’d debated our itinerary. Should we really spend 36 hours driving this week if it will take us to possibly the most beautiful place in Norway? It was only really six hours on top of our already planned 12 hour drive. It wouldn’t be that bad, right?
It wasn’t until we were a few hours north of Helsinki, cruising through the Finnish forest that we decided we may as well go for it. Long drive or not, you only live once, and we were here now!
We drove a while out of Helsinki, stopping once for a brief nap, and twice for snacks, dinner, and a bathroom break. Then, we got back on the road. The terrain was much like Sweden had been, forest, hills, lakes and of course, rain. The rain came down with such force for a while that it was hard to see the road at all, making us thankful we weren’t cycling. Then, the front cleared up just as the sun started to set.
We kept on driving until the last of the daylight was just hanging on before we started hunting for a place to camp. We passed on a handful of less than ideal options and then peeled off the main highway. After nine hours of driving, it was time to get some sleep. Down a secondary road we pulled through a patch of trees and into a clearing where we made our home in the headlights of the car and crashed for the night.