The road to Tallinn
Trip Start Mar 05, 2008
20Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
The monk's bunk
The train bound for Lulea in Sweden departed at 10:50am. My fake student card picked up on the Koh San Road in Bangkok was really starting to come into its own. The fare was only Nkr244 and this coupled with the fact i was managing to pull off the under 26 date of birth had cheered me up no end, i was even starting to forget that to some people i was entering my 40th year on the planet. When my mobile phone declared that i had left Norway and entered Sweden i was doubly happy, its amazing how these little things can give you such a lift. The train journey was a beautiful as the others that had gone before, the frozen lakes and snow capped mountains where breathtaking as the train inched its way closer to my destination. Lulea is one of the largest towns on the the border with Finland and i was getting in at 18:30pm. I had been debating getting a bus, 3 hours, that night to Haparanda which is actually on the border but without knowing the exact details of what to do from there and visions of being stuck somewhere over night with no accommodation i though better of it and decided to stay in Lulea overnight giving me all of Thursday to sort things out. I was planning to stay in the Yellow Gardens hostel but the only information i had on its location was that it was just outside the city. Lulea itself seemed more like a sleepy little town than a city and my thoughts were that it couldn't be too far to walk. However, when i was in Cairns in Australia i had made that exact same assumption when deciding that i could easily walk to the airport from my hostel and save myself $10 taxi fare, it really didn't look that far on the map. After walking in 35oc heat for nearly 40Min's the airport was still nowhere in sight and i was beginning to feel like i may have made a big miscalculation, especially as the seafront esplanade had now been replaced by a rather large motorway. As i walked the hard shoulder i thought to myself that this schoolboy error in judgment was either going to cost me my life or at the very least get me arrested. Luckily i managed to flag a passing taxi but when i handed over the $9 at the airport it seemed to me that the pain of the walk and the dice with death or jail wasn't worth the saving of $1, i vowed to not make the same assumption again. The phrase of an old work colleague "assumption is the mother of all fuck up's" is a phrase that Ive found very apt during my travels. So equipped with this knowledge and experience to walk around Lulea looking for a hostel when i didn't even know where i was going would have been very foolhardy indeed. I stopped a young girl and asked for directions and when i discovered that the area the hostel was located in was at the very minimum a 15min drive away i knew i had made the right choice. She nicely pointed me in the right direction and equipped me with the number of the bus i should get. Getting to the bus stop i was at pains to read that the next bus was going to be 50Min's away but then the same girl walked down the street to check i had gone to the correct place. When she heard i was Irish she was delighted, as one of her teachers is Irish, and sitting down to keep me company on the wait for the bus she explained that she loves the Irish because we have a wicked sense of humor. The bus pulled up shortly after, a quick 50Min's i thought, so i expressed my gratitude for her kindness and boarded the bus only to find that it was there early and would not depart until the full 50Min's had elapsed. Goran, my bus driver, advised me to sit up front so he could point me which stop to get off for my hostel. As we waited he skillfully explained to me how the bus worked, the in's and out's of its GPS system, and that the bus was even equipped with a sensor that would turn all the traffic lights green as he approached. Now, i know what you are thinking, real interesting stuff and indeed it was no more interesting to me either but its these open and friendly conversations with total strangers coupled with him driving off his route to practically drop me at the hostel door that make traveling so rewarding for me. They make for exciting experiences and for that mater experiences i hadn't had too many of since i had left Goteborg. When i entered the hostel i was starting to get a bit worried by there being nobody on reception, in fact the whole place looked closed up for the night, and the sinking feeling that i was going to experience another loss began to set it. Speaking to an Austrian girl resulted in a phone number i could call to try and raise the owner and when i did get him my fears were confirmed, fully booked. As thoughts of sleeping in the woods began to enter my head the Austrian girl, Rhianna, informed me that there was two free beds in her room and that she wouldn't mind sharing and we could say nothing to the owner. Not wanting to step out of line i rang the guy back, explained that i was already in the hostel and that i was told that there was two beds free in one of the girls rooms and that she doesn't mind sharing and was there anyway we can sort out a bed because at this stage i was pretty desperate. When he heard i was already at the hostel his tone changed completely, it seems he lives over an hour away and didn't want to drive all the way back to let me in but as i was already there he explained where i could get a key, to make myself at home and he would see me in the morning. Relieved that sleeping in the woods was put on hold for at least another night i spent the rest of the evening chatting to Rhianna. When this trip not even half way finished Ive already started cultivating a few new ideas about what will be next on the traveling agenda, that night i came up with walking coast to coast the U.S, or cycling the full length of the coast of mainland Europe from the very north of Norway to the bottom of Turkey. The list of things to do never shortens!!
The bus to Haparanda only took 3 hours but by the time i got there the helpful advice on how to cross the border given to me by the luggage attendant at the station in Lulea had completely gone out of my head. Not to worry, My experiences of Sweden so far has thought me that you only need to have a backpack on your back, a tourist guidebook in your hands, and your head looking eagerly around, for it to be a sign of being lost and any number of Swedes would volunteer their help without even being asked. Haparanda is only a small border town and with nobody manning the info desk in the bus station i decided i would take a stroll around and hopefully find a tourist office or information center of some kind. After a short while i could see the green "I" that signaled a tourist office in the distance and made my way there. On asking the girl at the desk how to get to Finland i was greeted with hysterical laughter and the scene was quickly joined by another girl who was looking at me and laughing down the phone to someone. With all this laughter going around it was actually quite contagious and i even shared a little giggle myself. When eventually everything calmed down and the girls caught their breath, i was informed that i was already in Finland and what i was really looking for was information on how to get the train to Helsinki. It seems that unknown to myself i had actually walked over the border into Tornio, a small town the Finnish side of the border. Its a good job i don't mind making a fool of myself. With all the information i required i got a bus from Tornio to Kemi for Eur5 and in Kemi i got the overnight train to Helsinki. Unfortunately my student card didn't work in Finland, only Finnish student cards will work, so i had to pay the full fare of Eur70. Still the trains were of a high quality and i had a seat to myself most of the way to Helsinki. I was joined at one stage by a totally smashed Finnish guy and judging by the laughter from the rest of the carriage our conversations were providing great entertainment for everybody else. As he alighted at his stop and called back that he might not see me again in this life but he will definitely see me in the next i couldn't help but smile myself as i watched him stroll off the platform and walk off into the night. It was only then that i realized that it was actually night, since i had been above the Attica circle it was 24hr daylight and nearly 10days since i had seen the night sky. I arrived into Helsinki at 6:30am not having slept much on the train. The sun was already up and already quite warm. The first hostel i tried was booked out but thankfully the euro hostel on Katajanokka island was available and i booked in for the night. The traveling of the last few days started to take its toll as i decided to spend the one full day in Helsinki and then get the ferry over to Tallinn so i could relax for a few days, take a break and re-charge the batteries.
With one full day in Helsinki there is plenty of the sights you can cover. Its quite a stunning harbor city and with it being the epicentre for boat travel to the Baltic Sea its really quite busy. Its quite small and extremely walkable, there are plenty of city parks, broad tree lined boulevards and with the good weather the beer gardens were buzzing. To aide in getting my bearings a few pints were had while scoping through the city maps, well when i say pints i mean it came in a pint glass but filled only 3 quarters of the way to the top and at Eur4.40 a pop it probably wasn't the best value in town but i hadn't had a beer since Goteborg so i felt i was deserving. With Helsinki being so small walking or availing of one of the free bikes (summer time) are the best ways to explore the sights. North of the train station is the olympic stadium, the scene of the 1952 olympics. You can do tours and there is a museum but with the nice weather i didn't want to be stuck inside looking at old photographs so from there i continued my stroll to lake Toolonlakti, playing chicken with the oncoming cyclists and joggers, passing the opera house, Finlandia hall and parliament house, and finished the day off in Kaivopuisto park watching the big cruise liners come and go.
That night back at the hostel i had the complete joy, touch of sarcasm, of meeting my room mate for the night, Steve from San Diego. I believe i may have told everyone about my feelings for Americans in previous bloggs, well Steve was one of the ones i just cant abide. He was a complete nightmare and it was all i could do to stop myself from punching his lights out. He was in his fifties and was carrying a fair amount of weight with a graying cru-cut hairdo. From the moment i sat down he bust into an endless amount of stories, some of which started interestingly enough if a little hard to follow. He got electrocuted on a fishing trip some time in the mid 90s where a lot of people died, including the captain of the vessel, and he was lucky to be alive. To be honest the more he told of this story the more elaborate it became until it got to the point i wondered if i should actually believe him. His story continued with him having three heart attacks in the years that followed, although he didn't know they were heart attacks as he thought it was just a touch of heart burn, and having short term memory loss, which would probably hold out as he repeated every detail over and over again. It wasn't until he told me about his twelve guage shotgun and how he would "love to shot all the blacks", in fact he would "love to drop a nuclear bomb on the whole of Africa" and his next holiday would probably be to South Africa so he could "sit atop a tall building with a pair of binoculars and watch with glee as they all killed themselves", that i started to lose my cool. He acted like a man of the world when in fact he was small minded racist and a complete asshole to boot. When i explained to him that i was of the opinion that we are all one people in this earth and that my life is no more valuable than the guy sitting in squalor begging on the streets of Delhi or the guy who sits in a penthouse apartment in uptown Manhattan raking in $100,000 a year has no more valuable a life than mine, he started to tone his opinions down a bit. In disgust i left him to watch the brand new TV and DVD player he had just bought and his back catalogue of the original star trek series. Imagine going on holidays for a few weeks and buying a TV and DVD player, man of the world... MY ARSE!! The next morning i went for a sit in the sauna and while i was sweating there with my thoughts i was reminded of a Damien Dempsey song called "the Colony", i know some of the country lads don't like Damien (he's a little too Dublin for your taste buds) but its a great song and he ends on the following few lines which i think are apt "If you have any kind of mind you will see that all human kind are the children of this earth and your hate for them will chew you up and spit you out". After my sauna and shower i picked up my bags took one last look at Helsinki and walked to the ferry.