The Big Trip. Stockholm to Finland to Varna.

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I will never forget the moment I peered through the hills approaching the Black Sea and saw my first glimpse. The heat was burning down and I had travelled 3,159 miles (5,083km) to get here. I rode down into Varna, Bulgaria’s beautiful coastal town, and stopped at a ‘private’ car park. No local currency again. The jovial car park attendant smiled and suggested I park by the gate at no charge. He would keep an eye on the bike for me. I rewarded him as I usually do on these occasions with a warm handshake, lots of smiles and expressions of gratitude galore. Genuine ones too. I’m truly grateful when people are kind. I’ve found that in general, the poorer the country – in Europe at least – the less mean the people. It was Mother Theresa of Calcutta who once commented that the more we have the less we can give. Within 48 hours I was to have many expressions of kindness shown.
I found the town centre and walked down towards the Black Sea, framed by trees at the end of the tasteful shopping precinct of this respectable town.
The beach curved beautifully, revealing a beach full of bathers and sunbathers who were, in turn, curved beautifully. This is Bulgaria’s high season with people coming from all over Bulgaria to this limited Black Sea coastline and everyone seemed determined to be as brown all over as possible. Not a hint of the smell of sun-tan cream either. I prevailed upon a couple of other tourists to take my picture standing in the sea, and retreated to a restaurant for something to eat. This is a good place to be, I thought, perfect for a day or so to rest. I returned to my bike and as I did so passed a gentleman overseeing the removal of a tree from his roof – the result of the previous nights storm. Did he know of anywhere I could stay that was reasonably priced? Yes, with him, at his small hotel just round the corner! I did, and relaxed for a couple of days.

Relaxed is a comparative word.  I found that I had run over a nail and the tyre was virtually flat. The kind hotel proprietor helped me find a guy to plug the tyre, carting me and the wheel across this dusty town at no charge – and I stayed an extra night.

But let’s backtrack for a bit. Stockholm a thousand miles north of Varna – the classic Scandinavian town, clean, tidy, well kept. And raining. I drove through it, a few times (none of these places are the size of a big UK town) and loved the neat architecture, etc.  I visited the Museum in the centre of the town and got a parking ticket. Ah, well. The museum left a memory of being a monument to guilt, with the Swedes repenting of their racist treatment of the Sami people in the 19th and 20th centuries. It seems every nation has history it would rather forget. we’ve all treated people badly at some time or other haven’t we?   I slipped the ticket into a nearby bin (I’d not parked illegally as far as I could see and couldn’t read the Swedish instructions on it) and made my way towards the next ferry – from here to Turku on the west coast of Finland. This was as far north as I was I’m going to be on this trip.

The less expensive ferry for Finland leaves Sweden from Kapellskar, 90 kilometres up the E18 and ploughs its way through myriad islands to Turku.  I rode through typically Swedish forest (pretty much like everybody else’s forest roads, gravel and millions of evergreen trees!) and arrived that afternoon to just miss the ferry. The next would be tomorrow morning, but the bonus was meeting Klaus and Heinzi, two Germans heading to Nord Kapp on ancient Heinkel(?)scooters.

Klaus(left), me, and Heinzi chatting bikes. They were heading north through Sweden and I was heading south via Helsinki.

These guys, like so many road travellers, were great. There is a sense of joy from such people.  They were camping in an official campsite.  I camped in the middle of a little square of grass on the ferry terminal, just outside Customs! Turned a few heads, but no one cared!

The next morning I spent an hour trying to get my ticket from three different offices at the terminal, and eventually made it onto the ferry for the cruise to Finland.

Turku was a quiet, dead town in the late evening. There were no obvious places to bed down, so I rode through the countryside to a ‘proper’ site some kilometres to the west, and set off the next morning – having witnessed a helicopter evacuation of an injured lady. Noisy!

A convenient, though slightly public little square of grass for my overnight stay in Kapellskar, Sweden, ready for the (very) early ferry to Turku!

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