15 August 2014

Nordkapp--July 23-August 12, 2104

One of the other places I've wanted to go for awhile, in addition to Magadan and Mongolia, was Nordkapp, a cape in Norway which is the northernmost point in Europe.  It is not too far from the Russian border, so I decided to ride up to Murmansk in Russia, where I'd also never been, and then cross into Norway, ride down through Norway, and then take a ferry to the Baltics, most of which I also hadn't been to.  A good long trip!  Here is the satellite-tracking map from the finished trip (I missed a couple days because the satellite tracker turned itself off...):

PRE-TRIP PLANNING:
This part was easy, since I didn't really do any pre-trip planning other than making sure there was a campsite or somewhere to stay at Nordkapp, and that there was a ferry from somewhere in Scandinavia to Lithuania.  I also bought a Lonely Planet guide to Norway and a map of Norway in Moscow.  And I packed the bike pretty carefully, because I hadn't been on a long trip with this bike since 2009, when I road it to Moscow from Germany (when the clutch went out...).

JULY 23, 2014
I could really leave any time I was ready, but had a meeting about a project on July 22, so decided that I would leave on the 23rd.  I left about 9:00 and immediately my GPS tried to send me off in some weird direction...I figured something was wrong, but when I stopped a few blocks from my house to fiddle with my GPS and check the route, some Russian cop came up to me and told me to "stop doing that", which was pretty weird.  Anyway, so I kept going, I knew the initial part of the route--through Yaroslavl--so didn't really need the GPS anyway.

Sadly, I didn't take any on the first day--it was pretty dull, starting out going to Yaroslavl, then up to Vologda, then into the woods, into terra incognita, "there be dragons" type stuff.  Actually I've ridden enough in Russia to have a pretty good idea about what to expect, although I didn't know how far I'd ride that first day, or where I would stay.  I wasn't sure yet if it would take me two days or three to get to Murmansk, which is about 2,000 km from Moscow.

The road was generally pretty good, and I made pretty good time; I wanted to cover at least 600 km the first day, and had done that by about 19:00 or so, when I started looking for a place to stay.  There weren't really many towns to speak of, or hotels, so I kept going...  Same situation at 20:00--pretty much wilderness, nowhere to stay, so I kept going...  I had brought a tent, but was really not looking foward to camping on the side of the road on the first day out, so I kept going.

Finally around 21:00 I pulled into some drab little town that I'd never heard of (Vytegra) and saw a sign for a hotel a couple hundred meters down a road to the left.  I turned down the road expecting at best a glorified truck stop, but instead found a rather fancy hotel called the Wardenclyffe-Volgo-Balt Hotel:

 A little research shows that TripAdvisor rates it as the #1 hotel in Vytegra--nothing but the best for the first night out.  link to the hotel:
Wardenclyffe_Balt_Hotel-Vytegra

It was a seriously nice hotel (for regional Russia), and I got the last room.  I have no idea why anyone else would go to Vytegra...  Anyway, I had dinner on the rather nice canal-side terrace and then went to bed, as I had a long ride tomorrow.

JULY 24, 2014:
I'd ridden about 800 km on the first day out of Moscow, and had more than 1,000 km to go to Murmansk.  I wasn't sure if I could make it, but since it wouldn't get dark until very late (would it get dark at all?), I figured I could make it, although I might not reach Murmansk until quite late.  If not, according to the map, there were a handful of towns in the couple of hundred kilometers before Murmansk, so I figured I could stay in one of them if necessary.

Not much to say about the day's ride, other than that it was long.  At some point in the evening I crossed the Polar Circle so stopped for a pic:

I finally pulled into Murmansk about 21:30 after covering 1,069 km (maybe a personal record!) and spent about half an hour looking for a hotel before finding a very average place, some sort of Soviet relic health spa (Hotel Glarus).  In retrospect, it was probably the worst place I stayed on the whole trip.  I'd only be there for several hours before setting out for Norway in the morning, though, so no big deal.  I had a pizza for dinner and when I came out around midnight, it was still light as day:


JULY 25, 2014:
It is only about 200 kilometers from Murmansk to the Norwegian border, and I thought that it was a similar distance from the border to Nordkapp, so I was looking forward to a short day.  The ride from Murmansk to the border is very pretty, but lots of security checkpoints, military bases, etc.  I decided not to take any pictures to avoid getting myself arrested.

When I got to the Russian border, there was no line, not even any cars in front of me.  I pulled up to the customs booth and a few minutes later was crossing into Norway.  The Norwegian border was by far the easiest border I've ever crossed on a bike (OK, other than the ones in the EU with no passport control)--I showed the woman my US passport, and that was it, no bike documents, insurance, or anything.  I got through both borders in 23 minutes, which is a personal record.

I figured I would go to Kirkenes, the closest town to the border, to get lunch, get some Norwegian kroner, renew my insurance (which was due to expire midway through the trip), and check the map.  I got to Kirkenes about 14:00 and searched in vain for a place to buy a sandwich, an ATM, or an insurance agency.  What a bust!  So I input Nordkapp in my GPS and was shocked to see that it was still another 550 kilometers, about three times as far as I had thought (the complete lack of planning sometimes causing nasty surprises).  I was so surprised that I thought my GPS was wrong, and asked a Norwegian guy on the street how far to Nordkapp:  "Oh, about 550 kilometers I guess."

That sort of changed the picture, because now instead of a nice short ride, I basically had long ride ahead of me, and it was already 14:00!  At least I knew it wouldn't be getting dark.  Before leaving Kirkenes I stopped at a gas station to fill up and get a hot dog.  A Norwegian guy came and started talking, telling me about how the road to Nordkapp is not paved, and there is a better but longer road which goes away from the coast, through Finland, etc. etc.  I wanted to stick along the coast, which I figured would be prettier, so I ignored him and headed up to coast road to Nordkapp.

One of the first things you notice about Norway, compared to Russia, are all the wild animals on the road.  I hadn't seen a single animal on the 2,000 km from Moscow to Murmansk, but within half an hour of leaving Kirkeness, I'd seen lots of reindeer, and by the time I'd reached Murmansk I'd seen a couple dozen reindeer and a few moose.  All this wildlife is pretty dangerous, because they're often either standing in the middle of the road, or worse, jump out onto the road from the bushes.  The reindeer in particular were a pain, as they travel in herds and run a lot...one herd almost ran me over.

As it turns out, the coastal road was not great, but it wasn't too bad.  The "unpaved" road that the Norwegian guy had talked about was a little 4 km stretch of construction.

Anyway, finally got to Nordkapp about 22:15, but the time changed by two hours when I crossed into Norway, so it was in fact only 20:15; I'd ridden 740 km from Murmansk.  It was raining a bit when I pulled into the campground, but they were out of huts, so I set up the tent and went to the campground restaurant, where I had an excellent reindeer stew.

JULY 26, 2014:
I'd had three pretty long days in a row, and I still had to check out Nordkapp itself, so I decided to spend a second night in the Nordkapp campground.  Here is the setup:


This was the first time I'd used the tent I'd brought with me.  It is a great tent in many respects--very big, with a "porch" and everything.  The problem is that it is very tall--like a barn--and does not cope well with high winds.  Let's just say that Nordkapp is rather windy; the first night my tent almost blew down in the wind; luckily since it didn't get dark it was fairly easy to fix by pounding in more guy lines and even tying some of them to the bike.

It was still raining a little in the morning when I left for the actual Nordkapp site (the campground was about 15 km from the tip of Nordkapp, where there is a monument. etc).

To get to Nordkapp from the campground, you have to go through some little mountains, and from there on Nordkapp was blanketed by thick fog and a bit of rain.  Here is what it looked like when I pulled into the parking lot:
Nordkapp is really a tourist rip-off.  You have to pay something like $40 just to get onto the grounds, then there is a big modern building with a huge gift shop, cafeteria, theater, etc. etc., and beyond that there is some sort of globe monument overlooking the view from Nordkapp itself.  Unfortunately, today there was no viewing to be had:
Only the Globe monument was dimly visible:
No big deal about the view, I figured there'd be plenty of other good views in Norway, but I wasn't leaving without the obligatory picture by the Globe monument:
I got my picture just in time, before the next tour bus disgorged its passengers:
Soon the place was crawling with tourists:
What I will most remember about Nordkapp--the tourism:
There wasn't much reason to hang about this place, especially in the fog and rain, so I had a cup of coffee and rode back to the campground.

Shortly after I got back to the campground, another guy pulled up on a motorcycle, a beautiful African Twin.  It was David from Arnhem, who had been travelling around Norway for a couple of weeks.  We chatted quite a bit, and then had dinner together.  He was a good guy; we celebrated reaching Nordkapp with a couple of cigars:

JULY 27, 2014:
It would have been fun to hang with David for awhile, but we where heading in opposite directions, so in the morning I packed up my stuff (took an hour and a half!) and took the road south off of Nordkapp.  The weather had much improved, it was actually sort of sunny.  This is one of those days where I had no idea where I would end up.  My next destination was the Lofoten Islands, but it was probably too far to make in one day, so I'd have to stay somewhere in between.  There were several little towns along the way, plus Norway seemed to have random campgrounds scattered around, so I figured I would find somewhere to stay.

A few other things about riding in Norway:

  • Norway is serious about tunnels.  It has lots and lots and lots of tunnels.  And we're not talking about little 50 meter long tunnels, but tunnels stretching for several kilometers--9 kilometers was not uncommon.  Some of the tunnels were OK, but generally I hated riding through them.  Most of them were freezing cold, many of them were almost pitch dark (especially if you wear sunglasses while riding...), and some of them had reindeer in them!  More on tunnels later...
  • Norway is serious about speed limits.  Very low, grandma-driving-to-church-on-Sunday speed limits.  But you'd better obey them, because if you don't, the speeding tickets are incredibly expensive--I heard stories of people paying up to 3,000 euro for speeding!  So I was pretty anal about not speeding; up by Nordkapp at least that was good, because the slower you go the less likely you are to hit a reindeer.
  • Much to my surprise, I'm not sure that I saw a single mosquito in Norway.  I thought I'd be swarmed with mossies, but there were almost none at all.
But I digress...  The ride from Nordkapp was very nice, especially since the weather had improved.  Here are some pix:









 Since it was a nice day, and since I didn't have anywhere particular to go, I decided to stop early, so I pulled into a little campground on a lake (or fjord, or something) about 16:00, after riding about 360 km.  The proprietors were really nice; once I'd decided to stay in one of their cabins, they gave me a free waffle and coffee, and sold me some of their own food so that I could make some dinner (there were no stores nearby, and wherever the nearest store was, it was closed because it was Sunday). Here is the cabin and the lake:

 I went for a quick swim in the freezing water, at which point I was attacked by horseflies.  The owner of the campground brought over this smoking pine branch in a bucket to keep away the horseflies:

It worked great for the 15 minutes that it burned, but when I tried to burn more (the owner had brought over a whole pine bough with the bucket), the branches either wouldn't burn or sort of exploded in flames.  So I lit up a cigar, and the horseflies stayed away.

JULY 28, 2014:
This was another one of those days where I had no idea where I would end up.  I was heading towards the town of A (actually it is spelled with a funny Norwegian letter (an A with a dot over it) which is not on my keyboard!), which is at the very end of the Lofoten Islands.  I didn't know how long it would take to get there, but I didn't think I could make it in one day from where I was, and didn't want to rush it.  So I headed out, deciding I would figure it out as I went.  

I didn't have anything for breakfast, so I figured I'd stop at a gas station.  A bit up the road was a Statoil station, which became my "go-to" gas station chain in Norway.  If you buy a special Statoil mug, you can get coffee for free at every Statoil station, so I did that and often stopped a couple/several times a day for coffee.  Plus they had other good food, and I could pump and pay for my gas without even getting off my bike, so they were really convenient.

Near the beginning of the Lofoten Islands, lies Narvik, the northernmost city in Norway.  There is some WWII history from Narvik, and I'd always kind of wanted to check it out, so I decided to head that way, and if I like it, I would stay there.  I had to ride about 60 km past the Lofotens to get to Narvik, but according to my map, there was also a ferry from Narvik to somewhere near the base of the Lofotens, so I wouldn't have to retrace my steps, so that was perfect.

The ride was nice, but nothing spectacular, although the weather had deteriorated.  Here are some pix:



Anyway, I got to Narvik by mid-afternoon, and didn't really want to stop so early a second day in a row.  I stopped by the war cemetery, which was pretty hard to find:
The bad news was that when I tried to find the ferry, I found out that it had stopped running several years ago, so I was going to have to backtrack to get back to the Lofotens.  Oh well!  

It took me a few more hours to reach Svolvaer, the first major town in the Lofotens.  Here is a shot from the road:
 Here is the harbor in Svolvaer:

 Svolvaer looked like a nice town, with a little market and some decent restaurants to choose from, so I decided to stay there.  Unfortunately, every room in every hotel in town was completely full, so there was "no room at the inn."  Rather disappointed, after checking about six hotels I put my helmet back on and kept riding. Sometimes that how it turns out when you don't want to make reservations.

Anyway, a few kilometers down the road I came to a campground with a cabin available, so I decided to take it.  The day's ride had been about 620 km, not a very hard day, but I'd stopped alot, so it had been a long day.  The campground was in a beautiful location, but the cabin itself was a rickety wooden shack, and the restaurant had closed by the time I got there.  Here is the campground, with a my cabin behind my bike:





JULY 29, 2014:
Today I didn't have far to ride, only about 120 km to A, the last town in the Lofotens.  Again, nothing for breakfast, so I stopped at the first Statoil for some coffee and food.

The ride from Svolvaer to A is beautiful, here are some pix from the route:




















There does not seem to be much lodging in A either, but since I was getting there so early in the day, I figured I wouldn't have a problem.  And in fact the first place I stopped had a great waterfront-front cabin, so I took that right away.  Below is the cabin and the view from the deck:

After buying some groceries, I walked around town a little bit, it is a beautiful place, here are a bunch of pictures from A:

(OK, I went a little overboard with this white house, but it is very picturesque)








 (this boat scene also really caught my eye, pictures didn't do it justice)






 (a close-up of the purple flowers I've been seeing everywhere since northern Russia)
 As you can see from the pictures, the weather in A was really good, so after walking around I sat on the deck of my hut and got some sun.  It was a very nice day!

JULY 30, 2014:
I had planned to stay in A for two days, but since I got there so early yesterday, and since the weather forecast for today was for rain, I'd decided the previous evening that I would stay in A if the weather was good, otherwise I'd catch the ferry for Bodo.

Sure enough, when I woke up it was cloudy, grey, and cool, so I packed up my stuff (unlike camping, only a few minutes), and headed to the ferry.  The ferry wasn't leaving until 10:30, but usually there is a line, and it wasn't actually raining, so I headed over there about 08:00.  Unfortunately, when I got there, it started raining, and after a couple of hours I learned that the 10:30 ferry had been cancelled, and the next one wasn't until 14:00.  So I had to wait for 6 hours in the rain...  There was a cafe right next to the ferry (which had ferries running from 06:00 until late in the evening), but it didn't open until 11:00...lazy!!  Here is a dreary picture from the ferry line:
Finally the ferry showed up, everyone embarked, and I tied down the bike (a Russian biker I met in line said that last time he was on this ferry it was very rough):
There is some great scenery as you pull out on the ferry, so for 45 minutes or so after leaving I was on the deck taking pictures:










Unfortunately, when I finished taking pictures, I found that almost all of the seats on the ferry had been taken, so I had to wander around a bit before finding a place to sit down for the three and a half hour ferry.

We pulled into Bodo about 17:30, and I didn't feel like riding anywhere, so I rode a few hundred meters to the Radisson and checked in there.  My grand total riding for the day was about 10 kilometers.  Bodo was a nice little city, so I walked around, had dinner, etc.

JULY 31, 2014:
The previous evening I'd read in Lonely Planet that there was a maelstrom south of Bodo which took place several times a day.  I asked at the front desk of the hotel, and they told me that the next maelstrom would be at 14:40 that day, with about a 45 minute drive to get there.  The maelstrom is caused by what is supposedly the strongest tidal current in the world.  I'd never seen a maelstrom, so wanted to check it out, which meant that I had some time to kill before leaving Bodo.

I got to the maelstrom site about 12:00, and the water was already churning and roiling as it flowed past the shore, so I figured it would be really impressive at 14:40!
 There were quite a few other tourists there, so I figured it must be quite a show:

 There were even tourists in wetsuits and a zodiac boat, I guess they were going right through the maelstrom:
In fact, the maelstrom never really picked up steam from when I arrived, so after sitting around till 15:00 (three hours!!!) I decided it was time to leave, because I still had two ferries to catch that day.  I was kind of disappointed, but my expectations were probably inflated, featuring a huge, foaming, water-from-the-bathtub type whirlpool, maybe with some whales or even a kraken leaping about. Apparently the maelstrom depends on the time of day, phase of moon, eye of newt, etc., so I guess it was just a slow day.  I found this video of the maelstrom in full force on YouTube, check it out:
Saltstraumen Maelstrom

Anyway, there was this nice little hut near the maelstrom site:
I didn't really have a set destination for the day, I planned to ride along the coast until I got tired.  Unfortunately I had two ferries to catch, and ferries usually mean significant delay, because you have to wait around for them.

I rode along the coast on what would probably be a spectacularly beautiful road in better weather, but it was misty and raining and hard to see much; here are some pix:

Probably about 90 kilometers down the coast I got to the first ferry site; there were no cars in line, and apparently no one around whatsoever, so I was a bit concerned, although then I found some kids selling waffles and coffee, and they told me that the ferry should be there in about an hour.  A few minutes later a couple of German bikers showed up, and then some cars, etc.
This ferry was about an hour and a half if I recall correctly, and we crossed the Polar Circle going south, so I didn't get a sign this time!  Once we docked, it was probably about twenty kilometers to the next ferry, where I again had to wait for an hour or more:

Finally that ferry showed up, and after a short ride we reached the other side.  By now it was after 22:00 and I was ready to find a place to stay.  The weather was not great, and given how late it was already, I was hoping to find a cabin to stay in rather than setting up a tent, but I wasn't sure what I would find down the road.  It was actually getting a bit darker now, unlike further north, but it was still light enough to ride.  Sure enough, about 20 km down the road I found a campground with a cabin, so I snapped it up:
Because of all of the waiting around for maelstroms and ferries, I had not covered much ground at all today, only 215 km.

AUGUST 1, 2014:
Today I wanted to get to Trondheim, and as early as possible.  Although my tires had been almost new when I left Moscow, by now my rear tire in particular was badly in need of replacement.  I had tried to have the tires changed in Bodo, but the BMW shop there had apparently closed.  There was a shop in Trondheim, so I figured I could have the tires changed there, but today was a Friday, so it being Norway I figured I could have it done today or I'd have to wait until Monday, which would be a drag.  So I wanted to get to Trondheim by 16:00 or so and hope that they could change the tires right away.

Since I was in a hurry, I took the "main highway" to Trondheim, although it is really only a two lane road, so it took a long time.  I finally got to Trondheim about 16:00 after riding 591 km, but the GPS coordinates I had for it were wrong, and the place closed at 17:00.  At about ten till I was able to reach the guy by phone, and he agreed to wait for me and then change the tires after closing, very cool!  So I got there about 17:10 and was heading back to my hotel by about 18:00 with a brand new set of tires.

AUGUST 2, 2014:
Unknownst to me, but Trondheim as celebrating St Olav's feast day this weekend, with bunch of festivities around St Olav's cathedral, and a food festival ongoing throughout downtown.  My hotel was right next to the food festival, so that looked good.  Here are some pictures of the festivities:



Trondheim is a nice little city:


Trondheim's cathedral is also very nice, although I couldn't go in when I was there because of services:



In Trondheim for the first time I got some Norwegian kroner.  Up till now, for a week of travelling, I had ZERO cash, I could pay for everything with credit card.  In Trondheim, with the festival going on, I finally needed some cash.

 AUGUST 3, 2014:
After two nights in Trondheim, I was ready to move on.  My destination for today was Geiranger, a town on the "don't miss" Geiranger fjord.  Between Trondheim and Geiranger is another must-see in Norwary for any motorcyclist:  the Trollstigen, a very twisty road.  It also looked like I'd be able to get to Geiranger from Trondheim without any ferries, so that was good news.

The ride to Trollstigen was nice, but nothing spectacular.  The waterfall below, however, was the most spectacular of the many many waterfalls that I saw in Norway--it was really cool:
I got to Trollstigen by early afternoon.  Here is what it looks like on a map:
But of course it is not as flat as it looks on the map...  There is a fair bit of traffic on the road, so the ride up is pretty slow, but that was OK with me, I don't actually care much for this type of road.  Here are some views from the top--the valley leading to Trollstigen is very beautiful:

After hanging out at the top of Trollstigen for awhile, I left for Geiranger.  My GPS kept giving me goofy directions/distances for Geiranger, so I figured something was wrong, and sure enough, it turns out that I had to take a ferry there after all (or drive a few hundred more kilometers to avoid the ferry).  No big deal, but I had to wait awhile for the ferry.  On the ferry I met a Norwegian guy (Jan) who gave me some tips about where to stay in Geiranger, which is a very popular tourist destination.  Jan told me of a place that had rooms as of the morning, so I decided to rush there after getting off the ferry, and hopefully get a room.

All was well until just before reaching Geiranger, when I reached another very steep, twisty road--the so-called Eagle Road--which leads down into the town of Geiranger.  This road might have been the most difficult road I've ever ridden on--rather steep downhill and twisty, but luckily there was little traffic so I made it down OK.  Here is a view on the map:
And here is a view from the bottom, from Geiranger (visible on the hill in the background):
Anyway, I got to the hotel recommended by Jan, and indeed they had a room, even with a balcony, so I took it.  Today's ride had been 399 km.  The lobby was crowded with Chinese tourists, the first time (OK, since Nordkapp) I'd seen large numbers of tourists.  Anyway, here is a shot from my balcony at the hotel:
 I went to dinner at a little pizza joint around the corner, and was soon joined by Jan, who happened to walk by.  It turns out that Jan is a retired Norwegian police officer who now drives high-net worth tourists around, kind of a combination tour-guide, driver, and body guard.  He as a very nice guy and full of helpful information about Norway.  In particular, he spent about half an hour writing down, from memory, a suggested route to Bergen, my next destination.  After a while a couple of guys sat down next to us, Ludwig and Yuri, a father and son from Belgium who were on their way back from Nordkapp.  So Ludwig, Yuri, Jan and I chatted for quite a while.

AUGUST 4, 2014
Today I planned to make it to Bergen, which I'd heard was a nice city.  I got to start the day with a very nice ferry ride along Geiranger fjord, which is very nice. I was the first one to the ferry again, in fact I was worried I was at the wrong place, but then a tour bus full of Chinese pulled up and I figured I was in the right spot.  Here is the empty ferry:
While I was waiting a Chinese guy in the car behind me started chatting--he was here with his family; here is a shot from a bit later, on the ferry:
Here are a bunch of shots from the fjord:


 Halfway up the cliff there is an abandoned farm, of which there are many along the fjord.  People seemed to figure out in the 1960s that there are easier ways to make a living than raising goats halfway up a cliff.

 Another abandoned farm:


 My bike parked on the ferry:
 Another abandoned farm:


After getting off the ferry, nothing special about the road; here are a few sheep that were in the road; I almost got taken out by a crazy cow as well, but at least no reindeer down here.
I drove around Bergen for awhile looking for a hotel; Jan warned me to park the bike inside somewhere, but I couldn't find any hotels I liked with secure parking, so finally just picked a place in the center with a parking lot across the street.  Covered 408 km today; I got to Bergen by mid-afternoon so had lots of time to walk around.

Bergen is nice, in addition to the famous "Bergen" houses, there is a great overlook from the mountain above the city.










AUGUST 5, 2014
Bergen was nice but kind of dead, so I didn't want to stay a second day, so I left for Oslo.  I really had no idea what to expect on this stretch of road, I hadn't heard anything about it.

I was pleasantly surprised.  It was a very nice road, other than the ridiculous number of very long tunnels.  I think at least 10% (maybe more) of my 460 km ride today was through tunnels (really).

At one point a couple hundred kilometers inland from Bergen, I came across this cruise ship, obviously some fjord snaked its way all the way back there:
Lots of nice views:
I stopped at one lookout spot with a cafe and walked around a bit.  There was a nice waterfall there, as usual.
 The place was a bit dangerous, you could walk right up to a massive cliff and look down:
They had a helpful sign:
Unfortunately it didn't save this Russian guy, whose memorial is a few feet from the cliff:
I googled him when I got back to Moscow and learned that he was a Russian tour bus driver for a group from St Petersburg in 2009.  Everyone got off the bus at this overlook and he never got back on.  They found his body at the bottom of the cliffs a few hours later.  Pretty grim stuff...

The road kept climbing until it looked like we were above the tree line, here are some pix:

After about a thousand more tunnels, I arrived in Oslo.  I drove around for awhile looking for a place to stay; I was trying to find a place with secure parking, because Jan had warned me not to leave the bike on the street in Oslo because of crime.  I didn't see anyplace with a garage, but I found a hotel with free motorcycle parking a few meters down the road, in what looked like a quiet area. I rode 463 km today.

I walked around Oslo a bit, but nothing much to say; it is kind of a typical Northern European city.  When I came back to my hotel after having dinner and a few beers, it had become dark (kind of a novelty after being in the Land of the Midnight Sun for so long...).  I was unpleasantly surprised to find that while where I parked my bike had looked rather quiet and respectable during the day, it turned out that I parked right in front of a pool hall and across the street from a strip club!  The whole place was crawling with rather seedy-looking characters.  I recalled Jan's warning and got kind of concerned about whether my bike would be there in the morning or not, but decided it was too late to move the bike, and I certainly wasn't going to sit out there all night to watch it, so I went to bed hoping that the bike would be there in the morrning...  Here are pix of the pool hall and strip club:


AUGUST 6, 2014:
I woke up in the morning and on the way to breakfast went out to check on the bike; it was still there, and seemed fully intact, so that was a relief!  I  wanted to leave as early as possible today, because I had to reach Karlshamn, Sweden to catch an evening ferry to Lithuania, and I didn't know how far it was, or exactly when the ferry left!  I had forgotten to load a map of Sweden on my GPS, so would be kind of flying blind today, especially since I didn't have a map of Sweden either.

I had just crossed the Swedish border (actually there was no border post, but...) when I came to a screeching halt--a long line of cars had formed, apparently there had been an accident on the other side of the highway, and the whole highway was closed.  It was a huge mess, one truck had apparently rear-ended another at high speed, and bottles of some kind of Pepsi stuff was scattered all over both sides of the highway, you can kinda see it in the picture below:
Pretty soon a helicopter landed in our lane, and the police told us all to turn around and detour around.  None of this helped my chances of reaching the ferry on time, but I kept going, bought a map, and figured I was in good shape to reach the ferry port by 15:00 or 16:00, which I figured should be plenty early enough.

Once I turned off the main highway and headed towards Karlshamn, the road was rather nice.  Here is a picture of a random Swedish church:
I got to the ferry site at about 16:00 after riding 593 km.  After buying a ticket for the moto and me I waited in line for a couple of hours and then everyone boarded.  It was an overnight ferry, so I was hoping it would be kind of fun--maybe there would be the Swedish bikini team heading on their summer Baltic tour--but I guess 90% of the passengers on the ferry were truck drivers.  Oh well...

AUGUST 7-8, 2014
We arrived in Kleipeda about 08:00, and I was surprised to find that there was no border control crossing from Sweden to Lithuania.  That was good news!  I didn't have far to go today at all, so I took my time getting some cash, gas, food, etc.

I was going to the Couronia Spit, a long sandy spit of land in the Baltic stretching between Kleipeda, Lithunia and Kaliningrad, which is part of Russia but used to be called Koenigsberg (in Prussia).  I didn't know what to expect there, I'd read that it was pretty undeveloped, and I was hoping to find a nice place in the pines on the beach to camp.  To get there I had to take a very short ferry (five minutes?) from Kleipeda and then drive a bit.   I didn't know yet where I was going, so wasn't sure how far I'd have to drive, but the Russian border is something like 70 km from Kleipeda, so I wouldn't be going further than that.

I ended up riding about 65 km to Nida, a few kilometers from the Russian border.  I went to the campground, but it wasn't on the beach and was so crowded it looked more like a refugee camp than a holiday spot.  So I went into town to get a hotel, but once again all of the hotels seemed to be full!  It was busy season in Nida!  Luckily I went to the tourist info center and they found what might have been the last room in the city, so I had a place to stay.  It was nothing special, but had a decent location in the center of town.

The morning I got to Nida the weather was good, so I walked around a bit and even went to the beach.  Here are some shots:



The town and the area was really nice, I would like to go back.  I had already decided to spend the next  day in Nida as well, but unfortunately the next day it rained almost the whole day, so I didn't get the chance to go back to the beach or do anything else very interesting.

AUGUST 9, 2104
The weather looked better this morning, but I'd already decided to leave today to go to Latvia, and in any event I wasn't sure I'd be able to find a room for another night.

I figured I would stay in Jurmala, the beach town in Latvia, tonight.  Since I hadn't been able to camp in Nida, I was determined to camp in Jurmala.

This was not a great day; as I was leaving the hotel I bumped my helmet on the door of my room rather gently, but the "beak" on the helmet broke.  I unsuccessfully tried to fix it before leaving, and had to pull over several times during the day to mess with it.  Riding further, in Ventspils, Latvia, a bee stung me right in the temple, which hurt like hell.  I've ridden quite a bit, and have only very rarely been stung, and never on the face.  My eye swelled up quite a bit, I looked like a freak.

On the way to Jurmala I detoured to a place called Kolka, kind of a cape in Latvia sticking out into the Baltic.  Here is a map:

It looked pretty straightforward on the map, but past Ventspils my GPS just did not want to go to this place, it kept sending down all sorts of dirt tracks, etc.  I ended up riding quite a bit on some gravel roads before finding the paved road to Kolka.  Along the way I got lost and rode through Dundaga, which is where the original Crocodile Dundee was born before moving to Australia.  Apparently there is a big statue of a crocodile in the town in his honor, but I missed it.  Here is a little tower from there though:
Kolka itself was OK, nothing spectacular.  Here are the woods from there, typical Baltic pine forest:
I got to Jurmala after riding 509 km and found a campground.  It wasn't great, but it was OK and had a restaurant nearby, so I took a space and put up the tent:
This time there was no wind, so it was less of a struggle.  In the evening I walked along the beach and tried to go swimming, but after walking out about 500 meters the water was still up to my knees.  I sat down in the water just to get wet but eventually got tired of splashing around and headed to dinner and then back to the tent.

AUGUST 10, 2014
The weather looked kind of nice in Jurmala this morning, and I considered staying another day, but I was already a bit tired of travelling and wanted to get home, so I headed off for Tallin.   I hadn't been to Tallin since 1987, so was curious what it would be like.

Kind of a boring road today, although I was still struggling with my broken helmet.   The only interesting thing about the ride was that for long stretches of the road, as soon as cars saw me in their rear view mirrors they would pull over a bit to the side of the road to let me pass.  Dozens and dozens of cars.  Kind of weird, but not unwelcome.

There were also a lot of bikes on the road, often in large groups, which I hadn't seen before on the trip.  I figured that there had been some kind of moto rally near Riga that weekend, but never learned anything about it.  Stopped at a gas station, I also met two deaf bikers from Germany, which was a first for me.

Anyway, I got to Tallinn by mid afternoon, and just let the GPS take me right to the center.  There was a hotel about 10 meters from where the GPS led me, but it looked kinda expensive, so I looked around a bit for somewhere else before returning to the first hotel.  It had a courtyard for parking, etc., so I decided to take a room.  Total kilometers:  368.

First thing in Tallinn (even before getting a beer!) was to go to a pharmacy to get something to put on the bee sting on my face, which was still seriously swollen.  That done, I spent most of the rest of the day just walking around and having a couple of meals.

Tallinn is a very nice town, very cool old town, lots of bars and restaurants, and loads of tourists.  Another place I'd like to go back to at some point.  Here are some pictures:






AUGUST 11, 2014
For some reason I wanted to go to Tartu, an Estonian university town.  It is about 200 km from Tallinn, about halfway to the Russian border, so I figured I would go to Tartu then leave for the Russian border as early as possible the next morning.

The ride to Tartu was pretty uneventful, actually pretty boring, but at least it was short (199 km).  The town center is pretty small, and I found a hotel in a few minutes, and then set about exploring the town.  It is a nice town, with some history, here are some pix:

The town hall:
 The statue in front of town hall (none of that boring guy-on-horseback stuff for Tartu!):
 An ancient pagan sacrificial stone on top of the hill in the middle of town:
 Angel's Bridge, which supposedly brings good luck the first time you cross it:

Lots of restaurant options in town, although generally, like many student towns in the summer, it was a bit slow.  Not a bad place to stop if you need to, but I'm not likely to go out of my way to go back to Tartu.

AUGUST 12, 2014:
I hoped to get back to Moscow today, and was pretty sure I'd be able to do so, although it would be a long day including the border crossing.  I left the hotel by about 8 and got to the border a couple of hours later.

I had a little trouble crossing the Estonian border--apparently they'd never seen DC moto documents before--but ultimately got through, and no problems at the Russian border.  I had not had to cross a border checkpoint since leaving Russia and entering Norway--it was great!

From the Russian border it was about 650 km to Moscow, so I had a long way to go.  I finally got home about 21:30 after covering 871 km.  Overall on the trip, I covered about 8444 kilometers.