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Stage 9 

 In Scandanavia from Bergen to Helsinki

2271 Kilometres 

 12th July to 6th August 2000

Following our flight of one hour from the Granite City of Aberdeen to Bergen in Norway, we were greeted to typical English weather. It was cold, wet, and windy not a very bright outlook for the start of stage 9. My first impressions of Norway is a land with an abundance of mountains and fjords, a creation of natural beauty.

It is a land where the traveler by road has to contend with many bridges, tunnels, and ferries.  

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HILLS OF NORWAY

It is also a land where a pint of beer will set you back almost four pounds. So in the interests of economy yours truly found it advisable to review the customary pre dinner habit. We departed from Bergen on day 195 with the weather much improved for the 100 Km ride to Risnes. Within 3 hours we were either climbing over the mountains or riding through them via a tunnel.

It was on our third day in Norway that I overheard (in the shower)an amusing conversation between two of my Odyssey companions. It appeared that one of them had become involved in conversation with a local Norwegian.  The local had enquired about our itinerary, such as where had we come from and where were we going. We are heading for Oslo said my friend, but said the local YOU ARE GOING THE WRONG WAY.  

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NORWAY SICK AS A *** WITH BEER AT 4 A PINT

Yes said my friend you may be right but we go via the scenic route (which is usually) over the mountain, and if I need supper and a bed tonight then I have to go this way.   We arrived in Oslo after a very hard 6 days riding over 717 Kms and numerous mountain passes from 2,500 to 4,000 ft elevation. So we were ready for a rest day. As usual with our Odyssey layover days one day is not enough to cover all that you would like to do and see.  

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AWAITING FERRY ACROSS THE FJORD

What this stage in particular is making me appreciate is how much I had forgotten from my school history lessons. It is my intention therefore to include in my reflections some of the main points of interest.
Oslo which has a current population of 500,000, which is over 10 per cent of the Countries total population has a very turbulent history. It was founded long after the town had been developed by the Vikings. In 1348 almost half the population were wiped out by the Black Death. Then in 1624 the City was completely destroyed by fire.

In more recent times Oslo has become the focal point for the annual awards under the Nobel Foundation. This was set up by the Swedish inventor and Industrialist Alfred Nobel.

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STAVE CHURCH NORWAY

We departed from Oslo on day 202 19th July and there is much more I could say about this City which is set in beautiful surroundings, and this year celebrates the anniversary of it's own foundation 1000 years ago.  

After 25 years of political debate, the Norwegian electorate decided in 1994 that it did not wish to be part of the European community. Whilst the cost of living in Norway is one of the highest in Europe, the standard of living and welfare benefits equal the best.  

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Two days after leaving Oslo we crossed into Sweden, with overnight stops at Lysekil and Gothenburg which is the hub of a great walking centre. From Gothenburg we take the 3 hour ferry to Frederikshaven in Denmark.

Since leaving Norway there is a marked difference in the terrain, which is now low lying with many small islands. There is also a marked improvement throughout the whole of Scandanavia (compared to other Countries) in respect of the infrastructure. There are many good cycle tracks which are a great asset to us entering and leaving a built up area.

On day 207 ( 25th July) we arrived in Copenhagen, the Capital of Denmark with the prospect of a day off on 26th. Whilst a day off the bike is always welcome I have found that the amount of walking on those days in the process of our sightseeing can be just as tiring, and Copenhagen was no exception.  

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MERMAID IN COPENHAGEN

Not quite sure if it is the Odyssey company I have been keeping, but whenever we arrive at a location where alcohol is brewed then an educational (?) visit seems to appear on our agenda.

In March we had the pleasure of visiting some of the famous vineyards of South Africa. Now in Copenhagen it is the World famous Carlsberg Brewery which gets the stamp of our approval over 2 free glasses of the famous brew.  The Carlsberg Brewery was founded in 1873, but it was not until 1903 that Carlsberg and it's competitor Tuborg signed an agreement to share all profits and losses. That agreement formed the basis of a merger of the 2 companies in 1970.

Today 88% of the Carlsberg Group beer sales are generated outside of Denmark. The beer is brewed in 72 production sites in 40 Countries.  The groups most important markets in Europe are headed by ?? YES the UK. The Company now boasts that every single day of the year over 30 million people around the World enjoy a Carlsberg product. (END OF COMMERCIAL).  

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The next major destination on our itinerary is the beautiful City of Stockholm Capital of Sweden. This required 4 days of riding a total of 650 Kms .  I think that stage 9 in Scandanavia gets a very high mark in my (Odyssey) book for all round satisfaction. It was agreed by a majority that the food and accommodation was first class. It was also a plus to find that English is so widely spoken by the local population in each Country we visited.
Whilst each of the Scandanavian Capital Cities had something special to offer I feel that Stockholm will go to the top of my list for beauty, location and a City with a variety of interests and activities.  The City is composed of 14 Islands creating a wealth of waterways for the very large sailing community. To the North and South of Stockholm there are around 24,000 islands many of which are uninhabited. On 1st August we start the 8th month of Odyssey 2000 by catching the 8.30 am ferry from Stockholm to Turku in Finland.

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The Odyssey cavalcade have been transported from one Country to another by numerous ways since January 1st. However our journey from Stockholm to Turku in Finland by the 11 hour luxury Ferry was one of the most relaxing journeys we have undertaken. The weather was good, and the route wound it's way among the archipelago of islands from Sweden to Finland. The ferry unloaded it's cargo and passengers at Turku around 7 pm, it was then a 16 Km ride to the hostel where we were due to spend the night.  

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Finland where the Hostels and camp site facilities were some of the best in Scandanavia, the terrain was much easier, and the weather was good for our brief 2 days of riding to Helsinki. Finland is comprised of 70% of forest and 10% water, where the winters are long and severe, with short warm summers. From my brief interlude here and later in Russia it is difficult to appreciate that prior to 1917 Finland was a part of Russia. The difference in the quality of life today between the two Countries is so marked.

The original Odyssey Itinerary gave us the promise of a few days cycling in Russia. However due to logistical or diplomatic problems it was not possible to take our support vehicles into the Country. A compromise was therefore put forward for our consideration, it was that included in our 5 day layover in Helsinki there would be an optional 2 or 3 day excursion by train to St Petersburg. The cost of our accommodation was already accounted for by the Tour Organisers, so yours truly (along with 80 other Odyssey folk) went for the 2 day option. In view of the visa requirements for entry into Russia our application via a Finnish Travel Agent had to be submitted 3 weeks before the visit. Once again it was noted how British and American passport holders are treated differently around the World. Whilst our American companions were obliged to pay $45 for the visa, myself and the other UK member John were issued a visa free of charge.

There are 2 trains which make the 6 hour daily journey from Helsinki to St Petersburg. The first departs at 6.30 am the second at 2 pm. It was pure luck that we decided to take the early train which is Finnish, the second is Russian. There was much critical comment from our companions who chose to take the late train. This was later confirmed by the standard and quality of public transportation in Russia.

As the train approached the Russian border we were informed that the restaurant car would be closed, and all toilets would be locked. Shortly after this all passports were collected and the Russian customs and immigration staff came on board to inspect ALL passports. It was discreetly commented upon that such a large contingent of visitors from the USA may have been called to question by the Russian authorities. Then it was confirmed they were a harmless bunch of bikers.  

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ST PETERSBURG

My first impressions of Russia in general and St Petersburg in particular was that of a Country sadly in need of all the every day things we take for granted. There is much poverty in all walks of life. There was no evidence of any recent development, in fact most Public and private buildings were in a dilapidated state. It was like turning the clock back 50 odd years, buses and trains alike appeared to need much attention.  Having said that St Petersburg is still regarded as one of the largest and most beautiful Cites in the World. It has some of the most exquisite buildings that would be difficult to match. The City was after all the Capital of the Russian Empire for over 2 Centuries ending that status after the Bolshevik revolution in 1918. The construction of the City began at the height of the Great Northern War when there was a need for a fortress to defend the gate to the Baltic which the Russians had won.  The City was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, so any cultural historians (which I am not) would be in their element here.  

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CHURCH OF RESURRECTION - ST PETERSBURG

So my 2 day excursion, was an experience which I will not forget. With so much to see and limited time at our disposal the bookings for the many guided tours did record business. The 3 hour City Tour which we selected was lead by a very good English speaking guide who later turned out to be a Professor of Mathematics trying to make ends meet. Whilst I can only marvel at the beauty of the Winter and Summer Palace, the Church of Resurrection and the wealth within The Hermatage. There has to be some feelings for the man in the street who has suffered at the hands of one system after another, and is still struggling in spite of the wealth around him.
Fortunately our return to Helsinki was by the Finnish train which got us back to the City with 36 hours to spare before our flight to the start of stage 10 in Berlin.

So ended stage 9 a cycling distance of 2271 Kms plus many more by ferry. Look out for stage 10 from Berlin to Amsterdam.