I am very blessed to have great friends through work; Ritva lent me a bicycle during my most recent trip. Her husband, Jan, has a “Tunturi Retki Super” with classic stainless steel drop bars, downtube shifters and a proper set of racing gears. With a tweak of the seat height it was perfect and the fit was good. I had three days in Ruissalo ahead, with sales and business colleagues for a work meeting. This bicycle gave me the chance to grab my favourite exercise early in the morning and in the evenings between work and dinner.
The roads around Turku and well surfaced and enjoyable to ride on, but the really nice thing about cycling in Finland is the network of excellent cycle paths, these are set away from the road and function as a completely separate road network dedicated to cyclists, walkers and those on small engine scooters. I am not a fan of segregated cycling, I believe that cyclists are traffic just as horse riders, motorists and walkers – but this opinion is based on the UK experience where the road has right of way through everything. In Finland, drivers have to give way to pedestrians and cyclists crossing side roads – there is a care and patience demonstrated by everyone for everyone. Finland is a very caring and gentle place to live, to work and make the most of free-time.
On the Tuesday Ritva met me in Turku and I swapped my luggage for Jan’s bicycle. There was a 12km ride through Turku to Ruissalo for me and Ritva offered to drop my bag in the Spa hotel and take her little dog for a walk by the sea.
Turku has a large sports activity field where almost every sport takes place with teams and individuals out getting exercise after work. I cycled past them and over the only hill I think Turku has, to get down to the riverside. It was past 5pm and locals were enjoying the sunshine outside café fronts and along the river bank. I slowly cycled along also enjoying the warmth and bright sunshine. After the town centre it is a short ride out to the port area and along the only road into Ruissalo. At first I was trying to work out how to make the best use of down-tube shifters. There seems to be a balance to strike between choice of gear or simply putting in additional power to crest the small hills. This suits my riding style a lot, I quite like maintaining a single gear and varying the power input to keep a steady speed.
It took about 30 minutes to reach Ruissalo Spa hotel, where I grabbed a drink and sat to wait for Ritva, who wasn’t far behind. At this time of year the forests and fields of Finland are bright green and a gentle breeze is good to keep the midges away. Ruissalo is an island in the Finnish archipelago off the coast by Turku. There is only one road in and out which crosses a bridge by the port.
Work kept me focused for the whole of the next day, but once the sessions were complete we all had the evening to ourselves – I grabbed the bicycle and set off, planning to spend at least two hours riding. I headed back to Turku and enjoyed exploring the city back roads and weaving up and down the only hill, which is actually more of a ridge next to the river. There is a mixture of homes and park spaces all over the place on the far side of the river from the town centre. I visited the playing fields again and found the open air velodrome to watch the local track riders practicing. Cycling back to Ruissalo I took my time and explored both the road and the cycle path, it felt flat enough to get a good head of speed along the main road, but the cycle paths encourage you to slow down a bit.
The following morning I was up early, and set off again to ride around the island as far as the bridge and port. I took it a lot easier and spent about an hour taking photographs. I like illustrating my cycling experiences with photographs but I love cycling and find it really hard to stop and get off. So it takes an effort of will to focus on photography instead of cycling and look for opportunities to capture images which I’d like to share. I try to watch for locally significant images, as well as flowers by the roadside.
The forests in Finland are predominantly silver birch, sparse and just how you would imagine from a Moomin book. Wood production is a massive business in Finland and everyone who has land appears to manage a small wood farm.
My thanks go to Ritva and Jan for lending me a lovely bicycle for the week and setting me free to get some exercise in between work meetings and presentations.