21.09.2012 16 °C
My impressions of Finland were limited to a few days cycling in the north of the country. In summary it was generally flat with lots of trees and mosquitoes and very few people. As northern Finland is part of Lapland you might think there are lots of reindeer but curiously I saw only one - and that was in the middle of the largest town I passed through. All the other reindeer had apparently deserted Lapland to commit mass suicide on the E6 towards Nordkapp. I can't say I blame them. There is really no way round it - Lapland in summer is crushingly dull. The terrain becomes more mountainous towards Sweden but most of what I saw was a featureless birch swamp where you can cycle for days with no apparent change in scenery. It is also absolutely swarming with mosquitoes. They're not a problem when cycling (except up long hills but there are few of those in Finland), however, stop even for a few moments and clouds of them descend to torment you. Sitting outside at night wasn't an option and though my inner tent is mosquito proof I have to cook in the porch which soon filled up with six-legged intruders, making cooking a misery. I thought wearing a head net and covering up the rest of my body meant I was well protected, and would nonchalantly set up the tent paying them no head, like an experienced bee-keeper tending a hive. However, I soon discovered they can bite through several layers of clothing and my tight fitting cycling gear offered no protection at all. Changing into loose trousers helped but I had to tuck them into my socks to cycle and the mosquitoes managed to bite me through the trousers and two pairs of thick woolen socks. After that I covered my legs, shoulders and any exposed skin with mosquito repellent and just cycled as fast as I could back towards Norway where they are less numerous.
A typical view when cycling in Finland
I suspect the mosquitoes are one of the main reasons why Finland is one of the least densely populated countries in Europe. It has 5 million inhabitants in an area the size of Germany (or nearly three times the size of England which has 50 million people). Only Norway and Iceland in Europe have lower population densities. A consequence (or perhaps a cause) of this is that the towns in Finland are absolutely huge. Even a small town of a few hundred people can take twenty minutes to cycle across. A thing I like about much of Scandinavia is that people don't bother to tend their gardens and often don't even bother to fence them off. In Finland this means it's very hard to tell what is private land. However, you have the right to roam just about anywhere, even through private land, and I got the feeling people weren't too bothered about others on their land so long as they weren't disturbed. In Britain we are accustomed to barbed wire throughout the countryside but it is almost never used in Scandinavia; I suspect it might even be illegal. For livestock electric fences are generally used or the livestock are simply allowed to wander over the road. Coming back to Britain, the miles of barbed wire along almost every road seem incredibly violent, almost barbaric. The rarity of fences in Scandinavia seems so natural that you only notice the absence when one is encountered. What is more, I think the lack of barriers between 'mine-and-thine' encourages more, not less, respect for private property - a 'keep off my land!' sign may scare people off but it doesn't encourage respect.
I'd like to return to Finland perhaps in Autumn when it's a bit more colourful and has less mosquitoes. The roads are well maintained, fairly flat and quiet, so excellent for cycling and it's virtually impossible to get lost. In summer though the monotonous scenery and swarms of mosquitoes made it a bit grim and after only two days I abandoned the idea of cycling south and headed back towards Norway, where the scenery is infinitely more spectacular.