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Germany is a Cruel Mistress

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Germany is a Cruel Mistress

After the great experience at the lighthouse, challenges started piling up again. I had a hard time coming to grips with Germany. It wasn’t anything major, just many small things adding together. The near-continuous headwind set the mood, and everything else made it worse.

I would wake up before joggers and dog walkers found my campsite, and look for a camping ground with a shower. 3G connection in rural areas was surprisingly awful for such an advanced first world country. This meant no Google Maps or info on routes or destinations, so I’d cycle the wrong way just to return empty-handed.

Yep, still going along the dike.

Asking people for directions didn't work, because in the German countryside, very few speak English. People are usually friendly - often saying hello when cycling by, or stopping to ask something about me or my bike. But when I say ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak German?', 90% of conversations end right there.

Although not everyone is friendly. Some people respond to my ‘hello' by looking at me with such disdain that I may as well be literally poop in human form.

Which also reminds me - businesses are not so helpful to passing travellers looking for a toilet. But you can use the disgusting public bathroom without a seat three kilometres that way. Oh and no, the showers are only for overnight guests.

Although one particular morning brought nice conditions with autumn morning light.

Camping grounds can be hideous as well. After crossing the Elbe on a ferry to Cuxhaven, it was late and raining and I tried to find a place to sleep. Two other camping grounds were either full or closed, until I found one where the owner was a tough-as-nails old lady. She looked at me like some idiot. Trying to find a tent place, in late September, without a reservation? Shaking her head she looked for a free spot among a thousand white caravans parked inches from each other.

She pointed her flashlight at a bit of grass surrounded by caravans. From her gesturing I understood that it was the only available place. The grass squelched from the rainwater. And I didn’t see how my neighbours wouldn’t stumble over my tent when they’d wake up. I basically would’ve had to put some of my stakes under their cars. Why do people stay in these overcrowded trailer parks? I genuinely don’t comprehend the appeal of them. "We have a home on wheels that we can drive practically anywhere on Earth - let’s park it in a Tetris block of mobile homes until the holiday is over."

Even while tired and frustrated, I preferred to return to the rain and darkness rather than take that spot. After examining satellite images under a bus stop I rode another few kilometres to a forest behind a hospital and camped there. It was midnight, but I had to set the alarm to after six to leave early, because I wasn’t supposed to be there.

I'll take a horror movie forest over a shitty camping ground any day.

It continued like this. Too little sleep, back into the demoralising headwind, rear brakes start dragging on the disc and need adjusting, nope - you can’t use the toilets here either, now the front shifter isn’t shifting, and the chain is rusting from all the rain... nothing went my way.

Oh, you want to have a rest day? Nein, das kamping ground ist closed. No good news anywhere. Finally in Bremerhaven I camped in the only place I could find, by the shore near a massive cargo harbour. It was a windy spot, and it rained hard during the night. I slept uneasily in the storm. The wind forced the outer fly of my tent against the inner mesh, which sometimes causes a few drops of water to seep through.

At 4am I woke up to a strange sensation. My sleeping bag was wet, as well as the backpack with my electronics. There was a puddle around me. For the first time in about 400 nights of camping, my tent had failed me.

Fucking hell.

To expand my time-lapse horizons, I started a new series of cityscapes with this scene.
"The day does shine on a pile of twigs as well", as the wise old saying in Finland goes.
 

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Why I Don’t Like Cities

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Why I Don’t Like Cities

As I've already said elsewhere, this trip is mostly about nature destinations. Cities are not my thing. And I say this as someone who used to genuinely prefer large cities - the bigger the better. I've lived in several cities with populations in the multiple millions. As I got out of my 20's however, I suddenly gained a deep appreciation towards the serenity that can only be found in nature. So that’s where I try to spend most of my time now.

Cities are loud, dirty, polluted and unnatural places. There's a constant background noise of cars. The air smells like concrete and exhaust fumes. Everything is artificial; even the park is designed by an architect. There are so many people it’s hard to make contact with anyone.

And that’s under normal circumstances. When I'm on a bicycle trip it gets much worse. Now I can barely visit a toilet somewhere without worrying about where to leave my bike and bags so they won’t be stolen. I don’t even like camping grounds due to the prices (among many other reasons), how am I going to pay for a hotel room that costs my entire week’s budget?

Plus of course cities are just miles and miles of definitely-not-camping-here grounds that it’s difficult to navigate out of. 

That’s why I didn’t have the greatest time when I entered an actual city for the first time on this trip. Despite the fact that the place was Tromsø, undoubtedly one of the nicest little cities in the whole world. I was also tired from riding all night. For some reason I hadn’t found a campsite before Tromsø, so I made the very questionable decision of riding through it, instead of turning back and being less picky with my sleeping spot. Another rookie mistake.

So, with all the above in mind, exhausted after a long day, on an increasingly hot morning, surrounded by busy “oh shit I’m late for work" commuters, trying to stay out of everyone’s way and figuring out the local traffic rules, with a very heavy bicycle in a city that isn’t exactly “flat” ‘cos there’s a bloody mountain in the middle (probably higher than any in Finland), having Google Maps shout instructions into one ear with incomprehensible street names telling me to take turns that don’t exist, and after 45 minutes of trying to navigate my way out and somehow ending up almost exactly where I started from… I was, overall, not the happiest I've ever been.

A lonely tree by the fjord in Skibotn. Or not lonely, perhaps. It could have a very active social life for all I know.

Of course I am fully aware that I can only blame myself for all of this.

Nevertheless, cities are not my thing. And if you are reading this blog hoping to see photos of Paris, Rome and Barcelona, you are most likely going to be disappointed. For the most part I will be avoiding cities, preferring to stock up in small towns and villages. Hopefully I'll get to spend the vast majority of my time in the peace and quiet of nature.

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Finnish Business Acuity

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Finnish Business Acuity

After Kautokeino in Norway the next stop was Hetta, so I found myself back in Finland. This is because the border zigzags a little in the north. I could've gone north to Alta, but then I would've been on the same road I cycled last year, and I prefer to avoid repetition. (Click here for a test version of my route map.)

While hungrily waiting for a hamburger in Hetta I met Benedict, a gray-bearded German cyclist on his way back from Nordkapp. He kindly loaned me some tools I needed to adjust my front panniers to a lower position to improve my bike’s balance.

I mentioned potentially sailing across oceans, so he gave me some advice against seasickness. Apparently it’s best to remain out on deck, keeping your eyes on the horizon. This may come in handy eventually on this trip. Turned out he’d done a fair bit of sailing in his time. These days he travels six months of the year and spends the other six back home with the wife.

At least I think that's what he said. There was a bit of a language barrier. Even though it was somewhat reduced by this magic app in a magic box you can speak into, that speaks back more or less the same thing in whatever language you choose. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Google Translate can do that, but sometimes it feels like the future has arrived so early.

"Google, tell this youngster to get with the times, bitte schön."

I had a hard time deciding whether to continue in the evening or just take the whole day off, but a visit to the local camping ground settled the matter. I asked if I could purchase the use of shower facilities, and the answer was no. No service to outsiders. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this answer, and I've yet to hear it abroad.

What is it with Finns and their lack of business sense? If someone wants to buy only a part of your service, don’t say no and send them away - set a price you’re happy selling the service with instead. That’s how an “outsider” becomes a “customer”. If you think that the usual 3€ shower is too cheap and may reduce the sales of your 17€ tent packages, just increase the price of showering to 5€, 10€ or even 15€. Let the customer decide if he or she wants to pay, instead of just declining outright and losing out on potential income.

I understand if you’re so busy that there are simply not enough showers for even your regular customers, but that was certainly not the case here.

So that's my free tip for all camping ground owners. Especially the ones along my future route. Also please register your business on Google Maps so I can actually find it. Thank you for reading and please come again.

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