Day 9: Nurmes – St. Petersburg

Sunday, March 4th, 2018
Distance covered: 329 km
Driving: 9:30am – 7pm (border delay)
Weather: Sunny
Lowest temperature: -10C
Border crossing: Finland – Russia (real border control)

Another great sunny day. Listening to the SPD GroKo press conference, we drove to the frozen lake ice road, took a couple of pics and crossed the lake.

It feels scary at the beginning (I hate it to even walk on a frozen lake) but offers a great experience and special perspectives when driving close to some islands.

After some more hours of snowy forests and frozen lakes, we finally reached the Russian border. And yes, it feels different than driving to Italy or Austria or even Switzerland. The Finnish part of the border was friendly, professional and empty, but few hundred meter further we had to queue up in front of the Russian control post.

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When reaching the post, you need to stop your car, walk to the booth, fill in some immigration card (next to the up-front Visa in your passport) and some customs forms for your car. As my Passport was brand new and in the latest format, obviously unknown yet to the Russian border officer, it got looked at again and again. 10 minutes and a phone call later, I finally got my stamps and was ready for the next step of the Russian welcome committee. We were ordered to get all suitcases, boxes as well as the two winter tires out of the car and open everything. Great fun with -7C and super dirty tires…

Anyhow, it took just a bit more than an hour and we were on the road again, heading towards St. Petersburg.

Being the second largest Russian city and a major location for the 2018 Football world championship, many highways are brand new. The stadium looked impressive and next to it a new skyscraper was still under construction.

In the dark we reached our hotel: Trezzini Palace, a 5-star boutique hotel, located directly at the Newa and offered for just 104,- € on booking.com in the morning. We were hoping for a really nice hotel, but what we got was just great.

After being introduced to my 3 room Suite, I was searching again and again for the mistake regarding the price (wrong Rubel conversion, etc.). But it was real and therefore even better that we stayed for 2 nights in Petersburg!

We had dinner in the restaurant of the hotel, hering as a starter and boeff stroganoff as main and made company with a nice Dutch couple, running an interesting charity project for the widows of Srbrenica. After some shared Vodka, we took a walk through beautiful Petersburg at night, enjoyed some more vodka in a student bar and finally went back to our very own palace…

… really looking forward to a day without driving!

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Day 8: Ivalo – Nurmes

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018
Distance covered: 824 km
Driving: 9am – 8pm
Weather: Sunny in the morning, later cloudy
Lowest temperature: -21C
Border crossing: none

This was going to be a very long drive! As we wanted to spend a full day without driving in St. Petersburg, we had to drive through almost all of Finland today.

After a good breakfast with German Army souvenirs on the wall, we started our drive with a clear blue sky and -21C and a nice singing performance (from minute 4:30 to 08:30 in the video, don’t miss it).

Around lunchtime we reached the bigger town Rovaniemi, featuring a Santa Claus Theme park, which we avoided, but allowed us a brief stop at a nearby German Military Cemetery. It is located at a beautiful spot in a quiet forest, next to a lake.

While the first few hundred kilometres of this longest drive still presented a somehow interesting landscape, later the day it just got completely boring, dark forests, some snow, faceless towns.

We made a quick stop in Oulu, a larger town at the northern end of Baltic Sea, which was completely frozen with many ice fishers on it.

After some more hours driving in the dark, we finally reached Nurmes. We chose this tiny town with 7.000 inhabitants, as it is located at the northern shore of a frozen lake and with an official road of 7km from one shore to the other, which we wanted to drive on the next morning.

Though surrounded by the beautiful lake and next to a river, Nurmes turned out to be as ugly as many other Finnish towns and the hotel was no exception: classic “KGB chic”.

Until now, this seemed to be a “lost day”, but few hours later it turned into one of the highlights of our tour: from Champagne Supernova to Karaoke Supernova!

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After a quick and healthy dinner in the local fast food restaurant (the only open restaurant on a Saturday evening), we visited the local Pub and started a super funny David Lynch style evening.

The Pub was as ugly as in some remote East German places and at the beginning populated by people in their 40s and 50s, all looking at least 10 years older, already quite drunk, with bad skin and a very Finish fashion style. One after the other went up to the Karaoke screen, sang a Finnish song without any emotional expression, and went back to its seat. We just felt like being in a weird mixture of “Fargo” and “From dusk till dawn”.

 

But having said that, these people were extremely nice and friendly, asked us if we were test drivers and started some funny chats with us. And it’s no surprise, that Arndt and myself very soon ended up as well in front of the microphone. More and more people entered the bar, wanted to meet “the tourists” and we just had a great time!

THE PASSENGER

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

 

 

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Day 7: Russenes – Nordkapp – Ivalo

Day 7, Friday, March 2nd 2018
Distance covered: 542 km
Driving: 9am – 10pm (CMT +1) (Nordkapp and real dinner included)
Weather: Cloudy, some sun, later full moon
Lowest temperature: -8C
Border crossing: Norway – Finland (no border control)

After a healthy Tea and Cookies breakfast, we were amazed by the scenery around our cabin, which we had reached the night before in the dark. And after some quick pictures, we were heading north: direction Nordkapp.

The roads were very icy, just right for our 4×4 and Spikes Tires. After an hour, we reached the long and quite steep (down and up again) underwater tunnel that connects the mainland with the Nordkapp Island. Interestingly, most of the tunnels up here are closed by “doors”, that open automatically upon arrival.

Half an hour later we reached the gathering point for the Nordkapp convoy. In winter, you can only reach the Nordkapp in a convoy following a snow plow (again because of the strong wind blowing snow on the street). These convoys leave at 11:00 (the one we took), 12:00 (mainly busses full of elderly people from “Hurtig Routen”) and at 19:00 (in the dark). Many other BSC teams were already waiting in line and it was great to have a chat with other teams and learn of their latest adventures.

30 minutes later, we finally reached the (quite expensive: 50,- €) parking lot at the Nordkapp and were proud and relieved we made it up to the Globe, for our Champagne enriched picture!

Not reaching the Nordkapp due to car issues would have been a massive frustration. After making it here, everything else was a nice addition, but our Rallye clearly had reached it’s emotional climax.

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The landscape was again breathtaking: white hills, no more vegetation, the Arctic Sea ahead, a low sun and light snow showers with a strong wind at -7C.

We enjoyed a Cappuccino and Blueberry Cake in the modern Visitor Center, took a look at the small exhibition on the “Battle of the North Cape” with the sinking of the Scharnhorst and left the Nordkapp in another convoy around 12:30.

Long version

Very short and fast

Obviously, we were heading south, enjoying sun and landscape and heading towards Finland. As we were soon leaving the most spectacular landscape of the trip behind us and as we wanted to spend a full day in St.Petersburg, without touching the car, we had to make a good distance today and especially the next day.

We crossed the unguarded border in the dark. With a lot of snow and ice on the street, we commenced our drive on a long and straight street across shallow hills until we reached Inari. Being hungry and in the mood for good food (after last nights canned soup), we visited the best rated restaurant in town “Aanaar” and were quite surprised. The menu offered a wide selection of local food (reindeer as well as fish) and the wine list was promising, too. We decided on two different reindeer dishes which were both great.

After another 30 minutes drive, we reached around 22:00 our home for the night: an easy vacation resort with cabins close to a river, just outside of Ivalo.

This was the last stop with some realistic chance on Aurora Borealis. And as there where some stars visible between the clouds, we decided to spend some tome outside in front of our cabins, staring into the night. But the foam on our self-tapped Krombacher turned into ice within minutes, so we didn’t stay too long and gave up.

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No Aurora Borealis this rallye, but a good reason to come back.

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Day 6, Narvik – Russenes

Thursday, March 1st, 2018
Distance covered: 625 km
Driving: 10am – 8pm
Weather: Cloudy, later a lot of snow
Lowest temperature: -8C

We started the day with another early morning visit at the local Volkswagen dealer and again got great service. As the diff was still frequently making very unpleasant noises, we asked the mechanics to change the diff-oil again, which was done within 1.5 hours. After we learned that VW still found some of the wrong old oil in the diff, we were sure we had done the right thing and left Narvik around 10am, heading north, very north, direction Nordkapp.

The first hours went through the mountains. We drove next to large military training areas and saw quite some Norwegian and Dutch troops on the street, with interesting small tanks and Army snowmobiles. Later, we reached huge fjords, with majestic and steep rocks, covered with snow and ice.

As breath taking these Fjords are, as cumbersome they can be! It took us a full 40 kilometres to get some hundred meters more north. Furthermore, the street (E6) is the only street in the entire area. Good and bad: you never start to look for a diversion option in case the road is closed, e.g. by a construction site, as an alternative route would mean some hundred additional kilometres.

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In the early afternoon it started to snow and between two Fjords, we had to cross a small pass. Prior to it, the road was closed again for another half hour. A quick chat with Team 4×4 magazine helped to bridge time until we could drive in a convoy behind the snow plow across the open plateau pass. Not the actual light snowfall was the problem, but a heavy storm, that was blowing snow from the surrounding fields on the road. As unhappy as we were to wait for the plow, as much did we now like driving behind it.

Another surprise to me was, how densely north Norway is still populated. Already in the dark, we drove through the harbour city of Alta, with an unexpected 20.000 inhabitants and being just 2 hours away from the Nordkapp.

A speed limit bumper in Alta made our differential “sing” again, while we drove through heavy snowfall in the dark across wide white plains, happy for the red sticks indicating the road.

Around 8pm we finally reached our place for the night, a nice cabin directly above the Porsanger Fjord. As it was impossible to reach the place by car, the owner helped us to carry our suitcases and beer on a funny tracked little vehicle.

While I took care of the fire place and our first Krombacher Bier of the trip,

Arndt created a tasty tinned Gulasch soup for us.

All set for a romantic night up in the north. Unfortunately again too cloudy to see any Aurora Borealis.

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Day 5: Moskenes – Narvik

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018
Distance covered: 388km
Driving: 9am – 4pm
Weather: Grey day, some snow
Lowest temperature: -2C
Border crossing: none

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Our drive across the Lofoten offered amazing views of a “Game of Thrones” winter landscape. The small islands with massive and steep mountains are connected by bridges and tunnels and covered by small hamlets with red and yellow wooden houses.

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Fish, and especially massive fish heads, are hanging at long wooden sticks to dry outside and give a final touch of Viking-ness to the overall setting.

Unfortunately, we were to early for the famous Anita Fish Restaurant (opens at 11:00), but we got a great breakfast in Leknes at Huset Kaffeebar. Other teams had recommended it in the BSC-Winter-2018-WhatsApp-group, which was super helpful for the groups with updates on speed controls, whale sightings, blocked roads and calls for help by broken down or stuck cars.

After Croissants and Cappuccino, we were ready for our share of fame. Thanks to Baltic Sea Circle veteran Hinne Thies. We’ve met with the young journalist Vilde Aurora Drevland Klyve (wow, what a name) in the shopping Center of  Svolvaer, who wanted to feature us in next days Lofoten Post:

The next hours presented us with the typical Fjord scenery and some huge bridges and when getting closer to Narvik, several WW II memorials (Battle of Narvik).

Around 5pm we we reached Narvik and our nice hotel with a great view on the town, harbour and fjord.

The town itself is ugly, grey and felt very empty. The war museum was already closed and the best restaurant (from 19, based on trip advisor ratings) closes at 6pm, so we had to hurry up to finally get some fish at “Fiskehallen”. The food was ok, the service very friendly. You had to order at the bar and the cost for food and drinks were pretty high. But to be honest, the 10€ for a pint of beer was still less than what you pay in Dubai and even in many places in Paris.

After dinner the onnly option to have a beer, was the local sports bar, where we watched some live football games, chatted with the Kurdish owner (“I hate Besiktas, I love Galatasaray”) and, thanks to WhatsApp, met with Uwe & Uwe from team “Ambulanz akut”.

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Day 4: Vilhelmina – Bodo – Lofoten

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018
Distance: 527km
Driving: 9am – 3pm (+ 3.5h ferry)
Weather: Great sunny day
Lowest temperature: -12C
Border crossing: Sweden – Norway (no border control)

SAC offered 4 hours of driving and drifting on the frozen lake next to Vilhelmina in the morning. Because of our car issues and the schedule for the early ferry from Bodo to the Lofoten Island (leaving 4:30pm, while the next ship leaves only at 2:30am at night), we hit the road early, after taking some pictures of an impressive ice chapel during dawn in the city centre.

The day and drive was just gorgeous: a lot of sun, first frozen lakes and white mountains.

We drove by some Swedish ski resorts in beautiful scenery, but not very exciting slopes.

And just after entering Norway, we met our first elk, directly on the road, only few meters away.

Later on, we reached a wide and empty plateau, where we crossed the arctic circle heading north…

… until we finally drove through the majestic landscape of the Norwegian fjords.

Some other teams were already lined up at the ferry terminal of Bodo, which we reached at 3pm for the 4:30pm ship to Moskenes on the Lofoten Islands.

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Clear sky, great pastel colours of the northern dusk, steep snow-covered rock mountains all around us, the view was just breath taking. We stayed on the outside deck until it got dark.

3,5 hours later, the ferry got close to the Lofoten Islands.

Again outside, our eyes first caught the few city lights and after getting used to the dark, realised the steep white mountains raising immediately from the shore. So beautiful!

Our cabin for the night was just 15 minutes by car away from the ferry terminal, standing on wooden poles in the water in a small bay with fisher boats just in front of us. With warm temperatures of just below 0C, we had our champagne and beer outside on the dock.

Day 3: Gävle – Vilhelmina

Monday, February 26th, 2018
Distance covered: 515km
Driving: 12pm – 7pm
Weather: Cloudy morning, sunny afternoon
Lowest temperature: -14C
Border crossing: none

Got up early to be at the Volkswagen garage at 07:30am to have them check the “strange sound”. The flexibility of Volkswagen was great, and they took a look at our rallye vehicle right away. After a short test drive, they took the car on the hydraulic ramp and we saw a lot of Swedish mechanics with torches under the car, discussing and doing stuff over the next hours.

While waiting and waiting, we saw the other teams heading north … But coffee was good and after a while we got an update on the problem. They needed to change the oil in the differential. Another test drive was promising, and the last remaining thing to do, was swapping our high-end winter tires to spikes tires. Around 12:00 this was done and we even got the changing of the tires for free and finally headed north.

5 minutes later, on the way to the gas station, the sound was back. We were shocked. Silence. Frustration. Considering the expected 4.000€ for a new differential as well as the time it might take to get it done. But after leaving the gas station, the sound was gone, and still is, but …

… it was back after 205km and joined us all the way up to Vilhelmina. We left the coast in Sundsvall with its massive SCA factories and got into central Sweden. The weather was sunny, but it must have snowed a lot in the last days with more than a meter of it on the roofs and next to the streets.

It was a long ride up to Vilhelmina, through pretty empty regions. Endless forests, few other cars , icy roads and frightening trucks carrying timber.

After the last hours driving in the dark…

… we reached Vilhelmina at 7pm, just in time for the first BSC Winter party, with almost all teams in one hotel, a lot of small talk about cars, winter-camping, etc.. As most teams drove between 6 to 9 hours that day, many of us got to bed before midnight.