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Jul 9th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: The Beginning


Finally on the way! This mini-adventure has been a long time coming, in more ways than one. I’ve been wanting to travel to Finland overland, and also suffered from a burning desire to travel by bike for some time.

The hankering was already there pre-pandemic, but it properly bloomed during that time. I would fill my evenings enjoying other peoples’ adventures vicariously, by watching YouTube videos and reading both blogs and books.

I also created, as a hobby, a pile of epic cycle routes, and fantasised about riding them. Some of them were pure folly, but others I’ve kept and still hope to actually cycle some day.

So, when it came to going to Finland for a short working break this July, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. It turned out to be a bit more of a kerfuffle than I’d hoped, but here I am.

Getting to this point has involved a lot of planning and preparation and not all of it has been done to an excellent standard.

Part of the problem is that only the travel time is my holiday, and available time isn’t exactly abundant, which means I’ll be mostly riding trains. But then I’m cycling across Sweden, partly because their main train operator SJ only accepts bikes in bags onto their trains, partly because I really want to – I haven’t seen much of Sweden outside Stockholm and I get the chance to do some camping!

To set the ball rolling, I opened up a new spreadsheet and started to investigate the route. Initially I wanted to cross at Dover, because the ferry ride is quick and dirt cheap. France, however, also has bike-hostile train operators and getting going was looking difficult. But then I discovered that a short cycle from Dunkirk would find me at a Belgian train station with a connection to Antwerp, which connects with Amsterdam, which was essentially my gateway to the entire route.

But, because I had tickets to see Pearl Jam at Hyde Park (since 2019) on the Friday, starting on a Saturday was off (this route would require an early morning start), and because the ferry had a reduced schedule on Sunday, I couldn’t make the timetables fit. Which would’ve meant an extra night on the road.

So, in the end, it made the most sense to use the overnight ferry from Harwich on Saturday evening and get an early start directly in the Netherlands, bypassing the Franco-Belgian problem altogether.

Once this part of the plan was settled, finding the remaining connections was easy. Getting from The Hague to Hamburg via Amsterdam was a three change affair. Or might’ve been, if I’d not procrastinated with making bookings for my bike, which is mandatory on German Intercity trains. Suddenly I was faced with a 4 change connection just from Amsterdam onwards, some of them with a ridiculously short margin of error.

Then I had the same problem getting to Copenhagen. When I was told the bike places on the direct train are sold out for the entire month of July, I nearly had a cry, as everything else was already booked. Thankfully the helpful customer support at DSB found me an alternate route via Flensburg. The only issue was that it was some 6 hours later than my original schedule, which meant I would lose a lot of effective cycling time, meaning I’m going to have to speed-run through Sweden on the way out. If I want to make my booked ferry, and I absolutely do.

My main take-away so far has been that international train travel takes a lot of effort and involves a degree of risk, which you carry entirely on your own shoulders. In air travel, if one part of your trip falls through and causes you to miss the next, it’s usually protected and you’ll be given an alternative, allowing you to complete your full journey at no extra cost. Because a trip on multiple trains is just a pile of individual tickets, if you miss a train, that’s it. Nobody cares about your salty tears. There’s also very little in way of tools for finding all the connections for an entire trip. A lot of research is required to find out how you need to travel. Much credit to seat61.com for filling in that gap very well.

Mind you, making the trip without a bike would’ve been a lot simpler and quicker, but I absolutely wanted my bike with me, as I hope to have several more mini-adventures while in Finland; I am to blame for my own woes, but it still annoys me that it has to be so difficult.

Anyway, the following two days will reveal how well I’ve managed to prepare. I’m really hoping no big disasters or disappointments await me.

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