Way back in March we ran a Win A Deluxe Service Competition.
We considered 300 entries before awarding the prize to Jennifer Tough who was planning a 9-country tour around the Baltic Sea.
Read her report and be inspired to visit Estonia, Denmark, the Baltic islands…
What I learned on my Baltic Sea Cycle
- You can always sleep on the beach in Poland. – The Baltic shoreline in Poland is difficult to cycle. It is clogged with resort towns every 10-20km, and suffers from many unacceptable cycling surfaces such as ancient cobblestone, sand, mud, and military zones. However, the Poles have done a great job of keeping the carnival atmosphere away from the beach, protecting the serene white-sand beaches with a ‘forest zone’, prohibiting vehicles or festivals from making their way to the shore. The beaches are clean, safe, and best of all, quiet. You could almost believe you were in a holiday postcard, if you never checked the temperature of the water. I found some of the most memorable campsites in my life in Poland, and watched breathtaking sunsets over the Baltic.
- You can cycle on the pavement in Russia, but you’ll be no better off there. – Before riding to Russia, I enquired on Russian cyclist forums (it’s a very niche topic) the best routes. The consensual advice was to “take the train instead”. Not exactly inspiring or helpful. Next best was the tip that cyclists are allowed to use the pavement, as there are not, in fact, any rules regarding cyclists because they are simply not considered by Russian authorities. This knowledge may have given me confidence to ride into the heart of Saint Petersburg, however the state of disrepair the pavement is in, coupled with the greater than 1ft high curbs, made for a highly undesirable experience and in the end I took a deep breath and joined the infamous Russian traffic.
- The Swedish diet revolves around prawns. – Seriously, I had to put special effort into having meals that did not have any prawn in them, for I feared over time resembling a flamingo, whose pink colour is actually due to their pink diet.
- Estonia is the most underrated cycling heaven in Europe. – Estonia is a wonderful country to visit, with rich history, English-speaking and friendly population, and best of all, a national cycle network that could take you on several itineraries, all achievable within a week. Consider your next cycling holiday to Estonia; you can skip Russia.
- Double-wrap your handlebars. – I ride a steel touring bike on touring tyres (Schwalbe Marathons), but it was not enough to absorb the impact of 3700km of incredibly varied terrain. The rattling of some surfaces led to damage that is still felt in my hands, weeks later. An extra layer of handlebar tape and a good set of gloves are the minimal requirements to avoiding nerve damage.
- We could learn a lot from Denmark. – Hands down, the award for Best Cycling Infrastructure in the World goes to Denmark. Routes are so well signposted that I never even checked a map; cars were accommodating (where I had to share with them at all); and there are even ‘public nature camps’ where you will find a clearing to pitch your tent for free – sometimes even with a toilet, picnic table, and shelter. The happiest population in the world is probably so because they all ride bikes.
- Allow time for Baltic cuisine. – Food around the Baltic varies slightly from place to place, but a common denominator seems to be the heaviness of it. One of the joys of travel is immersing yourself in a culture, including it’s diet, but the Baltic diet is not one that will have you jumping back on the bike very quickly. In 35 days of hard cycling, I lost surprisingly very little weight.
- Allow time for culture. – The Baltic shoreline is, unsurprisingly, a densely populated area and you need to find time to put the bike down and enjoy the spectacular cities dotting the shore. Socialising at public saunas in Finland, ballet performances in Russia, Tyskie on the beach in Poland, maritime history museums, straight-from-the-sea fish restaurants everywhere, and exploring Old Towns to find the similarities and differences along this seashore are all essential experiences to cycling this region.
- The Baltic Islands have preserved traditional lifestyles – The Baltic Sea possesses some fantastic islands where time seems to have stood still. From UNESCO world heritage sites in Gotland, Sweden, to the sleepy islands in western Estonia, to the Swedish-speaking Finnish autonomous region of the Åland archipelago, it’s worth slowing down to take in some island life.
- Cycling is a common language. – Everywhere I have been on my bike has led to welcoming human experiences shaped by one common language: a love for cycling. Carting around a fully-laden touring bike is like hanging a sign around your neck that reads “ask me anything”. Embrace it.
The bike: 2009 Rocky Mountain Sherpa with Schwalbe Marathon tyres and Slime tubes. Capacity for 3L of water.
- iPhone (doubles as a gps, library, notepad, and camera)
- Portable charger
- Emergency Haribo
- Ultralite 2-man tent
- Exped sleeping mat
- Ultralite 3 season sleeping bag
- Food (no cooking!)
- Sunscreen, mosquito repellant, chamois cream
- Bike tools:
- Laptop (I can’t actually take 5 weeks off work!)
- Clothes contained in 2 drybags:
-Cycling t-shirts and sports bras