Start day, Espoo, Finland. 10 Jul 1997 (1)

Although the idea for a world tour had developed in my mind for whole seven years, and this very day it was coming true - I felt guite cool. Others seemed to be more nervous than me?! I just thought, this is only my holiday trip, that's all.

But in reality, a world tour IS NOT a holiday, more likely it is a 10 years project, with all the planning & preparations... I admit, last year (1996) I was sometimes scared for leaving...

What kind of world traveller was I thinking to be? ;-) Never visited for example our Southern neighbour Estonia (almost every Finn has visited there. I was quite an unexperienced motorcyclist, having only four months of riding experience (i.e. one summer) which consisted of 13,000 kms. But I didn't want to stay any longer in Finland to be improving my budget and waiting...

I didn't want to go directly rushing through the Baltic countries, as many Finns do when they go to central Europe for holidays. This was my first time there, so I wanted to spend a little bit more time and start the tour by travelling not so fast.

According to the Finnish tax laws, the tax-free vehicle has to be shipped out of the country *the same day* when it is bought (my bike is tax-free). Because a modification had to be done to my bike before leaving, we had to hurry!

Early in the morning me & my brother-in-law left towards Espoo to the Suzuki importer. We did (with the help of their mechanic) the needed modification to the bike in a hurry. Only four hours for ferry to go!!!! I had better to be on time, because the next day I would have got 53,000 FIM (9,500 USD) tax consequenses!!!
I did some test riding on the yard of the importer. Everyting was OK, then quickly to the ferry! I said goodbye to my family. After one hour the ferry left, "El Viaje", the dream of seven years was about to begin!!!!



Ready!

Riding to ferry.

10.7.97 Thu (1) Estonia

Klick to hear the national anthem of Estonia
General information about Estonia.

It was wealthier place than I expected, meaning mostly Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. There was almost no signs of developing country thing.

Because Estonian and Finnish languages are a little bit similar, I could sometimes manage on with Finnish. I used also my rusty Russian language (not trained for years).

To the office of Santa Claus :)

12.7. Sat (3) Latvia

Klick to hear the national anthem of Latvia
General information about Latvia.

In Latvia I met interesting people. We had also some party (prashnik :) It was Saturday. We went to a place like disco, DJ sang Latvian songs. It seemed to me, that they were still somehow celebrating the freedom and independence from Soviet Union. We had our own Vodka bottles and beer there, as belonged to the style. Free-minded people. Great feeling. Needless to say, that I liked the Latvian girls! :)

13.7. Sun (4) Lithuania

Klick to hear the national anthem of Lithuania
General information about Lithuania.

Lithuania was for me just a transit country to Poland.

13.-17.7. (4...8) Poland

Klick to hear the national anthem of Poland
General information about Poland.

As I arrived to the Polish border, there were hundreds of cars and hundreds of trucks and buses. As a newbeginner in MC travelling, I went stupidly to the same queue than cars did. Soon I realised to get back and pass the whole queue... Somebody said it took two hours for a bus to pass the border control. For 12 buses that makes 24 hours! I went to the first camping to Suwalki. It cost 6 zlotys (about 2 USD). Quite ok.

There I met also other Finnish motorcyclists. In Poland there had been made a currency changes, four zeros removed. So one Zloty was now 10,000 times more valuable than in the past years.

14.7. Mon (5) Poland

There in Suwalki I had to do the first maintenance for bike (1000 kms/600 miles) I had own motor oils and filters. Locally MC oils would have been difficult to find.

During those days in South Poland and Czech there were enormous floods. Local people said that one year's amount of rain in two weeks. News told that in some places there had been 5 - 7 metres of water! Homes of some people were destroyed by those floods.

Also in Jedlinsk there was some water, but of no trouble. When I went to my bungalow in the campsite, there was about 40 centimetres of water on road.

15.7. Tue (6) Poland

Mostly moving to South Poland, Zakopane. I knew it was a beautiful (and also touristic) place. In South Poland it was wealthier than in the North. Houses were of two floors, and people seemed to be wealthier than in the north. Nature was mountaineous, sceneries like in Norway. Tatra mountains are beautiful.

16.7. Wed (7) Poland

This day I wanted to visit the concentration camp museums Auschwitz I (in Oswiecim, Poland) and Auschwitz II (Birkenau).

Auschwitz I was the first concentration camp the Nazis built. Two double-wired high voltage fences surrounded the place. The camp consisted of about 30 brick barracks. There was destroyed about 70,000 people. I visited also the gas chamber and crematorium. I wondered, how that kind of madness had been possible?

First there (in A. I) were men and women, but later A. II was built for women prisoners. That concentration camp was about 1 km wide and 2 kms long area, full of ruins of wooden barracks! Seemed, that Nazis really tried to get rid of jews, gypsies and other people groups.

Nazis managed to destroy almost totally the A. II camp before escaping, but A. I was guite authentic. From my point of view, nowadays it was perhaps too modernised. Snack bars side by side a previous concentration camp. A slight paradox...

After Birkenau I decided to leave Poland, but because of the floods I had to go around the Czech. So, nose towards North!

17.7. Thu (8) Poland

First I rode towards North to Poznan and from there to West towards Germany and Berlin.

There happened also my first traffic accident! It was a rainy day, and the road was slippery. The queue, along which I went, stopped suddenly and I, of course, broke how I could. Then I dropped my bike and I slipped 5 meters along the asphalt. Luckily no bad damages for the bike!

From the traffic I'll say: in Poland I rode about 1000 kms and maybe 10-15 times to radar control. And I got of course no tickets, because the oncoming car drivers flashed lights before the check place. I saved lot of money... I'll say to them: thank you!

18.7. Fri (9)... 21.7. Mon (12) Munich, Germany

Klick to hear the national anthem of Germany
General information about Germany.
Second visit to Germany
Soon I arrived near Berlin and from there down to Munich. I went to visit a friend there, Susanna. On the tour, my purpose was also to visit all my friends abroad.

In South German beer culture there is a speciality: Bier Gartens, which don't exist elsewhere. They were like mixtures of a park and a pub. People could go there for example for a picnic and have their own food with. Beer would be bought from there, not brought.

The athmosphere was a little like family oriented and tranquil. Children could play in the playgrounds while parents would have a beer or two... :) There was needed no doormen; Germans know how to drink...

22.7. Tue (13) Austria

Klick to hear the national anthem of Austria
General information about Austria.

Austria was on my tour also a country to pass through, like Lithuania, because I wanted to head towards Lebanon. I rode almost without any stops, directly to Slovakia. That was also because I had promised to a friend to go for a visit in Beirut in beginning of August, so I wanted to keep going.

23.7. Wed (14) Slovakia

Klick to hear the national anthem of Slovakia
General information about Slovakia.

Warm day, one could ride a few hundred kilometres wearing a T-shirt without freezing. Rare thing in Finland. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, was quite a nice city: a place where I would have liked to stay longer.

23.7. Wed (14) Hungary

Klick to hear the national anthem of Hungary
General information about Hungary.

Also Hungary belonged to series 'quick visits' on my tour, unfortunately. Anyway, there I visited Budapest, which seemed to be a very nice city. I kept going towards Lebanon...

24.7. Thu (15) Serbia

Klick to hear the national anthem of Yugoslavia
General information about Serbia.

Trip in Serbia was mostly 'kilometres eating' on a highway, towards Turkey and Lebanon. Although many tourists avoid Serbia, for me it looked as nice place as for example Poland. It is almost as (very) expensive country as Finland. Green Card (the international traffic insurance) was not valid in "Yugoslavija", so I had to buy it from border at price of 40 DEM.

Generally, the usability of German mark was among the best currencies in Serbia, better than U.S. dollar. Beograd, the capital of Serbia, looked also nice.

As going now to Lebanon, I had driven the same road to the other direction, when I repatriated from UNIFIL in 1992. So the road was a little bit familiar to me.

In Serbia and other East European countries and Poland too, there were stray dogs walking freely on the roads. A car driver - and even more a motorcyclist - had to be cautious because of them. In Novi Sad I saw a dead Schafer with its intestines out...

I had done a full day trip, so it was time to search for a motel. Good luck, I could rent a room just before a heavy rainstorm! :) The motel was home-like, a retired man owned it.

25.7. Fri (16) Bulgaria

Klick to hear the national anthem of Bulgaria
General information about Bulgaria.

When I arrived to the border, there were as many as three passport control posts before the Bulgarian border. Towns generally in Bulgaria were in a bad shape, but as a nice contrary to that, many girls in those places were dressed more feminine way compared for example to North Europe...

In the last few kilometres in Bugaria I rode to radar control. Of course I had overspeed (road was empty). Limit was 60 km/h and my speed was 96. I was about to get a 33 DEM traffic ticket, but *I didn't*, because the policeman didn't want to begin paperwork! Funny.

26.7. Sat (17)...29.7. Tue (20) Turkey

Klick to hear the national anthem of Turkey
General information about Turkey.
Second visit to Turkey
The first experiences from Turkey were (I knew it, but anyway) that people were very friendly. I went towards Ankara, the capital of Turkey, because local people said that in South West Turkey there were many roadworks. In Northern Turkey there weren't many places at all where you could buy beer. Was it because of the Islamic culture? I don't know.

The currency, Turkish Lira (TL) is very weak. From prices usually are dropped last three zeros out. At the time of writing this (1997) one US dollar was equal to 160,000 TL... So, at least in Turkey you can be a multi-millionaire :)

27.7. Sun (18) Bolu

In Bolu I visited an "Internet Cafe", where it was possible to surf at a price of about 3 USD/h. As I went to Ankara and along the way I asked the way to the nearest motel.
...And those people invited me to stay! An example of Turkish hospitality (it is similar also in the arabic countries in Middle East).

28.7. Mon (19) Ankara

When arriving to Ankara, I had no clue of the "village" (3 million inhabitants). I needed a Syrian visa, because I hadn't enough time to arrange it in Finland. I had been wise?? and bought beforehand the booklet of Finnish embassies published by Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For Syrian visa I needed to buy an endorsement from the Finnish embassy. Then the visa was a matter of only a few hours. For Finns the visa itself didn't cost anything.

I met some other world travellers, who were waiting for Iranian visas, recveiving it might take 10 days.

From the highest point of Ankara city could see far sceneries. The city was built on many hills. Altitude differences were maybe 150 metres.

After getting Syrian visa, I began to head for The Syrian Arabic Republic.

30.7. Wed (21) Syria

Klick to hear the national anthem of Syria
General information about Syria.

In the Syrian border there wasn't no more than one single bus and me crossing the border, but with the Syrian bureaucracy it took the whole hour! Okay, no matter, I have lots of time...

The professional skill and also the motivation of the border men was not very high anyway. Traffic licence cost 29 USD and some customs payment 40 USD.

As it was becoming late, I asked from the local people about motels again (like in Turkey)... they invited me to stay. I didn't refuse, because it was nice to visit and see how people live in other countries. One of them spoke fluent English.

Visiting Syrian family near Edlib.

The English-speaking man left, but we had no trouble despite the language problems. On a world tour you'll also learn to use sign language.

As it was coming night, we were thinking where to put the bike. Although leaving it outside for the night would be quite a minimal risk for bike theft, anyway we decided to push it in the house - into the same room they used for praying!! They offered me dinner and next morning breakfast! That I call Arabic Hospitality.

Sometimes I felt I was treated like a VIP. That was the Arabic hospitality :)

31.7. Thu (22) Syria

As I rode towards South, going to Lebanon and it was early morning (about 7 AM), I navigated by looking the right direction from the sun. Because sun rises from the East and if you are going to South, the sun has to be kept on left side. Okay? :-)

Why did I use the sun? That's because there were no signs or if there were, the names of towns were in Arabic. Once there were both in Arabic and in western letters, and I tried to remember the "hieroglyph". Asking for direction was difficult, because almost nobody could speak English. And I was lazy to dig my compass from the luggage.

In the countryside of Syria there were in many places pictures of their Loved President Mr. Hafez Al-Assad. In the borders of every village there were welcoming and also greeting "Thanks for your visit" or the like.

31.7. Thu (22) 11.8. Mon (33) Beirut, Lebanon

Klick to hear the national anthem of Lebanon
General information about Lebanon.

During my stay in Lebanon I thought that Israel is a touristic country, where many of the "Western World" people go for holidays. In Lebanon there were lots of tourists too, but from Arabic countries.

I visited last time Lebanon in July 1995 for one week. When arriving to Lebanon, I visited some of the most beautiful places near there, e.g. Harissa mountain in Jounieh (a touristic place). In Beirut I met a friend Elias Müllens that I had met a couple of years ago. I met also his wonderful family: wife Mona, and daughters Carrine, 8 and Diane, 6.

About rebuilding
When I came to Beirut, I was surprised, it had changed A LOT during the past two years (1995-1997) from my last visit. I couldn't almost recognise some places. They had made rebuilding work days and nights. Signs of the civil war was almost not visible anymore. From where all the money for this vast project? Saudi-Arabia and Kuweit had helped Lebanon and payed billions of dollars for rebuilding. Rafik Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon came into power around 1994, and began efficiently to arrange things. The results were visible. Also the Lebanese currency, Livre was stable. In July 1995 one USD was equal to 1615 LL and now, two years later, the rate was 1535 although U.S. dollar had raised simultaneously.

The improvement of Lebanon, what the civil war had ruined, did not limit only to Beirut. Also roadworks were done and new highways were built in South Lebanon. Anyway, from Beirut people told that it is not an 'East Beirut' and 'West Beirut' anymore. Now it is 'one Beirut'.

In the evenings streets were full of people. From the eastern Beirut was heard pop music, for example "Ooh-la-la-la, I love you baby" and from the western Beirut imaam's invitation to Islamic praying.

Hard Rock Cafe, Beirut.

4.8. Mon (26) Visiting Wonderful South Lebanon

My goal for that day was to see how's life nowadays there in the South. I served in UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon) in 1991-1992, so of course I wanted to see my old work places. So, I left on early morning from Beirut towards South. There in South Lebanon the traffic is very dangerous, I knew it before. It was a painful experience to ride a motorcycle there, where almost no one was caring about any kind of traffic regulations (no respect of life either).

I remembered the road to the Finnish contingent, Finbatt (Finnish battalion) area. When I arrived to the Finbatt's border of AO (Area of Operations) at position 9-13 I heard the news: last day Israelian air forces had attacked some Hezbollah unit and killed five guerrillas. That's the way it is sometimes there. Israelians and Hezbollah are fighting there and UNIFIL's job is to count the shots. It's hands are tied. I visited also Finbatt HQ (Headquarters) where I used to work, position 9-1 and a checkpoint 9-31 too. Anyway, I liked my visit in Finbatt and seeing the Finnish peacekeeping thing, now as a tourist!

The North Lebanon is different from the South. I warmly recommend having vacations in South Lebanon for those who want to have some 'action' during their holiday :)

When I rode back towards Beirut, I had an awful accident, crashing with a car! The idiot drove his car carelessly just in front of me from the roadside. I could almost stop, but not totally. Car had as bad damages as my bike. I had luck again!!

With my friend Elias we visited some of the old places in Lebanon. Some of them are very old, 800 years old and more. We visited souk (old marketplace) of Tripoli and also the castle. That was built by the Crusaders in 1100's. Also we saw the castle of Saida (Sidon). Usually Crusaders had taken the pillars of the Roman temples as material to their castles to make them stronger. There it was possible to see the heads of the rounded pillars in the castles' walls or some lion's head.

Although Elias was a computer engineer as me too, he was also interested of cultures and old places. Visiting those places was like "a trip 1000 years back". Getting "Back to the Future" was easier than in the movie :)

11.8. Mon (33) Leaving Lebanon, back to Europe

I improved my bike, actually strengthened the sidebag frames so that they wouldn't tremble so much on bad roads. Otherwise, that would cause later on breaking of the plastic side bags' locks. Other improvements I left to be done in Italy, perhaps.

I said goodbye to my Lebanese friends, to the Müllens. During my stay, they had offered me some traditional Lebanese food (Lebanese cuisine is rich), of which I'll list something here:

Tabboule = Lebanese salad, contains broken wheat
Fattoush = Lebanese salad, used with white Arabic bread
Kafta = Hamburger meat + onions with potatoes & tomatoes
Falafel = mixture of Fava beans & chick peas, tomatoes, onions, parsley, etc
Shawarma = Special grilled meat with spices & vinegar
Knefe = For breakfast. It's like a bread, which contains cheese and syrup
Mankoushe = For breakfast. Paste with Thyme, sesame & oil
Debs = To be put on bread. Melasse & sesame juice
Zaatar = To be put on bread. Thyme, sesame & oil

And one special drink, a juice which I liked a lot, was called Guava (name of fruit).

On the afternoon I left the traffic jammed Beirut. Careful riding, trying to avoid more accidents, I rode towards the North.

I passed Syria and arrived back to Turkey, the same road as when going to Lebanon. To my tour plans belonged to go from Beirut by ship directly to Italy, but yet it was not possible to go from there.

12.8. Tue (34)...20.8. Wed (42) Turkey

General information about Turkey.

I went to Ankara to visit Nokia office there, the first one on my tour. Although I had to quit from work in Finland before the tour, one of the sponsorship contracts with Nokia was to write to the staff magazine Nokia People. For that purpose I could see some of the offices worldwide. I am planning to return back to Nokia later, so it is possible to see Nokia worldwide and also possible for me to write this story by computer.

I visited also the Turkish importer of Nokia products, Basari Elektronik in Ankara. They have sold one million GSM mobile telephones in Turkey and about 100,000 NMT mobiles (1997). They sell also their own product, a DECT mobile: digital cellular telephone for office purposes, called KAAN. Their work spirit was excellent. They gave me one morning a briefing about their company and departments.

26.8.97, Bolu, Turkey

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