So, Tom and Will are off! After a fitful start involving a broken GoPro, missing Uzbekistani Visas, and Visas with the wrong date, our pair of intrepid brothers have set off on their journey to Tokyo.
Catching the ferry to the Netherlands, the brothers made their way to Amsterdam, navigating the tiny streets by way of their phone’s sat nav and wondering who had the right of way – drivers, cyclists, pedestrians or trams?
“It’s outright chaotic, maybe even more intimidating than the sprawling, yellow-cab dominated streets of New York. More intimidating that anywhere I’ve ever driven anyway.”
The Netherlands is of course renowned for its cycling culture, with Amsterdam alone being home to some 800,000 bikes. Although it seems as though a love of cyling is ingrained into the very DNA of the Dutch, it wasn’t always so. Their culture of cycling has been built slowly, by successive governments with a long-term plan and outlook. A boom in cars in the 1970s resulted in an alarming rise in cyclist deaths, spurring on investment in cycling infrastructure. Today, there are 767km of cycle paths and lanes crossing the city.
After sampling Amsterdam’s nightlife, the following morning they travelled on through to Germany where they spent the night camping, and then went on into Denmark and Copenhagen. There they visited a commune known as Christiania. Founded in 1971 by artists and squatters, it’s now home to about 850 people, many of whom try to live as sustainable a life as possible.
Crossing the Øresund Bridge into Sweden, the weather took a turn for the worst and Will and Tom ended up erecting their tent in a storm and endured their worst night’s sleep so far. However, the following day the sun makes an appearance as they drive up and into Stockholm.
“Stockholm is breathtaking. As we drive into the city, the architecture seems to spring out of nowhere, suddenly becoming a Venetia-esque paradise. It’s a truly beautiful day, which only intensifies the picturesque scenery which we enter. We park up and are quickly approached by people interested in the car and our route. “
After admiring the stunning architecture and all-round chilled out vibe that Stockholm is renowned for, the boys stumble across a jazz bar where they while away a few hours before catching their ferry across to Finland.
Camping in Finland is given up in favour of a cabin as the weather again turns stormy, and the following day they continue north-east to the town of Lappeenranta, a resort on a lake.
Finland is colloquially known as The Land of a Thousand Lakes, which is a bit of an understatement; there are in fact 188,000 lakes dotted throughout the country. Many of these were created due to the glaciers that once covered Finland in the last ice age; though they have long since melted, the lakes are the result.
The pair continue driving on through Finland until they reach the Russian border and leave Europe.
The Finnish-Russo border is ill-defined. The whole area is peppered with lakes and waterways. Probably there is some winding physical barrier, but on the ground and a map – and in winter when everything freezes – it’s hard to see why this line exists.
There have long been tensions between the two countries. Leningrad – now St Petersburg – has always been very close to the Finnish border; too close for comfort and security. The border area has frequently been fought over; in part because much of Finland’s economy is based in the south.
This is where their car insurance runs out; every guide book has told them to buy car insurance at the border, but once they reach the border, no one can help them and instead point them in the direction of the police.
Hours tick by and they are passed from pillar to post until they finally secure their car insurance. With that legal hurdle out of the way, they continue on their journey…