This just might be my personal favorite. When we were cycling towards Petrozavodsk (Petroskoi for Finns) it felt like every decision was a risk taken in the last minute and every time it paid of. Another thing that struck me was the realisation that older people outside the old border spoke Finnish. Or Karelian but anyways…
I had, of course, heard about the relations between them, but it still felt amazing to be greeted in my own language so far from home, just as the sun was setting, and we not knowing anything about the place we had stumbled on. Kinnermäki, as it turned out to be, was and is the most well preserved and one of the most beautiful villages in Karelia.
The Map Link is not yet active. Instead you could browse google maps for sights. They are not listed here as I choose to go with a more personal approach on this one.
The route is an A to B that often follows smaller roads. Not because gravel is so fasionable, but out of curiosity. The only road to many of the interesting villages is a small local road. They simply tend to be unpaved.
Imatra is basically a twin city. Svetogorsk, or Enso as it was once called is in fact so close that Russians do daytrips by bike with their families to visit Imatra. Finns mainly cross the border for cheaper fuel. There is a beautiful Jugendstil (new style, art noveau, national romantism… make your pick) hotel by the Imatrankoski rapids. The damn is a historical one and there are displays where water is allowed to run free. When empty, it makes a gorge.
Follow a smaller road to the border crossing point.
isn’t the prettiest of places. There is a damn and you might be allowed to cross it. A gravel road that follows the great river Vuoksi is one of the options. Alternatively you could continue on the main road, wich isn’t bad either. There is a strong sense of being in Russia. In good and bad.
I remember things like eating ice cream in a valley filled with sunshine and poisonous hogweed, a man riding what looked like a selfmade agricultural vehicle and wondering what had happened to the people who had to work in the collective farm (kolkhoz) now in ruins.
The local elections were closing and, according to some seriuos political theories, they were intentionally dated for the very weekend people traditionally picked potatoes. This way they wouldn’t vote. And indeed, when we reached Räisälä, people were doing just that. Picking potatoes on the yards of blocks of flats.
Kaukola is a pretty little village. We chose it over Käkisalmi we had allready seen last year. The road then went through some scenic places just before Kuznetsnoje, a more Soviet style town with a strong sense of communality. Maybe it was because people were out spending the day enjoying the fair.
Hiitola and Kurkijoki came next, and Kurkijoki, located by a river at the shores of Lake Ladoga, was worth the effort. The road there had that essential loose gravel for your tires to sink in.
To avoid the main road we then went to Ihala and found a Guest House. I can’t remember why we chose it over Lumivaara, but not having to sleep in a tent was nice. That familiar smell of leaking gas and cooking something out of canned fish and spaghetti, when other guests were cleaning the mushrooms they had just picked, was a good ending for a rough day.
Lahdenpohja is a slightly bigger town and it too is situated at the shore (hens the name). We missed Filina Gora but enjoyed the views. The road to Sortavalu is a scenic one. Being the main road it does have some amount of traffic though. Sortavalu is where the ferry to the Valaam monastery leaves from.
We continued on the main road and found out the road A-121 following the coastline is a hidden gem. If only the locals woud drive safe! Doing peaks off the main road while we could we cycled along Lake Ladoga as far as Vitele. With occational conserns on if this was the right choise there were rewards. The best, and only option was now to head towards northeast. Otherwise we’d never get to Petrozavodsk in time.
Vitele is pictoresque, but the next leg and the following ones were heavy. No complaints. They turned out to be the highlights of the trip. Suurimäki has grand views, in Kinalahti we got to speak Finnish with the shop keeper and Kinnemäki was, as mentioned, a stunner. As a warning: There is a half collpased bridge at Suurimäki and the worst roads I’d seen in a while.
On the way to Essoila there were more old Karelian houses. The weather was getting worse by the hour and we Had to make decisions. To Petrozavodsk today was the plan. I have never seen so much water on the streets!
The next day we did what anyone would. Treated ourselves with Georgian cuisine. When realizing all the busses and trains were full, my friend pulled yet another trick off his sleeve. In Russia every car is a Taxi. It’s a form of hitch hiking basically. And that’s what got us back to the border crossing point. And made us realize how mad these people can be behind the wheel.
So as a lesson for your trip: take risks by venturing into the unknown, but not by cycling the main road at rush hour. Also lower your expectations on how many kilometers you’ll do per day. Sometimes 70 means cycling all day long and only stopping for food.
Some things you should know when travelling to Russia can be found here. It also contains a lot of information of lesser value.