Two thousand kilometres in ten days, but just 220 of them ridden on a bike. We have envisioned many possibilities regarding the frustrating 90-day permit to the Schengen Area—basically 26 European countries that have abolished border controls and function has one country, from Iceland to Greece, Portugal to Norway, and pretty much everything in between. We could have disregarded it and kept on riding to Helsinki and through the late USSR Baltic Republics to Poland. Followed by Slovakia, Hungary, and finally into Romania. That was the dream…plan A! Except that overstaying could involve a steep fine, a two-year ban from Schengen and an “illegal alien” stamp in our passports, which are hard to justify before consulates of countries you want to enter down the road. Another option was to leave Schengen at night through a forest, a dark field or across a river, but this quickly felt even more unwise. So we settled on hopping on night trains and buses instead, to reach the Ukraine—a non-Schengen country—with the meter on day 93. Once inside Ukraine, the Carpathian Mountains and Romania are a short ride away. Needless to say this was an almost unbearable situation, but while we were going to motor across parts of the continent we tried our best to learn and enjoy the ride.

En attendant l'Helsinki Express de nuit à la gare d'Oulu, en Finlande. Ostrobotnie du nord.
Waiting for the Helsinki Express, a night train, in Oulu. Finland.
Café et pâtisseries pendant qu'Helsinki se lève. Finlande.
Coffee and pastries while Helsinki’s waking up. Finland.

It starts with a night train to Helsinki, where we visit Suunto‘s headquarters and receive a couple of Ambit3 Peak made on the premises—we have created an account on and started downloading our daily “moves”, for those who want to take a close look at the route. After getting slightly lost in the capital’s intricate network of cycling routes, we make it to Helsinki South Port in time to catch a late speedboat across the Gulf of Finland to Tallin, in Estonia. We have 45 minutes to ride in the dark from the port to the bussijaam, where a bus driver must accept to take the bikes on board for the night trip to Vilnius, in Lithuania. Foraging for some scraps of Russian, Pierre convinces a driver to take us and the bikes, without any tickets: the ticket counter is closed for the night, we’ll pay upon arrival in Vilnius. Estonia, Latvia and most of Lithuania rumble by as we turn into sleeping contortionists.

Station pour flotte de vélos libre-service dans le vieux Vilnius. Lithuanie.
Need to get around in Vilnius, Lithuania? No problem, just hop on a Cycle City bike!
Taking a break on Vilnius Cathedral Square. The city’s history of conquerors and occupation is long and complex and we appreciate the now free and independent capital and its motley heritage.
The Old Town is Vilnius was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994 because the town “has preserved an impressive complex of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical buildings as well as its medieval layout and natural setting” Awesome place to enjoy a cold beer on a patio and get our picture taken by a German tourist. Our young waiter recommended the “fried garlic bread with cheese” to go with it. He also left us astounded by sponsoring two of our beers!

A light rain is falling on Vilnius and we take refuge in a cafe: we have the whole day in the Lithuanian capital before boarding another night bus, to Warsaw this time. For the price of a cup of coffee in Norway, here we get a full blinay (local crepes) breakfast. The old town is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the baroque architecture is sumptuous. Plus, the atmosphere is lively with university students sitting at cafés, rolling up cigarettes, philosophizing…

Sunshiny Sunday on the Castle Square in Warsaw. The Royal Castle has been destroyed too many times to count, the last time in 1944 by the Nazis, during the Warsaw Uprising.
Showing your true colors in Warsaw, Poland.
John Wayne working for the Polish trade union turned political party Solidarność, in Warsaw, Poland.
Warsaw Old Town listed as a Unesco Heritage Site, Poland
Sunny stroll through Warsaw, Poland.

Once in Warsaw we need a break from this inhumane and senseless way of travelling and head straight to Hostel Helvetia near the Old Town Market Place. The hostel owners have travelled extensively in South America, Asia and Europe on loaded bicycles and the framed photos of their journeys throughout the hostel are heart warming. Warsaw, called the Phoenix City for having survived so many wars, conflicts and invasions during its long history, deserves a lot more than two days but the clock is ticking.

At Warsawa Centralna railway station we board one last train on this absurd circuit. We have chosen Krasnik as a destination because it is a direct train and it places us within a two-day ride of the Ukrainian border, pretty random. It starts by being hectic on Highway #19, but soon we find smaller roads lined with trees and even some nice dirt. Raspberries and potatoes are being harvested, ants and slugs share our campsites. It feels busy and rich. On Janow Lubelski’s central plaza, with the Saint Mary of Rosary Sanctuary, the large Jesus statue and the brightly painted store fronts, this could be a Mexican mountain village. Names of streets, statues and plaques remind us here and there of Poland’s uttermost famous citizens: Marie Curie, Frédéric Chopin, Nicolaus Copernicus and Karol Jòzef Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II.

Potato harvest in the rich farmland of Poland’s Lublin Highlands.
Skirting the Roztoczarisky National Park on the way to Ukraine. Poland.
This is much better than sleeping on a Eurolines bus! Jòzefòw, Poland.
Riding through Lublin Voivodeship byways, Poland.
Not all potatoes and raspberries in the Lublin highlands picturesque countryside. The Belzec camp was the first of the Nazi German extermination camp. Poland.
Not all potatoes and raspberries in the Lublin highlands picturesque countryside. The Belzec camp was the first of the Nazi German extermination camp. Poland.
Unascertained numbers of Poles, Romani and Jewish people died here. The meager amount of Holocaust survivors who could testify—one or two people—is apparently the reason why this camp is so unknown. Gulp. Belzec, Poland.
Unascertained numbers of Poles, Romani and Jewish people died here. The meager amount of Holocaust survivors who could testify—one or two people—is apparently the reason why this camp is so unknown. Gulp. Belzec, Poland.

The Polish border officials in Hrebenne wave us to the front of the long line of cars, ask us about our whereabouts—for their own amusement—and stamp our passports. We’ll never know if we could have showed up 10 weeks late and gotten the same treatment. The Ukrainians start by telling us “no bicyles” but we do not move so we get sent to the front of the line again. A voluptuous agent in tight battledress takes our passports to get approved and welcomes us to Ukraine.

The small town of Zovka in Ukraine has maintained its Soviet era road sign.
In Kulykiv we meet brother and sister Dimitri and Diana eating fries and cheese—Ukrainian poutine?—on their way back from school. Diana insists on getting a ride on Pierre’s load…and her request gets granted!

After 3 months of sustained touring we are catching our breath in Lviv, enjoying this blooming city and its historical centre. Lviv is the furthest we could be from the “Ukraine Crisis” happening in the eastern part of the country. On this side, people are behind president Poroshenko, things look regular on the surface but pro-Russia channels have been taken down by cable providers and we see some small Russian flags on products in the stores—to boycott if you feel like it. Last night at Kumpel Microbrewery, one hryvnia was added to our bill to provide the Ukrainian soldiers with “equipment, psychological post-war help and familial monetary support”. Za zdorovja!

This is the completion of the first cycle of N² and here are some statistics:

Books we have read: 3

-The sunburned country by Bill Bryson

-The tiger: A true story of vengeance and survival by John Vaillant

-The luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Nights spent: 93

-In a boathouse: 1

-In a cottage: 4

-In a trailer: 1

-In a house: 5

-In a hotel: 11 Thank you to Arctic Motell and Camping in Kautokeino, Engholm Husky Lodge and Rica Hotel in Karasjok, Kultahovi Tradition Hotel in Inari and Hostel Helvetia in Warsaw.

-In our tent: 71

Kilos of oatmeal ingested: 10

Motor transports:

-Buses: 2

-Trains: 3

-Boats: 18 All except the last one were ferries boarded in Norway’s Fjordland.

Flat tires:

-Pierre 1

-Janick 0

Broken cables:

-Pierre 1

-Janick 3


-Pierre: 16

-Janick 19

Hardwear we purchased:

-2 mini SD cards

-1 tuque

-2 pairs of socks

-1 Ipod Touch

-2 brake pads

-3 maps

-1 rear wheel

Helvetica_pics_travels_stories logo

In the green pearl of Ukraine ! (Khust, Ukraine – KM 4,510)
Finnmark to Finland: Exit SÁPMI! (Oulu, Finland - KM 3,825)

One Comment

  1. Wow, already busted a rear wheel?

    And surprised too at the # of broken cables. I’ve always carried spares for brakes and derailleurs but never needed to use them. All that braking in the Fjordlands?

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