March 09, 2008

The journey to Joensuu

Three weeks ago today I arrived in Joensuu after a long road trip across Europe. It was five days before that Ed and I set off from a relatively warm Norfolk. Funnily enough, the hardest part of the trip was not driving in Europe for hours on end on the wrong side of the road, but it was the first leg of the journey in England. We both thought that driving to Dover would be a walk in the park compared to the rest of the journey, but we were wrong. We did not take into account the great British weather system!

As we headed for the south coast, we were making excellent time and were thinking of where we should stop for some dinner. Then, as we approached the end of the M11, the fog suddenly worsened. We were soon on the slip-road to the M25 and searching for change for the Dartford toll bridge. We need not have rushed, because barely 200 yards onto the M25 we came to a stop. A complete stop. Luckily it was not just us, no lanes were moving. We sat for five minutes before switching the engine off and getting out of the car to see if we could see what the trouble was. Obviously, in the thick fog we could see nothing, but it was quite funny that we were stuck on a motorway with only a camcorder to amuse us. Half an hour later it was getting less funny! We were hungry, and eager to get to Dover.

Eventually the traffic began to move and we passed the source of the problem: several accidents and stopped cars due to the fog. We were on our way again – albeit slowly – and although we were now a bit behind schedule we were confident we would catch our ferry in time. The fog, however, had other ideas. Over the Dartford bridge we could see nothing apart from the fog lights of the car in front. Soon after the bridge we knew we had to come off the motorway, but unfortunately we took the slightly longer road to Dover which was our first mistake. This would not have been a problem if we did not then make another wrong turn – again due to the fog – that meant we were heading towards Ramsgate instead of Dover. A few hundred yards on the new road, before we had found a place to turn-around, the traffic came to a sudden stop. Moments later there was a loud crash behind us. We got out of the car to discover that just a few cars behind us there had been an accident that was caused by slowing traffic due to an accident a few cars in front of us!

In one sense, we were lucky that we were merely spectators on the accidents. But critically for us, we were sandwiched between two accidents that blocked the road – we were going nowhere! It took almost 2 hours, 3 ambulances – luckily I think there were no serious injuries – and a whole squad of police cars to clear both accidents. We missed the ferry! Luckily there was another one at 2am so we grabbed some sleep and soon we were gladly escaping England. I might even go as far as saying that I was pleased to arrive in France!

The rest of the journey was plain sailing. Driving on the wrong side of the road, guessing the speed limit, and navigating from country to country: it was easy after getting through Kent. We stopped for one night in Bremen, one night in Copenhagen, an afternoon in Stockholm, and finally one night in Helsinki. And so three weeks ago today I was dropping Ed off at Helsinki airport and driving the last leg of the journey up to Joensuu. Ed assures me that there will be a video of our adventure coming soon!

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