Sweden, Viking ships and Chet’s jalopy (August 22, 2013)
Departing Oslo was a lot harder than expected. On a Friday evening, in pouring rain I managed to cycle 15 km before my rear rack completely fell apart. I was riding Into a gas station to ask for directions when I heard a loud snap, after turning around and seeing that my rear rack was now resting on my rear fender I almost cried in cold rain. It took me about 45 minutes to jerry rig a temporary fix with zip ties and bungee cords. Afterwards I road another 10 km and slept in the mud underneath a small tree. The rain was so bad I could not cook so resorted to cold beans and a can of Norwegian spam called “Snuring”.
The next morning the sun was up and gave me the opportunity to wind dry my clothes as I pedaled closer and closer to Sweden. There is no official boarder, just a small change in vehicles, prices and language. I stopped into a grocery store and was shocked that I could afford a bottle of sparkling apple cider, it was then that I realized I was in Sweden. Cheap candy, lots of sugary drinks and smiling faces here we go. Another shock was the amount of vintage cars, 1950, 60s and 70s hot rods roaming the streets. I saw more classic automobiles in one day than at a hot rod show in America! Even Chet’s jalopy could be found rolling through the streets. The Norwegian fjords are gone and with them the mountains, the Swedish countryside is composed of rolling hills and open grassy fields. I arrived in Arvika, Sweden just after 3 pm to find a completely disserted city. Everyone had closed up shop at 2pm and I felt as if I were roaming the streets on Christmas morning. I had a host just outside the city and he invited me to a large Norwegian dinner party. Crawfish, scalloped potatoes, salad, cake and lots of beer. I must have eaten over 15 large crawfish and learned that the most flavorful part can be found near the brain! At this party I learned the Swedish tradition of singing drinking songs. They sang “row row row your boat” with alternate lyrics, (ex: drink drink drink a beer). After about 6 songs and 4 shots of homemade vodka I started an interesting conversation with my neighbor Pieter Adrian, a Viking ship builder and a world traveler. After eating cake and listening 100 year old record played on a wind up record player, I slept in a warm bed under a nice roof.
The next morning it rained but my friend Pieter and Kristina offered to help me fix my bike, after a few attempts at welding the decided to fix the bike the “Viking way” using flexibility to establish the utmost strength. After fabricating a few straps out of aluminum gaby is now better than new and can continue to carry heavy loads.
The Swedish road system is not made for bicycles, most of the new roads do not have bike lanes or even a shoulder to ride on. After several warnings from the locals I decided to find out how bad the conditions on the roads were for cyclists. The shoulder has been replaced with a steel rail and in many areas the road is just wide enough of a single car. With the main roads being too dangerous to ride I had to take various back roads often times leading me far off course.
Orebro, is the home of my Scandinavian ancestors! In the mid 1850’s they boarded a ship to America and worked for several years as indentured servants. The city is beautiful, and has a castle surrounded by a moat in the town square, I met up with a new friend Saga and spent a great night out in town. She cooked me dinner and I learned a lot about Swedish politics.
On the road again, I said goodbye to my new friend and headed out of the city to Eskilstuna. My family met some Swedes while traveling in Morocco, and they have invited me to stay with them. Eskilstuna is about 120 km from Stockholm, and is home of the famous mountain climber Goran Kropp. While cycling the country roads I passed a distillery and decided to check it out. To my surprise they were it was their last day in business and they were quickly closing up shop and moving the business to Scotland. I got a official tour, and tried all 12 of their whiskeys! After two hours of great conversation and constant whiskey sipping I returned to the road and pedaled east to Eskilstuna. Jarrett and Maya were very happy to have me stay with them and they cooked me a hearty meal of beer and potatoes. Jarrett has spent extensive time in S. Korea and has peaked my interest! I am heading to Stockholm today and will stay in the city for a few days before boarding the ferry to the Finish Archipelago, Aland. My stomach is better and my strength has returned!
Stockholm, the Finnish Archipelago and a Helsinki film festival
(August 31, 2013)
Route: Eskilstuna to Stockholm
Stockholm to Aland (ferry)
Aland to Korpo (ferry)
Korpo to Helsinki
Current location: Helsinki, Finland baby!
I spent 4 days in the beautiful city of Stockholm. The city is broken up into several different islands, and each have their own feel. After staying with Jarrett and Maya in Eskilstuna Maya invited me to stay with her family in the Bohemian district on Sodermalm island. After a late departure I arrived after 10 pm on Thursday evening. What a hip city! Oslo had all the Ralph Lauren types, Stockholm has the Chanel and Vogue. I avoided the busy roads and crossed paths with a motorbike tourist from Australia. We exchanged stories and I got the feeling that riding a motorcycle can be a lot more isolated than bicycle travel. He rode from Oslo to Stockholm in one day, a feat that took me almost a week to accomplish. The Australian had everything from a few GPS units to a local cellphone, so much gear that he was in a bubble and could no longer interact with those around him.
I took the elevator to the 3rd floor and met my hosts for the next few days. What family! I quickly felt right at home and was treated like a close relative. Maria and Martin have two kids Mira and Mons and it was great spending time with all of them!
In Stockholm I went to the epic Vasa museum and saw the legendary Swedish warship and all its glory. The Vasa ship was the Swedish flagship built to capture the envy of the world. The ship however was poorly designed due to have two floors of cannons, and sank after a few km on its maiden voyage. It took Sweden over 300 years to salvage the remains, and another 50 years to preserve and put together the pieces. Now more than 95% of the original ship can be viewed at the museum. What a sight, 5 floors of information and a basement with the remains of those who drowned in the disaster. I stayed in the museum until is closed, and cycled to the shore just south of the museum, the actual sight of the sinking.
From there I wandered the small island of Steppholmen, and admired the view of Parliament building across the harbor. Each island is so small that the whole city is easy accessible by bicycle. Just across the harbor lies Gamla Stan, the old town, which has cobble stone streets and ancient churches. One could easily spend a few days wandering the streets and sipping local beers. I retired for the evening after taking the elevator to the 27th floor of the Hissen building. The Skybar, has a beautiful view of the city and has an epic balcony overlooking the harbor. 15 dollar beers and 20 something cocktails, almost everyone present was texting, this must be an exciting place to hangout! I decided to skip the vibe and return to the streets where I could find a large variety of 2% beers*. (The strongest beers available in a supermarket)
The next day I stumbled upon a birthday party on the neighboring island of Langholmen. I pedaled to the top of a small hill and was greeted by some beautiful Swedes. It was a 25th birthday party and I was invited to live music (they had carried a generator, two huge speakers and a turntable), refreshments (lots of champagne, and boxed wine) and swimming in the Stockholm harbor. I swam with topless girls and watched the sunset over the city, drank champagne and talked about fashion with a few up and coming designers. I partied with my new friends for close to 6 hours, and stumbled home in the dark hours of the evening. What a night! There is no reason to every feel shy or lonely in a city like this. I was to catch the ferry to Aland the next morning at 7 am, but decided to stay another da and to see the infamous death spot recommended by my sister.
On Sunday I cycled to Skogskyrkogarden, the historic city cemetery, which is on the Unesco world heritage list. A few world-famous architects in the early 1900’s got together and designed a gingerbread house for tombstones. The place was extremely creepy, thick forests growing around ancient graves, and long dark roads leading to forgotten burial sites. I pedaled around trying to get a feel for the place and decided to leave, but not before getting lost in the Muslin section of the cemetery. I slowly observed the dates on the tombstones go from past to present and watched relatives tend to new offerings. From the cemetery I cycled to the city hall, the official venue for the Nobel Prize(s). The building itself has a beautiful tower with three crowns, the official symbol of Sweden. I spent the rest of the afternoon with my friend Mons. We walked to his favorite places in the city and we drank a few beers at a park bench in the harbor. He introduced me to “snooze” the Scandinavian alternative to tobacco and after a few minutes my head was spinning.
Pack up and say goodbye! I cycled out of Stockholm in the early morning and almost missed the ferry to Aland (the main island in the Finnish archipelago). After 3 hours of sleep, I found a vacant corner on the ferry and closed my eyes for a few hours. I awoke to the Finnish archipelago, close to 18,000 islands located between Sweden and Finland, what a sight! I recommend everyone to visit an archipelago sometime in their life, it is such an interesting experience to be surrounded by islands.
Once in Aland, there are ferries and bridges that connect to many of the surrounding lands. After departing the ferry I cycled south and pedaled from island to island. Each land has its own unique character, with some having sandy beaches, and others just rocks. It’s very fascinating to look into the horizon and see hundreds of small islands. It’s almost like a creator ate a sandwich and sneezed, leaving specks of land everywhere.
I stayed with some friends Rob and Ulsa. They welcomed me with open arms and we went kayaking. Seeing the archipelago from land is very different compared to exploring them from a Kayak. We launched from the main island and paddled for a few hours to a remote beach. There we picnicked and swam, and drinking German beer and eating dumpstered bananas and pineapple. Kayaking the open waters was extremely rough compared to the sheltered coves near the islands. On the return Rob raised his sail and we floated effortlessly across the seas to our landing.
Rob reminded me a lot of my friends from the Santa Cruz trailer park. He is extremely fond of dumpster diving, and lives in a converted school bus from Canada. A very interesting couple, I thoroughly enjoyed spending a few days with them.
The next day I took the ferry to eastern island Korpo. From there my plan was to cycle the Finnish archipelago all the way to Helsinki. While on the ferry I met a businessman turned adventurer named Kaj. We talked for a few hours about man powered excursions and he was truly interested in my journey. When the ferry landed in Korpo he invited me to stay at his summer-house in Nagu, 17 km away. We road together in the evening fog (translated as elves dancing) and he told me about the history of the islands. Kaj is so dedicated to human powered travel that he was pulling his kayak behind a tandem bike! I spent the rest of the evening sipping beers and lounging in his sauna, we became good friends.
After riding through the archipelago, the ride to Helsinki was long and uneventful. There are not many fins that can speak English, so getting directions can be a major hassle. I arrived in Helsinki on Friday just in time to pick up my replacement rear bicycle rack. I have been trying to get this rack since New Orleans, and after missing two connections in the states I have finally got it! Special thanks to Jon Blumehagen, you are awesome my friend!
Last night at 9 pm I went with my friend Anton to the Helsinki cycling film festival. I was interesting, not quite the audience that the festival would bring in Los Angeles but nonetheless worth the ticket. Most of the films were quirky stunts filmed with vintage cameras blasting an indie soundtrack. I had forgotten how dorky cyclists are! Most the crowd had some sort of hip facial hair, like handlebar mustaches (no pun intended) and sideburns. I can’t convince myself that I am part of this scene! The last film of the evening was an honest film about cycling in Kyrgyzstan, and I can’t wait to seeing the country first hand.
I will be in Helsinki for the next few days. My plans for Russia have changed! The visa processing time is roughly 3 weeks and the consulate can only guarantee a two-week visa!! So will be cycling directly south to Estonia, and will proceed through Latvia and Lithuania. Depending on my Schengen visa (90 days in a 180 day time frame) I may make a small detour to cycle the Alps in Austria, and hope to have enough time to do the Italian coast in December.