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.