Triplogue - Sweden


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Bidding farewell to St. Niels and Copenhagen

Prelude – Copenhagen

First of all this section is dedicated to Niels Kaae. Without his seemingly infinite generosity and patience I would not have recovered so quickly from my shoulder injury. When I first explained to him that I didn’t think I’d be able to ride for 2-4 weeks and that there was a possibility I’d have to have surgery that would involve eight weeks of convalescence he told me unequivocally that I "could stay as long as I like."

I learned to love Copenhagen which Niels dubbed the "Italy of Northern Europe." This phrase fits it well. People are relaxed, but the streets are immaculate. There is not much left of the city that was discovered in the 1100’s. Seems that Copenhagenites are not very good with fire and much of the city has burned at one time or another. My favorite story is that of St. Nicholas Church. When the belfry caught fire one night the keeper of the church was off drinking so the fire department had to watch it burn, the tower fell and burned the whole neighborhood.

My first night there a dude named Morden took me on a city tour. I saw the city and learned of the zillion fires that devastated Copenhagen. I spent most days walking around, exploring, meeting people, and seeing the museums of this rich northern capital. One striking characteristic of the Danish is that they can conjugate the verb "to party." In fact many drink so much that they can hardly stand. When they stagger into you in a bar you find yourself praying that they won’t spontaneously barf on you. The Danish claim that most of these folks are Swedes who have staggered down from their country for a drink in order to avoid the stiff taxes up there. That story accounts for some of the drunken behavior, but not all of it.

The Danes are enamored with the bicycle as a form of transportation. This immediately endeared them to me. Many Danes have more than one bike and they dash about town on them. The Danish have very different bikes then, say, for example the Dutch. Dutch bikes are big, heavy, black beasts with great fenders. You ride a Dutch bike sitting up straight and tall and saunter to your destination. Danish bikes are city-racing hybrids with bare frames and chains, little flimsy looking fenders and utilitarian handlebars. Danes lean over their handlebars and zip from place-to-place with great haste on their highly tuned cycles.

Copenhagen is a middle-sized city with a very dramatic skyline. Spires on top of churches and official buildings punctuate the sky. From my window in my sleeping loft I could see a few of them in the night sky. One had a massive clock that served as my "horloge" and alarm clock. Each day it would wake me with its first bell at eight a.m. Another feature of the night sky were the fireworks that lit the rooftops three days a week just before midnight. They were launched from the amusement park a few blocks away. Tivoli is like a museum of amusement parks. It retains a feeling of before the turn of the century. Couples stroll around the little lake and gardens, dudes try to win prizes for their dates and take them on scary rides to get them to hold them. While in Copenhagen I had an amazing little social life, part of which is recorded on the Denmark Social Whirlwind page.

I’ll miss Copenhagen, Niels, and the great times I had there. Denmark will always occupy a special place in my heart. I felt a tear well in my eye as I said good-bye to it and Niels on our departure to Sweden.

31 July, Copenhagen/Malmo to Horby, Sweden, 74k

Leaving Copenhagen we grabbed a snack for the ferry. A smoked salmon, dill and lemon sandwich to munch on the boat. The ride to Malmo went very fast. It took but 45 minutes to make it across. Seemed funny to go through passport control as it didn’t feel like we had even left Denmark. Sweden looked just a little cleaner and there were far fewer cyclists. Strange because the Swedes seem to promote bicycles just as much as the Danes. Every destination could be reached by a bike path.

We made it to the countryside very quickly and then to a cute little town called Lund. Lund’s suburbs were far less interesting then central Lund. At first I felt like we had entered a Socialist Twilight Zone. Modern brick buildings, identical architecture and no one on the street. Soon this cold and off-putting atmosphere gave way to a more traditional European town. We found the central plaza and a hipster café to stop at and have a little snack. We opted for a traditional Swedish Quesadilla. It came with the most disgusting looking gaucamole you have ever seen. It was more a mix of avocado and hummous than gaucamole. We were struck by the fact that no one seemed to think that we were foreigners (hard to believe) and everyone tried to speak with us in Swedish. Swedish almost sounds a little like English if you’ve drank too much. We’ll find ourselves fooled into thinking we actually understand it now and then.

Over an hour later we found ourselves in a teeny-weeny little town. We stopped at a market to buy water and a snack. After we finished the water I went back into the store with the intent of throwing away the bottle only to find that there was a massive deposit on the bottle and got nearly the price of the drink back. After this revelation the sky turned black and began to dump rain. We made it as far as the next bit of shelter in town, near a supermarket. Dashed in to look for a salty snack. We bought a loaf of bread and a toothpaste tube full of fish eggs and chowed. Once the rain passed we chased the storm down the road riding through the puddles it had just left. We stopped to ask directions to the youth hostel and I encountered the first person in Sweden who did not greet us with an ear-to-ear smile. He didn’t speak English and seemed vaguely offended that I had no command of Swedish.

When we finally reached our intended destination we found the tourist office closed. Ulla and Nele were across from it in a bus enclosure ringing their bike bells when they noticed our frustration. They were traveling for two weeks and were just about ready to head home. They shared their maps with us and helped us find the youth hostel just outside of town. "Youth" is perhaps not the right word to use. We were absolutely the youngest guests by some twenty years by all accounts. Even the septuagenarian desk clerk seemed to wonder why we were staying there given our youth. "Cheap" is not the operative word when it comes to youth hostels. Ours cost us $50 bucks, had no shower in the room and did not include the paper sheets we had to buy for the beds. In every other way the place was great and absolutely spotless. One surprise was the fact that there were no towels in the room, but there were beautiful, fluffy and white terry bathrobes for each of us that made great towels. We munched the final bits of our roe on bread and retired.

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Ring my bell. dingle-ling-a-ling

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Werner getting ready for a ride in Horby



1 August, Horby to Lonsboda, 97km

Breakfast was copious and tasty, well worth the 40 crowns we had to pay for each. Afterwards we met the only other person in our age group (he was only ten years older than us. Yet another German bike tourist on his way back to his homeland.

The day was utterly unbelievable. Big blue sky, fluffy clouds, warm air, rolling hills, green forests, no cars, fields of cows, charming little cottages, big red barns and great road (paved and unpaved). I’d write more about it, but I could hardly do it justice. The only downside is that my arm and shoulder continued to hurt more than a little. Hoping that the next day this problem will fade substantially. Lunched on pizza in a restaurant owned by a little dude who looked vaguely middle-eastern. He made a great pizza and provided the best bargain in Sweden. The meal included a salad and beverage for the price of a beer. What a surprise.

We ended up in a less-than-charming little burg. Absolutely nothing going on this Friday night in Lonsboda. Our hostel substantially more expensive and far less glamorous than the night before. We ate dinner in (surprise!) a pizza restaurant. Where we admired local youths while munching a hearty meal. The one thing that is consistent from country to country are the loafing teenagers. They all wear the same clothes, pierce the same places, wear the same outlandish hairstyles and colors, drink and smoke. All the time they fancy themselves rebellious not knowing that every other teen in the western world is doing the same thing.

Tonight I write atop our bunk beds listening to our fellow guests’ children laugh and play in the endless twilight. Wondering if they’ll grow to be exactly like the other teens we’ve seen.

2 August, Lonsboda to Kosta, 123km

You can paint your countryside home in Sweden any color you want as long as it is barnyard red with white window and door sills. If they feel extremely rebellious (like the teens above) they paint the house yellow and the barn is the traditional red.

Our day began on a dirt road winding through the forest past cute little country casas with new Volvos, Saabs and BMW’s parked in the driveway. Seemed incongruous to see this fancy machinery in front of places where they raise cows for a living. The morning route was intended to take us past a string of lakes, but somehow we missed a turn and the lakes.

Our next segment sent us charging up-and-down hummocky topography through forests, past red little houses and by little lakes. (beginning to see the pattern?) After 45k I’d grown tired of the very little steep routes (my shoulder aching from exertion) while Andy was quite happy with them. We agreed to split up for 40K until Tingsryd. Andy’s path (he reported) sent him charging up-and-down hummocky topography. While mine sent me over rolling hills through forests, past little villages and lakes. I’d thought that I’d be on a relatively busy road, but the information signs revealed parallel routes through the forests and parks on a gravel biking trail. It was only the last few kilometers that forced me onto a busy road. The towns I passed looked like pictures from postcards with their structures in the traditional colors resting by little lakes and streams.

I made it to Tingsryd before Andy and went shopping for lunch, which we ate together in the churchyard. We had a revelation at lunch and decided that we’d meet Olivier a week earlier than planned in Helsinki. We set out to find a phone to talk to Olivier. We’d decided that we’d take a train this night to Stockholm and be in Finland the next day riding. After calling we made our way to Lessebo (whose name we joked about endelessly) to catch the train. We arrived at the station to find that the next one arrived in two hours. At the station there was a troop of scouts sleeping on the platform. We tiptoed over them and made our way to town to have a coffee, snack and shop for a train meal.

For our snack we stopped at a waffle shack in the city park. Appropriately we ate waffles with strawberry jam and whipped cream. Our server at the shack was fascinated by our tour and bikes and mused about being able to take such a trip himself. His questions "how can you afford this" reminded us of being in the States.

We were both beginning to find Sweden a little boring. We were happy that we’d be on a train to Stockholm this night and be in Finland (to which we are both virgins) the next day. After collecting some bread, crackers, two types of fish products, dessert and some water at the market we went back to the train station. There the scouts were still sleeping and the train was yet to arrive. We waited on the platform and jumped up and readied to board as the coach arrived. It was a sleek new train without any baggage cars and the conductor unceremoniously denied us entry and the train pushed on without us. I was furious. My shoulder ached and I didn’t know what to do.

Andy wanted to push to the next town, but I was not feeling fit to do so. I was so enraged that I found the energy to pedal onward over more rolling hills through the forest. Off in the distance about halfway to Kosta Andy yelled "moooooossseeee, stop". We pulled out the binoculars and watched him graze in the distance looking up at us when we yelled at him to come closer so we could photograph him. He ignored us and continued his evening meal.

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Archetypal Sweden

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Moose mingling

Andy bests George two-out-of-three

3 August, Kosta to Oskarshamn, 109km

Last evening we were convinced that we were the only folks at the hotel. We were proven wrong when in the morning a handful of other guests appeared at breakfast. We chose to eat outside on the patio and bask in the bright morning sun. Checking out the hotel deskman, a twenty-something hipster, saw us eying the moose brochures and postcards and said, "you know, that is my mother," jokingly. I suppressed a laugh noting a family resemblence. We began our day over rolling hills through forests. Only difference this time is that there were big signs everywhere warning us not to take pictures. We also passed by parking lots filled with scary looking tanks of chemicals and roads that weren’t marked on our map. The path we were on was suspiciously wide, especially because we did not see another vehicle. The whole time we passed through this zone I had the uneasy feeling that we were being watched. We got a clue as to the use of the area when we passed a large and wide road that turned out to be an airstrip. Guns were camouflaged underneath green covers guarding what must be a military installation.

Soon we passed through this zone and were again allowed to take pictures of the rolling hills covered with evergreens. We were greeted by a gas station/supermarket at the next town where we stocked up on lunch goodies. The sky became increasingly more threatening as we exited the village. I noticed for the second or third time a sort of monument that I’d seen in other backwaters. A large flat sloping rock, perhaps 15 meters square, with a rustic stone pillar in the center, sort of a phallus. Still haven’t figured the cultural significance of these monuments but vow to find out eventually.

Andy called me pessimistic when I stopped to put on my rain covers over my bags. Within fifteen minutes of the act drizzle was falling from the sky and it looked like we were to have an endless day of rain. Just as we entered the next village the sky was falling and we ducked onto the terrace of a closed café to snarf our lunch and stay out of the rain. An hour later the sky had cleared except for an occasional drizzle and we were on a roller coaster ride through the most lovely terrain I’d seen in Sweden. We were sure that we’d see a moose around any corner drinking from a lake or munching on some moss. (we were disappointed) One thing that did strike me about the Swedish countryside is how orderly it was. We would see a pond in the forest and wonder if it had been landscaped. Every outdoor scene looked more like a Japanese garden than nature. Thinking about Swedish society we pondered whether life was imitating nature or the other way around.

This day we discovered that anyone over the age of say 40 is a "snecker don’t." This is the term that Mars and Andy applied to folks who don’t speak English in Norway. It came about because if you asked someone if they spoke a language you’d say "Snecker du…?," hence "don’ts", speak no English.

Our desire to see a moose up-close-and-personal was satisfied just as we began to enter the suburbs of our destination. A pair of stuffed ones were being used as roadside attractions to draw folks into a snack shop. We powered through our final kilometers. It was the first time in the past days that I felt strong again on my bicycle. My shoulder was finally not interfering with my riding. Andy trailed in my airstream and we averaged 25kph plus in those final meters up and down hills.

We went directly to the train station to arrange transport to Stockholm only to find yet again that the train to there would not accommodate our cycles. We went to the bus station to discover that the last bus for the capital had already left. We decided to rest that night there and catch a bus or rent a car the next day (or worst case, take the boat the next day.)

4 August, Oskarshamn to Stockholm

We checked out of our hotel and made our way to the bus station. This time I was truly pessimistic. The woman at the ticket office told me that it would be unlikely that the bus could accommodate our bikes. When the bus arrived I checked the baggage compartments only to find them really full. We decided to ask the driver anyway and he gladly pulled out a bike rack and we mounted Siegfried and Roy on the back and hopped on the bus. The bus ride took us past more rolling hills, forests and spectacular coastlines. It stopped every two hundred meters to pick up anyone who happened to be standing by the road.

Unlike bus travel in other countries, the passengers were gentile, moneyed and well-dressed. Many of them received constant calls on their cell phones. The woman just in front of us spent the entire 4 hour trip fixing her face. Andy surmised she must have made a date over the internet and was to see him/her for the first time upon arrival in Stockholm. When we finally made it there we booked passage on the night boat to Turku. We whiled away the hours munching lunch, drinking coffee and playing backgammon. We went out to a gay café around dinner time and played some more backgammon including a game with George, the dude operating the café and a Berliner we met there. The Berliner kept complaining about the Swedish Water Festival. I knew we had nothing in common.

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