Baltic Cycle Tour 2010: Sweden
So, we’re back! We successfully cycled through six countries over the last 26 days with few difficulties, no accidents and big smiles. I’m beginning this series of posts with the start of our trip: Sweden.
We arrived in Nyköping, with our completely disassembled bicycles and seven of our eight bags. As we (Burke) reassembled our bicycles, a Swedish hippie girl pulled up and asked us where the arrival terminal was. She talked with us for a while and then told us that she asked us because we looked like the nicest people at the airport. We wondered later if that meant we looked hippiesh as well. We’ve been living abroad for a year and we were sort of backpacking, so we supposed it was possible but not likely.
The city of Nyköping is very picturesque; with its wide pedestrian-only downtown and bicycle lanes as roomy as those designated for cars, cyclists abound. Oddly, the largest demographic of cyclists was the 60+ female.
Our first morning came with a bit of a shock. While living in Slovakia for a year has helped us get accustomed to shopping abroad, we were not prepared for shopping in other countries. I’ve never been more confused in a grocery store than I was that morning. Between converting Swedish krona to euro and the fact that Sweden is shockingly more expensive than Slovakia, I was overwhelmed by the fact that bananas cost 2.75 euro/kg ( about $1.65/lb). So once I paid twice as much for the groceries than I would have at home, we had our breakfast on the harbor before making our way back to the airport to pick up our rogue bag.
Finally, being on the road after the delay was an exhilarating and freeing feeling. It was just Burke and me and the open road. The scenery was beautiful. A myriad of flowers and gorgeous rolling fields and plush meadows. Along the road, we passed other cyclist tourists going the opposite direction, there is a peculiar sense of camaraderie among bicers (beets•er noun English adaption of the Slovak word for a bicyclist).
Burke’s phone wasn’t on as we rode, but when we started getting really hungry for dinner we decided it was probably about time to stop for the evening. The ride was so interesting because in June and July in the Nordic countries they experience “white night.” The sun merely isn’t in view for a few hours of the night but not long enough that it ever actually gets dark, making it very hard to guess what time it is. So we rode on towards the lake we had seen on the map and made our home for the night.
Now’s probably a good time to mention that Burke and I didn’t actually carry any maps with us. This may sound quite ludicrous to you, and to just about all the other cycle tourists we met, but overall we were going long distances on country roads so it wasn’t ever necessary. Sometimes it got tricky in cities. For instance, just outside of Stockholm we stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant to point us out on the map. To our surprise he didn’t speak English and instead offered Espanol. We mustered up all the Spanish we remembered to communicate with him and again we were on our way.
When we arrived in Stockholm we went to the edge of old town and sat on the end of the island just relaxing and talking. When we finally made our way to the camping area, we were told they don’t take tents but to check out a nearby hotel that operates out of an old prison. We did. It was just like the rest of Sweden: expensive. So we went to the house next door and asked the lady outside gardening if we could sleep in her yard. Reluctant at first, she agreed and eventually opened her home to us. After dinner Burke and I headed towards downtown, we passed a girl sitting on a bridge reading with no lights just before midnight. Only about 100 meters shy of downtown we turned back because we were so tired from riding.
The next day we explored the city and rode all over a few of the smaller islands in the city. We sat in a cafe overlooking the harbor to kill our last hour or two before the ferry to Finland and met a man who gave us some insight into why Sweden is such an expensive country. The way he saw it, it’s because the winters are so long and dark everyone must have a garage and in it, some hobby that eventually leads to a lucrative side project.
Overall, Sweden was beautiful and perfect for cycling. The only thing that did disappoint me was the lack of traditionally Swedish things. I didn’t see the alleged extra large Nordic people I’d heard of, Swedish Fish, or even Swedish Pro swimming goggles. Burke said he did see Swedish meatballs later on the ferry, but those obviously weren’t on my list.
We were told by our Swedish friends that the best way to approach the ferry to Finland was with a running start. Unless you pay for a cabin, there are few comfortable seating areas, so you must be first on the boat in order to get one. We followed their advice and had dinner in a room with about twenty other people, two of which were Finnish deaf girls named Silva and Aina that we befriended and talked with for an hour or two before bed. At the end of the conversations they gave us sign language names, Burke’s was bicycle and mine was clever.
When it was bedtime Burke and I decided to go through with our plan and brave the top deck for an amazing night that would be different than all the rest. So we inflated our sleeping pads and climbed into our sleeping bags and laid down unexposed in the Swedish night as we traversed the Baltic Sea. We were woken up around 2am by a frightening amount of wind and decided to head inside before something expensive blew away. So we slept the rest of the night and woke up in Finland!