Strömsnäsbruk

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This has been a rather weird day. Also the first day starting and ending in Sweden! Now it’s gonna be pretty hard not doing that. It’s not like I would end up in Norway by accident, or take a shortcut there.


Shortcut might be the word my gps was aiming for, again, today. Everything started rather well, I left the B&B and the small village it was in, rallied the nearby small town, and was set on a very nice bike lane for 5kms. It all seemed good. Except the lane ended on a small road that itself ended on an industrial complex (chemical maybe). There was strictly no way in : fences, barbed wires, signs, alarms etc. but the gps really wanted me to get through, and there was no way I was doubling back. I don’t know what’s the big idea with this long bike lane, maybe it’s for the people working in the complex.

  
So I went all around, on a dirt road, and rejoined the planned path. But it didn’t look so good. I was aiming straight for the heart of the forest. The dirt road was becoming less and less used, then only by horses. Being alone in a forest far from anything, in a different country, is insettling. I mean, what’s the status on wolf population in Sweden? Would my small pepper spray help?

  
The dirt track became an unused grassy path, and from the looks of it, I was still miles from finding a real road. Thanks again google maps! At this point though, there was a clearing on the right, with was looked like a tended lawn. I aimed for that, and reached a group of empty buildings that was probably a refuge for horse riders. I was back on a dirt road, and sure enough, I encountered a couple riders some time later. I even got back on a paved road, went through a golf course, and found the road again.

  
On a couple more occasions later, it seemed clear that g-maps had no knowledge of the bike lanes in Sweden, for the most part. It was offering strange detours from the main road, to gain maybe 200m, while there were nice lanes parallel to the road. So I stopped following the path, and was all the better for it.

  
Strangely, again, I reached Markarid in good time. I thought I would have lost much more time in the forest. I even saw a moose right before the city. The idea was to stop there and check that the hostel I was looking for, 12kms further, was indeed there and open. New issue : there was strictly no data coverage – and maybe there’s none outside of large cities. Hopefully, a bank was projecting a free wifi, so I found the info, called ahead, and it was all good. I made a break in what was perhaps the only eating place opened there (it’s a Sunday), then covered the last bit of the day. When you’re not in the wood for wolves, you can appreciate the great outdoors, which reminded me of Missouri.

  
I have changed my plans a little bit, and added two days in the road, in order to avoid long cycling days mostly, and keep it all under 80kms at most. So I should reach Stockholm on the 29th.

Sweden!

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That’s it! I arrived in Sweden today 🙂 The last part of the trip is now ahead of me, one big week left, to cover a bit less than 600kms. That’s still a third of the way.


The ride from Copenhagen to Helsingor, a bit more than 40kms, was probably payback from the ride two days ago. The wind was mostly coming from the south, so it’s been a fantastic day, I was clocking at 25 average probably. I covered the whole distance in a breeze, with many other cyclists going the same way or the other, mostly racers. The track was very nice, going through a forest at first, then following the coast. I got my first view of Sweden on the way.

  
I arrived at the ferry dock, and missed the noon start by a mere 20 seconds. The bike in front of me, part of a group, 200 meters ahead, got in, and I was stopped. Oh well, the next ferry was fifteen minutes out. By the way, I had been searching on half a dozen websites, including Scandlines, for the schedule or frequency, and could not find anything. So people, your mobile sites suck! That’s really a basic info. I had the same issue to reach Denmark. I had to get to the booths to find the info.

  
So I took the next ferry, and this was it! Next stop, Sweden. I’ll be there either a few short months, or a very long time. I don’t think there’ll be an in between. While searching for a way to reach the top platform of the boat, I heard the speaker explain that you could buy cigarettes only in Danish waters, and alcohol only in Swedish waters (or the other way around). The ferry was really just a big floating shop. Twenty minutes later, I was in Helsingborg.

  
My first task was getting a local sim card to stop paying roaming fees, and especially on data – although I had been careful about that. Next up was, should I stop or should I go? I had done a mere 40kms, and could go on easily, but I had to find a place to stay. There’s not a lot of cities along the E4, the highway I’ll be flirting with up to Stockholm, and changing the planned stops could prove complex.

  
In the end, I found a nice B&B 30kms out, lost in the countryside. That would allow shorter stops in the coming days. The gps took me in places I wouldn’t have imagined, once again, so I got to see some (slightly) poorer parts of the city, rode along fields and did some strange turns. When I saw the ikea complex, I knew I was indeed in Sweden.

  

Copenhagen

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I had a very nice resting day, walking around in Copenhagen. I toured the historical center, which is the town proper, the rest of the metropolis, going miles in every direction, can be considered outskirts.


   
 Something that struck me yesterday and even more today, is the unbelievable number of bikes around. They are stored at every corner, left mostly with the small lock on the back wheel, which prevents using them, but not really stealing them. I suppose when someone carries a bike around, everyone take notice. There are maybe more bikes than even in Amsterdam. Plus, here, people actually use them. The lanes are always filled by people at any time – at least in the center. It’s certainly the most convenient way to move around in town, knowing you can just leave it anywhere.

   
 The pedestrian center, the historic center, does not go that far back in time, due to having suffered plague, fires, the English, the German, over the last two centuries. Maybe they can hold it until it’s the Russians turn. Still, it’s an enjoyable walk, with the typical red brick used for most of these buildings. The canal areas seems a bit more modern in general, and also packed with tourists, including the famed little mermaid, a bit bigger than the manneken piss, but not much.

  
The US district : starbucks, hard rock cafe, 7 eleven, burger king, kfc, and there’s a mcdonald just turning left.

  
A few strange pics from the hotel, where apparently lifts are only checked every two years, and this one was even forgotten.

  
And which can hold four persons, or a precise weight of gods.

  
Oh yeah and there’s a spies floor.

FTW – fuck the wind!

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It’s been a grueling day reaching Copenhagen. I wasn’t sure I would go the whole way, but when you persist, you end up somewhere.

It looked so promising early on. A grey sky opened up, and the B&B lady said it would be a nice day, with no wind. I wanted to believe that. I left at about 9, and after the first turn I knew she was wrong. The wind was already blowing strong, from the north, which was where I was going. Suddenly 80kms seemed like an impossible target.

Cycling against the wind is like running through deep snow, or in waist high water. It seems fun to do for a minute, but over hours, it’s more than tiring. You do get tired three or four times faster, but you also lose any spirit quickly, as you can’t think about anything else. And there’s no respite. You have to pedal to get downhill, you fight on flat as if it’s uphill, you have no time to breathe. I was shouting against the wind, again. Although we’re not in Kansas anymore, Tonto.

The lady had told me I could catch a train to the city about half way. I was clinging to that hope as I started walking uphills, to get some time to recover. I was going very slowly. There was very few trees at start, so the wind was going full force. Still, I was moving forward. I was counting the kilometers, or rather the hectometers, then I switched off the gps. I was going to follow the same road all day anyway, and watching the distance remain the same was depressing. Plus there was no bike lane there, just the road shoulder, centimeters away from traffic, French style.

I passed a village, a second one, I made a break at a gas station. I had covered maybe twenty kilometers, then thirty. Forrests started to sprout around, killing a bit of the wind. I stopped at a public map, showing that the Copenhagen urban area was starting less than ten kilometers away. I figured it would help. I got going, it was close to noon. And the sky was closing down fast, temperatures dropping, perhaps with rain on the way.

It got a bit easier within the city, and as the road gradually turned east, the wind wasn’t directly in front anymore. I started moving at a more reasonable pace. It seemed like I would be able to do this. I even reached good speeds after some time. Plus real bike lanes appeared now, first pretty derelict, then gradually in better shape.

As I stopped for lunch, a few kilometers out of the center, still in a rather non descript urban mush of small buildings, I got to check where I would be staying. I was supposed to be hosted, but that didn’t work out. I realized at this point that hotels in this city are twice as expensive as anywhere else. I was too tired to find another solution.

All in all, I did reach Copenhagen, and I will take a rest tomorrow. The next day I’ll leave Denmark and they can keep all the wind turbines for all I care.

Another day, another bridge

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I am now riding in the glorious kingdom of Denmark. At least, within its fields for now, and enjoying its front wind too.

The disadvantage of last night’s stop was a rather outdated hotel with a crappy wifi (and lobby only). The advantage was, I was a couple minutes out of the ferry to Denmark. So this morning, after a very lazy breakfast, I packed my bag, left the hotel, and was in line to board the 9:15 ferry right away. There was four other cyclists, four Germans, including a young couple from the bottom of the country, also going to Sweden, and planning a return by train. We waited for the local train (yes, the train!) to board, followed by at least 20 trucks, while the cars where stacking one level above, and entered last. Small grains of sand in a very large terrarium of metal.

  
Less than a minute after we were inside, the door was closed, sealed, and the ferry was off. All passengers met on the deck for the 45 minutes journey. The sun was blazing over the maritime field of wind turbines, with super tankers carrying around it. Somehow it made me think of the millennium falcon and the field of asteroids. Seagulls were lording over us effortlessly against the wind.

  
Disembarking was even faster, we were all on the ground, biking up along the line of trucks waiting to be controlled, another bad sign that the European borders are indeed tightening even among ourselves. At the first crossing, the Germans decided to follow the signs, going right, and I followed google maps, going left. Turned out I would have reached their destination with 25kms less.

  
But I wasn’t exactly going the same way, and certainly not by the same path. I was sent again on dirt roads, cutting through fields, for one hour, and that proved a real good shortcut this time. The next road was going straight to Copenhagen, a solid 150kms away. My plan was to stop somewhere midway.

  
The weather was great all along, the wind was picking up, mostly against me, but not too strong to be annoying. I’d seen way worse anyway. Most days on this trip bring back memories of the US trip.

  
I passed a few small towns, stopped at one of them to refill my drinks, and had a few minutes of confusion. 15€ for one liter of orange juice?! That seemed really really steep. This is when I realized that Danes do not use the euro (nor Swedes btw). The prices seemed a bit fairer after that, and my lack of change suddenly became an advantage : carrying a lot of euros would be completely useless in these barbarian wastelands.

  
Back on the road, going north. I thought I could stop at Vordingborg, the entry point to the main island. Right before that though, was another bridge. Much longer than Fehmarn (3kms vs 1), but hopefully with a wider bike lane, a higher exterior barrier, and devoid of any cyclists. The road itself was also much thinner, and the bridge in a pretty bad shape : rust all over, cement coming off, etc. Train traffic on this bridge has actually been stopped due to its state. On this first day I was left nonplussed by the average quality of public works, compared with Germany. So anyway, this was another very focused, very long moment, where you think about balance, speed, precision, and absolutely not about the warm inviting waves of the sea 26 meters below.

  
Vordingborg is another charming little town. I stopped for lunch and to calculate my options, which were few apart from here to Copenhagen. I was also left to wonder again how all this pedestrian streets can be filled with clothes shops and related, and with nothing linked to food. Apparently there is a huge market for clothing. I departed later for a small B&B in the countryside further north, in order to reduce the distance to the capital tomorrow.

Who’s bad

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I reached Bad Segeberg, a small town north of Hamburg today. A pretty long ride, and another one tomorrow to reach the end of Germany.

  
My host yesterday is an avid cyclist who does thousands of miles every year. That includes a yearly race around the Swedish lake of Vättern, 300kms in a single day. He does that in 11-12h, and the record is like 7h. So that’s more than 40kms/h speed on a bike, on a full day. I’m happy when I do 20 these days 🙂 I will actually go along that lake in the last leg of the trip! I’ll be there in a bit more than a week.

  
He accompanied me this morning to a ferry crossing the Elbe. I wanted to avoid Hamburg around the west. When I was planning the trip I saw no correct way to have the city as a stop, it didn’t fit. I would have liked to see the place where Kennedy famously said “ich bin ein Hamburger”. Next time.

  
So the whole game plan was, finding a ferry, and do a large curve to stay out of the town. We aimed for a ferry at Cranz initially, not far from Buxtehude. But the water from the tide was so low, we had to go to the next stop by the river itself, right in view of the Airbus factory, a main industrial station for the region. They fly planes and part to and from Toulouse every day. When we reached the stop, the next ferry was more than an hour away, once again because of the low tide. The only solution was to go a bit closer to Hamburg, cross with another ferry, and then come back west on the other side. I would have gained less than 30mns, so I preferred simply waiting. The weather was really nice and many people and cyclists were passing by and waiting too.

  
I took the ferry some time after 11am, and reached the other side. It’s a milestone of sorts, the Elbe looks like the middle of the trip. And indeed after today I’m over 1000kms, with about 900 to go. 13 days of riding, 11 to go. I still went a little west, before doing this large curve north, then north east. For a long time I was on a forest road, cutting through fields before reaching a normal road again. It was almost warm, the road was dry, so it was perfect.

  
I arrived at almost 4pm, very late compared to the usual end, but mostly because of the waiting. Still, I was pretty tired. I didn’t stop often enough along the way, being in a hurry to move forward. I’ll try not to do that tomorrow, another long ride to reach the island of Fehmarn, another ferry out of Denmark.

  
Looking at the map, I’m half way there. My objective, Stockholm, is right above the B of the Baltic Sea.

  

Buxtehude

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I’m in a small town west of Hamburg, with a name like a lady from the Middle Ages 🙂 I’m looking at the end of the German leg of the trip now.

 
Well actually there’s still two days to go, but most of it is now behind me. I will avoid Hamburg and reach a ferry to Denmark within a couple of days. I almost got some sunshine today so it was really nice.

  
I was essentially moving from village to village, all of them still impeccably clean and looking brand new, with the same red brick logic. Being a Sunday, I saw almost no one. And then, lots of corn and wheat fields in between. I encountered half a dozen long distance cyclists today, with the full gear, all panniers on the front and the back, going the other way. I felt a little silly with my small bag, probably looking like a guy going to get bread.

  
I’m staying at a warm shower host again, a couple who do a lot of cycling too. They were at a cycling event in France a couple weeks ago, an event I never heard of before, with a very interesting idea : for one week, you start from a city (Dijon this year), you cycle in a different direction and back each day, with a distance to choose, 30 to 100kms or so. And so you get to see a whole region in the week. It’s the “federal week”. The internet still has work to do to get the flow of information… well, flowing.

  

Mythologies

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Resting day in Bremen. It’s always tough for me to stay put and wait, when I could be moving on closer to the finish line. But I really have to rest.

  
These last two days, I was feeling my legs cramping up faster and faster. I’m not going very fast, and the road is certainly very easy and almost flat, but still the effort stacks up. A day of rest here and there is necessary. So I have to simply wait it out. After all, I’ll be leaving Germany in three days, and reach Sweden in a week. It’ll be very quick.

  
So, I had a lazy morning, walked around the city early afternoon, when there were a few blue pools of sky between the clouds, and of course I ended up in a movie theater. I’m actually contemplating going again as I write this.

  
I walked around the city center, which is quite nice. This part is surrounded by the river and canals, creating a kind of bread shaped form with scales, like a stegosaurus back. Each scale is a park, lining up on the north. The old town is at the center, with buildings mostly under maintenance, and the Bottcherstrasse, an attraction in itself, notably with a carillon, and a rotating piece of building.

  
On the main commercial streets, I was surprised to see groups distributing free kurans, and others free bibles. In other towns I’ve seen also the common stand up group with messages about Jesus and salvation. Such a level of proselytism is a big no-no in France. Religion is like a dick, it’s ok to have one and being proud of it, but don’t stick it out in public, and don’t try to shove it down other people’s throat, please.

  
This also reminded me I was advised to brush up my Norse mythology for Sweden. Having played role playing games for thirty years or so, mythologies are my bread and butter. I certainly know more about Greek / Roman, Egyptian, Norse mythologies, and Chinese / Japanese, Mayan, or even Lovecraftian / Mignolan ones than on the Christian, Hebraic or Musulman ones, which are anyway really dry in comparison. Only Buddhism is a bit more fun. Having only one God is like a Friends episode with just one character talking to himself. No wonder he ends up psychotic, creates mankind, burdens it with sin only so that he can save it, and demands unconditional love unless you want to burn for eternity.

  
I just have to make sure I don’t confuse which of the two ravens is thought and which is memory.

Bremen

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I reached Bremen, one of the major cities on my path, end of the second stretch, and closing in on half of the way.

  
And… it’s another day of grey sky and continuous drizzle all over 🙂 Slightly warmer than yesterday, which makes it okay. It was another relatively short ride (60+kms), mostly along the same major road. For a couple kilometers, there was no bike lane though, which felt a little dangerous – as drivers here are not used to having bikes around. But a lane appeared and I followed it most of the way, with instructions like “turn right in 18kms”.

  
I’m seeing so many slugs on the lane, I feel like flying over Nausicaa’s forests. I try to avoid them, but I can’t guarantee there’s no casualty. This is very close to a project management : you keep your eyes down for every detail of the road two meters in front of you (potholes, wood bits, any piece of metal or glass, slugs). At the same time you make sure you are still going the right way, in order to reach the milestone (the next stop), but also looking at the elevation and path in the next kilometer, to prepare for any change. And from time to time, you check that your progress will indeed keep you on track overall (like reaching half way when you are half down the calendar). And you enjoy the view, at the same time you look out for any unannounced risk (turning car, pedestrian, stray dog…), or growing issue (muscle fatigue, thirst, change in weather, mechanical status…). It forces you to have a multi track view of the future, constantly updated in realtime. All the same, except in a project you really want to squash bugs.

  
Fourth day on German roads, and I have to say that overall cyclists are well taken care of (contrary to what I’ve heard – from a German ;). Sure, making us bike on sidewalks along with pedestrians is a bit strange, and bike lanes are not as great as in Holland. Still, coming from France, I’m really happy.

  
So, Bremen. The culture shock is always in the details. After six days on the road, I really needed to do a laundry – no need to elaborate. The closest one was three kilometers away. In Paris, you can find one every 300 meters, except in very posh districts, where they buy new clothes every day. I walk there, find it, no problem. I get a first view of the city on the way, including the much more neglected parts where the laundry is located. Back to the center by tram, ten minutes, one ticket is 2€70. When you buy a single, last minute ticket in Paris, it’s 2€, a real rip off (50% more than the normal price). It seems we are actually privileged. While I was waiting for the laundry to launder, I walk around to find something to eat, and end up in a bio supermarket. And as everywhere, the taste of everything is a bit off. Like they forgot one ingredient. Food is a real cultural marker, and many little things change from one country to the next. But bio products always taste like dirt 🙂

  
Apart from the occasional (okay daily) nibble, I have a strange regimen of mixing fast foods (thank god they have Subway here), along with very nice restaurants. And being French, I barge in any fine dining place with my sandals and cycling short, because I belong anywhere, and especially in restaurants. I demand to be served. I expect to be served. And I am very picky. I found a very nice Argentinian restaurant in Enschede. A very average Greek one in Kleve. When all else fails, there is always the double cheeseburger.

  
I actually did have fish tonight.