Nikolay Osadchiy, 10.07.2008 mail: niosa at mail dot ru
Route points: Helsinki - Stockholm - Vanersborg - Goteborg - Mullsjo - Helsingborg - Copenhagen, ~1600 km
Esplanade park - Runeberg statue
The purpose of my visit was best described as a bicycle journey. At least these were the words that were written in my visa application to the Finnish embassy in Moscow in May. Surprisingly, Finns believed me and provided me with the visa. This gave me confidence since there were no more bureaucratic hurdles left to be negotiated. I had already bought the train ticket from Moscow to Helsinki, the ferry ticket to Goteborg and a return SAS air ticket from Copenhagen. So I needed only to take off and start cycling.
Traveling by train is a common experience in Russia, but traveling by train abroad leaves a slightly different impression. Even the people traveling in my compartment looked different. My companions included a very noble-looking, religious person, a woman dressed strictly in black, connected to an orthodox missionary church in Helsinki, and her companion - with the appearance of an old-fashioned photographer from the 19th century. His heavy tarpaulin-coated camera was probably from the same period. They both looked so respectable and unusual in my compartment that the customs inspectors did not even bother to glance at my bike.
I was particularly struck by the transformation in the scenery after our train crossed the Russian border. The contrast between the god-forsaken places on the Russian side and the carefully landscaped territory in Finland is really striking. However, even stronger contrasts lay ahead.
Helsinki - the Baltic sea
I had very little time to explore Helsinki (as my ferry was due to leave for Stockholm within five hours of our arrival). However, I had the chance to familiarize myself with local bicycling rules. Bicycles are regulated by a separate system of traffic lights, which are synchronized with the local vehicle traffic lights system. Similar systems exist in many other cities. It seems that city borders end, where special bike lanes end.
Helsinki Cathedral (built in 1830-1852 for Tsar Nikolay I)
The Silja Line ferry
Marine castle Suomenlinna
The gigantic Silja Line ferries cross between Helsinki and Stockholm overnight, traveling at 30 km/h. An extra 10 Euros is charged for transporting bikes, which are parked in the hold - the same place as cars. There were only two or three bicycles on the ferry (with several thousand passengers aboard) - so cross-border bicycling does not seem to be too popular.
There is almost nothing that cannot be found on these immense ships - including casinos and hairdressers. Having a haircut on the ship is likely to result in you being taken for a natural Swede in Sweden - or possibly as a Finn, in case your hair is cut in the different direction. Only Estonian hairdressers are able to incarnate these magical transformations. I had my hair cut especially to check this.
There is a strong wind on the upper deck
Inside, the ferry resembles a small city street
The ferry docked in the northeast of Stockholm, and I bicycled to the center via the coast to Skansen - an island with a museum dedicated to traditional Swedish architecture. However, these pretty houses are not that old. In Russia, people still live in buildings of this type. Almost all buildings on the island are made of wood and sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a modern country house and a house that is over a hundred years old. Stone architecture never became popular in Sweden, which explains the frequent fires that broke out, especially during wars.
The center of Stockholm is full of crowds of tourists, who travel to the city in identical, large buses, walk around several blocks, visit a cafe and leave for another center. It did not bother me unduly to find that most museums were closed on Monday and so could not be visited. Instead, I was free to enjoy the working city from all available viewpoints. One of the funniest sights was watching men wearing ties and jackets, cycling in shining shoes. Bicycles have become very popular as a means of transport, especially since Stockholm adopted a payment system for cars entering the city center. I did not see even a single special signal around!
Terrain: paved but not defeated
Streets in the north are straight and plain
Fences in the city are very delicate
There were three things which I needed to buy in Stockholm - gas, maps and food. I found camping gas in the Intersport store. One double-sized balloon helped me cook for the next two weeks and I donated the remainder to another Intersport store in Copenhagen. Good maps, covering the whole of Sweden can only be found in a shop, which is located across the street from the central railway station (Kart Centrum Vasagatan, 16). Travelers should keep in mind, that other shops only sell local maps. Food could be bought in the shop next to my hotel. My only mistake (due to not knowing the language sufficiently) was to buy a carton of juice - without realizing that it was a 1:7 concentrate!
Even banks in Stockholm were built of wood
Welcome to the military camp
Warfare takes place according to schedule
The start of my journey
On the next day I had a short bike ride around Stockholm, and watched an old shipyard full of deserted vessels. It was probably just as well that I had to check out from my hotel by midday. There was no need to stay any longer in the city and I wanted to keep ahead of my schedule. It was a good decision, because on the very first day a strong contrary wind kept my progress slower than I had planned. Furthermore, soon after leaving the city I found myself on the territory of a large military zone. After encountering military vehicles on my route, I had to turn back at the nearest military roadblock. Nevertheless, I found a public road which crosses this zone and can be used by the public, except at times of military exercises. Information on scheduled military exercises is posted at the entrance. Interestingly, the message starts with the words "Welcome"!
The wind continued throughout the day and when I turned west, my speed dropped to 10-13 km/h. This region is almost flat and practically without woods, which makes it extremely difficult to cycle against the strong wind from the Atlantic Ocean. For the first 100 kilometers it felt as if I was cycling uphill all the way, and it was wonderful to finish them on the bank of a small warm river near a beavers house.
Even tanks follow the rules of the road (in the military zone)
Quarter-mile post. One old Swedish mile equals about 10.7 km
When the wind was strong, I had to slow down to 10-13 km/h.
When there are no wings it's just a shed...
School holidays! (Loa)
Bridge over Klaralven
The next morning the weather was slightly calmer. It started drizzling, but the wind was not as strong. Riding became easier, and the appearance of woods and some sort of terrain changed perception of the surrounding scenery after having cycled across plain fields all day.
Traffic on country roads in Sweden is not heavy, but vehicles are driven fairly fast and the road shoulders are sometimes quite narrow. I was quite relieved that my route avoided the faster roads on the map. I cycled over unpaved roads - grader roads, logging roads and over fields. As Swedish soil is composed, for the most part, from sand and crushed stones, riding along such roads is pure pleasure. The only disturbance is made by terrain. Most of these hilly roads lie in areas which have not been touched by asphalt rollers. Certainly they could have been avoided by cycling on the higher grade roads, but then I would have missed the fast downhill sections and beautiful countryside. The quality of the roads is good and there are very few potholes, even on logging roads. Clearly, they are built to serve the forestry industry over the long term. The logging network is so dense that it compensates for the absence of linear cutting.
Road to Ramnas
In the past, people could purchase milk here. Today it is no longer available..
Blast-furnace in Loa
Pig iron production scheme
Textile mill in Filipstad
Swedes are very fond of American cars
Cokery in Loa
Kyrka in Munkfors
You need to be prepared for the local mosquitoes
Wood piling and dressing device
Presence of forestry is noticeable everywhere in the woods. I was disappointed to see the extent to which the some areas have been deforested. However, at the same time, I also saw lots of newly planted trees (which will then be cut down). Cycling across these woods does not expose you to the wildness of nature. These forests have been excessively tamed and domesticated. Even the firewood is chopped (and used for heating in many of the houses nearby) by a special chopping machine, not by manpower.
Although Swedes do use other means, in addition to firewood, to heat their houses, gas and central heating are not so frequent here. Instead of gas heaters, in the basement they use a special box, which looks like a fridge, for heating purposes. This box is placed over two pipes - each several cm in width - which are buried 50-200m into the ground. This box pumps antifreeze through one of these pipes, and the antifreeze comes back up the other pipe a few degrees warmer (due to the heat of the earth). The difference in temperatures is used to warm the house. The same principle works for warming hot water inside water taps. However, I have to admit that water is tepid rather than hot. It is warm enough to take a shower, but not to enjoy a bath.
It is possible to find showers in some camps (although there are not too many camps in these areas). In any case, I preferred swimming in some of the numerous lakes nearby and slept in my own tent rather than in hostels. There are abundant lakes, forests and endless hills in this area. The further west you move, the more lakes you see around you and the hills become steeper. The highest concentration of lakes and hills can be found somewhere across the border with Norway, which was about 20 km from one of my campsites. However, on this visit I was not going to Norway. For me, the most beautiful part of Sweden was not on the coast or the extensive plains or inside city centers, but here to the north of Lake Vanern. Perhaps one can find even wilder and more picturesque views further to the north of the border, but that lies beyond the scope of this journey. So I turned south near the border.
Canadian geese. They were brought to Sweden in the previous century for hunting.
Deers roam freely in Vanersborg and can be a nuisance to the locals
Lake Vanern and Vanersborg
Next, I planned to cycle to Lake Vanern (the second largest in Europe after Ladoga), Vanersborg, and Goteborg. I arrived in Vanersborg on the fifth day since I started cycling from Stockholm and spent a day there. I visited my friends who live here. This allowed me to take a closer look at the lake itself and the special distinct circular hills near the town. People here believe that they were formed after the eruption of a volcano and care for them as a place where, traditionally kings used to hunt. Foreign kings and even a US President have visited this area. Together with my friends, we made a short trip to the western coast and visited a small town - Uddevalla.
There is a wonderful, quiet road from Vanersborg to Goteborg which runs along the right bank of the powerful Gota Alv River. Travelling this way, one passes through another small town - Trollhattan and can visit the half-destroyed castle Bohus Fastning in Kungalv. (I had not heard about trolls in Trollhattan althought this place is better known as the location of Saab's headquarters.)
Kyrka in Gunnarskog
Horses on duty
Such posters are helpful in finding local places of interest
Caves - formerly used for mining and firing limestone
An old Gota Alv bed. Nowadays water flows through a dam
Big plain to the east of Vanersborg
Bridge across the strait in Uddevalla
Draw bridge over Gota Alv in Trollhattan
I spent the following two days in Goteborg. As in Stockholm, I preferred to explore the city rather than visiting museums. However, there were two museums that I felt I had to visit: Kunstmuseum - unfortunately, the most interesting galleries were closed for renovation and only the modern art galleries were open. A really strange sort of art. And the car museum, located on Volvo's premises on the northern bank of the Gota Alv, about 12 km outside the city center.
The city-center skyline is dominated by the 23 storey Lilla Bommen skyscraper - one of the tallest buildings in Sweden. One can reach the 20th floor via the elevator, but there is a 30 crown charge for climbing to the 22nd floor.
Like most tourist-oriented cities, Goteborg also offers tours along the river and seaside. Every Wednesday an old Bohuslan steam-powered ship takes people around the neighboring archipelago. Perhaps I would have passed this boat unnoticed, had it not been for a friend of mine, who, a long time ago, worked on the Bohulsan. This is not the time to describe the detailed workings of a steam engine (and I am sure that you are well versed with them in any case), but one can get acquainted with its construction just by seeing it here.
Boiler house in the center of Goteborg
This is not a fridge, but a heating device
A cycle stand
Goteborg: a view from above
A bridge in Goteborg
Goteborg - panoramic view
Arial photograph of the main Volvo plant (at the entrance)
Inside the Volvo museum
Volvo for ladies. This car was constructed (exclusively) by 6 women
Smaller than the smallest!
Goteborg prepares to watch football game Russia-Sweden
Trams in the city are not particularly modern
The Bohuslan steamship (1914)
The upper deck: cognac and mineral water
Steam boiler with three fuel-oil burners
Every respectable citizen in Goteborg claims to own wind power shares
Close your ears please! To-tooooooo!
Looks like the largest container ship in the world, doesn't it?
Port in Goteborg
A Kyrka in Hedared - one of the oldest in Sweden. It is constructed very simply. The bell tower stands separately to the right. Buildings like that are common in the north of Sweden and in Norway.
After leaving Goteborg, I was on the final stretch of my journey. Next, I visited a small town called Mullsjo, which required cycling into the Swedish interior away from the coastline for a second time. The only reason that I decided to make this detour was due to the fact that my visit coincided with Midsummer's Day, one of the most popular holidays (after Christmas) in Sweden. Around the 22nd of June, the locals wear traditional clothes, dance, sing, play different instruments and even visit churches. In other words they do all those things which are so rare in their usual life. This must really be a true holiday, second only to Christmas. I never thought that I would see Swedes drinking and singing around the table!
Near my camp on the bank of the Lonern (Dalum)
Installation of the central post
Holiday in Mullsjo
17-th century fashion design
Choir in the Nykyrka (Mullsjo)
Dances around the water!
I stayed as long as I could, celebrating the Midsummer's Day holidays, which left pretty little time for the remaining part of my journey. I took leave of my friends and left this wonderful place. I covered the remaining 320 kilometers of my journey in one and a half days of intense cycling facing again rain and the western wind. I left after lunch and was cycling late into the evening when I came across a moose for the first time. He was moving slowly in the middle of the road and I managed to reach my camera before he looked back and saw me. He immediately fled across the woods crushing branches on the way. It was too dark for a good picture, but you can see him running away on the video at the bottom of this text.
The next day I was riding along a sandy beach when the tide was out. Have you ever heard shells crackling on sand under bicycle wheels? You have to try it!
Farm houses near Tranemo
An old railway near Ambjornarp. Sometimes they are transformed to rather boring bicycle routes.
Daredevil on pedals
Southern Swedish roads
Heavy German artillery. Slowly heading towards Goteborg.
Kronenberg: to be or not to be...?
Reaching the Danish coast
Modern Danish boats
Nyboder - old kings' marines block
In the past, Denmark has threatened Sweden for centuries, but nowadays it is just an ordinary European neighboring country watching ferries arriving from Helsingborg, through the parapets of Kronenberg. I arrived in Denmark on the 22nd of June at 8 p.m. and at 10 p.m. I achieved Copenhagen. I have never seen a city like it before. A city of contrasts - these words from a famous Russian film - are particularly appropriate. First of all, Copenhagen is a huge agglomeration along the eastern coast, which is in striking contrast from the rest of Denmark - a predominantly rural country, located to the west of the capital. Copenhagen is a city where it would be difficult to feel comfortable without a bike - simply because everyone uses bikes. Bike traffic are words that really do make sense here: people ride in different lanes at different speeds, hundreds of bicycles stand at parking meters (for free), making it difficult to find your own bike. Streets in the center are full of tourists who did not rent a bike at the central railway station and treat the other people cycling around with caution. Clerks wearing ties, mothers with babies, ladies with and without poodles - they all cycle, either on cycles or on tricycles. This stream of cyclists is forever twisting, pushing, steering along the city's old, narrow lanes, which are surely in love with orange colors. Who mentioned traffic jams? I did not see any in Copenhagen.
I had one and a half days left for roaming around the city - but it was clearly not enough. Once again I avoided museums, either because it was Monday (again!) or I simply had no desire to visit them. Instead, I enjoyed meals cooked from crocodile and cangoo meat which tasted like chicken or beef. Possibly they were birds or cows in their previous incarnation.
Despite the fact that some vandals had punctured my wheel by putting a nail through it because I had parked my bike in the wrong place at night, I really loved Copenhagen - for its old architecture in a modern setting, for its crazy people drawing cartoons about Mohammed and naked women on city hall walls, for bicycles hanging on fences and perhaps for the crocodile meat. I will certainly return someday!
As my plane left Copenhagen in the afternoon, I watched the waves in the Baltic sea lit up with the sun's rays and the multicolor farms below, while an old lady from Vladivostok seated next to me told me about her visit to Paris and Rome. We were flying to Moscow - a city which is losing its character and becoming more like just any other world capital - multilingual, plenty of tourists on the streets, bright souvenir shops and smells of snack-bars around street corners. On my journey, I was exposed to strong contrasts, some of which I mentioned in this account. However, I found that the people were really not that different. Russians are accustomed to talking about the destiny of their country and its special place in history, which is only heightened by the distinct gap in technological development between Russia and Europe. However, I did not feel there was any meaningful gap in people's minds. In my opinion, our peoples today have much more in common than otherwise.
Danmark FOR SALE
Marmorkirken (Frederik's Church)
Strong drinking culture
Parking - allowed unless the fence is painted
Watch your Stradivari!
Delivery service bicyclist
Wheels can be pumped up near a bicycle shop
What do you think baby carriages look like over here?
Christiania - a district of freedom and youth in the east
I subscribe :)
Waiting hall in the airport
Oil goes up, stock prices fall, and no more jams!
Double-decker parking near the central station
Compatriots are always visible
Cycling with a dog
The crossing from Sweden (on the left) to Denmark (on the right) can be negotiated in different ways. (Bridge over Skagerrak)
CPH Design (Christians Kirke)
Electricity powered vehicle
That was the film!
Video on Youtube
Choir in Nykyrka
Dancing on the lake, Mullsjo
Engine-room of S-S Bohuslan - steam engine at work
Instruments of Swedish lumber-men
A moose on the shortest night of the year
Bicycle traffic in Copenhagen
The whole trip lasted 17 days during which I crossed over 1,600 km. I covered 1,270 km on the route from Stockholm to Copenhagen, which took less than 9 days. The altitude levels on the route ranges from 0 to 400 meters above sea level. The altitude accumulation can be estimated as 16,700 meters. On other days I cycled for about 300 km without luggage. Cycling on sand roads lasted for 35-40% of the time on the route.
In the end I want to thank kindly people who let me make this journey come true. These are my friends in Vanersborg (Gunnar and Pia) and Goteborg (Ove and Britta) and their children. Also I'd like to say that this text couldn't be written so readable without assistance from Hissam Latif. And of course this trip couldn't be realized without kind patience of my parents. Hope you had a good reading!