Saturday, August 31, 2013

The last ferry

We don't know exactly how many ferries we've taken on this trip, but what we do know is that bikes and ferries are a great match. You can easily travel abroad but avoid all the general hassle of flying, be sure that your bike will arrive safe and sound and relax after long days on the saddle (either by sitting in the cafe or sleeping in a cabin depending on your budget).

The trip is coming to its end as we're on the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. The nice people at Viking Line have helped two tired cyclists out by giving us a cabin with a window, and the Stockholm archipelago is as beautiful as ever in the sunset. Goodbye Sweden!

This is why Kaisa loves Sweden

"Warning: sexist ads will seriously harm your health."

Cycling in Stockholm

We were staying in hip Södermalm and were expecting to see a lot of bikes in all shapes and sizes, but the amount of traffic on the bike lanes was still a surprise. The lanes are well set up but felt a bit narrow in the busy morning traffic as we pedaled to Kungsholmen to get our vegan cinnamon buns (the perfect breakfast!). If the bike traffic keeps growing Stockholm might need to steal away more space from the cars!

Most Finns have visited Stockholm plenty of times as the ferry connections from Helsinki and Turku are so convenient, but we've only had our bikes here once before. You get to explore a city in a whole new way on a bike, escaping the touristy shopping streets and seeing tons of places instead of staring at the person sitting opposite to you on the subway.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Day 31.

Route: Grödinge-Tumba-Huddinge-Stockholm (Södermalm-Kungsholmen-Södermalm)
Distance: 46 km
Weather: Cloudy but wonderfully windless.

And so we entered Stockholm

Five years ago it was a huge ordeal to find our way out of Stockholm, but with the help of a more exact map and the general rule that it's easier to cycle into a big city than out of it we just sailed in today as if we had lived here all our life.

So here we are, in the last big city of this trip that has taken us to so many great places (and great restaurants). We'll spend one night here before taking the ferry back home. More photos will follow tomorrow when we've had a chance to explore Stockholm on our bikes!

PS. In all the excitement we forgot to take a photo of our friend Victoria and her family whom we met for dinner tonight in Stockholm. Meals in the company of friends have been a big theme of this trip, and looking back at the whole 2500+ kilometers those moments of good company, good food and plenty of laughter are what we remember best. Thanks for all the dinner dates!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Day 30.

Route: Flen-Gnesta-Mölnbo-Mörkö-Grödinge
Distance: 100 km
Weather: Short sleeves! A strong head wind hit us when we took a turn south in the afternoon, but luckily only for a few kilometers.

Funny sign day

Sorry, Mörkö and Hölö will only sound funny to Finnish speakers. But Swedish speakers might appreciate that a mansion was (almost) named after Christoffer .

Has it really been five years?

Five years ago we cycled through Sweden and Germany to Nice, France. That was our second bike trip, 3000 kilometers total. A few weeks ago in Germany we noticed the names of some villages sounded familiar, but yesterday we were definitely on the same road, just going in a different direction. Back then we were loosely following a cycling route along the coast, this time crossing the country, but we ended up on the same road anyway, and the same small ferry.

You can see the old photo of Kaisa here:

New bike and new helmet, but otherwise she still looks pretty much the same!

I can see the sea!

Kaisa tries to look like a serious athlete but is very excited about reaching the eastern coast of Sweden and seeing so many cute horses along the small roads.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 29.

Route: Närkesberg-Hjortkvarn-Katrineholm-Flen
Distance: 104 km
Weather: So warm that Kaisa even took off her red jacket. And the strong head wind had finally calmed down, even turning into tail wind from time to time!


The campsite had one great extra feature: it was on a beach. Or, to be more precise, this was a beach that also had a campsite. But in any case we saw a couple of big splashes!

The possible campsite

There was great uncertainty over whether there would be a campsite in Flen or not. The road map said no, the city map said yes, the two women we asked said it might be closed, the girls working at the beach cafe said they didn't know, but the bearded man sitting on the terrace rose to his feet and positively stated that this indeed was a campsite.

Maybe next year they should put up the sign so more people would find it?

In any case it was perfect for us, a tent site costing only 50 crowns a night, the small kitchen clean and the shower hot.

Peace, quiet and gravel

The traffic was a bit too hard yesterday, possibly because of all the Swedes returning home from the weekend's activities, so Christoffer drew an alternative route on the map. Kaisa's very much against making any kind of scribbles on the maps but had to agree that the back roads he found were a wonderful break from all the trucks and recreational vehicles giving us the creeps on the main roads.

We did find out that the maps we have are a bit uninformative in the sense that unpaved roads aren't that clearly marked, and ended up cycling something like 20 kilometers on gravel, but it was the good kind of gravel, hard-packed and steady under our tires. So if anyone's still concerned about our choice of bikes and our narrow tires, let it be known that about 1% of this trip has been on gravel and the rest on asphalt. So we're quite happy with our bikes (and the roads)!

Hjortkvarns livs

One thing we really like about cycling abroad are the small village shops selling basic groceries, local souvenirs and almost anything else. In Finland most people like to drive their big cars on big roads to big shopping malls and "hypermarkets" so most of the small shops have disappeared, but even the smallest Ukrainian village still has a shop (even if we've often hoped they would sell more fruit and less vodka).

This morning we had a very welcome breakfast break in Hjortkvarn, a small town with a big mill that still has a shop. The super friendly women sold us fresh baked bread for half the normal price, filled our water bottles and washed our travel plates that still had the remains of yesterday's granola on them. Then we sat in the sun in front of the shop and had breakfast until Christoffer fell asleep on the bench. One of those simple, unforgettable bike trip moments.

Day 28.

Route: Hjo-Karlsborg-Askersund-Närkesberg
Distance: 119 km
Weather: Head wind in the morning, calmed down in the evening. The sunshine just continues!


The next campsite was way too far away (and we didn't know there would've been a bed and breakfast just 7 kilometers away) so we decided to use the Swedish "allemansrätten", "every man's rights",  which means that anyone can set up a tent anywhere as long as it's not directly in front of someone's house or otherwise causing a disturbance.

Kaisa found this small wild field at the end of a small road that had almost disappeared among the long grass, and we set up the tent on soft moss. The night was the coldest we've experienced on the trip - partially because our tent spot was quite humid - and in the morning we couldn't part with our woolen jerseys before cycling a few kilometers. But otherwise it was the perfect little campsite. Hooray for allemansrätten!

Kaisa with animals

These two photos of Kaisa with cows and sheep were added to our vast archives of photos of Kaisa cycling.

Five years late for the ferry

"Yes, there used to be a ferry from Karlsborg to Motala… But it stopped going about five years ago… And then there was a fisherman who would take tourists over the lake with his boat… But he moved to Gävle… So I guess you'll just have to pedal."

A little bit of Vättern

There's a famous Swedish cycling event called Vättern runt where thousands and thousands of people cycle 200 + kilometers around a lake called Vättern. We've never dared take part in it because the distance just feels like too much to cycle in one day (and night) - and there's a shorter version called the girls' Vättern but Kaisa's pride would never permit her to enter that.

But today we got a small taste of the big lake, cycling about 80 kilometers on a road that roughly follows the shoreline. As you could expect on this year's trip there was a strong side/head wind blowing from the lake, but it was fun to see water after a couple of days cycling in pretty dry areas.

After hours of fighting the wind we reached the northern end of the lake and both agreed that we had gotten a sufficiently long sample of the famous cycling route and wouldn't need to come back for the rest. But we do admire the brave cyclist who complete the circle! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 27.

Route: Vårgårda-Falköping-Stenstorp-Hjo
Distance: 110 km
Weather: Strong head wind combined with rough asphalt made this one of the hardest days of this trip despite the beautiful sunshine.

A long day

We were completely exhausted when arriving at Hjo, a beautiful small town on the shore of lake Vättern. It had been a nice, sunny day, but with such head wind that the 110 kilometers felt more like 200. We cycled on small roads through quiet villages and open fields where the wind blew freely and there were no cafes or gas stations to offer us nourishment. Whoever thought cycling in Sweden would be easy should come and try it themselves!

A close encounter with wildlife

Only a thin wire separated us from these hairy beasts.

A strange bird

Did you ever dream about a future where everyone would be flying around with their own small motor strapped on their behind? Well, that future is here today!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 26.

Route: Gothenburg-Angered-Alingsås-Vårgårda
Distance: 90 km
Weather: Perfectly nice and sunny, just a bit of head wind.

Simple pleasures

Today happens to be Christoffer's 41st birthday, which he celebrated by sitting in the sun for a moment and enjoying the campsite's free wi-fi. Congratulations!

Happy hills

Denmark definitely wasn't as flat as we had expected, with some days reminding us of the ones we're used to climbing in Southern Finland, but the last couple of days on flat surface and strong wind made Kaisa dream of Sweden and more varied terrain. Today fulfilled all her wishes - the roads were quiet, the wind moderate and the small hills followed each other tightly. Such joy it is to sweat on the uphills and to rest on the downhills!

Were the bikes always this heavy?

This photo, taken this morning in our friends Marko and Jasmina's staircase, marks the beginning of the last leg of our journey. We have five days (or five and a half if it's an emergency) to cycle across Sweden, from Gothenburg to Stockholm. It should be a completely realistic timetable but somehow our legs felt especially heavy when we carried out the bikes this morning.

It's never easy to leave the company of friends and their soft couch - and maybe we're even starting to feel a tiny bit tired of the constant change of scenery after a month on the road...

Cycling in Gothenburg

The first thing we noticed when coming off the ferry was that the bike lanes weren't quite as meticulously marked as in Denmark. But the next thing that we noticed was that the Swedish drivers were just as polite as the Danish ones, never trying to attack cyclists who have right of way or to squeeze us in between the curb and car wheel.

And this is an important point: not every city is willing or able to put large amounts of money into building fancy bike lanes - and don't get us wrong, there are some very impressive bike lanes in Gothenburg - but every driver can make a difference by being polite. Yes, Finnish drivers, I'm looking at you!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 25.

Route: Gothenburg back and forth
Distance: 20 km
Weather: Sunny and warm, perfect for a day off!

Sunny Sweden

We've given up trying to accomplish a lot of stuff on our days off. There would've been tons of interesting museums and shops and museum shops to visit but we just cycled around a bit, met friends and had a combined picnic and nap in the park. This is another city we must return to some time in the future, perhaps during the famous Gothenburg book fair?

Friends and food

As you may have noticed this trip has two main themes: meeting friends and eating good food with them. Today we've accomplished this mission by eating in Gothenburg at the vegetarian restaurant Sattva together with Marko and Ludwig, old friends who have visited Finland many times but whom we now met for the first time on their home turf. Great koftas and great company!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Photos of leaving, part 2.

We've continued taking a photo of ourselves every morning before we get on the bikes. As you can see we've spent quite a few nights at campsites lately, partially due to Kaisa's thriftiness and to Christoffer's enthusiasm over the new tent. And yes, it would be fun to wear something else for a change!