The land of Ikea, ABBA and Volvos

Trip Start Jun 20, 2010
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Trip End Nov 20, 2010


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Where I stayed
Zinkensdamm Hostel

Flag of Sweden  , Stockholm,
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

This title is apparently true however believe it or not I have not seen a single Ikea (I can't believe it either) I haven't heard any ABBA (thankfully) but man have I seen a lot of Volvo's. I'm not joking when I say that maybe one in three cars is a Volvo they are everywhere. Even chavs cruise round in brightly coloured Volvo estates which have been lowered and have massive speakers in them pumping bass out amazingly loudly. It made me laugh as we consider Volvo's to be the car for granddads and sensible people not baseball cap wearing teens.

Wild camping in mosquito infested woods..
Sweden is great for cycle tourers as they have a law called every mans right where by you are allowed to camp anywhere as long as it's not private property or too close to a house. This means you can ride until you find a nice spot by a lake or you get knackered then just stop and put up your tent. Because of this you can camp in some really cool remote places. However it was whilst wild camping in one of these remote places that I discovered the reason they let you camp anywhere. Most of the country is covered in woods and most of the woods are full of just about every kind of midge and mosquito you can imagine. It was almost unbearable, I had to put on virtually every piece of clothing i had to cover up all my skin. I also found that the midges tend to swarm around you once they find you so the trick is to keep moving. The inside of my tent was treated like an isolation chamber with things periodically being posted under the door (I didn't dare open the door properly until I needed to get in). I was then having to do laps around the woods in between stirring my dinner and sorting out my gear. If anyone was observing it would have looked very strange seeing me walking round dressed like a ninja seemingly cursing thin air. It was really great to get away from people however when you are on your own there is only so long you can put up with your own company for (and there is only so long you can go without a shower) so i made sure i found a campsite every once in a while. As is typically the case as soon as you get right in the middle of Sweden and start camping in the wild it starts to rain continuously. I was much luckier than some people i have met and by being relaxed about my starting times managed to miss quite a lot of rain so only had a day and a half of persistent rain. Even so it is pretty horrible when you have to pack wet gear with dry gear in your bags knowing how bad it is going to smell when you have to open it at the end of the day. It did get to the point where it was raining soo hard that i had to put my hood up under my helmet to stop the rain going down my jacket. You know it was been raining quite a bit when you get to your campsite to discover the water has made it past your waterproof shoe covers, through your shoes, through your water proof socks to your feet, not nice (i have, on the plus side, learned that it is possible to tumble dry pretty much everything i own apart from my tent, although I'm not sure it did the tumble drier any good!).

I am very lucky to be alive!     
This statement is very true however not for the reason most would expect, it was actually due to a middle aged Swedish idiot with a golf club. I was riding along when the small back road i had chosen to ride on went off through a golf course. I remember thinking to myself as i saw a guy teeing up, holding a massive graphite number 1 driver, this could be so dangerous, i wonder if they ever.... virtually at the same time i heard a whistling sound and the golf ball flew past my ear and bounced in the middle of the road a couple of feet to my left. The ball then nearly went through the windscreen of the on coming car and continued to bounce down the road for another 100 yards. If it had been two feet over, it would have hit me square in the back of the head and i probably wouldn't be writing this now (or if i was it would probably be with a crayon and covered in dribble).

Swedish road works
I made the right choice when i decided to put fat chunky tires on my bike. I have spent much of my time between Oslo and Stockholm on gravel back roads. The tires mean these roads are fine to ride on and i can go nearly as fast as on the main roads. They have the added benefit of hardly any cars and much more interesting views (which you can actually look at because you are not concentrating on massive logging trucks). My worse Swedish road experience actually came on a main road. This was a pretty decent sized road (like a large A road in the UK), i saw a sign in Swedish and managed to realise that it said there were roadworks going on for the next 14km!! yes this is quite a long way. Initially it was nothing really, just the odd patch where they had removed the surface and put some gravel down so it was fine. As i continued though the ride got more interesting. It appears that as people are used to driving on gravel roads in Sweden, when it comes to doing road works they let you drive down the road at the same time as they are resurfacing it. Most of the 14km was unpaved but unlike the relatively smooth surfaces on gravel roads (smoothed by years of traffic use and weather) the roads was just made from massive fist sized rocks, ok in a car but soo hard by bike. There were sections with traffic lights, this was where there were large hazards (they had removed a whole cliff leaving half the road covered in a 30 foot high pile of boulders. Most hazards however did not have traffic lights, they merely had a flashing sign where the road went to a single lane. This then left the awkward situation of which car has the right of way, it was all very confusing. The 14km took at least an hour and a half to ride and i was physically knackered by the end of it.

Stockholm is full of tourists and gay people!
When I arrived in Stockholm I was pretty awe stuck, it's an amazing place with really cool buildings, water everywhere and loads to see. The only problem is that quite a few other people have also realised it's an amazing city. Every time you go anywhere there are German tourists and Japanese people taking photos. It's really frustrating and kind of spoils the experience, it also makes it virtually impossible to take nice photos so I really didn't take as many as I should of. Stockholm was also very full of gay people. At first I found it a bit odd that there were a lot of rainbow flags about on buses etc, I just assumed there were a lot of gay bus drivers who were proud to show it. After a while I realised that it's actually because I arrived in the middle of the annual gay pride festival (very much not planned!) To be honest you wouldn't have known it was on because it was based away from the town centre somewhere. At least that's what I thought until one morning I came out the hostel with a massive list of things to do in town to be confronted with some very unusual sights, some of which I would rather not see again! People were all getting ready for the parade in the park next door and they were busy closing off the street which led to the hostel. I spoke to a local later who said that it is basically just a good reason for everyone in Stockholm to have massive party. I think quite a lot of the people taking part were just locals who fancied dancing through the streets behind a lorry blaring out disco classics and periodically spraying everyone with a smoke machine. Luckily I just got out in time however there were already people gathering down the pavements and setting up pick nicks anywhere and everywhere. For me and the rest of the traffic on the road it was a rather unnerving experience like driving through the grandstand at a motor race, I remember thinking to myself "just don't crash or fall of now!". I managed to get into town however I did think for a while I was never going to get back as everywhere I turned the streets were closed, the parade must have gone all around the city. Unfortunately the few times I did bump into it were enough to leave some pretty scary images engraved in my memory. A particular one was a lorry full of bearded fat topless old men dancing and singing along to euro pop with a big banner saying "bears on tour", I'm pretty tolerant about most things but that one did make me cringe, a lot!   

Stockholm drinking experience
I had a couple of nights out in Stockholm and both were very interesting experiences. The first was with a German guy I met at the hostel. I was pretty knackered and just fancied having food and a beer then getting some sleep. I was invited out for a few beers as he had been in Stockholm many times before and knew some cool bars. It ended up with me walking home still in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops at 3 in the morning on my own with only a very vague clue about where I was heading. The bar we went to was really cool, no tourists and it was a proper rock bar in an old converted butchers so the walls and floor still had red and white tiles on them, there were also posters and random artefacts all over the walls. It was a great place and we met some very cool and very random people. I actually had a Swedish business man offer me his floor if I wanted a free place to crash for a couple of days (I seem to have good luck when it comes to getting free places to stay) unfortunately it was raining so much the next day I couldn't bare moving so had to decline. The other thing which was very strange was that whilst ordering a double whiskey coke which cost over 10 quid!!!!! I looked in the drinks fridge and noticed that they were selling Weston's Stowford press cider which is really good Herefordshire cider we drink all the time back home. The Swedish and Finnish people love cider, and in the supermarket in Finland I looked at the cider on sale and saw Hereford court cider, Bulmers and Strongbow cider from Hereford, and also others like Black Rat cider from Devon which is really odd when you are so far from home.

My second Stockholm drinking experience happened when I met up with Stu and Issy the British cycle tourers I had ridden with in Norway. They were arriving at a similar time and were going to call me to meet up. On my second day I was riding round town doing some shopping on one of the main streets in Stockholm (so very very busy) when who should step out on  pedestrian crossing in front of me but Stu, I recognised the red pannier he had over his shoulder it was very strange because Stockholm is so big (we had actually both been booking ferry tickets at exactly the same time. After catching up for a while we decided to go for a drink the  day after. The next day I eventually managed to find them (a sat nav is not much use if you put the wrong street name in, they are all very similar and very confusing if you are dyslexic). We had a great time lounging in the sun catching up and spending ridiculous amounts of money on rounds of drinks. It was really good to see some friendly faces and we were sat around smiling and laughing, which apparently didn't go unnoticed. An old man with a kind of strange slightly camp Swedish American accent (possibly an American ex pat) came up to us and interrupted our conversation and said "I just had to stop and thank you, for looking so happy and natural" he went on to say "you will have probably noticed that this neighbourhood has become quite pretentious recently so I make it my point to stop and thank people who improve the atmosphere of our neighbourhood by being happy and smiling" he then thanked us once again, bid us farewell and left. It was very strange but we were so relaxed we just shrugged our shoulders and said "ah what a nice compliment" I think when travelling you attract these bizarre experiences. Later that evening moved on to one of the more pretentious bars. After a very nice (and mentally expensive) shot of tequila Stu went to order a round of beers. When we got the bar mans attention, he acknowledged us and then disappeared. He came back with the bouncer and said "sorry I am not allowed to serve you" we were very surprised we then asked why and we were even more surprised when he said  "it is my opinion that you have had enough to drink" Stu was the least drunk out of all of us and Issy had just bought the previous round without any problems. Apparently due to the crazy drinking rules in Sweden bars get fined if they are found to be serving people who are drunk. Its pretty crazy and brings up the question, where do Swedish people go to get drunk? We were out side and all a bit pissed off when I decided I would test the system. I went back in and straight away ordered 3 beers without any trouble, the only problem is that because Stu had been having a smoke outside he couldn't get back in. Me and Issy sat there with three beers fuming. After little while i saw Stu outside and felt really bad, he had to watch us sat with a table of beers so I went to see if I could get him back in. Luckily he had been chatting to the bouncer about their trip and the fact we had all cycled to Stockholm from the UK. He had obviously talked enough to make the bouncer realise the bar man had made a mistake (they were actually chatting away like mates) and he was let back in. We stayed for some more beers but just to be sure I had to go to the bar from then on to order the drinks!! It was a great night and probably made more memorable by the random Swedish drinking rules but if it's good to know if out are out drinking in Sweden make sure you don't look drunk at the bar!          

P.S. I have posted a new route with approximate times on it on my facebook group in case anyone fancies meeting up, i would also appreciate any comments on my route, it can be found here:     http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=115581885129591&ref=ts
(if you ask to join I will add you) if you are not on facebook and interested I can e-mail you a copy, my e-mail is:    me_and_my_backpack@hotmail.co.uk

Key Facts
Distance covered - Approx 3077 km ( 1912 miles)
Number of days - 38 
Countries visited - 6 
Currencies used - 5
Max speed - 60.4 km
Longest day - 147.5 km
Punctures - 1
Spokes broken - 4
Things broken / worn out (given my luck in the recent past this could increase rapidly) - 5  
Different beers tried - 37 (approx can't remember some nights so well)
Languages spoken (well attempted) - 6
Proper mountains climbed - 0
Ferry Crossings - 6
Stamps in passport - 0
Holes mysteriously appeared in my tent - 2

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