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So Sweet Sweden

6 Pages: Enjoy!

Exciting Photos:
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If you didn’t read the Denmark journal I’ll first fill you in on some of the last moments of Denmark and the first moments of Sweden as it represents one of the most classic entries into any country to date on my world tour. Here’s a slightly modified excerpt:

My good friend and Danish soul sister Vibe was just getting off work when I was making my way to the train station to travel over the bridge from Copenhagen, Denmark to Malmo, Sweden. Bikes were not allowed on the bridge over from Copenhagen to Malmo so Vibe agreed to accompany me to the station so we met up at her place and rode our last few pedal strokes together to the station.

On all my other trains I had no issues with crowds but this Friday evening it seemed that everyone and their brother’s sisters was going to Malmo, Sweden! The platform was jam packed and my bike was still in tandem mode so it was extra big and bulky. When the train arrived it was full pandemonium with everyone shoving and pushing to get on the train. Vibe and I doubted whether we would be able to navigate the bike, all the gear and trailer onto the train. But I knew we could make it happen and we jammed all the parts and pieces into the train with the help of the other passengers. None of the other passengers seemed to mind and even found the whole process quite funny.

Just as we finally had everything on the train and did an inventory to make sure we had it all we had our last hugs goodbye. It was then when the most positive miracle of all happened. When Vibe went to leave the train the doors would not open! She was pressing the open button over and over but the doors just did not open. After about a minute of panicked button pressing the train just rolled away with Vibe still on it! “I guess I’m going to Malmo”, she responded. “I guess you are”, I replied. So Vibe came along over the Dattegat Sea to Malmo, which was her first time visiting a new city just a few minutes train ride from Copenhagen.

So Vibe and I milked every moment we could together as we arrived in Malmo, Sweden on a cheerful Friday night. My new smiling Swedish host Lisa met us at the station and we made our way to several local hot spots together. Vibe had never been to Malmo and kept saying, “I love Malmo!” as we both had our first taste of this buzzing city. Lisa and Vibe got along great, both of them active hosts, and Vibe stayed in Malmo for several hours before finally catching a taxi back to the station to hop her train to Denmark. I’m happy to say that Vibe and I are still in touch and hope to do some skiing in the US this winter on my break :)

After a fun evening out on the town we took the tandem back to Lisa and her roommate Paula’s flat and managed to get a great night sleep on a simple floor mattress in Lisa’s room. The next morning we went for a shopping mission to get some supplies and Lisa cooked up some mean Swedish pancakes! It was such a pleasure to just observe and take part in a Saturday morning ritual, especially such a yummy one! Paula poured on fresh fruits, honey and with some hot coffee we were set for the day. Paula headed off to work over the border in Denmark and Lisa and I spent the afternoon together doing some shopping, getting me geared up with maps and a SIM card for my mobile phone, and getting ingredients for the famous Jamie Italian food feast of brushetta and mozzarella caprice salad.

Saturday evening Lisa and I took the tandem out about sunset and caught a free concert in the park in. I was impressed with the musical talent, the mellow but attentive crowd of Swedes and the overall vibe was jovial and laid back. We then met up some of Lisa’s friends, including a few cool Swedes Joel and Ville who were a riot to ride with out on the town, but they both got too drunk and could not make it out too long.

We had a scare when Lisa’s roommate Paula came into the bar after a serious bicycle accident with a car. When she fell she apparently lost both her wallet and her cell phone so our night was off to a rough start. She was in serious pain with a scraped back that was swelling up so we iced her up and bought her a few drinks to ease the pain. She toughed it out and we still managed to dance the night away, meeting fellow Couchsurfing crew from around the world out on the town and having a hoot.

My plan was to meet Carina, my former Swedish Au Pair from 1979, at her vacation home in Falkenberg on Monday so I invited Paula to ride up there with me over the next few days. Sunday was our planned day of departure but we woke up with heavy morning rains that spoiled early departure plan for Paula and me. Her back was hurting, but not too much to pedal—tough Swedish gals! The weather was threatening and the report was warning people of high winds and massive rains, but in the afternoon the weather was beautiful. Perhaps the “calm before the storm”, but it was sunny, warm and perfect for riding with a strong tail wind. We decided to risk it and enjoy this last bit of sunshine and start the adventure north.

When Lisa came down to say goodbye we talked her in to pedaling along with us a few cities up and she stayed to enjoy a nice sunset at our campsite north of Malmo. After dinner we hit the tent to get some rest but were very rudely awoken by the sound of our tent practically blowing over and buckets of rain falling on us at about 3AM. I have camped in some heavy rains, but this might be the wildest storm I’ve been in. I did not set the tent up very well and water found its way in and at first light it was clear that we were in puddles of water and there was no sign of it clearing.

I gave Carina a call up at her vacation home and she said the weather all over southern Sweden was chaos. The train stations were shut down, trees blowing over and flooding in many areas. She insisted she drive two hours to Malmo and pick me up as there was no way she would let me travel in the storm. Clearly her nanny caring days were far from over, even 29 years later! So Paula and I had just a few hours left to pack up the soaking tent and gear and pedal our way back to Malmo where Carina would meet us.

I know Paula was upset a bit and wanted to do more riding, but we still managed to build a great friendship that no doubt will last a lifetime. We hammered the pedals into the massive headwind back to her flat as the skies threatened to dump any second. We made it there without a major rain but the moment we rolled into her flat it started up again with vengeance.

About an hour later I got a call that Carina was downstairs and it was finally time to reunite with the nanny who cared for me when I was seven years old. Way back in 1979 my family was going through a lot of changes with a recent divorce of my parents and Carina was there to lend a hand to my single mom who was then going into a new relationship. I had faint memories of her from back then but had no idea what to expect 29 years later, but I was up for the adventure and so was she.

Carina, now 48 years young, found me and Peace Pedalers on the Internet searching for our family 7 months earlier. She reached out to me in awe that I was going to be pedaling through her country and even in her home town. I invited her to come ride and she not only accepted but had been training and preparing a special arrival for me, including taking plenty time off work! Our original plan was to ride from her vacation rental in Falkenberg to her home town of Gothenburg on a two day ride. But with the nasty weather we came up with a new adventure that turned out just perfect.

Carina arrived with her sister Anne and we gave each other a big strong hug. She looked far better than I could have ever imagined and I think you’ll agree when you see the photos that she could pass for early thirties and certainly did not look 48. She looked fit and ready to ride but today it was only going to be in her sister Anne’s posh Volvo through the wild storm up to Falkenberg. The weather was insane with trees almost blowing over, dangerous puddles and sheets of rain making it hard to see. We were both grateful I was not out pedaling that day!

We arrived at their vacation home and got a warm welcome from Anne’s husband Bernt who was busy on the BBQ preparing amazing seafood and meats. Inside they went all out for my arrival with the famous varieties of herring, lovely cheeses, wines, beers, Swedish schnapps and crackers. I was in heaven! And just as we settled in the rain let up for a bit and even a few drops of sunshine made their way through.

After a delicious meal we decided to take a bike ride around this adorable coastal town on a few of their bikes since the tandem was in pieces and totally soaked being on the back of the car. With all the rain it was nice to get outside and enjoy the quick taste of nature with Bernt and Carina. We got about 20 minutes into the ride before it started right back up again though so we made our way back for coffee and tons of ice cream! Yummy!

With the nasty weather Carina voted we take a car her house Gothenburg and let the weather die up there and pedal north towards Norway together after the storm died. We arrived that evening at her hip flat right downtown and I fell into the care and sucked up the hospitality of my gracious host. As if she did not cook enough meals for me when I was seven, there she was insisting on cooking up delicious meals. She went the extra mile and even went out to find maps and a Swedish flag for our journey!

Tuesday the weather showed signs of letting up and we spent some time with her friends, took a bike ride around town and continued sharing what has gone down in each others lives in the past 29 years apart. She was quite open and shared a lot, which allowed me to discuss more intimate details of my life as well. All this was a great foundation for our ride the following day.

The weather help up for us on Wednesday and we made our way north to start exploring the stunning coastal and lakes region west of Stenungsund. We found a special cycling route that took us over huge bridges with sweeping views of Sweden’s pristine natural wonders, gentle rolling hills through divine forests and eventually taking us to the sea in the small town of Nosund. We had no rain the entire day, but just as we rolled into this charming town we felt our first sprinkles so decided to call it home.

I was opting for camping as I usually do, but Carina wanted nothing to do with camping in the rain. We saw a small lodge that had three lovely hot tubs overlooking the ocean and decided to see if we could land a room there. The rate was, as an American traveling with the weak US dollar, quite expensive at about $200. But Carina offered to treat the room if I took care of some wine so I found that a good deal. We checked into the very modern, stylish and funky luxury hotel and went out to hit the hot tubs. Just as we arrived we got the news that they were draining the tubs and we were out of luck!

But our spirits stayed high even as the rain began to fall harder and harder. We got a nice bottle of white wine and sat at a gorgeous restaurant eating fresh seafood that was to die for! We were both amazed how well we got along and she shared some very interesting stories that I had forgotten when I was a boy. Turns out I was the boy who consoled her when she was sad and she helped me when I was crying too. We had a great friendship then and I was feeling so grateful to be continuing where we left off almost 30 years later!

It rained all night long and that morning I could tell Carina was not too excited about cycling in the cold wind and rain. But as our luck would have it we pedaled off in sprinkles and within a few minutes the rain stopped and would not come back for the rest of the day! This day was one of the most beautiful days touring in my entire life. The roads were practically empty and around every bend there was some jaw dropping, postcard perfect taste of Mother Nature. I was told about Sweden’s nature, but nothing could have prepared me for this.

For the entire day we had sunshine and tail winds but the riding was far from easy. The rolling hills were steep and plentiful and put both of our legs to the test. But we were a great team and together we shared a day out cycling that we’ll never forget. After 87km of tough cycling by countless amazing mountain lakes, bright fields of flowers and beautiful forests we both ran out of steam about the same time.

We decided to catch a train to within a one day ride of the border of Norway in the charming coastal town of Stromstad. Heavy rain was predicted for that evening so when it came time to talk about accommodation it was pretty clear a tent was not going to happen. We found a room in a private home in the neighborhood where we cleaned our sweaty bodies and hit the town for an evening stroll and another yummy meal.

Stromstad was loaded with character and our walk took us by unique coastal homes and into the harbor where we checked out the boats and watched the sun set before looking for dinner. I was in the mood for pizza and a beer and we found just the place. All the while the conversation never really ceased and I enjoyed learning about Carina’s life, her goals and dreams, her annoyances, struggles and challenges as well. We listened to each other closely and it was such a pleasure to be in her company.

The rain started just as we were coming home and, like the night before, it did not stop all night long. But we slept like babies and woke up to the rain continuing to fall. There was no option to sleep in too much longer as we both had trains to catch in Norway. I was already starting to feel a bit sad that this was our last day together, and I sensed she was too. But we put on our rain gear, packed up the bike and went out for a coffee and breakfast before setting off towards Halden, Norway.

Once again we found a cycling route with almost no cars and the scenery continued to impress. We were both feeling our legs after the last two days of riding, and the hills on this route never seemed to end. Today’s route was mostly through lush forest as we were leaving the coastal scenery and into more rugged mountains. Each hill Carina had a similar noise she would make expressing clearly her dread of yet another climb. I ignored them and shared how I also used to hate climbs but just changed my attitude towards them and now I love them. The grunts mellowed out soon after.

It drizzled most of the day and I had been hoping to have Carina get on the cameras for a rolling dialogue this last day. She was quite resistant to being filmed in the first part of our adventure but after I shared more about the project and that we could use this as a memory of our trip, she caved in. I prayed the rain would break and the prayers were answered! Just before we climbed up into a bright green, mossy, fern filled patch of rain forest the sun came out in full force! And after a big rain the sun shines bright, crisp and clear.

We set up the cameras and for the next hour I let Carina share herself, her values, some life stories and her message to the world. Once she relaxed she was quite natural and I’m happy she shared herself with me and the world during that brief dose of sunshine. We finally hit the border of Norway and crossed into country number 55 of the tour together. We were immediately blessed with a private bike lane as the rain started pouring down just as we arrived into Halden.

This was it, the end our trip together. I can still feel the sadness I felt then right now as I write. We had spent 5 glorious days together and with all the anticipation of my arrival it was a crusher to see it end. We enjoyed our last coffee together at the station, I printed her out a few photos from our trip so she had proof that she actually rode with me for her doubting friends and family, and we waited for her train to come taking her back home to Gothenburg.

The rain was coming down hard as Carina bordered the train and my train was set to leave to Oslo 10 minutes after. We waved at each other until the last possible minute as tears began to fall. I have a feeling they were falling behind the smoked glass of her train to Gothenburg as well. I’m happy to say that we are both still in touch and I just got an SMS message from her as I wrote this last paragraph here on the boat to Belfast, N. Ireland! How’s that for a strong connection!

And the connection is still going strong as my first Swedish guest rider Paula is coming out for a short ride tomorrow here in Belfast! I look back on my experiences in Sweden and am filled with gratitude for how amazing it all really was. From my amazing hosts Lisa and Paula in Malmo, to the Falkenberg feast with Anne and Bernt, to the two days of getting spoiled in Gothenburg to the 3 day adventure in Sweden’s stunning nature to Halden, Norway it was truly bliss. Put Sweden in your travel plans, especially if great people and the best of Mother Nature is your thing!

Over n out from the boat from Scotland to Northern Ireland!!

Live Big. Give Big.

Jamie :)

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