Långrådna to Salacgriva (via Norrköping, Nyköping, Järna, Södertälje, Helsinki, Tallinn and Pärnu)
15th - 21st May
So, week 6. Long sigh. I’m still a bundle of funny ailments to the point that is no longer funny at all.
As a little diversion, a good bit of week 6 is spent cursing not only my weak constitution and inner couchpotatoedness, but also SJ (the main Swedish train company) for not allowing bikes on trains. Sweden, how retrograde is this?!
For once, I wish the EU was this autocratic dictatorship the UK describes it to be, so that at least all European countries (or rather, the myriad of private companies operating within them) would have the same exact rules about everything, including bikes on trains and how to book them on - apparently, to do this there is a surprisingly endless variety of cabalistic combinations closer to the astronomical concept of infinity that a simple human mind cannot fully comprehend!
Anyhow, in a way, SJ’s rules are simple enough: no bikes. So we cycle. And, in a way, thank you SJ as without this silly rule of yours we wouldn’t have seen the beauties of Sweden that much!
The weather is still so roasting it feels like I’m riding on a barbecue; furthermore, my feet have developed the mark of Zorro:
In our ascension (as in: proceeding north, but also: going steadily and inexorably uphill) towards Stockholm, we see moose, eagles, wolverines, cranes and snakes.
We mostly cycle through amazing forests. We also get donated by the B&B owners in Långrådna an enormous amount of extremely free-range eggs which we brood around with us for a few days (if you ever want to do what we are doing, we recommend investing in a travel egg carrier); and we stop in Söderköping for a bucket (literally) of ice cream, thanks to a tip-off of one of our Swedish hosts.
Towards the end of the week it gets not only hillier, but also windier. According to our GPS maps, our route to Järna looks like this:
That was wthout the headwind!
My favourite stop was in Järna, where we stayed in a school for children with special needs. Our host there, a school teacher, treated us to dinner, and her neighbour, the school’s music teacher, treated us to a group ukulele lesson. That was exactly what I needed to heal my rotten body and battered soul, and for a moment I forgot the multiple rants I had at Alex for wanting to carry a ukulele around Europe on a bike.
SJ’s policies on bike transport may have allowed us to better explore Sweden, but they also made us fall a bit behind schedule which meant that we only spent a few hours in Stockholm, our 6th capital.
If you are currently compiling a bucket list, make sure you include in it taking the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki, preferably on a sunny day, where you can spend hours island-spotting from the deck as you make your way through fjords:
In Helsinki we received royal welcome by our friend Riitta who shepherded us into her sauna and locked us in till we recovered feeling in our limbs.
The first day in Helsinki was spent going from doctors to bike shops, but that’s another story.
Speaking of royal treatment. I’ve heard that meanwhile in the UK a mixed-race immigrant was made a princess while thousands of perfectly good British people were sleeping rough. How disgusting, the world is turning upside-down, all these immigrants should just go back to their country. But that’s also another story.
For not sleeping rough on week 6 we thank Baiba, Andrea, Rita and Riitta!
22nd - 28th May
We spent several days in Helsinki with our friend, Riitta.
We decided to stay an extra day after spending the first two days accessing healthcare (being EU citizens and having EHIC cards were the only things that made this possible and we quickly and efficiently received the care we needed) and touring the bike shops of the city.
My bike was in desperate need of some new parts (this became especially apparent while cycling through Sweden), and they were replaced by Hiltusen Pyörahuolto, after Riitta kindly organised booking us in before our arrival. Chiara’s search for a short stem to ensure she got the right setup almost came to an end, but the stem we were after was sold out when we arrived. We received some excellent advice from bike shops across the city (including Velobia) and the combination of a stem extender and a not-as-short-as-we-had-intended-but-still-short-stem from Shock Therapy has brought Chiara as close as she has been to the perfect bike set up. Flared drop bars may be the next upgrade, but she’s doing well so far. Alex's bike was instantly better and more reliable but it has since developed an unsettling noise around the back wheel which I believe is hub related. Let’s just see what happens next.
As well as all of this we enjoyed some wonderful food, met familiar and new faces, relaxed in Riitta’s sauna and dodged aggressive seagulls until it was time to leave for Estonia.
We spent a little time in Tallinn and met Thomas (@dvlrnr) and his partner. We reflected on the ease of our meeting: 4 nationalities in one place having a bite to eat and talking about bikes and such:
We met another cyclist, Niklas, from München, who set off on his trip the same day we did. He’s cycling from Greece to Finland and it was hugely encouraging to share stories and tips about our trip. We wish him all the best (gutted we didn’t get a photo with him).
After a night in the woods we cycled across the border into Latvia and met Maty Amaya (facebook.com/enbiciporelmundo), who is 5 years into an 11 year ride around the world:
He started in his home country, Argentina ans he is now turning his sights on Russia and China. His set up was unique and he had an ingenious way of standing his bike by leaning the back end on a stick and fixing the handlebars to the frame with a bit of telescopic mop handle. The flags he has collected on his journey makes him stand out much more than we do:
We were hosted that night by Clare and Edgars in their beautiful farm, complete with goats, sheep, hens and the most beautiful outdoor toilet I’ve seen:
Their generosity saw us fed and watered and we even had time for a dip in the river. While thoroughly invigorating I slipped and cut the sole of my foot in several places, which has led to a number of complications since. A week later I struggle to walk without pain, but cycling is manageable. We left their home on the River Salaca feeling like we had been staying there for weeks. Edgars was kind enough to give us a lift along the dirt road outside their home as it was not cyclable and with my foot, not walkable either.
Further disaster struck when we realised I had left our ukulele behind. We thought that was the end of it and we’d never see it again but we’ll let you know what happened in week 8!
Special thanks to Riitta, Monika, Clare and Edgars for hosting us in week 7.
Chiara and Alex are members of New Europeans Scotland. They are cycling to every capital of Europe to champion our rights as #EUcitizens to #freedomofmovement
To join New Europeans and play your part in fighting for our rights as EU citizens, click here.