Copenhagen to Gothenburg
14 days in Halland
Sweden is one of the few countries in Europe where there are still big stretches of ancient forests, long summer days and short nights. Streams of melting water from the mountains that you can drink without the need to treat it. And the best part is that you don't need to look for a camp site, but can set up your tent just about anywhere.
Those were my initial thoughts about Sweden in 2013, when I was thinking about a big cycling trip for the following year. As the idea grew into a plan, it became clear that Sweden is really big. You just don't cycle across Sweden in a few weeks; it takes months.
It is also not possible (anymore) to take a bicycle on the train in most parts of Sweden, which is quite remarkable for a country that is so civilized in many other aspects.
I initially thought that 100 kilometers a day would be possible; cycling from Copenhagen we could reach Karlstad, and possibly Dalarna, but still Stockholm would be out of reach. After several practice trips it became clear that 100 kilometers a day, while not impossible, would be challenging and not terribly enjoyable.
Fifty kilometers a day seemed like a much more realistic goal; with the help of the train we could make it Gothenburg and back to Copenhagen in time for our return journey.
We booked the tickets for the night train three months in advance, which was the earliest possible. Unfortunately, you cannot book bicycle tickets online and we had to go to the train station. For this inconvenience we had to pay a "service fee" of 6 euros, times four.
In the months leading up to our trip we made several practice trips with our bicycles, and based on those experiences made some changes to our gear. We carried one weeks' worth of clothing, food for several days and everything we needed for camping.
- The night train
- Crossing over to Sweden
- The climb to Båstad
- Along the river to Knäred
- The inland route to Halmstad
- The long road to Hyltebruk
- Seeking shelter in Unnaryd
- Mid summer celebration
- An unexpected night in Torup
- The fast road to Varberg
- Along the coastal route
- Long haul to Gothenburg
- Sweden's rocky coast
- The train down south
- Visiting to Copenhagen
- Arriving home
The night train
I had taken the day off from work to prepare, pack, and clean the house. Things were going well and everything was under control. Mimi arrived home at 15:00 hours and checked the trains online. Half of the trains going to Utrecht were canceled. We had to catch the night train from Utrecht, so we discovered we had to leave earlier than planned.
Just as we were about to leave, we noticed the front tire of Mimi's bicycle was completely flat. I went back up, got the pump and filled it up, hoping that it would hold. Thankfully, it did; having a empty tire on the way to the train would not have been nice. I had topped up the tires to the correct pressure the night before and apparently did not close the valve properly.
We had ordered some Thai food to pick up on the way. To our frustration it was not ready by the time we told them that we would be there. With our bikes fully packed, the heavy food was dangling from her handlebar as we rode to the train station.
We arrived in Utrecht right on time, with one hour to spare. After about 30 minutes there was an announcement saying that the night train was not going. The guy at the information desk told us that we would have to take another train to Arnhem, from where a bus would take us to catch the night train in Dortmund. According to him, we didn't have to worry about our bicycles; that was "their problem". It was not terribly reassuring.
So we got on the train to Arnhem and had some Thai food for dinner. Had we known this would happen, we could have taken a direct train to Arnhem in the first place. In Arnhem we were rushed to the bus, where luckily we found that there was a special smaller bus for the bikes. Generally intended for wheelchairs, but in this case loaded full with eight bicycles; most of them with luggage.
The bus took over two hours to get to Dortmund. When we were nearly to the train station, we got stuck at an underpass that was not high enough for the bus. The driver had to back out, turn around, and ask the locals for a way around.
It was around 23:00 when we arrived at the train station. We and the other cyclists wondered where the bus with the bicycles has gone. Eventually it was found at the other end of the parking lot, and we could unload our bicycles and the bags that had been stuffed between them.
I don't know if it happened during the ride or the unloading, but my bicycle got a big scratch on the top tube.
The next order of business was to get the bicycles onto the platform. This train station had no elevator. There was an escalator, but it was going down. In retrospect we should have found someone to reverse it.
I tried to push Mimi's bicycle, the lighter of the two, up the stairs. But the stairs were very steep, and the bicycle was leaning over. I did not fall, but had to put my hand down to stabilize myself. I locked the bicycle upstairs and we brought my bags up separately, while a stranger helped carry the bicycle.
Then it turned out we still had to wait for almost an hour for the night train to arrive. We finished the rest of our Thai dinner, and I used the time to write my journal.
We talked a bit with the other cyclists. Most of them were going to Prague; we were the only ones for the section of the train that goes to Copenhagen.
Just before midnight, the train arrived. The entrance to the bicycle compartment was so narrow, Mimi's handlebars could only fit at an angle. The entrance was also ridiculously steep.
We were pleasantly surprised that we had the six-person coupe all for ourselves, which meant we could lay down across 3 seats. At every stop we hoped that nobody else would get in, and thankfully no one did. It was quite warm in the train. It was possible to open up the window, but that made it very noisy. It was not the most comfortable way to spend the night, but I did wake up several times, which means I was at least able to sleep a little.
Crossing over to Sweden
Around 7:00 we entered Denmark, and we decided to "get up", which basically means giving up on trying to get any more sleep. We had some raspberry crumble that Mimi brought for breakfast and we brushed our teeth in the train's bathroom.
We were quite anxious to arrive and were waiting in the bicycle compartment for quite some time. Once we arrived at Copenhagen's central station, we let everyone else exit first; it was the last stop and nobody else had to come in, so we could unload our bicycles and luggage at our own pace.
There was a nice big elevator at the train station, which we took, and then we simply walked out and got on our bicycles. The first stop was a supermarket to get some food and water. We then followed one of the main roads and headed north.
The cycling infrastructure in Copenhagen was quite decent, but after hearing so many stories about how awesome it is, I was a bit underwhelmed. There were quite a number of cycling paths with their own traffic lights, but many of them are not separated from the road.
There were many bicycle shops around, but the city does not seem to have much high quality (secure) bicycle parking space, and the city center is very busy with cars. It's probably pretty decent for international standards, but nowhere close to what we have in the Netherlands.
What Copenhagen lacks in infrastructure, it made up for in charm. Although we were following a main road, we still went through a charming neighborhood with lots of activity and even some kind of market. We stopped there to spend some of the last Danish change that we had on a hot dog, but Mimi ended up unintentionally buying something else that was also quite good.
As we left the city, we were going along the coast and against a rather strong headwind. At the first opportunity, we decided to follow the less-windy path along the train tracks, though unfortunately the path did not go all the way, and we still had to go along the coast for the last part.
We arrived at Helsingør around 18:00, a bit later than I expected. We headed straight for the ferry, where it was unclear where bicycles should go to buy the tickets. We just went in the motorcycle lane, which was no problem. The ticket salesperson directed us where to wait, and we realized we had just missed a ferry. Fortunately another came fairly quickly.
Around 19:00 hours we arrived in Helsingborg, Sweden. We followed some other cyclists who seemed to know a quick way to get out of the parking lot. The shops were already closed and we were pretty tired, so we headed north towards some green areas on the map to look for a place to camp.
There were some steep climbs in the town, but eventually we made it to the forest. We had some pea soup with bread for dinner and then started to look for a place to set up the tent. In the forest itself, the areas where grass was growing were muddy, so we continued a bit further. Eventually we found a nice field of grass with a building in the distance and set up the tent along the tree line around 20:00 hours. While setting up there was a deer trying to cross the field on the other side of the path unnoticed, but we spotted it.
The climb to Båstad
At around 1:00 in the morning we were awoken by loud voices. There was a Swedish guy shouting "Maximus", which was apparently the name of his dog. It turned out that in between the trees there was a walking path with lights where at least this one guy lets out his dog in the middle of the night. Our tent was probably not visible from the walking path.
Later at night it got a little bit cold, but it only lasted a short while, as the sun rose early. While packing up and brushing my teeth in the morning, some people came by, but in Sweden nobody finds it remarkable if they see people camping.
We cycled through the suburbs of Helsingborg, which has a very American feel to it, towards Ängelholm, a medium-sized town with some shops and a train station.
While riding, there was a sound coming from Mimi's front wheel. The disc brake was rubbing the rotor; I tried to adjust it, but it didn't work.
It turned out that the bolts mounting it to the fork were a bit loose; no doubt from our rough trip to the Belgian Ardennes. After tightening the bolts, they were fine for the rest of the trip.
Our first stop was a the bakery "Centrum" where we sampled our first of many Swedish pastries. I had a cockscomb, and Mimi a cardamom roll. The woman at the bakery was very nice and asked us about our trip, if we thought Sweden was expensive and gave us some cold water to drink with the pastries. Sweden is not cheap, but out in the towns it is not much more expensive than in the Netherlands. Overall, prices seem fair; people are not out to get tourists, as we have seen in a number of other countries.
At some point on or trip, we wanted to take the train to Gothenburg, explore the area around there and then cycle back south. We stopped by the train station just to see how frequently and at which times the trains would be going.
At the station there was a sign in Swedish there that seemed to say there were no trains from Öresundtag, the only train company that can transport bicycles in Sweden, due to a "labor dispute". As it was a Sunday, the information desk was not open.
We headed back to the city center and used an excellent public toilet to refresh ourselves, fill our water bottles and even do dishes from the previous evening. There was a bicycle pump; too bad our tires didn't need any air. I would say it was the best public toilet I have ever encountered, anywhere in the world.
The last stop was the ICA Supermarket. Mimi went in and I waited outside with the bicycles. It took her so long that I was starting to get worried, but it turned out she was just overwhelmed by all the nice Swedish cheeses.
We wanted to be in Båstad by the end of the day, so we got on the bicycles and headed north. It was a tough ride, as we had to climb a big hill. We went through Margretetorp on a car road. Fortunately there were not many cars; most of them were on the highway running parallel to the country road we were taking.
There were some nice views, but the steep climbs were starting to hurt my leg muscles.
Then finally, after what seemed like a very long time, there was a descent; it was even steeper than our ascent. We had planned to take a left turn towards the end, but we were going down the hill so fast and having too much fun that we missed the turn.
Within minutes we were in Östra Karup, from where we headed left towards Båstad, a popular tourist town. I had the idea that we were there, but it was just endless streets of holiday houses. After another climb I needed to sit down and take a break. On a previous trips it had always been Mimi who needed a break, but now I was the one who was exhausted.
With camping forbidden at the beach and holiday houses everywhere, we decided to head to Camping Båstad, which meant backtracking a bit. The price for one night was 160 SEK, and unlike our experiences in Belgium we had a whole field for ourselves.
At the reception we inquired about the situation with the trains. It turned out they were already striking for two weeks, and the negotiations had ended. It did not seem like the trains would be running anytime soon.
On the bright side, it was very peaceful, there were clean washrooms and excellent cooking facilities which used to make our dinner. We discussed possible itineraries during dinner. With no way to get back to Copenhagen quickly, we decided to go east and follow the inland cycling trail across Halland for a while.
My back was feeling sore, and I had sunburn on part of my legs and collarbones because I did not apply sunblock to those areas, but at least we had a decent sleep. It was pretty quiet on this campsite.
Along the river to Knäred
Although it was quite warm and sunny, I opted to wear long pants to prevent my sunburn from getting worse. In Denmark and Sweden we had seen quite a few men sporting the lobster look; all red, and still exposing their skin to the sun, with no signs of wearing sunblock.
Today we were going inland, so we backtracked a bit toward Östra Karup and headed north toward Laholm. The last half of the journey there was a very nice cycling path that did not go along any roads, but led us straight to the town.
The town is supposedly the oldest one in Halland, but it was not that spectacular. There were lots of statues and fountains because one of the mayors was kind of an art freak, but for me the highlight of the town was the bakery "Cecilia" where we had our lunch.
Not being particularly interested in the sketch museum, there was not much else to see in Laholm. We headed east, trying to follow the inland cycling trail. We diverged several times, unintended. We followed the Lagan river along the north side, but were mostly along a car road, and did not see much of the river.
Only after the route crossed over to the south side did things get interesting. We set up the hammock along the river and rested for a while, and then cycled past Timmershult, where we were surrounded by some beautiful nature. There were some steep climbs that were hard on the legs, but we were always rewarded by a satisfying descent.
Around 16:00 hours we rolled into Knäred. Although famous for its fantastic salmon fishing, there was only one restaurant in town, and it was a pizza place. We shared a gyros pizza. Mimi liked the salad that came with it very much, which is apparently a thing in Sweden; you always get a salad included with your pizza, but you do need to get it yourself.
After our early dinner we visited the local COOP supermarket for some dessert and breakfast; yogurt, pears, chocolate and potato chips. We then cycled towards a campsite that was along the river just outside of town, where we arrived just before 18:00.
We set up the tent and hammock, ate our dessert, relaxed a bit, and I wrote in my journal. Later in the evening, midges started to appear; the little flies were not just swarming around us, but also biting, leaving red dots all over my face. By 22:00 it was still light outside, but we went to sleep in our tent.
The inland route to Halmstad
We rolled out of the campsite around 10:00, and went up the hill toward the town. We wanted to get some bread at the shop, but the bread was just left over from the day before, so we got pears and chocolate instead.
We cycled northwest, back towards the coast; this time Halmstad was our destination. The roads were good; not too many cars, some climbs, but mostly we went downhill.
We passed several small towns. Although they were marked with signs and shown on the map, they often had no shops or facilities of any kind; just a collection of houses along the road.
In the pine forest there were swarms of flies that would follow us. Not a big problem, as long as you kept riding. We took a break in Mästocka, another small town, with nothing in it except a church with a graveyard. There were no flies there, so we cooked up some powered pea soup in which we dipped some two-day-old bread. The good thing about the graveyard was that there was a toilet and a tap that we could use to do the dishes and refill our bottles.
A few hours later we were ready for another break, and decided to stop when we saw a very nice lake. Thankfully there was an access road to Lake "St. Skärsjön", where we set up the hammock. It was a beautiful setting, and we were all alone. There was a bit of wind, which made it a bit chilly, but otherwise we might have gone for a swim.
We reached the city limits of Halmstad around 16:00, but as it is one of the largest city in Halland, it took a while to get to the center. On the way there we came across a "Netto" store. Not the most interesting of places, but a good place to get a new pair of sunglasses, after I lost mine somewhere around Laholm. At 39 SEK, it was the cheapest I had seen in Sweden. We also got some chicken and vegetables to cook for dinner.
It was already 17:00 when we reached the city center. Mimi was hungry, so we ate some chips on a bench along the river. Shops were closing at 18:00, so at 17:30 we rushed through the shopping streets, where Mimi managed to find some sweatpants for 99 SEK to accommodate the Swedish nights that were turning out to be a bit cooler than expected.
Mimi wanted to camp near the sea, so we cycle about 10 kilometers west towards the coast, where the was a campsite. After picking a spot, it was time to pay. However, this campsite required their guests to have Scandinavian Camping Card, a rip-off that costs 150 SEK per year. In my view there is absolutely no way to justify this. According to the person at the reception, it was for insurance. According to the CSR, it is to ensure that the campsite meets minimum safety standards; neither is very convincing. Advertising with a certain price and then requiring a paid membership in order to buy something is deceptive, so we vowed to boycott all SCR campsites. Not just because we don't want to pay 150 SEK, but because it is bullshit.
I was tired, sore and annoyed. We decided to wild camp, but time was running out, and there were not so many good spots around. Eventually we set up the tent between pine trees in between some golf courses.
Personally I would have preferred a field, as there were lots of bugs around in the forest, but Mimi was still a bit anxious about wild camping and wanted to be as far out of sight as possible. While Mimi cleared the campsite of pine cones, I collected moss to put underneath the tent to create a soft bottom layer to sleep on.
There were some mosquitoes around, but with some DEET they did not bother me much anymore. Mimi prepared some dinner with noodles and chicken. The curry was a bit too spicy, but I just shoveled it and went to bed.
The long road to Hyltebruk
It was before 8:00 when we woke. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. The tent did not dry very quickly in between the trees. We arrived in the city center of Halmstad around 10:00, had some breakfast at the "Fretag Konditori". We used the bathroom extensively for washing up, brushing our teeth and filling our bottles.
While in town, we took the opportunity to get some new laces for my shoes, and some lip balm with sun block. We left town around 12:00 and followed the Hilteslingen cycling route along the Nissan river.
The day was very sunny and warm. After getting sunburned a few days prior I did not want to expose too much skin and wore long sleeves.
We deviated from the cycling route to go to Oskarström, as it was the only town along the route that had a shop. Near the shop was a small café/bakery called Goaboden, a small place run by a woman who also lived there. We had some excellent pastries, which were made with skill and an attention to detail that you don't find in most larger bakeries.
We sat in the shade for around two hours and had a few pasties while I wrote in my journal and put in my new shoe laces. Mimi also had a Swedish beer and I had a locally-made pomegranate soda. Mimi asked if we could wash our dirty dishes that we were still carrying from the previous night's dinner. The owner was exceedingly kind and insisted that she wash them herself.
Around 16:00 we left Oskarström and headed toward Hyltebruk. We did not plan on reaching it that day, but instead wanted to camp somewhere along the way. Since we were off the cycling route, we just followed the map, which led us to a highway where the cycling lane ended after a while. Across the road there were some paths, but they were not marked on any of our three maps. We tried going in there; there were some houses and a big parking lot apparently leading to a nature reserve, but there was a troubling lack of information. It seemed there was no way except the highway to get back onto the cycling route.
We reluctantly decided to go along the highway for a few kilometers until we could cross the bridge to Fröslida. Mimi got an adrenaline rush out of it while I was struggling to keep up. My leg muscles and knee were starting to hurt. It was 18:00, and was still a bit early to set up camp, even though I was ready to.
On the map we saw a lake with a path alongside which seemed like an appealing place to camp. We went onto a gravel path that on the map appeared to cross the highway and lead us there. The path was one of the worst roads we encountered in Sweden, but still a lot better than what you'd find in the Belgian Ardennes.
Eventually we reached the highway at a point where we wanted to cross. However, in between was a big metal fence with a locked door. We had no choice but continue on the gravel path along the highway towards Hyltebruk. This went on for quite a while. Finally we reached another gate, though this one was not locked and we were able to escape from our gravel prison. It was 20:00 in the evening and we were practically in Hyltebruk. I was feeling tired, sore and icky after such a long, warm day.
At the grocery store, we asked a woman on a bicycle for directions to a hotel; she cycled with us to show where it was. The hotel seemed kind of shady, but Swedish shady is still not very shady. The guy who ran the bar at the hotel did not speak any English but managed to check us in nonetheless. The room was 790 SEK with breakfast included, and we could put our bicycles inside.
I took my first warm shower of the trip and washed a greasy layer from my skin.
We used the opportunity to do laundry in the sink. We then hung all our laundry out to dry across the bathroom and bedroom. We also charged all our devices, and warmed up some Swedish meatballs which we ate with bread as our dinner.
Seeking shelter in Unnaryd
Being in a bed for the first time in a week, we naturally slept pretty well. In the breakfast room there was a television which was showing the Swedish news. To our great joy it was announced that the train strike was over. This was a huge relief for us, as it meant that we did not have to cycle back to Copenhagen under our own power, and also in case of a problem could get on the train anytime we wanted.
It was raining a bit outside for the first time on our trip, which was another reason to rejoice, because we were safely inside. Spending the night in a hotel turned out to be good decision for many reasons.
We didn't have to check out until noon, so we walked into town and visited the tourist office to get some more information for the rest of our trip. This took longer than expected and we ended up rushing back to the hotel, however it was no problem that we checked out a few minutes after noon.
Since it was a bit rainy I waterproofed the tent with a garbage bag that I took from a supplies closet at the hotel. Not all our laundry was completely dry, so we strapped it on top of the other luggage in mesh bags.
We got some food for lunch at the COOP supermarket and got back on the Hylteslingen cycling route. We ate our lunch in the ruins of an old fort that was along the way, where we were sheltered from the wind.
The sky was filled with dark clouds and some rain drops were falling. The path was made of gravel, so we decided to take a shortcut and go directly towards Unnaryd.
We reached the town around 16:30 and it was starting to rain. We saw a Bed & Breakfast; Mimi went in and inquired if they had any rooms available. There was a room for 690 SEK a night, and as she came out the rain started to intensify. A decision was quickly made; we were going to spend the night there. We unloaded our bicycles as quickly as possible while the rain was starting to pour down.
Shortly after we got all the stuff into our room, the rain stopped and I wondered if we had made the right decision. But after several more downpours that afternoon and evening we knew we had made the right choice.
The town of Unnaryd is quite small, but interesting; it is on a lake and has a shop and some restaurants. We went to the pizza restaurant for dinner, and watched the rain pour down on the streets, while being relieved that we didn't have to spent the night in a tent.
Although we did not cycle for very long today I was feeling sore and tired, probably from the day before, so we went to bed early.
Mid summer celebration
Still feeling some soreness from cycling, we decided to take a rest day and spend another night at the Bed & Breakfast. There were canoes for rent, so we got one and dragged it over to the lake. At first we had trouble controlling the boat, as Mimi was sitting in the front and I in the middle. After I moved to the back of the boat, it went much better.
Our first stop was a pension along the lake in the nearby town of Alebo. We shared a biker burger and waffle between us for lunch. We then hopped back on the boat and paddled across the lake to a small, secluded beach. There were imprints from deer in the sand. We set up the hammock and relaxed for a while.
The next stop was near to a local campsite; this is where the town's midsummer celebration was being held at 15:00. The locals had built a midsummer pole. A guy in the middle was singing some songs in Swedish, accompanied by a violin and a accordion to which some people danced around and many others sat around to watch.
After the party dispersed, we got back in our boat and paddled back to our starting point. It was a bit cloudy and windy that day. If it had been a little bit warmer, we probably would have taken a dip in the lake. It looked like a very nice lake for a swim.
We rested a bit in our room at the Bed & Breakfast. Mimi had seen some interesting things on the menu of the pension where we had lunch, so we decided to go back there by bicycle for dinner. We shared an elk burger, some wild boar stew and a waffle for dessert.
On the way to the pension, we came across another midsummer party. There was a barbecue and much celebration. Mimi wanted to stop by, but we were a bit anxious about approaching some strange Swedes. We eventually worked up the nerve and went there with some stroopwafels that we had brought from the Netherlands. Fortunately the Swedes were quite friendly; they were a little intoxicated, so that probably helped loosen them up as well. They wouldn't let us leave without Mimi taking a shot of alcohol, which she grudgingly did, and around 23:00 we were back in our room.
An unexpected night in Torup
After spending two nights at the Bed & Breakfast in Unnaryd, it was time to get going again. The plan was to get on the inland cycling route again and head towards Varberg, and camp somewhere in between.
Mimi wanted to have lunch at a waffle place that was somewhere along the way. We departed from Unnaryd around 10:30 and made some good progress. However, a little after noon it started to rain. At first it was a little, but then it started to pour down, so we took shelter in a garage along the road just outside Rydöbruk.
We were only 15 minutes away from the waffle place, but we had to wait over two hours for the rain to subside. It was around 14:30 when we decided to go for it, and try to reach the waffle place as quickly as possible. After we left our shelter, the rain started to pick up again and we were quickly getting soaked. The road to the waffle place led us to the highway, with no cycling path along side it. The only way for bicycles was to go on the same gravel path as we had gotten stuck on to the way to Hyltebruk. Mimi said "Fuck it!", and we turned around and headed towards Torup.
We had seen on the map that there was a pension in town. It wasn't hard to find, but the door was closed. While I looked for another door, Mimi knocked and someone came to open the door. An employee who was not on duty, but happened to be there for some other things, was able to check us in. We had the choice of a room with private bathroom for 890 SEK, or one with a shared bathroom in the building across the road for 690 SEK. We took the cheaper one, and as expected there was nobody else with whom we had to share the bathroom.
There was a television in the room, and it only had four Swedish channels that worked, but they proved to be remarkably entertaining. The English shows had their original voices, so we could understand it without problem. There was a COOP supermarket and a pizza restaurant in town. We visited the supermarket and got some Swedish candy to bring home as a gift. I never really worked up enough of an appetite for a full dinner, so I just ate some chocolate instead.
The fast road to Varberg
This was the fourth day in a row that we awoke in a bed, this time in a pension in Torup. We went across the street to the breakfast area around 8:30; we seemed to be the only guests there. We packed up and hit the road around 10:00.
We were still on the inland cycling route, and Varberg was still our destination, but since we did not get that far the day before we wouldn't reach it by the end of the day. We had a good start, and before 11:00 we reached Kinnared. There was a shop there, but since it was Sunday it wouldn't open until 13:00.
We continued towards Fegen, a town on a lake with the same name. We sat down at a picnic table and made some pea soup, which we ate with bread that we bought in Hyltebruk, and had kept in the freezer at the Bed & Breakfast in Unnaryd.
It was still cloudy and a little rain started to fall, but then it cleared up again. We hit the road once more, but it soon started to rain again. We were looking for a place to shelter and missed a sign for the cycling trail and continued going along the car road. Just past Ätran, we came across a gas station with a restaurant. We put the bicycles on the covered porch and stayed there for about an hour, having a drink while I wrote in my journal.
We went along the car road until we reached Ullared. It was a small town like most others, but with shopping warehouses and outlet stores that cater to people from around Sweden. It also had several mediocre food places that we found hard to choose from. I had a kebab burger from the Pizza House Ullared, which was actually not that bad.
With no real interest in the shopping, we continued along the cycling route. Just outside of town, we unintentionally ended up on a car road while we should have been alongside it. We turned back and found our way over a parking lot, across a crowded camping to get get on the right path. It was very unclear, as there were no signs to be found.
The route continued east for about an hour. It took us onto a gravel road through the forest, which was nice. We were looking for a good spot to set up the tent. We found a small, grassy area and put down a bed of moss. After setting up the tent, midges started to swarm around the entrance. We quickly went inside and killed the ones that managed to get in.
At night it was not so cold as the other nights we camped. It rained several times, but the tent kept us dry.
Along the coastal route
This morning was by far the worst of the entire trip. When I looked outside, I could see a big swarm of midges around the entrance of the tent; the rain had not deterred them. There was no way around them; I had to go through.
I covered my face and hands with DEET, but they did not disperse like they did before. They did not bite on the area that had been covered with DEET, but that was of little comfort. It seemed to take forever to load up the bicycles. Moving around seemed to temporarily relieve the problem, but as soon as we would stop moving, they would swarm all over.
It was cloudy and there was no wind. Not only did the midges like that, but it was not helping with the drying of the tent after a rainy night. My mood was at an all-time low. I just wanted to get out of there, away from the midges. We strapped the tent on without properly packing it up and got going.
We started the day with some steep climbs. I had not eaten anything and was not even wearing socks, but I was anxious to get out of there.
Eventually we left the forest and were in between the open fields. We came across an Iron Age burial ground where we took a break. I ate a banana, put on some socks and we wiped the wet inside of the tent with a towel as much as possible. There were many hundreds of dead midges in there.
We were no longer on the inland cycling route. We wanted to get to Varberg, and the most direct way was to follow route 153; a busy car road without much space for bicycles. There were some big trucks and steep climbs as well.
It was around noon when we reached Varberg, we were planning on having lunch at the "Kust Bageriet" (Coast Bakery). I ordered 4 different pastries and ate of them almost immediately after stepping outside. We were somewhat disappointed in the facilities. There was nowhere to sit except in the burning sun, and there was no toilet available.
We went to a public toilet where we refreshed ourselves a bit and filled up our bottles once again. We explored the city center for a while, looking for somewhere to sit down, as we were a bit tired. We came across "Café Mignon", which seemed quite busy. We were still in time for the tagenslunch; the daily lunch menu, which many food places in Sweden offer. At 105 SEK it was a bit more expensive than what we had seen in the smaller towns, but there was quite a list of dishes to choose from, and the food was of exceptional quality.
After about an hour we were ready to go again and visited the fortress near the coast. It was a steep climb where we had to walk up with our bicycles. We got a good view over the city and the sea.
On the way out of town, we came across a nice bicycle shop. I quickly went in and got myself a new ankle strap to keep my pants out of my chain. The metal one that I had been using up until that point kept sliding off my outdoor pants.
We headed north along the coastal cycling route, which is also part of the North Sea Cycling Route (EuroVelo 12), and which we have also cycled on in the Netherlands. We left town around 15:30, but progress was slow, as we were facing strong headwinds.
Along the way, we stopped for some ice cream. The peach jalapeño was quite interesting. In Väröbacka we made a stop at the ICA supermarket for some fruit. We had aimed to camp at a campsite near Frillisås, but we were tired and came across a promising field. The entrance was surrounded by trees, so we could set up the tent without being visible from the road. We were still in an open field where we could get some wind, so there were no midges this time.
Again, we had pea soup with bread from Varberg for dinner, which we heated up inside the tent. Not long after that, rain drops started to fall, but we were safely inside.
Long haul to GothenburgTuesday 24 June 2014
We awoke in a farmer's field just north of Väröbacka. Being in the wind did make for a colder night inside the tent, but I much preferred it over being eaten alive like the day before. The day started off rather cloudy, but once the sun broke through, the tent dried quickly with the help of the wind. We were on the road by 9:00 and continued along the coastal road towards Fjärås. Mimi had read about a specialty confectionery store that she wanted to visit called Bräutigams, where apparently even the king of Sweden gets his chocolate.
It was a bit overcast, but there was much less wind than the day before, and the air felt warm; we were making good progress. During a small break, I lubed the chains. Mimi's bicycle had been making dry chain sounds for quite a few days, but I never got around to it. Now both bicycles were running as quiet as a whisper again.
It was around noon when we reached the confectionery store. We had some ice cream, which according to Mimi was the best she ever had. (Apart from the ones she makes herself, of course.)
The cycling route was taking us along a lake, which involved climbing a hill. We decided to head straight towards Kungsbacka instead. We came across the foundation of an old church, where we sat down and cooked our lunch.
While packing up, we could see dark clouds quickly approaching us from the distance. We decided to rush towards Kungsbacka, but it was still four kilometers away, and most of it uphill. By the time we reached the top of the hill, it was pouring down. We had not seen any decent shelters. We stopped underneath some trees, but they did not provide much protection from the rain. Rather than stand around and slowly get soaked, we decided continue and look for a better shelter.
We ended up at a gas station car wash. We waited for at least half an hour for the rain to stop. We then walked over to the gas station and had a warm hot dog there to help us warm up.
Our waterproof bicycle panniers did a fine job of keeping everything dry. The tent, however, had gotten pretty wet, as had the clothes we were wearing. My jacket's "DryTech" was not keeping me dry anymore. Both our shoes were soaked through.
Still wet, we headed to the city center. We had to go through a dangerous tunnel, which I found very surprising and disappointing, considering the general safety afforded cyclists on Swedish roads. The town seemed nice, but we had no interest in sticking around.
It was 16:00, and the sun was starting to shine again. With plenty of sunlight left in the day, we decided to press on toward Gothenburg. It was 30 kilometers from Kungsbacka. We had planned on arriving there the following day, but cycling in the sun seemed like the best way to dry our clothes, and in the city we could easily find a place to sleep.
The quickest route was along a car road again, but at least this time there was plenty of space on the shoulder of the road, and as we got closer to Gothenburg it turned into a real cycling path.
While stopping by the side of the road, we booked a room in a hostel using my phone and credit card; couldn't have done that a decade ago.
What looked like a direct route on the map turned out to be yet another climb over quite an impressive hill in Gothenburg. We arrived at the door of the hostel at 19:04, only to find a message that check-in closes at 19:00.
Thankfully the check-in guy was still there and let us in. We could park our bicycles indoors, underneath the stairs. We loaded our luggage into the elevator, refreshed ourselves and relaxed for a while. It was already past 21:30 when we headed out to get some dinner. We quickly found out that every place stops serving food at 22:00. Eventually I got some things at the night supermarket, but nothing appealed to Mimi.
We returned to the hostel and to what we could do with our own food. In the kitchen there was the freeloaders' cabinet in which people leave food they cannot take with them. It turned out to be a goldmine. We ate Knäckebröd, pasta and even took a disposable barbecue for a camping dinner!
Sweden's rocky coast
We woke up in a room in a hostel in Gothenburg. Breakfast was included, so the dining area was our first stop. We headed out to the city center by bicycle, but without all our luggage. The bicycle felt kind of twitchy, and climbing hills could be done 2 to 3 gears higher than before.
The bicycling infrastructure in Gothenburg was decent, with lots of cycling lanes and separate traffic lights. However the lanes did tend to end rather abruptly, and then start suddenly again on the other side of the road. We found ourselves cycling on the road several times, and then suddenly we would notice a cyclist on the other side. At other times we were very confused on whether there were people walking on the cycling path, or if we were cycling on the sidewalk.
The city center had all kinds of shops that you would find in any other big cities. The only places that stood out were a science fiction book store and various stores specializing in Swedish design.
We found a nice bakery called "Jerkstrands", where we bought some interesting pastries. I had a cockcomb pastry similar to what I had in Ängelholm, and we also got half of a pistachio bread called a something-"stang" with cardamom in it to eat later.
The day was supposed to be rainy, so we were prepared for it. When the sky turned dark and the first drops fell, we started looking for a place to sit down and have lunch. We eventually settled for an Asian restaurant where they served the tagenslunch for 95 SEK. The food was once again exceptional. We are either very good at finding great food places, or the quality of food in Swedish cities is just high.
Eventually the sky cleared up and the forecasted rain never came. One of the reasons we came up to Gothenburg was because Mimi wanted to see the rocky coasts of Sweden, which start around here. So we got on our bicycles and cycled past the harbor towards Saltholmen, where people form Gothenburg go when they want to go to the sea.
From Saltholmen there are ferries to the islands. The harbors were full with sailboats and had a Mediterranean feel. The water was surprisingly clear, and although cold, people were jumping in. The weather was unexpectedly gorgeous, and this was the only day we did not have our swim wear with us on the bicycles. Unfortunately we did not get to swim at all throughout this trip.
We sat on the rocks and ate some strawberries that we purchased from a stall in the harbor. We then hiked to the a vantage point, where the biggest problem was finding the entrance to the trail.
Then it was time to cycle back to the hostel. Going up and down the hill without all our luggage felt like we were flying. We put our bicycles back inside and a while later headed out for some food. First we went to the "Fucking Awesome Sandwich Shoph". They were closing when we were there a day earlier, but now we were there on time. There was loud music and trendy people; the sandwich itself did not quite live up to its name. It was quite decent, but a bit expensive.
Not completely satisfied, we hit the streets again looking for second dinner. On the way back to the city Mimi had seen a Mexican food place which she wanted to try, so we walked there. It turned out that it was being run by an Irish guy, who informed us that he spent a large part of his time explaining the concept of a taco to Swedish people. This seemed plausible since outside the big cities, the foreign cuisine in Swedish towns seemed to be limited to pizza & kebab and "Asian", without getting any more specific than that. We got a burrito to go, and ate it at the hostel. According to Mimi it was the best and most authentic Mexican food she ever had in Europe, except for what she makes herself of course.
The train down south
For a second time we woke up in the hostel, though in a different room since we switched to a cheaper room the previous day. Breakfast was not included this time, so we packed all our luggage, loaded it onto our bicycles and headed into the city. We got some breakfast and lunch from two different bakeries and then had a quick stop at the supermarket.
We planned to get on the train to Copenhagen at 12:40. We got some help from some fellow cyclists with buying tickets from the machine. We had to enter the name of the destination in Swedish, and we had to enter the first part of "Köpnhamn" with an "ö" with an umlaut, a simple "o" was not good enough. The machine also does not have any bicycle tickets. I knew that you had to get a children's ticket for the bicycles, but then there were unexpectedly two age categories from which to choose. Although our bicycles are less than a year old, we still had to buy a ticket for children that are nine to 15 years old.
The train from Öresundtag was very nice, with big seats, free wifi, power outlets, and plenty of space for bicycles. As we went further south, the weather got colder and wetter. We saw three deer in the fields on the way, bringing the total of spotted deers on this trip to five. When we showed our tickets to the conductor, he looked around a bit confused; he was looking for the children the the tickets belonged to.
We were unable to find any affordable accommodation in Copenhagen, so we used the train's wifi to reserve a spot on on a campsite just outside the city. It was forecasted to rain in Copenhagen, but when we arrived around 16:00, the weather seemed fine. We headed north toward the campsite; some rain fell, but it never really got bad. By the time we reached the campsite, it was had cleared up. It felt kind of strange setting up the tent; being in the train felt like we were going home, but setting up the tent felt like we were going on holiday again.
The campsite was inside an old fortress, which was a nice novelty, but the campsite was like the ones we had in Belgium; lots of motor homes cramped together with a small field for tents. The girl at the reception told us we should keep at least 1.5 meters between the other tents, but some German had set up a huge tent on the spot next to us and was encroaching on our pitch. The tent on the other side was also a bit too close to our spot. Cramming your tent onto a tiny field with as many other tents as possible is not what camping is supposed to be about!
After setting up our tent, we took our food and cooking stuff and made our dinner on a bench away from the rest of the campsite; pea soup and bread again. Mimi wanted to lay down in the tent a bit before doing dishes and getting ready for bed. Five hours later I woke up. It was midnight; we had fallen asleep. I tried to re-arrange the luggage in the tent and zip ourselves into our sleeping bags. In the background there was some kind of music; the same tune kept repeating itself over and over and was still playing from when we had entered the tent earlier in the evening. Part of me wanted to get out, find the people responsible and shout at them, but it was just far enough away for me not to bother. I still wondered what kind of person would do this kind of thing in a public place that is shared with many people who are trying to sleep.
We woke up in our tent just outside Copenhagen, crammed together on a campsite so close that we could hear someone snoring in another tent. The weather was good. We packed up the tent and all our stuff for one last time, had the pastry and banana from Gothenburg for breakfast and headed south towards the city on our loaded bicycles.
Mimi wanted to see the little mermaid statue. We found the nearby fort relatively easily, but went the wrong way along the water and had to backtrack a bit to find it. Even as we got closer there were was not as single sign pointing towards it. Only the huge crowd of tourists and the buses they arrived in gave us a hint that something must be there.
The statue is well known for be underwhelming, and that is exactly what it was. Mimi took a few pictures and we ate some potato chips while sitting on a nearby bench. A Chinese tourist seemed more impressed with our bicycles than with the statue.
We had a drink at a nearby café and headed for the new harbor, which had the famous colored houses. I found it unfortunate that the view was obstructed by the masts of all the boats docked there, but I guess that is what you get in a harbor.
Our next stop was Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood within the city. Near the entrance it was very touristic with souvenirs and drug-related items being sold in booths. A bit further in there was the green light district where drugs were being sold in camouflaged booths; taking pictures was not allowed because the sale of drugs is still illegal in Denmark. Further in is where you can actually see the houses that people built themselves and actually live in. It felt sort of like we were transported back in time.
Eventually we exited Christiania at the other end and set down at a very fancy restaurant "56 degrees" where Mimi tried out their own specialty beer.
We cycled back around Christiania to the city center, where we arrived at some very crowded shopping streets. We stumbled upon the Lego store, where we paid a quick visit.
By this point we had finally worked up enough of an appetite to go get one of those hot dogs Copenhagen is famous for. According to some, the Andersen Bakery near the central station is the best place to get one, so we headed there. And I have to say, it really was a great hot dog. It was not just some fast food, but a culinary experience with all the details done right, even down to the home baked buns.
At the bakery we also got some things to eat later in the train. The next stop was the botanical garden. There was a rule about no bicycles allowed there, but since there was no secure bicycle storage we ignored that rule, and walked with our bicycles. Later we noticed that several other people did as well. The botanical garden was quite nice, with the highlight being the animals that had made it into their home and who were not shy of people.
Around 18:00 it was time to go to the train station, with one last top at the supermarket to get all the food we needed for the trip. We arrived at the the train station with plenty of time to spare. The train was waiting for over half an our, so there was plenty of time to load all our stuff. Mimi went to check out our compartment, and unfortunately there were four people in there already; one of them was on one of our seats. Mimi got rid of that guy, so there were five of us left. We had some good conversations with the other passengers, but there was nowhere to lay down.
The train was full, as schools were out, and many of the recent graduates were going on a summer trip with the night train. Around 22:00 we were leaving Denmark and everybody was done talking and tried to get some sleep. I have never been able to sleep well anywhere that is not a bed, and this was no exception. Around 2:00 I couldn't take it anymore and left the compartment. I hung out near the bicycles and in the hallway, drinking some water and having midnight snacks while watching the German countryside at night through the window.
Eventually two of the other passengers got out in Germany. Mimi laid down a sleeping mat on the floor, and the remaining three of us could lay down. Soon after that we crossed the Dutch border and stopped in Arnhem, and about an hour later Utrecht, where had to change trains. Once again, there were problems with the trains. Many of them were not going because of work on the tracks. The train we were supposed to take was stuffed so full that we didn't even bother to try to get on it. The day was Veteran's Day and the trains were full with veterans going to The Hague.
A little later there was an announcement that other trains were not going because a train had collided with a person, which is a polite way of saying that there was a "jumper". For a moment I contemplated cycling home the rest of the way, about 50 kilometers. Eventually we got on a Sprinter train that was 20 minutes delayed because of the other trains leaving the station. A woman in the train was getting quite annoyed; I was just hoping that I wouldn't need a toilet, since this train had none.
After spending another long hour in the train, we finally arrived back in The Hague and cycled home. One of the first things I did was take a long shower. We were very glad that we still had the rest of the weekend to recuperate before having to get back to work.
Although we didn't get to do everything we wanted it was still a very enjoyable and memorable trip too look back on.
The bicycles performed excellently. The 11 gears of the Swedish hills were a good match for the Shimano Alfine Inter 11 gear hub. At some points we were climbing in the lowest gear, and going down in the highest, but it never became a problem.
The wide, yet slick tires proved to be a good choice; the roads were mostly asphalt, but sometimes gravel. Only once did we end up on a sandy road with a steep incline, where we did not have any grip. We did not have any punctures, and I did not pump the tires again until three weeks after the trip, and the pressure was still within range.
The trains turned out to be far more unreliable than our bicycles. Thankfully our flexible planning allowed us to adapt. If we would have booked places to stay in advance we would have had serious problems.
I have mixed feelings about the night train. The additional service fees, having to take the bus to Germany and being crammed on the way back make it a pretty miserable experience. If I would ever go on there again I would take a sleeper cabin.
At the parts where we followed a cycling route, the roads were good and felt safe. However, the routes were only marked with a single sign, which was sometimes easy to miss, and once you got off the route, there were no signs that might help you get back on track. There were no numbers or maps on the signs to help you; the paper map was essential.
A few times, when we diverged from the cycling routes, we would end up on busy roads for cars or bumpy gravel roads; these were not nice for cycling.
Many of the Swedish towns marked on the map turned out to be just a bunch of houses along the road. Despite this, we did not have much trouble finding supermarkets where we could get food. We bought bottled water only on the first day of our trip; the rest of the trip we were able to get tap water at restaurants or public washrooms.
The inland region of Halland is a bit underdeveloped when it comes to tourism. Most tourists seem to flock toward the coast where they own a beach house. While we had to pay "high season" prices, we seemed to be the only tourists around in many places.
Since we didn't suffer any injuries we didn't even use the first aid kit once. Although there is always some randomness, I think our preparations also helped to keep us safe and make better informed decicions and avoid dangerous situations.
Throughout the trip I only had a little sunburn. The Neutrogena Drytouch sunblock worked very well. It's the only sunblock I have found that does not make skin sticky, which is something that makes you want to avoid using sunblock. With this stuff, I would have no problem putting it on just to be sure.
After several long days of cycling, I had a sore back and bum which took some days to recover from. My wrists were hurting from lifting the bicycle handlebar with the heavy bags on the front. The Ergon grips did a good job at keeping my hands comfortable.
We didn't get any tick bites, there were some annoying flies, mosquitoes and especially midges that I will not miss. The DEET repellent was mostly effective, but not always.
The two-person tent held up well; with all our bicycle bags it was quite full, but manageable. It did get a bit cold inside the tent some nights, and when in the sun it would quickly get warm. Using a towel in the morning proved to be quite effective for speeding up the drying process, which sometimes took quite long when there was little wind or sun.
Slightly annoying was that our sleeping mats would slowly deflate overnight. For our next trip we'll try to resolve this by either fixing or replacing them.
During the second week, we got to test how waterproof everything was; the Ortlieb bags lived up to their reputation. The waterproof case for my phone on the handlebar was also nice; my jacket and the tent did not fare so well. Conclusion: we need more waterproof stuff.