The harbour was buzzing late into the night as the locals make the most of almost 24 hours of daylight, but it’s deserted and still, as is the water, when I surface for breakfast. Breakfast is in the Snackkan cafe, which must make all it’s money during summer and be dead through winter. The Swedes like to have a boiled egg, sliced, on rye bread or a cracker, sometimes with a dressing that’s like mayo but not. It’s delicious, especially when the eggs are warm and the bread is freshly baked, and even more delicious accompanied by fresh coffee, fresh juice, in such a tranquil setting. Reluctantly, only when so full I fear another bite will cause an explosion, I load the bike and set out onto the Swedish back roads. I follow the coast of what is either the Baltic sea or the Oslo fjord, I’m not sure which, and it is sensational. Empty of traffic, great weather, long flowing bends, and scenery that starts to get much more hilly (not quite mountainous, but working in that direction), and the bike fits in well. It’s fast enough for me to enjoy the ride, but not so fast I feel in danger, stable and dependable enough to enjoy the turns, but not so sporty that I feel the need to get knee down on every bend. I pull in at Fjallbacka, a small harbour town that is so picturesque in the sun it defies my descriptive abilities, and makes me want to sell everything and buy a yacht. Sitting on the water’s edge at the marina, I enjoy a cappuccino and watch the locals and tourists enjoying the water, before heading back out onto the brilliant roads, heading for Norway. Disappointingly, there’s no sign for a "welcome to Norway" photo op, and I only realise I’ve crossed the border when I notice that the white line down the middle of the road has changed from white to yellow, the signs advertising accommodation change from "rum" to "rom", and a glance at the map confirms my suspicions. The road, like all border roads everywhere, needs work, at least by local standards, and the terrain is a bit scruffy, for a while, but then it climbs up through a pine forest and twists along the side of the water, giving a taste of what’s to come in Norway. I’d rather be riding through that forest, across that field, and over that mountain than looking at it from the tarmac, rather be setting up camp in that idyllic pasture by the lake than the municipal site, but this isn’t Mongolia, it’s Europe (although, wild camping is allowed in Norway, so I’m eagerly anticipating reaching the northern wilderness). One of the pleasures (usually) of travelling by bike, is that because you’re out in the open, you smell things. I remember the smell of wild flowers and herbs as I rode through them in Mongolia, tracking across the plains. Now, I get that strong pre-storm smell of ozone, and just as I’m thinking I’ve been in heaven all day on these roads, the heavens open and I’m brought back to reality. I instruct the gps to stop faffing about on back roads and make haste to Oslo. The rain is little more than a shower now, so I head out to acquaint myself with the town, where I have two more days before I head for the coast, then north all the way to Nordkapp, the northern-most point of mainland Europe, then Finland, and the Baltic states. But for now, welcome to Oslo!
When you’re travelling by bike, some days are about just getting to the next place. Some are about visiting a new place. Some are about the challenge and the adventure. And some, like today, are about just enjoying the ride. Blissfully hot weather, no traffic, great roads, magnificently pretty scenery, and no stress. Just sitting back and relaxing. Ending up at a hostel right on a lake is just icing on the cake.
Glorious weather, glorious roads, glorious lack of traffic, glorious peace thanks to the quieter new helmet I bought in Stockholm this morning (many thanks for the glorious service delivered by the guy at Stockholm’s MC Varhus, possibly the best bike shop I’ve ever seen, and possibly the best service I’ve ever received, anywhere, ever), glorious scenery in the Swedish countryside of pine forests, wheat fields, lakes and postcard pretty wooden houses in the traditional copper-mining residue dark red, a gloriously cold beer in the town square, and spending the night on a train carriage converted to a youth hostel, with a glorious view across a lake, and at the end of a glorious day’s riding it’s still gloriously hot and sunny and so gloriously picturesque it’s hard to believe it’s real and not a movie set. A glorious day. If this was my groundhog day I wouldn’t mind at all.
Hot enough to be eating ice-cream today. Top tip for Stockholm – get the city card for free public transport and museum entry. Other top tip – go on a diet, start working out, and get plastic surgery to look like a supermodel, and buy a lamborghini or a ferrari, so that you fit in with the locals. And get very rich so that you can afford to eat or drink. Hmm, maybe that’s why they’re all so thin. You’d have to be a gazillionaire to get fat here. Another tip, don’t go up the tv tower, it’s pants. So is the changing of the guard, but that’s probably true at every guard changing everywhere. Unless you’re a pick pocket, then you probably love it. Back on the road tomorrow.
The rain eases and I leave the truck stop, heading north on empty roads, and enjoying the lack of traffic. All cars in Denmark seem to have had their indicators disabled. All drivers in Sweden seem to have had their brains disabled. Most of the occasional biking Vikings that I pass don’t even wave, but an intelligent few do. The miles fly by as I enjoy the view and keep a look out for moose. I see plenty of warning signs and one carcass. The size of it makes it clear if I hit one it will be the moose that wins. Finding the hotel is a breeze, avoiding city centre traffic, and it has a secure underground car park, both important features for motorcycle travellers. It’s also much nicer than I expected given I chose from the budget end, and after a short walk I’m in the centre of the old town and surrounded by camera wielding tourists and (happily), Irish pubs again. Hoping I don’t look anything like the stereotypical tourists with their cameras, bum bags, anoraks, and arguing spouses, I retire to a tourist filled restaurant for tourists and sit surrounded by tourists eating food for tourists at tourist prices but knowing I’m not really one of them. Bikers are different.
TStayed in really bad hostel last night. In a country that experiences almost 24 hours of daylight, why do they have such useless curtains? The early start because of the early light at least gets me a hundred miles down the road before the rain starts. The scenery is like Scotland (I’m sure everyone says that), but with the complete absence of other people, the long stretches of empty road, and the weather, It reminds me of Siberia. When the rain starts and I find a road side cafe for a coffee and smorgasbord, I’m reminded of that day on the trans-siberian highway when I had a similarly early start, empty roads, cold rain, and the restorative warmth of a truck stop, copious coffee, and fatty food. Back then I didn’t have the comfort of Gerbings heated clothing. I’m going to sign us as a salesman or co ambassador for them, it’s utterly brilliant to be toasty warm in cold weather. I enjoy my breakfast, wondering how much colder, windier and wetter it will get by the time I hit northern Norway. I wasn’t expecting to get a tan up here (although how come so many Swedes are so tanned? And why are they walking around in shorts and summer dresses when it’s like winter?), but I didn’t expect it to be this bad when I’m only really at southern Scotland latitudes. I re-fill the coffee cup and contemplate the rain outside the window.