Once we had finished our Rhine cycling trip and arrived at our car in Amsterdam, we made a quick change, loaded the bikes onto the cycle carrier, and 30 minutes after finishing one trip we were starting the next.
Our plan was to drive to the North of Germany, jump on a ferry to Sweden, then do a big loop through Sweden, Finland, Lapland Norway and Denmark before making our way back to The Netherlands for a ferry home. Oh, and we are considering a side trip to Estonia!
Before any of that though, we had a social call to make to our friends, Mark and Lisa, where we stayed for just one night in their amazing new home which is now almost fully modernised. It’s strange to think we were there at the very start when Steve nearly got stuck up the chimney!
It’s a great place to live with sheep, cows and swans almost in the back garden. They cooked us dinner, we had a good catch up and in the morning we were off again. We are returning for a few days with them in September and we are all looking forward to it.
So it was back into Germany for a couple of night’s recovery. We had really pushed on for the last five days of the cycle and we were both in need of a rest. We had booked an Airbnb in the small town of Lüneburg. We had never heard of it before, but it was just over halfway to the ferry and looked OK from our research.
It was a nice enough town, but more like the best of a bad bunch than the jewel in the crown. We strolled around the medieval streets and had an enjoyable day doing not much at all and made a good start on our recovery.
Our ferry was due to depart from Rostock a Baltic Sea port at the very top of Germany, but we drove to the close by seaside town of Warnemünde which is a popular stop off point for cruise ships ploughing the Baltic route. We really quite enjoyed it and think we would have enjoyed more time there rather than in Lüneburg. It had a wide seafront promenade, a pretty town centre and a harbour area where the fishing boats had been turned into takeaways selling all sorts of things from waffles and bratwurst to fish and chips. There is obviously more money to be made selling the fish hot and battered rather than catching it cold and slippery!
Our hotel for the night was a little strange, with plenty of unusual decor and furnishings. Our room even had three tree trunks in it. It was very comfortable though and another step on the recovery road.
The following morning we were up early for the ferry to Sweden. We both enjoy a ferry trip and we have done quite a few over the last 20 or so years. It can be quite a relaxed way to travel but in some countries it can be chaos.
This crossing was definitely the former and the six hour crossing went smoothly and we spent most of the time catching up on admin and research for the future. There always seem plenty of that to do!
We arrived in Sweden, a new country for both of us, to warm weather and blue skies. We had landed near Malmo in the very South West of the country and were ultimately heading for Stockholm around eight our so hours drive away. We had filled up with fuel in Germany, which was 20p per litre cheaper than Sweden. We have around 5000 miles to cover on this trip and in this day and age strategic fueling will make a bit of a difference. So we were straight out into the Swedish countryside on our way for an overnight stop in Kalmar.
The first thing we noticed was Sweden is green, very green with a never ending scene of fields and forests. The rape seed fields stand out bright yellow against the green background and the whole picture is dotted with red painted houses. It seems every house in Sweden is painted red! It all looked very pretty and tranquil.
We made our campsite in good time with still five hours of daylight left. It doesn’t get dark until after 10pm and first light is not long after 3am. So we were able to pitch the tent, cook, eat and clean up after dinner and there was still plenty of time for a walk around the lake.
After a leisurely start the next morning we hit the road to Stockholm. We both felt the tiredness was fading away and were excited about visiting the Swedish capital and had managed to find a campsite close to the city centre. We slotted into our routine of swapping drivers every hour with the non driver doing the navigating. This proved an easy task, with only a couple of roads to travel on, it felt a bit like driving back in OZ.
We stopped for lunch and arrived at the site late afternoon. We decided to start our assault on the city early the next morning which gave Steve the opportunity to get out on his bike and Sarah to start her new book. It had been a month since we left the UK and she hadn’t read a single page. It sort of indicates how busy and tired we were on the bikes.
Stockholm was totally amazing. We loved every minute of it and by the end had promised each other to definitely come back again.
We started with a free walking tour of the Old Town. These are always a great way to orientate yourself and learn a little about the city and its people and there are always a few weird and interesting facts thrown in. One thing that kept reoccurring was that Swedes like to keep things simple and straightforward. They don’t like to over complicate things. On the whole we found this to be the case and even in a country where we did not know a single word of the language, we never really struggled. Steve, however, said that they should maybe revist the IKEA concept as that is the most complicated shop on the planet. “It’s easier to get in and out of Hampton Court maze”, is his view on that one!
Next, was a visit to the Royal Palace to watch the ‘Changing of The Guard’. We weren’t expecting too much, after all we have made numerous visits to London where ceremony and pageant are second to none.
We were though pleasantly surprised with the 45 minute display of marching, running, rifle swirlling and all to a horse mounted band. Not quite Buckingham Palace, but still very good.
We then did our usual thing of putting our walking shoes into action and strolled around different areas and islands of the city. Stockholm is built on 14 islands, although there are 24,000 in the whole archipelago, so plenty to keep us busy!
We came across a majestic looking church and Sarah wandered in to have a look and take a photo, only to realise she had strolled into the start of a wedding. No-one seemed to mind though, The Swedes are pretty easy going.
We had ended up quite a long way from the main hub of the city, but the public transport system is amazing. Besides the metro, buses and trams there is an excellent ferry network all covered by the same daily ticket. So we jumped on one for a harbour cruise back to town.
There was no excuse in Stockholm not to put back in some of the calories we had expended on the cycle, with pastry and cake shops everywhere and a couple of refuelling stops a day were essential. Steve particularly liked the local ‘kanelbulle’, a cinnamon and cardamom flavoured pastry.
The long days can really catch you out and by the time we had made it back to the campsite it was approaching 8pm and we still had dinner to sort out. It is light at the moment here until way past 10pm.
It had been a great first day in Stockholm. More of the same tomorrow please!
We started the following day by taking advantage of the ferry system and took a boat out to one of the furthest stops. It was a great way to see the concentration of islands, large and small, some containing whole suburbs and others just a single house!
We used the metro to get back to town and took one or two detours to take in some of the subway art. Most of the stations have some sort of decoration but a few of them are pretty special.
In the afternoon we went to Djurgarden or ‘Museum Island’, as it is known. Most of the City’s museums are located here as well as a roller-coaster fairground. The choice of museums is many and varied and there were two or three we fancied seeing, including The ABBA Museum!!
We started of at The Vasa Museum and made a huge miscalculation on time. This is the most visited Museum in Sweden and is utterly brilliant. Well we both thought it was.
Essentially, The Vasa was a 17th Century warship that sunk in the harbour on its maiden voyage due to a design fault. It was eventually located and salvaged in the 1960’s and after years of searching and painstaking reconstruction it has been put back together and cleaned, and is now 98% the same ship that sank almost 400 years ago.
It is huge and impressive and the whole museum is a great experience, designed incredibly well with all sorts of films and displays. You get so close to the ship from ground level to right up above for some great views.
Unfortunately, we spent so long in The Vasa Museum our time ran out for any other museum visits. Oh well, its just another excuse to come back to Stockholm in the future.
Our final morning was spent on our bikes. We got them out and spent a few hours cycling between the City’s parks for yet another different perspective of Stockholm, before making our way to the docks to board yet another ferry. This time an overnight one to Helsinki, Finland.
Stockholm was a real big hit with us and easily ranks right up there with our favourite cities of the world. Let’s see what Helsinki has to offer.