I hadn’t been in Sweden for one hour and I found myself sitting in the back of a police van, bicycle and all. Now, I am normally not that much of an outlaw but this time I had decided to buck all Swedish rules against riding on the freeway, when I got picked up by one of the cops. It turned out that Stockholm’s international airport was a good forty five kilometers from the city itself, a perfect distance to put my airplane cramped legs to good use for a couple of hours. The catch was that the only connection between the airport and Stockholm was the E18, a freeway by European standards.
I might have been able to lug the bike onto a train or just pony up the cash for a taxi cab, but the “born wild and free” portion of my brain said NO! Besides, I rationalized, I am thoroughly honed by riding in the legendary Southern California traffic all the time anyways. Except for some honking and Swedish cussing, the freeway shoulder was generous and traffic relatively light, probably because Stockholm itself was still a ways off. If traffic got too gnarly or the shoulder disappeared, I figured I would just exit and ask my way around. It never came to that. The four cops who pulled up next to me looked really furious and even sounded furious, even though Swedish is one of the gentlest sounding languages I have ever heard. After they figured out that I responded logically only when spoken to in English or German, they stuffed me and my bike in the back of the van and off we went. So I arrived at the Stockholm city limits in total style, surrounded by road flares, some extra hand cuffs and a first aid box. I hoped to get dumped off as soon as we got in town and was resigned to pay whatever fine they imposed. Instead they asked which address I was headed to and it was right there that they dropped me off. Talk about professional cab service. Not only did these guys know their way around town, but they also spoke the local language and pointed out some of their undercover colleagues who drove unmarked white Volvos around.
That same evening I went on a stroll to the royal palace because it was nearby and hard to miss. I remembered the stiff and motionless guards of London’s Buckingham Palace and chuckled when I saw the guards here. They stood in front of their booths casually and made no attempt at a disciplined standstill. So it should be no big deal if I checked out the canons parked out front and sneak a peek inside some of the palatial windows behind these lax guards, right? Wrong. Two of them turned around as soon as I walked out of sight and moved swiftly toward me with their ceremonial muskets. Oh shit! Those weren’t ceremonial muskets but military rifles with bayonets. After I endured more unintelligible Nazi Swedish, I backed away slowly and humbly. I would rather get between a grizzly bear sow and her cubs than these guys.
Thankfully that was it for running into the law so far. Amazingly, I enjoyed some crisp and sunny fall weather, perfect for prowling all the nooks and crannies of the city. Stockholm is actually an archipelago, built on fourteen separate islands and interconnected by bridges; modern concrete bridges, nineteenth century riveted steel bridges, and much older stone bridges arching beautifully over the water. Even cooler are all the narrow cobbled stone streets of the Gamla Stan (Old Town) that converge on little fountain and tree lined squares. Some of these alleys are so narrow that you can stretch both arms out and touch the bright yellow, orange or red plastered walls of the buildings. These old four and five story houses were definitely brighter than I imagined Swedes being capable of. I guess Ikea has some brightly colored furniture, too. Another surprise to me was that Stockholm is home to quite the jazz scene. Although it doesn’t rival New Orleans by any means, some of these clubs sport stompin’ atmospheres.
After some days of city romping and getting used to the shock of ridiculously high food prices, I became restless enough that I hopped on a train to Norway. Unfortunately the bike couldn’t come along because the trains offered a Soviet style bureaucratic mess when it came to getting the bike onboard. I lost the urge to ride to the fjords of Norway not so much to distance but looming rain. I remembered my misadventures with rain in Yukon last year all too well. So I shouldered my brother’s borrowed backpack and hopped off in Myrdal, Norway after a one day stay in the capital city of Oslo. Oslo, although it had some charming old buildings, was heavily burdened with large, blocky, gray government buildings that reminded every Norwegian who takes care of them from cradle to grave. The harbor and surrounding wooded hills provided a nice break from that view, though. Myrdal, on the other hand, consisted of four houses and a bed &breakfast high in the mountains of Western Norway. The train route took me through an amazing number of miles long tunnels dug right through the mountains. I arrived there at night to freezing cold weather and patches of last year’s snow. Nicely enough, the bed & breakfast owners let me pitch the tent on their property. After a calm, cold night, I awoke to clear skies but completely frozen water bottles. My tent spot was above the tree line, but in a canyon ahead of me I could see the yellow leaves on trees; fall was here already. The twenty five kilometer hike down to the Aurland Fjord took me past whole forests of yellow and evergreens and huge, huge waterfalls cascading literally two thousand feet down the vertical black rock. They were everywhere, after every bend in the trail, a new one appeared. I believe I saw more waterfalls here than I saw on Kauai’s Na Pali cliffs after a thunderstorm. As the day went on, the canyon widened to make room for pasture country and sheep.
After some time in Bergen and an unending series of shudder and shock at the sky high prices on everything, but pleasant bouts of sitting idly in cafes and watching passersby, I got back on a night train and took it all the way to Copenhagen (Denmark), where the newspaper had predicted drier weather. Sure enough it was dry in Copenhagen, but at the train station there I realized that Hamburg, Germany was only four more hours away. I also thought of how cool it would be to hang out with all my friends and some cousins there again. Easy decision there. I can catch up with Copenhagen and some of the Danish countryside when I return from Germany. But a few days of partying in Hamburg definitely does the soul good “maybe not the liver” but the soul for sure. Surprisingly, I found the skies of Hamburg free of rain and almost blue; fall hasn’t even arrived here yet, virtually everything is still green. I lived in Hamburg for a few years and don’t remember October days so nice. As lively as always and an even livelier harbor district make this city a pleasure to stroll at any time of day or night. And here visitors should embark on a boat cruise of the huge harbor bustling with freighters and oil tankers’ do some jail time for skipping this experience.
I have a feeling that I will drift back north into Scandinavia soon again, but just want to linger a little more here in Hamburg.