A Brief Viking Raid Into Sweden
My route through Europe was a bit weird (read: stupid) to start with, and itís only got worse as Iíve gone along it. Hence I came to Sweden with plans to go up the western side, then Iíd come back to Stockholm later. Hence this post deals with my first visit to Sweden, before I went to Norway. So itís not gonna be a big one.
It wasn't until much later that I realised how stupid this plan was, but by then I was committed to it
If I had to pick a country to live in Europe (and Iím typing this from the Czech Republic, so Iíve been to a few now) it would probably be Sweden. Having been in tight-packed countries for so long, suddenly there was space everywhere! And not the edge-of-the-earth feeling you get from the Scottish highlands Ė it actually felt a lot like home.
The Belgians would've put a 5000-person city here
First stop was Gothenburg, a city whose existence I was only aware of because of the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene Ė so many of my favourite bands came from here that I knew it was going to be some kind of extreme, ultimate, metal-as kinda place. I was expecting molten lava to be running through the streets, traffic to consist of skeleton-pulled chariots, a permanent lightning storm overheadÖ
Not. Brutal. At All.
Ö perhaps unsurprisingly, it didnít turn out to be like that. Fortunately what it did turn out to be was a beautiful, laid-back, lovely city. When people ask me my favourite places that Iíve visited, I generally throw out Edinburgh (obviously), Delft (it made an impression) and Gothenburg. Iím not sure why I like Gothenburg so much Ė itís not like I really met many of the people or went out there much (damn those Swedish prices) Ė I just really like the vibe of the place. Itís big enough to still have all the vibrancy of a major city, but small enough to still feel laid back. Itís one of the places Iíd been that I wouldnít mind livingÖ at least in summer.
Shame you're not allowed to park on the footpath though.
Thereís not a million things to see in Gothenburg, but it does have an aircraft museum that sits in a former cold-war bunker. Itís actually quite a cool place to visit Ė the entrance reminds me a lot of the base from Stargate Ė just a hole in the side of a hill that leads deep underground. Those who know me can tell you that while Iíve grown into an adult physically, I havenít really mentally matured very far past the age of 9, and this can cause me problems in places like the aircraft museum. Itís full of planes and helicopters that youíre allowed to climb into and put on a flight helmet and fiddle with the joysticks and the switches. When kids do this itís cute and their parents take photos and itís all very fun Ė when I, a 23 year old manchild did it, the fun was dampened somewhat by the disapproving glares I got from parents waiting in lineÖ and further dampened when I found that no matter how many buttons I pressed I couldnít find one that shot rockets at them.
Firing Fox Three!
The complex that the museum is set in is massive, and it was interesting to see the amount of stuff just lying around. A less-visited hangar had a bunch of random bits of aircraft including most of a Chinook (big transport helicopter) and a record of how the museum staff won a Red Bull birdman competition. Taking a walk outside, there was half a jet fighter sitting on some forklift pallets Ė itís crazy how these used to cost millions and were the only thing standing between Sweden and annihilation, but now theyíre not even worth throwing a plastic sheet over.
How the mighty have fallen...
Riding north from Gothenburg, I was lucky enough to have someone to stay with Ė Joseph, a Swede who Iíd met while I was immobilised in Edinburgh. He was staying at his in-lawsí house in Saffle (imagine thereís two dots above the a), which is a little town next to the biggest lake in Sweden. This is a lake roughly the size of the island that Copenhagen is on, so big that you canít actually see the other side of it Ė itís just water all the way out to the horizon, as if you were on the coast.
The sea is hundreds of kilometres away from this picture. Cool eh?
Iím so incredibly grateful to Joseph Ė just being able to sleep in a quiet room by myself was amazing, but Joseph also cooked me dinner, drove me around and chatted about Sweden and other things into the early morning, even though he had to work the next day. Ever since Iíve been in Sweden Iíve always thought of the Swedes as being some of the nicest people in Europe Ė although Iím sure they deserve the reputation in their own right, I think a lot of this belief stems directly from the hospitality Joseph showed me that night. A lot of the time while Iím travelling Iím distracted by silliness like pub crawls and free tours and museums but itís experiences like the one in Saffle that I travelled to Europe to enjoy.
Sweden had made a great impression on me, and Iíd return in time Ė but adventure beckoned. It was time to make a pilgrimage to motorcycling touringís mecca Ė Nordkapp, Norway.