Haret AlfasiThe Long Way To Italy | Autumn 2016

Day 6: Sweden's gorgeous colourful homes

I am such a lazy bum. My clock beamed at me with LED lights that sang: na na na na, you are so lazy, it’s already 9:30. Crap. I needed to get up. Waaaaaah. Why couldn’t I simply get up earlier and start my day before 11? This was getting ridiculous, though I had a suspicious feeling that I wouldn’t learn and that the following day would bring forth the exact same laziness and the exact same late start.

I opened the door to run downstairs and found myself walking into a wall of the smell I had described last night. Disoriented, I took a moment to recalibrate and then ran downstairs to the bathroom. There wasn’t a single soul in sight and everything was clear. Great! This was the first time I had gotten the chance to look at the bathroom properly, and my oh my was it icky. I made sure to clean the toilet seat super well and laid a fresh set of toilet roll on the rim before sitting down (think the Finch bathroom scene from American Pie 1). The shower was the challenge however since there was a raised plastic grill on which to stand on…but it REALLY didn’t look healthy whatsoever. A considerable layer of grime rested on its surface, gurgling with delight and wishing I would step on it. “I won’t step on you!” I told it! Think fast…solutions solutions! Then it hit me! I remembered what I’d done a couple of years back during my first bike trip to the Balkans. I had stayed in a grimy motel with a similar shower situation. In the room, I found a metal tray and washed it under the tap and stood on that. Problem solved? Absolutely! I dashed to the kitchen and was met with a scene of leftover plates with bones and half chewed slices of bread. Shaking my head to keep focus, I rummaged around till I found the trays. I picked out a sturdy looking one and proceeded to soap wash it before carrying it to the shower where I was able to comfortably clean myself.

Packing up was relatively quick as there was no tent to put down and pack up, and soon I was on the road once again riding through the beautiful Danish countryside. My plan was to make a push for Copenhagen where I hoped to buy a burner for my gas canister and hopefully pick up a first aid kit as well. The trip went smoothly and was only interrupted once for a quick fuel stop on the side of the road. Other than that, it was one single motorway ride with no rights of lefts. Straight and speedy till I found myself riding into the capital.

My first impressions of the city? Absolutely stunning. Does it warrant a city break? Most definitely! The outskirts as you ride in are littered with industrial estates, power stations and factories which give it quite a cold and unwelcoming exterior. Don’t be fooled however as a few kilometres in, this all vanished and what I found instead were spacious streets lined with some of the cleanest and most delicately decorated buildings I have seen in a long time. The central station buzzed with people and cyclists while its brown bricks and ageing roof boasted history and class. Further in I found myself skipping over canals and rivers bordering colourful buildings whose reflection shone on the crisp and reflective water surface. Cyclists moved in their hordes silently and with purpose, pedalling on designated lanes that cut in front of traffic and causing me to hit the brakes a few times. Whereas cars would normally take right hand turns with ease, in Copenhagen they had to wait till the cyclist droves had crossed first, causing delays in what was a turning direction that normally flowed the smoothest (as opposed to cutting traffic and turning left for example).

The navigator did a brilliant job in getting me to the camping store, though I did get lost a couple of times when there were multiple directions to be followed in quick succession.Parking directly outside the shop, I walked in and was met with a handsome young man who responded with a confident “Yes, of course” when I asked him if he spoke English. He whisked me upstairs to show me the burners they had and the first thing that hit me was: “Shit, this is preTttTttttty expensive”. Their cheapest burner cost £26 while the funky foldable one with a foil mesh that retains the helps stabilise the flame was £62. I pulled out my phone and did a quick search for the £62 variant on amazon.co.uk and found it available from the company Primus itself for £27. More than double the price! The helpful assistant informed me that things would only get more expensive as I head further north, but that the decision was mine to make in the end. I was also in need of a small pot and the cheapest he had available was for £25 xD. They had no first aid kits but he kindly mentioned that there were a few more outdoor shops down the road so I could try my luck with them or come back if I wanted. I thanked him for his sincere advice and his time and skipped out to try my luck with the other shops.

The second shop stocked less than the first but they only sold large burners, I did however find a reasonably priced first aid kit and also bought…a plastic spoon xD. Skipping along to the third store, I found a much better burner than the first store was selling for £26, and a small two pot set as well. I grabbed both and was surprised when I was given an extra small discount for the pots as they were display items! Woohoo! I skipped out feeling happy and accomplished and it was only then that my stomach growled like crazy, I’d only eaten 4 cookies since the start of the morning and needed to top up my energy levels quickly.

I spotted a quaint looking food joint as I walked towards my bike. They had a selection of cold salads and hot food as well. I asked the lady for their vegetarian or fish options and she explained that I could buy a set meal with a selection of salads (pasta salad / quinoa / coleslaw / potato salad etc) and a main of either veggie burgers or veggie samosas. I opted to try one of each and she quickly got my meal ready for me. I kid you not when I say that I must’ve had 7 or 8 mouthfuls and felt absolutely stuffed xD. I sheepishly asked her if I could have a takeaway container and she laughed and said of course I could. Placing the rest of my food in the container, I washed my hands and bade her farewell as I walked out the shop. At this point, only one thing was missing and that was a lighter. There was a Western Union shop next to my bike but I REALLY didn’t feel like exchanging 5 euros because I knew I wouldn’t be spending the rest before leaving Denmark. After all, Copenhagen is right on the doorstep of Sweden. I spotted a small convenience store and thought I’d try my luck with the euro coins I had in my bag. The owner immediately suggested that I go and exchange my cash at the WU store, but I explained that I simply needed a lighter, and in the end he said ok and asked for one euro, Yippee!! You’ll never get a yes if you don’t ask! Remember that!

After rushing back to my bike and organising all my purchases, I poured over the map and planned my next move. From Malmo, I decided to go inland to get a taste of what the Swedish nature looks like. Crossing the Malmo bridge had me tilting my head backwards as I rode between those monolithic concrete pillars. The twisted metal cabling extended downwards, grabbing the concrete bridge and making sure it stayed put. What an incredible piece of engineering, and how beautiful and magnificent did it look, and ESPECIALLY from a distance.

On the other side, it was tempting to simply hit the coastal highway to get to Norway as quickly as possible, but I stuck with my guns and went inland. I was SO NOT disappointed! Now let me explain something here….it wasn’t so much the nature that struck me as much as it were the PRETTY HOUSES! OH WOW! Sweden you have the cutest, loveliest most colourful houses in the whole wide universe! I was simply speechless. How perfectly they stood. How beautifully they carried themselves as they stood there, perched bronze and red like roosters in their perfectly cut lawns. These were emblems of pride. Tokens of care and dedication. It was clear the people here loved their homes and went to extreme lengths to make them this pretty. And their efforts had surely paid off. I never thought once that I could say it but I will now: “For the first time ever, I was more thrilled to snap pictures of man made construction than of nature!” Waaaaaah. Simply beautiful!

The roads were simply spectacular too. I found myself dashing through woodlands and forests that glowed with the finest hues of early autumn. Lakes littered my way as I rode along, reflecting the beauty that embraced them like mirrors in complete stillness. No ripples. Nothing. I found myself getting off the bike time and time again to try and capture some of these natural wonders. The more I tried to frame my shots, the more frustrated I felt as I simply couldn’t capture everything! But wait…was that even possible? Could a lens REALLY capture this beauty in its entirety? Was it even supposed to? No….of course it wasn’t. One needed to be here to really savour this….lenses and cameras were only made to entice and draw us out to these places. The real deal needed to be experienced in person, and the photo merely a flash card to spark up the memory itself :)

On and on I rode, and the more I did the more I started to feel back in that happy zone of mine. Away from people, away from traffic, away from concrete and buildings, away from noise and interruption. Only myself, my bike and this stupendous nature that had captivated every sense and every conscious fibre in my body. I didn’t want to be anywhere else but here right now…..right now I wanted only this.

Time flew and soon enough I found myself zipping up the air vents on my jacket once again. I knew that I wanted to wild camp this evening, and therefore I knew that I was free from the burden of checking in and finding a reasonably priced place to stay for the night. I did however still have the challenge of finding a comfortably secluded spot (preferably with water) in which I could stay the night. I rode and rode and rode, and even entered a field at one point thinking that I had found something suitable but opted to leave instead. Finally, and just as dusk was starting to settle in properly, I spotted very fleeting a small grove on the side of the road and beyond it I saw a lake. I slammed the brakes immediately and made a U turn. Wow! What a place! PERFECT! I was absolutely overjoyed and super stoked to get started to set up. There was ample room for the tent, plenty of dry wood and more importantly, there was a small slope that gently led right to the lake! What incredible luck!

What followed was me rolling out the tent, losing the pegs for a few minutes and freaking out, finding the pegs and setting up the tent, making the most amazing tomato soup with my new burner and making a fire and drinking my soup next to it. I was super chuffed that everything that fallen into place so well in the last minute and proceeded to brush my teeth and hit the sack immediately thereafter.