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Aug 20th 2022

Overland from Finland to London: Epilogue


Another early morning, a final mediocre breakfast. The UK welcomed me back with a misty morning. With the end in sight, travel fatigue had by now started to set in and I was looking forward to falling asleep in my own bed.

Despite having moored much earlier, disembarking the ship wasn’t allowed until after 6.30. Not quite sure why, possibly to avoid having a train of lorries rumbling past peoples’ houses in the early hours of the day. In any case, it meant I wouldn’t be allowed on a train for some time, as you can’t arrive into London with a full-size bike during peak hours. Not that it mattered, the trains from Harwich port weren’t running this morning anyway, due to (yet again!) an electrical fault. This time to the overhead wires.

So I took it easy and slowly made my way towards Manningtree, where I would eventually catch the train to London. Exactly at 8.53, it turned out.

Then a final hour on the train, followed by the last push home before it would all be over. Exactly a month after my departure, I would arrive back at whence I started. All in one piece, save for one spoke, which decided Sweden was where it wanted to stay.

Having now completed this my longest and most elaborate overland trip, some final thoughts.

In general, I found travelling overland an enjoyable experience. Despite the occasional mishap, everything fell into place without much trouble. Naturally, it’s a much more time consuming way to go somewhere, but to me that was part of the allure.

To me cycling is the most enjoyable way to travel. It’s fast enough to move vast distances in a relatively short time, yet slow enough to take it all in. However, from a more practical perspective a distance such as this trip is impossible to cycle in its entirety. But by combining cycling and train travel you get the best of both worlds. You can quickly cover vast distances efficiently and sustainably, while also including stretches of slower travel.

Unfortunately, because trains in Europe are currently mostly optimised at moving people with little or no luggage, taking your bike along can be a bit of a chore. Some train operators will be almost hostile towards the idea, not accepting bikes at all, unless they’re disassembled and bagged. Unless your bike of choice is a folder, you need to be patient and flexible, or carry a bike bag. Possibly all of the above.

Without a bike along with me, the experience would’ve been wholly different. I could’ve covered the entirety of the trip in a mere two days (apart from the Sweden-Finland ferry). To me that is (time-wise) a realistic alternative to flying, when going for an extended time, like I was. Once the Hamburg-Stockholm sleeper gets going this September, that’s going to cut the required time even more, making it a viable alternative even for shorter trips. (Again, time-wise only.)

That still leaves two aspects which I feel will probably dissuade a great deal of people from ditching flying: overland travel is costly (costlier than air travel) and it takes much more effort.

Flying somewhere can be cheap as chips and (practically) no matter where your heart desires, you can buy your ticket for the entire trip from a single vendor. Once those two things are solved for cross-border and cross-operator train travel, I’m certain it will enter its second golden age.

Specifically for this trip, I wish I’d had a day or two more on the way out for the cycling. Because of scheduling issues, I had less opportunity to enjoy my passage through Sweden than I’d envisioned. Along my route were an endless number of side-quests that beckoned: beaches, islands, museums, restaurants… you name it, it was there just waiting to be explored.

Having had an extra day or two on my Interrail pass probably would’ve saved me some money. Now my ex-tempore mode switch to Interrail accepting railway operators was completely out of my own pocket. My original trip between Stockholm and Gothenburg was always going to be on myself, because FlixTrain does not accept the Interrail pass, but the replacement I got probably would’ve. (I never bothered checking, because my pass didn’t have the allowance for it anyway.)

All in all, the Interrail pass was brilliant. Because of it, I didn’t really worry about missed connections, beyond those which required pre-booking the bike. I can definitely understand how it’s survived all these years; without a bike in tow it provides endless possibilities for spontaneous travel within Europe.

Finally, I absolutely loved the camping. Hotels can be nice, as they bring you right into the hustle and bustle, but falling asleep and waking up amongst all the wonderful things nature provides simply can’t be beat. Then strapping it all back on your bike and heading for your next sleep is just amazing.

The world really is best by bike.

Aug 14th 2022

Overland from Finland to London: Days 3 and 4


I awoke with a nagging feeling of having been dismissive about drinking water the day before. Not quite hung over, but not quite not hung over either. Thankfully I wasn’t in a hurry and could afford myself a lie-in.

The morning was overcast, which made it feel chilly, as Scandinavian August mornings can be, but whenever the sun peeked through the cloud cover it made the tent warm and comfy.

Trying to convince myself leaving my sleeping bag wasn’t a terrible idea, taking a quick glance at the weather forecast motivated me to begin packing up. Some rain was due and I was keen on reaching Copenhagen central station before it.

While I was slowly putting away my lodgings, my beach companions from the night before appeared from their abode and began to prepare their breakfast. Reminded of having none of my own, suddenly made me very aware of my growing hunger.

Everything packed up, I thanked the rather tired looking couple for the amicable previous evening, which had probably carried on a bit too long for all of us, and waved goodbye.

The great thing was still being completely without any hurry. I was pedalling along at a pace your granny would call boring taking it all in. My only target for the ride was to find breakfast.

I had in mind a place which I’d spotted the day before, which advertised breakfast sandwiches, but it’s doors were firmly shut and it would only open after 11. But, as luck would have it, there was a bakery next door.

I did end up getting breakfast, but the way there was certainly one of the strangest experiences of not being understood I’ve had in a while. To elaborate a bit, my mother tongue is Swedish, and I speak Finnish as a native. On top of those two I speak fluent English, conversational German and this and that in several other European languages. As Scandinavian languages go, Danish is certainly in a league of its own, but ordering a coffee shouldn’t be impossible across neighbouring languages. But the clerk at this bakery simply would not understand me. I started out in English, followed by Swedish, and then “nordic”, or my best imitation of Danish, to get through. All I was trying to order was an oat milk latte. The rest I could simply point at.

Their colleague eventually butted in to translate, but I wasn’t sure whether I’d got rid of more than just bodily liquids the previous night, when the same thing was repeated later when I tried to get my water bottle topped up. I can say water in 8 or 9 languages just off the top of my head, but nothing seemed to click. Brandishing my water bottle and miming drinking got through, but again it was strangely difficult. (The whole situation reminded me of the Kamelåså sketch from the Norwegian show Uti vår hage. Worth a watch, if you’ve not yet seen it. Perhaps it’s not as outlandish as it once seemed.)

Still, I got myself coffee and a pastry for breakfast and the coffee was the best I’d had for days. As I was sat outside the café, several groups of runners passed. I merrily waved and continued to stuff my face with croissant.

Immediate needs fulfilled I continued to make my way to Copenhagen. The rain arrived slightly before me, so I didn’t quite avoid getting wet, but it was merely a light sprinkling of summer rain.

At the station, I prepared for a day of train travel by stocking up at the 7-Eleven with all kinds of rubbish. Nothing like eating your way across a country, especially on junk food.

The first train of the day was from Copenhagen to Fredericia, where I would change to a train to Flensburg. From there I would catch a regional train to Hamburg. The journey was quite unremarkable, except for the interchange at Fredericia. It was the first time anyone actually wanted to see my place bookings, as a very stern-looking train manager blocked the carriage doorway and not letting anyone without a reservation to board.

In Flensburg I managed to catch a train an hour earlier than the one I’d scheduled, which meant an extra hour looking around Altona. This was very welcome, as some aimless walking was nice after a day of train travel. I also treated myself to a tasty vegan burger and cheesecake at Froindlichst, a place I can wholeheartedly recommend.

The next morning I had an early first connection from Hamburg to Osnabrück at 6.46. Despite an early start, I felt I arrived too late, when I saw the long queues to the few open shops at the station. Still, I managed to get myself a sandwich and a treat, before I rushed to my platform.

Bike and myself aboard the train, an announcement informed us the train would depart late, as there was yet another electrical problem causing irregularities in train traffic. The early start had annoyed me earlier, but now it felt justified, as it would allow me to reschedule the rest of the day’s connections.

The final destination of the day was The Hague, from where I’d cycle to Hook of Holland for the final ferry of the journey. Originally, I would have ample time in The Hague for some shopping and final hours of holidaying. Now, I wasn’t so sure.

But, my worries turned out to be unfounded. Whatever the original issues were, its ripple-effect had also delayed my onwards connections, so I made all my original connections. I arrived in The Hague only an hour or so later than I’d planned, which wasn’t bad at all.

A quick pitstop at De Pindakaaswinkel, to get myself the one indulgence I’d bring home, followed by food and several beers in a sunny canal-side bar.

The final cycle to Hook of Holland came with mixed feelings again. On the one hand it would be nice to be back home. On the other hand I would be sad to no longer have days of cycling and camping ahead of me. Happiness was still definitely the overall emotion.

Checked in and showered, I had dinner, and waved my holiday goodbye with a final drink on deck.

Aug 14th 2022

Overland from Finland to London: Day 2


I slept well but didn’t enjoy how the morning sounded. There was no rain, but, if anything, the wind was worse than the day before.

In store for the day was a cycle to Helsingborg, some 100 km away. I would then ferry to Helsingør and get the train to Copenhagen. This was my plan to still get some cycling in, but lessening the strain on the damaged rear wheel.

Listening to the wind made me change my plans to instead get the train to Helsingborg and do the cycling on the Danish side. With the wind blowing from the west, it should be slightly less exposed.

This also meant I would be reaching Copenhagen a day early, giving me half a day to look around, instead of the one or two hours I’d expected.

Inspecting the train schedules, I found I was able to squeeze in a quick breakfast stop. Abandoning the comfort of my sleeping bag I once again packed up and headed for the nearest coffee shop. There I got myself a tasty sandwich and a cinnamon bun, to go with the terrible coffee. But to make up for the bad coffee, they did have a clean and spacious toilet.

Toilets are very important when cycle touring, especially when not staying on camp sites. A dip in the sea is nice and certainly refreshing, but it’s so much nicer to have a mini wash-up with clean fresh water. My last night’s camp spot was next to a river, but it didn’t look very inviting, so I’d not had the chance to get rid of the previous day’s stickiness, which made washing up all the more appealing. Applying deodorant and brushing your teeth can only do so much.

Once on the train, I enjoyed watching the winds tearing up the seas into a white foam maelstrom. Particularly because I was being whisked along at nearly 200 km/h, instead of 20 km/h with a pained grimace on my face. An hour later I, amongst a motley crew of cyclists, was stood in the harbour waiting to board the ferry to Helsingør.

In a stroke of good fortune, the ferry was free. The online store wouldn’t let me buy a bike ticket and when I rolled up to the service booth, I was simply waved along.

The boat ride was a short affair. Just long enough for another terrible cup of coffee. The sound is merely 4 km wide between Helsingborg and Helsingør.

Helsingør looked very pretty and some of the buildings in the centre looked down right ancient. I spotted some dating from the 1600s. I could definitely see myself returning there later to have a better look around.

Cycling towards Copenhagen, my route followed the coast fairly closely. I was later informed that this part of Denmark is some of the richest in the country and the houses along the seafront certainly supported that claim. Quite a few that were more castle than house.

Unlike most Nordic countries, Denmark doesn’t allow wild camping, but they do instead provide a vast selection of free camping spots with varying facilities; shelters, fire pits and sometimes even water taps. (See udinaturen.dk for details, some Danish or machine translation required.)

On the way, I stopped at two camping spots I’d picked out that were near to my route, to check whether they were as interesting as they’d sounded like in their online description. The first one was absolutely stunning: it had a sea view over Kattegat, and a small adjacent sandy beach, and a fire pit. The thought of an evening spent by a crackling fire was undeniably appealing, but sadly, I did not carry the tools to make a fire, so it seemed irrelevant to me at the time. The second spot felt less remote, as it was just next to a restaurant, and the area seemed generally busier. It definitely wasn’t as appealing as the first one. The difference in distance from Copenhagen was negligible, so quite obviously I settled on staying at the nicer spot.

I carried on to spend my day as a tourist in Copenhagen. First stop, the little mermaid.

The route into town as a whole almost entirely on segregated cycle paths or shared paths. Some of it snaking through the forest beside a train track, other times it was a wide boulevard next to the sea. Danish cycle infrastructure was in general quite good and rarely required stopping. Arriving into Copenhagen there were a few traffic lights, but once you got into their rhythm, they were generally always green.

Closing in on my first tourist attraction, I spotted some remnants of the Tour de France’s visit, in the form of names painted in the road. Even though the event was long gone, I still felt like I caught some of the atmosphere, cycling up the small hill on the (I think) first stage time trial course.

The little mermaid proved to be rather popular, as bus loads of tourists hoarded around the sculpture perched on a small rock in the harbour. As the swarms of tourists did their best to frame themselves together with the statue without bystanders, I couldn’t be bothered to wait for a gap and instead snapped a crowded photo. I had more important things on my mind, namely finding some food and beer.

My head on a swivel, like any good tourist, I pedalled on, gawping at the beautiful city.

I had heard about the Reffen food market on Twitter, and decided to go check it out. Copenhagen being a compact place, it required only a quick push on the pedals, before found myself surrounded by a wide array of different food stalls. Spoilt for choice I picked the shortest queue and then headed for Mikkeller’s tap room for a refreshing drink to accompany my lunch.

Sat in the sun, whilst a DJ played some music in the background, I enjoyed a pleasant afternoon of drinking beer and snacking. Eventually it was time to head back to my camp site, as I wanted to pitch while it was still daylight. A first for this trip.

On the way I stopped at a Coop to stock up on something to eat and crucially to drink. I couldn’t be expected to bid Scandinavia farewell with a parched throat, now, could I?

Arriving back at the camp site, I found I was not alone. A young couple had come on a mini-break from their small city apartment. They’d even set a fire, which was a lovely surprise.

I pitched my tent and went for a swim in the sea. I expected the water to be chilly, but it turned out to be really pleasant. I paddled around for quite a while before getting out. It was just too nice bobbing along the waves in the fading sunlight.

Dried up and dressed in my comfies, I joined the others around the fire, beer in hand.

After chatting for a while, I was left on my lonesome tending to the dying fire, while I finished my beer.

As I retired to my tent, I gave a final glance towards Sweden, where you could still see the lights of (presumably) Malmö twinkling in the dark.

Following a pretty terrible series of constant adversity, today had been a raging success and just a wonderful day.

I fell asleep listening to the quiet lapping of waves, with a big smile on my face.

Aug 14th 2022

Overland from Finland to London: Day 1


With the expiry date on my Interrail pass fast approaching, it was time to embark on the return trip.

Beginning with a ferry ride to Stockholm, then a train ride to Gothenburg, followed by a cycle to Copenhagen, with a ferry from Helsingborg to Helsingør to cross the Kattegat strait. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, if you’ve read the previous post, I think I probably jinxed it with my final remark.

I made it to Stockholm without issue and was standing on the platform when my phone buzzed to indicate a text received. The message told me that my train was cancelled. It wasn’t the only train to Gothenburg that had been cancelled that morning, due to an electrical fault, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. It still gave me a bit of a shock, because later FlixTrain services had no more bike spaces available.

Trains in Sweden are a bit tricky, when you’re travelling with a bike. SJ, the state owned railway operator, won’t take bikes other than in bags. Other operators do, but their networks aren’t as encompassing and there isn’t a single place to find the connections and to buy tickets across operators.

Looking at the departure board to work out which operators’ trains were available to me, I looked up the respective route networks and managed to find a connection that would get me part of the way. I decided to change my original plan to instead reach Gothenburg by bike and get the direct train to Copenhagen instead. It wasn’t the bike ride I wanted, but it would at least allow me to make my onwards connection.

However, during the train trip, looking up other operators’ networks, I found a way to get to Halmstad by train. Halmstad was my original planned destination to reach on the bike, so getting there would salvage half of my original plan. It involved cycling from Linköping to Jönköping, a distance of 125 km, but the schedule was easy enough that it shouldn’t be a problem.

During the train ride to Linköping, a fellow cyclist had told me rain was forecast. It was the understatement of the day, as a massive heavy rain front was rolling in just as I was setting off. To add insult to injury, the wind was also once more in my face. But, to find the bright side, that meant the weather was moving in my opposite direction.

After less than two rainy hours the precipitation subsided and I could see the sky clearing up ahead. The wind was still against me, but things were looking up, I thought, just as a spoke went bang in the rear wheel.

I still had more than 70 km to go and with all the luggage, the bike was quite heavy, most of it on the rear wheel. It wasn’t the first time I’ve ridden with a missing spoke, but that time with only the weight of myself to carry. I felt seriously concerned. But I had no choice but to carry on, there was no other way to reach Jönköping, or anywhere else really.

When I reached lake Vättern the wind really picked up, but on the upside I didn’t have to use the brakes on the downhills. The scenery was quite pretty, though, and I saw plenty of other cycle tourers coming the other way. They were all smiling and with the tailwind they had, I would’ve been all smiles, too.

Eventually I reached Jönköping just in time for the train. As I strapped in my bike in the carriage, I could finally let out a sigh of relief. Equally for the bike holding up, not having to battle the headwind anymore, as well as ensuring my connections for the rest of the trip.

In Halmstad I treated myself to a sit-down pizza and a beer, before heading off in search of a camping spot.

I had again looked ahead on Google Maps for a potential site. It wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but I didn’t have to venture far to find a better location nearby, next to a small river.

For the first time I was in my sleeping bag before midnight, lulled to sleep by the wind buffeting my tent.

Aug 4th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: Day 5


Clunk, went the door to the ferryman’s cottage, rousing me from my nearly 4,5 hours of sleep. I spent a few minutes blinking myself awake, until my alarm going off meant it was time to start packing up. Some 24 minutes later I was ready to go, just in time for the first ferry of the day, as planned, just as the sun was making its way up in the sky. Promising start for the day.

Across the water, I promptly removed the base layer I’d donned. It was looking like another hot day.

My first stop was in Nyköping, about 2 hours away. Possibly my longest ride for breakfast, but I didn’t feel like yesterday’s pizza when I woke up.

The route was gorgeous, but kept up the rolling profile I’d grown used to (read: weary of) the day before. I was pretty happy about only having 160 km for the last day; my late night effort hadn’t been in vain.

Nyköping looked pretty in the morning light, but I especially liked the look of a large coffee paired with a massive bagel. I had time for a relaxed sit-down breakfast and was able to treasure it.

Most of the day was uneventful riding in beautiful weather through spectacular scenery. My only mistake was having a chat with another cyclist at the day’s only other ferry crossing, instead of stocking up at the adjacent café. The café on the other side of the crossing turned out to be closed and I was left empty-handed. Not an immediate problem, but as I’d learned [ed. observed, clearly not learned] yesterday, shops can be far between.

When I then later started to get hungry and yet another name on the map turned out to be barely more than a farm house at a junction, I decided it was time for a diversion.

Having made my way to a shop and fed myself, I treated myself to an additional 15 minute power nap in the shade. The adjacent train station with a connection to Stockholm was definitely tempting me to hop on board. But my destination was only about 40 km away, so I kicked myself on the proverbial behind and got back on the bike.

Carrying on, I soon arrived at an impasse. There had been plenty of gravel roads along the route but this one was in a league of its own, on top of which it was blocked by a barrier with a no cycling sign attached.

A quick study of the map, a short spin on the bike, and I soon found myself at the next barrier with the same sign. That train was looking more tempting by the second, but still I persisted.

One more rerouting, a missed junction, and a u-turn later I found myself on a fire road. By now I’d already decided that any further barriers and I’d be on that train, toute suite. But there weren’t any, thankfully, and the fire road soon ended and I was once again rolling along on smooth tarmac.

I (or Komoot) had routed myself along one more path which required pushing the bike. It would probably have been rideable, but only by someone who’s vocabulary includes words like “gnarly” and “rad”. Definitely not on a touring setup. But it was to be my final obstruction.

In the end, I arrived at the terminal at around 18.45, just about half an hour before check-in was due to open. My goal had been to be there before 19.00, so achievement unlocked, I suppose. Without my unfortunate poor routing choices, I’d probably have arrived some 45 minutes earlier.

I plonked myself down on the terrace of the restaurant at Fotografiska and quaffed a well-earned beer.

The total distance was just under 505 km over 43 hours, of which 23,5 hours were spent on the move. Only some 7-ish hours were spent sleeping, so lots of time was spent just sitting still – of which a fair bit worrying about loose spokes. Much room for improvement in efficiency, one could say.

Next up is the return, which should be less stressful, but I’m sure I’ll be able to create some drama…



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