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Cycle tour of south-central Sweden, august 2013

1800 Km around Bergslagen, with conference in Uppsala.

Chapter 1

Yes, i have only recently completed my tour in Turkey, but i have found an excuse to visit Sweden and tour here. However it is mid august and the weather is rather cool for me, though the Swedes are all dressed as if it is summer! So i have only planned a 3 week tour, of which 4 days were in the conference in Uppsala, about 100km north of Stockholm.
As i flew into Sweden i observed the patchwork of fields spread within mostly forest and i wondered why they had such small fields and so much forest. But my view was interrupted by the dense cloud cover as we landed, which started me worrying about rain already. COLD rain!!! After reassembling the bike in he airport and getting a coffee, i rode out into the dull day at about 9:30am and tried to find my way north instead of south to Stockholm. This was almost impossible as all the road signs pointed toward the freeway and Stockholm. There was a bicycle path which i followed for several km until i realized it too was heading in the wrong direction. Airport signs never allow for people with alternative destinations or plans. But eventually i found the back road northwards and almost enjoyed the ride despite the cool and overcast conditions. At least it was not raining - yet!!
As i rode through the pleasant forests i realized why there are only scattered farms here. Most of Sweden is rock, with very little soil. The glaciation of the last ice age scraped Sweden's soil away, or left fields of immense boulders behind, making farming impossible in most places. I had hoped to find a bakery in some small towns, but there were only isolated farms and no shops or towns. Was Sweden really so sparsely inhabited? After about 80km i found bakery and also a road map, but no hotels, so i continued to a coastal town. But even here there were no hotels. At the tourist information office in Osthammar they found me a cabin in the next town, Oregrund, 20km further. As i rode there it started to rain. It was a harsh introduction to Sweden, with a 130km ride, jetlag, rain and few bakeries. Had i actually arrived in some sort of forested, wet and cold desert? Next morning was also wet, so i amused myself by examining the striations left by the last glacier on the smooth rocks at the coast while waiting for the weather to improve. Eventually i was able to leave, but now my cycle computer had failed. After a short afternoon ride i took refuge in a medieval manor in Osterbybruk, now used as a hotel.
This was a major industrial site in the 1600's where they made iron from local ore and forest charcoal and then sold iron to britain. The next morning my cycle computer started working! It seems the problem was caused by the rain and my computer is allergic to cold rain, just like me. I traveled west to avoid the rain and towards mid sized towns where i expected to find hotels. But again i had trouble finding a hotel. I eventually found accommodation in Tarnsjo, in a train to nowhere, converted to be a hotel. This was actually a pleasant and interesting stay. Now it was time to travel to Uppsala, my conference destination. Again the riding was pleasant, but i could not find a bakery (konditori) or coffee en route. And several roads on my map did not actually exist, so i ended up traveling in a few circles, but it was still fun.
The next 4 days were spent inside often crowded lecture rooms at the university, listening to complicated explanations of mineral deposits from around the planet. Reason enough to rejoice on friday when i began cycling again. But now i had ideas of collecting samples of iron during my travels around this ancient area which was crucial to the industrial development of europe. My first destination was Sala, not far away, but i took a long detour to use secondary roads and to enjoy the journey. This town was a medieval silver mining area, important in Sweden's development. The old workings are preserved as a tourist area and there are many bicycle paths in the area. But i became lost trying to use the bike paths as they do not have signs. City planners assume that cyclists are local residents who can navigate a 5 dimensional maze of paths while blindfolded! So i returned to using the road where i could find signs and direction information. Continuing westwards i found many more ancient iron production sites, including Angelsberg. Nearing Fagersta i saw a turnoff with a complicated sign in Swedish. The road went up a hill and was well paved, perhaps it went to a lookout or ski area? I turned and followed it for several km, eventually reaching the local rubbish tip on top of the hill. The gate attendant was quite surprised to see a tourist on a bicycle, just as i was surprised to find a rubbish dump on a hilltop!
After finding some rocks to collect near Norberg, i continued to Hedemora. This town was close to Garpenberg, a busy mine operated by Boliden where i hoped to gatecrash a geology visit associated with the conference. Although i did see the conference bus next morning, they did not recognize me, so i wandered around trying to find some of the old diggings. This was difficult in the forest, but i did eventually find some and collected more rocks. Heading north i used quiet roads through forests and farmlands and reached Falun just as it started to rain. I had some "fun" getting a hotel room including credit card rejection (it had worked everywhere else), and have ended up in rather expensive hotel, about double the price of previous hotels, which were already somewhat more than Australian prices. Sweden is OK, and nice for cycling (when not raining), as most motorists are very considerate of bicycles. But make sure you bring plenty of $$$$$$ to pay the hotel bills! Wish me dry weather. Unfortunately, warm weather does not seem to be an option here.

at the conference site
At the conference venue in Uppsala

Chapter 2

After the rainy evening in Falun, next morning was dry as I headed west and south, trying to avoid the main freeway westwards. There were some secondary roads near the railway, but they were hard to follow and I ended up at an aggregate quarry, where the loader driver used the internet to show me the way to Borlange without using the freeway. Borlange is the location of a large Saab factory, now rather quiet as Saab automotive is defunct, but their truck business (Scania) is alive and well. Once again I became lost trying to use the bicycle paths to the city centre and it was even more difficult finding the correct minor road southwards as all the roadsigns assume you are going to use the freeways. Back out in the country I headed for some old mines to collect magnetite samples and found some old mineshaft headframes dating from the mid 1950's. They were mining iron underground, and closed in the 60's. This probably corresponds to Australia's entry into the iron ore supply business, which made the smaller, underground  Swedish mines uneconomic. I ended the day at Grangesberg, another closed iron mine, where I collected more samples after a pleasant day of cycling. After more sampling nearby next morning I traveled east across a nature reserve on a very pleasant route with little traffic. This was perhaps the longest and highest hill I found on the entire tour, but it was still tiny compared to Turkey and only about 300m maximum altitude. Sweden is essentially flat, in this region. My destination of Skinnskatterberg was a rather small town and I was unsure if there would be a hotel. I arrived early at about 4:00 pm and found that there was accommodation in the old train station building, now a restaurant with rooms upstairs. But there was noone in attendance and I waited hopefully until 5:30 for the owner to arrive on the bus. She worked elsewhere and the accommodation was her secondary occupation. At least I did not have to ride another 40 Km to the next town to find a bed.

There are plenty of lakes to discover.

Next day I found more old mines to sample in the morning before heading south to the quaint old town of Nora. I took a back road again to enjoy the ride and around midday saw 2 touring cyclists, the first I had seen in Sweden despite cycling being so common for short commutes. These cyclists had been way up north for a music festival and were returning home to Goteborg on the south coast. Their journey was some 1300km each way and because they were carrying lots of camping gear they had to walk up hills that I could easily ride up. But they did not have to deal with hotel availability and prices like i did. After a chat over lunch, we parted and I arrived early in Nora in time to find a cosy B&B as well as delicious carrot cake with my coffee. That evening I again met the cyclists, who were camping nearby and we shared evening discussions. I spent the next morning searching for some more old mines, but all i could find was extensive slag dumps from the old blast furnaces. Later, as I traveled south on the quiet back roads I again met my 2 cycling friends who had found a nice picnic spot beside a lake for a lunch stop.  My destination that day was the large town of Orebro, but it was not far away so i took a circuitous route and found a bicycle path for the last 15 Km to Orebro. To my surprise this path had signposts and I was able to follow it right to the city centre. Finally some city planners had realized that signs are necessary for bicycle paths as well as roads. But Orebro was just a big city with traffic and shops and an old castle in which i was not interested and finding a budget hotel was difficult. So I decided to continue east another 50 Km to the smaller town of Arboga. Sadly the well signposted bicycle paths were only on the west of the city so exiting eastwards was much more difficult than arriving from the west.. Arboga was another ancient township where I found a friendly and reasonably priced hotel for the night, the only hotel in town.

There are numerous "hyttan" ruins, blast furnaces to reduce iron ore to iron using charcoal.

I now had 4 more days to enjoy cycling, but I was too close to the airport, so I decided to ride back north using a different route, and try to find Bastnas, the location of the discovery of the mineral Bastnasite, which led to the discovery of the element Cerium in 1803. It was a great day with pleasant cycling for 130 Km and I did find Bastnas, but it was very boring, and I continued to Fagersta for the night.  I noticed another touring cyclist checking into the hotel also and next morning during fruchfost (breakfast) we compared our travels. He was cycling from his home in Mora, some 150 Km further north, southwards to Goteborg, about 550 Km total. We decided to ride together, although I had just come north on that road yesterday. Hey, its about the ride, it doesn't matter if you go in circles. It was another nice ride and after lunch we parted company as I traveled south easterly discovering more roads and villages, but remarkably few Konditori (bakeries).
After some 140 Km I reached Koping, a town just 30 Km from my stop in Arboga just 2 nights and 270Km of cycling ago. (I did say I was traveling in circles!)  But there was a Genealogy conference in town and all the hotels were full. I found the Hostel, which was my last accommodation option, but this also was full. There is always a risk of not finding accommodation when you travel without bookings like I do, and tonight I would have to travel to the next town to find a room. I checked my map for five minutes to plan my next route and as I was leaving the carpark to ride 50 Km to the next town, the hostel person ran out and stopped me. Somoene had just canceled and there was now a room available for me! How fortuitous! That evening I found an Indian restaurant (my favourite cuisine) for a delicious meal and back in my room I was able to watch the first stage of the Vuelta Espana live from Spain on the cable TV. What an amazing day with great cycling all day and watching cycling into the night. Yes, you all know this is an addiction I happily suffer from!

Traveling east next day I found pleasant roads and good cycling again, and even managed to cross the large town of Vasteras, getting only slightly lost. Being sunday helped as there was no serious traffic to deal with, in fact even finding coffee was difficult! I reached Enkoping early after 90 Km and planned to find a hotel and ride a loop in the afternoon. But the hotel price was astonishingly expensive, some A$250, gulp!!!!! The lady on the desk suggested I try a church operated hotel nearby, but its prices were the same. Here I saw their rate schedule and realized that on Sunday you should go to some other planet, not Sweden. All the hotels have one rate for monday to saturday arrivals, about A$130, but they nearly double this for Sunday arrivals. So stay put on sundays, or pay LOTS extra for your sins of traveling on the sabbath!  I returned to the first hotel where, after some discussion, they kindly offered to give me the weekday rate instead of the sunday rate for the night, an offer I quickly accepted! So now I was able to go for a 40 Km afternoon ride through the pleasant farming countryside. That evening I tried to find a sports bar to watch more of the Vuelta Espana  but one "sports bar" did not show any sports at all, and the other only showed soccer. Cycling is not a legitimate sport in Sweden, it seems!

electric power
The "real alternative" energy comes from the many power lines, not the useless stationary windmill without wind! (Near Sigtuna)

It was now my last day in Sweden and I had all day to ride the last 80 Km to the airport for my 8pm departure. So I enjoyed a long coffee break in the sun, while others all cowered in the shade, and took a detour to fill in a few extra hours. In Marsta I found a duck pond in the city park and washed my bike to keep Australian quarantine happy, although I don't think the ducks  understood what I was doing. Finding water points in Sweden is actually difficult. There are no outside taps (faucets) as they  would freeze up in winter. As usual I rode to the airport and packed the bike and checked it in without problems. It was rather heavier now as I had some 4 Kg of rocks and geology books. And in Darwin some 30 hours later at 5 am I reassembled the bike and rode home in the morning starlight.

It had been an interesting tour of about 1800 Km with good roads and cool but mostly dry weather. I had discovered an unexpected medieval history of industrialization and mining, extensive forests and even some interesting geology. I did not interact with local people in the same way as in Turkey or Taiwan, probably because I looked the same as them rather than being obviously foreign and curious. Even riding a very unusual bicycle did not make me obvious and only twice did people show curiosity about my folding bike in comparison with the numerous upright german style commuter bikes. And there was little problem speaking english as it was widely understood. But scenically, the flat, forested Sweden was an anticlimax after the amazing mountains of my recent tour in Turkey.

Touring cycling  is quite pleasant in Sweden in summer (August) although I was surprised how few other touring cyclists I saw. I may have been lucky in having no trouble with insects in the forest as many people commented that insect problems were minor this year because of a dry summer. But plan carefully if you wish to stay in hotels instead of camping.

Here is my route map:  (Google truncates the last 2 days, use the "View in a larger map" for the 2 page full route.

View sweden bicycle tour 2013 by Kingsley in a larger map
(Use this link above to view the full 2 page route)