Posted on 11/7/02
September 17, 2002
Back home again, in Copenhagen
It was 7:00 PM when we touched down in Copenhagen. We retrieved the bikes and bags and immediately took them to Left Baggage. We had learned a lot on our short turn around trip earlier and knew that we could take the train. They run every 20 minutes and we hit one instantly. Out of the Station, we knew exactly how to catch bus # 2 or 11 and get to Uffe’s flat. We were at home again, in Copenhagen.
We called Paul-Eric and Birte because they have the key to Uffe’s place. Birte met us at the little neighborhood restaurant just across the street from the flat. We took our bags in and staked out a table. We had just received our bottle of wine when she rode up. Yes, she rode her bike to meet us. More than symbolic, she, like most people in Copenhagen, ride their bikes when the weather is right.
She stayed and had coffee while we ate. We talked about Greenland and she knew a lot about it. She’s never been there but Paul-Eric has many times and he’s scheduled to return, soon. By 10:00 we watched Birte strap her dim little lights on her bike and ride off toward home. Then we made the assault on the 4 sets of stair to Uffe’s place. It actually felt like home. It was the same as when we last stayed two years ago.
September 18, 2002
Cycling Copenhagen and a BANG UP Dinner
Amazing, I woke up at 6:00 then snoozed until 7:30. We have moved east another 4 time zones but it feels pretty normal. Cat had to be coaxed out from under the Duvet. (They say, “Don’t ever try to take a Danes Duvet away.” It is the thick cover that they have on all beds. No top sheet just a sheet enshrouded little mattress. They sleep hot to us and the worst adjustment for me is, when I pull it up to my chin my feet are sticking out. When I tuck it under my feet my upper body is out, in the cool night air.)
I went out for essentials like juice, milk and bananas while Cat made coffee. Boy are we glad we were here 2 years ago. It made life easier in Greenland because so many things are similar there like money and some of the food. Yes, it is almost like coming home, being here in Uffe’s flat.
Our next adventure was taking the bus to the train station then the train to the airport. Again, we had training there 2 years ago, too. We were crawling around on the floor at the airport for an hour, reconstructing the bikes and hanging the bags on them. It was hot. We had sweat dripping off our brows by the time we pushed out the door.
When you ask one person you have one opinion. When you ask two----and so forth. We had several ideas about how to cycle into town from the airport. Only one of them had ever done it and she had only cycled into Copenhagen once. We got outside and I saw an overpass for bikes and pedestrians. We took it! A stroke of good luck, it was the bike path into Copenhagen. How amazing, an airport 25 or 30 Km from town with a bike trail all the way in. And, the best news was that there were lots of other cyclists on the path.
Now, once in the city, we were lost and we were lost in a swarm of bicycles. Lunch in one of those wonderful city squares at a sidewalk café and a meeting with a fellow Californian was another treat. Christopher is just here visiting. His friend, Bo is an Instructor in the architectural department at DIS, Denmark Institute Study Program. We had a nice chat about toilets. Well, not especially toilets but showers in the bathrooms here. They are just little areas that allow the water to spray all over the entire room. The floor is always floating when you finish showering. I told Bo about my early trip to the toilet on the ship in stocking feet. We all laughed and I told them about a developer I knew who built a 6 bedroom home with 9 baths. So, we decided that Americans have a bathroom fetish?
(Movie: The Band Plays On 0:29)
We pushed down the walking streets in the main shopping area until we got to the old harbor. Then we knew that we were going in the wrong direction. A right turn and we were totally lost. A very nice guy in coat and tie gave us such detailed instruction that we were even more confused. Finally we found it, the US Embassy. It was closed but the guard told us that the Russian Embassy was just around the corner. They too were closed, n fact they keep virtually the same hours that their American counterparts do, 9:00 to Noon. We’ll have to come back again, tomorrow if we are to get info on Visas for Russia.
An entire day had virtually slipped away but we really loved being back in the saddles.
The next phase of the adventure was “Cookin’ with Cat” at Uffe’s place. I was checking the e-mail and Cat started dinner. WHAM-----the sound of an explosion and a scream. I rushed into the kitchen to find Cat over the sink. She was holding her face and crying out in pain. What had happened?
As she began to cook on the stove top, she lit the burners with the matches that are there. She thought that she would turn the oven on and get it heated up to put our bread in. When she opened the door to check it, WHAM-----. There is no pilot light or electronic ignition on the system. The gas that had accumulated in the oven rose only slightly then hit the flame on the stove top.
Cat has a sun burn and lost half an eyebrow and her left sideburn got really burned. We were lucky. She only had a bad scare and lost a little hair, on her arms and face. We were just getting calmed down when there was an anxious knock on the door. The neighbors above had smelled the burning hair and were worried that the place was on fire.
The dinner, our first Home Cooked, was a great success despite the smell of the great ball of fire that lingered well into the night.
September 19, 2002
Dinner with Birte, Paul-Eric and Family
Four time zones took more from us than we thought they would. It was slow motion getting up and into the day. This would be the final day for “Pat the Polar Bear.” Cat has been anxious to see my face again. We made a real production out of the shaving process.
(Movie: The First Cut 1:27)
(Movie: Which Pat do you Prefer? 0:14)
(Movie: No X Rated! 0:24)
We spent the next six days preparing to get under way. The big hurdle was a Visa to Russia. I was so naïve that I thought the changes had done away with all of that red tape. WRONG! Our first attempt was thwarted by office hours. We cycled to the US Embassy first. It was closed. They only open to the public from 9:00 AM until 12:00 noon. The guard was actually a Danish guy working for a Danish Rent a Cop Company. He suggested that the Russian Embassy that was just around the corner was probably closed, too. He said that the two Embassies tend to act the same, including the hours they open to the public. He was right.
It began to rain, we were on a quest, looking for a heavy duty kick stand to replace mine that was broken and warm cycling clothing. It was a process that led us from Cycle Shop to Cycle Shop. Finally we found the Bicycle Federation. They had a lot of things but no kickstand and no winter clothing that fit either of us. We did meet Peter Bendix, a German guy living here. He is a bicyclist and publishes a newsletter for people in his neighborhood. They are sponsoring a safety campaign and will teach safe cycling including suggesting the use of helmets although he didn’t wear one.
Lunch was limited because we had run out of Kroner. Soup then a trip to the ATM filled both needs. We found a great wine store just a couple of blocks from Uffe’s. The guys there gave great advice about inexpensive, quality wines.
Birte and Paul-Eric invited us for dinner. It was a wonderful opportunity to be part of their family for a short time. They have recently moved into a flat in the nice, North Bridge neighborhood. It is ground floor in a classic 4 story built in the 1870s. They have completed some nice features but are a little cramped because it is only a 2 bedroom and they still have their 2 kids at home. Laura has almost completed her schooling and is working. Marcus is a sophomore or second year high school student. They see a day when Laura will be out on her own and Marcus will be away at school. Until then, they have the small den as a Master Bedroom. Laura’s room would be the dining room and Marcus has what will be their room, one day.
They are a wonderful family and they’re proud of them. Dinner was terrific. The wine flowed as freely as the conversation. They, like a lot of Europeans, don’t like The George W. Bush government. They fear that his Hawkish attitude and that of Ariel Sharone of Israel will have catastrophic results if the plight of the Palestinians isn’t dealt with. We share the view that the entire focus of hate against the West comes from the mess created 50 years ago that made them refugees in their own country. Interesting how in depth conversations can get here. Maybe us Americans do tend to just live on a glossy surface and avoid in depth discussion and relationships?
September 20, 2002
When NYET means NYET! And Lars
Another day, another attempt at International Bicycle Diplomacy. Again, we pedaled across town and up to the door of the US Embassy. Greeted by the same or similar Danish Guards in light blue casual uniforms this time wanting to know why we wanted to enter. Well, we are Americans and we feel it is wise to check in. Yes, they asked but specifically, do you have a problem you need help with? God, don’t you just love bureaucracy and red tape. Yes, we have a problem, we need advice in getting a Visa to Russia. “Okay, you have a problem, you’ll have to leave your bags outside here and you can go in.” Welcome to America.
Actually, once inside we found an interesting mix of International Characters, all looking slightly nervous, you know, like the way we all look when we’re about to take the Drivers License test. Most were hunched over sheaths of paperwork reading and making little scribble marks. I think we were the only American Citizens there. We walked right up to the bulletproof glass window and spoke with the nice reception lady. She had no advice nor did she know what we could do that would be helpful in getting a Russian Visa. She didn’t think it would be a problem. There was no list or any way to register the fact that we were here. I later supposed that if we did have such a list Mr. Ashcroft or someone like him would soon want everyone to register, everywhere we went.
Around the corner, the Russian Embassy is in a couple of old houses that seem much less imposing looking than the grey concrete institutional home of the US Embassy. Up the porch, no Danish Guards or any Guards. Well, you are at eye level with a large fish eye lens and you know you’re being watched. There are no instructions so you stand for a minute or two then figure out that you should push the button on a doorbell, intercom. You push, it buzzes and you talk. Pretty soon you realize that you’re just talking to yourself. You push again and this time hear the little click so you try the door and suddenly you’re on Sovereign Russki Soil.
Its a little dark and the mahogany paneling, furnishings and flooring all add to the 1950s look of intrigue. There are just as many characters here as over on US Soil. They do have a big table with a dozen dark wood chairs around it. Plenty of room to hunch over the sheath of similar papers, except for those with words written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
They have 3 bullet proof glass windows. Behind the one to the left sat a very Russian looking lady. She seems to hand out completed Visas. It becomes obvious in moments that it takes more than just one visit to get to meet her. Another woman sits behind the thick glass on the right and accepts money, the fees for their various services. And, seated in the middle as though holding court over travelers such as we, a young guy with crew cut hair who seemed to be trained specifically in the skill of moving his head back and forth signifying negative reaction as he repeats, “No, no, nyet.”
I suppose it was our ignorance that brought his negativity to the surface. For one thing, I had forgotten my wallet so didn’t have my passport. Not that he needed it but they did want our Passport numbers and other pertinent data on their questionnaire. When we told him, with pride, that we had cycled from California he said, “You must go back to the Russian Embassy or the Consulate in San Francisco and apply there.”
When I explained that it would cost too much to go back and we had to find another way he just went back to his head shaking, NO talking attitude. Finally he told us that the only way we could avoid going back was to get permanent Danish residency. That sounded as time consuming and expensive as flying to DC or SF.
With the copies of applications in hand we met a British couple at the door. They had been listening and had some advice. They’re really vagabonds of the world. They live out of back packs and have been traveling for several years. Pulling us aside they told us that they had hit the same snag but just listed the address of the Hostel where they were staying as their home and work. They had just received their Visa. They suggested coming back tomorrow with the same game plan that had just worked for them. They also felt that if we were lucky we would talk to someone other than Mr. Negative.
Again, a lot of the day was spent looking for a replacement kickstand for my bike and some warm, waterproof pants.
Hungry, we stopped for lunch. The Café wouldn’t take our credit card but Cat saw an ATM just across the street. She went seeking cash and came back without a card. When she lost her wallet she told the bank. They apparently stopped its use. The machine ate her card. We scrounged up enough to pay with not a Kroner to spare.
Another problem has been mini CDs for our camera. They just don’t carry them here in Denmark. They tell me that they sell very few of our type cameras. I though I had found some yesterday but surprise, when we opened them they were floppy disks. I took them back and they refunded the money.
Also, yesterday, Lars Bom and I talked on the phone. I told him that I wanted to send copies of some really nice shots of the race to him and Michael. He got pretty excited and asked if I could get them on a disk by tomorrow. He and Michael are doing a show on The Greenland Adventure Race tomorrow and he thought he could use them in a power point presentation.
I worked all afternoon isolating pictures then copying them to a file for them. The race pictures of course then I added others that are our impressions of Greenland. When I called to tell him that they were ready he asked if he could drop by and pick them up after dinner, tonight.
We had finished dinner and were still sippin’ wine when he got there at 9:00 PM. We sat and talked and drank more wine and looked at pictures. He was pretty excited and thought they would add a lot to their presentation. Apre wine Cat brought out dessert. Lars had a big piece of apple tart and coffee. It was 11:00 by the time he headed home. We were astounded that he had spent so much time with us and that he stayed out on the night before he was running a half marathon. Well, he is in PRIMO condition. He’s also very down to earth. We now know the celebrity he has earned here in Denmark, yet he is just a good guy doing what good guys do. No big ego or need to flaunt, just a good guy.
September 21, 2002
No Train to Norway?
Cycling the pathway along the streets here in Copenhagen really makes us feel like we’re at home. Well, except for the uneasy feeling we get when we’re in heavy traffic, we’re not used to that. No, not car and truck traffic but other bikes. They ride fast, they all know the rules and they expect you to know them, too. It’s strange, pumping hard then being overtaken by a housewife with a basket full of groceries on her bike, talking on a cell phone as she passes.
(Movie: Bikes in Cope 0:28)
(Movie: Bike Power 0:34)
We rode to the Central Station to check on tickets for the train to Norway. The guy there must have taken lessons from the Russian. All he knew was NO. He said, “No, you can take a train but none will allow bicycles.” I asked how we could get the bikes there, maybe freight or? His only response was, NO. There is no way to go by train and take a bicycle. He was actually getting irritated with us by the time we gave up.
So, our next choice would be to go by Boat to Oslo then train to Trondheim. The lady at the Tourist Bureau told us that the DFDS Ferry leaves daily at 5:00PM. Cat had read that they do have facilities to take bikes on the trains in Norway. We had a new plan.
I found a kickstand at a bike shop and installed it. It was so puny that the bike wouldn’t stay up with just the two bags I had on. I took it back. Next stop, the Nordic Map and Book Store. We did find a good map and a Lonely Planet Guide Book.
On the Internet we have found a Company in Russia called Adventure Gorky Team. Our e-mail contact is Misha. He has met Michael Harshon and last saw him 3 years ago. He was living in Lafayette, California. I may have mentioned before but Michael was the guy who made my trip to The USSR possible back in 1989. Misha says that they can help but we will have to get the Visas on our own.
Back at Uffe’s, we picked up a couple of square pieces of pizza on the way, then ate and typed on the computers the rest of the afternoon. It is Saturday and Cat has discovered that most stores, including the Wine shop are closed on Sunday. We stocked up on wine and she found a fresh basil plant and pasta. We were set.
September 22, 2002
It was raining when we peaked out the shade this morning. The wind was gusting, and it was cold. Cat ventured out only to find that most stores including the Grocery, were closed on Sunday. She did find vegetables at a stand and the little bakery up the street was open. Both owners are Turkish, it seems that, unlike their Danish counterparts, their work ethic extends into the weekend. They don’t care what day it is. They just want to sell goods and make a little money.
I spent the day on the hard bottomed chair, typing the journal or sorting and labeling pictures of Greenland. We spent a lot of time on the Internet looking for help from any source, for Visas to Russia. I did find Igor Nalimov, a guy who had visited and stayed with me in California 12 years ago on the Web. One of the old 1992 stories is of Igor making a slide presentation to a Santa Barbara Bike Club. That was during his visit. He and I rode the Solvang Century together. It’s a 100 mile ride through the hills and across the prairie to Lompoc and Santa Maria. I began trying to reach him, hopeful that he might still be connected. A boring but productive day. We need one of these occasionally to get our work caught up.
September 23, 2002
Searching for Sony, Time with Toke
It was a back to work day. I was wide awake at 5:00 AM and finally slipped out of bed at 6:00. I wanted to get going, we both did. We were getting Uffe Flat Fever. Wouldn’t you know it, this would be the day that AOL would conk out on us. The phone just buzzes a
busy signal at the only number they have here in Copenhagen. I tried fifty times before giving up.
At least I made some headway with Sony. A gal named Pia finally answered after I had worked through the mire of recorded press this and that. The prompts were all in Danish which made it even more interesting. She looked at her computer and gave me a store that she thought would have the mini CD. A quick call found that not to be so. I called her back. When she finally understood that I wasn’t going to give up, she set out on a quest. I called her again and she asked me to check back in five minutes. When I did she had the name and address of a store that would have several CDs. Japan Foto at Fisketorvet, a large shopping center, had them and I confirmed that.
The flushing mechanism on Uffe’s toilet is frozen. We use it by leaving the top off of the tank and pulling the lever up by hand. I wanted to have it fixed so I stopped at the plumber in the next building. We had a very tough time with language. I was asking him to come take a look right now. He finally got the point across that he wouldn’t be available until Wednesday? He was just sitting looking out the window when I stepped into his office. He sat there during our conversation and he turned back to the window as I was leaving. I guess a plumber is a plumber whether he’s here or back at our home in California.
Cat was headed out to see a Doctor, her prescriptions need refilling. We rode the bikes. It was still cold and blustery but at least dry. I went off in a different direction to an Internet Café to check our e-mails. The Internet Café was closed up, tight, the windows covered with paper and behind metal bars. I asked a guy walking by if the sign said that they were closed for good. He looked at the sign then in the window and said, “Yes, I think it closed.” Another communication problem.
Cat had made an appointment for 1:45 this afternoon then cycled out toward me. We met on the street and rode to UPS to send the completed pictures of Greenland to Webmaster Wally. The girl there was very nice but her message was a shock, it would cost almost $100 US to send just the one CD to Colorado. She was also very honest. When we asked if there was a regular Post Office close by she just turned and pointed down the street. When we asked if it would cost as much to send in regular mail she shook her head and said, “No, much less.”
The Poste was another learning experience. A take a number machine similar to those in the Tourist Bureau except that we had to make a choice between two different types of numbers and the directions were in Danish. A man, sensing our dilemma pointed toward one type and smiled. Finally, our turn at the window and a patient lady took our two loose packets and told us the cost to mail each. The CD sent Air Mail, would cost about $12 US. Somehow it sounded like a bargain. What about the time to deliver? She told us that they guarantee 3 days to the US then it is up to the US Postal Service. The other sent ordinary mail could take up to three weeks but only cost about the same as the little Air Mail packet.
Next stop, the Tourist Bureau to learn how to find the Fisketorvet Shopping Center. Our number came up and we drew the same lady who had helped us before. When we asked if we would have to take a train to the Center she chuckled and said, “Not you, you’re riding bicycles around the world, it is an easy walk or bike ride for you.” We asked if there was a Travel Agency that specialized in Russia. She didn’t think so but went behind the wall, conferred with a colleague then stepped back out and said, “Yes there is one and it is close by.” Then she pointed to a place, just across the street.
Although the women at the Travel Agency were of little help we did get to use their Toilet which we both needed badly. They would be great if we were Danish and wanted to go for a short vacation but had no idea what we would have to do, short of going back to the US to apply.
It was no wonder that the lady at the Tourist Bureau made a joke about walking to the Shopping Center. It was just around the corner from the Train Station which is just across the street.
Fisketorvet is like a Regional Center. It even has a bicycle parking lot. We found a great café inside for lunch and Fleming, the very nice young clerk at Japan Foto had saved all 5 of the CDs they had in stock. WOW, they were 100 Kroner, that’s about $13 US for each. We buy a 5 pack for $15 at home but then, we’re not at home, are we? Fleming thought that the big cost difference was due to import tax and the small number that are sold in Denmark. He did have several CRRW too but they sell for 150 K. He threw in one for the same 100 K price.
Cat rushed back to make her Doctor’s appointment while I hit the cash machine and replenished the Kroner supply. I took some to her to pay for the visit and the prescriptions then made the essential run to the Wine Store. The guys there are like old friends, now. They even ask us to taste some of the bottles they have open. Their idea of marketing is to spend on tasting rather than Advertising. We loved their idea.
The Internet Café was open, it opens at noon. An interesting social phenomenon, the room was full of young school kids playing games in networks. They all had earphones on and yelled curses and threats to opponents. Pretty rough language for 12 to 15 year olds. We took a machine next to a guy playing one of those kill or be killed games. He looked like he was in his late twenties. Every time we had a problem he told us how to solve it without even being asked. In fact at first we were surprised that he was tuned in to our session and his own at the same time. Another surprise, a gal seated two machines away was from New York City. The world is getting smaller and the World Wide Web is part of the rapid shrinkage process.
Another crazy, busy day in Copenhagen. We hustled back to the flat then across the street where we had planned on meeting Toke, our adopted nephew form Denmark. He is going to stay on the couch at his Uncle Uffe’s for a couple of days while he attends a Computer Conference. He is only 24 years old and is the Editor of MacWorld Magazine in Denmark. He, like his two brothers, seems to have a huge amount of self confidence. Maybe due to the unique experiences they had while traveling for 10 years with their parents. I met them back in 1989 on a hillside in Pakistan. Their Mom home schooled them on the tailgate of their Mini Van and they learned real lessons of life that most kids will never get to experience.
We had a nice talk with our Pizza then adjourned to Uffe’s. Toke was almost shocked that a well known artist like Lars Bom had visited Uffe’s flat. He explained a little about the show that had made Lars famous and how all the girls love him. Wow, our pal Lars is a sex symbol here.
September 24, 2002
Lunch with Lars, Busted on the Train
I tip toed into the living room and got the computer. We checked in with AOL and it was back up and running. We got family news, a note from Vladimir, Igors e-mail voice in Russia and breakfast all at the same time. Toke finally rolled out of his sleeping bag on the couch at 9:00 and hit the shower. His first meeting is at 10:00. He stays up late at night working on his computer and he never eats breakfast. His cell phone starts ringing as soon as he turns it on and he gets dozens of Text messages and calls. A very young, very busy executive.
We caught an e-mail from Lars inviting us to his home for lunch. We accepted then headed out by bus for the Russian Embassy with our filled out forms. Another learning experience. We had to transfer buses. No they don’t issue transfers, the tickets are good for an hour and a half on any bus or train. A great idea that took two stops for the driver to explain.
After the driver set us free and told us which bus to take we still felt insecure so we asked our new lady driver to let us know when to get off for the Embassy. When she signaled, we stepped off and as she roared away we realized that we were at least a half mile from the Russian Embassy and it was almost noon, closing time for them, already.
We hoofed it on the run and stood in front of the camera on the porch by 11:50. With confidence, we pushed the buzzer then pulled the door. It remained locked. We tried several times then a guy in a suit came dashing up the stairs looking at his watch. He held a small brief case close to his body and seat glistened on his forehead. He pushed, pulled and pushed again. Then he knocked, opened his valise and took a paper from it. He held it up and displayed a series of big red numbers written on it. He thrust it out toward the camera and checked his watch three or four times. Finally someone came out and the three of us slipped in.
He demanded and received recognition. We stood our turn in the line. Finally our turn and we did get a different guy than our earlier Mr. Negative. He looked our application over and asked, “Where is your invitation?” We explained that we could get one but wanted to know all of the things we would need and try to get the process started today.
The bottom line was that he wouldn’t do anything until we had our invitation in hand. He also told us to get Passport Photos to bring along, too. We felt like we had almost made it. The man in the brown suit seemed to have won his argument, too.
Lars was swimming so we took our time, bought tickets then found the train and boarded. Oops, we were headed in the wrong direction. Off, up, over and across the platform then on the next train headed toward Virrum.
As we pulled in we felt a little like we were in Montecito an upscale suburb of Santa Barbara. Lars was there, waiting and gave us a whirlwind tour of the neighborhood. His wife was at work and the girls, twin daughters 11 years old and a 6 year old were all in school. I loved a picture that his youngest daughter had painted. It was so colorful that I had to have a photo of it.
(Movie: Smoreborg with Lars 1:12)
Another quick tour of the downstairs of his home and we were in the kitchen. He had all of the ingredients for a Danish favorite, Smoreborg. Two types of Herring, Danish dark bread, cheese and Akvavit, he called it Christmas Akvavit. Lars was a great host. We laughed and talked about our Greenland experiences. Our pictures were a big hit at he and Michael’s presentation. In fact he felt they were better than the ones provided by the Greenland Adventure Race people that were shot by professionals.
Ritter Cykler is located in a large shopping center there in Virrum. Lars has a professional relationship with the shop. They supply him with some equipment and give him discounts. They had a heavy duty kick stand and a can of spray lube designed for cold and wet weather. We bought winter cycling pants and chamoix lined shorts to wear under them. Cat got a heavy coat but they didn’t have one in my size. We both found gloves that are wind and water resistant.
Lars was on a short schedule because he had to get into town and make an appearance at the 50th anniversary of the promoter’s company that supports the Greenland Adventure Race and other events that Lars competes in. Also it is Tuesday and the day that he dedicates to his youngest daughter. He is scheduled to pick her up from school and take her to her horse back riding class.
By the time we finished our shopping spree he was running late. We accepted a ride into town since he had to make his stop there. On the way he called on his cell phone and arranged for a friend to pick up his daughter and take her to the riding academy. He will meet her there. He pulled up near his destination and as we got out I realized that I had left our camera in the fitting room at the cycle shop. Lars called, it was there, we told them we would come back out tomorrow and pick it up. We were disappointed because we never know when we will have a great photo opportunity.
Hugs and hand shakes then Lars disappeared into a nearby building and we walked toward the shopping streets. After a short walk we decided that we should go back for the camera this afternoon. The train was a simpler process since we had been there before. We caught the right train headed in the right direction. The shop is in Lyngby which is two stops closer to Copenhagen than Virrum but the fare is the same, 40 Kroner each. A bargain when we calculate it at about $5.00 US, each.
The guys had the camera and were happy to see us again. We took a picture and laughed about coming back again, soon. Time was fleeting, we hustled back t the train because we had arranged to meet Toke by 6:00 PM because he doesn’t have keys for the Flat. The train was pulling in as we reached the station. There was no counter to buy tickets, only a machine. I tried to figure it out but the directions in Danish made no sense. We really didn’t want to miss the train so we dashed aboard just before it pulled out of the station. We thought we could buy tickets on board. There was no machine so we just decided that we would probably be okay. In all the times we had ridden the train we’d never been asked for tickets.
Just as we found our seats a guy came in the car from behind us and called out, “Tickets please.” We were busted. We told him that we thought we could buy tickets on the train. He laughed and said, “Yes you can, I give you a ticket and it costs 500 Kroner for each of you, where are you from?” He is in reality a Police Officer, Conductor.
He sat across from us and explained the system then told us that we were visitors and they allow for mistakes for ignorant tourists like us. His name is Alan and he has a wonderful sense of humor. He pushed his cap back on his head and told us about his family. His Mother is ¼ Chocawak Indian. She was born in Texas. He has never visited the US but is planning to, some day. I told him that my Mother was ¼ Cherokee. With those common links we established a friendship. He stayed with us all the way to the Central Station then walked us to the bus. What a great guy. What a good thing that he was understanding of “Stupid Americans,” as Toke often jokingly refers to us.
We were late, it was 6:30 by the time we got back to 24 Godthabsvej and Uffe’s. Toke was sitting in a window seat patiently sipping a Tuborg. Rather than eating out we went up to the flat and inventoried. Cat cooked Pasta while Toke and I went to the bakery and ordered a Pizza. They had a cheap bottle of white wine so we bought it, too.
A very nice evening of conversation centered on our Danish family and how Toke felt about traveling most of his youth. He, of course, told us that it was all he knew so he had nothing to compare it to. It was interesting when he compared his life to that of his younger siblings, Roar and Hjalte. He remembered having hand me down shoes from cousins and second hand clothing but they were raised at a little better time when their Parents were making better money. He noted that Hjalte really has a better life and his Parents have relaxed the restrictions that he a Roar had to live with. I told him that I could relate to exactly how he felt. I was the eldest of four and we were quite poor during my younger years. Later, our youngest Brother, Bob, seemed to have the best life because our Parents were making more money, he was the last one in the nest and they were much more liberal with him, too.
Actually, Toke feels that he is an old man at age 24. He thinks that both Roar and Hjalte spend their money foolishly and party too much. Also, he told us that most Danes feel that the US is poking its nose into every ones business and isn’t very well liked. However, he feels that the world needs a Police Officer and nobody really likes the Police. He is a pretty deep thinker for a guy his age. I’m proud to be his adopted Uncle even though I’m beginning to feel a little like the Danes do about our Country’s conservative policies more and more these days.
One strange custom of the Danish Family is their taste for Catsup on Spaghetti? We find it hard to believe? It looks as bad to us as it sounds!
September 25, 2002
A Softer Kinder NYET, Gary, Carol and the Queen, Lars Delivers
We were still lying in bed when Toke's alarm began to pulsate at 8:00 AM. He seemed able to continue to sleep as it continued to beep. I was ready to go in and throw it out the window when it quit, either on its own or by his hand. Maybe sleeping through anything is one of those things he picked up on the road with the Family?
We tip toed around the kitchen then at 9:00 I stuck my head in and got his attention. He is a night owl and has a hard time adjusting to mornings light. We had our normal breakfast while he showered.
When Toke emerged from the shower he was wearing his Acadiana Roady Shirt. He had gone with the band on several appearances and helped set up the equipment. As a token of appreciation the band gave him one of our T-Shirts and they all signed it. He had thought ahead and brought it just to surprise us. What a guy.
I took a picture of him in the shirt then we started brain storming a new idea I had been thinking about. It started from the “Stupid American” thing Toke does with us. I wanted a sentence or statement that we could use and have someone do in the language of every country we visit. It ended up being, “You’re riding your bicycles around the world? You must be crazy!” It was great fun and the birth of a new feature on our web-site.
(Movie: DANISH, "You Must be Crazy!" 0:08)
Checking the e-mails I learned that Misha had faxed our invitation to the Russian Embassy. He said we could work out the details later. We were a step closer to having the things we needed according to our friendly clerk at the Russian Embassy.
Though Toke’s first appointment is at 10:00 I convinced him to accompany me to the Handy mans shop. I needed an interpreter. The guy was just as lackadaisical this morning as he was on Monday. He spoke to Toke but looked at me. The gist of the conversation was that he would come this afternoon, sometime, or in the morning? Just like Plumbers at home!
Toke took time to come back up and say goodbye to Cat. We did the “Until we meet again” thing that I had told him about when we were viewing our pics of Greenland and Ruud. Toke is really a fine young man, we’re proud that we’re almost related.
I called Lars and asked him where his friend who imports the Jackets like the one Cat got is located. He insisted that he would pick a size 8 up for me and bring it to us. We told him that we were going to be out running around so he suggested that we call him about lunch time. He’s obviously used to working on the fly.
We caught the bus and took it to the stop where we knew we would have to transfer. Still needing Passport photos we walked down a side street and found a Photo shop where the little old lady had us stand in front of a white screen while she shot on a four lens Polaroid. Back to the bus stop, we boarded, rode and got off at the right stop this time. We were learning. No problem at the door today either. We walked right in and were pleased to see the guy who had been so helpful was at the counter again. He had Misha’s fax in his hand. We gave him our pictures and were sure he would move us toward our Visas.
He was silent for a short time then told us that we needed to have an itinerary with the list of all the Hotels we would stay in along our route. I tried to explain that we weren’t sure where we might stay each night. He was emphatic, you must have a reservation for each night, it is for your protection. He never said NO like the other young guy but he wouldn’t say yes, either. He was adamant that the rules they have are the same as those of the US Embassy. When I suggested that they wouldn’t require a set itinerary and Hotels booked every night of a visit he again intimated that it is for us that they have these rules so that we are sure we will have a place to stay when the weather is bad. Interesting logic. He is right about certain restrictions that he US demands from Russian Citizens visiting our country. They must have their Ticket for return flight and a certain amount of money to make sure that they can survive during the time they are in the US.
He abruptly handed us the Invitation the Misha had faxed and said, “You must have this man arrange for all Hotels.” When I objected and said that we might camp in our tent, he added Campgrounds to the list of necessary places on the itinerary. Of course, it was for our good that they require this. He handed us our pictures, applications and the Invitation. Our time with him was finished.
Well, we would just have to move on and hope that we can connect somehow and get the Visas before we get to the Russian Border, assuming that we can get that far before Mother Nature closes her winter doors to cycling. The exercise in futility had made us hungry. We walked toward the area where the Ferry Docks are located through picturesque old neighborhoods. Rounding a corner we realized that we had happened upon Amelienborg Slot, the Queens residence when she is in town. Another amazing stroke of good fortune, it was 11:45 and the changing of the guard would occur at noon. A crowd had already begun to gather.
It was interesting just watching members of the crowd as they walked up to the young guys on duty and stared at them or spoke to them, trying to get them to break their silence. Many would sidle up to them and stand while someone took their picture.
We met a couple from Washington DC, Gary Jones and Carol Nealy. She had lived here for several years and was back for a visit and to show Gary the places. He had a classic Haselbladt Camera and was shooting pictures while she talked with Catherine.
The fresh Guardsmen came down the street, high stepping, marching with eyes straight forward. They portray a story book look in their tall black hats, white gloves and white bandoliers. They have hard, upright collars, perhaps to protect their jugulars during battle? Each carries a wicked looking automatic weapon with bayonet attached. In perfect step they make an eyes right turn then come to parade rest. Their rifle butts on the ground next to their foot and their gloved right hand on the bayonet.
(Movie: Changing of the Guard 2:41)
Cat talked with Carol while Gary and I shot frame after frame. Moments after we wished them well and walked away, we wished we had asked for their e-mail address. She is worldly he is learning and collecting images. The kind of people we would like to maintain contact with.
Oh well, off to the boat dock to buy our tickets. As we emerged from the ticket office we saw Gary and Carol riding bikes toward us. I took a picture of them, Gary asked us to e-mail a copy to them then they rounded the corner and were once again out of our lives. Then it struck us, we hadn’t thought to ask for their e-mail address again. I ran to the corner but they were gone, damn!
(Movie: Gary and Carol 0:12)
Nyhaven means new harbor, we think. It is lined with restaurants that all have seating outside and a view of the harbor. Our choice had their specials on a chalk board. It was the word Suppa that drew us in. Yes, we chose to sit inside. It was too cool and windy for us. Some of those hardy Viking stock Danes sat in the breeze but we thin blooded Californians sat in a window seat, inside.
I called Lars but had to leave the name and phone number of the restaurant on his machine in the hope that he would call back. He had suggested that he would get a coat like Cat’s for me and meet us this afternoon. When I told the girl there that he might call back she looked at me in disbelief. We finished lunch and I tried to call him but again could only leave a message. As we paid the girl seemed to have that, “Yea, your friend Lars forgot to call you?” look in her eye.
We were at least a block down the harbor when we heard a girl calling out. Looking back we saw our server, cordless phone in hand, running toward us. “It is he, it is Lars calling,” she called out with what appeared to be a renewed belief in us. Of course she had lost the call because she went beyond the range of the phone. We walked back hoping he would call back and he did. When it rang she handed me the phone but I gave it back and asked her to answer. She was almost coy and she had the other 3 girls gather round as she pushed the button. It was worth the show, just watching her face and the look on the others as she talked with Lars. When she handed me the phone it was hard to hear him over their chatter that we assumed was about her having talked with the famous Lars Bom.
What an interesting guy, this Lars Bom. Instead of telling us how to find his friend, the importer of cycling clothes, he will meet us at The Little Mermaid statue at 3:30. He wouldn’t hear of it any other way.
With an hour and a half to kill, we just walked the narrow, cobble stone streets. Trying to stay on a course that would eventually get us to the mermaid we leisurely strolled and talked about how good fortune seems to smile on us when we heard a voice call out, “Hey Pat & Cat.” It was Gary, they were in a restaurant and he had seen us from the small window. We joined them and their friend, a gal from Jamaica. Carol was pretty excited, the Princes of Denmark had just left the place. We did exchange addresses then an older woman with an entourage entered. Carol was doubly excited, it was the owner and famous chef who they said was the Julia Childs of Denmark.
We took leave of them as Carol went to get her autograph. She was pretty impressed to hear that we were meeting Lars, too. She knew him from the television series and knew that all of the girls loved him.
It was a brisk walk to the Little Mermaid. We had underestimated the distance and were 10 minutes late. When we visited Denmark before we had completely missed The Little Mermaid and decided that we should have a picture with her. It would have to wait, we found a pay phone and called Lars. He apologized that he was running late. Perfect timing, he was there at curbside in just a few minutes.
The jacket and money exchange took just minutes. The hugs and handshakes took a little longer then Lars hurried off to his next appointment. He had paid and we reimbursed him. A very good deal for us. The jacket was about half price.
The Little Mermaid would have to live on without us again. By the time we were back to her she was surrounded by Asian tourists all waiting for a photo with her.
Back in our neighborhood, Cat finally got her prescriptions while I ran across the street and got money at the ATM.
Cat cooked in Copenhagen for the last time, at least for now, a delightful piece of Salmon with appropriate trimmings. Another delightful day for the WorldRiders International’.
September 26, 2002
Over Night to Oslo
The stairway to Uffe’s flat is now the site of the reconstruction. The noise and dust started at 7:30 AM. We sat about the task of cleaning and preparing to leave. I ran the broom while Cat gathered a huge bag of laundry. The plumber arrived at 8:00 and promptly tore the toilet apart. Of course, my nature call hit as the parts hit the floor. I had to make a dash across the alleyway to the Plumbers office. The old guy was there and laughed as I let him know, in sign language, what I needed and how badly I needed it. Good thing he and his toilet were here.
Cat took a huge bag of laundry out the door while I finished sweeping. I joined her after the Plumber finished and we folded cloths inside the steamy laundry. We put the fresh sheet cover on Uffe’s Duvets and made the bed. We hoped the place looked as good or better than it did when we arrived.
The rain began to pour down as we carried our bags down to the bikes. It was no small feat. The stairs were littered with the scraps and sawdust of the workers. Funny, they seemed oblivious to our efforts. Amazing that they don’t clear the debris as they go?
Our bikes were in the underground bicycle parking area. We thought about loading the bags there but the stairs out were too steep and narrow to get up once we were loaded. I remembered that the trash area where the dumpsters were kept was covered. The ceiling of the area was too low to stand upright but it was fairly dry inside. There’s nothing like the smell of decomposing garbage to hasten loading. The odor seemed to stick inside our nostrils as we pedaled away in the rain.
The rain had driven all but the toughest of Danes off the bike lanes. Into town, we chose an Italian Pizza for our last meal in Denmark, this trip.
The rain persisted as we rode to the boat dock. We cycled past a line of cars waiting to get aboard and stood under a narrow eve as the clerks checked our tickets and traded them for a boarding pass and cabin key. We were inside and lashing the bikes to the bulkhead by 3:30 PM. The noise of passing cars and trucks is deafening in the echo chamber.
Cat carried our clothing bags and I took the two computer bags. We struggled up the narrow stairs for 2 levels then spilled out into a nicely appointed lobby area with an elevator that carried us on up to deck #10 and our tiny interior cabin. We were across from a Commodore Class cabin. Pretty nice, enough room for friends to visit, in fact they were enjoying wine with 3 other couples. The room had a couch and chair as well as a double bed with a large picture window. In our price range, we had bunks and a small bathroom. Tight quarters made to feel even tighter because it had no window.
Out on the top deck the wind whipped around and it was cold, dry now but cold. I huddled down in a deck chair behind the glass and watched as Denmark slipped passed and the open sea swallowed our giant Ferry.
(Movie: Cabin Suite 0:39)
Back in the cabin I lay on the bottom bunk and relaxed. I didn’t feel very good, kind of achy, stiff sore and tired. Cat wanted to work on the computers. I didn’t. She dug them out and set them up. I continued to lay and even doze. Bored, she went exploring and I fell fast asleep.
She must have paced for an hour then burst back in, full of life. I woke with a start, took two Tylenol and washed my face. We decided that what I thought might be the flu was probably just the
effect that carrying all the bags down the stairs had on my wretched old body. I did feel better so we walked the ship with Cat acting as tour director.
The big surprise was that there was no gambling on board. When we were here last they had several decks with slot machines and a huge night club. There was a big bar with a small stage but nothing like the cabaret of our last voyage.
We shopped all three restaurants, a sort of walk up bar, a buffet and a formal looking sit down room. We chose the buffet and were pleasantly surprised. The food was plentiful, the display delightful and the platefuls we chose were very tasty.
It was on 9:30 by the time we were tucked into our tiny bunks and the lights went out. We were finally headed back to the road.
September 27, 2002
The Train to Trondheim
That woman’s voice came piping into our tiny cabin at 7:00 AM as promised. She spoke in tongues not familiar to us then told us in English where we could get breakfast. Lars had suggested that we get up at the crack of dawn and get a good seat against the windows to see the Oslo Harbor as the ship sailed in. We didn’t make the early bird section but as fate would have it we ended up at a front table. We grabbed a pretty good seat but the woman there asked if we would move because they were a group of 10. She even helped us carry our coffee to the new table. It was a shared affair with a couple from Texas. He left abruptly then we got into a conversation with her. The location of the table was primo but the condition was a disaster. It was loaded with clutter from the Texans and other previous occupants.
Cat swiped cheese and meat while I grabbed 4 big slices of bread on the way out. That is a great way to have lunch on a budget. We unlashed the bikes and rolled out into crisp 3 degree Celsius air. Down the highway and over a pedestrian bridge, we were in Oslo, we were in familiar territory. We had walked these streets 2 years ago.
As we crossed the bridge a couple of Police Officers passed us going the other direction. They smiled and exchange what we assumed were niceties. Cat had to go. We tried the train station but it cost 10 Norwegian Kroner and we only had Danish. Our next attempt was MacDonald’s. The guy told Cat no, only for customers. She came back out fuming. I said, “Let’s just get a cup of coffee.” She was so upset at the guy that she decided she would just hold it.
Crossing back we decided to take a picture in front of a wonderful Bronze Tiger. A cycle messenger took the pic then hurried away. The two Police rolled up and asked if we were okay. Cat told them of her problem. They suggested the international toilet stop, MacDonald’s. They were surprised to hear that of our being rejected and invited her to use the Police Station toilet. They were so nice that we had to have a picture with them. I had to use the facility, too, by then. We became quite a joke around the Station. Before they got away we convinced them to be our Norwegian voices for our, “You’re riding bicycles around the world? You must be crazy.”
(Movie: NORWEGIAN, "You Must be Crazy!" 0:10)
Next stop the monetary Exchange. We traded all Danish Crown for Norwegian. Well, not all, they wouldn’t take coin.
Our first real challenge was to get train tickets. “Sorry, all seats in non-smoking are taken.” We knew we should have imposed even further on Uffe and used his phone to call Long Distance and reserve the train here in Norway but my frugal nature wouldn’t allow that.
Wait, what about sleeping cars. “Oh, yes, we have non-smoking sleep car but it cost more.” It was only 40 N. Kroner more so we took it. Then came the bad news, no room for bikes. Once again we were almost stymied when he suggested sending them on EXE which is rail freight. It would cost more, of course. We bought the tickets conditioned on getting our bikes to Trondheim, too.
The EXE Office is all the way at the end of track 19 and we had to go under some of the tracks in a subway tunnel. The people there were great. However, the freight station in Trondheim is closed on Sunday and Monday. Oh god, here we go again. “Well,”. The gal said, “The station is closed but you can have them delivered to your Hotel” It costs just a little more, of course.
When we decided to spend the extra $20 US they asked to which address we would have them sent, another trauma. We went to the Tourist Office and learned that they have nothing to do with the Tourist Office in Trondheim and didn’t know anything about Hotels there but they did give us a book.
It took me three minutes to realize that we would never be able to choose a Hotel that way. We didn’t know where they were or how much they cost. I went back and the shift had changed. The new guy checked websites and suggested a Hotel in a moderate price range in the Old Town. I called, they had a room, we had a home in Trondheim.
Now, we had to get a locker for the bags we would carry. That was another learning experience. We loaded all the bags that we would keep in the first vacant locker we found. It was broken and couldn’t be locked. Then the search for another and the shifting of bags took another 20 minutes. As we pushed and packed some people came up and asked if they could get into their locker. Betty O’Brien is from Austin, Minnesota and was surprised to hear that we had cycled through her home town in July. Yes, she’s a Norwegian married to an Irishman. Her daughter, Laude now lives in Colorado and Remi, her cousin is from Komsberg, Norway.
(Movie: Pat in Training 0:16)
Back to the EXE Office, they were even more generous than earlier. We got all the bags strapped into three bundles. They did charge us but less than we had originally been told. They also arranged for us to go to the back door of the EXE office and pick up the bikes in the morning which would save the 140 NKr delivery charge. They even let us use their toilet which saved an additional 20 Kr. (Toilets cost 10 Kr., but worth it. They’re clean and fresh smelling. You pay and a little gate opens. There’s a toilet Monitor on duty to insure that you pay and you receive the clean and neat. A good idea that makes work and makes for clean public toilets.
(Movie: Greensleeves 0:52)
(Movie: Walkin' Oslo 0:31)
Bikes and bags finally checked, we walked back into the main part of town. It had taken 6 hours to get the train and freight business completed. We picked up copies of the Herald Tribune and USA Today then stopped at the Grand Hotel where we had stayed two years ago for a glass of wine. A couple of ladies seated next to us kicked off a conversation. They were locals, sort of. They are in town for a holiday from family, to take in a show, (They saw the Full Monte last night.) have some good food and do a little shopping.
Kristin, who was seated next to me, has a son and owns the Peppe’s Pizza franchise in their town of Beitostalen. Torill Rogne-Renna has two kids. We talked about music, her husband plays trumpet in a band. It was cozy, sitting there talking, reading news that was really news to us and enjoying the sun through the window overlooking the street.
The street is always abuzz with activity. Musicians, clowns, there was even a young guy with an old car handing chocolates out to a line of good looking girls. When Cat fell in line I told him he had a great job and he said, “Yea, the world’s best job!
Dinner at Restaurante Mona Lisa. By 8:30 we were sitting in the Train Station. We couldn’t board until 10:00. I typed for a while, Cat wondered around then settled down on the uncomfortable wooden seat and almost snoozed.
Our second room on the move was even smaller than the tiny boat cabin. It was bunks again and I had to boost Cat up then she buckled herself in. It was lights out, even before the wheels began to roll. Both of us had just dozed off when the Conductor knocked. I opened the door and handed him our tickets without even getting up from my bunk. He checked and punched our tickets then gave us coupons for breakfast. The train rocked us both to sleep.
(Movie: X-Rated Train 0:43)
September 28, 2002
Karaoke and Church Music
The train arrived exactly on time. Our included breakfast was a bonus, we hadn’t expected. It wasn’t that big a bonus though, just basic, bread jam and coffee. It was after
8:30 by the time we found a cart and pushed our small bags to the EXE station. It was closed up, tight. We asked the two people who worked nearby but neither knew anything about EXE.
Cat walked back to the station to check with information. While she was away a Security Guard walked past without a word and went inside. He opened the big double doors and helped set our bags and bikes out on the freight dock. As he closed the door I thanked him. He nodded then pulled the door down and disappeared into his own silence.
We loaded the bikes and rode into the strange city in an early morning drizzle. The street was just starting to come to life. A few people stirring and beginning to open their small shops. Our map proved true, we turned right into a square with a tall obelisk topped by a statue of what looked like a Viking. There was a street fair on the main walking street that was trying to come to life, too.
The Hotel that the nice guy in Oslo chose for us was close. It is called something to do with a Monk, there is a caricature of one in a maroon robe on the sign. We parked the bikes on a patio, under an eve to keep them out of the rain. The room was large and the bath even had a heated floor. After two cramped nights in bunks we were in heaven.
Refreshed by hot showers, we walked back to the square and down the street fair. It was an extension of the 1000 year anniversary of Trondheim that took place in 1997. Must be an annual event? What a kick, the local radio station had a karaoke machine set up and the songs were all in English. The vocalists did a good job despite their thick Norwegian accents. We had lunch in a Pizza place. It was on the second floor and we had a window overlooking the crowd. Despite the off and on drizzle I opened it and we enjoyed not only the sights but the sounds, too. It began to pour rain on the party and had a cooling affect on the crowd. Cold rain, even here, takes the fun out of the outdoors.
(Movie: Norwegian Karaoke 1:00)
(Movie: Festival Parades 0:20)
There was a store, Axel Bruun Sports shop that sold bicycle clothing we had heard about. They didn’t have the large canvass mittens I was looking for but I did buy a pair of under gloves. The clerk, Erlend Lundemo said he cycles and uses the same liners. He was intrigued with our trip and gave us two tubes of some kind of high carbohydrate paste. They looked like toothpaste tubes. He said they are really good for fast energy.
There is a church that was built in 1686 at the end of the walking street. We explored then ducked in to get out of the rain. What a pleasant surprise. A woman was at the alter facing the empty pews and singing like and angel. We asked a guy who was taping her if she would mind if we took a video. He smiled and said he thought she would be pleased. When she finished her song the organ began to play and we got an additional bonus. A man in the balcony sang in thick rich tones. An almost religious experience for a couple of not too religious WorldRiders.
(Movie: She Sings like an Angel 0:34)
(Movie: He Sings, Too 0:56)
Walking close to the buildings, trying to escape some of the downpour, we window shopped our way back to the Hotel and spent the rest of the day working on our journals and watching Television. Interesting how we continue to watch even when we have not a clue what they are saying?
September 29, 2002
Humility at the Hands of Skiers
Cabin fever was setting in. The rain continued, off and on through the morning. We had a nice breakfast that is included and Cat copped some bread, cheese and ham for lunch sandwiches, again. She is really feeling cooped up and convinced me to take a bike ride, rain or shine. With direction from the desk clerk we set off in a moderate drizzle toward the top of the hill and a small ski area there. The overlook from some areas is pretty spectacular. The hill is steep. It is a nice ride, even in the rain. Also a good test for our rain and cold weather gear. Near the top we stopped and took a breather at a parking area. Amazing the number of people here, in the rain and cold, hiking out on the trail system. Oh, those hardy Norwegians. As we approached the summit, we were taught a lesson in humility. Two guys in skin tight cross country skin suits came pushing past us on roller skis. We were almost standing on the pedals and they passed by easily.
It made us feel a little better when we talked with them and the Father of the boy in red who was pacing them in a car. The tall one is a local school team champion and the other, believe it or not is NCAA Cross Country Champion for the year 2002. He is going to school in Colorado. (I have lost
their names, the Father and boy in reds last name is Bergen. I hope they will read this and get in touch.)
Going down was almost as tough as the climb. It was wet and felt slippery, especially on the steep parts. The rain was a good test for our coats and pants. We got cold, Cat froze on the way back down. We had the hoods of our rain coats pulled up over our helmets and she had her head band ear cover on, too. Sweaty from the uphill effort, we chilled as we rolled downhill.
We rolled in and into a small café for soup. Cat was shivering. The place was full of others escaping the wet and cold. As I ordered I was telling the guy dishing up soup and making sandwiches about our meeting with the skiers. I told him that the local boy was named Bergen and an older woman standing next to me slurred something about Bergen. She summoned up enough English to tell me she was from Bergen and it is the most beautiful city in the world. It was obvious she was having a good time with her red wine. The guy behind the counter asked why she was here if it was so beautiful in Bergen and she replied, “A man, love of a man.” Pretty funny, she laughed and so did everyone close enough to have heard the exchange. He called the soup TexMex and it was pretty good, nothing that tasted very TexMex to us, but good.
The warm shower brought us back to normal but we knew we had to add a layer to our hands if we were going to go onward in wet and cold.
There is a fairly large sporting goods store near where the street fair took place. We walked there and found some red mittens that would fit over our gloves. When I asked if they were water proof the clerk said, “I don’t know, we test.” Then he had me follow him into the toilet where he filled the sink with water put one on and stuck his hand into it. “Just a little comes in,” he said. Then he insisted that I try it. He was right. A tiny amount seeped in at one seam but it was pretty water tight. I couldn’t see how rain would penetrate so we bought them. A pretty good sales technique, huh?
The closest restaurant to our Hotel is Italian. That suited us but the food was just so, so. There was a guy seated across from us reading a book. He struggled with language when ordering and it was obvious he was American. We tried to start a conversation. He did tell us that he was here looking at the place where his Father and their family came from. A quiet type, he then went back to his reading. The only other words we exchanged were the pleasantries of goodbye as he left.
Back at the Monks Hotel, we found an English language movie with Norwegian subtitles. It was so exciting that we both went to sleep. I woke up at 2:30 and turned the snow filled screen off.
September 30, 2002
Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday Dear CAT,
Happy Birthday to YOU!!!!! And Many More!!!!
This would be the first day of Cat’s 49th year. The rain continued despite her birthday wish. She had also wanted to ride out today but I had been watching the weather on the TV and the little cartoon pictures promised sun starting tomorrow. I convinced her that we could be ready to roll and the sun would be with us tomorrow.
Her computer died again so she set off to a shop recommended by the clerk at the hotel. They kept it and told her to come back later.
We had lunch then drifted back there at 2:00 PM. They hadn’t even touched it but asked us to return at 4:00. The streets of Trondheim looked better with just a mist in the air. In fact the sun was trying to work its way through the cloud cover. A sunny day here might be just a lighter shade of grey? Our quest was to check out restaurants that might be just right for a Birthday Celebration. Cat had wanted Sushi but was told that the only Sushi Restaurant in town was closed today. When we passed it the sign in Norwegian seemed to say that it would be open. The neighboring shop keeper confirmed and the Birthday Feast was decided. We walked together and just made it as they were closing. No luck they couldn’t find anything that they could fix. Hard drive was okay but something internal is shorting out.
The Sushi was great. The desert menu was lacking so we thought back to Rapid City, South Dakota and the story Don and Roxie liked to tell about how they take friends to Mac’s Steak House for Ice Cream. Mac’s is Mac Donald’s and we still laugh when we think of the way they tell the story. Well, their joke led us to Mac Donald’s Trondheim. Disappointed at first that they didn’t have ice cream the girl told us about McFlurry. A sort of thick ice cream shake.
Instead of cake Cat ate McFlurry as we walked back to the hotel. Another birthday surprise, the moon was peaking through the clouds. Maybe we would have sun for our ride tomorrow. That would be a terrific birthday present.
October 1, 2002
On the Road Again, We Just Can’t Wait to Get on the Road Again
Sunshine and cool air as we rolled out of Trondheim and into our European adventure.
We had a little difficulty just out of town finding the right route. I asked a guy through the window of his car and he pointed toward the coast. Then he summoned up enough English to let us know that the other direction was for cars and trucks, only. The main highway we expected.
Our maps showed us on the coast but we didn’t want to make a mistake and have to do a lot of back tracking. We have chosen to cycle about 80 Km today and that won’t leave much time for mistakes. We are feeling the effect of being off the bikes. Our legs aren’t road ready like they were when we were riding the long distance almost everyday. We’ve been off the seats a month in reality. There was so little cycling in Greenland and we have just done simple city cycling since then.
Other than a toilet break under a tree for Cat, we just rolled the ups and downs. It was pretty similar to our ride up California’s Highway 1. Well it wasn’t windy but it was as cold, maybe colder than Highway 1.
Lunch in old Rail Road Station that was rehabbed. It was very authentic looking from the 19th Century. We ordered soup and ate the bread, cheese and ham Cat had liberated from breakfast.
It was 3:00 by the time we pulled into a Shell Service Station at Stjordal. We were little more than half way to our goal of Meraker. A young guy named Are` told us the road from here was up but all the way. He thought we could make it but again warned us that it is all up, gentle but up. He also taught us the fact that they measure distance in Milers here. Cat was confused by the name and thought we were talking about 50 miles. Milers, they pronounce, meelers, are 10 Km. each. So they felt it was 50 Km to Meraker.
We made a field decision to call it a day and set out early in the morning. It was getting cold and we didn’t want to risk being out after dark which happens at about 6:30 Pm, in these parts.
Found the essential wine store then the Hotel Quality. As we exited the shopping center an older guy in trailer stand gave me a donut. It was good, sweet and buttery. He was a retired sailor, military then 22 years in merchant Marine. After traveling the world he came home to a simple life, selling great donuts. He tried to tell us stories of his adventures but they were lost in language. It was easy to see by the look on his face that he had loved the sea and missed her and the excitement.
The Hotel isn’t exactly top quality but the girl at the desk was fun to talk with. We asked for a room for two with one bed. She told us that all of their rooms have only two single beds. I said, “Oh you Europeans, your single beds make romance difficult.”
She laughed and replied, “Oh, the small bed increases the romantic possibilities, don’t you think?”
Even the flight crew that had just walked up got a chuckle out of it. There is an Airport nearby, we have seen planes coming and going for most of the afternoon. It must serve Trondheim and other surrounding communities.
Dinner was a quandary. We didn’t want to sit in a restaurant so I tried to get pizza delivered. The only thing offered was delivery by taxicab. When I talked with the Pizza place they wanted 190 Kroner and estimated the cost of the cab would be another 100 to 150. Quick calculation told us that we would have more than $50 US in a salad and pizza.
The Room Service menu was pretty bleak. I took it down and asked our friend at the front desk if they could enhance with a few more items. She got the menu from the Restaurant and said we could order anything on it to be served in the room.
(Movie: Ole Cotton Fields 1:20)
For less than the cost of Pizza we had two terrific pieces of Salmon and all the trimmings in the privacy of our Stjordal home. We were back on the road again!
October 2, 2002
Norway to Sweden on the Wrong Side of the Tracks
It was cold, actually below 0 degrees Celsius, as we rode out of Stjordal and it was already 10:30 AM. We had stalled as long as we thought feasible then decided to go for it.
Highway E14 is narrow but once out of town there was little traffic and what there was, was very generous with the road. They always stopped or slowed and followed until it was safe to pass.
Just as Are` had suggested, it was up, always up. Not so steep but definitely always up. There was frost on the ground in shaded areas and it would remain there, all day. We stopped at a small bridge at noon and ate our sandwiches. There was an orange just lying on the ground as we pulled up. I decided it was a gift from the Nordic Gods. We stood and moved around to stay warm as we ate. The sandwiches were great the orange was refreshing.
The hill toughened before we got into Meraker. We stopped there in a Café above the Grocery Store and had a sandwich. We wanted soup but they had an extremely limited menu. The young guy there told us that he came to work just before noon and it was still only 2 degrees. (While we ate we dug out the conversion table for Celsius to Fahrenheit. It is simple, take the C temp and multiply by 1.8 then add 32. So, 2 would be 36 F. at home of course it never gets that cold at home now, does it?)
(Movie: Foot Warmer 0:43)
The Hotel we thought we would be staying at yesterday was a nice looking place. We glanced at it as we pushed off and up toward the clouds. It was picturesque, cold and now it was getting steep. It was a grind that finally slowed to a push in several really steep areas. Time was fleeting. Our goal of Storlien seemed distant. We knew that we were going to be trapped out here in the cold and it would really get cold after sunset. We pushed onward, we had little choice rather than give up the last 10 hard fought Kilometers. Finally just before the summit and after a long push we came to a sign and Swedish flag. Could this be the border? Was this all there was to it when traveling between Norway and Sweden?
It was nearing sundown and we were feeling down. The cold got colder and now we had a slight headwind that added chill factor. We were now above the tree line. It is only about 600 meters above sea level here but it's very near the Arctic Circle. (Okay, take 600 times 3.3 and you’ll know how many feet we had climbed.) It was eerie again, in the gathering gloom with the stunted brush and occasional tree. After a short but steep swoop down then climb back up we stopped. Cat was worried. I felt that we had only two choices, pitch the tent or continue onward. I spotted a guy with a huge pack walking just off the roadway in the brush. I called out and he slowly turned then walked toward us. I pulled ahead to talk with him. At the same time Cat waved at a passing car. They turned and came back. The hiker, a very hearty type who spoke no English indicated 1 Km to Storlien. Cat’s concerned motorists told her it was 2 Km to a place where there is a Hotel and Restaurant. One way or the other, we were in much higher spirits as we rolled onward in the cold dusk.
We covered the kilometer in quick time only to find a Border check station that was closed. Yes, maybe this is all that it takes to travel here. What’s the big deal with the Russians?
Cat was hopeful that the 1 Km the back packer mentioned was this isolated place and the town was still just ahead of us. Her hopes were realized, there were a lot of buildings and railroad passenger cars off to our left. Above the rail cars we could see a sign for a Hotel and Restaurant. We were both pretty ecstatic but couldn’t figure out how to get there? Maybe the entrance was further down the road? To hell with it this is another of those times when you take it rather than pass it up. We rode down a dirt road, around an old looking rock building that was once a round house for turning the train engines and up to the tracks.
Although the sign wasn’t lighted it made sense that there would be a Hotel and Restaurant at the Train Station. Undaunted, we decided that we had to push across the 4 sets of track to get there. I pushed off and up and over then over and over again. Cat stalled out on the first track. I leaned and went back for her. We were there, yet there appeared to be no sign of life anywhere. We even joked about breaking into a train car and sleeping there.
(Movie: Railriders2 0:26)
The back door of the old building was open. We parked and walked in. It was warm and we could hear music. We had arrived, we thought. The sign on the door said that besides a restaurant they had a Bar and Disco. Still no sign of human existence then a very slight looking, very cute dark skinned girl appeared like an apparition from a door behind the bar. The bad news was that the Hotel had been closed for years. The good news, this was the only Restaurant here and they were serving dinner but only until 7:00 PM.
Well, we had dinner and we could pitch the tent outside if we had to. However, the girl Lalita took us to heart and began a search for lodging. Since it was almost 6:00 we grabbed a menu and ordered Pizza. Lalita told us that the salad would be included. We were in heaven.
She also asked her boss, Ronnie, to come out and try to help us find a place to stay. He made a call and told us he had saved a room at the Hostel, just 4 Km further down the road. We asked if there was a restaurant there and he reconfirmed that they were the only restaurant in miles. Our next concern was how we would cycle in the dark or perhaps our greatest concern was how we would cycle in the dark after dinner and a bottle of wine. “
“Simple,” said Lalita, “I’ll just call the cab.”
We suddenly decided that we should find out how much all of this would cost and whether we would need our sleeping bags or they could provide linen at the Hostel.
Lalita jumped right back on the phone then reported that the Hostel would be 140 Kronor for each of us and the cab would cost 100 to take us there. WOW, we had done it again. Just when we thought our future was pretty bleak Lalita had pulled us back from the brink of what felt like disaster.
Oh, oh, another problem. We only had Norwegian Kroner and not much of that, either. She just smiled and winked one of her big beautiful brown eyes and said, “I can run your dinner on your credit card and get you enough cash for the Cab and Hostel. She was our latest Angel!
The Pizza was great, rich but great. The wine was wonderful. When we asked how Lalita had ended up here she said something about a guy. “Is it love,” we asked. She was slightly embarrassed but said yes. She had met a Norwegian boy and they were making plans for life.
When we where she was from she told us, Goteburg, a city we had visited 2 years ago. We told her about our visit there and the nice guy who gave us bus fare then became our City Guide, there. I told her about the old gal we had seen in Trondheim who loved Bergen and said that it was only because of love that she was there.
I asked if her parents were form there, too and she said, “Yes, I was adopted and they live there.” Had I been fishing, trying to find out whether she was from India or Pakistan or some other Middle Eastern country. Yes, probably but when she exposed that much of herself I backed off.
Just before we were ready to leave, she called the cab. A young guy in a sleeveless t-shirt came in and started helping Lalita tear the buffet down. Cat felt sure he was her guy. Shy again, she admitted, “Yes, that’s him.” We thought he must be a good one to come meet her and help her so she could get out of the place and get home with him.
Our cab was a Volkswagen Van, one I had never seen before. The driver was very nice. He delivered us to the door of the Hostel and when I asked if he would pick us up in the morning he suggested 9:00 AM. His girl friend would be driving then and she already had an 8:00 AM pickup. He even told us to pay her rather than worry about it in the cold night air. WOW, we were blessed.
(Movie: Shower in Storlien 0:27)
October 3, 2002
Oivind, Lalita, Romeo and Juliet
Up at 7:00 we wished that we had arranged for the Taxi earlier. By the time we got our bags packed and discussed the road ahead with our helpful Hostel hostess it was almost 9:00 and Taxi time. She did introduce us to the advantages of the Vandrarhem Hostel system. Laura and her husband lease the building from a Boy Scout group and operate the business like a franchise of the Hostel System. It costs 100 Swedish Crown to join but we would have saved 40 each had we been members. She even called ahead and booked us a room at the Hostel that is 7 Km beyond Are. The cab pulled up and we had to hustle. I jokingly asked about our discount when I was paying and she said, “Yes, of course, I will only charge 100 Crown each.” What a bargain. We will definitely have to join; in fact I began thinking of the possibilities of working with the group. Maybe trading web-site space for accommodations.
Our driver, as promised, was the girl friend but her price wasn’t what we recalled had been quoted. She charged 300 Crowns and we had been told 200? She acted as though she couldn’t understand. Oh well, rescue always has a price and this one would be just a little more than we had expected. Pretty steep though for a mere 4 Km ride each way!
Breakfast at the Train Station was the basic Scandinavian fare, boiled eggs, bread, juice and coffee. Most of the crowd was the same group of locals we had met last night. Lalita hustled coffee and food then sat and talked. Ronnie sat at an adjacent table, joking and smoking with his buddies.
Oivind, Lalita’s boy friend was wearing a tank top again but did slip on his jacket when I asked for a picture of the Romeo and Juliet couple. She was born in Bombay but adopted by a
Swedish family. She’s very self confident for a girl who just turned 25 day before yesterday. He is a local Norwegian boy from Meraker who has been on vacation to Greece, once, but is pretty much a home boy. She, on the other hand, has traveled. For a year she was an Auperre watching the kids for a family in New York City. When her contract was completed she made a whirlwind tour of the US that included driving across the continent and visiting highlights like the Grand Canyon, the California coast from LA to San Francisco and Yosemite. She’s petite, almost fragile looking. He looked bulky and Nordic. Though she looks Indian she is Swedish. From two different worlds and both sides of the Mountain yet they share a common desire for a future together and a love for each other.
The fog we first saw from our window persisted. We cycled away as it swirled round the train just leaving in the opposite direction. It was warmer today, no ice or frost but the dampness made it feel just as cold.
The landscape was above the tree line so void of color and almost eerie in the fog. The road was up and down and would remain so all day. Not as much up as yesterday but lots of big ups to pull. Our bodies were stiff and sore. Too cold when we stopped, we sweat a lot on the ups.
The bread and cheese we had bought in Storlien would stay in our bags. We stopped at the only Kaffe in Ann for a bowl of wonderful fish soup and small sandwiches that came with the plate. Ann is almost halfway to Are` and we were heartened by the prospect of an early finish. The ups and their effect on our tired legs would soon take that thought back away from us. The fog had lifted but the wind shifted. It was blowing cold and in to our faces as we finally rolled into Are.
We passed the Centrum and had to backtrack 2 Km. A bakery and Systembolaget (Wine Store) then they pointed us in the direction of an ATM and Grocery Store. The ATM didn’t speak English. It wouldn’t give forth with Crowns and I didn’t know if it was as communication or system problem. The door was open but the entry looked like a Real Estate Office with pictures of condos and with a lot of Sold signs across them. It turned out to be a bank and the pictures were just a promotion for a local Real Estate firm. Guje Kerner, the teller, stopped everything and went out to the ATM with us. It rejected her efforts, too. Back inside, she tried our card on her machine, another rejection. We tried our Amex card but it was declined, too. Then our last possible shot, the Visa Card made the grade. Guje was definitely the kindest most helpful teller we had ever met.
While she counted the Crown out to me Cat conversed with a fellow Californian. Jeff Davis is an artist. He saw the bikes and came to take a look. He and a friend are leaving tomorrow afternoon for a three day ride and rough out. Jeff has lived here for 7 years, is married to Stina and they have two kids. He makes and sells his art, she has a Hair Salon. They seem to have a very good life. He says he wouldn’t consider moving back.
As we talked the wind continued to pick up speed and cool toward freezing. Jeff told us that they are predicting snow this evening. We were concerned about being stuck out in the country, at the Hostel, without food. Stina had Cat follow her to the Tourist Info Center. They thought that we could get a place here for reasonable rent because it is the lowest season, between summer sun and winter snow.
(Movie: Are` Condo Tour 0:50)
With Jeff’s direction Cat and I were soon working out a deal for a very cute, efficiency Condo. What a bargain at 330 Crown. At the exchange rate of just under 10 Crown for $1.00 US we had our own place for only $35.00.
October 4, 2002
Cozy Condo and Systembolaget
The snow that had been predicted must have passed Are by. It was cold damp and grey when we finally peeked out the window. Cat gathered our laundry from the drying room while I cut fruit and made coffee. The room is so cozy that we just settled in to our computers. Cat’s was soon acting up and crashed, again. She has been trying to get a list of all the e-mail addresses so that Wally can send a group message when we have a new chapter of our story up and available.
I continued to peck away while she went to the bank to exchange our remaining Norwegian Kroner for Swedish Crown. We do have Euro News and the BBC News in English but they are repetitive. Funny, we wish for news then complain because it is too much of the same.
Cat changed our N. Kroner to Swedish Kronor (Crown). She also visited the Tourist Office and got places to stop along the route and Sundsvall. She came back in with a bag full of vegetables and made a very tasty soup.
Staffan, our landlord came by and picked up another days rent. In fact he discounted it to 300 Kronor. An even better deal! We told him we would try to pull out in the morning. He says that the snow will come tonight.
My day until 2:30 was pretty much on the computer. Then we took a walk in the wet and cold, to the Systembolaget for wine and then on a quest for Internet access. The lady who owns our little apartment suggested that we could use her Sister’s computer in her shop. We stopped there but her computer was down. She thought that we were going to bring our machine in to hook up. Her suggestion was to try the Bibliotek (Library) because they have several computers and they are free. Of course the Library is closed on Fridays.
While walking we did stop at Stina’s Hair Care Shop. Jeff drove up just as we hit the door. We had a nice chat then he headed for the mountains. He and his friend were going, rain or shine. Stina suggested that as a last resort we go back to the Tourism Bureau. The gal there was kind and generous in allowing us to tie up one of their machines for almost an hour. Amazing how e-mails pile up when unanswered for a couple of days.
It was a walk in the rain, all the way. We hung our soggy cloths in the warm room when we got back.
Dinner in, Cat cooked the Macaroni and Cheese that we have carried for the past 5 months and we combined it with a cooked chicken we found at the Grocery Store. There are a couple of TV Channels that have English language programs. We found enough to keep us entertained until 10:00 PM.
October 5, 2002
An Old Snow Angel
Staffan’s prediction or that of the Weatherman he listens to came true while we slept. It was a shallow cover on the ground and fairly thick flurry in the air. Yes, we would be here another day.
(Movie: Awaken Snow Princess 0:28)
(Movie: Snowin' and a Blowin' 0:15)
(Movie: Mo Snow 0:23)
(Movie: Feathers in the Air 0:24)
Breakfast, TV and computer then a walk at 11:00 AM. We made the rounds of the village. The Systembolaget for wine and the Baguri next door for bread. Every step was in blowing snow. Swirling flakes flew into our faces, we had to wear our rain coats and use the hoods to keep our ears warm.
(Movie: Systemboleget 0:18)
We decided to have lunch out. The only game in town is Café Bubblan, a sort of cafeteria. Their Quiche was delicious and it was fun to people watch. It broke the monotony of cabin life.
Our outing culminated with a visit to the Tourism Bureau and a look at our e-mails. Several Happy Birthday messages for me and a couple for both of us. The guy there is kind, quiet and helpful. On the way back up the hill I shot a pic of Cat next to a snow covered bush. We think there is about 2 inches of the white stuff on the ground and it continues to fall. Cat wanted a picture of me in the snow so I ran up onto a lawn area and flopped down on my back. It was the first snow angel I had created in maybe 55 years.
Back at Condo 102, we were soon visited by Staffan again. He was interested in our computers. He took a look at some of our pictures of Greenland collected another days rent and predicted that tomorrow would be clear and sunny but cold. He says it will hover around 0 degrees Celsius most of the day. I say, give us a clear, dry road and we’ll ride.
We spent time working together on the Journal. Every time I get behind like this I swear that I will do a daily entry every day but then for lots of different reasons, I backslide and again have to pay the price. We use Cat’s journal to balance our story. She does fewer details but her notes and memories jog mine.
Cat made a mean pot of pasta and a terrific salad. We watched a goofy comedy and closed the drape to the continuing snow flurries at 10:00 PM.
October 6, 2002
Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday Dear Pat,
Happy Birthday to You…. And Many More!!!
This is the first day of my 63rd year. It began with a peek around the drape at 7:00 and a slight disappointment in the white landscape and the white flakes still falling from the Thick grey clouds above. Oh, it is beautiful, no doubt but it isn’t conducive to cycling and we have to move on if we are not to be trapped here and have to move southward to wait out the winter. They say here that it will be May before the snow is gone, if this first round stays on the ground.
(Movie: Happy BD to Me 0:42)
Cat is tiring of our little lair. She is the “Itchy Pickle” of the team. She needs action, she wants to do something, anything, rather than just sit here. I am calling on all of the patience that I can muster and have learned over these 63 years to just relax and assume that it will warm and we will get off this hill top and down on to the coast where it will be warmer.
By 10:00 AM the skies, although still grey, were brightening. The snow flakes were smaller and fewer, too. However, the thermometer outside our window sat exactly on 0 degrees and the streets are covered with snow. If it doesn’t start to melt a little, soon, we will be here another night, to the delight of Staffan.
At 11:00 I went to the phone at the door and pressed M1. It is the direct dial to Eva Marie and Staffan’s. When he answered I told him that we had decided to stay tonight and prey for warmth and melting snow to continue. He thought it might. I also asked if they supply the toilet paper or we should buy some. He laughed and said he would bring toilette paper.
We went walking to wake up and gather food for lunch. We walked over the small arch bridge then through the snow, down to the old Church and Cemetery. The Bageri was open so we bought a loaf of wheat bread. Back up the hill on the main village road, we went up to the big store, the ICA. A few bananas and some vegetable soup in jars. The clerk, a young guy, looked at the jars and said, “This is very boring soup.”
What is boring about it we asked? He said that the taste was plain and boring. We told him that we were probably boring people and we bought the two bottles.
Back at home base the warm sun had begun to flood through the window. Cat mixed one jar of the boring soup with the left over pasta and it was anything but boring. By the time we finished our soup we were drowsy. We just lounged and watched old TV sitcoms like Cheers.
About 4:00 the door bell rang. We knew that it was probably Staffan. When I opened the door he said, “Here is your Birthday Present,” as he handed me two rolls of toilette paper. We had a good laugh then I got my wallet out to pay our days rent and he said, “No, no rent for today, another Birthday gift.”
(Movie: Gift from Staffan 0:55)
(Movie: SWEDISH "You Must Be Crazy" 0:12)
Well I, we were flabbergasted. What a wonderful thought on their part, he and Eva Marie. W stood and talked, we told him about the clerk saying that the soup was boring and he said, “Not to you,” as he looked at Cat. “You’re a vegetarian.”
When Cat asked how he knew he said, “I have been reading your web-site.”
Geez, two wonderful gifts. My art, our art is our Odyssey and the stories we write about it and our experiences. This was as good a gift as anyone could have given to me.
We told Staffan that we were definitely leaving in the morning. He said, “Okay, but if not, just call.” We knew that he was joking yet we also knew that he meant it. What a great guy.
The quandary about what to do for dinner was solved. Staffan told us that he had a slight head ache, his Sister-in-Law had her birthday and they celebrated last night. Cat asked about Restaurants that were open and he suggested Harry’s. We had walked passed the place and thought it looked pretty good. His suggestion was all it took, Harry’s it was.
The place is almost more a bar than restaurant. Strange, when the sweet young girl brought our appetizer it was on a Sushi dish. She told Cat that the place had been a Sushi Bar but it went broke and the new owner was still using their dishes. Well, Sushi for Cat on her Birthday and Sushi Plates for me, on mine.
October 7, 2002
Esa Races Horses, in the Snow?
It is really beginning to look a lot like winter. The light through the window doesn’t even start to show until 7:00 AM. At first peak we thought we might be stuck here for another day. It was dry but the heavy overcast was part of the reason the sun had so much trouble waking up. The puddles I the driveway were frozen solid. The thermometer registered a minus 6 Celsius. That left no doubt baby, it was cold outside.
Our cozy little room felt like home. I cut fruit, boiled eggs and made coffee. We ate and watched Euro News, same stories as last night. I think we just like hearing English spoken rapidly even though Brit style.
It seems like weeks since we have been on the bikes. Well, it has been, except for the 3 days before the snow began to fall. We repacked all the bags. It was 10:30 by the time we had them on the bikes. A couple girls loaded their car and asked where in the world we were going on bikes at this time of the year.
Staffan came by for a goodbye. What a wonderful guy he is. He asked if we had seen the old Church, it was built in the 1100s. We stood in awkward silence for a minute then shook hands then hugged. He went to Cat and did the same handshake then hug. Then he had to help her get her gloves on. We are wearing all of the cold weather gear with the rain jackets on the outside. The new over mittens were giving her a problem.
Off we went, over the ice and snow in the driveway then up the steep hill toward the Main Street. We had to push the last 100 yards. Our first stop was Peak Performance. We wanted to get head covers that would keep our ears and face warm. They had some in thin fleece. We tried then bought. The girls were really nice. We gave them our cards and they gave us a 50% discount.
Finally we were off. We pedaled up the steep hill toward Highway E 14. The nice guy who had served us wine and quiche yesterday waved as we passed. Just as he probably thought that we were extremely tough we had to walk the bikes again. He continued to smile and wave.
The crest of the steep was confusing, we mounted up and rode a short distance then pushed up a dirt path to the Highway. At last we were on the road.
Not much traffic. We worked hard to avoid the black areas on the pavement. They were ice and we didn’t want to slip and fall. The ground looks even harder when it is this cold.
It is beautiful, the hills are pine trees with white snow on the boughs. It looks like a Christmas Ad in a slick, color magazine.
(Movie: Snow Cycling 0:29)
We had to stop several times to clear our nostrils. (A nice way of saying we snorted snot on the roadside.) I tried to blow on the go but almost blew myself over. The snot froze when I wiped it on my new red mitten.
The sign for Waterfall made us slow. We turned off the Highway onto a dirt road riddled with pot holes filled with frozen puddles. It was just a short ride to the Café that was closed. We could hear the falls, we could see the swirling water below the falls. That was as close as we would get. The road beyond the buildings was covered with snow and pretty steep. We both had to go, we left our mark on the snow and their bushes.
The cloud cover remained thick the whole day. We stopped just 25 Km from Are for lunch at a small Pizza Café. Cat asked the guy if he had soup. “No, I have lunch.” He answered. We ordered Spaghetti. He left then came right back and apologized, he was out of Spaghetti. We saw a plate at the next table with meat and French fries so asked for one like it. Great, he smiled and disappeared. We filled plates at his little salad bar and were just reseated when he set two dishes of meat patties and boiled potatoes in front of us. We decided to go with the flow. Although he seems to understand English it is becoming obvious that we are talking to ourselves. Actually though a little spicy, the Swedish meat balls were good and the potatoes filled us up.
Cat showed him the phone number for a Hotel in the next town and asked for a pay phone. He pulled his cell phone out and called. Yes, they have a room, no there is no Grocery Store in the small town.
There was a Store just across the street. We loaded up on food for dinner and some things for breakfast. The Hotel has a kitchen we can use. It must have been pretty funny watching us load the food. We opened every zipper pocket we could find on our jackets and rain coats and filled them with our purchases. There were 4 teenagers watching us. As we started out the door one said something. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to us so I asked, “Are you talking to me?”
They were typical looking, well except for one girl who had lots of metal punched into her flesh in every possible place near her face. The one who asked then wanted to know where we were from. We had a short, language hindered conversation. They all acted like they couldn’t believe we were from California. I had fun passing out our cards and inviting them to visit us on the Web-site and send us an e-mail to tell us what life was like in Sweden. I hope at least one of them will.
Back on board, we were pleasantly surprised at how warm we were. WE found that the rain coats were holding our sweat inside. Our hands were warm inside the two pair of gloves and our new mittens. Our feet stayed fairly comfortable, we were wearing the rain shoe covers and our heavy socks.
The total ride would only cover 40 Km but it felt like a lot more. Maybe it was the late start? Maybe the thick layer of clothing, we couldn’t say but we weren’t going to risk going another 30 Km. We pulled into Morsil at 3:30. The Hotel was locked up tight. We knocked on the door and peaked through the windows. No response.
We knew that the guy at the restaurant had spoken with the owners so we went searching for a telephone. What looked like a bank turned out to be a Library with a bank counter inside. The lady at the Bank Counter was of no help other than to direct us to the Librarian. She was nice but in a hurry. She did call the number and talk with the Inn Keeper who was at work in Ostersund. He would be at the Hotel in about an hour and a half.
A young girl was working on a computer. Cat asked the Librarian if we could use it and she said yes, after the girls is finished. Then she said, “But I must go now, I have a sick person at my home and I have to tend to them.”
Cat asked if we could stay inside and she said yes, and you may use the computer. We couldn’t believe it, she left then the girl finished on the computer and left. We had the Library to ourselves. The lady in the bank was still there but inside her cage. We got a free hour on the Web, answered 3 days worth of e-mails.
Our Librarian came back in just before 5:00. She told us the bad news, she had to close the place. We asked her to call but she seemed like we were imposing. “He will be there soon.”
Well when you’re standing out in the cold soon may have a different meaning than when you’re waiting in a car. She did tell us that the Baguri was open until 6:00. If the Hotel people aren’t there we’ll just go eat sweets until they get home.
There were lights on at the Hostel. The door was open. I pushed the little door bell button as directed by the sign. Footsteps then a man opened a little wooden door. He spoke pretty good English, we were in luck. Also, he told us we were the only guests this evening. We filled out his check in sheet then he told us it was okay to just leave the bikes in the small entry area.
Like a salesman, he checked his watch then said, “Sorry, I must leave now, I must feed my horses.” Cat asked if he rides and he said, “No, they are my hobby. They are Race Horses.” More things in common to talk about since Cat’s Mom and Dad go to the Horse Races a lot. They live near Santa Anita. Eva, that’s his name, said he knew of Santa Anita but his horses are Trotters, they pull the sulkies. Yes, he also bets the ponies. He told us of a day, he made it sound recent, when he and some friends hit for 387000 Kronor. That is a big hit, in US Dollars it hits about $40,000.
Cat cooked in the common kitchen that we have to ourselves. I typed in the grand dining room. Large enough to serve at least 50 with a lounge seating area at one end, overstuffed couch and chairs. It is all a little dowdy but not bad, considering. Dinner was good, including the two pizzas we had as hors d'ouvres.
A guy we hadn’t seen before came in and let a wooly little dog go in the room. He was a neighbor of Esa’s. They had just come in from feeding. He spent a couple of minutes exercising his limited English then took his dog under his arm and took leave as Esa entered.
Esa is and interesting guy. His English is good, in a strange sounding way. He was born in Finland then his family moved to Australia when he was 7 and lived there until he was 15. A curious blend of Finnish, Scandinavian and Assie talk. And, he was 45 yesterday, yes, his birthday is on October 6 like mine and my friend, Don Hunt’s.
We chatted then he took leave as he had to get up at 6:00 to get to work. He did tell us that he would probably go watch the horses run tomorrow night. It sounded interesting but Cat vetoed the idea because they are run at night, in the cool, cool, cool of the evening.
October 8, 2002
In to Ostersund
We had the huge house to ourselves. Cat foraged around and we used up most of the junk we had bought. Breakfast was basically a sweet roll with coffee. We pushed out Esa’s door and down past the Library in cold air under overcast skies. Our goal today is Ostersund. It lies 65 Km down the lonely, cold road. Not much development here. Lots of farms and forests. We pedaled, it drizzled a little, we pedaled more.
After 2 hours we came upon a Restaurant/Grill and pulled in as a truck pulled off the highway. The driver jumped out and ran to the door then turned and looked back at us. The place was closed. Onward, in just 500 Meters we saw the same truck pull in and park. It was a sign to us that he knew the territory and had found food. The place was a Hamburger Stand. They offered only Hamburgers. We ordered the smallest patty, 90 Gr. And turned our coats inside out and spread our wet things on the table behind us and over our chairs. The driver got his order and nodded to us. The cook had a strange accent so I had to ask. He is from Lebanon and is pretty opinionated. He said he thinks people in his country are stupid. Killing and blowing up so many buildings only brought misery, no change or better life. He says it is still not a good place to live. He likes the weather better there but now he has children and wants them to be safe.
As we exited the rain came in earnest. I put the raincoat on but went without the pants. The rain gear really rides hot. Dry but so hot that you sweat and you’re wet anyway. We struggled up and away from the stand then through a series of ups and downs. I saw a sign that I thought said, “Bicycle Trail.” Cat confirmed it and we turned to the right. She thought it would be a mistake because we have had such bad luck on trails, they tend to be more up and down and we have had enough of that for today.
It was pretty pleasant, we were on a country road but there were colorful farms and houses along the road. As we rode past one a lady called out her approval then yodeled in our honor. It was a real spirit boost. We also began to collect a lot of horn honks and waves. The road did narrow for about 3 Km due to a large pipeline construction job. They had the right side pretty much covered with a trench and the dirt from it. Several big buses passed us. They are almost too large for the narrow little road. One almost seemed to lose it, we thought he was headed for the ditch but he pulled back in a cloud of dust.
All of the pleasantries made it seem a little warmer. The sun shone through as we entered Ostersund. We pedaled up the ups of the main street and found the Tourism Office. It was large and full of displays and brochures. The girl was very patient, she went through the list of Hotels starting with the most expensive. We found a Hostel that was central and cheap. It was near a Hotel that was a little more so we decided to cycle there and check them out.
Confused, we tried to follow the map but found that the Hotel wasn’t on the street where the map said it would be. Then we rode down to the Hostel only to find that it was the Hotel. The front desk was on the upper floor. A nice young girl greeted us and cleared up the mystery, it was both the Hotel and Hostel. The difference was that the Hotel rooms had private baths. Well you could get a private bath in the Hostel, too but it would cost more and it was across the hall from the room. So, confusion reigned, again. We took the Hostel room with the toilet and bath across the hall.
Questions about whether we could bring the bikes in and keep them in the room were all answered after she made a call to the manager. This was her first week on the job and we were presenting problems that weren’t in the manual. After three calls we finally negotiated the deal, the bikes wouldn’t have to stay in the garage or the downstairs kitchen. They would sleep with us, in our room.
The next problem was getting them up the stone stairs and into the Hostel/Hotel then on up the two flights to our room. It was a struggle and took team work.
Our friend at the Tourism Office had mentioned her favorite restaurant and it happened to be just across the street. After a shower we walked over and learned that it was probably the most expensive place in town, too. We were seated at a window on an exterior wall. It was cold so we asked to move and took a lesser place in a warmer location. The food was good and the people watching excellent. Most of the patrons were women that looked like they were just ending a busy shopping day.
Our room looked like the bike bags had blown up in our faces. We had stuff spread over all of the beds. The bikes took up their space, too. We had to sit on one of the beds and watch our tiny screen television over the top of the bikes.
October 9, 2002
Up the Freeway of Life, Out of Ostersund
I watched a guy scrape the thick ice off of his windshield as I checked the weather. It was 7:30, cold and grey out in the alley that we see from our window. The breakfast that cost 40 Kronor was just so, so. We have become quite fond of soft boiled eggs but we like our eggs hot. These were cold but when I asked, the man in charge made some more without grumbling. He didn’t smile about it but he didn’t seem to complain, either, unless he was cursing me under his breath and I didn’t get it?
We laughed because our five bed bedroom looked like the bike bags had been blown up. We had stuff scattered everywhere. We loaded and rolled, well, bumped down the stairs and pushed back up the hill to the tourism office. They suggested that a Hotel in Bracke was the only hope we had. It was only a 65 Km ride but we though it would be okay, the way our legs felt. For some reason, we really got tired out yesterday. We’re blaming it on the 5 layers of cloths we wore to stay warm.
We used their computer to check e-mails. It was obvious by the flurry of messages, that Wally had put the Greenland story up. We spent an hour on the machine, they charged 20 Kr for 10 minutes. How the time flies when you’re paying for it. Wow, it cost 100 Kr. That’s more than $10.00 US. By the time we were out front and on board the sun was shining and the frost was retreating to only the shadiest of places.
Out of Ostersund is pretty much an uphill pull, away from the lake. We rode most of it on bike paths. At a round about we took the route marked E 14 and headed down an on ramp. We passed signs of all sorts with circles around them. A tractor, a horse pulled wagon, a motor scooter, even a bicycle. We ignored them. Cat was worried. We pulled up and discussed the issue, checked to make sure we were headed the right way then pedaled on up the hill. A Polise Car passed us and didn’t even blink his lights. One small car blared his horn in disapproval but we persisted. Another car came by and tooted, it could have been any one of three messages. 1. Way to go, keep up the good work, 2. Be careful out there, or, 3. Get off the road you F------ Jerks!. We chose to accept number 1 and 2.
The sun soon diminished and the chill returned to the air. We were snug as bugs in rugs except the sweat was running down our backs. Our late start prompted an early lunch. We took our rain cloths and cycling jackets off and hung them up inside out in the cloak room. Sure odorized the place. A cute blond and a nice young guy gave halting directions in English that wasn’t that familiar to them. We got the gist and went to the counter to order. We could sit anywhere except the rear area that was reserved for a group. Interesting concept, they offer only two entrées, chicken or sausages. We chose chicken and enjoyed a nice little salad bar, too. The whole thing cost 12 Kr, a good value.
Once back in gear we just pedaled. Not that the scenery wasn’t gorgeous, it was. But, we are getting tired of cottages and red barns with white trim. And, how many trees can you see and continue to enjoy them? Sorry Joyce Kilmer but we are really just getting ready to get on to another place, a different scene. I told Cat it was like cycling from Bonner Ferry, Idaho to Sandpoint and back, day after day. Picturesque but a lot of sameness.
The after noon was an up and down roller of a grind. Sweat going up and chill to the bone in the wind as we descend. It was after 5:00 and getting dark when we finally found our way into Bracke`. The hotel was cute in a Swedish sort of way. A colorful hallway with wood trim and lots of Swedish bric a brac on small plate shelves.
Cat was worried because she had only seen a Cafeteria. I checked, they did have a Restaurant. I reserved a table for 2 at 7:00 then cycled out into the drizzle to get a bottle of wine while Cat warmed herself in a hot shower.
Dinner was good, the server was very cute in her attempts to find English words. We thought about how a Swede would feel if they came into our office in Oxnard and only spoke Swedish. How would we help them? We had no source of words to search through. Well maybe Ole Olson could dredge up enough to get a small conversation going?
There were two parties, one an older group that Cat had seen in conference earlier and another younger crowd. The young ones were having Moose meat in an appetizer so I had to try some, too. We did get a conversation with one daring guy. He explained that they were here studying the basic course with their Union. They were Dairy Workers, Construction Workers and some who worked in Nursing Homes. A strange combination?
We caught the end of a cute movie, Trixie. At least I caught it, Cat zonked. Then another sort of English language film came on. It was in Scotland. The players were very hard to understand. I started nodding and finally shut it down and zonked out, too.
October 10, 2002
Cycling in the SNOW?
Great news when we peaked out the window at 7:00, the sun was struggling to come up through the grey cloud cover, it wasn’t raining, it hadn’t snowed during the night and there was no wind. The start of another beautiful day in Sweden.
Cat cranked the heat up to broil, to dry the last of our wet cloths. Pretty soon it was like a wet sauna. Breakfast was included and it too was pretty good. We’re off to a pretty good start.
We took a picture with Evert, the guy who worked so hard trying to get our phone connected to the computer last night. A really nice guy, he takes care of all maintenance and lots of other things around Hotel Jamtkrogen.
It was just a couple of blocks to the Tourism Office at the Train Station. The girl there was very helpful. She even called a place about 70 Km down the road to make sure we would have a place to stay. The place and it is the only place, is 1.8 Km off the highway. We were worried about having to go into town for groceries then back out to the place. The woman offered to give us the room, dinner and breakfast for 665 Kronor. It sounded good but we were afraid to book so we promised to call her from Borgsjo, the half way point for today.
The road followed the river out of town then swings to the left and up. Not a huge up but a long slow pull. As we neared the summit the air thickened. Cat yelled out that I should put my rain coat on. I had decided to try riding with out the rain coat and pants today. They make us sweat like we’re in a sauna suit. I stopped when a passing car had his wipers going and started to get them out of the bag when we felt the first drops. In fact as I struggled with the bag the drops became flakes. Small at first but we were soon in snowflakes like feather falling from the heavens. Amazing, we are really seeing the weather and we see a new pattern about every 20 minutes.
The huge flakes were turning the ground white, quickly. The road was just wet but we began to worry about how we would get down off the hilltop if it continued. Well, like they say, “If you don’t like the weather, stick around for 20 minutes, it’ll change.” The flakes became little pellets of ice. They were coming down fast and were wind driven, right into our faces. That too changed and in another 20 minutes we were in light rain. It had been 3 hours and we were in a ferocious, chill to the bone head wind. Hunger set in so we got down behind the bikes and ate the bread, ham and cheese Cat had pilfered from the breakfast spread.
The break did nothing as far as the wind was concerned. We rolled into Borgsjo and up to the Tourist Info Office. It was 2:00 PM and we figured it would take another 3 hours to get to Stode, our target for the day. It didn’t take much to convince ourselves that we should just stay here, if they have a room.
The gals at the Tourism Office, Annki Hogberg and Elvy Bodlund, were great. They called and told the lady in Stode that we wouldn’t be there tonight but may stop tomorrow if the weather and/or the topography weren’t better than it had been to us today. Cat booked a room at the restaurant next door while I checked our e-mails. They didn’t even mention a charge for computer time and they loved our web-site.
We ate a big lunch, considering that we had our sandwich just a half hour earlier. The special was white bean soup. It was really good on this cold windy day. They even threw in Swedish Pancakes, our first since Franklin and Aura cooked for us in San Francisco.
Per-Martin Eriksson and his wife Marti own and operate the place. They let us store the bikes in a large meeting room down stairs near the shower. It’s kept locked. He is really concerned for us and doesn’t want anything to turn up missing. The toilets downstairs and the showers are shared with the folks in the cabins and campsites out back.
The room is tiny but clean and adequate. The toilets are shared and the shower is down stairs and shared with the campers. You can get to it through the restaurant or from a door around behind the building. We were quite a parade, walking through the Café with our ditty bags and clean cloths.
For our next spectacle, we paraded back through the restaurant with our dirty cloths. Macke showed us how to work the machine but had to admit that he really didn’t know that much about it either. We think that he and his wife run the place. They have owned it for 2 ½ years. She must be in charge of linen and he the kitchen. They have a couple of employees, too.
So we have a view of the lake and the trees dressed in yellow and gold. It is 6:00 PM, Cat just called out down the hall, “It’s raining again.” We’re headed for dinner then get a good nights sleep and dream of the 100 degree weather that Cat’s parents told us about in their e-mail.
Strange, I was sure that the last paragraph would be the end of our day, however, when we ordered dinner from the tall thin young guy named Par he told us he had just started to work here yesterday. He has experience but wants to eventually go to school in Stockholm and become a Bartender. We talked about the negative side of that business, the late hours and the customers who can be so demanding. His dream is a small neighborhood bar. I mentioned Cheers, he smiled and said, “Yes.” Cat asked if he wanted maybe Spain. Well, he has a dream and is working toward its culmination.
The meal we ordered was really surprising. This is like a truck stop Café to us. The boy brought the Salmon out on a board that has been in the oven. The fish is on top of a fish shaped ring of mashed potatoes. It's covered with béarnaise sauce and there were dollops of caviar, black and salmon. When we told the boy how much we liked it he called Macke out. He was so pleased that he had Marita, the Chef and his wife come and talk with us. We had no problem telling her that it was the best meal we have had in Sweden. (Check for details of the recipe in “Cookin’ with Cat”) The place is called Traporten which means “The Gate to the Forests.”
He is a proud man, he told us about their home. It had been in his family for three generations and was built in the 1700s. He took me to the back room of the restaurant and pointed out the skull of a long horned bull. These are our cattle, we raise them. I said it looked like Scottish long horns and he was very excited. They are Scottish Highland Cattle. They have a herd of 42. They raise them only for use in the restaurant.
He is also, in a way, a man like our friend Helge in Denmark. Macke also likes simple things in life. He told us of a man who lived most of his life here and worked in the lumber and construction businesses. When this man with large hands retired he began to carve. Unlike his hands, his work was small and detailed.
Another facet of his life is working in or at least growing timber on his place. He is going hunting for Moose this weekend. Cat sort of winced when he talked about hunting. We had a conversation earlier about cutting trees and he told us that the trees would die anyway and they always plant more than they cut. He told us that they have a saying that, “The man who plants a tree has a good life.” As for the moose, Cat agreed that it too would die if left so it may be as well, If it is put to good use and not just a trophy. (We have to remember that Cat was a vegetarian just a few short months ago.)
Matri’s Father is 75 and still drives tractor and works on the farm. We told him about Cat’s Father, Earl who told us he would never use the computer but has become so good on it that he sent us a wonderful message about Sweden today. I have mentioned the temperature in Celsius so he told us that the measurement was devised here in Sweden by a Doctor in the 1700s. The Doctor was named Celsius. Well, Marti asked if I could tend bar. He has a band tomorrow night. I told him my thoughts about how tough the job is and why I wouldn’t want to be a Bartender. He wanted me to help him tomorrow. Who knows, it could be fun.
Then, he invited us to come to his farm tomorrow and visit his Highland Cattle. I’m sure that we will. This is the kind of experience that we always hope for.
WOW, a day that started off slowly and gradually bogged down had now become one of the more wonderful experiences of Sweden.
October 11, 2002
Swedish Highland Cattle?
Maybe we’re getting used to these small beds or maybe we were just tired. We hope we’re not getting too used to sleeping in separate beds. I was awake early then dozed back off. It was still almost dark when we peaked out onto a dry, cold looking pastoral scene with the river beyond.
Macke came into his office, room 8 across from our room 10, (That’s Rum in Swedish.) about 8:00 AM. We could smell the restaurant beginning to bake and fry. He acknowledged us as we passed by in the hall but was on the phone. We took our now regular seat in the corner with a view. He came to the table and asked when we wanted to come see his cattle. We told him his time was our time. He is preparing a trailer house they own for towing. They are taking it up to a winter place, a place where they go to hunt and ski. He said, “When you are ready the boy here will call and let us know you are coming. If you are later I will come to get you.”
We had boiled eggs and a platter of cheese and ham. As we began to eat Macke came back with a few slices of dark brown meat. He told us it was Moose but prepared a special way. It is a treat to see him struggle to find English words to tell us about it. They salt the meat and let it cure for 3 days then rub it with herbs and dried blueberries. It is dry but has a wonderful taste. Our first taste of Moose.
We were slow, almost finished when Macke came back and drove us to their place. We walked out to the pasture and met his herd. He called them almost like children in a soothing falsetto voice. They acknowledged him and came toward us. What beautiful beasts. He has never been to Scotland but saw the breed and fell in love with them. He says that the young calves are like Teddy Bears and he just wants to hug them. He cautioned us to watch where we stepped then he slipped and slid in a big Scottish Highland surprise.
It was a quick trip, we met Marti’s father and at least 35 of his 42 cattle then he whisked us back to Traporten. We completed loading then watched the two slide presentations that Annki wanted us to see. We were so impressed with the woman’s voice that we bought a CD that features her and friends.
Finally, on the road by 11:30, we haven’t been in a hurry because we decided to ride only to Strode, about 40 Km away. Per Macke’s suggestion we rode on the old Highway. It was more scenic but had its ups and downs. We decided that if we had this weather we could definitely make it to Russia but then, we know how volatile that can be.
We rolled through the village of Frantsa and onto E 14. The ups were longer but much less severe and the downs were heavenly. Hunger ground us to a stop at the cross road that leads to a town called Torpshammar. We just stood next to the bikes and ate the bread, meat and cheese that we had packed after breakfast.
Onward, we only rode about 10 Km and stopped at a small restaurant next to a service station. Cat talked us into just having a couple of sweets since we had just devoured the sandwiches less than a half hour ago. The girl there wanted to know about us. We learned that her brother is in Tonga with his girlfriend and they are going to Thailand in a couple of weeks. They won’t be back home until Christmas. These Europeans are very adventuresome.
Another 10 Km or so and we were in Strode. We stopped at the ICA Grocery Store for bananas and replacement for our shampoo that was lost night before last.
The B&B is 3 Km out of town. I was the most strenuous part of today’s ride. A little swoop down then indecision. Cat went into a service station and checked. "Yes," the guy said, "up the hill and ahead to the pink house, then turn left and go straight." We did that but felt lost several times. Each time we thought about retracing our route another B&B sign would pop up and we would keep riding. The final mile was on dirt road. When we finally got inside the farm the Donkey, Julius, that Cat had read about and his horse friend both sort of chased after us.
Pia Kallman and her husband Kjell (Pronounced Chell) Johansson are farmers. Hey have owned the place for 6 ½ years. They started the B&B just 3 years ago. She said that the first year wasn’t very good but it has been great since.
When I put the bikes in the shop she had to shoo the big Rooster away. “He is angry,” she said. “He protects his women.” He was pretty aggressive. I was glad she shielded me from his wrath. They also have pigs and cattle. Kjell races Trotters like Esa but he is best with sleighs rather than sulkies. In fact, Esa may also race with sleighs, too. It makes sense in this almost Arctic Circle place.
We settled in and hit the computers. Neither rain nor sleet nor a beautiful farm can stop the fleeting fingers of WorldRiders2. We spent an hour on dueling computers.
Dinner was like living on a farm. Pia is a very basic appearing gal but when we talked she told us of her time at University and a job in Journalism that she feels may have contributed to her bad knees. Eventually she feels that she will have to have replacements. Kjell has felled a tree and spent a lot of time cutting it into sections then hauling them in and splitting then with a splitter attachment on his Volvo Tractor. He worked until after 8:00 PM getting the firewood inside.
Cat asked about a smoking chimney on the shop building. Pia told us that the heater for the house is there and they can burn wood or use electricity. They try to burn wood as much as possible because it is a lot less expensive.
What a treat. A modern house in the country. Great shower, a whole upstairs area to ourselves and CNN on the Television. This is livin’!
October 12, 2002
Pia’s Pigs, Piano Concert in Sundsvall
We heard Kjell’s alarm at 4:30 and his departure at 5:00. He is off to hunt for moose. Pia told us that they hunt in a team of 18 guys. The one who shoots the moose gets the best fillets.
Breakfast was farmhand hearty. The house is clean, the upstairs area is spotless. Downstairs, the living room and kitchen are cluttered. She’s a country girl but hasn’t always been. She lived in Stockholm for quite a while. Her daughter Christina is 30 years old and has a 12 year old son, Christopher. She beams when she talks of them. Marco is her new son-in-law. They were just married this summer. Of course we saw the picture.
She told us that Christina came to her when she was 19 years old. Then in that wonderful Swedish accented lilt she said, “Christopher he comes to her at 19th year, too. Ve are same, Mother and Daughter.” What a nice way to describe having a child.
Pia gave us a tour of the barnyard and an intro to all of her animals. I wanted to get a video of the angry rooster but he and his women were inside their house. She did tell us of her goose that used to be angry but one of the cows stepped on it and it has a bad leg, now. She thought it got what it deserved because it has been so bad.
Kjell’s love of horses goes back to the tradition of using them in the woods to skid logs. He works with his team in the summer which supplements their income. She admits that they can’t make a very good living just farming. That’s why she started the B&B three years ago. At first it wasn’t very good but that this year she was booked all summer long. I couldn’t help but wish that we could somehow bring our grandkids to a place like this for a few days. Most kids, in fact most people today think that meat comes from factories in little cellophane packages.
(Movie: Pia's Pigs 1:18)
(Movie: Amadeus Et Al 2:43)
When I was setting up the camera for a picture together one of her cats jumped up on my back. Very funny but then she really dug her claws in as I stood up. I thought she might tear my jacket. She finally jumped.
We were finally on the dirt road backtracking through the gorgeous countryside. The ride back into town seemed shorter. Maybe because we knew exactly where we were going. Pia had estimated 45 Km to Sundsvall. It was cool and threatening rain.
Back on good old E 14 we just pulled the long slow ups and wheeled down the back sides. It was supposed to be more down than up but didn’t seem so.
Cat wanted a toilet and we finally found a small store/café at the cross road to Tuna. Cool name for a town? The store didn’t have a toilet, the lady had her come back out and go in the door to the left. It was the Café. The two were connected behind the counters and the same lady ran both. It was noon and I needed food. A 90 kg Burger, fries and a soft drink for me. I had to go around to the store to get the drink. She rang it up and I was shocked at the 55 Kr price until I realized that it was for everything.
The rest of the ride was a consistent up and down effort in persistent rain. Slowly we began to feel houses and humanity clustering along E 14. At a covered bus stop a man stepped out and signaled for us to stop. He was curious then insisted that we go directly to the News Paper and report our trip to them. He wouldn’t listen to much of what we had to say, he was adamant that we were newsworthy. He clung to us and continued to talk in such a thick accent that we could barely understand him. Each time we would start to leave he would lay his hand on the bike or my arm and start a new unintelligible story. We finally just had to say, “Bye, bye,” and ride away.
The heart of Sundsvall is a study in architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. Lots of stone buildings around a central square. It was raining fairly hard as we rolled in. A crowd stood in the rain watching a demonstration of one of those miracle machines that chop and dice vegetables and fruits. They would cheer and clap. He must have been a great salesman to hold them in the downpour. A group of young boys stood blocking the way and staring at us. I asked a man who appeared to be the leader where we would find the Tourism Office. He pointed across the square. Cat was already on her way there, she had figured it our. Unfortunately, it was 2:30 and the office had closed at 2:00 PM.
Riding on the cobblestone in the rain is interesting. We cruised the main walking street then asked a young guy, standing just outside a Coffee House smoking in the cover of the eves, where we would find a Hotel. He gave us inexplicit directions the most easily understood being to go back the way we had come from and turn right at a water fountain. We passed the Tourism Office and began looking for a fountain. Trying to get our bearings, we stopped and there it was, just a block to the left, a Comfort Hotel.
It was a beautiful small Hotel and they had one room. Sometimes we feel like we’re blessed when things like this occur. Johanna, the gal at the desk said “It has only one bed, will that be okay?” She even had us store the bikes in a library off the lobby.
Another treat, a real shower with a glass door and unlimited hot water. While Cat showered I went back to get some things from the bikes. When I entered the lobby the place resounded with the sounds of a classical piano. I hadn’t even remembered seeing a piano but there it was in the library. A guy in a stocking cap sat at the keyboard with his back to the door. I felt badly that our bikes were taking up so much room and spoiling his act or his chance of drawing an audience. I asked Sandra, another of our friends at the desk, if he was hired by the Hotel. Amazingly she said he had just stopped in one day last week and asked if he could practice on the piano and had been coming every day since.
(Movie: Abed Concerto 2:57)
His name is Abed Monsov and he is here from Bruit, Lebanon. We had a language problem but he got a little across to me. He’s been here working some sort of job for 4 weeks. He will present a concert in 6 weeks. Very mysterious, very talented.
We made it to the SystemBloget just at closing time, for wine then enjoyed a happy hour in our comfortable room before dinner. We walked to dinner through the cool but dry night air. The crowd was a mix of formal to Levis’, I felt fine in my black cycling jacket and black shower slippers. The food was Italian, of course.
October 13, 2002
Slow Boat to Vasa
A great night’s sleep on a large double bed then another shower in the morning, just because we could. Breakfast is included and was the Piece d’ Resistance of our Comfort Hotel stay. A large buffet on a small boat.
There was a team of semi pro Floor Ball players in the breakfast room. One of them told me that Floor Ball is popular in Europe and especially in Sweden. They draw a paying crowd of about a thousand and it is growing. They all have to keep their day jobs but are hopeful that it will continue to grow and so will their salaries. It sounds sort of like hockey on wood floor without skates.
(Movie: Bookin' the Boat 1:34)
The bus station is just across from Comfort Hotel. We walked over and talked with the driver of a beautiful big bus. He told us that he could take us but with bikes it would be better to take bus 10 at 1:20 or 5:20 PM to Harnosand where we are to catch the boat to Finland tonight.
We got a lot of e-mail overnight due to the message that Wally sent out to people on our list. It was great but we ran out of time trying to answer them. In fact we had to run out of the Hotel to get to the bus in time.
It was another of the big blue buses but with an interesting twist. Carl, the driver, took our fares and looked in his book but couldn’t find a listing for the cost to take bikes on board so he said, “I will take for no cost.” Then he had us roll them around to the back of the bus where he let a tailgate down and opened a cargo area. He and I rode the gate up while holding onto the bikes then strapped them in the bay with the bags still on. Carl says the bus is just 3 months old and a new concept because they haul so many packages as freight along with their normal passengers. What a terrific idea.
(Movie: Carl's Bus 1:12)
For only 120 Kr. We were transported in the upper floor of the bus, through the colorful countryside to Harnosand in just 40 minutes. Along the way we put the tray tables at our seats down and ate the ham sandwiches Cat had made from the pilfered products lifted from the breakfast buffet.
Carl repeated the tailgate process and dropped us in to a drizzle at the Harosand Bus Station. He pointed to a green building and told us that was the ticket office for the Boat. Nobody there, he waved as the bus pulled out and we stood in the rain. So, back to the office. It's just around the dock system about 1 Km away but they aren’t open and won’t be until an hour before departure.
We could see a Hotel, the First Hotel, just across the water channel. It was a ride in the rain but what a nice guy Martin, the desk clerk was. He gave Cat a key card to the garage so we could put them in out of the rain. The drive was steep and slippery in our cleats but it was great to be in a dry place. We took our computers up to an unused dining area and set up office. Pressing the hospitality to the limit, we asked about bringing our bottle of wine in. He was reluctant due to tough liquor laws then said, “Sure, there won’t be anybody tonight.” We had an office and happy hour.
Dinner at the restaurant Martin recommended. It’s owned by the Hotel but about 2 blocks away. Two for one, it is a sports bar called O’Leary’s and a nice Restaurant. We sat in the bar and combined the menus. Another great deal for WetRiders2.
At 8:30 PM, we rode into the darkness with our little helmet tail lights flashing. It was dark, we got off the road onto a bike trail and were surprised at meeting other cycles in the darkness. Botnia Link’s ticket office was just a temporary building. We fell into a line of truck drivers waiting to get tickets. Pretty simple, especially since Johanna had actually made a reservation for us, not that there was a shortage of space.
Black as pitch, we rode away from the ticket office and then into the yawning mouth of the Ferry as Huge trucks roared and rolled past. A guy we had said hello to as he cycled away from the ticket office was there directing traffic. His name is Mike (Pronounced Meekay) and he was great at getting us positioned out of the way of the trucks and tying the bikes down.
(Movie: Boarding the Boat 0:58)
Up the 4 flights of stairs, across the deck and in to the Reception area. The girl there had such a great laugh it was infectious. Niina joked with the passengers ahead of us and we laughed even though we couldn’t understand a word of it. Our turn, she spoke very good English and really made us laugh.
We were checked into Cabin 7. As we unloaded we decided that we should ask if we would have bunk mates. The Cabin has 4 bunks and should be shared. Niina laughed again and said she was sure we wouldn’t because she was the one who decides. We were beginning to love that girl.
(Movie: Niina's Directions 1:01)
(Movie: FINNISH "You Must Be Crazy" 0:09)
Once in, we stood on the deck and watched as the hulking monster moved away from the dock and did a circular sweep out toward the open sea. Niina and Mike were at the desk when we got back in. We told them we were amazed at the size of the trucks that came on board. She asked if we would like to visit the Bridge and meet the Captain. Of course, what an opportunity. We would have to wait because Niina does KP duty, she has to clear the dishes after the more hearty passengers ate, at 10:30 PM which was actually 11:30 PM in Finland. Yes, we were headed into another time zone tonight, too.
Our visit to the Bridge was a nautical eye opener. The room is kept dark. We couldn’t even see the Captain when they introduced him. The First mate had a flash light so he gave us a look at their faces. Seems they keep the Bridge dark so they don’t confuse other ships who might mistake these lights for their running lights. They actually have the ship on auto pilot and just keep an eye on systems until they get into the shallow water near Vasa Harbor when they put her back on manual control from the wheel. Knowing that we
Were interested they invited us back up when they take back over at 4:00 AM. Then they laughed.
(Movie: Cruisin' in the Dark? 0:35)
(Movie: The Black Bridge 0:28)
Niina even gave us a tour of the ship’s crew’s quarters. Her job is Cafeteria Assistant, the plaque on her door said “Cat Ass.” We thought that was pretty funny but had to explain it to her. The cabin is about the same size as our #7 and it is all hers. She likes the life. She has driven the big trucks and worked on lots of boats. She lives in a small flat in Vasa but told us that she had recently sold her large house. ”Cat thinks divorce?” If you read this Niina, let us know.
We reset our watches to 12:00 midnight and hit the bunks.
October 14, 2002
Bombs in Helsinki and Bali
Niina’s scratchy voice sounded all too cheery as she came down the hall pounding on doors and singing out in Finlandic and Swedish. When she hit our door she sang, “Good Morning, Welcome to Finland.”
By the time we were dressed and down to the bikes most of the big trucks were already roaring away in the darkness. Yes, it was just as dark leaving the ship as it had been coming aboard last night. We did see Mike and wish him a goodbye but Niina was nowhere to be seen.
Another ride in the dark with tail lights blinking. Once the flurry of trucks was gone we had the road pretty much to ourselves as we crossed the bridge that connects the island where the boat ties up to the mainland. The main street, Kikkopuistikko, was dark and cold. We were looking for a small Hotel. The Astor had been recommended by some nice people in Sundsvall. On the way we saw The Radisson. I was hungry, I had taken my meds and when they hit bottom I need food. Strange, the girl in the lobby didn’t want us to leave the bikes there even though Breakfast is served across the street and there isn’t a place to keep them there. Then she told us to leave them in the Luggage Locker. She pushed a button at the desk and opened the door.
We walked through a tunnel under the street, lined with pink marble then up and elevator to Breakfast. It was a wonderful spread. We gorged. A couple of guys here on business from Holland wanted to know every thing about out trip. Their Company sells large diesel engines for generating electricity. The only disappointment was the price, 32 Euro Dollars that are almost equal to the value of US Dollars.
The digital sign we could see had the temp at 4 Celsius when we walked back out onto the street. We decided to walk to the Astor Hotel and check it out. Very European, we liked the look but when we talked about Internet Access the girl was almost embarrassed. It would cost 3 times the phone cost to use their system. The room rent is 125 E. We told her we would be back.
We were sure that the Radisson would be at least 200 E. The girl was sweet when we came to get the bikes. I asked, “If you had a room available today what would the rate be.”
Shock and surprise, a room here was 101 E and it would include the wonderful breakfast that we had just paid 32E for. We asked about the phone cost and she talked about a Hotel cost of 85 cents for the first pulse and a little less each pulse thereafter. As we tried to get the concept of pulses she said, “We have a Business Center here and you have free access to the Internet.”
“Can we see the room,” we asked with hidden reserve. Could this be true, could we actually have a room in this wondrous high rise for less than the cost of the cute place down the street and get unlimited access on their computer? There had to be a catch.
The room was fantastic. We snapped up the deal. It must have been two hours before they pried us off the computer because another guest wanted to use it. That alone was a savings of at least 50 Euro over what we would have paid at The Astor.
What a great feeling, to have a real shower. We walked the square, changed money in a close by Bank. The young blonde guy was cool, he told us the facts of banking and money in Finland and that they charge 7 Euro dollars to convert Swedish Kronor to E Dollars. He said everyone would charge the same. Then we told him about our reason for being here and he said that if we were customers of the bank it would only be 3.5 E’s. Then he said, “Let’s just make it the 3.5, okay?”
Late lunch, then a shopping spree, pants for Pat. My Cargo pants purchased in Santa Barbara have a huge grease mark the shape of the sprocket on the leg. They have been replaced but we will keep the shorts, the pants with the legs zipped off. Now, I have two pair of shorts in a place where, like the sun, they went out of style 2 months ago.
Two typists, sitting and enjoying English language TV and a view of the Vasa skyline.
Dinner in the Hotel Restaurant, pretty good. A gal at the adjacent table who we thought was on business helped us with the menu. Language is really different here and it seems that fewer people speak English.
We ended a pretty good but long day by watching CNN. No real news we hadn’t already seen. An explosion in Helsinki has now been blamed on a kid? They say he got the ability to build the bomb off the internet? He killed 5 others and himself? Some bad can come from good things? Oh yea, they are saying that Al Quaida was behind the bombing in Bali, that one killed 187. Some times it may be better not to watch the news?
October 15, 2002
CCC Cold and CCC Colder
The same breakfast we paid 32.50 for yesterday is included today. Another trip through the ornate tunnel and back into the across the street dining room. Different, it was busy today. We loaded up on breakfast then loaded up for lunch. Well we took 4 rolls and some cheese and ham. We don’t feel badly, we see some of the others carrying more than that on each of their several trips to the trough.
I stopped to check our messages. It was 9:30 by the time I got back to the room. The lady at the desk this morning was very interested in our journey and promised to send us an e-mail.
Hard to believe that we were up at 7:30 but it was 10:30 by the time we got out the door into the cold, cold air. Down the street, left at the square then through town and onto a bike trail. The digital thermometer bid us adieu with 2 degree salute.
The street becomes a freeway but there is a very good bicycle path that runs adjacent. We missed the trail and had to push across the grass median and all 4 lanes. Just as we were exiting into countryside Cat’s bike began to act up. It wouldn’t shift. I tried to clean off some of the accumulated grease and it helped for a while. We were stopping and starting every few minutes trying to get it to work.
At about 10 Km out we came upon a service station, mini mart. I bought a can of lighter fluid and put some on the chain and gears then used paper towels to clean off some of the grease. It worked when I spun it so we set off, again.
Within 2 Km it quit again. We made it to the outskirts of Laihia, and to another service station. They were installing new tires on a car and using a power washer to clean the rims. We went inside, got a table and took some of our road gear off then I asked if he would spray Cat’s chain and gear rings. Tommy, spoke very good English. He really put the hot water to the gears, from a distance and cleaned them off. The shifter was still acting up, the drive belt was greasy and slipping. It was too cold to mess with.
(Movie: Tommy Hot Spray 0:19)
I went inside, sat next to the heater and ordered a weird looking sandwich on a Rye bun with a hard fried egg and piece of ham in it. Cat nibbled on one of our pilfered bread and cheeses. I had to go to the Toilet. Strange, I thought, a service station, that doesn’t have a urinal? When I stepped back out the door a woman was standing there and Cat said, “You went into the Woman’s Toilet.”
Well, that was good for a laugh and reason to talk with her and the others at the table. They shook their heads in disbelief and told us for the umpteenth time how nice summer was and how this is the wrong time of year for cycling here.
I went out to re-install the bags I had removed from Cat’s bike while Tommy sprayed. The group from the next table was there so I asked about a Hotel nearby. Yes, just 3 Km ahead in the village. Back inside, Cat and I discussed our options. It is still 50 Km to Kurikka, the next place with a Hotel and we are miserably slow when her bike doesn’t shift. The vote was 2 to 0 to stop in Laihia for the night and I will switch out the shifter belt and see if we can’t get it working.
Pedaling into the village, the temperature seemed to plummet downward. I thought it was the wind chill factor. The wind had kicked up to about 15 Km per hour and it was in our faces. Even with the face masks on we both began to get that dull ache between our eyes from the cold. About that time the lazy shifter began to work again. Maybe it was cold blooded or the grease had frozen solid? That didn’t matter now, our die was cast. We were here for the night.
We stopped at a store and the one across the street had a digital with golden numbers showing 0.2 Celsius. (Yes that’s two tenths of a degree above zero.) We asked the clerk for directions to the Hotel. She signaled that she didn’t understand English. She called out to a couple of young guys who were going out the door. One said, “I can show you the Hotel,” then he began to walk away?
“Do you want me to follow,” I asked and he nodded. “How far are we going,” I asked as we rounded the corner of the building.
“It is there,” he said with pride. The Hotelli Ravintola was just next door. It was a nice place. The girl at the desk spoke very cute English, too. Cute in the sense that she left words out and spoke in incorrect tenses but she tried and we could understand her.
What a deal, out of the cold and into a warm shower for only 62.50 Euro and that includes breakfast, too.
The TV spoke perfect English on some of the subtitled shows. We watched an English drama then ER, the very popular US TV show that we had never seen before.
Dinner in the Hotel, we just didn’t want to venture back outside. The fellow who manages doesn’t speak a word of English and we all know the depth of our Finnish. A friendly fellow sitting, reading his evening newspaper stepped up and asked if he could help, He got us through the ordering process and we took a seat next to hem. He’s an entrepreneur, owns a truck and sells baskets and other items to Florists. Very friendly guy but intent on his news then abruptly stood and wished us a good evening.
The rest of our good evening was wasted on three sitcoms whose only real value, to us was that they were in English. God it’s tough, being ignorant.
October 16, 2002
The Freeze Out in Finland
The digital thermometer was crystal clear in the crystal clear morning air. It was 7:30 and the golden numbers registered minus 3 degrees. We sat on the edge of the bed and wondered what direction to take. It is only 50 Km to Kurikka. Parkano, the next town with lodging is another 90 Km and there are few if any stores between the two.
The Basket Man’s truck is still in the parking lot. We went down for breakfast hoping to get a weather update and explore other options with him. He was very friendly and pretty pessimistic about today’s weather. He said that summer was great and winter has now come early. The high for today will only be about +2 degrees and there will be wind. Cat even asked if he could put our bikes in the truck and take us to Helsinki. He told us he was headed in the other direction. As he finished his coffee he again abruptly stood and started to walk away then turned and said, “It is time you enjoy a good vacation.”
That was the advice we would take. Leaving the Hotel at 9:30 AM the golden numbers had risen to minus 2.4, a virtual heat wave. We walked down the street to an office but none of the ladies there could understand our questions about a bus or train. Outside again, we spotted a community map of Laihai and it had important places like the bus and train stations spotted and in English as well as 3 other languages. We were standing right next to the bus station and hadn’t recognized it. The very friendly girl used her best English to tell us that the bus to Helsinki would be here at 2:30 and arrive there at 9:20 PM. She thought they would take our bikes but wasn’t sure.
Next door we found the Poliis Station. A lady there, Tuuli, listened with interest then took us down a hallway and introduced us to another gal, Heli and a tall Policeman in blue fatigues named Jani. As we explained our plight to him another Policeman came in and joined the conversation. His name is Kassu, I thought he might be the Senior Officer?
They confirmed the weather report, minus 2 the high for today and minus 7 tomorrow. They also told us how to get the bus to Helsinki. We thanked them, shook hands and promised we would meet again, in the spring.
The Express Bus stops pretty often. We were getting a preview of the road we would travel next spring. Hopefully it will be a little warmer. At least we will know that it will get better every day not colder and worse like we were faced with as winter set in early.
The bus was comfortable but nothing like Carl’s big beautiful bus in Sweden, but it did have a small toilet. I had to really scrunch down to get in it, turn around and sit. The discomfort was nothing compared to what the day might have been without it.
With just a short break in Tampere we were in for the 6 hour haul. Some of the larger towns required 2 or 3 stops. After the sun set in its darker shade of grey we broke out the wine, bread and cheese. Sitting in the back seat of the bus we had a picnic and waited for the lights of Helsinki.
One of the early stops was right in front of the SAS Radisson Hotel. We had been so well treated in Vasa that we decided to take a room here for the night. Our quiet driver helped off load the bikes then roared away leaving us on the cold dark street 2 blocks past the Hotel. Pushing at first we found a bicycle path and rode through the freezing night air.
This Radisson was pretty elegant looking. Lots of airline type people checking in ahead of us. The elegance translated to Euros here. (The Euro is a common currency in most of the European Union Countries but none of the other Scandinavians had adopted them, yet.) The Euro is almost equal to the dollar and the shock was that the least expensive room was 139 E. The internet access was far from free here. They charge 19 E per half hour. WOW, that’s $38 an hour!
Rather than roam the frozen streets shopping for a less expensive Hotel, we checked in. The room was a large four bed family room. Plenty of space for us and our mounts. It was good to hear English spoken on BBC and CNN. We caught up on the news and slept like babes.
October 17, 2002
From the Lap of Luxury to Pension Kongressikoti
There was some confusion when we went down for the included breakfast. It seems that on our cheap ticket it isn’t included? That made it easy to decide on a small café elsewhere. The Bellman who was interested in our bikes last night was still there or back already? He gladly shared the fact that there was a nice square up some stairs behind the Hotel that had nice Cafes
Damn it was cold. We grabbed the first place, a nice one with warm air and smoking on the patio only. Good Lattes and sweet rolls. Back out in the cold we followed the direction of the coffee maker and walked about a half mile in the frosty air to the main Library to find an Internet connection. The place was closed but there were several people milling about on the stairs. A young girl was conducting an interview with some of them. She turned to us and spoke then got pretty excited when we spoke in English. Tina Nyfors is a student and this was a class project, her major is Radio and TV Communications. The purpose of the interview was to get opinions about funding cuts and the effect on Library users. The hours had been shortened and staff reduced. We could only speak to our own needs and hated to tell her that we rarely went to the Library at home.
She also works part time for a local Radio Station and asked us to call her later and come in for an interview.
The doors swung open exactly at 10:00 AM and we were swept in with the anxious crowd. The lady at the desk told us we had to be members with a card to use the computers. Then another seated next to here rose up and led us to a closed room upstairs. It was full of scholarly looking people hunched over computer keyboards. She opened the only free machine and got us to Internet then left. We couldn’t get AOL to open? After half a dozen attempts Cat went back down and brought her up to take a look. She had no idea but said she would send a technician. He came in and looked the machine over. In halting English he let us know that it was a problem with AOL, not the machine. We were sure that there must be some sort of block that kept us from being able to open but he insisted not.
Another cold walk back to the Hotel. Any water puddles on the streets are solid ice this morning. It is definitely in the minus temperature range.
We stalled until the 11:00 AM check out time then pushed down and out into the cold. Fully wrapped in our winter togs, we rode to the center and found the Tourism Bureau. Helsinki is quite medieval looking in the center. Some of the streets are pedestrian only, narrow and cobble stone.
The ladies at the Tourist Center played hand off with us. They passed us from one person to another until finally we found that we would not have a place with kitchen unless it was a pension where it is shared. She recommended a place fairly close by that cost 50 E for 2 persons. It had a common kitchen but she was sure we would have our own toilet and shower.
Kongressikoti Pension is on the 5th floor. We called on the intercom from the front door and the lady said we should come in and she would be down to show us where to store the bikes. The building must be 150 years old. We started unloading the bags and she was soon down with us. We decided to take the bags up then move the bikes around the building to a bike garage she described. The elevator is a tiny cage that we could just take a few bags at a time up. Our room was clean and adequate but the toilet and bath were both down the hall. When we told her of our understanding about the toilet she apologized and told us we could go back to Tourism and they would find us another place. No, we were here and we would stay here.
The parking garage is through a courtyard in the rear then down some ancient looking stairs. Once we found the light it was a simple matter of guiding them through and lifting them over the dozens of other cycles sharing the space. The first 4 floors are apartments or condominiums so they also share the garage space.
Once stowed, we walked to the Train Station took a number and waited patiently. The lady was great, she took a lot of time checking schedules and printing them for us. It would be tough to take trains and it was more expensive then we had anticipated. We would have to check with the local trains each time we crossed into a different country to see if they would allow bicycles. (Our experience in Copenhagen made us leery of that.)
After almost an hour we left with more information than we could process. A dozen or more pages of schedules and costs that made little or no sense to us.
We needed to find an Alko Store. Across from the Central Station we found a huge store with an even huger selection. With our wine under arm we went nearby to a Super Market and got essentials for dinner.
Cat cooked and we sat, in the common area kitchen that we had all to ourselves and worked the computers then ate a fine meal. After dinner we checked the phone that was sitting out on a little desk. It was blocked and we would only get a woman’s voice when we tried to dial. I decided it might be worth it to try the computer and voila, it worked. We had AOL access and it went right into the current mail.
The phone wire ran across the floor and under a door. We were surprised when a guy came out and stood, watching us. I started a conversation with him while Cat answered e-mails. He spoke some English and wanted to talk. He is a Merchant Marine and has been sailing for years. Most of his recent time has been spent plying the waters off the coast of Venezuela. He is extremely well versed in current events and politics. He is also quite opinionated. I enjoyed our discussion, Cat tires of hearing about politics.
Another interesting character joined us, Nadir ElHabib. He is from Khartoum, Sudan. He and I hit it off pretty good and it was easier because he really speaks good English. Over the time we had together he told me of his marriage that was arranged by his family and the shortcomings of those arrangements. In his case, at least, he felt that he and his wife never had a relationship. They were just going through the motions. They made babies but never made love. No real depth of feeling in the relationship. According to him it was doomed to fail and it did. Well, I didn’t want to discourage him but I have been through three “love marriages” that also failed.
About politics, he invited us to cycle down through Sudan and stay with him when we do. I told him that I doubted whether we would be accepted when people found that we were from the US. “We love Americans,” he said. “Yea, you eat them for lunch,” I joked. “No, no,” he shot back at me, “We know that you are just a common man like me, you have no control of your government. Everyone in Sudan likes American people but don’t like American government policies.” I could kind of see where he was coming from but still wasn’t convinced that we would be safe traveling there. I heard recently that the country is divided, north and south. The north is controlled by the majority, Muslim population. The south, about 30% of the population, is Christian. The Christians in the south have oil, the Muslims in the north don’t. A lot of money is flowing into the Southern Christians from the US. Is it Christian zealots or oil hungry Americans? Maybe a little of both?
Cat went to bed, Nadir and I sat and talked until almost midnight.
October 18, 2002
Bus, Train or Plane, We Gotta Get Out of This Place!
Breakfast decisions had been made when we walked past Wayne’s Coffee yesterday. It is similar to Starbucks back home. Lattes and muffins. As a bonus we found free internet access. What a deal. We sipped our thick rich coffee and nibbled our muffins at the table adjacent to the computer, like vultures waiting for it to die. A young girl was surfing around then finally acknowledged our presence and relinquished her window to the world to us. The program worked fine until we would get to mail waiting then it would cut us off. Another interior glitch, we thought. After several tries we gave up but did surf around looking for travel sources to Portugal. The possibilities are as endless as the source is thick. The internet has it all but we find it almost impossible to narrow down and book so we decided to look for a travel agency Cat had seen called STA. It was just around the corner.
The young guy there took us to heart. He did point out that they were a student agency and most of their tours were limited to ages 18 to 35. We told Mikael that we were students of the world. He loved that, even took a look at the WorldRiders2 web-site.
He gave us prices and the schedule for flights to Lisbon. We were amazed that we could buy a ticket to Lisbon via Lufthansa cheaper than train tickets. And, we would be eating Portuguese food in the sun instead of Train Station and dining car food for six or seven days and struggling with the problem of the bikes. The only real problem for us, once again, would be the overweight baggage. It would cost more than a ticket to take the bags on board with us. Mikael suggested that we mail or send them by freight. He got us the name and phone number of a company and pointed out the Poste Norwegian where we could get the cost to ship.
Forget the estimate, we went directly back to Konngresskoti and packed the bags we wanted to ship, all of our camping equipment. Maria, our hostess told us that there was a Poste just around the corner. We struggled with the bags down the little elevator and around the corner. It was a couple of blocks but much closer than going all the way back to the Central Station. The women there were cordial. They got boxes that would work then priced our load. It would cost just over 100 E, including insurance. That was a lot less than the $500+- that taking it along would have been. They even gave us tape to finish packing the boxes.
With that completed we walked back through the shopping street and indulged in a wonderful lunch and witched shoppers hurry to and fro.
Mikael had us ticketed and set to go in no time. As an additional bonus the travel company had a computer that we used to receive and send e-mails. We let John at Pension Mare in Salema, Portugal know that we would be there a week from Sunday. Our plan was to spend a week in Lisbon then take a train to the tiny seaside village of Salema. The flight would depart day after tomorrow at 9:30 AM. We decided to stay at the Pension tonight then make our way out to the airport and spend our last night on the ground in Finland there.
When we got back to the Pension Maria told us that she knew we had used her phone and was worried about the cost. We paid her quite a lot extra but it seemed a worthwhile investment. She works hard and is raising a teenage son.
Cat cooked up a wonderful blend of leftovers into a big pot of soup. We dined in and got back on the computers. I had just connected to the Internet for our last hurrah at it when the door burst open and Maria came in with her son. She was worried that we were using a telephone line that was US based and it would cost hundreds of dollars. She admitted not knowing anything about computers. That’s why she brought her son with her. I showed him that we were using a local number. He told her that it probably wouldn’t cost anything for the connection. Everyone was happy. The son, whose name we failed to get during the hubbub, was a mountain biker. He looked at our site and liked the pictures but his love is racing down mountain sides. We are much too tame for his taste.
Nadir came in and we got into another big conversation. He is a nice guy. He showed me his website and tried to explain what he does in his business. I did get that his largest customer is a Finnish Missionary Group. As he was explaining the buzzer of the intercom from down stairs squawked. He jumped and spoke in his normal deep throaty tone, but in Norwegian. I could hear a woman’s voice over the tinny sounding box. He turned to me and said, “I must go, good night,” and disappeared down the hallway. I heard the door open and again the woman’s voice then his soothing baritone as he closed his door behind them. (He had mentioned that he might be getting married soon, maybe this was his fiancé?)
October 19, 2002
Minus 7 Celsius and a Sex Change?
Breakfast in and another last shot at the Internet and our e-mail. We packed and jammed our things into the remaining bags then hauled them down in the tiny cage. It was time consuming because we didn’t want to leave them sitting in the hall downstairs unattended. I took the up and down duty while Cat stood guard. Then I went out around the building and retrieved our bikes from the ancient garage and pushed them both back around the block.
We loaded in the hall, out of the biting breeze. It was after noon before we pushed out the front door and off toward the Bus Stop. Eatz is a café we had seen and liked the looks of. It is just across the square from the Busses. It was warm inside. We chose a seat next to the window, in the sun, where we could keep and eye on the bikes and bags. Before long we were shedding layers of clothing. The sun felt great.
Our sweat that had begun to glisten in the sun quickly froze when we stepped back outside. It was still in the minus 2-3 degree range this afternoon. It was hard for us Californians to grasp that it could be so bright and sunny and COLD, at the same time?
We pushed across the square and waited, out of the breeze, in the shelter of the bus stop. When the bus pulled up we had to wait as the rush pushed in the front door. The driver had a high pitched raspy voice. He was the kind of guy who new everything. I explained that we wanted to take the bikes in the back door. He said, “Yes,” then figured a minute and said, “Three Euros.” I knew it was three each so I gave him six. He chattered in Norwegian and whatever he said made a few people laugh. Probably something about foreigners who didn’t know about money, I assumed.
We pushed and pulled the bikes up through the doors in the rear and stood ready to go when he began to cackle again. A guy seated just above us said, “He wants you to come pay more money, he didn’t know it was two of you.” So, the last laugh was on him.
He was a ram and jam driver. The bus lurched and jerked. It was tough holding onto the bikes. Then he began making other stops and taking on more passengers. Two Asian girls got on with big bags. They couldn’t get them past us and onto the luggage rack. I even tried to back my bike out at the next stop to give them room but the anxious driver almost shut the doors on me. The nice guy above came to the rescue of one girl and lifted her bag across us, onto the rack. The driver maintained a constant chatter as he careened down the road. Some of the people laughed and it was obvious they weren’t laughing because he was joking. Some of what he said must have been ridiculous. A lot of the people just shook their heads with looks of disgust on their faces. All in all, it was a pretty rough half hour of hanging onto the bike brakes and anything we could get our hands on to stabilize ourselves.
The driver continued to babble as he pulled away from the stop where we departed, at the International Terminal. We pushed inside and learned that we couldn’t check our bikes and bags until 2 hours before the flight, tomorrow. We had asked if there was a luggage storage area and everyone from Mikael to the woman at the SAS/Lufthansa desk told us there wasn’t. We asked her for plastic bags to hold our luggage together and she said they had a policy that they were for baby seats, only. Strange, we had been given them on the SAS and Air Greenland flights and they are the same company. (We assumed that Lufthansa and SAS must have merged.) She retorted that it was a new policy and a strict one, too. She did give us a roll of orange baggage tape to tie the bikes up with and suggested we check with Airport Services for bags.
That would be the best advice she could have given us. The guy there asked where we were going, liked our story and told us that they allow storage. We piled the bags on the floor and strapped them together as best we could then prepared the bikes for the plane. He also told us that he could call for the transport van from the Hotel for us, too.
It took almost 2 hours to get everything set but we were out in the cold, waiting for the transport by 4:30 PM. What a good idea, to get here today and be ready rather than scurrying around in the morning. The Bonus Inn Airport Hotel was a bargain that Maria had found for us. It was only 66E and included a full breakfast. Our room was nice, had satellite TV and a view of the parking lot.
It felt good to know that we were all set and ready to go. We just lounged around the room, watched the news and relaxed until 7:00 then went down for dinner at the Hotel restaurant.
As we ordered, we listened to the neighboring table. The two gals and a guy were laughing and joking in American style English. We felt compelled to join their happiness. Yes, they were from the States, sort of. One of the gals, Inja, was born here in Finland but now lives in Texas. Wayne and Carla are from Chicago. They’ve been stranded here all day due to mechanical problems on their plane. Part of their frivolity was alcohol induced. They were pounding them down and having a great time doing it. Inja told us it was a Cowboy who lured her to Texas. I told her about the gal in Trondheim and the girl on the mountain top who were both their because of a man. Her Cowboy story didn’t have such a happy ending. He had gotten into drugs and other problems that finally drove them apart.
When Cat queried Carla she told us that she was married but she and Wayne were travel buddies. Cat has always had a problem with the infidelity thing and wanted to know what their deal was. When she asked how her husband felt about the arrangement Carla said, “Well I’m still married but not really married and Wayne has been divorced for several years.”
“What does married but not really married mean,” Cat asked cautiously.
“What’s the worst thing you can think of that would ruin a marriage,” asked Carla.
“He cheated on you?”
“No,” she replied, “That would be normal, I mean the worst!”
“He was Gay?” I threw in.
“Close,” Carla quipped, “real close. He was a trans sexual and he had a sex change operation. We’re still married but can two women really be married?”
“Only in Vermont,” I remembered.
What an interesting way to end the first constant ride of our Odyssey. A very ODD situation, indeed. In fact Carla told us that after he had the operation they lived separate lives for four years but were burdened with a large mortgage payment and his/her cost of living. He was Scott, now she is Laura. She, Laura, still loves their two boys and helps take care of them so they Laura moved back in with Carla and the kids. A strange arrangement but it works?
Carla travels, she said his trip to the surgeon cost $80,000 so she is catching up through trips of her own. She and Wayne both joke about the situation but I sensed that she was angry and hurt inside. We asked how the kids handle it and she thought they were fine but Wayne commented about how the oldest also makes jokes about it. We were laughing at a situation that was no laughing matter. Imagine the stress and feelings all of them have had to endure.
(Movie: Finnish Finale 1:10)
We had that last extra glass of wine with them then slipped away from the party as they moved to the bar. This would be our last sleep in Finland, for a while. I had strange dreams that centered around what it must be like to have your you know what cut off. In fact they may have been due to Carla having told us that after removal of his manhood, Laura decided that she only liked women and had only Lesbian affairs. In fact she confided that she thought he was unhappy that he had taken such a radical step searching for himself and not having found herself, yet?
October 20, 2002
De-Ice this Bird, We’re Flying South
I had a hard time with sleep, maybe the Pork Chops and greasy potato pancakes or the thoughts of a guy ripping out his root? I was already up and in the shower when the wakeup call echoed through the room at 6:00 AM. Our view of car tops was now coated in white. Their windows, even the road surface was coated in a thick layer of ice. The TV had Helsinki at minus 7 Celsius. It really was time to get out of here.
Our comp breakfast was pretty good. We took the first regularly scheduled transport to the airport and were third in line when they opened the counters at 7:30 AM. We checked our stuff through to Lisbon then found a cup of real coffee and waited. We did see Wayne and Carla from afar but didn’t get to talk with them. We saw them again as we boarded and chatted for a second. As soon as we were up and they started service we saw them order Bloody Marys. They were on their way to reality in Chicago. We were on our way to Portugal!
Thanks for reading, enjoying and letting us know by e-mail that you’re keeping up with us. It means a lot. There were plenty of cold lonely nights when your messages encouraged us to continue. Whether you’re a die-hard cyclist, a dreamer of adventures you will take or want to take of just an arm chair traveler, we appreciate having you along for the ride.
Pat & Cat
P.S. Stick around we’ll fill you in on the south coast of Portugal later this month.