Day 11: Gothenburg to Linköping

 Ok, today wasn’t a good day.  

  • Distance: 158km ☹️ — Long and mostly unpleasant
  • Climbing: 986m ☹️ — Garmin lies.  It said 488m before I left.
  • Route: 😕 — A lot of Sweden is pretty boring.
  • Body: 😔 — Aches and pains appearing in random places.  
  • Bike: 😢 — A slightly worrying creak coming from the bottom bracket but still holding up.
I had to put my “angry eyes” on this morning to get the hotel to find my cycle kit but once I’d pointed out the cognitive dissonance involved in paying their (large) bill and them not being able to find three bits of clothing they had intended to wash 2 days ago, the manager swept in from his palatial office and service droids were dispatched far and wide.  At least Gothenburg didn’t have to suffer a naked man cycling through its suburbs on a Sunday morning.

The route out of Gothenburg cut north through the suburbs and industrial parks.

This view would become very familiar

Railway line plus road plus cycle path.  On and on and on.  This photo is taken two and a half hours later.

On and on and on

The photographs can capture the endless monotonous boredom but they can’t really capture the misery of the wind and the gradient.  I was going north and the wind was coming from the north.  Strongly from the north.  For a country with a lot of trees, there didn’t seem to be many of them here and so there was no hiding from the wind.  

According to my Garmin this was a pretty flat day but…it lied.  There were long energy sapping 3% and 4% hills and those combined with the wind had my average speed below 20km/h for the morning.  A day which had looked like a nice easy 140km was starting to look a lot more challenging.

In four hours, the most fun I had was coming across some unexpected roadworks and having to carry the bike to the other side.

Fun fun fun fun

I saw a lake

Look ma!  A lake.

But, mostly it was just this.

Fields, farms, uphill roads.  And the ever-present wind.

One problem with Sweden is that there’s no real indication of how large a town is on the road signs.  The whole morning and the early afternoon, I’d seen signs saying things like “Åssgörd 4km” and when I arrived at Åssgörd it was a tiny knot of two cottages and a farm.  In the 80km there was literally no shops, no cafes, nothing.  It was lucky I was so cold from the wind because I still had enough water in my water bottles.

According to the duplicitous Garmin, I had already used 2000 calories by 1pm and I’d eaten and drank precisely nothing since breakfast at 7am.  Whilst I didn’t feel hungry, I didn’t think this was going to turn out well.  

I stopped in a bus shelter — Swedish bus shelters are my friends right now because they’re out of the wind and they have a little wooden seat which you can perch on — and checked out the rest of the route.  It seemed to go through many many places but I suspected they were all like Åssgörd so I had to do something to get food on board.

10km detour? Hmmm.

For some reason the name Trollhättan rang a bell in my increasingly numb brain.  So I off-pisted it through an encouragingly big but dull set of suburbs.  The underpasses were full of graffiti and Swedish teenagers attempting to be cool.  These are always a good sign that a town might have somewhere that’s open on a Sunday.

The trouble with off-piste cycling is you’re never really sure where you’re going and always searching for the occasional sign saying “Centrum”.  After a lot longer than I had expected, I ended up in the central square of Trollhättan.and…everything was shut.  There was nobody around.

One of the problems with zooming through a country on a bike is you have no time to work out the urban geography and iconography for each country.  In the past, I had stopped at something that I thought was a cafe and turned out to be a furniture store.  I had turned down a street thinking “This should be where the cafes are” only to find out that it was where the (shut) vape stores were.

Once again, Google Maps helped me out.  I think that reliable mapping, geographic search and routing on a device that you carry around in your pocket is the great unsung advance of the Information Age.

I found the Royal Cafe

Look ma!  An open café.

The Royal Cafe was a little…restricted in its choice so I settled for a coffee and a brownie cake.

This slice of cake is your 2000 calories in one single shot.

Thus fortified, I free-styled my way out of Trollhättan. There wasn’t much to recommend it although I found out later that the waterfalls at Trollhättan (imaginatively called the Trollhättan Falls) are supposed to be nice or something.  Sure.

The first half of the day was pretty miserable to be honest. But I had another 60km to get to my destination of Linköping. How bad could it be?

Just 60km of this to go.

Well, pretty bad. Almost as soon as I left Trollhättan, it started raining.  Remember the wind I mentioned earlier?  Well it hadn’t stopped but now it was not just blowing air in my face at 20km/h it was blowing rain into my face at 20km/h.

The view from one of the many bus shelters I sheltered in.

The kilometres just didn’t go down very fast. Even my super expensive Hamburg-sourced rain jacket started to wilt and fail under the onslaught of the Swedish wind and rain.

False cognates

Basically the only fun I had for three hours was identifying amusing false cognates of English in Swedish place names. Mönstergården means “Pattern Farm”. So now you know…but a farm called Monster Garden would have been cooler.

I stopped in a rather beautiful church — many of the Åssgörd sized towns have really stunning little churches — sat in the porch, took off my shoes, emptied the water out of them and wrung out my socks.

Sorry about the sock water imaginary sky being.

Finally, finally, finally, 2.5 hours later than I had expected, I got to Lidköping — which is run down in the way that only Scandinavian towns can be run down.  It isn’t Cumbernauld or Skegness…it’s just…a bit tired and out of the way.

I picked my way through the rustically cobbled central streets (oh…great…cobbles) and got to the hotel. It’s not fantastic but there’s a heated towel rail which is a plus. I had a very long very hot shower, an hour under both duvets to heat up and then thought about food.

It turns out there are two restaurants open in Lidköping on a Sunday night. One is a pizza place next door to the hotel and one is 1km away.  And it’s raining.

It’s raining like this and my raincoat is drying.

So it’s an easy choice. Weirdly, pizza might be the national dish of Sweden. Any town of a sufficiently large size (i.e. larger than Åssgörd) has a dodgy looking pizza place. However, much to my surprise, the food (and wine) here is superb. It’s rammed with people eating excellent Italian food.  I have Italian family and, trust me, I (now) know what makes a good pizza and the Pizza Diavoli I have just eaten was superb.

A lot of pain during the day is partially wiped out by a pizza of this quality.
I didn’t have much to think about today (false cognates and kids chalking the classic cartoon of the male genitals on the cycleways were the only bright spots). But I did think about the Swedish and Danish languages. Throughout Denmark and Sweden, my opening gambit of “I’m terribly sorry but I speak no Danish/Swedish” has never ended up with a lack of communication. Everybody speaks English. In Gothenburg, the bookstores have more English language titles in the window than Swedish titles.

I am reminded of that right now because the couple next to me (60ish man and woman) in the restaurant are Danish and the waitress (a 60ish Swedish woman) is speaking English to them and they’re speaking it back because it’s easier.

In bars, restaurants, cafes, you hear a lot of people speaking English by default. I just don’t think that the Swedes or Danes are bloody minded enough (like the French) to keep their language alive and they clearly don’t have the huge international weight of Spanish to keep the language alive. It’s a shame to lose languages but I wouldn’t be surprised if 50 years from now Swedish and Danish (and presumably Norwegian) are sort of like Gaelic today.

So that was today.  It’s not all rolling through the flat Dutch fields on great cycle infrastructure with the wind at your back.  Also, not every day has something funny or scary in it.  Some days are just a long hard grind which reminds you why this is a challenge, not a holiday.

I’ve done a bit of rethinking about my routes. Tomorrow is supposed to be a short 100km day. The weather app says that the rain will stop at 10am so maybe I’ll leave late. Unsurprisingly, the wind is directly in my face yet again. Joy.

Comments

  1. "wee" in this instance is the Scottish meaning, not English?

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  2. Re: english language - this article appeared in the Economist this week about how the Northern Europeans are trying to make sure their languages do stay alive: https://www.economist.com/culture/2023/08/04/in-northern-europe-a-backlash-against-english-is-under-way

    ReplyDelete

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