Day 13: Lidköping to Norrköping (But not by bike)

In the comments on yesterday’s blog, Robert pointed me to a great article in the Economist (which I had missed) on the Dutch, Norwegians and Swedish trying to reclaim their language especially in the scientific sphere.  It’s a nice idea but they’re doomed to failure.  There was a time 100 years ago where non-English words could make it in technical fields (bremsstrahlung, eigenvector for example)  but the dominance of the USA in science means those days are gone.  The language of STEM is English and so, in many ways, it’s the language of the future and even more so with the importance of computer science.

The difficult problem comes when you consider languages like Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese or (maybe) Chinese. These are in no sense “minority” languages.   Many of them have more native speakers than English.  However the corpus of technical language in each of these is dwarfed by the English corpus.  Who cares?  Well…Generative Pre-trained Transformers like ChatGPT “learn” from the (internet) corpus of text which is out there already.  If a Spanish person asks a technical question of ChatGPT, the amount of Spanish input to the large language model is much much much smaller.  Their answers will be fundamentally different (and probably worse) than an English speaker. Which is — or should be recognised as — a problem for the majority of the world’s population. 

This feels like a bit of a heavy topic for a lighthearted blog about cycling so I’ll leave it there. 

In yesterday’s post, I calculated that because I had 3 trains to get and if each of them only had a 20% chance of being cancelled, I had a better than evens chance of something going wrong.  Well…

I woke to a text from informing me that my very first train (Lidköping to Laxö) had been cancelled due to bad weather.  However, there was — and this phrase strikes terror into the heart of any regular commuter in the UK — a replacement bus service.  Oh well, it wasn’t ideal but hey ho.

I turned up at the station in time for my replacement bus only to be told by the bus driver that he wasn’t going to take my bike.  “Not in bus, not in luggage compartment, nei nei nei.”.  Right.  I phoned the helpline number for Swedish trains and after some patience sapping waiting, I got through to a customer service representative.  I explained my plight to her and she said I had to hold and then came back 5 minutes later said “Sorry no bikes on replacement busses so I guess you’re screwed”.  Sometimes non-native speakers use colloquial English terms in exactly the wrong situation.

Exciting and lovely though Lidköping is, I was really keen to get out of there.  I cycled back over to the Tourist Office and the lovely Tourist Office woman gamely attempted to look happy to see me.  I explained my predicament and we agreed the only solution was a taxi to Hallsberg.  She phoned the local taxi company who flatly refused to take a bike.  Thanks Lidköping Taxis!

I’ve spent a lot of time in this place

Maybe if I put it in a bike bag?  I could buy a bike bag at the bike shop I’d seen yesterday?  I whizzed off to the bike shop which is open 9 to 5 every day…except Tuesday.  Back to the tourist office.  I was effusively nice about the Lake Museum just to show how much I loved Lidköping — even though I was pretty desperate to get out of there — and suggested maybe some of the other local towns might have less rules bound taxi companies?

After 30 minutes of calling, she found a taxi company but said it would cost £500 to go to Hallsberg.  Given that it a 130km trip (about 80 miles) that seemed extraordinarily expensive but I really was screwed as the woman from Swedish Trains said.  So I said yes, the taxi was booked and I had an hour to wait for it to turn up…from the next town 10km away.

The bloke turned up and I managed to negotiate the price down to £300 and I deconstructed the bike and got it in the back of the car.

The bat bike finally going somewhere.

I waved a fond farewell to Lidköping, the Lake Museum, its thronged streets and vibrant nightlife.  As I discovered last night, the vibrant nightlife consisted of young men driving pimped up BMWs with no silencers around the streets.

Three hours driving, £100 an hour, not bad.

Out of the window, Sweden was wet and windy.  More endless fields, dotted with farms.  My driver was clearly intoxicated with riches beyond the dreams of avarice and drove like a maniac attempting to increase his already astronomical hourly rate.  I arrived Hallsberg Central relieved to still be alive.  

The first order of business was to buy yet another ticket for a Swedish train.  Of course, there’s no ticket office, nobody to talk to, no sensible information.  I collared a conductor on a different train, explained my plight and he assured me that I could take a bike on the Hallsberg to Norrköping train and I could get a ticket in the little convenience store inside the station.

As I was buying my ticket (and asking for the tenth time whether or not the train would go on time and would allow me to take my bike) I spied some of the worst looking food I had seen in a while.

You’d have to be mad to eat this stuff.

I had an hour before the train to Norrköping left so I cycled out into Hallsberg to find somewhere to grab a healthy smorgasbord and some coffee.

I had thought that Lidköping was a bit quiet and undistinguished but Hallsberg made Lidköping look like Times Square with the architecture of Florence.  

“What’s a thing that’s going to put our town on the map?”
“Pipes Bjorn, pipes”

Cycling around I had the choice of the traditional dodgy looking pizza place.

I didn’t really have the choice of this.  It was shut.

Or I could get a tattoo.

Does ink count as a carbohydrate?

That was it.  This isn’t a small town (8000 inhabitants) but there was a tattoo shop and a shut pizza joint.
You might have to be mad to eat those sausages but they were actually only choice.  I suspect the shop keeper knew I’d be back when I’d bought a ticket for a train leaving in hour…

However bad you think this might taste, it was worse.

As I was gagging down the culinary delight of Hallsberg, there was an announcement that the Norrköping train was leaving from platform 5b so I stuffed the rest of the “meat” filled condom into my mouth and heaved the bike up a couple of flights of stairs and down another flight of stairs.  This is much harder than it sounds.  The stairs were metal, it was wet and I was wearing cycle shoes with cleats.  You are one misplaced step away from a slip and a trip to the sjukhus to get your broken pelvis fixed.

The wind whistled on the deserted platform nearly drowning out the announcement that the platform had changed.  Back up the stairs with the bike, down two flights of stairs, and back to the platform right next to the cafe selling “meat” filled condoms. 

I got on and girded my loins for a fight with the conductor about the bike but he was happy and so I was happy.

After the day I had today, this sight was a Good Thing.

There is something lovely about travelling through Sweden without endlessly turning your legs, being rained on and various unmentionable parts of your body complaining.  However, the countryside is still uninspiring however fast you’re travelling through it.

More of the same and somehow still as boring

When I arrived in Norrköping I was going to take some photographs for this blog but…what’s the point?  It looks like everywhere else in Sweden.

My hotel is the same chain as the one in Gothenburg so the WiFi connected up without any problem.  My room is microscopic but clean and comfortable.  And it has a bath!  After 13 days of weedy showers and bottle of shower gel screwed to the wall, a bath seemed like an unimaginable luxury.

Regular readers of this blog won’t need me to tell them that it’s raining.  It’s pouring down.  I’ll spare you all the traditional 10 second video of deserted wet Swedish streets.  So I broke the habit of a lifetime and ate in the hotel.  The Elite Hotels Group — “elite” is doing a lot of lifting there — appears to have a sister brand called “The Bishop’s Arms”.  Both the hotels have a faux English pub downstairs.

It’s a pub Jim. But not as we know it.

Ok, the bar food menu has a suspicious amount of lingonberries on it but it does have classics like fish, chips and peas.  It is all very incongruous but it’s warm, dry, and it has food and wine.  Given I’ve cycled approximately 3km today it’s probably best to avoid the fish and chips or the meat pie and try to eat fewer calories.  Or at least get the calories from the wine.

Not a charcuterie platter. A Swedish charcuteriesque platter.

The last two days have been a bit of a logistical nightmare.  Firstly stuck in Lidköping for an extra day then an entire day wrestling with trying to make up two days of cycling and get positioned in the right place for my final assault on Stockholm — maybe the military language isn’t quite right…

I’ve spent a lot of time with maps of Sweden, cycling routing software and meteorological forecast software and I’ve got a plan.

It looks like it is going to be dry from 7am to noon in this bit of Sweden.  I’m going to be thankful for small mercies and I’m going to cycle to Nyköping.  It’s 80km which is effectively a half day for me now and if I leave at 8am, I should be there by noon.  The wind will mostly be a side wind which will bring a bit of knuckle whitening excitement to the morning but won’t be quite a soul destroying as a head wind. I’ll hang out in Nyköping — which will probably be yet another non-descript Swedish town — until the afternoon when I can check into my hotel.  

On Thursday it might not rain all day and it’s 120km from Nyköping to Stockholm and the wind might be behind me.  So I might make it to Stockholm in the early afternoon.  Meteorology is an iterative converging process and the forecasts have looked reasonably stable over the past 24 hours. 

Fwiw, a good article in the Economist on weather forecasting this week. The key chart is this one.

Five day forecasts are better than 3 day forecasts 40 years ago and — for come definition of “accuracy” — three day forecasts are 99% accurate.  As I type this, I know I will be punished for my hubris,
Another glass of wine and some chicken wings and I’m done.

Four wings for £15.  You’re not in Texas now kid.

Surprisingly, really looking forward to getting back on the bike tomorrow.  Not cycling for two unplanned days was…not fun.  At the end of the day, I really do love cycling a bike.


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