Friday, 9 August 2013

Cycling Sweden: Conclusion and tips

Sweden and I did not have the best start: I had just come from Denmark which I had liked tremendously and compared everything with. Plus Southern Sweden where I had arrived is not exactly easy when it comes to free camping. But the longer I stayed the more I liked it. In fact I like it so much that I consider coming back next year for another cycling trip. Very often on this trip I felt like being in a tourist brochure. This has been the picture perfect Swedish summer! I can't say which country I prefer but Sweden has some advantages over Denmark.

Most importantly Sweden is a lot cheaper than Denmark, but keep in mind that this statement comes from a compulsive Lidl shopper whose diet consists mainly of chocolate and no alcohol. Sweden of course is more expensive than Germany but with my lifestyle the difference is not too big. Shopping at Lidl helped a lot to keep costs down as it is a lot cheaper than other Swedish supermarkets. And also drinking no beer or alcohol helped as well. I spent about 20-30% more on food than on a similar diet in Germany, but Denmark would have been double the price. My most interesting culinary discovery was "Filmjölk", which is a sort of thick butter milk sold in 1 litre cartons. I drank about 1 litre per day and it is very refreshing.

Another positive aspect is that free internet was widely accessible. Every visitor centre I visited had free internet and/or wifi access. The same goes for libraries. Plus lots of local free wifi hot or the odd open wifi in the middle of nowhere. All this helped a lot with staying in touch and planning the trip.

Also my usual church and cemetery strategy worked out well. Swedish cemeteries usually have water taps although some don't have potable water so watch for signs. In summer a lot of churches were open such provided electrical outlets and even toilet facilities. And for washing up the many lakes and fjords were fantastic for a refreshing swim.

Although my guidebook recommended against going in July because the is the high holiday season I did not find it to be a problem, maybe because I was free camping all the time and did not rely on booked out accommodation. On the contrary: in July all the sites were open at maximum hours, all ferries were running - and the weather was absolutely perfect!

Cycling was great, too! With the exception of the Höga Kusten, the High Coast north of Härnösand, the terrain was mostly flattish. It helped to stay mainly on the Sverigeleden which avoids busy roads like the E4, but is usually very scenic and brings you to a lot of minor attractions that you would probably miss otherwise. The Sverigeleden and other bike routes are marked, but do not rely on that. The marking is not consistent, has often been tampered with and is often not seen easily. I did not use the Sverigeleden guidebooks because they are heavy, expensive and in Swedish only. I don't think you really need them as I managed very well with the velomaps in my GPS and the Freytag&Berndt road atlas. Velomaps show all parts of the Sverigeleden which is a great help. There are not as many designated bike lanes outside the city as there are in Denmark, but there is so little traffic on the smaller roads that it did not really matter. Sometimes the Sverigeleden routes you over dirt roads but these were never ever as bad as the ones I had to take in Denmark. Mostly you are cycling on quiet paved country lanes.

As this is the resume I want to say some words about free camping again. Theoretically you can camp almost everywhere because of the every man'a right. In practice this is a different story. Southern Sweden is very populated and agricultural so you'll have problems finding a suitable and discreet spot all the time. In the North there is forest everywhere but it is so rocky and overgrown that finding a flat spot adhering to LNT principles is very difficult. I usually ended up on old forest roads. I don't want to say that free camping is impossible. I never had a huge problem finding a spot. I just want to emphasise that it is not as easy as you might deduct from the every man's right and you can't expect to find a suitable campsite at once. It usually took me at least half an hour and the ground was usually rather bumpy and uncomfortable.

I found Swedish people to be very friendly and helpful. Almost everyone spoke English. Several times people came running after me because I had something forgotten in the Lidl checkout and several times I was invited to stay at people's homes. The drivers were surprisingly polite - in one month I got only honked at once! By the way: Swedish people seem to love oldtimer cars. In no other country have I seen so many of them driving around beautifully restored. One last word of warning: I experienced the perfect Swedish summer. In one month I had to cycle in rain only twice. The wind was very moderate and it was almost hot. I don't know if I had had such a great experience last summer when it was cold and rainy all the time.

Bottom line: I'll be back soon!

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