Sitting outside of the port of Gothenburg 150 large ships await instructions from hedge fund managers. In their penthouse suites the guys in control watch prices move until the right moment to dock.
Our vast Stena Line ferry glides by on battery power taking us a long way into the city, past calm sweet islands with just a few houses on them contrasting with all the hugeness of a modern port.
We’re not stopping here. There are too many recent tales online of vans having been broken into in the town and we’re both feeling cautious.
Instead we drive less than an hour up the road and over our first of many massive Swedish bridges to the island of Tjörn.
Parking at a little swimming spot with a hole in the ground toilet we have found our first home in Sweden.
There’s not a lot going on here, but who’d want it any other way?
The swimming is good, and a great sea temperature – how is that possible without the Gulf Stream to warm it?
People come to swim through the day and evening.
We lie in the sun.
We’re happy to do very little today. Tiredness hits you on the road. You think you haven’t done much, but you’ve navigated, driven, got your head around a completely different road system, and some days it knocks you for six.
Sweden does trees. And Sweden does lakes. And it does both very well.
Dalsland has plenty of each, and our parking spot near the wonderfully named Snorklatten* offered the perfect combination.
A few miles down a dirt track we passed the obligatory German motorhome, some more German lads camping out in tents, a Danish van, and then, a few hundred meters further along and seeming utterly alone, we pulled into our space.
A word on German travellers: go anywhere in the world and I challenge you not to meet Germans, they are the world’s travellers, and seem unafraid of any challenge. You can’t stereotype a nation, but they tend to be great guests too, our experience of hosting in Cornwall backed up that thought every time.
A stank along an interesting path that follows a quartz ridge got me to the Snorklatten proper. It’s only 142m high, but it’s the highest point for miles and the view, and the sense of calm, from there had me glued to the spot for some time. In every direction for a very long way through the clear skies you see trees, mile after mile of mixed forest, interspersed by lakes.
Peace. But not quiet. Too many birds, too much rustling of trees for quiet.
Next morning a cold wind dissuades me from the swim I’d planned so we head on for the third camping spot near Ekenäs on the Varmlandsnas peninsula.
Miles of gravel road takes us through flat farm lands dotted with their quintessential red buildings until we pop out onto the massive Vänern Lake that takes up much of central Sweden. The Germans who’d beat us there in their Sprinter van were unusual for not speaking English, and despite good intentions I still have little German so we all wave in a friendly fashion and go about our own business.
For us business includes a 26km cycle to a campsite for wifi, beer, and the first proper loo in a few days. Minty’s foot may be preventing her from walking far, but she’s a demon on the bike and pushes me all the way.
I’m not sure if our chickpea curry tasted better than our neighbour’s barbecue, but I’m convinced we’d win the prize for best smelling dinner.
I can’t wake 20m from a lake and not swim, so at 8am I’m wading in.
Then doubling back.
Chuff. That water is cold!
My feet hurt immediately.
I can’t be beaten though and slide in for no more than a hundred strokes and then I’m out again, panting, to German applause.
It didn’t half drive out the morning melancholia.
We notice many people have bunkers in their gardens. Hobbity holes, generally with turf roofs and a chimney.
A bit of research and Minty reads that there are over 65,000 bunkers in Sweden built during the Cold War era to help protect the population in the event of a nuclear attack. And that’s just the number of official government funded ones.
In 2011 they stopped building.
But now they’ve started again.
Makes you think.
While we digress from the day to day – how about this? Many, many cars have the biggest spot lights on the front that you’ve seen since the last time you secretly watched that RAC Rally 1975 video.
I know it’s a long dark winter in these parts – but I remain curious about these huge Hella headbeams.
I’d definitely like a trio on the front of ArchieVan.
Here’s another observation.
This country seems burger (and pizza) mad.
Looking at the map there are fewer MacDonald’s than in a reasonable area of London, but the advertising makes them stand out hugely – particularly the towering US style signs. We passed a banner today telling us that the next Burger King was 23kms away – imagine if such were allowed in the UK?
Digression within a digression. Despite a career in advertising I’d happily ban all outdoor billboards, right down to bus shelter size (6 sheet).
If we eat a burger in the next week or so it’ll have to be a Max – the homegrown giant killer that has forced MacDonald’s out of town, in fact out of several towns.
Lupins, logging and ladders.
There are millions upon millions of Lupins, and they’re beautiful.
Apparently they’re an invasive species here – better than Japanese Knotweed any day!
So far most of those we’ve seen have been a bit passed they’re best – I hope to get a shot or two of some beauties as we get further north.
Logging. So many logs – huge lorries moving them from here, to there, to over there.
And ladders. Why so many roof ladders? Most houses seem to have a ladder running up to their chimney. Do they have more chimney fires than the rest of the world? Some newer places even have the ladder built in.
We haven’t been to a decent sized town since Hamburg nearly a fortnight ago and we were looking forward to Karlstad at the top of the lake Vänern.
The plan was to stay on the lakeside, cycle in for dinner, and head off early in the morning.
In the end there was a great lunch deal at a decent Italian in town and after a damn fine pizza and a carbonara we headed north again, replete.
Tonight a sweet but unexciting stop just before Torsby will serve us well for an earlier than usual start and covering some miles towards Ostersund, the last town on our planned route through Sweden.
Sweden so far.
Falu Red, or Swedish Red
If Germany’s favourite car colour is black, I reckon here it’s silver. And ideally on a big Volvo.
In Denmark most houses were either black, or yellow in the north.
In Sweden most country houses are red with white windows, and they’re charming. Falu Red comes from Falun, a fair way up the country where copper was mined for hundreds of years. The colour is a by product of the copper industry that, as a paint, helps protect the wood it coats. While red is an awful colour to use in outdoor advertising, falun is actually UV resistant too.
I must look up why yellow is so popular in Denmark.
80 and 90kph speed limits do their thing to slow progress. Denmark with the same limits was at least small, but Sweden, south to north, is vast.
Can there be too much green?
I’ve said before about the dangers of too much of a good thing.
Give me day after day of beautiful lake after beautiful lake, separated by green, green mixed forest and I’m afraid the beneficial effect diminishes.
There is no doubt that this is a beautiful country, but after another 1000+kms of similar I may be ready to leave.
Bring me culture! Mid summer is fast approaching. I’m sure that will bring people out. We’ll try to be in Ostesund and absorb all we can.
Ostersund – straight through.
We made our longest drive in ages to get to Ostersund, but then didn’t stop.
But hey, that was a good thing.
The weather was awful for mid summer, and instead of being out in the streets and parks people were hiding under their duvets.
After Ostersund the scenery changed. Suddenly the vista opened, there are hills, the towns look different. If feels a relief.
We’re now above the ski resort of Åre, it’s lashing down. But we’re happy, and we can see there’s a great view to be seen once the low cloud clears. There’s huge investment going on here, with many new flats going up. That’s worth a mention because unlike Britain where there’s building going on in every town, here there’s very little.
What a cracking place – ski slopes and a big lake, year round attraction.
As the rain lashes and the wind buffets the van I cook a great bean chilli that warms our hearts and bellies, but we won’t sleep much with all the weather hitting us.
Chances are we’ll strike out for Trondheim in Norway tomorrow.
Yes – we did. We’re now west of Trondheim.
We breakfasted on Max burgers, and damn fine they were too. Expensive, but good, and easily the best coffee we’d drank in Sweden.
Sweden no doubt is a great place for a serious outdoor holiday, but we didn’t feel excited by the country. Perhaps our mistake was driving so far up through the middle on the E45. To say there’s mile after mile of mixed forest wouldn’t really get home the scene. More accurate to say there are hundreds of miles after hundreds of miles of green. Occasionally interspersed by wild west style towns with very little going on.
This town may have had only one horse, but it had four cafés, we chose well – there were several other customers. And yes, of course they stared at us the whole time we were there, but we didn’t care.
We’ll give the far north a go on the way back through. I suspect it’ll be a different experience.
But for now, with 4500 miles driven, it’s Norway, and it’s immediately fresh and new.
*The Snorklatten was an unusual amphibian, given to exclaiming in human terms, but with no real grasp of the vocabulary it used. Its habit of crying out expletives was all the more curious for the fact that it had so little interaction with man.