CYCLING ACROSS
NORTHERN EUROPE

I’d visited Scandinavia once before—on a cycling trip in 1997—and found it a very pleasant place. Each country of the region offered a great mix of culture, art, sweet-smelling forests, and atmospheric seacoasts. Norway won the scenery prize for its sheer-walled fjords and green-clad mountains, but I also enjoyed the gentle landscapes in the rest of the region. People met on the way had a quiet friendliness and would always try to help. I had to return.

The adventure began May 14th 2003 with a flight into Copenhagen’s airport from San Francisco. British Airways got my money because, unlike the competition, they offered long-term tickets at a low price; I would be away four months. Food was good too—I’d requested Asian vegetarian. The downside turned out to be London Heathrow Airport, a huge and inefficient airport. My bicycle “Bessie Too” and I made it through ok, but not the panniers—they took an extra day! The same thing happened to a cycling couple who flew in from the East Coast.

Four months seemed like a long time, until I tried to take in all of the region’s major sights! I wished to do a proper tour of Denmark and Sweden, not just a quick look like my last visit. And this time I determined to visit the vast enigma of Russia, which took some jumping through “hoops” to get a tourist visa.

Climate
The decision to ride for four months had more to do with the climate than how much there was to see. Wintry storms lasted well into May, and nippy weather returned at the beginning of September. The heat wave that baked much of Europe in the summer of 2003 didn’t make it up north. For 22 days, beginning in mid-July, I enjoyed pleasantly warm summer weather. Before and after that cool breezes seemed more like spring. Rain showers made an appearance many days, but only once did they last more than a few hours. That dreaded event occurred on Sweden’s east coast when the heavens opened up for two days nonstop. The longest dry spell arrived in late May in southern Denmark and lasted about ten days—nice!

Costs
Yes, Scandinavian prices tend to be astronomical! But you can steer around the high costs. The best way is to travel on a bicycle—I saved heaps of money as well as had the best possible travel experience. I camped mostly, always for free or very low cost (never more than $6 a night). Sometimes I stayed in hostels, which have good facilities and cost about $15 a night. Only in Russia, and only outside St. Petersburg and Moscow, did I stay in hotels ($10-17 a night). I also cooked most of my meals with a small camp stove or at hostels; supermarkets have huge selections and the prices aren’t so bad.

Guidebooks and Information
Lonely Planet offers regional and country (best choice for cycling) guides to Scandinavia and Russia. I found them good; the LP Denmark even has a long section on cycling. The Internet contains lots of travel info and is well worth exploring. Scandinavia has tourist offices in almost every town; they’re open long hours in summer and have very helpful staff. If there’s a tourist office in Russia, I didn’t find it!

The Itinerary
I started from Helsing°r in the northeast corner of Denmark and made a big, meandering loop clockwise around the country. This plan worked out great and gave me an opportunity to visit most of the sights and regions. Sweden came next, just a short ferry hop from Helsing°r. I followed the Swedish coast around the south of the country and up the other side to the capital Stockholm with detours to the large islands of Íland and G÷tland on the way. My Stockholm-Tallinn ferry twisted through the Stockholm Archipelago for several hours then headed out onto the open Baltic Sea to Estonia’s capital. Riding a few days east from this medieval town took me the edge of Russia, the biggest country on earth. I arrived in the St. Petersburg just a day and a half later and spent a week walking the boulevards lined with harmonious architecture. Moscow exerted a powerful attraction, so I took a train there, walked the Kremlin and Red Square, then experienced the Russian countryside on the cycle ride back to St. Petersburg. I continued west via the former Finnish town of Vyborg to Finland, followed the coast of southern Finland to the capital Helsinki and on to the port town of Turku on the west coast. Here I pedaled and ferry hopped through a chain of islands back to Sweden, arriving at Grisslehamn north of Stockholm. I headed inland to Uppsala—famed for its long history dating from pre-Viking times—then turned southwest back to Helsing°r via four huge lakes and some of Sweden’s west coast.

I had a great time!

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