Cycling Summer 2018
6 July – 22 August

A map showing my tour.

Prelude: Groningen → Leer

Back in May and June 2012, after I had finished my first degree in Marburg, I cycled from there to Trondheim. Since then, whenever I looked at a map of Norway, the rest of it looked back and said "Cycle me!"

This year I finished my PhD in Amsterdam and again there was a long break before my next adventure/job would start. So I packed my stuff (not too much of course!) and started this year's tour in Groningen.

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Just before Leer you can find this piece of art called "Balance". It is next to the Jann-Berghaus-bridge which since 2015 is the only nearby place to cross the Ems.

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Interlude: Leer → Hamburg → Frederikshavn → Oslo → Trondheim

From Leer I took a train via Bremen to Hamburg. I stayed one night at Elbe Camp which has a great view over the river and a good bar/restaurant.

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My original plan of course was to continue with trains, but even months before the few spots for bicycles on the trains between Germany and Denmark were already taken. Hence the next morning I cycled back into Hamburg and spend most of the day in a bus to Aarhus.

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From Aarhus I took a train to Frederikshavn and stayed at Nordstrand Camping. Nearby was a nice beach for my dinner: pindakaas on pumpernikel.

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The next morning I finally reached Norway by taking the ferry from Frederikshavn to Oslo. These huge ferries with discos and casinos are really a strange part of civilisation.

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In Oslo I walked around a bit and basically had to wait. Just like six years ago when I came through Oslo on my way from Marburg to Trondheim, the city seemed full of construction sites.

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On the right you can see the ferry I took.

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In the evening I boarded the night train which took me and my dear bicycle to Trondheim. I only took a picture of where my bike slept, but also my own "Sove" was really comfortable (with extra thick curtains to make sure it's dark enough to sleep — NSB (the Norwegian train company) knows what they are doing!)

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Part 1: Trondheim → Bodø

The next morning, when stepping out of the night train I immediately had this stereotypical moment thinking "Why did I want to do this again?". It was cold, raining and did not look like anything was going to change any time soon. So even before I cycled the first few meters, I put on all the rain clothes I had — might as well test it early.

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The weather improved and the first of many many small ferries took me from Flakk to Rørvik. Throughout Norway these ferries are just part of normal roads. Compared to everything else they are quite cheap and sometimes even for free for cyclists.

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I wild camped already on the first night, on a nice glade with beautiful flowers.

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After two days I reached Namsos, which promised to be a big town. In particular I had planned to visit its library to work on a paper that still had to be finished. However, the library was closed and even turned off its eduroam wifi.

The paper was still finished, mainly by my great coauthor Jana, after we had a videomeeting during which I sat in front of my tent on the camping site next to Namsos airport. I am also grateful to the person working at the camping reception for printing the paper so that I could proofread it again. And for asking what this is about and actually getting interested.

On the camping site in Namsos I also met two people from Immenstadt at the south end of Germany who had already cycled from there (via Russia!) to the Nordkapp and back. I also noticed that they have the big sibling of my tent.

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The next days I followed the coastal road "Kystriksveien" which is so beautiful that the corresponding travel guide is called The world's most beautiful journey. I won't contradict them.

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And minions entertaining you while you wait for the next ferry.

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Weirdness of the day: Waffles with sausages. Served on the ferries. With ketchup and mustard. Tasting surprisingly okay-ish.

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Holland is near, only one character missing!

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The next three pictures are from the best official camping spot of my tour. Just next to the ferry pier in Forvik is the Handelsstedet Forvik, an old trading post that is now a coffee factory, pizzeria, hotel and camping site.

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The camping site also has a perfect view for sunsets, with a mountain range called the "Seven Sisters" on the horizon.

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And yes, another ferry. There are so many of them that they even get into traffic jam! The one I took went from Forvik to Tjøtta.

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Problem of the day: cows. Lots of them.

The solution: Wait until a car comes by in the same direction and keep close to it. Funnily, the car driving in front here was from a driving school.

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After Sandnessjøen (which is so large that it even has an airport!) came the Helgeland bridge. By bike it is quite a challenge. You can see it already from far away, but it still takes a while until you actually reach it. And even longer until you are on it.

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Now comes the best wild camping spot of this year. I almost stayed somewhere rather boring earlier but then I saw a viewpoint at 66.2816355,13.2605315. It looked very nice on the map and only 4 km further. And a few hundred meters higher, it turned out. I hated myself on the way up, but the view was worth all the sweat and there was a toilet house as a bonus.

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On the next day I went up and down one of the longest fjords of my trip. From the nice camping spot it was about 35 km to cycle (including Sjonatunnelen which climbs 250 meters) only to get to the opposite side of the same fjord again, a direct distance of 3km from the start.

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Still, Bodø was coming near.

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On the ferry from Kilboghman to Jetvik I crossed the arctic circle and could see this statue marking it.

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On the next day I started in Furøy and after a few kilometers I met H for the first time, another cyclist from Bristol also cycling to Nordkap. We continued to meet at every other supermarket and camping site during the next days and shared a lot of jokes, tips about food (he is vegan, quote "I can't eat anything in this country.") and complaints about Brexit and caravans. He also made a big effort to make my English "brittier" and eliminate any US-American slang. Which at one point meant cycling up close behind me and suddenly shouting "TROUSERS! Trousers, Malvin, never say pants again!"

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The landscape became even more hilly and the tunnels became more frequent and longer.

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Long and straight road, almost Roman/Chinese style, and wonderful views. Add to that cloudy but still warm weather, and you have a happy cyclist!

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Near these views was another wonderful official camping site, Kjellingstraumen Fjordcamp. It was currently manged by someone from Jemen, the visitors were a diverse interational group with many cyclists, and there were few caravans. In fact, the corner where I camped was basically an exhebition for Rohloff and Hilleberg.

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Before Bodø we reached Saltstraumen, a strait where the water flows in different directions depending on the tides. Luckily, the time we got there the tidal change was in full swing and there was an impressive stream flowing north.

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Also the "Seven Sisters" were still visible from here. Please don't ask me how to count them.

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Ferry Interlude

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No, I did not go on the giant Finnmarken belonging to the Hurtigruten. Instead I went on a much smaller ferry to Moskenes and soon the Lofoten appeared on the horizon.

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Part 2: Moskenes → Andenes

The Lofoten. Where apparently half of Europe is going on holiday nowadays. While the landscape is indeed incredible here, I found most places too full of people and "no wild camping" signs. And the price for camping sites suddenly doubled.

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Also known as the "slime tunnel" among cyclists, the Nappstraumtunnelen even has its own websites. For me it was okay because it was dry and nobody else was using the pavement when I went through.

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Shortly after the tunnel I finished the 1000th km of my tour.

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Between two Neal Stephenson books I also read the relatively new book Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. It was somehow surreal to think so much about work and society while I was busy escaping both for such a long time. Still, I really enjoyed the book and recommend it. Enjoy some quotes:

Yet for some reason, we as a society have collectively decided it’s better to have millions of human beings spending years of their lives pretending to type into spreadsheets or preparing mind maps for PR meetings than freeing them to knit sweaters, play with their dogs, start a garage band, experiment with new recipes, or sit in cafés arguing about politics, and gossiping about their friends’ complex polyamorous love affairs.
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This beach near Rørvik (not the one near Trondheim!) was a good spot for wild camping, including toilets and a brook shower. Even the sea was warm enough for me to go swimming for a short moment and forget that I had crossed the arctic circle long ago.

It was still getting slightly dark at night, because the sun was hiding behind mountains. Here is an example of a vertical sunset :-)

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With the ferry from Fiskebøl to Melbu I left the Lofoten and continued on the Vesterålen.

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Apropos Kafe, here is another Graeber quote just for fun:

Sitting around in cafés all day arguing about politics or gossiping about our friends’ complex polyamorous love affairs takes time (all day, in fact); in contrast pumping iron or attending a yoga class at the local gym, ordering out for Deliveroo, watching an episode of Game of Thrones, or shopping for hand creams or consumer electronics can all be placed in the kind of self-contained predictable time-slots one is likely to have left over between spates of work, or else while recovering from it. All these are examples of what I like to call “compensatory consumerism.” They are the sorts of things you can do to make up for the fact that you don’t have a life, or not very much of one.
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Compared to the south end of the Lofoten now the streets were less crowded. The villages here seemed not yet invaded by caravans and touring busses. Especially Andøya was beautifully empty — probably because it is harder to reach by car.

A cafe & supermarket & fancy boutique combo appeared just at the right moment: Nordmela Landhandleri & Kafé.

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A surprise in Andøya is a space station! Well, not a station in space, of course. But a research station where people study space, the atmosphere and the northern lights. It might also be one of the most northern eduroam hotspots in the world. And besides internet, it has everything space scientists would want: ESA suits and waffles.

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These flags are standing in front of the station. It seems yet another thing unclear about Brexit whether one of them might disappear soon. Oh, and don't ask me why Italy got two flags.

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Ferry Interlude

After drying and warming myself up in a nice cafe in Andenes I took a ferry to Gryllefjord.

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Part 3: Gryllefjord → Tromsø → Nordkap

First I thought it had been a bad idea to take the ferry already on that day. The next official camping sites were too far away and the map did not look like there were good wild camping spots nearby. But then, just next to the road a rest area appeared with a small lake that was decorated with a tiny model house.

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Staying at the same place was a Norwegian family that had a barbecue. Which apparently meant that they did not need this package of dried food, so they donated it to me. Maybe I looked really hungry?

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Random food presents aside, it was now time be more careful and planning about shopping. My minimalist packing (only two regular Ortlieb panniers, no front bags) also meant that usually I was not carrying much food. But the distances between towns and supermarkets were now getting longer. Hence to be sure I spent a long time buying and eating in the Joker Skaland which sells the obligatory waffles, hand-warmers, provides free coffee and — if I understood this right — also has its own cycling team during the Tour de Senja.

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Norwegians really like trolls, here is an example on the welcome sign of Botnhamn. I was preparing to make a bad pun myself since I saw the first signs pointing towards this place. But in the end I did not have time for "een boterham in Botnhamn", because the ferry to Brensholmen arrived at the pier exactly at the same moment as I did.

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But the ferry made up for it and fulfiled the daily pun quota.

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After a quick shopping spree at the Joker Brensholmen I found a good wild camping spot with this nice view.

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Not visible in the picture: How I re-arranged some larger stones to have a something to sit on, felt very smart, and on the next morning almost crushed my Trangia with a big stone. Fortunately, after 10 km or so I met H again who had the tools and skills to make it usable again.

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Back in Moskenes already someone had told us not to miss Eide Handel, a huge shop featuring "Matkultur siden 1953", just outside Tromsø. My bicycle refused to carry any of the Turing-complete coffee machines they were selling, so I only bought Pizza snails and curry sauce there.

Tromsø was a reminder how annoying biking in cities can be because of all the traffic. I only took one picture there and mainly spend the day resting on the camping site.

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From Tromsø I also had to upload the final version of our paper, which Jana by now had revised. Using LaTeX and EasyChair on a modern smartphone is possible but truly annoying, so I was happy that I also carried an old Nokia N900, the best Linux phone made so far.

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Another nice distraction was this German cycling guide for Norway, lying around in the kitchen of the campsite and with prices still in Deutsche Mark.

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I left Tromsø on a Sunday morning and was afraid of not finding food soon. Fortunately there were two ferries on my way that day, both of which had a cafeteria on board. Yes, lots of waffles, but without sausages this time.

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After the ferry from Lyngseidet to Olderdalen I saw the first village signs with two or sometimes even three names, Norwegian, Finnish and Kven.

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In case you are looking for a new desktop background, here it comes.

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Admittedly, long cycling tours lead to a small obsession with food.

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Besides a nice kitchen and eating room (all for myself, here the season was ending already), the camping site in Sekkemo now also has functioning wifi repeaters ;-)

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Finally, I saw my first reindeers! Including an almost albino.

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One of the next tunnels was forbidden for cyclists, which meant I had to take the older and more hilly got to take the more scenic road around it.

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The next city was Alta, featuring an international food festival in the city center, including the "Dutch Cheeseman Holland". I was not that homesick and went to the Thai competition instead.

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After leaving Alta it more or less suddenly started raining. For about an hour I kept going and thanking my clothes, but when it became even harder, I decided to stop. So I built my tent on the first piece of grass that appeared next to the road. Did I mention that I like my Hilleberg Akto?

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In hindsight and after reading stories from other people cycling to Nordkap, I am actually very happy that this was the only day on which I had to build my tent while it was raining. Already on the next day, when I covered the long empty stretch between Alta and Olderfjord — where empty also means no food besides a small shop and a gas station in Skaidi.

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One of the next reindeers I saw was rather dancing than walking.

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The camping site in Olderfjord has a nice view to the North. And there were only about 130 km left to the Nordkapp now!

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During the next day I met H again, and we were joined by L from Frankfurt, whom I had already met shortly in Skaidi. Especially in the scary Nordkapptunnelen it was nice not to be alone. Note the "m.u.h." on the sign, standing for meters under sea level.

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Leaving the last 30 km for the next day, we stayed on a camping site next to Honningsvåg. This was a good choice. I would still have been able to do 30 km, but not those. The last stretch leading from Honningsvåg to Nordkapp is full of insane climbs and curves.

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But then, tadaaa! Accompanied by the sun the whole time, I spent two days at Nordkap. Usually you have to pay entrance, but it is free if you cycle or walk there. The modern visitor center is a somewhat insane tourist destination, sometimes with lots of people coming in a very specific times. A barkeeper explained to us that those are the bus loads of Hurtigruten.

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So what do you do at Nordkap? Take pictures!

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Drink anicexpensive beer at midnight while watching the sunsetrise.

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Cycling to Nordkapp feels a lot less crazy once you are there, because you keep meeting people that also just did it. By the next morning I counted five tents with bicycles lying around them, for example this large tent from a Dutch couple.

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This column dedicated to the "Midnight Sun Path" gave me a preview of the way south.

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Bus Interlude

To avoid cycling the undersea tunnel again, I started my way south by taking a bus from Nordkapp to Olderfjord. While I had to change buses in Honningsvåg I met another troll.

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Part 4: Olderfjord → Enontekiö → Gällivare

After not cycling for a whole day and relaxing in Olderfjord, I got up quite early the next morning. Too early, because even after ca. 40 km the supermarket I reached was still closed, only opening at 10:00. While I was waiting in front of the store, someone came with a lorry to deliver some big boxes. This turned the remaining 30 minutes into an exam for my patience. Standing right there next to me, also waiting to be let into the store, were most of the things I wanted. So of course I was tempted to just take something from there (and leave a note and cash). But not having any coins and being afraid of someone observing me at the wrong moment, I waited.

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I do not like to cycle the same way back, so my plan for going south was to cross the "tiny arm" of Finland and then cycle through Sweden until one of the most northern train stations.

After staying in Lakselv, the next city I stayed in was Karasjok. The map below must have been quite old — not only had people time to shoot a lot of holes into it, but it also still shows the USSR.

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From Karasjok however I did not go further east into Finland, but turned west. This meant that for the next 130 km there was essentially nothing, so I went shopping and ate a lot.

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Many containers at the rest areas were decorated with Sami graffiti.

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This area was also frequented by wanderers and there are many "alpine" huts along the road. There it was easy to get water and I met this little cat.

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Originally I had planned to wild camp somehwere in between, but then I just kept on going. After a long day of 131 km I reached Guovdageaidnu — or Kautokeino, if you prefer something easier to pronounce. And on the next day I finally came into Finland.

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Small stores in the middle of nowhere sometimes sell funny food.

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Next pronounciation exercise: Try to say European Regional Development Fund in Finnish!

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Again there were long straight roads and sometimes it took hours to reach the next crossing. At the one below I met two hitchhikers. My Russian was not good enough to properly communicate with them. I did understand that they were going from St. Petersburg to Oslo. But I have no idea why they made such a big detour.

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Before I reached Karesu[ando/vanto] and thereby Sweden, it rained the whole day. Hence I stayed in a small hut instead of my tent for one night.

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Northern Sweden is rather empty, so it did not take long until my destination Gällivare appeared on the road signs.

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In Vittangi I stayed with Urpo who is an amazing person and taught me (the word and some) possibilism. Let me give your attention to him for a bit:

You can never compensate emissions. You can't remove them. But you can choose to reduce your emissions as much as possible. So maybe you have no choice but to use a normal car for certain legs of your journey. Because, unfortunately, sometimes you're forced to use fossil fuels. But when you've reached the end of that part, perhaps you can consider an alternative solution.
There's a lot you can do, all that is available in your sphere of inflence. You can skip your trip to Thailand, for example. It is absolutely effective. It's equivalent to driving a car for a very long time.
In general, people have this idea that if they just sort their garbage it's somehow enough. And they think they've solved the problem.
The solution is not sorting garbage. It's not even to expand wind and solar power. The most important is to reduce CO2 emissions, and to do it drastically and quickly.
That is the most important thing we can do. The solution isn't your vacation trip. There has to be a political solution. We have to make decisions together and change the entire system.

For more, watch Arctic Velonaut.

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Inlandsbanan Interlude

I did not have the time (and maybe also not the motivation) to cycle all of Sweden. Hence it was time for another means of transport. The Inlandsbanan is an old train track between Gällivare and Kristinehamn. It only runs for a few weeks in summer for the entertainment of tourists like me. Conveniently, it is one of the few trains in Sweden on which you can take bicycles.

I did not expect a big train, but I was still surprised by how tiny and cute it was.

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The Inlandsbanan stops at many places to give the touristspassengers time to look at things. For example, to make sure that everybody notices it, there is a modest sign where the track crosses the polar circle. So again I did not cross it by bike — clearly something left to do another time.

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There are also some museums in the old station houses on the way, mainly about the history how the Inlandsbanan was built. Besides statues of hard-working men, there was this original sized room. The note on the door says the following.

The female cook's working days were long.
Before seven o'clock in the morning the men were about to have their coffee. Then it was time for the breakfast at nine o'clock and dinner at one o'clock. When they went to work after the breakfast they should have a coffee bottle and bread with them. Afternoon coffee was five o'clock and the evening meal at seven o'clock p.m.
Saturday was an ordinary working day. On Sunday when the men had their day off, the female cook was about to bake.
She decided the menu herself, as well as planning and ordering groceries.
Every man paid her once a month for the cooking
The female cook also did cleaning and bed making.

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Inside the train is a mixture of old and new technology. And a bike rack with plenty of space.

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Another fun fact, taken from the Inlandsbanan onboard magazine:

At the beginning of the 1900s, Domänverket, a former Swedish government agency responsible for forests, built several hundred kilometres of cycle paths through the forests of northern Sweden. The paths were laid by hand, for which people were paid one Swedish crown per metre, and these were commonly considered starvation wages. Some of these cycle paths can still be seen in the forests.

The Inlandsbanan is not going very fast (around 70 km/h most of the time. The whole trip thus takes two days and one has to spend one night in Östersund, which to me already felt like a big city again.

On the way back to the station in the morning I saw this dinosaur, the first of three statues this day!

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Originally I had booked train tickets for two days later. While for the first day it was no problem to quickly change my booking, on the second day there were actually already three other bicycle reservations. But the Inlandsbanan staff was friendly and happy to improvise as you can see below.

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Also this part of the journey is interrupted by several pleasant stops for food and sightseeing.

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Something you cannot see on the pictures but constantly hear onboard the Inlandsbanan: ka-dong, ka-dong, ... ka-dong, ka-dong, ... ka-dong, ka-dong, ... A sound generated everytime the wheels go over the short gaps between parts of the train tracks that are not welded together.

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Looking out the windows of the Inlandsbanan one can see the obvious business of northern Sweden: forestry. Here is an elaborate slide made for wood transports on a river.

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In Mora I had another break of one hour, enough to visit a lake near the station and this nice statue.

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The last train part from Mora to Kristinehamn is not really the Inlandsbanan any longer, but part of the modern train network. Still, there was a relatively old wagon with bicycle hangers.

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Part 5: Kristinehamn → Göteborg → Trelleborg

In Kristinehamn I started cycling again and went to the nearest official camping site. On the counter there was a huge sticker with lotws of fineprint related to the GDPR. The clerk explained to me that in order to stay there I needed a camping card. They started asking me for ID card, address, phone number, email ... Only after that he revealed that said card would cost 15 € additionally to the (already expensive) camping spot. I complained and asked if there was any way withouth the card.

"No. But the camping card is very common now and mandatory in many places in Scandinavia."

"Well, I cycled to the North Cape and never even heard of it. I will stay somewhere else."

And, looking at the GDPR sticker again, I added:

"Please delete all the stuff about me that you just typed down. Have a nice evening."

Annoyed and a bit tired already I cycled on and suddenly came along a Picasso statue.

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A few kilometers further I found a great wild camping spot at an empty beach belonging to the village Jutviken. The water was warm, there was nobody else and I became happy that (not getting) the annoying camping card got me there.

The only creepy part about this place was a burnt car standing in the forest nearby. This night I kept an extra eye on my bike to be sure.

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Also on the next day I camped next to a nice beach.

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During a break in Mariestad I discovered that the hanger in the last train had left its mark on my front rim. Not too bad, but given the age and thinness of the rim anyway it worried me for a moment.

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I then followed the cyclepath from Mariestad to Lidköping which is very well signed.

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Food-wise a highlight in Sweden are the larger ICA supermarkets which have a salad buffet.

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As H said, long cycling tours are an exercise in appreciating the small things. For example bus stations with a roof while it is raining.

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Or mysterious old road signs. And tea and coffies at a motorway station while it is raining.

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My visit to the camp site in Vårgårda coincided with a meeting of the Vulcan Riders Sweden.

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On the next day I reached Göteborg. Already coming near the city you can see that it has good cycling infrastucture.

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Finally I did see a moose after all! But only as a drawing on a cheese package. Another interesting food discovery was frill, ice cream made from vegetables!

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From Göteborg I followed the coast, going south the same way that I had taken north in May 2012. I only recognized very few places, probably both because much has changed and because I forgot.

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At this friendly bar they indeed greeted every cyclist with a free lemonade!

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I did not expect Siberia to be in Sweden, with German spelling!

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In Malmö I left the coast again and cycled to Trelleborg. This was my last day in Sweden, so it was time for another more ICA salad.

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Ferry Interlude

Another big part, at least mentally, of long distance tours is the planning. Booking a ferry ticket a few months in advance for example always feels like making a bet. In this case I definitely won, because I arrived perfectly on time in Trelleborg, for a ferry to Rostock. Not just any ferry, but Tom Sawyer :-)

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Within the ship it was surprisingly empty and the four other cyclists (a family from Berlin) and me had plenty of space behind all those trucks.

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Part 6: Rostock → Berlin

In Rostock I met Em and together we headed towards Berlin. The first camping we stayed at was in Schwaan, which seems to be a nice and quiet village. If not exactly on that evening there was a disco party running until very late.

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The next camping site was also idyllic, with a lake to go swimming directly in front of our tent. But yet again there was also an evening party. Fortunately, this time it was only for people older than 40. Which meant that "DJ Tom" stopped quite early and allowed us to sleep.

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After four days we reached Berlin, coming in from the west and following the Berlin-Spandau canal until it meets the Spree in the government district. For lunch we went to a Vietnamese restaurant near the parliament and I recognized Cem Özdemir at the table next to us.

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It had been a few years since I was in Berlin. And it was the first time to really discover the city by bike for a few days. A new highlight for example was the former airport Tempelhof, now a giant park.

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Thanks

Special thanks and greetings go to:

  • OpenStreetMap and OsmAnd, for showing the way.
  • H from Bristol and L from Frankfurt, for sharing the road and many jokes about systems and modes.
  • Nordkapp muncipality, for allowing cyclists to visit Nordkapp for free and permitting camping.
  • Urpo and Tarja for hosting me and allowing me to try a velomobiel.
  • Inlandsbanan, for being flexible and bike-friendly.
  • HL, for hosting me in Göteborg.
  • Em, for joining the last week and enjoying Berlin together.
  • P, for giving us an excellent temporary home there.
Always the summers are slipping away.
Porcupine Tree: Trains
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CC-BY-NC-SA 2018 by Malvin Gattinger.