Northern Europe 2011
Raw and rough
In this year, I finally came to the point that I could to put all my travelling-stuff on the push scooter (avoiding previous uncomfortable trailer) and to go somewhere for a long trip. Well, I couldn’t expect that all things will just work perfectly but I wanted to do a trial at least, to find out if this kind of travelling would be for me in reality possible.
I bought a low-rider for front 26" wheel and let to make a holder over 16" rear wheel. I replaced disc breaks for ordinary V-breaks which are much easier to maintain by travelling. During the winter time, I let to sew travel bags for the holders and rain covers, as well.
I didn’t have any strong plans but I intended to discover northern part of the Europe a little bit. Via internet I found a car going to France which fact helped me to avoid uncomfortable traffic through Germany. Already the trip to Lyon was interesting, and even more the three young men taking me with. They’re visiting a French family in Lyon suburb and it somehow happened that I stood with them over the night. Young French couple with little kid was very kind and it was for me a good preparation for my next journey to west and north of France. The following day, before I left them, we went to admire a magnificent cement creation Sainte Marie de La Tourette, by French architect Le Corbusier.
For going through France, I was choosing smaller roads, in the middle of countryside, passing through interesting towns and villages, once along the seacoast, other time through the interior. It was just splendid cherry-time and especially this fruit made my menu much richer in those days.
From Roscoff in Brittany I took a ferry to south-east of Ireland. On this green island I’m feeling like at home but at the first time I came on foot here. Already in Rosslare harbour they welcomed me hailstones and heavy rain! Before I could reach the nearest roof by petrol station, I was soaked. My fault, I should check the sky more often and be prepared for anything.
The first night in Ireland I spent on a farm near Inistioge where I asked for a roof in stable. The people were very nice (although surprised at the first moment) and they invited me for a cup of tea and sandwich before I was going to my sleeping bag.
About a week I stayed in Kilkenny City where I was living for a few years. Afterwards I crossed Ireland from south to its northern part and got on board in Larne, heading for Scotland. I was working in St. Andrews about four years ago but it was during ugly winter time and I had a feeling that I should come back in some stage, to discover this beautiful country a bit. Now I had plenty of time and the summer was just beginning. So, I bought a Rover ticket for small ferries among Scottish isles, intending to explore them. The weather was very changeable and often really wet (what a surprise in this part of Europe…).
Being to Scotland, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit some distillery. I love the very peaty stuff from Isle of Islay and it was a great experience to enjoy a tour in Laphroaig and Bruichladdich; including generous tasting, of course!
On the Western Isles I picked up some ground knowledge about their pride – Harris Tweed which can be actually made not only on Harris but anywhere in Outer Hebrides, from Barra in south to Lewis in north.
Coming back on Scottish mainland in Ullapool, I went through the peat bogs of rainy Highlands up to the northern coast and from here to other islands – Orkney. I didn’t want to go as far as to Shetland but for some reason I did. And it was just a chance I spend here three weeks, lucky to see quite enough of these isles. The biggest impression made on me the tiny Isle of Foula, a forgotten edge of UK. It was not too easy to get there (and the same back) but it was worth of it – no tourists, no cars (just handful of locals), pure and wild nature only; very special ambience. Such things are happening very rarely. Thank God, I’d say.
From Shetland I hoped to cross the North Sea to Faroe Islands and then to Iceland. But I could just dream of it; the ferries are leaving only from Denmark and don’t stop anywhere in UK anymore. Not good for me but there are much madder things in our world nowadays. Well, I started searching for a tall ship or something, to get me away from Shetland in another direction than to UK. The vast of flags in Lerwick harbour was Norwegian. Finally the third day, I found a seaman who wouldn’t mind to take me over to Scandinavia.
Being on Norwegian south-east coast, I had a few possibilities where to go next. It was very tempting to run further to north but the month of August already began and Norway is from south to north quite long, full of time-taking fjords. With map in my hand, I decided to take an inland road which connects Bergen with Oslo, the west with the east part of country. I was running along fjord, through 7-mile-long tunnel under glaciers, over mountain plateau Hardangervidda, admiring wonderful waterfalls, breathing fresh (very wet) air, enjoying wild nature. When the road started to be unpleasantly busy, I changed my route over a mountain pass to another, smaller valley which was nice and quiet. In the capital itself, it was not great fun but morning stone-face cyclists on their way to somewhere; modern city for its own, similar like other big towns. It had nothing to do with the countryside which was gorgeous, neither with the weather condition (they were much worse in Scotland), just I found Norway colder than I’d expected. True to say, I didn’t spend huge amount of time in this country and I do hope to get there again, to change my mind.
A few days later, I was passing through the south part of Sweden, via Gothenburg (Göteborg), to Helsingborg harbour. If I forget a horrible thunderstorm and heavy rain for two days, I was feeling just fantastic here every single day. It seemed to me like the Swedish people were very happy to invite tourists in their country, doing a good job for it. Sometimes is the life more about small details than round huge impressive things and your mood can change literally in a few seconds (in any direction), especially in the moments when you don’t expect anything extraordinary.
The ferry crossing from Helsingborg to Denmark was very short and at the same day afternoon I was already running through rainy Copenhagen, overcrowded by cyclists of any age, often with quite interesting bike creations, carrying a few kids on it or just their big shopping back home. I’d wished it’s everywhere like here, with less traffic on the roads… For a mountain-lover, Denmark could be might boring but for those who prefer easy-cycling, it’s really fantastic –endless flatland with miles of cycling routes.
I was onboard again, getting slowly back to continental Europe, via tiny Isle of Fehmarn, connected by bridge with German mainland. Being here, I followed the northern coast of Germany, with two-day-break on Isle of Rügen. After reaching first Polish villages, I turned my scooter in south direction and passing through busy Stettin town, I continued along the German-Polish border, back to Czech Republic. Experiences from all those countries for last four months were still very alive in my head and I really couldn’t wait to compare my native country with them…
is laying some 15 nautical miles from Shetland mainland. The connection is made from Walls three times a week and from Scalloway once fortnightly, according the timetable. The reality is far different, though, and it’s good for you when the time (with necessary patience) is on your side.
I planed to stay on Foula for two days. In the only tiny shop in Walls, I bought some necessary food but not the petrol for my stove because it was out of order (for a few months already…). Ferry-crossing was about two hours long and I didn’t feel very exiting at the open sea… When we arrived into the tiny harbour, the crew loaded out all the stuff brought for Foula inhabitants, particularly food because they are no shops, pubs or anything like this on the isle. Just around thirty islanders were surviving here at the time; it means, the density was very reasonable, the same as local traffic on the only short road. It’s probably not too cheap to bring a few gallons of petrol so far away. Strange, wonderful or something between, it has to be the teacher-job over here, to educate two only pupils… The longer I was staying on Foula, the more I was admiring those separated people who wanted to live and be happy here.
Already the first evening I met Justyna, young Polish girl who came as a traveller on the island couple years ago, got married and stayed here. She just finished her work in their peat-bank, to have enough peat for heating in cold days. She had two little kids, Hector and Baltazar, and her husband, Magnus, was a crew-member on the ferry. By the way she let me know that I very likely don’t leave the isle too soon and if I am getting short on food, she can give me some.
I was actually the only tourist on Foula in those days, and it was reason to feel a bit lonely sometimes. I accommodated me at waiting room by local airstrip, making discovery trips across and around the island, observing large bird colonies, watching funny seals and meeting groups of free-running ponies. The shore is just magnificent and the second highest cliffs in UK are here, as well. I didn’t might deserve all this because the weather turned out dramatically and I should experience what means “bad weather” on Foula. Gales with cold heavy rain for two days, at the end of July…
I called over to Justyna and Magnus; it was nice to see somebody except all the animals around. Except a cup of tea, I got a few fresh carrots, eggs, tin of baked beans, diced lamb for stew and paraffin for my stove. It was smoky enough and didn’t burn very well but I was able to prepare some food and hot drinks in those unpleasant days.
They were toilets by the waiting room, the same as fire brigade garage. The tiny church was not far away. It means, I didn’t miss anything and I had such a cosy apartment for five days and nights. I guess I can never forget this all-inclusive-holiday on Foula…
The men from Iceland
I was searching for somebody who would take me out from Shetland and outside UK. I tried cruise ships, fishing boats, even the Sea Shepherd. But they all had some bad restrictions and didn’t take any gypsies on board.
They were anchored many private schooners in the Lerwick harbour, mostly with Norwegian flag, but I didn’t have much luck unfortunately. One morning I asked a man who spoke very little English. He didn’t answer yes or no but when I was going away, he surprised me. He told me that he hired a car to go for a spin somewhere in Shetland and if I liked to accompany him, I could go with… He had the car actually for five days; I could sleep in his schooner and every morning we were going to discover some beautiful part of the isles. But it was new just for me because he was coming here almost every year for a few decades already, knowing every single museum, each corner on Shetland…
His name was Hafsteinn Jøhannsonn, 76-year-old Icelandic man, living for the second half of his life in Norway. He spent many years at the sea, both, working and travelling. He was making long trips, following old Viking routes. Hafsteinn built his schooner Elding and sailed it on a non-stop voyage round the world, keeping probably alive on the same of diet like now: corned beef, biscuits, Mars-bars and Coca-Cola Company drinks.
Before we left Lerwick, we loaded Elding with tons of alimentary stuff for Hafsteinns’ friends back home because Norway is much dearer than UK. He was telling me a story about crossing the North Sea between Shetland and Norway with seventy silent lambs in Elding cabins, some ten years ago… This time we just ordered two grilled chicken by local butcher. Well, I didn’t enjoy them fully because I was not in the best condition during our two days journey to Norwegian west coast. The first day I couldn’t see any food or drink; at the end of the second day I was slightly better but not ready yet for Hafsteinns’ creations on historic paraffin stove which caused problems every time was used.
I was glad I fall asleep for a few hours the second night when Hafsteinn woke me at five with words like: “Hey, get up! We are coming to Norway!” But I was thinking: Oh my God, it’s not a plane we surely need another hour at least, to get on place! Well, it took us another eleven hours; going through long fjord and enjoying fresh rain for the most of the day. I couldn’t really say no when Hafsteinn offered me to spend the following night in his house. I expected a welcoming family awaiting him with nice dinner after many weeks he was abroad. But the house was lonely, disordered (like many other single-men-living-places) and Hafsteinn was no cook at all; which was might good because he liked when I prepared something for dinner, next morning for breakfast and made a little bit order in the kitchen. He told me: “You can stay how long you like; I will pay for food and you will work!”
I stayed almost a week. The weather improved and it was really nice for couple of days. We were going for our shopping a few miles every day, making short trips, picking blueberries, cooking food, etc. On Wednesday, Hafsteinn organized an interview with me for local newspapers; it was really cool, I didn’t just understand what was written in there…
When I was leaving, I got from Hafsteinn good amount of dried fish from Iceland and some other useful things (like Icelandic sweater) for the next travel. Because Norway was too expensive, I was glad I still had some food from Scotland. I was missing just bread. To raise some local crowns, I started collecting empty tins and bottles along Norwegian roads (the same I did later in Sweden), getting money for them in local shops. Except of that, there were plenty of mushrooms and berries in woods; sometimes I came even across to cherries…
By heavy rain I was welcomed, in rain and fog I was leaving Norway…
Roads, tracks, paths
When I came to central and southern Italy on my scooter at the first time, I was thinking like: “Oh my God, they are having far the worst roads in the whole Europe over here!” But I probably forgot the old truth that anything could be worse…
I was usually taking secondary roads, of bad quality, mostly longer, but with less traffic and more enjoyable. Time to time, there was not really much choice and if I didn’t want to go back, I had to move forward. In Sweden and in Denmark I followed some cycle route very often. The worst situation was in former German Democratic Republic and in Poland. I’d never think it’s still so big difference between West and East Germany, in many ways. But it was good to see it.
In general, bad roads are anywhere and it looks like the situation is becoming worse, year by year; the traffic thicker, drivers more aggressive. But there is a good chance for improvement. One day. When all the oil runs out in the world…
Although if I am moving from somewhere to somewhere, it is about the places, maybe more important for me it’s getting to know new people. It’s a great adventure when somebody invites you unexpectedly home for a dinner and you can spend an evening, night and following morning together with strangers.
One of the most interesting nights I experienced by French family at the northern coast of Brittany, immediately before I left France. When I went in to the house I got a feeling I really entered another world. It was not about some breathtaking luxury, perhaps contrary: everything was looking very simple, almost poor, but someway extraordinary. Thousands of tiny details were creating the life inside this house. The father of this family was retired postman and his bike, which he was using for his job, was parked among others in the hallway which was actually used as a study room and a part of living-room. When I stayed a few minutes alone I took a quick look in their library which were lots of cartoons in. They were not just in living-room but upstairs, too: hundreds and hundreds, black and white, coloured, some of them really old. When I went later to bed I chose an Asterix and Obelix but I didn’t understand too much…
Or when I arrived to tiny village in Scottish Highlands where the locals were just organizing a lovely music festival, accompanied by barbeque, home-made food and games for kids. The weather was bad but the people were great and it was such a fun. We ended up playing snooker until midnight…
Or in Gothenburg when I was passing through its town centre and suddenly a young woman made me stop, talking to me in Swedish. I was quite surprised because she was incredibly beautiful and I didn’t look very irresistibly after three months of travelling but she was excited about my transport, my journey and we were talking long minutes on the busy street among rushing people…
What I’m wearing
Already my first longer journey ended so, that my rucksack was stolen and I stayed just in shorts, sandals and t-shirt, without any cent in my pocket. Day after I found a sweater by garbage on the street and later a knitted beanie hat, as well – the nights were cold… I didn’t have money to buy again new clothing and I started using what I had or got from somebody. I didn’t see much advantage in taking some old-fashioned-second-hand pullover on my next journey but surprisingly it worked well. By the way I found out that I didn’t necessary need my previous chemical poly-something stuff which I used to wear for running and other outdoor activities. Searching for alternatives, I returned back to natural materials like leather or wool, learning meanwhile some new facts about textile manufacturing, how our clothing is made and how much energy it costs, about impact on the nature, how successful is the recycling, etc. But it is probably another chapter already; about lifestyle, priorities, philosophy…
(Sicily, January 3, 2012)