Tag Archives: Rest day

28 & 29 September – to Budapest and a rest day

At the last-minute I decided to have a day off in Budapest. It seemed a shame to pass straight through the city without stopping to do some sightseeing, and besides, I needed to do some washing.

It was supposed to be relatively short and easy ride from Solt to Budapest, however it turned into a bit of an adventure due to a few wrong turnings! Here is my route and stats:

–>28 September – to Budapest (93km)
Sometimes you have days which turn into more of an adventure than anticipated. Thankfully I’d had a very good night’s sleep and breakfast at the Eurovelo6 Stop, in Solt, thus I was able to cope with all the route threw at me, as I pedalled off following the Eurovelo 6 signs.

My hosts had informed me the road got a little bumpy for about 15km, but was generally alright; at least that’s what I think they said, my Hungarian isn’t great, and their English was limited. What they actually meant was the route went off-road, along a grassy track through fields, on top of a dyke type thing. This turned out to be hard work, especially into a headwind, resulting in a fair amount of cursing with only the occasional sheep to hear my plaintive cries. This was day 3 of the headwind incidentally, so it was getting a little tedious.

I didn’t see many other people on the track, just the occasional shepherd or farmer, and then a small group of women resting in sleeping bags down on one side of the levee, with their bikes nearby; I’m not quite sure what was going on, but they looked comfy and waved. Eventually I found a road again, or rather a muddy track, that runs alongside the Danube for quite a way, past a lot of riverside houses and fishing spots. It was pleasant riding, even if I had to dodge a lot of potholes and got a bit grimy.

I must have missed a Eurovelo 6 sign at some point, or they ran out, because I ended up on route 51. The main road was pretty busy, however I can deal with most busy roads after tackling Istanbul. What I couldn’t really deal with were the ‘no cycling’ signs that appeared after a while, and persisted, forcing me to turn off route 51 to try to find an alternative road to Budapest. In my efforts to try to relocate Eurovelo 6 I traversed several muddy farmer’s tracks, that my Garmin device informed me were roads. These tracks deteriorated into trails, until I ended up pushing my bike for about 500m through verdant vegetation before reaching a semi-paved track again. It was fairly tough going, but a good adventure, and satisfying to not have to turn around. I was once again glad of Smaug; tough Expedition bike from Oxford Bike Works that can cope with most things.

After passing a lot of barking dogs, but none that chased me, I rejoined main roads to Budapest.  It was a fairly easy ride into the city, and I located my hostel on the ‘Pest’ side of the river without any trouble; had photos of the hostel location on my phone. Hostel Unity is conveniently situated in the centre of the pub/bar/restaurant area of Budapest, however I hadn’t realised it’s on the third floor of a large building. I had to take my panniers off and transport them, then my bike, up in the lift, however it was all worth it as the hostel turned out to be very welcoming, friendly and helpful. It was also quite quiet, the busy season having just about come to an end.

After checking in I went for a wander around the local area, passing a whole host of drinking and eating venues, all of which looked good. I eventually chose one at random (Reds), and had some Hungarian food, including a great beef stew. The beer was also very welcome after today’s adventures.

Feeling very full I waddled back to the hostel and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and chatting with a few other guests, including Danny from Bristol, who is randomly travelling around Europe for a few months; random travelling is the best way I reckon. As usual there were also a few folks from the US and Australia, on tours of European cities, all good people to chat to.

On the spur of the moment I decided to have a day off in Budapest, as it seemed a shame just to pass straight through the city without having a look around, and I needed to do some washing anyway. Budapest is another one of those cities I got a good feeling about, after only a short while; it’s a bit weird how quickly you can tell whether you’re going to like somewhere or not, must be something to do with the atmosphere, people, and city dynamics. Budapest turned out to be great.

Oh, and good news, my nephew liked the lego I sent him for his birthday, marvellous!

–> 29 September – a rest day in Budapest
After a bit of a lie in, which I’m not very good at any more, I got up and had the all included hostel breakfast, then chilled out for a couple of hours, reading, writing and catching up on the news. I also got some much-needed washing done; maybe the last washing needed before getting back to the UK!

Unity hostel isn’t far from a music college, and you can hear the students practising; some were better than others. The day was bright and sunny, so after studying the map I set out to explore Budapest, or rather ‘Pest’, as the ‘Buda’ bit of the city is over the other side of the river and I didn’t really have time to go there too. To start off with I headed up to Hero’s Square, grabbing a Gyros kebab for lunch on the way; very tasty, and cheap.

If you get bored with photos I apologise, I took rather a lot today. Hero’s Square is good to visit, with statues of past leaders, including Arpad, who I mentioned in a past blog post; he was the leader of the tribes that founded Hungary. There are lots of other statues of people in various heroic poses.

After Hero’s Square I walked up to the Turkish Spa, and took a look inside the foyer. It’s supposed to be very good, however looked a little pricey, and in any case Lobster was getting nervous about all the hot water so we had to make a swift exit.

After a break in the park, where I read my friend Simon’s latest chapters from the SciFi novel he’s writing (check is out for free here), I walked down Andrassy Street to the House of Terror. I didn’t going into the museum, as the tour takes at least a couple of hours, however it was very interesting to read the stories on boards outside. It was also quite chilling, sending a shiver down my spine, as I read about the thousands of people the Soviets carted off to work in Gulags indefinitely, after the Second World War. So many of them died, never to see their homeland again, and so many were imprisoned for spurious or no real reason. The prisoners were treated horrifically, often being beaten to death if they couldn’t work or walk; animals were treated more humanely! I may have the stats wrong but of the 700,000 people transported to forced labour camps, around 300,000 died, and most weren’t repatriated for years. You can almost sense the ghosts of these people as you stand outside the building. The last person was repatriated in 2000, after being discovered in a mental hospital in Russia; he wasn’t mentally ill, he just couldn’t speak any Russian.

It’s hard to take in just how badly the Soviet regime treated much of the population in Eastern Europe, after the Second World War, and something that probably isn’t taught or talked about as much as Nazi atrocities; think it deserves to be, and these victims remembered. I hope the human race can learn from these past events, especially in light of what is going on at the moment in the Middle East and elsewhere.

After a somewhat sobering experience I was in need of something a little lighter, so after a hot chocolate I randomly stopped at the Opera House and decided to take the tour, which included a mini concert. It turned out to be a great experience, and something really different for me. I’m convinced to go and see more theatre, and take in an opera, when I get back to the UK.

The Hungarian State Opera House building is extremely ornate, and was built in 19th century, partly financed by the Emperor Franz Joseph, and partly by the city itself. The Emperor decreed that the Opera House shouldn’t be any bigger than the one in Vienna, and was somewhat alarmed when he saw it of the first time and realised it was probably more splendid.

The interior of the building is magnificent, with sweeping staircases, elaborately carved paneling, busts of composers or other famous people around every corner, as well as lots of great paintings and frescos. The main auditorium is decked out in gold leaf, with a central chandelier illuminating the space; it takes several hours to lower the chandelier, by hand (30 strong blokes) and change all the light bulbs. There are grates under the seats that let cool air up into the auditorium; they used to put ice blocks down there to provide air-conditioning, however things have moved on now. Unlike many of the buildings in Budapest the Opera House wasn’t damaged during the war. A bomb did fall through on to the stage, but it didn’t explode.

The mini concert on the staircase at the end was very entertaining, with a female opera singer doing a couple of numbers. It was a new experience to hear such powerful singing live, and I very much enjoyed it; as mentioned I will be endeavouring to see more musicals and hopefully an opera when I get back to the UK – would love to see Aida.

With the daylight hours getting shorter it wasn’t long before the sun was due to set after I left the opera house, and I was pretty hungry after all the walking about, so I grabbed a hot dog then headed back to he hostel to relax.

Mexican hotdog, just because

Mexican hotdog, just because

There’s still a lot more Budapest has to offer, so I think I’m going to have to put it on the list of places to come back to. This list is getting a bit long now, and I’m not sure how I’m going to balance it versus wanting to see completely new places, however Budapest will definitely rank near the top.

After a great day off I spent the evening doing some planning, and chatting with more guests, including an Australian Expedition leader who takes kids on one or two-week long expeditions all around the world, and traveller from Brazil just finishing his European Tour. Bruno from Brazil has confirmed that South America is a must visit place, although I think it’ll take about 6 months to see it properly…arrggghh…I need more lifetime.

Reckon I’ve got about 1,000 miles to go to the English channel,  so perhaps 2 more weeks riding until I’m back on British soil. This is exciting, but also a little saddening that things are coming to an end. I am however really looking forward to seeing friends and family again soon 🙂

16 & 17 September 2015 – rest days in Istanbul

Two days off in Istanbul, and I even managed a lie-in until about 08.30 each day! It was great to finally reach the city, after a long ride from Tarifa in Spain, and even longer from Nordkapp in Norway. It seems like a long time ago that I started this tour, at the beginning of May, however I still have about a month and a half to go, to pedal back to the UK, catch a ferry, and then back to Norwich via a few friends and family.

Back to Istanbul, somewhere I’d been thinking about visiting for a long time, however I was feeling pretty tired after some long days in the saddle, so I didn’t do much on day 1; blog updates, snooze, lunch, snooze, walkabout, snooze, more food…snooze.

I did manage to get out for a wander in the afternoon, taking in a few sights and walking over the river and back. When in a new city I like to just have a good ramble about, without any specific objective in mind, to get a feel for the place, taking in random sights, sounds and smells.

Istanbul really is where East meets West, with so many colours, cultures and contrasts; people in conservative Muslim dress to fashions you’d see on the streets of Paris or Milan. There are all the usual high street chain shops you’d expect, however the smaller shops, street vendors and bazaars are far more interesting, to me anyway.

It’s almost magical exploring the city for the first time, and finding out what’s down a narrow alley, around a jumbled corner, or through a crowded street market. There is of course loads of great food to be had, and lots to tempt you as you wander about; I opted for an Iskender Kebap in the evening, as recommended by my friend Hena. It was very nice, however I’m not sure it beats the kebab I had from Mr Kebab in St. Pauli, Hamburg; close thing however the latter was exceptional, also from a Turkish restaurant.

I spent the rest of the evening chilling out at the hostel, chatting with the hosts or other visitors; always good to meet new people.

Having not done a lot the previous day I was ready for some sightseeing, bracing myself to deal with crowds and queues. I’ve got a whole load of photos which will recount my day better than words.

I walked over the bridge to the Old Town, after energizing myself with another great hostel breakfast, then visited the Topkapi Palace and Harem, the Basilica Cistern, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Grand Bazaar. I also just had a good explore, so all in all it wasn’t that surprising that I was exhausted by the end of the day; sightseeing far harder than pedalling, and walking uses legs differently to pedalling.

The Topkapi Palace is lavish and architecturally grand. It was a bit odd walking around the harem and reading about eunuchs and what life was like for the concubines; a different world!

After the relative quiet of the harem it was a lot more crowded in the main palace, and I didn’t have the patience to queue for all the exhibits, however needless to say it’s an amazing place, and a staggering testament to the Sultan’s wealth, power and influence.

Buildings like the kitchens were also really interesting, and the treasury, however you can’t take photos in them. There are whole rooms dedicated to making the royal confectionary; must have been some very good baklava. The treasury puts the crown jewels to shame, with artefacts and gifts from all around the world.

Whilst the palace is amazing, my favourite visit was the to the Basalica Cistern; the largest covered cistern in the city, which is known about anyway – I wonder what else lurks beneath Istanbul’s streets, yet to be discovered (hopefully not Cthulhu). The Cistern was built by Justinian I in 537, and is a must see if you visit Istanbul; it’s also nice and cool down there. It’s unclear why there are two medusa heads, and why they’re upside-down or sideways, but they’re very cool; could be positioned that way of luck, like they did on axe handles.

After the cistern I walked the short distance to the Sultan Ahmed/Ahmet Mosque, and had a sit down for half an hour waiting for prayers to finish – nice to listen to. It’s another building that’s very worth a look around, and great to visit a big mosque, rather than another cathedral; been to loads of them. You can also experience how important faith is in so many people’s live here, compared with for instance in the UK, where it takes a backseat for the most past. You have to take off your shoes to go inside, and no shorts allowed; I was pretty sure there’s a no lobster rule too so he got stashed in the bag with the shoes.

The last place on my list to visit in Istanbul, although you could spend days exploring further, was the Grand Bazaar; basically a huge shopping mall, but not in the modern sense. I think you could probably buy most things there, from antiques, to spices, leather goods, scarves, jewelery, food, tea and coffee, clothes, ornaments etc etc etc.

Needless to say my legs were shattered after all that walking, so I stopped at the Irish Bar on the way back to the hostel for a pint and some food. My last evening in Istanbul was spent planning and chatting, with a quick excursion for an aubergine kebab and some baklava; the kebab was good but again didn’t beat Hamburg. The Baklava was excellent and topped up my energy reserves for leaving in the morning.

Tomorrow I hit the road again, travelling North West on the final stage of my tour, back to the UK. There’s still around 2,000 miles to go, however I’m likely to be pretty focused on pedalling for a while, rather than sightseeing. I’m a  bit nervous about border closures, with all the migrant/refugee movements going on, however I’ll just have to keep abreast of developments and re-plan if necessary; I’m sure it’ll work out fine, and they’ll be time for some exploring once I reach the Danube.

10 & 11 September 2015 – rest day and Thessaloniki

I decided to pause in Edessa for a day’s rest, seeing as the weather forecast was rain and storms all day, and I was in good company. Route and stats for the following day below:

–> 10 September – rest day in Edessa
As already mentioned the weather forecast was pretty foul, so we decided discretion was the better part of valour and had a rest day in Edessa. A day off would also give Jorn a chance to get over his stomach bug, which had been hanging around for too long and was making cycling very uncomfortable for him.

Alen decided to brave the weather and carry on to Thessaloniki, before making his way to Istanbul. I doubt I’ll catch him up, as he does some pretty big distances each day, however we might meet again in Istanbul, or in Vienna when I pass through; where Alen lives.

Tom and I grabbed breakfast from a bakery, where we found some fantastic pastry based sustenance including sausage rolls, cheesy thingamys, spinach triangle pasty type products, and doughnuts. We weren’t sure what we were buying but they were all very nice, especially the doughnuts. The police also pulled up whilst we were eating, to buy breakfast; you can always tell a food establishment is good if the police or fire service stop to buy food there!

We met up with the others back at the hotel, and spent a few hours chilling whilst Jorn went in search of pharmaceutical cures for his stomach bug. He returned with various remedies, and an invite for coffee from people he’d met at the pharmacy. We joined Achilleas and several of his friends in a local cafe for coffee (they did decaf) and a chat; they were all exceptionally welcoming and friendly, and as always locals bring a place to life. We decided to grab lunch at a local restaurant, recommended by Achilleas; good to have some traditional Greek food rather than jut another kebab (Gyros).

Lunch with some new friends in Edessa - locals very welcoming

Lunch with some new friends in Edessa – locals very welcoming

After lunch Achilleas, who lives in Bristol at the moment but is back here for the holidays, took us on a tour of Edessa, to see the old town and waterfalls. The old town (Varosi) was destroyed by the Nazis during the war, as it was a centre for the Resistance. It was good to have a local show you around, thanks Achilleas!

The waterfalls give Edessa its nickname, the City of Waters, and are pretty impressive, once powering a big waterwheel, as well as other machinery; there are various channels leading to buildings, but most are now defunct.

After a bit more wandering, passing quite a few establishments closed due to the recession, we retreated to the hotel for a nap, keen to get out of the wet for a bit. We also arranged with Achilleas to meet up in the evening for a few drinks; it was an R&R day after all.

After a bit of blog updating, and feeling justified about taking a day off when the rain got really heavy, we headed out to meet with Achilleas and his friends at about 21.00. As with a lot of southern Europe things get going later, and it’s not uncommon to eat about 22.00. The small bar, recommended by Achilleas, is a great little venue, although unfortunately I’ve forgotten its name! We spent a very pleasant evening chatting with him and his friends, over a few beers, or in their case a few Mojitos; great bunch of people and really nice of them to give us such a warm welcome, and spend the evening with us.

It was great to have had a rest day in good company, with no cycling whatsoever, however tomorrow it’s back on the bike to pedal to Thessaloniki; the last leg of the tour for Tom, Jorn and Clara, and a step closer to Istanbul for me!

–> 11 September – to Thessaloniki
We were on the road in good time, leaving Edessa on a slightly chilly and damp morning, however the weather was set to improve as we approached Thessaloniki.

After a brief climb we flew down a long hill, and enjoyed relatively flat riding, covering something like 70km in 3 hours; very fast for me – I think a slight tailwind might have provided some assistance. The road was a little tedious, and the traffic got steadily busier as we approached Thessaloniki.

After a brief pause for Jorn to fix a puncture, hopefully the last one of their tour, we found a spot for lunch next to a garage, on a well-tended grassy patch next to the main road; it was noisy but comfy.

Lunch break on a nice grassy patch, next the busy road

Lunch break on a nice grassy patch, next the busy road

Aside from Tom’s panniers falling off due to a somewhat bumpy road, and the occasional dog deciding to bark/chase us, it was ‘smooth’ riding the rest of the way, although the traffic got quite exciting at the outskirts of the city, and as we made out way to the centre. We had to dodge around a lot of cars ad buses before making it to the sea, where we stopped to celebrate the end of Jorn, Clara and Tom’s tour, a great achievement!

Clara had found somewhere for us to stay on the Airbnb app, an apartment not far from the centre which we managed to find after stopping for an ice-cream. The Airbnd app is quite handy, giving you access to accommodation in loads of places, from single rooms to whole houses depending on your requirements. In this case the woman renting out the apartment for a few days was vacating it whilst we stayed there; me for just one night, the others for a bit longer before flying home. We had to lock our bikes up in the street, which worried me slightly, however anyone trying to steal them would have had to deal with several locks first.

After a rest, another ice-cream and some rehydration, we headed into the city for dinner, taking a stroll along the waterfront to find a restaurant for a celebratory meal. There were lots of people out either walking or cycling next to the sea, as well as several buskers, a few living statues, and stalls selling corn on the cob, nuts or candy floss.

Thessaloniki is a vibrant city, with loads of bars and restaurants, and a good atmosphere, however I wasn’t too keen on the dead rats floating just off the promenade; don’t think I’ll be going for a swim. There wasn’t much sign of a Greek recession, with lots of people out enjoying the nightlife. We found a nice little restaurant and enjoyed a last meal together before I left in the morning; the meatballs were very good.

It was lovely to have a last night out with my cycling companions for the last few days, and I know that I’ll miss them as I pedal onwards, however I’m really looking forward to getting to Istanbul now, and to seeing what the return journey to the UK alongside the Danube has in store.

Could be a big day tomorrow, with a steep climb to get out of Thessaloniki, then perhaps 150km to near Kavala; back to solo cycling again.

Many thanks to Clara, Tom and Jorn for a great few days riding, and some much-needed company before my next leg. Hope to see you all again in the future, for perhaps more adventures! Good luck with everything 🙂

02 & 03 September 2015 – Dubrovnik


Route and stats for 02 September below:

Nothing for the 03 September as had a day off in Dubrovnik, a fine city!

–> 02 September – to Dubrovnik, with a brief stint in Bosnia Herzegovina
My legs felt tired this morning, for the first time in a while, so it must be rest day time. I decided that once I got to Dubrovnik I’d have a day off, for sightseeing purposes, but mainly just some R&R before the stretch to Istanbul. I still had 121km to pedal today, so I left Uvula Borovic in good time, riding over the hills to Ploce. I passed some beautiful lakes as the road curved inland to go around a river estuary; nice change of scenery.

Then, wonder of wonders, I had a flat section for at least 10km, through a flood plain, before a long climb over to Bosnia and Herzegovina. A lot more farming activity was evident on the flood plain, with lots of roadside stalls selling fruit, veg, Fig jam and olive oil.

I had to get my passport out again at the border crossing, however they weren’t particularly interested in me or Smaug. I was only in Bosnia and Herzegovina for about 10km, passing through the town of Neum before the border crossing back into Croatia, via another arduous climb; it’d be easier if it wasn’t so hot again. The border guard going back into Croatia were a lot friendlier, waving me through and interested in where I was pedalling to; not sure if it was professional or personal curiosity. I rejoined route 8 heading South towards Dubrovnik.

There were islands to my right as I rode down the coast, past Ston, then up a long climb at the top of which was a small market. There were a couple of cycle tourers taking a break there, so I paused for an ice cream and cold drink too. They turned out to be from Slovenia, and were on their way back there after cycling to Montenegro. They confirmed there were more hills to come, and we all agreed the heat was a little too much; more people saying it’s hotter than it should be for the time of year. I passed several cycle tourers going the other way today; good wave/hello count!

Continuing down the coast I passed through Trsteno, where there are two enormous Plane Trees, both about 450 years old and providing some lovely shade. After sweating profusely I finally made it to the outskirts of Dubrovnik, and stopped for another cold drink; I chatted to two mad Austrians and a couple of motor-cyclists – I met the latter again at the campsite later on.

I had to cross the bridge then pedal up another big hill, before looping back around the harbour and on to Camping Solitudo, on the peninsula to the North West of Dubrovnik. The campsite is conveniently situated for visiting the city, being only 4km away, and whilst not brilliant was perfectly adequate for my needs; had free wifi, trees for my hammock, and the bathrooms were good, so I could forgive the litter and hard pitches.

To put it bluntly I was knackered when I arrived, and after setting up fell asleep in my hammock for 2 hours; after an ice-cream. I decided I’d stay at the campsite for two nights, rather than try to find a hostel in Dubrovnik for tomorrow night, which would be more expensive, crowded, and more hassle than worth. So tomorrow would be a rest day, with a bit of sightseeing for good measure.

–> 03 September – rest day and sightseeing in Dubrovnik
I still ended up cycling about 10km today, however it’s amazing how much easier it is to go up hills without all my luggage on the bike. I think I was due a rest day, it having been two weeks since my last one in Marseille; seems like longer ago than two weeks, having seen so much since. I very happy with my progress though, and pleased that it’s less than 1,000 miles to go to Istanbul.

My planned lie in failed, despite several beers the previous evening; I’m just hard-coded to get up and out of my tent by 07.00, or earlier. It’ll be interesting to see if I can keep this routine when I get back the UK; without the sleeping in the tent bit too often though. It would be handy to have some time before work to do a bit of writing, or just do something different instead of rushing straight to the office; maybe a run.

After a few chores I pedalled the 4km to Dubrovnik Old Town, over the hill, and spent a few hours looking around. It’s an amazing walled city, with so much history, and loads of fantastic architecture to gawk at; there were crowds of other tourists also doing a lot of gawking. I can see why it was chosen as the location for King’s Landing, for the TV adaptation of the Game of Thrones books; very fitting. If you want a bit of history check Wikipedia – might have been founded by the Greeks, was allied Ancona (Italian city) versus the domination of Venice in the Adriatic, part of the Ottoman Empire for ages, had famous merchant fleet, and was put under siege and shelled by the Serbians and Montenegrins in 1991. I wonder if the Croatians get on with Serbs and Montenegrins now, as the shelling looked pretty destructive from the maps I saw, despite the city having been demilitarised and listed as a UNESCO work heritage site. I took a lot of photos.

I found a bookshop and managed to buy a map that will get me as far as Greece, which is a relief. I could have probably managed with my Garmin device and my phone, but they could always break or run out of power, and I prefer a paper map in many ways; good confidence boost to have one. I probably don’t need one once I’m in Greece, as I’ll just follow the coast, roughly, all the way into Turkey and on to Istanbul. Post bookshop I continued my meanderings, with an ice-cream stop for refreshment purposes.

I am developing a theory about Irish pubs/bars; I think they must be magic, with a way of insinuating themselves into a street in any given city and appearing quite in place, and not strange. It’s a bit odd when you think about it; why are there Irish bars/pubs nearly everywhere? I think they can probably move about if they want to, but no-one will think it odd or even recall it being there, or having moved, because they’re magic…obviously.

Having done enough sightseeing, and in need of some serious R&R, I retreated to the campsite after lunch, and had a very pleasant siesta in my hammock. The rest of the day was occupied by reading my book, route planning, acquiring a VISA for Turkey, a visit to the beach near the campsite, eating, and contemplating the route ahead; but not too much, as that just leads to increased nerves and over thinking things.

Tomorrow it’s back on the road to Montenegro. Blog posts might get a bit intermittent prior to Istanbul, depending on Wifi, campsites, and opportunities to charge my laptop. I can’t use my phone in some of the countries I’m passing through, as it’ll cost far too much, however I’ll try and Tweet my location whenever possible.

Have a good weekend everyone 🙂 (and good luck with the house move Norman and Sheila)

P.S. Sorry for any spelling/grammar errors – had to rewrite this twice due to crashes (Wifi cut out)

25 May 2015 – a day off in Stockholm

A whole day off to do some sightseeing, and generally just be a tourist, what a luxury. It did feel a bit strange waking up in the hostel and not having to pack everything onto my bike for another day’s riding, however I was refreshed after a good night’s sleep, even if I was woken up by drilling from next door at 07.30.

Stockholm is well worth a visit, and no doubt warrants a few days exploration, however I only had one so picked just a few places to go and see. I started with a general wander about, heading vaguely South East towards the Vasa museum on one of the islands.

Kungstrad Garden

Kungstrad Garden

Stockholm is built on lots of different islands, and there are bridges, ferries and canals connecting it all up.

Lots of open water, canals, and ferries

Lots of open water, canals, and ferries

Plenty of cyclists too, and cycle lanes everywhere, all clearly marked so you know where to walk as a pedestrian, and where to cycle, and never the twain shall meet. We should do this more in the UK.

Cyclists abound - parliament building in background

Cyclists abound – parliament building in background

It was quite a long walk to the Vasa museum, so much for a rest day, however it was nice to be using different muscles, and not be in any particular rush. On the bike front Stockholm has its own version of the Boris bike scheme by the looks of it; lots of the same hire bikes whizzing about anyway.

Lots of nice looking older style boats too

Lots of nice looking older style boats too

Monuments indicating water quality and pollution levels; I think, pretty funky

Monuments indicating water quality and pollution levels; I think, pretty funky

I got to the Vasa museum about 10.15, just as loads of coaches were arriving and depositing mostly Chinese tourists in their droves. Luckily they were in a different queue, and mine moved pretty swiftly anyway.

I could go on about the Vasa museum for a while, it was great, but better if you go and visit it yourself should the opportunity arise. The Vasa is a Swedish warship built in 1621, that sank on its maiden voyage, but was raised in the 1960’s and is now housed in a museum. It’s a massively popular tourist attraction and I could see why; my first thought was ‘it’s the Black Pearl’, from Pirates of the Carribean.

First look at the Vasa

First look at the Vasa

I was called upon to take quite a few photos of couples posing in front of the Vasa, but here’s one of me on my day off.

Me at the Vasamuseet

Me at the Vasamuseet

The Vasa was commissioned by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, to assist in the war versus Poland-Lithunia which was raging at the time. In fact Sweden seemed to be at war with several of its neighbours; the 17th century was perhaps its period of military might. The ship was finished too quickly, as the King was demanding its presence as flagship of the reserve squadron immediately, lest someone suffer his royal displeasure.

The Vasa - panorama

The Vasa – panorama

From what I learned the Vasa set sail too early, without enough ballast on board meaning it was top heavy. I don’t think they could put more ballast on board otherwise the lower gun ports would be underwater; basically the ship was structurally unsound. The gun ports, all 64 of them, were all opened to fire a salute as it left harbour, which was a bit over the top as usually just one cannon was fired. A squall hit which pushed the ship over to one side, letting water into the lower gun ports, and whilst the ship righted itself it was doomed and sank shortly afterwards with the loss of 30 to 60 hands. It sank after sailing just 1.5km; not really an auspicious moment for a ship bearing the Royal Family’s name – Vasa means sheaf of wheat I believe. I learnt a lot of this by latching on to coach party tours, but there are also free tours in English you can join at set times.

Here are some pictures of the Vasa, in all it’s glory, a truly amazing vessel to have been raised from the seabed and restored. It’s cannons were salvaged in the 17th century, via a primitive diving bell, but it was then largely ‘forgotten’ about (probably due to embarrassment), until it was ‘discovered’ and raised in 1961. Excuse me for not accurately naming bits of the ship; don’t have all that knowledge, or time to look them up.

The pictures probably don’t do it justice, but you get the idea; more impressive than the Mary Rose. There are lots of exhibits on topics such as life on board, the sinking, the raising and archaeology, Sweden at the time; 1 in 10 people were ‘recruited’ into the armed forces apparently. Aside from the Vasa there is a side exhibition which is equally interesting, that goes around the world telling you what was going on in other countries in the 17th century, such as:

  • 30 years war in Europe – big armies with modern weapons, pretty horrific
  • North America trading and colonisation – disease kills lots of Native Americans
  • Gallileo versus the Inqusiiton – the Earth goes around the Sun
  • Trading in new and exotic goods – the world opening up
  • India and the Mughal Empire in ascendance, religious tolerance
  • Ottoman Empire expands, stopped at battle of Vienna – learnt about the fierce Jannisaries
  • End of the Ming dynasty in China – Manchus seixe power, Emperor commits suicide, Qing dynasty starts
  • Japan opening up, then closing up (Edo period)
  • Africa – slavery and exploitation
  • Persia and Baghdad

I think I spent about 2 hours there, but could have stayed longer. Well worth a visit.

After the Vasa I grabbed a hot dog and hot chocolate, and continued my wanderings around Stockholm, heading over to the old town or Gamla Stan, where the Royal Palace is, via the Parliament building.

After having spent nearly 3 weeks in the ‘wilds’ the architecture is pretty impressive, and a nice contrast. I headed on to the Royal Palace, passing some guards marching around its perimeter.

Swedish Guard on the march

Swedish Guard on the march

I’m assuming these guards are professional soldiers and not cadets or actors; they marched well, but weren’t keeping very still at their guard post – not like the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. They had cool helmets though.

Swedish Guard on the march 2

Swedish Guard on the march 2

I went into the free bits of the Royal Palace, which included the Royal Chapel – very ornate – then continued my wanderings, stopping for another hot chocolate to refuel.

By this point I was getting a bit tired, having walked 12km on my rest day, so decided to head back to the hostel for a rest, before heading out to get some food somewhere.

Heading back to hostel - these lions are everywhere, thought they looked like Dougal from Magic Roundabout

Heading back to hostel – these lions are everywhere, thought they looked like Dougal from Magic Roundabout

Whilst sightseeing I also played a bit of Ingress on my phone, Stockholm being full of portals to explore. It’s quite a good way of getting around and seeing bits you might miss, as has a map and portals are usually interesting places. By the end of the day I’d levelled twice due to unique hacks and captures; this won’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t play Ingress, and needless to say I won’t be playing it much on tour!

Ingress level 12 - got to 13 by the end of the day

Ingress level 12 – got to 13 by the end of the day

I forgot about this picture of a map from the Vasa museum, which I liked because I could see how far I’d come.

Map from Vasa museum - I've pedalled a long way

Map from Vasa museum – I’ve pedalled a long way

After chilling out and updating my blog in the hostel, which was a lot busier today, I headed out to find food.

Double thumbs up to Stockholm

Double thumbs up to Stockholm

I initially thought I’d grab some Sushi, however that plan was quickly set to one side when I discovered the Dubliner, an Irish pub in Stockholm, full of ex-pats, or people working here a lot, or people like me who are on holiday and just stumble upon it.

The Dubliner

The Dubliner

It has a friendly atmosphere, good beer and good food. I settled on the Swedish meatballs, figuring I really aught to have some whilst in Sweden.

The Dubliner - Swedish meatballs

The Dubliner – Swedish meatballs

I discovered shortly afterwards that Monday night is pub quiz night! I joined a team consisting of two Aussies, over here for a sports competition, a Brit working here for a week, a Swede who works for Quatar Airlines, and a slightly mad Finnish woman; great company all round. The Brit, who’s name I think is Paul (sorry if my memory is failing), knows Norwich and the Fat Cat pub, as his Dad lives or lived on Nelson Street; small world. All interesting people anyway; chatted to Gordon (Swede – again sorry if name wrong) for a bit, very interesting life living in Quatar, which doesn’t sound very pleasant, and travelling a lot in between work.

New Aussie friends

New Aussie friends

The pub quiz was long, and needless to say quite a lot of beer was consumed. We didn’t win, or even come close, but it was great fun and a great break. Paddy and Alan ran a very witty ‘multi media’ quiz, with lots of banter with the locals; a lot of Irish.

Dubliner pub quiz - run by Paddy and Alan

Dubliner pub quiz – run by Paddy and Alan

Despite an invite to go on to another bar I said my goodbyes post quiz, and wended my way back to the hostel. If I’d stayed out I know it would have just got messy and I’d have felt terrible the next day; not good with lots of kilometres to pedal.

So a great day out in Stockholm; thoroughly recommend the city for a visit. Could see myself happily working there for a while should the need arise.

Also got some planning done; think I know the way to Copenhagen now. I’ve adjusted my handlebar grips a bit too, which will hopefully fix my wonky hand problem, or at least ease it a bit, just need to sort the saddle now.

Apologies for any spelling or grammar errors; Stockholm was two days ago and I’m in Linkoping now, having pedalled 250km since, quite tired, but should be getting a new saddle tomorrow which’ll help.