Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cycling in Sweden

Sweden got me back on a bike. For the first time in several years. The Lonely Planet Guide to Sweden inspired me to cycle 56 or so miles (90 kilometers) on the islands of Gotland and Fårö in one day. The book reassured me that a rookie cyclist could handle such a ride. The author did not consider herself a cyclist, but she gave cycling on Gotland a shot and so did I.

It’s a good thing Gotland’s terrain is mostly flat with few hills to climb. I actually made it to my destination without getting hit by a car or falling into a ditch. No flat tires to deal with. It did not rain. Bright sunshine warmed me all day. The trip began on an early August morning in the medieval walled city of Visby and ended shortly after sunset at the ferry landing on Fårö, the island home of Sweden’s most famous film director, the late Ingmar Bergman. The movies Through a Glass Darkly, Hour of the Wolf, The Passion of Anna, Persona and Shame were all filmed on Fårö. When I envisioned cycling on Fårö ahead of the trip, I pictured spotting Bergman out and about, enjoying an isolated and unspoiled countryside (there are no banks, hospitals, police stations or McDonald's on Fårö) as I pedaled my way to the northwest corner of the island. But my visit came too late. Bergman passed away 2 days before I made it to his favorite Swedish island.

After passing 5 medieval churches (there are 94 churches on Gotland dating back to the Middle Ages), sheep, wild pigs and a field of bright red wildflowers beneath a perfect sky, I hopped onto a ferry to reach Fårö. With Bergman in my thoughts, I wound my way across his peaceful isle, with its windmills, woodlands and 17th century farms. The sun went down fast and mosquitoes smacked my face. I should have started the trip in the early, not late, morning. I could have spent less time swatting the bugs away and more time watching the sun go down over the Baltic Sea. Shortly before sunset, I reached the beach at Digerhuvud Nature Reserve, where eerie limestone sea stacks, a result of erosion during the Ice Age, meet the sea. I wanted to see the huge limestone monoliths ("raukar" in Swedish) at Langhammars at the far northwest corner of Fårö as the sun started to set, but ran out of daylight. I found myself with just enough time to enjoy the tranquility of a Digerhuvud sunset, with hues of orange reflecting off the sea.

Fairly exhausted by the time I caught the ferry back to Gotland, I was grateful to get myself and my bike on a bus, sleeping the whole ride back from Fårösund to Visby.

My next biking excursion in Sweden made me fall completely in love with Stockholm. Some people call Stockholm, built on 14 islands, the "Venice of the North." I cycled my way across the city (which has many bike paths to create a nearly car-free experience) on a rainy day and savored the Stockholm skyline, with the city's architecture (examples of Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism, Revivalism mixed with modern and postmodernism) spread out before me. I also noticed more than a dozen businessmen and women in suits cycling to or from work.

Me on a bike. Didn't think it would happen again. I can't wait to see more of Sweden on two wheels.

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