The Baltic Princess

Day 48 – Sunday 11th of August – Stockholm to Turku (247km – by ferry)

I had barely slept 4 hours by the time the alarm clock rang at 5 am, but I had 11 hours of ferry crossing ahead of me, so I thought that aside from catching up on the blog, I would also catch up on some sleep. I finished packing the few things I had not packed the night before as quietly as I could to try not to wake anybody up and as I was gathering my things, I found a very nice goodbye note from Andrew. There was nobody awake in the hostel, so I had a cup of coffee on my own in the kitchen and then rode the bike on deserted streets to the ferry terminal, ready to board the Baltic Princess just past 6 am.

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The sun was already up and there were no clouds in the sky, the perfect day to spend on the deck of a ship. The good thing about being on a motorbike is that they board you first, so I had barely got to the queue when I was told to skip to the front next to a Russian biker, and we were among the first vehicles on board.

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I left the motorbike a bit worried about it falling over if the sea was rough and went up to find a good place to seat. To my dismay, there was no sitting area, and as I had booked no cabin, it meant that I was not going to get any sleep. The only place where I could seat was the top deck, but fortunately the weather was very good, so it was not a problem. At 7:10, right on time, the ship started to move and we started the 11-hour crossing.

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One hour into it I was already tremendously bored, and wondered what on Earth people found so great about going on a cruise. Writing for the blog and reading my book killed a few hours, but in the end what really saved me was discovering that there was WiFi connection, a very poor one, but enough to connect to Whatsapp and be able to catch up my loved ones. Spending the day on the road or socializing with people in hostel or hosts from CouchSurf does not leave much time left to chat with people online.

By noon, the ferry called at Aland, a big island between Sweden and Finland, and from the top deck I heard the rumbling sound of Harleys. I got up to see what was waiting to board and saw a big group of bikes on the harbor. It was the Turku MC, who had spent the weekend in Aland and were heading back home.

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The rest of the day went by faster than I expected, and by the time the ship was approaching Helsinki, I was surprised to have had such a nice time on board. The sea had been very calm, so I did not get any motion sickness, despite the fact that I spent a lot of time staring at the computer screen, and we had not spent that much time in the open sea anyways, about two thirds of the trip had been among small islands on the coasts of Sweden, Aland and Finland.

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Half an hour before docking all drivers were called down to the car deck, and when the doors started to open, about 40 Harleys started their engines at the same time. The resulting thunder reverberated in the cavernous car deck, setting off the alarms of every single car sitting there, it was madness.

I got to the hostel in only ten minutes, and since it was already late and Turku was a small residential city, with not much to see, had a shower and just went to bed, happy to think that the following afternoon I would be picking up my girlfriend from Helsinki airport.

Swedish BBQ

Day 47 – Saturday 10th of August –  Stockholm (0km)

One curious thing I noticed for the first time when I was living in the UK and that has been confirmed the further east and north I have been on this trip, is that in countries with bad or cold weather, people know how to make the most of sunny days much better than we do in Spain. We probably just take the good weather for granted and if we do not do something outdoors today, there will be plenty of time tomorrow or the next day, and it will surely be sunny. In cold countries, a sunny day, the summer, are an event, and you do not just let it escape.

So today, Andrés, the Colombian guy, had organized a barbecue for everybody in the hostel, which was very nice, as it was a very good way to help everybody there to socialize.

The day was just glorious, and I spent all of it walking around the city before going back and doing some shopping with Andrew.

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We got burgers, hot dogs and beer, and when we came back to the hostel Andrés already had the grill going and people were gathering in the terrace. Everybody brought their own food and most people had something to share, Cedric, the French guy, had prepared a Thai soup that was delicious, and the Dutch guys had a bucket of ice-cream for dessert.

We had a great time and stayed out there until well after dark, when it started to get a bit cold and we moved the party indoors. By then most people had left to the center, as it was Saturday, and I spend a bit longer with Andrés and a couple of other guys in the kitchen before calling it a night, I had to wake up at 5 am to get the ferry the following morning.

Crafoord Place

Day 46 – Friday 9th of August – Stockholm (0km)

Crooford Place is the name of the hostel I was staying in, and it was the best hostel I had found on this trip. It was the last floor in a building that used to be a hospital, the other floors having been taken by an IT college from Stockholm University and a secondary school, so the place and the facilities it offered were more or less in line with many other hostels, what made my stay there so enjoyable was the people I met there.

Andrew, the Canadian guy I mentioned on the last post, was really nice and before I left in the morning to explore the city, we agreed to meet at the hostel later that evening and go for a beer. I did some food shopping for the next few days and then took the underground to the docks to find out where the ferry terminal was and what I had to do to get my motorbike on board. The previous night I had bought a ticket online for Sunday, but all I got was a reference number, no instructions whatsoever, so I wanted to get that sorted out as the ferry was leaving at 7 am and boarding was at 6 am and I did not want to be riding around so early without knowing where I had to go. Once I had got all the information from a very nice lady at the terminal, I headed to Gamla Stan, the island where the old part of town is, and spent the whole morning walking around and taking pictures, getting lost in its streets.

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After that, I crossed into a smaller island that used to be the base of the navy and today has been reconverted for city use.

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On the other side of the island there lots of historical ships that had been bought and restored by private owners and were part of a conservation society.

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The day was quite cloudy and it drizzled from time to time, so by mid-afternoon I decided to get back to the hostel and see if I could get the laundry done. The day before I had met Andrés, a Colombian guy who was part of the staff. He had originally gone to Spain, where he had worked at Sony for several years until the crisis hit and he was made redundant. I was very surprised to find out that he had been living in Santa Coloma, where I had lived for many years before leaving my parent’s home, and that he was able to speak very good Catalan. He was a really nice guy and told me that there was a laundry about ten streets from there that cost 150 kr, but he would do my laundry in the washing machine they had in the staff living quarters.

While the laundry was getting done, Andrew came back to the hostel and told me that he had recruited more people to go out that night, some British girls that had just finished highschool and where travelling around Northern Europe. Back in the room we shared with four other people it had stopped raining and the sun had come out, and we saw that there was a ladder right outside our window, so we decided to explore where that lead. I was no longer in Russia, where Health and Safety is virtually non-existent, but in the extensive set of rules we had been told when we got to the hostel there was nothing against climbing to the roof, so we went for it. The ladder went up a couple of meters and then connected to a narrow metal walkway that went up to the roof pinnacle. The sun was hiding behind the buildings and we had a beautiful view of the whole city, we just sat down for a while and enjoyed the moment.

Back into the hostel, we chatted to other hosts and met a 17-year old boy from London who was on an Interrail trip, a French jewellery designer, a couple of Italians, a couple of Dutchmen, the girls from London, and two Russian girls, all really nice and easy-going people, the kind that make the hostelling experience so nice.

At night we took the underground and went on a mission to find a bar with cheap beer, no easy task in Stockholm, but in the end we managed to find a decent place where we stayed until they closed down, a bit too early, as we were having good fun. We decided to walk back to the hostel to save the underground ticket, one of the girls had a sore foot, but she had had enough beer to decide that walking back was a good idea.

Unexpected expenses

Day 45 – Thursday 8th of August – Tronboholmen to Stockholm (370km)

As I was falling asleep the previous night, hearing the faint sound of singing teenagers through the earplugs, I thought that I would get up early, pack things and then fire up the engine and let it run for a while, just to wake them up before leaving. When I woke up it was raining again, so I had to wait and wait until it stopped at about 10 am and when I stepped out of the tent, there was no trace of the teenagers.

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I got the tent dry enough to pack it and left for Stockholm after programming in the GPS the addresses of two bike shops that were listed as Suzuki dealers. I got to the first one, which was on my way into the city, at about 3 pm, it was an enormous place, with lots of other brands as well as Suzuki. I walked into the workshop and told the guy there about the noise the chain was making, and after checking it he said that it was completely worn and needed replacing. I had also decided to replace the back tire, it still had some thread on it, but definitely not enough to last all the way back to Barcelona, and even less so with a passenger. They checked and they had a Metzeler in stock, as well as a chain and sprockets kit for the V-Strom, which meant that I could get everything done before heading to Helsinki. I told them I would come back the following morning to get it done, but the mechanic said he would be too busy and told me to come back in an hour and a half, so I went to the hostel, dropped my bags, met a Canadian guy called Andrew who was staying in my room and rode back to the workshop.

I have now ridden in lots of different countries, and if you asked me about the best and the worst drivers, I could probably give you a pretty accurate answer, albeit probably a surprising one. I was expecting Swedish drivers to be one of the best, but it turns out they are not. Sure, they obey traffic signs and they stick to the speed limits as if their lives depended on them but that does not make them safe drivers. If I had to choose the best drivers of all I have seen, that would be the Italians. Now, this might surprise a lot of people, but let me explain. It is true that Italians drive fast, very fast, and also aggressively, but contrary to what most people believe, it is not speed that is dangerous. In good roads, with good weather and a good car, you can go fast and it is perfectly safe. No, it is not the speed that is important to safety, what really is important is being aware of what is happening around your car. All around it, in front, sides and back, and the Italians do, they know what is going on around their cars and drive accordingly. Swedes, however, do not. They keep their eyes straight ahead, too busy reading speed limit signs and talking on their mobile phones to notice anything around them, happily sitting in the middle or outer lane while there are faster cars behind them, causing tremendous traffic jams in the way into the capital.

To make matters worse, by the time they were done with my bike and it was time to go back to the hostel, it was pouring down again, and I got there with suit completely wet, dripping all over the place.

The whole thing had cost quite a lot of money, but it had to be done… Now the bike was ready for the last part of the trip.