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Oct. 4th, 2018


Småland Perfectly Formed 9: Saturday 22nd September

Sun and downpour alternated as we loaded up the bikes, setting the pattern for a day that would see us go west through Germany back to the Hook of Holland. We travelled quickly along the motorway system, skirting Hamburg and snatching a quick break at a service station (where the man on the coffee counter effortlessly upsold me a cake).

In the afternoon we cut a corner by going across the German countryside, which was filled with people doing mysterious but charming German countryside things, crossed the border to the Netherlands - marked proudly with the Dutch and EU flags - and made a petrol stop that ended up lasting an hour as we waited out the rain over coffee.

"Do you want a lekkere snacke?" asked Howard, reading the sign above a vending-machine. I did, and bought myself a hot cheese croquette.

We took the last few miles slowly, Howard because the growing darkness meant he wasn't always sure I was still behind him, I because my fuel was worryingly low (we were keen to hold off filling up again until we were back in the cheaper UK, and I ended up doing 35 miles on reserve).

By the time we'd rolled on to the overnight ferry I was too tired to do much more than eat, watch some Hanna-Barbera cartoons on the cabin telly, and sleep.

Miles: 424.3

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Oct. 3rd, 2018

Husky Airways

Småland Perfectly Formed 8: Friday 21st September

I had two ambitions for this trip. One was to photograph my bike with a Swedish plane, which I achieved at Kalmar Airport, and the other was to get a sticker with the famous elk warning sign to go on my top box. I'd had no luck with the latter despite trying every petrol station and tourist information centre we came across. On our last morning in Sweden, we serendipitously stopped for petrol right next to Laganland Elk Park and its Elk Shop, full of every tacky elk-themed souvenir item anyone could ever need.

On our return journey we skipped the Öresund Bridge in favour of the ferry which runs, confusingly, from Helsingborg in Sweden to Helsingør in Denmark. This was the kind of short crossing where bikes aren't strapped down and you can, if you wish, stay with your vehicle on the car deck, although we chose to stretch our legs.

Due to regulations, during the 20-minute journey you can buy tobacco in Swedish waters and alcohol in Danish territory. We pooled our last kronor for a bottle of whisky and a cuddly wolf, since named Ingrid Bergwolf.

We hammered through the Danish flatlands, lashed by wind and rain and swerving on the motorway to avoid two pallets blown from a lorry ahead of us. We crossed a high bridge followed by a long section of road with the sea on either side, which I found less pleasant than I usually do.

We still made good enough time to leave the motorways for country roads towards the end of the day. These were pretty but dreadfully exposed, with sudden sidewinds that threatened to knock us into the path of oncoming traffic.

Flensburg in Schleswig-Holstein, near the Danish border, is famous for homing the German equivalent of the DVLA, which we gave a miss, and the greeting "Moin" for "hello", which I was overjoyed to hear at a petrol station the next morning. There's a church with a spire, a big C&A, and a waterfront with proper bierkeller-style pubs.

We ate at Hansens Brauerei, "Germany's northernmost microbrewery", where the pork joint 'for two' could have fed a family of six. We somehow finished all the roast potatoes, though.

Miles: 319

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Oct. 2nd, 2018

Dangerous Curves

Småland Perfectly Formed 7: Thursday 20th September

After a breakfast of toast and coffee, the latter made by Per who just happened to pop by with a full pot as I was preparing the filter, we set off. From here on, we'd be homeward bound.

Acting on a tip from Per, we rode to Forsvik, a pretty little town on the Göta Canal. It was almost deserted, with an air of end-of-season melancholy, and we moved on to his other recommendation, Hjo.

This was a bigger place, with a harbour and waterfront cafés. We stopped for lunch at what looked like a forbiddingly expensive restaurant, but turned out to be a fixed-price canteen where the cost of your lunch included a drink, salad, coffee and biscuits. We were there for a while.

We entered the Tiveden National Park, where narrow, well-made roads curved and climbed through wooded countryside. Near the start we were alarmed to be flagged down by an army motorcyclist with a khaki BMW and a ferocious moustache, but he just wanted to tell us to take it slowly because there might be cows in the road. We did.

On an exposed stretch of road with railway tracks off to the right, the threat of rain became a reality. We ignored a closure sign only to come upon a ten-metre unmade section of soft sand, which Howard rode over then helped me push my bike across because I am a coward. At least this gave me the opportunity to stop and put my waterproof overtrousers on, and afterwards I could enjoy deliberately riding through puddles.

Then we were back on urban roads and heading towards Lagan, our stop for the night. Once we'd found the correct building after accidentally wandering into a block of flats, and I'd forced Howard to expel a large spider from our room, we were pretty comfortable.

Miles: 157.7

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Oct. 1st, 2018

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Småland Perfectly Formed 6: Wednesday 19th September

My other Big Treat of the holiday was a trip to the Flygvapenmuseum, the Swedish Air Force Museum, in Linköping (pronounced 'Lin-chirping').

Before arriving, we sought out the point on the motorway where I knew Saab Draken and Viggen fighters were to be found on poles at the side of the road. There wasn't a convenient layby so we stopped on the hard shoulder, where Howard pretended to have broken down while I snapped a quick photo.

I'm very geeky about Swedish military aviation, and a whole museum full of it was almost too exciting to bear. It's also FREE, as I discovered when I marched up to the desk with my carefully-prepared 'two adults please'.

The basement floor is given over to the wreckage and the strange, sad story of the Swedish DC-3 carrying surveillance equipment which was shot down over the Baltic by a Soviet MiG-15 in 1952.

Both sides hushed up what had happened, leaving families and friends in limbo, and it was only in the early 2000s that a private firm located the wreck and raised it from the seabed. Four bodies were recovered, identified and buried, with the rest of the crew of eight still unaccounted for.

Upstairs, the first half of the main exhibition took us through Swedish aviation of the 20th century, in the wider context of international events. It was strange to see familiar aircraft like the Spitfire, Mustang and Fieseler Storch in Swedish markings.

There was also an Animals In War exhibit with an interactive 'which heroic animal are you?' quiz. It will surprise nobody to learn that I am Laika.

Then the Cold War exhibition, which I loved. After the Second World War, Sweden was determined to design and build its own aircraft so they wouldn't be let down by suppliers, and they came up with some weird and wonderful creations: the long-nosed Lansen, the Tunnan 'Flying Barrel', the double-delta Draken and my favourite, the Viggen.

For each decade, there was a display of aircraft and a mockup of a typical Swedish home, showing how the occupants were affected by the current state of the East/West conflict.

I was very restrained in the gift shop, all things considered. A kind member of staff found me a tube for my Saab Past And Present poster so it wouldn't get damaged on the bike, and it arrived home in perfect nick.

From here we would be riding around Sweden's second-largest lake, Lake Vättern, before heading homeward. It was a relatively short ride to our stop for the night, because we'd known we might spend a lot of the day in the museum, but a pretty one as always. After riding across a bridge with a view to the left of wooded islands scattered across the lake, we reached our destination and were greeted warmly by the owner of the hostel, who introduced himself as Per.

This was a hostel in the more traditional sense, in a large and lovely building a short walk from the beach. We had a twin room with lighting and wallpaper that made it look rather like one of the Cold War Swedish homes in the museum.

After we'd unpacked, Per found us in the cavernous dining-room/lounge, its wood-panelled walls hung with equipment for winter sports, having a meal of lingonberry bread and tinned goulash by candlelight.

"Oh," he said, "I came to see if you were OK but I see you are all set!"

Miles: 117.7




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Secret Agent Dog

Weekend Espionage

I spent my weekend deeply embroiled in Spy Things.

Saturday morning was a talk at the Shuttleworth Collection on 'The Secret War and the Lysander', all about the role played by the Westland Lysander in SOE missions: landing agents in occupied France and, hopefully, getting them out again.

This was obviously very relevant to my interests, and I learned a lot about the aircraft and its operations. With an enthusiastic guide ("There'll be random shootings at the end!") and a knowledgeable audience of 15 or so, the talk overran by several minutes and we could all happily have hung around chatting all day.

On Sunday I assumed the code name 'Modesty Blaise' and took on the role of a new recruit to The Circus in an interactive spy game based on the works of John Le Carré. My friend Myk and I teamed up for an afternoon of dead drops and pickups, contacts and code words, all based around Soho.

(I find it highly suspicious that my first task was to pass the word 'Labrador' to our handler.)

The Fire Hazard Games agents did a brilliant job of keeping things exciting, keeping a straight face and denying that it wasn't the 1960s; no mean feat when we were receiving instructions on our mobile phones, which they insisted on calling 'your device'.

We reported in for the final debrief (we won no prizes, but didn't do appallingly either) before retiring to the pub.
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Sep. 28th, 2018

The Spy Who Loved Me

Småland Perfectly Formed 5: Tuesday 18th September

Nybro is the home of the world's only James Bond Museum, run by a fan so committed he has added 'James Bond' to his name. Obviously I was going to check this out.

The museum's parking spaces are named after Bond films, so Howard took 'GoldenEye' while I parked in the space with the JB007 number plate. There was nobody around, but after a few minutes owner Gunnar James Bond Schäfer appeared to let us in.

I have a particular interest in foreign film posters and editions of the books, so the museum was a delight. It's one man's private collection, but a huge collection, including the bikini worn by Swedish Bond girl Izabella Scorupco in GoldenEye. There's a tiny cinema, and a luxurious loo where you can sit surrounded by cases of Bollinger watching music videos (I selected The Living Daylights).

A recent acquisition was a hovercraft from Die Another Day, purchased from the Hovercraft Museum in Lee-on-Solent (which I visited earlier this year). To my great joy, I was allowed to sit in the driver's seat.

When we'd looked at everything, we asked Gunnar, who had given us just the right mixture of space to enjoy the museum and personal guided tour, to recommend us somewhere for lunch. He suggested a nearby bakery called Konditori with 1960s decor; he and Howard agreed that I would like this. I did.

I had a prawn and egg open sandwich followed by a thing like a Tunnock's Teacake on a macaroon base, filled with a pale green cream that tasted of pear drops. We also bought a loaf of lingonberry bread for later; it lasted for days and was delicious. Then it was back on the road again.

Sweden is very cautious about its roads, with many completely unnecessary STOP lines. At one point we passed a sign warning of a 10% downhill gradient, which is really nothing. While I was still laughing at this we made the descent and it revealed a blue lake so beautiful it took my breath away.

The sat nav took us to the location of our guesthouse, down a residential cul-de-sac near Linköping, but there was no sign indicating which of the houses we wanted. We knocked on a likely door and were greeted by a surprised-looking woman in slippers, holding a puppy, who had no idea what we were on about.

Luckily I am a secret agent extraordinaire and spotted a booking.com sticker on the mailbox of what turned out to be the right house.

Miles: 176.2



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Sep. 27th, 2018

Alice Street

Småland Perfectly Formed 4: Monday 17th September

Our aim for today was to visit Öland, Sweden's second-largest island. Howard had scoped out a potential coffee stop on the way at Kalmar Airport. When we arrived, I was thrilled to find a Saab Draken fighter on a pole outside, a testament to the airport's past as a military base.

Then it was over another impressive bridge to the island. We made a stop at the tourist information centre, where I had an actual conversation in actual Swedish with a postman who'd come to empty the postbox in front of which I had helpfully parked:

- Oh, sorry!
- No problem!

The island is very flat, and must be bleak in winter, but now, with fields the soft colours of early autumn, the sea away to one side, and a landscape dotted with sheep, cows and little red windmills, it was pretty. You could buy pumpkins - pumpor - from wagons and stalls at the side of the road, leaving your money in an honesty box. I bought a tiny gourd for 5Kr (about 50p) and brought it back to the UK. It's in the airing-cupboard, where I hope it is drying out.

It was the end of the season, and all the cafés and restaurants seemed to be closed. Eventually we reached the southern tip of the island, a nature reserve with a lighthouse, a birdwatching station and, most importantly, an open restaurant. I had 'sillmacka': fish and new potato on a sweetish, crumbly brown roll, with sour cream and finely-chopped onions.

Returning, we realised we'd gone round the island the wrong way, as shops and café were considerably more open. Two pale, velvety deer shot across the road in front of our bikes, and we stopped to watch them bound away across the fields.

Back at camp, I sought out Haider and requested to use the sauna, which we'd been told we could do by arrangement.

"Sure," he said, delightedly, and led me off to inspect the facilities: "Here is wood, here is axe."

He explained that the light bulb had gone, "so you must twinkle with your eyes," and patted my shoulder in the way that harmless old men are allowed to pat women on the shoulder.

Howard showed me how to split the logs and we built a fire in the stove. An hour later, we were sitting in the warm scent of woodsmoke, watching the thermometer rise as the sun set outside.

Haider had suggested a swim in the lake after the sauna. I wasn't sure how serious he was, but I went for it anyway, ploughing through cold, black water filled with duckweed and possibly pike to touch the wing of the aeroplane before swimming back towards Howard and the lantern he was holding aloft to guide me in.

On my return, Howard informed me that I had disappeared into the dark almost immediately and he'd been worried he'd be going home alone. I had a shower, then we retired to the kitchen to eat tinned ravioli with IKEA cutlery.

Miles: 193



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Sep. 26th, 2018


Småland Perfectly Formed 3: Sunday 16th September

My 41st birthday dawned bright and sunny, and I was unable to resist going for a swim. After all, the opportunity for a dip in the Baltic might not come my way again. It was chilly but lovely, with shoals of tiny fish in the shallows and transparent jellyfish washed up on the sand.

I needed another shower and more coffee after that, but eventually we got on the road for our next destination.

Sweden was exactly as I had pictured it: pine woods, lakes and farmland, with clapboard houses painted butter-yellow or dark red. Off the motorways there was hardly any traffic, and the Swedes are careful, law-abiding drivers, sticking to the (low) speed limits and moving aside for overtaking motorcyclists. I loved the roads, with their safe, gentle curves and climbs and the famous signs warning of possible elk.

Around lunchtime we stopped at a roadside café and ordered pizzas after much puzzling over the lists of toppings. I had the 'Africana', with bacon, banana, pineapple, peanuts and curry powder, plus a can of a soft drink called 'Trocadero'. It was my birthday, after all.

In the late afternoon we passed through the town of Nybro and took a gravel track down to our holiday camp. There were old petrol pumps by the side of the road and a model DC-3 the size of a family car in the lake. It was my kind of place.

We were greeted by an older man who had been sitting outside the reception and introduced himself as Haider.

"This is the last I was expecting," he said, slowly and carefully. "I was not expecting cyclists. But you are most welcome."

Howard counted out the cash we owed for two nights' stay plus the loan of bedlinen and towels, and Haider waved away the last 20Kr note: "Buy yourself some ice creams."

Like the previous night's accommodation, this was self-catering. In Ystad we'd had our own tiny kitchen and bathroom, but here they were communal. We headed for the lounge to enjoy the bread and cheese we'd picked up from a supermarket. Mid-supper, the sole other guest, a Swede, walked in and chatted for a bit before disappearing into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, he popped his head out again.

"Have you heard of David Icke?" he asked.

We finished our meal quickly.

Miles: 215.4




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Sep. 25th, 2018

Dangerous Curves

Småland Perfectly Formed 2: Saturday 15th September

I'd picked Kiel as our overnight stop because it was a great opportunity to catch up with schnee, who lives there. He'd picked a French café for brunch, and we made our way through rain showers, past a pretty harbour where impressive warships lay at anchor, to join him.

It was lovely to see a familiar face, and to hole up out of the rain drinking coffee and eating buckwheat pancakes with bacon, fried egg and cheese while we talked about travel, Kiel, whisky and Tintin.

We were sorry to leave, but we had many miles still to go and a ferry to catch from Puttgarden in Germany to Rodby in Denmark.

Before the ferry we experienced the border shop: a vast, floating hypermarket on three floors, filled with booze. A Carlsberg poster claimed it as 'Probably the biggest border shop in the world', and they're probably right. Scandinavians emerged pushing trolleys laden with crates of beer, wine and spirits, as well as soft drinks, sweets and washing-powder. I bought a litre of cloudberry vodka for €12 - only slightly more than I would pay for two coffees on the 45-minute ferry crossing.

Denmark! Flat and wet, with rainbows dancing in the spray thrown up by other vehicles. We took the Öresund Bridge, nearly five miles across and a long-held ambition of mine, and then we were in Sweden, our third and final country of the day.

Autumn, if you're lucky with the weather, is a lovely time of year to travel by bike: not too hot, not too crowded, with the leaves on the turn. We left the motorways for a road that ran along the coast of the Baltic sea, through little port towns, past churches with stepped fronts and low houses with high roofs. We noted that speed limit and Give Way signs have yellow centres rather than white, while chevrons warning of danger are a patriotic blue and yellow.

Our home for the night was a holiday camp in Ystad, a short scamper from the beach, where we stayed in exactly the sort of little red wooden cabin I had imagined. As we arrived I startled a red squirrel into running down a tree and immediately up it again.

Miles: 238.7


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Cat Air

Småland Perfectly Formed 1: Thursday 13th September - Friday 14th September

We went to Småland because over Easter we met two Swedish blokes in a pub who recommended it.

This is a somewhat random way to go on holiday, but it all worked out.

We started by taking the overnight ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, which meant I could put in a full if slightly distracted day at the office, go home, get changed, strap my luggage on the bike, fight the rush hour to meet Howard at Thurrock Services and still be on board in good time to relax over a nightcap as we waved goodbye to Essex.

Miles: 92.8

At eight on Friday morning we emerged from the ferry and began the journey to Kiel, in Germany near the Danish border. It was a long day of motorway miles, with morning coffee at a Dutch service area and lunch at a German one.

"Or you could have a bratwurst?" the lady at the snack counter suggested to me as I examined the selection of sandwiches. She must have been psychic.

We arrived in Kiel to discover that our hotel doubled as student accommodation and our high-ceilinged room was equipped with two single beds: one conventionally arranged and one in a sort of eyrie above, reached by a steep staircase. Obviously I bagged the crow's nest, and slept very cosily.

Miles: 390.3

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