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Family Bike Tour in Sweden and Norway

Karl Brodowsky, cycled 1994, written 1994, translated 1998

Part 1

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We were four of us who went on this family bicycle tour: Ulrich (1 year old), Bernhard (3 years old), Karin (age not disclosed) and Karl (who wrote this page). Out of our large supply of bicycles we took along only two. The children sat in our trailer (Brüggli Leggero). When we wanted to start our tour, the favorable situation happened to be given, that Karin and the children and especially our bicycles and even the trailer were already in Kiel because of an extra week of vacation in advance of our tour. Thus it was only me who had to take a couple of trains to get from Heidelberg to Kiel, which took me 6 hours. Then we could see how to go on in Kiel.

Handling the required amount of luggage for four persons using only two bicycles is not so easy, but somehow we managed to store almost everything and to take along even the remainder, without having to use our hands for holding it. Everyone got a rear cycling bag, which we marked immediately with a letter of the first name. Unfortunately the first three letters of Karin and Karl happen to be the same and this applies even for all nine letters of the last name. So we took the last letter of the first name which happened to be unique at that time. The same letters were used for the front bags, just to make it easier to find whatever was in them, even though their content was for all of us. By the end of the trip we really knew where to find certain things. For me we added a big Rucksack, which we called "Bär" (bear) because of an old family tradition, containing tent, cooking pots, dishes, rain coats and other stuff, while Karin got a water proof Ortlieb bag containing the four sleeping bags. On top of the front bags we got some small but heavy pack as well, mostly food for Karin and mostly cameras and paper stuff for me. Some stuff could even be stored in the trailer. Especially we had to carry up to 7½ liters of water, in addition to some amount of milk and bread, depending on when we had gone shopping the last time, and most important some toys for the kids.

So we went on board the Stena ferry, which had to carry us from Kiel to Gothenburg (Göteborg). They hardly checked our tickets and did not even complain about the fact that we were a little bit heavy for two bicycles. My bicycle with the trailer, all luggage and three persons had a total weight of 180 kg, maybe more. Breakfast was included in the fare, which was still quite high if combined with the cheapest cabin that was available two months in advance. At least it was much mor expensive than the train from Heidelberg to Kiel and even more expensive than the longer ferry trip from Kiel to Oslo. Still we did not want to use that one this time, because in Oslo it is not so easy to get out of the suburban traffic on the first day and because we did not want to start our tour with high mountains. In Gothenburg (Göteborg) it is possible to start the trip in a more moderate way.

The sea trip was great and we could even sleep quite well till 6 in the morning without dreaming too much of Estonia, Titanic or Gustloff. But in the early morning they started to make announcements through the loud speaker system which cannot be turned off. This way they ensured everybody got a chance to eat breakfast and to be ready at 8 when arrival was scheduled, because they wanted to have everybody out at 8:30 or better at 8:15. In spite of this Karin took her time for the breakfast with our children till they really asked her to get finished. During that time I prepared the bikes for riding off the ferry and Karin came in time but without participating the event when 40000 horse powers of car and truck engines were started.

We could even get off the ferry before certain guys that had not even been taken as bus drivers because of their weird driving style, drew unaccompanied trailers off the ship. After that we had to go through the heavy city traffic of Gothenburg, which we did by following the east bank of the Götaälv, the river at whose mouth Gothenburg had been built. This way we did not encounter much intersecting traffic, but some highway construction works. Anyway this is the right way to get relatively soon out of the city, at first on the four lane highway N 45, which may be legally used by bicyclists. This possibility will go away around 2012, because plans exist to transform this highway into a motorway and to abolish the legal possibility of cycling quickly and easily from Göteborg to Trollhättan. After having left the vicinity of the center the traffic was so low that the highway was not even jammed where they had closed one half because of construction works. Some portions of the highway had separate bicycle lanes instead of providing a paved shoulder for cycling, but these bicycle lanes had always a tendency to turn to the right and make you turn to the right, even when wanting to continue strait ahead on the N 45. Therefore we got used to avoiding bicycle lanes whenever we encountered them.

After having cycled for about 20 km from Gothenburg the four lane portion of the highway ended and we considered this as the end of suburban Gothenburg and looked for a nice place to take the first break. A former skating track which was not yet used by the small racing cars. 35 km north of Gothenburg the lighting of the highway ended, but the highway still went on. By the way this is a typical Swedish highway. Its pavement about 14 m wide, which is marked as two lanes (one for each direction) and to wide shoulders, that can be used for cycling. Gladly the traffic was much lower than what we are used to from much smaller highways in Germany. On this day we found out, that the N 45 continued at least till Trollhättan, which we considered enough for that day. In Trollhättan we had the bad idea of trying to follow the way that bicyclist were legally forced to use in order to avoid a short portion of motorway. This proved to be a bad idea, since we had to use bicycle lanes with ugly constructions that made it hardly possible to pass with a trailer. But somehow we made it to the camp ground of Trollhättan. The next two days we took a rest, using one day to see the former water falls and the water power plants of Trollhättan and the other day for cycling to Vänerborg (some kilometers north of Trollhättan) where we went swimming in the Vänern lake.

One of the two power plants is quite old, actually the oldest one among the bigger water power plants in Sweden. This was to our favor. In older power plants there is much more to see. In spite of having 36 m of height difference and quite a high volume of water per day the power plants are still among the smaller ones, compared to the other major water power plants in Sweden. On some days they open the locks and restore the waterfall for a few minutes, but that would not happen on the day we were there. To enable shipping on the Götaälv many locks had been built in the vicinity of the waterfall. We could see many different generations, dating back to the previous century.

But we did not have the intention to spend our whole vacation at one location. So we continued our trip eastbound on the highway N 44. Here they had a different way of marking the lanes. Instead of having paved shoulders they had chosen to have two extra wide lanes. It looks as if this was a temporary fashion. Even though it was not possible to ride to the right of the line marking the right edge of the lane, since that line was deliberately made rough, it was still quite convenient to cycle since the lane was really so wide that being overtaken within the lane was no problem.

Hoping to see a little bit more of the Vänern lake we left the N 44 near Grästorp and followed a parallel (paved) road, that was really much closer to the lake shores. This was really true, but it proved to be not close enough to see anything of the lake. Instead we had a very nice trip passing through many woods and along stone fences. Such a stone fence enabled us to have a nice lunch break in the garden of a church, because we could close out all cars by shutting the gate. Since Bernhard and Ulrich could not open it we could feel very safe and comfortable during the break.

Throughout the day our children slept in the trailer. In the evening they were fit, while we were tired. But this improved with the time and we got used to it, after we had accepted that our children would just sleep about the same hours as we did during the night.

In Lidköping we found a very nice camp ground near the place were the highway reached the town. Obviously it was located near the beach, were we could go swimming in the Vänern lake. In theory having paid the camp ground, swimming was also possible for free in the public swimming pool, but only during its opening hours. Fortunately a micro wave oven was available at this camp ground, which made it much easier to get warm milk for the children. Normally we had to use a stove for that, which was still good, but not as easy as. Every camp ground in Sweden that we encountered had a kitchen and a washing machine and off course a mini golf course. We stayed there for two nights again. The day in Lidköping we used for riding to Lackö, which is a very beautiful castle on a small island. We had a ride of about 20 km, on a quite hilly road, which brought us to Lackö over a small bridge. It was a very warm and sunny day and we enjoyed it to go swimming in the Vänern lake near the castle after having seen the interior. It seems as if having such a trailer was quite unusual at that time. Some guys even filmed us when we left from Lackö. We made the 20 km back to Lidköping in a very short time, in spite of the hilliness. That was really fun.

The original plan would have been to continue for the other big lake. We wanted to ride around its northern part and then maybe continue to the islands Gotland or Öland or even both of them. But as usual, plans are not fulfilled. At least we suddenly did not accept the idea to stay so far in the south for the whole time. We had such an extreme summer, where temperatures went up to 30° C almost every day. So we decided it was a real good chance to go a little bit further to the north, still hoping to find good weather. Remember, Sweden is about as far in the north as Alaska.

On the next day we covered a long distance by our standards. It was 93 km, which was actually the longest trip we had during the whole tour. We never did 200 km on one day, not even 100 km. But most people don't even cycle that much without having there children along. We went so far on that day, because we detoured again on a road closer to the lake on our way from Lidköping to Mariestad. This enabled us to have a nice break near a Romanic church in Västerplana, where we met a young pair of cyclists who where from Germany as well and whom we had overtaken before on highway N 44 when we passed Lidköping. For the next break we found a very beautiful place somewhere in the woods, which would have been nice for staying overnight. But we were interested in finding a camp ground with a washing machine, so we went on. Shortly before Mariestad we reached highway E 3 (new numbering E 20), on which we continued for 20 km. We left highway E 3 and turned north on highway N 64 after having passed Mariestad. Thus we followed the eastern lake shore of Vänern lake. This was a very nice and quiet section, even though obviously we did not see the lake all the time. Surprisingly the highway was quite hilly, even though the shore line of a lake has a tendency to be as flat as the water of the lake.

Some Kilometers north of the Götakanal, a small canal connecting the Baltic Sea south of Stockholm with Gothenburg, we found a neat little camp ground. It was situated so nicely that apparently some people had decided to reserve themselves a small site for a whole year. This was quite surprising. In North America many people live on camp grounds and use this as their residence. In Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium many people have a trailer permanently on a camp ground and use it for their holidays and weekends, as they did here. But in Sweden people tend to own old farm houses if they go to the same place every summer or they travel around and see many different camp grounds. The rules for Scandinavian camp grounds seem to discourage permanent use of a trailer in one place, because they insist on keeping the trailers mobile and registered (and taxed as registered vehicle) and disallow fences. Anyway we did not intend to stay for a whole year. But two nights, two beautiful sunsets on the Vänern lake with its many small rock islands and a day of swimming and without cycling was a good idea. Karin did cycle a few kilometers to buy us some food.

The next day took us on highway N 64 further to the north, where we had a nice break near ancient graves, that consisted of artificial hills. In Kristinehamn we had our first rain. But this did not bother us too much since we spent this time for shopping and eating in a sheltered place. When we went on the weather was dry again, but the pavement of highway E 18 was still wet from the rain. It happened that exactly the part of highway E 18 that we wanted to use was a national highway, so that we could go on legally without having to find the highway that is meant to be the E 18 for cyclists. Soon we reached the area where we wanted to leave Vänern lake. At that place we really meant it serious to continue northbound, leaving the densely populated areas. We took highway N 240, which proved to be almost free of cars. Near the beginning of highway N 240 we found a nice place in the woods, where enough space for bicycles and trailer was available and where we could even pitch a tent. This is legal under the terms of so called allemansrätten. This permits pitching a tent for one night in the woods under certain conditions, if nobody is disturbed, nothing is destroyed, certain exclusion areas are respected. This does not mean that parking a car in the woods for one night would be allowed as well, but for drivers the next camp ground should be reachable anyway. We had to get warm milk without a stove and without a fire, but with a small esbit cooking device this was possible. Water had off course been filled in the last village before the place where we spent the night.

[continue with part 2]

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