Tuesday, 21 August 2012

uptown Uppsala

It might be the law in Sweden, we're not sure.  Already, judging from some of the towns we have passed through, there's the hint of what a successful communist state might look like.  Lots of functionalist residential blocks, lots of public parks and sports facilities.  But what's the thing with the lawn-cutting?  We stop for an ice-cream at a caravan site by a lake on a quiet road.  It's end of season - school starts today.  There's only the old folk left here in their caravans.  A few of them have low picket fences, garden furniture marking territory.  Behind one fence a man is mowing the lawn around his caravan.

Later on Ben tries to explain the pros and cons of living in Europe's most socialist country.  He and Rebecca  came to live here from Germany  a few years ago and are bringing up their two year-old daughter Telma in a country with one of the best provisions for child care.  They will both get generous time off work to look after Telma. They live in a modern apartment in Uppsala, one of Sweden's largest cities, a traditional and possibly conservative university town.  Rebecca confirms that despite a large student population there's no real alternative scene here.  The old centre is full of grand and lovely buildings and it's green and fairly peaceful.  Bike paths everywhere.  At every single junction we don't know whether to look left, right, up or down.  

our first barbecue of the summer
We have a lovely time here looked after by Rebecca and Ben.  Telma speaks German at home with her mum and dad and has just started kindergarten (in Swedish) so is frustrated that now everyone's speaking another bloody language.  They've all just had a summer on the road to Norway and back by tandem - Telma riding in a trailer.  I'm always a bit nervous in the presence of other cyclists - judging by the collection of bikes hanging in the hallway they've pedalled a bit. In a tiny cupboard under the stairs Ben harbours a whole bicycle workshop and as we later discover, an ambition to build his own bike frames.  When Gayle gets a puncture and it turns out to be one I repaired ineffectively I feel quite inadequate.  Our bikes are mountain bikes - not really made for touring - and they're hardly well-maintained.  But maybe I'm with Lance Armstrong on this one - It's Not About The Bike.  No, it's the EPO, the pasta pesto pasta pesto pasta combo, the steroid injections, the jaffa cakes, the blood tranfusions......

But Ben and Rebecca are quite special people - and not at all judgemental.  We get a great buzz of enthusiasm from them for the joys of biking.  And they also turn out to be dedicated hikers.  Inspired by the king of Go Lite, Ray Jardine, they have even put their hand to making clothing and equipment for trekking long distance with minimum weight.  To be honest, there's something very German about their dedication to their hobbies , but I mean this in a very positive sense.  There's a great wave of excitement when a parcel arrives with Telma's first bike - a balance bike (one without pedals) - and after her six-week trailer ride she cannot get enough of her own two wheels.  

We say our farewells and merrily head off to Stockholm with instructions to find the quieter roads into the capital.  A few days later we discover a large bar of chocolate has been smuggled into our bags...

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