Friday, June 18, 1999

TR Sweden

Trip Report
Stockholm Marathon
Stockholm, Sweden
(6/11 –6/18/99)

Departed on Fri 6/11for Stockholm. Nicole drove me to Stansted airport which is about 10 miles from Bishop’s. Certainly is a lot more convenient than Heathrow or Gatwick.
Met a fellow marathoner on the plane. We decided to catch the bus together at Arlanda airport for the 40 minute drive into Stockholm central station. Then we proceeded to the Olympic Stadium to pick up our race packages. Bought a 3 day pass for the transportation system which turned out to a smart move since the host hotel was out in the suburbs next to the Globe Arena. I knew the metro and bus system very well by the time I left.
After I found the hotel and dumped my stuff in the room I headed to the Gamla Stan (Old Town) to play tourist and have my pasta dinner.
Stockholm is very pretty with lots of water around since the city is built on a number of islands.
The marathon was Sat but a 2pm start. So I toured some more Sat am and finally headed to the stadium at noon. Mid 60s at the start and mid 70s at the finish which is a little too warm. The course is two loops around the major tourist highlights of the city so I got to see a lot of the city I hadn’t visited yet. I also paid much more attention on the first loop. Started out slow since there were 13,000 runners. By mile 5, I was down to an 8 min pace and held that till the ½ marathon point which I passed at 1:47. Felt good so decided to push the pace to see if I could break 3:30. At mile 21 I was on a 3:30 pace but the wheels started to fall off! Struggled to run under a 10 min pace the next 4 miles until a beautiful Swedish women (blonde of course) passed me—in a bikini! So I decided to focus on the bikini and she dragged me the last mile in 8:15 and I sprinted by her on the final lap in Olympic Stadium to finish in 3:37:55! Even though I finished 6 minutes faster than Prague I was not as pleased with my performance. But I did find out that I am not in shape yet to run a sub 3:30!

Now that was out of the way I could play tourist for real, drink beer, eat whatever I wanted, etc. After a short rest and shower, I headed back to Gamla Stan and found a great restaurant on a little square. Everyone was eating el Fresco at 10:30 pm and watching the sun start to set. It didn’t get dark until after midnight.
I also started to realize how expensive Sweden is! The dinner specials cost $25 –40 and a beer was about $6 –8! Breakfast is normally included in the room price but you have to like pickled herring and deli sandwiches at 7 am. There is no such thing as bacon and eggs –even at MacDonalds –I checked!
I then had to choose between visiting some islands in the Stockholm Archipelago or using my Scan Rail Pass and heading north to make a loop around Sweden and Norway. So I took a 3 hour boat cruise through the lakes, canals and the Baltic Sea and then caught a 5 pm train north.
I made another important discovery! For a $25 upgrade fee I could reserve a semi-private sleeper coach on the night train. A hotel costs a minimum of $80 –100 so I used the trains as hotels for two nights Plus you cover 500 –600 miles while you sleep!
Back to my first night on the train travelling from Stockholm to Lulea (stop here and get out your world atlas –otherwise you will have no idea where these places are).
My roommate was a gentleman from Lulea. Fortunately he could speak English and he gave me a history lesson on Sweden, Lulea and politics. He was a staunch communist and would go off on tirades about capitalists so I didn’t bother to tell him that I was retired and living off our stock portfolio.
We arrived in Lulea at 7am on Mon morning. I left the train, walked around for 3 hours and decided to catch the next train to Kiruna, Sweden and Narvik, Norway. This train travels above the Arctic Circle and is advertised as the ‘ Most Northerly. Most Beautiful, Most Wild’ railway in the world. The first is probably true. But some of the scenery from Calgary to Vancouver is just as spectacular although maybe not as scary. When the train leaves Kiruna and heads to Narvik it passes over, through and around a mountain range that is 8 –10,000 feet. Coming down the Norwegian side it hugs the mountain on one side and on the other side is a Fjord from the North Atlantic. In many places when you look out the window you cannot see the tracks or any land –it is a sheer drop of 3 –5,000 feet into the fjord! The train finally drops down to sea level at Narvik which reminds me of small towns in Alaska or northern Canada. Arrived at 6 pm. Now about 100 miles above the Arctic Circle. The train station is closed. There is no taxi or bus. I have no idea where the actual downtown is and nobody speaks English! And it is raining and cold (35 degrees?) So I start walking and finally find a hotel about ½ mile from the station. $125 for a room –keep walking! Third and last hotel –farthest from the station- $70. Take it or sleep in the cold!
Now for a meal. Must have reindeer. Ask the desk clerk who fortunately speaks English. Go to the hotel up the street. Maybe I should run first because I haven’t run in 2 days since the marathon? Start out in the rain in shorts and a t-shirt because I did not bring any rain or cold weather gear with me. I pass several locals with ski jackets on and two runners with full Gortex suits on. Everyone looks at me very strangely. Decide it is too cold and maybe I should just drink beer instead! Stop at local grocery store. A beer is $5 per can – splurge and buy 2 cans to drink in the hotel room.
Drink the beer, watch TV-actually had BBC News channel. Shower and head for my reindeer steak. The steak only costs $25 which I figure is reasonable but a liter of rot-gut house wine to wash it down costs $35. The last time I order wine in Norway! Oh Yeah, I am hungry because I haven’t eaten since breakfast which I couldn’t stand so order a bowl of onion soup for $12. I can’t understand how anyone can afford to live in Norway?
Daylight does not go away here so I close the drapes to sleep since I think the bus leaves from the train station at 7am to go south to catch the closest railway line.
I am there at 6am in case I am wrong and need to go somewhere else. There are only two buses a day. Fortunately I am right and we depart at 7 am. It was a five hour ride to Fauske which is as far north as the Norwegian railway goes. It is 5 hours of the most spectacular scenery you will ever see. We went over, around and through mountains, under, around and over fjords. And at one point we had to take a ferry across a Fjord. Some of the tunnels were over 3 miles long and we just kept passing fjord after fjord with awesome scenery. Some day I would like to go back and take the bus route North out of Narvik which goes about another 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. That route is along the North Atlantic coast also.
Arrive Fauske and depart on the train at 12:15 pm. Scenery is still great but eventually becomes flatter and farmland as we go south. My roommate is a young cyclist from Toronto who has been biking the roads along the coast by himself for the past month and is going home. He tells me that Dallas is leading the series 2 to 1! Pass through Tronheim and then sleep and arrive in Oslo at 7 am. Go directly to the tourist desk. Bad news. No hotel rooms in Oslo. Beg and finally they come up with one 30 miles outside of Oslo for $250/night!
Make a reservation in case I really can’t find something else. Try to find a decent breakfast. Not possible. Make do with a pastry and coffee.
Take a city tour to get the layout. Oslo is fairly small. During the day I cannot find a hotel so decide I will move on by train to Goteburg, Sweden. Must do a run today. No showers in the station. Got an idea! Find a health club and ask to pay a day fee just to use their locker room and shower. Attendant thinks I am nuts but only charges $3 which is the cheapest thing I found in all of Norway. Did a hard 8 mile run along the Aker Brygge and through the Royal Farm. Shower and rush to the train station for a $10 Burger King burger and a $5 coke. Still don’t understand how anyone can afford to live here?

Getting tired now but must go on to Goteburg and find a hotel room that I can rent for the night instead of buying! Finally arrive 10:20 pm. As usual tourist office is closed but lots of hotels near the station. First stop a Renaissance Hotel, price $200! Keep moving. Go one block off main square. A clean 2 star hotel for $80. A place to sleep. Rise early and ask the clerk where to run . He recommends a bike path that takes me to a forest outside of town. There are dirt running trails that are well marked in a really thick forest. Pick a 10K loop that is well marked. What a great run! Wish Bishops had trails like this!
Back to hotel and breakfast. Surprise! They have Swedish meatballs and scrambled eggs.
I think I ate $80 worth.
Catch the train to Malma. Arrive 4 pm. Go to tourist office and book a hotel. Only $70 for a 2 star hotel near the main square (after I tell them their first 5 choices are too expensive). Malma is a neat little city, a university town with lots of young people hustling about.Walk around the central area. It is Happy Hour and it seems like the whole town is at the outdoor bars/restaurants enjoying the special prices –beer is only$7! Had a great dinner el Fresco in the main square at 10 pm with half the town. Then they all went of to nightclubs really dressed up but I had to hit the sack by midnight.
Next day I must rise early to catch the express train to Stockholm. Arrive 12pm. Decide to have a good lunch in the Gamla Stan before I catch the bus to the airport. Finally depart at 4 pm for Stansted.
Great to be back. Have 5 days to rest up before I leave for Tallinn, Estonia!

Trip in Summary!

The Stockholm marathon is a good race run through all the tourist highlights of the city.
Sweden and Norway are very, very expensive.
A Scan Rail Pass is a very good investment which will save you hundreds of dollars.
The women in Sweden, especially Stockholm are very beautiful and there seems to be an unlimited supply.
The natural scenery in Norway is the most beautiful of the two countries.
Take more than one week to see everything.

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