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Mike's Around-The-World Trip Update #9 - 8.19.2004
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this is very long but very strong; give it a read - i
promise you’ll enjoy it.

the third night i spent in sweden i did so in prison.

i had cell #1 in block #12 to myself. a wooden box
toilet sat in one corner, a desk made of a rounded
triangle of wood clung to the wall in the other. the
small stool in front of the desk was fixed tight to
the floor. on the other side of the cell was a small
table at which i passed my time by writing. my bed
lay alongside the north wall. the single window in
the room sat high in the middle of the back wall flush
with the ceiling but it was so heavily barred with
iron i could not see out of it or get air from it; it
was welded shut. the guard could look through a
peephole in the door to see in.

for additional security, the prison stood inside a
fortress originally built by the danish in the 12th
century. 80 foot (24 meter) stone walls surrounded
the fortress and the cells. as i made my way to the
prison, i walked up a cobblestone pathway, across the
moat, through a brick archway into the fortress,
catching a great view of the sea just over the wall
before going into my cell. i was in varberg, sweden,
about 85 kilometers south of sweden’s second largest
city, gothenburg, on the western coast.

i had a great meal of pasta, bread, grapes, and
lemonade which i prepared myself. i had one phonecall
to make but everyone back in america was still
sleeping as i entered my cell. when i went to sleep
that night, i think i heard the whispers of the
murderers, rapists, and bank robbers who once called
my cell home. the prison had been built in the 1850s
to house the worst criminals in sweden, those who were
to spend life behind bars. as i drifted off to sleep
ignoring their ghostly grunts and screams, i thought
of how much they would have paid to get out of there.
so ironic that i had paid 190 kroner ($25) to stay
there.

it is the coolest youth hostel i have ever stayed in.

“do you guys know john denver?” i asked as i looked
into the audience. those who understood nodded their
heads or said “yah, yah.” 6 days after breaking out
of my cell i was on the island of vrango, sweden, a
short ferry ride from gothenburg. i had a guitar in
my hand, a pick in my fingers, and a song in my head.
i had been hanging out at a bar/cafe on the edge of
the sea just in front of the ferry stop listening to a
swedish guy play guitar and sing. i hadn’t played in
some time and i wanted to perform for an audience so
after chatting him up inside while getting a beer i
asked him if i could play a few songs when he finished
his set. “sure,” he said later as he handed me his
guitar.

i sat on the picnic table in front of the stage (which
was an old rowing boat) strumming chords as everyone
in the place looked on with smiles on their faces. i
hoped my voice would flow and that i’d remember all
the lyrics, and that the swedes would know “leavin’ on
a jet plane” by john denver. there were no tourists
on this island, one of a group of tiny rocky islands
inhabited by no more than 1000 people, so i was
playing for the hometown crowd, the real-deal.

i started strumming the chords and having not sang in
a few weeks hoped my voice would serve me. all my
bags are packed i’m ready to go. i was doing it and
they were all singing along. my voice sounded good
and i really enjoyed myself although i felt like just
a body holding a guitar while some other spirit lead
the way. it was so odd. i guess i just couldn’t
believe i was doing it, there on that small island in
an outdoor cafe in a country i had never been to nor
spoke the language of. cause i’m leavin’ on a jet
plane, don’t know when i’ll be back again. i loved
it. i finished and they all enthuisiastically clapped
and cheered. how about one more? i went into sympathy
for the devil, my signature song, and the blond lady
smoking and drinking just to my right started
grooving. please allow me to introduce myself i sang.
they didn’t know the words to this one as well but as
i looked over the crowd i saw several of them bopping
to it. while i was playing, jacob, the guitar man,
went inside and got his guitar case. he had to catch
the next ferry to make it back to the mainland. he
lived in gothenburg. i finished strong, hitting the
falsetto notes “tell me baby, what’s my name? tell me
sweetie, what’s my name?” ahh, so good to play again,
so surreal to be playing for an audience of
foreignors, no, of natives - i was the foreignor. i
crunched the last chord and set the guitar down. they
burst into applause again and i felt so happy. jacob
told me it was his last show since the summer was
winding down and he was tired of playing such a small
island. he grabbed his guitar case, shook my hand,
and as he stood up said “maybe you should start
playing here.” i laughed as i waved goodbye thinking
to myself “you never know...you never know.” some of
the people in the crowd waved at me and smiled as they
left. how awesome. music is the friendly common
language of the world - i’m glad that in my small way
i can “speak” it.

hello from askersund, sweden. i am cycling across
this very beautiful, very cycle-friendly country on my
way to stockholm. after spending 4 nights there i
plan to take a ferry to finland where i will stay for
a couple weeks. from there i hope to take a train to
st. petersburg, russia and then to moscow to ride the
trans-siberian railway which journies across russia in
7 days covering 1/3 of the earth’s surface. the ride
ends in vladivostok, russia where i would take a ferry
to japan. from there i would head down into southeast
asia. but that’s the future and i still need a
hard-to-get russian visa so i’ll get back to you on
that.

what have i been doing since i last updated you? good
question. it breaks down like this:

england

my friend andrew had a party at his place in london
where we listened to music, conversed, ate banoffie
pie, drank french drinks and dutch beer, and met new
friends. at about 2:00 in the morning i busted out a
guitar and played 30+ tunes for the guests still
there. i stopped at about 6:00 and i noticed the sun
was shining. going to bed at that hour just
exacerbated my jet-lag. great party though. great
response from the crowd too.

i took several bike rides in london and tried out my
new camera on the many picturesque sites. i spent a
few hours one day figuring out where to go next and
whether to take my bike. i figured i’d go to norway
and see the fjords but then talked with stephanie on
the phone and decided to go visit her in copenhagen,
denmark again. i made plans to ride from london to
harwich, england where i could take an overnight 18
hour ferry to esbjerg, denmark. from there i would
cycle across the country to copehagen, hopefully
taking about 3 days.

i cycled to harwich, about a 60 mile ride on
wednesday, hoping to catch the 17:00 ferry. i got
there after a hairy ride only then finding out that
the ferry didn’t run until the next day. i bought a
ticket for the next day and found a bed and breakfast
for that night. i had fun in harwich that night
taking lots of pictures and reading up on denmark. i
watched casino with a guy from sweden while i waited
for my ferry to depart. here’s a great robert de niro
quote: “look into my eyes, look into my eyes. what do
you see in these eyes that makes you think you could
ever take my family away from me?”

denmark

the ferry ride was great. the ship was as close to a
cruise ship as i have ever come. i befriended two
swedes, goran and daniel, and we spent the evening in
the bar drinking danish beer and talking about
sweden/traveling. goran was excited about his trip to
the united states next year to drive route 66.

we got to denmark the next day and i began the ride
across it, taking the national cycling route which
goes from ebsjerg to copenhagen, about 330 kilometers.
i couldn’t actually find the route even though it was
apparently marked well and since i didn’t have a map i
just pointed my bike east and started riding.
eventually i drifted onto a highway and the danes lost
their minds. every car that passed me honked like
they just caught me stealing money from them. i
realized that i wasn’t supposed to be on the highway,
so i admitted the mistake to myself, took the blame
for a poor decision, forgave myself, then started
hauling ass to the nearest exit one kilometer away.
the danes continued to hysterically honk like every
rotation of my wheel subtracted another 10 danish
korner from their bank account. i had no way of
explaining to them that i understood my mistake, was
quite sorry, and was quickly trying to correct it; i
didn’t have the time or materials to write out a sign
saying: “hey honking #sshole, i am sorry i am on this
road. i don’t think i am harming you in anyway but
want you to know that i am rolling as quickly as i can
to that exit right up the road there. see it? now
f#ck off.” plus i figured i’d need to write it in
danish to make sure everyone understood but i was sure
my phrasebook was missing half the necessary words.
so instead i gave everyone the finger, putting further
strain on diplomatic relations between the u.s. and
denmark i’m sure. i couldn’t help it. i can’t stand
it when someone keeps putting the saw to me when i’ve
realized what i’ve done and am trying to correct it.
sometimes the finger is what someone needs to see.
they still honked. f#ckers. thought you d#cks loved
bicycles?

anyway, i eventually made it to copenhagen and hung
out at stephanie’s place for 8 days. we had a lot of
fun there going to tivoli (the local amusement park),
a blues club, the movie theater, throwing the aerobie
and drinking beers in the parks. she left for the
united states on the same day i left for helsingor,
denmark where hamlet’s castle is. i got there in
about 2 hours riding along the coast the whole way
thinking it looked very similar to riding up lake
shore drive in chicago. i spent the night in the town
and checked out elsinore castle (as shakespeare called
lundberg castle.) the next day i boarded the ferry to
sweden with about 50 people pushing dolly’s loaded
with cases of beer. the beer is expensive and weak in
sweden so the swedes come over, load up on booze, and
take the ferry home. they all headed to the bar when
they got aboard for a stiff drink - it was 9:00 in the
morning.

sweden

my mom’s dad was swedish making me 1/4 quarter swedish
so i was quite excited to get here. the ferry dropped
me in helsingborg, sweden and i rode off headed
for....where? wow. i didn’t know. i didn’t know
anything about sweden or where i was. i didn’t have a
map so i didn’t know what i was close to. i sat on a
park bench trying to decide where to go. it seemed i
always had somewhere to ride toward before, but now i
had no idea where to go. i loved the feeling. the
world was a blank canvas and i was an excited painter.
i headed up the coast toward gothenburg where i had a
friend who i had met on the ferry, daniel.

i rode for 4 days up the coast, stopping at night to
stay in youth hostels. i didn’t have a map the last 3
days of the ride because there were signs for a
coastal bike bath that i just followed. the ride was
a bit lonely and i arrived in gothenburg looking to
meet some new people and party a bit.

the first hostel was booked so i headed for my second
choice. they only had the “spare” room open. i
checked it out, liked it, and, as i was walking back
to the reception desk, saw the guy who was going to
switch the gear on my trip walking toward the room to
check it out for himself: tony from new zealand. i
could just tell from his face that this was a guy you
could get into a lot of trouble with and i was in the
mood for trouble. he had 4 huge bags stuffed full of
all kinds of crap which he heaved onto his bed. later
that night in the room he introduced himself as he
pulled out a huge bottle of absolut vodka. he mixed
it with some coke and downed it. he was wearing a
hawaiian shirt and a lei (a flowered necklace.) you
travel with leis? i asked him. i’ve got 10 of ‘em in
my bag. this guy was on earth to lighten things up.
alan from ireland was our other roommate and as we all
got ready to go out tony busted out the glow-sticks;
he had 3 tubes of them in his bag. we got to choose
our color and went out on the town looking like a
touring freakshow. i didn’t care if people didn’t
like it, i was there to have fun. here’s the thing
though: people loved it. wearing a hawaiin lei in
sweden, especially when you arrive in a bar with a
crowd of people all wearing them, makes everyone in
town want to talk to you. the next night, ingmar and
jost from holland moved into our room and we all went
out together. ingmar, alan, and tony all had more
character than some entire countries do so i had an
amazing time for 3 nights with those guys. at 4:00 in
the morning one night after a long night at the bar,
the 5 of us found a set of 4 trampolines set up in the
park. ingmar and i raced toward them shoving each
other to try to make it in first. a tall fence
surrounded them but we just scaled it and started
bouncing. all 5 of us got in there and started
bounding higher and higher knocking each other around.
when it was time to go some of us slipped out a crack
in the fence, others climbed over, but ingmar exited
much more creatively bouncing high on the trampoline
and up over the 7 foot high (2 meter) fence - it was
quite a site. mary, a friend of mine from australia
that i had met in dingle, ireland, happened to be in
town as well so the 3rd night she came out with an
ever-expanding group of guys. she had fun.

i ended up spending about a week in the gothenburg
area, exploring the islands off the coast, touring an
excellent art museum, riding the coasters at an
amusement park, exploring the town on my bike,
listening to the music at the festival in town...great
times. i finally got on my bike and set off toward
stockholm, a 487km journey that i figured would take
me 5 days. tony is there now and i look forward to
wearing my glow stick bracelet and lei out to the bars
there - maybe this time i’ll borrow one of his 4
hawaiin shirts.

having an incredible time. hope all is well.

keep on keepin’ on,
mike

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