Euro Love Train part 5 17th July 2018: Copenhagen to Stockholm to the Åland Islands

Late to bed, early to rise. That's how life works right? Despite the post-midnight finish to the previous evening, I was awake and alert just after 4am, listening to podcasts about murderers and playing Threes until just before 6am. I figured there'd be a rush for the shower around then, so snuck in before everyone else stirred.

Sure enough, come 0610 they're all up and about, emptying the fridge and freezer back into our cooler bags, people are packing stuff, the clothes in the dryer are given another 20 minutes, etc etc. I go upstairs to soak in the Danish morning light.

At 0700 we're all out. I detach the keys to the flat from the keys to my home in London and happily remember which to post back through the letter box upon our departure, 87 steps below.

Up the way is a food market which doesn't open until 10am, but one of the bakeries and a coffee shop opens at 7am and Andrew goes ahead to buy pastries. Down by the station we're into the supermarket for more liquids and then once enough people have ingested enough nicotine we descend to platform 2 for our train.

Danish train systems are confusing. Ask the planning app for how to get from Nørreport to Lund and it says yeah, get the 0740 to København Central then change onto the 0743 to Lund. I mean, really, a 3 minute change? But in reality they are one and the same train, but the services are numbered and the number changes at Central. I mean, come on, that just seems unnecessarily bureaucratic and unfriendly. But, anyway. On the platform we help a New Yorker discern which service is going to the airport, and I demand we all move down the platform because our train splits and not all of it goes to Lund.

Everything is empty including, delightfully, the first class cabin, next to which we happen to be standing when the train arrives. Hurrah! So we shove all our bags up top and spread out and eat pastries and wait to get beyond CPH airport and head across the Øresund bridge. This marks the border crossing from Denmark to Sweden, and even though it's barely gone 8am we supposedly have to toast this. It's Aquavit, "the water of life", and makes all our eyes open very quickly.


At Målmo (is that the correct "å"?) they announced we'll have our passports checked, so I get mine out of my bag and as I'm opening it a tenner drops out. Were I actually doing this with immigration staff present it might look shady as fuck like a bribe, but in reality it's just me being clumsy and no-one comes to check our papers anyway.

Just after 0830 we're in Lund, with 40-odd minutes to change over. Some folk are comfortable just staying on the platform with all the bags while others fancy going to get a coffee. I go entirely solo off-piste, assuring everyone I'll be back in time for the train.

It's not pretty around here. Some third-tier city suburb or something. We don't even know how to pronounce Lund. Does it rhyme with the second syllable of "daschund"? Or the second word of "hedge fund"? Does it even matter? They have bikes.

Just up the way is a British pub/hotel. Wow.

Hang on, what? "Interesting value for money"???

Very soon it opens up into a large park and square with really nice buildings. This is, I believe, the univeristy. Pretty impressive. It's white cloudy so nothing looks properly beautiful, but it's nice enough. There are virtually no people about but about 3 people on bikes.

Further up is a statue of "Sven Lagerbring", whose name sounds like a barked instruction. And he seems to be guarding the entrance to a henge! Yes! Lundhenge for the win.

There are other nice buildings around the square. Some seem to have turrets or whatever, others are covered in wisteria and are home to the world of gymnastics and song.

This bloke seems important.

Completing my tour of the park I exit to a small shopping area with a big fuck off cathedral opposite. I mean, all of this was in the space of 10-15 minutes. Well played Lund for being so unexpectedly nice.

I was also very pleased just to have half an hour to myself in mostly silence. I did voluntarily break it to ask if anyone wanted pastries from the nice pastry shop I'd passed but got no responses in the affirmative so went back to the platform empty handed. On time, our 0922 train to Stockholm arrives and we get our first class seats in carriage 1.

Blimey. Swedish railways first class is nice. The legroom is off the charts.

Once we're all settled, I put my headphones on and get down to writing up the previous day. There's masses of space on the table between Andrei and I so no worries about encroachment. My desire for a bit of peace and quiet seems to be contagious as almost everyone else puts their 'phones on for a bit 'n all. For the first time on the trip we're all just quiet and/or content and ready to let the train take the strain.

At the end of the coach is free water plus tea and coffee making equipment. But we still have our own provisions and a few of the others have wine or shit beer. Of particular note is the cubed cheese.

We're on this train for 4.5 hours or so. The scenery is OK, not gobsmacking, and not much is going on out of my window but that's OK. After blogging I acquiesce to the offer of nice beer, and it is nice. Then an attendant asks if we're drinking "strong" beer and tells us it's against the law for us to do thanks to Swedish regulations. He'll pretend not to have seen it but we're not to open any more or he'll be forced to confiscate. You're not allowed to drink your own booze above 3.5% apparently. Mmm, forbidden beer.

[Hang on. Need a break. Much like when I was typing yesterday, I'm bloody dozing off at the table as I write. C'mon Darren, wake the fuck up. OK, just had a wander and a chicken mayo sandwich, let's see if I can get to the end of the post]

Anyway. Yes. Andrei and I went to explore the buffet car, attempting to find a vacant loo en route and somewhat dismayed to discover at least one of them is simultaneously occupied and unlocked. At the buffet we have an IPA that's meh, it's OK. Back at our seats, a conductor tells us in long-winded Swedish that the train isn't going to Stockholm Central but only to Sodra, which is fine because that's where we want to go. Also he is faux angry at me for being English because of the world cup 'n that. Andrew makes a magnificent sandwich, and the suburbs of Stockholm arrive. Time to get off.

We don't have long here. There's a hard cut off time after which our next leg absolutely will not wait for us. To make things entertaining, Andrei and I have been absolutely insistent that the two of us are fucking off and will meet everyone else later. So, 3.15pm and DON'T BE LATE OK?

The others go to a beer garden. We two wander past some shops, then through a park. Andrei gets shouted at by a cyclist for being in the cycle lane, which pisses him off because others are similarly transgressive but getting no third degree. We walk up a long ramp and a longer hill. It's hot. Our bags are heavy. We're in a hurry. This is unpleasant.

It's fucking worth it though. We have pegged it to Omnipollos Hatt, the tap room of eponymous Swedish brewery extraordinaire Omnipollo. Their beers are magnificent and daft and magnificent and strong and magnificent. The girl serving us is fantastically helpful and friendly, accommodating to the fact we only have 45-50 minutes to spend and able to advise on what beers we should try and at what size.

I mean, seriously. Due to our deadline I say I'll skip the little taste and go straight for the cheese saison, but she insists I have a taste because, frankly, it's not very nice. I taste it, it's lovely, I have a full one. Amidst the chaos of a slushy delivery being hindered by a rogue UPS truck we get more beer, this time I opt for one of their dark specialities and it is of fucking course utterly great.

She even helps us out with transport advice to get to where we're meeting the others; first she suggests walking, forgetting temporarily that we've got big bags. So, yes, go outside, turn right, turn right again, go get an Uber or regular taxi from Subway or the Hilton. And that's exactly what we do, arriving in plenty of time for the 3.15pm deadline despite much "where the fuck are you?" Facebook ribbing en route.

This next leg is a big one; none of this 4 hours on a train nonsense, fuck that, we's getting on a massive fuck-off Viking Line ship, the M/S Gabriella. On our arrival to the terminal we're alerted to the panicky fear some of our party have that Viking might actually enforce their own rules about not taking food and drink onboard, since we have a bunch of both in our bags. There's even talk of sniffer dogs. But no-one checks fuck all and we're in.

It's comfortably the biggest water-going vessel I've ever set foot on. Holy jesus. I mean, for example, this is the smaller one next door. We get on too promptly (and there is a giant terminal building in the way) for me to get a photo of Gabriella itself.

There are bloody hundreds of people getting on. We scramble our way to the 6th deck where the 7 of us - oh, did I forget to mention? We picked up a new traveller in Stockholm in the shape of Stoycho – have 4 neighbouring cabins booked, all of which sleep 4. Plenty of space, therefore.

Well, this calls for a beer, right? Data via cellular or wifi is fine here so we can communicate via our group chat still, meaning there's no issue reconvening later. Andrei and I grab a Finnish beer at the Greek bar outside on deck 9; after a while we either hear from or actually see the others and just as we set off from Stockholm we're all up on the top deck. It's windy but very picturesque.

Seeya, Stockholm.

Except for the requirement to buy another drink, there seems precious little reason to go indoors... so we dont. None of us.

Stockholm continues to look nice behind us, but the real action is out front.

Many other tiny, puny little vessels dart around us like fleas on a dog. Oi, hop it!

The initial departure from port seems to require some careful navigation from the auto-captain that I assume this boat has.

There are loads of other giant ships around as well. Hundreds of the fuckers. I send Chris in England a few picture SMSes to make him jealous. He says this bad boy is going to Tallinn, Estonia from England.

The waterway is a massive archipelago. Checking the route on Google maps, we're going to weave our way past about ten hundred million islands and stuff. Periodically, what appear to be chain link ferries cross the way in front us. At one point a series of small boats in our way don't seem to be taking the appropriate evasive action so we sound our massive horn. "Get the fuck out of our way!" comes out like a chorus from nearly everyone.

It doesn't take me long to annoy everyone else by complaining that it's so samey. But it is. All this relentlessly beautiful landscape is tiring, though it's OK when you've got a beer and are standing in a line at the front of the boat like you're captaining it. Seriously we have a fucking prime spot for this, and keep it for like 4 hours or so.

Eventually we think there might be some open water visible. It isn't getting cold, it's barely getting dark, but we're all getting a bit hungry and what's more the perilous nature of the stairs from the bar on deck 8 to our position on deck 10 is making each successive round harder to ferry. So, fuck it, let's go indoors and eat.

The shipboat has many many venues. A Greek themed bar at the end outside, next to the indoors "Upstairs Pub". There's a buffet, but we're too late for it – which is a double shame, because beer and wine comes free there. The Mexican place is tempting by virtue of it being Mexican, though no-one has high confidence that Finno-Swedish Mexican (FixMex? SwexMex?) food will be particularly authentic.

That low confidence is proved right. The tacos are shit. Oh well. By now we're all in quite excellent psychological state: no disasters or even near misses; comfort, with no seating trauma; a mere mild slap on the wrist for contraband beer; amazing booze at one of my favourite breweries; great weather; and just incredible scenery from likely the best viewing position onboard.

We're also all quite drunk and starting to scatter. Some need to get back to their cabins and sleep. Some, like me, want to keep drinking. Others want to go wander. It's cool. Facebook is our friend, and the weather and views are still amazing for those of us who favour booze and standing out on deck.

At, I dunno, 10pm? Maybe 11pm? Actually, we're really not sure because we don't even know what timezone it's in, but whenever it was we make our first stop. It's in the Åland islands, some kind of "autonomous island group under Finnish soveriegnty" that does, apparently, count as an entire country under the rules of the Travelers Century Club (TCC). Clearly the TCC are a group of people who want to game visiting 100 countries as quickly as they can, since their rules recognise not only places like this as separate from Finland, or Tasmania separate from Australia, but they even consider "just stopping for fuel/pickup/dropoff" as visiting a country. That's fucking daft. I tell you, sitting in a Lufthansa plane on the tarmac in Khartoum for 40 minutes does not fucking entitle me to claim I've been to Sudan. So there!

Ahem. Anyway. Let's enjoy the sunset a bit more shall we?

Another Viking Line boats wends its way around these islands as we do. It's quite confusing, as there don't seem to be any large settlements nearby and despite tons of people getting off our ship, we can't even see any cars or other obvious ways they are continuing their journey. Strange.

The numerous trips inside throughout the evening are all eventful in their own way. Being a big fuck off ship there is tons going on: near the shit tacos there's a woman playing piano and singing; in another bar there's kids entertainment going on; the casino tables are open; each landing near the stairwells has a bunch of fruit machines (one of which I play and win €12 from); there's a zone for arcade games; "Upstairs Pub" has a lass playing guitar and singing folk; etc etc.

Once it's dark I go into Upstairs Pub and discover to my delight that they have a range of craft beers. I buy a salted chocolate porter and it's really quite nasty. How the fuck a bottled beer can be so nasty without just being a legitimately shitty taste I don't know. Andrei buys a different dark beer and it's so bad he can't even have more than two sips before giving up and buying a whisky. John and Ed both appear and we have more beer, standing out back near the now-closed Greek bar.

Someone, I forget who (but it honestly wasn't me) suggests one more beer. We go inside to have it, either to Club Mar or The Real Deal. I think it was the latter. Lots of people were dolled up to the eyeballs for a night clubbing on this ship and it just seemed so fucking bizarre to us. Unlike what I thought cruise ships were all about, the Gabriella was full of scruffy bastards and hard drinkers, none of whom scrubbed up particularly well. Bless them for trying though, I guess?

Back at the cabin I lose the last remaining plasticky thing off my watch strap, and can't find my pyjamas. Did I leave them in Copenhagen next to the towel? Probably. Buying a first class flight seems like a cost effective way to replace them. Perhaps if I survive this trip I'll go do that. It'll at least be healthier on the liver.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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