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European Voices -the Freedom of Movement Tour part 5 – Swedish trains and German walls

We are at part five of our coverage of the Freedom of Movement tour with Chiara Ginestra and Alexander Colling who are travelling across Europe on bicycle to discover the wonderful right of  freedom of movement within the European Union. Don’t forget to follow them on their Facebook page , Tumblr and their Twitter handle. In this episode, we hear from Chiara.

Well, it’s clear by now that cycle touring is basically like a massive problem-solving exercise. Yet, what do I moan about? We have been so lucky! With the weather (Geordie sunburn still going strong), our fantastic hosts and no p*nct*r*s (you’ll have to guess this one as I’m not saying the p word). Cycle touring also brings you to the brink of schizophrenia – one moment you love it; the next you just want to throw your bike off the bridge and curl up at the side of the kerb crying until the highway maintenance van removes and safely disposes of you in a ditch.

So, the fourth week was not entirely joyless but definitely still a literal and metaphorical pain in the arse. This is also why I’m writing about week four at the start of week six – too much pain in the arse to be arsed to do anything else than problem-solve the former.

My problems

Sometimes I wish I could change my body parts as easily as I can change bike parts, which as it happens is not as easy as one may think. After an afternoon wasted Googling things like “bum transplant” I decide it’s definitely easier to change bike parts. However, not when you are travelling and of no fixed abode. We spend most of our time in Berlin and Copenhagen roaming around bike shops like a Via Crucis (the Catholics among us will understand what I’m talking about). We only manage to upgrade our saddles to the ultimate “sofa” level (Alex has bum issues too, but my bum is more delicate), then I conclude my bike is nae good for me. I had it for some time before setting off on this trip and it was fine, or so I thought. Cycling 100 km a day repeatedly must have highlighted compatibility issues. We then spent the rest of our time in Berlin and Copenhagen trying to find bike parts that are not yet invented, or new chimeric bikes that only exist in my wildest dreams.

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At some point in the middle of Northern Germany my body also decided that getting the flu was a good idea in that time and space. At that point I wished my soul would transmigrate into a stone.

Alex’s problems

While we were cycling in the middle of a German nothingness, Alex’s data roaming crashed and never came back. For days. 25 calls to Virgin Mobile later the problem was still unsolved and 25 different operators told us 25 different things about the issue. In the end, Alex ordered a new SIM card which was forwarded by his family to Copenhagen but got there a day too late (grrr) so it’s now AWOL somewhere in Scandinavia, hopefully nearer Finland – our next temporary address for at least 3 days.

The funny thing is that after all this malarkey, Alex’s data did eventually come back as suddenly as also miraculously, and at the time of writing (touching forests of wood) it’s still with us. Anyway, if you are planning to travel abroad do Google “data roaming cap” to find out about the creative solution some companies found to keep profit levels up despite the new EU legislation on roaming charges.

Our common problems…with Sweden.

In all the above, we needed to keep planning the next movements to reach our 6th European capital, Stockholm. That’s when we found out that the main Swedish train company, SJ, doesn’t allow bikes on trains AT ALL. That created a 600km long problem – not what you need when either your body or your bike or both are falling apart, and when 1 out of 2 of your navigation devices (aka Google maps on phone) are kaput. Our minds were racing through every possible solutions, from just skipping Sweden and f#*k off SJ, hiring a van or a helicopter, hitch a ride from some good-hearted Swedish truck driver, sell our bikes and buy mules instead. We then settled (resigned?) on the idea to cycle pretty much the whole thing, not after several Italian-style rage outbursts at each other and a few reciprocal divorce threats.

Is history about to repeat itself?

Despite all this, in Berlin we did manage to cycle along some bits of the gone wall.

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We also cycled away from Berlin through two former East German towns, Neuruppin and Oranienburg. Oranienburg is where during the second world war the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen was located, and prisoners of the camp were forced to evacuate on foot through the German woods, going past Neuruppin. Cycling through those forests, amazingly beautiful in the sun, was unforgettable but also creepy. We also stumbled across this sign that reminded us of what was once a border, maybe not physical but still hard.

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We cycled through all this sombrely, thinking how lucky and free we now are, and how we may no longer be in the future.

When we arrived in Copenhagen, our host Cathy had prepared us a great gift: these customised #StopBrexit tops!

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We felt a bit better then, as we were reminded that we are not alone, that many other people also don’t want divisions and more borders, and maybe we are just about enough to “fight” back.

Our thanks for this week go to our hosts: Eva, Lena and her friends in Neuruppin, Kristina and her flatmates, and Cathy at Demarcation Design and her family!

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