Towards my final destination – Copenhagen here I come! October, 2015

Direction – Copenhagen

So here I was on the road again! I felt sad to leave Prästabonnens Gård, but on the other hand I was very excited about beginning the last part of my cycling journey and reaching my final destination – Denmark. I had never been to Denmark either and I dreamt about visiting Copenhagen. I heard so many good things about this city and that together with Amsterdam it was the most bicycle friendly city in Europe (or the whole wide world?) After going to Amsterdam in May, which completely possessed my heart and is ranked by now as my second favorite visited city in the world, I was very curious about the famous Danish capital.

I was lucky again to find a place in Copenhagen, where eventually I was about to stay for almost a week. It was thanks to the bike polo/messenger community that I contacted few days before my arrival and asked if anyone could host me for a few nights. Trine, a messenger girl, replied to me and suggested that I should stay longer so that I could race with them in Alleycat, which they were organizing for Halloween. Of course I couldn’t say no to such an invitation! Thrilled with a vision of staying within the bicycle community, riding in an alley and hopefully playing some polo and having lots of time to visit the city, I started peddling towards Denmark.

Last days in Sweden – Lund, Malmö, Helsingborg

 Since I still had plenty of time and Suzanne offered that I could stay in her apartment in Lund, I divided my last part of journey into 5 days of cycling. This way I could peacefully enjoy my last kilometers through Swedish lands and do some sightseeing in the cities on the way.

I stayed for a night in Lund, which is the oldest city in present-day Sweden and well known for its University. Walking the streets of Lund I was imagining Suzanne living and teaching here. It’s a very pleasant and quite small city; I think I would enjoy studying there.

The next day I cycled to Malmö. It seemed very different from what I had always imagined. It is the third biggest city in Sweden, and I have no bloody idea why I thought it would be smaller and maybe a more cozy, more fishery-town style… I was very wrong; my imagination sometimes misleads me big time 🙂 It is actually a pretty modern city, a cultural and economical center of the southern part of Sweden. From Malmö leads the longest bridge in Europe that connects Sweden with Denmark. However, it’s not possible yet to cross it with bicycle and many people advised me that taking ferry in Helsingborg is better for the ride views, so I chose the later option. My very hospitable Couchsurfing host surprised me by taking me for a dinner to… his grandmother’s home! He explained to me that he promised her he would fix something in her flat and that he usually ate meals with her every now and then. It was a super nice experience to have such an insight in a usual day routine of a Swedish family and their relationships. His grandma was absolutely lovely; she cooked a nice meal and showed me an album with newspaper clips about the history of Malmö that she’s been collecting through years. All of a sudden it made me think of my grandparents and how I missed having them around.

lodki
Views from the road

I spent the afternoon and next morning walking around the city and in the early afternoon I took off to my next Couchsurfing stop. The route was very nice; from time to time I was cycling close to the coastline from where I could see shapes of Denmark’s shores. I arrived after sundown at my host’s place. She lived in a truly lovely house in the woods. I have to admit that for a moment I was worried that I wouldn’t find it as there where many similar looking houses and that I would get stuck in the darkness of the wilderness but I managed as always. It turned out that she was a super nice fellow cyclist, so we shared our biking experiences over the dinner. In the morning shortly after sunrise we split and I cycled my last part of Swedish route.

Wow, I was almost done with my trip. From day one, almost two months ago when I arrived in Sweden, I managed to cycle over 800 km and pass through so many distinct places and meet so many interesting new people that I was feeling a bit sad that it was nearly the end of it. If only the weather was warmer I would definitely cycle further, maybe down south Denmark up to Hamburg in Germany where my friend from childhood was living. Well, it will have to be next time as I’m sure there will be next time, somewhere, somehow 🙂

Now being even closer to my destination I could see Denmark’s coastlines clearer. How exciting!

My last stop in Sweden was Helsingborg, a town that is the country’s closest point to Denmark with only 4 km dividing both borders. My Couchsurfer was not Swedish but Hungarian and it was interesting to hear about his experiences as a foreigner living in this country. He showed me around the town that has pretty views over Helsingør, the Danish city on the other side of the Øresund. We ate Thai food and watched a documentary about ancient civilizations that followed with curious discussion on that matter.

denmark on the horizon
Helsingborg with Denmark on the horizon

Farewell Sweden, welcome Denmark!

 The next day before saying “See you around!” to Sweden I sat down in the harbor for a while. I thought of the fact that I’ve been super lucky all the way during my trip. All the people I met were very hospitable and open-minded; each and every one was interesting and very different from each other and for sure I won’t forget them. I wish I could tell you in more detail about all of them, but that would take ages 🙂 Well, it was time for Denmark!

crossing the border
Crossing the border – Sweden on the right / Denmark on the left

The ride in the ferry was super quick; in about 25 minutes I was already on the other side of the Øresund strait. Hello Denmark, so good to meet you finally! The day was very windy, but the route was amazing. All the way to Copenhagen I had a neat cycling lane and the path led mostly by the coast. Stopping by the beach for a snack and watching kite surfers I rested for the last time before reaching my final destination. I was totally astonished by the cycling indications throughout the road that kept me perfectly navigated. And the fact that all the cars I saw on the way were parked either on the street or on the pedestrian’s sidewalk, but never on the bike lane, was truly impressive! Wow, I already felt instant love for Danish culture.

Cph – the capital of bicycles

cph i made it
Nyhavn harbor

 I arrived in Copenhagen at last! Wow and wow again – so many bicycles and bike tracks everywhere that I almost got lost twice before reaching my host’s place. Trine was a Danish bike messenger and lived with her best friend Boline and four foreign students – Italian, Norwegian, Romanian and Spanish. It was a nice flat and super nice people who right away made me feel comfortable at their home as if it was my own.

In the evening Trine gave me a quick bike tour through downtown’s main sightseeing points and took me to a dinner with her friends and some Finnish students. On the way she told me a bit about the city’s cycling rules, culture and infrastructure. We rode the busiest cycle street in the capital, Nørrebrogade, that is about 3 km long, which directly links a couple locations and the city center and in the rush hours the bicycle traffic is tremendous. Statistics say that daily it is used by around 36,000 cyclists. Nice. In the next few days I rode this street at least twice a day.

The next day before work Trine took me to The Little Mermaid, which turned out to be much smaller than the one we have in Warsaw and to Nyhavn Harbor that is colored with shore-side homes and tall ships docked along the quays. During that day and the following ones I cycled the streets of Copenhagen back and forward, learning my way through it, visiting key places on the map of the city: National Gallery of Denmark, famous Christiania, hippie zone, Ørestad district with its modern architecture, coffee places and messenger meeting points. But mostly I saw more streets, buildings and bicycles than anything else during my stay 🙂

graffiti cph
Norrebrogade street

Bike messengers community and alleycat

 On Friday evening Trine took me to their usual bike messenger hang out in the city center. We had a few beers and great laughs. I quickly learnt that Danish people are very straightforward, funny, nice and easy-going, super cool actually.

Saturday was the Halloween and the Alleyween – the biggest alleycat (an informal bicycle race that usually always takes place in cities and normally is organized by bicycle messengers – loads of super fun!) in Denmark annually organized on that very occasion by members of Copenhagen messenger community. Last time I rode in an alley was back in Warsaw probably about 4 years ago, so I was very excited but also very afraid of it. It was organized at night and I didn’t know the city at all. However, Trine found me an awesome teammate, Emma, an ex-messenger who turned out to be suuuuper fast and good at racing. Together with her super nice friend Jody we created a cool team of three. They knew the city very well and rode like crazy, so I had a tough time trying to keep up with their pace feeling a bit like a third wheel, but hell, it was so much fun! We raced for about 2 hours and 30+ km throughout Copenhagen; there were 44 teams, 90+ riders and 10 checkpoints. For me that was the biggest alley I ever raced. Even though we didn’t arrive first (surprised, right?) Emma and me, dressed as Malificient, a beautiful evil mistress from Disney, we won a prize for our costumes. The next day I had also quite a hangover after the afterparty as you might imagine.

Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to play bike polo since the pick up games were very postponed but at least I met some of the players. A few years back I met in Warsaw on a tournament two Danish polo players and now I happily discovered that one of the guys is still in the game and remembers me. Reunions after many years are always a nice experience and so it was this time. I was impressed of how their polo/messenger community works well together organizing bicycle workshops for children and other events of that sort. Really nice and open people with good attitude and teamwork. I hope I will have a chance to visit them again one day.

A souvenir and a final countdown

 bike tat 2I almost forgot about one more little detail. I got myself a present in Copenhagen – a new race bike tattooed on my right wrist. On the beginning of my journey I promised myself that I would get a bike tattoo if I manage to get all the way to Denmark on two wheels and I did! From Nynashamn in Sweden to Copenhagen in Denmark; almost 900 km, 13 couchsurfing hosts + Trine and 2 WWOOF farms. Quite an extraordinary experience. Now, this bike will always remind me of these two months in Scandinavia that were filled with lots of learning, thinking, reflecting and analyzing, but also enjoying, resting and relaxing. The route was filled with beautiful and happy moments, but also sometimes with difficult and stressful ones. I had been fighting with my thoughts many times, pushed myself to the limits and learnt to enjoy the best I can whatever comes on my way. It was a new and powerful lesson and now I was about to go back to Barcelona and face reality. Soon I would have to make a decision about what I want to next – look for a new job in Barcelona or hit the road again.

So I left Copenhagen profoundly touched by kindness of the people I met on my way and thankful for their help and hospitality. I loved the city. Even though it was cloudy for the most of my stay, I felt good in it. It is interesting and has a character. But I missed Barcelona too and was looking forward to see it again. See you hopefully soon Scandinavia, thank you for having me and hello again Barcelona!

scnadinavia map 2.2
From Nynashamn to Copenhagen!

 

 

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On the route – cycling through my mind. October 2015

Farewell Krogstorps Gård!

Saying goodbye to Krogstorps Gård was tough. Hans and Peter were very good hosts and their farm an idyllic place. My days were full of new experiences and evenings reserved for wonderful walks and good readings by the chimney. I had plenty of time just for myself and spent many cheerful moments in good company. I tried a couple of very tasty traditional Swedish meals cooked by my hosts and ate definitely too much chocolate. And last but not least, Krogstorps was a great beginning of a transition I felt I was about to make soon. When I decided to go WWOOFing I knew that I was not ready yet to go to one of these as-much-as-possible self-sufficient and sustainable farms. Instead I need a smooth conversion from my city life to countryside one. I felt I should take one step at a time, because the change seemed too big to jump head-first right away. Here I had my first contact with farm life and work, but still had all the comforts of the typical household – slept in a warm house with a fresh bed linen and cozy bed, hot shower and a toilet. We were recycling and composting, but used electricity for most things. My hosts were still keeping their regular jobs in order to meet ends and to slowly become more self-sufficient and I’m sure they are on the right path to it. I felt like Krogstorps Gård was somewhere in the middle between city and countryside life, just what I needed at that time. Now it was time to pack again the panniers and jump on my bicycle. The road was waiting for me!

leaving the farm

On the road – my bike and me

Right, I was about to cycle a few hundred kilometers through unknown country on my own for the first time. It might sound like not a big deal for many of you, but for me it was a personal challenge. I always thought I’m not a bad cyclist; I bike everywhere in the city, once a week or two used to do up to 100 km distances on my race bike and I also play my beloved bike polo (lately unfortunately less than I wish to). Bicycling means freedom to me, and it feels like an extension of my body. I love cycling and everything related to it. But until that day I only once went on a longer bike trip with one of my beloved friends from home. It was in May and in 6 days we made it across 400 km from Amsterdam to Brussels. We didn’t rush but slowly cycled through cities, enjoying the moment and sightseeing on the way. It taught me a couple of useful things such as that you have to be prepared for all possible weather… including rain. Yes I know, I was super dumb to think that maybe luckily it wouldn’t rain in the Netherlands in May. I was very wrong; it already began to rain when we were leaving Amsterdam and continued for the next 5 hours of cycling. You can imagine how we looked and felt after this ride. This time I got prepared for the rain but not for the cool October weather. Well, actually everything was fine except my feet, which were freezing a bit. But it’s also because I have a very bad blood circulation in my feet and my cycling shoes were more for spring/summer season than for Nordic autumn.

off I go

Nevertheless here I was and ready to go beyond all my comfort zones and cycle from the east to the southwest of Sweden on my vintage Panasonic race bike. Many friends advised me to get a more comfortable bicycle for such a long trip. Like a hybrid/trekking bike where you wouldn’t have to ride all the time in a hunched position and attaching panniers would be easier. But no, I wanted to do it on my good old buddy Panasonic. This bike went through a lot with me and travelled to many places. It was a present from my Mum for my BA graduation, bought with the help of my friends. It was bought used but in a very good condition. Strong steel frame survived even my accident with a car I crashed into one summer. And now it was supposed to support me and another 18-20 kg of baggage.

Back in Warsaw my friend had to invent a way to assemble a front bike rack since the fork was missing necessary holes and hooks and the rear rack was attached only to the saddle tube. Because of it I decided to take 4 panniers – two fronts and two rear ones, each pair not exceeding 10 kg for the balance and safety. At first it felt a bit shaky, but with each kilometer I was getting more used to driving this camel-like bike.

Route plan

When it came to the route plan I decided not to go too hard on myself since I didn’t know what the weather would be like nor the condition of roads and remembering that it will be my first time cycling consecutively for about 9-10 days. I simply couldn’t predict how I would handle it and also I wanted to enjoy this ride, having time to stop and relax whenever I felt like it. My daily distance averaged between 50 and 75 km, but there were places where I couldn’t find a couch and instead of cycling 100 km I was breaking it into two days having 70 + 30 km distances to cover. After all, these short days were good for resting and regaining energy. There were a few days that I cycled against strong wind. It felt like I wasn’t moving at all and making distance of 50 km felt like 100. However, I was super lucky that it did not rain even once during my journey. I used an offline GPS map (OsmAnd), which turned out to be a fair choice. In settings I specifically selected paved cycling routes and it happened only 3 times that it guided me through gravel or forest paths. Fortunately Sweden has good quality roads and many cycling paths going along the way. In other cases they weren’t busy routes, but small ones leading through gorgeous endless forests and patches of fields. Sometimes I could cycle for almost an hour without seeing a car.

woods

These days when I passed through vast forests shimmering with autumn colors and smelling of fallen leaves and pine trees were unquestionably the best but also often the most difficult. Many times these beautiful narrow string-like roads ran through constant ups and downs, having no mercy to my tired legs and back. How I praised these views and at the same time cursed these hills! I passed many lakes; enormous and small ones, all of them filled me with longing for a little wooden house with a window looking out at one of them. I took my breaks camping either besides them or in the woods. I had a snack, scribbled in my journal and stared for a long time into the sky above me thinking of life.

Reflections from the road

roadA few days into my cycling journey I understood why people so often say that solo trips are mind clearing and heart opening. At first I was more concerned about my gear, distance, condition or my day target, but with time I started to sink into my deep thoughts and reminiscences. I reflected on my past, considered the present and wondered about the future. I went over and over again situations that happened, questioning if they could go other way around and what that would mean for me. But deep inside of me I began to fully understand that there are no rights or wrongs, all of it that happens we should see as a new experience and a lesson. After all I wouldn’t be here if I took a different turn in the past, right? Who knows if I would know my best friends? Or seen places I travelled to? Everything would be different so, – no regrets! – I decided. From now on I will try my best to enjoy whatever world brings on my path and try to learn from my achievements, failures, good and bad choices. And importantly, live this life like I please not like someone tells me I should. Don’t look back at others, because it is me living in my skin and no one can feel or understand what is going on inside me better than I could. It was time to put and end to commonly acclaimed stereotypes and live the way I felt was right for me. And I felt that I don’t want to come back to my regular life. At least not yet and not any time soon. I wanted to reconnect with nature, find fulfillment in my daily work and purpose of it. I decided I would continue WWOOFing after coming back to Spain and slowly discover where it would take me.

Couchsurfing

 Now I was on the route continuing southwest of Sweden. I never slept alone in a tent and thought it might be too cold anyways so I arranged sleepovers through Couchsurfing. I had been using this website for traveling already a couple of times and I always had a positive experience. However, I haven’t thought of the fact that eventually it would be 9 couches in 9 days, each of it after a couple of hours of cycling. Each time approaching my new host I felt exhausted, but once I reached the place I was so excited about meeting new people that my strength and energy came back in no time.

road thru fields

I stayed with all sort of people; families, single mothers and single fathers, students, couples and singles, foreigners like me and local people, on farms and in the woods, in small towns and in the cities. It was a totally amazing experience that nothing can be compared to. I believe that staying in hotels, hostels or even camping wouldn’t be able to give me the same experience. I met lots of interesting and truly inspiring people who gave me the possibility to look into their daily lives and reflect about mine. This way I learned things about Sweden and its people that I wouldn’t be able to read about in any guidebook. Some of my hosts cooked for me traditional or regional Swedish dishes while the others invited me to try their homemade bread, preserves and eggs from their hens. I was even invited to eat at my host’s Grandmother’s home! A few of them took me sightseeing; others showed around their animal farms or were they worked. Many times I talked with my hosts late into the night and with others I watched movies. Usually we ate breakfast together, but on some occasions they went to work early and let me sleep longer and left the keys so that I could let myself out. They were friendly, open-minded and trusting to let me in. But it also took balls to go to all these strangers’ homes without knowing what to expect behind the closed door. Especially the ones in remote places or when my hosts were men. At some point, already on the road for a week I thought that actually no one on earth knows where am I since I didn’t report to anyone. Being a girl travelling alone and sleeping at strangers’ homes can be more risky than for a guy I think. So before arriving at my next destination I texted my best friend giving her a password to my CS account and instructing how to check where and when I should be staying on what day. In case of no contact for 5 days I told her to check the profile and start to look for me. Uff, that already felt better; just knowing that there is one person in the world aware of my whereabouts was strangely comforting. Of course nothing bad or strange happened during my trip and every experience was totally distinct from each other. Some of my hosts actually felt familiar to me even though I had known them for only few hours. It seemed like we’d been friends for months, but really I knew only a small bunch of facts about their lives. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again one day; I would surely like that!

sosdala

To wrap it up

After 9 days and about 570 km down southwest of Sweden I arrived on my second WWOOFing farm. From Björnlunda through Nyköping – Norrköping – Linköping – Tranås – Nässjö –Ramkvilla – Växjö – Älmhult and Hässleholm all the way to Södra Rörum in Skåne County. On one hand 570 km seems not much, I thought. I know a few guys who cycled for 1500 or even 2500 km and that’s already something. But on the other hand, I’ve never gone so far by myself on a bike or walking. Actually, I have never cycled for more than 110 km all by myself. And after all, I’m a small girl not a strong big guy, right? I reconsidered my achievement feeling that I was actually very proud of myself. It’s a piece of land that I went through on my loaded shaky vintage bike; with its ups and downs, lots of wind, unknown roads through forests and at times along speeding cars, I made it without any problem or doubt. And there was more to come at the end of this month – I had to get to Copenhagen. However, now I was curious to meet my new hosts and was eager to work again!

sweden trip map

 

 

Happy to be back in nature. My last two weeks on the farm. September 2015

City vs. farm lifestyle

I was glad to be back in nature. My weekend trip made me realize that I don’t miss city life at all. The street noise and lights, polluted air, crowds of people always rushing somewhere, car traffic packed buses, long lines in supermarkets, advertising wherever you look, long hours and busy schedules, the society of spending-buying-consuming and good appearance. Of course it’s not only that. The city can be wonderful, enjoyable and fun! There is always something to do, events worth attending, movies that you should see, parties you can’t miss, bars and restaurants you have to visit and people you ought to meet. There are so many cool things going on in the city that you are never able to do all you want and plan. And if you do, afterwards you end up being more tired than happy. That’s at least my personal experience. So I ask myself – do I need all of that to be happy? Do I know how to relax and enjoy the moment? Well, I’m not sure, but I definitely know that all this rush and excitement of constant plans makes me tired, nervous and anxious. I don’t sleep well because of street noise and lights and I certainly go to bed too late and sleep too short. For now farm lifestyle wins 1:0 with the city.

DSCF6219
Photo by Taro 

I love to fall asleep in the peaceful quiet and wake up to the misty mornings and sounds of nature. I have never before experienced such silence as in Krogstorps Gård. At night when I was already lying down in my bed there were no sounds at all. At first it felt creepy, but soon I started to cherish it as the most beautiful music. Since the farm was located 2 km from the main road and it was hidden behind forests, lake and fields, there was no car noise at all. The only machines you could here were planes flying from time to time to the airport located about 40 km away. But besides that it was only nature’s symphony – crickets in the grass, birds singing, insects buzzing in the bushes, leaves moving on trees, sometimes cows mooing and goats bleating, deer howling in the woods… once you realized their existence, you heard everything that was moving over there. Incredible pleasure for all your senses.

The art of nature

What I liked the most about the surroundings of the farm was of course the lake and the forest. I took long walks and sat on the little boat piers looking into the water’s surface and at sunsets. It was a breathtaking view when the sky was turning all shades of red, orange, pink, and violet. Birds seemed to be little black squawking dots and the fish were stirring the water. Reeds slowly moving on the wind made relaxing sounds and my mind shifted away peacefully. On the other hand the woods were mysterious and dark. There is nothing else that smells as good as moist temperate mixed forest of the north. Tall pine trees and spruces, soil covered with soggy moss, and of course mushrooms in fall. The vastness of these forests made me feel little and vulnerable and my imagination was going wild. Often in the evenings when the air was cooling down and the sun was setting the mist would drift like ghosts through the ups and downs of the fields. If you were lucky you could also see a pair of deer coming out of the woods into pastures. As September is the beginning of the mating season, deer were howling loudly sometimes both day and night. It’s a terrifying sound when you hear it for the first time, especially without knowing from where and whom it comes from. Deer doesn’t sound like any animal known to me. Actually I don’t know if I could compare it to anything. But thanks to the mating season they were coming closer to the farm and I could often observe them from not too far. Absolutely beautiful creatures.

Before Isabelle left Krogstorps Gård we went on a small boat excursion. We borrowed the boat from the Peterslunds and rowed to one of the islands on the lake. We found evidence of beavers’ existence and hugged many trees (well, mostly I did the hugging.) On the way back… it was a bit tough, as we didn’t think before of rowing against the wind that was blowing pretty hard on that day. There were moments of consternation, but we made it to the shore. A few days later I made an extreme effort to wake up at 4.30 am and cycle in the total darkness winning over my fear of it (with all these scary sounds coming out of hollow blackness of the forest) to the Peterslunds’ farm where I met with Jerzy, a Polish volunteer, with whom I went fishing. We took the boat and rowed into the darkness of the lake observing how everything wakes up slowly. Man, the sunrise on the lake was a precious experience that I would repeat as many times as possible if I ever have the chance again.

New WWOOFer, horses and trip to Mariefred

A few days after Isabelle left, another WWOOFer arrived on our farm, Taro, a German-Japanese recent university graduate. We didn’t have many days to get to know each other very well as soon I left. However, the work together was peaceful and pleasant. We cleared the cucumber field and added animal compost to the soil, fought another war with caterpillars and prepared the stables for the arrival of the horses. Right! I didn’t mention yet that we were about to have two horses on our farm. A week earlier went with Hans to the horse farm from which we were taking the young one. I had an amazing experience as one of the horses fell asleep with its head on my chest when I was petting it. Wow, the connection with these animals is incredible and so calming. I hope that one day I will have a chance to do WWOOFing on a farm with horses. Ours arrived just a few days before I left. They were beautiful and a bit afraid at the beginning. They came from two different owners, but happily they got along without any problems or fights.

One day on the weekend we went with other volunteers on a trip to Mariefred. It’s a pretty town located about 35 km from our farms. It has the Royal Gripsholm Castle located by the lake (of course) and a railway museum that seems to be a big attraction there. During our walk around the town I found a cemetery where there stands a monument slab in memory of Polish soldiers fighting in the Second World War. History seems to be following us wherever we go.

DSCF6304
Photo by Taro

Last days on the farm and new WWOOF perspective

My last days on the farm were peaceful and quiet. I was thinking a lot about the cycling journey I was about to start soon. I didn’t feel like leaving the farm already, I wasn’t ready yet to go back to the city. Then, a brilliant though came to me. I will find another WWOOFing place in Sweden! The idea was great, but the weather was the problem. I badly wanted to cycle all the way to Copenhagen and that was around 700-800 km depending on the route and the weather was getting colder day by day. Riding in the rain and cold is not very pleasurable, I can tell that from my own experience in the Netherlands this May. I decided to search for a farm located close to the Danish boarder. Luckily there were three of them urgently looking for volunteers. Only one of them seemed to meet my expectations and besides it sounded very interesting. It was run by a couple of retired professors, one of which is a specialist in sustainable living, grey water purification and permaculture. It sounded like a great place for me, so I wrote to them. After few days of waiting they replied that I was welcome to come and stay with them for a week. Yes, so that was my new destination! Afer about 600 km of cycling ahead of me there was Prästabonnens Gård, my second WWOOFing experience.

carrots

 

Journey begins: Sweden and 1st WWOOF – Krogstorps Gård. September 2015

Sweden at last

After spending a beautiful and extremely hot August in Poland I set off to finally begin my Scandinavian journey. I took the ferry from Gdańsk to Nynäshamn, a harbor town on the
east coast of Sweden, about 60 km from Stockholm. I have to admit that the choice to travel by sea was an absolutely fantastic idea. I think that sailing gives you a totally different perspective on your travel, adding to it a sort of magic and making it dreamlike. When it comes to the comforts – I just biked in, left it locked in the car garage below the deck, took the panniers with me and found myself one of the airplane chairs that I reserved before. It was super simple and easy to arrange and comfortable to sleep. I didn’t have to worry about dissembling the bike and packing it in the box how I usually have to do while flying. If I will ever again have the opportunity and time to travel this way I most definitely do it.

After 18 hours of sailing, during which I mostly slept, or otherwise watched the sea from the deck, I arrived in Sweden. My first time ever in Scandinavia, which I desperately wanted to visit for so many years. I was super excited and curious about everything that was waiting for me out there in the “new” land. Honestly, you can laugh, but I almost felt like Columbus discovering New World. Arriving by sea is so incomparable with anything else. You see how slowly the land is becoming bigger and bigger, you pass by small islands and then finally you start recognizing shapes of buildings and houses, water splashing and engines of the ferry working furiously.

The surprise awaited me already ashore. I got a text from my first Swedish couchsurfer Jonas saying that he was awaiting me in the harbor. I was supposed to cycle to Södertälje and meet him there, but instead he cycled 65 km to pick me up and accompany me to where he lived. I can’t imagine a better beginning of a journey, right? On top of that he turned out to be a super nice and interesting person with plenty of his own amazing travelling stories. As we had lots in common we spoke long into the night without being able to finish any subject.

Arriving in Krogstorps Gård

After breakfast I took off to my first WWOOFing farm. I had 55 km to cycle to Krogstorps Gård situated in the nearby town called Gnesta. The route was incredibly picturesque. I couldn’t believe my eyes – the views, oh my, the views were completely breathtaking! All these endless forests of tall trees, plentiful lakes with tiny islands and gorgeous red and white wooden houses! In just few minutes I already knew that Sweden was the best choice I could make for my journey. I’ve been always in love with forests and lakes and here this combination seemed to be the norm, surrounding me from all possible sides. It’s an absolute truth that nature in Sweden is amazing and mind-blowing.

krogstorps house 2

Krogstorps Gård turned out to be just as I imagined my dreamlike Swedish farm – in a good distance from the main street, surrounded by beautiful forests and fields, with two red and white wooden houses and with a very large lake just about 10-15 minutes walking distance. My hosts, Hans and Peter and their friend Mona welcomed me warmly and I was shown around the whole farm. On about 14 hectares they have cows, sheep, goats, chickens, geese, two horses (that were brought about a week before I left), two cats, a dog, greenhouses, a vegetable garden and a few apple and plum trees. I stayed on their organic farm for a month. I enjoyed every bit of it and I’m glad this farm was my first WWOOFing experience. It confirmed my interest in nature, plants and animals and encouraged me to continue exploring the world of natural farming through voluntary work.

Krogstorps Gård was also my first farm experience. I have never before worked with animals or plants. Thus, my knowledge about them was very basic or in some cases none. I was a city person for most of my life so please take into consideration that sometimes I might be explaining things that are potentially for most of you obvious and regular whereas for me they are new and curious.

All the farm animals in Krogstorps Gård (except the cats and the dog of course) are rare and endangered Swedish breeds. The cows and goats were not milked for our use as they fed it to their young offsprings. However, we ate the eggs of the chickens and they were delicious. Hans and Peter grow from a seed and sell organic tomato and pepper plants. Also they have a butcher’s license and plan in the near future to prepare a room for slaughtering in the barn. Soon they will be preparing and selling their own organic meat as well. They had been also working regular jobs in the city (full and part-time) to make ends meet. They are a good example that you can combine both things – having a farm and a job outside of it. It might not be easy, but definitely possible.

Morning animal round and WWOOF schedule

 My usual day began with a morning animal round at 7:30 am. First I went to chickens to let them out into their fenced “chicken garden”, check on water, food and if there are any eggs laid. Next I filled buckets with water for geese and let them out. After that I went to check all animal fields; changed the water in the buckets, checked if the electric fences work and if they have salt and mineral stones. I or another WWOOFer repeated the same round in the evening before the supper.

At 8 am we had breakfast at my hosts house where all the meals were eaten all together. We spoke of things that needed to be done and after short break started working. Around 12 or 1pm we gathered for a big lunch with a hot meal. Usually we had about 45 min up to one hour break afterwards. On occasions before lunch we went for a walk with Peter or Mona and Rosso, the dog. Some days Sophia, my hosts’ cute baby daughter was on the farm and then we took walks with her. We worked normally until 4.30 or 5.30 pm. It dependent on the day, tasks and breaks we had. About 6.30-7.30 pm when Hans and Peter were back from work we had supper. Always one of us made sure that chickens were back in the henhouse, geese in their shed and all animals had water.

As a definitely not-a-morning person I thought at first that it would be a challenge to wake up so early, but it turned out that it actually was the best way to begin a new day! I loved to walk around the fields and welcome all the animals in the early morning when the sun was rising; the grass was covered with mist and everything was slowly waking up to life. Later on I understood why I always hated getting up early. The problem was not related to the early hour but with the purpose for which I had to leave my cozy warm bed. As a teenager I was afraid of a test or a teacher at school; as an adult I often suffered going to work I didn’t like or enjoy. Well, also sometimes my boss or manager was a total asshole to be honest. And I need time to wake up well in the morning and I don’t like to be asked questions or talked to too much. That’s actually the only time of the day when I don’t like to talk. I know it’s hard to believe but that’s a fact. Now it turned out that getting up early could be a really nice habit. No questions or talks, no one wanted anything from me and I didn’t have to answer a “super urgent” bunch of emails; it was only the chickens, geese, goats, sheep, cows and I. Perfect companions for a starter!

I love goats

 As I said before I had never before been to an animal farm neither had any experience with farm animals. It was an absolutely new thing to me. Quickly I realized that I’m very fond of… goats! The four rams lived in a field just behind my cottage so that I could see them through my windows. Sometimes I liked to sit reading my book on the big rocks in their field and they always kept me company following me wherever I went. They even liked to be petted and reacted when called, just like dogs but with horns 🙂 There was also Inga, a little female goat, who always came running and screaming, climbed on my legs and gave goat kisses.

One of the interesting things that I have learnt about horns of goats and sheep is that they are made of living bone where blood circulates, which makes them warm of course. I always thought that they were like finger nails – dead skin cells. Eyes of goats are also quite cool since they have horizontal slit-shaped pupils that are much more noticeable than in cattle or sheep, because of their pale irises. In September the breeding season commenced and rams smelled very intensively as they produced a special odor that makes them more attractive to females. The scent glands are located at the base of their horns. After learning about that I understood why one of the boys, Nisse, liked to rub his horns on me…

goat boys krogstorps

In the mornings I gave the boys fresh branches. I quickly noticed that they don’t like all types of them. Sometimes as a treat I also gave them apples that had fallen down the tree before getting ripe. Both goats and sheep are crazy about apples. One of my tasks was to collect fresh branches and hang them for drying in preparation for winter season and cleaning rams’ shed, which took me hours and dozens of wheelbarrows of last year’s hay.

A few words about chickens and apple tree pruning

eggs KG In my first days on the farms I also learnt a bit about chickens. We had about 15 hens and a rooster (which unfortunately and surprisingly I found dead one morning.) We let them out of the henhouse in the morning, but kept in the fenced area until after lunchtime. Generally
the reason for that were the eggs, which they would lay all around the farm otherwise. We never took the eggs first thing in the morning so that they wouldn’t get scared that they were gone. We collected them after lunch. (photo of me holding eggs) One day I found out that anyhow one of the hens had four little gorgeous chicks. We placed a special chicken house inside their henhouse and put the mother and her little ones in there. They stayed there for a few days until the little chicks got bigger. The hen mother was super protective. Whenever I was opening the cage to put some food and change the water I had to be very careful as she was aggressive and tried to bite my hand. Good Mama!

One day Peter took me pruning apple trees at the neighbor’s farm. I had no idea that it is such a complex task that needs a lot of knowledge of trees. Depending of what you want to gain (for instance to get more fruit or get branches growing in certain directions) you have to cut them in a precise way. He explained to me only the basics and it already seemed pretty complicated. Still, I think pruning is a very pleasant work that makes you appreciate trees even more. I will try to learn more about it in the future.

Our WWOOF neighbors and Annual Organic Market Fair

About two kilometers from us there was another WWOOFing farm run by a lovely vegetarian couple, the Peterslunds. One day my hosts arranged a visit for me at their farm. I spent half a day helping Malin to harvest, clean and pack beetroots, chard, and tomatoes. They are a part of association of organic farmers who deliver veggie boxes on demand and sell at organic market fairs. Peterslunds’s farm has 1.5 ha of all sorts of vegetables: beetroots, kale, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprout, lettuce, leek, tomatoes, zucchini and more. A beautiful view!

Malin explained me a lot about growing certain veggies and one of the things that was new and surprising to me was the fact that tomato plant contains small amounts of the toxic alkaloid tomatine. Also the fruit pollen that covers them is better not to be consumed. Of course only in great amounts, no worries if you have few tomatoes straight from the branch! However, it is always better to wash them first before eating. She also showed me how to pick ripe fruits by breaking the little joint on the branch close to the tomato. This way they come out easily without breaking the fruit. Malin and her husband had been receiving volunteers already for about eight years. There were 3 of them coming soon, among which one was Polish and arriving also on a bike! Malin invited me to join them at Sunday’s annual organic market fair that was held in a town a few kilometers away. It was a big eco event and of course I was eager to take part in it.

Unfortunately it was very rainy on that day but anyways we happily went to the market fair. Two of the WWOOFers that arrived on Peterslunds’ farm were German (a girl and a boy) and a Polish guy. All of them seemed to be very nice, joyful and young. The market fair was very big and pretty crowded; besides piles of deliciously looking veggies it had all sorts of handmade things of organic materials – clothes, cosmetics, jewelry, carpentry etc. It was set up on the property of a school that holds classes of organic farming and gardening for adults and children. We helped the Peterslunds’ a bit at their stand and walked around the market and gardens of the school. I got myself super comfy and warm woolen socks that are a treasure during rainy and cold days and nights. We agreed with other WWOOFers to get together on the weekend and do an excursion into the woods or to one of the towns in the neighborhood. Even though so far I enjoyed my solitude, it sounded like a great plan and I was looking forward to it!

 

sheep KG

DECISION MAKING AND GETTING READY. MAY-JULY 2015

I came back home in Barcelona from a cycling trip in Flanders at the end of May. It took me only a few days to realize that there was nothing more to think about, because the decision was already made by me and there was no turning back. I wanted to get out of the city and leave it all behind without worrying about the typical “I have only 5 more days left of my holidays and then back to reality” stuff. I needed an unlimited time and space to think things through, clear my mind, open my heart, eyes and ears. Breathe it in and breathe it out. Loud and deeply. With no rush and no one else around. Only the road and me. No big expectations, rules or fixed deadlines. A soul-searching kind of trip. The one that was calling me from far away for a long time already. So now, once the choice was taken, the preparation began.

First thing I did was to google “voluntary work on organic farms” and the website of WWOOF popped out. “Right!” I instantly realized that I heard of it before from a good friend of mine. He did WWOOFing with his brother in a few countries. Its basic target is to bring together organic farmers seeking additional help on their farms and volunteers who would like to live this experience while learning more about natural agriculture. It’s like an exchange program, but where the rules are very flexible and mostly depend on the hosts. Good and interesting experience, my friend said. Researching the website and scrolling down through different farms’ profiles I already got so excited about this idea that I could pack my backpack and hit the road straight away! I still can feel the thrill of it passing over my body when I think about that day. So this was it. I decided to go WWOOFing. But where and how?

It took me weeks to decide on my destination. I thought of many countries and ways to do it. Then my dear Swedish friend came to Barcelona for her holidays and all became crystal clear. Sweden! It has to be Scandinavia that I dearly thought of for many long years. Its endless tall forests and clear lakes surrounded by wooden red and white houses. I would take my bike and cycle through this stunning nature. Letting my imagination freely flow and unfold ideas the perfect plan was shaped. First I would fly with my bike home to Warsaw and spend a month among my friends and family. Then I would take a ferry from the Polish seaside to the Swedish east coast near Stockholm. From there I would get to the farm, spend about a month WWOOFing and finally cycle all the way through Sweden to the Danish capital of Copenhagen. That would be my first solo trip of this kind and I was absolutely ready and eager for it.

In the next weeks I said goodbye to my colleagues from work and had dozens of talks and Skype chats with my parents and friends from all around. I caused a stir of surprise and questions among them, but also received inspiration and encouragement. I went through my closet and shelves and got rid off anything I found useless and unnecessary. Later I sold it at a flea market and felt… truly wonderful. A bit lighter and released from the piles of clothes I never wore and gadgets that only occupied space and gathered dust.

It was difficult to get used to the thought that I had to leave my beloved cat Tobi behind. My furry ginger love that moved with me to Barcelona from Poland. My heart broke into many pieces but there was no other way around this time. I found him a perfect home with my super cool friends. I knew he would be safe and happy with them. And I think I will be eternally grateful for their help.

I was also super lucky that my friends said that they will consecutively took over my room and that my flat mate supported the whole plan and agreed to look over our flat during my trip. After that it was only to pack my backpack and say “see you later” to my friends and Barcelona.

I left Barcelona and flew to Poland on 29th of July 2015.

tobi computer bcn july 2015