The following is my trip report for a trip I took to Europe. I was treated like a celebrity by each of my hosts and cherish my memories with them.
On July 21st I arrived in Stockholm airport after an 8 hour flight. I found my way to Center city and found my hostel. Hostels in Europe are much different than the hostel I am use to. I would liken it to be more like a low security prison that you can come and go whenever you want. You get a locker and a bunk. There is a shared kitchen and some sort of access to the internet. I decided to explore the city until nightfall. However it turns out that nightfall happens at 11pm. Next morning I went down to the train station and met Hank the Tank. Hank and I walked to the dock where we met up with two guys from Holland Wex and Jasper. We all went on the Mariafred steamboat. This boat has a long history as one of the oldest steamer. It also has a history of burning up and has done so 2 times. We all had reservations to have lunch in the dining room. Hank told me that in "Sweden we know all about your American culture....we watch Southpark." After an overpriced not-so-good lunch there was a very large bang and the whole boat seemed to rattle. We found out later that the boats whistle fell off and dropped into the Sea. Maybe we should have picked a newer boat. Around 1pm we arrived in Mariefred. The boat usually blow its whistle to let them know we are arriving at the dock. We joked that we are all going to have to yell.
We were greeted in Mariafred by 2 knights on horseback and the rest of out canoeing party. There was Joz, Peter and Kitty (from Poland), Eric (Swede on HF) and his lovely wife Sofia, son Oliver and Daughter Asterdie. We went to a castle that is still used today by the Swedish Royal family. We also went to a grocery store and bought supplies and meat for a cook out. Everyone was excite to introduce me to traditional Swedish food. Most of which comes in a tube like toothpaste. I got caviar, mustard and bacon ost all in a tube. The caviar is eaten in the morning on hard dry somewhat tasteless flatbread. The bacon ost is really cheese whiz with bacon. There was a renaissance going on in town. At Swede's house we set up our hammocks in the woods behind his place. I got to show off my rig and also get to look and the Ergo. The Ergo is a hammock made by Exped. I has many suspension lines and you really are on and angle from the trees. You need a special tarp and pads are preferred over quilts. After setting up we had a delicious BBQ prepared by Swede. I got to learn a lot about the Swedish culture. After dinner everyone went to the Kitchen to play Texas hold-em. I didn't need to learn about poker so I went for a long walk and just enjoyed the countryside. We all retired to our hammocks. In town you are fine but in the woods there are really bad mosquitoes. They have a sying in Sweden, if you ain't Dutch,you ain't much.
In the morning we all climbed in 2 taxis plus Swede's car and went to a big lake. We met up with the guy who rents the canoes. As soon as we shoved off one of the Dutch guys says "hey there is water in my boat already". At this point Hank just kept calling me Giligan and kept telling me to row faster, but whenever I turned around he wasn't rowing, he was just sharpening his knife and his axe. We paddle for quite a while until we came to the end of the lake. I was confused as I thought this was going to be a much longer trip. When Sophia, who is clearly is the leader of the group, arrived she explained the lakes are not connected by water and we have lifts. So we carried our canoes a short distance to what appeared to be a swamp. We got through with Hank wildly swinging his axe to hack down a path through the reeds. All the while he kept ordering "Row faster Gilligan". We paddled for 2 and half lakes. We set up camp and Sophia prepared stick bread. Stickbread is a dough made up and wrapped around a stick. Then you cook it over the fire like a marshmallow. All the while Hank likes to play a game he calls, "Will it burn?" He rummages through the forest and finds stuff to burn in the fire. His very sharp axe aids him in this game. I went for a walk in the Swedish country side. I was aided by Peter's GPS unit. You can pretty much walk on anyone's property in Sweden. Morning came way too soon. At 3am I was trying to figure out why it was so light in my hammock. I often fall asleep with my head lamp on but this was brighter and birds were chirping. It turns out that it is only dark this time of the year fro 11pm to 3am. Bad time to have a semi-clear Cuben Fiber tarp. In the morning I got to share Poptarts with my Swedish friends but they seem to prefer caviar in tasteless hard bread. Again we shoved off for another paddling adventure. We finally made our way to an island. There were nice hanging spots here and a nice big fire pit for hank to burn stuff in. I also was home to a large colony of fire ants. I was lucky and camped on the other side of the island. Everyone else was not so lucky. I tried my hand at fishing but no luck. I went for a walk in the evening and found some really good wild mushrooms.
3rd day we decided to paddle all the way to just outside of Gnesta. The Dutch boys had to catch and early plane so we paddled with 6 people in 2 canoes to get them to town. It was really scary as the canoes were only meant for 2 people each and it was really windy and the waves were going over the top of the canoe. We finally made it across the lake to Gnesta. We went to the grocery store and bought wine and steak and paddled back to where everyone else was waiting. Our 3rd and final camping spot was not ideal at all. everybody had to find a spot on a big hill. The steak was awesome. Swede and Sophia cooked up the wild mushrooms I picked from the day before. They were quite good with cream and butter. The next morning we all rowed back to Gnesta and ate pizza. Hank, Peter and Kitty, and I got on a train back to Stockholm. I sad my final good byes to Joz, Swede, Sophia, Oliver, and Asterdie. Once back in Stockholm I went to another hostel and got ready for my Flight to Amsterdam.
My trip into Amsterdam was a real eye opener. This is a very busy city with people, cars trolleys and millions of bikes all sharing the same narrow roads. I learned quickly not to walk on the trolley tracks. They are silent and move at a pretty good clip. Amsterdam has canals all through the city. Very small cobblestone roads filled with very small cars. All the bikes were really incredible. They look all beat up and old. The buildings are incredible. Dam Hall is surrounded by huge very ornate building. Like half castle and half church. This a busy city and quite dirty with litter and lots of shops to sell you anything you could possibly want. Not many police but they don't need any. The delis have great display of different pastries and pizzas. Like Sweden everyone seems to like Kabab which is like gyro meat. They put it on everything. If you want to confuse someone form Holland, just walk up to them with and American accent and say "Hi I'm Dutch" After 3 days of enjoying myself it was finally time to say goodbye to Amsterdam and mainland Europe and head to the UK.
When I arrived at Leeds airport in England I was greeted and picked up by Matt from UKHmmocks. Matt took me back to his flat and showed me around his shop. He does an amazing amount of work out of an really small room. He eventually took me to the train station and I headed to Shewie's neck of the woods. He was still at work and i got confused as which way to turn the clock so I was 2 hours early. Shewie had his wife Carol pick me up. I used this time to go through my pack and get some of the weight out as this will be a hiking adventure. I purchased a lot of souvenirs in Amsterdam and even my Catalyst could not fit it all. When Shewie arrived we set up his HG Cuben fiber tarp all blinged out with titanium D-rings from yours truly. We also installed a continuous ridgeline and guide outs. Around 9pm we set off driving on the wrong side of the road for a 6 hour drive to Scotland. I wasn't much help in the long drive and slept most of the way. Finally we made it to the town Braemar nestled in the heart of the Cairngorms, the highest mountain range of Scotland. We set up out hammocks around 3 am and fell right asleep. The next morning I got up to a most disturbing site. Millions on gnats right outside my hammock. I got out and shewed them away but these weren't normal gnats these were Midges and they bite. I had forgotten the head net Shewie told me to bring. I couldn't pack up fast enough. We went back to town and I got a head net. This was the best investment of the entire trip. We followed a stream where there was a neat rock formation. The water had cut a hole in a huge rock. We finally made it to where and island is formed but the creek splitting in 2. There was a notice on the bridge that is was unsafe to use. We crossed it anyhow. It was really wobbly but we went across one at a time. I took a nap and when I woke I was alone so I decided to go for a good long hike. I saw Shewie on my way out and he was with 3 new freinds, Dan, James, and Snoz. I hiked to the biggest mountain I could find a trail up. Some of the surrounding peaks had snow on them. I made it back in time to cook some dinner. The midges came out to play and we all put on out head nets except Dan who didn't have one. I tried 100% deet but the little buggers started licking it off my face. The trick is to eat you have to lift you head net. You just lift it far enough to get food in your mouth and then quickly close it again. The next day we set off to find the last part of our party, Pete. After a couple hours of hiking we found him and his fantastic tarp perfectly nestled next to a creek. He does a lot of DIY. He must have been confused though, such as when he talked aobut material he would say it is cheap, about 2 pounds per yard. I'd say 2 pounds, that sounds pretty heavy to me. Everybody went for a hike up to the top of the ridge where we found some old ruins and a beautiful pond. I could imagine some sheep farmer with his patch of paradise 400 years ago. Finally we went back to camp and hid from the midges. Our final night we camped by Queen Victoria's 1700s hunting lodge. Midges were worse here than ever. I wound up taking a bath with baby wipes in my hammock. It actualy worked pretty well. In the morning we all packed up and headed doen to the buffy to eat breakfast midge free. Later we hiked out and Shewie drove 6 hours back to Leeds. Carol made us lasagna and yummy salad from her garden. I just narrowly go the last train to London and took the last subway to the Westminster. I arrived at 1:45am and toured London. I got to see Thames River and Big Ben with Parliment. I got an very uncrowded view of Buckingham palace and the Eye of London. 5am subway is running again and I headed out to Heathrow This was right in the middle of the Olympics so flying out of Heathrow was a chore. There is a new saying in London, If you ain't Dutch, you ain't much
I am so fortunate to be able to do these hangs all of which were planned around my coming. I can't thank everyone of my hosts enough. I spent 2 weeks there and never stepped foot into a hotel. I was picked up at airports and dropped off at train stations. There is no way I could have planned these trips by myself and had great guides.