View Gotland and Fårö by bike in a larger map
I’m back early. Actually, I’ve been back for a few days now. Gotland was a bust. I spent the whole ride listening to podcasts of This American Life, which was great, except when I was riding on the 90km/hr highway while listening to the story of the kid who hit and killed a cyclist. It also wasn’t so great when I was riding through the forest in Fårö (which, if movies have taught me anything, is always full of axe murderers) while listening to the story of the Iraq vet who sliced up his girlfriend and her grandma.
And maybe I felt a twinge of recognition when I was battling the wind, carrying way too much stuff in my panniers, going 9km/hour and playing chicken with the thunderstorms while listening to Shalom Auslander say, “I ruin vacations. That’s just what I do.”
There were several points during the ride when I looked at Gotlandsleden, the official island bicycle path, and thought, “Aw HELLS no,” and turned right back around. Like the ride up to the Hall-Hangvars nature reserve, which was an all gravel road leading into the forest (which, we’ve already established, is always filled with maniacs and escaped convicts).
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. It was just lonely. Every time I was riding for long stretches, my thoughts alternated between, “Wow, this place is so peaceful” and “OMG, I am going to get caught in the rain with a flat tire in between one empty town and another empty town and not have enough water and I’ll dehydrate and drink my own urine, which will make me so delirious and weak that I will get hit by a car at dusk when there are no lights on the road and I’ll be dumped in the forest where adorable Swedish deer will pick my bones clean and if I’m lucky, the battery on my cell phone will last long enough so that they can trace my remains via GPS.”
I am way too city to go cycling through the country alone.
But if you’re going to cycle around Gotland, here are my quick tips:
- I stayed in Visby for two nights, then one night each in Stenkyrka, then Bunge, then Fårö, then back to Visby via bus. I probably could have gone longer distances between, but I’m glad I didn’t because when the wind was blowing against me, boy was it hard to pedal to the next stop. Stenkyrka Mejeri and Fårögården were the best bed and breakfasts, affordable and pretty. Ihrebadens Vandrarhem would have been a good alternative to Stenkyrka because they have a slice of beach looking up at the Hall-Hangvars Naturreservet coastline.
- Best eats were the fantastic fish soup and saffranspannkaka (a sort of saffron rice pudding pancake) with salmbärssylt (jam made of blackberry-like berries native to Gotland) and vispgrädde (whipped cream) at Bakfickan, the färskost (cream cheese) with bread and buttery bullar at Rute Stenugnsbageri, which is in the middle of fucking nowhere. Smoked shrimp with saffron aioli at Lickershamnskrogen made for a pretty good seaside shack snack, too.
- Also, eat anything from Sylvis Döttrar. I ate three bullar there in one day — a buttery cardamom braided bun, a vanilla custard bun with raspberry jam and this vanilla custard filled bombolona thingie. ZOMFG. If I hadn’t been bored out of my gourd, I could have stayed another two days and just eaten bullar, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- The marshy eastern island of Furillen is like being on the moon — chalk gravel roads, big chalk basins filled with water. I thought the island was super creepy feeling, but some people love it. There is something extremely horror film about it to me. Fabriken Furillen is an ultra chic little hotel on the little quarry island, and the restaurant is very tastefully-decorated, but it’s a major pain in the ass to get there by bicycle. The roads are in bad condition on Furillen, and the roads leading to Furillen are not lit at all, so if you’re staying in Fårösund or Bunge, you need to give yourself 45 minutes before sundown to get back to your sleeping place. This was also the place I first encountered these insane, alien Swedish mosquitoes which bit me THROUGH MY KNEE HIGH SOCKS. For me, Furillen is missable. I couldn’t pedal away fast enough.
- If you ask me, the Lummelunda Cave is not worth the 100 SEK. It’s a ten minute dramatization movie, followed by a talky tour that’s a bit anti-climactic because the stalactites/stalagmites are not that impressive.
- Loved Fårö, which is a more manageable size, with really pretty coasts and plenty of picturesque scenery. It is what I pictured Gotland to be like.
- Pack light! Next time I do one of these bike tours, I’m either going to only do the kind where someone shuttles your luggage for you from hotel to hotel or I’m going to bring just two of each article of clothing. I had a “DUH!” moment when I realized early on that I really didn’t need to lug both of my heavy U-locks around on an island you can only get to by three-hour ferry. During a more frustrating moment when I couldn’t board the bus back to Visby, I came very close to chucking everything. Also, I made the mistake of riding out somewhere and riding back against the wind. I think it is important to only ride in one direction, forward towards your next destination — otherwise, you wear yourself out unnecessarily.
- You don’t always have to take Gotlandsleden. Sometimes, the fastest and most convenient way to go is on the main road. Between Stenkyrka and Bunge, I took 149 and 148 all the way. You have to be careful of the speeding cars and trailers, but it’s doable and saves a lot of time if you’re not prepared to ride for many hours.
- If you are planning to take the bus, you should know that you CAN take your bike on the bus for an additional cost of 40 SEK — there are rack spaces on the back of the bus. HOWEVER, they only allow two bikes per bus, so if the rack is full, you are SOL, my friend. I found myself in that sitch and tried to ride all the way back to Visby from Fårö, but my legs and soul were too tired. I wound up catching a later bus in Lärbro and totally riding like the devil to catch the ferry back to Nynäshamn, where I was the last person they held the boat for before shutting the trap doors. And maybe that was the problem — I spent so much of the vacation hurrying to the next stop, trying to beat the rain, trying to beat the wind, trying to beat the sunlight, that it was hard to just enjoy being there. But if you are not as neurotic as I am, you might have a better time.