Our major destinations on this journey were Stockholm, isle of Öland, Copenhagen, Bohuslän, and Uppsala. So, Öland was going to be our first stop after Stockholm. Or actually the second one; we were going to drive 300 km, then stop overnight in a motel, and then drive the remaining 180 km or so. This map explains it:
A: Stockholm; B: The motel; C: Öland Bridge
The motel, named Föllingen Hotell, is located in the village of Pinnarp, near the small town of Kisa, Kinda Municipality, Östergötland Län (län is Swedish traditional name for county). As you can see on the map, our route could be a mostly coastal one, along the E4 and E22 routes, but this motel was the cheapest accomodation we found more or less along the way, hence the inland detour.
1. Leaving Stockholm, we drove to the southwest on the E4 motorway. Its section closest to Stockholm has 3+3 lanes, and is also signposted as E20. E4 and E20 diverge in the town of Södertälje. E4 goes further to the southwest, all the way to Helsingborg, across Öresund channel from Denmark, and E20 goes to the west, to Gothenburg, the second largest city of Sweden.
Sweden has by far the largest motorway network of all the Nordic countries (over 1900 km according to Wikipedia; Denmark (which is tiny compared to Sweden) has over 1100 km, Finland has 700 km, and Norway mere 400 km.) However all of these motorways are in the south of the country; there are no major cities north of Uppsala anyway. And nearly all of them are actually a patchwork of motorway, 2+1, and ordinary 1+1 sections. Sweden keeps rebuilding more and more of its major roads into motorways, but they are in no hurry, it seems. European Route E4 is an exception; almost all of it is a motorway, from Helsingborg through Stockholm up to the town of Gävle. E4 pretty much forms the spine of Sweden.
In Sweden, along with Norway and Denmark, European Routes (designated as E-number and signposted on green signs) form the backbone of the road network, and these routes have no additional national designation. This is different from Finland, where all national roads (Valtatie) have their own number, and E-numbers are not commonly used. Personally I like Finnish system much more. It just feel so clean that every road always has its own unique number.
2. Driving past Södertälje. E20 has already split off, and the rest of E4 is an ordinary 2+2 lane motorway.
3. No pictures for quite a while. We drove on E4 all the way up to the city of Linköping, the center of Östergötland Län. Köping means town in Swedish, and indeed a lot of town names end in -köping. And after this particular köping, we exited E4 to the south, driving on National Road 23/34. 23 and 34 are two separate routes, but a large part of them is physically a single road.
4. Road 23/34 continues. One telltale sign that you’re driving in Sweden is dashed road marking for shoulders. Well, probably some other countries use it too, but definitely not Finland or Norway.
5. And this one is more reliable: 2+1 roads. One lane in one direction, but two lanes in the opposite one, allowing for easy and safe overtaking. The directions change every 0.8-3 km.
This road design is not that uncommon around the world. In Russia in particular, about two thirds of the Moscow — St. Petersburg highway is a 2+1 road. Sweden however has a much greater proportion of these roads. Historically, many Swedish major roads in 1950s-1980s were built in “wide 1+1” configuration, being about 14 m wide, with a huge paved shoulder, ostensibly to provide a place to stop a broken down car. The whole thing looked, and indeed still looks in some places, very much like the Scandinavia Route in Russia, which I mentioned in the first part.
Well it turned out, even cool and boring Swedes tend to overtake very recklessly on these roads. Then in 1990s, someone suddenly had a bright idea. Why not convert these wide-but-not-wide-enough-for-motorway roads to 2+1 configuration? Dispensing with paved shoulders, the width allowed for three lanes of normal width, and a median barrier. New 2+1 roads immediately turned out to be almost perfectly safe, and the conversion of “wide 1+1” to 2+1 is very cheap; you just need to install a barrier, change road markings, and possibly rebuild some crossings and interchanges. The whole thing may end up costing less than 100,000€ per kilometer, which is pocket change as far as road construction costs go. So it’s easy to see why Sweden doesn’t build motorways where a nice 2+1 road is sufficient. There are about 3000 km of these roads now. The usual speed limit is a fairly generous 100 km/h (compared to 90 km/h for ordinary roads). The median barrier is always present, unlike Russian or Finnish 2+1 stretches.
6. Apart from more motorways and 2+1 roads, and less logical road numbers, driving in Sweden does not differ much from Finland. The roads are a lot busier, though. There are lots of German and other tourists driving motorhomes, for once. That’s pretty much to be expected, if you think about it. Finland, as far as the rest of Europe is concerned, is an island. You can drive to Finland either using a Baltic ferry, or making a huge detour to the north, or driving through Russia, which is not a nice experience (unless one specifically wants to visit Russia of course). Finland is not known for many sights, as well. Sweden, on the opposite hand, can be reached from, say, Germany in half a day (via Öresund Bridge), and it has cool old cities like Stockholm, and if you want to drive to the super-picturesque Norway, you will likely also pass through Sweden on your way.
7. We passed the tiny town of Kisa (pop. 3600), and took a right turn to some nice empty local road. Seven more kilometers and we’re in the village of Pinnarp, which had both our motel and a rather large camping site.
8. Parking before Föllingen Hotell.
9. The hotel/motel itself. Can’t say anything bad about it. Nice room, pleasant hosts, and an okay breakfast.
10. We took some sandwiches and bottles of cider we bought in Stockholm, and went to have a little picnic on the shore of Övre Föllingen lake, by the camping across the road from the motel. The lake, the forest, and the camping strongly reminded me of Finland again.
15. This guy kept begging us for sandwiches.
16. Eventually we went to bed. There was a lot of driving and sightseeing planned for the following day, so we had to get up at 8. After a breakfast, we drove back to Kisa.
17. Back on the road 23/34. This thing, moving at a walking pace, trims grass on the road slope to the right of it. I always wondered how come road slopes in Finland or Sweden are so neatly trimmed throughout entire road length.
18. For any but the smallest intersections on a major 1+1 road, a short left-turn lane is the norm, ensuring that you don’t get rear-ended waiting for a left turn. This may sound like an obvious thing, but we often don’t have these in Russia.
19. Approaching the town of Vimmerby. This is the native town of Astrid Lindgren, a Swedish children book writer best known for Pippi Longstocking. There is an Astrid Lindgren theme park in Vimmerby, as noted on the sign.
I used to love Astrid Lindgren’s books as a child, including Emil of Lönneberga, and when I was plotting our route I was surprised to learn than all of the village and town names mentioned in this book are actual locations in Vimmerby and nearby Hultsfred municipalities. Apparently only the Katthult farm, where Emil the protagonist lived, was actually made up. It is now a real place as well. There were several film adaptations of Emil of Lönneberga filmed in 1970s, and an actual old farm near the town of Lönneberga was chosen as a filming location. It has been since actually renamed to Katthult, and opened for visitors.
20. Turned east onto Road 40 in Vimmerby. Pretty much the only substantial part of Vimmerby itself I saw was this Arla factory. Arla is the the biggest dairy products manufacturer in Sweden and Denmark.
21. European Route E22 along the southeast coast of Sweden (you don’t actually get any peeks at the sea driving on it though.) Despite E-designation, this road does not have many motorway or 2+1 sections. With significant traffic, you’d think semis would be the most annoying, but they’re actually driving quite nicely slightly above speed limit, just like everybody else. Motorhomes are on the other hand a real pain. They often drive 70 km/h, and they’re bulky enough that it’s difficult to see ahead to decide if it is safe to overtake.
22. Moose warning signs are for some reason considered traditional Swedish tourist memorabilia, to the degree there is a significant problem with signs being often stolen by the tourists. It actually feels like Finland has significantly more of these signs. Hitting a moose after dark has always been my nightmare. So far I only had a bird strike and a close call with a hare, both times in Finnish Lapland.
23. Approaching the city of Kalmar. Kalmar, probably unrelated to calamari, is one of the oldest Swedish cities, mostly known as the site where Kalmar Union was established in 1398. The Union existed until 1523 as one huge Scandinavian confederation, which included all of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Norway dependencies including Greenland, Iceland, and Faroe Islands, and was ruled by a single monarch. Sweden quickly grew disillusioned with what essentially was a Danish rule. Eventually, prompted by the Stockholm Bloodbath of 1520, which was a brutal Danish crackdown on an anti-unionist revolt, a Swedish noble named Gustav Eriksson managed to raise another revolt. This one was successful, and Gustav, having destroyed Kalmar Union, became the first king of the modern Swedish nation, known today as Gustav I Vasa.
24. Road 137 bypasses Kalmar to the Öland Bridge, Ölandsbron. The bridge, one of the longest bridges in Europe at 6.07 km length, was built in 1972, and spans Kalmar Strait to connect the island of Öland to the mainland. The bridge carries 2+2 lanes (unseparated). It has a large hump close to the mainland, allowing for shipping. Öland is the second largest island of Sweden, and the bridge makes it far easier to reach than the largest one, Gotland.
25. Driving on the Öland Bridge. The island is to the left, and the mainland, namely a small part of Kalmar, is to the right.
26. Descending from the Öland Bridge hump.
27. Entering the island of Öland. The town next to the bridge is called Färjestaden, which literally means Ferry Town. We stopped at a tourist information office near Färjestaden to get some maps, and then drove around Öland on its circle Road 136. To be continued.