Interview with Sofia Larson & Henning Klaveness: with boat & bicycle around Europe

Interview with Sofia Larson and Henning Klaveness in Budapest during their 12 month boat journey across Europe
by Bike Infantry
recorded in Gólya Szövetkezeti Presszó: 2018.11.28.;
final (edited) version: 2018.12.03.


BIKE INFANTRY /// You were travelling through Germany and you got nervous because?

Henning /// Because of the hole stricktness of the society and the expectation that you will conform. There is no diviating from the line and those guys are all about staying within the square.

Sofia /// They expect you to know all the rules without describing them anywere. It's like you just shift to let you understand that you can't do this there!

B.I. /// Like what?

H. /// Like putting your boat on a big boat moring. That's a good example.

B.I. /// You said you needed too much time to get through Germany and this made you even more nervous. For weeks and weeks in every little port there are different rules you are always confronted with.

S. /// Yeah, especially when we didn't had any options for where to put our boat for the night, because the water was so shallow. We had to go where the big boats go, and there the authorities say „These are not for you”. And there are no signs of anything.

H. /// And no law!

S. /// Yes.

H. /// I read the law. I had bunches of time while driving. Yeah, it doesn't say yo, but the police assume that you think like that… so...

B.I. /// Like all the other German people who have the license to have learned this? That's how you get the papers?

S. /// It's not in the rules. Just like common knowledge. (laughing)

H. /// But… on the other hand…

B.I. /// They told you to leave or what?

H. /// Yeah.

B.I. /// And then you had to go another 20-40 kilometers to find another sight?

H. /// Well, the first time we were told to leave we – it was in the morning, so it was a good time to leave anyway –

B.I. /// Which part of Germany are in now?

H. /// That was in the Ruhr Gebiet.

B.I. /// To the north.

H. /// Ya'! And then the second time it happened I just my boat on the seawall and I went to talk to the harbor master. While I was talking to him some guy called him. It was actually the police he was talking to so somebody called the police, because of my boat. He had to ecxuse himself from the conversation and than he came back and he didn't confront me with it… directly… but I said what to work out with my boat? He said: Of course you cannot put it on the seawall. But if you are asking this marine he might be able to help you! (laughing) So that's a bit the attitude. Like you are supposed to understand these things.

B.I. /// Learn it yourself…

H. /// Yeah.

B.I. /// How did you get to the Rhein? From Norway...

H. /// We went down the Baltic Sea to Denmark. First we hang out a bit in Sweden, cause we climb cliffs and mountains.

B.I. /// So your boat is storm-proof and seaworthy?

H. /// It's actually not so seaworthy! For big oceans it's a bad boat.

S. /// The actual conditions don't make us go out on the open sea when there's lot of wind…

H. /// It's got low freeboard, it's heavy and it's got big windows. That's a bad combination…
so… We took our time to go down the Baltic, hang out in Copenhagen for a bit and then we went down to Lübeck. A beautiful place! Then up the Terave – the river is called – and then Lübeck-Elba canal and… it was Mittelland’s Canal pretty much directly from the Elba. And that took us all the way down to the Rhein.

B.I. /// How much time did you spend in Germany altogether?

H. /// I don't know... When did we start?

S. /// We came in September. We've spent all of October there. Maybe one and a half month!

B.I. When you started was in?

S. /// From Norway?

B.I. /// Yes.

S. /// We started in the end of August.

B.I./// You are on the way eversince?

H. /// Yeah!

B.I. /// And the journey is planned to last till summer next year?

H. /// Like some time in the summer. We were saying until 12 months! That's our window.

B.I. /// Which means your journey will take you through the mediterranean in the end.
Back through France?

H. /// Actually the plan was to go the other way! We were gonna go the way we went to the Rhein and then go down the Rhein through Antwerp and Brussels and do the Brussels-Chatel do'ar and down through Lion. But than I had to look at the math… the boat burns quiet a bit more diesel it did last time I measured it. So we figured we cannot afford to go up the Danube. Because it's a very long, very strong river.

B.I. /// You just reversed your journey.

H. /// If you go up the Rhein instead then, a lot of the altitude you would have to climb along the river you get to do with locks, which just lift you! And then the stretch is much shorter. The Rhein is a lot more stressful, altogether a more violent river than the Danube. It was on the basis of this that I thought, ok, we gonna go down the Rhein. Turns out since it's 600 kilometers…

S. /// Less...

H. /// … or less even, and the Danube is two and a half thousand… 2400 something. It's just a lot more ecomomical to reverse.


  • edited December 2018


    B.I. /// It's interesting... because the Danube you couldn't use as a trading route or even go with bigger ships down beyond Hungary before the 18-19. century, mid 1800s and 1850s. This big Hungarian family called Széchenyi, founding the National Musuem on the way cycling here is named after / founded by the father. Later the son as part of multiple revolutions – both industrial and independence conflicts – dreamed up many reforms for the country. Horse races, writing books about banking, the industrial revolution to kick-off with all the new available technology. He is also organizing to have a Scientific Academy in Pest and many many other things. He is basically expanding the boat traffic between Wien and Pest. He made people understand that they have to open the „Iron Gates”. This was a huge cliff, some sort of rock formation in the river, which stopped all the ships in south of Hungary. And since he opened that by now you have an open route between Holland and the Black Sea.

    H. /// The first really big change in ship technology when the barges got larger and more powerful and when modern river shipping got developed in the 1980s, they made all of these dams and locks on the upper Danube and that has really taken the sest out of it! I read a book from the guy who did this before the Mein-Donau Canal was built and certainly before the upper Donau was full of locks.
    And he describes something that could not do with my boat! Wild water! 8 knots of current everywhere! It's going on and on and on…! I just couldn't do that.

    Another interesting thing with all this infrastructure we are now using just for our pleasure?! It's enourmously expensive! You look at the size of the locks on the Mein-Donau Canal and you understand that they cost billions!

    B.I. /// To maintain.

    H. /// To build – in the first place! And also to maintain and to operate! There is one person is sitting there just for you to tresspass. And then this canal is underused! It was a big diappointment when they saw how much shipping is actually going through there… and the vast majority of it now is just cruise boats. Old people who want to see the sights.

    B.I. /// (smiling)

    H. /// Just like us.

    S. /// (laughing as well)

    H. /// So they… you have these million EURO machines being operated by highly skilled professionals just so that the two of us in our little boat can go from point a to point B, cause we want to…

    B.I. /// And these guys sit in the countryside at this little lock…

    H. /// Yeah...

    B.I. /// … cyling there in the morning…

    H. /// Yeah.

    S. /// Some are controlled from somewhere else.

    B.I. /// Computers…

    H. /// Yeah.

    S. /// Controlling several locks from one office.

    H. /// Some dude in an office…

    B.I. /// From at home… on a laptop.

    S. /// (laughing)

    H. /// (laughing) Soon.

    It's a strange feeling cause there was a lot invested and here we are using it just for fun,

    B.I. /// And you are having a lot of fun!

    S. /// (laughing)

    H. /// Yeah.

  • edited December 2018


    B.I./// From Budapest if you leave, what's the next stage? Have you already looked up some cities or you just go for it?

    S. /// Yes, Belgrad.

    H. /// Belgrad is gonna be the big one! From now on… uhh… citywise it's gonna be Belgrad. Not so much more until we hit Instanbul.

    B.I./// I think the Hungarian name of Belgrad was back in the day Nándorfehérvár. It was called the key to the country. The Turks got that! And soon also access towards Wien.

    H. /// We are going to travel the whole Serbo-Croat… border? Which is culturally interesting. It's a frontline in a pretty fresh, pretty nasty war!

    B.I./// Correct.

    H. /// There are a lot of traces. We gotta see that.

    B.I./// How does you route change towards the Mediterranean? The Balkan is mountainess!

    H. /// Oh, I don't know exatly what to expect… I can see on the charts that the rivers tarts turning a lot!

    B.I./// Yes!

    H. /// So that's going be a thing! And obviously there is more current. And I expect that finding places to stay will be more difficult, but…

    B.I. /// Couchsurfing?

    S. /// Tying the boat somewhere first.

    H. /// Putting the boat somewhere, that's the problem.

    B.I. /// Can you sleep in the boat?

    S. /// Yeah!

    H. /// Yeah, we can.

    B.I. /// Is it cold?

    S. /// It's difficult to anchor, it can be dangerosu… sand or mud…

    H. /// You need relatively calm water and you need a good bottom for anchoring. You can't just like go to sleep! You need to actually be safe. That's one thing. The other thing is we got a dog.

    B.I. /// You have a dog???

    H. /// Yeah...

    B.I. /// And the dog is on the boat now?

    S. /// (laughing with delight)

    H. /// Yeah, it actually watches our things.

    S. /// It's a guard dog... (laughing)

    H. /// Very very…

    B.I. /// How big?

    H. /// Small. A cute little thing. She… like everybody loves her. But people with bad intentions don't love dogs…

    B.I. /// To take her with you to the apartment when you stay at someone's?

    S. /// We stay on the boat.

    H. /// We generally stay on the boat, but the problem is going to be places to put the boat, not us.

    B.I. /// And when you reach the Mediterranean Sea through Bugaria or along the Romanian coast you turn south towards Istanbul?

    H. /// Well, Istanbul is before the Mediterranean.

    B.I. /// Bosporus, yes.

    H. /// Once we…

    S. /// We travel along the coast of Romania with beaches we also check out the mainland.

    B.I. /// Will you stop somewhere specific? Or that's all a surprise?

    H. /// Calimnos is high on the list.

    S. /// And the islands around Italy! Climbing sights!

    H. /// Yeah, we climb!

    S. /// All the climbing sights!

    H. /// Kalymnos is a very well known climbing sight! I guess our reason for looking for that...

    B.I. /// And how much space to you have in spare? Private space I mean. If I borrow you some books?

    H. /// Whaaa…

    S. /// We have a lot of books in our onboard room.

    H. /// It's a decently big boat! Not a problem… to find space for a book. We have a couple of books to give back. We maintain balance.

  • edited December 2018


    B.I. /// Do you have any friends on the way? People you wanna visit:?

    S. /// Ehhm… we have some friends visiting from Norway.

    B.I. /// So they will know where you are?

    S. /// We say: We'll probably be there when it get's closer and we'll meet you there… and in a few weeks (ahead) they('ll) know.

    H. /// And we are also looking forward to seeing friends in Brussels, but since we changed our direction of our round, it's gonna be a long time!

    B.I. /// Will you go around Spain and Portugal or you go through…

    S. /// Naaa...

    B.I. /// … France / Loire?

    H. /// Through the middle… through the Lion-base I think.

    **B.I. /// That's when? April or May?
    S. /// Kinda April.

    H. /// Yeah, I don't know. May is the very nicest month in the Mediterranean. As when everything is green from the ”winter”, but you started getting those blue skies. Days starting heating up, but the nights are not too hot to sleep. And it's just a nice balance between the wet winters and the ground scorched summers…

    B.I. /// That's why you have bicycles? Because go ashore and you cycle around villages?

    S. /// Yeah, we do. It's easier to get around land. Often you have villages far from the river. Or it's a big city, so…

    H. /// Bicycles are just incredible practicle. Once you think about it, it's a 15 kilo machine. I can lift it with one hand… I can carry it around!

    B.I. /// Kinetic energy?

    H. /// I can put it on even a very small boat! I carry on the shores and it extends my range by a factor of 5 or 10!? And it's a big deal once you are moving along the coast or near a river. You get to see a lot of land, but if you want to find something specific that's not on the coast than you are very limited! Unless you have transportation. And this gives us a freedom.

    S. /// Maybe you need some parts for the engine… that's in the store… that's like 2… 20 kilometers?! Or further!

    H. /// Or you just wanna get to the bakers in the morning and get going before the sun is too high in the sky.

    **B.I. /// Who's getting the breakfast?
    H. /// I do. A lot.

    S. /// (laughing) You, you! He really likes croissant!

    H. /// Oh yeah! Looking forward to France!

    B.I. /// Here you go! Another story with Turks and Hungarians!

    The Turks counquering Hungary – or most of it – had this plan to go for Vienna (or Wien) next! The skirmish didn't really work out… In the end they had all the equipment there and staff and they had to leave behind people. It was clearly and overstretch and the supoort-lines were too long from Ottoman Turkey or even from the Balkans… anyway… the left fro example cooks and bakers! Turkish bakers were using olive oil to mae the layered paistry – like Baklava or such –, but the Austrians were using butter! Hungarians were cooking with fat – due to all the confiscation of everything else then pork by the Turks, right –… so the bakers were there and they started making this „Kipferl” (name is Austrian), which has the form of a crescent-Moon. Then the Austrians took over the recepy, but instead of olive oil, they did it with butter, which blew it up! Right? And than Marrie Antoniette was having the phase going to Paris – before she was beheaded; before the Revolution and all happened –. so this pastry became very popular inside the court! Throuh her! And then people started to do it on a daily basis as a sign of aristocracy! Forgetting that the MOON… that the...

    H. /// Haa!

    B.I. /// … and the religious aspect is there!

    S. /// Like that!

    H. /// I didn't know that!

    **B.I. /// So it's actually Turkish! Coming from Vienna!
    S. /// Wow.

    H. /// I was also wondering why we have been seeing Turkish bread in Austria! But… It's starting to make sense now!

    B.I. /// There is a great Turkish community in the German speaking part of Europe anyway. Could be a modern thig. Isn't though.

    H. /// But not Turkish making Turkish bread, but...

    B.I. /// Not just anymore…

    H. /// But Turkish bread made as a normal product. I used to seeing Turkish bakers all over Europe. But it's strange when the resident bakers carry it out making it. No?

    B.I. /// It's a progess. Cultural exchange. You have lots of Macedonian, Albanian, Serbian bakers here!

    H. /// Anything we should look for?

    B.I. /// Well, the sweets are good! But the bread is sometimes Hungarian bread. But because Hungarians are used to white bread. They don't do the corny stuff so much (for now). The Balkan version is consisting sometimes of smaller ones… not the 1 kilo loaf-bread. But the sweets - since they ave understood that Hungarians like sweets things – and thick things… it's this puffy… too much air and sugar! As much as the Chinese don't eat what they cook in the downtown restaurants – with exception of Kilenc Sárkány and some other hardcore places, where you have Chinese business and status people dropping by –. Making it spicey with paprika and sweet, which is not tradtional. If you want to eat real Chinese: with expat friends we always rediscover the restaurants in the Chinese part of Budapest! It's a city within the city. Unofficial. Everythin is in Chinese and they are looking at you like „How did you get here?” You have to find a teenager who speaks some language, which is not Mandarin, Cantonese or some other dialect or differentiation in the Chinese lingua! And they will explain what you eat. Things you have never seen… in the common restaurants I mean. The things sold in the downtown reataurants I presume ”native” Chinese dignified people will say it's crap.

    S. /// There you go!

    H. /// Chinatown?

    B.I. /// Yeah… but they first started a market. They just took an old – I guess – Soviet factory – after the Russians left – and after a while from the persepctive of the government at the time it was out of control. Intersting substances, exotic things, dangerous tokens. And so one of the governments banned it! Got rid of it. Just closed it. And than they bought a 2 or 3 times bigger building complex and cointinued. Now there's even a night market! By bicycle 20 minutes, 25 max. by tram… you have to change directions a few times, 2 times, 40 minutes.

    H. /// aouu… So!

    B.I. /// You told be something about the old bicycle? You have problems with your new one?

    H. /// Oh, my bicycle? Wah..., it's just a piece of shit…

    S. /// (laughing)

    B.I. /// You don't like it because of the old one?

    S. /// We bought…

    H. /// Ahm...

    S. /// … old bicycles...

    B.I. /// You bought for the journey?

    S. /// Yeaah…!

    H. /// A farmer friend of mine who has a barn full of old stuff… and there was a rumour that he just had a whole pile of bicycles that his wife was angry about…!… so…

    B.I. /// Haaa!

    S. /// Hehe…

    H. /// … I got two! And I bought them very cheaply. He didn't even wanna take money.

    B.I. /// You were happy. She was happy?

    H. /// Yeah...

    S. /// (silent laughter)

  • edited December 2018


    H. /// … Everybody was happy, we got bicycles. But they are just bicycles. Some bicycles you love. I was telling you about the one that I bought in Belgium. Travelled a long way to see it. I was really happy! It was my frame size! I'm a tall guy! So that's kinda rare. 62 centimeter frame. Or was it a 64? Very lightweight

    B.I. /// Customized.

    H. /// I just… everytime I broke it I fixed it up with nice parts and really made it mine. I took it to work across Brussels from Anderlecht to Zaventem every day for a year and then some bastard took it from me!

    B.I. /// From your garden?

    H. /// After that kinda heartbreake you just don't go and fall in love with another bike! I really tried, I looked at other bikes! Like nice ones… and… but in the end you know I wasn't gonna pay proper money for something I wasn't gonna love. So if someone sees my silver and black rider…

    B.I. /// In wich part of Brussels are we looking?

    H. /// It was taken in Anderlecht! It was supposed to be a bad part of town, but that's where I lived.

    B.I. /// So it's relative.
    And what about you? Were you cycling before this trip you are having now?

    S. /// Yes, as transportation. There and back from work I rode my bike before the trip. I had a gearing that just fell off. That made me take a break.

    B.I. /// You two are from the same part of Norway?

    S. /// Yeah.

    H. /// Yeah, rouhly.

    B.I. /// City people or off it?

    S. /// I grew up in a small village.

    H. /// I wasn't a city boy. Not at all!

    B.I. /// How did you meet?

    S. /// Aaam…

    H. /// Boatyard.

    S. /// I had a sailboat. And I needed help fixing it since I tryed fixing it myself a few times. He was a boat mechanic… so…

    B.I. /// Ahhh!

    H. /// Aa, ye!

    S. /// I made him...

    B.I. /// Classic.

    S. /// … take a look at it. (laughing)

    B.I. /// He definitely did.

    H. /// „I hear you have a diesel engine that's not being nice to you” (quoting himself)

    B.I. /// With this current boat of yours... are you welding it if there's a crack or if it's broken? I hear you have lots of tools with you!

    H. /// First of all I'm a mechanic. And I do hope to find work along the way! I have worked independently so I've got all my tools. It's a good way to carry, one good reason to carry tools. And also it's a complex boat! There's a lot that can go wrong with it! I need to be able to fix it myself!

    **B.I. /// You know every part by now?
    H. /// Pretty much by now… but it still keeps surprising me! I owned it for 10 years… and...

    B.I. /// (laughter)

    H. /// … it still keeps tossing me curveballs. And that guy that built it was not a boat guy! He was more of a house guy, I think. He's done some strange things!

    B.I. /// Tell me.

    H. /// Oh, the window design is really horrible! They keep leaking and we tried to fix them according to the original design. Cause they're really beautiful! They got these fat teak frames that look (>>>making a kiss sound<<<)!!!

    B.I. /// How close is the window to the water level?

    H. /// 'Bout a meter/twenty. This is the weekness of the boat! I have realtively large windows. Third of a square-meter! They are close enough to the surface of the water… if I get big waves and they come intact and hit the windows… and then you know. And they are also house windows! Pretty thin glass! You would think throwing water on the window won't break it, but trust me! Tthe sea once it gets angry it will smash those like they were not even there! And once you have a half-squaremeter opening with the sea hitting it than your boat sinks.

    B.I. /// Did anthing serious happen on your way for now?

    H. /// Haaa'hhh...

    S. /// We had a propeller gone.

    H. /// Oh, yeah! That's a fun story! I kinda messed up. We were going into...

    S. /// Düsseldorf.

    H. /// It was into Düsseldorf. And I really wanted to get in-there! So we struck… we hit a rock going into one place! And then we asked the guy where it was gonna be deep enough? And he pointed us along the seawall and we started getting in there! I was already 5 or 6 boat-lenghts on my way when I hit another rock.

    B.I. /// You could hear the…?

    H. /// It's a bang!!!

    S. /// Loud.

    H. /// Band, bang, bang. Scrape.

    Than I gott a make a dicission if I now turn around 180 degrees, which is really difficult ot do when the boat is on! When it's free-floating in the water I can make it do what I want, but once I'm touching the bottom, the boat has a completely new idea of where it wants to point. And what not.

    B.I. /// It escalated?

    H. /// So do I turn the boat around? Go back out and try something completely differently or even to go to a different city? Or do we just keep going? And I just kept going, ye?

    S. /// Correct.

    H. /// And then when we were running out, the river was another 5 centimeters lower. And in that situation 5 centimeters was significant. I hit numerous large rocks with the propeller (going out). It made really horrible

    S. /// Shshshssssssssssss….

    H. /// ...noises… And after that there was an interesting new noise and vibration underway. We had to go up the Mosel and find a boatyard and pull the boat out…

    B.I. /// What did you see?

    H. /// Well, the propellar was…

    S. /// It has 3 baldes and one of them was bent unlikne the others.

    H. /// Not very suttle thing either. 3,5 centimeters!

    S. /// You could see it clearly!

    H. /// Yea!

    B.I. /// What do you do in this situation?

    H. /// Well, you go and borrow the biggest hammer in the yard and you beat it straight!

    Shhh… so yeah, that1s what we did!

    S. /// It amused a lot of tourists! They just stopped watching!

    H. /// I thought it was great! Normally in front of a restaurant… and you pull your shirt off and bring out the big hammer and start hitting things making a lot of noise, people don't really like that! But for some reason they loved it! I thought it was great!

    B.I. /// Many hands taking pictures!

    H. /// Yeah-yeah! Comin' over to me to tell me! And they always showed thumbs up! „That's the way'!” The way Germans do.

    B.I. /// Amen.

    H. /// So, fun times! (laughing heartily)

  • edited December 2018


    We have received a facebook page to follow the 3 having already travelled through Serbia, Croatia, spending Christmas in Bulgaria and repairing the boat in Hârșova, Romania currently. Coordinates: 44.6893° N, 27.9457° E

    ON GOOGLE MAPS:ârșova+905400,+Romania/@44.6879326,27.9190492,13z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x40b08d8a66732767:0x7f129a87fecc69ca!8m2!3d44.6893481!4d27.9456551

    WEATHER /// Rain · 4°C TIME /// 6:59 PM

    We also got a personalized map of the entire journey - the route as planned and explained in the interview (thus reversed due to the costs of fuel):


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