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Straight to Sweden

Completion of the 27km 0resund crossing between Denmark and Sweden has created the first direct road route from Britain to Sweden.

Day 1

I left home in north London early to avoid traffic. Not familiar with central London, it was more through luck than planning that I crossed Westminster bridge and found the A20. London traffic was already busy at 6am and I was glad to be travelling south and not stuck in the jams coming north into the city.

Once the A20 had merged into the M20, it was a straightforward run to the Channel Tunnel shuttle terminal at Cheriton.

The high quality road allowed a constant 113km/h (70mph).

Crossing the Medway valley, roadworks for the M2 widening slowed traffic to 80km/h.

At Cheriton, 127km from London, getting on to the Channel Tunnel shuttle train was straighforward and quick. There wasn't even a passport check.

After a 35 minute Channel crossing I reached Calais at 11am contintental Europe time.

Leaving the tunnel and getting out of Calais was also helped by easy signing for the E40 to Belgium.

The French road was again a good quality new highway, with speed limits ranging from 110km/h to 130 km/h. Away from Calais, traffic volume fell and traffic only slowed during a heavy shower.

Belgium's motorway network was a patchwork of neglected old sections and newer ones, although a steady 113km/h could be maintained. By midday I had reached the port of Antwerp, where the weight of traffic, swelled by HGVs slowed my speed to 80km/h. Traffic signs gave some reassurance about routing but lacked the clarity of those in France and Britain.

Road quality improved in the Netherlands with traffic continuing at a steady 113km/h.

Across the border, around the German industrial cities of Essen, Duisberg and Dortmund, the motorway widened to three lanes, helping traffic speeds.

Near Essen I encountered my first continental roadworks. A contractor was replacing the central reservation barrier along a length of nearly 3.2km. Traffic continued at a steady 64km/h in very thin temporary lanes. The seemingly understaffed contractor continued at its own pace with not a hard hat to be seen.

Busy afternoon traffic kept speeds around the three cities down to about 64km/h. Although the motorway system around the conurbations looks like an intimidating mass of spaghetti, finding a way through was easy.

The most serious delays came north of Dortmund, on the way to Hamburg as the five o'clock rush hour began to kick in. At one point everything ground to a halt for so long that motorists got out of their cars to stretch their legs.

Regular updates seemingly came through on the local radio station but, not fluent in German, I was none the wiser.

When the traffic cleared, the cause of the hold up turned out to be two junctions near Cloppenburg which were unble to cope with volumes of traffic leaving the highway.

From there it was a two lane dual carriageway to Hamburg, with traffic slowing only when a lorry moved out of the inside lane to overtake. Around Hamburg the road widend to four lanes.

Hamburg is a mass of docks and containers. The high level road above the city is a spectacular feat of engineering, but the six lane tunnel under the Elbe proved to be a bottleneck.

By 8.30pm I had travelled 965km across five countries. It was time to turn in for the night.

Day 2

Northbound traffic leaving Hamburg just after the morning rush hour was quiet, allowing motorists to take advantage of the fact that this section of road is one Germany's renowned speed limit free routes. The road is not as smooth as those in France or the Netherlands, but has wide lanes and is virtually straight, through miles of trees and forest.

Most cars on German autobahns are relatively new BMWs, Mercedes or Audis. Old bangers are a rarity. I didn't see one breakdown in nearly 14,000km on German roads.

German road discipline is also much better than in Britain. For the 500km from Hamburg to the Danish border I averaged 176km/h. Lorries and slower vehicles stayed in the inside lane, only pulling out to overtake when the outside lane was clear.

This contrasted with a trip up the M6 the previous Sunday, when drivers sat in the middle lane whether overtaking or not, leaving the inside lane virtually empty, causing traffic to build up.

At the German/Danish border I encountered my first border checks on the Continent. Traffic slowed to a halt as a policeman casually waved traffic through a lifted barrier. It made me realise how integrated continental Europe is, with just a signpost separating most countries.

Danish roads do not have the best ride quality but are wide and straight. Traffic was scarce allowing motorists to cruise to the 110km/h speed limit.

A constant feature across Europe are the frequent parking areas off the main road. These are signposted every few kilometres and provide toilet and rest facilities in grassed areas sheltered from the road by trees.

Service stations are also found at regular intervals, especially in Denmark. It made me wonder where they got the staff - being seemingly in the middle of nowhere - and how they made any money, with the low traffic volumes.

Services in all countries were clean, tidy and vandalism free.

There was a good choice of food, and the toilet facilities were good. The petrol also seemed amazingly cheap.

I continued north to Kolding and by lunchtime I was heading east towards Copenhagen and the mighty Storebaelt and 0resund crossings.

Before reaching Storebaelt, the motorway crosses a short suspension bridge across the sea at Fredericia. Crossing this made me realise how spectacular 0resund was going to be.

The next bridge, the 18km Storebaelt crossing, carries a rather expensive £21 toll in each direction. The crossing includes a low road and rail bridge, leading up to the massive 1.6km central span suspension bridge.

By late afternoon I had reached Copenhagen airport, site of the eastern end of the 0resund crossing.

Nearing the bridge, the amount of construction work seemed to increase. Work on the airport, a new railway station and new roads seemed to underline the belief of the bridge builders that the opening will regenerate the area.

Before reaching the 0resund bridge, traffic descends into a well lit 4km dual carriageway road tunnel under the Drogden channel. This leads up to the artificial island of Peberholm and to the world's 10th longest cable stayed bridge, 55m above the water and just under 8km long.

The bridge carries a two lane carriageway in each direction, with a rail line underneath. Again, the bridge is tolled, this time charging £19.16 to cross.

There is a whole new road system on the Swedish side, with links to Malmo and Gothenburg.

In Malmo, as with most Continental cities, much importance is given for cyclists. Wide, signalled and well marked lanes are designated to cyclists, large numbers of which use them.

By five o'clock in the evening I had reached my destination, having covered 1,600km in just two days.

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