Friday, July 5, 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Zealand and Copenhagen

Sometimes you just have to wait. I did not get a good look at the famous white cliffs on the island of Mon, but I was rewarded with fantastic views of the cliffs at Stevns Klint when cycling up the Baltic Sea Coast to Copenhagen. Stevns Klint is an interesting place: There is an old church directly at the cliffs and apparently the parishioners were worried how long it would survive - and built a new church just a couple of hundred metres inland. All around that is a beautiful park that is a well-known tourist attraction, but I was there so late in the evening that I had the whole place almost to myself. Even better: There was free wifi and I could eventually check my emails again. The chalk rock is actually still industrially mined as I found out later when passing a quarry...


A little bit further up the coast I was wondering about a strange "East German" looking military site and on closer inspection it turned out to be a military installation from the Cold War. Even the designated camp site I was staying at that night was decorated with an observation tower dating back from the Cold War. And nearby there was a home for asylum seekers. It seems that the Danish like to place these homes at former historic sites. The last one I have seen was in Hanstholm, the former German Nazi bunker town. For the first time I was not alone at the camp site and of course the other ones were Germans. To be specific even Berliners on their way up to Copenhagen on the popular Berlin - Copenhagen bike path. I have seen more touring cyclists in two days on the Berlin-Copenhagen bike path than in three weeks in the rest of Denmark....

Copenhagen Conference Centre
My visit to Copenhagen needed a bit of strategic planning. I have had difficulties in finding a warmshowers host and although my request got finally accepted the host was already hosting other cyclists and could only offer me floor space. I decided to stay just one night there and camp the other nights just outside the city in my beloved designated camp sites. The first one was on Amager Island just South of Copenhagen. This was a Saturday evening and decent weather and therefore I expected the camp site to be full of people. But the whole island which is a nature reserve was almost deserted. The only people in the camp site were a young family with bikes. As I had arrived early I decided to check out the other sites. The next one was apparently empty but when I checked the shelter it was full of gear. I guess a scout group must have booked it and was exploring the area leaving their equipment behind. I checked the next site that had no facilities and - no one! I decided to stay but spent a noisy night. First of all the wind had picked up a lot and the site did not offer any shelter from trees. My tent was banged around a lot but managed quite good. But I also discovered that Copenhagen airport was just nearby and until 10 pm every 2 minutes an airplane was passing overhead. And the whole spectacle started again at 6 am in the morning - which was fine as I wanted to get an early start.

Copenhagen Slotskirke
This was a Sunday and as the next day almost everything was closed I had a full museum day ahead of me. It was exactly 16 km from my free camp site to the National Art Museum in Copenhagen and I arrived exactly at 10 am when it opens. This art museum was awesome! It was free, it was huge and had a fantastic collection. I spent two hours alone in the Scandinavian collection discovering more and more interesting painters. But there was more to see in Copenhagen and next stop was the Glyptothek which was free on Sundays. As it was hosting a Degas exhibition it was full of people but I enjoyed the tacky 19th century marble stautes. Last stop was the free National Museum where I was eventually running out of time. There was so much to see and I was already suffering from a visual overload! But I had enjoyed that day.

Monday almost everything was closed expect the Royal castles and therefore I did a castle and church hopping tour. Most interesting discovery was the famous giant Jesus statue in the Copenhagen cathedral by Thorvaldsen. I had seen this statue in various forms all over the world but was surprised to find that the original was from Denmark. Copenhagen had turned out to be a great city. Lots of free sights and easy to get around on bike paths. Actually the amount of cyclists were almost frightening. You don't even want to think of going in the wrong direction on a bike lane as dozens of cyclists are coming towards you at top speed. I nearly caused a bad accident by turning left on a bike path without signaling as several cyclists were coming behind me at top speed and had to swerve onto the road to avoid me. Ooops...

I spent the night at another designated camp site North of Copenhagen - and again it was very noisy. This time it was the nearby motorway.....This was a specific kayak site next to a river and late in the evening two canoists showed up. But I was already too tired to chat. The main reason to stay so close to Copenhagen was the Lyngby open-air museum, another free site that turned out to be great. 80 building from all over Denmark have been brought here. The area is huge but it was a nice day to walk around although after a while all the farm houses looked pretty much the same... My biggest problem was that a century ago people were much smaller and therefore the doors and ceilings in these houses were much too low for my 1,84 m. I constantly hit my head...

20 km further south I visited the castle of Fredericksborg, one of the most beautiful Renaissance castles I have seen. The castle is part of the National Museum and therefore it houses an interesting historical exhibition. Each room is dedicated to a specific time period and decorated with period furniture and paintings of the respective kings or other historical persons. I liked the concept and could have spent the whole day here - but the castle closed at five and soon I was on my way to my last designated camp site in Denmark which turned out to be just a flat spot in the forest. There was not even a sign that this was supposed to be an official camp site - but it was tick free!

I left Denmark with the ferry from Helsingor to Helsingborg and I was determined to spend my last Danish crowns in town. Therefore I visited Kronburg, the famous Hamlet castle, which was pretty impressive from outside, but pretty empty from inside.... Most impressive sight for me was the statue of Knud the Dane. Supposedly a giant called Knud is sleeping in Kronburg castle, but whenever Denmark is in trouble he will wake up and rescue the country. The statue is dramatically illuminated and pretty tacky. The castle guard was especially friendly and let me use the staff bike parking inside thus saving me shlepping around my panniers through the huge castle precint. Then a last shopping trip and I hopped on the passenger ferry to Sweden and a new chapter of my bike Skandinavian bike trip.

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