Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Stockholm to Falun

 I felt so refreshed after my two day stay on the island with Jonas that I was really looking forward to cycling again. I was so eager to get some miles in that I even decided to skip Uppsala. I felt I had done enough sightseeing in Stockholm. Also, this was the perfect Swedish summer. Blue sky every day. It was almost hot. Combined with the high humidity you could almost call it stinking hot. Luckily there where no big uphills but every little climb let me break out in sweat.

Every one was commenting on the weather. Apparently last year had been particularly bad with rain and cold temperatures almost every day. For once I seem to be lucky with the weather. During the whole month of July I had had very little rain and that had conveniently occurred mostly at night. Not knowing how long this fantastic spell of weather would last I decided to make the most of it and cycle.

Sala Silver mine
My stops were determined by were a Lidl store is. Although Sweden is cheaper than Denmark I am still on a budget and Lidl is by far the cheapest supermarket in Sweden. So while in Stockholm I had already looked ahead: After the suburbs of Stockholm my next Lidl would be in Sala. After shopping there I wondered what else to do in town. Of course there was the famous silver mine but a guided tour was 220 SEK. That was almost my entire daily budget - and I was soon going to visit another equally expensive mine in Falun. The visitor information had the right idea. They suggested the free Agueli museum. I must admit that I did not have the slightest clue who Agueli was, but I could not resist the free museum. Ivan Agueli turned out to be a Swedish painter around the last turn of the century but much more interesting than his modern paintings was his life. Born in Sweden he travelled all over world, converted to Islam, had a 23 year older anarchist lover, became an anarchist and animal rights activist himself and even shot a French bull fighter before he died in a train accident in Spain. The museum was very small and the paintings not that great but I was intrigued by his wild life. The museum attendant was a German art student whom I could quiz extensively and there was even free wifi. What else do I want....

Falun copper mine
Next big stop was Falun and the reason I had wanted to go there was my German classes at school.  Like most German school kids I had had to read Friedrich Hebbel's calendar story "Treue Liebe" about the miner of Falun and now it was time to find out how much truth there was in the story. A lot - as I found out on the guided mine tour. I had the perfect timing this time. I had camped close to town and arrived at the mine when it just opened - and just in time for the first English tour. This being so early there  were only three of us in the group which gave me ample opportunity to ask questions about "Mats". Historically Hebbel had described the events quite correct. A miner had been found in an old mine shaft and looked so alive that he was first mistaken as sleeping and then as recently deceased. But when brought above ground no one knew him until an old lady came forward and claimed him to be her fiance Mats. Mats had mysteriously disappeared a couple of days before their wedding and she had then never married anyone else. But now 40 years after their engagement they were finally reunited. She as an old woman and he miraculously still young because he had been well preserved in the vitriol of the mine.

But other than in Hebbel's story there was no happy ending in reality. Despite the old woman's begging Mats was not given a Christian burial. On the contrary: he was displayed in a showcase for thirty years until falling apart. He was then buried, but his grave was moved several times until he ended up in a church attic. When he was rediscovered there a century later he was displayed again..... He was finally laid to rest in 1932 and of course I visited his grave in Falun cemetery. The sign on his tombstone does not mean he is a feminist, but is the sign for copper as Falun is a copper mine. I spent the whole day in Falun tracing Mats' life. First in the mine, then in the fascinating Dalarna museum and eventually in the cemetery. Only then I allowed myself to go shopping at Lidl...

The next day was dedicated to the famous Swedish painter Carl Larson. 10 km from Falun is the Larson family home in their little village of Sundberg. Again I arrived just at opening time and got onto the first English tour with just 5 people. Maybe this should be my future strategy? The Larson home is such a popular destination that there are tours every 15 minutes. The poor tour guides have to dress up like the kids in Larson's paintings. The house was quite nice  but not so much from an artistic point of view but as a showcase of the Larson family life style. Larson loved children and had eight whose portraits are all over the house.

Not really fitting into this idyllic Swedish country life is the little water power planet next door. Larson must not only have been a great painter but also a good business man. He allowed the plant to be built on his lands and got free electricity for himself and his children. Now the old plant is quite an attraction itself in the village that is otherwise totally dedicated to Larson. The village meeting house has a Larson  portrait collection, the church has paintings of him and of course the whole family is buried in the village cemetery

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Stockholm

Cycling into Stockhol
Finding accommodation in Stockholm had been a bit of a problem: Youth hostels are very expensive and the cheap rooms are usually booked well in advance. Free camping did not seem feasible as the Stockholm metropolitan area is quite big. And although I had some contacts in Stockholm, everyone was either on holiday or living in such a tiny apartment that I could not impose myself on them. I did not even try couchsurfing as my experience last year on my hike through Europe has been really bad when it comes to big cities. Hosts are just overrun with requests. That only left warmshowers but unfortunately there were not many hosts there for Stockholm. I sent out one request and struck gold. Although it seemed first that the person could not host me, he recommended a nature reserve in the neighborhood for legal free camping. Great! This solved all my problems and I did not have to be stressed out with sending out more request. It got even better when he came back to me a couple of days later and told me that he could indeed host me in his garden.
So Sunday evening I set out to see Colin and Gemma in a suburb of Stockholm which unfortunately turned into a 2 hour quest on my bike. Next day I took the commuter train and did the same distance in 15 minutes.... Colin and Gemma had both cycled a lot themselves which led to bike examinations, trip reports and generally a lot of good talk. I slept like a baby on the lawn in their garden and set off for more sightseeing the next morning - by train!

Stockholm Historika Museet
Compared to Copenhagen Stockholm has one big drawback: The big national museums are not free! On the contrary: Every tiny little museum still charges 100 SEK which is a lot of money if your average daily budget is just 240 SEK.... Therefore I had to make choices and decided to go for the most museum for my money: The Nordiska Museet, a huge museum about Swedish history and lifestyle. This turned out to be a great choice as I easily spent four hours in it. Next was the photography museum with an interesting Helmut Newton exhibition. But more important was a logistical achievement. I went to a large travel bookstore and found a great bike guide for my planned route through Finland. And while browsing through their marine maps I also got a lot of inspiration for future paddling trips.

After another night on Colin and Gemma's lawn and a rather disappointing visit to the Nobel Museum I embarked onto another adventure: an island in the Stockholm archipelago. Of course there is a long story behind this: Before I had embarked on this bike trip I had asked around if anyone knew anyone along my route who would like meeting or even hosting me.

And my friend Nano immediately came up with Jonas, the organiser of the Swedish C2C hike she had attended earlier this year. After all her enthusiastic reports of this hike I was eager to meet Jonas. Again, first it did not look like a meeting would work out due to his holiday schedule but finally it turned out that he was staying on an island in the Stockholm archipelago. He immediately invited me to stay with him and as everyone told me that a stay on one of these tiny island is a quintessential Swedish experience I decided to go. It was a two hour ferry ride to get there and I was made fun a lot on the ferry boat when it was discovered that I was taking a bicycle to the tiny island of Aspö where there no roads at all. I later learned that it is actually forbidden to ride a bike on the island....  So as soon as I had arrived the bike was put into the shed and I was introduced to the very laid back island life style.

That includes a lot of barbecues, a lot of quick dips into the ice cold Baltic Sea water,  a lot of sun bathing on the jetty and two kayak trips! I enjoyed the island life so much that I am now staying two days instead of one but this is one of the best places on earth for a rest day on a long bike trip - especially with picture perfect Swedish sommer weather and a host that enjoys outdoor talk as much as I do. I learnt a lot about the Swedish Coast to Coast walk, that I have missed this year but I wish them all them all the best for their next hikes.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Oland to Stockholm

I have been experiencing Sweden at its best. To start with for more than two weeks I have had perfect summer weather. Hardly any rain, warm temperatures and the wind has been kind to me, too. Almost every morning I wake up to picture perfect blue sky. I actually have to camp under trees or I'll get roasted in the morning when the sun comes up...

Along the Göta Kanal
The ticks have almost completely disappeared and although there are plenty of mosquitos they aren't too vicious. And of course they are much less of a problem cycling than hiking. Also ever after Kalmar the camping situation has become what I expected it to be: very easy! As soon as I got out of very agricultural Southern Sweden there is forest almost everywhere. At the end of a day I just go down some forest road and look for a nice spot to camp. Sometimes it takes a while because the ground is rocky or overgrown but generally the camping situation is great now. To make things even better now the wild strawberries, raspberries and even blueberries are ripe. Of course this calls for extended cycling breaks for picking berries which improves my diet but doesn't help to increase my daily mileage...

The greatest sightseeing event on this stretch has definitely been the Göta Canal. As a part time boater and auxiliary helmswoman on my friend John's narrowboat I could not miss that chance and had to see it - which paid off immediately. When I was cycling towards Linköping I first crossed the Kinda Canal. I just saw some locks and decided to stop and take some photos when I noticed a toilet sign. Toilets are always a welcome stop on a hot day to clean up but this exceeded my expectations by far:  a sparkling clean toilet, shower and even a kitchen! This merited a long stay.... I took a wonderful shower and hand washed my clothes - and even managed to take some pictures of the lock. I love boaters.... The next day the experience repeated itself at the end of the Göta Canal with another free shower.

The cycling along the canal was great but alas there was not much canal!
Unlike the British canal system the Göta Canal its less than half man made canal. It mainly connects lakes and rivers and along those there is no nice and flat tow path but you are routed along gravel forest roads that are anything but nice and flat. All the locks on the Göta Canal are manned which seems to be a popular summer job for Swedish students and of course I had to quiz them extensively. There are no narrowboats on this canal and no one lives on their boats like my friend John. All you see is yachts with a more or less experienced crew and the occasional kayaker. I ran into a Danish guy who had paddled here from Denmark and of course he had to be quizzed, too. The lock keeper let him go through the lock with some yachts although this is theoretically forbidden - and I soon realised why. Because the Göta canal connects huge lakes there is too much water and the locks are continually overflowing, creating a strong current in the lock. The Danish paddler had to hold onto ropes with both hands to not be swept away. Paddling the Göta Canal is free, but quite expensive for yachts. When I realised a couple of days later in Stockholm that the Göta Canal not only connects lakes but also three canal systems (Trollhyttan, Kinda and Dalsland Canal) an idea for a paddling trip started to form.

But my next important stop was Stockholm and after I had secured accommodation there I just passed through the towns on the way, Söderköping and Nyköping. Along the way I saw a lot of orange trail markers, some with an S on it and eventually it dawned on me that this was the Sörmlandsleden, a long distance hiking trail that I had partly hiked years ago, also in a very hot July. I was a bit behind schedule because I had spent a lot of time talking with some German cyclists (all other bike tourists in Sweden seem to be German) and because I like to my leisurely pace. But eventually on Sunday, July 21st I reached Stockholm - after bravely cycling through endless suburbs and learning that my GPS can't deal with routing and switches itself off. I still made it somehow although the GPS problem cost me a lot of time and even managed to see a museum before I set off through another endless string of suburbs to get to my warmshowers hosts.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Rest day in Oland

For once my rest day turned out to be a real rest day - and a very interesting one! My host was Agneta, a 64-year old Swedish lady who is only living in Sweden in summer and spending her winters traveling. When I saw her profile I immediately wanted to meet her and luckily she accepted my request. When I arrived we immediately connected very well. Agneta has started traveling in her fifties and has been all over the world. Like me she is traveling on a very limited budget and it was interesting to compare notes. Agneta told me a lot about her woofing experiences, something I had thought of very often myself. Time passed very quickly talking about the places we have been and the people we have met and see the similarities and differences in our life styles. I do hope that I will still have her positive energy when I come nearer her age.

"Before" at Oland open air museum
As Agneta generously let me stay in her bed room while she moved onto the couch in the living room for the first time on this trip I had plenty of space to spread out all my maps and guidebooks and make some plans for the rest of this trip. I am cycling much slower than expected but as I am enjoying this leisurely trip I decided to keep the pace and adjust the plan. I don't think I will make it to the Baltic States on this trip. I will still go up to Umea and take the ferry to Finland, but will go back to Berlin directly from there. The Baltic States will have to wait for another trip which is already taking shape in my mind.

As Agneta has wifi and could finally play on the internet as long as I liked, but it was a lot of work to figure out ferry schedules and accommodation possibilities. Agneta had to help often with translating from Swedish and finding places on the map. But I feel all set now for the next half of this trip.

"After" as part of Kroppkakor
Agneta also introduced me a Swedish culinary highlight: Kroppkakor. These are potatoe dumplings with a pork filling and you eat them with butter, cream and jam. I must say that they look rather weird and have the consistency of wall paper glue, but they actually tasted quite nice - especially with a lot of cream! And after 3 dumplings for lunch I was so full I could hardly eat dinner.... When I left Monday morning I felt truly refreshed. I had spent a whole day without any cycling and had hardly moved at all - but your body needs that from time to time. All my clothes had been washed, I had taken two showers and slept two nights in a bed. Now I am ready for the road again.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Karlskrona to Oland

Cupola of Karlskrona church
So July 10th, the day after my birthday was going to be my long awaited rest day in Karlskrona. It did not start well. I woke up in the hostel and discovered that my smartphone had not recharged. It had shown similar hiccups recently and despite several experiments I had not been able to define the cause of the problem. The USB cable? The battery? The charger? Or worst of all: the phone itself? My smartphone is my camera, Mp3 player, internet.... almost everything. What would I do without it? I therefore decided to go to an electronics shop first and try to solve the problem. To cut a long story short: it took two trips to the store, the purchase of a cable and a charger and a whole day in mental panic to fix the problem. Now the phone is charging again and life is good!

Maritime Museum Karlskrona
But I saw more of Karlskrona than the electronics shop (although I saw a lot of the latter). I visited all the churches (free of charge which is why I visit all the places of worship), two museums (not free of charge and actually very expensive which is why I ended up unintentionally sneaking into one) and a nice city in the sunshine. I must admit that despite Karlskrona being World Heritage I enjoyed two things best: the library where I had endless free internet access with my temporary library card and a very cheap AYCE Thai lunch buffet, a recommendation of the visitor centre volunteers. For 85 SEK I had plenty of great Thai dishes plus Sushi. This would have been a good deal even in Germany and for Sweden this was fabulous!

But alas in the evening I had to leave town to find a campsite. I overcame my fear of camping close to civilisation and set up my tent between some summer houses outside Karlskrona, actually right next to their water tank - which turned out to be a very fortunate coincidence. Because when I woke up the next morning I discovered a small camping catastrophe. My newly acquired Lidl 1 litre olive oil bottle had leaked and there was oil in my whole "food" pannier. Yuck! Almost everything was covered or soaked with oil and I had to clean up the mess as good as I could with the help of a bar of soap and the water tap nearby. My cleaning worked surprisingly well and I fished an empty coke bottle out of the next garbage can to refill my olive oil.

Kalmar Castle
Next goal was Kalmar with another Lidl supermarket and a fairy tale castle. The fairy tale castle turned out to be very romantic from outside but rather empty inside. The staff was running around in period costumes and they had jousts for kids. After stocking up on food I went for the ferry to Oland. There is a road bridge connecting Kalmar with Oland but it is closed for cyclists. The guidebooks mention a bike bus, but that has ceased existence years ago - which just proves that guidebook writers copy from each other without checking the facts.... But there is a cheap ferry that runs almost hourly and this is what I took.

Drywall on Oland
My restday in Karlskrona had turned out to be a busy sightseeing and town chore day and I did not feel rested at all. I had therefore sent out a CS request for Oland because I thought there would not be much distraction here. I needed to rest and plan the rest of my biked route. And my request had been accepted at once, but only for the next day. I went to the Southern part of the island first which is Unesco World Heritage again. It is a unique limestone plain landscape that has been continually cultivated for thousands of years. Burial mounds and stone age forts abound and I  started my sightseeing tour with a Runic stone. And really, once I left the busy harbour town with its hundreds of tourists Oland became very peaceful and quiet - especially after I left the costal road and crossed the limestone plain on a former railroad track. No traffic at all!

Picnic area on Oland
The landscape was fascinating and I enjoyed the endless stone walls and the heath lands. But where would I camp? There is only a very thin layer of soil on top of the lime stone and the rain water cannot seep into the ground leaving puddles everywhere. And the dry ground was used for cattle grazing. Optimistically I cycled on and really struck gold soon. There was a designated rest area half way and I almost felt like back in Denmark! Shelters, picnic tables, fire rings and even a garbage can - and no sign that said you are not allowed to camp. I pitched my tent on perfectly flat grounds and freshly mowed grass. I  cooked dinner at a table and ate it sitting civilly on a bench. Only the mosquitoes did not act civilly and bit me.... No one disturbed me until I got up. In beautiful sunshine I cycled north again to my CS host visiting a small open air museum on the way. And now, eventually I am having a full restday with no cycling whatsoever.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Cycling Skandinavia: Southern Sweden Part 2

Outside Ystad
As a huge Henning Mankell fan Ystad was my next stop. I felt like last year when I had hiked through the Eifel on the footsteps of the Jacques Berndorf crime novels. Ystad tourist office is very professional about the famous author and has an excellent leaflet called "In the footsteps of Wallander" that shows all the location of the crime novels in and around Ystad. But of course there have been several movies about Kurt Wallander and none about Jacques Berndorf.... But I must admit I was more interested in the library with free wifi and the lovely Lidl store. By the time I had updated my blog and eaten lunch I was not in the mood anymore for a lot of sightseeing. I was just surprised that such a small and peaceful town as Ystad is the location of all those Wallander murders....

Ales Stenar
As I prefer free sights my next stops were all stone age monuments. Ales Stenar, the Swedish version of Glastonbury features several stones erected to form a ship. Does not look that impressive but has been a great accomplishment back then. At least the hundreds of tourists there must have thought so. There were even parking lot attendants to manage the masses of tourists. And then the king's graves at Lyngby that looked like a dump of rocks first. I must confess that I jumped the fence to avoid paying 20 SKK entrance fee to look at it....

Entrance to Kings' Graves
Again, I had very bad luck with camping. Southern Sweden is prime agricultural country and there are rolling wheat fields everywhere - but no forests. Of course there is the everyman's right and I could have found a spot but probably I am too choosy. I like forest and I like hidden places where no one bothers me. I ended up cycling until late to get to a forest and then it turned out to be so overgrown that I could not find a place where to pitch my tent. It was already 9 pm when I eventually found spot deep in the forest and exhausted I set up my tent. I realised that I was overdoing it again. My last real rest day had been three weeks ago and although I was doing a very low daily mileage I needed a rest. I started next morning by sleeping in, reading a book in the morning and only leaving at 1 pm! (It was good to have a spot under tree cover. In the direct sun this would not have been a very pleasant morning...)

Also my birthday was coming up and I decided to treat myself with a town stay. Karlskrona is a UNESCO world heritage city and I planned to spend my birthday there. But alas, no warmshowers hosts there and Couchsurfing was down again.... Never mind, I just booked myself into a single room in a youth hostel. (Thanks to the wonderful Swedish tourist offices with free wifi). One more night free camping and then I would have a decent clean up. But again the camping was difficult. I have to find a new strategy for camping in Sweden and overcome my tick phobia or I'll never be happy here. I woke up on my birthday and felt pretty horrible: I was so dirty, grimy and sweaty that even I was disgusted. A bottle shower was not a good solution as there were mosquitoes everywhere. I got on my bike and hoped for the best. After a couple of km I spotted a church. Churches are usually surrounded by cemeteries and they have water taps. Maybe I could find a tucked away tap and discreetly clean up? No such luck: Gardeners were working in the cemetery and no way I could tuck away there. But the church was open and there I struck gold: A real toilet with a wash basin! Hikers and bikers are so easy to please.... 15 minutes later I felt like a new person and happily jumped onto my bike.

The route to Karlskrona took me much longer than expected but when I finally arrived it was still too early for the youth hostel reception to be open. I found out everything about AYCE buffets, free wifi and even got myself a temporary library membership card. And then of course a shopping trip to my beloved Lidl for my big birthday dinner that consisted of new Swedish potatoes, brokkoli with olive oil and lemon and fried BBQ cheese accompanied with butter milk. It was great - as was the 15 minute long shower I took to wash off all the grime. I spent a leisurely evening in bed but unfortunately the only new book I could find the hostels book exchange in a language I could understand was the German biography of the Kiwi opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa. Never mind - I read almost everything....

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Southern Sweden

Sweden did not feel very welcoming. I arrived in Helsingborg late in the afternoon on a very windy day. The city felt big and confusing and left as quickly as possible after I had stocked up on maps in the visitor information. Now I needed a camp site. Theoretically this is supposed to be much easier here in Sweden than in Denmark. Contrary to its neighbor Denmark Sweden has the everyman's right which means you can legally camp anywhere as long as you are not on farmland or on someone's house and garden. Still, Southern Sweden is extensively farmed and all I could see was houses and fields. Every little side track just led to another house and I did not dare to camp anywhere. The map showed some forest about 20 km away and forest always is a safe bet. Unfortunately the wind was totally against me. I felt very frustrated and exhausted when I finally arrived at a patch of forest where I could pitch my tent. And what looked totally deserted turned out to be local hunting ground as five minutes later a hunter showed up. He did not see me but after only 10 minutes I heard a shot and shortly after the lucky hunter left already. Peace and quiet? No, 15 minutes later a jogger showed up but did not spot me either. And the wind blew all the traffic noise directly to my tent.... not to mention the ticks that I was still picking off my tent three days later. Next morning the world looked better.

Lund cathedral
The wind had calmed down and I cycled to Lund to visit the gloomy Romanic cathedral  - and find some wifi. Camping was easier that night and tick-free. My first shopping experience in Sweden came as a shock as well. I went to a local IGA supermarket and things seemed to be even more expensive than Denmark! But then I luckily discovered Lidl (there is no Aldi in Sweden) and things look much brighter now. Apparently chocolate is not as highly taxed here as in Denmark and sweets are affordable again. I was so relieved I immediately bought a huge stock of chocolate and gummi bears. I guess the trick is to avoid the small local supermarkets that are naturally more expensive than the big chains. I am a Lidl junkie anyways....

I must mention that summer seems to have finally arrived. Glorious sunshine almost all day long and therefore I decided to cylce along the coast. Trelleborg was my next stop with a nice library to update my blog and a local viking festival of some sorts. Trelleborg has a reconstructed Viking fort and this weekend a party was going on there. Several locals had dressed up as vikings and were queuing to get into the fort. I could even see them everywhere in town. The westerly wind made cycling along the coast a blast. I passed the most Southerly point in Sweden and several other long-distance cyclists. Everyone seems to be on holiday now. Swedish and Norwegian campervans are everywhere, but this does not come as a surprise: July is the main holiday season. Now the plan is to follow the ooastline up to Kalmar on the coast path. Hopefully the weather stays nice and the winds in my favour.

Cycling Denmark: Conclusion and tipps

Cycling on the beach at Lokken
Answering the two usual questions in the conclusion is very easy for cycling in Denmark. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I enjoyed it tremendously! This has been some of the most enjoyable cycling I have ever done. Would I recommend it to a friend? Yes, absolutely! I have had high expectations on Denmark and the reality even surpassed my expectations. Why has it been so enjoyable? As usual there are several reasons and of course there are some down sides as well. Denmark has been very enjoyable, but definitely not the most spectacular or breathtaking trip I have done. The country is mostly flat which provides easy cycling, but other than the incredibly beautiful coastline there is not much in the way of spectacular scenery. But it is very pleasant and surprisingly varied. As I have already mentioned the coast is great. I enjoyed the North Sea Cycle Path most where you even directly cycle on the beach ´- an interesting experience! Then I had to discover that Denmark is more forested than expected and the National bike routes take you through some very nice forests. But also the rolling farmland is pleasant - especially when the wind is not a head wind.

Sand dunes near Hvide Sande
Another great asset are the National and regional bike routes that crisscross the country. You don't have to read the map - you just follow the very well sign posted routes. I must say that these routes took me to some of the most interesting areas I would never have discovered without them. Very often you are on bike only roads that take you directly into beautiful nature areas like the sand dunes and the marsh land on the North Sea Cycle route. If you just follow the roads on the map you would not be tempted to go there. But you don't have to rely on those bike trails only. There are plenty of little roads in Denmark with hardly any traffic and they are mostly paved. Very often I took short cuts from the official bike routes and found it no problem. Even the bigger roads very often have separate bike lanes. And on top of all that Danish drivers are very considerate and very much used to cyclists. Denmark is indeed one of the most bike friendly countries I have ever been in.

For me personally the highlight were the designated camp sites. I just love the system and wish we would have it in Germany or in other countries. Although I have already mentioned them a lot in my last posts here some more information on them. These camp sites are designated primitive sites where you can legally camp for a maximum of two nights. There are two kinds: The nature sites, all starting with the letter N. They are usually in the forest and are maintained by the forest ministry. The are all free! Some of them can be booked for groups. Although called primitive, some of them are quite luxurious. They vary from flat ground and a small fire pit to huge sites with several shelters, pit toilets and water taps! Then there are communal or private sites, all with a number. They are either maintained by the local community in which case they are free or they are private, i.e. you basically camp in some one's back yard. This "back yard" can either be a garden, a field or whatever piece of land the owner sets aside for you. Amenities vary from nothing to a water tap, shelter and use of the owner's bathroom. Most of these sites will charge you but the fee is a maximum of 25 DKK which is not really much. Some owner will direct you to the camp site and leave you alone completely whereas other ones are very sociable and even give you free food. You never know what you'll get... But this is not entirely true: There is a guidebook to all these sites called "Overnatning in det fri". This book comes with a map of Denmark showing you the approximate location of the site and its number. You can then look up the number in the book where you will find the exact GPS coordinates, a description of the site and directions in Danish, the name, address and phone number of the owners and pictograms of the amenities. This book is almost worth its weight in gold and will save you a lot of money on accommodation!

But Denmark also has its downsides. The biggest problem is the prices. Denmark is a very expensive country. I would say that I paid at least 50% on this trip than an equivalent trip in Germany would have cost me. Of course you can save money on accommodation by using the above mentioned camp sites but you still have to buy food. Eating out was out of the question for my limited budget and therefore I shopped at supermarkets and cooked. All over Denmark farmers are selling their produce along the roads and you see signs for new potatoes and strawberries everywhere. Unfortunately, even these "direct sales" are expensive... Luckily there is Aldi, Lidl and Netto in Denmark that are a bit cheaper than the other chains. The biggest shock for me were the prices for sweets. Sugar is heavily taxed in Denmark and therefore chocolate and other sweets are double and triple the price than in Germany. The only thing cheaper than Germany was Yogurt and I ended up substituting chocolate with Yogurt and eating one kilo every day. But also museums and other sights are expensive and I had to carefully choose what I really wanted to see. The only notable exception in Copenhagen where the first class National Museum, National Art Museum and the open air Museum in Lyngby are free.

Free wifi was surprisingly difficult to find: Visitor Information Centres, the first obvious spot, were usually useless and only offered paid service. Sometimes I was lucky at commercial campgrounds, sometimes in the harbour area. The best choice is usually the libraries that very often had free wifi and free use of their computers - but don't count on it.

Some of the National bike routes used a surprisingly high amount of forest roads. Although they were definitely not difficult for a moutain bike, they can be quite hard for a fully loaded touring bike - especially when it has rained before. The grit and sand has been hard on my chain and brake pads. The highest amount of dirt roads were on the Hjaervejen and the North Sea Cycle Route. I would therefore recommend rather broad tires if you want to do those.

Church on Mon
Maps were another issue: I had gotten the free overview map from the Danish tourist office and it turned out to be a great help as it shows all the national and regional bike trails. This is the best tool for planning and getting an overview. For navigation I used the Marco Polo map of Denmark 1:200.000 and it was ok but it lacked the bike trails. The Skandinavia road atlas by Freytag & Berndt was pretty useless for Denmark as it does not show the little roads, but I had bought it more for Sweden and Finland anyways. The best map was the free GPS map from that I had downloaded onto  my GPS. It shows not only roads, but also trails and paths. But more important it shows all the national bike trails and some of the regional ones.

Some random tipps at the end: Churches and cemeteries were again what I was looking for. The cemetries all had water taps and some even public toilets which were great for a little clean up. And most churches were open and provided electrical outlets for recharching my phone or a shelter from the wind. I also encountered signposts for a lot of hiking trails. There is even a coast to coast trail, a trail through the island of Fyn and several other long distance trails. Denmark has never been on my list for hiking but this has made me curious now and I will certainly include Denmark in one of my next long distance hiking trips.

Friday, 5 July 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.