Denmark is Awesome

 

It began raining just before the border and continued steadily for the next two hours or so that it took us to reach Carsten’s (a friend from London) family home in the village of Bolderslev. Wet and dirty we were welcomed with open arms by Carsten’s mum Christa and his sister Lea. It was a familiar feeling of deep gratitude from almost complete strangers and we appreciated the hospitality so much. Not only could we shower, escape the rain, wash our clothes, but Christa had even cooked us a vegan meal. Amazing. I will never stop being so utterly thankful and humbled by the kindness we receive.

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Hmmmm this was just over the border!

We woke to sun and after a lazy breakfast (sampling many Danish treats) Christa and Lea left for work with goodbyes and instructions of how to lock up. Astrid had to run to the post office where her new bankcard had miraculously arrived in 4 days from London and both our chains needed a cleaning. After some bike maintenance and random chores we had neglected so far, it was time to head off.

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So kind to be hosted by Carsten’s family

To cycle from the south of Denmark to the ferry port of Hirtshals we had decided (on the advice of Carsten) to take the Haervejen which was an ancient trading route which in the past was actually a series of small roads linking the south to the north. Now it is a biking and hiking path traversing through the picturesque Danish countryside. I like taking trails like this as they are often off road and it’s lovely to just follow signs rather than having to use maps on our phones and remember routes (something I am not super good at!). We set off and were soon winding our way through rural Denmark on small roads and tracks through the forest, passed farms and into villages and towns. While the pressure was still on to make it to Hirtshals we felt more relaxed. Germany was behind us and all that remained were a few 100km.

The first day in a new country is always a little bit the same and a little bit exciting. Being Europe, the differences aren’t huge but important none the less. Firstly, how much is our money worth? We used to work from Australian dollars but now use pounds (which makes us feel falsely richer). Next, is there a Lidl and what do they sell, especially do they sell hummus and what vegan products do they have? Is the bread good? And beer? How friendly are car drivers and what is the bicycle infrastructure like? And lastly, how easy is it to wild camp?

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We really love these buildings, found all over the countryside

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Denmark is more expensive than Germany (not hard), there is indeed Lidl (less vegan products but it does have hummus), there are loads of bike paths, drivers are mostly good,  but best of all, wild camping is amazing in Denmark. This is due to something called shelters. Basically a system of shelters built all over Denmark where you are allowed to free camp. These shelters can include literally a wooden shelter in which to put your sleeping bag, a fire pit, wood, access to water, toilets and sometimes even a shower (we’ve heard). They are amazing and an app lets you view them on a map and see what is available at each shelter (it’s in Danish but pretty easy to figure out). We are used to hiding ourselves away in forests or parks so this was utter luxury.

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First lunch time

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The amazing shelter

Our first night camping in Denmark found us stumbling across a shelter (we had been planning to go to another one) in a clearing in some woods, with a fire already going and some friendly Dutch cycle tourists who also happened to be ICU nurses. They offered us dinner and some kind of spirits. A night of merriment ensued.

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Relaxing with fellow cyclists 

Travelling by bike in many ways is a microcosm of life; one minute everything is going along smoothly, the next you are wondering what the hell went wrong. You feel the highs and lows acutely because there is no hiding, just you and your bike out in the world. While cycling in Europe these highs and lows are certainly less extreme,  but they do still exist. From our perfect camp in the woods by a fire, we went to sheltering outside a supermarket in torrential rain, dirty, cold and wet. To top it off I got a flat tyre.

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The not so glamorous side to bike travel..

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Sheltering in a supermarket

But from a relative low we pushed back out into the summer storm, pedalling through beautiful woods and sheltering under trees when the rain got particularly heavy. It’s often about shifting or adjusting your thinking, too. While being wet can be uncomfortable, it wasn’t really cold and the strength of the thunderstorm was an acute reminder of the power of nature and always makes me feel awed and inspired.

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The beautiful rainy forest 

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Sheltering from the worst of it

By evening the rain had ceased and we reached another shelter in the forest and met Alex. Alex is a Ukrainian asylum seeker and a reminder of the (potential) grace and strength of humanity and the cruelty of systems. After fleeing war and seeking asylum, Alex who is an engineer by trade has been forced to live on the road (he rides a big Danish bicycle, staying at shelters and occasionally with families). The road to us embodies freedom, because we choose it, and can equally leave at any time. Alex does not have that privilege and is instead relying on the cruelly slow bureaucratic nightmare that is seeking asylum in todays Europe (not that Denmark is even close to being the worst).   Until his asylum claims are dealt with (several years so far), he cannot leave the EU, nor really work, or see his children. His life is effectively on hold. It was a sobering reminder of our own privilege. We spent a wonderful evening sharing a fire, food and conversation with this most excellent human.

Our ferry departure was getting closer so on our last two days we decided to ditch the Haervejen and take a more direct route north. We were still on small roads and often bike paths. Denmark is certainly up there with cycling infrastructure. I would put it third behind Netherlands and Germany for it’s overall network of paths and roads (obviously Copenhagen is special and right up there with bike awesomeness).

It was about this time that Astrid became a ‘eco warrior cyclo bum’ (her phrase). What this meant was that she would collect cans and bottles on the side of the road, carry them in a plastic bag on her bike and then recycle them at supermarkets. Most cans and bottles have ‘pant’ which means that you get money (in the form of a refund docket) back and can then spend it at the supermarket. Not only does this clean up the environment, it also gives us some krona. She became quite obsessed and I would have to be careful when cycling behind her as she was likely to slam on the brakes and go diving into the woods to retrieve a potential ‘pant’. Sadly, some of the cans don’t carry pant but we pick them up anyway as it seems the right thing to do.

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Trying to convince the slug to leave the can..

On our final evening before leaving for Iceland we met up with fellow bicycle travellers, Lucy, Colin and their dog Tilly. We had met Lucy and Colin at the cycle touring festival in the UK and stayed loosely in contact via social media. They are on an extended honeymoon/bicycle adventure through Europe and were headed towards Norway, which perfectly coincided with our route towards Iceland. So we decided a catch up was in order on our collective last night in Denmark. We met at a shelter which was in the middle of a village park and even had a fire pit (but randomly no toilet). There was lots to talk about and we all banded together to cook up a vegan feast complete with hot chocolate and a delicious dessert. It’s always such a pleasure to spend time with like minded people and we talked late into the night.

Lucy, Colin and Tilly left early the next day to catch their ferry to Norway. We pottered about before rolling the 4kms down the hill to Hirtshals where we stocked up on last minute things in the supermarket (Iceland is rumoured to be insanely expensive) before heading to the port and joining the queue for the 2 day Smyrill Line ferry to Iceland. Exciting!

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In the line for Iceland!

 

 

A Farewell to London

IMG_20180214_142131.jpgIt is a little over 5 years ago that we pedalled out of Melbourne. Back then it was hard to imagine what adventures lay ahead and what our life would look like. Sometimes it all still feels quite surreal and now our time in London is drawing to a close.  We have both finished full time work, our house has been packed up, our possessions given away and in a few days we will begin our pedal through Scotland (to finish our failed LEJOG). After that we will have another week or so in London before heading towards Harwich, reversing our journey of a few years ago. A ferry will take us to Den Haag from where we head north to the Danish port town of Hirtshals. Here a ferry will take us to Iceland and we will finally pay homage to the wild beauty we have heard so much about. After more than two years in London my heart craves for nature and quiet. For the wild and desolate places, devoid of humans, buildings, noise. After Iceland our plans are loose. From Denmark we will probably head south east, or maybe we will head to Nordkapp first. Perhaps we will go to Africa, perhaps not. We might cycle home. We might not. Our plan is not to have a plan, to stay open to opportunities as they arise and embrace the freedom of the road.

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View from Greenwich observatory. Same view as almost 3 years ago..
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Bikes outside our home

In the mean time, I’m having to say goodbye to a place that has become a home. For both of us. We have both struggled with London for different reasons and for varying periods of time. Astrid has had a much tougher time than me and it is a testament to her spirit that she has prevailed and eventually found happiness and a sense of belonging as well.

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Same view we saw when we first arrived nearly 3 years ago

While we have obviously travelled through many different cultures, it was always quite transient. There is something very different from passing through a country, with fleeting connections, to moving to a place and making some kind of life. This is further complicated by the fact that we always knew we would be leaving, which is actually so common in London. It is a huge globalised city with a population that is often shifting; people come to make money,  to study, to live a little while in the craziness, for music, for theatre, for any number of reasons that people are attracted to big cities. This is part of what makes it so exciting but also part of what can make it so isolating and soul destroying.  It can be hard to connect to Londoners and many people seem to drift towards their expat communities. Perhaps in a way this is a protective mechanism as well. A friend said to me the other day something that rang really true; when you move countries (and as a side note I want to add this goes for those of us choosing to move countries, not those forced to flee their homes) you need to do it like you are going to stay.  That’s another way of saying do it with presence and your with your whole heart. And when you do this you ultimately leave people behind you love.

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Victoria Park

And while it is mostly the people I will miss, I also want to celebrate and remember the places and often seemingly mundane moments that make pieces of a life anywhere you find yourself living. Perhaps I am being unnecessarily nostalgic or sentimental but I think that’s probably okay.

When I think of London in terms of physical spaces I think firstly of our home; a solid Victorian brick house in an east London suburb where gentrification hadn’t quite fully arrived. It was the first house since our journey finished and I loved it for all the simple reasons; coming in from the pouring rain, knowing I didn’t need to put up a wet tent or crawl into a damp sleeping bag, heating, a kettle, baking bread, cooking with more than one pot, building garden beds from reclaimed wood, growing vegetables. All those things filled me with a quiet, simple joy.  It helped with the transition from a wild traveling life to something more quietly wild. Things we hadn’t been able to do while travelling brought a different kind of meaning to our lives; hosting couchsurfers and cyclists from all over the world (giving back a little of the kindness we received!), cooking dinners for our friends, parties and nights by the fire in our garden. All these little moments made our life at Downsell Road feel so full.

While our home was my anchoring point, my sense of connection to London as a place also grew. First through exploring London on my bike, and then rattling around the streets in an ambulance. There is something quite unique about working as a paramedic in a city you don’t know. It gives you an understanding and insight into a place that is somehow fast tracked. I don’t think I’d know London and specifically Hackney half as well if I hadn’t spent hours upon hours driving around the impossibly narrow streets, dragging equipment into flats, tube stations, work places and even the Tower of London a few times. There is something intimate about the work we do. Very few jobs allow you to glimpse people’s lives so closely and this certainly added to my fondness of London and all its people.

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I want to remember all the places and moments and keep them in my heart.

Firstly, pedalling to work in all seasons; in spring when the geese and their babies are around (the geese are quite intimidating!), in summer when I often saw ravers leaving the woods on my way to work (wish I was cool enough to join them), to autumn when the pure beauty of the colours filled me with joy, and then winter when it was sometimes so cold I wanted to cry but none the less a thrill, and beautiful in its stillness.

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Canal boats in the snow!

Also, Victoria Park; summer picnics, jumping the fence with other cyclists when we all hadn’t quite made the dusk curfew,  rare summer days where we would get enough of a break to grab a coffee and park the ambulance by the lake, enjoying the sun and brief interlude to an otherwise hectic shift.

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Rare moment of quiet, Vic Park

Then the Hackney Marshes; So many runs – in sun and snow, blustering wind and icy cold. Sitting by the river with Astrid and having dinner on summer evenings, trying to recapture some of the wildness in our life. Parties at the stone circle.

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Old tree man found on a run

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The very snow Hackney Marshes

And more random moments, the ones that are just flashes and feelings and seemingly insignificant but still contribute to it all. Driving an ambulance through the crazy traffic around Dalston junction. Getting curry from my favourite place near the royal London. That time I got to go in a crane at work (career highlight). That curb I once rode into after a night shift, causing me to fall of my bike and look around in embarrassment. Dinners at the Black Cat. Riding down Homerton high street after work, or a few pints at the Adam and Eve (the Adam and eve!).  Running through the Epping Forest. Pub quiz at our local. Climbing at mile end, then going for pints. Eating an amazing amount of Pampelmouse. Staying up all night dancing and watching the sunrise in the park. The smell of woodsmoke from the canal boats in winter. Getting a backie on my bike after several pints. Incredibly long summer evenings in our yard.  Pedaling home drunk in the snow and laughing at the joy of it all. So many small moments and places that are in my memory and give me a sense of meaning and belonging.

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Heading back from a run in the forest

There are also a few things I am going to miss about living in Britain, things that over time I have incorporated into my life, or learnt to appreciate. Firstly and foremost the NHS. I have worked both in the British and Australian healthcare system and while not without it flaws, I have a deep appreciation and respect for the NHS.  Healthcare should be free at the point of use for everyone. By chronically underfunding it and then pointing out its failings the Tory government has been seeking to destroy the NHS and this is something I deeply hope does not happen. It almost feels like a gift from another era, from when we cared about things like healthcare for all and the welfare state.

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London Bike Kitchen

The more random things include the tube – while I actually dislike going on it (think intimate relationship with someones arm pit but no speaking allowed) I love the fact that it exists. I am definitely a huge fan of public transport infrastructure and this is something I very much appreciate about London. Also, being able to go on trips outside of London without needing a car – I love this. I never once felt I needed a car to explore Britain. The national cycle network. Off West End theatres (and theatre in general). Old British pubs. Dogs being allowed in pubs. Hand pulled ales. London’s first fully vegan pub opening up right work. All the delicious vegan food in London. Radio 4. Radio 6. The BBC in general. Access to the Eurostar. Off licenses. British summer days (although rare, those perfect summer days are so bloody lovely). Canal boats (of course). British festivals and partying in general (the British do this so well!). London buses (in melbourne I mistrust buses but in London I prefer them). Urban foxes. The ability to sleep with the window open and no fly screen. Squirrels in parks. London bike Kitchen (DIY space for fixing bikes). Royal mail (twice a day pick up!). The postcode system. How multi cultural London is (Australia seems rather white, even Melbourne). Prosecco. Affordable dentistry.

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Ultimately it is the people I will miss most however. We have solidified some friendships here and forged some strong new ones. You all know who you are and I want say a heartfelt thank you for making London something special. Without your friendship, laughter, crazy all nighters and so many other wonderful moments London wouldn’t have been half the experience it was.

Also, please move to Melbourne (-: Or at least visit.

Much Love

Jude