A Danish Summer Holiday

 

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Back to summer!

As hoped we rode off the ferry and back into the long awaited summer. Heat, wind and sun hit our faces and layers were quickly removed. Having grown up in a place with long, hot summers and recently lived in a place where summer lasts for about 2 weeks (this year being an exception obviously) I don’t think I realised quite how much I would miss the warmth and sunlight until our cold and rather dreary (weather wise) 5 weeks in Iceland. I don’t want to take away from Iceland. It is a magical place and I am so happy we went it’s just that the worst summer in 100 years put an ever so slight dampener (pun intended) on our experience.

Our first stop was the supermarket where we bought all the things we hadn’t been able to afford in Iceland. Like hummus, fresh fruit and good bread. We gorged ourselves and then headed for the northern point of Denmark, Skagen. Here the North Sea and the Baltic meet and it was a popular place for impressionist painters in the late 19th century due to it’s unique light. We were mainly going because Carsten had told us we must. And Hannah’s parents had so kindly lent us their house (they were on holiday) so it seemed the perfect place to relax and re group after Iceland.

Arriving in Skagen after a swim in the sea and a day of sunshine our spirits were high. Having an entire house after 7 weeks in the tent was also complete luxury. I am deeply grateful for the kindness we so often receive. We relished the chance to drink wine in the garden, bake focaccia, do yoga, meditate, wash our clothes and relax. During the day we visited the seaside, ate sorbet, walked around the town (a popular tourist destination) and watched the sunset (where everyone claps when the sun finally sinks below the horizon). It definitely felt like a summer holiday.

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Sorbet!

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Craft beers in the park

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Breakfast in the garden

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Beautiful sunsets

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Watermelon anyone? All our clothes are being washed!

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we can afford to eat salad again!

After a few days it was time to tear ourselves away from the luxury and head south. It was hard to leave but we were excited to see Hannah and Carsten in Aarhus and meet up with Bec who was coming to join us. The three days it took us to cycle down to Aarhus opened us up to a few surprising things. Firstly we found loads of fruit on the side of the road apparently going to waste, so we picked it. Next we found an entire dumpster full of artisan bread outside a supermarket, we also helped ourselves to that. Then, on an afternoon swim we found mussels and after some discussion we helped ourselves to a few of those too. Mussels are one of those borderline things where due to a lack of central nervous system some articles argue they are more like plants than animals. They don’t for instance react or move away from painful stimuli. And from an environmental perspective they rate quite well. I love mussels (we both do) and so after some deliberation we took a few of those too. It felt wonderful and surprising to have been able to forage a large part of our food in a country as developed as Denmark.

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Dumpster dived

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Foraged (aside from the bread!)

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So much fruit!

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Fresh bread from the dumpster

At night we slept at some of the best shelters we had encountered yet. One was like a mansion cubby house, built in the dunes with a view out to the sea. Another boasted running water, a toilet, multiple shelters and even recycle bins (so European). The landscape itself was baked dry from the long, harsh summer. The browns, yellows and bright blue of the sky reminded me more of home than how I thought about northern Europe. I must say, I enjoyed it immensely.

In Aarhus we were warmly greeted by Hanna and Carsten and proceeded like usual to mess up their lovely flat with our chaotic panniers and dirty clothes. Being cycle tourist themselves they completely understood and pointed us towards the washing machine and shower. It was wonderful to share food and wine and catch up with friends. It had been a while since we had spent any time with people we knew.

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So happy to see Carsten

The following day we embarked on a mission that could have gone horribly wrong. For a while now Astrid has been riding on a seat that is too low. Unfortunately we didn’t know that one needs to regularly grease the seat post, otherwise the aluminium post and steel of the bike sheer together in an unmovable mess. After consulting Carsten (who knows a lot more about bikes than us) and visiting his cousins bike shop for tools, Astrid bravely cut the seat post off. Now we were committed. In order to continue our trip, we needed to saw the remaining seat post out of the bike in order to fit a new one. At least 10cm of the post (still firmly stuck in) needed to be removed. It seemed an easy enough task and Astrid and Carsten started off in high spirits. By 7pm with many hours already spent seemingly achieving nothing, a mild panic set in. What would happen if we couldn’t get it out? Would Astrid’s bike be completely fucked? And what about Bec, who was arriving the next day to cycle with us?

While Carsten and Astrid slaved away I made food and occasionally had a go at sawing myself. I think we all went to bed thinking about that damn seat post.

The next day armed with fresh enthusiasm that a rest brings, Carsten and Astrid rode off to the bike shop to use some more heavy duty tools. Several hours later I got the good news that they had been successful. What a relief.

We then picked up Bec and proceeded to have a lovely evening and night, exploring Aarhus and eating lots of delicious food. It was wonderful to spend a few days with Carsten and Hannah and sad to say goodbye. Hopefully they will be able to join us on the road at some point.

The summer holiday vibes continued with Bec as we rode towards Copenhagen, hugging the coast. Pedalling was followed by a swim, then lunch somewhere by the sea. In the afternoons there was sorbet, or sometimes beer. We also continued to dumpster dive, finding an unbelievable amount of unspoiled food. In the evenings we found shelters or forests to camp by, cooking up delicious curries, washed down with beer. Although not used to cycling such big distances, and not on her own bicycle, Bec, like always was amazing. She powered through with high spirits, even though at times it must have been hard. It’s always such a pleasure to share our lives with friends and we feel so humbled and grateful that Bec made the effort to join us.

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Badass cyclogang

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Fresh veg from the side of the road

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Hiding from a summer rain storm

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Our last day into Copenhagen we even managed to “tourist”. Exploring the castle Hamlet is set in and the Louisiana MoMA (which is amazing). Our good luck also continued, or should I say Carsten continued to be amazing. We had no plan of where to stay in Copenhagen. Warmshowers, while excellent has it’s limitations. A popular city in the heart of the European summer; frankly many hosts are themselves out on cycling holidays. After sending several requests with nothing, we had left Aarhus with nowhere to stay but deep down I knew something would work out. And it did. Carsten’s cousin had a small summer cottage 15km from the centre and she just happened to be going away that weekend and was happy to lend us the cottage. Perfect. It felt wonderful to have our own place in which to relax after three awesome days of cycling.

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Our little cottage outside of Copenhagen

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Long lazy breakfast

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Did we kill Bec?!

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Excited with wine!

After exploring Copenhagen and gorging ourselves on an all you can eat Chinese vegan buffet it was time to say goodbye to Bec. It was sad to see her go but there are already plans in the working to meet again in November.

We explored Copenhagen a bit more after Bec’s train departed and then retreated to our cottage just before the thunderstorm hit and it rained all night. Now it was time to make a decision. We had been talking for days about where we would head next. Our original plan had been Sweden and then the Baltic States, followed by Poland and then south. We looked at maps and counted kilometres and considered the eventual arrival of autumn. By chance Astrid had found a Danish Island called Bornholm from which one could catch a ferry to Poland. We also talked about riding through northern Germany to Poland (to save on ferry fees). Or perhaps sticking to the original plan. Eventually we decided that in all reality we probably didn’t have enough time to really explore the Baltic States and Sweden properly as we wanted to be in southern Europe to celebrate Astrid’s 40th in November and Egypt probably by early to mid December. Bornholm seemed like an interesting and direct way we could get to Poland and from there continue south.

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Exploring

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All the tourists crowding the little mermaid statue!

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Copenhagen is a cyclists dream

After a prolonged morning packing we headed off towards Koge from where we would catch the overnight ferry to Bornholm. It was a fairly uninspiring ride, although we managed to successfully dumpster dive a ridiculous amount of food (including still cold and in date salmon) which we cooked up at the ferry terminal. We got a lot of comments about how good our food smelt. If only they knew our entire meal bar the garlic and oil had come from the dumpster, destined to rot and go to waste.

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Perfectly edible dumpster dived food

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At the ferry terminal cooking

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Our almost 100% dumpster dived meal

Being seasoned travellers, or maybe because we don’t care Astrid and I both slept well on the ferry. Unlike our fellow passengers who uncomfortably (it seemed) curled up on seats, we had brought our mats and sleeping bags and made ourselves quite at home, sleeping more or less soundly as the ferry headed eastwards.

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On the ferry to Bornholm

Bornholm proved to be as wonderful as every Danish person we met had told us it would be. On our first morning we cooked breakfast on a pier and then swam in the sea, followed by a lovely pedal through the forest. The landscape was beautiful with sea cliffs, forests and gorgeous villages. We explored a fort, marvelled at the old smoke houses and spent a delightful afternoon relaxing in a free camping spot in a clearing.

After only a short time on Bornholm it was time to finally bid Denmark farewell and head to Poland. Neither of us had ever been and we were super excited to be moving on to this large eastern European country of which we knew very little.

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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!