Le Tour de Denmark (and beyond!)

So it’s hard to beat Sweden in summer for cycle touring, but despite our somewhat haphazard rambles, we had one date on the calendar for more than a year; the July 1st opening stage of the Tour de France in Copenhagen. Le Grand Départ!

Cheryl on the time trial course in Copenhagen…a little bit ahead of the first rider.

But wait, isn’t the Tour de France in France? Yes, the majority is in France; however, more recently, they start in a nearby country for the first 3 stages (of 21) to help share in the experience and spread the Tour love across borders.

Tour fever was everywhere in Copenhagen

In recent years, the tour has started in Belgium, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and the UK. But this was the first time it had visited cycle-crazy Denmark.

Yup, the tour was coming!

And since we had been moving a lot in the previous month of cycle touring (a few 2 night stops but mostly single touring nights), we decided to head to Copenhagen early and get an apartment for a week in advance of our long-standing 2-night hotel reservation just a 100 meters from the course.

Most of downtown Copenhagen was completely car free for two days. Sweet!

So we crossed from Helsingborg, Sweden to Helsingør, Denmark by ferry across the Kattegat Strait. This short 20 minute crossing was the primary crossing point until the completion of the Oresund bridge/tunnel in 2000, so has robust infrastructure on both sides of the crossings and multiple automated dock structures to load and unload trucks, cars, passengers and the occasional bikes. Very cool.

Waiting to load up in Helsingborg. Wait, another cycle tourist!

It’s still busy, and the Swedish side has a shiny new intermodal station, with great connections for rail, bus, and ferry passengers. As with most European vehicle ferries, bikes load with the cars and trucks, so we made our way around the maze of approach lanes and signs to find our way to a toll booth station where you ride up to window and buy your tickets for the next ferry out.

Crossing to Denmark with a friendly Swede heading out for a 3 month bike packing trip to the tip of Portugal!

As always, it’s a bit of a rush to ride on and off in between big rigs and loading cars, and in this case, no stopping for any immigration as this is an internal EU crossing.

Calling all cycle tourists to Lane 2

We highly recommend taking ferries where you can if bike touring, even if there is another option, as you get the continuous experience of the landscape, get to see some of the seascape, meet other cycle tourists, and can tune into the subtleties of the cultural infrastructure differences in every country. And yes, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands all are unique cycling experiences. More on that later.

The meeting hall in the Danish Workers Museum, an excellent history of the labor movement in Denmark and insight into the modern Danish Social Democracy

Our friend Jason met us about half way along the way on the 50km ride into Copenhagen, and it was great to have an escort and some engaging conversation with a familiar face. Jason is a professor from San Francisco, and was spending the month in Copenhagen, continuing his field studies and collaboration on the politics and implementation of transport policies in Copenhagen and San Francisco.

Good to see Jason! He led us on one of the many nice cycling options into Copenhagen from Helsingor

Jason has literally written a book on the topic, and has great insight on how Copenhagen has become one of the worlds leading bicycle cities; however, noting the challenges facing a lax continued investment in car free space and the troubling growth of auto mobility throughout Denmark.

A beach is never far away cycling along the Danish coast

His insights would align with some of our experiences in Copenhagen and beyond as we toured across Denmark. The country has fantastic cycling infrastructure, but we did find traffic a bit heavy and passing often surprisingly a bit close compared to Sweden and Germany. And some interior towns and cities had very few bikes and large drive through bakeries?!

Denmark and Cheryl were ready for Le Tour!

Our apartment was in Norrebrø, a trendy and leafy neighborhood just outside the more touristed core of Copenhagen. The neighborhood is great, so we took a chance on an Airbnb with only a few sparse reviews. It was fine, but had a few issues.

So many bikes in Nørrebro that parking was often a challenge in front of our favorite bakery

First, although it looked out over the beautiful trees of the adjacent cemetery/park, it was fronted by a fairly busy two-lane road. And since we were there during a rare heat wave, we were faced with the choice of open windows for ventilation or traffic noise. Secondly, we discovered that under the bed was full of clutter with years of thick dust. Cheryl, being the amazing travel companion she is, spent the better part of an hour cleaning under the bed to spare me from the misery of my dust allergies for a week.

Cycling through Assistens Cemetery, a hybrid park and cemetery in the heart of Nørrebro

We don’t use Airbnb very often, but this apartment highlighted some of the challenges of the platform. It had a few sparse 5 star reviews that we feel in retrospect were probably left by friends, and the lack of a specific location when choosing a rental is unprecedented in the lodging industry….and very annoying to me. You should know what you are buying when spending $1000++ for a weekly apartment.

One of the pleasant shared streets of Nørrebro

Our week in Copenhagen was great, but let’s just say, there is now one very detailed review of this apartment, letting prospective guests know exactly the trade offs of what they are getting. I wrote the review that I wish I had read before renting. And to be clear, the apartment was a fine base , but we are particularly sensitive to traffic noise after spending months on the peaceful saddles of our bikes, so would not have chosen the place if fully informed.

The roll through Copenhagen of the teams for the team introduction ceremonies two days before the race starts.
So close to the riders!

Copenhagen was in full embrace of the Grand Depart, and the run up to the opening stage was a blast. Tour signs, decorations, stages, and buzz everywhere. Watching the time trial was fantastic as riders came by every minute, so there was hours of fun with the spirited Danish everywhere along the course. Seriously, every meter of the time trial course had at least a few people at the rails, and 10 or more thick at the popular spots. And yes, it helps to be 6’-5” to have a clear view almost anywhere.

Here comes the promo caravan!

The other interesting aspect of visiting at the end of June was the Midsommer celebrations and the somewhat bizarre 2-week tradition of “studenterkørsel”. This consists of students who are graduating from “gymnasiet” schools (upper secondary school) hiring old military/farm trucks to drive around and pick up other grads, visit each family, and generally rolling around Copenhagen (or anywhere in Denmark) blasting music, drinking, and dancing into the wee hours.

One of the studenterkørsel making a stop right outside our apartment. The party was just getting started!

You can hear them coming blocks away and it’s all very charming at first, but after the third day or fourth day, the charm starts to wear a bit thin. Oh, and did I mention they all wear little sailor hats, unique to each school. This is just one of the quirky and unique traditions in the Scandinavian countries, as they express incredible individuality despite their low populations. (Denmark is smaller than the SF Bay Area!)

My view of the time trial on an exciting corner about 5km from the finish
Heading towards Frederik’s Church with 50,000 Copenhageners on the Saturday all city ride.

After riding the time trial course with 50,000 other crazed cyclists the morning after the first stage, we headed off to Copenhagen central for our intercity train to Nyborg, with the goal of catching the finish of Stage 2.

One of the Danish National Cycle routes…just follow the signs…but we did miss the bicycle directional/distance signs at every bike route Junction typical elsewhere in Europe.

Despite a slightly frightening overcrowded situation with our loaded bikes on the woefully inadequate train platforms of the main station, we managed to beat the peleoton across the Great Belt Bridge to Nyborg. It was one of the busiest travel days of the year combining a summer Saturday, the TdF, and the massive Rosskilde music festival! Whoaa, we were missing our more usual shoulder season travel times.

Even the birdhouses had Tour fever

The Danish train system is ok, but is not as extensive or user friendly for tourists or bicycles as other Northern European countries. You have to reserve bike space on intercity (IC or ICL) trains and they are all high boarding trains, so it’s necessary to hoist your bikes up after scrambling to load your bags. Some of the less common regional trains are first-come first served for bike space, as well as the S-trains around Copenhagen. Secondly, the DSB App and website will not accept US credit cards, and has only one bespoke mobile payment system, which you can only sign up for with a Danish phone number!

Some nice stretches through the woods

So we had to go CPH central and wait in the queue to buy our paper tickets and paid 3x as much as the discounted tickets still available on the App the day before….There are a lot of somewhat protectionist schemes in the Scandinavian countries, such as most shops in the Netherlands not taking visa and Mastercard, only “Maestro”. But I get that you want to keep the money and jobs local, and not pay Visa or Mastercard 2% of every transaction in your country with no benefit of employment or trickle down from the company profits.

This shiny new stretch of path on Funen filled in some busier gaps on backroads

I should note that once you are on the trains, the staff and seating is all very comfortable.

Sizing up a beautiful Danish Smørrebrød sampler in Julesmimde

It was cool to take the train across the 18km Great Belt Bridge in advance of the peloton as you got an appreciation what they were going though. The bridge was closed for the Tour crossing, but you unfortunately can’t cycle across the bridge. (or maybe fortunately given the ever present winds.).

Cheryl with the Little Belt Bridge

Once at Nyborg station, we scoped out a good spot about 1.5 km from the finish line and enjoyed the local crowd, some of whom had been there all day (and perhaps drinking!?) Since we were on fully loaded on our bikes, there was no chance of fighting the thousands who had jockeyed into the finishing sprint stretch. And although they went by fast, there were a lot of stragglers due to a crash that split up the peloton about 2km from our viewing spot.

Chilling in the shade waiting for Stage 2 finish…and loving the 0% beers….cold and free.
Denmark is a leader in wind energy, and for good reason…the winds can be constant off the ever present surrounding bodies of water.

After the stage ended, we rode to the accommodation we had booked about 25km north of Nyborg as the town itself was booked solid. It all worked out great, as we were able to escape the race area quickly, hit a supermarket, and have a lovely early evening ride to our modest row holiday apartment.

Perfect backroads across Funen

The next few days we had some great cycling across Funen, a vast island in the center of Denmark that is linked to Sjæland by the Great Belt and then onto Jutland by the Little Belt Bridge. It’s a nice rolling area of forest and farmland and really fun riding, especially when you get a bit lucky with the winds, which magically turned from the east to the west as we turned in the same direction! Nice.

A very late sunset at our little apartment outside Nyborg.
Lunchtime stopover in Vejie, the starting city for Stage 3

We had a great visit connecting with some of my step family on the lovely coast for a few days, which gave us more opportunity to ask questions about the idiosyncrasies of life in Denmark. But as much as we would have loved to linger a bit longer enjoying the Danish summer scene, we had another deadline of getting to the Hoek of Holland to catch a night ferry to the UK on the 15th. So we spent the next few days riding south towards the German border and then made our way across to northern Holland by a few strategic train hops.

We trailed the 3rd stage of the Tour by only a day or two, which was already a signed national cycling route; very cool!
The Danes really loved the tour

It was a bit hectic as the trains and station transfers in were a bit crazy, and one of our well planned regional trains from Flensburg to Hamburg stopped midway and let everyone off in the middle of nowhere due to a sudden line closure. So instead of waiting for buses that might take hours to get there and pick up the hundreds of stranded passengers, we loaded up our bikes and headed to the next station, hoping to bypass the issue.

The Hanseatic City of Flemsburg Germany

Well, that still didn’t work as the next 3 stations were closed, so we came up with a Plan B, head 40km East to Kiel, a former Hanseatic League city and enjoy a night there, as we had heard the line to Hamburg would reopen the next day.

The somewhat choreographed chaos of the DB intercity bike car… everyone helps each other and spaces are reserved
Bremen, an overlooked gem and former Hanseatic city in northern Germany
Cheryl proud that we finally made it to Bremen, summer travel was a bit crazy.

Although sometimes traveling with bikes on trains is (very) stressful, it also gives you a unique freedom to pivot when an issue arises! This flexibility helped us again as the line from Hamburg to Groningen, Netherlands has been closed for years near the border, due to a failed rail bridge. But we were able to bridge gap easily by riding from the last Deutsche Bahn station in Germany to the first town on the Dutch rail system 20 km away!

Closing the rail gap with our bikes from Leer to Weener, Germany
Success! Ready to board our final train-bike-train leg to Groningen in Weener, Germany

So we breathed a big sigh of relief as our local and mellow Dutch train rolled towards the famous cycling city of Groningen. We decided to spend two nights there to enjoy it sufficiently, but then realized as we headed out two days later that we left ourselves a bit of cycling challenge to make our ferry to the UK on time, especially with the “hills of the Netherlands” (aka wind!)….more on our next leg soon.

Happy August to all -:)

Bornholm Island by bicycle. Danish paradise?

The rocky east coast was beautiful day and night.

Bornholm Island was recommended by a friend as a lovely place to bike. So, on the ferry from Sassnitz, Germany to Ystad, Sweden we quickly made the decision to catch the Bornholm Island ferry from Ystad. We are very glad we made such a quick decision. That’s the joy of traveling the way we are, not much in the way of set plans, frequently making lodging reservations the day of. Sure, sometimes it bites us in the rear, but it also lets us be very flexible.

The island is 588.36 square kilometres (227.17 sq mi), so 3 days of cycling, staying 2 nights, was sufficient.

Rich made the smart decision to cycle counter clockwise so we would be on the sea side of the roadways and cycle tracks. We felt sorry for the folks driving their cars and camper-vans as we easily pulled over to admire views, and went off the cycle tracks to the footpaths to find quiet picnic spots. The cars and vans had to wait for a pull out which was not always in the best view spot.

Another gorgeous picnic spot of the world. And more amazing Danish pastries.

Yes, there was wind. This is an island in the Baltic Sea, and you know when you circle an island you will have tailwinds and headwinds, but the lovely views will help distract you when it’s a headwind.

The beautiful old post windmill will also help you understand the importance of wind power.
A post windmill is the earliest type of European windmill. The entire body of the mill turns around a single vertical post to face the wind. Later windmills had only a top that turned into the wind.
Our first night near Nexø. The calm coast was mesmerizing. The sand was like fine sugar.
The white chimneys are old herring smokers.
The cycling varies from separated pavement, separated dirt, and on road.
On the sea side, sightseeing is great by bike.

We headed to Allinge for our second night. A chat with two Danish ladies let us know that the annual People’s Meeting “Folkemødet” was starting the next day. Ah ha, said Rich, that’s why lodging was so booked up. Thankfully, the room Rich found was at a lovely hotel, the old travel hack of the least expensive room at a place with great amenities paid off again.

The Allinge Badehotel. After a good day riding those chairs were a big hit.
Bornholm Island is known for its talented ceramicists, whose work was on display at the delicious breakfast. We’d started the day with a brief swim in the very brisk sea.

Riding the island felt as if a postcard view was presented at every turn. Windmills, cottages, coastline, and an historic castle.

The late summer sunset meant we had to stay out late to see the cottage windows light up. Worth it.
Everything became a Folkemødet session meeting site in Allinge, even these lovely tall ships.
Hammershus is a medieval era fortification on the northern tip of the island.

Our final stretch of riding was around the northern part of the island and back to Rønne where the ferry docks. We rode what might be the steepest hills in Denmark, which did give us some amazing views, and through more historic fishing villages with old herring smoker chimneys. The smell of wild coastal roses will always remind me of Bornholm Island.

So many blooming roses in June.
The final stretch to Bønne, and the ferry to Sweden.

To the ferry, to Sweden, and on to more long summer days of cycle touring. Moving every night makes keeping up with our blog more challenging, so yes, we are behind on our updates! We stare at each other, exhausted after a long day riding and say “you gonna blog?” But we enjoy sharing our trip with everyone, and blogging helps us give structure to our experiences. Until next blog have a wonderful summer.

The happy travelers in Nexø, enjoying a late sunset.

Fueled by pastry.

We have a rule when cycle touring that we don’t take a pastry break until 20k/12miles into our day of riding. And then it may take some kilometers to find the exact right spot to take a break. We try to stop at a bakery in the town where we slept, or the next town, so we hit the bakery when they have a good selection of treats and sandwiches. I usually fill my Kleen Kanteen thermos with tea, and we’re ready for our pastry break.

Apple Strudel for Rich in Erlensee bei Erlensee.
And my absolute German favorite, Quarktasche. Cheese pocket. Some might call it a cheese Danish but to me it’s heaven. This is a rolled, or snail, version.

We could call it elevenses, with our American habit of adopting things from other cultures we have embraced the British elevenses, but we’re sometimes earlier than 11:00. Second breakfast also works to describe this break.

Rhubarb crumble at Auenverbund Kinzig.
I’m always a bit too overwhelmed and panicked in the bakery to snap a picture of the actual name of the pastry, but I know enough about baked goods to usually figure it out. Sometimes with help from friends.

We take turns going into the bakeries and procuring food. One of us stays with the bikes and one braves the bakery. It can be stressful if it’s busy, but usually the women behind the counters are helpful and patient.

Our bikes waiting to see what pastry will emerge this time. Pastry shop in Bad-Hersfeld, Germany.
This! One of the best impulse buys. Poppyseed filling, a seam of marzipan, and the dough a rich cross between yeast and butter. I knew it was good because the bakery had trays and trays of it, and everyone ahead of me in line bought some.
Close up. Hersfeld-Rotenburg. 20k into our ride.
That looks says ‘Quit taking photos so I can eat this!’
Plum pastry.
Look at how huge this pastry is! It took us two days to finish it off. That filling is a butter cream, between two cookie like layers, topped with streusel.
After we started eating it we realized it is probably intended to be a shared dessert. Probably for a family of five! We sat in a city park in Altriesa.

I think I found the name of it in a streusal cookbook by the checkout line at the grocery store: Streuseltaler, or Streuseltielchen.

Pastry breaks aren’t always on cycling days. On a rest day in Dresden we actually sat at a cafe for coffee, tea, and Black Forest cake.
All pastry breaks are eagerly anticipated, and Rich waits patiently for me to stop snapping photos.
Train pastry break. With the 9€ monthly train passes in Germany this summer we happily took train hops.
Cherry Streusel.
This fantastic bakery on Bornholm Island was a hit. Svaneke Brød in Svaneke.
A cardamom bun and a heavenly chocolate roll.
Chocolate roll for the win!
And this seeded load of sourdough which we were still eating two days later.
One more photo of the amazing chocolate roll.

Our mornings always start with the bakery and lunch discussion. Where to stop, when to stop. We always err on the side of stopping at the one in town unless there seems to be a better bakery up the road, and in Allinge on Bornholm Island we stopped in town which was very busy with Folkemødet 2022 starting.

Bakery stop, Rich went in and I stayed with the bikes.

Folkemødet, The People’s Meeting, in Allinge is Denmark’s festival about society’s opportunities and challenges. It made for a very busy town, Island actually, and was fun to see the set up and the people arriving. But, back to pastries, and elevenses.

Do we always find a picturesque bench for pastry? Usually. We do sometimes ride on for miles and miles searching for a good spot to stop.
Raspberry filled Danish.
Cinnamon bun in Denmark.
Rest day in Malmo, Sweden and a kanelbulle in the park. Cinnamon bun in Swedish.
Another Swedish pastry break.
At another fantastic location on the coast on Sweden’s National route #1.

Yes, there is more to cycle touring than eating yummy baked goods. There are hours of cycling, head winds, tail winds, the occasional mechanical issue and a small slow speed tumble – me. Too many pastries maybe? Only a small bruise. We’re now in Copenhagen for a week and will, for the first time, see a stage of the Tour de France. The first stage is in Copenhagen this year. We’re also excited to get our bikes tuned up for the first time in two years. The supply chain issues seems to have cleared up, and the shop we stopped by here in Copenhagen said, sure no problem, we can do it in a day. Music to our ears. More posts soon, with more riding.

The happy travelers enjoying the summer and summer blooms.

Germany. Sweden. Denmark. Sweden.

If it sounds like we can’t make up our minds where to go, that’s partially correct. We took a train from Dresden to Rostock, planning on staying somewhere out of Rostock and closer to where we planned on catching a ferry to Sweden.

Our first glimpse of the Baltic Coast from Graal-Müritz.

We rolled into Graal-Müritz pretty late in the day, but with plenty of sunlight. It is a popular vacation destination for the eastern part of Germany, and we again felt like the only Americans in town. It’s fun to see the surprised reactions from people when we say we’re from California – what are you doing here? As confirmed by German friends, most Americans visit Berlin, Munich, maybe Frankfurt or Hamburg, but rarely make it to the smaller destinations. That is one of our favorite things about bike touring, staying in the small places, being the only foreign tourists.

Enjoying the late sunset on the beach at Graal-Müritz.
Admiring the view as we ride towards Stralsund.
Heading out through the coastal forest, if you keep moving the mosquitoes can’t catch you.

Our ride to Stralsund was 94 kilometers, one of our longer days. With so much daylight, it’s not as daunting to agree to a long day. You know there is time to take loads of breaks. The tailwind helped a lot too.

The wind turbines help you see which way the wind is blowing.
This is what you want. The turbine facing the same direction you’re heading. Tailwind!
Cookie cabana break time. Oh, this is too nice, too easy. Cue ominous music.

We were only about 20k from Stralsund when my right shifter, for the rear chainrings, broke. Suddenly I’m riding a single speed bike loaded with gear. Rich managed to get me into a more realistic gear in the back and we limped to town. Now begins the strategizing and planning on how and where to get my bike fixed. Oh, did I mention it was Saturday afternoon when my bike broke? And we know that nothing is open on Sunday. No bike shops, barely any grocery stores. Now what? Stay in Stralsund for two nights and hope the not very encouraging looking bike shop can fix my bike?

German trains for the win again! With our 9 euro monthly tickets it’s an easy decision to catch the train to Sassnitz, which is where we plan to catch the ferry to Sweden.

We took the train to Sassnitz on Sunday where a bike shop fixed my broken shifter on Monday morning, which allowed us to catch the Tuesday morning ferry to Sweden. And, gave us a bonus day in Sassnitz to hike the UNESCO listed beech forest and amazing chalk cliffs.

Jasmund National Park. Beech forest.
Chalk cliffs.
Fun with chalk at our beach lunch break.
Chalk 2022!
The forest is so peaceful and beautiful.
With opportunities to be silly.
Our hike day was a good reminder to mix up activities. After two weeks of cycling we both felt like hiking was so so hard. Really harder than it should have been.
Picnic dinner in our hotel garden, relief at having a working bike again!

So what do you do on a two hour ferry ride? I read. We have tea and pastries. And Rich travel plans, since we got on the ferry knowing only where it landed in Sweden. Ystad. Rich was still deciding where to go next. We had gotten a recommendation from a friend to go to Bornholm Island. Beautiful and great cycling, he said.

Securing the bikes on the car deck of the ferry.
It was an early morning to ride 9k to get to the 8:00 am ferry. Caffeine and food was welcome. This was about 20 minutes before Rich said, hey, let’s catch the ferry from Ystad, Sweden to Bornholm Island, Denmark.

The second ferry left about ten minutes after the first arrived, so if we hustled off and rode fast around the corner we could spend only ten minutes in Sweden before leaving again. Assuming we could find the second ferry and get on in time. We did. The ramp was pulled up just after we and two other cyclists rolled onto the ferry. Phew. It feels good when it works out.

Waiting to disembark on Bornholm Island.
The happy travelers on Bornholm Island.

More on Bornholm Island next time.