2016: Europe trip – Part 1/4

Denmark – Germany – Holland

On the first leg of my trip I started from my home town of Hørsholm (a bit north of Copenhagen), and rode south over some Danish islands, and took the ferry to the German harbor town Puttgarden close to Lübeck. From there I headed west through Hamburg and northwestern Germany onto The Netherlands and Amsterdam, where I was staying with a friend for some days. One word describes this first part of my trip: flat. The terrain I rode through most of the time on this part of my trip, was flat open fields, which, to be honest, isn’t the most exciting. The open landscape makes it quite windy, and it was also pretty hard for my butt as I was sitting in my saddle for the most part.

Off to a bad start

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After crossing the bridge to the island, Møn.

On my way south through Denmark just before crossing the bridge to the next island Møn, I took a quick glance back on my bags while riding and got a big shock. My Keen sandals and my new tent, which were attached to the top of my bags, were missing! I felt so stupid. Already on the second day of riding I had managed to loose two essential pieces of equipment. Switching into panic mode I raced back in the direction I had come from, and after riding 10 km back, I found both things laying on the side of the road. My detour added an extra 20 km to a day that was already 110 km. Not a great start for my trip, but at least I learned to tie my stuff properly to my bike heading onward.

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Went for a swim in the Wakenitz river by Lübeck with great weather. This was my last swim until I got to Southern France.

Getting stuck in industrial Hamburg

It was Friday, and I had arrived in Hamburg quite late, and was riding around town hoping to find a cheap hostel. As it was getting dark I found myself right on the chaotic Reeperbahn street packed with an intense mix of sex shops, bars, strip clubs, kebab stands and brothels. I had heard at a café that there was a backpacker hostel somewhere on this street. After biking and walking the street several times, and just about to give up, I finally found the hostel: through a back alley squeezed in between a so called gentlemen’s club and a brothel. The hostel turned out to be better than I thought it would, but cost a whopping 20€ for a dorm bed, which turned out to be first and also last time I would pay for accommodation on my trip.

The next day I heard about a underwater tunnel leading out of town, which I decided to check out. But after getting out on the other side of the tunnel, getting out of Hamburg turned out to be quite confusing. I tried taking lots of different roads, that all ended up leading back towards the city center. The only bike sign I could find going my way led me onto a construction site on the side of the freeway on a bridge where they were laying new asphalt. It was very bumpy, and with lots of holes to avoid, but with some maneuvering it went ok. Suddenly some workers were approaching me yelling and waiving me of the site. With nowhere else to go but back or onto the freeway with loads of trucks, my stubbornness didn’t leave me with much of a choice: I went on the freeway. Because of the work on the side of the road, there was only one narrow lane, but luckily the trucks weren’t moving too fast, due to traffic, so I squeezed in between two huge trucks and tried to keep up, which went pretty well. After about 5-10 minutes of riding, cars started honking, and an other construction worker yelled like before and waived me down towards an off ramp. I was now off the freeway, on a less busy road, but my situation hadn’t improved much. I was on some sort of docking island in the industrial district of Hamburg, which only seemed to have roads leading towards the container warehouses and docking stations, or back on the freeway. After riding around for almost half an hour, getting more and more desperate, a road biker came racing by. I set out after him, riding as fast as I possibly could shouting and waiving, and finally got his attention. The guy was very friendly and showed me the way to get back on track, which was over some train tracks, through a tunnel and then over a bridge.

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Riding through the fields in Northern Germany and Holland I saw lots of storks, which, at least in Denmark, is a very rare sight.

Entering Holland

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At the Dutch-German border. Like the sudden change in color of the asphalt, the cycling conditions improved quite a bit once I entered The Netherlands.
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A cliche for The Netherlands, but a very common sight.

Up until my last day of riding in Germany the weather had been great – high temperatures and no rain while I was riding. This turned completely around on my last day in Germany with low temperatures and almost nonstop rain, which lasted all the way until I got to Amsterdam. Normally I don’t mind a bit of rain, or even a lot, but it was a pretty big issue for me now as I wasn’t prepared for wet or cold weather in any way. First of all my bike bags weren’t waterproof, causing all my stuff to get wet when it rained hard. Second I didn’t bring a sleeping bag (I know – big rookie mistake), only a sleeping bag liner, which didn’t help much. Also the clothes I had brought was inadequate, as my warmest piece of clothing was a thick flannel shirt, and my only rain protection was a plastic rain poncho and a rain jacket that turned out to only be semi-waterproof. Last but not least I managed to rip a hole the size of a football in my tent on the second time using it, allowing a lot of cold air to blow into my tent. My biggest problem was when sleeping. With the bad weather the nights got pretty cold, and my first night camping in Holland I was shivering throughout the night. The following night in an attempt to stay warm, I decided to put on all my clothes before going to bed. When I got in my tent to sleep, I was wearing six t-shirts, a flannel shirt, a raincoat, two shorts, a pair of jeans, three pairs of socks, and my shoes. I felt ridiculous and uncomfortable, but that was much preferred over freezing during the night.

During my time in Holland, I ate most of my meals at bus stops. Not because I enjoyed the company, but with to the bad weather it was one of the best options for a dry spot to sit and eat. Although it wasn’t the nicest place to eat, and actually really sucked, it was fun to see the looks peoples faces as I lined up vegetables, fruits, bread, cheese, and snacks and had a feast at the bus stop.

Even though I’m used to a great cycling conditions in Denmark, I was very impressed by the Dutch cycling culture and their thoroughly made biking network across the whole country. Through the Warmshowers hosting site I stayed with two very inspiring cycling families. In one the parents had done bicycle touring in several countries around the world with their teenage daughters since they were babies, and the other family had toured around Europe with their four young boys.

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Passing by the village of Giethoorn – the so called Venice of the North.

At a village party in the bible belt

Riding through the Netherlands I met some very friendly and welcoming people, and was twice invited into people’s homes as a complete stranger. Something I did not expect from countries in Western Europe or the Netherlands. The first time I encountered this hospitality was on my first day in Holland. I knocked on a door, asking to camp in a small forest on the property, and was met by an incredibly sweet family, who first invited me in for a beer, but ended up offering me a guest room and an amazing vegetarian dinner, that turned out to be the best meal I had on my entire trip. A really great experience!

The second time I was welcomed by locals, was also great, but turned out very differently. As I was riding through a part of central Holland dubbed the Dutch bible belt in heavy rain, I stopped in at a small village of about 150 people, in the middle of nowhere, to ask for camping options in the area, as everything in eyesight seemed to be farmland. This evening they were having their annual towns party, and when I came riding through there were a small crowd of people shouting to me in Dutch. I stopped, and asked about good camping spots in the area, but was sat down under a big tarpaulin and immediately offered a couple of beers and asked what the heck I was doing out here biking. They had a blast hearing about my trip, and couldn’t believe that someone would voluntarily embark on such a ridiculous journey just for the adventure. While we were talking there was a constant flow of beers being offered to me, which, after a long day of riding and sweating, hits you pretty hard. I was also served loads of freshly smoked eel from their big eel smoking competition. After a couple of hours, I was very tired and was going to look a camping spot, but instead five guys offered me a bed, and ended up arguing over who should be my host. This was great, but also meant that I would probably have to stay until the party ended, which didn’t seem like was going to happen anytime soon.

At some point I told them that I am a musician, they were very excited about. One guy had a piano and an electric guitar at his house, and they suggested that we went so I could play for them. Sometime around midnight people got in their cars and pickup trucks and went to the house, but as we got to the house I couldn’t find my bike. I had seen some guy load it onto the back of his truck back at the party, but wasn’t even sure if he was at the house now. I was about to head out to look for it, but some others assured me that it was fine and it would turn up later. Still a bit worried I came in the house and started playing. I ended up playing old rock hits on piano and guitar until past 4 am, when I was literally falling asleep while playing. I was finally driven to a very friendly guys house, and despite my objections was given his bed to sleep in, which meant that he had to sleep on the couch.

The next morning, my host helped me locate my bike, which turned up outside a random house in the village. As I said goodbye and rode out of the village, with a bad hangover, I had two souvenirs with me on the bike. During the party some guys from the village had given me some souvenirs to bring along on my trip. One was a big bottle of local vodka-like liquor, that they stuck in my water bottle cage, and the other was one of the guys’ pair of old used wooden shoes, that they somehow convinced me to promise to bring with me all the way to Paris, and send a picture.

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Blending in with the locals with my wooden shoes and Heineken.
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The Muiden castle outside Amsterdam.

Arriving in Amsterdam

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The day that I arrived in Amsterdam started out in a weird way. I woke up tired and cold to the sound of a lot of sheep. I looked out my tent, and saw that I was surrounded by sheep. The evening before I had set my tent on what I thought was just a grass field, but it turned out to be home to a heard of sheep. The sheep found me to be quite interesting, and gathered close to my tent, trying to eat it and while bleating loudly. To make it even better I had heavy rain the entire day. From when I woke up, and packed my tent, till I got to Amsterdam, it was pouring down nonstop. I ended up biking for 5 hours straight in the rain. When I finally arrived in Amsterdam, I was soaking wet, and everything in my bags were as well.  Luckily I had a good friend to stay with, and could escape the rain once I got to the right part of town. Also I had passed my first big milestone of 1000 km that day, but not being in the best mood, I didn’t care much at the time. Originally my plan was to stay in Amsterdam only for a couple of nights, but with the weather forecast promising some big showers during the next days, I ended up staying almost a week to wait out the bad weather. Something I didn’t mind, as I was having a good time in Amsterdam and my body needed some time off the bike to recuperate.

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Some typical Dutch rooftops at nighttime in Amsterdam.

Impressed by the network of cycle routes in the Netherlands, I was expecting Amsterdam to have cycling conditions, that were as good as, or even better than, what I was used to in Copenhagen. Amsterdam didn’t quite match Copenhagen, as the bike lanes were slimmer and in a deteriorated condition. What the Dutch capitol lacked in quality compared to Copenhagen it made up for in other ways. In Copenhagen most cyclists ride in a quite orderly fashion – signaling with their hands, and following the traffic rules. In Amsterdam bicycles rule the streets, and seem to have their own set of traffic rules that apply. It was quite normal for cyclists to run red lights although there were cars passing in the opposite direction. Riding on some of the slimmer bike lanes, people would still overtake you, causing your arms or handlebars to touch when passing each other, which happened quite frequently. Although a bit stressful at times, it also made riding around town more exciting.

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Apparently the bike paths in Amsterdam aren’t exclusive to bikes.
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Enjoying a ride around Amsterdam without my panniers.
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