When you think of a Norwegian ferry, maybe you envision a small dinghy, a bit rusty around the edges, that will tote you and perhaps a bicycle across the fjord. I’m not saying that this is what I expected to take me the 50+ miles across the North Sea from Denmark to Norway; I’m just saying I wasn’t expecting a cruise ship, which is exactly what I got – 9 decks and all. I’m waiting to board while I write this, and there are a thousand other people waiting to do the same (and at least one bike-touring family!). It’s a strange mix between a theme park and an airport terminal.
On-board, this odd mix continues. I wake up from an uncomfortable nap to see a giant face quite close to me. This ferry crossing comes with a larger-than-life Captain mascot roaming the corridors, smoking a fake pipe, giving out high-fives and making adolescent girls squeam. I sadly have no picture of this, though it will haunt my dreams for the next week.
Crossing to Norway marks the official start of the main stage of my tour, and I’m ready to tackle some mountains (or get tackled by them), but I’ve got some notes to share from the pre-game warmup through the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark.
Basket-cased in Amsterdam
After a few fine days exploring Amsterdam, I rode out to the east across the flattest and newest part of Holland. The Northeast polders were only brought above water between 1942 and 1968, creating a new Dutch province where once there was only sea. Some of the newest land in the world, but the buildings are already rusting and shabby around the edges. It’s a place I’ve got more to write about, but need a little time to figure out what the story is.
Cyclists-only signpost in Holland
Holland melded into Germany with nary a border to speak of. After a quick ride with some touring Italians and a great night with German hosts in the uni town of Oldenburg, I took a train to the Danish border. After a small altercation with a German street sign (I won), I found the trail to Denmark.
Denmark was a cyclist´s dream, mostly. Separated bike lanes, a grid of 12 national cycle routes that span the whole country, and a beautiful, rolling countryside – I felt like I could travel in any direction and find something worthwhile. But the north it was a´callin me, and I started losing faith in the signposts along the way (they had a tendency to disappear), so I spent only four nights making my way up the peninsula.
First campsite in Denmark – not bad!
Denmark is incredibly filled with relics from several different past worlds; they line the roadsides, disturb farmers´ fields, and pull me off the bike saddle. Most common are burial mounds, which are all protected – you´ll see them, covered in wildflowers, sticking up in fields of rye and barley. I camped near a mini-Stonehenge (a little bigger than the Spinal Tap version, though) and stopped at more roadside info signs than I can count. One Viking stone ship was especially interesting – it was gigantic, but also the missing stones had been replaced with metal placeholders.
A travel writer I read makes a habit of putting down his gratitude in words to all the people who helped him recently, from the guy who gives good directions to the good friend who shares their world with you for a few days. I think it’s a great practice to get into, so I’m going to try to remember all the people who’ve helped me out (and inevitably forget someone, or someones):
To Skander, Aleta, and Morgen, for outfitting me with critical supplies and sharing mad sushi skills before my departure.
To Katherine for meeting me in Amsterdam at the beginning of the trek, giving me protective charms and protein power sticks for the bike, and to Boudewijn for hosting us so well.
To Rosemarie, Anne, and Midas for welcoming me off the road in eastern Holland after the first day.
To Simone and Daniel for giving me delicious meals, a comfortable tent space, and for sharing stories of their 3-year bike ride around the world.
To Riccardo and Jacopo for letting me join them for a day’s ride and learn some new ways of approaching the tour.
To Michel and Laurens for loving their city of Oldenburg and for introducing me to it.
To Mom and Dad for the quirky Skype video messages (sometimes featuring Minnie the labradoodle).
To Martin for sharing Danish hospitality and chicken curry with me.
And to you, for following along and giving support (tangible or in-) along the way.
For the number-hungry folks, some very accurate statistics:
Distance traveled by bike: 830 km/ 510 mi
Longest day: 125km / 75 miles from the ferry dock to Oslo, complete with the Hills of Existential Crisis just shy of my destination.
Salami eaten: at least 1 pound
Directional differential: +1. I asked for directions twice along the way, but I was asked for directions three times, so I guess that puts me ahead/makes me a local? I think my directions were even accurate two-thirds of the time.
Nights in the tent: 4
Countries in one word:
Netherlands – springboardful
Germany – openarmed
Denmark – undulating
Norway – firesky-sauna-steep-mazing
A word on Hirtshals
This last town in Denmark is a crossroads of all types. Several cycle routes begin and end here; there are walking trails, ferries to Norway and Sweden; and it’s apparently a motorcycle destination, too. It’s the kind of town where French cyclists riding around the North Sea mix with heavily tattooed Norwegian crotch-rocketeers and young children misbehaving in six different languages. The kind of place that is, somehow, both full of people and lifeless at the same time. There must be people who live here somewhere, but they seem to be hiding from the mass of us invaders.
Lighthouse in Hirtshals, Denmark
This is the last place I’ll see in Denmark, but it seems to belong to the nation of transit more than the Swan Kingdom. Which raises another question – is it better for your national bird to be a beautiful, preening thing full of hiss and rage, or a great predator known to slum around garbage dumps?
I’ll leave you with that thought, but will be back soon to tell you about the mystical French kingdom of saunas and gypsy picnics that I’ve been holed up in next to Oslo. Ha det!