The bikes and panniers had been packed for a couple of days and we were ready. Periodically checking the phrase book I realized that if I had to rely on my command of the Danish language there might be rough roads ahead. Our friends, Tom and Barb, Jeannie, my wife, and I, all experienced cyclists, were embarking on our first bicycle tour in a foreign country, but also our first venture to a non-English speaking country.
It took us all day just to get out of the United States. In Orlando, we watched the baggage handlers toss our bikes onto the loading belt. In Atlanta, we were met by some friends and chatted away the three-hour layover. Then on to New York where we made our final connection to Denmark, a country composed of about 400 islands located north of Germany, east of England, west of Sweden and just south of 60 degrees north latitude.
We landed at the international airport in Copenhagen after an uneventful 12 hour flight. We collected our bikes and bags, cleared customs and were met by our friends Carsten, Niels and Jetta. Carston and Niels had kindly arranged for a van to carry our four boxed bicycles and gear to Niels house. Meanwhile, we began our exploration of Copenhagen with Jetta as our guide.
What is that building? What does that mean? How do you pronounce that? How far is the west coast of Sealand? We assailed Jetta with questions at every turn. But, she was patient with us and responded to our every query with utmost diplomacy.
We were soon rejoined by Niels and Carsten for a visit to Tivoli gardens. An amusement park and gardens, Tivoli has entertained and amused young and old alike for nearly 200 years. We walked all around, stopping to have our first real Danish pastries. Once we had seen most of Tivoli we went to our hotel to get freshened up and change clothes for a walk-about on Copenhagen’s busy streets. The next day we explored Copenhagen further, later taking the train out to Niels and Jetta’s home.
Dinner was served at Niels and Jettas’. The tables and chairs were moved onto the lawn for the feast and several other of our hosts’ friends joined us for the occasion. As the meal progressed, the conversation flowed, though sometimes slowly due to language differences. We discussed everything we could think of, where we should visit and which route we should take.
Suddenly, someone noticed that it was almost ten o’clock, (the sun was still up, normal for this time of year at 55 degrees north latitude). Everybody pitched in and helped carry the dishes and tables back into the house. Goodbyes were said as we prepared to turn in for the night.
The next morning we were treated to the other side of the daylength coin. At about 4:30 A.M. songbirds announced the rising sun.
After a hearty Danish breakfast, we set about reassembling our bicycles, which, with all the excitement, didn’t take as long as we expected. The sun was warm and the sky was clear, and the forecast was for more of the same. Though good for us, Denmark was suffering a long drought.
Still early in the morning, the equipment was loaded on the bikes and our return arrangements made. Niels and Jetta rolled their own bikes out of the garage to escort us out of town to the start of our journey. Along the way we pedaled through pleasant suburbs, even passing Niels childhood home.
The route we were to take began as a wide hard packed, gravel trail through a forested area. Marked as off-limits to motor vehicles, we enjoyed having the forest all to ourselves. Surrounded by tall fir trees, the wind swirled about, adding to the sense of excitement we were all feeling.
After many kilometers in the forest we came to a paved road which opened onto the rolling Danish countryside. Passing field after field of grain waving in the strong breeze, we noticed a windmill. Not the quaint Dutch style, but the tall, slender, modern type used for electrical generation. We would see many more over the next ten or so days. Riding on, we slipped through several small villages before arriving in the town of Roskilde.
An ancient town, Roskilde was an important trading center and Royal cathedral town by the year 1000. Of particular interest was the Viking Ship Museum where five Iron Age viking ships dated to before 1000 A.D. are in various stages of display, restoration and study.
The Roskilde cathedral, begun in 1170, is a stunning structure where 38 Danish monarchs have been interred since 1460. The chapels of the cathedral, each with its own style and design, inspire an overwhelming reverence and a special sense of history.
While in Roskilde, we stopped at one of the local bicycle shops, where the employees were watching the Tour de France on television. The Tour is televised in its entirety on one of the few Danish TV channels.
We walked through the town, visiting the Tourist Information Center, several shops, and a restaurant – for lunch. After checking our maps, tour guides, and watches we set our goal for the day to be a campground just outside of the small village of Kirke Hvalsø.
The road to Kirke Hvalsø took us by Øm, a village with a fascinating 5000 year old archeological preservation area. Just outside of town, in the center of one of many grain fields, is a large mound, or rather a Viking passage grave. As we got closer, it became obvious that it was more than just a hill of soil. It rose about 10-15 ft above the surrounding fields, was oblong in shape, and about 20 by 50 ft in size. Around the circumference of the mound were large flat boulders laid against the side as a wall.
As we walked around the grave, we came upon an opening or passage to the interior of the tomb. Crouching to get through the small entrance, the passage opened into a dark eerie chamber with a flat dirt floor. Upon inspection we found the walls to be constructed similarly to the exterior walls, while the ceiling was made using still larger flat boulders which spanned the entire chamber. Other than the many candle stubs and some litter the tomb was empty.
On the road again, the maps showed we were relatively close to the campground, less than 10 miles, but it was getting late and the sky was beginning to cloud up over our destination. In fact, the closer we got the worse the weather became. Then the rain started. Lightly at first, giving us time to get off into a driveway and pull out our rain gear.
As we were getting ready, the owner of the driveway came out, and in better English than our Danish, offered to let us camp under his carport. Thanking him we decided to ride on to the campground anyway. The rain wasn’t too heavy and we arrived relatively dry and in good spirits at the campground around 9:00pm.
The rains cleared out sometime during the night and the following morning was bright, clear and cool. The goal for this day was Korsør on the west coast of Sealand. The route would take us through Sorø, 34 Km away, where we were to visit Kristian, a friend.
The backroads to Sorø traversed farm lands and passed through more small villages. At St Merløse we had a wonderful breakfast of pastries and milk at a small local bakery.
Just on the outskirts of Sorø, we passed a large sign which read “Midsælands Planteskole”. We were in the middle of Sealand, and planteskole obviously meant plant school, therefore what we had was an agricultural education facility. Well, we were close. We later found out that a planteskole is “…a place where plants learn to grow, no, a plant kindergarten, no, how do you say it… a NURSERY.”
Kristian was waiting for us at the town center. Kristian had a head full of white hair and a sparkle in his eye that gave him the appearance of a wizard. He seemed excited to see us, and after a brief discussion we followed him out of town to his home.
Seated about a table on the lawn drinking some cool water and eating some fresh fruit, we discussed our plans with Kristian. Originally we had only intended to visit for a short while, maybe lunch, then move on to Korsør. Kristian urged us to spend the night with he and his wife, and allow him to give us a tour of an old monastery, which was now a boarding school, and the local cathedral and grounds. However, it was when he explained how his wife had prepared an authentic Danish dinner, that we decided we had to accept his invitation and stay the night.
The tour of the monastery, cathedral and the town were most interesting, but it was Kristians’ colorful perspective that made it even more enjoyable. We asked question after question and he replied with enthusiasm, interest, and humour.
Dinner, as with our friends in Copenhagen, was outside on the lawn. We helped move tables and chairs out as Kristian’s son and daughter-in-law arrived to join us. The temperature was delightful, the food delicious, and the company amiable. The dinner started with an appetizer of small boiled shrimp which we peeled, placed onto a slice of bread upon which mayonnaise had been lightly spread, then freshly chopped chives sprinkled on top. This was eaten open-faced with a knife and fork. A white wine was served with the appetizer. The main course was supposed to be Garlic Roast Lamb, but Kristians wife wasn’t sure if we liked garlic so it became Roast Lamb. Delicious in any case. A red wine was served with the main course, and it flowed almost as freely as the conversation.
It began to get dark when we moved back inside for dessert and coffee, and more conversation. The six of us chatted until almost 1:00A.M., discussing almost everything from agriculture to politics. It was a wonderful evening, and we were glad we stayed.
The morning arrived early and breakfast was on the table in the kitchen. Fresh pastries, bread, cheeses and coffee. The highlight of the meal, to us, was the discovery of Danish walnut bread. It became almost a staple over the next several days, together with some local honey. Danish coffee, by the way, is typically very strong, and we never had any problems waking up. Later in the morning we said our farewells and Mange Tak (Many Thanks) to Kristian, his wife, and Sorø.
Forty kilometers to Korsør, less than 25 miles. We would take the ferry over to Nyborg, then decide were we would stop. The ferry schedule indicated a midday departure, so we didn’t have to rush. We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant, watching European MTV (each video was in a different language).
While eating lunch, we watched the busy sidewalks of this seaside port. One thinks, “People really are the same all over the world”. But, as we watched, we saw a young mother push a baby carriage up to the door of a store. She adjusted the canopy to keep the sun out of the child’s eyes, then she went into the store leaving her child unattended. We were shocked, but then had to remember that we weren’t in the United States where such a thing would be unheard of.
Ferries are a way of life in Denmark. Bicycles are too, but they don’t seem to have gotten the two together very well. Bicycles are allowed a place in queues for ferry tickets, but there are no bicycle facilities on-board, such as simple tie-down points or even racks. All complaining aside, the ferry system worked well for us, and was moderately priced.
As we pedaled up to the queue to board the ferry we met three other cyclists. Uwe, his wife Angia, and his 13 year old brother Zasha were from East Germany. We chatted about this and that, and decided to camp together at the same campground and then tour the town a bit before dinner. The subjects for discussion were as in any conversations we had in Denmark – from A to Z. It was interesting that Uwe spoke English well, Angia comprehended more than she spoke and Zasha spoke not English, but Russian. In fact, almost everyone (especially young people) in Denmark spoke English. It’s not surprising since the school systems require students to learn Danish – of course, English, German and a third foreign language of their choice.
The young German couple and his brother were traveling just because they could as much as any other reason. You see, Uwe and Zasha grew up looking out over the Berlin wall. We talked alot about communism, democracy, freedom. They really understand what freedom is all about.
Uwe is an engineering student and his wife works in a dental office, while Zasha is…well, 13 years old. We were the first Americans they had ever met.
We had a most pleasant evening, and in the morning said our farewells and parted company, our new German friends heading north along the coast and us south.
On several occasions during this trip, we chanced to encounter individuals with whom we were able to carry on what seemed like extensive conversations, despite the fact that they spoke no English and we, no Danish. Such a conversation occurred in a small village, we had need to find a public restroom. I had been practicing several phrases using my best Danish accent and feeling prepared, approached an elderly lady walking on the roadside. “Undskyld, hvor er toiletterne?” She smiled and promptly replied in a string of Danish something I was unprepared to understand. Apologizing quickly that I didn’t speak Danish, she smiled broadly, and slowly said the word “kirke”. This word I knew – Church – the public restroom was at the local church. “Tak , thank you” I responded and quickly pedaled off to find the facilities.
On another occasion, outside Svindinge, where we stopped in a small store for a soft drink. The proprietor was a patient, elderly gentleman. We were thirsty tourists. Collecting our soft drinks from the coolers he asked if we were Americans. The conversation continued, consisting of a few words, lots of gesturing, and many smiles. We discovered that the his daughter was currently working in New York. These were generally the exceptions though, most Danes speak English very well, and even understand American.