Tag Archives: europe

So I biked some miles in Europe

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Two months ago I left San Francisco with a bike and a trailer. I landed in Amsterdam with a trailer and no bike. While I waited for the airline to find my wheels I spent my time warding off my family’s ridiculous worries and took long walks to alleviate the annoyance with said worries. Being without a ride on a bikepacking trip sucked big time. Sure I didn’t have the most auspicious start. But this is life, it throws you curve balls. You have to be ready to catch.

I wheelbarrowed my luggage in my trailer through the Dutch countryside. I opened myself to being ridiculous, unlucky, afraid. I was a bag lady in Germany fighting rain with plastic. I was an American in The Netherlands wearing a helmet on the bike. I made myself comfortable in solitude in Denmark. I dared to bike in Romania, and lived.

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My odometer 2 months ago showed 278 miles. Today it shows 1644 miles. In nearly 1400 miles of sunny, muddy, rainy togetherness my blue Motobecane’s become my best friend. This bike’s wheels have combed through forest paths, muddy and gnarly roads, bridges, tunnels, beaches. Together we’ve met friendly Dutch farmers who are in tune with nature and groom it, make it hospitable. We conversed – albeit one-sided – with cows, sheep, goats, ducks, deer, foxes, even a few llamas and a notorious kangaroo.

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What I’ve wanted out of this trip was to be amazed. In all honesty, I was. My last campsite was the most magical yet, a green corner by the water, where I shared some snacks and evening thoughts with a fleet of ducks. I was alone again, as I was when I got here.

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As I biked towards the airport this morning, with the 5am sun rising slowly behind me, I thought it best to not say goodbye to The Netherlands, for fear of being corny or trite. Instead, to dispel the building sadness, I started planning my next biking trip, and resolved to fly out of Schipol on a cheerful note, returning the positivity that this country’s gifted me with.

Netherlands, it’s been great to know ya.

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Being a bad cycling tourist in Copenhagen

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I got to Copenhagen and was entirely too jittery and excited about seeing the city, so I decided to tuck in my bike for a day of ambling through the city on foot to calm myself the hell down. Since I’m a pathological planner, I made a walking map and exported it to a .gpx file which I then imported into my phone for offline routing. I put one earphone in and navigated the city like a boss, not once stopping to look at a map like other tourists. OsmAnd dutifully informed me as I arrived to the landmarks I’d targeted on my map. Things you learn from bike touring!

Since I don’t have much time in the city I didn’t visit any museums, but Copenhagen is itself a museum and just from outside you have front row seats to some of the most beautiful buildings and green spaces in the world. I started at Rosenborg Castle, right in the middle of the map, and strolled through the King’s Garden, whose manicured green areas and flowers were charming. The Garden was not overwhelmed with tourists either, and I could easily find quiet places to read a few pages of my book.

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Then I made my way to Rita’s for lunch, where I greedily sampled a wide selection of smørrebrød (Danish for “open faced sandwich”), a traditional Danish lunch of different toppings on buttered rye. The spot I found was well priced and supremely delicious.

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With my newfound energy I continued to Brumleby, one of the first examples of social housing in Denmark which served as a model for  subsequent ones, and then Kastellet, the most well preserved fortress in Northern Europe. Shaped like a star, with impeccably mowed grass and clear instructions (no bicycles on the ramparts!) Kastellet was a serene place to walk in, and I even joined the locals lounging on the grass, to let the sun warm my face and think about the many miles that brought me here.

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Speeding through the touristy Little Mermaid (thank Hans Christian Andersen for making this puny statue a tourist magnet) and Amalienborg Castle (home of the Danish royal family) areas, I made my way to the lively Nyhavn. Little did I know this is the most happening spot in Copenhagen! This is like Sausalito on a warm California day, complete with overpriced restaurants, bored-and-confused tourists and irresistible smells of desserts wafting from everywhere. I couldn’t resist stopping to get an overpriced ice cream cone myself, and sat with widened eyes on the edge of water by the boats and people-watched for a long while.

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My next stop was Torvehallerne, a huge outdoor market in traditional Scandinavian style (read: very modern, they accept cards to pay for produce!). Determined to find a Danish-Danish and rather exhausted from the 8+ miles of walking so far, I stopped at a quiet cafe in a corner of the market and had a rejuvenating cup of coffee along with 3 (read: three) pastries, none of which were an actual Danish as we Americans think of one, but all of which made me happy. Pictured below: a dream snail.

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Before you ask, I did go to the Freetown of Christiania. But it didn’t impress me. Tourists are discouraged from taking photos in this community, and it’s easy to understand why. Lots of substances are dealt there, not all of which are legal in Denmark. Besides, for the locals it’s probably a bit unpleasant to be constantly stared at and photographed by hordes of the culturally curious (or worse, Americans!). The place is charming in its own way, but to me the Marleyesque kumbaya was reminiscent of a time in my life when I wore colorful hair threads, and thought recycling could save the planet, and basically when I wasn’t an engineer. So I rolled my eyes, just a little bit. Worth at least passing through while in Copenhagen, for sure!

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Lübeck, I love you

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When you travel on two wheels you absorb more of the feeling of place than when you drive, and get out of the car in various places to sightsee. Imagine you arrive in a city as people would arrive in the old days on horseback: slowly, deliberately, with suspense. You see the city skyline from afar, have time to form expectations, then you begin to make the city’s acquaintance from its fingertips, the outskirts, all the way to its lungs where all the tourists are. Biking into a city is an organic, fascinating way of knowing a place.

You may have read about my troubles with the rain, but all is forgotten now because I may have found the most beautiful place in Germany: Lübeck. This small Northern city with only 200,000 people is beyond lovely (its name draws from the Slavic “Liubice” – lovely), it’s like a museum-city that doesn’t try too hard.

It’s not a good route for cyclists for sure, the cobblestone is much too brutal. After securing the bike at my AirBnb for the night, I proceeded to explore the city on foot, which was the correct thing to do. And I loved Lübeck! Here I didn’t get the tourist-borne agoraphobia of trendier places like Bremen or Hamburg. The town felt airy and quietly artistic, but still equipped with all the quaint cafes and jazz bars and shops that are so charming for a tourist. The architecture blows you away, it’s easy to see why the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fun fact: this is also where some of the finest marzipan is made!

From Hamburg it was only 40 short miles to Lübeck, and I was lucky to find a route that took me along straight roads with solid, separate bike paths. The route was not scenic, nothing to write home about, and a little too hilly for my taste, but the slow descent into Lübeck along corn fields and then onto oldschool single track dirt paths by the Trave river turned on the poetry for this place.

Many bike roads are crappy in Germany but when you find one that isn’t, or a road, you ffffly! Here’s a short clip of me goofing off at 25mph (40km/h) downhill, around Kastorf. My bike’s never gone this fast before so I was excited: