Sunday, September 6, 2015

Copenhagen, Denmark: Goodbye, Europe!

After leaving the warmth of my family in Germany, we had only one more week left in Europe.  We could not dwell too long on thoughts of home, since our last few days would require crossing two more countries, making multiple transport connections, and finding cardboard.
The last kilometer of Germany, on the way to the ferry dock in Sassnitz.
The first challenge: get to Sweden.  We opted to take the ferry from the town of Sassnitz on Rugen Island.  We took the train from near my relative’s house to the ferry dock since we had already cycled much of the route.  It is always a bit humbling to take a train for a couple of hours and cover the distance that would have taken several days by bike.  It was a long day, though.  A train ride with a transfer, 10 kilometers by bike from the train station to the dock, a wait in line with cars and buses for the ferry, a couple of hours bobbing in the sea, and disembarking in the fading light of dusk in the town of Trelleborg in Sweden.  John knew vaguely that there was camping to the east, so we connected various bike trails and ended up at an adequate but pricey campground.
Southern Sweden looked like Germany, except the churches looked strikingly different and the sign sunintelligible.
We had only two days in Sweden, merely to get an impression for future trip, perhaps.  And our impression was that the landscape of this very small corner of southern Sweden looks remarkably like the part northeastern Germany we just left -- green rural landscape, rolling terrain, farms, and pockets of forest.  Almost everyone spoke nearly perfect English.  There are lots of blond-haired children. And the bread is very good, too.
Old windmill.... windmill.

Our lovely campsite in the Swedish forest.
We crossed over to Denmark on another ferry.  We were not sure of the departure times, so we arrived to buy our tickets, and were informed the ferry leaves in 10 minutes.  Rolling right onto the ferry, we cheered our good timing.  The crossing took all of 20 minutes, and we realized that it wasn’t luck that we didn’t need to wait. We passed multiple ferries on the way, and we realized this is a very busy crossing and boats run continuously. 

Leaving the ferry dock to go to Denmark.
Ooooh, Danish Modern, here on the ferry!

Our lunch spot, looking back at the coast of Sweden and the channel we just crossed.

It cracks me up -- signs saying don't park your bike here, dutifully ignored.
Once in Denmark, we traveled down the coast towards our goal, the city of Copenhagen. It was a crisp, windy, puffy clouds sort of day -- a hint of autumn.  We followed the coastline and passed very expensive and very stylish houses with ocean views.  There were harbors with flashy boats along the way, too.  We saw on the map a patch of forest just before the Copenhagen city limits, and with our new stealth camping skills we found a hidden spot in the trees.  The next day we were in the city within an hour.  We quickly found out that Denmark is also has a strong cycling culture, and if it is to be believed, even more than The Neetherlands.  We were able to explore the city center, easily connecting landmarks via dedicated lanes and traffic signals just for bikes. 

Bike trails wind along the Copenhagen waterfront.
It was a beautiful sunny day when we arrived, but our smartphone told us that the weather was to change the next day to a wet pattern.  We had hoped to find a hotel for our remaining time in Copenhagen, so we headed to the Office of Tourism.  Our past experience was that these offices often have a booking service and that they could help us find reasonable lodging options, so we had made no arrangements in advance.  The agent was very nice, and there were computers with complimentary internet access.  When we asked how we could find a place to stay, she showed us how to open the browser and go to  We were on our own in a city with only expensive options.  We spent a few hours playing AirBnB routlette, only to be rejected again and again.  We realized there were going to be a couple more days of deflating air mattresses and a leaking tent to deal with.  Our only option was to cycle a few more kilometers to the nearest campground.  Which was also expensive, but nicely equipped with a kitchen and enclosed dining area and filled with other interesting European travelers that were interesting to talk to.

Lovely old Copenhagen.

View from the top of the Christiansborg Tower.
With a metro pass we explored the city for a couple of days.  One whole day was spent trying to obtain cardboard boxes to pack our bikes for the flight home. We went to the airport and there were none for sale anywhere.  So we found a hotel for the last couple of nights and found a bike shop nearby that had some boxes they would give us.  We deposited our bikes in the hotel and then carried the boxes in between rainstorms back to the hotel.  Another afternoon was spent packing our belongings.  Taping the boxes closed only emphasized the finality of this journey.

A few choice chairs in the National Museum of Design.

Guards in front of Christian VIII's palace.
Our time in Copenhagen, even with all the departure arrangements, was great.  I must say, I think it is my favorite European city.  It has beautiful architecture, it is easy to get around, Danish modern design touches are everywhere, and it is cosmopolitan in culture and cuisine.

The lovely weathered copper dome of the Frederikskirken.
Our last night we went out for dinner, to a vegetarian restaurant within walking distance of our hotel that I found with a 10 second internet search.  We went over a bridge, along a canal, and into a park that became increasingly scruffy -- graffiti and trash and the smell of marijuana drifting from the groups of kids hanging around.  There were dwellings that were just shacks and no signs with street names.  And we somehow found the eatery, which was just another shack.  We went inside, and it was one big room.  Rough-hewn tables occupied one end, and a counter separated the dining area from the kitchen.  It was a cold rainy evening and when we entered it was so hot and steamy inside our glasses fogged up immediately.  It was all vegan fare, and you could choose from the baked dish of the day, the soup of the day, or the salad of the day.  We opted for all three, an autumn-themed meal that was warm and filling and good in our bellies.  The tables were filled with students, a lesbian couple holding hands next to us, and a few single diners sharing soup and bread with the strangers seated next to them.  It was a locals experience, not one that the tourist office would even know about.

A cliché view, but nice nonetheless.  I waited and waited for the sun to come out, but no luck. 
A taxi picked us up the next morning to transport us and our cardboard boxes to the airport.  We had only one more connection to make, and that was the plane to take us to Oakland.  Traveling west it was like dawn all day, and it was a spectacular view looking down on the glaciers and iceberg-dotted fjords of Greenland.  Twelve hours of flying and the grogginess from lack of sleep almost erased our five and a half months of memories of Europe.  But once we were reunited with our boxes and we unpacked and reassembled our bikes, it all felt real again. 

Europe is a special place.

A final view of windmills in the water off the coast from Copenhagen.

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