We have now been in Denmark for nearly five days. We have both agreed that we like this country a lot. It feels comfortable. People are sporty and stylish in a casual, careless way, and they don’t only ride cruiser bikes like those that dominated the bike parking in the Netherlands. Danes ride all sorts of bikes. We’ve seen quite a few folks (though, like in many countries, nearly exclusively men) out for sport rides on high quality carbon bikes, dressed in full spandex.
Copenhagen was artsy and extremely international, with a large foreign student population. Our Warm Showers host was an American who has lived in Copenhagen for nearly five years. She lives with her French boyfriend who’s been in Copenhagen about four years, a French roommate who’s a PhD student in acoustics, and a Greek roommate who’s earning a PhD in telecommunications. The four of them were lovely and we met them for dinner at a crêperie on our first night in the city. Our Warm Showers host had just finished a 7 week intensive French course, and she had intended to celebrate with her classmates at a French restaurant, though it seemed that her classmates hadn’t been interested, so her roommates came instead. B and I split a ratatouille crêpe to start and we finished that off with a chocolate, almond, and whipped cream crêpe for dessert. Prices in Denmark are so exorbitant (basically equivalent to the pricey side of New York), and considering we had had a big lunch, we figured splitting two crêpes was the best way to go.
The Warm Showers host the first night in Denmark was a retiree in Vordingborg, about 32 miles up the road from the ferry dock in Gedser. The host, K, has bike toured all over Europe, Africa, and South America. He has gone on several trips with a company I had applied to work for in 2014, formerly called Tour d’Afrique. The Canadian company began as a trip provider for those adventurous folks who wanted to ride from Cairo to Cape Town. It is a 5 month bike adventure and the company fully supports the ride, with a mechanic, logistician, cook, and truck driver. The company has since expanded to other continents; someone I ride with in New York joined Tour d’Afrique last summer for a ride along the Silk Road for one month. The company allows riders to join for either the entirety of each epic ride it offers, or for pre-arranged chunks.
K, the Warm Showers host, began doing Cairo to Cape Town several years ago, but fell and broke his hip in northern Kenya while on a bumpy road. The doctor in Nairobi recommended that he have his hip replaced, and after consulting his Danish health insurance, he proceeded with the operation. He was rather proud of his “African hip,” as he put it. K returned the following year, riding from Kenya through Tanzania into Malawi and eventually to Botswana. In Botswana he was hit by a truck and broke his leg, I believe. He took another winter to recuperate. I asked why his wife or sons didn’t forbid him then and there from more bike trips. But they know how much he enjoys the riding. (His wife and two sons all work in education, as did K before he retired.) Tour d’Afrique ended up asking K to come back the third year to complete the route, offering for him to join the group free of charge. K has since biked the length of South America, from Cartagena to Ushaya. He has also gone on several unsupported tours, biking from his home in Vordingborg to Paris (only 2200 km, he explained) and to Athens (4000 km, which he did by himself in just over 5 weeks).
K served a delicious salad of cabbage, pear, and walnuts, with a terrific dressing dinner. It was accompanied by French baguette with garlic baked into it. The following morning, I asked to see K’s bikes. He showed off the bike with which he rode Cairo to Cape Town as well as the gorgeous road bike he uses to go out with the local club twice a week and on the weekends. It’s a high end carbon bike made by Python, I believe, a Danish bike company. Though the frame is made in Malaysia, he explained. All of his bikes are outfitted with Campagnolo, including a gorgeous 30 year old lugged steel frame he used to ride alongside for the initial miles on Thursday morning. (It’s made by Schrøder, which K said is also a Danish bike company.)
In Copenhagen the next day, B and I ate a late lunch of brown, seedy bread with feta, fresh mozzarella (the two cheapest cheeses in the overpriced grocery store), cherry tomatoes, and an apple. We had biked the few miles from our hosts’ apartment down to the central area where the famously colored houses line the canal (our host identified these houses at the ones on every postcard and guidebook – however, since neither B nor I had read any guidebooks nor seen any postcards of Copenhagen, they were slightly less identifiable, but they were beautiful nonetheless). After watching tourists and having our snack, we continued down along the canal, walking our bikes. We took a pedestrian and bike bridge over the next canal onto what used to be a home of the Danish Royal Navy, but which was decommissioned some decades ago. This island is also the home of Noma, ranked the world’s best restaurant. We crossed another bridge over a canal and entered Christiania, the oldest part of Copenhagen. The sunlight was gorgeous and we took some photos against a yellow building.
We then joined the throngs of bikers in Copenhagen as we crossed two different bridges back to the main area of Copenhagen and met our host and her flatmates for crêpes. Leaving dinner, the six of us biked back to their apartment. Everyone hopping onto their bikes and pedaling slowly back felt very much like life in the Twin Cities – when it wasn’t snowing or -20 degrees. I love the easy conversation and camaraderie resulting from riding next to someone. At home in New York, this typically occurs between 5 and 7 AM, so it was quite nice to experience it in the evening.
Like in Amsterdam and in Hamburg, the bicycle infrastructure in Copenhagen is just astounding. There are bike paths alongside every sidewalk – they’re slightly raised, in between the height of the sidewalk and the roadway – and are clearly painted in intersections. Cars recognize that bikers have the right of way and wait patiently to turn if bikers are coming through. While riding into Aalborg, in northern Denmark, on Saturday, as I was biking slowly towards a light, when it turned green the cars waiting to make a righthand turn waited until I had come through between them and the sidewalk – even if I was a ways back – before they made their turns. We saw a man on a carbon road bike get cut off by a car on Sunday. It was the first time we’ve seen a driver do something dangerous around a bicycle since arriving in Europe.
Even on some of the country roads there are bike lanes or paths. There was one road between Vordingborg and Copenhagen that, K explained, is only one lane, but it has painted bike lanes on either side. If there are cars coming in both directions, one pulls over into the bike lane – checking first, of course, to make sure there are no bicycles, before letting the other pass. While riding in those bike lanes, cars were courteous and waited patiently before pulling into the middle of the road to pass around the bikers.