german and determined

Germany was beautiful. And it was just as much a cycling Mecca as sources had led us to believe prior to our arrival. There are cycling routes everywhere, and they are all well-labeled. I would go so far as to say there are even too many labeled routes, as the propensity to label everything tended to leave us wholly unprepared outsiders confused and lost due to the endless route options. With better information on the cycling routes, or preferably a map, we would have better known what was up.

The most thrilling part of cycling these German routes, for both of us, was hands down the varied terrain of the cycling network. We pedaled over the freshest, smoothest Tarmac. We passed oak logs piled down along a muddy double track forest road. We snaked our way across country lanes, through a narrow rooty single track in an ancient woodland, and perhaps most memorably, across several miles of rural road that was pure sand and nearly impossible to traverse. I’m grateful to Eli for having the foresight to purchase the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires that have seen us across 6000 km of riding without a flat between the two of us. The tires are heavy, thick, and have proven to be boss hogs. 

We saw as much in Germany as we could within our travel timeframe of just over two weeks. We arrived in mid-July and set our sights on the city of Braunschweig. We had never heard of Braunschweig (Brunswick in English) before meeting a German family while in Sweden who invited us to stay with them at their home were we to pass through. So we made Braunschweig a destination, which proved to be the best decision we made on the entire trip, as we spent several welcoming days and nights with this family, learning about German culture and customs, and also learning importantly that chanterelle mushrooms are called pfifferlinge in German — and they are just as delicious as they are at home.

Germany was about currywurst, and Bitburger beer, and the search for the perfect cream puff, and our continued obsession with waffles.  We spent a whirlwind day in Berlin without the bikes, where my favorite activity was downing massive plates of deliciousness at The Spätzle Club, and my least favorite activity was watching Trump’s live confirmation as the 2016 Republican nominee for prez.

After leaving our friendly Germany family, we headed west towards Düsseldorf, and then to Köln (Cologne). Our stop in Cologne was an eye-opening few days, and I think we visited more museums there than we have on the rest of the trip. Cologne was a large Roman outpost in ancient times, founded in the 1st century AD and formerly known as the mouthful that is Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. One of their principal industries was glassmaking, and the region was prolific. The amount of glass that has survived intact for that many years just floors me,  and the care that must have been taken when excavating these pieces at archeological digs to keep them in one piece? It’s truly remarkable.

Cologne was heavily bombed during WWII, with 95% of the city center destroyed, but the city has recovered beautifully. I can’t recommend the Cologne museums enough, and so much has miraculously survived the destruction. The Wallraf-Richartz Museum is a compact art museum with (too) many religious paintings and a lovely collection of Impressionist-era works. I love art museums small enough for me to see everything without succumbing to exhaustion. The Römisch-Germanisches Museum contains relics dating back to the city’s founding, including the aforementioned large collection of glassworks, as well as an ancient mosaic from Roman times still in its original location, old jewelry, pottery, stone tablets, and a hell of a lot more. Three hours passed quickly while we explored the museum.  My favorite stop was at the Archäologische Zone, underneath the historic town hall (Rathausplatz), which houses the partially excavated Praetorium. The Praetorium was home base to the Imperial Governor of CCAA back in Roman times, although if I’m remembering correctly there are building remnants that predate Roman times. Archeological excavation is ongoing at the present time, although what they’ve already unearthed is fabulous, and walking through the ruins gave me a great sense of what used to exist. Signage in English is sparse at times, which is the only downside. This museum also houses more glass, pottery, mosaics, and other finds from the dig onsite.

From Cologne we headed south along the Rhine River. Suddenly we were surrounded by hordes of cycle tourists, including a granny who passed me and left me feeling disappointed in myself until I realized she was riding an e-bike. There were so many cyclists that the campground in Koblenz herded us all into a small patch of turf rather than allowing us individual sites, resulting in us having neighbors mere feet away on all sides. And hilariously, by the time we leisurely rose at 8:30 or so the next morning, most of them had already packed up and gone.

Off of the Rhine we continued our up-river stroll, this time on the Mosel River. Surrounded by vineyards and ripening grapes, we succumbed to an alluring guesthouse/restaurant and spent the better part of a day enjoying the fruits of their labor, while watching a constant stream of spandex-clad fit people cycle past on rented tandem bicycles. 

If there’s one thing I’m glad we’re not doing on this trip, it’s riding a tandem bike.


one day in copenhagen

I enjoyed four hours’ worth of torture so much yesterday while prepping my Swedish post that I decided to repeat the performance today. Much to my relief, the wifi was loads better, as was my intelligence when deciding how to upload the images. Meaning I didn’t have to upload each one three times. And so, all about our day trip to Copenhagen, which I’m excited to write about as it lets me reminisce on this fair city.

Copenhagen may possibly be the most enticing city to stroll through, at least of the large cities that I’ve visited (which are but a few). Modern Scandinavian architecture and buildings of all colors blend in well with the old. Church spires, and other sorts of spires too, entice from every corner, and each one is different. Each one is alluring, and we were drawn to them, forced to their bases by some sort of invisible magnetism. The one pictured above was my favorite; those creatures holding the spire up are but one of the reasons why I love this building. Such a curvy peculiar spire. I was able to find out what this building was called by going on the Maps apps on my iPad and doing a cool 3D flyover of the city. Do this yourself to feel the magnetic pull of the spires! Doooo it. 

This is the Børsen building, and it was built from 1618-1624 by King Christian IV. It was used as a commodity exchange center, and was once a place to go and be seen. According to the building’s website, the King’s soldiers could shut down trade if they wanted to “by marching through the building with drums and pipes.” And written records were kept of the merchants complaining about “loud people and drunken sailors.” Et voilà.

There seemed to be more bicycles than people in Scandinavia. The first photo in the above quartet was actually in Sweden, at the Malmö train station as we were locking up our bikes to take the train to Copenhagen. You are seeing free of charge two-tiered bicycle storage for commuters. And there was only one free space available! We had to lock our bikes to a railing.

After our near fiasco searching for trains that accept bikes in Sweden, it was nice to see trains that were clearly marked and showing that bikes are permissible onboard. In the third photo, another shot of a bike mob in a square in Copenhagen (please also note the very nice spire in the background). I kept taking flicks of large bike conglomerates, I just couldn’t get over it.

And in the last photo above, we stumbled across a trio of improv theater performers in a public garden in the early evening. We couldn’t understand anything that they were saying, but I don’t think that mattered much; I think much of what they were saying wasn’t proper Danish either. The theme of the performance was – how apropos – drunken sailors, or wannabe sailors, and a fancy smirky lady who makes herself known to the fellows and moves into the boat next door. Hijinks ensue. We didn’t stay until the end as we had a train to catch, but for zero comprehension, we laughed quite a bit, and really enjoyed watching. It’s those random little moments about traveling that I get so much satisfaction from.

We walked about endlessly through the city. My feet were definitely overtired by the end of the day, they hurt now just thinking about that day. For everything we saw, there were two or three ‘important’ touristy things that we missed I’m sure. We looked up dim sum restaurants, but the reviews were somewhat unkind and so we decided to skip that and choose something we stumbled across. Wellll, we stumbled across one of the dim sum places I had looked at, and I shouldn’t have heeded the reviews, because the food was pretty great. 

Magasasa was located in a somewhat salty warehouse district that was verging on overly trendy. The decor was sparse but welcoming, as was the waitress. I was most impressed by the availability of pu-erh tea on the menu (one of four options), and while the food took a while to arrive, it was cooked fresh for us and it arrived piping hot. I particularly loved the shrimp toast, or Sprød Toast Sandwich, pictured above. The Gou Bu Li Boller, minced pork and spring onion buns, were delicious too. And predictably, I also loved their Siu Mai and Har Gao, but that will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever eaten dim sum with me. Give me shrimps or give me other shrimps. Do not deny me shrimps.

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to take pictures of current or upcoming movies. It dates the trip, and makes it fun to look back on several years down the road and recall where I was when I saw the poster, and whether or not I subsequently saw the movie and if I saw it in a different place. 

When I visited France with my mum in 2003, that movie was Terminator 3, or Terminator Trois: le Soulèvement des Machines. When I lived in France in 2007, it was The Number 23, or Le Nombre 23. Jim Carrey’s creepy face will forever live in my memory floating somewhere around Montpellier. I never saw either of those movies but those are standout memories of my travels.

And so far on this trip, we’ve seen lots of movie options. Will it be Jason Bourne that lives in my memory? Tarzan? Probably not, because both of these are the same in English as they are in other languages. It may be Independence Day: Resurgence, which in Germany was Indepence Day: Wiederkehr. We even went and saw it while we were in Germany, although we understood even less than we did at the Danish improv performance. The only words I could comprehend were “OHHH MYYYYY GODDDDD,” which were conveniently left in English when dubbed.

Anyway, back to Copenhagen. It was lovely, and we had a great time. It was perfect for a day trip, and we whittled away the 500 Danish krone (75 USD) that we took out of an ATM for the day no problem. We even had enough for beers, and then other beers, and then a post-beer crepe and waffle. And then it was farvel Scandinavia.

swedish snapshots

It’s been a while since we left Sweden. Slow internet connections come and go, and time passes me by. But it would be wrong to not revisit the time we spent traversing Sweden. It would also be wrong to tell you how long it took me to upload all of these photos. But I will. Three and a half hours, give or take a year. 

While we were in Sweden, it seemed as if we would never make it to Germany. Our stay in the Schengen region of Europe visa-free is limited to 90 days. As such, our goal was to make it out of Scandinavia within 30 of those days, and we pert near made it.

The plan was to take a train from a randomly chosen city which we knew nothing about (Mora) to a destination further south, near the coast (whether east or west side, it didn’t matter much to us). We luckily came to find out ahead of time that very few of the multiple train companies in Sweden allow bicycles. Even luckier, the one possible company we could utilize operates on a line running south from Mora. So while we were not able to make it to the coast, or as far south as we had hoped, we were able to shave a few hundred kilometers off of our cycling itinerary, allowing us to meet our self-imposed deadline.

Pippi Longstocking riding a giant felted twinflower! How Sweden!

Sweden is Norway’s less showy, less prosperous sibling, at least to a casual observer. The houses were not as meticulously clean nor freshly-painted, there weren’t as many roadside tourist-friendly amenities (whether necessary or frivolous), there most definitely were not as many bike paths, and a visit did not break the bank. While still expensive as compared to mainland Europe, Sweden was much cheaper for us to travel through than Norway. We began allowing ourselves more treats, in the forms of coffee and pastry stops, meals out, and occasional bottles of wine.

DALA HORSE FEVER! A fever that could only be interrupted by waffles. Waffles were the theme of our vacation in Sweden. They were also, come to think of it, the theme of our time in Norway. And through to the present day, they continue to be the theme of our trip. These days we can be found frequently indulging in gaufres de liège, sugar waffles. From the supermarket. They come in packs of five or eight. We’re on our fifth or sixth pack in just a few weeks. Life is good.

Mora turned out to be a delightful surprise. We were able to take in crew races on the lake in town, pose with several different dala horses, choose from hundreds more to purchase, and we even stayed in an adorable hut at the local campground. Camping in tiny huts seemed to be a very Scandinavian thing to do, and I am not one to oppose getting more in tune with the Motherland vibes, so a hut it was. While in Mora, we were also able to watch a Euro Cup semifinal (a clue to anyway else who watched the game just how long ago we were there). We watched at a restaurant, outside, on a giant screen. Everyone was really into the game and there were fans from both sides, which made for a very Euro atmosphere. When the game ended near midnight, it was disconcerting how light the sky still was; it made walking through the sleepy deserted town an eerie experience.

The forestry in Sweden was quite different from in Norway. In Norway, they apparently adhered to the same regulated thinning treatment, at least in the areas we saw. In Sweden, there were larger clearcuts, but trees in general seemed to be allowed to grow older, and to a larger size. They looked nicer. There were also varied treatments, which was refreshing after seeing the same identical type of harvest throughout Norway. I appreciated the variability and diversity, and while we didn’t see much for wildlife in either country, hopefully the critters appreciate it too.

The cracker selection in Scandinavia was phenomenal. They also loved pickled herring of all flavors, and various cheeses and meats squeezed into colorful tubes.

Before we left Sweden, we stayed for two nights in a campground adjacent to the above bridge, in Malmö. For one day, we took a train across the bridge to see Copenhagen, and it was well worth the trip. Denmark is the only country that I’ve been unprepared for currency-wise, but since we were traveling directly into the heart of a city, finding an ATM to withdraw some Danish kroner for the day wasn’t a problem.

And then, very close to our self-imposed 30 day mark, we took a ferry from Malmö to Travemunde, Germany. It took seven hours, and we paid for two buffet meals, at which we proceeded to pig out so much that I don’t believe I should say any more.