Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Making it to Norway

Hirtshals for 2.5 days... Day 1, secure tickets to Bergen and walk on the beach.

Riding out to the ferry terminal, past beautiful white sand beach

Day 2, Oceanarium. Where they have a sunfish!

And sea lions you can swim with! Just kidding, they had a tunnel under the water. Pretty fun. They also had a little feeding show with them where they waved and did little tricks. The Oceanarium is all about the North Sea, and we learned a lot.

Spies' meeting

Don't touch

The morning of our ferry day we were very early. We ended up waiting in the queue a long time, but were rewarded by being able to ride our bikes right up into the huge ferry! We had a cabin, on the inside, with no windows, so we spent a lot of time on the upper deck while it was light out.

First glimpse of Norway!

We slept pretty well, after a few games of Spite and Malice, with the most expensive decks of cards ever.  And we were arriving in Bergen around 8am, so we were up very early, ready to get out as soon as we hit land. We even got to ride off first! Woo hoo!

We spent the morning in Bergen, trying to plan how to ride to Øystese over the mountains. When we had pretty much settled on a route, we ran into a cyclist who asked us about our trip and plans. When we said we were riding over the mountains he agreed that we had the best route and said it was a pretty good ride, he had done it before. However, he then checked the weather and told us that the biggest rains in a long time were predicted for the following few days, and maybe it would be nicer to hop on a bus. Oh, right, and it was going to be windy...

The bus is 1.5hrs, then we ride for 20 minutes up a huge hill. The ride over would be about 80km, up and down many huge hills. In wind and rain, with traffic and no shoulder for much of it, no thanks! We took a bus, and before we knew it we were in Norheimsund, where Anders works. We surprised him, and he grabbed his bike and rode home with us! By 4pm we were cozy in the house with Natalia and Anders and their three kids.


Here we come, final few kms

We arrived on Sept 13th, and the next day was our birthday. We were celebrated with fresh chocolate croissants baked by Anders and birthday crowns, and even presents! The next few days it did rain a lot, and it rains less on the fjord than over towards Bergen. It was sad not to ride from Bergen, both of us were a little disappointed. Since then we have ridden up and down the big hill a few times. Trying not to lose our legs right away. Now we have been here for almost two weeks and it has flown by.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What Happens When We Get Tired of Wind

Our second full day in Denmark was similar to the first. Not quite as much in the way of bad surfaces, but we did have some challenging stretches. Somehow, we had gone from not quite fall to the beginning of winter. The sky was grey, grey, grey and the fields were brown, brown, brown. We saw not a few trees that were already bare, leaves prematurely removed. Wind.

For a little ways, we were on a really cool path through the heather and highlands. It was conceivable that there were gnomes hiding in the woods and we might turn a corner and see a moose. This green stretch was a beautiful interlude from dry fields, and we were a little better protected from the wind through the trees.

We stopped at a Tourist Info Office that was in a picturesque old windmill.

And back to the fields and wind.

Another interesting interlude distracted us from the general dreariness. I could imagine that in the spring or summer, when things are green and cheery, and without so much wind, it might have been a dreamy day.

We walked up

And found this

And many other stone monuments, this is the front, below is the back

This is honoring Magnus, who fought south during the wars with Germany (date at bottom: 1898). In the late 1800s, Germany and Denmark fought two wars against each other, both claiming Schleswig-Holstein as part of their country. From the 1860s until the end of WWI, the southernmost part of Denmark was a part of Germany. We are not sure if the rest of the stones are specific to the wars or not, some have dates much earlier, and other are more recent.

In the afternoon we hit a fairly big town and after lunch I got a flat and Joshua took the opportunity to change my front brake pads. They needed it! Badly!

But at the end of the day we hit another freshly gravelled road and it was so bad that we turned around and decided to take a highway instead. The wind was brutal, and so loud, and we were on a road with no shoulder and plenty of traffic for quite a long time. Talk about needing a game face. We slogged it out and found the campsite we were aiming for, just outside of Egtved, Egtved Camping

And once again we were rescued. After a day like that, we asked about cabin prices again. We felt like we should save money, so we opted for camping. While we were checking in, Lene asked us about our bike trip and when Helge came in we told him about it too. They even looked up weather for the coming days for us (more wind, turning to be exactly against us, and then rain, too). We then went into their small store to buy a couple of beers and some chips, and we chatted more with the both of them. Helge gave us a taste of some tap beer they had that was really fresh, and then gave us some more chips for free. After we talked with them a while, they had a small exchange in Danish, and then Lene went back into the office. Helge then said they were going to give us their private, small cabin at the lake - they call it their little escape - so we could sleep out of the wind that night. 

It's called Skovhytten - forest hut

It was the sweetest sleep we could have had, and we woke up feeling very rested and renewed.  We were genuinely sad to say goodbye. I hope we go back and see them again one day. 

It was still windy.

In the morning the road dipped and wound a little, which was nice. We rolled into a wide river valley that was flat and open, then up the other side, doing some real climbing in a beautiful forest that sheltered us from the wind for a few minutes. As we rode out of the valley, we passed two roadies walking their bikes up the hill. We talked to them for a minute before continuing on up, and once it leveled out they caught up to us and rode with us until they turned off the route to go home. At one point that morning, we turned west for a moment and our back was to the wind.   We flew, hooting and cheering, for less than a kilometer. Big wind.

We took a slightly more direct route that morning, on the regional route 35, and we were rewarded with a cruise through an art school of some kind, housed in a castle.

There were hand blown glass globes in the fountain and hanging from the trees

Up the hill was a gallery with fantastic mosaic

And then back to the hay bales and big wind.

At a critical turn off, we stopped to talk about our options one more time. Over the previous two days, of horrible wind and gravel bike trap roads, we had mentioned trains to one another. We kept deciding to fight on, somehow. Now we had an opportunity to turn to go towards Jelling, a town with a train station. We were looking towards rain and and more wind, and a wind that would turn south within a couple of days. It was Sept 9th, just 5 days from our birthday (yes, we share a birthday). It could be another 5 or six days to ride our bikes to Hirtshals. We were not having fun. Perhaps you see where this is going.

We went to Jelling, and immediately caught a train south to Vejle, two stops, where we could get a train to Hjørring, and then a local train to Hirtshals. It all happened that afternoon - and that evening we were able to check the ferry schedule to Bergen. Sadly, the next ferry wasn't until Sunday, the 12th. It was late enough that Joshua almost insisted that we just get a hotel room. The campsite wasn't right in town and it was getting dark very quickly.

The next morning we checked a campsite on the outside of town and found it closed for the season. Good thing we hadn't tried the night before. Another campsite on the other side of town would be closing the following day. We might not have had much luck riding north even if it hadn't been blowing 30mph, if campsites were closing already. We didn't really like the hotel we had stayed in, and it was quite over priced, so we went to the Motel Nordsøen just across the street, which was lovely. Now we just had the problem of figuring out how to have fun in Hirtshals for 2 days.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thanks Stefan

For our biggest donor so far - stating that we could only spend it on beer... I think we still have a couple beers left on your tab. Thanks for that.

A Budvar In Flensburg

A tall Radler in Kappeln

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Damp to Denmark

Fall held back for just a little longer. A pretty stiff wind blew as we wound our way north along the Ostsee Radweg, sometimes the wind was with us, but most of the time it was at our side or at some diagonal - not helping, not as bad as a head wind. The east coast of northern Germany is beautiful. Even though Damp had a couple of strange high-rises, perhaps hotels built in the 80s, the attraction of the waterfront is not diminished. Hundreds of sailboats dotted the horizon. Maybe thousands.

It is fair to mention here that bicycle touring has some benefits over other forms of travel. We haven't mentioned this at all, mostly because it is so obvious to us. But perhaps you can think of these things throughout this and all future posts; when riding through a country on a bicycle, you are often taken by tourist interest points as well as to vistas and long stretches of beautiful seaside, forest, or man-made dyke that are not accessible by car. Some places are fantastic partly because there is no sound of traffic, no smell of exhaust. Of course, you can walk many of these places, but cover much less ground over a longer period of time. Some places we have found ourselves in would take a day to walk to. (This is by no means a criticism of walking. Walking is awesome, too, just different).

We followed the path in that photo above for a few kilometers, then wound through the town of Damp, and came out the other side to again follow along the seaside, just above the beaches, sharing the path with families, dog walkers, runners, and other people on bikes. We stopped for lunch along the path where it went by a campsite, and there was a picnic table. Our view?

We watched a lone seagull catch and eat crabs near one of these jetties.

As you can see, it continued to be sunny and clear, and the rains of just a week ago were almost forgotten. The coast is interrupted again by a fjord, so once again we found ourselves heading west along sheltered paths, up and down rolling hills, and once we hit the fjord itself it was in and out of view as we wound back and forth through unexpected forests. The path surface was constantly changing. My only forest shot is blurry, sadly, as I was more focused on making it through the muddy patches in the road. But we post it anyway.

At one point, we evened out with the fjord. It looked like this:

We rode up a little rise

And emerged onto the top of a small dyke, complete with small bike path

Sometimes, the path was covered with kelp

Somewhere during this afternoon, when we had decided to push on to one more campsite while the sun was out and the wind died down, Joshua had his first spill. We were riding along a narrow path with grass on either side, but the grass was tall and the path was uneven. Joshua and I were both riding in the grass because it was a little smoother. All of a sudden, Joshua was rolling on the ground, arms and legs in the air. He had turned to go back onto the path and his rear wheel had slipped out from under him. He survived. I made him walk it off, make sure he wasn't still in shock and injured without feeling it yet, like he did when I took a spill. We both had some Rescue Remedy, just for fun. But I didn't even need to bandaid him.

We camped at Camping Steinberghaff, another very friendly campsite, this time the woman who greeted us spoke excellent English and was curious about our trip. There was even a place to have dinner in the tent camping area.

In the morning we started up again fairly early, with the sun shining once again, and the wind blowing a little bit harder. Still nothing daunting, but we were already starting to get sick of the sound of wind. And  it was crisp out. Fall was on its way. The previous night had been our coldest. We had started to see ripening apples and pears, an exciting new treat for us. This was the best apple I had ever tasted.

It wasn't too far to get to Flensburg, the border city with Denmark. However the last 12km we followed the bike route through a huge park or national forest of some kind, and it was hilly with a dirt and rock path surface. We were expecting to be in town quickly, 12km could have taken 25 minutes, but it ended up being slow going and technical riding. We even had to push our bikes up a very steep ramp that was hard for someone without a fully loaded bicycle to use. With all our weight, it was very challenging. In Flensburg, we sat at a quayside cafe that was entirely outdoor, with a sandy floor and little beach shelters. We saw a few people eat big ice creams and then pass out in their beach seats, sheltered from the wind and warmed by the sun. Afterwards, we got some groceries and crossed into Denmark.

The first stretch included more pushing up hills, this time on very gravelly roads. Luckily, we were very close to the campsite, and what a campsite! Apparently the campsites in Denmark are some of the best in Europe and Scandinavia. This one was recently renovated. The bathrooms, including showers, were heated. No more drafty showers! There was a fancy kitchen, with many, many burners, ovens, and spaces to cook and eat.

And the wind. The wind picked up overnight, and in the morning, when I took the stakes out of the rain fly, the whole tent tried to wander away. It really looked like rain, too, but even though we were both fooled into thinking it would rain, the rain never came.

But oh the wind! We rolled into Aabenraa with hopes of a quiet place to escape to. We found a cafe, but didn't want to leave the bikes outside alone, so we almost got lattes in our laps during the big gusts. Rolling racks of clothing tried to wander down the street, away from store fronts. Not exactly hospitable.

We can follow the 3 almost all the way to Hirtshals, if we want to

We battled some pretty harsh wind as well as harsh roads on our first full day in Denmark. The southernmost part of national route 3, the Hærvejen route, seemed to contain the full 20% of non-paved roads. And they were recently gravelled, some of the worst surfaces yet. In really big gusts, the wind actually made me lose what little traction I had on the gravel and I fought to keep the bike upright. When we arrived in Vojens at the campsite, we opted to pay a little more for a cabin, just to get a break from the wind and sleep well after a rough day. The campsite had a warm bathroom, and a kitchen where we happily had a cozy dinner. Danish campsites also often offer cabins. These were kind of irresistible.

Towards the end of the day, we had run into a woman touring on her own. Naturally, she was Dutch. She said she was doing a practice ride for what she hoped would be two years on the road, starting next year. She was very excited to hear about our trip, and gave us a cheer when we told her we had sold all our things and moved out, with very few plans for the future. Her optimism and enthusiasm helped get us through the last hour or two, and she told us that after about 50 more km, the landscape gets more interesting and beautiful, which gave us something to look forward to. If only we had been heading in the same direction - it would have been a lot of fun to ride with her.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Baltic Vacation

The day starting with the Cuxhaven ferry put us into Brunsbuttel, where another canal starts and crosses a huge stretch of land - the Nord-Ostsee Canal. This canal goes from the North Sea to the East Sea, and some of the biggest boats we have seen bring their cargo through Germany, avoiding the trip all the way around Denmark. The East Sea is what the Germans call it - you may know it as the Baltic Sea.

In Brunsbuttel we stopped at an Eis Cafe, or ice cream shop, so Joshua could fix his tire, which had a hole needing a dollar bill fix. Those RiBMo tires are awesome, but very difficult to remove from the wheel.

Canals are usually a pretty straight shot from point A to point B. The Nord-Ostsee Canal goes from Brunsbuttel to Kiel, Germany. We didn't really want to go to Kiel, we wanted to go to Hirtshals, Denmark, the far northern city where there is a ferry to Bergen, Norway, so we had to decide which way to go north. There is the North Sea Bike Route, which meanders its way along the western coast of northern Germany and then Denmark. We had seen the North Sea at the end of August, and we thought there was a good chance it would only get less hospitable as the days past. But rolling up the center of the country didn't sound like the best fun either. The North Sea route is considerably longer, and as the weather was getting colder and wetter, we wanted to see if we could hustle along a little.

In the end we compromised, or took a totally random option instead. We went across the Nord-Ostsee canal as far as Rendsburg, then headed north and east towards the Ostsee Bike Route, along the Baltic coast. We like the sea. But first, the Canal:

Really big, but deceptively small once the really, really big boats are coming through.

Can you tell what this boat is carrying?

Pretty nice bike route

We took some fun ferries across this, too. The ferries are pretty regularly spaced, and we found out that they are free!

This was a normal, straight across the canal, quick on-and-off ferry

This we will call the air ferry

Dangling from the railroad bridge above

Ahead you see the 'dock'

Shortly after this ferry, Joshua got his first flat! He found another nice big hole in his tire, which he fixed with another dollar bill. As he sat down to patch his tube, I went into town for supplies, and luckily found a grocery store not too far away. We left the canal just after Rendsburg, and headed northeast towards the Gross Wittensee, a big lake with a campground. As dusk settled we started following smaller and smaller paths, until we were on a single track between two fields, the grass as high as our pedals on either side. When we hit the lake, we saw many lovely looking summer cottages, probably empty for the winter. The campground was also right on the lake, which was beautiful - a nice place to go back to, maybe one day.

The next morning we made it to Eckernforde, a really nice, big town at the base of the fjord with cool beachy culture.

We liked Eckernforde so much that we stayed almost all afternoon, wandering along the pedestrian only street at the middle of town. Once back on our bikes, we saw the also lovely harbor area, and biked towards a storm.

Wait. What?

As we were leaving town, a black cloud started to gather ahead of us.

Ramona: Should we go back to a cafe or something and wait it out?
Joshua: Is that what you want to do?
Ramona: I mean, who bikes towards a storm?
Joshua: Do you want to stop?

That kind of conversation got us right to the edge of town and just as huge raindrops started to fall we stopped under a tree to put on some rain gear. We could see the lighter sky beyond the storm, it would just be a squall. But to go ahead would mean getting soaked.

We were stopped in front of a kind of industrial looking, fenced off set of buildings, with a guard at the gate. There was a little check in window near a pedestrian gate, with an awning that would shelter us, so we headed for that and left the bikes under the tree. The place turned out to be a military base of some kind, and one of the other people waiting was a man who worked there and was about to head home on his bike. Turns out, his job is to map and then destroy undetonated mines in the Baltic Sea, leftover from WWII. That was a more interesting rain storm than we were expecting.

Sure enough, it was over very quickly, and we headed back out after saying goodbye as our new friend rode off home. Blue skies ahead!

And the sun came out! Nice bike path, too

And holy crap it looks like fall!! Walnut trees are losing their leaves!?!!? Just seeing the browning leaves, I could almost smell the cool, wet smells of fall in the north east US; riding through the leaves made me feel like the start of a new school year and the excitement of changing seasons, oblique sunshine barely warming the air, but feeling so precious for the shorter days, getting shorter in the near future.

We already found ourselves attempting to stop earlier in the day. In Switzerland, we were riding until 7pm, sometimes later, because it stayed light until 9.30 or 10pm. Already, at the very end of August, we were finding ourselves eating dinner in the dark if we stopped after 6pm.

Our destination for that night: Waabs (you can see it under Damp). But we were also very excited to see what Damp was like.

Some nice bike route signs - see the little Ostsee Radweg sign? We followed that.


Only a few km to go! We saw lots of horses, and the path rolled up and down soft hills. We arrived at a turnoff for Kleinwaabs (small Waabs) and saw that Grosswaabs (Big Waabs) was further down the road. Which Waabs were we looking for? We didn't see a Kleinwaabs on our map at first, but then we noticed Grosswaabs, which was not where we wanted to go - we had arrived! Waabs, Kleinwaabs, what's the difference?

We had a pick of two campsites in this Waabs, and we picked Camping Jordan. Our site:

Looking down from the campground on our second day

Fall didn't seem like it was falling so fast, all of a sudden. In fact, we couldn't think of any reason to hurry anymore. On our first morning, we decided that this was a really nice place to stop for a second night. Do some laundry, read books, go for walks along the rocky beach. Then on the following morning, we decided we still weren't ready to leave. We ended up staying three nights, enjoying a lovely Baltic Sea vacation.

Blackberries are ripening! And in Waabs, what grows wild in among the berries!? Hops!

Beach day

How to chill beer - the water wasn't actually cold enough

Some of the rocks are chalk, and some are iron colored

We built a little wall of rocks, to create a semi-protected pool

On the third day we watched a huge storm build up to the north. 

The wind was blowing solidly east, and we knew that as long as the wind held, we wouldn't have to worry about rain. It blew east all day long. But as we were sitting at dinner in the pizzeria by the water, the wind changed. And quickly. By the time we were walking back up to our tent, the first drops were falling and the sky was very dark. The storm stayed to the north of us, so we didn't get a complete downpour drenching, and by the morning the storm had passed. But the wind continued to blow, and not in the direction we wanted to go.

We loved Camping Jordan. The owner was friendly and helpful. He didn't speak English, and I actually had a lot of fun trying to speak German with him. Each morning he would ask, 'Und heute?' or 'And today?' and I would respond 'Wir bleiben noch eine nacht!' or 'We're staying another night!' He always smiled happily, seemingly pleased that we liked his campsite enough to keep staying. It certainly wasn't the money, because it was very cheap to camp there. When we finally left I had the feeling we might return there again one day.