SWITZERLAND to DENMARK
August 2014. Following our road trip to France we move north to Denmark to begin our journey back to Australia.
Before getting down to writing about our bike-riding experiences in and around Copenhagen I would like to tell you about an embarrassing experience relating to our train trip from Basel to Copenhagen. The embarrassment? I inadvertently posted our train tickets back to Australia in a box some days prior to departure. Normally I record ticket details such as departure date & times, carriage, seat and ticket numbers but unfortunately I failed to do this and this was our undoing.
After realising our tickets were on their way back to Australia we thought it would be a simple matter of applying to the railway company and have the tickets reissued, but not so. German rail companies have no record of who is travelling on their trains. I was told that it’s because many German people do not like their names recorded unnecessarily on files. Our only alternative was to purchase a second set of tickets, which in total turned out to be a very expensive exercise indeed. The lost tickets were for a twin-berth sleeper to Hamburg then day train to Copenhagen and the second set were for four-berth sleeper. Normally we do not travel in expensive twin-berth compartments but because it was getting towards the end of our trip and we had, to this point, lived frugally, we thought the twin berth experience would be our odyssey splurge.
Prior to boarding the train I had the lost ticket story written in German and handed it to the carriage attendant. The attendant was very sympathetic to our plight. Even though he believed us he couldn’t commit a cabin until the last station pickup. If there was an empty cabin then it was obviously ours.
The train trip from Basel to Hamburg takes around fourteen hours. For the first three hours we stood in the passageway outside our four-berth compartment waiting for the train to get to the last pick-up station. Around midnight the attendant took us to an unoccupied twin berth compartment. After standing in the corridor for three hours we were happy to get our commodious abode.
Night trains are an agreeable way to travel around Europe as they are, fast, convenient, comfortable and one gets a night’s accommodation. Some might say night train journeys mean you miss the scenery but if you need to keep moving they are the way to go. One very positive factor for those toting a bike is most overnight trains have carriages available for the transport of bicycles. The train we were on had places for one hundred and sixteen bikes, four which we had paid for.
There is something magical about train travel, especially at night. By its very nature external distractions are blocked out and therefore one’s mind has time to wander. As I lay listening to the sounds of the train I thought about tracks that lead to exotic destinations. In my half slumber I thought about countries on our ‘bucket list’ that maybe we could visit using trains: India came to mind.
One major advantage of train travel is space. One can walk about enter into a spot of social intercourse with fellow travellers if so inclined. On long distance train trips my plan is to stand awhile in the carriage entrance foyer. Invariably there will be other travellers who are keen to chat. I think carriage entrance foyers should have a sign, ‘If you want to chat, stand here”!
Another positive aspect of train travel for us is making use of dining cars. Nothing gives us more pleasure than sitting in a dining car sampling what’s on offer while the world goes by. The quality of train food in many countries leaves a lot to be desired but we found some top class food on one of our trips.
Hanging around the railway station when visiting a city for the first time is a must because it is there you can people watch. Watching people, particularly at stations, reveals the rhythm of the country you are in. It can be creative too, trying to guess people’s positions in life, where they are coming from and going to. I suppose it is a form of amateur social science. And then there is the reality of love on stations: joyous hellos and the serious goodbyes.
Another fascination for me is the architecture of the stations. Older railway stations built during the golden age of steam are engineering wonders. The first thing I do when arriving at a railway station is look up. I was rewarded when we arrived at Copenhagen as the steel lattice arches are an engineering masterpiece
The arches in the above photograph are a perfect example of Belt-lam construction. Belt-lam arches are made from planks of wood with end joints staggered. The curved planks are fastened together with through bolts. The Copenhagen concourse arches span thirty metres and they were erected around 1902.
The train trip to Copenhagen necessitated a train change in Hamburg, which went ahead without fuss. All we had to do was wheel our loaded bikes from one train to another. This journey was unusual in one respect because the train drives onto a ferry at Puttgarden and passengers go topside for the 45 minute crossing to Rodbyhavn in Denmark.
By now we are experts in moving our bikes from platform to platform. Most multi level platforms have lifts so it’s easy but if there are no lifts we use escalators. However using an escalator to transport a bike from one level to another does take some skill.
First thing is to look around and see if you are under the eye of the railway police, if not proceed with caution. Once on the escalator the best plan is to apply both brakes and rest one elbow on the moving escalator handrail, this triangulates your bike and body. Most escalators have a sign ‘No bikes’ but we prefer to take a chance as it is preferable to carrying our bikes up or down flights of stairs.
Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and has a population of 5.6 million of which a little over half a million live in Copenhagen. Immediately after leaving the station we were astounded as to how many bicycles there were on the city streets. Statistics reveal that there are more bikes than cars on the roads so bikes reign. The Danish capital is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world and after experiencing the wonderful bike paths we can believe it.
Up until the above photograph was taken I thought I might record all the different bike brand names but after this lot I decided to abandon the idea. The reason for wanting to know brand names is so I would know a top brand from a lesser quality one. Amazingly, one sees very few bikes of the same brand.
Every weekday morning at around 7-00am Copenhagen comes to life. Men in business suits and women very fashionably dressed mount their steed and head for work. Parents have no hesitation about taking to the roads with their children in tow. Statistics indicate that there are very few car/bike accidents and what ones there are the car-drivers were found fully liable in 90% of cases.
In 2012 some 36% of commuters, both those working or studying in Copenhagen city, cycled to work, school or university. The Danish cycle culture is as old as the bicycle itself; Danes were scooting around on bikes as far back as the 1880s. However in the 1960s cars almost displaced the bicycle but due to the oil crisis and resistance from the environmental movement against the building of more roads their love of the bike turned to passion. That passion remains today: it is a pleasure to ride the bike lanes and roads in such a bike-friendly country.
From what I understand the Mobilt Cykelverksted tours the city and parks at specific locations where cyclists leave their bikes for a service. The mechanic unlocks the bike from the street rack, takes it into the van and does repairs or adjustments. The owner of the bike probably never meets the mechanic. All communication and payment is done through the internet.
The map of Africa on the side of the van relates to the fact that the Mobilt Cykelverksted collect unwanted bikes and send them to Africa where people are desperate for wheels.
After Rolf, our bike-riding enthusiast in Zurich retires a business like this would suit him admirably.
OUR LODGINGS IN COPENHAGEN
During our Encountering the Past travels over the past couple of years we have stayed in a variety of accommodation. Because we are no longer carrying our tent and sleeping bags (which were sent back to Australia with the Basel to Copenhagen train tickets) we are staying in hotels and hostels. In the case of Copenhagen, we chose to stay in the Danhostel, six kilometres from the city centre. The reason for selecting the hostel as a place to stay was because it was relatively inexpensive as it was out in the bush, or in the Green Lands as the Danish say.
From the sixties to the early eighties hostels came under the umbrella of the Youth Hostel Association. Bev and I have both fond and not so fond memories of YHA establishments. YHA hostels in those days were run like an arm of the military. There was a night-time curfew, strict rules relating to kitchen use and prior to leaving the hostel the visitor had to do domestic duties such as sweeping the floors or cleaning the kitchen and/or toilets. The association in the early days advertised that parents had no cause to worry about anything untoward happening to their daughters if they stayed in a YHA hostel.
German hostels were the most regulated. In a Black Forest hostel an early morning siren sounded to wake hostellers. Hostellers had to be out of the hostel by 9-00am; there was no sitting around inside the hostel during the day. The doors didn’t open again until late afternoon. In the early days only segregated dormitory accommodation was available. These days there are mixed dorms and single and double rooms with en-suites available.
In 1970 whilst staying in a YHA in Colombo Sri Lanka we decided to clean the toilet as part of our duties. The toilet hadn’t been cleaned for years and it turned out to be a major project. Other hostellers and hostel staff stood in wonderment as we scraped and scrubbed. By the time we finished it was possible to see the porcelain once more.
Changes were forced on the YHA when the popularity of the backpacker culture forced the YHA to adapt so as not to lose clientele.
A very positive aspect with regards our foldup bikes is the fact we were able to take them into our hostel room. It would have been impossible to accommodate two full-sized bikes.
YHA type accommodation has advantages. It is where you meet travellers of similar thinking, you can swap yarns and compare and commiserate about being on the road. Most of the talking is done in the communal kitchen and dining areas. At the Danhostel we met Sid and Sula, natives of India but living in the USA. Sid and his wife Sula followed the Hindu way of living and it was enlightening to talk with them about their culture and beliefs. My first meeting with Sula was in the hostel kitchen. She was cooking noodles and I thought only a bowl of noodles was not the most exciting meal so I gave her some vegetables to add to the noodles.
Following my vegetable offer Sula burst into tears as she had prayed that food would appear and my donation of vegies fulfilled her prayer. They were short on food supplies because they arrived in Copenhagen after the supermarket had closed. Sula insisted on cooking traditional Indian food for us on the following two nights, she wouldn’t even allow us to buy the ingredients. That is the advantage of staying in hostels, meeting people and sharing their world and food.
Sid is a civil engineer and was en-route to an Indian university reunion. Sula is a long distance runner and serious meditator. I spoke at length with both of them about India and after thinking India during my slumber on the overnight train from Basel to Copenhagen I’m inspired to consider visiting the land of intrigue once more.
A few photographs back I showed Bev ‘coming off the Green Lands’ and in the distance was the Bella Sky Hotel and before I go on I should explain why the building has a leaning tower of Pisa look.
The inclination of the towers and the blue glass triangles of the façade were expressely designed to resist solar heat gain and loss. The height of the towers are seventy six and a half metres and they lean fifteen degrees off the vertical. The hotel has eight hundred and fourteen rooms and is Scandinavia’s largest.
Copenhagen is well known for its modern innovative architecture. I get the impression that architects are locked in a battle of trying to outdo each other with unusual design. Following are a few images of modern buildings, including the Bella Sky Hotel, that Bev and I came across whilst riding around Copenhagen.
Before the advent of CAD (computer-aided design) drawing systems drawing the plans for the Bella Sky would have been a complicated exercise indeed.
There is no other shape more important in engineering than a triangle and I came to this conclusion when I was building our house. A vertical post would not stand alone until cross bracing was employed. The cross bracing, the post and the ground formed a triangle. Triangles are everywhere. If you place a ladder against a wall you have made a triangle. Three garden stakes tied together at the top for growing tomatoes forms three triangles. When I lie in bed at home and look out the window the window frames intersect outside rafters and form triangles and I even see triangles when I look at intersecting branches of trees. When I come to the stage of being put in a coffin I hope it is in the shape of a triangle!
Fortunately not all the architecture in Copenhagen adheres to minimalist rules. There are many old buildings and one of the most famous is the Tivoli Gardens.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, pleasure gardens (commonly called Tivoli or Vauxhall gardens) appeared across Europe and the developed world. The gardens were a place where city dwellers could promenade and escape the hustle and bustle of city life. There was musical entertainment in grand pavilions and at dusk the surrounds were lit which provided a magical atmosphere. The Tivoli in Copenhagen was established in 1843 by an enterprising local and was an instant success. Judging by the number of visitors to the Tivoli the day we were there the success continues. There is a belief that Walt Disney was inspired to build Disneyland following a visit to the Tivoli Gardens.
Near the Tivoli Gardens and high above Copenhagen’s City Hall Square there are two gold-plated statues which acted as a weather vane from 1936 to 1995. If the weather forecast was for fair weather the girl on her bike appeared, if rain was predicted another girl with an umbrella and dog would rotate into view. The foul weather girl can be seen partially exposed on the right side in the following photograph. Unfortunately the girls no longer rotate as the movement mechanism broke down in 1996 and the astronomical cost of repairs has made it prohibitive in getting the girls into action again.
The web page mentioned above is definitely worth a visit: there are so many creative people in the world!
Another old building in Copenhagen is the Carlsberg Glyptotek (art museum). The art collection stored in the Glyptotek is built around the personal collection of Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the Carlsberg Breweries.
The Glyptotek has a collection of our favourite French sculptor, Rodin. Housed inside are the ‘The Kiss’ and the monumental ‘Burgers of Calais’. Outside in the garden is the ‘The Thinker’. Bev and I decided to boil the billy and have lunch with the Thinker and reminisce about the times in 1972 when we travelled France in search of Rodin’s original works.
Carl Jacobsen, the founder of the Glyptotek, first saw ‘The Thinker’ at the French Exhibition in Copenhagen in 1888 and soon after began buying works directly from the artist. Other impressive bronze sculptures (not all Rodin’s work) in the gardens and around the Glyptotek are shown in the following photographs.
Golems are anthropomorphic, meaning they are forms described or thought of as having a human form created from innate matter and brought to life when the needs be. For more on Golems go to the previous posting, Prague. Simply type ‘Prague’ in the search window.
The whole of the exterior of the Glyptotek was adorned with wonderful sculptures, not only bronze ones but those in marble as well.
In the world of the paranormal a birthmark is said to be associated with reincarnation and a violent death or injury. The topic of birthmarks is a fascinating subject and is worthy of further reading. The marks on these statues are of course not really birthmarks but are probably caused by the reaction of chemicals in the parent stone reacting with the atmosphere or perhaps it is simply mould. Following are two photographs (rear wall of the Glyptotek) where the wall stain has been used to create an artwork.
An historic location out of Copenhagen is Helsingor (Elsinore) and it is where the Royal castle Kronborg is located. It is more world-renowned as Elsinore, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Before the Middle Ages, Helsingor was a quiet and not overly wealthy market town. In 1429 Danish King Eric established the Sound Dues and from then on its prosperity grew. Sound Dues meant all foreign ships passing through the strait between Denmark and Sweden had to pay a toll which eventually constituted up to two thirds of Denmark’s income. With excess cash on hand he had Castle Kronborg built.
As has been the case with many buildings during our travels part of it was obscured with scaffolding so the following photograph of a bronze model and an image from Wikipedia will have to suffice.
King Eric reaped millions of Krona in dues from passing ships’ captains. The dues paid were based on a percentage of the value of a ship’s cargo. If it was thought that the captain had underestimated the value of the shipment the state would purchase the cargo at the specified amount if it was deemed to be useful to the state. If not, the cannons would deliver a salvo and sink the ship. This course of action soon reduced the underestimation of cargo values.
Bev and I took a tour of the castle and we were glad we did. The following images show a little of the wealth that the Sound Dues brought in.
The reason for the blinds on these boxes was so the King and his close confidants could hide from the ‘plebs’ below. They could also have an unseen snooze if the sermon happened to be boring.
These days the harbour precinct adjacent to the castle is known as the Culture Harbour and after reading the list relating to coming attractions I can believe it.
I am surmising the dry dock where the second ship on left is docked is where the previous photograph captioned (An innovative building and sunning spot built in an old dry dock) is now. Castle Kronborg is out of view to the right of photograph.
Shakespeare, King Eric, Kronborg Castle and Copenhagen bikes by the thousands brings this post to an end. Bev and I hope you have enjoyed the read, albeit a little after the event. The next posting deals with our travels from Copenhagen to Karlstad and Uppsala in Sweden, a run-in with the Swedish railway police (‘Gods’ as the locals call them), mushroom picking and a stay on the Island of Javeron on Lake Vanern, one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
One does not need to be philosophical about life to achieve enlightenment. All one has to do is be considerate of others and extend kindness to those you come in contact with.