Towards my final destination – Copenhagen here I come! October, 2015

Direction – Copenhagen

So here I was on the road again! I felt sad to leave Prästabonnens Gård, but on the other hand I was very excited about beginning the last part of my cycling journey and reaching my final destination – Denmark. I had never been to Denmark either and I dreamt about visiting Copenhagen. I heard so many good things about this city and that together with Amsterdam it was the most bicycle friendly city in Europe (or the whole wide world?) After going to Amsterdam in May, which completely possessed my heart and is ranked by now as my second favorite visited city in the world, I was very curious about the famous Danish capital.

I was lucky again to find a place in Copenhagen, where eventually I was about to stay for almost a week. It was thanks to the bike polo/messenger community that I contacted few days before my arrival and asked if anyone could host me for a few nights. Trine, a messenger girl, replied to me and suggested that I should stay longer so that I could race with them in Alleycat, which they were organizing for Halloween. Of course I couldn’t say no to such an invitation! Thrilled with a vision of staying within the bicycle community, riding in an alley and hopefully playing some polo and having lots of time to visit the city, I started peddling towards Denmark.

Last days in Sweden – Lund, Malmö, Helsingborg

 Since I still had plenty of time and Suzanne offered that I could stay in her apartment in Lund, I divided my last part of journey into 5 days of cycling. This way I could peacefully enjoy my last kilometers through Swedish lands and do some sightseeing in the cities on the way.

I stayed for a night in Lund, which is the oldest city in present-day Sweden and well known for its University. Walking the streets of Lund I was imagining Suzanne living and teaching here. It’s a very pleasant and quite small city; I think I would enjoy studying there.

The next day I cycled to Malmö. It seemed very different from what I had always imagined. It is the third biggest city in Sweden, and I have no bloody idea why I thought it would be smaller and maybe a more cozy, more fishery-town style… I was very wrong; my imagination sometimes misleads me big time 🙂 It is actually a pretty modern city, a cultural and economical center of the southern part of Sweden. From Malmö leads the longest bridge in Europe that connects Sweden with Denmark. However, it’s not possible yet to cross it with bicycle and many people advised me that taking ferry in Helsingborg is better for the ride views, so I chose the later option. My very hospitable Couchsurfing host surprised me by taking me for a dinner to… his grandmother’s home! He explained to me that he promised her he would fix something in her flat and that he usually ate meals with her every now and then. It was a super nice experience to have such an insight in a usual day routine of a Swedish family and their relationships. His grandma was absolutely lovely; she cooked a nice meal and showed me an album with newspaper clips about the history of Malmö that she’s been collecting through years. All of a sudden it made me think of my grandparents and how I missed having them around.

lodki
Views from the road

I spent the afternoon and next morning walking around the city and in the early afternoon I took off to my next Couchsurfing stop. The route was very nice; from time to time I was cycling close to the coastline from where I could see shapes of Denmark’s shores. I arrived after sundown at my host’s place. She lived in a truly lovely house in the woods. I have to admit that for a moment I was worried that I wouldn’t find it as there where many similar looking houses and that I would get stuck in the darkness of the wilderness but I managed as always. It turned out that she was a super nice fellow cyclist, so we shared our biking experiences over the dinner. In the morning shortly after sunrise we split and I cycled my last part of Swedish route.

Wow, I was almost done with my trip. From day one, almost two months ago when I arrived in Sweden, I managed to cycle over 800 km and pass through so many distinct places and meet so many interesting new people that I was feeling a bit sad that it was nearly the end of it. If only the weather was warmer I would definitely cycle further, maybe down south Denmark up to Hamburg in Germany where my friend from childhood was living. Well, it will have to be next time as I’m sure there will be next time, somewhere, somehow 🙂

Now being even closer to my destination I could see Denmark’s coastlines clearer. How exciting!

My last stop in Sweden was Helsingborg, a town that is the country’s closest point to Denmark with only 4 km dividing both borders. My Couchsurfer was not Swedish but Hungarian and it was interesting to hear about his experiences as a foreigner living in this country. He showed me around the town that has pretty views over Helsingør, the Danish city on the other side of the Øresund. We ate Thai food and watched a documentary about ancient civilizations that followed with curious discussion on that matter.

denmark on the horizon
Helsingborg with Denmark on the horizon

Farewell Sweden, welcome Denmark!

 The next day before saying “See you around!” to Sweden I sat down in the harbor for a while. I thought of the fact that I’ve been super lucky all the way during my trip. All the people I met were very hospitable and open-minded; each and every one was interesting and very different from each other and for sure I won’t forget them. I wish I could tell you in more detail about all of them, but that would take ages 🙂 Well, it was time for Denmark!

crossing the border
Crossing the border – Sweden on the right / Denmark on the left

The ride in the ferry was super quick; in about 25 minutes I was already on the other side of the Øresund strait. Hello Denmark, so good to meet you finally! The day was very windy, but the route was amazing. All the way to Copenhagen I had a neat cycling lane and the path led mostly by the coast. Stopping by the beach for a snack and watching kite surfers I rested for the last time before reaching my final destination. I was totally astonished by the cycling indications throughout the road that kept me perfectly navigated. And the fact that all the cars I saw on the way were parked either on the street or on the pedestrian’s sidewalk, but never on the bike lane, was truly impressive! Wow, I already felt instant love for Danish culture.

Cph – the capital of bicycles

cph i made it
Nyhavn harbor

 I arrived in Copenhagen at last! Wow and wow again – so many bicycles and bike tracks everywhere that I almost got lost twice before reaching my host’s place. Trine was a Danish bike messenger and lived with her best friend Boline and four foreign students – Italian, Norwegian, Romanian and Spanish. It was a nice flat and super nice people who right away made me feel comfortable at their home as if it was my own.

In the evening Trine gave me a quick bike tour through downtown’s main sightseeing points and took me to a dinner with her friends and some Finnish students. On the way she told me a bit about the city’s cycling rules, culture and infrastructure. We rode the busiest cycle street in the capital, Nørrebrogade, that is about 3 km long, which directly links a couple locations and the city center and in the rush hours the bicycle traffic is tremendous. Statistics say that daily it is used by around 36,000 cyclists. Nice. In the next few days I rode this street at least twice a day.

The next day before work Trine took me to The Little Mermaid, which turned out to be much smaller than the one we have in Warsaw and to Nyhavn Harbor that is colored with shore-side homes and tall ships docked along the quays. During that day and the following ones I cycled the streets of Copenhagen back and forward, learning my way through it, visiting key places on the map of the city: National Gallery of Denmark, famous Christiania, hippie zone, Ørestad district with its modern architecture, coffee places and messenger meeting points. But mostly I saw more streets, buildings and bicycles than anything else during my stay 🙂

graffiti cph
Norrebrogade street

Bike messengers community and alleycat

 On Friday evening Trine took me to their usual bike messenger hang out in the city center. We had a few beers and great laughs. I quickly learnt that Danish people are very straightforward, funny, nice and easy-going, super cool actually.

Saturday was the Halloween and the Alleyween – the biggest alleycat (an informal bicycle race that usually always takes place in cities and normally is organized by bicycle messengers – loads of super fun!) in Denmark annually organized on that very occasion by members of Copenhagen messenger community. Last time I rode in an alley was back in Warsaw probably about 4 years ago, so I was very excited but also very afraid of it. It was organized at night and I didn’t know the city at all. However, Trine found me an awesome teammate, Emma, an ex-messenger who turned out to be suuuuper fast and good at racing. Together with her super nice friend Jody we created a cool team of three. They knew the city very well and rode like crazy, so I had a tough time trying to keep up with their pace feeling a bit like a third wheel, but hell, it was so much fun! We raced for about 2 hours and 30+ km throughout Copenhagen; there were 44 teams, 90+ riders and 10 checkpoints. For me that was the biggest alley I ever raced. Even though we didn’t arrive first (surprised, right?) Emma and me, dressed as Malificient, a beautiful evil mistress from Disney, we won a prize for our costumes. The next day I had also quite a hangover after the afterparty as you might imagine.

Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to play bike polo since the pick up games were very postponed but at least I met some of the players. A few years back I met in Warsaw on a tournament two Danish polo players and now I happily discovered that one of the guys is still in the game and remembers me. Reunions after many years are always a nice experience and so it was this time. I was impressed of how their polo/messenger community works well together organizing bicycle workshops for children and other events of that sort. Really nice and open people with good attitude and teamwork. I hope I will have a chance to visit them again one day.

A souvenir and a final countdown

 bike tat 2I almost forgot about one more little detail. I got myself a present in Copenhagen – a new race bike tattooed on my right wrist. On the beginning of my journey I promised myself that I would get a bike tattoo if I manage to get all the way to Denmark on two wheels and I did! From Nynashamn in Sweden to Copenhagen in Denmark; almost 900 km, 13 couchsurfing hosts + Trine and 2 WWOOF farms. Quite an extraordinary experience. Now, this bike will always remind me of these two months in Scandinavia that were filled with lots of learning, thinking, reflecting and analyzing, but also enjoying, resting and relaxing. The route was filled with beautiful and happy moments, but also sometimes with difficult and stressful ones. I had been fighting with my thoughts many times, pushed myself to the limits and learnt to enjoy the best I can whatever comes on my way. It was a new and powerful lesson and now I was about to go back to Barcelona and face reality. Soon I would have to make a decision about what I want to next – look for a new job in Barcelona or hit the road again.

So I left Copenhagen profoundly touched by kindness of the people I met on my way and thankful for their help and hospitality. I loved the city. Even though it was cloudy for the most of my stay, I felt good in it. It is interesting and has a character. But I missed Barcelona too and was looking forward to see it again. See you hopefully soon Scandinavia, thank you for having me and hello again Barcelona!

scnadinavia map 2.2
From Nynashamn to Copenhagen!

 

 

Advertisements

On the route – cycling through my mind. October 2015

Farewell Krogstorps Gård!

Saying goodbye to Krogstorps Gård was tough. Hans and Peter were very good hosts and their farm an idyllic place. My days were full of new experiences and evenings reserved for wonderful walks and good readings by the chimney. I had plenty of time just for myself and spent many cheerful moments in good company. I tried a couple of very tasty traditional Swedish meals cooked by my hosts and ate definitely too much chocolate. And last but not least, Krogstorps was a great beginning of a transition I felt I was about to make soon. When I decided to go WWOOFing I knew that I was not ready yet to go to one of these as-much-as-possible self-sufficient and sustainable farms. Instead I need a smooth conversion from my city life to countryside one. I felt I should take one step at a time, because the change seemed too big to jump head-first right away. Here I had my first contact with farm life and work, but still had all the comforts of the typical household – slept in a warm house with a fresh bed linen and cozy bed, hot shower and a toilet. We were recycling and composting, but used electricity for most things. My hosts were still keeping their regular jobs in order to meet ends and to slowly become more self-sufficient and I’m sure they are on the right path to it. I felt like Krogstorps Gård was somewhere in the middle between city and countryside life, just what I needed at that time. Now it was time to pack again the panniers and jump on my bicycle. The road was waiting for me!

leaving the farm

On the road – my bike and me

Right, I was about to cycle a few hundred kilometers through unknown country on my own for the first time. It might sound like not a big deal for many of you, but for me it was a personal challenge. I always thought I’m not a bad cyclist; I bike everywhere in the city, once a week or two used to do up to 100 km distances on my race bike and I also play my beloved bike polo (lately unfortunately less than I wish to). Bicycling means freedom to me, and it feels like an extension of my body. I love cycling and everything related to it. But until that day I only once went on a longer bike trip with one of my beloved friends from home. It was in May and in 6 days we made it across 400 km from Amsterdam to Brussels. We didn’t rush but slowly cycled through cities, enjoying the moment and sightseeing on the way. It taught me a couple of useful things such as that you have to be prepared for all possible weather… including rain. Yes I know, I was super dumb to think that maybe luckily it wouldn’t rain in the Netherlands in May. I was very wrong; it already began to rain when we were leaving Amsterdam and continued for the next 5 hours of cycling. You can imagine how we looked and felt after this ride. This time I got prepared for the rain but not for the cool October weather. Well, actually everything was fine except my feet, which were freezing a bit. But it’s also because I have a very bad blood circulation in my feet and my cycling shoes were more for spring/summer season than for Nordic autumn.

off I go

Nevertheless here I was and ready to go beyond all my comfort zones and cycle from the east to the southwest of Sweden on my vintage Panasonic race bike. Many friends advised me to get a more comfortable bicycle for such a long trip. Like a hybrid/trekking bike where you wouldn’t have to ride all the time in a hunched position and attaching panniers would be easier. But no, I wanted to do it on my good old buddy Panasonic. This bike went through a lot with me and travelled to many places. It was a present from my Mum for my BA graduation, bought with the help of my friends. It was bought used but in a very good condition. Strong steel frame survived even my accident with a car I crashed into one summer. And now it was supposed to support me and another 18-20 kg of baggage.

Back in Warsaw my friend had to invent a way to assemble a front bike rack since the fork was missing necessary holes and hooks and the rear rack was attached only to the saddle tube. Because of it I decided to take 4 panniers – two fronts and two rear ones, each pair not exceeding 10 kg for the balance and safety. At first it felt a bit shaky, but with each kilometer I was getting more used to driving this camel-like bike.

Route plan

When it came to the route plan I decided not to go too hard on myself since I didn’t know what the weather would be like nor the condition of roads and remembering that it will be my first time cycling consecutively for about 9-10 days. I simply couldn’t predict how I would handle it and also I wanted to enjoy this ride, having time to stop and relax whenever I felt like it. My daily distance averaged between 50 and 75 km, but there were places where I couldn’t find a couch and instead of cycling 100 km I was breaking it into two days having 70 + 30 km distances to cover. After all, these short days were good for resting and regaining energy. There were a few days that I cycled against strong wind. It felt like I wasn’t moving at all and making distance of 50 km felt like 100. However, I was super lucky that it did not rain even once during my journey. I used an offline GPS map (OsmAnd), which turned out to be a fair choice. In settings I specifically selected paved cycling routes and it happened only 3 times that it guided me through gravel or forest paths. Fortunately Sweden has good quality roads and many cycling paths going along the way. In other cases they weren’t busy routes, but small ones leading through gorgeous endless forests and patches of fields. Sometimes I could cycle for almost an hour without seeing a car.

woods

These days when I passed through vast forests shimmering with autumn colors and smelling of fallen leaves and pine trees were unquestionably the best but also often the most difficult. Many times these beautiful narrow string-like roads ran through constant ups and downs, having no mercy to my tired legs and back. How I praised these views and at the same time cursed these hills! I passed many lakes; enormous and small ones, all of them filled me with longing for a little wooden house with a window looking out at one of them. I took my breaks camping either besides them or in the woods. I had a snack, scribbled in my journal and stared for a long time into the sky above me thinking of life.

Reflections from the road

roadA few days into my cycling journey I understood why people so often say that solo trips are mind clearing and heart opening. At first I was more concerned about my gear, distance, condition or my day target, but with time I started to sink into my deep thoughts and reminiscences. I reflected on my past, considered the present and wondered about the future. I went over and over again situations that happened, questioning if they could go other way around and what that would mean for me. But deep inside of me I began to fully understand that there are no rights or wrongs, all of it that happens we should see as a new experience and a lesson. After all I wouldn’t be here if I took a different turn in the past, right? Who knows if I would know my best friends? Or seen places I travelled to? Everything would be different so, – no regrets! – I decided. From now on I will try my best to enjoy whatever world brings on my path and try to learn from my achievements, failures, good and bad choices. And importantly, live this life like I please not like someone tells me I should. Don’t look back at others, because it is me living in my skin and no one can feel or understand what is going on inside me better than I could. It was time to put and end to commonly acclaimed stereotypes and live the way I felt was right for me. And I felt that I don’t want to come back to my regular life. At least not yet and not any time soon. I wanted to reconnect with nature, find fulfillment in my daily work and purpose of it. I decided I would continue WWOOFing after coming back to Spain and slowly discover where it would take me.

Couchsurfing

 Now I was on the route continuing southwest of Sweden. I never slept alone in a tent and thought it might be too cold anyways so I arranged sleepovers through Couchsurfing. I had been using this website for traveling already a couple of times and I always had a positive experience. However, I haven’t thought of the fact that eventually it would be 9 couches in 9 days, each of it after a couple of hours of cycling. Each time approaching my new host I felt exhausted, but once I reached the place I was so excited about meeting new people that my strength and energy came back in no time.

road thru fields

I stayed with all sort of people; families, single mothers and single fathers, students, couples and singles, foreigners like me and local people, on farms and in the woods, in small towns and in the cities. It was a totally amazing experience that nothing can be compared to. I believe that staying in hotels, hostels or even camping wouldn’t be able to give me the same experience. I met lots of interesting and truly inspiring people who gave me the possibility to look into their daily lives and reflect about mine. This way I learned things about Sweden and its people that I wouldn’t be able to read about in any guidebook. Some of my hosts cooked for me traditional or regional Swedish dishes while the others invited me to try their homemade bread, preserves and eggs from their hens. I was even invited to eat at my host’s Grandmother’s home! A few of them took me sightseeing; others showed around their animal farms or were they worked. Many times I talked with my hosts late into the night and with others I watched movies. Usually we ate breakfast together, but on some occasions they went to work early and let me sleep longer and left the keys so that I could let myself out. They were friendly, open-minded and trusting to let me in. But it also took balls to go to all these strangers’ homes without knowing what to expect behind the closed door. Especially the ones in remote places or when my hosts were men. At some point, already on the road for a week I thought that actually no one on earth knows where am I since I didn’t report to anyone. Being a girl travelling alone and sleeping at strangers’ homes can be more risky than for a guy I think. So before arriving at my next destination I texted my best friend giving her a password to my CS account and instructing how to check where and when I should be staying on what day. In case of no contact for 5 days I told her to check the profile and start to look for me. Uff, that already felt better; just knowing that there is one person in the world aware of my whereabouts was strangely comforting. Of course nothing bad or strange happened during my trip and every experience was totally distinct from each other. Some of my hosts actually felt familiar to me even though I had known them for only few hours. It seemed like we’d been friends for months, but really I knew only a small bunch of facts about their lives. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again one day; I would surely like that!

sosdala

To wrap it up

After 9 days and about 570 km down southwest of Sweden I arrived on my second WWOOFing farm. From Björnlunda through Nyköping – Norrköping – Linköping – Tranås – Nässjö –Ramkvilla – Växjö – Älmhult and Hässleholm all the way to Södra Rörum in Skåne County. On one hand 570 km seems not much, I thought. I know a few guys who cycled for 1500 or even 2500 km and that’s already something. But on the other hand, I’ve never gone so far by myself on a bike or walking. Actually, I have never cycled for more than 110 km all by myself. And after all, I’m a small girl not a strong big guy, right? I reconsidered my achievement feeling that I was actually very proud of myself. It’s a piece of land that I went through on my loaded shaky vintage bike; with its ups and downs, lots of wind, unknown roads through forests and at times along speeding cars, I made it without any problem or doubt. And there was more to come at the end of this month – I had to get to Copenhagen. However, now I was curious to meet my new hosts and was eager to work again!

sweden trip map