B(v)iking Scandinavia Part 6: Berlin to The Hague

REAL-TIME UPDATE: Currently we are cosy in Nelson where the sun never shines and your rent receipt is just a handful of marijuana that you skillfully craft into far too many brownies and they sit on your counter and then in your freezer because who can possibly ingest that many pot brownies and still be a functioning human being?

Exhale.

It rained the day we planned to leave Berlin, so we did the sensible thing and waited until the next day. It rained that day too. But we had been in the city for over a week and when we saw our chance on the radar we left our home-away-from-home. Less than five minutes into our ride, Jon got a flat. And then again within another ten minutes. It was a Sunday, which as we discovered in Europe is the nothing-is-open-and-that-includes-bike-shops-day, so we were feeling a little put out. Thankfully third time was a charm and we were able to make it out of the city in order to pitch our tent that night.

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Hello, creepy slenderman forest.

 

The next day we travelled due west, and by the end of one very long, very sweaty day of biking on and off road, we had made it to Wolfsburg. Here our hosts suggested that we head south to avoid the inter-city garbage and cycle along the the Harz Mountain range. Based on google maps it was just over 80km to a campsite in a small town called Wernigerode, nestled at the base of the range.  It sounded easy enough, but after a few more busted tubes, a 4km cobblestone road through farmland and a campsite that didn’t actually exist (thanks google), we treated ourselves to the world’s worst schnitzel, snuck into a campsite at the top of a hill and went to bed.

 

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Just throw it off a cliff.

The next morning we found a bike shop mechanic who not only offered us the new wheel and tire needed to stop the succession of flats we had been faced with (as it turns out, Jon’s rims had been worn so thin from his brakes, that the heat was causing the tubes to burst), but we were also served coffee and alcohol while we waited. Then we were back on the road! At least until one of us started doing sweet victory tricks in the mud that resulted in one of us face planting on the pavement. The arguably more sensible party tried to administer first aid without making matters worse (admittedly there may have been some inadvertent prodding with the sharp tip of a knife while trying to cut bandages)  while being all kinds of thankful that the accident occurred on one of the few segregated bike lanes (slash side walk?).

Following the accident, we took an expensive campsite because we were feeling a little defeated and sorry for ourselves. We did our very best to make our experience worth the money by dragging a table and set of chairs to where we had pitched or tent, thus creating what we can only assume is the porch experience of the one percent.

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You can’t tell, but all the other spaces were taken up by homes on wheels that were observably super jealous.

Around this time we had half-advertently collided with the Euro Route 1 and were following it west to the Netherlands (we had heard rumors that it would take us all the way to The Hague).  The route was mostly well signed, but in standard Northern Europe bike trip (mis)guided by google fashion, we found ourselves occasionally turned around and on a few occasions, straight up biking through forests. Like, sometimes we were even unclear as to whether or not we were biking on footpaths never mind bikepaths.

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The smile is not fake; it is a sincere product of exhaustion and delirium.

Overall, Germany was good to us. From this point onward we were offered overnight refuge by a community pastor in his youth drop-in centre, by a generous warm showers host in Munster, and by a man walking his dog in the middle of nowhere close to the Netherlands boarder.

We crossed the boarder on a sunny day and almost immediately things changed. First, our side-of-the-highway camping forests had all but disappeared, or transformed into residential neighborhoods and quaint, treeeless farmland. Second, our decently signed routes became immaculately signed routes. Like, bicycle highways that ran alongside real highways to give you that shortest line between two destinations that we had been searching for this entire trip. The intentional bicycle infrastructure was so thorough that we made it across the country in two breezy cycling days.

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Drive-by garbage nets ftw!

Regrettably we lost our cheap beer and easy stealth camping, but we gained all the stroopwafels we could eat. We breezed through Utrecht and Gooda and were stoked to run into other commuter cyclists doing awesome commuter cyclist things like carrying litters of children on their bicycles for leisurely 30 km rides.

The Hague (rhymes with the word vague in case yah didn’t know), was all canals and beaches and beautiful old buildings. We stayed for a week, and then left in the madness of a storm that saw us sharing a $40 bottle of beer outside of our tent which had been desperately pitched in a dog park on the edge of town.  Seriously, we are nothing if not resourceful (and often damp).

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COASTLINE

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B(v)iking Scandinavia Part 5: Copenhagen to Berlin

**UPDATE** We are now back home and heading westbound to Nelson BC in a couple of weeks. So this post is a flashback to simpler times when our only struggle was the rain and not things like jobs, rent and dealing with uhaul.  On that note, does anyone want to hire us? We have all kinds of skills that include but are not limited to biking aimlessly across countries for weeks at a time, really!

ANYWAY. In our typical bike-trip fashion, we derped our way out of Copenhagen by around 3pm (following one final city tour and a newly downloaded Rick and Morty using our precious hotel internet). The bicycle route from Copenhagen to Berlin is well signed and popular with cycle tourists (however they were all heading north, likely to avoid the face burning headwinds).

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The windy bridge from Vordingborg

All in, it took us three days of biking (one real full day and two lazy short days) to get to the southern tip of Gedser where we were to take a ferry (tabernac) to Germany.

Our last two nights were spent camping outside two quarries (one inactive, one more active), and we ran into our first ever shelter line-ups (“uhm, we booked this one in advance, actully”). Thankfully Denmark being Denmark, we were able to find alternate arrangements (pitch a tent in one case and find another shelter in the other).

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Our 3km sprint to Gedser.

We made it just in time to be ushered into a lineup for the ferry to Rostock by a panicked employee (“Do you have your ticket?! Nevermind there’s no time! Promise me you will buy one online!”) The ferry was cheap and short and we surprisingly didn’t leave with the impulse to gouge out our own eardrums (why, love boat, WHY).

When we arrived in Germany we found a Ukranian with a bike and a backpack so we were three cycle tourists with the setting sun and no idea where to go. We had met a few Germans on our trip and they had been very ardent in explaining that wild camping in Germany is “forbidden,” so we were feeling overly cautious about getting in trouble. Like, images of angry officials yelling at us in German in the middle of the night were what flashed through my mind. So we did the classy thing and hung outside of the grocery store harassing locals with bicycles until one of them adopted us and took us to their rad youth collective (“but we are having a techno party tonight yeah? I hope that’s okay?”)

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Last danish ice cream.

From the JAZ youth collective (HUGE THANKS) the ride to Berlin was under 300km and we did it in about 4 days. We jumped on and off the official trail which, while more scenic, was less direct and did occasionally take us on cobblestone paths through the woods (I KNOW). We very quickly realized that “forbidden” camping in Germany is exactly the same as “forbidden” camping back home (aka just fine as long as you don’t get caught, which likely won’t happen because nobody’s looking for you). So when we didn’t have the wonderful hospitality of a warmshowers host, we just dragged our bikes into the forest by the side of the highway and pitched without issue.

Arriving in Berlin by bike brought on that familiar feeling of claustrophobia and dread that i’m sure all cycle tourers occasionally feel when entering a city after several days of roughing it in the woods. Our relatively quiet (paved) roads turned into cobble stoned bike paths (Again, I KNOW) and the city sprawl appeared to go on forever. As our hosts said when we (finally) arrived: “When you texted to say you were just outside the city, we knew it would be at least another hour. It’s Berlin.”

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ISO a hero, a statue and a giant phallus 

Berlin captured us for a whole week. Are you going? Skip out on the paid museums and check out the free ones (Topography of Terror, Wall Memorial and Holocaust Memorial). They are great and won’t leave you head-deep in wikipedia trying to understand what the DDR is and why they built their damn wall (looking at you DDR museum AND YOU poor highschool history education).  Also, the microbreweries were delicious and once again affordable. If you’re biking (seriously) you should also check out the giant empty runway for cycle take-off lolz.

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Me, racing a don on the Tempelhofer Feld.

As it turns out, Germany is huge! We were there for another couple of weeks biking around. Stay tuned for our next installment in which Jon narrowly escapes with his life after some harmless bike tricks turn deadly. Til next time.

B(v)iking Scandinavia Part 4: Hirtshals to Copenhagen

Denmark was almost the flat, well-signed, well-placed country of our dreams. Mountainous fijords gave way to Saskatchewan-esque farmland and despite the ever-present headwinds, we were making 70km days with our eyes closed (not advised). The only real draw-back was the rain (every god-damned day of our god-damned lives), and the occasional Google detour onto unpaved country roads.

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The land of wind and rain.

Fresh off the world’s shittiest ferry (we’re looking at you Fijord Line), we cycled a very flat and only mildly rainy 70km to a warmshowers host just outside Aalborg. Our fantastic hosts let us stay an extra night so we could clean our disgusting clothing, use a kitchen and binge watch Netflix (Glow, why you gotta be so good). Once back on the road it was a mostly straightforward ride through Hadsund and Randers to Aarhus, where we planned to catch the ferry across to Sjaellands Odde and bike the last stretch to Copenhagen. In total, this stretch of our trip was less than 500km (Denmark is TINY).

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The road to Copenhagen is paved with slugs and snails. Literally.

Denmark is built for cycle-touring. Not only were the people friendly (and the beer more affordable) but the country is covered in free shelters which appear to be designed specifically for travellers. Not only were these shelters free and frequently accompanied by a fire pit, running water and outhouses, they are all listed with GPS coordinates on a free app (“Shelter”).

 

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View from within
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View from without

For some reason, maybe because the shelters are so plentiful, we continued to have difficulty finding hosts to take us in (save our awesome warmshowers in Aalborg and the anarchists that adopted us in Aarhus). So by the time that we arrived in Copenhagen, we were weary and wet and totally sprung for a hotel. Guys. Copenhagen was expensive as shit but with it’s shiny cycle highways definitely wins out for most bike-able city thus far. Also we accidentally bought 20$ beers, so beware because that’s definitely a thing.

LOVE

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B(v)iking Scandinavia Part 3: Oslo to Bergen

Before leaving Oslo, we spent way too much time scanning the internet for proof that this route was in fact possible. The few people we consulted tended to shrug and ominously reference the many mountain tunnels through which a cyclist may not live to tell the tale. But a route exists! And is even marked as a bike route in many areas (albeit a rainy and sometimes treacherous one).

We finally departed Oslo after a day of derping around in the city, trying unsuccessfully to unlock our phone plan and buying some much needed camping essentials. While Oslo was charming in a lot of ways, it has that expensive tourist quality that starts to grate on weary cyclist nerves. A euro to use a public washroom? Please don’t mind me while I squat behind your dumpster.

My are-we-done-with-this-god-damned-city-yet face.

We had made the decision to ditch Google and to relinquish all navigation to our new Kamoot overlords, which aside from one exhilarating “shortcut” straight through a farmer’s field, proved to be pretty effective. From Oslo we basically took bike lanes all the way to Drammen, and then secondary roads (paved!) northish to Rodberg.

Stoked for a big down into Drammen.

It was all lakes and hills and sunshine, up until this point. Then it just became hills. And motor homes. And eventually rain. The tourists swarmed most towns and villages and we would go days without talking to actual Norwegians. And competition was apparently steep. One campsite operator chased us off his property when we stopped for a picnic at an isolated picnic table. Another hotel charged us $5 each for a shower that I will generously compare to being sprayed down with a cold hose. But in Rodberg a couple of local women read our sign and surprised us with coffee. And then, obviously, there were the views.

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Aka please be our friend and share tes choses

Alright, so after a grumpy day of waiting out the rain in Rodberg (thank you again mysterious ladies for your smiles and warm coffeeeeee), we set off to do the 60-something km ride to Geilo (the G is pronounced a little like a Y). We knew that today we would have to climb not one, but three mountains, the highest topping out at 1110m. It was several Km of steep climbing. But we did it in a day and nobody lost a spoke or cried.

Shortly out of Geilo we stumbled upon the much anticipated rallarvagen, a stretch of unpaved path that runs for over 80km through mountains, fijords and glaciers. I want to post a million pictures but even natural beauty can get redundant through a shitty cellphone camera lense.

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“If it’s not glacial water than it can suck it.”

 The first 30km of the path to Finse were amazing in every way. Quiet, sunny, hard-packed dirt roads which slowed down our pace but we’re otherwise manageable and who wants to rush those peaks anyway? The next 30 or so km were a different story. Not only did we find ourselves dragging our bikes and worldly belonging through lengthy patches of ice and snow, but our dirt path became rocky, and sometimes just rocks. Even our mountain biking counterparts were occasionally observed walking their steeds. Cycle-tourists, this route is an emotional roller coaster and will leave you both awed and feeling like every bone in your body is ready to break.

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The snow novelty wears off, I promise.

When we eventually descended deep into the valley and back down to sea level (via some wild dirt road switchbacks that make my breaking fingers ache just thinking about it), the road miraculously re-paved itself and we free-fell all the way to Flam.

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FIJORDS.

After toasting our victory in the local Viking bar (obvs), we camped behindl a kayak rental but. The next morning, we got up early to take a boat through the fijords to Gudvangen in order to pick up a secondary highway that would hopefully not shoot us through pitch black car-only mountain tunnels. Rocky roads and touristy bullshit aside, THOSE FIJORDS.

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Drooling

We opted to skip the cheesy Viking village in Gudvangen and headed Southwest towards Voss. It wasn’t too long until we ran into our first set of nasty switchbacks on a narrow one-way road for traffic coming straight towards us. It was us vs the cars and terrifying tour buses that would hurtle down and around corners, barely giving us enough space to stand. And then it started to rain. Guys, we made it all the way to Voss but spirits were low and we we had been about 10 days without a warmshower or couchsurf. We were wet, dirty, and scared that we might not survive the next 100km of switchbacks. So we took the train to Bergen (where it was also raining).

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Hiding from the rain in Bergen

From here we took what can only be described as the world’s shittiest ferry down to Denmark. It was a grueling 18 hour ride that involved charges for WiFi, hot water and presumably oxygen. We “slept” on the floor and voilà awoke to Denmark with the sun shining (it later rained) and bike lanes for days. Currently we are staying at a magical farm not far from Aalborg and will head south this morning (it looks like rain).

LOVE

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B(v)iking Scandinavia Part 2: Stockholm to Oslo

This is coming to you directly from the Oslo burbs. Which, unsurprisingly(?) are at the top of what Norwegians probably call hills, but we cursed as mountains as climbed them yesterday afternoon.

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Even without gear I was mouth-breathing the whole way up.

(As a side note, I feel as though Scandinavia will singlehandedly bring back the scooter. They somehow seem to be the two wheeled vehicle of choice for all ages. Napoleon Dynamite ftw).

Going back about 10 days, we arrived in Stockholm all dazed and blurry-eyed from our 12 hours on the love boat. The sun was shining and it may have been the city in all of it’s shiny glory, or it may have just been the fact that we were stoked to be anywhere but on that boat, but Stockholm was all kinds of beautiful.

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Cobblestone shots are a work in progress.

 

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The bridge to MUSEUM ISLAND

On bike tours, cities are these funny things that seem far too big and complicated in comparison to the rest of your bicycle world (what do you mean I can’t put my tent up on this lawn?). So, two nights and two fabulous hosts later we were back on the road.

We had marked, with the help of Google   maps, a pretty straightforward route all the way to Oslo. We soon ran into the challenge of being inadvertently shot onto major highways (with their small roads and zero shoulder, they had me thinking almost wistfully about the TransCan, RIGHT?). Reroute please google. The other option often involved loosely packed gravel roads and sometimes grass trails through forests and farm fields. These Swedish bike paths were likely meant for mountain bikes because packed with all our gear, it was a miracle we even stayed upright.

Sweden has a lot of lakes, as any proud Swede will tell you. And a lot of farms. And a lot of little blonde children who think it’s hilarious that you only speak English. And most importantly, we were introduced to fika, a word Swedes have for drinking coffee while eating something sweet. IT HAS IT’S OWN WORD TABERNAC. Also, their affinity for self-serve buffets and pizza/kebab combos rivals Ottawa’s for midnight bagels and shwarma.

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When we eventually crossed the highly secured Sweden/Norway boarder, Jon swore that the smell of the forests changed. As did the language. And the rules for purchasing alcohol (we could buy cold beer again!!!). And for all of you debbie-downers who were all “Scandinavia is really expensive you know,” -you were right (ugh!). From here on in we shall subsist off of handouts and dirt. I hope you’re happy. Also, please send poutine.

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THIS will be my attachment style when I am blessed with children.

Today we leave for the hills. We are that excited kind of terrified that keeps you imobilized on the couch drinking one pot of coffee after the next. Wish us luck.

Love Mal and Jon

Fingerbanging along the Gaspé peninsula PART ONE: Montreal to our great nation’s capital.

So it’s FINALLY spring here in Montréal.

Following last year’s sweaty winter under the Indian sun, this winter felt like an eternity (seriously, these are the scenes of our city from just last month). So in a world where shoulder season (apparently defined as travel period between peek and off-peek seasons; by this logic, I would consider the entire span of November-April as one long shoulder season) still means parkas and boots and sticky metro rides and all of that snow that you apparently just can’t ignore out of existence, I’ve had my fingers crossed that come April 1st I would not feel seasonally pressured to throw more money into our once novel transit system (ie BIKING WEATHER).

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Pre-season tune-ups

Now we’ve swapped snow clouds for rain clouds. BUT. Once upon a time it was warm and sunny and I was biking, biking, biking. Once upon a September 1st 2015, my now-partner (then almost-partner) set off with our bikes all packed, in the direction of the now near-mystical Gaspe. I had recently sold or packed away all of my worldly belongings, quit my job, and had a flight booked to Mumbai for October 1st, so I was feeling especially light and liberated.

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Like I said, light and liberated.

Our route basically took us along the south shore of the fleuve St Laurent.

(Bonus knowledge! A fleuve is not a rivière. A rivière flows into another river, while a fleuve flows right into the ocean or the sea.)

After leaving the island several hours post-sunrise, we crossed the same highway multiple times on these very safe and convenient ramp and stair combos.  Once we made our way inland, the 300km ride to Quebec City was exactly the melange of farmland and poutine that you might expect.

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HOLLA

The roads were pretty quiet, it was sunshiney and we had all of the choice campsites. Being that both my cycling partner and I prefer late mornings and lots of food stops, doing the 100km a day we needed to have us in Quebec City for the weekend was a bit of stretch. BUT WE DID IT. JUST IN TIME FOR PRIDE.

A note about cycling touring in Quebec: Like much of Canada, this province is huge and sparsely populated between cities (even the in-between towns are super sleepy). That said, as long as you’re not a complete asshole, the don’t ask, don’t tell mentality will ensure that you always have a decent campsite with a privacy and sometimes a view.

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Dismounting for passage to our private suite with a farmland view.

We arrived in Quebec just as the sun was setting on day three. After a little bit of navigation we found our wonderful Warm Shower hosts (as well as their adorable cats with leashes). If I remember correctly, they greeted us with the standard WS hospitality (beers and showers first, food and conversation later), and so kindly hosted us for the weekend, helped us with minor bike repairs and toured us around their beautiful city.

GUYS. Even if a tour along the Gaspé Peninsula seems like a stretch, definitely consider the Montreal-Quebec City mini-trip. It was flat, pretty quiet and scattered with bike lanes or wide shoulders along the way.

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Montreal to Quebec to Gaspe to Perce

 

It’s so easy, you should totally do it.

IT’S FALL. And biking in fall is literally one of the best things in the world. Or at least in the fall, in this soon to be ice-cube of a country. Like, light neck-tube and hand warmers weather. You know.

About a month ago, still in the sweaty throes of summer, my partner and I took a day trip to Chambly and back. Why? Because it’s not CLOSE close, but also not FAR far. And the sun was shining. And our legs were itching. And he swore that there’d be beer at the end of the line.

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At a teense 32km each way, it’s an easy there and back tip ride.

Once you get off the island and do the old uppy downy on Mr. Cartier, it’s a breezy two dozen kilometers on mostly bike paths and side roads. We left sometime well past noon (as is our signature move) and got there in time for an early dinner/beers AND were back on the island before dark.

If you have a free day kicking around before the air gets cold, you should hit up this trip. Even if you are a bixi rider. I’m pretty sure you could bike to Chambly and back on a bixi without too much problem. I mean, if their invisible tethers reach that far, or whatever.

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Obligatory celebratory brews picturrrre