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Copenhagen

Driving through Denmark you will notice the many wind farms dotted across the landscape, including offshore turbines hugging the coast.

Denmark is a leader in renewable energy; well set to achieve its targeted 50% renewable sources before the 2020 date it set for itself.

Makes you wonder why Australia is so far behind. We have enormous potential in wind and solar, yet we are falling way behind. Enough! I won’t continue ranting here.

The generosity of the Jensen family also includes organising us to stay with Heidi’s cousin Nanna and her partner Mikkel in Copenhagen.

wpid-rps20151011_141207.jpgThey have a lovely apartment close to the city and lend us two bikes. We join the throngs of bicycles and meander through the city.

København (in Danish), started its life as a fishing village, growing into a major trading centre along the Baltic route in the 12th Century.

It became the royal residence and capital of Norway and Sweden in the proceeding centuries, during which many of the castles and towers still standing today were built.

Copenhagen is a charming city with 5.6 million people, though with 20.6 million visitors passing through a year, it can feel crowded. It’s a city devoid of skyscrapers, even the modern architecture blends well with medieval bell towers and shingled rooftops.

We ticked off the tourist sites; the mermaid, the port, palace, changing of the guard, viking museum, Tiffany gardens etc etc.  We also enjoyed just chilling out in the park with a picnic, enjoying the balmy weather.

Nanna and Mikkel were wonderful hosts and are avid fans of Australia so, we hope to repay the hospitality sometime soon.

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Cycling Denmark

I convince Don that we leave the car in Rødby and take off on bikes for a week. Denmark is pretty flat, which makes for easy riding and has an impressive network of bike paths and dedicated bike lanes.

wpid-rps20151010_194853_878.jpgWith our panniers packed with bare essentials, including four bottles of wine, our adventure begins.

wpid-fb_img_1439883050074.jpgTo reduce the boredom, I’m going to make this entry more pictorial than a narrative.

Day 1: Maribo to Vordingborg – 46km
Distance: 46km
Accommodation: BedBikeBreakfast

Day 2: Vordingbord to Ringsted
Distance: 60km
Accommodation: Soren and Marie (BJ’s younger brother)

Don manages to have two flat tyres, the second only a few kilometers from the bike shop that fixed the first.  We decide that I would continue whilst he went back and got the tyre fixed.  Don then took the train to Ringsted to meet me.

Bjarne organises for us to stay at Soren and Marie’s, who will be on holidays in Italy. They generously lend us their house and leave us provisions for our arrival.

Day 3: Ringsted to Vemmetofte
Distance: 70km
Accommodation: John & Vibeke Jensen (BJ’s older brother)

John & Vibeke have spend summers at the beachside camping ground in Vemmetofte.  They generously set us up in our own camper for the night and provide a lovely dinner as well as great company for the night.

Day 4: Vemmetofte to Stege
Distance: 55km
Accommodation: Kaffehuset Mon B&B

Day 5: Stege to Maribo
Distance: 70km
Accommodation: The Jensen’s

We had originally planned to break the return trip, but there is rain on the way. We are fair weather cyclists, so we decide to push through. With a strong tail wind helping us, the kilometers pass by quickly.

Not far from Maribo we have a final stop at Krenkerup Bryggeri (brewery) and Don can add another to his list of beers.

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The Jenson’s

Think Jetsons cartoon 🎶Meet B J Jensen, his wife Heidi, their son Mads and Nikki too… 🎶

One morning many many years ago I sat down to breakfast.

As the sleepy fog cleared I realised that it wasn’t one of my four brothers sitting at the end of the table – we had a visitor.

The conversation probably went along the lines of:
L: with slight interest “Who are you?”
B: “Bjarne, from Denmark”
L: satisfied with the answer “Can you pass the milk please”
end of conversation

My brother Mark had met Bjarne (BJ) skiing in Austria and had invited him to stay. Not unusual in our household; it could be like living in a hotel at times, people coming and going, siblings moving in and out and back in again.

So here Bjarne was, sitting at the table enjoying breakfast. Mark wasn’t even living at home, but Bjarne now was.

Bjarne holds the record for the longest stay; about 18 months* and he quickly become part of the family; working for my brother Luke who had a lawn mowing business and for Paul who was in construction.

wpid-rps20151010_114114_383.jpgApparently I treated him just like a brother too, often telling him to ‘shush’ and fobbing off household chores to him!

*It should be noted that Bjarne did move out for a part of this time – just across the road, close enough to pop home for family dinners.

And, like all good tourists, he spent a few months driving his Kombi van around Australia. But he always returned to 84 Kingston street eventually.

With a desire to live in Australia, Bjarne went home and lured his girlfriend out on a return trip a few years later.

Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in convincing Heidi to leave family and friends behind in Denmark.

So, here we are on Bjarne’s doorstep – he can hardly say no, can he?

Of course Bjarne and Heidi greet us warmly. They haven’t changed a bit, except they also have two strikingly tall sons, Mads 25 with his fashionable beard – very viking looking and Nikki 21, who is waiting with envy to get enough facial hair to compete with his brother!

We catch-up on family news and life in general. Bjarne shows off his bowling skills at Lalandia, the nearby holiday resort which is a popular destination for Scandinavians.

wpid-rps20151010_114230_219.jpgDon and Bjarne quickly bond over beer; Carlsberg and Tuborg are the local brands.  Heidi introduces us to an array of Danish tastes, such as frikadeller (meat or fish balls), flaeskesteg (roast pork with crackling) and herring, along with many other local delights.

wpid-rps20151005_090634_673.jpgIn my teens my one and only pen-pal was Bjarne’s cousin, Bitten, and after so many years it was lovely to finally meet her.

Rødby is a small town of 6,500 people.  The region has struggled in the economic decline, waiting on the promised commencement of a tunnel to connect the port of Rødby with Germany.

The project will generate jobs and ongoing economic benefits. For now, many people seek work outside the area. BJ has been commuting to Copenhagen – 1.5hrs each way.

Bjarne, Heidi and Nikki are heading off to the Greek Islands for two weeks. Before leaving us the house keys, they take the time to help us organise cycling plans for the next week.

Waffles, Beer & Chocolate

Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway – that’s the plan.

We pick up our wheels for the next 47 days in Calais, not known for its tourist highlights, but it is known for its discount wine stores.

wpid-wp-1442367426476.jpegDon has carefully calculated a wine quota for the trip; wine is expensive in Scandinavia (along with everything else) and we do love a good French champagne, white, rose and red. It’s not long before the car boot is full and we begin our journey north.

First stop is Bruges; this tiny city was once a major commercial hub for Europe.

Now it is a prominent world heritage site wearing a plethora of descriptive accolades, often referred to as something straight out of a fairy-tale or the ‘Venice of the north’.

Though if you have ever seen the movie “In Bruges” starring Colin Farrell, you wouldn’t describe that movie as a fairy-tale.

Bruges

Bruges, a well-preserved medieval town, which I acknowledge has become a much over used phrase of mine; cobbled streets lined with 12th Century architecture run along meandering canals dotted with swans…get the picture!

If you are happy to join the throngs of tourists who also head here, it’s worth a visit. The best time to wander around Bruges is after the tourist buses have left.

We stayed in the area for three nights with Magda and Patrick in their lovely Brugge-man B&B.  They are a well travelled couple who provided us with loads of tips and advice.

We made a day trip to Ypres and the In Flanders Field Museum.

The museum depicts the 4 year trench warfare in the region during WWI and is housed in the reconstructed Cloth Hall (market building), which was destroyed.

Surprisingly, we managed to spend a few hours here before heading to Lille for lunch and one last stop on the way home in Kortrijk.

If you are a war historian then this is the place for you – my brother Mark would love it; lots of museums, battle fields and monuments to visit. One a day is enough for us.

Leaving Bruges we head toward Rotterdam.

We drive through Ghent which we decided isn’t worth a stop, but we enjoy lunch in Antwerp sitting outside soaking up the sunshine in one of the many cafés in the medieval heart of the city.

Rotterdam is a refreshingly modern city, flattened in World War II it doesn’t retain any historical charm. Nonetheless, we really enjoyed it. We stayed at The Student Hotel. A large private room with a kitchenette, easy parking, washing machines and bicycles for hire.

Near Rotterdam

Opting for two-wheeled transport we ride out to Kinderdijk to see the windmills it is famous for. Forty kilometers later, Don is a little saddle sore – he hadn’t been on a bike since Cuba.

As we leave Rotterdam behind we make a detour to the nearby town of Delft, renowned for its delftware; the pretty blue and white stuff with windmills and milk maidens painted on it.

It looks a lot like chinese porcelain, that’s because the potters started copying them around the 17th century.

It’s a little dated for my taste and oh-boy is the stuff expensive!

Since being in Europe this year, I have been amazed by the sheer number of people cycling. Everyone is on a bike; young and old. The first time a woman, a few good years older, passed me with ease, I put it down to my pathetic fitness.

It took a while to realise these grey-headed cyclists had a little help.

E-bikes have taken off, in Europe alone sales increased by 55% on the previous year – over 700,000 electric bikes.

I’m keen to join the party and convince Don to make a detour to the Sparta test centre, just one of the many brands.

Our current plan when we return to Australia – less than 3 months away, is to be a one car family.

I think an e-bike is a fantastic alternative for urban commuting. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think for a minute it provides any serious level of exercise.

What it does offer is a means of transport that won’t work up such a sweat that you need a shower; it’s faster than walking and cheaper and more convenient than a car.

To cut a long story short, we research and test e-bikes at numerous locations through Belgium, Holland and Germany.

Narrowing down our prefered models and best prices, we seriously toyed with buying a bike in Europe and bringing it home with us. Whilst it could save us some money, the regulations on traveling with lithium batteries and the hassle factor deterred us.

However, I’ve already found a place in Melbourne who has what I want, watch this space for future e-bike tales!

wpid-wp-1442366849847.jpegNext stop is Amsterdam and the best way to see this canal city is on a bicycle.

Our cultural excursion is the Rijksmuseum, renowned for its collection of Dutch art and some wonderful masterpieces such as Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid.  It houses over 8,000 paintings and object d’art.  The audio guide is very helpful if, like me, you know nothing about art.

Trappist, Abbey, Dubble, Lambic – do you know what these words have in common?

Beer – they are all types of beer and Don has set himself a challenge to taste as many local beers as possible.

wpid-photogrid_1438611526060.jpgThey take their beer very seriously in this part of the world; every beer even comes in its own elaborate glass.

The tulip glass is the glass of choice for many. Its shape apparently traps the aroma, aids in maintaining the head of the beer and is aesthetically pleasing. Whilst lambic style beers tend to be served in a taller flute style and the weizen glass is used for wheat beer. Who knew so much thought went into drinking beer?

Don manages to sample quiet a few local beers and I end up designated driver – lucky for him I don’t like beer.

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London

Whilst I have been peddling around the european countryside, Don has spent two weeks in the Scottish highlands with 16 other lads.

In between drinking (lots of) beer and whisky, they played 14 rounds of golf across 11 different golf courses.

If you want to know any more about the golf, you’ll need to ask him directly.

It’s a boys trip; which means “what goes on tour stays on tour.”  And do I really want to know?

At the end of the golf, which included a day at St Andrews to watch the British Open, Don headed to London and was fortunate enough to secure some tickets to Lords for the 2nd Test (cricket, if you weren’t sure).

This was also an opportunity to catch-up with a tribe of friends from home: Neil & Margie, Paul & Michelle, Leeanne, Dale, Michael & Dianne.

We are staying in Blackheath with Steve, who we met on our cycling trip in Cuba.

Everyone throws out post holiday superlatives and offers of “come and stay anytime” to your travel companions, not thinking that anyone will ever take you up on the offer.

6 months later; we’re on Steve’s doorstep!  The problem with the Callanders – they will take you up on the offer!

Steve warmly welcomed us for the week and his generosity included hosting more of the group for a small reunion.

Andy and Sarah took a day off work and traveled down from Manchester. Kate (who does not live in Oxford) traipsed across London (from wherever she does live) to spend the night at Steve’s.

Unfortunately, Rachel missed her plane (from Melbourne) and couldn’t make it.

Cuban cigars and beret in hand, it was a night filled with lots of laughter, banter and music quiz’s (I don’t remember who won).  Plans were also hatched for a future cycle tour through Vietnam.

Our week was busy; not so much sightseeing, but lots of catching up with friends and even some family – new and old.

Drinks with Colin, who we met on our tour through Mexico. Don sees Linda and Alistair Callander. Leeanne shouts us lunch, after a number of years in the UK she has decided to return to Australia.  Which is good news for us, we have a future dog sitter lined up, for the in-future dog.

A visit to London would not have been complete without seeing Mark and Alison. They hold a special place in our travels, having now seen them three times throughout our tour.

Family friends, Sandra and David took us for a lovely stroll through the grounds of Knole Estate, the property which dates back to 1603, and includes a deer park and golf course.

Our main purpose for detouring through London was to collect a visa for China.  You can only apply for a visa three months before your travel date, which makes it a bit difficult when you are traveling.

I checked out everything online to make sure we’ve got what we need, know where to go and when. We have a tight timeframe given it takes three days to process, so we don’t have room for delay…

Tuesday morning we rock-up at the Chinese Visa office, paperwork in hand.
Visa Office: “What time is your appointment”
Me: “We want to make an appointment”
Visa Office: “the next appointment is in two weeks”
Me: “Where does it say that on your website?”
Visa office: “Oh, page three”
Me: “Perhaps you need to make that a bit clearer”!

We resort to finding a visa application service who, for a generous fee, can fast-track the wait and have our visas by the end of the week.

They did raise some concern about our itinerary including Kashgar. The province borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, is considered a ‘sensitive area’ and a hot-spot for extremism.

If our application is delayed we didn’t have a ‘Plan B’, so we are relived to collect our passports on Friday, stamped with our China visas.

Time to resume our travels.

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