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Sunday, 01 January 2012

Cycling through History in Denmark

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Denmark may be the most ideal cycling destination in the world.  In addition to a strong cycling culture in this small Scandinavian nation, Denmark has developed an extensive network of cycling paths, which make touring by bicycle safe and easy.  The locals are welcoming, friendly, and fluent in English; and, to make cycling interesting, Denmark has a long and varied history that is easily accessed by bicycle.     

City of Bikes

DSC 0047We arrived in Copenhagen a couple of days before our cycling tour and explored the city on foot, including Tivoli Gardens, the royal palace, and the history of this Scandinavian capital, which is presented in several excellent museums.  It quickly became apparent why Copenhagen is known as the City of Bikes, because cyclists fill the streets at all times.  They cycle to work, take their children to school on their bikes, and generally leave their cars at home.   

It was June, which is not our usual time of year to travel (because of crowds and high costs), but that’s about as early as it’s warm enough to cycle in Denmark. It turned out to that we had comfortable weather with lots of daylight, green hills and fields, and an abundance of blooming flowers.

We took a train north to the city of Helsingor, toured the castle that was the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and rode a ferry across the Oresund Sound to Sweden. This narrow strait is an important passageway between Europe and the Baltic countries, and for centuries Denmark enriched its coffers with fees from ships passing through it.  It’s also the crossing used by the resistance movement and fishermen during World War II to smuggle 8,000 Danish Jews out of German-occupied Denmark, thereby sparing then from deportation to concentration camps and certain death. 

Coastal Roads and Small Villages

Danish VillageThe cycling portion of our trip around the island of Zealand was organized by Die Mecklenburger Radtour of Germany who furnished maps, directions, bicycles, and transported our luggage. 

We cycled independently, rode an average of 30-40 miles for six days, and followed the directions from one location to the next. 

It took us a while to catch on to Denmark’s system of cycling paths and roads during our first day of cycling, which was a 34-mile ride from Copenhagen to Koge, down the east coast of Zealand.  As we cycled along coastal roads and through small villages with views of fishing boats, beach homes, and sea birds we spent part of the day huddled over our maps, asking directions, and making sure we were on course.  Everyone we talked to was helpful, friendly, and spoke excellent English.   

The weather was sunny and mild, the terrain was flat, and the views of the coast and fishing villages were wonderful.  This is what traveling by bicycle is all about!

We arrived mid-afternoon in Koge, a coastal town founded in 1288 as a gathering place for farmers to sell their goods.  The scope of Danish history is remarkable; here events (and buildings) often pre-date Shakespeare and the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock.  For example, Koge's town hall (which is still in use) was built in 1552. 

Koge was also the site of a witch hunt in the 1600s known as the Koge Huskors, in which a wealthy merchant accused a local woman (Johanne Thomes) of having sent the devil to his house. She was found guilty and implicated other local women (including her maid, who said Johanne had made her urinate in the baptismal bowl at church).  In all, around a dozen women were burned at the stake, including the unfortunate maid. 

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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