He showed, through value-per-acre graphs, that cities have high-performing real estate in core downtown areas, but tend to have built beyond their means in other areas.
What does that mean for cities?
We can look to what Marohn calls the “traditional development model.”
Before World War II, most development in the U.S. (and other countries) was small and incremental.
A family might build a house in a neighborhood near friends and relatives. If their family grew, they would add on to the house. In the same way, a business owner might start with a one-story building, next to other, similar buildings. If they became more successful, they would build up and out and improve their buildings. If they were not successful in those houses or buildings – there weren’t great fortunes invested, so it was easy for families or businesses to move on.
The suburban development model builds entire shopping malls or residential districts all at once, requires all new infrastructure to be built, and typically adds on to the outskirts of an existing community.
In contrast to traditional development, building a suburb is a huge, risky bet.
If one building in NOTO needs a new roof, the owners can make the necessary repairs. If a sewer line breaks, they can work with the city to get it fixed. The work gets completed on these projects, and business goes on as usual, most likely without affecting the rest of the street or neighborhood much.
But in a suburb, where every house was built the same year, and all of the infrastructure was installed at the same time, all of that construction and infrastructure ages out at about the same time. So you don’t have just one roof in a neighborhood that needs replaced. You have 25 or 100. And when one sewer line gets old enough to fail, you can guess that others will begin to fail, too.
This compounding math is what makes cities more or less financially resilient.
It bears out in the data that Marohn and Urban3 have been collecting in their value-per-acre graphs. It’s a compelling case for moving cities from the current development model of building huge areas to a finished state, all at once — back toward something a little more incremental and iterative.
Following the presentation, Topekans in attendance had varied questions, ranging from neighborhood concerns, like addressing a heritage of redlining and urban renewal, to applying Strong Towns ideas to problems faced by rural communities, to starting new businesses or building trust among neighbors.
On challenges within neighborhoods or communities, Marohn said, “Empower people at the block level to solve problems in their way.”
He gave an example from Oswego, NY of the Oswego Renaissance Association, which gave neighbors grants to improve their residential properties – but only if they got together as a block, and made a proposal of multiple small projects from that street. Since the start of that program, Oswego has seen $2.5 million invested in neighborhoods.
To start a public project, or even a new business, Marohn emphasized the need to humbly observe where people in the community are struggling, part of the Strong Towns approach to public investment. “Ask yourself, ‘How can I be of service to my neighbors?’”
About 100 people attended the presentation in Topeka, including the City Manager, City Council members and candidates, state officials, county officials and county staff, neighborhood advocates, and city staff from many different departments.
The presentation was made possible by the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, the Topeka Community Foundation, the Shawnee County Health Department, and several other community groups.
Stay tuned on BikeTopeka for follow-up discussion from the Strong Towns presentation, including a book club to discuss Chuck Marohn’s book.
Topeka, Kansas (October 2019)—On October 28th, Charles L. “Chuck” Marohn, Jr., founder of Strong Towns, will be coming to Topeka, Kansas as part of his coast-to-coast Strong America Tour. He will be speaking at the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library at 6:30 pm on October 28th.
Marohn’s tour kicks off the release of his new book, Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity. He is traveling to dozens of communities across North America—big cities and small towns alike—to share the ideas in his book and give audiences a new way to think about how they approach revitalization and growth.
The presentation will begin by showcasing why so many towns in North America are struggling financially despite decades of robust growth. Marohn will then invite the audience to “choose their own adventure” from a range of presentation tracks and go deeper into just one area where their unique community can make a change today. Designed to be dynamic and bespoke to each town, the Strong America presentation is part community conversation, part lecture from an expert, and the catalyst you need for your place to become financially stronger.
Here are just a few of the insights from Marohn’s book, some of which may be featured in October 28th’s presentation:
Why our cities are on the cusp of a long, slow decline, and how to approach the necessary triage in a rational way
Why inducing growth and development has been the conventional response to urban financial struggles—and why it just doesn’t work
Why old and blighted areas are often more financially productive than shiny new ones
The power of “little bets” to strengthen communities and improve the lives of citizens
How humble public engagement can create amazing insights
The surprising ways that strong neighborhoods make us better people
In every stop on the tour, a Strong Towns staff member will write an essay about the stories they find there. Then, Marohn will put all of the essays together in a new e-book that paints a portrait of what a Strong America looks like today. It will include photos, profiles of local advocates doing what they can to make their own towns stronger, tour diary updates from the road, and great writing from Strong Towns advocates from across the country.
Topeka will also be featured in other Strong Towns content and on Strong Towns social media feeds, which reach an international audience of millions of readers annually.
Marohn says he was thrilled by the hundreds of requests for proposals to host Strong America Tour stops.
“It’s clear that cities and towns of every size are hungry for a new approach that can help them grow financially strong and resilient,” he says. “Every time I visit a different town, I am gratified to see how passionate and smart and creative people can be. Meeting people, hearing their stories, and exchanging ideas is my favorite part of the job.”
Chief Executive Officer Gina Millsap of the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library shares, “Strong Towns offers an opportunity for Topeka and Shawnee County to look at current community projects and visioning processes to ensure sure we are pursuing community betterment with future resources and sustainability in mind. The library is excited to be convening this thought-provoking discussion!”
About the Author:
Charles L. “Chuck” Marohn, Jr., is the founder and president of Strong Towns and the author of Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity. He is a professional engineer (PE) licensed in the state of Minnesota and a land use planner with two decades of experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s of urban and regional planning, both from the University of Minnesota. Marohn hosts the Strong Towns Podcast and has presented Strong Towns concepts in hundreds of cities and towns across North America. He is featured in the documentary film Owned: A Tale of Two Americas, and was named one of the Ten Most Influential Urbanists of all time by Planetizen.
About Strong Towns:
Strong Towns is a national media organization whose mission is to advocate for a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods to grow financially strong and resilient. Strong Towns began in 2008 as a blog written by Charles Marohn. Today, it is a nonprofit publishing daily content by dozens of contributors, sharing weekly podcasts, and giving presentations around the U.S. and Canada. Strong Towns reaches an audience of more than 1.5 million readers per year and has over 2,900 members. Learn more at www.strongtowns.org.
Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity (Wiley, October 2019, ISBN: 978-1-119-56481-2, $25.00) will be available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, please visit the book’s page on www.wiley.com.
Wiley, a global research and learning company, helps people and organizations develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. Our online scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly journals, combined with our digital learning, assessment and certification solutions help universities, learned societies, businesses, governments and individuals increase the academic and professional impact of their work. For more than 210 years, we have delivered consistent performance to our stakeholders. The company’s website can be accessed at www.wiley.com.
Glow Ride, sponsored by Stormont Vail Health, took place in the Oakland neighborhood this year on Saturday October 5th, starting and ending at the Oakland Community Center. There were about 150 riders of all ages!
What do we want the Topeka of the future to look like?
Really, how should it change? Let’s be dramatic with our placemaking.
We’ve spent 10 years ‘Visioning’ and now we’re building ‘Momentum,’ but where are we really going?
Cities of the future have great transportation networks. Are we building that in Topeka?
Cities of the future have thriving city centers. Are we truly building that in Topeka?
Cities of the future are sustainable. We are making strides in this department, at least.
We’re not joking when we say we want a future that looks like this. It’s happier, healthier, more sustainable, more productive, and richer! For some people, this is real life. It’s maybe a dream for us in Kansas right now, but it’s not made-up. This is a real place, with real people, living their lives in a calmer, simpler, safer way than the residents of our state. We can do it, too.
Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) is considering a re-build of the Polk-Quincy Viaduct, the stretch of Interstate 70 which cuts a swooshing, 90-degree turn through downtown Topeka. This section is among some of the oldest interstate infrastructure in the U.S., and its curve is one of the most crash-prone sections of I-70 in the country. KDOT considered 17 alternative designs for this project.
The “preferred alternative” re-build project would re-align the curves to modern highway standards, and rebuild the sections of the highway that are in question, including bridges, on-ramps/off-ramps, as well as the sections of the highway that are at, or below street level.
The red lines and green lines are frontage roads / access roads that would be added. These would be precursors to the on-ramps for the highway. If you’ve spent much time in Wichita, this would be similar to the combination of Kellogg and Highway 54 / 400. At the intersection of Rock Rd. and Kellogg in Wichita, there are 10 north-south lanes crossing 12 east-west lanes.
While KDOT considered 17 different design possibilities for the re-construction of this part of the highway, there is one possibility they did not consider.
Rochester is rebuilding their city, instead of rebuilding the highway. What a beautiful solution to this complex problem.
Introducing: Alternative #18.
What do we mean, specifically? KDOT studied 17 possibilities for changing the Polk-Quincy Viaduct, so we are offering this brand new possibility, and calling it Alternative 18. It would look a lot like the photo of Rochester, and would involve closure of this section of highway, and reconstruction of the downtown grid.
This isn’t a wild, or new idea. Even our neighbors in St. Louis have considered the prospect of turning a higway into a boulevard.
Many cities have done, or are considering similar:
Why are we spending millions of dollars right now to build a downtown plaza? We see the value of placemaking. We understand that to embrace a place, people need to feel a sense of belonging, and community. What we don’t need is a 10-lane x 12-lane highway and frontage-road interchange, right next to our gathering place. Have you ever felt warm and fuzzy about a highway?
Streets, roads, and infrastructure are important. We’ve got to get people and goods into and out of our community. And we are rich with motor vehicle access. Topeka has the incredible advantage of having two major highways that pass through the city. The highway that goes through South Topeka, I-470, is a perfect option for traffic that’s just passing through the area. Right now, while both highways exist and encircle downtown, Google shows a minimal difference between using one or the other.
See, Google knows. We already have good infrastructure. We just have to use it better. And we can do much better than sending thousands of vehicles a day through our downtown. We might even find that if we make it a more pleasant place to be — that we’ll start sending more people into downtown to stay, and have a good time. We’re grading on a totally different template: Quality of life.
Alternative #18 is the best plan:
Cost savings of more than $300 million. Rochester’s project cost about $20 million – far less than maintaining or rebuilding highway.
Did we mention that we’re saving the state $300 million? This project has stalled because KDOT doesn’t have that kind of money.
Safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Slowing down driving speeds is literally life-saving for pedestrians and cyclists. Downtown has the highest concentration of pedestrian traffic in Shawnee County.
I-470 is a great alternate highway option. The highway that connects to I-35 south of town also connects to Highway 75 north of town. It also loops the city and provides a perfect alternative for through-traffic. Not only that, but it’s newer and smoother.
Preventing future traffic challenges. When you build more roads, you get more traffic. Rebuilding this section of I-70 would likely cause more traffic, and contribute to greater maintenance costs in the future.
Reclaiming acreage for downtown development. Millions of dollars in public and private investment have been poured into downtown in the last few years. That means hundreds of thousands more will be collected in property taxes by the City and County. Downtown has the best performing land in terms of revenue collected per acre. Why not invest in that?
For future prosperity in Topeka and Shawnee County, Alternative #18 is the absolute best option for managing the Polk-Quincy Viaduct problem.
Get involved with promoting this project by dropping a note in the comments, or sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We should start by saying that we have both been to Europe, Karl studied in Clermont-Ferrand, France in college with a major in French and I’ve traveled to Central Europe and Northern Italy. We had not yet traversed this part of Europe. The countries we cover in this trip are Belgium, The Netherlands, Northern Germany and Denmark. Like with most international experiences, the differences are what stand out, so we make sure to highlight these things in lists. We began thinking about a tour in Europe because we have a friend who suggested we travel with him and his family to Copenhagen, where he had once done a study abroad. Thank you Zach for helping us “live a little” and to our friend Jonas (the adventure connoisseur) for helping us see how special and necessary it was for us to take our time and see it all by bike. This is an adventure we, especially now that we’ve got a blog about it, won’t forget! We hope you enjoy the read. Thanks for visiting!
We agreed we wanted to go with our friend Zach, his family, and some other close friends to Copenhagen. And although it didn’t happen the following year as planned (2017), we began planning for 2018, and asked more friends to join us. Our idea began to evolve by asking ourselves questions like “What if we visit Caroline and Antony in Southern France…. and Pauline and Christopher in Belgium… and Karl’s friends in central France, too? And what if we did it all by bicycle??!”
Our Topeka friends were to meet us in Copenhagen on July 25th, where’d we’d spend 2 weeks with them in an Airbnb, but we could plan all sorts of travel leading to that time and place. Our hopes were that we’d be meeting, in person, in the most bicycle friendly place, and get to cycle the safest infrastructure, see our friends in Belgium, and Germany, and explore… And of course, find the most perfect front bike rack for Karl’s Clem Smith Jr. We were keen on not only Europe’s bicycle infrastructure, but their bicycles and accessories as well.
We searched on google maps to get an idea of the distance we’d be traveling. We decided that we didn’t want to do more than 50 miles in a day, so we made a rough outline of how far we could go in the amount of days we could take off.
Living in the U.S. we both recognize the internal and external battle to get a hefty amount of time off. Let’s be frank, most jobs in the U.S. only allow as little as 6 days off a year, which you hold precious. I happen to work in a job that offers a nice vacation allowance, so naturally our biggest discussion was around the amount of days we were requesting off from our jobs. There were some tense tug of wars about the amount of time off we’d take. My justification for taking more days was due to us taking our bicycles with us. If we were going to the effort to go on a bicycle tour, we needed to take more time, so we can enjoy ourselves and not have to rush. Karl also, unfairly, gets less vacation days, so we really had to find a balance of what we both could do and felt comfortable with. We had a bit of guilt about being gone for so long, because it isn’t a cultural norm. We started with 2 weeks, but we landed on 6 weeks.
We didn’t plan our trip to the T, intentionally. With my experience on a solo-tour in the Pacific Northwest in 2015, I had learned that it was good to have an idea about campgrounds (and cost) in the area, the amount of miles I could put in a day, and the budgeted total tour cost, but when it came to routes I asked locals, consulted my intuition (and gut) as well as a good old paper map. We created a very loose schedule, allowing for more days when visiting friends (this we highly recommend) and knew we’d ask those friends for recommendations for which routes to travel. We eventually booked our flights to Brussels and out of Copenhagen, meaning we were letting go of the idea of seeing our friends in France. We didn’t think it was wise to start our tour in the Alps, nor did we think we had enough time to do all the things we wanted to do, sadly.
Karl got a google phone and was our navigator. Having him as the sole navigator meant he had to do a lot more work in finding our destination and planning of the route. We got better at working at this together as we went, but it was a frustration in the beginning.
We packed up our bicycles to take on the plane. This required us to find bike boxes and packing material. Karl’s bike is an XL size, and since he works for BikeShare he was able to secure us some large bike boxes, which agreed with Iceland Air’s restrictions. Deflate your tires, y’all. Iceland Air requires that you have the bicycle wrapped or boxed and they only take so many bikes per flight so we made sure to get to the airport extra early to ensure our bikes were not left behind. They were kind of essential!) We also packed our camping gear in with our bikes, as well as helmets, water bottles (lids off) and most importantly, tools (because you’ll need these to put Humpty Dumpty back together again in the airport!)
We got to Keflavik Airport at about 4:45 a.m. local time, we were having a snack and waiting for our next flight to Belgium. Karl was walking around, and I heard him say “Mark? What are you doing here?” It turns out that a professional contact of his was being relocated to Amsterdam for work, and they had just recognized each other in the airport! They made plans to meet up when we would get to Amsterdam in a few short weeks.
Speaking of putting the bicycle back together again..when we arrived in Brussels airport we were feeling pretty jet lagged, but gathered our bike boxes, and found our checked luggage which had our clothing, shoes, and everything else. We staked out a quiet area near the baggage claim to start the assembly process.
As soon as we got the bicycles together, and tires re-inflated (this took about 3 hrs in our exhausted state) and loaded up with our gear, Karl’s rear tire goes flat. So, we unpack his bike, fix his flat, taking our time. Mind you, we are dead-tired at this point and half-functioning. We were thankful for the great tunes (50’s American music) by the jukebox that was nicely stationed in the baggage claim area celebrating the Brussels airport’s 50th anniversary. This was our first reminder that music is important for lightening the mood, for motivating you when you just think you can’t anymore and for lifting your spirits in general.
Now we were finally on our way! We got train tickets to Landen, Belgium to get us to a trail that would take us to Ciplet, our destination for that evening. It was about 4 o’clock, and our train would be arriving in 20 minutes. The elevator was broken so this was the VERY first time that Karl and I would have to take our loaded bicycles down the escalator, but gripping our hand brakes hard, we made it! The trains were running a bit behind, but we met a nice man visiting from London who was headed to a big music festival via the same train. That’s when I looked down and noticed I had a flat tire…and I hadn’t even ridden the bicycle yet.
We shoved our bikes on board in the last car, and people flooded in behind us. We were sweating as the trains aren’t air-conditioned and it was about 82 degrees outside. Even warmer in the train. Karl quickly gets to fixing my flat crammed in a back corner of the train. He gets it completely aired up just in time for our stop!
We hop off the train and Karl turns on googlemaps after I insist he uses it. He accidentally has it navigating us with driving (car) directions so we are being taken on a high speed road, that seems unsafe, so I pull us over in someone’s driveway. As we are stopped there, the woman living there came outside to get into her car. We disturb her by asking her if the road is dangerous to bicycle on, and she nods her head yes. Now that we have confirmation, we ask her for directions which is when she lets us know she doesn’t speak any English. Luckily Karl speaks French, but he’s jet lagged and she’s giving us “local” directions to a trail and we aren’t oriented to the towns around us. She tells us, I think in Flemish, then writes them down for us and then she sees we’re still perplexed, so she offers to jump in her car with her son and have us follow her. So that’s just what we do.
She drives ahead of us, at bike speed, about 7km to an old rail trail where she doesn’t just drop us. She and her son get out of the car and begin to tell us where to go from here and what we’ll see. I’m digging around in my bag looking for something to give them as a thank-you, and Karl finds a dollar bill — and gives it to the boy. Karl tells him it’s “George Washington.” This is the only time we’ve seen this kid smile. He was so delighted. We thanked both of them and headed on the trail. We’re stiff from sitting in the plane, but we are astounded by the quiet beauty we’re surrounded by.
We get lost about a dozen times. We were expecting to ride around 17km, but we rode around 25km on the RaVel (Randonee / Velo “Hiker / Biker” trail, an old rail line trail), and we make it to Ciplet. We ring our bells as we arrived. Pauline, Christopher, and Jonas, their baby boy, greet us. Christopher is an architect and he has been working hard building an addition on to their house for a mother-in-law’s quarters. Pauline is on vacation from work, 6 months pregnant, and hoping to go back to teach Spanish rather than English at their village’s school. They both work on the weekends and evenings tending to their micro-farm and making deliveries. Their house smells of black licorice and they had a ham and cream pasta prepared for us for dinner. As soon as we dropped our bags, they took us on a tour of their micro-farm, which was more like a secret garden nestled in between a dozen nearby houses, with tons of vegetable plots and some greenhouses, but also weeping willows, fragrant wisteria vines, and huge hydrangeas.
We woke up to pain au chocolat and baguettes with so many types of spreadable cheese (this was my favorite), and butter, and 2 types of jam: prune and tart currant. For lunch we shared our cucumber salad recipe. Pauline, her mom, and her sister all prepared a delicious lettuce salad, caprese, bread, cheese and almond butter. We helped harvest from their micro-farm. We make a delivery by car to Jack and then decide we are going to get ice cream from a local place. This is unlike any place we’ve ever paid to get ice cream. It is someone’s home. A house covered in ivy and vines with a walk up window that you probably wouldn’t even notice if the window was shut. There was a sandwich board with all the flavors and x’s next to the ones they were serving. They had every flavor under the sun. I got 2 scoops: black licorice and rose. Karl got cassis. When we go again, I’ll be getting rhubarb and cinnamon.
Our stay there was exceptional, we didn’t want to leave for at least another week. Do note that they have a little cottage they are fixing up to host bicycle tourists….we highly recommend staying with them!
Things we noticed/learned:
Doors close tight to rooms- Doors are floor to ceiling in public restrooms, it almost feels as if they are sound proof. Most doors in homes have a threshold you have to step over to enter the room.
Some of the restrooms are REALLY tiny, so the toilet attaches to the wall (no visible tank) and the sinks are so small.
Since we’ve been traveling non-stop for 40 some odd hours (by plane, train and bike) we find things continue to move even when we aren’t. It’s not dizziness, and hard to explain.
People drive a little more wildly, but there are all sorts of chicanes, which Karl points out (Urban Planning Nerd Alert!).
Towels are crunchy, because they dry them on the line outside and only seldom use dryers.
Kiss on the cheek to greet and say goodbye is the way they do.
French is a beautiful sounding language.
When you get cold quiche from refrigerated section, it’s most likely not cooked completely, but I ate it anyway…
There are often no blinds/shades on windows
We didn’t have an EUROS due to heading straight to the countryside before stopping at a bank. This is extra handy when you are paying for bike train tickets, or like us and having to pay the guy on the train because the kiosk doesn’t offer the option to buy train tickets
Unlike the popular belief, not every place accepts VISA- we tried to buy water from a train station store in Belgium and they would only accept local cards.
Belgians are very helpful and friendly.
Not everyone speaks English. Belgium has 3 national languages: French, Flemish and Dutch
Belgium won as the ¼ finalists in the World Cup! Can you believe that happened while we were there?! Although we weren’t sitting at a bar cheering them on with other fellow Belgians, and we didn’t actually see the game, we heard it on the street while we were too busy… getting lost, that is. We heard a girl shouting from a balcony “ya gane!,” cars honking, waving Belgian flag from wherever they could. All this softened the fact that Google maps was taking us in circles because it was on LTE and kept freezing and wasn’t identifying our location correctly. We finally noticed after making that same loop in the city twice. By 9:30pm we arrived at the neighborhood street party to find Molly and Julien’s (Karl’s friends). This is where a man, who I didn’t know, came out from the gate, grabbed my face, kissed me on the cheek and said “Felicitacion!”
Like our friends in Ciplet, Molly and Julien were fabulous hosts in Brussels – making sure that we saw some favorite local highlights, including the farmers’ market in the local square, with its sparkling strawberries, choice cheeses, and carts-full of other edible treats. They also took us to an old, classic, street-corner restaurant for moules-frites (mussels and fries). Our favorite part of the Brussels tour might have been the tranquil parks Bois de la Cambre and the Sonian Forest, known for its old royal hunting roads, and its “cathedral of beech trees ” – 70-foot trunks soaring to the top of the forest canopy and totally humbling any walker or jogger.
Must do when in Belgium:
Eat Belgian Chocolate
Drink Belgian Beer (It’s so cheap, we didn’t pay more than 2 eruo 50 for a pint)
Go to Bike Shops to get more inner tubes, bike bell and 2 new headset spacers.
Bike. Everywhere! And keep an eye out for art nouveau buildings – Brussels has one of the highest concentrations of these buildings in any major European city.
Visit the forest
Eat Belgian Waffles (“goffres”) from a street vendor.
Eat Belgian Fries with all the sauces (pickle sauce is amazing, but there are so many to choose from)
Hit up the local flea market in the city square to by tags for bicycles
Hit up the local outdoor store and buy an Opinel knife for cutting apples and amazing cheese
Get to the local farmer’s market
Eat mussels and frites
Julien, the comedian
After Karl and I had made a trek to the grocery store for rations before setting off from our nice, cozy stay at Hotel MollyJulien, we could only buy a large sum of coconut oil, so we offered some to Molly and Julien. This is the commentary you get between Molly and Julien when you try to add new coconut oil to a jar of old coconut oil: “Mixing used, older oil with new oil is disgusting”- Julien “Oil mixing with oil, what’s the difference?”-Molly “It’s the same DNA, but not the same age”-Julien “It’s like putting your uncle and your daughter in the same bed”-Julien
Plastic green coins are for Aldi’s carts, and they are reusable
Street signs are different here and we don’t understand them.
H20 on tap can be hard to find…hard to get…for free, that is
Dutch and Flemish are basically the same language
Rose poivre is Red/pink pepper, not rose
TinTin is a popular comic here
Comic art is BIG in Brussels
It’s is very rare that you will see/find a curb cut
Local made Speculoos stole our hearts, the original, not the vanilla.
Immediately Northwest of Brussels is a Flemish speaking area. In Brussels they speak French. There are feelings about this.
After spending three full days in Brussels with our friends Molly and Julien, we had to bid them adieu. We stopped by the Fietspunt / Point Velo bike shop inside the train station (that’s a thing in Belgium!) on our way out of town for a new tube. They had a cool shop, it felt just like TCCP back home.
Julien had done us a solid and found the best route we should ride to get us to Antwerp. Almost immediately after heading north along the canal we noticed a shift. We were saying “Bonjour!” to other people on bikes as they passed by and they did not respond, it was like we were speaking a foreign language. We were, because they speak Flemish, not French, and they didn’t seem to appreciate the French. We left Brussels via the busy canal route, switching sides of the canal, crossing bridges, taking detours. One detour led us to a fenced area with fawns (one was even albino) right near a row of Cottonwood trees. This was confirmation to us that we were on the right track. We found a woman cycling and asked her if there was a place to get food, like sandwiches. She took us by bike to a place that was closed, then she asked us “Do you like pancakes?” and Karl and I in unison said “Yea!” So she took us to Wonderijs (“Wonder Ice,” also an ice cream shop) in Tisselt (only 20km outside of Brussels) for pancakes. This was probably a 5km detour for her, including two extra trips across a bridge, so it was very kind of this woman to help. We found out later that she’s a good friend of the shop owner!
We arrived later at a campsite in Antwerp that was RV-only and the grounds manager was a Trump-supporting kind of guy, so we were glad to find out that we in fact couldn’t camp there as we only had a tent. We went under the river in a dank cold tunnel to another campground (Camp de Molen, the Flemish/Dutch word for Windmill). There was no toilet paper, and no soap, but there were HOT SHOWERS for FREE! It was 17 euro/night… a bargain, I guess?
We left our camp and went through the underground tunnel again to get back into the city center and went looking for a place to charge our phones. We needed power. We found a wonderful Kaffenini cafe in Antwerp before venturing to find a phone case/holder to mount to Karl’s handlebars to help with navigation. We found a great phone holder, but we continued the quest to find a new front rack, with no luck. It was raining that day. We had a pompous bike shop dude tell us that we needed to upgrade our gear and began to pick apart everything he believed was wrong with our set up.
[Let me pause here to say that no matter the gear you have, the most important part is that you are doing it, don’t overlook that important fact. You also don’t need fancy gear, or even your tires on correctly to do it. There is more than one way!
This bike shop dude was particularly beneficial for me to see/hear in person, because I struggle, too, with seeing that things can happen more than one way, and can become short tempered, mean and rude.
We are finally starting to get the hang of route planning and what we need to have prepared so we aren’t stopping all the time to check and re-check routes or get lost as often. However, wherever we’re going, we’re making progress, but my mind sometimes has a harder time being convinced of that. But this was a hard part.
As we left Antwerp, I didn’t see that the bike path crossed this section of active traffic (there was some construction and it was pouring rain), and I rolled right in front of a motorcycle that stopped short because they luckily saw me in time. Shortly after this terrifying incident, we witnessed (and heard) a cyclist crossing a major (6-8 lane) intersection get hit by a car. The driver of the car stopped and got out with his passengers to attend to the cyclist. We have no idea if that cyclist is okay or not. It’s a grueling thing to see someone in your very shoes have something tragic and preventable happen to them. We were stunned, I wept. I told Karl that we needed to get out of the city. He agreed.
Other cyclists don’t greet you. There are so many!
There are bike paths crossing high speed roads with no warning
Busy roads suck. It’s best to travel by bike, in our opinion, on a completely separate path
Every other bike we see is an E-bike
Mopeds/Scooters share the bike lanes
Speculoos come in syrup and spreadable form. It’s amazing!
City riding stresses us out.
France’s soccer team is a bunch of dramatic actors that have paid off the referrees.
It’s daylight until 10:30pm
87% isopropyl alcohol is hard to find. It’s not sold in pharmacies or in gas stations. We use this as fuel for our cook stove.
We found a grocery store after a secluded and pleasant ride in the countryside/suburbs. We made pasta, drank a little bottle of wine and watched Belgium lose to France in the World Cup. To make this sad day even worse, I was in need of the ladies room at our campground and it was locked, unlike the men’s. I reported this to the bartender who responded that the campground (mostly of RV’s) has mostly male campers using the restroom, so she wasn’t going to unlock the women’s. I asked her with an attitude about what I was supposed to do, and she said it was alright for me to use the men’s. Well, all is okay in the world.
July 11, 2018
“Don’t cry for me Argentina” was playing in the Grand Cafe de Toekomst (Rising Sun Cafe) in the town of Achtmaal in the North Belgian countryside. Actually, I think we had just crossed over in the Netherlands at this point. This is the song I was singing when I woke up at the campground, some 10km back. Yelf, the owner and our server, asked if Karl and I were “man and woman” which apparently is a French term for husband and wife. Karl said he hadn’t asked yet…and I was like…”PUT A RING ON IT!” but silently so. Yelf offered to marry us right then and there. He wore old, worn-in wooden clogs and scuffled all around the restaurant. He made us a HUGE breakfast, just like the one he had given the Polish young man before us. Karl’s breakfast consisted of 8 eggs on toast with cucumber and tomato salad for 8 euros! I asked for only 2 eggs and he gave me 3. The whole thing was comedic, and we saw several folks come in and order food in this daze of the afternoon sun, with slow service.
Yelf took us on a tour of the restaurant and spoke enough English for us to understand until it came to him trying to explain what he did for a living before the cafe. Which we think might have been a physical therapist, or maybe a witch doctor, but we weren’t entirely sure. Needless to say there is a lot we don’t understand, especially the cycle path directional signage and any of the signs because they are all in Dutch.
We camped for the night at Liesbos (16 euros). They had a pool that was FREEZING cold, but people were swimming in it. It was good to soak our legs. We set up camp in Row B instead of Row D as we had been instructed (we were confused). After another RV arrived we had to pick up and move our tent to Row D, which wouldn’t have been such a problem, but we had all our clean laundry drying on bushes nearby, we had unpacked everything, etc. Why couldn’t the Unicorn RV take the spot were were supposed to be in?
We ate a yummy dinner at the campsite bar of salads in old yogurt jars, fries, stroopwaffle ice cream sandwich for dessert. Then we came back for more fries and to watch the world cup and charge our phones. Croatia won. The fries were delicious!
Westmalle Trappist beer is made by monks and is delicious and strong!
The Netherlands are below sea level and surrounded by water channels. Without these water channels Holland would flood. These channels serve nicely for fence/barrier to keep cows from crossing into surrounding crop fields.
We’ve been warned A LOT to not ride our bikes with all our gear on them in Amsterdam. We have been told more than once that a thief will just walk up to you, while on your bike and just start taking stuff and run away.
Every now and then, we see these ancient windmills, which Holland is famous for. They are hundreds of years old, and were originally built to help pump water through the channels, to keep the country above water! They are all lovingly cared for – some with new paint or new shingles, or completely new wooden rotor wings.
In one town, we got to tour a windmill, which is actually still a functioning flour mill – they sold baking supplies, baking mixes, and wooden molds for Speculoos cookies. We bought a jar of peanut butter mixed with stroopwaffle, which is probably the most heavenly substance on earth. We took the sticker from the jar and christened Karl’s bike De Pindakaaswinkel – The Peanutbutter Store.
We rode for 15-20km along a dike one day- there were villages and windmills built up on the sides of the dike, out of the lowlands. The views with 20 feet of elevation were amazing for this flatland country!
We camped at Camp Grienduil in Niewland. Erik was a great host. Once we arrived, I was so hungry that I saw a bag of paprika chips (70 euro cents) in his store and grabbed them and took them down to my stomach! Camp Grienduil was by far the coziest and nicest (people-wise) campground we had been so far. They had a gas stove for us to cook with all the cookware available. We made soup and mashed potatoes with Maredsous cheese spread for our bread as our dinner. Our Dutch neighbors Ina and Robbie (from Haarlem) in the RV next door asked us where we were from and we said “Kansas” and Robie replied “Kansas City” in a funny way…sort of like Rob Schneider…he reminded us of Rob Schneider. Robbie has a dream of storm chasing tornados in Kansas, so we told him to come and stay with us, although we’d have nothing to do with storm chasing.
We decided to splurge and stay at the Eye Hotel in Utrecht — which used to be an old eye hospital. Utrecht was lovely, and our first taste of a big city in Holland. The canal was full of urban revelers enjoying ice cream, drinks, dinner, and shopping. Most of the stores were already closed by the time we got there – and that was probably a good thing, we didn’t have much room in our panniers for collecting stuff! We saw a creepy guy walking around the canals a bit, we got a shifty feeling about him. Then later, we saw him riding a bike that was much too big for him – a bike thief in action.
Pear gelato is delicious and almost just as good as a cantaloupe gelato I once had in Italy!
Signs that visualize what they are trying to say instead of using text are always better, such as restroom signage- image of a man, woman and child instead of using “Dames” “Heren” only.
The canal is a hoppin’ place this time of year and esp on Saturdays
We’d stop to ask directions from a local occasionally and when I asked “Is it close?” they would think I was saying “Is it closed,” so I found saying “is it near?” instead.
“Hoi” is “Hi” in Dutch…I just love that.
G’dank is Thank you in the Flanders (flat land) region.
At a bar or restaurant, every drink has a designated glass…if you pour a Stella…you get it in a Stella glass, no exceptions. But don’t drink Stella, they’re corporate. Drink local.
We sadly had to leave our wonderful one-night stay at the Eye Hotel and on to a reserved two-night stay at the iHotel in Noord Amsterdam. Are you seeing a theme here?! We were excited to be staying in a hotel again and even more excited to see the most famous, Amsterdam.
The ride into Amsterdam was dramatic. The infrastructure became bigger and more sophisticated as we traveled. We started to see more highways, more trains, more bridges, and more ships, like barges and cruise liners. When we got to our hotel and parked our gear, we wandered the neighborhood a little bit, and found an outdoor, seaside restaurant called the Skatecafe. It was an old warehouse turned into a farm-to-table restaurant, with quarterpipe ramps inside.
While we were eating outdoors on bright yellow picnic tables, we noticed a car pull up, and one of the servers – who we had seen indoors just minutes ago – jump out, shirtless, and soaking wet. He put on a shirt and went back inside. We asked our server what had happened. He had gone for a swim on his smoke break! How very Dutch.
We spent the day strolling Amsterdam without our bicycles and walked over 25,000 steps, about 13 miles. We walked through Hortus Botanicus, the Botanical Gardens. We checked out a modern art museum, which turned out to be tiny. We met a nice German couple who sat with us at lunch, who were also on a cycle tour. They taught us about “mini-camping” and shared the same disdain for our country’s politics and one specific president.
We also caught up with Mark, who Karl had seen at the airport in Iceland. We had planned to visit the Van Gogh Museum, but instead decided to visit the Moco Museum for its Banksy exhibit. It was a neat show, but it was a warm day, and there’s no air conditioning in most parts of the Netherlands. The best part was getting back outside into the breeze. We also strolled around the canals for a while, and found a little neighborhood bar where we could all catch the next World Cup game.
Sadly, it was a Sunday, and all of the bike shops were closed. 7/16/18
We traveled by bicycle from Amsterdam to Grouwe Stek campsite. It was a nice campsite amongst a row of trees, but oddly next to a big warehouse, so we heard lots of busy vehicles backing up “Beep! Beep! Beep!”
There was also a lost baby duck who was very distraught, honking for its mama all evening. Poor guy.
This is the first campsite where we’ve encountered other cycle tourists, they didn’t want to talk though. The RV folks did! We made dinner on our cookstove and ate a delicious pastry from the Sante bakery that we paid for so Karl could use their restroom. Worth it!
Once we left, we were facing the longest ride of our tour yet – but not just by bike. We would be crossing the IJsselmeer, the inland bay that separates North Holland from Friesland. That morning we woke up early, packed our things faster than we ever had, and biked as fast as we could to the ferry, frantically asking passersby if we were headed in the right direction. The directions we were getting online, and from locals, were almost useless. We arrived at 8:46am – late – and these ferries were way bigger than the ones we had been riding. We weren’t sure if it was our ferry that was full of people and bikes, and had the walkway up and ready to roll out, so I asked the Captain on the boat and he said “you’re late!” about 3 times to me. Meanwhile Karl is off trying to see if he can get us tickets, we thought if we divided we could conquer…boy were we wrong. I then, out of breath, ask the captain “do we need tickets?” and he replied sternly with “of course you need tickets!” and everyone on the ferry just laughed. It was humiliating because of course what I had meant to ask was if we need to get our ticket before boarding and if so, where. Apparently you get them on the boat and they charge you extra, because Karl had no luck. We had an 80 minute ferry ride where I was embarrassed and upset for about half the ferry ride. Then Karl suggested we head up to the top of the ferry for maximum viewing experience. Also, when we got to shore, we got to ride through the cutest little seaside town, with more sailboats than people. When we biked a little more we needed to pee and found a restaurant with no one around and didn’t pay to pee!! We’d like to consider this a success! #freepee
We traveled with a tailwind for the 70k ride, which made me suspicious that we were headed the wrong direction, because we’ve had a headwind every day. That made for a much more pleasant ride, that and that we arrived in Friesland Netherlands for our first mini-camping experience. Thanks to the nice German couple who recommended mini-camping! We were in our last night’s stay in the Netherlands and mini-camping isn’t really a thing outside of there, so we wanted to make the most of it! It was such a nice experience at Minicamping Singel. There was a cat named Menta, a bunny, and only about 2 other campers.
What is mini-camping, you might be wondering? Well, most campsites in northern Europe are also combination RV parks and mobile home neighborhoods. Typically they are semi-permanent residences for some folks, and there tend to be hundreds of sites available. On the contrary, Mini-camping typically doesn’t offer any long-term camping, and is limited to 40 sites, max. In our experience, these were a bit more like Bed & Breakfast type spots. Remember, Erik, from Camp Grienduil in Niewland, his campground was mini-camping and we didn’t know it at the time. That’s probably why we found it so cozy!
We woke up to a nice breakfast of pancakes, bread, cheese, meat, juice, tea and coffee, which we ate at a picnic table outside. Mmmmm! Our host made this lovely meal and ate with us that morning, on the patio just outside her farmhouse, in the quiet countryside setting.
We decided to not be in a hurry, because we were really starting to learn the hang of this whole bike tour vacation. To be honest, it has been a lot of work, but work we’ve loved. So we’ve been trying to do better at enjoying time not being on the go, so we lounged a bit before heading out.
It may have been the heat of the day, or the fact that the farmer was loading up his manure spreader right beside our campsite, but something in us got us thinking about plans again. We discussed our plan about whether we bike or take a train close to or directly to Hamburg, Germany. As we were checking maps and calling about train schedules, we realized our chance to catch a train to Hamburg was going to be in Heerenveen, not in Groningen where we had originally thought. It was clear to us that we could only get a bus from Groningen to Hamburg and you cannot take a bicycle on a bus. We did the math and we weren’t going to have enough days to cycle, so a train trip it was. We called Jonas, our friend that we were excited to see in Hamburg, to see if he could host us that evening. It was around noon and our day of lounging around had already turned into a bustle of planning, packing, and activating.
And so, we found ourselves back-tracking to Heerenveen to catch what would be many trains. Our first train would be to Deventer and then to Hamburg…BUT we go mixed up and got on a train to Meppel where we got a chance to show off our Amazing Race skills (no kidding, any part of our trip that required train travel felt like we were in the Amazing Race). We had to take 2 cramped elevators with our bikes and gear to catch a train on a different platform in under 8 minutes. This is accounting for waiting for the elevator once you’ve pushed the button, loading into and just crossing your fingers no one else is needing to ride. I’m glad to report that we made it and that surrounding people behaved appropriately. We now know all the ways to cram 2 bikes into tiny elevators, some techniques which include doing a wheelie off the bike. One stand-byer applauded us!
After 14 hours of travel on foot, bike, and five different trains (which should have only been three), we arrived in Hamburg. This was the first border we crossed by train and not by bike, which was a little hard for me – it didn’t feel like we earned it.
Things we learned/observed:
It’ll be okay if you get on the wrong train. How do we know this? Well, we’ve done it, many times, in fact.
Navigating 3 countries and their train systems, not one of them is guaranteed to be the same.
Poffertjes are deeeelicious and such a fun, difficult word to say for us English speakers.
Ask questions, because it’s likely you don’t really know or could have known.
Tailwinds are great, but don’t seem to come often for us in the direction we’re traveling! Which helps us appreciate it when we do!
Two languages are spoken in Friesland ( what does Friesland mean?? )-Friesh and Dutch.
Dutch trains don’t have much space for bikes, like you’d think, but German trains do!
Fietspads and Knoppunts (“knot points”) are so well organized, connected and are the bicycle highways and routes for getting around this part of Europe.
Folks here eat A LOT of bread.
Many trails felt like the Shunga Trail we have in Topeka, KS.
Our day is always better with music, so when we need a boost, turn on those tunes!
Cold Fuze Sparkling Ice Tea is the jam and a perfect cure on a hot day. Gosh, we love some cold sparkling, ice tea!
It smells like the cows that make cheese in Amsterdam.
As soon as we got off the train, we toured Hamburg by bicycle with a great guide, our friend, Jonas. He took us for a falafel dinner (at one of the 3 falafel places in the strip), the one he knew had the cheapest, but most delicious falafel. He wasn’t kidding. We posted up in a park nearby to chow and we observed some crusty punks who were about to break out into a fight, so we quickly downed our eats and got out of there. We returned to Jonas’s apartment and had a nice nights sleep. The next morning Jonas had the day off and needed to water plants at his mother’s house, and it just so happens that right next door to her flat is Riesenspatz. This is a great group of illustrators and graphic recorders. Such a cool vibe there. We went to a really BIG and great art store where I picked up some more markers and paper. Then we went to an all cargo-bike shop where Felix works.
We went underwater by bicycle, this time via 100-year-old tunnel under the Elbe River. Felix met us on the other side. I was having shifting problems, so Felix replaced my shifting cable. It’s handy to know a bike mechanic. Then we went for baked potatoes, beers from the quick shop and off to have a picnic along the Elbe.
We finished the day at Planten un Blomen park with a spectacular water & light show to live music.
Things we learned/observed:
Needles Gin is the best gin I have ever tasted.
“Klein” means “Small” in German.
Stern Schanze is a neighborhood in Hamburg and it literally translates to “Star Ramp.”
Jonas has a favorite bread that is only made in Hamburg. It has a lot of seeds in it, like mostly made of seeds.
“Hiccup” in German means to “swallow up.”
“Fountain” in German’s exact translation is “jumping well.”
We really enjoy that Jonas likes to translate Germans words into English for us!
It was time for us to keep going, so we made a plan to pedal to Lubeck, to catch the BIG ferry to Denmark. To our delight and surprise, Jonas and Teresa offered to ride with us for a day! It made the trip really pleasant to have our friends with us for a little while longer. They helped us navigate out of the city, and that was a big relief. We got to stop for picnics along the way, and learned more from them about German life.
When we got to the countryside near Lubeck, it was starting to get toward evening, and we saw the most remarkable sign, which had some sort of deer, or elk, or moose – probably a moose – with no other explanation. This was our sign. Jonas pulled off the road into a quiet, grassy clearing, and said “We’re home!” It was not exactly an official campsite, but no one minded that we stayed there.
In the morning, we said bittersweet goodbyes as Jonas and Teresa headed back for Hamburg, and we set off toward the next destination. All of the sudden started to feel like our bicycle tour part of the adventure was soon coming to a close, which brought a bit of sadness and joy.
We rode into Lubeck, and took the train to Puttsgarden, where the ferry actually leaves from, and there almost wasn’t enough space for us and our bikes. We really weren’t sure we would make it… but then we realized there was a train every hour, so we were a little less stressed. The train was packed with high school kids, because this was the first full day of summer vacation for German students.
Then we took the biggest ferry yet on this trip. This ferry had restaurants, and bars, and grocery stores, and a Duty Free mall- basically everything. Way more than we needed for the 90-minute trip, but we still enjoyed some lunch. We noticed a spike in prices on beer. We were sad to be leaving Germany. But finally, after some strange announcements, we saw everyone going back below-decks to their cars and bikes. The boat docked, the thick steel doors opened, and we pedaled out – into DENMARK!!!! WE MADE IT TO DENMARK!!!!
We stopped in the nearby town for some water and to check directions, and then set off. We were immediately thrust into territory that looked a lot like parts of Kansas. No hills at all, and tons of wheat fields. There were some exceptions, though. The bike trails had wild plum trees, with yellow and red plums up and down both sides of the trail. Sara ate one and said it was good, but I wasn’t going to press my luck.
We camped at Guldsborg which was a very nice campsite with fast wifi and a couple of electric spots to charge our phones. It was 160 Kroner/night.
There are no raccoons and very few squirrels here. There are, however, wild hedgehogs.
When you mention to a friend that you might want to do a bike tour of Europe, he will hold you to it!
If you’re not riding on a cycle path or a bike lane, most likely you’re doing it wrong and there’s a designated path/route that’s better, you just have to look till you find it.
At our campsite in Guldsborg we met a nice Canadian couple, Sean and Tracy and their 19 month old daughter Kaelynn. We cycled with them for a while after we left camp quite a bit earlier than them, but headed in the wrong direction. It was 5k before we realized this, so we turned around and I needed to air up my rear tire, so we tried to at a gas station. Did I mention it was hot and sunny and we were sweating and it was only 9am? I was heated about much more than the temperature. This was the third time (in my life) I had tried to use an adaptor with a gas station air pump and it just deflated my tire!!! Karl jumped in and took my hand pump to air up my tire. This whole upsetting scenario happened to be serendipitous because as we were pumping air into the tube, Sean, Tracy and Kaelynn roll by and ask us if we need any help. We got the tire aired up in time to go ride along with them. We got to pedal with them for the first 10-15km of the ride, but we were cruising a little faster than them, so we parted ways at the 2-mile-long bridge from Orehoved across the Storestrom to Masnedo.
Karl was starting to feel sick at this point, with food poisoning or maybe the flu, so we stopped at a town store (it was gas station, hardware store, grocery store, and private residence all rolled into one), so we could buy him some Pepto-Bismol. We were sweaty, Karl was hanging in there.
We finally found Route 56, for bikes only! It is a VERY scenic route through forest and is a slow speed with small roads and I found it to be so majestic…just like the redwood forest. On one section of the road, we saw some animals running across a field. They weren’t quite as big as deer, but they were definitely bigger than rabbits. We finally recognized them as hares! The old story rings true – they are incredibly fast!
Things started to get hilly and hot. We were so tired we cut our travel short and made the very wise decision to pause, find the nearest place to camp, which was in Eskilstrup Kuisverlaugt.
We’ll just say that this wasn’t any ordinary campsite. From the looks of it, it seemed to be a house with land and a pet/farm store, with no camping. We were quick to turn pessimistic, because we were so fried from the day’s heat and hills. After roaming around this farm store with pet food, horse bridles, and Hill’s products. With no one around, we were about to bounce, when we heard a woman’s voice. I asked her “is there camping here?” She said “yes.” WE WERE SO RELIEVED! and then I asked “how much does it cost?” She waved her arms like an umpire calling out, “nothing” she said. Then I asked her if they had a place for us to charge our phones and she said “I don’t know.”
Turns out that it is a Renaissance Festival-like place where they burn coal and sell it to viking actors. They have a festival each year. They dress up in costume, with black pants, tan shirts, black hats and drink dark rum/whiskey out of wood mugs as they make coal, just like the vikings did. Aleks, our host and his wife, Kamme, built this place to have concerts (there are several stages) to be like Woodstock. The concerts there began with 3-400 people and have grown to 4,000. Folk, country and rock n roll band perform. There are buildings, a big stage, an outdoor kitchen, a sod-roofed lean-to, a traditional viking cabin, and a whole apparatus for making charcoal, on the 43 acres of land. Where were we??
We were filthy and sweaty from a hot and hilly ride, but there were no shower facilities that we could find – so we rigged up a hose through a fork in some trees, and had a cold water shower in the woods! I’m not sure if that’s how the Danes do it, but it seemed pretty natural. That night, as we were falling asleep, we could hear hedgehogs running around in the wheat fields next to us.
The next morning, chatting with Aleks, the host, he remarked that he loved American music so much, and that he and Willie Nelson are friends on Facebook. He asked us who we thought was the all time king of rock n’ roll in the US. Karl and I were a bit stumped, but he quickly spared us by saying “Bruce Springsteen!” with a big smile. He informed us that he watches all these singer/songwriters on YouTube and learned most of his English from watching John Wayne movies as a kid. He only had 4 months of English in school.
Traveling with a kid in a trailer and trying to incorporate train travel would be incredibly difficult. There isn’t space on a train for that kind of rig. Sean and Tracy’s pro-tip is to catch the early train.
Don’t you ever give up.
Copenhagen is spelled and pronounced Kobenhavn.
We were invited by Aleks and Kamme to sit and have a cold drink before we got on our late start heading out. It was a beautiful exchange. We are so grateful, and we really treasure moments like these, where we can sit and share with each other, even when we don’t have much language in common.
We were off on another short ride to Koge about 30km ride and then to catch a train to COPENHAGEN!!!!!!
We arrived at the Norreport Station in central Copenhagen aka the “S” train very hot and very sweaty at this point in the day. We’ve been told that it’s unseasonably warm for this area, but everyone seems to be out and enjoying it in the Netherlands, while we haven’t really seen many people out in Denmark. It was 90 degrees with zero air conditioning, zero windows open on the train, but yet it was one of our best biking days, due to it being short ride in the cooler part of the day and with very little stress.
We got into Copenhagen and found our Airbnb. OUR TOUR TO COPENHAGEN WAS COMPLETE. Peter our host greeted us and was very helpful and friendly. We were incredibly thirsty at this point and he quickly offered us water after climbing 5 flights of stairs to the flat. I was excited to get a shower and change into some fresh clothes that would be arriving to the Airbnb via our friend’s portage. Our friends hadn’t yet arrived, so we were excited to greet them. About 10 minutes during our tour of the Airbnb, we heard the buzzer and our friends had arrived! They reported that they had a delayed final flight, their run in with baggage claim and complications with my luggage. We all were hot.
We managed to get out and explore just a bit. I got a chocolate and strawberry gelato, then we headed to the Fakte Market (grocery store). Karl and I made burritos and guacamole for dinner for everyone. It was devoured by all! Peter left us stocked with SO MANY GROCERIES!
Copenhagen was so special to all of us. It was Andy’s first trip to Europe, he was wide-eyed at everything. It was wonderful to be with our friends just then. Everything was new to them – where the tour had diminished the novelty for us. And what a joy to have Theo and Oliver with us, too! We miss so much when we don’t include children in our plans, they see things so differently. It was a great refresher.
I was looking forward to some rest. I had started to get the flu on the last couple days of riding – so when I wasn’t upright on the bike, I was laying down, or in a bathroom. To top it off, a bee stung me in my armpit on our last day of touring. So I missed all the touristy excitement of the first three days in Copenhagen – I pretty much stayed home to rest and recover. The introvert in me didn’t mind slowing down a bit.
I finally started to feel better, and joined the fun with our friend-family in the city. And what a city it is! We were in the middle of everything in our posh apartment on Frederiksborg street. On the street across from us: Two outdoor clothing stores, a hobby shop, and a bike shop. On the street below our flat: World headquarters of Larry vs. Harry, creators of the Bullitt cargo bike. Down the street to the east: Torvehallerne Fresh Food Market (featuring vegan ice cream, tacos from Hija de Sanchez, and Coffee Collective), and Cyclist Forbundet / Cyklist Butiken 1905 — the national Danish Cyclists’ Federation and bike shop! Down the street to the west: The lakes, busy Norrebro neighborhood, Assistens Cemetery, and more.
Every day would start with walking or bicycling to our destination, hanging out there a while, eating – always outdoors – and then biking or walking more to the next stop. Once in a while, we might also take a train or a bus. But mostly, we rode bikes. Our flat owners loaned us a few bikes, Sara and I had our touring rigs, and Andy rented a Christiania cargo trike and carted around Theo and Kristina. Ollie rode a bike his size from the flat, and pedaled like a champ. So every morning we all set off together, and merged onto the bike lanes with the hundred-thousand bicyclist commuters of central Copenhagen.
We’ll share some of the highlights that we enjoyed from the trip, but if you talk with any of us – I’m sure that you’d hear that it was really just the lifestyle of Copenhagen that made the biggest impression. Copenhagen is a city that is still human-scaled. Everyone walks and bikes everywhere. Everything is within reach by walking or biking. The city is social; everyone likes to hang out outdoors, eat outdoors, see and be seen outdoors. Parks are for adults, and children, and dogs, and for flea markets and festivals and concerts and movie nights.
Danes, like the Dutch and the Belgians – are water people. In Kansas, we don’t really have this concept at all. But everywhere we traveled, people were living around water, and loving it — swimming at all times and generally just hanging out in, on, or near the water, in swimming trunks, boats, or on docks. We were told it’s not uncommon for Copenhageners to strip off their business clothes and jump in the sea for a lunchtime swim break.
To that end, there is lots of waterfront development in Copenhagen. Of course, there is the classic Nyhavn, which you may recognize from a postcard or calendar – but just across the bridge, in the formerly industrial/shipping area, the city has developed an outdoor party zone, which happens to come with a brand new concrete skatepark, a stage, and a few dozen popup restaurants operating out of half-size shipping containers. If Mad Max had been written about partying after the apocalypse, instead of just surviving, it might look like this! Some of our best meals were out here from these different international food vendors, and I’ll never forget my favorite meal of the trip – salted mackerel, wrapped in paper, hot off the grill.
A high point for the whole group was Kronborg Castle. We took a train ride to see this historic fort on the North Sea. Not only was this a critical castle in Danish history – it is also the setting for the most famous play in the world – Hamlet. We didn’t realize before embarking upon the tour of the grounds that there would be actors treating us to vignettes from the Shakespearean work! Oliver was particularly delighted when Ophelia came up to us during one of her fits, and gave Sara trouble about her strange sandals.
Since we had a little bit of time after visiting the castle – we hopped on the ferry and went over to Sweden! There wasn’t anything we wanted to do more in Helsingborg than hang out on the beach. It was a great day, and we all got to add another country to our list.
On a day when the rest of the crew had plans, Sara and I took another train ride north to check out Louisiana. That’s right, Louisiana, Denmark! It’s actually the name of a spectacular modern art museum. I’m not sure we loved any of the exhibits as much as we loved the building and grounds. Some of the trees were so enormous! It was a beautiful midcentury building on a lush green park that sloped down to the sea. The museum has its own swimming dock and encourages people to swim. Some patrons were indeed swimming! So very Danish.
On the way back, at our transfer point, we had a layover of a couple hours, so we decided to look around this area on the outskirts of Copenhagen. We stumbled across a park – one that was actually on our list to visit, but which we thought we would miss – Dyrehave, a.k.a. Deer Garden. In Sara’s words, paradise! It’s a giant nature preserve which used to be private, royal hunting grounds – but which is now dedicated to wildlife habitat. We got to see dozens and dozens of deer, many of them not far from us. It was special to get to see wildlife, while knowing we weren’t far from the city.
Part of our plan, from the start, was to get tattoos to commemorate the trip. We found an artist online, and booked well in advance of leaving the U.S. When the day arrived, we crossed the lakes and walked another two blocks to the studio – five blocks total from our flat. My design had been finished for a few weeks, but Sara’s was fresh out of the sketchbook – she had been collaborating with Betty Zoo Tattoo over the last few days of the tour. Our new artwork souvenirs turned out beautifully, and we were so happy to commemorate the tour in this way.
On our second-to-last night in Copenhagen, Sara and I went to see the trolls. We charted a course to where we thought we would find them, and pedaled like hell to get there! Not everyone would plan a 25-mile ride through suburbs and other cities as a leisure activity, but hey, we had just completed a bike tour. This wasn’t a problem. It was just a good thing we brought snacks. It was magical to walk through the forest and stumble upon Lille Tilde, that first giant. We knew we had to do our best to see more – so we also made it to Thomas on the Mountain, and Sleeping Louis. They were hidden enough, that we saw a tourist family in the area walk right by Sleeping Louis’s spot without seeing him.
On our last night in Copenhagen, our friends were returning from LEGO Land, but there was something on our list we hadn’t seen yet. We hopped on electric-assist Bycykeln bikes (whee!) and went into the city to visit Copenhagen’s famous amusement park, Tivoli. This park, said to be the inspiration for Disneyland, was turning 175 years old during our visit.
It was the most beautiful botanical garden we had seen yet. Everything was in bloom. Huge purple and white hydrangeas buffeted the pathways through the grounds. Flowers we couldn’t name perfumed every corner of the park. At the far end of the park, there were rides – a ferris wheel, some roller coasters, some carnival-type games – but just past the entrance, the park was still clearly a creation of the Danish lifestyle. There were at least a dozen different restaurants, all of them mostly outdoors.
We quickly got ride tickets and set off to scout what we’d try. We rode around the Tivoli taxi train to get a tour of the place, and decided we would try the pendulum-type water swing. It was great! It was also *plenty* for us! We both loved it, but we both had stomach aches afterward, so we decided we wouldn’t do any more rides. We strolled through the park some more, and finally decided to sit a while in the grassy green quad in the middle of the park.
We got to talking about the day, and the time in Copenhagen, and the tour. And then I asked Sara,
“I was wondering, would you want to get married sometime?”
I could tell that she couldn’t quite believe that I was asking, but she shouted “Yes!” and hugged me.
Through happy tears and laughter, we decided to stay in the park a little longer to see the 10:45 lightshow. We had dinner in a gardenside restaurant – where you could literally sit inside a greenhouse if you chose! But, the people in the greenhouse couldn’t see what we did – the giant, white peacock roosting up above in the trees. We had a light dinner, and we each had a glass of sparkling peach wine.
We caught the light show and left the park a little bit weightless, both excited about how far we had come, and the new adventure we had just decided to take. We zipped back to the flat on e-bikes and shared the news with our friends.
It was our last night of the trip, and we couldn’t believe we would be leaving this beautiful country, but we were excited to be heading home.
Fave parts of Copenhagen:
Watermelon gelato from the market down the street from our Airbnb.
Cruesli with almond kefir for breakfast, every morning.
Renting a Christiania bike from Baiskelli.
Climbing the spiral ramp of the Round Tower.
Don’t skimp on phone service. We highly recommend having a data plan that works in Europe – for everyone’s phone – if you plan to do a tour like this. It was great to have it on one of our phones, but it would have been even nicer to have data plans on both.
Where do you put bikes on trains? Well, it’s different on each train. Some don’t allow them. Some require a ticket for your bicycle. Some they mark the car with a bicycle where bikes are allowed, others it’s the front and rear cars only.
One final thought here, if you’re in doubt, or don’t know, you’ll figure it all out along the way, like you always do.
Where to get bike boxes
Most busy bike shops have a couple of bike boxes from recent builds. Call them a few days in advance, and ask them to save you a box, and offer to pay them for it.
Pack your panniers inside a cardboard box for flying, so their hooks and attachments won’t break on conveyor belts in the airports.
List of gear items:
Phone bluetooth speakers (don’t forget to download music to your phone, it’s tough/expensive to stream) USB or solar-powered lights for the campsite Phone recharging batteries and cords Charger cords for the recharger batteries Camp kitchen, cookset, and collapsible food storage Hand sanitizer and/or cleaning wipes