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Old 08-10-2012, 02:36 AM   #16
Schwer OP
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“How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing?”

And so on I rode on… French turned to Dutch, wine turned to beer – I was in Belgium now, and right away I felt that much more at home. First stop was Bruges (or Brugge, if you prefer) a lovely little medieval town stacked to the brim with tourists. Bruges most recent fame comes from the movie In Bruges, in which Colin Farrell says “If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t” – a quote which is now used to advertise the Bruges free tour.



Outta the damn way tourists!

I guess I can tell how the idea for the movie came about – Bruges is a town begging for someone to take the piss out of it. Whenever anyone talks about Bruges, they seem completely incapable of doing so without using the word “beautiful”. It’s like that episode of Top Gear where they have to review an Alfa Romeo without using the word “passion” – Bruges is indeed so beautiful that it’s hard to describe it any other way. It’s so perfectly presented that it’s halfway to being its own theme park – it’s hard to imagine the town as actually doing anything besides tourism… that there are restaurants frequented by locals, or indeed locals at all.



Both nights it rained during dinner - it is really nice to sit, eat and watch the cobblestones glisten

One of the best things to do in Bruges is just pick a direction, start walking and eventually find that you’re completely alone and the streets are silent. It’s like this that Bruges is best appreciated – away from the crowds and the souvenir shops, just you and the beautiful streets and buildings. Some description I read warned not to expect Bruges to be a party town – I dunno which Bruges they went to, because given its location between Paris and Amsterdam, Bruges is party central for backpackers. Most big backpacker cities have a pub crawl where a couple of bars will give you a free shot. In Bruges, a woman takes you around and gives everyone a swig out of the various bottles of spirits she has in her massive handbag. The second day I was there, no one in my dorm was out of bed before 1pm. In spite of its austere beauty, it’s a messy place.



I don't have any messy photos, so enjoy this lovely canal instead

The other thing I enjoyed about Bruges was the various random attractions there. The Belgian government funds these great maps for young travellers that don’t have any advertising and feature interesting bars, restaurants and particularly cheap out-of-the-way things to do around the cities that they make them for. As a result, I spent a day doing things like walking around in the basement of Crowne Plaza checking out its medieval foundations and looking at weird museums with mannequins. I also totally met someone who used to be on Degrassi… which is not especially relevant to me as a 23 year old (why can’t I meet someone on Corner Gas?) but as far as I’m concerned I totally met someone famous on my travels… yes!



Creepy. As.

After Bruges I rode off to the Tynecot cemetary, which is a big World War 1 cemetary for Commonwealth soldiers. I’m not usually one to be affected just by being in a place, but I’ve got to say, this one did make me feel something. Not so much an overwelming sense of sadness or anything, but there’s something about the perfection of the arrangement of the graves as the sun beats down – it actually feels sort of warming, if anything, that these men are still remembered so well. Walking around the the graves is certainly a sobering experience – a massive proportion don’t have any name on them (“Known only unto god”). All of these people would’ve gone down as missing, their families forever wondering. The ages, too, really bring some of the reality home. Of course we all learn how young they were, but this is pressed home much more strongly by walking past grave after grave of soldiers aged 18 or 19. Old men played the political games that led to war, old men decided that the most effective way to fight was a war of attrition, and then it was young men who paid for these mistakes… in their hundreds of thousands. Horrible.



Chilling

This being Belgium, it was another short ride to Brussels, where I only had a night to spend. I ended up checking out the Irish bar (cultural experience) where they had bottles of Duvel for 2 euros each! Bargain. Belgium has a lot going for it, but probably the most endearing thing is going into any bar (even the dives) and finding a beer menu far better than the Belgian Beer Cafe in Sydney, but for a fifth of the price. The bar turned out to be great – they had a live band that were absolutely killing it. If this were a Sydney bar they’d be taking up important poker machine room, but this is another country and they do things differently here. I also managed to check out the comics museum in Brussels, which probably would’ve been awesome if I read French or Dutch but seeing as I don’t, a museum whose whole point is letting you read old comics wasn’t really that great. Art was nice though. I must read some Tin Tin comics when I get back. Before I left I also had to go have a look at the giant atom that was put up as part of a world expo in the 50s and has somehow remained popular even as the idea of atomic energy hasn’t. I set up my bike to take a picture, and just as the shutter closed, the side stand dug a hole in the grass and the whole thing toppled over. Fortunately a kind Spanish man helped me pick it back up, and I rode off a bit embarassed. What better time to leave the country… next stop the Netherlands!



Up and Atom!

I realise that I probably should have spent more time in Belgium – it is a great country… to take the train around. Belgium is just not a great place for a bike trip – every major city is right next to the large major city and every road is arrow-straight and blanketed with towns and their associated 50km/h speed limits. I tend to get much less happy when I’m not covering any ground – the idea of staying around Belgium and riding like 200km in a week didn’t appeal to me at all. Belgium is, however, a lovely country, and one day I will return. With money for beer.
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Old 08-10-2012, 02:47 AM   #17
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Riding out of Belgium, I stopped at an automatic petrol station and found that it had a building full of vending machines for various things – coffee, soft drinks… and beer. It’s not like it was vending cartons of beer either, these were individual cans, clearly meant for consumption within the car. This country was clearly crazy, time to go to a new one. So, suitably liquored up, I crossed over into the Netherlands… and about 500 metres the road opened up, towns stopped appearing every 2km, the speed limit went over 50 and finally I could ride. I could practically hear angels sing as I opened up the throttle. Freedom.



See that? It's an open space. Don't have those in Belgium because all the drunk drivers might drive into the water


The Netherlands doesn’t really have curvy roads and it doesn’t really have long roads, but at least it has some scenery. I buzzed along the sea, at one point passing some curious looking sluice gates that turned out to be part of the sea defence of Holland – basically because so much of the country is below sea level, they used to open the gates and flood the fields during times of war, essentially turning Holland into an island fortress… until winter came and the ice froze over, allowing opposing armies to just march right across it. Oh well, good idea anyway. After what seemed like 2 minutes (damn tiny Holland) I arrived at my hostel in the Hague, or in Dutch, “Den Kkhhaahhhaggchchh” (imagine an outboard motor stalling). Before I could learn the correct pronounciation though, I was on the road again because it turned out the hostel had accepted my booking despite having no space, then emailed me to tell me I couldn’t come but the email had got caught in the spam filter for being in Dutch. Despite being in English. Sigh.



It was nice looking hostel by the beach too. Oh well.


So I loaded back up and went to their other hostel in Delft. Although annoying, this actually turned out to be one of those random fortunate twists of fate that you tend to encounter while travelling… Delft is a really beautiful place. It’s sort of the same deal as Bruges – medieval buildings and canals, but the twist is that they don’t allow cars in, so it’s a lot quieter and feels more genuine. And although it is apparently visited by a bunch of tourists, I barely saw any – unlike Bruges, you can actually believe that it’s a real town with real people who live real lives. Which is nice.



"Delft might impress me if I was retarded and"... I'm just kidding, Delft did impress me. Although I'm retarded, so take it with a grain of salt.

Delft is also where my friend Nico lives and goes to university. I say friend now, but the twist is that despite knowing him for god knows how long – 10 years? I’d never actually met him before, because we met by playing games on the internet, back when I used to play a lot of Freelancer. I was in high school at the time – maybe year 8 or 9? So basically, I’ve known Nico for longer than quite a lot of my friends back home. About time I met him eh?



Nico and Christiaan (Nico's brother and also someone I knew from the internet) enjoy some Dutch weather

Nico showed me around Delft for a while, then we jumped on the train and went to Amsterdam. All this riding about’s given me a real appreciation for going places by train – you just hop on board and getting from place to place happens by itself. No worrying about traffic, no going past the same place 3 times because George didn’t register you hitting a waypoint, no getting wet. Just relax and enjoy the scenery. Fun!



Something here smells like the art student bar at uni... <_<

Amsterdam… well.. hmm. I’d been told it was a beautiful place, but it took me two full days before I actually realised. Much like Bruges, you’ve got to pick a direction and just walk. But because it’s a big town, you’ve got to really walk… for like half an hour. And then you’ll see canals and boats and Dutch people and it’ll be beautiful. Up until that point, it’s nothing but clouds of smoke and stoned teenage backpackers.



Imagine this, but through your own eyes instead of a rubbish phone camera. Nice Amsterdam

I’m not the most intrepid of travellers – so far on this trip I’ve cruised around safe, comfortable parts of the world aboard a reliable vehicle that I don’t even do mechanical work on if I can avoid it, so it’s not like I’m above most of the people I met in Amsterdam… but my god, am I ever not cut from the same cloth. I was at a dodgy hostel that was basically a bar with a bunch of beds attached, and in my whole 20 bed dorm I think there was only one other person there interested in actually seeing the city (if you’re reading this Saul… hi). I’d wake up pretty late in the morning and everyone would still be sleeping, then get back at 10 or 11 and find everyone pre-gaming for another night out. Then the cycle would repeat. Admittedly this is making me sound old and boring (and, well, admittedly I am) but there’s really gotta to be more to the whole backpacking game. I did go out with the people from my dorm the first night I was there, but after that I was done with it. To be honest it’s not actually that great a place to party… half of the crowd is stoned kids and the other half is locals who hate your guts because they’re lump you in with the stoned kids. There were some amusing consequences though – the corner of my dorm contained me and three Welsh guys who were always in their beds and always… experienced. Every day I’d come back and ask them what they’d done today. “Weeell… we went to a cor-fee shorp ahhhhnd thahhts abouuut aall we diiid”. It came to be a bit like a video game, where you go back to the same area and there’s always the same people there doing and saying the same things. Nice guys though.



I'm pretty sure this happened because some high-as-a-kite tourist didn't realise this was a fake pommes frite

The Netherlands on the whole, however, was a beautiful place – it would’ve been better to spend like a night in Amsterdam and the rest of the time in other parts of the country. The best part of my visit was definitely being taken around by Nico, Chistiaan and Maarten (another internet friend) – it gives you a whole different perspective actually talking with someone from the country you’re in, and I learned a huge amount about Dutch history and culture from Nico’s patient explanations – stuff that I definitely would’ve missed otherwise.



Thanks guys

My chain had had an awful tight spot in it for a while, but at this point it was ridiculous - the chain would go from having no play at all to being loose enough to hit the swingarm in one rotation. I'd always thought this was just an annoyance, but a quick google produced warnings about it breaking and tearing its way through the engine and locking the back wheel and killing me in the process (which is nearly as bad as ruining my bike). Fortunately I managed to find an English-speaking mechanic pretty easily and got them replaced... more trip budget gone, but that's life. Rolling on my shiny new final drive it was time to ride on again, but not before checking out some sights Nico suggested to me. First I rolled by the Kinderdijk to check out some genuine Dutch windmills…


Yep, this is definitely Holland

… and the star fortress of Naarden. It’s a funny thing, you ride in and there’s this lovely little town across a river. It looks something like this…



Pretty eh?

… but you don’t realise that you’re actually right in the middle of this…



Star forts are definitely cool

Naarden and Delft were really interesting – it’s seems to be a Dutch thing that despite the difficulty of a locale, they can put a lovely little town anywhere. Medieval town covered in canals that can’t even fit cars in the streets? Still a lovely town. Tiny patch of land surrounded by two motes and obsolete fortifications? Lovely little modern town. The North Sea? Potential for a hundred lovely towns, we’ll just build some windmills and drain it. No worries. Something that Nico said was that there was no unplanned nature in the Netherlands – everything’s under control and nothing’s impossible. It’s really an interesting place with lovely people, and once again I’d love to come back. But I’ll skip Amsterdam next time.
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Old 08-10-2012, 03:24 AM   #18
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Dang, nice ride report, great pics and I think it's cool to see a Versys with cans on it, looks great and it certainly has it's place out there.... I think it would be fun to have one meself, I see some great bargains on them here.

Quite a story about the leg/knee injury, wow.

I can actually compete with the injury+accident story, but I aint got pictures...

You wont forget this trip anytime soon.
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Old 08-10-2012, 10:05 AM   #19
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Yes, Naarden Vesting is lovely....I live in a town next to it.
You can imagine that if you take lessons for your drivers license (car or motorcycle) the instructors are always happy to sent you through it. Over and over again.....
I never go there anymore
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Old 08-10-2012, 11:24 AM   #20
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Dang, nice ride report, great pics and I think it's cool to see a Versys with cans on it, looks great and it certainly has it's place out there.... I think it would be fun to have one meself, I see some great bargains on them here.
Kawasaki should've sold that version of the Versys with crash bars and a big windscreen standard - somehow it turns an awkward, sorta ugly bike into something rugged and purposeful. It's kinda like me growing some stubble. To be honest I think the Versys is the best kept secret in motorcycle touring. The 17" front makes it a bit less capable in the dirt but it also means that even with my tonne of stuff on the back it still handles like a motard on sealed roads... I rarely see other Versysss on my travels, but I guarantee you I'm having more fun in the twisties than any of the million 1200GSs, and for the cost of one of those I could buy two Versyss.

I wouldn't be doing the Dakar on it but for a trip like this where it's mostly roads to get places and the occasional dirt track when I feel like exploring it's been pretty perfect.
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Old 08-10-2012, 11:29 AM   #21
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Very well put, great spin on it - !
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Old 08-10-2012, 01:46 PM   #22
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Great report my man! Dont stop posting I'm really enjoying it. It is a dream of mine to ride around Europe some day! But being 20... and just barely half way through school. It probably wont happen for awhile...bummer!

What do you do for work back at home to be so gifted to afford such a sweet trip?
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Old 08-10-2012, 02:15 PM   #23
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Great read. Your reporting is very humerous, I hope you complete the journey and the reporting.
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Old 08-10-2012, 03:18 PM   #24
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Old 08-13-2012, 03:24 AM   #25
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Great report my man! Dont stop posting I'm really enjoying it. It is a dream of mine to ride around Europe some day! But being 20... and just barely half way through school. It probably wont happen for awhile...bummer!

What do you do for work back at home to be so gifted to afford such a sweet trip?
I'm an IT Consultant - it's not that I exactly earn heaps, I just don't spend much at home and I try not to spend much here... Norway totalled my budget though, fucking car ferries . This has been one of those "one day I'll ride around europe" things for a while, but the positive thing is that I was saving for it the whole time I was procrastinating.

In most places in Europe it's not too hard to live on a budget - just live in hostels, cook in the hostel kitchen where you can, try not to drink too much (this is the hard one, because you just go out for a drink then it sorta spirals :().
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Old 08-13-2012, 09:43 AM   #26
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Alright, finally Germany. Let’s see if I can do this without mentioning the war. Deep breath, aaand…

Riding out of the Netherlands and into Germany was like rubbing my eyes and seeing clearly again – suddenly the road signs seemed to make so much more sense. Back in high school I learned German, you see – I was rubbish at it then and 8 years of not practicing it hasn’t improved it much, but I still know far more German than I do French or Dutch. As such I was looking forward to no longer having to apologetically ask if someone spoke English…. instead annoying them with my broken, grammatically corrupt German. Wunderbar!



Vier, bitte. No more holding up my fingers when buying petrol! Geil!


During my stay in Germany I managed to get a bunch of stuff done in German – mainly buying things like tickets and even a new mobile phone (hence getting a start on fixing all the various things that I’d broken at this point). What completely ruined me was trying to go to McDonalds first. Buying a phone is fairly easy in comparison – you find the one you want and buy it. But at McDonalds one doesn’t simply ask for what they want – instead they’re asked if they want to buy a bunch of stuff they don’t want. Weird stuff, in German, that I don’t understand.

I was forced to capitulate. “Entshuldigung, sprechen sie Englisch?”. Damnit… you win this round Germany.


All the tourists are old people on coach trips... ahh the peace!



First stop was Bremen. I’m still not entirely sure why I went to Bremen… it was in between Amsterdam and Denmark, but Hamburg was only an hour further. After Amsterdam I think I just wanted to go somewhere quiet, that wasn’t full of drunken backpackers. Bremen fit the description pretty well – it seems to be a popular destination for older Germans and Americans (I think people come back to trace their ancestors because many came through Bremerhaven on their way to the New World), and little else. Bremen has a long and diverse history but somehow the tourism industry is all focused on one thing – the rather small statue of four animals that’s in the middle of the city. There’s a Grimm Brothers story where four ageing animals – a rooster, a cat, a dog and a donkey – escape their owners and start making their way to Bremen to try their luck as musicians (as was the fashion then, I guess). They come across a house and stand on each other’s shoulders in order to peer inside, intending to take shelter – and find it occupied by robbers. The robbers, upon encountering a stack of shrieking assorted animals, flee the house and the animals stay there and live happily ever after.


Yeah... it's okay... I guess


To be honest the statue, like all statues that are the symbols of cities (the peeing baby in Brussels or the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen come to mind) isn’t all that exciting. What’s more amusing is the amount of Stadtmusikanten (that means town musicians I think… either that or it’s a canteen for statiticians) stuff that you can buy.



Now *this* is what they should have in the town square

One of the first things I did was go to the Kunsthalle (that means art gallery… how good am I?), which was a total bargain at 3 euros, and I managed to buy a ticket without using any English. The art gallery has a few interpretations of the Stadtmusikanten, as well as a bunch of pretty cool contemporary art. It’s funny how every city has something cool in it, even if it’s off the main tourist track.



On the other hand, I guess if they put the stuffed ones in the square this would happen


The other cool thing about Bremen is that it has a cellar full of mummies. In Germany! Sick! Perhaps it’s some English-speaking-world prejudice, but I find having a cellar full of visible, two-hundred-year-old corpses right beneath a church to be a bit weird. It’s one of those funny things about German culture that they don’t seem to find the slightest thing wrong with it… there’s an old man down there in the cellar with the mummies who sells tickets and he didn’t seem to care in the slightest. There’s a soldier who’s died mid-scream and everything. Totally metal.



Brvdal.


The German people are a funny lot – the culture is obviously familiar, but there seems to be this tendency to take things to extreme conclusions.
Freeways? why not have no speed limit at all?! If you’re in the left lane on an autobahn, cars will tailgate 10 centimetres away from you at 150km/h… then when you get back in the right lane they’ll fly past and you’ll realise it’s not some boy racer – it’s a whole family complete with “baby on board” sticker.
Beer? We’ll drink it out of one litre glasses and have a massive festival with a billion people in tents.
Reparations? Well, instead we’ll build all these tanks and…

… nearly mentioned the war there didn’t I… time for a new subject.



Hamburg!


I really enjoyed Hamburg. I had a bit of a poor start… broke a pannier key inside the lock, then realised that all my spare keys were in that pannier. Clever. Fortunately I was the hostel I was at (have a shoutout, Arena Hostel Hamburg) was pretty good (they even make your bed for you!) and the guys working there helped me get it out and referred me to a locksmith to make a new key. Hamburg seems to be a popular tourist city, but it does suffer a bit for big sights to see. There’s a whole square called Beatlesplatz complete with a statue of the band… based on the fact that they lived and performed there… once… before they were famous. Great.



This is the most photographed thing in Hamburg. It's an office building that looks a bit like a ship. You can see why they'd want to invade France... oops

While it’s not much to look at (although the lake is nice) Hamburg does have a buzz about it, and an interesting culture. It’s a bit like Germany’s Amsterdam in a lot of ways, and as I was there on the weekend, there were bucks and hens parties *everywhere*. Literally every 100m or so you’d pass a bunch of guys dressed as nuns, or a guy wearing a pig mask who was being forced to sort bottle caps with toothbrush, or a group of gtoomsmen inviting girls to whack a arseless-trousers-clad groom-to-be with a riding crop (and in another demonstration of German extreme-ness, he was bleeding as a result). The Reeperbahn (which is nothing to do with The Grim Reaper and everything to do with rope, disappointly) on a saturday night is a crazy sort of tiny German Las Vegas, with bright neon lights flashing and people trying to pull you into strip clubs (and worse). It also has a bar where you pay 99c to get in and 99c for every drink, which is amusing… the music is so loud you can’t even shout in someone’s ear there, because if you talk to people you might drink slower.



I actually took this on Sunday night so it was a bit quiet, but you get the idea


The other interesting thing about Hamburg is that the whole culture revolves around the sea. When a walking tour guide said this I was a bit skeptical – it sounds like one of those nice things tour guides say that isn’t really true in practice. However, at the time I was in town so were the ocean liners Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2, which both left the third night I was there. And as they departed, there was a *massive* crowd to see them off, complete with fireworks and everything.



Heaving, as Uncle Keith might say


By far the best thing in Hamburg though (and possibly the whole world) is Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s biggest model railway. To be honest I’m the kind of person who’s sold at “model railway”, but it’s so much more. When I was a kid I used to love Stephen Biesty books – the big picture books that would have a cross section of, for instance, a ship, with detailed drawings of where everything went and all the people on board and if you looked really carefully you’d see funny things happening in various places. Miniatur Wunderland is like that – basically you see these giant scenes of various places (like Hamburg or Switzerland or an Airport) complete with cars and trains (and even planes!) buzzing about, but then you look very closely and find all kinds of random things happening with the little model people.



Smelly backpacker included for scale


Unfortunately a lot of close-ups didn’t come out too well (damn you phone camera) but here’s a few that did:



Cows drinking beer out of straws in Bavaria




A guy getting chased by raptors




Some Franciscan monks copping a perve




A guy riding a kangaroo becoming an arriere du peleton


Given how fun the whole place is for kids, there were a rather disturbing number of model public sex acts too (another one of those quirks of German culture I guess). By far the most impressive thing is the airport – this became massive when a video of it hit the internet, and it’s actually even more impressive in real life. They didn’t skimp on a single detail – it would be enough to have a single plane just land and take off, but they modelled everything. Planes land, taxi to the terminal, offload passengers, taxi to a hangar, the hangar door opens, the plane enters, the hangar door closes. The cargo doors on front-loading cargo planes swing upwards, fuel trucks buzz around to parked planes – it even has a departure board on a TV screen that matches the departures of the planes in the airport. It is beyond incredible.



It is so realistic that it actually conjures up the same feelings I get in real airports - that is to say it reminds me of waking up at 5am and flying to Canberra. Thanks IBM!


After 3 nights in Hamburg, it was time to go to Denmark. But then as I checked the address I was supposed to head to in Arhus, I suddenly had a sinking feeling. The date on the screen in front of me wasn’t today’s date… it was tomorrow’s date. I’d accidentally scheduled a gap. Oops :-/.

Ganesh, a guy I met on the tour and ended up spending 3 hours with in Miniatur Wunderland (it’s supposed to take like 2, tops, but we shared a certain nerdy enthusiasm) had mentioned that there was a Volkswagen theme park in Wolfsburg, 2 hours south. Well, why not? So I loaded up and streaked down the autobahn.



It's looks sort of like one of those Star Trek episodes where they land on a perfect planet only to find that something sinister is afoot


So I found myself at Autostadt. It’s kind of like a World’s Fair for car brands in the VW group. Basically every brand has a pavilion to present itself, which sounds cool until you find that most of the pavilions are dull as a piece of biege cardboard. For instance, the Lamborghini one involves you being ushered into a darkened room with a Murcielago on the wall, then there’s some bright lights and car noises through a speaker. Then the bit of the wall with the car on it spins around a couple of times. I suspect they were stuck with ideas on how to have a Lambo pavilion without letting any of the great unwashed near an actual Lambo, then one of them saw their son playing with a matchbox car, a shoebox and a torch and thought “ehh that’ll do”.



The Audi Pavilion has you pick up this sphere which glows red and makes things turn on when you hold in near certain places. Which is cool, but all it turns on is Audi advertising.

I suspect the best thing about Autostadt is the factory tour, which I somehow didn’t know about (there weren’t signs anywhere ) and missed. Ah well, the museum there had some pretty cool cars. The other fun thing about Wolfsburg is that the majority of the population works for VW, and hence *every* car is either a VW or a member of the VW group like Audi. You drive into the city and get the feeling that something’s not quite right… then gradually it hits you – every car is the same!



Clones!


Having gone out of my way only to be a bit disappointed, I spent a night in the worst hostel I’ve ever been at, loaded up and with my bank balance shuddering in anticipation headed up the same autobahn I’d come down… to Denmark. Finally I was entering Scandinavia, and it was still summer too!
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Old 08-13-2012, 12:33 PM   #27
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Great RR Keep up the awesome postings! Glad you were able to overcome being injured by those treacherous Scots.....

There is definitely something about age-old Europe and mummies/bones. Some years ago riding through Austria I visited a cathedral that featured the skeletons of their former leaders reposing in glass cases along the walls....fully dressed in churchly regalia. Then you have that church in eastern Europe where the chandeliers are made of human bones and there are piles of skulls all over. There's probably a PhD in it for anyone who cared to delve into this sort of skeleton cult that seems to have existed.

Bruges: great town.....thankfully the river that made it a seaport silted up hundreds of years ago, and subsequent attempts at economic revival failed, so the place sort of slipped under the radar of all of the armies that have blasted the region over the course of the last 200 years! When I was there a local told me that it's the metropolitan area around the old town where the modern businesses are and a lot of the people live.

Hamburg: not surprised there's not much to see there compared to other places.....we Allies pretty much bombed the place flat and burned it with a firestorm back in......well, I don't want to spoil your record of not talking about the w...a...r....so let's just say "the major unpleasantness of the mid-20th century". Some sources have the Beatles with a sort of "house band" gig in Hamburg for about 3 1/2 months and have them returning for at least one long gig after that, so they seem to have some history there, as they lived there during these periods.

Autobahns: haven't ridden one, but the last I heard some sections actually have speed limits now, mostly due to congestion. I don't know if it's in the German psyche to drive fast, but I am willing to bet they do because they can and they can because those autobahns are supremely well-constructed. As I recall, the road base, pavement thickness, etc are way above anything here Stateside.

That model train layout looks awesome! I have put it on my list for another trip! Thanks again for a great RR!
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Old 08-13-2012, 02:44 PM   #28
AlpineGuerrilla
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This ride report is a rough diamond. Your writing style is both interesting and amusing, which is usually mutually exclusive. Your observations about german culture and their affinity (or maybe indifference) towards themes that are considered sensitive in the anglosphere are fun to read, since it's pretty much the same here in Switzerland. Nice to see Europe through your Aussie eyes.

Are you still planning to go to the Balkans or Eastern Europe? Maybe we meet on the road.

Weiter so, es macht Spass deinen Bericht zu lesen!

Cheers
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Old 08-14-2012, 11:44 AM   #29
Schwer OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlpineGuerrilla View Post
This ride report is a rough diamond. Your writing style is both interesting and amusing, which is usually mutually exclusive. Your observations about german culture and their affinity (or maybe indifference) towards themes that are considered sensitive in the anglosphere are fun to read, since it's pretty much the same here in Switzerland. Nice to see Europe through your Aussie eyes.

Are you still planning to go to the Balkans or Eastern Europe? Maybe we meet on the road.

Weiter so, es macht Spass deinen Bericht zu lesen!

Cheers
Thanks :). Reading your RR where you went through Karelia was actually a big inspiration for the scandinavian part of my trip - couldn't quite be bothered with the Russian visa though :). I'm actually in Tallinn now - definitely doing Eastern Europe, not sure about the Balkans - depends on how far I get.

I Need A Hygge
As you roar north from Hamburg along the autobahn, the border to Denmark isn’t that obvious – like most EU borders it’s just a bunch of signs with EU flags on them and not much else. What you do notice, however, is that

A: There’s a limit for freeways (or motorvejs, as the Danish very cutely call them), and
B: people actually stick to them.

It’s this odd thing that as soon as you roll over this imaginary line on the map, the “D” numberplates gain a “K” at the end, and the drivers gain an iron-clad respect for the rules.



This is me doing 35km/h under the speed limit on the freeway. Wtf came over me!?!


Whenever I tell people in hostels who are taking trains or buses that I’m riding around Europe, often they’ll say “oh wow, you must’ve loved the autobahns”. Not really – somehow it’s hard to explain to people who’ve only ever driven a car that going in a boring-ass straight line for hours while putting up with 150km/h wind chill is actually pretty lame. In Denmark it’s even worse because not only do freeways have speed limits, but somehow you feel compelled, like everyone else, to follow them. In cities it’s hard to find a person even jaywalking, if people see that you’re lost they’ll gladly come and help you out without even being asked, there’s low crime, and students are paid to study as well as getting their uni paid for. The big Danish companies – Maersk, Carlsberg, Lego – will gladly just give things to the country. The late owner of Maersk built a state-of-the-art opera house for Copenhagen, Lego built it an *international airport*. Danish culture is oddly cooperative – as an Australian, it blows my mind. The last thing Rupert Murdoch did for us was renounce his Australian citizenship to avoid getting taxed.



Carlsberg built this amazing fountain in Copenhagen just because they thought it'd be cool. Meanwhile, Fosters contributes to Australia by convincing the world that our beer is rubbish.


The Danish call this “hygge” (pronounced hoo-geh, which actually looks a bit like “hug”… how nice :)), which directly translates to “cosy” but actually describes this idea of everyone cooperating together. It’s all actually really inspiring, but being the pessimist I am I find it ever-so-slightly sinister – it’s all a bit Stepford Wives. The weirdest thing is that you feel it start to work on you – my second day in Copenhagen I saw someone struggling to open an iron door with their bicycle and rushed to help her. The first thought in my head wasn’t even “hey better help this lady, she’s struggling”… my train of thought was more like “hygge hygge hygge hygge”. Is there something in the water there? Scary.



I think all this cosiness sends the Danes a bit crazy sometimes. I walked over a bridge in Copenhagen to find two of them sitting in the middle of a canal, on a forklift pallet, paddling with two halves of a boom gate. The hell?!


Suppose I’d better talk about what I actually did in Denmark. First stop was Arhus (imagine the A has a circle above it and it’ll be spelled correctly) – Denmark’s second city. I couldn’t find a single decent hostel to stay at there, so I finally took the plunge and tried CouchSurfing for the first time… and conveniently I was accepted by the very first person I asked. Who knows what kind of psychopath she could be? Was I going to wake up in a bathtub full of ice with a scar where my kidney used to be? Or maybe a scar where my *head* used to be?



Well, no - unfortunately the meanest person in this photo is on the right. Although I do find something about this photo strangely unsettling


Of course, I was in Denmark, so my host Amanda turned out to be not just not-a-psychopath, but also the nicest person you could ever really hope to stay with anonymously over the internet. I tried to hide my disappointment – losing a kidney would’ve been a great story for the blog. Oh well. On a more serious note, I’m beyond grateful to Amanda for taking me into her cosy little student apartment and telling me all about Denmark. Usually when I’m in a city I stay in hostels, which gives you a very good view of every culture *except* that of the country you’re in. Staying with someone from the country connects you with it so much more – I’m guilty of making fun of people who couchsurf, but it really is a great concept and I hope I get to do it again.



Sleepy Suburbs


Arhus is also a great little town – like a lot of second cities, it retains the same national culture as the capital but it’s so much more relaxed – far more my pace than Copenhagen (which we haven’t actually got to yet – this post is getting very Naked Lunch). Walking around suburban Copenhagen with Amanda was such a break after the chaos of Hamburg. I hadn’t really stopped in the suburbs of any city since I was in London, and Arhus has some really nice Danish houses. I even got to sleep without earplugs and shower without thongs (flip flops, for those of you who can’t parlez Australien). It was quite a relief.



Do *not* take the brown acid


The coolest thing about Arhus is its art gallery – every city in Europe seems to have a pretty good art gallery, but Arhus’ went above and beyond by having this nuts exhibition in the basement where bits of faces are projected onto ragdolls. It’s really hard to explain in words, and even the photos I took don’t do it justice – entering a darkened room where there’s a dozen giant eyes all blinking at you, or turning a corner to find a giant projection of David Bowie shouting nonsense while his face randomly changes colour was ridiculously trippy.



This was also pretty cool - basically a room with mirrors on all sides so you just see a million reflections of yourself going forever. I really liked it, but then again I am ridiculously ridiculously good looking.


After two awesome days in Arhus I hit the road again, up to Skagen, the northest point of Denmark, whose landscape inspired a whole school of artists. Before this I’d mainly just seen the sides of motorvejs, but here I really began to see the landscape of Denmark, and it is spectacular. Skagen is great fun – basically you pull up to the carpark, walk over a sand dune and see a sandbar sticking out into the sea with a massive crowd of people on it. It’s pretty amusing – this otherwise unremarkable bit of sand that just happens to be the most northern point of the country, and hence is a massive tourist attraction.



When a big wave comes in, it's chaos as everyone tries to keep their feet dry. Amusing.


As I was riding up to Skagen I passed a campsite with hundreds of various kinds of motorbikes in it. While in the carpark, a guy on a bike came up and said I should come along to some kind of festival they were having. I declined – I still wonder whether I should’ve gone along, it might’ve been one of those awesome stories you pick up while travelling when something random happens to you and you have a great time. But I’d already booked a hostel in Copenhagen, and to be honest I mainly just wanted to ride… I’d been covering so little ground lately and it was getting really frustrating. Who knows.



Also found that you're allowed to ride on the beach in Denmark. Another thing they have over Australia.


The ride to the ferry to Zeeland and from where the ferry disembarks to Copenhagen was actually great – not so much because it was twisty or fun to ride, but just because of the landscape of Denmark. There’s something different about the sun in Scandinavia – in the evening it hangs in the sky, casting long shadows in the fields and giving you the impression that you’re riding through some kind of endless impressionist painting. It’s a beautiful place.



It's like a painting, mile after mile


Copenhagen… well, I can’t say I had a lot of fun there. There’s nothing really wrong with the city itself – it’s another busy capital, it has a lot of interesting history and a really awesome walking tour. I think mostly the problem was that after the laid-back atmosphere of Arhus and the comfort of staying with Amanda I wasn’t really ready to be back on the backpacker circuit again, dealing with a meat-market hostel and the crowd that it attracted. This was compounded by doing a day trip to Roskilde to go to the viking ship museum – where you can go out and row a longboat around the fjord – to find that the wind was too strong and I couldn’t row a longboat around the fjord. Damnit!



If it was any bridge other than the biggest in the world, I couldn't take a photo of it with my crappy zoom-less phone camera


Things were about to take a turn for the better though – I loaded up, headed over the longest bridge in the world, and I was in Sweden – a country that really earned a special place in my heart. But that’s a story for the next post :).
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Old 08-28-2012, 02:38 PM   #30
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A Brief Viking Raid Into Sweden

My route through Europe was a bit weird (read: stupid) to start with, and it’s only got worse as I’ve gone along it. Hence I came to Sweden with plans to go up the western side, then I’d come back to Stockholm later. Hence this post deals with my first visit to Sweden, before I went to Norway. So it’s not gonna be a big one.



It wasn't until much later that I realised how stupid this plan was, but by then I was committed to it

If I had to pick a country to live in Europe (and I’m typing this from the Czech Republic, so I’ve been to a few now) it would probably be Sweden. Having been in tight-packed countries for so long, suddenly there was space everywhere! And not the edge-of-the-earth feeling you get from the Scottish highlands – it actually felt a lot like home.



The Belgians would've put a 5000-person city here


First stop was Gothenburg, a city whose existence I was only aware of because of the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene – so many of my favourite bands came from here that I knew it was going to be some kind of extreme, ultimate, metal-as kinda place. I was expecting molten lava to be running through the streets, traffic to consist of skeleton-pulled chariots, a permanent lightning storm overhead…



Not. Brutal. At All.


… perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t turn out to be like that. Fortunately what it did turn out to be was a beautiful, laid-back, lovely city. When people ask me my favourite places that I’ve visited, I generally throw out Edinburgh (obviously), Delft (it made an impression) and Gothenburg. I’m not sure why I like Gothenburg so much – it’s not like I really met many of the people or went out there much (damn those Swedish prices) – I just really like the vibe of the place. It’s big enough to still have all the vibrancy of a major city, but small enough to still feel laid back. It’s one of the places I’d been that I wouldn’t mind living… at least in summer.



Shame you're not allowed to park on the footpath though.


There’s not a million things to see in Gothenburg, but it does have an aircraft museum that sits in a former cold-war bunker. It’s actually quite a cool place to visit – the entrance reminds me a lot of the base from Stargate – just a hole in the side of a hill that leads deep underground. Those who know me can tell you that while I’ve grown into an adult physically, I haven’t really mentally matured very far past the age of 9, and this can cause me problems in places like the aircraft museum. It’s full of planes and helicopters that you’re allowed to climb into and put on a flight helmet and fiddle with the joysticks and the switches. When kids do this it’s cute and their parents take photos and it’s all very fun – when I, a 23 year old manchild did it, the fun was dampened somewhat by the disapproving glares I got from parents waiting in line… and further dampened when I found that no matter how many buttons I pressed I couldn’t find one that shot rockets at them.



Firing Fox Three!


The complex that the museum is set in is massive, and it was interesting to see the amount of stuff just lying around. A less-visited hangar had a bunch of random bits of aircraft including most of a Chinook (big transport helicopter) and a record of how the museum staff won a Red Bull birdman competition. Taking a walk outside, there was half a jet fighter sitting on some forklift pallets – it’s crazy how these used to cost millions and were the only thing standing between Sweden and annihilation, but now they’re not even worth throwing a plastic sheet over.



How the mighty have fallen...


Riding north from Gothenburg, I was lucky enough to have someone to stay with – Joseph, a Swede who I’d met while I was immobilised in Edinburgh. He was staying at his in-laws’ house in Saffle (imagine there’s two dots above the a), which is a little town next to the biggest lake in Sweden. This is a lake roughly the size of the island that Copenhagen is on, so big that you can’t actually see the other side of it – it’s just water all the way out to the horizon, as if you were on the coast.



The sea is hundreds of kilometres away from this picture. Cool eh?


I’m so incredibly grateful to Joseph – just being able to sleep in a quiet room by myself was amazing, but Joseph also cooked me dinner, drove me around and chatted about Sweden and other things into the early morning, even though he had to work the next day. Ever since I’ve been in Sweden I’ve always thought of the Swedes as being some of the nicest people in Europe – although I’m sure they deserve the reputation in their own right, I think a lot of this belief stems directly from the hospitality Joseph showed me that night. A lot of the time while I’m travelling I’m distracted by silliness like pub crawls and free tours and museums but it’s experiences like the one in Saffle that I travelled to Europe to enjoy.



Onward!


Sweden had made a great impression on me, and I’d return in time – but adventure beckoned. It was time to make a pilgrimage to motorcycling touring’s mecca – Nordkapp, Norway.
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