Friends: Holland isn't the only country with dikes. Denmark has some too. Not only do they hold back the North Sea, but they provide a nice wind break. I needed it today. I cycled just under the shoulder of one for over ten miles this morning. I was hoping for a scenic coastal ride with views of the shoreline, but if I wanted to look out to sea I had to stop and climb up the periodic staircases in the thirty-foot high embankments.
I had the ten-mile stretch all to myself, as a sign said the road was closed for dike maintenance. A farmer told me, though, that the work was completed and the way was perfectly passable. I did have to circumvent a couple of gates and cross a few cattle guards for the grazing sheep and cattle in the somewhat marshy, wide open terrain.
There were distant patches of forest, but the most prominent feature in the landscape, other than the ubiquitous three-pronged windmills, was the next town´s church steeple piercing the sky, visible at times from five miles or more away. They were a welcoming magnet, standing majestically in the center of a town, unadorned with frills as cathedrals elsewhere, but projecting a quiet dignity. They were invariably surrounded by a meticulously groomed lush green lawn, often accompanied by an artfully constructed stone wall.
Occasionally the town´s cemetery adjoined the church. They abounded with tombstones with "Christensen" on them. This is the land of my roots. My father´s father immigrated to the USA from Denmark just before World War I. He was conscripted into the army and sent back to Europe. He survived the war and returned to the US, settling in Iowa where he was a farmer all his life.
Surprisingly, this is my first visit to Denmark. I have biked all the other countries in Scandinavia and Western Europe, even Andorra and Lichtenstein and San Marino. It has been an unfortunate oversight. If I had known how fabulous the cycling is here, I would have visited long ago and assured myself more than a couple days this time.
One of the many great features of Denmark is its abundance of libraries, all with free Internet. I have yet to wait for a computer or be ordered off one. It is a genuine luxury knowing that when a thought pops into my mind I´d like to share with a friend, I´ll have a computer within an hour or two to communicate it.
Another feature that makes the cycling here so agreeable is the highly detailed maps at many of the rest areas, not only of the immediate surroundings, but also the town ahead. I can locate the town´s library on the map and head straight to it. There are also campgrounds aplenty. If I weren't so adapt at cemetery bathing, I could stop in for a shower as often as I have a library to stop at.
Others know of Denmark´s allure for cycle touring, as I've passed quite a few touring cyclists amongst the many locals out on their bicycles. As in Germany, the vast majority of cyclists ride heavy-duty, upright, commuter-type bikes. Cyclists on racing bikes come out in the evening, getting in a good hard ride, taking advantage of the decent weather and long days. Jogging is also a popular activity. It may be only 60 degrees, but when the sun is out, to the locals it is like an 90-degree day. It gives them the rare opportunity to wear their shorts and the women to display their sleeveless blouses.
It doesn't get fully dark at night this far north during the summer months, but its a different story in the winter, with just a few hours of daylight. The harsh winter weather limits people´s outdoor activities. Thus libraries are a great attraction in all of Scandinavia, as well as Iceland.
Despite the Danish Viking heritage, it doesn't seem as if they leave their country much. Not even one in a hundred cars has a DK on their license plate for those leaving the country. They may have national pride, but I have not seen a single car with a car window flag as were all over Germany. A few residences and business do have small flags on a stick posted in a window box or on their lawns. I did find one small flag similar to the car window flags along the road. I may strap that to the top of my gear while riding The Tour.
I´m less than five miles back to the Land of Car Flags, then it is 400 miles to Rotterdam, if I don´t have to make too many detours, where The Tour commences in nine days. Tonight I could be amongst a throng of Germans watching their do-or-die game against Ghana.
When The Tour crosses into France in two weeks I will be curious to see if the Carrefour supermarkets still have the life size cutouts of all the French World Cup players stationed around their stores. They were a startling site I never fully grew accustomed to seeing, standing at the end of aisles and in corners. France´s team has been a disaster and a national disgrace with intra-team feuding that has caused some of the team´s sponsors to withdraw their support and stirred a scolding from the country´s president, Sarkosy, and the team´s former superstar, Zidane. Its not likely France will be among the sixteen survivors of the first round of The Cup.