Biking in the Baltic

Gil and Pam Webster

A 5am start from London saw us on our way to Stanstead airport on a Saturday morning to catch the German Wings flight to Hanover.  Stanstead is one of four London airports; the others are Luton, Gatwick and the huge five-terminal Heathrow. The cheap flights do not use Heathrow! There is also a small airport right in the heart of London near the Canary Wharf financial centre — London City airport.

Munya, our Servas friend

Munya, our Servas friend

We were on our way to Hanover, taking the opportunity to visit a Servas friend who we hosted on several occasions when she was a Traveller with Servas Germany some years ago.  She now lives in Hanover and we haven’t met up for many years.  From there we were to catch a train to Kiel where our sailing ship, the Flying Dutchman awaits us.

After a rocky start, the low-cost German Wings flight was quite OK.  The problem was, someone had ‘barfted’ in our allocated seats, but the attendant quickly found new seats for us.  At a flight cost 47 Euros for a one hour flight we were not complaining!

It is hard not to be impressed with the Hanover area, especially if you like cycling.  The road reserves are wide, and the major roads have wide pedestrian and cycle paths on both sides.  These paths are continuous over the many bridges that span the canals that are common in the area.  In fact, the combined width of the cycle and pedestrian paths far exceed the width devoted to cars.  What a civilised place!  There are extensive woods and parks that are criss-crossed with cycle and walking paths.  Of course bikes are everywhere and are used for getting to the tram stop, the shops, work or school.  In fact our friend and host in Hanover has the choice of cycling the 8km to the city centre either along a wide tow-path on the side of a canal or through an extensive wood that encircles the city.   Oh to have choices!

05-Canal-HanoverSo thanks to Servas introducing us to our German friend we were able to stay with our unofficial Servas host Munya overnight.  Next day it was a two hour train trip north to Kiel where the massive Kiel Canal commences, allowing shipping in the Baltic to get to the North Sea and the Atlantic.  This massive engineering work is over 100m wide 12m deep and 100km long.  It is the busiest artificial waterway in the world. Or so the sign says!

Our sailing ship, the Flying Dutchman, was berthed just a short distance from the entrance, so we had a great view of the heavy shipping activity entering and leaving in the afternoon and evening we berthed there. Being quite northerly, the evenings are very long, still being able to see about at 11pm. Quite hard to get used to for us mid-latitude dwellers!. We sail the next morning, quite overcast and threatening.

So we set sail for the island of Aerø in Denmark.   Ø is the Danish word for ‘island’ and Ae means ‘palm’.  So it is ‘PalmIsland’.  Did not see any palms!

08-Pam-bikes-and-Flying-DutchmanThe official crew of the ship are the skipper Klaus and two young women Anica and Marielle, all from Holland.    So to set the numerous sails of this rather cumbersome tall ship require the active help of the guests.  Luckily there were plenty of volunteers, especially two young lads Marc and Max who were ‘conned’ into going out on the bowsprit to help in the raising of the three foresails. No one expected me to help, one of the few ‘senior’ advantages!

So we had a bracing six-hour morning of just sailing this rather large vessel.  Quite an experience especially as the weather turned rather nasty for a couple of hours and we had quite a bit of water onboard at times.    Some of the guests were sick.

We eventually berthed at Marstal on the island of Aerø  and set out for a ride without delay.  Unfortunately there was a stiff headwind which took some of the shine off the ride.  But returning was great! The island is very eco conscious or ‘green’ and there are numerous fields of solar panels and many wind turbines.  The parking areas always have one or two bays set aside for the charging of electric cars with power outlets provided free of charge. The whole attitude to alternative energy is quite an eye-opener.

27-Cute-street-2Next day we rode to the quite incredible town of  Aerøskøbing.  Incedible because it is preserved almost exactly as it was 150 to 300 years ago. Incredible to be able to walk down the streets and sit in the town square all untouched by modern buildings or other developments.

After a lunch on the ship we rode to the port of  Søby right on the north tip of the island.  Aerø is a beautiful island, clean, green and neat, and is a magnet for some of the thousands of cruising yachts that use the Baltic as their summer playground.  So the scenic experience was well worthwhile.  Having bikes means we can explore the island to the fullest, something that is denied the hundreds of visiting cruising craft in the marinas and those visitors who come by ferry.

And so for the next three days we sailed and biked on the islands of Aerø, Fünen and  Langerland. The area with its many islands is very popular with small boat sailors and the islands have extensive marinas that are used  like caravan parks, the boats just chose a spot and a fees collector comes around in the morning and afternoon to collect the harbour dues.  There seems very little officialdom, nothing much is locked up or out-of-bounds, there are extensive playground areas for the kids and always a coffee shop or café close by.

18-Lowering-sail-coming-in-to-Rudkobing-LangerlandThe shipboard life on our tall ship the Flying Dutchman was very much one of  self help and co-operation, down to the laying of tables and the distribution of food at mealtimes, to cleaning up afterwards, even extending to wiping and polishing the dinning room tables by one very enthusiastic  German lady.

In fact the majority of the guests were German, with four Swiss and seven Austrians from Vienna.  Of course they all spoke German so we were the odd ones out but were made to feel as much as part of the group as is possible in such a situation.

There were some very powerful bike riders in the group, large framed with broad shoulders and powerful legs, and that was only the women!

 

Our captain Klaus and the other two crew were Dutch, as are just about all the crews and tall ships in the area.  In Kiel there were at least a dozen ‘windjammers’ tied up, several even doubled up due to lack of dockside space.

Our two women crew worked like ‘navvies’.   I saw Anica one moment high up in the rigging folding the huge cumbersome sail and the next in the galley peeling onions.  Klaus was also to be seen bring out dishes and and helping clearing away and tidying up.  No unionism here!

We finally came to the stage of saying  ‘goodbye’ to our shipboard and cycling friends, always a sad moment when the realisation comes that it is all over and we go on our separate ways once more.99-Kiel-end-of-trip