I didn’t think we would take a trip to the beach in the middle of the Netherlands

Day 3 in Utrecht! Once again, we ventured with Ronald into the wide unknown! Well, actually, it was just a unique suburb of Utrecht, but of course to us, everything is brand new 🙂

As Marc is fond of doing, we were instructed to make our way to some address to meet for the day. Since the bike ride was a bit longer, I got to think a bit about our short time in Utrecht. The bike was slowly becoming less awful, meaning that I think I almost died only once on the way out to Ronald’s house. The upright, step through style was definitely growing on me, but I couldn’t get over the pedal brake hurdle. Also, wayfinding is not as easy in the city if you don’t know what the end destination is (i.e. knowing the name of Ronald’s neighborhood would have made a heck of a difference!).

However, the small mob of us made our way to Ronald’s with minor incident (did you know that it is actually humid in the Netherlands??). From there, we got to go see an entirely master planned community! The suburb Houten was one that the government decided to expand Utrecht with. This meant that the entire transportation network was designed to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles first! The city was built with a ring road for vehicles outside the city (only about 5 km in diameter), with access roads into the interior, but no roads cutting completely through the city. There is a network of bike and pedestrian paths connecting the entire city to itself and to Utrecht, encouraging people to leave their vehicles outside and use other means for their daily lives. The train station had bike parking only… hundreds of spots. The scary thing: The majority of them were full!

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Just one half of one of the rows for bike parking in this train station!

While in theory and on paper, this idea looked really good, a lot of the class felt that the suburb was somewhat… eerie? I’m not sure that is the right word, since we visited in the middle of the day, but it was interesting. There certainly seemed to be a different feel between the planned growth area that we saw in Houten and the organic sprawling feel of the city center. Something for the engineer in me, who LOVES organization and rules, to note.

It seemed like Marc heard my silent frustration with the wayfinding in the city, since after visiting Houten, we took a nice ride into the Dutch countryside. Paths that might not even be marked on a map in the United States had excellent route markers, and we even learned what a dead end marker looked like! (Very helpful to know!) In our wanderings, we even found a canal with a great beach! Most of the guys jumped in for a swim, while I courageously volunteered to watch the bikes. I may not have done a great job since my eyes have closed for another beachside nap, but hey, everyone’s stuff was FINE.

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Beautiful ride along a canal outside Utrecht with the fam (and thanks for the pic Adam!)

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A dead end sign! Learning this actually helped me navigate in Ireland when I was driving on those country roads

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Our break at the beach!

Honestly, the ride back was the type of ride that convinces me that our bike facilities NEED to be improved in the States. It was so relaxed and easy to cruise back into town on all sorts of wonderful bike and ped bridges in time to enjoy our last evening in Utretch. Of course, that obviously meant another dinner on the canal and a stroll through the city to admire the lights under a full moon. This class was just terrible to suffer through, seriously.

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The group saying goodbye to Ronald! It was a sad moment, since Ronald was so incredible to have for our time in Utrecht.

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All the lights coming on along the canal

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The Dom Tower on our last evening in town

To bike or not to bike: that is the question

So, according to our class, Copenhagen is really easy to bike in. The city is built for it. Roads make sense, bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians all follow the same rules, and traffic lights fill in the gaps. I was sure that out in the countryside, all of that was going to change. Without the extremely high ridership and tons of funding, biking about 30 miles from Copenhagen to Helsingor on Saturday was just going to be the worst.

Well, this is one time where I will happily admit that I was wrong! (And let’s be honest, that really doesn’t happen very often! 🙂 ) Biking up the coast proved to be one of my favorite days on the trip so far. I was a bit concerned about the ride. It was going to be the longest ride of the trip that I had done and looked intimidating on the map. Our many adventures along the way made it very comfortable and enjoyable, even with a slight accident along the way.

I have to admit, Saturday was the first moment that I really questioned the validity of NOT wearing helmets. That’s right, we haven’t been wearing helmets at all this trip. Somewhere along the gorgeous bike path next to the train line in the woods, there was a nice downhill section. Two of my classmates in front of me collided at the bottom of the hill. It had been raining and they both just fishtailed into each other. They went off in separate directions while I tried to navigate my way through the destruction (I am really happy to say that I made it all the way through the collision… It was me trying to stop on the other side after a high speed weaving section that didn’t go so well). Everyone behind said it looked pretty crazy from behind, as three of us just disappeared off the trail into the woods. Luckily, the worst thing that happened is a few bruises and some stained shirts (Guys, slug gut stains are seriously the worst). Like I said though, there was a moment between the trail and the ground that I really wanted a helmet. They are not part of the overall culture here, and that is part of what makes bicycling so accessible. Anyone can hop on a bike at any moment and go. I’m a bit scared to ask this, but what do you all think about helmets?

Aside from the slight detour I took, the trip was just fantastic! The bike trails themselves were wonderful. They were very well marked, nice and wide, and relatively flat. It was just an overall good day to be out on a bike. Since this is a class, we had to stop and see some of the attractions, I mean, learning opportunities along the way!

They turned a parking garage into a playground and workout structure! Swings and trampolines and stairs were all kid friendly, but they also had workouts posted or timers for residents of the complex that wanted to get outdoors to workout… Such a great use of space. We may have also stopped at the world’s oldest theme park…. I really can’t make up a transporation related lesson for that detour, so I will just say that it was a ton of fun! My thrill seeking self was more than happy to jump on some roller coasters around lunch time!

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This is a parking garage in one of the new developments in Copenhagen… Parking on all levels except the roof, which is a playground! Some residents were working out on the stairs doing timed intervals with the integrated timer!

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Playground at the top!

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800 year old tree outside of the world’s oldest amusement park! Nice to stop and scope it out for gnomes or something

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Got to ride this roller coaster… some people even got the memorable keychains, though that was more for Seth’s bravery than

A gorgeous ride along the coast up to Helsingor made the distance worth it. I can’t reiterate to you enough that I am NOT a cyclist at home. Short trips only. Riding in such a beautiful place, away from traffic, made all the distance worth it. Didn’t even matter. After dinner, a few of us volunteerily hopped back on our bikes to see the outside of the Hamlet castle! We might not be able to build these incredible historic castles in the States nowadays, but we can make the trips themselves as enjoyable as our journey was.

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Absolutely stunning setting at Kronborg Castle

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Biking around Kronborg Castle in Helsingor! The castle is the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Gorgeous castle… Luckily we got there for the sunset!

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Kronborg Castle

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The barracks and outbuildings outside Kronborg Castle

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This hostel was SO good! The owner was really, really kind to al of us… even let us do a load of free laundry to clean up from our minor collision earlier that day!

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Absolutely stunning sunset on the beach back at our hostel! (It was only about 10:30 by the time the sun finally started to set!)

Bikes, trains, and castles, oh my!

I made it through Day 3 of my Copenhagen adventures! The last couple days were really busy, but yesterday was the start of the “class” portion of the class. That’s right. For those non-believers out there, we actually went to a lecture session! However, we had to get there first!

This might not surprise you, but it is actually relatively easy to get 20 students with bicycles down into a metro station and all on board the same train! It certainly doesn’t look graceful, and probably took longer than it would have taken 20 locals, but we managed with only minor injuries (at least, we  think there was only a bruise or two).

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Just an example of us hauling our bikes around on the train ( this is my friend Cassie).

After 30 minutes on the train, we got off and used some trails to bike to the Regional Headquarters, where we met Helen, who works in the Transit division for the greater Copenhagen area. Before I get into how great our discussion with Helen was, I need to pause and reflect on how multimodal our trip was! I took a train with a bike! Something that has intimated me in the past was extremely easy. The only issue was moving the bike up the steep crossing at the train station, but really that was only difficult due to us crowding the staircase.

There were a few iffy links in the connection from the train station to the Regional Headquarters. There was more than one staircase (though all stairs had bike ramps to either help bicyclists carry their bikes or to ride up) and a few sections along a residential road. It made me realize just how crucial those missing links in a bike trail are. If it takes too long to move a bicycle up or down a hill, people aren’t going to chose to commute by bicycle.

Speaking of, that was one of the excellent things that Helen shared with us. In the interest of time and space (and keeping some of you around long enough to make it to the castle pictures), I will just share the highlights from the class:

  • Missing links, while small on a map, can completely shut down the feasiblity of a route for a commuter
  • Electric bikes were tested by car owners and ended up changing the commute style for 40% of the volunteers
  • The Fingerplan! Copenhagen was intially planned in such a way that it resembled a hand. Copenhagen in the palm, radial infrastructure out, and protected spaces between the fingers (“webs”). This worked well for quite awhile, but now, due to development further from the origin, there is a demand for commuting option along the rings around the city, rather than just directly to or from Copenhagen.

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    Kinda small, but see the (terrible) drawing of the Fingerplan?

  • Bicycle Super Highways have attracted a lot of attention internationally, in both a positive and negative light. It has helped many of the local municipalities “buy into” the project, but has led to greater criticism from the public as to the actual construction or improvements made.

Like I said, I could keep going, but instead I will just keep the six pages of notes I took! Seriously, thank you to Helen from the Regional Headquarters!! We appreciate all the time you took to meet with us and great insight.

In the afternoon, we ventured over to the Frederiksborg Castle! If I knew how to use emojis (I know, I’m basically a caveman), I would definitely use that one with the wide eyes and the hands on the side of the face…. it was awesome. Instead of words, let me just show you some of the promised pics:

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I’m a fan of Fredericksborg Castle. So much so that I didn’t bother to look at Cassie when she took my picture (sorry!)

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Our first glimpse!

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We just don’t build things like this anymore.

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Obligatory selfie on the palace lawn!

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Boring shot of trees?? How about when I say this has looked this way for hundreds of years??

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Alright, Kendyl, you have to step up your gardening game.

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The view from the top of the garden of the castle!