Scandinavia 2016: Day 4 – Symphony of Cyclists in Copenhagen

In 2016 we are leading 4 high school summer trips. You can read all about our Global Innovators trips or get in touch to ask us any questions about the programs. Our 2016 Scandinavia trip “Getting Americans on the Bicycle” focuses on innovation, start-ups and community in cities around the world. During the trip, students take turns writing a daily blog post to describe their project process and exploration, follow along here. On the fourth day of our trip, we started early. We rolled out of bed around 7 in order to get freshened up and attend our 7:45 morning meeting and breakfast, and the energy level seemed a bit low. Considering this was the earliest wake up call so far, that was certainly justified, but I could tell we were all still excited for the activities to come. After a quick breakfast we trucked it over to the station and boarded the one way train to Copenhagen, Denmark. The ride was peaceful, and crossing the glimmering water was just as captivating as it had been the past few days we had taken the same exact route. Me being a person who is generally refined to the tedious system of driving on a highway as a means of commuting, I regard the swift movement from one country to another in about twenty minutes as quite enjoyable. Anyways, upon our arrival we exchanged some dollars for Danish kroner and we were on our way to the first activity: Bicycling through the streets of Copenhagen with acclaimed tour guide ‘Bike Mike.’ When we got to Mike’s shop, it was definitely a bit different than what I expected; a tiny shop nestled four or five steps below street level and filled to the brim with bicycles that looked somewhat beat up from what I could see from the sidewalk. A paper on his door read somewhere along the lines of “Find my website to learn more about my legendary Copenhagen bicycle tours,” and that was all I needed to see to anticipate Mike’s interesting character. When he finally came behind us out of nowhere, he wasted no time preparing the bikes and setting us up for the tour, but keep in mind there were around fifteen others he had to accommodate so I thought it was bound to be hectic. Before we mounted our bikes, he gave his routine spiel, stressing the concept of constantly looking for approaching buses, cars, cyclists, pedestrians and staying out of their way! Soon after we were all on our way, trying our best to keep up with Mike who weaved through the streets and crowds of people as if he were a hot knife slicing through butter, clearly an art learned through years of practice. Though dicey at first, the tour was amazing and surprisingly non-hectic, featuring many scenic views, historical landmarks, and most significant, an experience of biking in the city of Copenhagen. Added to the breathtaking scenery were Mike’s explanations of each stop we made, which truly did make the tour “legendary.” It is difficult to describe his character, but let’s just say he was a mix of eccentric and extravagant, and sported shorts, sandals, and the most outrageous shirt. I won’t go into any further depth on the tour, but one thing Mike said worth noting was that if he says we will be back at 1 it means we will be back between 1 and 4, but it shouldn’t matter as long as we get back, after all we’re in Denmark!

After the tour, we went for lunch in the gourmet market– a market that I think would blow the mind of any American used to shopping at their local Safeway– and I had a delicious crab sandwich. We next went to an awesome local swim spot that was free, but had crazy cool facilities. It was a floating wood structure on the harbor featuring various pools for swimmers of all ages, but the greatest part was the diving platform that was 25-30 feet in the air. Alex and I jumped off a few times, and I praised Alex for his bravery in attempting a front flip and actually succeeding without over-flipping and slapping the water full force as I once did on a jump of similar height. After the refreshing swim we proceeded to walk through Copenhagen, working our way back home to Malmö in Sweden. Shortly after leaving the swim structure, though, we made a quick stop to sketch a perfect example of the extensive cycling infrastructure that is often missing in American cities. It was a unique drawbridge over the harbor for cyclists and pedestrians that was followed by a meandering, two-lane cycle only ‘bicycle snake’ that carried the prioritized cyclists over a small section of the harbor and a square-ish area, leading them conveniently to another street which would have been very inconvenient to reach as it required climbing a steep flight of stairs. We pedestrians watched in awe as we walked down the steps, over a small bridge, and into the square-ish area that I am having trouble describing (hopefully there are pictures below), not getting the privilege of walking across and easily onto the street above. Luckily it isn’t much of a trouble to climb stairs and we were quickly on a train around the corner and on to Malmö. Back in Malmö, we made a pitstop at the hotel and proceeded to the old-town area where dinner reservations were set. We settled down at a traditional Swedish restaurant, had a great dinner of Swedish meatballs, and recapped our day in the nightly meeting. In conclusion, awesome day.

Observing the way cycling works in both Malmö and Copenhagen, I have come to the conclusion that since it is so easy in each city, it has become something feasible for just about anyone. Going on the tour with Mike solidified that theory. Our tour group was by no means the most experienced with cycling, and I thought the tour would be slow at first, but I was amazed that virtually nobody had any trouble keeping up with Mike. With Copenhagen’s unique cycle-friendly infrastructure, crossing large streets was simple, and navigating the city only required one to keep aware of where the person in front of them was, not stressing over staying in a bike lane or getting squashed by a sightseeing bus. While biking around I saw everyone from small toddlers riding bikes to grandmas the age that I’m used to seeing in rocking chairs back in the states. It is a hierarchy system that ranks bikes and pedestrians above cars, a system that I have honestly never seen while in the U.S.A.. Living near San Francisco, one may be regarded as somewhat of a daredevil to consider cycling as a means of travel, but here you are a daredevil if you drive a car, as you would be risking tardiness to every endeavor while stopping to let the never-ending stream of cyclists cross.

Today I wondered how the city of Copenhagen is able to pay for the immense improvements to cycling and still keep its citizens some of the happiest in the world. It occurred to me that they do pay much higher taxes here in Denmark, and it only took a minute of research to find that Denmark’s government revenue is some of the highest in the world (if not the highest), so the extra spending is justified. I know our country is a bit larger in comparison but it’s perplexing that we don’t attempt to adopt some of Denmark’s strategies. It would take a big mindset shift, as the status of many Danes is very similar, but in the end it’s better for the Earth and the people, and those are the two most important parts of our existence.

While walking along the waters of the harbor around Malmö, I was startled by the unusual plentifulness of jellyfish in the area, and wondered how the locals cope with this problem. When in Copenhagen the problem seemed much less serious, as I wasn’t able to see any from the bridges and there was much more boat traffic which I suppose would discourage weak-swimming jellyfish from loitering. What was unexpected was that when we were at the swimming area, there were some jellyfish in the calm spots in the pools and the locals didn’t seem to pay attention to them. As I was looking down into a clear pool while in line for the high platform, the sight of more jellyfish made me hesitant to go in the water for a moment. I looked up to see a little girl holding one of them and a little boy come up to her, grab it, and chuck it in the water (I assume it was her brother), making me even more scared to dive in. A minute went by and we were at the front of the line and we watched, dumbstruck, as the same girl walked past with a whole bottle full of the clear creatures. A local man behind us saw our puzzled faces and said in a heavy accent, “Don’t worry, those little jellyfish can’t sting, but what you really have to watch for is the white sharks at the bottom of the pools.” He had a scar on his shoulder and I asked if that was how he got it. He answered yes as we began to laugh and my hesitation faded away; I guess it had to because at that point we were holding up the line!

IMG_4455-1024x768 2 IMG_20160723_114349-1024x768 2 IMG_20160723_124247-1024x768 2 IMG_20160723_134120-1024x768 2 IMG_20160723_121007-1024x768 2 IMG_4462-1024x768 2 IMG_20160723_100552-1024x768 2