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Cycle around Copenhagen

30 May 2011

It's a clear day as we wake up in Copenhagen at the end of our trip. We'll spend the day in the capital, before catching a late flight back home to London. We eagerly check out the hostel at 10:00, and rent a locker there to keep our panniers safe and out of the way while we tour the city.

We're not bothering with breakfast at the hostel and instead head straight to the courtyard to collect our bikes. We cycle a couple of blocks to the city centre and pick up pastries to eat on the central square, in front of the City Hall. Then we make a bee-line straight for the Lego store we spotted last night. It doesn't get any more Danish than that.

We were hoping for a full-blown museum but it turns out to be just a large shop. Nonetheless, there's some really cool stuff, including interactive 3D displays showing models come to life out of the boxes we're holding, as well as a handful of large scale models and a pick-n-mix section featuring every conceivable type and colour of Lego brick.

Another interesting display shows the evolution of the Lego logo, all the way from humble beginnings in 1934. That's the year in which a carpenter called Ole Kirk Christiansen named his company "Lego". He was building wooden toys at the time, but moved on to plastics in 1947.

After 15 minutes of happiness surrounded by Lego, we must move on to the other sights of the capital. We're on a limited budget and lacking in time, so we decide to concentrate our cultural efforts on the Round Tower, a 17th-century brick tower offering expansive views over Copenhagen.

The Rundetårn is an astronomical observatory commissioned by Christian IV. It's attached to the Trinitatis Church and the tower offers access to a library-turned-gallery in the loft of the church. A long winding ramp leads all the way to the roof of the tower, through 7.5 rotations. The 210m ramp is the only way up and has even been used by horse and carriage to carry equipment.

The spiral ramp is an experience in itself but the views from the top make the modest entry price (25 DKK) well worth it. From here, a complete panorama stretches as far as Sweden, on a clear day. Although the earlier sunshine has gone and we're left with thick clouds, we can still see all the way out to the suburbs of this lowrise city. I'm impressed by the number and variety of spires.

Once back down at street level, we stop for a light lunch at the roadside before pressing on with our brief tour of the city. I have arranged to meet a colleague at 15:00, so we have about 90 minutes to get a feel for the city and cover as much ground as we can.

We'll meet at the Little Mermaid, our ultimate destination on this cross-Denmark trip, so we're heading towards the east, in the direction of the little statue. We pass the Copenhagen Stock Exchange and Danish Parliament, at Christiansborg Palace. Interestingly, the latter is the only building in the world which houses all three supreme powers of the state (executive, legislative and judicial) under one roof.

Next, we get to Nyhavn, a quaint 17th century harbour. It was built by King Christian V in the 1670s as a gateway from the sea to the old inner city at Kongens Nytorv. However, as ships grew larger, the harbour was used increasingly by smaller vessels. Today, it is more of an entertainment district, lined by bars and restaurants in brightly-painted buildings.

Then, with an hour left to explore, we go in search of Freetown Christiania, an anarchy and self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of the city. It's in the Christianshavn district, which was founded in the early 17th century as an extension of Copenhagen's fortifications. We reach Christianshavn but struggle to locate Christiania.

So, as time runs out, we head back past Nyhaven on our way to the Mermaid. We reach her at 15:00 and mark the official end of our tour. I've been here to visit before but Gareth is surprised by how small she is, a common reaction to this iconic Danish statue. The skies are clear blue now, as we spend half an hour at the Mermaid, waiting for my colleague John to join us.

He arrives by car but has thoughtfully brought a bike rack to accommodate us and our bikes on a trip to his favourite ice cream parlour. We drive up to Hellerup together, a wealthy suburb to the north of Copenhagen. It takes about half an hour to get to but is well worth it.

John orders the most monstrous ice cream I have ever seen. Six giant scoops topped with a mountain of vanilla soft ice and dunked in chocolate shavings. At the soft ice stage, which takes minutes to serve up, I assume the machine has gone wrong while Gareth thinks the lady has simply lost the plot.

From the ice cream parlour, it's a short stroll to a quiet sandy beach. We walk to the end of a wooden pier, as swarms of fish dart around below us. We can even see Sweden on the horizon, across the strait of Øresund. As we head back to the car, a couple of people comment on John's ice cream which, although half eaten, still looks remarkable.

We get back to central Copenhagen much quicker and John takes me to see our new Danish office at Amalienborg, beside the royal palace. Our company will be moving within weeks and I will be back to help with that, although not by bike, sadly. We take a quick tour of the empty site and come across another colleague, who is somehow hard at work on his laptop, in an office without servers or internet.

John has kindly offerred to take us to the airport and, with time getting on and our cycle route map becoming somewhat unreadable, we're relieved to take him up on that. He drops us there at 18:00, almost three hours ahead of our 20:50 flight. That's probably the earliest I've ever been for a flight, but we'll need some time to prepare our bikes for transport.

We called the oversize baggage department this morning and they confirmed that they will have bike boxes available for us. Prior to that, we had been planning to salvage used boxes from a nearby bicycle shop. And, while 200 DKK is rather rediculous for a cardboard box, even a large one, it's certainly a lot easier than dragging a bike-size box all the way from the city.

We build up our boxes and tape them together (that's right, 200 DKK gets you just a flat sheet of cardboard, not a pre-built box). Then we diligently remove the pedals and handlebars, as directed. Just as we're sealing the boxes, a member of staff suddenly remembers that we should also let the air out of our tyres, to prevent them exploding in the unpressurised aircraft hold.

There is a strict ban on placing anything else within the bike box, so we consolidate our panniers in to a very large plastic bag and proceed to check-in. To our relief, the EasyJet check-in assistant does not even bat an eye lid when we show up with our bicycles, simply asking us whether we have paid the fee yet (we have) and then directing us to the oversize baggage drop-off counter.

A somewhat grumpy man at oversize runs us through the regulations (no extra baggage in the boxes, pedals off, tyres deflated etc.), rather belatedly. And that's it, our bikes are off, leaving us to wander through security and relax for about an hour before boarding. We use our last few remaining kroner for some snacks ahead of the journey.

The flight is just about two hours and we land at London Gatwick around 22:00, having gained an hour in switching from CET to BST. Astonishingly, our bikes are already waiting for us beside the baggage carousel by the time we've cleared passport control. Surprising efficiency, especially as the oversize baggage counter has already closed for the night.

Our bikes are undamaged and appear to have been well handled by the authorities, so we re-assemble them and head for the station. There are remarkably few trains at this time in the evening and none to our preferred stations. We eventually catch one to Clapham Junction. We'll cycle from there to our respective homes.


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Article location

Fountain in square

Square in Copenhagen

Selection of Lego heads

Bucket of Lego heads

Winding ramp

Ramp in Round Tower

Boats docked in Nyhavn

Nyhavn

Standing in front of Mermaid statue

Paul and Gareth at Little Mermaid

Large ice cream

John with his giant ice cream

Bike in bike box

Pedals off, handlebars removed, ready for flight

Bike boxes at baggage carousel

Bikes waiting for us at Gatwick Arrivals