Scandinavia by Train: 1 – Calais to Copenhagen

The Interrail journeys previously enumerated in the blogs “Three Men on a Train” were a resounding success, but I was keenly aware that – due to time constraints – we’d missed out the whole of the Scandinavian peninsula. A few years later, with only slightly better funding, I arranged a second month-long Interrail trip to remedy the situation, accompanied by a different group of friends.

And so it was, that in the Summer of 1989, Dave, Conway and I disembarked the MV “Pride of Dover” in Calais, and met up with Julia and Sammy who had been travelling in Morocco.

The girls looked tanned and healthy, but were short of cash. The boys were pasty and unhealthy, but hadn’t yet spent any of our holiday funds. After swapping tales over a coffee, we boarded the next train out of Calais, which happened to go to Paris. Our first requirement was to get some sleep, and since the Interrail system allowed us to take any train to any destination, we chose the next long-distance train, which happened to go to Amsterdam, and hunkered down in the corridor to sleep.

When the train pulled into Amsterdam Central, we found ourselves with only 35 minutes to explore before our connection to Hamburg. Our main concern was provisions; once we left Amsterdam we would be spending at least the rest of the day traversing Germany, and we had no Deutschmarks. The girls had some Camembert cheese and some horse-meat sausage in their packs, and Conway found a 25-guilder note in his pocket. We sprinted out into the city, got a swift impression of bars and coffee shops, scored coffee and baguettes, and legged it back to the station.

Although our Interrail card was valid for travel the length and breadth of the continent, many of the trains in Northern Europe at that time had extra supplements for this and that; extra for a sleeping compartment, extra for an intercity express, and so on. In order to conserve funds, it was necessary for us to carefully pick our route so as to board only the supplement-free trains.

We got a local connection from the Netherlands into Germany, and then switched to a local train to Hamburg. Once it pulled out of the station, we found that the service had been upgraded to an “Intercity” service, and so we had to find a supplemental fare or be put off the train. Since we didn’t have any Deutschmarks, this presented a problem until we offered the conductor a ten-pound note, and he went away happy. From Hamburg it was but a short step to Fredericia, and our first Scandinavian country of Denmark. We had arrived!

Struer (Denmark)

There is a convenient law which applies throughout Scandinavia, which states that you are allowed to camp anywhere you like for up to two nights, anywhere at all, as long as the site is not overlooked by somebody’s window. This is extremely handy for the budget traveller, and because of this we were well equipped with camping gear, in contrast with my previous Interrail trip, where we had tried as much as we could to sleep aboard the trains.

After a close look at a local map, we took a local train to the town of Struer, on the banks of the Veno Bugt fjord to the North West of Denmark. Strolling out of town, we found ourselves a roadside picnic spot with views across the fjord, and even a small toilet block with water, dryers, and a shaver point.

After a long luxurious night’s sleep, we awoke to find a family of cygnets poking around outside the tents, and a horde of picnicking tourists who completely ignored a bunch of hippies emerging blinking into the daylight.

We lounged around drinking coffee and waiting for the dew to dry off the tents, before packing up and heading to the station.

In the local hub of Fredericia on a Monday morning, we discovered that the connection to Copenhagen only runs on Sundays and Thursdays. There were some other, more roundabout routes available; we deliberately skipped the next one in order to save the “Intercity supplement”, then finally boarded the slow train, where the conductor hit us with a “Seat Reservation supplement”.

We were still glad we’d caught it, though, for the experience as the entire train drove onto the ferry at Nyborg, and we were taken across the fjord to Korsør without ever leaving our seats.

Copenhagen (Denmark)

One of my teeth was becoming increasingly painful. Julia had a poke around and found a large cavity in the side of a molar, which was full of foreign matter which she managed to clean out with a needle and thread, but which clearly needed medical attention.

In Copenhagen there’s a legendary facility, the Interrailer’s Centre, which provides an information desk, showers and kitchen facilities to anybody with a valid Interrail ticket. The receptionist was incredibly helpful in finding me a list of emergency dentists, and after a fair bit of legwork I found one who would treat me the following evening. I suggested that the others move on to Oslo while I got fixed up, but they were content to wait for me, so after cooking and eating at the Centre, we caught a local train to the nearby town of Næstved. This “local” turned out to be the lovely Ostsee Express to Moscow, every carriage embellished with Russian crests. We only went a couple of stops, though, and set up camp in a clearing in a local park, surrounded by beeches, mountain ash, and wild raspberries. Beautiful.

In Copenhagen the following day, I wasn’t really able to focus on much beyond my toothache, but did manage some minor forays into the city. Perhaps it was the pain, but I found it all a bit dull, despite some interesting architecture and sculptures.

I did note a few things in my diary, such as the handy gutter up the side of all staircases for the wheeling of bicycles, and the fact that cars will always stop for pedestrians or cyclists wherever they may be, and that bicycles stop for nothing and seem to rule the road as long as they remain in their bespoke cycle lane.

That evening, the dentist was superb. She found a piece of steak lodged inside a small cavity, which led to a very large cavity filling most of the tooth almost down to the nerve. After scraping me off the ceiling a few times, she managed a temporary fix by pumping in about a kilo of heavy metals. The tooth is now a thin shell of enamel wrapped around a lump of amalgam, which means I should avoid chewing on that side, and she made me promise to get it fixed as soon as I got home. [Of course I didn’t, and this amazing temporary repair remained in place for over a decade before I split it on a stray olive pit]

There was just time to grab a Danish Pastry before heading to the station. My mouth was completely numb but we couldn’t waste the opportunity. We bought two, each almost a foot long and packed with fruit, surmounted by chocolate.

The train decanted us onto a ferry, where we found some unoccupied reclining seats and settled down to sleep. Tomorrow, we would dock in Norway!

2 thoughts on “Scandinavia by Train: 1 – Calais to Copenhagen”

  1. I love this, Reinhard. More instalments, please.
    There are pictures and details never disclosed to Dave’s parents at the time.

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