I’m not one to usually admit being wrong, but oh boy, was I mistaken about Denmark. I've never really known much about it, to be honest - always thinking it’s just that boring flat country between Norway and Europe. If Sweden is a step down from Norway, I figured Denmark was a step down from Sweden. This was entirely false, in the way that assumptions tend to be.

First of all, bike paths were fantastic. I almost always had my own lane, and the signs were impeccable. There was no chance of accidentally straying from the bicycle route, which happened frequently in Sweden. Even in large intersections, which are usually intimidating in new cities and foreign countries, I had my own traffic lights and knew exactly where to go thanks to the painted lane.

The second thing I noticed was drivers in the countryside smiling and waving. That hadn’t happened to the same extent in quite a while.

And then there was the nature. My first stop was the Mols Bjerge National Park. It’s a mix of different landscapes from woodlands to moors, farms and cottages. The forests range from young plantations to very old beech forests stretching at least 30, if not 40, meters up. These giants block all the sunlight from reaching the ground, which is covered in a thick muddy carpet of leaves from previous autumns.

"We shall fight on the beeches..."

I had woken up uncharacteristically early, to prepare for stealth camping. If I sleep in a place where it's best to go unnoticed, it’s better to arrive at dusk and leave at dawn. As a result of an early start, I was also looking to camp already in the late afternoon. While searching for a place inside the national park, I came across a lively birthday party campsite with two adults and about eight little girls frying food around a fire.

It was about the warmest and most adorable welcome I’ve ever had. The kids asked me a barrage of questions, some even daring to speak english - rather well, I thought, for what looked like 11-year-olds. They all seemed to want my business card and to appear in the same photo with such a mysterious traveller. I asked the grown-ups for instructions and continued to a nearby campsite, all smiles after the unabashed curiosity and excitement of the children.

Evening view from the Mols Bjerge hilltop.

I came to a 137-meter tall hill, which is possibly one of the highest points in Denmark. There was an unobstructed view in every direction. Just below the hill were rolling green pastures for sheep and horses, beyond them some farm buildings, and in most directions I saw all the way to the sea.

The sun was setting, so I quickly pitched my tent by the picnic table. After it got dark I saw some flashes in the horizon far away - lightning! I’ve never successfully photographed one, despite a couple attempts earlier on this trip. I interrupted a time-lapse that was pointing in the wrong direction and aimed a new one at the storm instead. While waiting I fell asleep in my tent.

When I woke up the camera was completely soaked from dewdrops and the battery was dead. After a careful drying process I was happy to see it still working. Quite a few flashes had registered in the camera, and it also turned out that even the northern lights were visible while I slept. One lucky frame captured both of them!

Cool nature phenomena aside, there are many mistakes in this photo.

The morning brought even more goodness. Knowing there’d be early morning fog I got up before the sunrise. I’m glad I did. From my vantage point I saw a soft grey mist flowing between the hills. Then the sun rose and painted everything in a blindingly bright gold. This only lasted for a fleeting moment, before it vanished behind clouds again.

I was so happy to be alive and experiencing this special morning right there and then.

And to think I’m normally sound asleep at this hour. I’m going to make sure there will be more sunrise photos coming from now on.

Before sunrise.
... and after.
I've never regretted waking up early for a sunrise.