[Setting: A deserted, sunny shoreline]
[We pan left to see the 30 Marens, all huddled together.]
Announcer: 30 Marens Agree…
30 Marens: [in unison] Denmark is cozy!
[The Marens all nod in agreement]
Maren Nielson: Maybe it’s the simple, austere landscape that pulls people together.
Maren Olsen: Danmark er hyggeligt, fordi hendes volk er fredelige.
Maren Petersen: It’s the kind of place that’s easy to live in and easy to visit. Danes are environmentally friendly, efficient and polite. Besides, they invented Legos. That just makes them cool.
[The Marens continue to nod, looking out to sea.]
Announcer: 30 Marens Agree. Denmark is cozy.
Fifteen years ago in April, I graduated from college. The next day, I got married. Two thrilling events back to back involving black and then white, but only one of them merits an annual commemoration. To celebrate our fifteenth anniversary, Q and I wanted to take a trip- just the two of us. So daring! Who would watch the 4 kids for more than an afternoon? Where would we go? There was so much to think about.
Recently, we had been looking at the far reaches of our family trees only to discover that we both have roughly the same amount of Danish heritage. It’s been 16 years since I was in Scandinavia and Q had never been to that region, so Denmark seemed like a natural choice. We contacted a college-age friend who also happens to be a child care professional and worked our trip around her availability in early June.
We narrowed down our itinerary to two locations: Copenhagen in the north-east and an island called Aerø in the South Funen Archipelago. (We don’t mind making things difficult so long as the experience is rich.) From our house in Vermont to our hotel in Aerøskøbing, we took a car, three planes, a train, a bus and a ferry with a total travel time of 25 hours. Yes, the travel is always part of the fun, but arriving in the charming harbor on Aerø was worth it. The main section of town was straight out of a Richard Scarry book, with little tile-roofed houses of varying heights, widths and colors all squished together along narrow cobblestone streets.
The highlight of our time on Aerø was the 20 mile bicycle ride we took around the island. There were three well-marked tours, and we took two of them. (Q went the extra mile- ok, 7 miles- later to see the one we missed.) It was a cool misty morning when we started out in Aerøskøbing, but the sun had come out by the time we stopped for a picnic lunch at the harbor in Søby. We stopped at Finn’s Bageri for a loaf of the local rye bread and an enormous pastry called a “weekend kringle”. Man, that was intense and it really did take us all weekend to eat it. The ride home around the north-west coast was warm and delightful. We passed fields of rye, mustard (or was it rapeseed?), and potatoes everywhere with lots of Queen Anne’s lace along the roadside.
We also attended most of a local church service in Aerøskøbing before catching the ferry back to Svendborg. The Danish church scene was like a trip back in time as we imagined what our ancestors did on Sundays. The hymnal had 750+ songs but not any of the musical scores, so we listened to the first verse then did our best to sing the rest in Danish to unfamiliar tunes. Did we stick out like sore thumbs? Our bright clothes, lack of familiarity with the service, and our youthful age would make us the talk of the ladies later in the day, I was sure. But we enjoyed the experience. There was a certain weakness to the service, as if it was all watered down and too lean. I was surprised to see how different it was from my own Christian sabbath worship. Yes, there was singing and there were parts of the service in which the church-goers stood and sang a response to the priest (we were lost during that part), but no one closed their eyes, bowed their heads or said “amen” after the prayers were read, and there was no sacrament- at least not while we were there. There were no children or youth in the congregation; we were the youngest attendees by a good 25 years.
Next up was the comfortably urban city of Copenhagen. We arrived during the Festival of Anatolian Culture and if we had wanted to meet a Turk in Copenhagen, we had our pick because every one of them- man, woman, child, grandmother, grandfather- was in the square behind Tivoli park enjoying the loud traditional Ottoman band. Copenhagen is a great size and very accessible. We walked all over the city and saw beautiful churches, a castle or two, and the panoramic view from atop the Round Tower. Monday is the day when every museum is closed, so next time we would plan a little better to avoid that, but overall it was a great place to sightsee and people-watch. There would be plenty to do with the kids on a subsequent visit.
All too soon it was time to fly to Oslo and then Philadelphia, leaving our Scandinavian adventure behind. The 23-hour trip home gave us plenty of time to ponder the time we had together and come back to the reality of our responsibilities. To sum it up, Denmark is a very comfortable place and I hope it isn’t 16 more years before I make it back to that area of the world.
Thinking about a vacation? Visit Denmark!
Pictures on flickr.