by Ruth Murdoch | July 2018 | Denmark
On 2nd July 2018 we were Denmark bound, the gateway country to Scandinavia and it’s nice to be back in this part of the world after a 22-year break. The countries of Scandinavia include Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway, the latter three are unexplored as yet by us.
There’s plenty to learn in Denmark, from the many ‘traditions’ about food, their way of life, the ancient Vikings, and their strong sense of family.
At the age of 15, I started writing to a girl on the other side of the world, and Lisbeth from Denmark was to become my long lasting ‘penfriend’. This term ‘penfriend’ is likely to be foreign to many youngsters these days, with the introduction of Facebook, email, YouTube, and the Internet in general. ‘Penfriends’ exchanged real, handwritten letters, sent from post offices, using real stamps!
Lisbeth and I forged what has become my longest lasting friendship. I lost touch with childhood friends after away from my small hometown of Te Aroha. Although our pen and paper writing has now moved onto email and Messenger, we have managed to catch up in person every ten years. Not bad going without conscious planning efforts.
Spending my birthday in July with Lisbeth and her family was planned months ago and we were looking forward to seeing them all again.
Beer and soft drinks are very expensive in Denmark so the Danish stock-up ‘tax-free’ at special supermarkets just inside the German/Danish border. We attempted to buy a load for our friends from one of these places, plonked several slabs of canned refreshments in our trolley (wondering where would we stow these in our already heavily food and alcohol laden Betsy) and headed to the counter to pay. We knew we had to complete a declaration card, however no-one told us we had to be a Danish citizen (or Scandinavian) with a permanent address and show our ‘Danish’ passports or ID Cards before we could escape with our newly purchased goods. Damn, back they went onto the shelves. It wasn’t worth trying to dodge a system and face the authorities over a few drinks.
Finally driving across the border, I could remember Denmark being flat from my last visit here, and over the past twenty-two years it hasn’t got any lumpier. Our first destination was supposed to be Rømø, in the region of South Western Denmark. Upon reading that we could not overnight or wildcamp on the island of Rømø, we stopped short at Skiffervej, Højer about 30kms away. The sunset was rather inviting, maybe some sort of welcome and a promise of the good weather that was to come.
The internet is wonderful , and we soon discovered quite by chance, that a fellow motorhome traveller and blogger on Facebook was nearby. So we made plans the following day to catch up over a quick cuppa before they headed back home to England. We got on like a house on fire, and after a ‘five-hour cuppa’ they decided to stay on for the night so we could finish our conversations. A shared meal, a few vinos, deep and meaningful conversations – we really enjoyed Monica and Chris’ company and were sad to see them heading off the next morning for their jobs back in the UK. Before they left we gave them a ride on our electric bikes and think we have converted them.
Next day we were off to Rømø, just a couple of days later than planned (gotta love the freedom to stay put if the mood suits or newly acquired friends stay on).
I don’t’ mind saying that in order to find out some points of interest about Rømø, I turn to Wikipedia (the font of all things knowledgeable). Here’s what I learned about this small settlement.
Rømø is an island in the Wadden Sea, (I’d never heard of the Wadden Sea) linked to the Danish mainland by a road running across a causeway, and is part of Tønder municipality. The island has 650 inhabitants as of 1 January 2011 and covers an area of 129 km². Rømø is now the southernmost of Denmark’s Wadden Sea Islands (the previous being the small uninhabited island of Jordsand which sank in 1999).
One has to wonder how an island just sinks?
The day is a little bleak and uninviting for swimming just yet, so we resolve ourselves to a short wander around outside until it starts to rain. We don’t do rain so we hightailed it out of there, having ticked this ‘must see’ destination off our list. I could see the appeal on a fine day, however, the Danes seem to flock out here for picnics in droves even when the weather is a bit inclement.
With a day up our sleeve to ‘kill’, I mean explore, before seeing my penfriend for the first time in ten years, and Alan meeting her and her family for the first time, we head to Jelling, a small settlement of just 3,400 odd people as of 2016. It seems like a reasonable stopping place halfway to our final destination of Tranbjerg, just south of Aarhus.
A message from my penfriend asking of our whereabouts the conversation goes like this.
L: Where are you now?
R: We’re in Jelling.
L: Great place – seeing the stones I guess
R: I didn’t know about the stones but they are just five minutes walk from where we are parked. Thanks
L: Ohh great you would need to see those – very historically important
After this timely conversation, we soon discover that Jelling is in fact a UNESCO listed area with some really ‘famous stones’. The next day we headed out in search of said stones and discovered this place does indeed have interesting historic significance (well done Alan on inadvertently finding a place of interest on our way north). Here’s what we learnt.
The year is 965. Viking King Harald Bluetooth* bids farewell to the Norse pantheon and embraces Christianity. He has this message chiselled into a large rune stone in the town of Jelling close to the rune stone erected a few years earlier by his father, King Gorm the Old. On the rune stone, Harald boasts of having conquered Denmark and Norway and brought Christianity to the Danes. The inscription reads: “King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.” The rune stone is considered Denmark’s baptism certificate and the figure of Christ inscribed on the stone is also featured in all Danish passports.
*Bluetooth technology, used everywhere in mobile phones and computers for wireless communication, is named after the Danish king Harald Bluetooth due to his communicative skills in bringing warring factions together.
So important were these stones that houses nearby were removed to create an ample distance barrier and the road was redirected away from the monument. Then in order to further protect the Runic Stones from erosion and to keep them in their original position they are protected from the weather by being encased in Perspex.
Old Friends and New
The following day we arrived at my penfriend’s house. After copious big hugs and some tears (from us both) , Alan was introduced to Lisbeth and family.
Have I mentioned food in Denmark yet? Stay braced for what is to come. Upon arrival, we were seated for coffee and tea and a classic homemade traditional Danish coffee cake of sorts called Brunsvigercake. It apparently comes from Fyn (Funen) in Denmark, the island where Hans Christian Andersen was born. It is a soft yeast dough topped with a generous serving of butter and brown sugar. We are told that it’s not so good the next day so we have to eat it all up. Just as well we brought our hungry tummies with us.
But that’s not all. We were apparently having an early dinner because in true Danish style Lisbeth has organised for us to be eating a very special treat tonight called Smørrebrød. Although simple Smørrebrød is eaten very regularly, these are to be the special ones often saved for festive occasions (or when old friends turn up). They can be described as open sandwiches on rye bread with all sorts of cold cut meats of roast beef or pork, cold fried and crumbed flatfish, prawns, cucumber, egg, tomatoes, bean sprouts, horseradish, liver pate, to name a few, with a remoulade sauce (similar to a mayonnaise or aioli) and packed full of flavour, and colour.
The photos show just how inviting these stacked open sandwiches (Smørrebrød) are, and it’s little wonder they are saved for special occasions. Thanks Lisbeth.
There is also a tradition of what drinks must accompany Smørrebrød. From lager with herrings, to schnapps and of course wine (especially for those of us who don’t drink anything other than Chardonnay).
Now stuffed full to the brim, we recline in the lounge to be served up an array of chocolates and licorice (just in case we’re hungry).
The next day we venture into the city of Aarhus (officially spelled Århus and known as the European Capital of Culture), the central city in the East Jutland metropolitan area, with a total population of 1.378 million in 2016.
We walked over a Perspex walkway cantilevered out over the pedestrian street below. From our vantage point, we could see out past the cathedral, towards the port and beyond, and the yachts enjoying the wind and sun on a beautiful summers day.
The Danes are a patriotic lot, they love their flag and their monarch and when the Queen’s ship is spotted in the harbour we make a quick trip over to have a gander (look). We learn that the version of the Danish flag with the two pointy ends can only be flown by Royalty or those members of a yacht club.
The Royal Yacht
The Royal Flag
The next stopping point is the Infinite Bridge at Ballehage Beach. Originally built as part of the Sculpture By The Sea event in 2015, the locals loved it so much that the Municipality of Aarhus bought it as a permanent piece of art. However, it’s only set up from May to October each year, making me wonder what happens in the winter months to stop it being available all year round? Is it too dangerous, does it ice up and become an ice-skating bridge where unsuspecting locals and tourists alike plop off the side, or do the waters crash over and cause damage?
Celebrating Birthdays Danish Style
The next day is my favourite all year, my birthday. In traditional Danish birthdays, the birthday girl/boy must be woken with chanting birthday songs, with furious flag waving, and lots of smiles. Waking to find four others singing wholeheartedly in our small motorhome bedroom was a first for me.
The neighbours, up and down the street, all put out small Danish flags in their garden to celebrate the birthday event.
Then there’s breakfast, in traditional Danish style with small paper Danish flags lying on the table, and miniature wooden Danish flags standing tall in front of the birthday girl’s seat, along with presents to be unwrapped. The tradition extends to not being able to partake in the food until all presents are opened!
Breakfast was special bread style buns with cheese and jams all washed down with what else but sweet delicious Danish pastries.
It was such a unique experience to celebrate my birthday Danish style, and I couldn’t have wished to be anywhere else on this momentous occasion.
During the afternoon we take a quick trip south to visit Mette, Lisbeth’s cousin whom I have previously met, once in NZ when we went travelling together, and then again 22 years ago at her small flat in Aarhus.
Drinking Aperol Spritz with Prosecco in the hot Danish sun with old, and new friends, isn’t a bad way to while away some time, especially on one’s birthday.
A quick scurry up the ladder to pick fresh juicy delicious cherries before heading home had us set for the return journey, in time to relax before going out for dinner.
Waking the Birthday Girl
Ahh, Fresh Cherries
Polle, Mette, Alan, Ruth
The next day we visited that well known Danish icon – Legoland!
No trip to Denmark would be complete without a visit here and it’s a full on day with the entire family. An hour’s drive east of Tranbjerg we arrived soon after opening time on a rather warm summer’s day and we left about an hour past closing time! A full day of walking around, going on rides, seeing small cities made from Lego and being genuinely amazed by the imagination and time that has obviously been devoted to building this amusement park from scratch. It’s only open during the summer months and I wonder if they put everything away or cover it up somehow to protect it from the below freezing temperatures they have here in winter.
Aarhus Art Museum
On the list of things to see and do in Aarhus is the art museum and this is one I can highly recommend. It has a rainbow walkway lookout that doubles as a hothouse in warm weather! We braved the humid conditions and walked around taking photos of the views below through different coloured lenses.
The museum itself requires a mention. It was nothing like I would imagine and I can see why Aarhus has the reputation for art culture. “The boy” was …. Hmm I really don’t know how to describe him, so I will let the pictures tell the story.
This suitcase made entirely of clothing depicted the iconic buildings of Aarhus and plonked them together in the lid.
Then we came across a black and white collage of old and broken boats, which was sad to see and I couldn’t help but think about what these boats had seen over their years and the happy memories they must be hiding in their hulls.
The following day Alan and I took a drive out to the lovely region of Ronde, about an hour towards the east coast. We were told to take a walk out to the end of the peninsula for ruins of an ancient castle. However the day was rather warm, and the walk long, so we opted for half way.
An introduction to a Norwegian
First it was time to stop for lunch, and Alan managed to park Betsy inside the car park at the outside end of the parking boundary straddling two parks and she tucked up there nicely out of the way, or so we thought. We were just finishing lunch and had the cabin door open towards the café where people we sitting having lunch or sipping on their afternoon coffee in peace and soaking up the sunshine.
The next thing I hear someone yelling in my general direction (in a foreign language no less). I called out that I didn’t understand and was hit with a barrage of abuse and was told we couldn’t park there, and that I was a ‘f****n idiot’. Absolutely shocked at such foul language from a complete stranger, I in no uncertain terms told him there was absolutely no need to use language like that and it was uncalled for. He pulled his head in with a shocked look my way and drove away, with his kids in the car.
Silence overcame the lunchtime crowd who had heard every word (English is widely spoken in Denmark) and their eyes were focused in my direction.
A couple walked up to us and shrugged their shoulders as if to say what was that all about. I was still fuming at the exchange of words and the couple said don’t worry, he’s not Danish, he’s from Norway. And by the way you speak very good English (obviously thinking I was French because we have French licence plates). That explained the shocked look on the Norwegian’s face.
With plans afoot to be heading into Norwegian territory, I was starting to wonder if they were all like that. Then I realised that every country has ‘them’.
I was saddened that a father with kids in the car felt the need to 1) use such bad language to a stranger who really wasn’t causing any harm, and 2) would show his children how to treat foreigners or people who don’t comply with what he considers okay.
We just hope that he gets treated the same way one day to see what it’s like.
I felt grateful that a father who obviously flies off the handle with little or no provocation didn’t bring me up.
Moving right along.
Ebeltoft was the next village we visited and it was lovely with its half timbered and somewhat crooked houses.
On the trip north, we stopped off at Fyrak to take in the Viking Centre where a farmstead comprising of nine reconstructed houses lay in wait for our visit. These houses have been erected using techniques known in the Viking Age and based on the excavated remains of more than 1000-year-old houses found at Vorbasse in South Jutland.
In complete contrast to the ancient Greek ruins we had experienced earlier in our travels the thing that struck me most about these houses is that they were built out of timber. Of course they didn’t have the knowledge we do these days, so the wooden posts were dug straight into the ground, causing moisture to rot the timbers. It is now known that the Viking houses would survive no longer than 30-40 years before needing to be replaced. That explains the glaring lack of Viking ruins for us to see today.
Walking through the farmstead, we were greeted with modern day people dressed and toiling away like Vikings of yesteryear. Baking bread in an open fire (on a hot day), moulding clay pots, and sewing leather shoes, the day-residents worked hard to give us a little glimpse of how they believed Viking life would have been.
We arrived in the far north, Skagen, and quickly found the camping ground our friends were staying in. We rarely choose to stay in camping grounds mainly due to the cost, and given we are totally self sufficient it just doesn’t make any sense to be squeezed into a site like a sardine. Thankfully for us, the pitch sites at Camping Skagen were of a very generous size, allowing Betsy to park parallel to the pitch with the door facing the hedge for privacy away from the roadway. Lisbeth and family were in the throes of pitching their caravan and awning next door and we were happy to join in to help them beat the wild wind.
In Skagen we visited the sand-covered Church, also known as the buried church and Old Skagen church.
During the last half of the 18th century, the church was partially buried by sand from nearby drifting dunes; the congregation had to dig out the entrance each time a service was to be held. The struggle to keep the church free of sand lasted until 1795, when it was abandoned. The church was demolished, leaving the tower with crow-stepped gable as the only part of the original structure still standing.
On 19th July, just eighteen glorious sun-filled days after arriving in Denmark it was time to leave. But we will be back, on our way down from Norway we will drive to Copenhagen for some more Danish fun and hospitality.
A big thanks to Lisbeth, Christian, Bertram, and Mikkel for making our stay so memorable. We look forward to seeing you all again, the next time sooner than ten years!
Wilding in Denmark
Wild camping is allegedly illegal in Denmark so be prepared to be discrete and you may be at risk of being moved on receiving a fine.
Thankfully we only needed to find stopping places for two uneventful nights before spending the rest of our time with friends and the in the Skagen Camping Ground.
Overnight Stopping Locations for Denmark
#1 55.027, 8.63785 Skiffervej Free Parking
#2 55.75638, 9.41632 Jelling Supermarket and Viking Museum Car Park
#3 57.72176, 10.54216 Skagen Camping Ground