Great Danes

Great Danes

“Denmark, I’ve never been there”. Or, “Denmark? You should go south to Italy or France…” These were the most common reactions from my German colleagues when I shared with them my plans to take a road trip through Denmark with my husband and parents. Denmark – a small country just north of Germany caught my fancy because I was seeking open countryside, small towns and peace. I knew that the big cities of Europe offered equal portions of excitement and overwhelming masses of people. My parents were visiting from a small town in southern Oregon that has more pine trees (and unfortunately now pot plants) than people. My husband would be joining from our home in the countryside in North Carolina where we can only see a neighbor when the leaves are off the trees. All 4 of us are country folk who choose to live in open space. I presumed (correctly) that we would prefer to vacation the same way.

In some ways I’m not surprised that I’m working in project management. I really enjoy planning – especially when many different people are involved. I like to think about what each person will love and what would bring them great personal discomfort and then plan an event or process that most people will enjoy – keeping in mind that we all have different preferences. I also apply this philosophy to trip planning. Here’s the method I use to plan road trips – pick the town and then google the fast route and the slow route. Search out which towns look interesting on the slow route (this is usually the one I chose). Then zoom into the town square and search for hotels or inns. Google has very handy features to find a hotel, look at ratings and either book a room online or quickly link to the number to call the hotel. It’s easy to see pictures of where you’ll stay before you book. Granted, this removes some of the mystery but it’s also reassuring. 

I spent one weekend and a few evenings using Google maps to plan our route. Our original route had a first destination of Berlin and I planned that we would pause in a mountainous region known for wood carving prowess. My dad is a lumberjack and woodworker in addition to braumeister (yes, the retired Renaissance man). I planned to stay two nights in Berlin, then take a northern coastal route to Wismar before jumping off for a tour of Denmark via ferry from Rostock.

I gradually booked all our hotels with plans included to stay at an air bnb in Copenhagen for three nights halfway though our trip. This would give us a chance to rest a bit, prepare our own food and do some laundry. I booked our hotels, most of them except Berlin, for some reason I couldn’t pull the trigger which turned out to be fine because we wound up spending that weekend at home with an early celebration of our 17th anniversary while my folks took a cruise on the Rhein.

Now I needed to wait for the adventure. In the weeks leading up to the visit I began to monitor the weather forecast and it did not look good. Highs in the 50s and rain… I began to worry and wish I had planned a southern route, like everyone had suggested. I considered cancelling the entire trip and going to Italy instead. A few days before our trip I sat with a colleague who lived just north of Copenhagen for 6 years. He helped me to refine our route and pointed out places to visit along the way. My excitement about our upcoming trip grew. Fortunately, I did not cancel our visit and we had a glorious (sunny and rain-free) 8 days in Denmark. 

The morning we caught the ferry from Rostock to Gedser was sunny with blue skies above and us running nearly behind schedule. This was the only day we had an appointment and we cut it close, so close that we pulled up to the ferry 1 minute before loading. I contained my impatience and worry as we made the 1.5 hour journey with my husband behind the wheel. I didn’t want us to miss the ferry although I had spent a little extra on the fare to have a flexible pass. In the end this was a silly choice because I didn’t know how to implement the flexibility of the pass and we decided to attempt to board at our assigned time. 

We were one of the first cars in line to board the belly of the ferry. Cars, motorcycles and bicycles pulled in around us. Followed by European size freight trucks tucked together with centimeters to spare between the walls and the bumpers. It was an exciting atmosphere and we really began to feel the spirit of our adventure. We were on the Baltic Sea preparing for departure to another country!

Our sea journey went quickly and soon we spied the shores of Denmark in the distance. As we approached the border crossing in Gedser we were stopped and asked about our citizenship, our destination and warmly welcomed to Denmark. We planned to take a rather direct route to Copenhagen but quickly found ourselves enchanted by the countryside and in no hurry to arrive in the city. We found the main roads on the map and then deliberately avoided the highways to drive through every small town. We covered miles and miles through tiny towns bordered by bright yellow canola fields with frequent glimpses of the coastline.

We began to see signs for the Mons Klint around the same time we headed toward a bridge that would take us to Bogo. I’m not gonna lie, I saw Bogo and I thought of Payless shoes… Which made me smile. We crossed the bridge, then paused at a rest stop to load up on tourist info and maps. The sun was shining, the air was still and life was good. As we had journeyed east, the countryside became more rolling and less flat. We set our sites on Mons Klint, paused along the way to admire a beautiful pink church that is undergoing restoration, bought some jam and pickles from an honor system roadside farmers box, and eventually turned down a dirt road. 

A dirt road has never let me down. This time was no exception.  The forest grew thicker around us as we climbed toward Mons Klint. Filtered light hit the ground in patches. We parked and ventured inside to scope out of first attraction in Denmark. Our steps took us to a dramatic overlook that provided breathtaking views of the bright green sea below. We backtracked to the beginning of the 975 wooden stairs that would take us to the bottom. I was concerned I wouldn’t make it up and down with my torn calf muscle, but I knew I had to give it a try. 

We slowly made our way down the cliff to the water. The views were serene and beautiful as we walked through the trees, many which were precariously perched in the crumbling soil held up by a curvaceous maze of roots. We reached some scenic overlooks and stopped to snap a quadie (my husbands’ name for a four person selfie – he’s a master at taking them). My mother was having trouble with her knee so at some point, they decided to head back. Chas and I continued and made our way to the water.

Miraculously, we were the only people on the shore at that moment. We admired the crumbling cliff and the mix of black and white stones beneath our feet. The waves gently broke and Chas ventured around the corner to take in the view. I sat, back against the cliff and absorbed the moment. We were in Denmark, rambling along the rocky shore, in the shelter of a spectacular cliff, ALL ALONE. As we climbed to the top we savored the moment together and looked forward to the week ahead exploring every corner of this beautiful country.


ICE, and a lack thereof

ICE, and a lack thereof

Day 1 – we packed our bags and loaded up my car, which I’ve affectionately named “Super Z”. She’s a good car, with a roomy cage (a motorcyclists’ term for a car cab), GPS and space to stash two carryons and (very importantly) a cooler. This cooler is what truly pushed our trip into the category of American road trip. I mean, no red-blooded American takes off on a long car ride without a cooler loaded with cheese, salami, snacks and some cold drinks.

On this particular trip we were bound for Denmark so we also had another need for a cooler. My German friends had warned that beer, one of the primary food groups in Germany, was very expensive in Denmark. Something like 5 times as expensive!!! Now, I like beer, but my dad, who’s a home Brewer in Oregon also is a big beer fan. As well as my husband. We would likely be enjoying a brew at the end of our long drives when we checked into the hotel. You might be noticing a trend here that I’m a pretty budget conscious person. Besides German beer is really good and we didn’t have any experience with Denmark brews, so the plan was to load up on beer in Germany before we rode the ferry to Denmark.

Great plan, extremely difficult to execute. Can anyone guess the problem? There is no ice in Europe! Just think back to the summers of your youth when the fam was gearing up for a bbq and dad would send you out to grab a bag of ice? You’d just pull in to your local 7-eleven and there’s an ice cooler out front loaded with 1 lb, 5 lb bags, even maybe large blocks of ice? I mean way back then it didn’t even have a lock on it, so you’d walk in pay for a bag of ice, walk out, open the cooler, enjoy that fabulous blast of cold air, grab a bag from the bottom because it’s cooler, or maybe the one on top because you’re freezing now. Then return as the hero of the bbq because you brought the ICE!

Somewhere in the history of civilization this trend caught on in America, but never in Europe. As one Dane told me, “we don’t sell ice because no one would buy it”. I wanted to ask “But what about when you’re on a road trip and you don’t have access to your freezer at home?”. Then I realized that Europeans generally don’t road trip, they train or airplane trip it. Maybe this is where the grand ice tradition skipped a continent? I’m still working on getting to the bottom of this no ice mystery and hope to report back soon. In the meantime, if you have any cultural insights let me know.

In the end, all was well. The bar keep at our hotel in Malmö Sweden generously loaded our cooler with ice one night. As she astutely observed the machine would make more ice so she was willing to share this renewable resource. Other hoteliers and restaurant owners were not so generous with their ice. Fortunately, German beers are generally intended to not be consumed at the subzero temperatures preferred by Americans. You won’t find any cans where you know it’s cold enough to because the Rockies have ice on them. So, we didn’t have any thirsty nights or experience gouging prices.

Which, on the note of prices, we did go out and enjoy local beers in Denmark a couple of times. We were surprised to find the prices reasonable. This then created a second mystery for us – Where were the expensive beers? I found the answer to this question when I struck up a conversation with a friendly bar keep in Ribe, Denmark. It turned out he was a chicken farmer working in town to make some money before he moved to Copenhagen to study Ag Econ. As a side note, what are the odds I’d meet a chicken farmer in Denmark? The world is small indeed! He explained that beers are expensive and taxed heavily at the grocery store, at least 3 times as expensive as equivalent beers in Germany. But, here’s the loophole, if you buy them in a bar or restaurant it’s the normal price. I can only imagine what political wrangling led to this situation. Bottom line: don’t worry yourself too much with packing beers from Germany to Denmark (although the Beck’s we bought was delicious at room temp – who would have know?) and just enjoy the local flavors.

I meant to write about Bremen, Lubeck and lovely Wismar on this post, but now I must run to work. So, until next time, don’t take for granted those wonderful ephemeral treasures in life, like ice.

American style road trip through northern Germany and Scandinavia

American style road trip through northern Germany and Scandinavia

Less than 48 hours ago my apartment became quiet and empty again (except for my funny Tony cat) as my parents and husband headed back stateside. We had just completed a fantastic, 2000 kilometer road trip. This trip included one or more towns or cities a day, so I’ll cover it in a few blog posts. I’m a bit torn about which order to take, part of me wants to start at the end and then go backwards, like those cool movies (Memento comes to mind)… On the other hand, running through chronologically will illustrate how we took a nice loop with new scenery and beers (very important) to experience every day.

The perfume of blooming canola fields filled our car as we drove through the back roads of Denmark.

To begin, I’ll give you a run-down of our general route. Our journey began and ended in Dusseldorf, Germany. Along the way we stopped in Bremen, Lubeck and Wismar, Germany. Then we drove to Rostock and boarded the ferry to Gedser, Denmark. We drove from Gedser in a counterclockwise direction through the countryside and along the coast to Copenhagen via the islands of Bogo and Mon before entering Sealand. From Copenhagen we drove across a toll bridge (I’ll tell you more about that later….) to Malmö, Sweden. The next day we drove back to Copenhagen, then from there we drove up the Danish riviera to the northeast tip of Denmark. Then we headed southwest toward Soro in the lakes region. From Soro we took a slow coastal route toward Faaborg for a stay at a castle in the countryside and then our final night was spent in a 400+ year old hotel in Ribe – the oldest town in Denmark. Our return route took us on a lovely diversion through the island of Romo, before we jumped on the autobahn in Germany. We made one stop for a bucket list quest to eat a hamburger in Hamburg, washed the car in torrential rain, and eventually made it home.

Our reward for walking 994 steps down to admire Mon Flynts.

I’ll add a general map of our route later. Now you have the over-view and I’ll go into details of the trip in future posts. Along the way we preferentially drove country roads and stopped at huge and quaint (sometimes more impressive) churches). We stayed at a variety of hotels from modern establishments to a castle built in 1200, a 300 year old and then a 400 year old hotel, and most suprising of all, a really nice hostel in Copenhagen.

Hvedholm castle near Faaborg, Denmark

Next installment I’ll describe our journey through northern Germany.

Romo – the enchanted land of Danish horses and ponies.