By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 6/16/2019
Topics/Keywords: #Denmark #Travel Page Views: 1999
I visit Michael's nephew's family in Denmark for my very first trip to Europe!

Photos on this page were not taken by me. The drug store lost the negatives!

As Previously Detailed…

My passport had been stolen just before I was to fly to Germany to teach a class there. After several days of Passport Hell, I had gotten the passport replaced and a new ticket, but the class had been postponed a month. With all other preparations in place, I decided to go ahead and go to Europe anyway…

The Flight to Germany

Kennedy Airport

Rushing into the airport, I dashed to the ticket counter. `"I'm here for the 4:45 flight to Munich," I gasped.

"Dere is no 4:45 flight to Germany," the clerk informed me. "Der flight leaves at 4:30, and it has already gone."

"Oh."

"You vill haf to go to der ticket counter," she said, pointing across the aisle, "to be rescheduled."

At the ticket counter, the attendant explained that there would be no more direct flights to Munich that evening. "But, I can send you to Frankfurt, and from there to Munich," she offered.

I thought it over. "Well…I don't really have any particular destination in mind," I said. "Munich, Frankfurt…who cares? Sure! I'll take it!"

The flight was about to board, so I rushed (again) to the gate, carrying my computer and my overpacked gym bag, which I hoped to carry on. I had barely a moment to try and call Michael in Arizona.

"Frankfurt is closer to Denmark than Munich," he said. "If you want to visit Chris, just get off the plane at Frankfurt."

That's how little I knew about European geography. If he'd told me Frankfurt was next door to Portugal, I couldn't have argued.

Chris is Michael's nephew, whom I'd met the previous summer when he and his son, Allan, came to New York. I wasn't sure I wanted to impose on Chris' family; but it was a possibility. I still had no idea what I would be doing.

The plane, a wide-body with eight seats across in the cheap seats, was a joy and the flight attendants were dears. Their English was perfect and they even remembered which language to use with each passenger. They served the most delicious meal I had ever had on an airplane—and one of the best meals I've ever had, period. It was a chicken pasta dish, and the desert was incredible. I was even able to ask for an extra desert, and they served me one!

No air rage on this plane.

They were showing a movie I had recently seen, so I didn't bother to watch. But, do note: the headphones were free. And so was the liquor.

The seats were even designed so that a person could sleep without too much numbing discomfort. I slept deeply enough to dream.

Breakfast in Frankfurt

My flight landed in Frankfurt in the early morning, about 7:00 am. It was raining and we had to walk from the plane to a shuttle that drove us to the airport proper. I had no idea what to do next, until I saw the McDonald's sign. Ah, yes…breakfast! —And the Egg McMuffin used a different kind of bacon, and it was delicious! I began to suspect I would not be losing weight in Europe, whatever else might happen.

My first task was to find if they sold phone cards in Europe, so I could call Michael. There were information booths positioned strategically throughout the airport and I made good use of them. Yes, I was told, telephones not only use telephone cards; public phones require them…and I could buy one almost anywhere, including the stationery store across from the information booth.

It took me a little while to figure how to call the United States. I am not used to having to supply a country code when calling home! To call the United States from a public phone in Germany, first insert the phone card, then dial 001, the area code, and the number you wish to call. Be aware that the phone circuits are often filled, so if you get a busy signal just try again. If you have dialed something wrong, or there is not enough money left on your phone card, a recorded voice will come on and say something in German. Then it is time to return to the information booth for additional reminders.

By now I had decided to go first to Copenhagen, which from now on I will spell correctly as København. I got Chris’ number from Michael, and then had a couple false starts with that number. To dial a Danish number from Germany, use the country code 045 and then the number. Remember, if you have been calling the number from the United States, it probably starts with the 45, anyway; so don’t repeat it.

Dialing it correctly was obviously a good start, but there was no answer at Chris’. No matter; I decided to head for København anyway. After all, if I couldn't stay with Chris, I'd have to stay at a hotel; and I was sure they'd have hotels in København as well as in Frankfurt.

Frankfort, Germany

In order to take the train, I had to get to the train station. Now, there was a bit of a mix-up, since there was a subway running beneath the airport that people also called the "train station". I had to buy a ticket from a machine to the stop I wanted, the hauptbahnhof, but that wasn’t listed among the available stops. Again, I ducked into the nearest store—a dry cleaners’—and the proprietor came right out to help. I already had gotten some dollars exchanged for Deutschmarks, so the coins were available. That gave me a ticket; interestingly, no one ever came by in the subway to collect it and I found no place to put it.

The ride into Frankfurt was longer than I expected, but nice, since the "subway" actually came above ground in many places. It was easy to identify my stop and, once I found the proper escalator, there I was in the hauptbahnhof, the Grand Central Station of Frankfurt.

Buying my next ticket was easy, though not cheap: 388 Deutschmarks, about $200. It involved two trains with a mere four minutes connection time between them. I was told not to worry, because "German trains always run on time."

However, mine arrived late, by five minutes. It was sparkling new and very comfortable, very quiet and smooth-running. I sat next to an extremely good-looking young man who said nothing, not even smiled—I think he had hoped the seat next to him would remain vacant; but every other seat was filled.

We passed countryside that first looked like Vermont, then Pennsylvania, then Ohio. At noon, I wandered back into the dining car and had another excellent meal: turkey steak with mushrooms and rice with herbed butter. My worries that I wouldn’t like German food were now completely replaced by the worry that I would eat too much of it!

By the time we arrived in Hamburg my train was twenty minutes late; so I had, of course, missed my connection to København. The next train didn’t leave for another four hours, so I got to know the Hamburg hauptbahnhof very well. Like the other one (and, probably, all of them), it did double duty as a shopping mall. Lots of places with delicious-looking and smelling (but mediocre-tasting) snacks. They use the symbol WC to identify restrooms, and the ones in the hauptbahnhof require a small coin (half mark, about 30 cents) to enter. I didn’t happen to have the correct coin; so I simply walked to the McDonald’s and used their restroom for free. Later, I found, outside the hauptbahnhof, a small shed labeled Pissoir, decorated with a picture of a little boy peeing! Sure enough, for men only, it is a free place to see a man about a horse, should the need arise.

At 5:00 o’clock I tried calling Chris’ again and this time there was an answer: Chris himself. He sounded very happy to see me and insisted he would pick me up when the train arrived in København.

After an amount of window-shopping that wouldn’t have been nearly enough for Michael but was far more than enough for me, my train arrived and I continued my journey.

The Train to København

Danish train

As nice as the previous train, this one was actually Danish. At first every seat was filled; as we rode along, some people got off and not as many got back on so it eventually became less crowded. (Understand that "crowded" meant there were no unused seats—no one had to stand, either.)

Some hours later, we stopped briefly at a train station. There was an electronic sign in the cabin that displayed the name of the next station and the amount of time before arrival there, as well as the current time. When we left the station, I was surprised because the time to the next station was only two minutes—the stations were awfully close together, I thought.

Approaching this other station, I saw we were proceeding down what looked like a city street. We entered a tunnel and I was amazed at how closely some 18-wheelers were parked to the train tracks. While still in this well-lit tunnel, we came to a complete stop. And then…everyone got off the train! Not only that…everyone left their stuff!!

When a young girl returned momentarily for her scarf, I excused myself and asked if she spoke English. Like nearly everyone I encountered, she did. Where did everyone go, I asked. "They wanted to be up top," she replied, and ran out. On top of what?? I wondered, and, finally, consumed by curiosity, I stepped off the train myself.

We seemed to be in a parking garage. There were trucks parked on either side of the train and a few cars. A few feet away, there was an elevator. Nervously, because I didn’t want the train to leave without me, I stepped in. We were, it indicated, on Level 2. Also available were Levels 3 and 5.

Level 3 was yet another floor to the parking garage. Level 5 was a total surprise. It was some kind of restaurant or shopping mall!

And then the entire building tilted. I ran for a window and looked out.

We were on a ferry boat!

I never heard of a ferry boat for trains. And, of course, my geographical ineptitude was responsible for my not knowing that, to reach København, I would have to cross a body of water too wide for a bridge.

I went out onto the deck, but it was too cold too stay for long. So, I returned to the comfort (and non-smoking atmosphere) of the railroad car. Eventually the other passengers returned, the boat unloaded, and we continued on our way.

After a while a nice, uniformed man came by and inspected my passport. He welcomed me to Denmark; when he found out it was my first trip there, he asked jovially, "What kept you?" and gave me a tourist flier on the country.

In hearing the passport guy read our passports and greet us, I also found out the man sitting across from me was an American, an Army Reserve guy working in Bosnia but on seven days’ leave. We chatted for a while about programming; the next thing I knew, I had a possible programming job from him on my return!

Arriving at København, I found Chris waiting for me literally outside the cabin door, with his kids Allan and Karina. They swept me away from the big city and to the quiet country life of their home in Vejby (pronounced something like, "why-bull"), about 45 minutes from København and about a mile from the seashore.

Vejby

As it turns out, København (and Vejby) are located on an island located just off the coast of Denmark’s mainland. The mainland is called Jutland, possibly because it juts out from the coast of Europe. The island is called Zealand, because it is land surrounded by sea. København is located on the southeastern side of the island; Vejby is on the northern coast.

It had snowed the night of my arrival, even though it was March. Chris works to clear the roads when it snows so he wondered whether he might be called in to work, even though he had arranged to take a few days off. However, the snow turned to rain and even that began to taper off.

His house seemed very nice, certainly Danish, economical and neat. Frankly, I was too tired to notice; by now I had been awake for almost two days. Allan graciously gave up his room to me; I took a much-needed shower and collapsed into bed.

I awoke late the next day; Chris was the only one home, and made me breakfast, wonderful bacon and fresh bread from the neighborhood bakery. He explained that the kids were in school, of course; his wife, Anita, was at work. He, himself, would normally have been at work but he had taken several days off in honor of my visit.

I took a shower. The bathtub was deep, deeper than any I'd seen in the US; and the faucet was unique in my experience. The hot water knob was "active"; it set, not volume of flow directly, but temperature. The flow was set automatically. The shower head was at the end of a flexible pipe (which many US homes have) so I got really clean even though, at the end of that first shower, I discovered I had also gotten the rest of the bathroom pretty thoroughly drenched.

After I had gotten dressed (and dried the bathroom), Chris and I set out to visit the little town of Vejby. We dropped by several shops (in search of a new cartridge for his printer), a combination grocery/department store, and walked down the pedestrians-only street. Now, my home of Snowflake, AZ, is small. Really small, and fairly isolated. Vejby is small, not much bigger than Snowflake; but there's no sense of remoteness or isolation. It is a charming town with a suburb feel: People are healthy, casually dressed in comfortable, well-fitting clothes, and friendly. They are also not insular: They nearly all speak English (since it is taught in the schools) and, once they realized I was not Danish, were happy to speak to me using it.

(I guess I look a little Danish, and I must have gotten the pronunciation of the greeting, hei—pronounced almost like our "hi" but a little shorter—just right, because people casually spoke to me in Danish until I made it clear I didn't understand them. I saw them initially speak English to other tourists who were a little more obviously visitors.)

After shopping, we rejoined Anita and the kids at home and Chris made dinner—an incredibly good roast. But jet lag was hitting me again, so I said goodnight and stumbled into bed.

I should mention the bed. It was hard, flat and small, by American standards. At first I thought this was because it was actually Allan's bed (he was camping in his sister's room for the duration of my visit) and he was, after all, just a kid. I later found out that this seems to be the norm for Scandinavian beds. It was also more comfortable than I expected, and covered, not with sheets and blankets as in America, but with a single sheet to lie on, and a kind of narrow (but very warm) comforter to go on top. I was afraid the unusual (to me) sleeping arrangements might make it hard for me to sleep; but, as I fell asleep in the middle of the thought and didn't complete it till morning, I guessed I was wrong!

København

The Little Mermaid

The next day, after another breakfast, Chris took me to København, capital of Denmark, to sightsee and to visit his father, Jens, and his brother, Peter. We went from place to place, as I quickly snapped pictures. (Unfortunately, my camera turned out to be damaged and none of the pictures came out! Photos on this Web page were not taken by me.)

The statue of the Little Mermaid was a high point, as it is for any visitor. Sitting on a rock just beyond the shore, the tragic Hans Christian Andersen character gazes longingly out to sea.

To visit the statue, we had to park, where I was introduced to an interesting notion. In Denmark, all cars must have a plastic dial and spinner mounted in the upper, passenger side corner of the windshield. When a person parks, he or she sets the spinner to indicate approximately what time he or she arrived. The traffic cops use this information to determine when someone has parked in a space too long. When I asked Chris about it, he said, sure, it would be possible to miss-set the dial. But, if the police come and find the dial set to a time in the future, that's good for a parking ticket. Overall, it seems to me to be a good idea; and does not require expensive, timed parking meters, because it is the car that is doing the timing.

The Troll Forest

Troll Forest

The next day was Saturday, and the kids were off from school and Anita didn't have to go to work; so we went to the beach. Even though it was March, it was winter in Denmark—Chris pointed out they only get a few weeks of summer weather—and there were still patches of snow on the ground. After parking the car, we took a path into the woods, parallel to the beach, to a place where the trees were stunted and grew in fantastic shapes. This is called the Troll's Forest, and is a magical spot.

Why do the trees grow this way? Apparently it is a matter of controversy. Some say the trees here are infected by a virus that causes them to grow in twisted shapes; but, if so, why has the virus not spread? And why does it affect trees of different species? More to the point, why do the youngest trees show no sign of the effect?

In fact, the larger trees are dying. Chris hadn't been here in several years, and thought the number of twisted trees was far fewer than before.

This cause me to develop my own theory. The ground at this spot is soft and spongy, and I saw many examples of trees that had fallen under the weight of the winter snows, but which were still healthy because the soft soil had gone with the roots, keeping them from being exposed. Afterwards, the tree resumed growing upwards, but at its new angle. That meant a sudden twist from it's old upward direction.

But Chris tells me Denmark's water table is falling, undoubtedly an effect of global warming. Now, when a tree topples, its roots are exposed—I saw examples of this—and it dies.

We walked back on the beach; when I dipped my Teva-soled feet into the sea, Chris was amazed. Passersby laughed and asked if my feet weren't cold. All I could do was explain that, after years of whitewater rafting in colder water than this, I was not uncomfortable—and I was not going to miss an opportunity to put my feet in a new body of water!

Later, we visited Karina's school for a gymnastics demonstration. It began with happy little first graders somersaulting with glee. The older kids were impressive; two boys, in particular, looked to be Olympic quality to me. Karina's class might have benefited from going before the older students; but they were still quite capable. To me, the most amazing thing was how happy and joyous the kids were. There was no sign of the kind of ridicule and pressure to perform that had spoiled gymnastics for me when I was in high school.

An American Dinner in Denmark

To attempt to repay Chris and his family for their hospitality, I decided I would cook dinner Saturday night. We went to the grocery store for ingredients. Initially, I decided to make one of my specialties, breast of chicken in a creamy wine sauce, served over pasta. Sounds great, doesn't it? However, you need to understand, I don't cook; I prepare. I can tear on the dotted line better than anyone! The sauce for this meal is actually Chicken Tonight's French Country Wine flavor, prepared according to directions. The spaghetti was my idea. However, when shopping, I discovered, they don't sell Chicken Tonight in any flavor. And, even if they did, the meat department doesn't have boned chicken breast and I don't know how to bone one of the things. So I shifted gears and decided to make a beef stroganoff sort of thing.

Hambuger meat

Fresh mushrooms: check. Terrific looking hamburger meat: check. Frozen peas and carrots: check. (I was trying to imitate the ingredients in Hamburger Helper, you see.) The next ingredient would have been sour cream, but there was something in the dairy department I thought would work even better. It's brand name was Cheezy and it came in a quart (okay a liter) carton like milk. When I asked Chris what it was, he didn't quite have the English vocabulary to explain it; but he said it was sometimes poured on fruit and it really sounded like a liquefied sour cream to me; so we got that, instead.

At home, Karina watched with interest as I sautéed the mushrooms (wonderful smell!), and added and browned the ground beef (even better!). She even maintained an interested expression when I added the vegetables (I didn't know it then, but Chris's family really doesn't like to eat green vegetables. I should have realized it; none had been served since my arrival.) When I started to open the carton of Cheezy, though, she looked startled. "I have never seen that used in this way," she marveled. I should have taken the hint, but I was committed. I poured the stuff into the frying pan.

It was sour, but it was not sour cream. It was more like curds and whey. Actually, it was more like whey. It didn't smell bad, exactly, but it was watery and it soon became apparent it wasn't going to thicken.

What could I do? I served it—there was nothing else to eat. And everyone was so polite. It was a house rule that no one has to eat what they don't like; so everyone worked around the vegetables. They complimented me all through the meal; when I protested—it really was pretty awful—Anita did admit the sauce was a little "thin", but, she said, good.

"Thank you so much for making dinner," Karina said as she scraped most of the contents of her plate into the garbage. "It was very good."

I felt awful but Chris and his family were so genuinely polite that I felt they were wonderful sports and can't wait to try again…if only they can get up the nerve to let me.

Holgar Dansk

Kronburg Castle

The next day, Sunday, we all piled in the car and drove to a Kronburg Castle further along the coast. The place was ancient, built over a period starting in 1574, placed at the narrowest part of the Sound across from Sweden. This was the setting for Shakespeare's Hamlet.

In the basement is a great statue of an old Dane named Holgar. (In Danish, the statue is named Holgar Dansk, "Holgar the Dane". Holgar, a legendary warrior, had traveled the world adventuring until he finally returned home, weary of his journeys. He went to sleep, but promised to awaken should Denmark ever face danger. (Where was he when I cooked dinner the night before??!) It did, of course, face danger in World War II when the Germans occupied it; and Holgar Dansk did, in a sense, awaken: the Danish Underground adopted his name for themselves.

Amsterdam

That night, Chris and the kids took me back to København to catch the train. I had time for one more visit in Europe before catching my plane out of Munich on Tuesday. Where should I go? I looked at the map and found I could go a little to the East, say, Prague, or a little to the West, say, Amsterdam. When Chris and I stopped at the state-run travel agency, I asked the kid behind the counter which would be a more "fun" place to visit. He almost choked, unwilling because of his position to say what he thought of Prague vs. Amsterdam. Finally, grinning, he allowed as how Amsterdam might be thought—by some—as being more fun than Prague, though it certainly depended on what one thought was "fun." So, Amsterdam it was. I got tickets for a sleeper to Amsterdam, and another to Munich.

The Danish sleeper was new and delightful. I was in a compartment for six, but I was the only one in it, although the bunks had sheets and pillows for three. "It looks like I've got it to myself," I said to the conductor, who agreed without, it turns out, understanding. He made sure I knew to lock the door before I went to sleep, and went on his way.

It was already late, so I pulled the curtains shut, locked the door, made the bunk (using two sets of sheets and two of the flat pillows), stripped, and crawled in. I had been asleep for maybe an hour when there was a knock at the door. I peered through the curtains and discovered the conductor, with two other people and their luggage. "Just a minute," I called, as I hurriedly pulled on some clothes. Sure enough, the newcomers were assigned to my compartment! I had to let them in, and then had to pull one of the sheets and a pillow off my bunk for their use—very embarrassing, though they seemed understanding enough.

Amsterdam Street

I slept well enough; and, in the morning, found myself in Amsterdam—a very pretty city. If you go to McDonald's, though, don't order the "McCrockett". This regional sandwich tastes like deep-fried glue and fish parts, though the kid who served it swore it was made from beef. They make glue from hooves, don't they?

As I stood on the platform after a day of wandering, and just as my train pulled in, a kid ran up to me. "Excuse me, do you speak English?" he asked with a British accent. When I said I do, he huffed in relief—"Oh, thank God!"—and continued. "I'm afraid I'm in a bit of a pickle," he said. "I locked all my luggage in the locker this morning, with all my money in it. Now I find I've lost my ticket! They want something like 20 guilder to open it without the ticket, but I don't have it on me—it's all locked up in the locker! I've got 2,000 guilder in there, and I'd be happy to repay you 100 guilder if you can just loan me the 20 now."

I considered. "First of all, I've been using the lockers all day and they only need 15 guilders to open it without a ticket. Second, everyone here speaks English. Thirdly, your best bet will be to make this offer of someone who is not standing on a platform where the train has already arrived. Try asking someone around the lockers—I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding someone to take you up on your offer." I got on the train, happy I had not been taken advantage of. Having kids of my own had, once again, proven to be a good experience!

The trip to Munich was uneventful; so was the subway ride from the Munich hauptbahnhof to the Flughaven (airport). Even the flight back to New York was uneventful, though it seemed to take forever—I had slept most of the way to Europe but for some reason couldn't sleep on the return.

Ten Things I Like About Europe

Unable to sleep, I decided to put the trip in perspective. What had I learned?

  1. Europe is just like here. Nearly everyone speaks English; there are McDonalds located everywhere (and Burger Kings, etc.). Clothes are indistinguishable from those worn at home. Taxi drivers are from Turkey and kids with acne run the counters at McDonalds. Really, for the most part, it's just like home.

  2. People are friendlier than in the US, in general—certainly better-mannered. Or, maybe it's just because they recognized me as a stranger.

  3. Food is excellent, for the most part. German baked goods aren't that exciting, but other things are wonderful.

  4. Danish bacon is incredible—no wonder it's imported here! I always wondered why someone would bother to import bacon when we have our own. Now, I know.

  5. Lufthansa is a better-run airline than any American line I've been on. The food is better, and when a flight is late, they make it good, even feeding you or putting you up at their expense. (In the U.S., the airlines blame every problem on the weather, because the government has told them they aren't responsible for that.)

  6. The trains run more smoothly and quietly than American trains. Are the tracks wider? I don't have another explanation, but even older trains are more pleasant to ride that US or Canadian trains (and I love Canadian trains!).

  7. Things seem safer than here. My one experience with being scammed was pretty mild, and didn't work. Everywhere I saw kids riding their bicycles, and older people walking, and no one exhibited that wary street sense people have at home.

  8. The man on the street in Europe either hasn't heard of Y2K, or doesn't think it will be a problem.

  9. Kids drink beer or wine at home and don't grow into a higher percentage of alcoholics than here. Public advertisements include nudity and they don't seem to grow to be sex perverts, either. I think we spend an awful lot of energy trying to repress things that aren't actually problems.

  10. For all this, I still prefer to live in the U.S. It was good to be home.

Commentary

By: Paul S. Cilwa Topics: #Denmark #SuryaHood #travel Page Views: 799
Commentary on Paul S. Cilwa's trip to Denmark by Surya Hood

This email was received from my sister-in-law, Surya, regarding my trip to Denmark. Since she used to live there—she is Chris' mother—I thought I would include her comments here for those others who may be planning a similar trip.

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