I don’t usually tend to admit ignorance. I grew up the youngest of four intelligent siblings, meaning that to admit ignorance was to admit weakness. Also, I’d usually back myself to know at least as much as the average person on any given country. I feel like Denmark is the exception though, because the average person these days seems to have watched The Bridge and Borgen, and so at this point knows substantially more than me.
How little did I know? Well, for one thing, in my mental map of Europe, Denmark was an enormous single landmass jutting out above Germany, easily the equal of its Scandinavian cousins. To those of you thinking “yeah, that sounds about right”, allow me to take you on a journey of discovery that might just blow your mind, as it did mine.
Denmark basically consists of one peninsula and several large, central islands, with over 400 more islands strewn carelessly all over the place, of which only about 25 percent are even inhabited. The peninsula, Jutland, sticks out into the North and Baltic Seas above Germany. You may have heard of Aalhus and Aalborg, the second and fourth cities of Denmark respectively, which are located here. Next is Sjælland (or Zealand to you and I), which would be I suppose the capital island, if such a concept exists. Aside from Copenhagen, it also has Roskilde, famous for a large music festival held there every summer. In between those is the shortly-named Fyn (Funen), where Odense is located. I tried to remember why I’d heard of Odense, but have a sneaking suspicion it’s only for a semi-successful football team.
Finally we have what I like to think as the “island-and-a-half”. Technically Lolland and Falster are two separate islands, but the channel which divides them is really only a river’s width, and you barely notice as you pass from one to the other. The central town in these parts is Maribo, notable for sounding a bit like a major German sweet manufacturer, but disappointingly of no relation.
Most people coming to Denmark land in Copenhagen and stay there. I don’t blame them; it’s a lovely city, as covered previously on this blog. But the fact is, Denmark as a whole is so small, that there really is no problem staying outside of Copenhagen and travelling in, enjoying the best of both worlds.
For anyone seeking a quiet retreat, Lolland and Falster really are a tourist’s dream. They’re perfectly set up to cater to visitors, from single backpackers looking for easy hiking trails, through to families needing to entertain rowdy kids. The best part of it all is that while the tourist infrastructure is all there, the tourists by-and-large are not. I was there in mid-August, and it often felt like I had the whole island to myself.
I don’t know what I was expecting in Denmark, but it was definitely something a bit harsher, more… Nordic, than what I seemed to get, which was cultivated arable land as far as the eye can see. Especially coming straight from New York, it was blessedly, mercifully peaceful. My soundtrack to the holiday was serenity itself: the gentle waves of the Baltic Sea at Marielyst Strand (voted Denmark’s most beautiful beach for three of the last six years) the rustling of the waist-high corn stalks in the mild breeze. It was bliss. Admittedly there was also the screaming and arguing of my niece and nephews, but they’re not in Denmark anymore, so you’re safe. I’ll give you fair warning if they’re in the area again.
To placate the kids, there’s both a safari park and an organic farm where the little ones can pet the animals and learn about farming near Maribo. We also went to a go-karting track which had attractions for ages three and up. To be honest though, my three-year-old nephew was perfectly happy just wandering around Maribo, looking at the ducks on the lakeside.
For the grown-ups too, Maribo is a beautifully preserved, charming little town in which to spend a quiet morning. There’s a semi-pedestrianised shopping street, Østergade, which was short on big-name chains and big on small-town boutique stores and cafes. From the town square, it’s also a lazy five minute stroll down to the 15th-century cathedral on the lakeside. This austere red-brick structure is not, in-and-of-itself, particularly remarkable, but for three things:
Firstly, there was a temporary exhibition, running along an entire internal wall of the Cathedral, depicting biblical stories re-imagined with modern-day imagery such as cars and phones. This sort of thing wouldn’t be allowed within a hundred metres of an Italian or French church, but I think it shows an admirable attempt on the part of the Danish church to modernise and stay relevant. The exhibition, which unfortunately has ended now, was a copy of a larger piece called the Esbjerg Gospel.
Secondly, the location of the church right on the lakeside, rather than the more traditional centre of town, is a stroke of genius, although I can’t help but feel it would have been improved by having the doors open onto the lakeside rather than the other side. Nonetheless, it really adds to the sense of peaceful reflection that I feel like houses of prayer should always strive for.
Thirdly, the shape of the church from the outside looks like a giant middle-finger salute, which I found endlessly amusing.
To sum up: all the facilities and experiences a tourist could ask for (without any other tourists to ruin them), the most beautiful beach in Denmark, peace and tranquillity, an easy day-trip away from the big city, a humorously shaped church, and wide-open green spaces. To this Wandering Jew, it doesn’t get much better than that.
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-The Wandering Jew-