So, Denmark is my new favourite place to be.
Early Friday morning, Will and I were up in the dark throwing our bags together, heating up a quick breakfast of couscous (a tradition I picked up way back in Tunisia, 2008), and heading out to shiver on the sidewalk in the cold dark pre-dawn mist to wait for my family. They pulled up after a while in two tiny European rental cars. The boys were already nodding off again in the back, but my little “rental sister” Bethany was wide-eyed and awake, bundled up and peeking out the window at the world around her. We were off.
Ribe, Denmark is about an 8-hour drive away from Groningen, the Netherlands. It felt unbelievably good to be on the road again. Sounds weird, but there’s a big difference between taking the train and being cozied up in your own car with snacks and music and good conversation. I’ve been missing the long highways of North America. You could be anywhere when you’re on the road. The fields and forests here look similar enough to those back home that I can almost trick my mind into thinking I’m somewhere else, except for the occasional windmill or tell-tale Dutch farmhouse. I don’t know why I play that game with myself. Where are we today, Hannah? I don’t know, it’s a mystery! At least, it was, until we crossed the border into Denmark.
Denmark has a very distinctive look to it. The trees are twisted and gnarled and more like shrubs than proper trees – a bit like the shrubbery near the Grand Canyon, if you’ve ever seen that. The ground is flat as hell and boggy. The farmed land almost completely disappeared, to be replaced with long stretches of salt marsh inhabited by enormous flocks of birds. The reeds and tall grass glittered sharply with a thin, even coating of ice that covered everything. Viking land, for sure. The sky was always bright and clear, which felt almost blinding after the near-constant grey of winter in the Netherlands. I felt like Gollum emerging from his cave. But everywhere we went, there was something incredibly beautiful to look at. This scenery, man. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Take a look:
Can you imagine living up here back in the days of the Vikings? We visited an archaeological dig and had a poke around an old Viking town. I’ve been listening to a series of Norse folktales collected and retold by Neil Gehman as we’ve been driving. There’s nothing like hearing tales of Loki and Odin and the other Norse gods while driving across the frozen land they hail from. Also, those stories are surprisingly hilarious. We’ve got Loki acting like a typical younger brother, causing problems left and right and trying to get himself out of them again – while Ezra is in the back seat doing the same thing. I guess humanity’s base characteristics don’t change much, do they?
We spent a couple days on an island off the coast, taking little day trips from there to explore. I didn’t make it up to Copenhagen, unfortunately. It was just too far away to be manageable on the time we had. But we did explore some nearby towns. In some ways, they’re not much different than the towns I’ve seen in Germany and the Netherlands. There’s the same focus on small buildings and narrow cobblestone streets, the same heavy wooden beams and sloping roofs. However (and it took me a while to put my finger on this), houses in the Netherlands and Germany are almost oddly perfect. Everything is neat and tidy and organized flawlessly. There are no weird angles, no tufts of grass growing between the stones of the driveways, no stains or imperfections on the outer walls. In Denmark, though, everything is… crooked. The windows are all shaped slightly differently. The door lintel is at a weird angle. The roof is mossy and lumpy. The streets are uneven. And as a result, everything looks comfortable and old and quirky and full of character. I love it.
Sadly, we’re on our way home now. My second semester at the University of Groningen begins today, technically, though I don’t really have classes for another week. My family will be here for another few days and then will head onward to Amsterdam and then home again. It’s seeming more and more likely that Will is going to be headed back as well on the 14th. There’s still a chance that the visa will come through, but this close to the deadline, I’m doubting it. For now, I’m soaking up all the time I can get with my people. When they all leave, I’ll be starting over again with my community building. All my friends here in Groningen were one-semester students who have flown back home over the past few days. So here we go again! I think a few of them will stay in touch long-term.
Next adventure: Skiing in the Alps! Stay tuned.
More photos from Denmark: