Exploring Southern Jutland

Having spent a few days in Tønder I can easily imagine that bureaucracy is not the only reason that the community has made it in the wedding business. The town is extremely picturesque, something I must admit that my prejudice and arrogance had prevented me from ever expecting.

Dorte a friend of ours moved to Southern Jutland a few years back and she has been consistent in inviting us to visit her ever since. Born and raised in Copenhagen and with no close family relations beyond Zealand, I’ve pretty much only ever been to Jutland in connection with school camps.

Dorte resides in Tønder, which for the past several years has been known by Danish media, the establishment and the rest of us arrogant capital dwellers as a place where a large child molesting case went on.

On a much happier note it is the European Las Vegas – though without the Rat Pack and neon lights. The reason is simply that while you can get married in Denmark immediately, the process is a whole lot more complicated in Germany and many European couples venture across the border to tie the knot. A modern version of Gretna Green – except here you do not elope from family ties, but escape red tape.

However, having spent a few days in Tønder I can easily imagine that bureaucracy is not the only reason that the community has made it in the wedding business. The town is extremely picturesque, something I must admit that my prejudice and arrogance had prevented me from ever expecting.

In all, Southern Jutland is one of the most beautiful regions of Denmark both in regards to the towns such as Tønder and Sønderborg, which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting during my studies, but also on the countryside.

Our friend lived in the very heart of Tønder and had planned an exciting visit for us. We arrived on Saturday around 11am after having taken a way to early train from Copenhagen and crossed both bridges. First stop for the day was a tour around Tønder.

It was an extremely charming town and full of people out shopping and socialising in the marvellous weather. The sun has barely reached Denmark this July so any chance to get a shy sunburn and the Danes come out in flock. The main square was full of both locals and tourists, mainly Germans who’d crossed the border only a short drive south. Perhaps to shop in the massive Christmas shop in the centre of the town, which seemed to draw a large number of people. Otherwise people were drinking, eating, talking and enjoying the live band which played it up with old 50’s classics as well as the cream de la cream of Danish folk pop.

De første kærester på månen…

Even I, the city girl, had to move my feet under the table sometimes as we enjoyed a roast pork burger (flæskestegsburger), listening to cover versions of TV2’s De første kærester på månen (The First Couple on the Moon)

English translation
And me who was so young
I thought we were meant to be
the first couple on the moon
But our skies
were right here and right now
so we just kept the world going
I thought we were meant to be
the first couple on the moon
I thought we were meant to be ohh uhh ohh
the first couple on the moon
And me who was so wise
I completely thought
that we could walk on the water
But our script
was written in a hurry
the first word lead to the next one
I thought we were meant to be
the first couple on the moon
I thought we were meant to be ohh uhh ohh
the first couple on the moon
The sun is spinning us back
to where everything starts anew
And now we’ve landed here
we’ve got what we need
and we’re still standing
And no matter what
on the last day of school
we’ll be the first couple on the moon
on the last day of school ohh uhh ohh
we’ll be the first couple on the moon
we’ll be the first couple on the moon
we’ll be the first couple on the moon

Sønderjysk kaffebord

Southern Jutland is known for their cakes. At least 14 of them to be exact and at the same time. 7 hard ones and seven soft ones. Adding to this are 7 dry ones, making it a complete 21 cakes to go with that cup of coffee. Because yes there is a lot of cake, but it is still known as a coffee set-up.

The tradition derives from the 1850’s a time when coffee became an everyday commodity in Denmark. But the reason that it is in Southern Jutland that the coffee set-up has developed and integrated so strongly with the local identity, comes from one of the most paradigm shifting events in recent Danish history – the civil war and consequent loss of Southern Jutland to Bismarck and the German League in 1864.

With the secession into Germany, the Danes in Southern Jutland kept their national identity through national meetings. While the Germans did not allow large gatherings and the drinking of alcohol at such meetings they transferred into meetings where coffee was served and the attendants brought their home made baking goods adding to the table.

Our friend had arranged for us to experience an authentic Southern Jutish coffee set-up at a farm out where the crows no longer fly. Fruens Vilje (The will of the Mrs) is a charming café in an old stable barn next to the owners farm house. The stable is full of a mitch-match of cosy old furniture and second hand items for sale. All the cups are thin Chinese cups and the furniture is a display of antiques. The Mrs of the farm is a friendly woman with time for her customers even when it is busy. Her husband is a tall and well build man who looks like a blacksmith or a butcher, which is funny considering that the name of the place strongly indicates that she is the one who gets her will.

Having eaten our fair share of the cake buffet we left to drive south. As all Danes this close to the German border we were planning to shop in the large supermarkets catering to the trailer loving Northern neighbours. We crossed the border at Rudbøl far away from any border patrol. The small village is known for being cut through the middle by the Danish-German border which runs along the middle of the main street. Apparently and according to the brochures I’d picked up there should be indications of the border, but we walked around for ages attempting to figure out when we were home and when we were abroad. It wasn’t until twenty minutes of hiking around that we discovered a small stone in the middle of the road. Quite anti-climatic for the tourist, but perhaps a great proof of how integrated the region of Northern Schleswig (Southern Jutland) and Southern Schleswig is. There is no need to advertise an us and them. Except off course on the beer advertisement which drastically changed from Tuborg to Flensburger Pilsner.

Further into Germany we stopped at a local Calle, Preiss and German Fakta, grabbing candy until we couldn’t carry anymore. Fortunately we were bound by the need to carry our shopping home by train. No trailers full of beer and soda for us.

Returning to Tønder I was so completely full from experiences and having been blown away by the beauty of the Southern Jutish countryside and both Tønder and Rudbøl. The very idea that we had two more days ahead of us seemed unfathomable.

Tønder and Rømø

But the next day I was ready for new adventures. Taking it easy we spent the first couple of hours sightseeing around Tønder while Dorte got a chance to catch Pokémons. Yes we are smack in the middle of the massive trend wave of Pokémon Go. If you read this three years from now, you will be laughing at how completely lost to this everyone was back in 2016 – or you will have reached level 348. Congratulations!

But after enjoying the beauty of Tønder and catching a bat-like creature on Dorte’s smartphone, we headed towards one of the true Danish wonders.

Denmark is made up of a mainland, Jutland, and several inhabited as well as uninhabited islands. A number which is largely unknown and forever changing, but which most sources put at around 400. This archipelago is what makes the flat Danish landmass so fascinating and one of the most extraordinary Danish islands is found not very far from Tønder in the middle of the Wadden Sea which stretches along the Western Jutish coast.

The Wadden Sea is stunning and the islands which it surrounds are magical. Rømø is one of the larger islands and you reach it by driving on a 9.2 km long causeway stretching through the Wadden Sea. Depending on the time of day you will either drive through a marshland or a sea.

Rømø as well as the neighbouring islands were created in storm floods, but when is unknown. The first time it is mentioned is in 1190.

Today Rømø is a magnet for tourists who drive from large parts of Jutland and Germany and all the way out to the wide Sønderstrand. When the tide comes in their cars get stuck in the sand and they have to be pulled free. The Northern beaches are prohibited area for tourists as they are the base of many of the birds in the Wadden Sea.

We went to Sønderstrand, where we swam and enjoyed the sizzling hot July sun. The afternoon ended with a massive ice cream at Lakolk before heading back to Tønder.

Mandø and Ribe

I had been looking forward to this day for a very long time. Dorte had planned for us to go on a seal safari on Mandø, another of the Wadden Sea islands.

Unlike Rømø, Mandø is a bit difficult to reach as it depends on the tide. Fortunately we didn’t have to drive Dorte’s small red car through the dirt roads fearing the tide coming in. We had booked a spot on the Mandø Traktorbus organised by the local Mandø Kro (Mandø Tavern). In addition we’d booked a tour further out to Koresand a desert like area Southwest of Mandø to gaze at seals.

I absolutely adore seals. Ever since I was a little girl and Nissebanden i Grønland was aired for the first time, I have been fascinated by seals (even though it was a sea lion in the show). And while I’ve always related them to Greenland, there are quite a lot of seals in the Danish seas. Some of them at Koresand.

We set out at ten from the mainland driving for an hour or so to reach Mandø. I was hanging over the bus most of the way snapping pictures at the magnificent Wadden Sea as it lay waiting for the tide. Oisters were spread around the ground and birds were enjoying the full chamber of food. Reaching Mandø sheep began to dot the now higher up landscape protected from the tide.

The bus finally reached the surrounding dike making its way across it and finally showing us the idyllic beauty of Mandø. 37 people live on the island though many more come to visit the nature reserve. There is an absolutely beautiful windmill in Mandø town which is some of the first you see when arriving with the bus.

The name

Mandø would in modern Danish translate to Isle of Man, and it is argued that the name derives from a certain episode in 1558 when a storm flood left most of the island desolate. According to legend only seven men survived because they were working at the mainland that day. These seven men found wives in nearby Ho and Fanø before resettling Mandø, which again gave the island its name.

Sand and seals

After a short stop in Mandø town we got on another tractor bus which took us across the sand masses of Koresand. For 45 minutes we travelled in a fairy tale landscape with sand as far as you could see, only ever broken by views of the sea. While similar to a desert the sand here lays flat. It is muddied from the sea and you can find razor shells and seashells everywhere.

 Koresand is not broken by the tide, but remains dry. It is a strangely surreal place where the only evidence of civilization are the paths of the tractor bus from former trips.

At the very edge of Koresand we stopped. 200 meters away to the right lay a colony of seals enjoying the warm summer day. We reached within 50 to 70 meters of them gazing their way as they gazed towards us. they are curious creatures and some of them took the dive to swim closer and pop their heads atop the water 20 meters from where we stood. I was mesmerized. So beautiful they were and so peaceful. the idea that even in our modern times there are still places where nature remains undisturbed from the hustle and bustle of man.

After returning to Mandø town we enjoyed a buffet at Mandø Tavern complete with seven kinds of herring and a bottle of the local brew.

But the day was still young and as we drove with the tractor bus across the causeway back to the mainland, we could glimpse Ribe Cathedral in the horizon.

Ribe

Ribe is the eldest extant town in Scandinavia and can be traced back to some time between 704 and 710 AD when a parcelled out market square was built.

In 860 AD Saint Ansgar build a church in Ribe. It was the second church in the Danish Kingdom and the first in present day Denmark (as the first lay in Hedeby, present day Germany).

It is as such a historically significant town, but thankfully it has also remained a beautiful medieval town dominated by Ribe Cathedral which was built from 1110-1134 and which some argue lies where the original church of Saint Ansgar was build.

I liked the church, but somehow it lost some of its atmosphere due to the modern altarpiece, decorations and mosaics which were created by Carl Henning Pedersen in 1987. I prefer my church interior to be less modern.

The rest of Ribe, however, is charming and with Dorte as our guide we got to see both the tourist main routes as well as the hidden little gems.

After a few hours wondering around Ribe, we drove to the train station in Tinglev where we got on the train to cross the two bridges and return to Copenhagen.

I usually travel to exotic and significant destinations abroad, writing about far away places or foreign capitals full of culture and history. In my quest to discover the world, I have forgotten to enjoy and appreciate the country that is my own. These past few days have opened my eyes to the beauty of the Danish country side and the Southern Jutish towns and the natural wonders of the Wadden Sea. I am mighty happy to have stayed home this summer, and to have explored such a historically and culturally rich region.

Zofka

A short weekend in Oslo

Standing there with Oslo behind me and the large expansive sea surrounded by far away shores made me feel as if I had reached the very edge. That should I sail out of the fjord I would fall from the earth.

My boyfriend gave me a trip to Oslo when I turned 30. Closing in on 32 we finally found a weekend for our inter-Scandinavian getaway.

Oslo is connected to Copenhagen by boat and many Danes as well as Norwegians go on a so-called mini cruise with two nights at sea and eight hours in the foreign capital. We call it Oslobåden. In Norway they are equally original – naming it Danskerbåten.

While cruises have never been my thing the sailing on the Oslo fjord should be an absolutely brautiful journey.

But sailing too and from Oslo seemed a bit too much cruise fun for us and my boyfriend, who has visited Oslo before, really wanted to show me the city. And eight hours is not enough to really get to know Oslo.

So we decided to fly to Oslo with Norwegian on Friday afternoon and sailing from Oslo on Monday afternoon landing us at the Amerikakaj (America dock) in Copenhagen a quarter to 10 the next morning.

It was a perfect amount of time to discover the small yet pleasant capital of Norway.

We’d booked a hotel close to Stortinget and Karl Johan Gatan, which is the main thoroughfare of central Oslo.

Arriving at Centralstasjonen which lie at the one end of Karl Johan Gatan, I was somewhat surprised at the number of beggars. Mainly gypsies. The street was otherwise quiet with only a few shoppers and tourists in comparison to the central street in Copenhagen – Strøget, which is smack full of people during most days, particularly in summer time.

At the other end of Karl Johan Gatan lies the Royal Palace and if we’d only had eight hours they would have been spent with a walk up and down from Centralstasjonen to the palace. However, we were strolling along with our carry-ons looking out for our hotel. And managed to get lost – that is – have a pleasant walk down a few sidestreets before finding the one on which HTL Karl Johan lay.

After checking in at our hotel and finding our very small but very comfortable room we went out to enjoy the summernight in Oslo.

We made our way towards one of Oslo’s most magnificent buildings and a beautiful addition to the harbour front – The Oslo Operahouse. Coming from Copenhagen where a rich man has donated a monstrosity of an opera to the city, it was a pleasant surprise to marvel at the operahouse slash skiing slope in Oslo. And as everyone else we decided to take a walk up the roof to the very top and to gaze out over Oslo centre and the connecting harbour and fjord. The sun was stil hanging in the sky giving a wonderful light in the late evening.

We promenaded from the opera bypassing Akershus Castle but finding a small green terrace with a few benches which offered a marvellous view of the busy harbour and cityhall as well as the modern Aker Brygge.

So this was where all the people hung out. Particularly the dockside of Aker Brygge was full of people enjoying the warm summer night.

Not to be outdone by everyone else we decided to promenade the length of the dock.

The buildings are as many modern glass and brick buildings not very pretty but the way they stood side by side creating a vista of change was very pleasant. Moreover there are several beautifiul and interesting buildings on the dock. One of them was Restaurant Onda on Tingvalla Pier, which I found extremely beautiful.

Further down, the path led trough the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art with its beautifully curved angles.

The dock ended in a harbour swim with a magnificent view of Oslo fjord. I have rarely had the feeling of standing at the edge of the world. But standing there with Oslo behind me and the large expansive sea surrounded by far away shores made me feel as if I had reached the very edge. That should I sail out of the fjord I would fall from the earth.

I wonder if ever in times past others have felt as well gazing out onto the sea from Oslo. Off course my thoughts were nonsense. The fjord itself would take hours to sail and the open sea would be very limited and land you on the northern tip of the Danish coast rather than into nothingness. But for several days I would engage the feeling of being at the very edge of the world in a land of great explorations into the unknown.

We ended our night stroll attempting to find a place to get a drink, but I must admit that while the average prices are only slightly higher than at home, the price for alcohol is frighteningly extreme. Thus, I was not too enthusiastic about getting a pint somewhere, and with no luck on our walk back we decided instead to call it a night.

Sightseeing in Oslo

We’d booked breakfast at the hotel. For an extra 75 NOK a day we figured it was likely our cheapest option. It also proved out to be an extreme tasty one and with a possibility of loading up on free café latte before stepping onto the streets of Oslo – and Latte is not cheap in Oslo.

My boyfriend had planned for quite the walk on our first full day in Oslo. As always we’d incidently planned it so that we would do the great sightseeing tour on the first day.

We began the day by taking a bus out to the romantic St. Hanshaugen Park, strolling up to the beautiful building Tårnhuset and looking out over the city of Oslo. We walked down through pleasant streets to Gamle Aker kirke (Old Aker Church) which is the eldest church and even building in Oslo reaching back to the 11th century. The church was named the first time in the 1180 Law of the Borgarting as one of six public churches.

It is a charming church with a beautiful old graveyard surrounding it and once again with great views of the surrounding areas. After a refreshing break under the shade of the trees we continued through Vår Frelsers gravlund, where many of Norway’s most central historical figures are buried. In our attempt to find Henrik Ibsen we got severely lost and though we found many other famous graves and were equipped with a map, we never managed to find his.

From there we made our descend downhill walking through the picturesque Damstredet, with old houses and cobble stones. Crossing Akerselva we found ourselves in the hipster neighbourhood in Oslo, Grünerløkka where we enjoyed a fancy burger at one of the countless hip cafés. It seemed the perfect day to sit outside one of the countless fancy burger houses lining the main street.

We wanted to make our way to the Grønland neighbourhood by way of the University’s Botanical Garden, but we were incapable of finding our way out the other end and with a few drops of rain promising a heavier rainfall to follow, we decided to check out the Edvard Munch Museum.

I was not overly pleased with the museum and don’t really understand the hype. The fact that his most well-known piece is on exhibition at the National Museum of Oslo indicates the low priority of this museum.

We ended our sightseeing tour by taking the subway to the National Museum, which though being small in comparison to other museums of the same kind, was nonetheless a pleasant experience.

We not only got to see the infamous The Scream as well as a very interesting temporary exhibition Japanomania in the North 1875–1918, which showed the Japanese influence in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish paintings.

After a final walk around the area of the National Museum we found our way to the excellent Elias Mat & Sant to get a taste of the Norwegian kitchen and try out their reindeer dish.

Nordmarka and Bygdøy

On our second day in Oslo my boyfriend had decided that we should get out and enjoy nature while I was dead set on seeing Bygdøy and its many museums.

Nordmarka

We began by heading off towards Nordmarka – a name that brings associations to Rohan in Lord of the Rings, but simply means North forest. Our trip went by train northwards (funny enough) and into the surrounding hills. We got off at … as a light trickle of rain began. Worried that we’d get caught in the rain in the middle of nowhere and with my feet hurting, we were close to turning back, but as so many times before the wish to explore won out.

And thank goodness for that since the rain soon stopped and I forgot all about my hurt foot because of the peaceful quietness of the forest. What is so amazing about Nordmarka unlike a Danish forest is that the roots lie bare on the forest floor which is mainly rocks.

The trails were well marked and after a few hours we managed to return to civilisation. It was a very pleasant and close by break from city life and perhaps the true explanation to why Oslo is so dead even in the weekends. While Copenhagen and Stockholm, which I have yet to visit, are grand cultural cities, the Norwegians always prioritised their amazing nature and recreational possibilities. Thus, while Oslo is small sized and can seem dead, the Norwegian mountainside and recreational areas are full of Norwegians skiing, hiking and enjoying that one thing which makes Norway absolutely unique – the Norwegian nature.

Bygdøy

In a whirlwind we passed through the city in order to reach the bus from the harbour taking us out to Bygdøy. Here we began at the Viking Ship Museum gazing at the beautifully crafted ships. So detailed and yet so light, the ships were well positioned in the beautiful halls of the museum which was built back in 1926. But it is a small museum with little to explore beyond the ships themselves.

Fortunately there are plans to expand the museum. In fact it is not many months ago that it was announced that Danish architectural firm AART Architects won the competition to build an extension to the current museum. A project which will commence in 2020 and seems extremely promising.

Next up we visited Norsk Folkemuseum (the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History) taking a pleasurable walk through the open air parts of the museum. Here we looked into some of the more than 150 buildings, which have been relocated from towns and rural districts all over Norway.

The main attraction here is without a doubt the Gol Stave Church which is originally from Gol in Hallingdal, Norway where it was built after 1216 though some parts reach back as far as 1157. I’d honestly imagined it to be bigger than it was, and in some way it reminded me of a child’s play house. But it is impossible to deny that it is a marvellous piece of cultural history. We ended up sitting in the clearing gazing at the beautiful structure for nearly an hour before turning our attention to the rest of the houses all representing different time periods and regions of Norway.

After our visit we walked towards the boat through a lovely and very wealthy neighbourhood on Bygdøy where all the villas were white giving it a romantic feel.

Vigeland, Akershus and Oslobåden

There is one tourist attraction which stands out in Oslo and which has people coming from all over – the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

The Vigeland Sculpture Park

On the day we were leaving, we started out at this massive and in many ways weird place with hundreds of statues of naked men, women and children. It is an odd place and I am sure that artistic minds can draw loads of philosophical ideas from whatever the sculptor Gustav Vigeland might have thought when constructing it between the 1920s and his death in 1943. But to me it seemed an overabundance of human sculptures in all kinds of poses from gymnastics to sports to what I can only assume would be not very comfortable positions to take.

One million people visit the sculpture park every year, and I can’t help wonder what draws them. Yes, the sculptures are fascinating, but I found the park itself far more pleasing.

We ended up walking all the way from the park and through the well-off neighbourhoods Majorstuen and Uranienborg to the Royal Palace before getting our luggage from the hotel.

Akershus

But don’t worry. The ship was not leaving until 4 pm and along with our carry-ons we made our way from the hotel and up to Akershus castle, where I was having a war with crossing the many cobblestoned streets.

The castle and fortress was constructed around 1300 in order to protect Oslo from attacks, which it did successfully for centuries. Particularly the Swedes have been unfortunate in their attempt to besiege the castle, though the Danes have also had their attempts.

Today it is used when foreign dignitaries visit the government and royal family as well as a burial site for the latter. It is a very beautiful building and I was extremely saddened to see how a massive cruise ship lay anchored in front and on level with Akersnæs the hills on which Akershus stands. It completely obscured the view to and from Akershus and most of the otherwise magnificent Oslo harbour front.

Newlyweds and nearly deads

Personally, I hate cruise ships. They destroy the environment and anchor in places which are not at all geared to them. We used to say in the airport in Copenhagen that they were meant for the newlyweds and the nearly deads because of the large amount of retired people and honeymooners choosing this form of holidaying. I hope that Oslo will find a way to accommodate these massive and in my opinion ugly boats further away from the centre.

And yes I might be a hypocrite since I was on my way towards Oslobåden, which by definition is a mini cruise. But this is a well maintained route which has existed as a link between Oslo and Copenhagen since 1866 and anchors away from the historical centres of both cities. This is not to mention that it is a minion compared to the new mastodons sailing around Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea.

What Oslobåden does best is offering an amazing journey through Oslofjord, which we enjoyed to the full as we stood at the back of the ship leaving behind the Norwegian capital and tipping over the edge of the world.

This good-bye to Norway is followed by a beautiful morning hello to the Danish and Southern Swedish coasts as the ship makes it way into the Øresund strait which is the main highway to the Baltic Sea. Watching the Danish coasts as Kronborg comes into view makes that tiny voice inside yourself feel a bit pleased to call these coasts home.

It felt so good to return after such an amazing weekend in sunny Oslo.

Zofka