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Sunday, May 24, 2009, in Nyborg, Denmark

Hi all. We’re on the island of Fyn (remember we were all here in 1970?) on the Stor Bælt (the Big Belt) in Denmark. If you look at Denmark’s map, there are two channels going past Fyn, one wide and one narrow. We did the narrow one (the Little Belt) in 2000, so this time we’re taking a different route. Last week, we had just arrived in Ebeltoft.

It was about five in the evening before we left the boat for a short walk. We walked through the old town for a few blocks, but the chill in the air and the breeze made us consider other ways to enjoy the town. We stopped in at a bar on the main street in the old town.

I thought that the smashed pane in the front door was a rustic touch. I learned later that there had been a fight in the bar earlier in the day, and one of the participants had been taken away in handcuffs. Whether it was the guy who’d put his fist through the door, I’ll never know.

The room stank of cigarette smoke, and only two seats were available for us to sit at the bar. There were more people in here than we’d seen in the rest of our walk through town. Everyone at the bar had a bottle and a glass. Art looked around and said, ���Now I know what everybody does on Sunday.”

The weather degraded, and I was glad to get back to the boat for a quiet evening. In the morning, the sun was shining, and I overdressed, as I often mistakenly do in this region. We needed to mail a letter, so we walked to the post office, which was in a large supermarket, and then strolled on the cobblestone streets, with no other motivation than to enjoy the town.

This was our second leisure visit to Ebeltoft, so we’d already seen the sights. There’s an old frigate in the harbor, and a museum devoted to its restoration. There’s a glass museum, too, that we passed up before and we were no more interested on this visit. All of the other activities we’d done on our previous visit – watch the night watchmen close up the town, look at street performers, poke around shops – were summer pursuits. Many of the shops wouldn’t open for a week or two. There was a group of children noisily roaming around town on a school trip, and small groups of retirees wandering the streets. So we simply walked around and tried to remember what we’d seen before and whether anything had changed.

It’s Ebeltoft’s nature not to change too much. The town just recently celebrated its 700th birthday. The streets in the older part of town are crammed with half-timbered houses, whose bottom halves bulge out and whose windows have rotated out of line with each other. The roofs look as though they crush the rest of the house into the ground. The houses look alive, as if they might start dancing, like in an old cartoon. Maybe they looked straight to the guys coming out of the bar on a Sunday afternoon, but in the bright light of Monday, they looked exhausted.

It’s common in many towns for shopkeepers to roll a rack or two of wares out onto the sidewalk of a pedestrian shopping street during the hours the shop is open as a way to lure in customers. In Ebeltoft, the streets must have been covered in stone before anyone thought to grade them. So Ebeltoft’s merchants have the racks in the street, but they���ve sandbagged over the wheels on the bottom to keep their stock from rolling away.

We had lunch in an outdoor café by one of the misshapen medieval buildings. In deference to our study of Danish cuisine, Art had frikadeller, Danish meatballs made with pork and veal. I ordered a stjernesskud, which means “shooting star”. I don’t know why we never noticed these dishes before. They’re in every casual restaurant. My shooting star was an interpretation of the Danish open-faced sandwich that rests a breaded, fried flat fish and another generous white fish, this one not breaded, on a thick piece of toast, dressed with rémoulade sauce (violating nearly every tenet of my low-carbohydrate regimen). Topping that is a pile of tiny shrimp and black caviar and a garnish of fresh dill. The Danes do know how to make a sandwich.

Moseying around the town in May isn’t quite the holiday experience it is in July, when balmier air draws vendors and street performers, beachgoers and tourists, but it’s still a trip back to simpler times. We stopped at the tourist office and planned a day trip to Århus for the next day. Just because we might not fit into the harbor shouldn’t mean that we couldn’t see it.

Århus is the second-largest city in Denmark, and a quite old place at that. The Vikings probably settled it in about 700 AD. From recent archaeological finds, it’s likely that this was a city of significance. Århus is located in about the geographical center of the country, and became an important trade center.

The bus left us very close to the main shopping street (called Strøget, just like Copenhagen’s). There are some museums in town, such as a Viking museum and a well-regarded open-air museum. But that’s not normally how we visit cities. Cities represent our opportunity to visit department stores, high-end supermarkets, and specialized shops. We don’t need anything. To us, these places have been like museums. And we spent many days last season in Norway poking through Viking culture and cultural exhibits. So we dove into department stores, like Salling, and Magasin. Our approach is always the same. We go to the highest floor we want to visit, and work our way down.

In the afternoon, we visited the Århus Cathedral, which boasts the longest nave in Denmark (93 meters or more than 100 yards long). The original church was begun at the end of the 12th century, though it didn’t reach this size until 1500. At one time, the church walls were completely covered with frescoes, but these were whitewashed during the sixteenth century and the well-intentioned Reformation. More recently, the frescoes are being rediscovered and restored. They’re vibrant and creative and somewhat primitive. History apparently consists of good people intentionally undoing the good intentions of others who undid the good intentions of someone else.

And now a word about actual people on boats, or at least me on a boat, as compared with Johnny Depp, for example. In Ebeltoft, we were docked alongside a concrete wall in the commercial harbor. That’s a typical place for us to tie up. Unlike Norway, where in some places the tides were actually scary, there’s hardly any tide in Denmark. But it means that wherever our decks happen to meet the wall, that’s where they are whenever we get on or off.

There was about a three-foot (1-meter) distance between the deck of the boat and the wall on land. This meant that it was a large, somewhat ungainly step up for Art to climb off of the boat or step down to get back on. He could achieve this with some assurance of security by holding onto the rigging on the way down or the lifelines on the way up.

For me, it’s a little steeper. To get off of the boat, I pull myself up by whatever I can grab on land. Sometimes that’s Art. Sometimes it’s a rock. It’s not very graceful. I look a little like the first amphibian that came out of the sea. To get back on, I sit on the seawall like one of those garden angels and plunk myself down. For some reason, I’m much more fluid in my movements when we’re docking or undocking, but of course during those moments I’m filled with adrenaline (and I’m also not carrying the cherished BlackBerry). All in all, it’s important to note that I won’t be accepting any invitations that might require me to wear a long gown during the disembarkation process.

This wasn’t a bit of a problem when it came time to leave Ebeltoft. It was our first dead calm day. We were blown gently off of the dock and made our departure into flat seas. It was a sixty-mile motor to Nyborg. The horizon was a movie of undulating countryside, interrupted by the occasional old windmill and the frequent modern one.

We’d contemplated making this trip in two pieces, going somewhere to anchor for one night before heading to Nyborg for the weekend. But we learned that our travel day was the beginning of a four-day weekend (Ascension Day), and that the weather didn’t look good for any time after that. So we decided to get ourselves settled somewhere and avoid the crowds and the clouds.

We were surprised to see the flat seas rippled by black bodies – dolphins, as it turned out. They were small and black but unmistakable. I was disappointed that they completely ignored us; the dolphins I’ve seen elsewhere like to play in the bow wave made by the boat, like a child in a summer sprinkler. But these small black ones were quite snobby.

The bridge between Zealand (Copenhagen’s island) and Fyn (or Funen), is 18 kilometers long, about 11 miles. Until this bridge was completed, Nyborg was the destination for traffic to Fyn, and recent years have seen redevelopment of the harbor area. Old warehouses have given way to holiday housing, amid debate among the residents.

By afternoon, we’d docked alongside a café in Nyborg. A blond woman accompanied by a cameraman took my lines adeptly, though she claimed she’d never done it before. She turned out to be the weather person who’d provide a TV update during Denmark’s “All-Stars” show the next night. It’s their version of “American Idol” or “Britain’s Got Talent.” It runs on a television channel we can pick up for free over the air, so we made a note to watch it. As Art and I have never seen a reality show of any kind, this means that we’d be the only people on the planet who’d watch this type of show only when there’s something else on it besides the competitors. It’s a little like reading Playboy magazine for the articles. In the end, we got distracted and forgot to watch.

Odense, the hometown of Hans Christian Andersen, was only a single train stop away, so we decided to spend a day there. Odense is the main city on the island of Fyn. We arrived in the morning with no plans at all to follow HC around town. You can’t really help it, though. There are sculptures all around the place that pay tribute to characters from his stories. There are plaques on all the buildings that he might have been inside at one time. Even the main church brags that he had his confirmation there. But there’s more to Odense than its storyteller’s life story. There’s public art all over the town. Much of it is haunting − modern renditions of aching themes. Some is simple and playful. The large form of a reclining woman in the town hall square was permanently festooned with children sitting on her head.

We walked the maze of pedestrian-only shopping streets, as always. There’s an electronic display with a continuously updating number that represents how many bicyclists have passed any of several electric eyes around the city center. We walked through the main cathedral in town, dedicated to Saint Knud (quick! Who isn’t thinking about Garrison Keillor right now?)

Saint Knud was the second son of King Sven Estridsen. He was born about 1040 and ruled Denmark from 1080-1086. Rumor has it that he stole relics of St Alban from Ely, which he then deposited in St Alban's Priory which he had founded in Odense. No doubt that was just a teenage prank for the saint-in-training. By the time he became King, the country was dominated by a feudal system of landowners, who weren’t as keen as he was for centralized power. Through a strategic combination of religious zeal, economic control, and a hanging or two, Knud achieved leadership by, um, consensus. He was martyred. Well, he was murdered. Here’s part of the Wikipedia entry about the martyrdom of this saint:

When the peasants and their leaders realized the king was at Odense, they raced to the king's farm, but Canute and Benedict fled into the little timber church of St Albans Priory, near the river for sanctuary. The rebels refused to recognize sanctuary. "Come out to us, you devil. Too long you have used the edge of your sword to hurt your own people. Now you will feel the edge of our weapons!" Prince Benedict and several others defended the doors. The mob hurled stones and arrows through the windows shouting, "This is for stealing my cow! This is for taking my horses!" ….They began tearing at the timber walls to get access. ….The floors ran with blood. "There he is!" shouted Blak, but before the traitor could move against the king, he was slain by Prince Benedict. The mob hacked Prince Benedict to death. Canute had received communion and tradition says he offered no resistance when he was killed at the main altar.

Just like Mother Theresa he was. The church was nice, though. HC was confirmed there.

We took a side trip into a bakery for brunsviger cake, which is a sweet bread topped with a sugary topping similar to sticky buns. It’s a Fyn tradition, and was therefore a necessary adventure and not subject to dietary restrictions. I could have eaten three of them.

I was finally beginning to appreciate the mellowing weather. Spring is in full flower, and the foliage burst with white and green and purple. So much purple! The leaves of birch trees, the delicate spring flowers that will give way to deep summer green leaves, and tulips that are near-black. Generally, I’ll trade a bad day in Florida for nearly any northern day. But sometimes I find myself in “the spring moment” (and less often, “the fall moment”) and I understand the appeal of the change of seasons.

Our walk was interrupted a few times by showers that came down hard, but lasted only minutes. We’d follow the lead of the locals and ducked under trees, awnings, anything that provided cover. As soon as the rain let up, we’d move on until the next shower. Nobody in Denmark under 80 carries an umbrella.

Our last walk of the day was between the train station in Nyborg and the boat, and we barely made it back before another shower broke. This one wasn’t quite as wet as the others, sounding like a drum roll over our heads. When it ended, white pebbles of hail were all over the deck.

We’ll be in Nyborg for a few more days, and then we’ll continue south. We’ll be in Denmark for about another week.

Happy Memorial Day weekend.

Love, Karen (and Art)