What fun to meet up with Keld, an exchange student from Denmark who stayed with us during his high school years. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Denmark Reunion

A childhood book and an exchange student brought me to Denmark. Since my childhood, I have wanted to travel to the Scandinavian countries.

That desire was triggered by a picture book, The Surprise Doll, a book I read over and over as a young girl. It tells the story of a little girl from Scandinavia whose father was a sea captain, and each time he returned home from the sea, he brought this little girl a doll from a foreign country. She had one doll for every day of the week but Sunday and she wanted just one more. She asked her father for another doll and he said no, six dolls were enough for any little girl. (Remember, this book was written sixty years ago.) The little girl wasn’t satisfied, so she put her six dolls in her doll carriage and off she went to the village to see the doll maker. He was kind and patient and told her to leave her six dolls with him for one week and then to come back. She went home and patiently marked off every day on her calendar and then returned to the doll maker. He had made a doll that looked just like her.

Throughout my life, different things besides the children’s book also increased my desire to travel, and almost 30 years ago, we hosted an exchange student from Denmark. I learned so much from Keld, our exchange student, that I wanted to go there. More importantly, I promised Keld that I would visit him and his family.

While he stayed with us, Keld integrated into our family. Our son and daughter were in high school at the same time, involved with the same sports and activities, and it was a great experience to have Keld with us. Keld played on the ski team and the soccer team, and he traveled with us to Disney World. Our son Michael went back with Keld and spent a summer at their summer home on a small island, sailing and enjoying life by the ocean. Two years later, they toured Europe together in the summer. Keld became a lifelong friend of the family.

Finally, I kept my promise and came to Denmark to see Keld and to meet his family for the first time.  I was very excited when I arrived at the airport near Copenhagen and Keld was there to greet me.

I was happy to see that Keld was the same fun, happy, energetic, bright man who lived with us while a senior in high school. It was evening when we reached his summer home in Assens, and I could have called it a day, but Keld had prepared a lovely dinner—something that was not among his talents when he was a young exchange student. We planned to catch up the next morning, since we had both taken long journeys: the day before, Keld had driven from Switzerland where he lives now and has a business, and I had traveled from above the Arctic Circle in Norway on three flights, with long drives to and from airports.

Keld thought it would be pleasant to walk about his coastal town of Assens, Denmark. A coastal path goes by his front door, so off we went in the morning. The ocean breeze blew in our faces. In the distance, we saw several sail boats, and at sea, a tanker or two coming and going to the nearby port. The path led into a large bird sanctuary. I was startled by a nesting swan that took flight as I walked along. Several other swans were swimming gracefully in an inlet pond.

These kolonihaves offer a gardening retreat in Denmark. Photo by Madelyn Given.

These kolonihaves offer a gardening retreat in Denmark.

Keld and I walked from the shoreline back though the old town of Assens. For centuries it had been an important port for ferries between Jutland and Funen; now there are bridges between the islands and Germany. We walked through lovely city parks and to an area of tiny miniature garden houses. Here in a gated area, people who own homes in the inner city have purchased a tiny plot where they build a kolonihave, a tiny garden house. They come here to tend their flower and vegetable garden and relax. The owners and families cannot live here—it is only for their day use.

Exploring an old section of Assens, Denmark. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Exploring an old section of Assens, Denmark.

We walked throughout Assens, taking time to stop at an art museum and later have a cup of tea. We walked through city streets and old sections of cobblestone squares, all the way to the harbor and past the marina, which had many sail boats and the ship yard. We made it back to Keld’s place after spending the day catching up, and at the same time, I had enjoyed a great walking tour of a beautiful place in Denmark.

(posted October 25, 2016)

Chilly waters on Kvalvika Beach, Norway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Lofoten, Norway, Part 2

The weather was warm and sunny while I was above the Arctic Circle this summer, due to 23 hours of daylight. The Lofoten Islands are known for a distinctive landscape of jagged peaks, windswept grasslands, open sea, sheltered bays, and white sand beaches. I was excited to hike here where the mountains are exposed, with rock bordering the ocean, and visibility is fantastic. I was staying in a quaint fishing village bordered by a high wall of mountains behind it, with a protected harbor from the sea. It was a peaceful, back-to-nature place that still exists, whereas some of the old fishing villages are now abandoned.

Hiking up Vestvagoya in Noway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Hiking up Vestvagoya in Noway.

Led by our guides Anna and Annasteina, one day our small group hiked on Vestvagoya, a steep, exposed trail, with the ocean touching the base of the mountain, far below where we hiked. It was a day-long hike and ended with a walk on the white sand beach. I threw off my hiking boots, looked around to see if anyone was going to join me, and then waded alone into the cold Arctic water. It felt great after hiking, but that pleasant sensation lasted only a very few minutes before the blast of cold began penetrating my toes. There were several surfers in full diving suits in the water or on their boards.

Another day we spent hiking more gentle trails through grasslands, hills, and harbors. After hiking all day, our small group would enjoy a great meal by native chefs. The fish is caught daily and served the same evening. The meal was well prepared and we dined in a casual, friendly atmosphere. The islands have become a great place to hike in the summer, ski in the winter, and view the Northern Lights.

Soon it was time to leave Lofoten and Norway, but I would take with me many happy memories of hiking in different regions, the friendly people with a healthy lifestyle, and the beautiful country. Because we were so far north, it was a long day of travel.

Again in the wee hours of morning, but at least not in darkness, we departed the red painted rorbus, a cabin on stilts where I slept with the water under the floor boards. Then we drove an hour and a half to Svolvaer Airport on Lofoten, took a puddle jumper plane to Buda. There our group divided and we said our farewells. I took the first flight to Oslo, picked up some checked baggage and took an international flight to Denmark.

Of course there were flight delays to make my day longer and more tiresome. This is part of the “downs” of the “ups and downs of life.” The “ups” are all of the great adventures of travel: what you learn, who you meet, and what you do and experience. The “ups” far outweigh the “downs.”

I was very happy with my adventures in Norway. It is a beautiful country that is clean, friendly, safe, and a great place for many outdoor activities. I would be delighted to return to Norway someday.

(posted October 18, 2016)

View inland from lodging at Lofoten, Norway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Lofoten, Norway, Part 1

Hiking in Norway is a great adventure, and I hiked in different regions, each time going further north to my final destination above the Arctic Circle. Our two guides and small group of hikers left Oppdal at 3:45 am to drive 1 ½ hours to Trondheim Airport.  That morning, I saw deer on our north woods scenic journey. Our flight took us north to Bodo, then a transfer to a ferry for a 3 ½ hour crossing to Lofoten, a group of islands above the Arctic Circle.

On the ferry crossing, I saw a long row of islands in the distance: the last barrier west towards Iceland and Greenland. The Gulf Stream keeps this area warmer than I imagined possible above the Arctic Circle. On some of the uninhabited islands are large colonies of seabirds including puffin and cormorants.

Between Vaeroy and Lofoten is one of the world’s biggest tidal currents.  As we approached Lofoten Island, it was an awesome setting of steep mountains touching the sea, with a few protected harbors of fishing villages. The mountains are awe-inspiring, with patches of snow hidden where 23 hours of sun a day still cannot melt it.

We were headed to Henningsvaer, a small fishing village with a population of 500. Here cod is dried on large racks—the same method used by the Vikings 1,000 years ago. I stayed in a red painted rorbus, a cabin on stilts. There were several of these refurbished fishing shacks right on the village wharf. The sun set for less than one hour during this time of year, but I had no trouble sleeping until I was awakened by the loud shrill of sea gulls. I soon opened the outside door and walked on the wharf. The sun was warm and welcoming.

After a hectic schedule of travel and hiking, we spent the morning at an authentic Viking site, now the Lofotr Viking Museum. The “find” is on top of a hill, and it features an excavated chieftain’s house, boat house, and smithy from the Iron Age. The house is 83 meters long, 8.5 meters wide, and two stories high. One hundred people could live in this dwelling which is full of artifacts, benches, and fire pits. As I viewed the harbor below, it was amazing to think that 1,000 years ago, the Vikings sailed from this site to Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland, Canada.

The best way to get about this area is in small boats that the fishermen use to ferry people from place to place. Other than the people who live here, tourists come to hike in the summer and ski in the winter. It is a beautiful place with extreme and varying weather conditions.

Lofoten is a far away destination to gain strength for the body and soul. I enjoyed the strong natural character of the area, the gracious people, the comfort of good food, and a warm haven to rest. Next, I looked forward to hiking here.

(posted October 11, 2016)