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)