Slowing down to enjoy the simple life in a classic Danish cottage by the sea.
We’ve divided our three weeks in Denmark, and our blog posts, between Jutland in the west, the “Danish Riviera” in the northeast, and Copenhagen. I’ve already posted about our fantastic time in Copenhagen, I’m pleased to report that we enjoyed Jutland just as much, and so far, as you’ll see in my next post, the Riviera is shaping up nicely.
In Jutland we rented an adorable, classic Danish cottage near the sea in Kelstrup, not far from Haderslev. Denmark is tiny (small but perfectly formed, as they say), so it only takes about three hours to drive from Copenhagen in the far east to Haderslev in the far west. This involves crossing two enormous bridges connecting the three main islands that together constitute Denmark.
In Kelstrup, we spent a lot of time just puttering around the house and its immediate vicinity. We walked along the beach and allowed Sam to think that he might actually catch a fish with the rod and lures that our Airbnb host had thoughtfully left for his use, had some fantastic barbecues, and slept peacefully. I spent a day writing, which is supposed to be a consistent activity during this sabbatical, and while I did that Sam and Patrick went to Legoland.
If you’ve been to a Legoland elsewhere in the world, may I respectfully suggest that if you have child around Sam’s age you nonetheless consider a visit to this one, in Billund, the birthplace of Lego? The ubiquitous plastic block beloved of children everywhere was created right here in Denmark by Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter who began carving wooden toys from leftover wood in his spare time both for extra income and to amuse his four motherless sons. It’s an amazing life story, and of course Lego’s success in remaining relevant by branching out into television, films, and videogames to connect with kids in the electronic age is a business school case study. Tours of Lego HQ are rarely offered, and those are by lottery (we’re hoping we’ll get three of the 140 tickets for 2017 visits), but anyone can and should buy a ticket to Legoland Billund. Sam loved having his picture taken with some of the wandering characters – and this is a kid who has consistently fled every character we’ve encountered in any of our multiple Disney and Universal experiences. Legoland seems to be designed for kids exactly his age, meaning that Sam was tall enough for every ride but also didn’t feel that any of them were too babyish. The new Ninjago World was his favourite part of a thoroughly enjoyable day that ended with a delicious meal at the Billund Pizza Steakhouse, also highly recommended if ever you find yourself in Jutland.
We also had an excellent excursion (all three of us this time) to the Ribe Viking Center, where a variety of buildings and installations depict life between the eighth and tenth centuries in Viking-era Ribe, or Ripa as it was then known. We already had high expectations based on our previous visit to Lejre Land of Legends, which is similar, but each has something different to offer and both are well worth visiting. During the summer Ribe’s opening hours are 11-5, and we could easily have spent even longer interacting with Denmark’s Viking past.
Like Lejre, Ribe was an interesting experience for a North American mother. In my post about Lejre I commented on the relatively lax safety protocols: there, Sam was handed an axe after some very basic instruction and sent off to chop some wood. In Ribe, Sam participated in warrior training, which started with Bjorn, the instructor, warning parents that in order to train the children he would need to shout at them, probably scare them, and possibly even hurt them a little. Any criers would be sent back to their parents and expelled from the course. Everyone seemed fine with that, and it turned out to be true. Sam was really brave, but he didn’t appreciate that during the combat, which involved children attacking Bjorn in groups of five, Bjorn actually struck him on the leg with a wooden axe. I was really happy that Sam willed his tears back into his tear ducts, and got back in the fray, eventually learning to establish and hold a Viking shield wall. It was a good lesson for him, and we talked afterwards about Danish versus Canadian ways of treating children.
Based on this, Sam made the accurate and insightful observation that so far it seems like Danish kids have more freedom but are expected to be tougher, whereas at home he “never gets to do anything dangerous” but is kept safe from harm. One of my personal goals for this trip is to find a way of managing risk that feels comfortable to me where Sam is concerned, and to learn how to be just vigilant enough. Being in Iceland and now Denmark has helped because I see this being modeled all around me. So far in Scandinavia I’m almost always the most paranoid parent in the vicinity, and yet all the kids we’ve played around have managed to retain the right number of limbs and appendages despite a more low-key approach to parenting in general here. I did need to hand off responsibility to Patrick during the whittling activity, which involved Sam being handed a large stick and some kind of razor-sharp whittling tool, but everything went fine, Sam still has all his fingers, and we’ve been using the stick as our marshmallow-toasting tool. We learned some fantastic Viking games that teach agility, strength, and cunning in an amusing way, and Sam tried his hand (intact) at baking Viking bread. Other highlights here were a beautiful meal based on Viking recipes, an archery lesson, and interacting with the human and animal inhabitants of Ripa, including two calves and multiple half-wild cats that serve as historically accurate pest control. Our only casualty was Patrick, who fell into a stream while demonstrating unsafe ways of playing with a Tarzan rope. He dried out while Sam’s bread baked, and in the end only his shoes were a little the worse for wear.
We were sorry to bid “moin” (goodbye) to our cute cottage, but as it turns out we had another fantastic Airbnb waiting for us in the northeast: a country house with a traditional Finnish sauna near Kronborg Castle, better known as Elsinore Castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I’ll tell you about that in our next post.Destinations