April 2013


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Whenever I go on vacay, it is my sincere intention to eat healthfully while still enjoying the food of the town and county I’m in. Certainly that is/was my plan for my visit to Denmark.

This is a country where some 60+% of the land is dedicated to farming. Now, I admit I haven’t seen a lot of cows — but I have certainly seen cheese. Sometimes at lunch, always at breakfast accompanied by crusty, yeasty, mouth-celebratory (is that even a word?) bread. Blue, aged, smoked. All kinds, though there seems to be a inclination towards a semi-soft cheese called Danbo. It comes in many forms. Cuts beautifully. And makes a kick-ass sandwich, typically served open-faced.

When I made my first cheese sandwich here, I was given specific instructions: slice the roll in two horizontally. Spread a little mustard and/or butter, slice the cheese thinly usually with one of those wired kitchen tools made specifically for the task (a common kitchen tool here — in the USA we tend to have them around for cheese and cracker time). Maybe some slice of tomato. Eat. And enjoy. I once tried to make a traditional American “sang-wich” and have to admit felt a little barbarian trying to get my mouth around the bun and the filling. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not totally stranger in a strange land on this front. Of course, they make and eat sandwiches like we do. Just not so much.

Perhaps this is why even though they are presented with this foodstuff on a regular basis, the Danes are not a fat people. They eat naturally in moderation. And, as in many places around the world, bicycle everywhere.

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Just as I was about to accuse the Danes of eating only cheese in their sandwiches (which of course I knew was wrong thinking from this country of the fabulous smørbørd) — I am treated to an afternoon picnic by the sister and brother-in-law of my friend, the priest.

They thought it would be fun to take me on a little countryside excursion into the woods outside Odense (home of Hans Christian Andersen). The woods here, by the way, remind me of what I imagine the woods are like in Hamlet. Spindly medium-tall trees — I think they’re beech — one after the other after the other. Crowded together. If you were to gallop a horse through this fragile forest, you would be brushed by the branches, yet not thrown off.

We were in Hesbjerg Skov — it appeared to be some sort of hippie commune, though not retro in any sense. Apparently some 45 people, not counting children, are living off the land in this area. My hosts say the citizens are the type to commune with nature, but drive into town to work. At real jobs. I guess holes in the ground for toilets and shared dinners in a hall of sorts are not too high a price to pay for This Simple Life. They certainly looked just fine, thank you, to me.

We parked our car and walked for awhile until we found a pile of cut wood to fashion into seats and a table for our picnic. It was lovely. The hostess had gotten up early to make crusty fresh rolls (they were still warm) of graham flour. And, for the filling she made flattened meatballs of pork, called (and I LOVE this word) frikadeller. Pretty much pronounced like they’re spelled. Later, I called them “flubber masters” or “freakin’ blasters”.

De. Lish. Us. Pronounced like it’s spelled!

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My first meal in Denmark was Oksekødsuppe — “beef soup” — which the locals tell me is a typical Danish meal.

After a planes trains and automobiles type of voyage, I arrive at the home (and church) of my friend, the priest. He is celebrating his 50th with family and 130 of his best friends. He lives in Nykøbing Falster. This small Danish town is not called nigh-oh-bing fall-stir. It sounds more like New-kuhrbin fahstahr. To my ear, the Danish language sounds, well, like mumbling. I mean no offense. I love this country and its people.

I arrived in Denmark exhausted/jet-lagged and frankly a little traumatized after my train ride from the C’hagen Airport. I had an “open” ticket rather than a reserved seat. After getting bumped by German families, old ladies and a Turkish traveler because (by hand motions alone I realized) I was sitting in their seats, I gave up and stood for the 90-minute ride.

There was one disconcerting moment on the train when I tried to buy a bottle of water. The vendor told me she couldn’t make change for my 50 kroner bill. I was so frustrated — and, yes, angry at that point, I snarled, you mean you have NO MONEY. She jangled an envelope of euro coins and said “yes, I have euros. This is a GERMAN train.” Oh great!!!! I’m on the wrong flipping’ train. That once happened to me. Years ago, I found myself sitting on a train in Denmark, taking in the green pastures, when I realized I was the only person in the car. The conductor explained I had missed my stop. I was going the wrong direction. So — fade to black/fade up — here I am in 2013 with my 50 Kroner unchangeable bill on a German train. I was admittedly a little. Freaked! Out! But I made it. Just in time for a shower and soup.

My friend’s home was filled with the delicious smell of the Oksekødsuppe. What’s that, I asked — it smells downright celestial. Seemed the proper thing to say to a priest.

When the soup came to the table, it was this delightfully delicious melange of beef broth and leeks, carrots, little cubes of something called pastinakker (pretty sure it was parsnip, although before cubed — it was immense). Then kødboller: tiny little meatballs (likely veal) and melboller — small oblongs of dough the size and shape of garlic cloves — which I mistook them to be. Of course, the meal was preceded by the commensurate gin & tonic (there WERE some English priests in attendance after all).

All to the tune of the conversation most animated and entertaining to watch. I could understand the visiting Brits of course – but the Danes. Well, that’s another matter. I understood not a whit but they seemed to be a happy family by the look of it.

All in all — it was a comforting and reassuring way to begin this adventure.

Velbekomme!

I’m making one of those trips to Europe that, though exotic by no means, is not run-of-the-mill: Denmark for a friend’s 50th then to Berlin with a couple of priests.

I am entering Scandinavia this time through Stockholm. I feel like I’ve stepped into a Stieg Larsson trilogy. At least in regards to how people look. And the landscape as seen from the plane was downright dragon-tattooesque. Of course, airports are rarely in the best parts of their countries so this is unlikely “typical” Sweden.

Food booths are trumpeted in English here at the Arlanda airport for the most part. A Starbucks, of course. How depressing is that — you can get burnt roast coffee with badly expressed espresso anywhere in the world! God. I’d be more accepting of McDonald’s — which offers something unique. Getting mediocre Americanized continental-style coffee in cultures with their own brew seems veritably sacrilegious. (My deepest apologies to my Pac NW friends). All the Starbucks offerings were labeled in English — although instead of Poland Spring, they were hawking Ramlosa. But, as usual, I digress.

While transferring planes in Stockholm, some quick observances. Some people — I think SAS personnel — were propelling through the airport on small 60’s-kitchen-green scooters. The kind you see children playing on. One foot on, the other doing the movin’

The largest snack joint was “Street Food” with Marcus Samuelson’s face splashed everywhere. Usual airport shop fare with a local twist. Hamburgers. Fish burgers. Something called “Rootfruit” – chips of potato, beet and parsnip.

People smoke in small rectangular glass booths — slightly larger than those you’d see in a fifties game show, presumably ventilated.

Security consisted of “go downstairs” after Passport Control. One flight. Ring a bell, and security will look at your bag. Which is precisely what i did — me alone. Solo me in a little room with a security conveyor belt and one female guard.

Ain’t travel grand.