Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dining and Biking Like a Dane

—Soren Kierkegaard

On our first day in Denmark, we got treated to the country’s two extremes. We started out in the bustling airport in cosmopolitan Copenhagen. Then we took a bus to miniscule Menstrup in the southern part of Zealand, the same island on which Copenhagen is located, but a million miles apart. Lars, our tour and biking guide, warned us. “Menstrup is a small village. Well, really it’s not so much a village as just a few houses.” He wasn’t understating. Menstrup was one block long with a small but well supplied (and fairly expensive) grocery store. I was especially impressed with a display outside the store of some of the tiniest heads of cauliflower I had ever seen. Those became the focus of my first Danish photo op with my new iPhone.
Two of Menstrup's houses and those tiny cauliflowers

Amazingly, Menstrup also featured a fairly spacious hotel with a huge dining hall that was nearly packed at dinner time. Why, we wondered? It seems that many Danes vacation by moving around the country from hotel to hotel. They get special deals from certain hotel chains that include breakfasts and dinners. Our hotel was a place to stay on the way from here to there. Menstrup clearly was not a destination in itself. I went online to see what information I could find about the place. One website was entitled “Things to do in Menstrup.” When I clicked on it, there was nothing listed. I would have at least included the unusual miniature golf course located on the hotel grounds. The holes were made of roughly planed and badly weathered wood with rather steep inclines. If your ball didn’t fall directly into the hole, it would roll back to the beginning and beyond. Harvey and I took on the course, and the course quickly won.
A colorful and challenging miniature golf course

The hotel provided our introduction to the special Danish treat known as smørrebrød, an open-face sandwich built in layers on a special type of rye bread. Being open-faced, the sandwiches have to be eaten with a knife and fork; lifting them up would just be an invitation to getting mayonnaise on your nose. Because of my vegetarian/fish diet, my sandwiches featured cucumbers and herring, salmon, or shrimp and lacked some of the strange-looking meats that graced everyone else’s sandwiches. I considered myself lucky. Also on the positive side was the abundance of Carlsberg beer that most of us indulged in.

Our smørrebrød did not look this appetizing.
The hotel was also our introduction to two other Danish (and anti-American) customs—lack of air conditioning and very limited offering of ice cubes with drinks. None of the hotels we stayed in, no matter how highly rated, had air conditioning, even the one in Copenhagen, and we had to make special requests for ice. This would not have been such an issue except that during our stay, Denmark was experiencing its strongest heat wave in nearly 100 years. (Now I know I am sounding like the “ugly American” here, but I’m just trying to give you some flavor.)

As it turned out, the hotel in Menstrup was a perfect place to start our biking adventure. It was calm and quiet, and so were the roads and bike paths nearby. We fitted and tested our bikes, discussed our next day’s route, and learned the rules of the road in Denmark, which are somewhat different from those in other countries. Danes are very reserved people, and they are serious about their biking. In Italy, we were encouraged to shout encouragement to each other, call out landmarks, and give warnings to the rest of the group when a car was approaching from ahead (“car up”) or from behind (“car back”). Italians like and expect a lot of noise. Danes frown on such “verbal assaults.” Danes expect bikers to stay single-file in line and preferably not too close together, just in case a car needs to go between bikers on a narrow road when another car is approaching from the opposite direction. They also expect them to do their biking quietly. Since Lars, our guide, was Danish, we quickly realized that we were expected to bike like Danes. At the end of our trip he praised us for being “American” in our enthusiasm about everywhere we went and “Danish” in our biking seriousness. (I think he even included me in the latter, even though I occasionally biked like a grumbling American.)

After a quick stop at the aforementioned grocery store to buy items for a picnic lunch using lots of the Danish krone we had exchanged for in New Jersey, we were ready for the first of six days biking through the Danish isles. Not all of them, of course (there are more than 400), but a respectable six or seven. We were nine relatively serious American bikers and one ultra-serious Danish guide. And we had already experienced Menstrup. Next stop, Nyborg, which was 30 miles of biking and one of the world’s longest bridges away. Bring it on!

No comments:

Post a Comment