Despite being a self-professed geography nerd, I knew little about Denmark apart from the city of Copenhagen before starting my DIS semester. I saw Denmark merely as my launching pad to explore the far corners of Europe over the semester. However, I had two (completely incidental) forays into rural Denmark during my first month here – the first was my core course tour on the island of Møn, and the second was a spontaneous trip to Legoland in Jutland with my friend Ellen. I can safely say that the Danish countryside exceeded my expectations on every possible front – there are few things as relaxing as cruising through a narrow road straddling potato fields on each side.
The first thing to understand about rural Denmark is that it is doable even with limited time and a tight budget. Coming from a US context, the countryside might conjure images of driving hours through the Wild West without passing a another car. Here, it is important to remember that Denmark is the same size as Maryland – no part of the country is more than a 4-hour train ride from Copenhagen. Living in such a small country, Danes’ perception of distance may seem skewed to an American – my visiting host family called their 45-minute drive to their vacation cabin “a long trip!”
Møns Klint is well worth a visit for any tourist in Denmark – the site boasts miles of stunning limestone and chalk cliffs right off the Baltic coast. What’s even more fascinating is that the white cliffs are composed of the remains of plankton that lived on the seafloor 70 million years ago – glaciers moving west compacted the terrain into the steep cliffs we see today. Since our group was there to geek out about the geology of the site, we spent much of our time there hunting for marine fossils – Alyssa came across what we best identified as a prehistoric ammonite! Møn challenged my perception of Denmark as a strictly flat country – the highest cliff at Møns Klint is 400 feet above sea level, and our group climbed a staircase that went up about 250 feet in a single stretch (quite the cardio workout!).
Møns Klint may have been the main attraction of our tour, but there were several other stops we made along the eastern coast of Denmark. Our class got a guided tour of Koldkrigsmuseum Stevnsfort, a Cold War-era underground bunker built at a strategic location to repel any Soviet invasion through the Baltic Sea. The fortress was built under 50 feet of limestone (meant to operate even during a nuclear war), which meant we had to wear warm clothing for the chilly conditions. We also had a snack break at Kong Asgers Høj, a large passage grave that dates back to the Neolithic Age but is of unidentified origin. Impressively, we were able to fit our entire 17-member strong class into the 1,000-year-old structure!
Being such a large company, you might think that Lego is headquartered in a big city with most of its manufacturing outsourced to Asia. However, this toy giant likes to keep it close to where it all began in the small city of Billund – in addition to Legoland (the amusement park), the town of 6,000 boasts the headquarters of Lego and the production facility where the majority of its bricks are still made. The best part about an amusement park in the countryside is the much smaller crowd size – we didn’t wait longer than 20 minutes for a single ride and were able to explore the entire park in one day. Try doing that at the Legoland locations in Florida or California! The demographic of Legoland visitors was skewed toward Danish families on a quick weekend trip rather than foreign tourists. As such, the park had a touch of authenticity – people started speaking to me in Danish much more than in Copenhagen. This was all great as a practical Danish lesson, but the virtual reality simulation of the Lego Movie entirely in Danish might have been a little too much to handle!
On my way to Legoland, I saw that I would be very close to the Jelling stones, a UNESCO Heritage Site. Given that we spent half the time of our last Danish class discussing the significance of the stones as the “birthmark” of Denmark, I decided to make a quick pit stop. The stones were erected in commemoration of King Gorm the Old, a 10th-century Danish ruler who united the various Danish tribes and converted them to Christianity. I made it to the site by evening, and it was truly magical to watch the sun setting over the 1,000-year-old burial mounds. In the picture below, the Bluetooth headphones I’m holding owe their name to the runestones behind them – in case you don’t already know the story, it’s worth a bit of Wikipedia digging!
Of course, there’s no way this blog could cover all my adventures in Denmark’s hidden countryside, from foraging for wild apples to experiencing the early morning fog in the small hamlet of Vandel. Still, I hope this blog gave you a taste of what Denmark is like outside the hustle and bustle of Copenhagen. Even as an unapologetic city person, I think it’s nice to step out of my urban bubble every so often to experience a change in scenery and a slower pace of life.