It was a little past midnight when I woke up in a wooden shack with a spider the size of my husband’s fist next to my head. But it was the least of my worries because I needed to pee, and bad. The toilet was two-minute trek out in the freezing cold across a dark bug-infested lawn.
F**k me, I thought. And f**k all these Airbnb people.
Funny how their glowing reviews conveniently left out these problems. It made me wonder what else they failed to mention – a serial killer with a machete hiding in the dark, waiting to make mincemeat out of unsuspecting victims who have an urgent need to empty their bladder?
Cussing and blaspheming – softly of course, because the last thing I wanted was to wake two frazzled children – I stomped out and got as far as the laundry line before I decided to take a piss, Bear Gryll’s style, out in full view. Little did I know my husband tagged along and took a grainy shot of me with his camera.
I was furious. If I wanted an authentic camping experience, I’d spend 25 bucks to pitch a tent in one of those scruffy campsites and not SGD250. HOW THE EFF DID I END UP HERE, WITH MY PANTS AROUND MY ANKLES IN FIVE DEGREE WEATHER, SPLASHING PEE ALL OVER MYSELF, IN PUBLIC?!
But wait, before we get to that part, let’s go back to the very beginning.
Our roadtrip began wonderfully enough. After piling our bags and two kids into our newly rented Skoda, we rolled out of the city, past pastures and farmlands, under a cloudless sky the color of a robin’s egg.
The terrain was mostly flat and unchanging but each time the husband felt like nodding off, the car started beeping like a frantic parent. This ‘driver fatigue sensor’ was just one of this particular car’s many intelligent features and we started our journey feeling like David Hasselhof in Knight Rider.
Instead of fighting injustices in the world however, we are headed towards the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde.
Denmark, if you didn’t already know, is the homeland of these fearsome warriors. And apparently, there was one thing the Viking did better than pillaging, murdering greedy monks and scaring the shit outta people and that was building ships sleek and sturdy enough to navigate the narrowest of fjords and traverse the widest oceans.
The museum is home to the remains of five Viking ships that were discovered and excavated in Roskilde in the 1960s, and then painstakingly pieced back together like the world’s hardest Jigsaw puzzle over the next 25 years by the world’s most patient individuals.
While the exhibits themselves aren’t particularly exciting for young children, there is a little kid’s section where they can play dress up onboard a play vessel.
The real highlight, however, was the outdoor area called Museum Island, which allows visitors to witness the building of life-sized replica ships by skilled craftsmen using traditional Viking methods. You are welcome to climb aboard these wooden vessels or even have a go at making one yourself – the husband and boys spent a good hour inhaling sawdust only to produce a lopsided little boat.
We had an excellent alfresco lunch in Cafe Knarr, the in-house restaurant that serves New Nordic Viking food. It sounds fancy, it looks fancy but it’s actually just flatbread with grilled meat and vegetables (although I’m pretty sure that hummus and crushed pistachios isn’t a Viking staple). Still…damn, it’s good!
More compelling than the Vikings themselves, however, was one odd-looking fellow whose talents for spinning magic from the mundane is renowned all over Denmark and the world: Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen was born in Odense on April 2, 1805, to a washerwoman and a shoemaker.
“Perhaps Odense will one day become famous because of me,” he once said and, as we drove into Denmark’s third-largest town, we saw that this was depressingly true.
This mid-sized industrial city does not have a lot going for it, apart from a profusion of HC Andersen-related sights located in its old historic centre. There were also sculptures of HC Andersen and his fairytales, HC Andersen-themed food and shops cashing in on HC Andersen souvenirs. Phew!
We had just missed the HC Andersen Festival by several weeks – yes, they even have an annual festival celebrating their prodigal son – but I don’t need to catch a live performance of The Emperor’s New Clothes to have a good time.
Our first stop is the Hans Christian Andersen House. Situated in a sleepy, cobblestone-paved neighborhood lined with stubby little homes, this is where the author was born. It is hard to imagine this used to be a ghetto for the town’s poorest folks.
Step inside the cramped sparsely-furnished home with dozens of other sweaty visitors on a sunny day and you’ll get an inkling of how poor and miserable HC Andersen must’ve been as a little child. He had been ashamed of having been born into such poverty, but I reckon he should be more embarrassed about other things – like being a closet perv, for one. #truestory #googleit
We also went to the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. The construction of a new high-tech museum by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is currently underway and will only be ready in 2020…
…while the temporary one is a poor substitute, consisting of nothing more than long, dry descriptions about his life and several personal belongings enclosed behind glass.
His crush on famous opera singer Jenny Lind and bisexuality was also briefly detailed although there was no mention of how neurotic he was. The man traveled with a nine-meter rope for fear of finding himself trapped by fire, among other things, for goodness’ sake.
Our kids were elated to discover that our final stop, Fyrtojet, is a hands-on center which gives visitors a chance to step into the magical realm of fairytales.
There are costumes, puppets and props to try out and, apart from making sure the boys don’t kill each other with their fake weapons, I find it rather therapeutic to dress up as a Queen and shout “Off with his head!” each time I spot a misdemeanor.
We did not have time to visit Montergarden (Urban History Museum) and HC Andersen’s Childhood Home because the kids refused to budge from Fyrtojet, but we were glad we made some time for lunch at Mamma’s Pizzeria, a tacky Italian joint that makes up for its design flaws by serving great (and affordable) pizzas and pastas.
After lunch, we boarded a ferry across to Aero, a small island on the southern edge of the country, car and all. Accommodation in Denmark have so far been excellent, until we came to that godforsaken place at the beginning of my story, our wooden Airbnb cabin by the sea. The place was like a counterfeit Prada: attractive at first glance, but riddled with flaws upon closer inspection.
Or in our case, spiders.
There were arachnids scuttling about everywhere and I spent half my time in the house Goggling to see if any of the dozen species I saw before me were poisonous.
Not only that, we were told that there were no rooms big enough to accommodate the 4 of us in the main house – and our sleeping quarters would be at the shack out back with no running water. (The kids, of course, thought they were on a grand adventure).
We decided to go for a stroll to shake off our annoyance. We walked past Vesterstrand, where iconic beach huts stood, a riot of colors squared off against the cerulean sea.
The beach was too cold for a swim so we walked to Aeroskobing, Aero’s idyllic village that was once a wealthy home port for windjammers but now survives mainly on tourism. Here, with the crashing waves as our soundtrack and a view of the ocean in the distance, we snooped around the pint-sized town, peering into doll-like homes and interrupting the privacy of an antique resident every once in awhile.
It was only 7pm but most shops are already shuttered and the few restaurants that were open were brimming with diners, who had known well enough to reserve a spot in advance.
We were heartily welcomed at Landbogaarden, the only restaurant with an empty table, presumably because it had only two items on the menu: meatloaf and Indian dhal (yes, for real), both of which were personally whipped up by the friendly owner. I was prepared for the worst but the food was surprisingly excellent and service, even better.
Of course, our luck had finally run out and it started to pour the very next day. I couldn’t imagine being stuck in a house with Black Widows for company, so we did a little tour around the island by car.
We spotted several roadside tables selling farm goodies based on the honor system – a concept that’s foreign to most evil city dwellers. They’d just clear out the entire place, and cart the sheep off too for a Sunday roast.
We got as far as Vodrup Klint, a wild, wind-swept beach littered with wild thyme and rocks of unusual hues. Local hoodie-clad teens stood around, glaring at the waves and listening to metal on their headphones.
Who knows, maybe it’s a form of meditation.
We were also lured to the Blabaer Farmshop by promises of free hugs with their resident pigs. However, the arrogant pigs were too busy feasting on sludge to acknowledge our presence, resulting in frowns all around. We ended up buying organic farm-made soap to quell our disappointment.
We would’ve loved to explore more but unfortunately, Aero Island is not a rainy day destination.
That night, there was a problem with the pipes and the shower and sinks at our accommodation began to overflow. I had reached my polite Asian threshold and I desperately needed to give the owner a piece of my mind. Like, what the hell was she thinking putting people up in this zoo? Even the living conditions in Denmark’s prisons were more humane!
She came over with her husband, checked out the pipes in the flooded basement (which was filled with dead frogs, no doubt victims of the spiders) and gave us an overdue apology.
“I’m sorry, I can’t stay here, I need to wash my son’s bottles,” this polite Asian mumbled lamely in return. And that was all I said. Before I lost all dignity by taking a piss on their lawn that very same night.
We received a complete refund the very next day and used the money on a far better accommodation, on a pretty farm out in Marstal.
It may be a boring workday town and a ten-minute drive from anywhere interesting but we’ve never slept better.
All I can say is thank God for the poor drainage system.
Stay Bai-Jensen, Odense This massive two-bedroom apartment owned by a Chinese-Danish couple offers plenty of space (and even a yard filled with an apple tree) for kids to run around. Rooms might be unimaginative and taken out of an Ikea catalogue but it’s the little touches that make it so special, like free laundry, restaurant delivery menus and a diverse DVD collection. A short drive from the historic centre. $$
Bed and Breakfast Marstal A spacious two-bedroom apartment situated on a working farm complete with animals. An exceptional level of comfort for a rural accommodation – toilets have heated floors, bed are comfortable and there is also a box of toys thoughtfully provided for young children. Your own vehicle is needed. $
- The Viking Ship Museum can be visited on the way to Odense or as a day trip from Copenhagen. Advance booking isn’t necessary, unless you want to go for a pleasure cruise on one of the Viking vessels. A car is recommended.
- You need at least one day in Odense to check out its main sights, and perhaps more with children. At the time of writing, one entry ticket entitles visitors to the five attractions: Hans Christian Andersen’s birthplace, Han’s Christian Andersen’s childhood home, Fyrtojet, Hans Christian Andersen Museum and Montergarden – buying tickets separately is not possible. Kids get in for free and receive a little surprise at the end of their visit to any three of these attractions.
- Ferry tickets to Aeroskobing need to be purchased in advance at http://www.aeroe-ferry.dk if you are planning to do the crossing with a car. If not, you can buy it on the day itself. There are several crossings a day to different ports on the island and the journey takes approximately an hour and a half. There is a cafe selling snacks onboard but get there early to secure yourself an indoor table / seat.
- Aero is disappointing on rainy days – so be sure to check the weather forecast first! Otherwise, there is always a small movie theatre and a six-lane bowling alley.
- There are free buses to take you around Aero island but consider renting a car, especially if you’re a family with young children.