Posted in Reading, Travel

Two Days of Living Danishly

A post about our trip to Denmark at Easter

Cover of The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
Essential reading before our trip

In preparation for my first ever visit to Denmark as part of our two-week Easter holiday in our camper can, I read The Year of Living Danishly, in which English journalist Helen Russell recounts what she learns about the country’s customs and culture while accompanying her husband on a year-long business posting to Legoland’s Danish headquarters. (Nice work if you can get it.)

I’ve reviewed the book over on my book blog here, and now thought I might share a few observations of my own…

Headlight Law

By law, motorists must drive with dipped headlights at all times. This includes in the middle of a summer’s day, in sunshine so bright that you are blinded without sunglasses. This seems odd in a nation that otherwise seems conscientious about efficient fuel usage. Even though we were there at Easter, we had clear sunny skies, wore sunglasses – and kept our dipped lights on.

Parking Clock

To ensure drivers comply with timed parking restrictions, the Danes have come up with an elegantly simple device. Every Danish car comes fitted with a clock face on the windscreen, with movable hands which you set to indicate your arrival time. That way traffic wardens (and fellow citizens) know at a glance whether you’ve outstayed your allotted time.

The lady in the Ribe tourist office told us that if we didn’t have one, we could simply display a note on the windscreen, but I was so taken with the idea that I bought one and applied it to our camper van windscreen, alongside our National Trust and English Heritage membership stickers. I’ll be interested to see how long it is before someone back home notices and says “Aha, I see you’ve been to Denmark!”

Gordon and Laura on the Legoland safari train
Enjoying a different kind of drive in Legoland

The Invisibility of Bacon

The Danish bacon industry has all the visibility of an illegal cannabis farm. In our two days there, we didn’t see a single pig, other than inside hot dogs, which are sold everywhere. Apparently it’s all reared intensively indoors. 🙁

The only farm animals we saw were, bizarrely, Highland cattle, those quintessentially Scottish, long-haired, long-horned cows that we associate with our trips to Scotland. When we saw some not far north of the Danish border, we did a double-take, speculating whether the cattle, like my Scottish husband, were there on holiday.

The Myth of Viking Helmets

Though you might think that Highland cattle horns would have looked spectacular on Viking helmets, apparently such helmets are a myth without any basis in history – but still souvenir shops sell replicas, because tourists expect to be able to buy them.

The Viking Love of Beads

A less well-known fashion accessory for the Viking about village was the glass bead neckleace. They were fantastic at making them and loved to wear them. My daughter preferred to choose and string some glass beads on a leather thong as a more authentic souvenir of Ribe’s Viking Museum.  Large swathes of Jutland and, in Germany, Schleswig-Holstein, are based on sand, that essential ingredient in glass production.

Handsome Viking Genes Still Abound

There are a lot of Danes who would look right at home in the mythical horned helmet – or at least who resemble the classic image of the Viking, blonde and handsome and wholesome. In her book, Helen Russell mentioned the relative stability of the gene pool, because modern Danes (unlike their Viking ancestors) are so happy they like to stay put. That  would explain it.

But of course, I could have been wrong in my personal observations. When I spotted a classically stylish Danish family on the Dunkerque-Dover ferry, with three young Viking boy children, they turned out to be as British as I am. I must resist the temptation to stereotype. (There’s another post coming soon on that topic, about a tricky encounter with a German lady in Schleswig-Holstein.)

Danes Love Dining Tables

The possession of a good dining table and chairs seems fundamental to the well-being of the average Danish family. Whereas in the UK, there is apparently a decline in round-the-table dining, and many homes don’t even have a dining room table any more, in Denmark we saw lots of substantial wooden dining sets not only in the front rooms of houses, but also in their tents at a campsite we stayed at in Jelling, near Legoland.

Almost all of the caravans had large awnings forming an extra room beside them, and almost all of the campers seemed to have brought their tables and high-backed wooden chairs from home for their holiday. I even saw one with a cosy pendant lamp suspended above it, and a wooden bookcase to the side. I knew from Helen Russell’s book that dining with family and friends is important to the Danes, but taking your dining suite on holiday is sounds a bit like packing the proverbial kitchen sink in your luggage.

Entrance to Legoland
Luckily for us, Legoland wasn’t crowded, despite having only just reopened after their winter closure (Laura’s on the right)

Learning to Love Lego

I like Lego after all. These tiny plastic bricks had left me cold as a child (I grew up in the days when they came in very few colours and shapes). Lego-love had also bypassed my daughter, more of a Playmobil and Sylvanian girl. Accompanying a primary school trip to the English Legoland, in Windsor, didn’t make much a dent in my antipathy, as I spent most of the day counting to 10, to make sure I hadn’t lost any of my party, rather than admiring the Lego models or enjoying the rides.

Legoland in Billund, Denmark, however, was another matter, impressing all three of us in different ways. Not only were the models and rides spectacular, but the place was impressively hospitable and family-friendly, encouraging picnics and allowing you to eat food brought in from outside the park (Disneyland, please watch and learn). The food stalls included (although not exclusively) health food at reasonable prices, such as five pieces of fresh fruit for 20 Krona.

Gordon and Laura on a bench with Lego model girls
Lego Friends for all

Krona Coins Have Holes

Speaking of Krona, I was delighted to discover that certain Danish Krona coins have holes in the middle, reminding me of ancient currency that one might have worn on a leather thong or string. I don’t know why they still have holes in their coins, though it must save metal at the mint, and it makes your purse less weighty. I find it a charming practice that I wish was more widespread.

Peace at Last

Denmark, or at least where we were, is a very quiet place. Perhaps because of the sparse population, and much use of bicycles in flat Jutland, we encountered surprisingly few cars. Our two days of driving Danishly reminded me of making a trip on Christmas Day, when everyone has better things to do than jump in a car.

Bracingly Fresh Air

Not unrelated to the above, no doubt, the quality of the air is delicious – crisp, clear, clean and invigorating, much as it is in the remote Highlands of Scotland, only more so. I’d go there for the air alone, it was such a tonic.

Further Research Required

I’m conscious that two days in a country hardly licenses me to claim expertise, and I’m ready to be corrected on any false assumptions I’ve leapt to in this post, whether by a native Dane, Helen Russell, or anyone else with more experience of the country. I’m also to glad to have the excuse to revisit Denmark in future, to check I’ve got my facts right, and to learn more about this intriguing country, so similar yet so different from my own native land.

Camper van against sunset with lake

In case you missed it, here’s the post I wrote earlier about our Easter camper van tour:

I’m now writing a book about how to enjoy camper van travel on a tight budget – if you’d like to be one of the first to read it, you can join this mailing list.


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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