Skagen is bright, white, yellow houses, red. Red roofs, red on the harbor, a red lamp. Old pinewood floors and a pink hydrangea bush.
Guitar band and Danish dancing. Those Were the Days. Cool and quiet. Lit-up-see-through-houses at night. Bursts of light.
Soft and cold sand is wet. A double rainbow over red roofs and under sun showers.
Herring and sweets and open faced sandwiches. Biking by heather and sanddunes.Groceries, translating, making dinner at home, sun sets through the glass, star speckled sky overhead.
Edge of Denmark, edge of the world.
Day 1, Skagen, Denmark (Friday)
To get to Skagen, the northernmost peninsula of Denmark, we flew from London Stansted to Aarhus, not because Aarhus was the closest place to fly to (Aalborg), but because there were no flights to Aalborg on Fridays from Stansted. We rented a car, drove 2.5 hours north, arrived at about 5:30 pm. An older Danish woman met us in the neighborhood to deliver keys to our flat, a classic style Skagen yellow house with a red roof and lots of light. I loved that house and its white Danish, pinewood floors (original to the house, according to the woman) that were the most beautiful floors I have ever seen. Its open space, wall to wall windows, scattering of local art, minimalism, modernism, and antique. A green armchair facing the window, looking out across the garden and pink hydrangea bushes. It was small, simple. It had everything we needed.
That evening, we ventured into town toward the harbor, past its industrial side. Giant ships, warehouses, and shipping containers. It was so quiet. Sailboats with flags from all over Scandinavia docked in the foreground, commercial vessels dotting the water behind. Red beach huts, like mini barns, line the waterfront in a row. Most boarded up, because it is long past the time of day when the fresh catch and friend seafood is sold from the windows during the day.
We tried to eat a particular restaurant, only to find they weren’t serving food on the patio that evening, so we moved across the way to a different place, where we were lucky to find seats on the covered patio at the end of a long picnic bench just before the evening rush claimed all available space. Danish food is expensive, but it’s good and filling and fresh. We had plaice and loganberries, flounder and shrimps. The best part of dinner was the live band of older, Danish men speaking Danish that we couldn’t understand, singing older, classic English hits. In the darkness, the lights on the red-barn-patio mixed with the glow of the heat lamps. Hazy, red glow. Everyone lit up. Singing, dancing, so much energy. The band closed with “Those Were the Days,” and everyone sang along. We listened on the sidewalk after we paid our bill. We walked home through yellow house neighborhoods.
Day 2, Skagen, Denmark (Saturday)
Morning run with the wind at our backs along the road to Grenen – flat, straight, could go on forever. Then to town for brunch at a lively place on the main pedestrian road. We wandered on the way to rent bikes; first, into a candy store and factory (I bought candy), later into an artisan food store. Everything is minimal, simple, well-designed. The same is true of the bike shop. All the bikes are the same, rows upon rows of simple, black beach bikes with built in locks. We rented two for 48 hours, stopped back at our quickly, then biked toward Grenen, the very tip of Skagen and thus the very tip of Denmark (more on that later).
Grenen was wonderful and wild. When we left to bike back through town and further south to Old Skagen, it was deep into the afternoon. Old Skagen is more yellow houses, quiet streets, and a simple beach, allegedly the place to watch the sunset whilst in Skagen, though we did not stay long enough to see. It’s quaint and quiet with not too much happening, but a lovely place for bike riding and fresh air. It was almost five by the time we left, so we decided to postpone some of the other things we hoped to see for the next day and head back to town instead. We had passed a brewery on the way down and heard live music coming from the patio, so we wanted to check it out for ourselves. This was such a great decision. The entire patio was packed, the band was really, really good (an old school rock band with personality). Somehow, we squeezed into a gap in one of the otherwise full picnic tables and watched it all until the set closed just before seven. After that, things cleared quickly. We moved to an empty table and had another round of drinks until we were nearly the only ones left and only then did we make our way to the harbor again for dinner.
That night, we ate on the patio of a different red-barn-restaurant, under a heat lamp and king shipmast figurehead. More fish, more pastries. More music at the place we had been the night before; when we left, we walked past it, and the same band was playing the same song as last night, the same singing and dancing of the crowd. We stood on the sidewalk and listened until the very end, before walking back through town. We stopped at a Buddy Holly themed bar where everyone was dancing to classic American hits, and then we biked home. The stars were amazing that night. I could clearly see the little dipper lit up over our red roof.
Day 3, Skagen, Denmark (Sunday)
We started the day with a run in the opposite direction toward the harbor just after a light rain. It was much cooler, September abruptly arriving in one instant and suddenly it was almost fall. We had a slow morning to start our planned slow day. When we finally left the house just before noon, it was to go to the historic Brøndums Hotel just around the corner from us for lunch.
Brøndums is an icon in town; a well-known inn where many well-known artists lived when they came to Skagen to paint in the nineteenth century. It’s a charming, old building; a time capsule to a different time with old art hangs all over the walls in large, antique frames. We ate a light lunch of open sandwiches with herring before walking through to explore the interior, it’s armchairs and writing desks and shelves of guest books. After lunch, we went across the street into the Skagen Museum, which collects and documents the work of the now-famous Skagen artists that came all the way out to the two centuries ago. I’m not usually a big art-museum-on-a-trip person, but as art is so embedded with Skagen, this was a great way to learn more about the history of the region and the people who made it what it is. My favorite part of the museum was the old Brøndums’ dining room, complete with dark wood panelled walls and built-in portraits of the artists who dined there. We colored some pictures at a children’s coloring play-station that was completely empty.
After leaving the museum, we biked south of the city again. The deal we had made was that if we visited the art museum, Vince would pick out what we did after, and that is how we ended up at dinosaur minigolf on a Sunday in Skagen. It was actually fun – and fascinating. We were in the middle of nowhere, we weren’t the only people there, and there were no children; it was all groups of adults. It was nice to slow down, to have nowhere to be.
From mini golf, we biked five minutes away to the famous sand church, stopping first at the parking lot cafe for a coffee and a waffle to refuel. We biked the rest of the way down the sand paths to the church, which to be perfectly honest, was pretty unremarkable. It’s essentially an abandoned church tower in a sand dune. We climbed up to the top of it, climbed back down, enjoyed the scenery, began the bike home. It was a quiet, cool autumn day. Jeans and a sweater kind of day.
Back in town, we stopped at the grocery store to buy food to cook for dinner instead of going out again. Google Translate was very much needed, but we somehow left with a great selection of comfort food – salmon filets, fish pies, potato wheels, asparagus, dessert marzipan, pastries, wine. We returned our bikes to the ship after that, dropping our keys in the door slot since it was after hours (everyone is so trusting here).
And then we walked home through town and through the yellow house neighborhood again, excited to be home and warm. It was 5:30 pm. We cooked a perfect dinner. The evening was slow. But we spent it in our cozy little Danish house with no agenda and nowhere to be, and that was the best part.
Day 4, Skagen, Denmark (Monday)
Last morning in Skagen. Woke up before the sunrise to have a quiet morning, drinking tea and watching the world light up outside. We went for a run, back out to Grenen again. Another flat, straight, wind-at-the-back, feel-food run. Walking out from the neighborhood before we began, we saw a double rainbow, perfect and full, arched completely over the sleeping town. There was a light sunshower. It was a beautiful morning.
And then, we left the perfect house at 9:30 am, no stopping along the way. On the road through wild, quiet, spacious Denmark. Back to Aarhus. On a plane to Stansted. We were back in Cambridge before dark.
When: August and September 2019
How long: 3 nights
Via: Flew from London Stansted to Aarhus and rented a car to drive 2.5 hours to Skagen.
Stayed: Skagen Lux Apartments (amazing!)
Did – Day 1: Skagen Harbor; Day 2: the candy factory, bike rental, Skagen Graa Fyr (lighthouse), Grenen, Gammel Skagen, Skagen Bryghus (brewery with live music); Day 3: Brøndums Hotel, Skagen Museum, Dino Golf, Sand Church