Hyggelig in Svendborg, Denmark

So the Danes have a word that I don’t think can be translated into English.  It’s called Hyggelig, and it roughly translates to a warm cozy experience such as with friends or family.  I heard about the word on a tour in Copenhagen, but learned it’s true pronunciation and meaning when I had an opportunity to couchsurf with a local.

This story starts in March when a group of volunteers doing fundraising for a humanitarian trip to Africa came through my hometown.  They were looking for couches to crash during their stay, and I offered my place, but they accepted an offer with another surfer.  Still, I got to meet the group at a party.  Kristian, the group leader, was from Denmark, and I mentioned to him that I would probably be in Europe this Fall.  Kristian said he would be back home by then and invited me to visit him in Denmark.  We exchanged info, and I think we both figured it had a small chance of actually happening.  I’m awesome at following up with people, and I also really enjoy seeing someone on the road that I’ve met before, so I contacted him when I got to Iceland.  I wasn’t sure if he would remember me, but he did, and said he lived in Svendborg.

Denmark is a collection of islands, and Svendborg is the Southern most city on the island of Fyn (rhymes with noon).  It’s the second island from the left on the map.I have mostly visited the major cities in each place I go, so I was looking forward to a change of pace a smaller city could bring.  What was also fun was getting to ride a train through most of Denmark.  Surprisingly, it looked a lot like Ohio… loads of greenery and farms, but very flat.  I arrived on a rainy Friday afternoon in Svendborg, but was relieved when Kristian met me at the station.  I kind of forgot the hospitality one can experience in couchsurfing, and fortunately Kristian reminded me.  What a gracious host.  He and his roommate Tanja have a two bedroom place with a spare room in the basement which they had prepared for my visit.  After dropping my bags off and getting some food, we headed out to tour downtown Svendborg. Little humor for the people back home…
Although the population is only around 25,000 in the central area, the city had a lot more going on than I would have thought.  There were all these markets, shops, cafes and bars lining some really charming streets.  That night, Kristian made us an excellent meal.  I don’t eat nice meals that often on my trip in order to save money.  It’s usually some rice and beans or pasta, or street food.  However, the dinner that night was the best meal I had in Europe so far.  Kristian, Tanja and I had a great time talking about our travels and life in Denmark.  I was curious to hear how things went with the fundraising and learned it went well and most of the group was in Africa.  Lots of funny stories about their travels in the US.On my second day in Svendborg, Kristian suggested we check out a local castle.  It’s called Egeskov Castle and according to Wikipedia is Europe’s best preserved water castle.  It’s functional too and home to a Count and Countess, and the grounds also include several museums and some really beautiful gardens.  
There’s a doll in the very top part of the castle, and legend says that if it is removed from its spot, the whole castle will plumet into the surrounding moat on Christmas Day. I think the doll was made of stone, so it would be hard to carry anyway.The castle and gardens were definitely cool, but for me, the highlight of the day was walking around in the hedge maze they had on the castle grounds.  I’ve always been fascinated with these and knew someday I’d find one.  I thought England would have been my best chance, but nope, it was Denmark.The photos above are from the tower in the middle of the maze, so obviously we made it through, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought.  We made a lot of wrong turns and it took about 45 minutes to get through.  Loads of fun.  I’d love to find an even bigger one and get lost for hours.  Afterwards, we went to Kristian’s family farm where he grew up.  This was a pleasant surprise.  Kristian’s mom had printed out a little paper flag of the state of Ohio for me.  She also made some kind of apple dessert.  It was delicious, of course, and we all had a good chat over coffee.Afterwards, Kristian’s brother Martin and some friends gave me a tour of the farm.  The machine below was for harvesting corn and just looked purely medieval to me.  The farm is a decent size and they had a lot of large machinery in the big barn out back.The bulls in waiting.  The main bull was out in the fields entertaining his ladies.We wrapped up the day with another awesome meal of roast with potatoes and carrots.  Then we headed out to meet some of Kristian’s friends for a few beers.  Good times.  I got to meet more Danes and here about life in Denmark, differences with Europe and the USA.

So my last full day in Denmark was a Sunday.  I wouldn’t believe it unless I saw it first hand, but there’s a big NFL following in Denmark.  Kristian is a NY Giants fan, and his friends all have a favorite team.  Surprisingly, no one was a Vikings fan.  Kristian said he would have the Falcons and Redskins game on Sunday and invite a bunch of friends over.  For my part, I decided to introduce my Danish friends to a family tradition of my own.  Growing up, for Super Bowl Sunday, we had a special dip that we affectionatly called Super Bowl Dip.  It was a bit of a challange to make in Denmark because I couldn’t find refried beans.  Instead, I had to buy bags of pinto beans, cook them, and then fry them myself.  All the other ingredients which include sour cream, taco seasoning, cheese, tomatoes, olives and green onions seemed to be easily attainable with a little effort and some translation help.
The refried beans didn’t come out too great, as I didn’t season them enough, so they were kind of bland.  As a whole, though, I think the dip was good and went over all right.  The football game was really good too… close and came down to the final few minutes of play which is rare.  There’s a Danish sports network that wraps the feed from the States around their own play-by-play and color commentators.  They also have two guys doing an analysis between quarters.  Surreal.  I couldn’t understand a word, but still had fun watching the game.

So that wraps up my time in Denmark.  I got to combine the big city experience of Copenhagen with that of seeing a smaller city and even a Danish farm.  I also worked in a castle, and got to couchsurfing so bonus.  I enjoyed having my own space for a change of pace from hostel life.  Denmark was a really good idea, and I’m sure I’ll be back.  I would love to have seen more of Scandinavia but it is fairly expensive.  It’s also getting cold, and I’d like to head South to warmer territory.  Here’s a parting photo of me and Kristian at the train station.  Thanks again bud, you’re welcome to stay with me in America any time.  Hyggelig.

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