Discovering my inner viking with the great (though rather on the little side) dane, Sandi Toksvig

KL + Sandi

As I was sliding down a klit in my sitting suit, there was one thought on my mind – Danes really are Great. A ‘klit’, by the way, is a sand dune and a ‘sitting suit’ is a warm and toasty onesy which allows you to sit outside enjoying ‘hygge’ with your pals. Hygge of course, is the Danish concept of warm, convivial fun with friends – “when you feel as comfortable in company as you would be on your own,” my dear pal Sandi Toksvig explained to me as we sipped whiskeys in the sea-side moonlight, as snugly cocooned in camaraderie as we were by our woolly onesys.

Throw in the constant passing parade of tall, blonde, blue eyed Nordic love gods (and goddesses, in Sandi’s case) beaming our way… and well, all I could think is – there’s absolutely nothing rotten in the state of Denmark.

I’ve always wanted to get in touch with my inner Viking. Not only is my best pal, Sandi, Danish but my great grandfather was Norwegian. The Viking mingling in my blood was yearning for release. Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary, is also an Aussie so surely I’d be able to crack the Norse Code?

The first fact I gleaned about the Danes is that they are an incredibly sensible and straight forward breed – which can backfire with funny consequences. When I contacted the Danish tourist board to explain that my “Carpe the Hell Out of Diem” travel column aims to promote adventure before dementia, I immediately received an email back asking how best to accommodate my dementia and how many carers Sandi and I would need.

This sent us into paroxysms of laughter. I mean, can you imagine any editor sending writers with dementia on a travel story when they’d probably end up wandering around a fjord in PJ’s, then finally filing a piece on Bognor Regis? But between laughs I also marvelled at this humane demonstration of compassionate acceptance. What a remarkable country. I was now more excited than ever to reawaken my inner Norsewoman.

Danes are direct descendants of that fair-haired, sculpted six pack warrior-race who traversed treacherous seas to raid and colonise distant lands, like Britain. When I say ‘traversed’, I mean – rowed; hence the bulging biceps. Clearly my first step to assimilation was to learn to be at one with the sea.

Scandi Sandi has excellent sea legs. She spent three months sailing around Britain with John McCarthy, for God’s sake. I, on the other hand feel pretty sceptical about any sport that requires the wearing of a garment to prevent death. I mean, the clue’s in the name, right? Life jacket. “Isn’t there a safer activity we could take up?” I asked, as we boarded our renewable energy GoBoat. “Like, I dunno, discus catcher or javelin dodger or something?”

Ignoring my pleas, Captain Toksvig cast anchor and expertly manoeuvred our plucky little solar-powered craft out into the wide, sparkling harbour. Her running commentary on Copenhagen’s glorious sites was so comedically captivating that when she handed me the rudder, I was laughing too hard to hear her steering instructions. Sandi had veered off into a picturesque canal fringed with pastel painted houses. The thought of me being able to pilot a boat through these narrow waterways was as likely as the Pope releasing a Hip Hop album.

But after side-swiping a wharf which failed to take evasive action, I managed to steer through the 17th century canals without being made to walk the plank. Not that I was worried about going overboard. Most city harbours are so riddled with mercury the fish could take their own temperatures, but Copenhagen’s water ways are crystal clear.

Having passed my nautical initiation, next step to Nordic-dom was skiing. Danes are born wearing ski boots, not booties. Aussies? Not so much. With no snow forecast, we headed to the grass ski slopes of Copenhill, built, with typical Danish ingenuity, atop a giant power plant. The 40,000 tones of waste burned per year produces electricity to power and heat 160,000 homes, yet with no noxious fumes.

Looking up at the vertiginous green mountain with trepidation, I tried to channel my Valkyrie spirit. Sadly, I appeared to have the killer instinct of a danish pastry. Determined not to disappoint, I copied Sandi and strapped two cement blocks to my feet – otherwise known as ski boots.

While I stumbled around like a drunken Frankenstein, Sandi strode effortlessly over to the chair lift, ascended, then took off, with a swoosh and a whoosh, swirling and twirling and waving insouciantly as she swept on by in a little blonde blur.

I meanwhile, lurched towards the nursery slope, skis balanced precariously across one shoulder. I didn’t decapitate anyone behind me or smash any windows, so the Winter Olympics clearly beckoned.

After an hour’s practise, I felt ready to conquer the mountain. But stepping off the chair lift onto the highest point in Copenhagen, my confidence evaporated like snow in the desert. “If I break a leg, I just hope it’s not mine,” I shouted out to Sandi as I pushed off across fake grass the consistency of Trump’s hair piece.

You’ll be pleased to know that I mastered skiing in a few sittings – literally; I fell onto my bum so many times that in the end I simply pioneered an innovative half-squat-snow-plough style. Put it this way, my descent down the slope was so slow, I kept a diary of the trip.

Hopefully my cycling abilities would redeem me. Danes are so at ease in the bike saddle I suspect they must have little hamster type wheels in the womb. Brits love cycling too, but in London the air’s so polluted even the birds have emphysema.

Copenhagen, however, has 6.6 bikes for every car which lowers pollution levels. Locals average 8.5 km per day over their 950 kilometres of cycling infrastructure.

A Green Bike Tour not only whisks you past all of the city’s magnificent cathedrals, palaces and museums, but it’s also a chance to learn about the green roof spaces, urban bee hives and initiatives to substitute traditional sources of energy with sustainable methods in order to make Denmark CO2 carbon neutral by 2025.

Even the rides at Copenhagen’s magical 177 year old Tivoli Gardens amusement park use energy that is 100% renewable with zero emissions. Sandi, who spent her childhood here, lit up like one of Denmark’s preferred energy-efficient LED light bulbs as she took me on the retro wooden roller coaster and carousel rides, all powered by wind turbines.

There’s not even the usual amount of hot air coming out of Danish parliament. Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen is like a real life Brigette from the hit TV political drama “Borgen”. We stopped for lunch at the Christiansborg Palace parliament tower so I could keep an eye peeled for Katrine and Kaspar and the rest of the sexy cast, whose sizzling scenes make Borgen not Nordic Noir, but Nordic Phwoarr!

And talking of famous dramas, I couldn’t leave Denmark without visiting Hamlet’s haunt. Elsinore or Kronborg Castle is so huge, that when it’s eight a.m. in the dining room, it’s dinner time in the dungeon. A drop in tourists due to coronavirus meant Sandi and I had this whole, spectacular UNESCO world heritage Renaissance site to ourselves.
The eerie, silent atmosphere amid the ‘bitter cold’ battlements made it an even more brilliant Shakesperience. The Bard, who never visited Denmark, was probably told all about the famous fortress by travelling troupes of English actors, moonlighting as spies – the world’s first case of Thespionage. (Suspect Will’s ghost will impale me on his quill if I keep this up!)

 

But I would soon be called upon to do some Academy-Award winning acting of my own, because Sandi was taking me out for a traditional meal which meant one thing – herring. Nyhaven’s picturesque canals were aglow in the gloaming with cosy bars full of cold beer, good cheer and schools of my least favourite food. Sandi ordered “Karry” which is curried herring and “Sild” which is herring marinated in onions and capers. I looked askance at the pale, cold little slithers of fish swimming in various sauces on my plate and made noises about a vegetarian option.

“Danes only like to eat things that have had parents,” Sandi explained. “Drink?”

“Sure… What alcohol goes best with fingernails?”

But I wasn’t biting my nails for long because herring done the Danish way turned out to be mouth-wateringly delicious.

Ensconced in her natural habitat, I have never seen Sandi happier. And not just because she was on a permanent herring high; Denmark tops the happy-ometer in every world survey. The CEO of Copenhagen’s Happiness museum explained why. “Equal opportunity for men and women, free education and health care, and an ability to convert wealth into well being, liveability , transportation and a clean environment.” And that my friends, is how to crack the Norse Code. My new motto? If in doubt, just do whatever Great Danes do.

When it comes to foreign languages, I have Van Gogh’s ear for dialogue. Before my Viking induction, the little I knew about Denmark was from TV crime thrillers like “The Bridge” and “The Killing”. Every time a local spoke I presumed it was to inform me of a murder, kidnap or decapitation. But it turned out to be rather apt because my Danish adventure with best pal and little bonsai Viking, Sandi T was so inspiring, delicious, fabulous and fun, that I’d kill to go back again.


P.S. For more fun, frivolity and escapades, do slip between the covers of my novels, the latest of which is HRT – Husband Replacement Therapy. (“The Boy Who Fell To Earth,” “To Love, Honour and Betray” and “How To Kill Your Husband – and other handy household hints“, also just re-issued.)

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