Partial lockdown started March 11th. All schools, kindergartens, and universities moved to virtual classes. Most shops and services closed, including all body-working services such as hair salons, masseuses, and fitness centers. My work continued as before, with the difference that I could no longer travel to Belgium to our regional headquarters, or do all the cross-European country local board meetings I had planned. Instead I squeezed in daily walks or runs, just to get outside. When lockdown was imposed, the sun came out. It shone from a cloudless sky most of two months. Weekend walks turned into long ambles, thirstily seeking fringes of green across the sprawling city center. Copenhagen parks are not natural oases to get lost in. But they are reviving, and after a dark cold winter, really any trees and green grass are reviving.(Copenhagen, Denmark; April 2020)
Somebody thought the huge boulders in the forest needed decorating. The green moss is gorgeous on its own, but a little pink sure does spruce up any spruce forest.
(Christmas Boxing Day in southern Finland was stunningly snowless.)(Loviisa, Finland; December 2019)
What’s the deal with deer parks in Denmark? Sofar I have run into deer parks in my both hometowns Brande and Vejle, as well as in Aarhus. And I know there are several around Copenhagen. The Danes sure seem to love deer.
Deer parks are parkland or wilderness, where you go for a leisurely walk and view deer. Interestingly, none of the species I’ve encountered (sika deer and fallow deer) are originally Danish, or even Nordic. The sika deer hails from East Asia (today mainly seen in Japan), while the beautifully horned and spotted fallow deer (below) was introduced to Europe, possibly by Phoenicians some 3,000 years ago, and adopted by many medieval aristocrats into their castle hunting grounds.
The native Danish roe deer are everywhere, even in our backyard forest in Vejle, but rarely in deer parks. I have also run into the other domestic species in the forest: the majestic, huge red deer. Think of Harry Potter’s patronus: an albino red deer stag. If you would like to see one for real, do head out into the rare natural forests of Jylland, not the deer parks.(Marselisborg Deer Park, Aarhus; October 2019)
Here in Vejle nature is just outside of the door: a kilometers long uphill slope overgrown with beech and birch trees which abruptly plateaus into grazing fields with horses and cows, and meadows with views all over the city. From the dining table floor-to-ceiling windows I can see trees covering the tall, lush slope right outside. Sparkly blue jays make a ruckus in the trees. Now that the branches are bare I have spotted deer more than once, as well as birds I have only seen in bird books before, back in Finland. And late into October the air outside was swarming with bats.
Further along the ridge there stands a funky looking fake (?) stone sculpture with viking-era engravings and runes. For some reason this bullet-looking thing and the clearing it stands on are called Himmelpind. Sky-stick in Danish. But it is neither a stick, nor is the clearing by far the highest point in the vicinity. Even the view is partially obstructed by the forest. Nothing of this makes any sense, but the place sure is beautiful. (Vejle, Denmark; October 2019)
The sunlight still brightened the beach sand to a brilliant white, even if it was the last weekend of September. For many hours during those three days, I sat on the cool sand watching the little swirls of water rolling in, perhaps all the way from German shores. We were just seven women on this private weekend retreat, of many ages and cultures. The old white-washed farmhouse on the countryside of Møn island filled with moments of laughter, moments of silence, and the scent of delicious vegetarian food. Mornings were for yoga and reflection, afternoons for silent meditation and skinny dipping, and evenings for dining, sauna, and sharing.
It was as if the unusually long Danish summer ended that Sunday, when we locked the doors and began the drive back up South.(Island of Møn, Denmark; September 2019)
Deep in Galicia, the river Sil squiggles through a canyon with walls up to 500 meters high. Somehow the Roman settlers discovered that the steep canyon walls produced excellent wine, as long as one had the energy and perseverance to maintain the vine plants required. It seems that not only winemakers liked the Cañon del Sil, as there are a number of hermitage monasteries scattered along both riverbanks. Oaks, chestnuts, ferns, and even Galician pine make the Sil river canyon lush surroundings for hiking – as long as one can keep up with the changes in altitude.Along the cliff edge there is also a viewpoint curiously named Balcones de Madrid, even if one cannot see Madrid from it. With a little help from Google I pulled up stories about women choosing the viewpoint to see off their trader husbands traveling to Madrid: they had to climb down the canyon on one side, cross the river by boat, and climb up on the other side. Although whether it were the women or the men who built the laid rock walls still remains a mystery to me.(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)
Hiking in Galicia feels a little like what I presume hiking in Middle Earth (or of course New Zealand) would be. Lush, green forests, small streams, rounded boulders, and mountains everywhere.It is as if one could expect the head of a little gnome peeking from behind the rocks lining the path. Alas, the only unusual thing we saw today was a flower growing right out of the ground. Without stem or leaves. As if the ground itself were in bloom.
(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)
September is still summer in Spain. Even in the fragas, the old-growth forests of the cool, rainy Northwest. Walking in a fraga is like walking in a fairytale forest overgrown with old oaks, chestnuts, and ferns; with mosses covering the trunks and and lichens dangling from the branches. The water is pure and cool. I heard the Eume river is home to hordes of trout. This is probably what much of the Atlantic coastal forests looked like, before the industrial revolution. Fortunately bits and pieces are still conserved in Galicia.
(Fragas do Eume; Spain; September 2019)
One sunny afternoon after class I, my classmate, and two lovely Catalan ladies crammed ourselves into a car and headed out to the Flysch UNESCO geopark. Our guide gave us a walking stick each, brought us up a hill with a magnificent view over the coastline, showed us the hiking route across the rocks to a beach we could not quite see, and said “agur”, which is Basque for “adios”. “See you when you get there.” Then he turned on his heels and walked away, back to the car.
We ladies began our trek down the hill, along the beach, with some trepidation that we’d lose the way because there were so many trail options and markings. Finally we understood that “our” trail was the red-yellow-white detour trail of the Camino del Norte (the North pilgrimage route to Santiago) and we lifted our eyes to enjoy the landscape.And stunning it was: soft, undulating grassy hills that stopped short as if cut in half, with a rock face plunging straight down into the ocean. Horses with bells and lots of flies, green grass, blue skies, blue ocean water, and white froth. And several pairs of backpacked people walking the Camino, more or less worn out and sunburned.
The Flysch geopark is like an open book of the history of our Earth. Each vertical slab running from the hills into the ocean is like a page, a fossilized fold of the surface of the Earth. Once upon a time these pages were laid one on top of the other, but then the continental plates moved and forced the ocean floor to turn sideways, like a book standing on its spine. There are “pages” of yellow sand; others with ammonites trilobites, and other sea life; and surprisingly many black bands from volcanic eruptions. Together these layers form millions of millions of years of history. The reason for the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago can be confirmed here: the black band sitting in the right place “in the book” contains traces of extraterrestrial material, from the ash cloud that killed the sunlight and much life on Earth for years after the meteorite hit. Good shoes were needed, as well as a good head with two functioning ears. Our guide spoke with an Argentinian accent (which I find the most difficult Spanish accent). Somewhere along the tour he must have forgotten that I and my classmate were estudiantes de español, possibly because we nodded our heads too vigorously. And so the guidance of the second half of the tour was lost to us.
As I sat in the shade of the striped rocks I marveled at the age of our Earth: the time and effort needed to slowly create these deposits of animal fossils and dust and silt which then became band structures. The Iberian peninsula was once upon a time far adrift, and only when it floated back into contact with continental Europe the Flysch formation was squeezed and rotated into view. Could this stunning geometric structure have been a holy site for humans living here tens of thousands of years ago?
(Flysch Geopark, Spain; August 2019)
There has been a Gasthaus on top of Schafberg since 1862, and it prides itself to be the first mountaintop Gasthaus in all of Austria. Since the steam cogwheel train was not built until the 1890s, the only way up was on foot (or horse or mule). Quite a lot of work for the gentry and nobility that liked to come up for a day’s outing. That train is going upward, by the way, pushed by the steam locomotive. Schafberg seems to be well known by Austrians and less so by foreigners. As I do not exactly have millions of readers I take the risk of making a warm recommendation for anyone wanting to combine a weekend in Salzburg with a couple of days of fresh air. By the way, there is a decently accessible hiking path up and down the mountain, too.(Schafberg, Austria; July 2019)