A Morning in Hirtshals

You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us have been,

a place that has to be believed to be seen.

Saturday morning, the first of August, I woke up in a campground in Hirtshals, a small town on the northern coast of Denmark.  It was perhaps five in the morning and the light shone pale green through the fabric of my tent.   I crawled out onto the grass and went to explore the morning’s possibilities.

I had done it.  I was in the right place at the right time.  The ferry was two kilometers away; that is, my ride to Iceland  was within walking distance.  There was no reason I could foresee why I wouldn’t be on it at 15:30, pulling away from the continent of Europe, and cruising a north-by-northwestly route towards the Faroe Islands.  I hadn’t blundered this one.  It was a bright sunny day with high cirrus clouds spreading thin, feathered brush strokes across the blue skies.  More tents had been set up for the Fiskefestival and a few kites were flying high near the beach.

With this one thought of my imminent success in mind, I blithely wandered towards the reception area to make a few notes and upload some photographs before I lost the opportunity to get online.  I have developed the discipline to write, photograph, edit and post continually as I travel, and find that if I did not maintain this habit, I wouldn’t be nearly as productive. Believe me when I say that I have wrestled with the decision of how to spend my time, and I have found that this staggered approach works very well for me.  If I didn’t process and publish incrementally, I would have a great burden of work to complete at the end, and although I might enjoy simply experiencing my journey rather than continually documenting it, I don’t think that I would have the luxury of time to devote to developing my work in the end.  It would be more of an afterthought, and much would be lost.  It’s not so important to me whether or not my audience is keeping up-to-date with my travels.  I use this method because if I didn’t, the work itself would most likely never take shape.

Check out from the campsite was at noon, but I would be leaving earlier than that for check-in with the Smyril Line.  It took about two hours for me to take care of my office work, and then I decided that I would try the breakfast option offered at the local hostel for 60 Danish kroners, or about nine dollars.  One Danish kroner is currently equal to about fifteen cents on the US dollar.  I was curious to see how the Danish version of a hostel breakfast compared with those I’d had in Germany and Switzerland.  I admit it.  I look forward to breakfast when I stay in hostels.  It’s comforting.  At least, I expect it to be. There was also the beach to explore, as well as the lighthouse and perhaps I could meander through the Fiskefestival before I had to make my way towards the ferry.  Sadly, I had already missed the sunrise.

But I was short by five kroners in Danish cash.  I had about seventy euros, but I really wanted to pay in kroners, so I went to the grocery to pick up a couple of snacks for later, paid for them in euros, received Danish kroners in change, and with these in hand, walked back to the hostel.  So here it’s similar to Switzerland, in that in certain places you can pay in euros, but you’ll get local currency in change.  Also, there are different kinds of kroners: Danish, Norwegian, Swedish Faroese and Icelandic. Krona just means crown, and “kroner” is the plural form.

In the hostel, breakfast turned out to be just as comforting as I was hoping it would be.  After all, I had been subsisting on cookies, raisins, dates and milk for the last three days while traveling and cycling.  May I elaborate for you the delicacies of the Danish hostel breakfast?  Thank you.

There were rolls, wheat and white, topped with diverse seeds, with butter and chocolate nut spread.  A dish of cucumbers and tomatoes.  A plate of leverpostej with bacon crumbles.  A tray of five different kinds of cheeses, including blue, gouda, brie, and two I didn’t recognize.  One was rather exciting, as it had its own little wooden stand with a sort of wire turnstile which you used to slice it. Three different pots of jam.  A tray of sliced cold meats.  A bowl of cut fruit:  melons, grapes, bananas and pineapple.  A bowl of soft-boiled eggs.  Three different kinds of yogurt.  Cereals.  Coffee, tea, apple  and orange juice.  And lit candles on all the tables.  There were only two families breakfasting in the room.   Did I mention that I found  this comforting?  I lingered over breakfast that morning, and watched the people outside spread their kites to catch the wind.

Afterwards, I wandered out towards the beach, into the wind and grass and the sound of waves, and watched other people wandering in a similar fashion, as they, like me, stopped for no particular reason near the edge of the cliffs and peered out at the ever-oncoming ocean waves.  I felt slightly giddy and a lyrical couplet began to form under my breath as I strolled.  Snatches of ocean poems, “Dover Beach”  and “Break, break, break” floated out of the hinterland of my memory, and words like aquamarine and froth and azure and seafoam percolated around in my brain.  Then I thought of a recent blog post I had read by a poetry editor who had pleaded with those submitting poems to please, please, please stop writing about the sea or at least have something original to say about it.

Did I have anything original to say about the sea?  I stared out at the crashing surf, which pulverized the sand and mesmerized me with its crushing intensity, how it continually rushed forward, rhythmic and immense and consuming.     No.   I thought.   I have nothing new to say about the sea.  

And so, with a mingled sense of blissful inspiration and slight chastisement, I turned my thoughts towards photography.   An immense white lighthouse rose up from the top of the grassy knoll and a footpath wound towards an old military bunker.  I decided to explore both.

Hirtshals Fyr

Note:   You can find other photographs from this day in my Hirtshals photo album on Flickr.

I climbed the lighthouse to the upper balcony and looked out over the ocean, over the military bunker and the town.  Would I ever come back to Hirtshals?  Who could say?   I had one morning here, and I was floating on the inside, so satisfied with myself for having not screwed up this one crucial connection.  For if I had missed my ferry, I would have ruined the dream.  But the dream was intact, and so I continued to float.  I floated down out of the lighthouse and down to the campground to gather my things.  I floated through town, through the Fiskefestival, watched tourists drink beer in the early morning and browse fish stalls where salmon and mackerel and what-have-you lay on ice, and children ran and tumbled in the street.  I kept on riding, hearing my chain beg for oil because I had been riding in the rain and hadn’t given it any attention in two months, and knowing that I wouldn’t be stopping for oil because I was going directly to the ferry.  Even though it was 11:30.  Just because I could.  I wouldn’t even mind waiting.  It would be a pleasure to wait, to sit on the ground beside that enormous ferry-ship and know that it was my business to board her.

I rode my bicycle like a chariot through the streets where no other bicycles were, following signage that directed automobile drivers and motorcyclists toward the check-in area for the Smyril Line.  I passed traffic, made turns using hand signals and crossed paths with campers, trailers, holiday cruisers, and other ferry-bound roadsters.  And I, on my bicycle, ended up being almost first in line to check in.  There was one other person ahead of me:  a man, wearing weather-proof clothing, a warm hat and sunglasses, sitting on a piece of driftwood, next to a mountain bike outfitted for touring with waterproof panniers, big knobby tires a handlebar bag.

Who he was and where he was bound is a whole other set of stories.  I hailed him with a smile, and we began talking.


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