Picture it: Germany, 2016. A gleaming white ICE rushes towards the majestic Hanse city of Hamburg. It has departed ancient Nuremberg in the early hours of dawn, its nose unerringly pointed north. For over 300 miles it has traversed the country; rushing through Frankonia’s hills and vineyards at breakneck speeds, carefully navigating the forested highlands of Hesse, and finally barreling into the flat expanse of Lower Saxony like a very German and thus sleek, efficient, and air conditioned Bat out of Hell. By now the midsummer sun stands high in the sky. Black and white blobs dot the green landscape basking in the heat- they might be cows. At 170 mph it can be hard to tell. One of the three lovely American ladies who are firmly ensconced in the on board café gives her empty cappuccino cup a mournful look. Is there time for another?
“Guys, I think we’re slowing down.”
And so they are. Coasting into fair Hamburg, city of elegant mansions and merry red-light districts, rowdy soccer fans and obscenely rich merchant nobility. Canals and harbors, sailing ships and mighty container vessels, and of course the busy Hauptbahnhof.
Picture, if you will, the three Americans confidently grabbing their eclectic assortment of bags and suitcases, some of those emitting a faint aroma of horse. One by one, they spill out onto the platform, bright eyed, bushy-tailed, and their necks craning like baby owls’ to take in this new, unknown place in all its fascinating details.
They’ve drawn a bit of attention on their journey, those amiable ladies (being Teutonic attention of course it was mostly discreet). Whether it were the distinctly military looking duffel bags propped against a sturdy red Samsonite (which by the looks of it is the only one to have seen a war zone), the mentioned equine scent, or their animated chatter in a foreign language; they are exotic this far from any of the Army bases tucked into Bavaria’s deep forests. Which is not a bad thing, as it turns out.
They have traveled the world. They have safely navigated some of the planet’s largest airports, and at least one of them is equipped with a carrier pigeon’s sense of direction. Surely, they can find their way from one train to another?
Maybe not. Where is Ariadne with her wool when you need the old girl? A map wouldn’t go amiss, either. Golly, I swear I just saw Dr. Livingstone.
“Do the ladies require assistance?” A “Hanseat” appears, as if conjured out of a stereotype parallel universe, complete with smart suit and affable dignity. Utterly charmed, the ladies nod in unison. Why yes sir, they do. They do indeed.
Perhaps they still tell tales of the three American ducks following the Hanseatic swan. Hamburg is a harbor city, and sailors love a good story. “The Soldier and the Merchant Prince” has a nice ring to it. Or so the young ducklings would have agreed, if not for the stubborn mother duck being more interested in food and that wretched train. A magical romance, withered beneath the German summer sun before it could blossom.
We’ll always have Hamburg…
It’s quite a different train that takes the urban German from the bustling metropolis out to the coast, and onward to the fabled island of Sylt. Chugging along at a pace sedate enough to identify the black and white blobs as large, gentle Holstein cows; crossing rivers and seemingly endless plains, one lazy hour after the other. It is nearly mid-afternoon when one of the hitherto peacefully dozing Americans sniffs the air and strikes a heroic pose (as heroic as one might, hemmed in by luggage and German bicycles haphazardly piled upon one another) and declares: “Thálatta!”
Riding a train through the Atlantic Ocean sounds rather more dramatic than it is. The Hindenburgdamm, while a triumph of German engineering I’m sure, does not inspire much awe from actual Germans. Yet it is a sight. A teenage Teuton is happily explaining the history and geography of the region to the youngest American, while outside the windows eternity seems to stretch on in a thousand shades of blue. All too soon the ocean gives way to dunes and scrappy heather. And then the Americans spill out onto another platform, bushy tails looking rather a bit more travel worn by now, yet their spirits remain undimmed.
“Moin!” Once more, the travelers are proving exotic enough to alert their Taxi driver that these are indeed The Americans She Is Looking For. And thus they are gently shepherded into the Mercedes that will take them North yet again, to the harbor and the ferry. Clear across the island, past the windswept dunes and the summer villas of the rich and famous, past the simpler yet infinitely more charming dwellings of the locals, past Chanel outlets and trendy bars.
At a place located at 55°0′N 8°26′E, the heat should not be permitted to be this oppressive. Even the breeze from the open ocean provides only little relief. After bidding their kind driver a fond farewell, the travelers shoulder their luggage which seems to inexplicably have gained 50 pounds since Hamburg, and meander their way through flocks of tourists and inquisitive seagulls. The older teen is the first to spy the Dannebrog flying high above the ferry that sits on the picturesque little harbor’s outer edge. Vikings of old have shown less enthusiasm storming towards Paris than these three Americans do charging towards this second to last leg of their long journey. They probably didn’t sweat so much, either.
It’s the loveliest part, and thus of course the shortest. Propelled across the open water by powerful engines, the little ferry crosses the distance in less than an hour.
At first it’s only a pale smudge on the horizon. Then a dancing mirage in ivory and green. At last, the coastline of Rømø, stretching out under an almost ridiculous postcard-blue sky.
Velkommen til Danmark.
The Americans disembark amidst a flurry of automobiles and bicycles. The hotel is supposed to have arranged transportation for the final leg, but much as they strain their aching necks, they cannot locate a bus, or anything resembling a shuttle service.
Horse people know one another. It’s a constant in the universe, one that has been proven time and again. Thus the tall, bearded descendant of mighty warriors has no trouble honing in on the three ladies walking in bewildered circles.
“Hej! Hvad så! My Americans, ja?”
“What gave us away?”
Thus they are piled into a sturdy old Land Rover. At long last, exhaustion and heat take their toll; or perhaps it’s the soothing aroma of horse and saddle soap that permeates the Rover’s interior, but the three ladies soon resemble a baroque painting. A slightly odd one, with three graces in jeans and t-shirts languidly draped over horse blankets and assorted tack. Still, they instantly become alert when Olaf mentions a seafood buffet just as they come to a stop after what felt a mere five minutes.
Dusk has fallen by the time the three graces stumble from the magnificent little hotel restaurant, having done their ancestors proud by executing a flawless raid of every dish in evidence, and going back for seconds. Then thirds. You better believe I have room for dessert. Their room awaits, as does their luggage which kind and thoughtful Olaf has already deposited there. After 15 hours on rail, road and sea, they are ready to postpone the adventure of Denmark until dawn.
But it finds them first.
As they round a corner, the sun dips below the western horizon and warm lights spring to life, illuminating a path to the pool and the front door of what will turn out to be a charming little apartment. A breeze from the ocean rustles the trees, carrying a scent of salt and roses and horses with it.
“This is it. I live here now.”
A donkey somewhere behind the trees brays his agreement.
“The father of day | is Delling called,
And the night was begotten by Nor;
Full moon and old | by the gods were fashioned,
To tell the time for men.”
The Saga continues here: Horses, bicycles and assorted calamities connected therewith. More pictures.