One of my favorite parts about traveling—and getting to be in a place longer than just a few days—is stumbling upon little pockets of magic.
Though in our case, we didn’t quite stumble.
See, between Sessions 1 and 2 I took a weekend trip to Møns Klint with some friends. We boarded a train and two buses to get there, with harrowing five-minute connections and nearly-forgotten squashed duffle bags shoved between seats. And one of these harrowing connections was getting off a train from Nørreport to Vordingborg, and boarding a bus from Vordingborg to Stege.
A view of Vordingborg, from the train station, seemed intensely boring. It was greyish, there were bricks, there was a drab 7/11… Basically, it was a train station.
But then on the bus, my friends sat across from Antonio.
Antonio is seventeen and grew up in Vordingborg, but now lives in Copenhagen. And this boy, let me tell you—he was obsessed with Vordingborg.
No, really. Some examples:
Q: If you could teleport anywhere in Denmark right now, where would you go?
Q: We’re here for six weeks. If there’s one spot in Denmark we should visit, what should it be?
A: Vordingborg, of course.
Cut to two days later—we’re tired, dusty, and allergy-ridden (in my case at least) from our weekend at Møns Klint. We woke up at 3:00am to see the sunrise and some of us didn’t even go back to bed afterwards, and we are running on too little coffee.
But it’s noon on Sunday, and we are in Vordingborg.
We have half an hour before our train. We walk away from the station. It’s quiet; there’s barely anyone out. The buildings slowly grow around us from normal to more colorful, more quaint, more picturesque.
We’re on uneven cobblestone, tripping downhill, and suddenly it’s overwhelming how perfect it is here.
You see, Vordingborg is a perpetual small town.
It’s an old ferry town with 18,000 inhabitants. Three large private estates surround the town, making increased development impossible.
So here we are: on this beautiful tip of land in southern Denmark, prime real estate curving gently around a harbor, and isn’t it lovely to know this—it’ll never grow. It’ll never be something with skyscrapers and lights and flashy billboards. It will always be like this. Charming. It feels, in a way, frozen in time.
We miss our train.
(We miss it on purpose.)
In the center of Vordingborg lie the ruins of a castle. The old ring of the fortress still stands, with chunks of brick crumbling down that give way to gorgeous views of the water ahead. One tower—the Gåsetårn, or goose tower, built in 1360—still stands.
Why Goose Tower? From the Vordingborg website: The golden goose on top of the tower was put up there to make fun of the German Hanseatic League. King Valdemar Atterdag teased them by claiming that he was more afraid of a flock of squawking geese than of the entire German Confederation.
The entire old castle is surrounded by a moat that is now home to several families of ducks. This was Denmark’s most important castle in the 14th century and is rich with history—I wish we had more time to explore the museum inside.
The legend of the Dannebrog—the Danish flag—also has its roots in Vordingborg. The story goes that in 1219, the Dannebrog fell from the sky during the battle with Estonia, giving King Valdemar Sejr’s army the strength it needed to win. Most people don’t know that the legendary flag was then taken to Vordingborg!
While in a place so pivotal to Danish history, there was no other option but to try some traditional Danish food. We sat down at a quaint, egg-yolk-yellow restaurant called Borgen right in the shadow of the old castle and had a delicious lunch of smørrebrod.
Exploring the castle ruins:
The castle also borders a Historic Botanical Garden—Denmark’s first, and locally referred to as Sara’s garden. It’s beautiful, with mazelike hedges and old peasant plants that represent some of the town’s history. Birds chirp, bumblebees buzz; it’s a lovely haven from which you can sit and see the tower, the water, and the tops of the town’s many rust-colored roofs.
We walked along the marina, waging a constant battle between taking in the view and racing to catch the next train.
I remember yelling at some point: “I’m staying forever!”
I could have spent all day in Vordingborg. It was one of those days that I knew would be marked into my memory forever even as it was happening; one of those golden, perfectly crystallized highlights of my study abroad experience in Denmark.
(Thank you, Antonio.)