Skagen, Denmark: A Hidden Gem
First of all, I wanted to mention really quickly that our cruise ship did stop in Helsinki, Finland. There was an excursion that we had looked at booking, but they had filled up, and so we had talked about taking a bus into the city centre, even though we didn't really know what kind of things there were to do in Helsinki. We looked at a few of the attractions that were advertised, but didn't really see anything that sparked our interest. Turns out that both of us didn't feel very well that morning, with me having the worst of it. I still really wanted to head into the city, because how often does one have the opportunity to romp around Finland, so we got off the ship, went through the border, realised we didn't have enough euros to get on the bus, bought a magnet that said Helsinki and looked at stuffed reindeer, and then got back on the ship because I really did not feel good. After I had a good sniffle because I felt like I had ruined a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we walked on deck and looked at what we could see of Helsinki. It looked very... industrial. Definitely a modern city with a lot of construction. A few people next to us at lunch had said that there really was not much to do and that it was their least favourite destination they'd gotten off at. Now, I am not saying that Helsinki is not beautiful- I am sure that it is a stunning city- I am just saying that out of all of the places that we stopped at, I am glad that is the day I did not feel very well.
Now, onto Skagen. When we had originally booked the cruise, this is the destination that we were the least excited for. All of the others were capitals of their country or places that we had heard about before. We even talked about not getting off in Skagen and enjoying a day on board where a lot of the passengers would be off exploring. However, when we realised what a short walk it would be to get into town, we decided to get off for a bit, and that we could always get back on if we didn't find ourselves having an amazing time.
We hadn't just explored on our own since Oslo, so we didn't really know what to do. Luckily, we were greeted as we got off the ship with a map and some very friendly locals pointing us in the direction of the city centre. What is really neat about this port is that it was the Navigator of the Sea's first time being there, so the whole town was really excited to have such a large and well-known ship docked in their small little fishing village. For those of you who have never heard of Skagen (which I would assume is most of you), it is the northernmost town in Denmark, Denmark's main fishing port, is known for its impressionist painters, and also finally it's watches. Just look up Skagen watches if you don't know what I am talking about- they're super beautiful.
So, Jonathan and I headed out into the warm weather, following the crowd of people weaving around all of the little buildings in the docking area, until we came face-to-face with a load of vibrant yellow building with brick-red roofs. Soon enough, everywhere that we looked, that was all we could see. Definitely a very easy and quick way to pick up on the local's aesthetic. All in all it was about a ten minute walk into the little bustling centre of Skagen which was not bad at all. The sun shone down as we wandered past all of the local shops opening up. Jonathan and I went into a little super market for no other reason than to see it and that we could say we had weaved through the aisles of a Danish food store. There were shops of all different sorts- local knick-knack places, art galleries that hosted local impressionist paintings, Flying Tiger (one of my favourite stores that has origins in Denmark), and the like. We just browsed as we walked down the main street until Jonathan asked if there was anything in particular that I wanted to do. I decided that since everything was pretty close, and I didn't know when I would be back, that I wanted to see the famed Skagen beaches- a very popular destination for the impressionist painters of the area.
Jonathan took out his map and found the best course to get there. There is something really magical about using a map to figure out a new place. This was one of the few destinations where we did not have internet access or a tour-guide, so we were left to figure out Skagen on our own. We went past a lookout tower, Anchers Hus (a museum of Michael and Anna Ancher, two well-known Skagen Painters), and a little cafe before delving into the residential streets of Skagen. Even off the beaten path, the little homes were adorable with blooming flower boxes hanging off of their window sills and the stunning yellow outside walls. We came across a local couple taking their dogs for a walk, and when I said "thank you" in English, they got all excited, gave me the biggest smile, and returned it with a "You are welcome!". Like I said, they like their tourists here, which is such a nice feeling since it's usually the tourists that are the bane of a city's existence. Finally, some sand started to appear, and I gave Jonathan a backwards glance. He hates sand!
There were some tourists on bikes at the top of a hill next to a bizarre looking contraption that looked a bit like a black wooden crane. Upon further research after we left Skagen (all of the signs were in Danish!) I learned that it was an old lighthouse used back in the day! The little barrel that hangs from the top can be lit with fire and it used to give guidance to the ships coming into port. I love local history like that, and am so glad that we stumbled upon it while searching for the beach. Jonathan took a seat on a bench next to Vippefyr (the lighthouse) while I kicked off my sandals and headed into the sand and out to the water. This beach was different than any beach I have ever been to. It's not a huge place where there are people sunbathing and a crowd of people splashing in the water. Instead, there are a few quiet couples walking slowly across the sand, a small family having a nice lunch tucked into the long sea grass that was woven in hills across the beach, and views of the traditional yellow houses in the distance.
As I attempted to take selfies next to the gentle blue waves (I really need to get Jonathan to walk across sand), I felt this intense calm wash over me. I put my camera down and let the water hit my ankles as I leaned down to pick up some of the beautiful pebbles that had washed up on shore. It didn't exactly feel like "paradise" with crystal clear water and palm trees, but it was exactly the atmosphere that I would want from a beach. I mentioned recently to a friend that out of all the places that I traveled to, this is the one that I could see myself writing about in a novel of some sort. The whole town just sort of FEELS a certain type of way that I love.
When I finally felt like I had soaked up enough happy energy to last awhile, I headed back to pick up my husband, took in the panoramic views of the town up on the hill, and we back-tracked into town. Going a different way, we came across Skagen church where there were church bells ringing across the whole of the town, a little shop where I bought a sweet sheep figurine and a magnet, and a group of kids on a field trip somewhere chattering in rapid Danish. By the time that we had got back to the ship, I was exhausted from all of the walking- it didn't seem like much at the time because we'd been so taken in by the sights, but we'd reached our 10,000 steps in the couple hours that we had been out. We got on the ship one last time (Skagen was our final port of call), and headed to the Windjammer to get us a load of water. The sights of Skagen from the ship were absolutely incredible, and they even brought a local marching band to the docks to play us music before we left! How sweet is that?
I have truly never been to a place like Skagen before, and I think that it makes the whole experience that much more special. There are some places that you go to when you are traveling where you think "Oh, what a fascinating place, I would love to come back" like Tallinn or St. Petersburg, but then there are places like Skagen where you think you could just stay there forever and live like a local. Truly a hidden gem and the biggest surprise on the whole of the cruise.
Now, even though I am finished with the ports we stopped at, I still want to do an in-depth one on our ship The Navigator of the Seas and also a book blog with some short reviews of what I have been reading lately, so stay tuned for those. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to those who have been keeping up with the travel blogs!