Saturday 7 March 2015

A + J in Sunny Solvang

Solvang is Danish for 'Sunny Field', a particularly apt moniker for a town that enjoys balmy temperatures and is bathed in golden sunlight all year round. The town was established by Danish migrants early in the 20th century, who had initially settled in the Midwest. Compared to the horrendous winters they faced there, California made a highly attractive alternative, and so west-ward they went. Anyone who's ever been to Solvang will tell you that this was an excellent move. 

The town's earliest residents didn't overtly showcase their cultural roots, and it wasn't till the 1930s that a trend started to build homes, or at the very least facades, in a traditional Danish style called Bindingsværk. The popularity of "half-timbered" houses and Danish farmhouse designs gave the town a more distinct look and feel, and today, walking through Solvang is like walking through a bijou slice of Northern Europe. It's impossible to get lost as you meander down the well-kept streets as well, which contributed somewhat to easing my pain from that one time in Denmark I led my family half an hour away from where we intended to go, after taking one wrong turn. 

It's a shame we missed the annual Danish Days celebrations, which are held on the third weekend every September. We were told that visiting then is the best way to get a taste of Danish folk traditions without having to get on a plane. The music and dancing are led by the descendants of the original settlers, and the occasion is marked with plenty of feasting and cheer, things I'm always interested in. 

Having been a tourist in Denmark on two occasions, I can vouch for how difficult it is to get a good picture of Edvard Eriksen's statue of The Little Mermaid as she perches on a rock by the docks. She has a sister in Solvang, somehow even smaller, but looking more pensive than melancholy. The best part is the fact that there aren't hoards of other people fighting you for the best photo-taking angle, and your picture won't get ruined by inopportune swans. It is, perhaps, less romantic than being in Copenhagen proper, but let's face it, it isn't very romantic to get thwacked by a wayward selfie-stick while looking at the original either. 

I'm not usually a breakfast person, but when all the recommended dishes happen to be breakfast foods, my desire to try all the good stuff generally outweighs my disinterest in ingesting solids before 11 am. Our first breakfast was at Paula's Pancake House,  where we had Danish pancakes topped with bacon, cinnamon stewed apples, and whipped cream. We also had a taste of medisterpølse, a spicy Danish sausage. They're traditionally made by stuffing minced pork into pig intestines, and while still tasty, the one we tried seemed pretty intestine-free. The place is usually completely packed, but we arrived just before the breakfast crowds descended, and managed to get a rather nice table outside. 

On our final day in Solvang, we loaded up on æbleskiver (Pronounced aye-bell-ski-ver) from the Solvang Restaurant, which serves the best version in town. They also sell these to go, an excellent option for those who want a snack to wander around town with. Each serving comes with three piping hot pancake balls, cooked fresh in cast iron pans, drenched in rich raspberry jam and dusted with a layer of powdered sugar. They were glorious. 

Solvang is a town that's twee and touristy in the best possible ways, and brimming with opportunities to take adorable holiday snapshots. You don't have to take a picture with their giant red clog, but there's something about it that compels everyone who walks past to want to stick their foot on it, maybe pose a bit with a face that conveys an air of sadness that the shoe won't fit. We experienced the magic firsthand, and the couple strolling behind us laughed when they saw me trying on the shoe, telling us they'd had the exact same idea. 

Shoe aside, there are also lovely little architectural features all around town that will catch your eye. In this case, I wasn't sure if the twin crowned lion is an actual crest or just a fancy embellishment to someone's front door, but it made for a nice photo all the same. 

Likewise for this almost nautical clock. Very Jules Verne. 

If you're into chocolate, wine, and all the good stuff in life, you might also enjoy all the witty one-liners you can find across town. You could cover the entirety of Solvang in a day on foot, so it's perfectly suited to slow-paced walking adventures where you stop and marvel at every little thing that catches your eye. 

After a morning hitting the downtown wine bars, we wandered over to the Hans Christian Andersen Park for a picnic, and found that it was full of shady spots just perfect for a post-lunch siesta. We made the most of it. 

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