To The Oldest Town in Denmark

More riding through pastoral farms as we headed southwest into Jutland, a small peninsula where we hoped to delve into Denmark’s medieval past. More grazing land and long fields and bogs of peat added to the aromatic wonderland swirling inside my helmet—pungent.

Motorcycle riders get it, the full sensual experience of being open. To all the elements, temperature, precipitation, panoramic views, a true sense of speed as the ground moves so close below. And then there’s the smell.

When I first moved to California in the 80’s I rode a small Suzuki 450cc bike between West LA and Orange County. In the morning I’d pass through Torrance on the 405 freeway where the intoxicating smell of sweet bread wafted across the freeway from King’s Hawaiian Bakery. I never stopped, but the smell of that bread that so many other commuters trapped in traffic simply miss inside their cars, windows rolled up.

Nothing sweet about the smells of the ride to Ribe, Denmark’s oldest city settled in the 8th century as the Roman empire fell and gave rise to Celtic and Germanic kingdoms.

Like many of Europe’s old towns, the historic part of Ribe is closed to vehicular traffic. With a useless GPS and complete lack of direction, we soon found ourselves riding where we shouldn’t. We came across a small gathering of people led by a man cloaked in a long black double breasted peacoat with a large gold medallion dangling from a chain around his neck and carrying a torch and what looked like a medieval weapon, a barbed iron ball atop a pole, his walking stick.

John and I joined the group on the following night as we wandered and winded our way through the old towns cobblestoned streets and dark alleys. While this tourist walk enlightened us to the cast of characters that walked the streets and created the town from yesteryear, I was more fascinated by the young and sweet bartender at our hotel. No, and not in that way.

She spoke very good English and was currently studying at the local university. As our conversation turned to pop culture then politics, she asked me why there were so many school shootings in the United States. She knew about so many. She revealed that in Denmark’s equivalent of high school, called gymnasium, academic study and not sports, every student must take a class in school shootings. That’s right, in Denmark they study school shootings in high school.

She told me that she doesn’t know anybody who owns a gun in Denmark. Yes, they sell guns in Denmark, but like a car one must get a license to own and use one. These guns, she admits, are for solely for hunting, and that she is unaware of shooting ranges or other non-hunting recreational use of firearms in Denmark.

 

If you somehow miss seeing it, you will certainly hear the bells. The Ribe Cathedral “The Church of Our Lady” is the oldest cathedral in Denmark. It is a mix of architectural styles as the structure has undergone many revisions since it was built by King Valdemar in the 13th century, including the addition of the Maria Tower, which rises some 150 feet above the plaza and shops circling it below.

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