On General Prayer Day, we traveled to the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea below Sweden. It’s known for its historic Romanesque churches and art. We felt lucky to get a hotel reservation as we assumed tourists would be flocking there.
Our near-empty ferry arrived late in the afternoon so we rushed to the round Ǿsterlars Church to see its 14th century frescos. But the church was locked - on Prayer Day. Lutheranism is Denmark’s state religion, making its ministers civil servants with public holidays off. Go figure.
On Saturday morning we arose to our inclusive breakfast expecting, what else, Danish pastry. But we got Sun over Bornholm, a stack of toast, smoked herring, raw onions, and a raw egg—with a chaser of schnapps .“Why?” I asked the waiter when he handed me a shot glass of aquavit at 9 a.m. “Because fishies gotta swim.” Okay. . . .
With the churches closed, we turned to art. Bornholm has special light, they say, that attracts serious artists. We located one of the best glassblowers on the island, and his studio was open. Why? Because he wasn’t Danish. He was American, a professor on leave from the University of Montana. He explained his fascinating new technique, colored glass with transparent windows, and we dropped several hundred bucks just to thank him for being around.
Driving back, we searched for a restaurant as the one in our hotel closed after breakfast. Town after deserted town had lights out. Finally we saw an inviting place. Candles lit. Diners along the windows. A roaring fireplace at one end. "Hygge," I thought. Cozy.
After parking, we rushed to the restaurant, rudely passing a herd of people headed that way. We hung up our coats and then stood in the waiting room and watched the kitchen staff. When no one seated us, we asked one of the cooks for a table. She just stared.
“Do you speak English?” we asked. “Of course.” “Could we have a table?” More staring. Finally my husband’s hopeful expression drooped. “Is this your home?” he asked sheepishly. “Of course,” she replied. “It’s, uh, lovely.” We gave them a few seconds to welcome us in, but they declined.
Totally discouraged, we turned to leave just at the arrival of the herd (aka, invited guests). They hung their coats on top of ours and blocked our exit. We had to shake hands with each one, with a few asking, “Who are you?” Eventually we stood alone in the foyer. Still, no one took pity on our hungry souls. After we dug out our coats and skulked to the door, the owner kindly said, “There’s a pizza place in the next town.”
There was. We all assumed it would be open, too. Never assume anything in a foreign country.