Not many places in the world were the home of one of the world's most reknowned authors. But when the name 'Hans Christian Andersen' appeared, there was likely nowhere in Denmark not wanting to stake a claim on the name. Mr. Andersen was probably Denmark's best recognized man, whose fairy tales entertained adults and children alike for a century and a half. So it wasn't surprising that the Danish capital of Copenhagen and Andersen's home city of Odense were engaged in a friendly rivalry in an effort to ride the coattails of the author's fame. (Reminiscent of Salzburg and Vienna when it came to Mozart.) Sadly for Odense, Copenhagen had the upper hand being the bastion of Danish tourism and the great Little Mermaid sculpture on its harbor.
That was just as well, because I didn't go to Odense (OH-den-zuh) seeking out the Emporer's New Clothes. Instead, I sought quiet refuge on the farmland island of Fyn (or Funen). Fyn was Denmark's heartland and breadbasket, a haven of gentle farmland, quiet streams, and idyllic little villages. I found it to be an attractive city with lots of parks, a beautiful zoo, and pleasant streets filled with pleasant people. Being a bit out of the tourist mainstream allowed Odense to keep a humble, rural flavor while there were plenty enough tourists to encourage an international flavor, especially in the restaurants.
I arrived on the night train direct from Heidelberg before the city was fully waking up. This surprised me in a way because it was a Friday and not a bank holiday, so I expected to encounter rush hour. But I soon learned that the Funen people used their bikes more than their cars, and Odense was one of few cities I'd seen that has full-blown bicycle highways, bicycle traffic lights, and bike counters -- measuring the traffic with a stated goal of two million bikes passing by that spot. An odd but worthy goal, though I wondered what progress was made during the severe winters. However, I didn't recall seeing a single overweight local, and the septuagenarians seemed quite able to pedal in step with the youngins. So obviously, the idea might have worked in promoting healthier lifestyles.
Well, having a couple extra summer pounds to shed myself, I opened my Odense adventure with a healthy walkabout. I first traveled around the downtown, then headed down to the H.C. Andersen Haven (from where the first photo was taken) then following the walking paths along the Odense Aa (or canal). The Aa runs through the southern end of the downtown and winds it way due south toward Midtfyn (Middle Funen).
It was a pleasant walk past a few artificial ponds, the local soccer stadium and sports center, and by the Zoo. Roughly four kilometers later, I came upon one of Odense's best attractions -- Den Fynske Landsby, the old Funen Village museum.
This Museum was similar in fashion to Den Gamle By museum found in Aarhus, except this one described a much older time (16th-17th century) and a more agricultural past. Considering Odense's modern size, it surprised me to learn that at the time of Andersen's birth, Odense had only 5,000 inhabitants and was almost exclusively farmland. The houses in Den Gamle By had a very authentic feel to them, and the mock village included an old hospital, mills, inns, houses, and stables was farmland. The museum had its own horses, cows, pigs, and donkeys, and a full-time staff to care for them.
I swung by the Odense Zoo on my back, and rather enjoyed that, too. It was one of the larger zoos I had seen in Europe. A large section of the zoo is open land where herds of elk and ostriches were able to roam free. In fact, the ostriches had a fresh nestful of eggs, and I didn't realize how many eggs an ostrich could produce. There was also a young children's section with a petting zoo and bunny nursery.
I got back to the downtown in time for lunch. By then, the city had completely woken up and the streets were packed with people. Shown in the third photo, the Vestergade held the bulk of the pedestrian traffic. Bicycles were also permitted in the zone, and bicyclists were in great numbers.
Odense didn't seem to be a souvenir-oriented town, the shopping was pretty much what you'd find in any city. But if one was to truly enjoy Odense, one had to seek out the tiny alleys and side streets. Those were where some of the best restaurants were hidden, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the main road. For example, Vintrapperstraede was marked only with an innocuous archway on Vestergade, but it was one of the best spots for charming cafés, restaurants, and a welcome respite from the traffic. On this weekend, I would dine at three different restaurants there -- one Mexican, one Chinese, and one Italian; all of them good. Yes, just about everything was available there.
Odense's downtown had a number of grand buildings as well. It had a beautiful red-brick town hall, numerous churches, and the Odense Slot, the city's famed white palace shown in the fourth photograph.
But of course, Odense could not stake a claim to Andersen's fame without its own fairy tale landmark. The Hans Christian Andersen Hus (fifth photo) was a museum dedicated to the life and times of this great author. This photo made the museum look small, but that it was not. It covered virtually a full city block and was in the process of being further expanded. I chose this angle to avoid the construction. About ten rooms were dedicated as a full biography of the man, his world travels, his successes and failures, and his unfulfilled love life (which I thought was a tad overdone, but whatever...). A library contained his works in about a hundred different languanges, and an art gallery held works by world artists commemorating his best loved characters.
The museum was in the northeast of the old town, the one part of town that had a distinctive character. As opposed to Odense's red-brick monuments, this section was composed of very low-built and tiny rowhouses painted in pastel colors. Yet, the front doors only came up to shoulder-height on me. As I had noticed that the average modern denizen was roughly my height (6'2"), I found it interesting that this section had not been at least renovated to the point of reasonable convenience.
As you probably can guess, I had a lot of fun in Odense. It was the perfect place to satellite from, too, as it sat in the center of almost everything. Trains ran continuously through the island of Funen, and Odense was the centerpoint on the main lines running from the Jutland peninsula to Copenhagen. I strongly recommend a visit.
Trip taken 30 August - 2 September 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin