Our international leg started off in the Black Forest of Germany, where we visited my family. Since my godson was being baptized in September, this was the only time we absolutely had to be somewhere. It also happened to be a convenient way to ease into our European travels since my family had invited us to stay for however long we needed.

Black Forest Beginnings

It was a beautiful time of year to visit, and the baptism celebrations started as soon as we arrived! Sausages, beer, cake, and more were served pretty much every day, and it was a fun cultural celebration – and a great way to reconnect with family and friends while getting recommendations on our upcoming trips around the continent. Hiking in the Black Forest and my first drive on the Autobahn were other highlights, in addition to my aunt’s amazing traditional food.

We were a bit nervous to start the trip, especially with covid restrictions, but things went smoothly, and our family made things so comfortable. We found it interesting to experience the differences in how covid is handled in different countries – and the European covid app made travel extremely easy…bummer we don’t have this in the US.

We arrived with no concrete plans, something challenging for both of us and very much outside of our comfort zones. Fortunately, we were able to find a work exchange in Denmark relatively easily, and we took the advice of some friends to visit Hamburg along the way, eating some delicious seafood and touring the beautiful harbor.

Slowing Down in Denmark

Our trip to Denmark was a bit unusual since we ended up crossing the border by bus, and Denmark had just lifted all covid restrictions. It was a little jarring to be the only ones on our bus from Flensburg to Sønderborg and magically have all masking restrictions disappear once we crossed the border. Just a quick QR code check, and we were in a whole new world driving along a beautiful coast as the sun was setting.

In Denmark, we’d end up spending a few weeks on the island of Als, volunteering at an “eco-B&B” in a small town. Not sure what to expect, we arrived at the bus station waiting for our host to pick us up in the evening, and arriving at our destination about a half hour later, with introductions in the car.

Our host, Maren, was truly delightful – a friendly woman who loves learning about other cultures, teaching yoga, making pottery, and sharing about sustainability practices. Our room was simple, and we shared a bathroom together, but from the beginning we found the experience was teaching us to slow down and enjoy the simple things.

Our tasks and responsibilities each day revolved around the guests, food, and tending to the garden. About 80% of what we ate came directly from the garden. Most everything else was either caught nearby or bought organically. If we harvested squash that day, we’d look for squash recipes. Same with the apples and berries in the garden. We’d clear out the garden, cut the grass (with a scythe!), and share our scraps with the two goats, all in the shadow of the island’s oldest windmill-turned-into-museum. Being closer to our food was a refreshing experience and something I hope we’ll keep in mind throughout the trip and when we return.

“Tak for mad” is what the Danes say to express gratitude to the host after eating, and we heard this a lot during our stay. We’d wake up early to prepare breakfast for our guests each day, and sharing meals together was a real treat. We learned more about the culture and met local and international travelers, from families to traveling acting troupes. Also, I tried learning a little Danish every day…and wow, that’s a tough language. I thought I’d have some advantage with my German, but it’s surprisingly different, so we were lucky that so many folks could help us along the way with their English.

Learning how a B&B runs was illuminating and gave me a lot more appreciation for small businesses like Maren’s. There are plenty of companies that try to aggregate these kinds of listings, but contacting individual establishments directly (and paying in cash) is an excellent way to get even better service and rates. We’ll be keeping this in mind moving forward! Since our host needed new photos and some website updates, the last few days of our trip were focused on getting her digital self up to date, for which she was super grateful – it was nice to put our creative skills to good use after all we’d learned from the experience.

Outside of work, Maren took us around for some lovely cultural experiences. We learned about the island’s Viking history, attended our first concert in a LONG time, ate fresh grilled food on the beach, and even watched a movie in town.

After an eye-opening couple of weeks, our time at the little “hygge” eco-B&B ended, and we left for Copenhagen before our next…Ireland!

Weekending in Copenhagen

After spending time in the sleepy little town in southern Denmark, Copenhagen seemed huge!

We did plenty of walking, visited landmarks, museums, and plenty of palaces around the city. Learning about the history of Scandinavia was fascinating, and one one occasion we were close enough to Sweden to see its coastline!

As a quick aside, we learned about a great new app from a fellow work exchanger! It’s called Too Good To Go, and it basically pairs food establishments who have extra food at the end of shifts with folks who are more flexible with their food choices to reduce food waste. It ended up being a great fit for us, since we were excited about surprise food choices and loved how affordable it was.

Wrapping Up Before Ireland

Overall, our time in Germany and Denmark was a time of reconnection – to ourselves, family, friends, food, and nature. We were able to disconnect from digital media (something I really need to do more often) and get outside of our comfort zone. Our first work exchange was excellent…and man, do I miss picking those fresh berries every morning!