When you think you’re well-prepared you may not be.
“The sleepy isle of Aero is the cuddle after the climax,” Rick Steves writes in Rick Steves Scandinavia.
How’s that for a poetic metaphor? I’d never heard of Aero Island until I’d signed up for a Rick Steves tour of Scandinavia. Copenhagen, I knew, and Rick’s travel itineraries always feature widely diverse experiences. After leaving Denmark’s capital, we just relaxed while Ylva, our Swedish guide, took care of us. She taught us to pronounce the island’s name “air-oh” with a rolled r.
In June 2022, Eric and I joined 22 Americans on a tour that began in Stockholm, Sweden and ended in Bergen, Norway. Within Denmark we boarded a ferry at Odense and sailed for two hours to Aero Island which is 22 miles by 6 miles – home to 6,000 people. Our bus delivered us to our cheery hotel (Pa Torvet) on the town square in Aeroskobing, Denmark’s best-preserved 17th century town. We were enthralled by the tiny rowhouses painted gorgeously vibrant colours. No wonder Germans and Danes who holiday here call it the fairy-tale town.
Prior to our first dinner, the group heard from a local entrepreneur. A Danish woman and her English husband set up Danish Island Weddings in 2008. After the government streamlined the required paperwork, couples from all over the world visit to get legally married in an attractive upper room on the square. A brilliant way to boast the economy of this backwater place, particularly during COVID-19.
Heading Off Alone
Our one full day on the island dawned sunny and warm and many fellow travellers rented bicycles to tour the countryside on wheels. Instead, we chose to explore on foot relishing the independence borne by moving at our own pace after all that togetherness.
Armed with sunhats, bottles of water, artist’s paraphernalia, writer’s supplies, and sunscreen, off we set with a paper map and cell phone to guide us. We’d been told a local bus drove around on a loop and we could hop on free-of-charge anytime.
After snapping photos of more picturesque little houses, we strode along a one-lane rural road running parallel to the shoreline. The few humans we saw were on bikes or walking; the only buildings were distant farmhouses and barns about a kilometer from the water. Sea birds swooped overhead or chattered on the rocks. Sunshine reflected off the sea and made the gentle breeze gradually feel hotter. Waves broke and retreated along the beach.
Eric is always looking for interesting subjects to paint en pleine air, so we chose a rocky point on which to sit for about an hour. He faced inland to sketch a tidy farmhouse and its field while I began a new story. Such bliss and peace, accompanied by swigs of cool water and increasingly rosy cheeks as the sun rose overhead. Good thing we had protective hats.
Setting off again on our hike, we checked our location on my phone and started taking a route perpendicular to the shoreline. Lunch was a welcome concept and our water supply was diminishing so we decided a village with a restaurant would be a good idea.
Brilliant red poppies and blue cornflowers grew wild beside the road as we headed towards the nearest farmhouse way off in the distance. Picking up the pace, we walked and walked as our hiking poles tapped on the pavement.
When we realized there was no sign of any bus to take us home or any people to ask for directions a sense of unease began to rise in our tummies. Being in our late 70s we like to think we’re in better shape than many of our contemporaries, but the heat was getting oppressive and our water bottles were nearly empty.
Staring at the asphalt as I doggedly put one foot in front of the other, it appeared to sometimes be pulsating! Am I getting dehydrated and dizzy? Are we going to keel over and pass out on this pretty, desolate island? Who will find us?
At the top of a slope, we came to a lovely farmhouse with a courtyard, opposite a barn on the other side of the road. While Eric investigated a pig pen, I knocked on the front door. Most Danes speak at least some English, but nobody came to the door.
The pigs weren’t much help, so I stood in the shade and Googled a taxi. There seemed to be only one taxi company on Aero and its outgoing message was in Danish, followed by English. Leaving a message on this June Saturday made no sense and we couldn’t describe our location! My Google map didn’t register any names nearby that I could quote.
Suddenly a small car drove came along and we flagged it down. Its elderly driver got out and listened to our plea for help, smiled (displaying many gold teeth), muttered in Danish, and then left. Now what do we do?
Within about twelve minutes a second small car appeared, towing a trailer. The two twentysomethings listened to our distress (“We’re lost and running out of water!”) and offered us a drive to Aeroskobing. I nearly wept with relief as we threw our backpacks into the backseat and climbed in.
“We’re visiting from Canada...” began our conversation and the two beautiful young women responded in perfect English. When we asked about the trailer, the driver explained she had just bought a farmhouse in the vicinity and they were taking old furniture and trash to the dump. (This island seemed too pristine to have a dump.) They offered to deliver us to the harbour, where we could buy some lunch before a relatively short walk to our hotel. The drive took only about eight minutes.
We profusely expressed our gratitude as we disembarked, in front of the island's only grocery store. Freshly-picked strawberries displayed outside couldn’t be ignored, and inside we chose items to round out picnic lunches – especially chilled water. All was consumed at a perfectly placed picnic table near the water, as we watched a ferry arrive.
As a Canadian who’s had plenty of outdoor wintertime activities turn into endurance trials (think cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking through an unfamiliar forest during a blizzard), I’ve been cold, tired, hungry, and disoriented on several memorable occasions. But I’d never before experienced the rising panic of that day on Aero Island – exacerbated by extreme heat, worsening thirst, my fit-but-aging body, empty farmhouses, no shops or public amenities, a fit-but-aging husband, and no public transport.
Our saviours had laughed when I described my attempt to call a taxi. “Being the only taxi on the island, he only works when he feels like it! Like every third day.”