Sunday, February 03, 2013

Europe 2011 - Part 5 The Island of Aero

We caught one of the early ferries from Sonderborg on the coast and crossed 12 miles of the Baltic Sea that separated the Island of Aero from the eastern Danish islands. The weather had been good and today was no exception; there was bright sunshine and a light wind to blow away any marine clouds so we would be able to enjoy watching the land slip away behind us and then watch the low hills of Aero appear in front of us. 

While we sat on the open deck enjoying the sunshine and the view of the coast, I couldn't help but think about what it must have felt like to board a sailing schooner and sail off to another place where you would be starting all over again....I have to admit, the strength of character it takes to uproot yourself and your family for an unknown place always amazes me. 

The view to the aft of the boat faded away as the slow pace of the ferry made it seem like the distance to travel was ten times further than it was; we kept waiting for the ferry to clear the mainland and pick up the speed like the BC ferries, but it didn't happen...we kept puttering along at what seemed like a walking pace.

Here's a little known fact that I picked out from our Eurocar rental agreement - your auto insurance is not valid if you are on a ferry! Any damages to the car from a ferry incident - like running aground, or sinking, is squarely on your shoulders and the cost comes out of your wallet! Well, I think I'll have bigger worries than a car if the ferry sinks.........but I digress....

About an hour into the ride the low hills of Aero began to take shape, and as we came closer we noticed a large number of "sticks" rising out of the water. We at first thought these might be for crab traps, but it didn't take long to realize that they were navigation aids marking a clear path through dangerous shoals around the island. Hmmm....maybe that nonsense idea of the ferry sinking wasn't all that unrealistic.....

Before long we were docked and driving off the ferry onto the island, where I made a quick right turn and parked as I just had to get a video shot of the "Welcome to Aero" sign. With that done, we packed back into the car and took one of the small farm roads away from the dock that led over land towards Aeroskobing. We were in no hurry, so we puttered along taking video of the farms and the view of the sea over the ocean side fields. Taking the narrow farm road took us along a scenic windy path past neat small road side farm houses that almost touched your mirror as you scooted past.

We eventually joined back up with one of the 3 main island roads and came in through the back side of Aeroskobing. Like many European towns, the small, old part of town had cobblestone roads and we crawled along the narrow road between 200 - 300 year old houses with barely enough room for a small car and a bike to pass each other.

A couple of blocks along we came to the old village square which was the centre of town and parked in the shadow of city hall, built circa mid 1700s. Most of the buildings in this historically preserved village date back around that time, with a few of the old houses a bit older. You can tell the really old ones, they lean into their neighbour like drunken sailors. In fact Aeroskobing started off as a trading village from which the fresh sea catches were sold to the mainland folks. For 400 years this has been a seafaring village where tough sea going boats where built and tough sailors manned them.
Today tourism has taking over most of the business dollars and the neighbouring village of Marstal has become the main sea going centre.

I stood and looked around the old square, and was sure that not much had changed in a few hundred years; the old city hall stood large on one side of the square, with the local church taken up another side, and roads leading in three directions brought citizens in and out of the square. And I had to wonder, how many times my relatives had walked past this way or stopped at the side by side hand pumps for a drink and sat on the bench under a sheltering tree.

The old section of town was only 5 blocks by 6 blocks and was easy to cover in a few leisurely hours. We had a couple of "to-do" things while we were here - one was to stop off at the local museum and talk with the curator, with whom one of my brothers had been corresponding, to obtain more information on the family tree. The second, was to locate the address of 18 Vestergaarde, which was where my Great -Great(?) Uncle, Aunt, and a distant cousin had lived. That turned out to be easy to do, as it was only a block from where we parked the car. 18  Vestergaarde (West Street) was a two story building that looked like it had a section added on;.as it turned out, it had been two houses joined together at some point in the past. It was turned into a rooming house where, according to the village census, my relatives had lived in the late 1800s. I stood in the doorway and had Annette take my picture, some how hoping I could bridge the time gap between them and me.

Back in the car we explored the small island looking for a hamlet called Risemark and another called Dunkaer, both of which were listed in our family history. Turns out Risemark is where the island's church is located, a smattering of small houses around the the church was our only clue we had found it. Once again we were treated to a wonderful white washed historical church with a garden-type setting of a cemetery surrounding the church. We strolled the small paths that meandered through the small cemetery and again noticed the commonality of the Danish names like Jensen and Pedersen, and thought that must have been confusing when you were yelling "hey Pedersen"! to catch some ones attention, and 12 people turned around...  :)

Once more in the car and crossing the island, it didn't take too long to come across Dunkaer, which by island standards must have been a major hamlet; an old country inn looking to be from a couple of centuries ago leaned with age alongside the island road, a large milking barn and a meat abattoir sat behind the inn. Judging from the looks of the workers there we must have been among the very few of the tourists that poked our nose around here. Needless to say, we were a rare sight for them and we felt like we were on stage with bright lights pointed at us. LOL

We had one more  location on the island to find, and that was a farm area on the outskirts of Dunkaer where Dunkaer road sits a field's width away from the ocean. We found the Dunkaer Rd sign and turned onto the road, we even felt good as the sign pointed to "Dunkaer" with a small logo that we took to mean the farming area. We knew that a large farm operation was once here and that some of my relatives had lived and worked right around here. The road went for a couple of kilometres, turned past a quaint family farm and house right at roadside, then meandered over a rise and petered out a kilometre past the rise. Back down the road we went, slow past the farm house letting the farmer's ducks and geese get off the road and into the small pond by the house, then back down to where the road ran alongside the field with the wide ocean as a backdrop. Judging by what we knew, the large farm house operation that once stood here was now gone, and only wind waved crops remained to show what good fields had been found at the historic location.

Satisfied we had seen as much as we could, we meandered back along one of the country roads that crossed the island to Aeroskobing where we would catch the ferry to the eastern part of Denmark and drive on to Copenhagen. While we waited for the ferry, we popped into the local modern supermarket and purchased a few things to act as a very late lunch and dinner rolled into one.

Sitting at the ferry slip waiting for our ship to arrive, I had a feeling of satisfaction knowing that I had seen everything I could see on the island, and been to all the places where my people had worked and lived, yet I knew I would be back here some day in the not too distant future. I still wanted to spend days here, sitting in the old square watching the village life go by, I wanted to walk the country roads where the ocean breeze created ribbons of waves across the fields, and I wanted to hear the soft, muted voices carried on the still air that said " hello Edwin, glad you could make it home"
See the full video of our Aero visit here; as Rick Steeves, the European travel guide has noted, Aeros is a place where time has stopped and the past is there for us to enjoy