Tracing My Roots in Denmark: Meet the Family
22.06.2004 - 22.06.2004 70 °F
WELCOME TO AMERICA
Tuesday, June 22, 2004. Our trip to Denmark was from the beginning along with England a MUST; never at any point was it a ‘well, if we can manage to fit it in or afford it…’ Denmark is where the Thompson family came from; even though the good old USA forever changed the spelling of our last name from the correct Danish spelling of ‘Thomsen’ to the English ‘Thompson’ when my great grandparents landed on Ellis Island, sometime in the 1890’s. My dad had done much research over the years of the Thompson family tree: my great grandparents had 12 children, brought the first six born in Denmark over with them and then had six more; my grandfather was the youngest. The family tree Dad put together stretched for miles (big family) and rivals that of any Mexican family tree, which happens to be my mom’s side.
THIS ONE’S FOR YOU, DAD
I had spent many years exploring Mexico and the heritage of my maternal grandparents; I’d moved there in 1993. My mom had taken me on my very first flight when I was 6 months old and I haven’t stopped traveling since, but I had yet to explore the lands of my dad’s heritage. This was my chance to make things right; this was my chance to do something for my dad. And as it turned out, it would be my last, as sadly my dad passed away six short months after that trip. But even though I write this five years later, I find comfort that I was able to share the photos, the videos and my Denmark experiences with him. My mom may have taught me to travel, but my dad gave me the Thompson name, The Thomsen blood and Thomsen/Thompson traits that have enabled my travel stories and photos to live on.
A THOMSEN FROM THE OLD COUNTRY
My parents had been contacted 10 years back by a distant cousin in Chicago, Lois, who introduced them to another distant cousin, Anette. Anette had moved to Indiana from Denmark, and brought with her more family history from Denmark, translating it to English. Unfortunately, Mom and Dad had since lost touch with Lois, who was our only link to Anette and Denmark. We were not sure if Vidal and I would be going in blind to Denmark, or even if we would be able to track down my relatives once we were there. All I had with me in Mexico was a copy of a page of our family tree in Denmark… all in Danish; I had no idea where the English translation was. I had the name of a town, Thisted; but that was about it, and I had no idea if any family actually still lived there, or what their last names would even be at this point. I emailed the local tourist board in Thisted and got in touch with a very friendly gal who recommended hotels for us and who offered to contact my cousins if we found their names. Fortunately, my mom found Cousin Lois’ number, and she was able to get Anette’s mother’s name and address in Denmark to contact; Anette had moved back to Denmark. I immediately wrote to my new friend at the tourist board who looked up my cousin’s local phone number, called her up and let her know we were coming to town. From there, it was a breeze; even more exciting was that we were invited to stay with them.
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY DAD…
I had asked my dad to get a good driving map and plot our route from Århus and just advise us when we made our brief pit stop in Chicago between Mexico and Europe. My dad wasn’t one to show too much emotion, but I knew he was really excited about this trip. It meant a lot to him; having him be a part of the planning meant a lot to me as well. I booked a rental car and a cheap flight from London; we were all set! Dad gave me a copy of the family tree he had made to take with us. 10 years prior, Dad had sent a copy of the family tree he made to Anette, which had filled in the missing blanks for them for the Thomsen Family Across The Sea. Dad also pointed out to us before we left how we were related to whom, etc. I called Anette; she and her mother Merete would take the train to Århus, meet us and drive back with us in our rented car to Merete’s house to make things easier. We said we would recognize each other easily, I would be the 5’6½’’ blue eyed blonde (which I was sure was rare in Denmark) standing next to her very dark, very Mexican husband (certainly there were many in Denmark). Anette said we would recognize the two of them, as they would be waving Danish flags.
AWE, COME ON! I DID MY HOMEWORK!
I of course had done my homework, our flight from England to Denmark was purchased, as all the other flights, fairly inexpensively; flight departure time at a somewhat decent hour of 7:45am. But of course that was way back when we thought Stansted Airport was actually on the island of England. On Tuesday, June 22, we got up at 2:15am, had showers and coffee and called for a 3:15am taxi to take us to Gatwick airport to catch a bus to Stansted airport via Heathrow airport, £100 pounds later. Vidal slept like a rock for both of us, both in Mike’s house in England, then in the taxi, bus and plane. Just into 3 weeks of our Euro trip, I had still rarely gone to sleep before midnight, and yet continued by the grace of God to always have plenty of energy.
THE JOURNEY TO THE LAND OF MY VIKING ANCESTORS
The flight was beautiful, flying over big fluffy clouds; I could imagine birds and angels singing along the side of us. Reflecting on the flight between England and Denmark - would I automatically understand Danish through my bloodline upon landing? I had taken a Danish language course about 15 years prior; I had hoped to learn enough to at least translate the copy of my family tree in Danish (even though I had a translation, I wanted to figure it all out on my own). But…I was mistakenly put into an advanced course and strangely, I understood NOTHING. Apparently my counselor had assumed that my having been on the Dean’s list along with my last name that I could master the course with ease... I had to drop out after the second class, so my Danish was still at Square Zero. I was not sure how far I would get with my or Vidal’s fluent Spanish; so I had ripped out a few pages of Danish phrases to assist. I hate to be the Ugly American Tourist, expecting everyone to try to speak my language while in their country…
Upon landing on time at 10:45am (2 hr flight- 1 hr time difference), we were thrilled that, unlike the other countries we had visited so far (after our initial landing in England), we did pass through immigration and got a Denmark stamp on our passports! Although it was an EU/Århus stamp instead of a Denmark/ Århus stamp, we were still excited. What, after all, is overseas travel if you do not have stamps on your passport to prove you’ve really been somewhere?
♪ BABY, YOU CAN DRIVE MY CAR… ♪
Our first stop was at a bank machine to get our official Danish Kroners; although part of the EU, the Danes had voted against changing their currency over to Euros. We had absolutely no clue what the exchange rate was; no idea if we had withdrawn the equivalent of $200 or $2 US dollars! Second stop: the Budget car rental agency. I had my Danish cheat sheet out, just in case my Danish blood did not kick in in time, and not wanting to be the rude American… Fortunately, the Budget rental person greeted us in perfect English. Back in Mexico, I had done all the groundwork online; renting cars, reserving hotels and flights. As I was a bit rusty driving a stick shift, I had asked Vidal if he had a problem doing the driving, as the rates were significantly different. No problem, he had told me; my cats were witnesses to him saying so. I should have realized that he says ‘yes, dear’ to me for just about everything without having a clue what he just agreed to. So when we got to the Budget counter and I asked for us both to be put down as drivers, I didn’t even think to remind Vidal he would be the actual driver. When we got to the car and I handed him the keys… I got the whole ‘What do you mean, I am the driver?’ routine… Seriously, what was he thinking? I am the one who knows how to both read and fold a map, I thought to myself as my eyes rolled. “Fine”, I said; “I will drive”. I grabbed the keys, got in the car, amazed myself that I could get from reverse to first without stalling. We got about 1 block before the car proceeded to stall about ten times before Vidal, who was beside himself in laughter, finally told me he would drive. Aha! My ingenious plan paid off! He drove to downtown Århus where we would have a few hours to kill before meeting my cousins; they had gone the night before to Copenhagen and therefore could not meet us right away.
THIS IS OUR ÅRHUS
Our first impression of Denmark… SOOOO green, so beautiful! Lovely farmhouses, rolling hills, meadows, fields, funky windmills and beautiful horses were all around us.
We got to downtown Århus, drove around trying to figure out where to go. I figured out that ‘Centrum’ meant ‘downtown’ and followed the signs; my Danish blood had not kicked in any futher than that to be able to comprehend the language and the train station was not on the map. We could make out the harbor on the left, but could only see commercial freighters; we decided it was best to stop and ask for directions. For anyone reading this who does not know me, that was something I was NOT accustomed to doing, I did it solely for Vidal’s sake to stop him from glaring at me. Normally my built in Thompson GPS tracker works perfectly fine, but I had assumed the language would automatically change over, and my GPS was apparently that day still on US/Mexico Central Time, fast asleep. We spotted a cool looking place that said something like ‘Fisk afsætningsmarked’, which I safely assumed translated to fish market; I thought it would be fun to poke around and ask for directions at the same time. I was once again armed with my Danish sheets, and boldly went in to ask for directions to the train station. Well, sort of. I had neglected to check my Danish sheets in advance, and consequently had not noticed that there was no ‘Where is…’ translation at all. However, I did have the translation for ‘train station’. I memorized it first, repeating it to myself about 10 times before heading in. Once certain I had it correct, I headed in and asked the gal behind the counter, “Tog stationen?” ; minus the interrogative adverb, feeling very much like a small child forming her first words with the addition of acting out a Show and Tell by sheepishly pulling out of hiding my Danish cheat sheet, holding up to her and pointing to the words I was attempting to pronounce as if to say, ‘If I am mispronouncing, it is the cheat sheet’s fault, not mine!’ She smiled and gave me directions in PERFECT English… Or did I just think she answered in English? Maybe my Danish blood really had kicked in at that moment?
A BICYCLE BUILT FOR… 300,000?
We drove over to the train station, only to realize we had Danish bills but no Danish coins to put in the slots for the parking meters. So we went quickly for a cup of coffee nearby, paid and ran back to put coins in- which covered only 1 hour. We headed up a few streets toward a giant parking lot… for bicycles. Hundreds of bicycles… And Vidal pointed out that only a few of them were locked! Could it be true that a place still existed where there was no fear of robbery? This was a city, small; but still a city, after all (second largest city in Denmark; pop. 300,000). We looked closer, and sure enough -there were no locks.
CHEESEBURGER, CHEESEBURGER, CHEESEBURGER; PEPSI NO COKE
We walked down a lovely pedestrian street full of shops. We crossed a bridge over the river; we spotted a row of cafes on a lovely river walk below and we realized how very hungry we were.
We chose the Cross Café with a table near the river; it was sunny when we sat down. Our waiter came by (again, perfect English spoken); I ordered the house special, and Vidal ordered the Jack Thompson Special: a hamburger. My dad was noted for his taste in hamburgers; it mattered not which ethnic restaurant we would go to, the odds of Dad ordering anything but a hamburger were never good odds. I could not believe my world traveling husband had turned into my father right before my eyes! But in my heart, I knew my dad would be proud…
Immediately after we ordered, the sun disappeared and rain came hammering down upon us... We bolted inside; Vidal spotted the waiter to let him know we were there and to keep our eyes open for a table. By the time our food came, we had already been seated; perfectly timed.
LOOK FOR THE DANISH FLAGS!
After a great lunch, we wandered back along the pedestrian street, admiring lovely old buildings and a beautiful horse; snapped a few photos and headed back to the car.
We had wanted to park closer to the train station; for some reason, half a block away seemed too far. We drove around a bit and ended up taking the long way around ( ahem-Vidal got lost, not me!). We walked into the train station at exactly 4pm, the time their train was supposed to arrive. I was so afraid we may have missed them (having too much of my mother in me: MUST get there 10 minutes early!). Fortunately, their train was 15 minutes late. We waited by the doors, and suddenly, coming up the escalator towards us were two ladies smiling at us and waving Danish flags; Merete and Anette!
ANETTE THE TOUR GUIDE
Anette offered to be the driver for our 2 hour drive to Snedsted to make it easier on us; we agreed. A great tour guide (what can I say, another Thomsen trait!), she pointed out things along the way and gave a bit of information- such as the vast number of islands, the fishing industry and the Danish power producing windmills from the North winds; Denmark being the world leading producer of windmills, how she loved the smell of the sea. We had just missed her two eldest boys, who had flown out of Copenhagen that morning to visit their father in the US, but we would meet her baby and her new husband later for dinner. She had taught Merete English, but Merete was still a bit shy to speak it (although we thought she did so wonderfully). Her father, Peter, was a commercial fisherman. Vidal was very excited to hear their biggest catch was oysters; the biggest buyers were the Spaniards. Peter would late surprise Vidal by bringing a dozen home for him to try. As Anette pointed out places and things of interest, we ‘oo-ed’ and ‘awe-ed’ at the beautiful countryside along the way, catching glimpses of more beautiful horses. She told us that she and her husband had recently bought a farm; she had always wanted a farm, and they had horses as well. Not only did that excite us to hear, but her next comment had Vidal ready to move to Denmark: We were invited to watch the big football/soccer final with the family that evening!
COUSINS FROM AFAR: MERETE OF THE THOMSEN FAMILY’S HOME @ SNEDSTED
We arrived at Merete’s house, met her husband Peter before settling in to rest a bit. We had a lovely dinner of goulash, potatoes and Thy beer, after which Merete and I looked through some of her photos that had been sent from US relatives to her mother over the years; she also had an email from someone who only spoke English. It was exciting for me to be able to tell her that was our cousin Frances, who my great aunt Lily always talked about. Merete perked up and said “Lily Ziglis!” Lily had written often to her mother; we now had a more tangible link established between us. She showed me a copy of the Danish family tree and said our cousin Otto would come by the next day; he knew more about the family tree. Meanwhile the guys had snuck off to start watching The Game. Although being the first with my relatives, I must say that night belonged equally to Vidal: common ground Among Men is that there is no language barrier when it comes to mutual love for soccer. We watched Denmark in the deciding round against Sweden…2-2 tie which unfortunately eliminated them from the World Cup. Anette and her husband Bo had come by with their beautiful 18 month old son, Maarten. Although the mood was glum after the results of the game, Maarten’s antics of stealing beer from his grandfather perked everyone up, as had us all quite amused! We enjoyed coffee and fabulous cake before going to bed as it started to get dark: 11:50pm!
For more information:
Denmark general: http://www.visitdenmark.com/siteforside.htm