Ærø in Denmark

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Early morning, a cool white mist creeping in through open windows. A shift in the weather but still no rain-fall. Cooler temperatures on the heels of long days of hot, humid breezes, severe rain and thunderstorms to the south. The gardens parched. Butterflies dancing between lavender blooms, just past peak. The flowering thyme lawn a mass of humming bees. A hint of yellow in the green fields, mid-summer here so suddenly. A flip of the calendar into July – two dear aunts pictured – the sisters of my mother and grandmother. Their smiles and sweet, familiar faces take me back in time to childhood – and to last summer.

A day trip to Ærøskøbing on the island of Ærø – where my grandmother’s sister has lived since she left home as a young girl in search of work to earn her living. A ferry trip from Svendborg, sun shining, water glistening, a smooth three hour glide over cool, blue waters on the Danish Baltic Sea in the South Funen Archipelago. Passing boats in full sail. A fairytale destination in a land of fairytale towns and storybook castles. A renegade island, far out to sea, a history of smuggling, now known more for its advances in energy self-sufficiency and ship restoration. A small idyllic island – thirty kilometers long and eight kilometers at its widest with just over seven thousand residents – a maritime, agricultural and tourist based economy. Ærøskøbing, a popular sailing and ferry harbor, one of three 18th century towns on the island scattered between hills and farms, ancient stone dolmens, bike-friendly country lanes. Narrow cobblestone streets, historic houses and shops, hand-hewn doors and timbers in bright colors, against a backdrop of blue sea and sunny skies. Strict historic requirements and building codes to preserve the character and scale of townscapes and landscapes across the island. The push-and-pull embrace of modern technology, innovation and age-old traditions to stay viable in the current economy.

A home-packed picnic on a bench facing the sea. On the street, a man out watering his roses, an unexpected invitation to peek inside his house, recently restored, now for sale. From the street side, tiny and quaint, hugging the narrow cobbled sidewalk. In back, three stories high, tucked into the hill, a narrow pocket garden, views of the breezy sea. The interior lovingly restored by hand, heirloom china on the walls, antique crystal spilling out of cabinets and hanging from the ceilings. Later, coffee with the aunts, in a single-story, modern apartment. Easier living after a long life on a nearby farm. Traditional home-made æbleskiver, Ærø style, the center filled with sweet prunes. A gift of hand-knit wool mittens. A visit to be treasured, two special aunts, an enchanting town and island, in a land of magical landscapes. The calendar and day-trip a gift. Time with family the biggest gift of all. Deep inside the recesses of my memories, a feeling of home.

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