My favorite stop on our Scandinavian adventure — so far — is Skagen (pronounced “SKA-nae,” oddly enough). This seaside village, saturated with sunlight, started life as an artists’ colony. Today, it’s a tidy, well-organized bedroom community with a pedestrianized shopping district tailor-made for welcoming cruise ship passengers.
It would be unfair, though, to paint Skagen as a tourist trap. More than a few touristy shops do line Sankt Laurentii Vei (St. Laurence Way), but many of the stores — selling housewares, appliances, and practical, everyday clothing — cater almost exclusively to locals.
The Skagenites, zipping along on their bikes or walking their well-groomed, friendly dogs, mingle easily with those of us who hail from distant lands. They sit elbow to elbow with us in the airy restaurants. They give good directions. They are patient with American credit card holders, whose Visa cards, lacking the embedded smart chips found in all European credit cards, frequently fail to work properly. They listen to our efforts to pronounce the names of local landmarks (Grenenen? Tilsandede Kirke? The Rabjerg Mile Dunes?) with encouraging grins.
If the beauty and gregariousness of this village somehow fail to take your breath away, the prices certainly will. Black cotton t-shirts — on sale, mind you — go for $75.00 each. The four sweaters we purchased from two earnest, broad-faced shopkeepers — women who would have been, just a generation or so ago, fishermen’s wives — set us back just under $500 dollars. A pair of deck shoes (two-toned leather, with a bright triangle of red fabric near the heel) were valued at nearly $600.
After a morning of sticker-shock, we meander back down to the waterfront to have lunch. We choose Skagen Fiske Restaurant, a local joint as famous for its floors (covered, ankle-deep, with sand from the beach) as for its freshly caught seafood. As tends to happen with our group, everyone at the table orders the same dish: the Skagen Rev (or “Reef of Skagen”), which includes a steamed filet, a fried filet, and a generous portion of steamed shrimp, served atop a bed of greens and a thick slice of whole-wheat bread and finished off with a dollop of homemade pinkish-orange tomato-flavored mayonnaise.
The food is as fresh as tasty as you might imagine, with none of the briny fishiness associated with American “fresh frozen” fare. But the tastiness, like the black t-shirts, comes at a price: a single plate of Skagen Rev costs $35 dollars … and our total bill for four adults — for lunch, mind you! — comes to more than $150.00 USD.
As we depart, I note that every single table is packed with diners. The place is popular with visitors and local people alike, all of whom seem to have ordered the Skagen Rev, plus beer, plus a $10.00 small plate of fries, plus a $15.00 dessert. I count more than 150 diners at the outdoor tables; during this lunch hour alone, the Skagen Fiske Restaurant will rake in somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,500 USD.
Either the locals get significant discounts … or the Danes can drop a lot more money on a casual lunch than we Americans can.