Solvang is one of those places that made me feel like I was in the middle of a fairy tale. To say, ‘in the middle of a Hans Christian Andersen story’ would be just the perfect way to put it. Picture this setting: Me (and the kids and the husband and a whole lot of others) walking through streets lined with half-timbered structures sheltered by tiled and thatched roofs. Some of them are cute little cottages, straight out of a story book and then there the multi-storied constructions made to look like they are built upon timber skeletons. And all of them owing their curb appeal to spring time flowers splashing attractive colours onto the traditionally Danish façades this place is known for. That’s Solvang – California’s Danish Town.
As I strolled through the streets of Solvang, I noticed some storks on the rooftops. They are stationed there for good luck, I hear. Some of them even had nests and their whole family up there with babies and beaus and all. My eyes followed those faux timber frames from top to bottom and found that each house wore it in hues of its own and the windows and doors came in different colours too. This story-book village even had some elf houses sticking off the walls of these Danish-styled buildings.
Very once-upon-a-time-ish. And a very happily-ever-after kind of town.
Talking of fairytale settings and fairy tales, I have to bring in Andersen — who penned many a popular fairytale — back into the narrative. The Danes are very proud of that great author, Solvang tells me. And they should be, for Andersen catered to generations of children all over the world. This Danish town in California’s Central Coast has, among other things, a museum dedicated to this illustrious writer.
The Hans Christian Andersen museum holds Andersen’s works in several languages and several forms. My visit there taught me that he was an artist as well. The museum that sits above the ‘Book Loft’ building on Mission Drive even showed me some of the paper cutwork that Andersen had done. The museum had among its exhibits a bust of this celebrated story teller, a model of his childhood home and some letters and poetry of his.
The day my sonny boy and I walked into that museum, it happened to be the writer’s 211th birthday (April 2). So we got a bite of Kransekage (a traditional Danish cake) while we were there. We looked around a bit and then spent a lot of time in front of two book shelves that held Andersen’s fairy tales. As you can guess, we didn’t walk out of there without picking up a collection of the master storyteller’s works.
The other landmarks that show Solvang’s pride in Andersen are: a park in the author’s name, a statue of him in Solvang Park in the heart of the Danish town, a statue of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and a restaurant by the same name. Then, in the restaurant where we had lunch one day, we saw on its walls, paintings of Thumbelina and ‘The Princess and the Pea.’ Now you know who I’m talking about if you didn’t already know.
Hans Christian Andersen is that great man who penned many of your favourite fairy tales: The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and the Pea, The Little Match Girl, Thumbelina and also The Emperor’s New Clothes among many, many others. Even the story of Disney’s ‘Frozen’ was based on Andersen’s ‘Snow Queen.’
|Talking of Copenhagen, this milestone in Solvang says Copenhagen is 11,270 kilometres away from here.|
What else you must-see in Solvang
Solvang is a place to see on foot, in my opinion. It is a pretty pedestrian-friendly little town. The best way to explore this quaint town is to walk through its main streets (even its side streets) take in all its Danish architecture, take selfies in front of its windmills, walk into the Danish Bakeries and treat yourselves to Danish pastries and take back some Danish cookies for your family and friends. The food of Solvang deserves a post of its own, so please do look forward to it.
Other things we did while we were in the Danish Town:
I’ve been talking of Danish architecture and Danish food and Danish this and Danish that. Are you wondering why Solvang is so Danish and how it came to be so? Let me tell you, that before I went on my weekend trip to this place that is also known as the Danish Capital of America, I had done some reading on it. And what I learned was that Solvang was home to several Danish immigrants. And there were many stories about how this town came into being. I had to hear the story from a local and it turned out that one of the ways to do that was to go on a guided tour of Solvang.
We decided to do an activity for the kids and get our guided tour on a ride on Solvang’s famous horse-drawn trolley. A horse pulling along a trolley doesn’t sound quite right, does it? However these are not the horses you and I are used to seeing. Trained for this job are big and beautiful Belgian Draft horses that are around 2000 pounds in weight. And Rachel, our host on the trolley who also led the guided tour told us that Claire and Stella the horses who took us around the town could pull much more than they were being made to do. She also introduced us to Sal who drove the horses and trained the other horses who took turns at forefront of the trolley.
|Belgian draft horses, Stella and Clare.|
|Rachel, giving us her guided tour.|
The History – How this Danish Town came to be
Rachel went on to tell us that Solvang, which might make us feel like we were in Disneyland was indeed a fully functioning town with its own residents and fire service and police and all. She told us that way back in 1911 a small group of Danish folks, having fallen in love with the pleasant weather of the central coast of California bought some 9000 acres of land in the Santa Ynes valley for a sum of $40 per acre. And they christened this piece of land Solvang – meaning ‘sunny fields.’
Soon they developed a road and a church and some essential services and attracted Danish immigrants from other parts of the country. Being in sunny California, they really didn’t need sloping roofs that were meant to send snow sliding down to the ground, so the buildings there were more or less Spanish in architecture, which was considered most functional in these parts. In due course a newspaper published a story about this small town where Danes were getting together and making it home. People heard about it and came from far and wide to see it, and it wasn’t exactly what they were expecting to see. Not wanting to disappoint all the people who were making their way to see the Danish town in the Santa Ynez Valley, the locals decided to rebuild their town and make it as Danish as they could.
|The traditional thatched roof.|
|The Giant Clog, an attraction in the city of Solvang.
This, like the Little Mermaid statue was smaller than I expected. 🙂
A personal note
Solvang might seem like a touristy town made to make you feel like you are in fairytale world but don’t let that prevent you from visiting this little Danish town in California. It is a very cute-looking place and tells you quite a bit about the Danes. And you’ll be passing off a fantastic opportunity to learn about Danish architecture, Danish myths, Danish icons and some sinfully delicious sweet treats.