Fairy-Tales, Fish Characterize Danish Island

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ODENSE, Denmark -- The land of Hans Christian Andersen is replete with fairy-tale castles and serene countryside that inspired poets, but what I most remember about the island of Fyn (pronounced "Funen") is the fish.

One of the most crowded shopping areas on Fyn is the pier, where fisherman do what they've been doing here for hundreds of years: hauling in their catches for sale at market but giving special deals to those willing to buy directly from them when they pull in at twilight.

Fyn FishersThis is a scene that one could witness all over the world, but the fisherman of Fyn take particular pride in explaining to newcomers what kind of fish they have caught (in Danish), how the fish should be cut, cooked, seasoned and stored.

All of this advice is given even if no purchase is made, and they will spend as much time chatting about sea life as you please.

The fishermen, like other residents of Fyn I met, spoke to me as if I was a good friend of the family and made me forget I was a visitor.

Unpretentiousness is said by many Danes to be the key attribute of the people here, even those who reside within some of northern Europe's best-preserved castles and manor houses that surround the town.

The candy-colored baroque residences and Gothic fortresses are too expensive to maintain privately and most depend on tourism for their upkeep.

For instance, Egeskov Slot, an island castle, is owned by a count who made commercials dressed as Count Dracula advertising his abode to tourists.

The moated, Renaissance home is impressive enough, with its great hall filled with 15th century writing desks and tapestries. The count also created an antique vehicle museum and a maze garden, where festivals are held during the summer.

My guide knocked on the count's living room door during during my visit and he and his wife, clad in jeans and T-shirts, exchanged pleasantries and e-mail addresses with me.

A more traditional castle experience is to be had at Nyborg Slot, which dates to the 12th century.

This is where King Erik Klipping signed the country's first constitution; the castle is a bastion of Danish history as reflected by various periods of furnishings, books, tableware and paintings.

The castle's extensive armory collection makes a visit worthwhile for those who wonder how knights survived all that medieval jousting.

Fyn's houses of aristocracy are spread out across this perfectly flat island -- ideal for bicycling -- that takes about 45 minutes to drive across.

A journey by car or bike reveals a verdant landscape dotted by a mix of suburban communities reminiscent of modern New England and more serene clusters of thatched roof houses from the 19th century.

The heart of Fyn -- and the reason most tourists come here -- is Odense, and its claim to Hans Christian Andersen.

The third-largest city in Denmark, Fyn has kept the turn-of- the-century village where Andersen was born and lived much as it was when he was an impoverished youngster there.

Among the cobblestone streets and half-timbered homes is the author's one-room, boyhood home and a Hans Christian Andersen museum that draws tourists by the busload.

Details of Andersen's lonely life are presented at the museum.

He is believed to have loved only once and his affections were not returned, which caused him permanent despair, according to my guide.

The cheer he produced among millions of readers, however, is conveyed by the displays on the editions of his work that were translated all over the world.

Photographs of Andersen, letters in which he reveals his ambition and his insecurities, and touching personal effects such as basic household items from his youth provide visitors with a glimpse at the man who wrote such tales as "The Matchbox Girl" and "The Ugly Duckling."

A separate exhibit with illustrations for the books reveals the tender simplicity of the pictures that depicted characters who often shared Andersen's loneliness.

A library contains Andersen's stories translated on tape into 100 languages. Engraved copies of the books are available for a moderate price.

In the center of modern Odense is a much-less-visited attraction than the Andersen museum, but one I found to be equally interesting: Brandt's Klaedefabrik, a former textile factory.

This venue houses the Museum of Photographic Art (one of only two in Denmark), the Danish Graphics Museum, the Danish Press Museum and an art gallery.

Some of the most experimental and contemporary exhibits that travel throughout Scandinavia are on view here.

As of June 14, Fyn will be connected to Zealand, where Copenhagen is, by a bridge/tunnel accessible by train and car.

The trip from Copenhagen to the Fyn takes one-hour-and-20-minutes.

Danish Tourist Board, Phone: (212) 885-9727, Fax: (212) 885-9726

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