A Change of Plans

Copenhagen, Denmark

April 3, 2020


Today would have been our departure date from Chicago to Copenhagen to visit our youngest daughter, Josephine (Jo), who was studying abroad. It was to have been a thrilling adventure, visiting all the places she had experienced during what would have been nearly the end of her study abroad program. She had left Chicago in early January. She had planned this program for over a year, applied through the University of Wisconsin where she is a junior studying Economics, Environmental Studies and Public Policy.

Family Ties

But before we get to Copenhagen, I would be remiss if I didn’t provide a little context. I come from a very large, close-knit Irish Catholic family: 14 cousins on my father’s side; 9 on my mother’s side. Holidays and family vacations always meant spending time with relatives. And since most of the cousins were in the same age range, it always made for lots of adventures that usually included boats, station wagons, and lost keys.

When my husband suggested we take a trip 15 years ago to the Florida Keys over the Christmas holiday, I was all in – as were many of my relatives. In addition, my husband’s parents were to join us and share the vacation home we had booked on Marathon Key. Unfortunately, they had to cancel due to health reasons. My father-in-law had been recently diagnosed with throat cancer and would be unable to travel due to chemotherapy and his compromised immune system.

Relatives from Florida and Denmark

I called my Uncle John to see if they might want to join us since we would have an open 3 bedroom home next to our rental. He didn’t bat an eye. He said that he and his wife, my Aunt Patricia as well as some of my cousins would gladly join us. It was an easy drive for them from Melbourne, Florida to Marathon Key.

In addition, my uncle mentioned that he was expecting some of my Aunt Pat’s relatives who would be visiting from Copenhagen, Bill and Winnie Linnane, and he would like to bring them along. I remember my Aunt transporting a Honey baked ham across the state of Florida and my cousin Ed making plans for us to tour Truman’s Little White House Hemingway house both on Key West.

Counting Cats and Seasick Snorkelers

Josephine was about 10 at the time of the trip. She along with our two older children from my husband’s first marriage joined us to Marathon Key as did my sister, her husband and teenage son. True to form, my uncle arrived with the ham, the Danes and lots of plans for adventures.

After he had no luck renting a ski boat, he decided we would all take a snorkeling adventure despite the fact some of our travelers feigned sea sickness. Never to be deterred, he led us on an experience of a lifetime where we encountered sharks, coral reefs and a little bit of queasiness. But overall it was a glorious day that bonded our group together.

The next day we drove to Key West and toured Truman’s Little White house and Hemmingway’s House where our daughter proceeded to count all the six -toed cats in residence.

Denmark Study Abroad Program Selected

Fast forward to 2019. Our daughter researched the various study-abroad programs available through her school that had the best fit with her major. See selected Copenhagen for the second semester of her Junior year.

This was to have been an experience of a lifetime for her. Denmark, she told us, practiced many environmentally friendly practices even in their everyday lives. She embraced the local tradition of riding bikes for transportation, buying food and volunteering at the local food co-op, and traveling to remote areas that had wind farms to generate electricity.

To say she was having the time of her life is an understatement. But like so many of us her plans came to an abrupt halt due to the Corona virus. Not yet a huge threat in either the United States or Denmark, we believed she was relatively immune to this disease. Denmark seemed to be doing all the right things and the communication from her school was upbeat, reassuring us that they had it under control.

But everything changed on March 11th. My husband and I had been closely watching the reports of what was happening in Italy. Germany seemed to be indicating that things were getting serious.

Communication from the Chancellor at UW Madison sent out messages that on-campus classes were to be cancelled after spring break. All domestic students were to evacuate their dorms. I reached out to the office handling the international programs, but they had yet to make a decision. How ironic, I thought. Our daughter was living in a dorm-like setting in Copenhagen. Despite this, we didn’t feel comfortable pulling the plug until we received the official work from someone of authority.

Prime Minister of Denmark Closes Borders

Early in the day on March 11th, my husband and I thought it would be good idea to start researching flights home for our daughter. Mike held a 45-minute call with Jo explaining that we suspected things were going to get dicey. After that call, he had finally convinced her that she would need to come home in a week.

I called our travel agent to explore our options were. Since on March 11th nothing had been made official, we would have to purchase an entirely new, one-way ticket for her to come home. We thought a direct flight would be best not wanting her to get stuck in another country on the way home.

We had 24 hours to confirm the ticket and break the news to our daughter – we were serious; she was coming home in a week. At 5 pm that evening, we turned on the news. At the same time, my husband received a text from our son Miles who was living in Richmond, Virginia. Text said, “Dad, you might want to check the news. PM of Denmark has just announced that she is closing their borders.”

It was after 5 pm. The travel agent was closed. I called the 1-800: they answered. Despite the fact our daughter was asleep in Copenhagen (they are 6 hours ahead of Chicago), I booked a one-way, direct flight ticket for her at 3:40 the next afternoon.

To give some context, I was on the phone booking this ticket 2 hours before President Trump announcing that he was closing the U.S. borders to travelers from Europe.

A Call for Help

I had reached out to Bill and Winnie to let them know that Josephine would be studying at DIS in Copenhagen. I asked if they would be willing to keep an eye out for her and we exchanged contact information. They were more than gracious and met for dinner with Jo on several occasions. Bill even took the opportunity to teach Josephine to drive his stick shift car.

Little did I know that I would need to text them in the middle of the night to ask them to get her to the Copenhagen airport before the borders closed. She did not have a car and we weren’t sure if the metro or taxis would be working. Here’s Bill’s text response.


The Space Between

We are all safe. Jo is home taking her classes online, are older kids are sheltering in place with their respective spouses, and my husband and I are working from home. Bill and Winnie are safe at home in Denmark as well. And while I am eternally grateful that so far, we have not experienced the ravages of this terrible disease, I am somewhat melancholy when I think about the adventure that might have been.

So, here are some photos from what would have been our trip. Bill sent them to me to let me know what he and Winnie had planned for us for our first day in Copenhagen. I hope we get a chance to take that trip and most importantly thank these two wonderful people who helped to get our daughter home safely.

As they say in Denmark, tak skal du have.

Dear Barbara,

Winnie and I have just taken a fun, short tour along the canal adjoining Copenhagen harbor. We had planned to take you on that tour when you came over. As you can see on the map below, we would have started at your hotel, and walked/bicycled around the canal, stopping at different interesting sites. The Five-Circle Bridge walking (bottom picture)  which is just across the canal from Marriott’s is beautifully designed in a Maritime style and its rotational opening and closing mechanism is an interesting engineering accomplishment. We would also have included stopping at the Actors Play House, which is a part of the Royal Theatre, and where our son-in-law Christian Lollike presented his successful version of Aladin last season, and incidentally included Winnie’s choir. And we were going to stop in at some of the excellent restaurants, where places like Informel, a wonderful Michelin restaurant was meant to give Jo a better experience than we had together at Bindia (an Indian restaurant). But Jo, we also heard that you did get some great guidance among your classmates and friends. So we, not wanting to be a burden, decided to wait until the family was together for some eating treats. Our bad! – should have been more active.

But the Corona virus will eventually drop, and we will be very excited to get the chance to see you again, if you decide to come on by. You are always welcome, and it would be fun to show you some of Copenhagen that isn’t just on the tourist map.

Love to you all and take care.

Winnie and Bill

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