No curve was too sharp for them and their bicycle. No puddle was deep enough to stop them. -- Friends by Helme Hein

26 November, 2011

Tivoli Russian Christmas

 Tivoli has reopened for Christmas--what I've most been waiting for--and it didn't disappoint!  I've always wanted to experience the spirit of a Scandinavian Christmas--the red and white folk art decorations, the little forest creatures, Christmas markets, things made of wool, and lots of glögg.

 Reindeer, finally not far from home.

 This year's theme is Russian Christmas.  Amazing to see this transformed after the 15,000 pumpkins that were here just a few weeks ago. 

The little shops are maximum hygge.  I would love one of these wool knit sweaters, but $200 is a bit too much for a baby.  At least $190 too much.

Father Frost was there to scare the kiddos.

 Baby Felix loved playing on the giant xylophones.  He loves banging on anything these days, though.

 Not really Christmas related, but I'd never seen brussel sprouts growing before!

 All sorts of decorations, candles, ornaments and warm slippers for sale.

We were told it's best to visit at night because the lights are magnificent.  It's not the grandest of light displays (this one in Tokyo still takes the cake), but it definitely upped the holiday atmosphere. 


A few photos of Nyhavn, the old port for which Copenhagen is famous. Just a tip if you ever visit: Nyhavn looks like it's pronounced nie-haven, but it's really pronounced new-houn.  Danish is a vowel happy language.

 The colorful houses and store fronts make for a nice place to have a coffee and watch the tourists amble by.  The food must be some of the most expensive in the city, with smørrebrød (open face sandwiches) topping 25 Euros.

 Expensive, trendy real estate today, but in the time of Hans Christian Anderson, I imagine this port was hard living and full of rough characters. 

20 November, 2011

Bike Tripping

We were giddy when we found out about the extensive network of cycling routes across Denmark.  Over James's Fall break from school, we tried out the route from Hillerod to Gilleleje on the northern coast of Zealand.  
This route started in Hillerod, just a 20 minute train ride north of Copenhagen, at the entrance to Frederiksborg Slot (castle).  Normally we would ride out that 20 minute train ride, but we've learned not to push our luck when it comes to how long an active 9 month old will happily stay strapped down, so we put all three bikes on the train.

We felt we didn't earn a bike photo as we traveled less than half a click -- but not many routes run through the courtyard of a castle.

Ambling through the kings forest on national bicycle route 33.

 Foraging for nuts and berries yields a peanut butter and jelly bounty.

The island of Sjælland, prounonced "Zeeland" (I think), feels as if time is standing still. This area, known as Kongernes Nordsjælland (The North Zealand of the Kings) doesn't appear to have changed much since the various kings carved trails for hunting and running the hounds. I suppose the trail is a bit wider now.

It is no surprise this area has been nominated to be a national park.  Am told, the idea of a national park is a new one in Denmark. The first national park was dedicated in 2008. To date, the park total is three.

A web search reveals that in the 16th century the vassal of Kronborg made a list of the taxes that the fishermen should pay. This was one or a half barrel of cod. Perhaps subjects would have paid the cod tax to the last inhabitant at this "borg" (another word for castle) known as Søborg (lake castle). Apparently, this area was a fjord -- drained in the industrial era long after the castle had seen its heyday in the middle ages. In its day it was the mightiest fortress in Denmark complete with a requisite dank dungeon. It once housed the Roman Catholic Archbishop, Jens Grand, who was imprisoned because of his opposition to royal power. On December 14th, 1295, with the help of an assistant, he broke loose from the stone to which he was tethered. 

The only opposition we faced was a stiff wind and Felix's frightening encounter with a dressage horse and its friendly rider. 

16 November, 2011

It's Getting Pretty Hygge in Here

 Hygge was the first word of Danish we learned, which says a lot about how important it is to the Danish culture.  Directly translated, hygge means "socialize", but it's mostly used to describe a pleasant, cozy or comfortable place or time.  Candles, good friends, music, comfort food and drinks all add to a feeling of hygge.

The sun set at 4:02 p.m. today, November 16.  The shortest days are still to come and we are trying to adjust to the long nights.  It's rumored that Danes use the most candles in the world (who keeps these stats?), and in trying to assimilate to our new culture (ha!), we have already whipped through an entire package of IKEA tea lights trying to add a touch of hygge to our house in the long, dark evenings.  

 Christmas, or Jul in Danish, is a big hygge time.  The jul season seems to start earlier than the Christmas season in the US, with people eagerly beginning crafts, attending jul brunches and browsing julemarkeds for just the right ornaments in early November.  The julemarkeds are what I've most been looking forward to.  I loved the Christmas markets of Vienna and Germany, with their gluhwein and marzipan cookies.  So far, these Christmas markets seem to be on a smaller scale, but I've yet to see Tivoli in all its Christmas glory.  Yesterday, the baby and I made good use of the waning sunshine and wandered through the Nyhavn Christmas market. 

 Christmas ornaments and advent calendars for sale at the stalls.  
I grew up loving the anticipation of adding a new ornament to our homemade advent calendar each day in December, but after seeing the advent calendars here, I realize I was being shorted!  Who knew that kids across the world from me were getting toys each day!  The stores are flooded with all types of advent calendars, from Haribo gummy candies to chocolate to even Lego advent calendars!  Holy cow, my 8 year old self really wishes I'd spent Christmases in Denmark.  

 Despite the cold temperatures, outdoor seating at Nyhavn is still the best for a hygge time.  The Danes do it up with candles, heat lamps, Irish coffee and blankets on every chair.

 Gorgeous knit sweaters and mittens at a julemarked stall.

One thing we missed in Japan that we are getting plenty of here in Denmark is good microbrews.  There are lots of small batch beers that remind us of home in Oregon.  For Christmas, the Danish julebryg (pronounced yool brew) goes on sale in November.  To kick off the julebryg season, the last day in October is a national celebration known as J Day, where Tuborg employees drive around singing Christmas beer songs and deliver free julebryg to bar patrons. Very hygge. Unfortunately, some celebrations you have to sacrifice when you have a baby.

And finally, what says hygge better than a baby in a fleece suit in a cute wood hut?

05 November, 2011

The Library (or, how I sorta began to appreciate the 45% tax rate)

I think you can tell a lot about a how a society cares for its citizens by its libraries.  Do the libraries play a central role in the community?  Do they offer access to not only the culture's past (genealogy, biographies, the greats), but also to its present and future (graphic novels, magazines, technology)? Do they create a comfortable space for people of all ages?  Do they value many forms of media or just dusty old books?

As strangers in strange lands, our access to public libraries is usually limited to one or two English periodicals.  Not because we aren't welcome, but because our language skills limit our ability to fully enjoy the offerings.  But here in Copenhagen the libraries set a stay-at-home-mom's heart aflutter.  These libraries offer more "amenities," if you will, than any other library system I've seen (America, you may have caught up since my last library visit, but honestly, it's been a while).  

 Modern, sleek, and comfortable, the central library near Norreport station was obviously designed with its people in mind.  It's a place you want to be, young or old or somewhere in between, and a place that makes you feel just a bit smarter.

The Danes are considered to be the happiest people in the world and I bet the libraries have something to do with it.  One can happily wile away an afternoon here, and we do, little Felix and I.

When the dark and rain settle in, the library is a terrific play place.  Need to ride a ladybug or add on a giant* abacus?  The library's got your ticket.  The selection of English children's books is pretty good, too.  Dress up clothes, computers, kids music, push cars and homework desks are also available.
*(that is, if your measurements are taken in cm)

 Want to try out your musical skills?  Guitars and keyboards are yours for the asking.

 Racks and racks, almost an entire floor, of current (!) dvds and cds from around the world are yours for the borrowing. There is also a vast online database of on-demand films that require only a library card number to watch.

 You can even test it out before you take it home.

 If the library had been this cool when I was a kid, I might have visited more often.  

 And for when the little one is all worn out after playing and takes a nap in the stroller, there are shelves of newspapers and magazines from around the world in English! 

There is even a cafe with real coffee and cool Danish design chairs.  So hip.
But what I love most is that the library gave our 8 month old babe the opportunity to take his first (assisted) steps today.
Ahhh socialism, I know as an American I'm supposed to think you are vile, but secretly sometimes your cycle routes, free health care, gorgeous parks, free museums and modern libraries make me swoon.  Now, if we could work out the painfully slow administrative processes and the 45% tax rate, we might have a deal. Seriously, I took a number at the immigration office last week.  My number was 109.  They were on 27.  The wait was over 2.5 hours.  The office is only open for 3 hours a day.  I gave up and went to the park.  Still a few kinks to work out.

Kongens Have (The King's Park)

 One of the three large city parks near our house is Kongens Have, or the King's Park. It's one of the most popular parks in the city, and always full of tourists.  Copenhageners don't see much sun, so when it does make an appearance, these gardens are covered in sunbathers.  But no matter the weather, it always seems used.  You know the saying, "there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes"?  It's definitely true in Denmark.

 Inside the park is Rosenborg Castle, originally built in 1606 as a summer house, then used as a royal residence until the 1700s.

 Just a little summer home fixer-upper.

Romantic and all, but these cobblestone sidewalks that cover the city begin to wreak havoc on stroller wheels.

 Fall has been particularly beautiful in this park.  The long tree lined alleys turned bright orange.  In the mornings, as Woody and I walk to play groups or run errands, we often see groups of children in daycare all dressed in their winter clothes playing in the leaves.  So precious.

Already preparing for winter, draining the fountain.