The Apocolypse is Nigh

April 21, 2010

For the last week, a very light layer of ash has been decending upon Copenhagen due to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland that started April 15. Transportation all around Europe has ground to a halt, with air traffic completely closed. Trains, ferries, and buses between cities have been filled to capacity. Rental cars are impossible to find, and some (rich) people have spent thousands of dollars on taxi cab rides between major cities.

Yesterday we had some rain, hopefully washing the ash out of the sky. Today the rain was followed by hail, and now snow.

I think I saw a seven-headed beast in the woods during my commute home.

Or perhaps, as my Danish collegue said, “Welcome to spring in Denmark.”


Ice Winter

March 22, 2010

The bells and doorknobs on the tree.

Ah! The first day of spring was on Saturday! Today was the first day since December 18 where we did not have any snow on the ground. Granted, it *has* recently been above freezing (again first time since December), and in the city the streets and sidewalks have been clear for a few weeks now, and even in most places in the suburbs have been free. But muddy piles of it have been tucked away here and there: just behind the brick and wrought iron gate to a side entrance for the Copenhagen School of Life Sciences, in the forest of Dyrehaven (the Animal Park, or Deer Park, a former royal hunting grounds) north of the city. A large iceberg of snow has been perched on the rock shoreline of the Øresund north of the city, a remnant of the Danish “ice winter”. Earlier in the winter the retirees still swam naked in the waters north of town, but as the water temperature continued to drop, even these die-hards gave up.

Our outdoors Christmas tree in early February

An “ice winter” is when the waterways freeze over. On my way back from a business trip in the middle of February,  the Roskilde fjord about an hour from Copenhagen was completely frozen solid and powdered with snow. (Forget any romantic notions of Norwegian fjords here: Denmark’s highest point is about 150 meters, and is nowhere near Roskilde.) The Øresund, the straight between the North Sea and the Baltic that separates Denmark and Sweden (and that was the source of Danish power and tax revenue in the old days), froze over as far out as you could see. The ice probably wasn’t very thick, as it came suddenly over a weekend in February, and disappeared just as quickly a few days later. But the straight did get slushy on several occasions over the winter. The canals and lakes in the center of Copenhagen froze over, and stayed frozen for much longer. The canals were covered in “porridge ice”, large slabs of ice that are jumbled together and not frozen solidly together. The lakes became giant skating rinks, once the authorities declared them safe.

So, it was snowy and cold. At least it wasn’t raining and cold. Seattle, on the other hand, had one of the mildest and sunny winters in years.

This Christmas, Cate went Christmas tree shopping with her friend Johanna, who is Estonian, and her parents Martin & Kati. She brought home an enormous tree, with a 7-inch trunk. It of course didn’t fit our tree stand, and I had to go out to purchase another. Thankfully we have a large balcony, five feet wide and the length of our apartment. I propped it up in a large planter and lashed it to the railings. Cate made a foil-covered star for the top, and Rachelle found some bells with tinsel to hand on the boughs. It ended up looking quite hygge, particularly when it was covered in snow. Sammy would step around it as he found the deepest snow in which to pee—the girls having given up on taking him down to the street during the winter.

Yesterday, in just our shirt sleeves, Eden and I finally carted it down to the courtyard to be hauled away with the trash.

Cate in front of her Christmas tree on the Spring equinox.

p.s. I wrote this on the train this morning. It turns out there is still a short mountain range of snow edging the parking lot at work. I guess we’re not out of winter yet. After all, in 2008, it snowed on Easter.

Cate Loves Paris

December 20, 2009

My National Television Debut

November 30, 2009

I had my national television debut last week, on a Danish national TV program on DR1, “Magasinet Penge” (‘Money Magazine’). The program was about foreign workers in Denmark (and Danes working outside Denmark), and is in Danish. But, I’m on in the first five minutes. You can see it on the DR site. Hopefully it isn’t location-blocked to only Denmark!

Vive La France!

November 2, 2009

Oh, France, what can we say. We just returned from ten lovely days in Normandy and Paris. Mind you, not quite as lovely as Italy (sigh!) or England (oh, they speak English!), but nice nonetheless.

We rented a car for a few days, which is always somewhat disorientating after not driving for many months, and we drove from Paris to Mont Saint Michel, which is in the top 3 of our favorite sights in Europe so far. I am always amazed the complex and massive structures the midieval architects were able to construct. (By the way, read The Pillars of the Earth for a good story of building a cathedral.) The cathedral/city is on a small island now connected to the mainland by a soon-to-be-removed spit. 900 years ago, pilgrims had to wait for low tide and slog through mud flats to reach the city gates. The small village at the base of the mount winds around to the stairs of the abbey, and then you keep climbing up hundreds of stairs to reach the cathedral. It is just a remarkable place.

Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel

The following days we meandered back through Normandy, spending time in Caen and the Normandy beaches. Eden and I walked through the last remaining Nazi battlements on the bluffs, and met a father and son from the Netherlands, who spoke of their gratefulness that America entered the war to drive out the Nazis. We climbed through the darkness inside a targeting outpost and peered out onto the sea.

Paul & Eden inside Nazi fortifications

At the end of the day, we spent a few hours at the American Cemetary at Omaha beach, which was sobering, yet peaceful. Something I’ve found amazing, living in Europe, is how a pan-European war is now basically inconceivable. After hundreds of years of wars between Roman culture and ‘barbarians’, followed by hundreds of years of religious destruction, followed by a hundred years of politcal wars, the continent is at peace, and even friends.

The American Cemetery in Normandy

The American Cemetery in Normandy

We ended our Normandy leg by spending a morning in Rouen, the city where Joan of Arc was murdered by the religious and political establishment. Unfortunately, it was Sunday morning and the ultra-modern church dedicated to her was closed for Mass. But we did find an outstanding street market teaming with delicious foods, smells, and bric-a-brac.

On our way to Charles de Gaulle Airport to drop off the car, I took the wrong turn. After many kilometers of tunnels, and then more tunnels, and then a few more tunnels, we emerged back above ground to find ourselves staring down the Arc de Triomphe. Not wanting to cause the worst traffic accident Paris has seen in decades, we quickly turned off, finding ourselves in the midst of a Jewish gathering (wedding? funeral?) patroled by militia in flack jackets. We eventually got back onto the highway. When Rachelle asked if we were going the right way I said, “I think so. The sun’s behind us.” which gave her tremendous confidence.

Our apartment for the week was, literally, two blocks from the Tour Eiffel. While we couldn’t see it from our windows, it was overwhelming close every morning as I picked up our daily pastries. At night once per hour the lights on the tower sparkle like fireworks, which we could see as reflections in the windows across the courtyward. Paris is a pretty city. The buildings are ornate, and the parks are massive and orderly. Several of the parks are half as large as central Copenhagen. As we often do, we took a tourist boat tour, seeing the varied bridgework of the city. In Montemarte, the girls & I continued our Towers of Europe quest by climbing Sacre Coeur. This relatively recent cathedral had the hallmarks of a good tower climb: high, winding stairs, and tight passages. We of course had to ascend the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower

We skipped the Louvre.

Too much Egyptian, Greek, and Roman stuff, followed by pre-Renaissance art. Instead, we spent a day at D’Oursay, an old train station reborn as a fantastic museum. We walked through the progression from Neoclassicism to Impressionism, and marveled at the statuary. The works of Monet and Van Gogh are amazing (though the Art Institute of Chicago has perhaps a more extensive collection of Monet). It was also interesting to see how Picasso developed from realism to cubism.

Another day, we spent a few hours at L’Orangerie, soaking in Monet’s Water Lillies. The visual beauty of these massive works (15-30 meters long) in rooms built specifically to house their eliptical lengths is incredible. Coincidentally, we ran into an old co-worker from Seattle on our way out!

We also took the train out to Chartres, and had our first really good meal of the trip at a small restaurant a couple of blocks from the cathedral (somehow we have bad luck with food on our trips!). For the first day of the trip it was cold, and the warmth of the restaurant was quite inviting. We made it to the cathedral just in time for Rachelle to walk the labyrinth before they closed it (it’s open only one day a week). Despite Cate’s protests, we took the crypt tour–she dislikes the dark and sometimes creepy crypts under the cathedrals. Some new age energy-dowsing charlatan was there with a group of suckers, and domineered the labyrinth and later evicted us from the crypt.

Chartres Cathedral

Rachelle and Cate walking the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral

It turned out that my former co-worker Darren and his partner James were in Paris the same week as us, and we spent a delightful evening with them at the oldest continuously running restaurant in Paris. It was fun to catch up over delicious food and drink with good friends, and a great way to spend our last night in Paris.

Tivoli at Halloween

October 14, 2009

After Tivoli closes for the season in September, it temporarily reopens for two special occasions: Halloween and Christmas. Last year we somehow missed the bazillion posters advertising the dates for the Halloween opening, and we missed it. Turns out the temporary opening is just for the week of the fall school Holiday, and not at Halloween. This year we were on the ball, and the girls made it to Tivoli not just once, but twice.

On Saturday, October 10, I took Eden, Cate, and Cate’s friend Johanna, to Tivoli for the day. It was cool, not too cold, and partly sunny. The girls rode all the rides they wanted to ride multiple times. A few rides they skipped, like Det Gyldne Tårn (The Golden Tower), a free-fall ride, and Vertigo, a new ride where you’re in a plane that goes around multiple times in vertical loop while also rotating. Eden & Johanna (Cate’s friend from Estonia) really liked the Monsoon, but to her great disappointment, Cate was literally millimeters too short to be allowed to ride it.

Tivoli does the seasonal decorations well, and for Holloween they go all out: pumpkins and scarecrows everywhere; a parade with a Prince and Princess Pumpkin; pumpkin lights; a small haybale maze; tons of holiday themed shopping. See the photos here. It was interesting to compare Tivoli at Halloween (one of the oldest amusement parks in the world) and Disneyland Paris at Halloween (an amusement park based in some part on Tivoli). Tivoli has real pumpkins, real scarecrows in cloth shirts and actual hay. Disney: well…a bit more plastic.

In any event, the girls liked it so much they went a second time during the October break. This time with Eden’s friends from Brazil. On their own. On the bus to downtown Copenhagen. And back. In the dark. And they paid for much of it with their own money!

Cate, Johanna, and Eden at Tivoli

Cate, Johanna, and Eden at Tivoli

Rachelle was a little worried; however, 7 year old kids routinely take the Metro to school on their own here. There’s a different cultural norm, and honestly it does feel that incredibly safe.

Needless to say, they made it home, perhaps a little cold, but thrilled to have gone to Tivoli twice in one week.

Oh, My…

October 11, 2009
Eden's Height

Eden's Height, October 2009