Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Last Day - Copenhagen

Today I did what I do best: I wandered around. I walked down the pedestrian shopping street, I bought some stuff, I had lunch at Ida Davidsen which is a landmark eatery serving classic Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches (and the lady herself was behind the counter), and then I walked to the Christianshavn neighborhood and found Noma and took a picture of the entrance. A three-hundred dollar gastronomic adventure would not have been appropriate on this trip ( but I still wanted to see the place and snap a pic. It’s located in a fairly non-descript building in a formerly industrial canal-side area, which appears to be experiencing some revitalization (lots of building sites), I’m guessing in some part due to the notoriety of the restaurant. It was a pleasant walk and downright warm out, and with my picture of Noma and my lunch at Ida Davidson, I had checked off almost all of the things I’d wanted to do in Denmark.

my lunch; with a soda, this ran me about $50
fairly unassuming for one of the world's best restaurants
I took the Metro from Christianshavn to the S Train and ended up back home just after Chuck, Susan, and the kids, and Ellen showed up a few minutes later having spent the day bird-watching with Laila and Bo. We went down to the beach for a little while as it was another beautiful evening and then had leftover stegte flæske for dinner (our third round of leftovers; seriously, we were given Viking-sized portions) and then I started packing to leave the next day.

I had a great time in Denmark. It was an interesting adjustment traveling with others as opposed to by myself which has become the norm, but coming to Denmark with Ellen, in part to meet her relatives was a trip a long time in the making. I’d known Ellen’s Danish mother who passed away a few years ago since I was a teenager, and had eaten many Danish delicacies around her table and experienced many Danish traditions in her home, and I know she would have been so pleased that I finally made it to Denmark with her daughter.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Malmo, Sweden

Today Chuck, Susan, the kids, and I took the train across the Baltic into Sweden. For me the excursion was all about shopping, but every store I went to struck me as an ever lower brow version of H&M (I also went into H&M, just because; if I’d walked by an Ikea, I would have gone in there too). I finally found a few things to buy in a housewares shop; apparently I’m replacing all my kitchen towels with Scandinavian ones... I bought one yesterday at the gift shop in the Louisiana and another one today, as well as a few other cute things for the kitchen. Not much to report on my limited experience with Sweden, but it’s another country to add to the count, which now stands at twenty-four.
"Twisting Torso" - a residential tower



Monday, June 17, 2013

Kronborg Castle, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Deep Fried Pork

“Alas poor Yorrick...” yadda, yadda, yadda. Today we took the train up the coast to Helsingør to visit Kronborg Castle which sits on a bluff facing Sweden, and which was the model for Elsinore Castle in Will Shakespeare’s Hamlet although there was no indication that Will ever made it to Denmark. Go figure. The structure dates back to the Middle Ages when it was heavily fortified and the Danish kings could use it to control entrance into the Baltic Sea – don’t pay your shipping tax to pass through, prepare for canon fire. It was your typical castle-ish sort of place, I’ve seen them in France, I’ve seen

entrance to the courtyard
them in England, there’s only so much I can take of this Game of Thrones kind of atmosphere, so as the others were preparing to check out the battle casements in the lower level under the living quarters, I trotted back to the train station and made for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which I LOVED.

not a castle, just the train station in Helsingør
who doesn't love a Joan Miro?
 I thought the Louisiana was mostly a sculpture garden but there are extensive galleries inside as well, and what was displayed from the collection as well as the two temporary exhibits was fantastic. It reminded me very much of the DIA Foundation’s collection in Beacon, NY ( although it’s on a much smaller scale. The garden is terraced with sculptures on different levels, almost all of them involving a view of water or woods. It was raining when I walked from the train station to the museum, but not very hard, and it cleared just as I got to the museum. I walked around the sculpture garden for a while and then headed in to the main galleries to look at the museum’s collection, and then to the two special exhibitions. The first exhibition I viewed was by Tara Donovan and it was totally spectacular – ordinary materials sculpted to quite extraordinary outcomes; and then I wandered through the retrospective of Yoko Ono’s work. Yoko started out as a visual artist and then moved toward music, sound, performance, and conceptual art. There were videos, sculptures, writings, photographs, articles, and interactive pieces on display. Her philosophy is simple and her message is clear... peace, love, look around. A lot of it was wacky but nevertheless, I thought it was pretty moving.  
instantly recognizable as Alexander Calder
Tara Donovan - folded mylar filling a room

sheets of plastic
After the museum, I took the train back to Copenhagen, and then the S train back to Sølrod Strand and met up with the gang for dinner. We took the S train two more stops down the line to Køge and on Bo and Laila’s recommendation, had stegte flæske for dinner at a quaint little restaurant that was not on the tourist path. Stegte flæske is roasted pork which is then sliced and fried. It’s served with boiled new potatoes and a parsley cream sauce; The blood has just been flying through my arteries lately so I’m sure it was fine... You order the dish per person and it’s served family style and we determined that while we had ordered for four (the kids chose other dishes) the amount brought to our table easily could have served twelve. It’s a delicious dish though and totally traditional so we decided that eating a plate of deep fried sliced pork was justified in the name of cultural experience. 

scene of the crime...

order for four, get enough for twelve - pork - roasted, sliced, and deep fried
One serving. I wish I could say I didn't have seconds.

in Køge

Sunday, June 16, 2013


heading out - the residential road in front of our cottage
When the annual rock festival isn’t on, the big draw to Roskilde is the Viking ship museum and the Domkirke which is the Westminster Abby of Denmark – a church from the middle ages where Danish kings and queens are buried. The draw for me to Roskilde was the idea that it would be a nice bike ride from Solrød Strand. I talked to Bo and Charlotte about the distance, the terrain (there are no hills in Denmark), and whether or not it was a good idea – Bo was a little skeptical about the distance (about 15 km) but Charlotte thought it would a very nice ride and drew me a map of how to get there on the bike trails. So Susan, Chuck, and I set out in the morning on our trusty bikes and had a really nice ride to the town.
on the way to Roskilde
Susan and Chuck went into the Viking ship museum but I couldn’t muster enough interest in recreated and excavated Viking vessels (I just kept thinking of Far Side cartoons) so I sat out in the sunshine with my book while they looked around for about an hour. Then we rode to the Domkirke which Chuck, having been there before, said is quite phenomenal, but we couldn’t get in because guests were arriving for a very formal wedding taking place there. I can’t imagine that the inside of the church was more spectacular than some of the gowns we saw on the ladies, and having been in old churches all over Europe, I really didn’t mind missing the interior; European churches eventually all look alike, with the possible exception of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona which might be the only one which has made a real impression on me (don’t get me wrong, Notre Dame is a site to behold and the cathedral in Salisbury is pretty cool, I’m not a complete Philistine), but like I said, the real event for me was the bike ride. Until we started for home. And it began to rain. And rain. And the wind began to blow. Gale force. Possibly an exaggeration but the slight inclines which we should have been able to coast down became a struggle in first gear. We sat out the worst of the storm under a bus shelter for about 20 minutes and then continued on, peddling and dripping until we got home. It was still a nice day though and it was even a nice bike ride. The bike paths here are fantastic – there’s practically nowhere you can’t get to on a paved path, which is either completely off the road or clearly designated along-side the road. And while the ride home was in a way quite awful, it never really crossed over to painful. I think the photos show that it was in fact a delightful day.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Legoland and Stevns Klint

Instead of being rife with commercialism or being one giant commercial for the purchase of Legos, this place is a true homage to what can be done with the little colored bricks and a lot of creativity. It’s way more about engineering and imagination than commerce. The drive was a little over two hours and it poured most of the way but was sunny and dry by the time we go there. We spent the whole day there looking at the scenes – everything from landmarks in Copenhagen to scenes from the Star Wars movies. Many of them had motorized components including locks that took little boats through canals and trucks and cars that circled towns (no tracks in sight they must have been “programmed” some way). The tourist season hasn’t quite started in Denmark yet so there wasn’t much of a crowd which was great, and we never waited for more than a minute or two in the lines for the few rides (couple of fun/small roller coasters [made from steel not Legos]). Hotdogs for dinner before we left the park (Danish hotdogs... soooooo different from American dogs...) and an easy drive home with no rain.

just under a million Legos used in this replica of the queen's palace in Copenhagen
To get to Legoland, we had to cross the Storebæltsbroen or "Great Belt Bridge." Next time you feel like complaining about the toll on the 520 bridge, it's $40 each way to cross this one.

We had the car through the next afternoon so first thing in the morning, Chuck drove Susan and me to Stevns Klint which is very old church (1250-1300) on a cliff that started eroding into the sea o the 1920s. The part that started dropping off was the old cemetery, and apparently, the coffins started sticking out of the cliff wall, exposing skeletons and other grisly matter.

After that excursion, we drove back to the rental lot at the airport, returned the car, and took the metro into Copenhagen for a little shopping at Magasin which is the Saks (sort of) of Denmark. Really nice department store with a beautiful housewares department from which I would have loved to have completely re-outfitted my house, if luggage and budget were not considerations.

The entire gang (Bo, Laila, Chartlotte, Per, Theresa, Alberte, and another cousin, Anita, plus Helle a Dane whom Ellen and Susan knew in Sacramento and who now lives in Denmark) were coming over for dinner so we got back in time to greet them for our “American night” party. These lovely people brought us all gifts – candy for the kids and two wrapped presents, one for Chuck and Ellen and one for Susan and me -- which turned out to be really nice Danish flags, one for each of us. I’ve said for years that being close friends with Ellen for so long makes me an honorary Dane, now I have the flag to prove it.
Theresa and me - she had fun reminiscing about her junior year abroad in Springfield, Illinois


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Blue Planet Aquarium

Since all the others in the group live in Northern California and spend a lot of time at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Blue Planet (billed as the “largest aquarium in Northern Europe”) didn't quite measure up, but it was a nice way to spend the morning. We got there before the crowds and left around lunchtime, wandering into the neighborhood near the aquarium for a schwarma before taking the Metro to the airport where we picked up a rental car for the next day’s excursion.

check out the clownfish in the lower left - I heard "look, there's Nemo" in four languages

tank full of piranha
The evening’s entertainment was dinner at Charlotte and Per’s house. Charlotte is cousin Laila’s daughter and her house is a fifteen minute bike ride from where we are staying. They have a lovely backyard and they grilled hamburgers in honor of their American guests. Theresa (another cousin’s daughter) and her seven year old daughter Alberte were also there and we had a great evening with all the relatives.

Susan, Laila, Charlotte, Theresa, Bo, Ellen, Per, and me
Danes start learning English around the second grade so all Ellen's relatives spoke English. Sometimes they would struggle with a word and check with one another in Danish for specific translations but communication with them (and everyone at tourist destinations, shops, train stations, etc.,) was no issue. Alberte had just completed the first grade so her English was just the basics she had picked up from Theresa (who works for the Red Cross and speaks English every day at work, but Danish at home) and was fairly limited to "yes," "no," "thank you," "hello," and the like; I think she said "pleased to meet you" when we were introduced - adorable. Torunn and Steen can say about the same in Danish which a few other phrases for favorite Danish foods thrown in, but apparently the language of childhood is universal because the three of them ran around the yard playing (and Charoltte and Per have a dog who also spoke the universal language...) and having a great time despite their limited ability to actually converse with one another.

Steen 10, Alberta 7, Torrun 12
I’ve been hearing about all these people for the twenty years I’ve known Ellen, so it was wonderful to meet them in the flesh – incredibly friendly, hospitable folks who couldn’t be nicer.