Friday, 18 December 2015

Twelve Months of Christmas

This is the last post of 2015.  I am taking the next couple of weeks off to celebrate Christmas with family and friends.  Thank you to all of you who have read our blog this past year.  I hope you have enjoyed it  We’ve enjoyed sharing our adventures with you and there will be much more to share in 2016. 

I thought I would leave you today with twelve photos, one from each month of this year that we spent in Europe.  Even though the song is called the Twelve Days of Christmas, I feel like this opportunity our family has had to live in England and travel around Europe this past year has been a big giant gift to us, like Christmas everyday.  So with that, I give you our Twelve Months of Christmas and we wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

January - a visit to Oxford...and a visit to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

 February - London calling

 March - Rome, Italy....gelato, gelato gelato!

 April - Still in Italy...Cinque Terre

 May - Amazing, breathtaking Norway

 June - Stunning Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire

 July - Ireland, oh Ireland, your beauty is spellbinding

 August - Home sweet home...and some good old hot summertime weather

 September - The beautiful Lake District in England

 October - Hello France!

 November - Cozy, colorful Copenhagen

 December - from our family to yours...Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

A Cozy Christmas Visit to Copenhagen

Every now and then we visit a new place and from the moment I step off the plane or train or get out of the car or drive off the ferry (we’ve traveled by many forms of transportation while living here in Europe), it feels as if this new world we are about to discover reaches it’s arms out and wraps them right around me.  Even though I have just arrived in a new country where a language that I do not know is spoken and we are not sure in which direction we should head first to find our way to the hotel or apartment we are staying at, I instantly feel at ease - comfortable and welcomed.  And that is exactly what happened when we arrived in Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago. 

We really weren’t in Copenhagen for long (just three nights), but it was long enough for us to figure out that those Danes have really got it going on.  We heard a myriad of accents in Copenhagen (even quite a few American ones) and once you’ve spent some time there, it’s not hard to figure out why people would want to transplant themselves to this beautifully vibrant but cozy city.

The people just look happy – relaxed - not in a hurry.  The little shops and cafes that line the streets of this very walkable city all look so darn warm and inviting – or maybe the best way to describe it is simply cozy!  In fact, the Danish actually have a word for this coziness that seems to envelope you while in Copenhagen – it’s called “hygge” (pronounced hooga).  It’s a word that best translates to enjoying life with good people in a warm, cozy environment.  That is how the Danish get through the long, dark days of winter, and that is just what we saw them doing, and did ourselves while in Copenhagen.  In fact, I wanted to duck into just about every café, coffee shop, bar and restaurant we passed because from the windows outside you could just feel the coziness oozing from the charming candle filled interiors.  

Another thing I am sure about the Danish - they like to bike because we saw A LOT of bicycles in Copenhagen, but this may also have something to do with the 180% tax on the purchase of a car – yikes!  And yes, you did read that right - 180%.    

The city is an interesting mix of old and new.  One minute you are standing in front of a huge beautiful old building with amazing architecture...

or in the middle of a beautiful old square...

and the next moment you are standing on a street corner gazing at a building covered in flashing neon signs advertising all manner of items and with a 7-Eleven on the first floor.   

Somehow, this combination works in Copenhagen. 

The high season for “hygge” is Christmastime and it starts early in Copenhagen.  In fact, that is why we choose to visit this fine city in the end of November, not exactly the best time to travel to Scandinavia weather-wise (we were greeted by a rain/snow mix and a strong arctic wind that left the garbage cans around the city jam packed with shredded and inside out umbrellas), but by the second to last weekend in November, Christmas season was in full swing and we wanted to be a part of it.   

A polar bear display on the balcony above the front doors to a grand hotel.
Upon our arrival, we had no sooner climbed the stairs of the metro station and emerged in the city center (the metro is how we got from the airport to the city center) when we found ourselves in the midst of wooden chalets with the smell of mulled wine in the air - a Christmas Market.   

Ahhhhhh - these wonderful European Christmas Markets...

 They are wonderful during the day, but at night...

they are magical!

As much as we wanted to stop and wrap our cold hands around a mug of the warm wine that first afternoon when we arrived in Copenhagen, we needed to head off to the apartment right away to collect the keys, but a short time later we returned to be greeted by the warm glow of lights strung on the trees and from building to building.  Can’t you just feel Copenhagen’s arms wrapping around you now.

And about that apartment...

It was warm and cozy just like the rest of Copenhagen, and it had everything we needed to rest after a long day of exploring the city.

There is plenty to do to pass the time in Copenhagen and we weren't there nearly long enough to see it all, but we did our best to get in as much as we could.  Our first morning in Copenhagen, we set off early for Rosenborg Castle which was just down the road from our apartment.  Our route to the Castle took us through a park that I'm sure is gorgeous and green during the warmer months of the year, but in the end of November it was rather stark and barren, until we entered the rose garden.  

I don't know that I've ever seen a frozen rose garden before, but there was something quite peaceful and beautiful about it.   

And a little bit funny as we wandered the maze of rose beds getting pelted in the face by rain and then snow and then rain again, clutching our umbrellas tightly with our gloved hands so they didn't get blown away.  

Rising up behind the rose garden we could see our destination, Rosenborg Castle.  This castle was built as a summer home in 1606 by Christian IV, the ruling king of Denmark-Norway from 1588-1648.  The castle was only used as a royal residence until 1710 and is now open to the public to tour, and while your there, don't forget to take a wander through the basement where you'll find the vault holding the crown jewels...

and sneak a peak into the wine cellar where bottles of Rosenborg wine dating back to 1615 are stored.  Wonder what that tastes like today?

After our visit to the Rosenborg Castle, we were hungry so we picked up some classic Danish cuisine to bring back to our apartment and eat for lunch - a smorrebrod (aka open face sandwiches piled high with all sorts of goodies).  

One contained curried chicken salad, and the other, another Danish classic, pickled herring.  Yum! (and I mean that - I grew up eating pickled herring every Christmas)  Eric must have been in a festive mood because he pulled a beer out of the fridge that he had picked up the night before for us to share and enjoy with the our smorrebrod.  

If you look closely, you'll notice Santa on the beer label.  This is not exactly the sort of thing I would expect from my beer snob of a husband, but we drank it.  It was okay. 

Back to the story.  

After lunch, we headed out into the streets of Copenhagen again to see what we could see.  Our first stop was the French embassy which was just a couple blocks from our apartment.  We weren't intending to stop here.  It just happened when we turned the corner and there spread before us, on both sides of the streets were hundreds and hundreds of bouquets of flowers, candles and signs honoring the victims of the attacks in Paris that had occurred just the week before.  

I got a lump in my throat.  It was a sad, sad sight, and a poignant reminder that life is short and you need to live it to the fullest everyday.  

And that's exactly what we were doing there in Copenhagen, despite the fact that both Eric and I had hesitated a bit about taking our family on this trip so shortly after this tragedy occurred.  Vive la France!

While in Copenhagen we spent a lot of time walking what is said to the be longest pedestrian street in the world - the Stroget.  There are lots and lots of smaller pedestrian streets that split off from this main drag as well, and as we wandered around, we saw all kinds of sights...

Singing bears in a window display...

A life-size replica of the tallest man in the world outside the Guinness World of Records Museum...

The Danish Royal Guards passed by on their daily march...

And Legos, we saw lots and lots of Legos...

in all shapes and sizes...

 because after all, Denmark is the birthplace of these popular and colorful interlocking bricks.  

We saw replicas of streets in Copenhagen constructed out of Legos...

And even a lit up replica of a hotel on display in their lobby.  And of course we stopped at the Lego store, where not only my 8 and 10 year old daughters enjoyed themselves...

but the biggest kid in the family did too. 

We visited the Rundetarn, the 17th century round tower where instead of having to climb hundreds of steps, we were able to follow the gently sloping equestrian staircase to the top (I didn't even know there was such a thing as an equestrian staircase).

On the way, a small window offers you a peak into the beautiful Trinitatis Church which the round tower is attached to.

The Rundetarn was originally built as an astronomical observatory and is still in use today as it houses a huge telescope under it's domed roof.  


And once you reach the top...

you are treated to magnificent views of Copenhagen in all directions.

After climbing the equestrian staircase to the top of the tower, we ducked into a cozy little Italian restaurant for a late lunch.  

From our table we could see the Christmas Market that was set up in the little square right outside the door.   We stumbled upon small Christmas Markets like this all over Copenhagen.  

In fact every night as we headed back to our apartment, first stopping at this department store covered in lights and which had a Christmas Market out front to pick up some dinner from the gourmet grocery they had inside, and from there it was a short walk back to the apartment but on the way...

we passed by Nyhavn, a 17th-century waterfront sitting on the canal where the street is lined with restaurants and cafes, and of course, they had a Christmas Market there too.  If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the small wooden chalets lining the waterfront.  It was beautiful during the day...

and at night, it glowed with warmth and coziness, just what you would expect to find in Copenhagen.  We passed by Nyhavn many times during our short stay, and it brought a smile to my face every time.  We got lucky with the location of our apartment.

Late one afternoon we ducked into the National Museum of Denmark for a quick visit.  

By the time we arrived, the Museum was closing in one hour so we had to pick one section and hurry through trying to absorb as much Danish history as we could.  Vikings it was.  The obvious choice, right.

And last but certainly not least (because this was one of my favorite places we visited while in Copenhagen), I give you the famous Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world that sits right in the heart of Copenhagen, but truly, it is so much more than an amusement park.  

Besides the carnival rides and games that you would expect to find in an amusement park, it's grounds are covered in an eclectic collection of gardens, a theater, restaurants and cafes, Asian influenced buildings such as the pagoda above, and of course, since it is Christmas time, there is a Christmas Market as well.  

We arrived late in the afternoon and already the park was aglow with lights...

but as evening set in and the sky darkened above us, Tivoli magically came alive with thousands upon thousands of twinkling lights.  

Walking through Tivoli at night during Christmas time felt like you were in the middle of an enchanting fairytale. 

If I had to guess, I would bet this place will be one of the strongest and brightest memories Ellie and Leah will have of our time here in Europe.  It was mesmerizing for adults, so I can image what their minds must have thought of all of this.   

There was an exquisitely painted carousel, two stories high.  

Of course the girls had to take a ride. 

We had eaten a late lunch and weren't hungry when we were at Tivoli, but I was dying to go into this restaurant.  It's in a pirate ship, and the tables are in the back of the ship in the captain's quarters.  If we ever visit Tivoli again, we will be eating on this pirate ship.  

In the middle of the park is a lake and every evening there is a water show.  Fountains shoot water high into the air in the middle of the lake which creates a screen if you will, while lasers placed around the lake flash on and off, lighting up the streams of water in an array of colors and shapes as music from The Nutcracker plays in the background.  

At one point, we could actually see the sugar plum fairy dancing in the fountain...

and for the finale, flames dramatically shot out of the water, the heat from which felt glorious on our cold cheeks, even if it only lasted for a moment.  It was cold out and because this is the first arctic weather we had really been exposed to this fall, it felt even colder to us.  

But luckily for us, there were grills with coals glowing hot placed around Tivoli where we could stop for a few minutes to warm our chilly hands.  

We watched in amazement as people braved the cold weather to ride some of the larger rides at Tivoli.  

How cold it must have been to be flung high into the air and have the cold air blasting you in the face.  Were they crazy?  And then the girls asked to ride on the swings.  When I was younger, the swings were my favorite ride whenever we visited a carnival.  Ellie and Leah have never been on them.  But I wasn't very excited about it on this particular night.  It just sounded cold to me.  But they really wanted to go, and so we did...

and I'm glad because as soon as the ride started and we begin to move faster and faster and higher and higher in the air, the seat of the swing I was in gently turning from side to side, I instantly was transported back to my childhood and the thrill I felt every time I was on this very ride flying through the air.  

I didn't feel the cold at all.

I leave you today with a few more photos from Tivoli Gardens because they beautifully portray the warmth and coziness, or hygge, that Copenhagen exudes.   

Now, go make some hygge for yourself because everyone deserves to live like they do in Copenhagen.