Trading Beautiful for Beautiful

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It’s May 12th and we are on our way to Bologna, Italy by car from Croatia. It’s a symphony of red poppies as they are blooming everywhere along the roadside in our new hometown of Pula.  I’ve never seen red poppies blooming outside of photographs, and the landscape doesn’t seem quite real dotted with these red circular flowers growing in the wild.

The barren twisted brown grapevines that we passed just a few weeks ago are now bursting with leaves and reaching for the skies.

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They naturally know the right direction, and as we head off to Italy, I wonder, do we? Why are we leaving one beautiful place for another?

And it truly is a beautiful sight as we pass through the rugged Croatian countryside on the way to Italy.  You pass through olive orchards full of trees with gnarled branches of sage and silver leaves. The fertile ground that they are planted in is full of white stones covered with the ubiquitous rusty red soil of Istria.

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The dirt here seems to be filled with nature’s own Miracle-Gro as the plants here don’t just seem to bloom, they seem to burst forth with colorful flowers and bright green leaves at a rate which I have never seen.

 

Little circular stone houses can be seen from the highway sitting to the side of vineyard and olive groves.fullsizeoutput_48c4 The unique huts, known as “kažuni,” were traditionally used as shelters for farmers and shepherds as they worked the land. The huts gave them respite from the weather as they worked the land.  Their geometric shapes give a semi-primitive and uniform aspect to land, which also has stone walls blocking off farms and tracts of land. Farmers had to clear the rocky land from stones and in doing so built fences and kažuni from the cleared stones.

Why are we leaving one beautiful place for another?

As you drive down the highway throughout the Istrian peninsula in Croatia, you can see medieval villages on hills in the distance with their pointed bell towers and red terra-cotta roofed homes circling the hilly countryside. They all seem to bear a striking resemblance to one another and again, the uniformity gives the landscape a calm, peaceful feel. Historically the villages were built on hills with protective stone walls to keep out invaders, but now they just add to the beauty of this rugged, hilly terrain.

We travel for about an hour or so until we come up to the border crossing for Slovenia, as you have to pass through a small portion of Slovenia to get to Italy from Croatia. Cars are lined up for at least a mile already, and one car has overheated during its wait. Its distraught occupants are all crowded around the hood like surgeons around an operating table.  Their journey has been temporarily halted, like many of ours in life. It’s a minor aggravation that will hopefully push them forward and make them appreciate their journey more once it has resumed.

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Onward we travel, through the Italian countryside which provides a contrast to the Croatian one. The trees turn tall and pointy, or short and spherical, the soil changes to a light brown color, and the grassy fields become more manicured. Still you can watch miles and miles of  incredibly beautiful vineyards and olive orchards, although they are on much larger plots of land. In fact, I start to spy more and more tractors, which aren’t a common sight on the Croatian landscape, and more luxurious villas as we move closer to Venice.  It’s trading one type of scenery for another, both of which are lovely in their own way.

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Photo by Roland Dumke on Pexels.com

 

As we journey onward, I reflect back on the beauty of Southern Louisiana with its cypress-kneed swamps, bright fuchsia azaleas and mossy oak trees, and of my friends and family there who are gathering eating spicy crawfish and drinking cold beer that I have traded temporarily for fresh olive oil, whole grilled sea bass, wild asparagus with Istrian wine. Both are delicious and exotic and yet are so different.

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Why do we search for places that are beautiful and different from our own? What is this wanderlust that is so strong in some people’s natures and not others? As I travel onward to Bologna, I only know one thing: The journey is breathtaking, but what I leave behind is equally so.

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And yet… this wanderlust I feel is stronger and it carries me forward like the tide….. I will continue to move with it until I can no longer.

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On Being Grateful and the Nature of Traveling

fullsizeoutput_3e33We learn a lot about our true nature when we are traveling, and some of the things we learn about ourselves aren’t so complimentary. Often times when things don’t go as planned or places don’t meet our expectations, we balk, we gripe, we complain. But these are the very experiences that teach us the most about ourselves and the world around us.

Our recent trip to the South of France was no exception, and we had several of these types of experiences. Some turned out great and far exceeded our expectations, while some taught us lessons that will change the way we do things the next time. Many of the things that happened to us were not planned or expected on our recent journey, which overall was a glorious and beautiful trip. But it wasn’t perfect.

For example, upon our arrival to Trieste, Italy, where we had to spend the night before our flight to Nice, we checked into our hotel.  Or tried to. We were tired from an uncomfortably warm bus ride from Pula that had given James, Carolyn and I a mild case of motion sickness. We thought that because we had booked a hotel that it would be easy to check-in. Well, it was a little more complicated than that.

After we walked several grimy streets in the area of Trieste near the bus station, we finally tracked the place down. It was behind giant wooden doors in a large 19th century building that you needed someone to buzz you into. The sign was very small, the door was very large. The place was advertised as a hotel with a shared bathroom and truth be told I chose it because it was the cheapest.

After several attempts to find a way to get into the place, we finally called the owner.  He wasn’t there, but could be there at 8 p.m. There is no one at the hotel? we wondered. It was 5:00 p.m. We were carrying backpacks and we were tired, so we finally got him to agree to be there at 6:30.  Then we get another phone call, his assistant would be there at 6:30. Okay, so we showed up then.

We waited at the giant wooden door and waited. Finally around 7 p.m. a woman walks up, fumbles with some ancient skeleton keys and lets us in. The place has an elevator from the early 1900s and it’s actually pretty cool.

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James and Carolyn in the oldest elevator in Trieste.

She says it’s the oldest in the city.  It’s a nice elevator but only holds two people, so some of us walk up the four floors on the beautiful old staircase and some of us take the elevator. My poor pack mule husband who was carrying both our backpacks up got to ride it up.

A stench hits us when the lady opens the door to the “hotel.” It’s some serious cigarette smoke, and we hear some men loudly talking in the first bedrooms near the entrance. I hold my breath as we go by their rooms. You can hear our footsteps on the old wooden floors. The building seems ancient and reminds me of an old school dormitory or better yet, a convent.  Wooden floors, artificial flower arrangements from another decade or so and old wooden furniture with dusty doilies, like the kind your elderly grandmother had.

“We’re staying at some old Italian grandma’s house,” James says.

The assistant shows us where the shared bathrooms are on the way in, and we see a lady sitting by the receptionist desk.  A receptionist? Where was she when we were waiting by the giant door? Apparently, we just had to buzz her, and she would have let us in. We thought we did. We’re perplexed. Why didn’t the owner just tell us that? We walk down the long wooden halls with our footsteps echoing down the corridor. I feel like I’m in the movie, “The Shining,” waiting for the ghostly twin girls to appear at the end of the hallway, but here we are. We are at the door of our room. There are three single cot-like beds in the double room Mike and I booked. We can just push two of them together, the lady tells us. So we do.

There are also two small disposable plastic cups on a small table, about the size of the type you use to rinse your mouth in, and we are informed we can get water down the hall in the bathroom. No sink or faucets in the bedroom, or mirrors, for that matter. Do vampires live here? I’m silently shrieking inside, we have to drink water from the bathroom faucet where people use the restroom?  This was not worth the $30 dollars I saved. I’ll just have to be thirsty.

Meanwhile Carolyn and James are shown to their room which is like an old dorm room and a quarter of the size of ours with only two single beds. We tell Carolyn she can come sleep in our room if she feels too claustrophobic. We have the extra bed. She doesn’t but should have because she said she was up the entire night because every time she turned over her bed squeaked loudly and she could hear every move in the hotel as well.  Mike and I sleep pretty well thanks to the down comforters with covers that were super soft, but I was a little thirsty. We had to be up at 4 a.m. to be at the bus station for 5 a.m. in order to catch our flight from Venice to Nice.

So what is the moral of the story. We survived. The place wasn’t filthy, just ancient. The bed covers were amazing. We could have been stuck out on the street somewhere in the cold. And yes, I broke down in the morning and drank some of the water out of the old bathroom faucet. I mean, I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, what was the difference?fullsizeoutput_15c3

Looking back I realize I’m more than just a little spoiled about creature comforts.  I don’t know if it’s my age or our culture that says everything has to be exactly how we want it to be. We think we can’t inhale cigarette smoke and we think we shouldn’t drink water from a bathroom faucet. But everything can’t be clean and washed and pressed in life. Life is not always perfectly comfortable, especially when you are traveling. You are going to come in contact with bad smells and uncomfortable conditions if you are truly taking a journey. I’m sure there are many younger people who are used to traveling in hostels or in third world countries where things like this are normal and part of the experience. If I had booked a hostel, I guess I would have expected more discomforts. But there is that stubborn word, “expected.”  Often times in life, that is the problem. Things don’t meet our expectations. But are they enough? Are our needs met? And I look back more than a little ashamed that I was so unappreciative of the beginning of what was to be a beautiful adventure. My next posts will show the more glamorous side of the journey, but for now, I’ll be more grateful for what I am given, even water from a public bathroom faucet.

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“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

“Moj Grad Je Vinograd” (My Town is a Vineyard): Festival of Wine 2018 in Gračišće

fullsizeoutput_456aOn the day after Easter Sunday our landlord Edvard told us there was a festival we should consider attending. The week before we had been away from Croatia traveling in Denmark, then had returned home and gone sightseeing around Croatia with our guests from Hungary, so I guess we were more than a little tired. Actually, we were quite exhausted. (But if you are like my daughter, Sarah, you are not really feeling too sorry for me right now.)IMG_0753

 

 

Anyway, Edvard mentioned two things about this festival that peaked our interest: one was that it was centered around Istrian wine and another was the setting of the festival was a small medieval village called Gračišće, which is surrounded by vineyards and boasts panoramic views of the Učka mountain range and the Julian Alps of Slovenia.

 

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“The hills are alive with the sound of” accordions. Accordions? Yep, accordions. This is the incredible view from the medieval town of Gračišće which hosts a large Istrian wine festival each year with plenty of local food and traditional music.

The price to enter the 25th annual Festival of Wine 2018 was a mere 10 euro ($12 USD) and with that fee, you received: a wine glass with a little bag to carry the glass around your neck, a wine guide with each maker and their offerings, and a plethora of wines around the village to sample. Since I used to work the wine tastings at the Wine Market in Slidell, Louisiana, with my lovely friends Michelle and Doug Reker, I thought it might be interesting to taste some of the local wines we had been encountering in the stores in Croatia.

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Mike, James and Carolyn at the Festival of Wine 2018 in the medieval town of Gračišće, Croatia. 

The entrance ticket to the festival allows you to sample all of the 251 wines from 82 winemakers in the Istrian region. Quite the bargain! (Or quite the hangover if you are ambitious enough to try them all!) Festival goers walk in and out the medieval buildings to sample the delicious Istrian wine offerings. Delicious local food was offered for sale as well.

 

Considering that over 10,000 visitors were expected to attend the festival, we thought it would be a great chance to immerse ourself in the local culture.

The visitors were said to be primarily from Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Italy. We can attest to the fact that there were few if any other Americans there. Carload after carload of people pulled up to the little mountain town which had men in fluorescent colored vests directing traffic onto large fields on the outskirts of the city which served as parking areas for the festival guests.

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When you live in Grasčiče, signs like the center one that say, “My town is a vineyard” are appropriate

Many of them were local Croatians from nearby cities and villages, but not all as we found out.

At one point Carolyn accidentally bumped into a petite leather clad Italian biker who was very chic-looking with her jet black hair and carrying her shiny black helmet. The alleys through the town were quite small and crowded, and by this time, we had sampled quite a few wines. Still, the woman gave her an unnecessary scowl and said rather sharply, “Tranquillo!!” (Calm down!). Carolyn apologized profusely (her and I were both already “tranquillo”), but she was perplexed as to what exactly she had done to receive the wrath of the biker lady. Luckily, none of us spoke Italian, so we’ll never know.  So yes, we met at least one Italian.

 

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Carolyn and I are “molto tranquillo” at the Festival of Wine. James and Mike wish they were this “tranquillo.”

Other than that, the crowd seemed like it was mostly Croatians, and besides the encounter with the biker, everyone we met was extremely friendly.  A little pushy sometimes to get to the wine counters (aren’t we all?), but friendly none the less. Below is a picture of the inside of the amazing little medieval cottages the crowds flowed in and out of to get their wine samples.

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And here is a photo of a very friendly girl who posed for us while pouring Carolyn a wine sample.  She said that not too many people from the USA normally attended the festival.

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This sweet young woman posed for us at one of the wine counters in one of the small medieval buildings that served as booths for the wine tasting.

The most amazing thing about the festival had to be that thousands of people were walking around a village that had been there for centuries with many of the buildings almost like they were 500 years ago.  In the photo below, festival goers stroll around St. Mary’s Church which was built in 1425! I found a fascinating blog called “Istria Outside My Window,” which tells the whole history of the town and its buildings for those who are interested in reading more about this beautiful little village. There is even a post from the blog about St. Mary’s Church.

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Guests at the Festival of Wine 2018 wander around the beautiful medieval church of St. Mary in Grasčiče.

One of my favorite things about the festival besides the old medieval buildings and churches were the locals playing music throughout the streets.  One band came strolling through the streets like a second line band in New Orleans and made me feel right at home.

 

Other musicians stood in the alleyways and on doorsteps and belted out Croatian folk music.  For some of the songs, the crowd would join in singing. Even the younger generation was carrying on the tradition as we saw a very young trio of musicians playing the traditional instruments and songs surrounded by younger couples waltzing around the group. However, this accordion player on the right in the bottom photos won the prize. He played straight from his heart.

 

The Viking Museum at Roskilde

IMG_0915Just a short day trip from Copenhagen is a place that was a must-see for my seafaring husband, and I have to admit, I was pretty excited to go there as well. That place was the Viking Museum (or Vikingeskibs Museet) in Roskilde, Denmark, which houses five original sailing vessels from the 11th century.

If you think of what that means,  these boats, which were dug up in the fjord near Roskilde in 1962, were used, touched, and sailed by the actual Vikings!! So grab your Viking spangenhelm (helmet) and come along with us!

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Mike rocking a spangenhelm. (photo by Carolyn Stewart)

As you enter the parking lot for the museum, you notice the museum itself is not just one building but a group of buildings complete with an area near the harbor which is lined with many different types of Scandinavian sailing vessels, both large and small. The buildings house workshops where students are able to learn how to do various types of shipbuilding, woodworking and sailing related crafts like rope-making and sail-making.

On the day we visited, we saw a group of college-age students doing woodworking with traditional tools from the Viking period. In the indoor workshop, the students worked to plane a rudder scraping and sanding it with primitive tools.  All of the work done on the grounds is done with period tools including the felling of trees, splitting of the wood and actually constructing the boats.

It was freezing outside because we were there on a rather cold March day, so there were not many people visiting the museum, but I’m sure in the warmer months the place must be bustling with action. But in true Viking style, Mike, Carolyn and I braved the cold weather, donned our Viking garb and set forth to see the sailing vessels.

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Mike knows it’s serious business being a Viking, but I’m just happy to be along for the ride. (photo by Carolyn Stewart)

The main reason for our visit were the actual longships and sailing vessels that were inside the large Viking Ship Hall.  These five vessels were actually sunk on purpose a thousand years ago in order to make a defense barrier in the fjord as an underwater obstacle to thwart invaders.

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This ship was found in 1962 and was pieced together after the restoration process was complete. In the background, Mike admires the actual prow of the sailing vessel.

It’s truly incredible to come so close to a piece of history and to imagine the men who built the vessel and sailed it.  Thinking of what their lives must have been like, the harsh conditions they faced, their pagan beliefs and perseverance really makes you wonder how you would have survived in such an environment.

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Learning about the excavation process for the ships was just as interesting as seeing the ships themselves. The archeologists had to rope off an area of the fjord and drain it to begin mapping out the wreck site. The thick planks of wood which make up the vessels had been underwater for so long that they had to devise a way to keep the wood from shrinking and disintegrating when they took it out of the water. The wood had to be kept moist as it was dug up, and then placed in a chemical solution for a long period of time until the wood was preserved enough for it to be freeze-dried.

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A close up of the thousand year old planks that make up the Viking vessels.

While the museum collection is based on these five Viking ships that were excavated at Skuldelev in Roskilde Fjord in 1962, it also has a working boatyard where it has made replicas of the five ships and other Scandinavian longships. In the summertime, visitors are able to take cruises on a longship and help row it across the fjord and set the sails.

IMG_0915“From the museum’s own harbour, you can cruise around the beautiful Roskilde fjord and admire the museum’s large collection of traditional Nordic boats,” according to the Visit Copenhagen website.

It is incredible that the remains of these ships have survived so many years.  I highly recommend a visit here if you find yourself in the Copenhagen area.  It is an easy day trip as it’s only 1/2 hour away from the city, and you can also visit the Roskilde Cathedral while you are there, which is another fascinating destination full of history that is worth the trip to Roskilde alone.

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Carolyn tips her pink cap as she steers the Viking vessel away from the Vikingeskibbit Museet.

 

 

 

Stairway to Heaven at Vor Frelsers Kirke

Who says you can’t climb a stairway to heaven? One of the first things Mike and I did after we arrived in Copenhagen was climb the stairs of the incredible Vor Frelsers Kirke.

First things first, “kirke” is the word for “church” in Danish and Vor Frelsers Kirke in English means “Our Savior’s Church.”  Many of the Copenhagen city maps have the tourist spots in Danish (which is only natural) and if you go looking for Our Saviors Church, you are not going to find it on the map in English. However, if you are anywhere in or near the Christianshavn neighborhood, all you need to do is look up at the massive black and gold spire and you will find the majestic Vor Frelsers Kirke.

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The spire has something magical about it that draws you in with its golden spiral staircase and the large gold globe at the top of it.

It has a magnificent presence towering over the streets of Christianshavn.

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According to the church’s website, the red brick facade of the church was built in 1680 in the baroque style and consecrated in 1696.  The tower wasn’t consecrated until 1752 and it’s imposing presence stands over 300 feet (95 meters) high.  The wooden steps leading up to it are a little shaky and worn and lend to the excitement as you climb the 400 steps to the top.

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The last 150 steps are outside and wind around the tower. The day we went there was ice on quite a few of them, so they were a little slippery, thus with the wind made the climb even more scary.  Here are the different views of the city that you are able to see as you ascended:

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This is not a climb for the faint of heart, but it is so worth it if you are able to muster up the courage and energy to attempt it.  I did see some older people (older than me, that is!) climbing the stairs, so if you visit right before the church closes like we did and have the stairs pretty much to yourself, you could probably take your time to get to the top.  It was one of my favorite things that I did in Copenhagen, so I highly recommend you get over your fear and go for it if you can.

Along the way up the countless steps there were some interesting sights to say the least to keep you occupied.

First,  a few jailed stone cherubs. This fellow was about five feet tall, so he was pretty impressive:

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An incredible mess of gears with a Ferdinand the IV emblem on it.  I’m not sure what this was for (perhaps for the clock on the bell tower?), but it was very interesting:

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A fluorescent array of teacups were also seen on the way up on a large shell-type display.  Either that or somebody had a wild tea party the night before and left their dishes:

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Before you enter the outside steps there is a large carillon, which is musical instrument consisting of a number of bronze bells, housed in the tower.  We heard the bells chiming as we ascended and it was quite eery.

A few of the carillon bells in the church’s bell tower.

I found this church extremely inspiring thus I dedicated the whole post to it. I didn’t even see the incredible organ inside because the building was closing so we had to rush to the top then leave.

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Shadows cast a eery picture on the beautiful Vor Frelsers Kirke in Copenhagen.

The photo below is Mike and I at the top of the tower with the incredible view of Copenhagen below us. If you visit Copenhagen, climb your way up to the top and be inspired.

The view at the top of Vor Frelsers Kirke.

Is the Danish really Danish? (And other facts about Nordic Cuisine)

Suppose I told you the raspberry Danish pastry that we know and love in the USA didn’t originate with the Danish.  Blasphemy, you say.

No, it’s true. In Denmark pastries are called Weinerbrød (which translates to “Vienna bread”) after their origins in none other than Austria. In the 1850s bakers went on strike in Denmark, and the country hired some from Austria to fill in for them.  When the strike was over, the Austrians went home, but the recipes remained to be used and improved upon by the Danish.

Variations of these delectable pastries were everywhere on our recent stay in Copenhagen, and I found quite a slew of them in the bakery near our Airbnb rental.    Carolyn and I made quite a few bakery runs in the morning while we were staying outside of the city center.  I think we both enjoyed the brisk morning air watching the residents zoom by us on bicycles as much as we did the bakery itself.

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The Danish Hindbaersnitter is a delectable treat found at many bakeries in Copenhagen.

One look at the hindbærsnitter above and my brain started thinking about Pop-tarts.  But truth be told, the taste of the hindbærsnitter is so much better that it’s probably not fair to compare the Pop-tart to one.  These pastries literally fall apart in your mouth with their buttery goodness and then if you’re not careful, they’ll fall apart in your hands. The trick is to eat them fast. At least that’s what I did.  But in Copenhagen they are more of a special treat for children’s birthdays and not an everyday breakfast food.  Made from two thin buttery cookie-like pastries with raspberry jam in the middle, they are topped with a sugary glaze and decorated with the non-pareils. Very sweet and delectable!

Not so with the next item. It’s called rugbrød and forms the base of the open-faced sandwiches called “smørrebrød” that are a popular meal for many in Denmark. The bread is very dense and chewy, and the one below was served before our dinner and was quite good.  It was so rich that I was afraid to eat a whole piece before my dinner came.

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This dense bread forms the bottom of the open faced sandwiches called Smørrebrød popular in Denmark.

I was glad I refrained from eating the whole piece when I saw my dinner.  A pile of tiny shrimp, some raw tuna, pan fried fish with several different relishes, some tomatoes and some sour cream topped with fresh dill and I was in heaven. The yellow relish in the little dish was my favorite. The Danish call it “remoulade,” but it is very similar to our tartar sauce only it is sweeter, has larger chunks of sweet pickles and pickled onions in it, and has curry and yellow mustard for flavor and color.

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My first meal in Denmark was truly a treat.

One rainy evening we visited Torvehallerne, which is a food market in the center of Copenhagen. It has two glass enclosed sections with about 60 stalls between the two, which was perfect with the rain. We tried a real smørrebrød from Hallernes in this market and it was incredible.

IMG_0164The lady who waited on us said we were lucky we came late (around 4:30 p.m.) because the line had wrapped all around the place earlier. I believe it. The food not only looked beautiful, but it was pretty delicious.

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A wide variety of smørrebrød was available at Hallerne’s Smørrebrød.

While I was enjoying my smørrebrød, I noticed this bottle of Linie Aquavit from Norway sitting on the counter. IMG_0159I had to do some research when I saw the label saying it “matured at sea,” especially for my husband, Captain Mike, who would also love to mature at sea, although not in an oak sherry cask. Apparently aquavit is a Scandinavian liquor that has the taste of caraway seeds and fennel with notes of dill and anise. The Danish like to drink it with fish, and I didn’t realize until I got back to Croatia and actually researched it that I had had some aquavit in on a day trip to Helsingør that came free with the pickled herring I ordered. It was delicious together, and I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the pickled herring as much without it. So order some if you try pickled herring. You will thank me later.  Anyway, the Linie Aquavit travels all over rolling around on the sea in the barrels which gives it a really smooth finish.  I wish I would have tried it with the Salmon smørrebrød I ate at the market, although really good, I think it would have been even better.  You can see the small flute of it in the second picture below.  The first one is my plate of pickled herring, served with beets, mustard and pork fat (!!). The herring is hiding under the pile of fresh dill.

The Torvehallerne market itself is a must-see if you visit Copenhagen.  I’m told it is very busy throughout the year, but it’s worth hustling through a crowd to see all it has to offer. It also had some seating and produce booths outside the glass enclosure, which probably would be a nice place to hang out if the weather is good. Here are just a few pictures I took by the seafood section:

 

 

My next posts won’t be so food-oriented, but will be on a few of the places we visited in and around Copenhagen, including my husband’s favorite, The Viking Museum in Roskilde.  Hope you will wander along with us for the next leg of the journey.

There’s Nothing Rotten in Denmark

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“Hej” from Copenhagen!! (That’s hello in Danish and it’s pronounce “hi” with a little upward lilt at the end).  We wandered off from Pula on March 20 and spent the last week of March in the beautiful city of Copenhagen in Denmark.   From my time here I have come to the anti-Shakespearian conclusion which is the title of my blog today:  “There is nothing rotten in Denmark!”  It was an incredible place, and I wish we had been able to spend more than just a week there.

fullsizeoutput_3dffYou could argue the weather was a little rotten because it was so bitterly cold (below freezing for most days we were there), and a little dreary on some days, but by traveling in such inclement weather you get a good indication of what the Danish people are made of, and it is actually quite good stuff.

We rented an Airbnb in a little area right outside of the Copenhagen city limits and enjoyed the quiet streets and beautiful house we made our home for a week.  The owner Jesper was fantastic and made us feel very welcome even though he towered above us like a NBA player.  His height and friendly demeanor were quite common among the Danish, who were seen in freezing rain or sleet and snow, on bikes and pushing baby carriages through the bustling city of Copenhagen.

It was remarkable to us Southern folks who would be bundled up in front of a fireplace in weather like this to see hoards of people on bicycles everywhere in the city.  They carried babies in snowsuits on the front of their bikes with just their faces exposed, or zipped them tightly into baby carriages as the mothers leisurely strolled along the streets.  The moms shopped, they strolled, they stopped in the many cafes for coffee, and guess where many of them left their strollers (with the babies inside them!) ?— prepare yourself —- outside on the sidewalk.

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A Danish mom strolls along the streets of Copenhagen with baby in tow. Although sunny, it was 32 degrees on this beautiful day.

I’m told this is a common occurrence and nothing to be alarmed about (there is an extremely low crime rate and almost non-existent kidnap rate).  Several factors play into this custom but the main ones are: 1) Again, it is extremely safe in Copenhagen and 2) Danish (and many Nordic) mothers believe the fresh (albeit cold) air is good for babies and strengthens their immune system.  I did notice the large prams which held the babies were parked in front of large windows, so I’m sure a Danish mom or two would be checking to make sure the prams stayed put while they were in the cafe. Still though, it’s an extremely different custom than we are used to both weather-wise and safety-wise.

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A Danish dad brings young children to nursery school by bike on a blustery March day in Copenhagen.

Our host Jesper said his 12- year old can ride her bike home from the city at midnight and he has no fear for her safety.  Coming from New Orleans, this feeling of safety was quite surprising and reassuring at the same time.  Most of the bikes we saw that were not being used were sitting leisurely by the side of the street or leaned up against a fence without locks on them. What a great testament to safety to be able to leave your bike without fear of it being stolen.  The country on the whole has an extremely low crime rate with most of the crime taking place during the summer months when hoards of tourists descend on the beautiful city.

 

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Bikes sit unused by bus stops and against building walls throughout Copenhagen with no locks showing the trust Danish citizens have in their fellow citizens not to take them without permission.

The safety of the city and heartiness of the people are just two of the reasons I believe there is “nothing rotten” in this beautiful city.  I’ll have quite a few more posts on Denmark in the coming days as there is much to tell about this lovely country.  I’ll leave you with a picture of some of the delicious food I came across in Copenhagen to whet your appetite for my next post, “Is the Danish really Danish?”

 

 

Hej Hej for now!!! (That’s good-bye in Danish.) Now if only the rest of the Danish language was that simple.

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A sailboat frozen in place in the Kastrup Strandpark harbor in Oresund Sound on the day we arrived in Copenhagen.