Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Scandinavian Summer

Why hello again, friends.  Yes, David and Alana still do exist over here in Denmark, and it's been a lovely summer here in the land of the almost midnight sun.  And (for those of you who don't live here), yes, at the peak of summer, the light really does last almost until midnight.  And while we did get to experience some uniquely Danish aspects of summer this year, summer remained just as full of popsicles and cookouts and yard games and being outside as it was in the US.

Birthday brunch picnic overlooking Aalborg.
The summer season here in Aalborg seemed to unofficially start with the famous/infamous Aalborg Karnival in late May.  Apparently, it's northern Europe's biggest carnival celebration, and the main event consists of 25,000 costumed party people parading through the center of our city.  A common question that kept coming up when we first moved here was "so do you know about karneval?"  The questioner would then usually proceed to tell us about how "one year at karneval...someone urinated on my window/there was puke on my apartment door/I was flashed while minding my own business/I lost my cell phone in a river of beer/I saw something I really did not want to see happening under a bridge...".  So with that reputation preceding it and with our apartment being about one block from the main parade route, David and I were quite curious to see what the day would bring.  And actually, we had a really fun day.  It got a little uncomfortable and some elbows were thrown when we got stuck inside a rather aggressive mass of people all trying to push their way in different directions.  But the weather was great, some of the costumes were really cool, I convinced myself that the puddle I stepped in was beer (and not urine), and spending all day outside in the sunshine sure makes it feel like summer.

Most common Karneval costumes:
Waldo, old NBA players, neon/tie-dyed anything
Most creative Karneval costumes:
Lego people and choreographed people riding a roller coaster

Another mark of the arrival of summer here in Denmark was the prominent displays of koldskål med kammerjunkere that seemed to pop up out of nowhere in every grocery store.  I was, at first, uncertain that cold buttermilk soup with biscuits was really what I was craving on a hot day.  But I have to say that it didn't take long before I was buying it every time I was at the store (sometimes even making special trips just for that).  And it's a very versatile dish...snack, dessert, breakfast, lunch, dinner...all of the above...

My personal Copenhagen tour guide
The last national Danish holiday (read: "free day off") until Christmas fell on exactly the right weekend in early June for us to fly to Copenhagen to celebrate my Danish friend Louise's birthday with an introduction to the Copenhagen swing dancing scene and to introduce traveling American friends Melanie and Sam to Danish culture.  The Little Mermaid was seen, smørrebrød was eaten, and canals were toured.  We even got to assuage our homesickness for Colorado with a little visit to Christiania, the former-military-barracks-turned-hippie-freetown smack in the middle of otherwise very orderly Copenhagen.  There were Buddhist prayer flags; there were dreds.  There was a vegan restaurant, and there were posters of
Canal touring
Bob Marley and Ghandi and Jesus.  And a certain earthy/grassy smell was ubiquitous.  It was basically the opposite of everything I had come to associate with Denmark up to that point, and for a few hours, it really did feel like we were almost back in Colorado (almost...until someone selling homemade food called out to us in Danish).

Walking through
Christiania forest
Making our (temporary) mark on the Copenhagen
art scene at The Happy Wall

We got another little taste of America when, through the powers of Facebook, a collection of Americans living in Aalborg got together for the Fourth of July.  There's quite a few of us here actually, way more than I expected before moving here.  We grilled, we had flag cakes, we played lawn games, we had sparklers.  Any Dane within earshot was treated to a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  And I realized one problem with the extremely long summer days, fireworks aren't nearly as cool looking when it's not completely dark.

In addition to the long hours of sunlight, July actually brought some hot weather to Denmark.  Summer up to that point had been this random mix of warm-ish sunny days intermingled with rainy days more suited to March than June.  But after about 3 days of the July heat, I was complaining with the rest of them that it had been practically 30°C (about 85°F) for a week!  Even then, it took me a few more days before I realized that everywhere else that I've lived regularly experiences temperatures that hot (or often hotter!) for 3 whole months not simply 3 weeks.  But I'll blame my complaining on the fact that any brief relief supplied by this modern technology called air conditioning was simply nowhere to be found.  Not at my office, not in the library, not at a coffee shop, certainly not in our apartment.  But ok, ok, I'll be honest, air conditioning really isn't needed here; the weather's just too convenient a topic to complain about.

So, when standing in the dairy section at the grocery store was no longer cutting it to provide some relief from the heat, we finally remembered "Hey, Denmark is surrounded by water on three sides! Let's go to the beach!"  I had been told that the beaches here were pretty awesome.  But, let's be real, sandy beaches and ocean waves really aren't what you think of when you think Denmark.  At least, I, as an American who grew up enjoying California's iconic beaches, did not.  Apparently, lots of Germans take Danish beach vacations every summer.  Anyway, the Danish beaches did not disappoint, and one of the nicest beaches is only 45 minutes away and reachable by public transportation.  As someone who has sat in traffic in Orange County, CA going to/coming from the beach, Denmark definitely wins in that area.

Where Denmark does not win is in having any natural places higher than 170 m (560 ft) which, for 2 people who spent the last 6 years in Colorado, took some getting used to.  The mountains and fjords of our neighbor to the north were calling out to us, like whoa, so we bought some ferry tickets, packed our bags with tents, sleeping bags, and cheaper (compared to Norway) Danish food, and spent 3 days in the Lysefjord area of Norway.  And seriously...whoa...jaw-dropping, spectacular beauty in a landscape different than anything I had ever experienced.  For those who want details (and not just me trying to find the words to describe how incredible it was), we took the ferry to Stavanger, a city on the west coast of Norway, then took another ferry into the Lysefjord.  We spent a morning dodging the crowds hiking up to the breathtaking but popular Pulpit Rock and then spent the next day completely alone hiking along the north side of the Lysefjord before hiking down to the water to be picked up by another ferry and taken to the little village of Lysebotn.  After a very experienced bus driver safely navigated one of the curviest roads I've ever been on, we hiked along the south side of the Lysefjord to Kjeragbolten for some pictures of us looking awesome and an unexpected chance to watch some basejumpers in action.  We ended the trip trying to outrace a thunderstorm down a steep, slick rock face only to have the clouds part and the sun come out just as we made it back to the trailhead.

If you happen to be planning a trip to Norway, know that even in already expensive Denmark, Norway is known as being the opposite of cheap.  So camping is definitely a good choice (you can set up your tent anywhere as long as it's 150 m away from any buildings and not on cultivated land), and bringing food from Denmark will definitely keep costs cheaper.  And a word of wisdom for the ferry...earplugs.  Stavanger is far enough away that the ferry traveled through the night.  While you can book a cabin with a bed to sleep in, the significantly cheaper option is to just book a seat in the main area and sleep in your seat like you would on an airplane.  But unlike an airplane, the ferry is actually rather quiet which means that you can hear about a dozen people all around you snoring their faces off and when those people finally roll over and start breathing through their mouths, another dozen pick up the chorus right where the first ones left off.  Let's just say, I slept better on the ground in the tent than I did on the ferry.

Ok, whew, whirlwind recap of the Gerhardts' summer, Scandinavian style, and I didn't even mention the outdoor movie watching, the biking, the grilling, and all the ice cream eating, but you probably did that this summer anyway so you don't need me to tell you how it is.

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