Sunday, January 16, 2011

Making it into 2011... hidden in a closet...

After our exciting but busy trip throughout some of Europe's principal cities like Paris, Brussels and Strasbourg, we opted to spend New Year's Eve at our place in Aarhus. A fine meal made of fresh crayfish with home made mayonnaise, als home made carrot soup, and a cake from one of the best patisseries in town. We also had our bottle of Henriot champagne that we imported ourselves from France, naturally...

The big event associated with New Year here in Denmark is private fireworks looking like professional ones, and coming from pretty much every other household. Of course the peak was from midnight until 2am on New Year's Eve, but we started hearing them quite frequently after sundown (around 4pm these days) since December 30th, and way until January 7th or 8th. And on December 31st, people did not even wait for sunset to start lighting their firecrackers. On that day we heard the first bangs around noon.

With this increasing agitation outside, we quickly learned that Sascha was in need of special attention and care. Apparently fireworks are a well-known cause of stress for pets that can be quite traumatizing. Q knew this about his old dog, but we never really had a chance to witness this with Sascha earlier. Fireworks were not that common in Colorado (and more regulated). So we actually felt fortunate that we had decided to spend our New Year's Eve at home, in order to not make him any more anxious than he already was.

We actually found that the safest thing to do was to give him half a pill of the sedative we had gotten for him a year ago when we brought him to Europe by plane. Combined with organizing hiding places at the bottom of various kitchen cabinets, that seemed to do the trick. At least, he survived!

And so did we! From hearing the war-like explosions all around us at the turn of the year, we felt much safer to not have had to go anywhere... That may seem like an over-reaction, but we did hear on a daily basis the ambulance sirens shortly after the peak of fireworks festivals. We were also told that every year at least one house (only one?) gets set on fire because of poorly handled fireworks. Well, it was quite a windy night...

But fireworks were actually quite nice seen from the safety of our home, through our large windows. It was sort of non stop, so we'd regularly pause our meal to go check out what was happening. Sort of like a free show! Check out the movie to see what we mean...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Catching up on 2010: Christmas in Alsace - and an anniversary!!

Because of the cold, our train shuttling between Strasbourg and Paris arrived an hour late in Paris, and then by an additional hour late back to Strasbourg. Well, we just had a late dinner!

We celebrated Christmas in Niederbronn-les-Bains, just like the year before, thereby also marking the first anniversary of this blog!

Thanks to all of you for following us and for supporting us through your m

essages during this first year. We hope you are enjoying checking out our blog as much as we are enjoying putting it together. In that first year, we have not quite traveled completely around the globe yet, but we have covered some distance from Panama to Polynesia, and from our new home country Denmark to Southern Europe or to the US. Let's hope that in 2011 we can cover some of the missing distance to make it a full "around the globe" travel blog!

Alright, so back to the root so to speak (Q's roots) and our Christmas celebration in Alsace. We had plenty of snow—after nothing in Paris—not too surprisingly for Alsace at this time of the year. We spent a day or so in Strasbourg, to check out their actually much more awesome 25 meter-tall Christmas tree (no bias, no bias...) and hit another of C's favorite fashion stores, Desigual. They just had opened a new store in Strasbourg, so that was the perfect time to be there and get some freebies in addition to the cool clothe.
We headed out for Niederbronn, where Q's grand father has this gigantic home in the Vosges mountains. The snow everywhere was great, and made for a perfect Christmas scenery! Some more good times with the family, playing games around the Christmas tree, building a snowman, drinking some champagne, opening presents...
Then in the late evening of the 25th, we boarded our night train toward Aarhus. 14 hours total (most of them spent in our matchbox-sized compartment), with one stop in Hamburg, Germany.
It was quite bumpy, but we made it. Snow was covering the mostly flat landscape all the way back, which was truly reminiscent of some scenes of Doctor
Zhivago. The complete whiteness also made the dark deers quite noticeable everywhere.
Ah, back to the Northern realities!

Catching up on 2010: Ah, Paris!

On a normal day, the fast train that runs between Paris and Brussels takes a bit more than an hour to get from one capital city to the other. December 20th was not a normal day.

Very cold temperatures had interfered with proper functioning of som

e of the cars on the train. So half of them were missing by the time the train pulled in at the Brussels station, coming from Amsterdam. The problem was two-fold: our seats were on one of the missing cars, and no one on the platform knew that was the case... There were of course much people in the same predicament, running from one end of the train to the other, wondering what to make of this unexpected situation. Missing cars could

have simply meant they were going to be added while the train was sitting at the station... Quite chaotic, but remarkably typical of Belgium, in some way.

C had the good idea to just board the train wherever, and that happened to be a first class coach. By that time other folks were doing the same thing, because after all, the train had been planned to stay for only a few minutes before leaving for Paris. So here we were, standing with others in first class. Half an hour after our departure, a message finally announced passengers about the missing cars, and that the train would also be delayed since it was running less fast on those icy tracks.

The whole event made for an interesting situation, people chatting with each other, like we did with this Texan professor who was on vacation from a sabbatical in the UAE. We were standing, sitting on our suitcases, our seated fellows offering us occasionally to trade places with them. We arrived late in Paris of course, but early enough to still shop for dinner and host as planned our friends Leo and Virginie where we were staying at (Leo's sister apartment, while she was on some skiing holiday).

Paris is now the beloved home o

f one of C's favorite fashion stores, Antoine & Lili. Hence, while we were there, we naturally visited their pink/yellow/green flagship store right on the canal Saint Martin, a very scenic area in the middle of Paris. Q also enjoyed some of his favorite book stores, and an exhibit of renowned artist Jean Giraud a.k.a. Moebius.

We both liked to just walk around Paris, still one of the most enjoyable things to do. Especially when such walks lead you to get some delightful macarons from Pierre Hermé, which you can actually order online, if you don't live in Paris or Japan... These are not to die for, but to be resuscitated for ;-)

We even had some macarons left for our train ride toward Strasbourg, which we expected would also not go "as normal" since temperatures were not getting any higher as we would come closer to "France's Siberia"—as Q's grand mother liked to refer to Alsace...

Catching up on 2010: Brussels

Now that we were ready for Christmas, it was time to leave for our journey that would take us to celebrate Christmas in the Alsatian region with Q's family. On our way down South (!), we had a stop in Brussels, Belgium, and another one in Paris.

In Brussels we were welcomed by David, Léa, and their two sons Nathan (5 yr old) and Jonas (2 yr old). Q is actually one of Nathan's godfathers, so this was an opportunity for some bonding time. Much needed after Q's absence in the US for all these years... Q's sister Sigo also moved to

Brussels in the Fall, so we caught up with her as well, together with Anysia (Q's other sister), her partner Mathieu and our adorable niece Mila. As we g

ot closer to Christmas, we enjoyed having so many wonderful opportunities to get together with family and friends. The spirit of Christmas was still soaring!

We actually flew to Brussels via Copenhagen, and that was a few days before the various blockages caused by snow weather and shortage of de-icing fluids that various airports experienced. After that first flight we had planned to do the rest of our trip by train, as fast trains conveniently run between all these major cities, and a night train runs weekly from Switzerland back to Denmark, with a stop not far from Strasbourg across the border with Germany.

There was snow in Brussels, which is quite unusual. For us it did not really make a difference! We had decided we were just going to travel with the same type of clothing that we wear here...

If you don't know much about Belgium, that's a good intro...

We kept it pretty low key throughout our weekend in the Belgian capital, sleeping in one of the 7 or 8 bedrooms our friends have in their home, playing with Q's godson and his brother by the Christmas tree, hanging out with our friends and our family, celebrating Sigo's 21st b-day, shopping for chocolate (our favorite was Wittamer), dining well at our friend's place, Sigo's place, or at this very nice restaurant newly open in Brussels, called La Buvette. This place is actually owned by one of Anysia's good friends, a young chef named Nicolas Scheidt. Nico also owns the restaurant L'Office in Paris. Two addresses that we strongly recommend if you are in the area! Top quality 3 to 7 course meals for 35-45 euros...

Speaking of Paris...

Catching up on 2010: Preparing for the holiday in Denmark - Part 2

On the weekend following our Thanksgiving celebration and the ceremony by the city Christmas tree, we were glad to join two more Christmas-related events. This was the Sunday before Saint Nicholas (December 6).

Q was invited to listen to a choir in the little church of Tilst, a small town on the outskirts of Aarhus. Q's colleague and friend Annika sang there. It was a fine and novel mix of traditional Danish and English Christmas carols. Some were more of the traditional kind, and others quite rhythmic, as you can check on the movies. And somehow, with a large audience packed into that tiny old church, it was very reminiscent of Christmas celebration in Alsace.

After that, Q joined C at a cookie baking party organized at Maike's place, a German colleague. We baked all kinds of cookies, from various traditions, German, Swedish, Italian, American... Quite some fun times! And we could feel the spirit of Christmas just hovering above us...

Catching up on 2010: Preparing for the holiday in Denmark - Part 1

Happy New Year everyone!
We hope you all had an enjoyable holiday season and transitioned smoothly into 2011.

After some travels in Europe and a challenging beginning of the year (tragic passing of a dear friend among other things) we are back to normal (or so) which of course includes much-awaited blog updates! So let's start first with what happened on our end here since late November, beginning with a Thanksgiving celebration at our place.

With all the snow we got since mid-November, we kinda got sidetracked into wondering whether it would disappear or not. Well, we are getting closer to the anniversary of our arrival here and snow is still on the ground... There's more or less of it as we go, but it's always there. Alright, let's try to not focus too much on snow again here...

Back to late November... On the Saturday following Thanksgiving, we organized a Thanksgiving dinner at our place with friends from work, including two American expatriates that we know here: Lee (who works with C) and Maureen (the wife of Claus, who also works with C). C was happy that we found a turkey in a downtown store. She then tried an unconventional recipe to bake it, piece by piece. The result was indeed as proclaimed: both dark and white meats ended up moist and tender. Even the cat enjoyed the recipe very much, because it meant C had to spend some time in the kitchen to spread the beast apart. Our cutie did not miss any of the action, oh no...

Of course this very nice meal was accompanied by some fine wines and ended with home-made pecan and pumpkin pies... Definitely a success! And altogether a feeling of being "just like home"...

The next Sunday we went to the inauguration of the 25 meter-tall Christmas tree all decorated with lights in front of the city hall. It was cold so we had some of the local glogg (warm red wine with some spices and almonds). We listened to a choir of kids dressed as mini Santas who were singing from a balcony. Then seven or eight kids joined the mayor on some stage and they all turned on the lights on the tree, further marking the beginning of Advent. The bronze pigs from the famous fountain were all wearing a red ribbon around their neck for the celebration...