Sunday, July 27, 2008

Boring Brussels? Not at all.

My temporary addiction and the reason I am wearing cargo pants rather than jeans

Simply beautiful architecture

What did we do with detail?

A fresco down a laneway

There're lots of 'renovator's dreams' like this

Much has been said and written about Brussels, the Capital of Europe; that funny, bureaucratic, predominately French-speaking city stuck whack in the Flemish part of the country. I wasn’t expecting much, apart from possible riots, given recent news and perhaps being caught up in the dissolution of a nation.

I stayed here and booked it with wotif for around €65 a night, which was pretty cheap for somewhere near the centre. Given the price, I wasn’t expecting much in that way either but was pleasantly surprised. The room was a decent size but the bathroom, by European standards was huge. I have a big, big-bathroom fetish. The staff were also really helpful and friendly.

The train trip from the airport was about 15 minutes to Gare du Nord. I’d read the hotel was only a ten-minute walk from the station but, of course, I walked out the wrong door (I thought it was the right one at the time) and was besieged by a woman begging me for money. The usual, not-so-original someone stole her purse on the tram story.

Off I went in full confidence of knowing where I was, only to end up in a street that resembled a Turkish bazaar in Istanbul and actually in the complete opposite direction to where I should have been. Good grief. There was so many people I thought I’d never find my way out. And, it was an introduction to something else I didn’t know about Brussels – it’s a melting pot of races and nationalities.

Finally, desperate to get to the hotel before my bladder exploded I back tracked to the station and asked some police where I was. They were very helpful and studied the map rather excitedly, arguing about which way I should go.

Eventually, I arrived.

I won’t bore you with an epistle about tourist attractions. Suffice to say there are very many beautiful buildings in Brussels and not just the Grande Place. The food in my experience was really delicious and it’s fascinating watching the diversity of the people.

The only down side is that there are lot of beggar/dodgy types, which I have to say put me off a bit and I can’t see how this still happens in such wealthy countries. It’s rather depressing. There’re also continuous warnings about pickpockets on the metro, although I had no trouble at all.

Friday, July 18, 2008

If you're after a cheap bicycle...

This is the place to go. NQDII recently bought an extra bike to leave at the other end of the island to save catching a bus from the station to work or a 20 minute walk after an hour's trip on three trains. All up, including the DKK20 to cut the old chain off, it cost DKK520. Not bad when you consider we paid around DKK4000 each for new bikes at the beginning of the year.

'Fascinating' sex

Occasionally you come across articles that really make you read the headline twice. This did. Now, I can imagine mammalian beastiality. I don’t think it’s in any way right but this article really made me think. How on earth do you have a sexual relationship with an octopus? Would I not be hauled before the courts for doing so, I’d download a picture just to see. Plus, I wonder what makes someone think, “Yes, I must have sex with an octopus,” and why they would even begin to get the idea for it?

The Mother Country (Mother City?)

Yup. A Whirlpool at Windsor - courtesy of an Eastern European lady. I didn't realise Whirlpool still existed.

These memorial benches are a great idea

London. What can you say? It must be one of the world’s most remarkable cites. A literal melting pot of people from all over the world and, in warm weather, it felt like it. There are just SO many people it boggled my mind. I’d not been there for eight years and last time, I was there in winter which I suspect means fewer tourists. Not so this time. I felt like I was living in a sea of people every time I went outside.

I know the theoretical city area is quite small but Greater London is massive. As you fly in, it seems to go on forever, and coming from Copenhagen – with a grand population of some one million souls – the contrast is marked.

Luckily for us, our friends live in a swank part of town and we had the choice of four spare bedrooms spread over five storeys. Direct from Copenhagen where the average abode is relatively small, we felt like we were staying in Buckingham Palace. Even more startling was the house was no different from the hundreds that surrounded it and it made me think just how much building must have been going on around the turn of the 20th century. And, how ‘Great’ Britain must have been and the wealth it must have drawn in from its vast Empire.

I’ve been to London quite a lot but I’ve never ventured into the East End. This time our hosts took us to an area called Brick Lane. Here, you could really feel the melange of different races and cultures all boiling away together. It was fascinating, as were the choices of foods from the street stalls and the cross section of people. It’s definitely worth a visit.

At the other extreme, one day we went to Windsor Castle. None of us had been there before but each of us was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place and the grandeur of the state apartments. Seriously, I’ve seen no other palace – even Versailles – that you could compare it too. No amount of explanation would describe the enormity and detail of these rooms. You really have to see it. We all agreed it’s a place you could really go back to and look at just one or two rooms at a time. I couldn’t help but think it must have been fun for the four royal children growing up there. Hide and seek would be exciting, if a futile holiday game.

But, it was refreshing to get back to Copenhagen. Sure, it’s small but it’s so easy to navigate and taking the metro from the airport was effortless (although NQDII and I had one of our notorious airport altercations so we came home on separate metros!)

And here I am almost halfway through my two weeks of mandatory, yet unpaid sommerferie. I made a spur of the moment and perhaps imprudent decision last night (given the state of my bank account) and booked a few days away in Brussels from Sunday. I hadn’t planned to do anything but suddenly thought the week would go and I’d have done nothing, especially since NQDII will be back at work.

Brussels was the cheapest flight I could find. Considering it was voted Europe’s most boring city there might be good reason for this but as yet another Belgian government recently resigned, I am interested in taking a look at this Flemish-Walloon situation myself. It seems odd that such a tiny country has trouble holding itself together. Who knows? With my vast experience in smoothing relations, I might be able to fix the whole thing for them ☺

Friday, July 11, 2008

A bit of end of week fun

Eight hours of work and then I'm on a two week break. Have Dankort, anything is possible!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hej! Jeg. er. dansk!! Det er jeg!!

It arrived - and I've used it twice!! Tusind, tusind, tusind tak!!


The roads are quiet cycling to work this week and we're about to join the exodus. One more sleep and two days of work and I have two whole weeks off. I can't wait. It's my first break of more than a few days in almost two year. Of course I had two weeks off over Christmas but NQDII arrived and came down with Roskilde Syg four days later, which lasted the rest of my holidays. So I don't count nursing someone with projectile vomiting that lasted eight days, a break!

We're off to London tomorrow night to visit friends and Hamish is leaving tonight for a holiday of his own in Nordsjælland. I always get an attack of the guilts about his 'holiday' but he comes back and usually sleeps for two days, so I presume he's fairly active while away.

Sommerferie in Denmark is a serious business, so serious that quite a lot of companies close or have skeleton staff - and a good thing too because in no time at all we'll feel the dark creeping up on us and that early morning chill.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mary eller Marie? (Mary or Marie?)

HRH Crown Princess MarY

The new one, HRH Princess MarIE (pic from SIPA)

HE Alexandra, Countess of Rosenborg

We were talking about the two princesses from the younger generation bar one today – Mary (a close personal friend who is always too busy to answer my calls – despite my father asking if she’s contacted me yet – constantly) and Marie, the newest (bar one almost toddling) Danish princess.

They share the same name and they look spookily alike. What’s with that, do you think? These pics probably don't quite show the similarity but if you do a google, you'll find some. They both seem like nice (Very Lucky) girls.

We get all the gossip magazines at work. There’s one mag, Her og Nu (Here and Now), which provides endless seconds of fascination for us and which always devotes the first 400 pages to the goings on of the much-loved royal family.

Now, to be honest, I am a huge fan of Frederik. He’s a typical Danish male – sincere, amiable and has a very cheeky smile. Quite a few people I know think his public speaking skills leave much to be desired but they don’t worry me. It's very hard to taler dansk and he will obviously agree. See, thats just one of the reasons I know we'd be the very best of mates if we actually ever met. But, I do think all you need to be a good prince and king is a good heart, a little bit of imagination, lots of patience and a good wife.

For those not up to date with the goings on of the Danish Royal family, the younger brother, Joachim, used to be married to the much-loved Alexandra (photo attached). He met her in Hong Kong and their engagement surprised the entire country.

Alexandra quickly became a soft spot for the 99% of the Danish population who are monarchists. She learned Danish in just on five minutes and seemed set for a golden life as one of God’s chosen.

Not so.

The seven-year itch took hold and irreconcilable differences took root. Alexandra left the outback (as I’m sure she thought of it) of Shackenborg Slot, a goss-landering husband and the country mourned the demise of a fairytale. (A lot more followed but I won’t go into it – I want some dinner).

Along comes Marie. Not only does she share the same name but also a similar look to my fellow countryperson, Mary.

I suggested it was a case of a youngerbrotherism (I grew up with one): if you have one, I want one too.

Others were bordering bewilderment and fascination.

But I wonder what Freud would make of it?

And, behold! Miracles happen!

My lords, ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et monsieurs,

I feel very humbled to win this award.

I'd like to thank the Acadamy, my parents for having me and every person I've ever met, but particularly NQDII for having the magic touch, Camilla - the greatest employee at DanskeBank Frederiksberg - and even the grouchy post office lady who barked at me for not getting my ID out quick enough to pick up a parcel one day. Most of all, I would like to thank DanskeBank. It's been eight long months and I would particularly like to thank them for the last sentence in the letter, the understatement of the year: We hope you will find the card useful. (like, hello?? What can you do in Denmark without a chip??)

Thank you!

- Well, let's not get too excited now. I have the letter but not the card. Still, progress is progress!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The not so good news about the Danish holiday system

It’s true about the five to six weeks holiday. What’s also true is that you have to wait 12 months to be eligible to take paid leave. That didn’t worry me because the same is usually true in Australia and, of course, you can always take unpaid leave.

What I hadn’t realised was that 12 months is calculated from May to May, so actually I won’t be eligible from paid leave until June next year. That’s 18 months from when I started! Certainly it’s no big drama but it does call for careful economy – something I’m not so wonderful at.

It’s something to keep in mind if you come to work in Denmark and to question on your contract. I don’t know if there is a way around it or if every company follows the rule but it doesn’t hurt to ask, especially if you have the option of starting work in May over June!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A day at the beach

(First, someone help me out. Wasn't there a Danish movie in the 80's called, 'A day at the beach'? I've looked it up but all I can find is one from the 70's co-written by Roman Polanski. I'm sure it wasn't that...)

Who would have thought? Beautiful beaches in Denmark and one only 5kms (or so) from our front door.

We left early yesterday and headed to Amager Strandparken. I get the giggles at how Amager is pronounced – ‘um-ahh’ – which in Aussie slang means you’ve done something wrong.

That aside, we had those pedals pumping from Frederiksberg, through the City and onto Amager. There’s lots said about Amager – especially from those who live ‘North of Copenhagen’ – but I must say I actually like it. And, with the beach, what’s not to like?

Amager Strandparken is a new beach. They made it because the sand kept washing away because the water was too shallow. Now, there’s what we call a ‘back beach’ which is great for little kids and then a new five or so kilometre long front beach that you can access from three bridges.

I love it.

The weather yesterday (Saturday) was gorgeous. Not a breath of wind and the water was glass clear. I felt like I was on holiday – and I will be as of next Friday!

We’re off to London to visit friends on Friday night for four days but then we’ll be back and, weather permitting, I think I’ll be spending most of it at Amager. There’s apparently a great beach, Bellevue Strand, but it’s usually packed – with lots of ‘bisse’ someone at work told me, so I will stick to Amager.

We took a detour on the way home and went to the Opera House and looked over the harbour to Amalienborg. It looks like Frederik and Mary’s house is finally becoming unwrapped.

It’s very funny the amount of tourists you can have in one day, come up to you and say, “Excuse me, can you speak English?” I’m bad, but I love saying – with an accent, “A little.” And then launching into fluent English ☺

BTW. In the background, at the beach, you can see the windmills that help generate power and the Oresund Bridge that links Denmark to Sweden.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

DanKort is enough to make you sick!

Okay, so I am evil but I couldn’t help the wry smile as I read this article in the Copenhagen Post. It transpires one of the worst ever outbreaks of Salmonella is sweeping through Denmark at the moment and, guess what? They’re using patients’ DanKorts to trace the source!

Haha. Yes.

While trying to procure a DanKort has pretty much sent me stumbling and groaning in agony and desperation to the toilet a number of times, it would seem perhaps not as much as if I actually did have one.

So, that’s my good news story for today ☺

Thank you.

(And yes, if one does arrive in the mail this week this outbreak will become a very serious issue on this blog and nothing to be flippant about!)