Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Snails in Sisteron

On a rainy September day in Gap, David, Nicole, and I got out of the house to do some exploring. We didn't want to venture too far, so they took me to the Citadelle de Sisteron, which is only about 40 minutes away from home.

Despite the less than ideal weather, I was excited to see the place we've driven past for months on our way from Cannes to David's hometown. The Citadelle is a huge fortress on top of a mountain that you can easily see from the road below. The oldest parts of the fortress were built in the 13th century. 

Besides the impressive architecture, I also enjoyed the impressive mountain scenery and the cute town of Sisteron below.

That's David in the hood.

An unexpected side effect of the rain was the multitude of snails on the ground. There were hundreds- if not thousands- on one part of the trail.

It was my first time seeing a snail (besides at a French restaurant haha). Does Wisconsin even have snails? Do I just not go outside enough?

Of course, when we told David's dad about it, he was legitimately disappointed that we didn't collect any for dinner. French in-law probs... am I right?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The creepy and weird art of Europe

We saw a lot of impressive art, palaces, and more on our Europe trip in August. While most people would only notice the beauty, Elvera seemed to have a knack for pointing out strange/scary/embarrassing/surprising/disturbing artwork. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share so I don't have to carry the burden alone of having seen some of these.

The first several are from Frederiksborg Castle. This being our 3rd castle in Denmark, we were already far too familiar with the idea that Danish royal children of the past were, as my mom would put it, often "hit by the ugly stick."

On first glance, this painting looked like just another run of the mill homely child. However, after looking a more closely I noticed that she did not have the body of a child. We read the background info and found out that this was the queen's "pet dwarf." DISTURBING on sooooooooo many levels.

In another display of excellent judgement, the same family encouraged their children to pose with totally 100% age-appropriate items. Also... is this kid balding?

I almost jumped when I noticed the guy below lurking behind the queen. No explanation was offered for this painting, but I really would have appreciated one. Queen's stalker? Murderer? Awkward relative?

Something I actually enjoyed was seeing the preferred hairstyle of medieval Danish kings. They were confident enough to grow one piece of hair long and do a cute little side braid.

Our first experience with questionable Danish art was at Rosenborg Castle. We probably saw 50 portraits of scary children.

I also thought this sculpture on the living room fireplace wasn't very inviting. 

That's enough making fun of Denmark! It's Italy's turn. Our interesting tour of Naples' underground tunnels inexplicably ended in a creepy room filled with handmade crèches. European crèches/nativity scenes are often made up of entire villages and not just the Holy Family. I've never really understood this tradition, but that's the way it is.

Our tour guide seemed surprised that no one in the group stuck around to admire every display. Here was one of the "nicer" ones. The kid(?) on the right looks like he could be a Danish prince. #notacompliment

Just down the street, I walked right by this lovely display in a church window. I turned around, and found Elvera stopped in her tracks laughing her head off. We don't know what this is or what it means, but the legless men being consumed by flames was a nice touch. A bit graphic maybe.

It was unclear, but our best guess that this Pompeii fresco was of a snake eating an African. So many questions.

You know how going to Walmart makes you feel more attractive? Or maybe that's just me? ;)  

Well, anyways, going to Monaco is the exact opposite. Everyone around you is rich, model-thin, attractive, and put together. That's why this statue in the Princess Grace Garden really caught me off guard.

Lastly, this painting in a Menton, France church was a surprise. I'll let you guess why.

In conclusion, we might not be mature enough to travel Europe. Because everything above caused a lot of laughter while other tourists looked confused about was so funny.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Blonds and bicycles: part 3

Similarly to our last day in Italy, we took it pretty easy on our last day in Denmark. We left Copenhagen and took the train an hour north to Hillerød. The scenery from the train looked a lot like Wisconsin- very green, and lots of trees and small towns. 

Hillerød is one such small town, and it is home to a gorgeous Renaissance castle... which is definitely not something you'd find in Wisconsin.

Frederiksborg Castle was probably my favorite thing I saw on this trip!

As a summary of our castle tour, the chapel and ballroom were amazing. And the royal family in the 1600s was not the most attractive. At first we thought maybe they'd just hired a bad painter, but after seeing countless ugly portraits we determined it was probably the inbreeding.

If anyone's familiar with Carl Bloch (Mormons, I'm looking at you), a lot of his original paintings are hanging in this castle. I guess I've heard of at least one famous Danish person.

The castle is surrounded by a lake on one side, and by French-style gardens on another side. 

We took a boat tour around the lake and were treated to beautiful views. I couldn't stop taking pictures even when I already had 20 of the same thing.

Town on the other side of the lake

After some cake at the garden café we headed back to the hotel to relax and pack our bags. 

We might have accepted a ride from a stranger to get back to the train station. Probably the first and last time I'll ever do that- I'm usually pretty overcautious while traveling. 

Don't worry parents, it was a nice older lady we talked to and had asked for directions. Based on the friendly Danish culture we'd experienced the last few days, it didn't seem out of the ordinary to me for someone to offer. If someone offered me a ride in France I would probably run the other direction. I would question their motives because it wouldn't be normal culturally.

The lady asked us why we came to Denmark since they don't get thousands and thousands of tourists like larger European countries. She said "Did you come because you heard we have the friendliest people in the world? I know you didn't come because of the weather." If only she knew how much I was REVELING in the chilly weather.

We survived "not being trafficked," as Elvera put it, and had to say our goodbyes the next morning. She had an early flight to O'Hare, and my flight to Nice wasn't until dinnertime. 

Not going to lie, I was jealous she was flying home! I haven't been home for about 8 months, which is by far the longest I've ever gone without a visit. Eat some Culver's for me, Elvera!

Instead of heading to the airport, I headed to Sweden. Why not? I'd come this far north, so it would be wrong not to check off another country for my tally.

Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden are connected by the Oresund Bridge. Before they finished the bridge in 2000, the only way to get to Sweden was by boat. 

The bridge is about 2.5 miles underground and 5 miles above the water. It only took about 15 minutes on the train from my hotel to Malmo. I had to include this picture from Wikipedia of the bridge because it was pretty unique.

Malmo seemed like a very nice place to live in, but it wasn't really a touristy city (as in, there weren't really "sites" to see). Even though it's Sweden's 3rd largest city, Malmo only has 300,000 people. I wandered around for about an hour and saw the older part of the city.

For my last official sightseeing of this trip, I felt obligated to see Copenhagen's Little Mermaid statue. The author of The Little Mermaid, Hans Christian Anderson, was Danish, and this statue is supposed to be the symbol of Copenhagen.

After taking the train back to Denmark and a bus to the port area, it wasn't hard to find even though the statue is pretty small. #followtheasiantourists

That concludes 10 days of hardcore, "my feet are falling off" sightseeing days with Elvera. It was amazing that she could come and that we could travel so much together! Even more amazing- she planned the ENITRE trip and did all of the research. After so much trip planning this year (poor me, I know) it was relaxing to just enjoy and not worry about itineraries and directions.

In conclusion, here's why I loved Denmark:
1. Unexpectedly beautiful castles.
2. Perfect fall weather after sweating through an AC-free summer.
3. Everything was immaculately clean (this was especially apparent after being in relatively dirty Naples).
4. People we talked to were helpful, friendly, and spoke fluent English. I even went into a bookstore and half of the books were in English. That was a treat for me because I really miss having access to English bookstores and libraries.
5. Very easy to use and convenient public transportation.
6. It was fun to not feel like a giant like I do in France. Everyone was taller than me (besides Elvera haha). 

The only negatives about Denmark were how expensive everything was, the food not being my style (WAY too much herring), and trying to avoid getting run over by bikes.

Tak, Danmark! (the only Danish we learned...)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Blonds and bicycles: part 2

On our second day in Denmark, I woke up full of energy to explore more of Copenhagen. Elvera was surprised how much faster I walk when I'm not suffering from summer heat.

We started our day at the Church of our Savior. It ended up being closed for a funeral. If you read my post about Menton, we came across a funeral there too. Are we bad luck?

As we found out later, Danish churches aren't that impressive on the inside anyways. Denmark is a Protestant country. If you want to see churches covered in gold and art, go to a Catholic country. I really liked the spire though!

Our next stop was the Danish Jewish Museum. And I didn't even force Elvera to go- it was her idea. The story of the Danish Jews during WWII is pretty uplifting. Denmark was the only Nazi-occupied country to resist the deportation of Jews.  A lot of countries did the opposite and actively helped the Nazis.

The Danes helped 8,000 Jews escape by boat to Sweden. Of the 500 who weren't able to be rescued and were sent to a concentration camp, all but 50 survived... mostly thanks to pressure from the Danish government. Good job Denmark.

The Christiansborg Palace was pretty much right next door. The royal family lives in nearby Amalienborg Palace, but they still use this one weekly for various events. Christiansborg is also where the Danish Parliament meets.

We rolled our eyes pretty hard that this fancy room is for servants haha
The library- my favorite room!
My least favorite part about the palace were the modern tapestries in the ballroom. They looked like the 1970s gone wrong. The current queen commissioned them. Apparently when she saw this one of her and her husband, her response was "At least the dogs look good."

We went on a long walk after our palace tour and saw some beautiful canals. 

We also got to see what Elvera would look like as a Danish man.
After picking up some Danish pastries, we went to go hibernate at the hotel for a few hours before venturing back out after dark.

The Tivoli Gardens are one of Copenhagen's most famous attractions. Neither of us are into roller coasters (it's an amusement park), but we'd heard that the lights at night were worth seeing. 

I have to say it was pretty magical, at least until this creepy clown photobombed Elvera's picture. I still count it as another successful day in Denmark.