Italy Part 2- Pompeii

During our time in Rome, we decided to take one day to visit Pompeii. I wasn’t quite sure if the two hour trip to Pompeii from Rome would be worth it but because two friends of mine said it was their favorite part of Italy and because Maddie had just studied Pompeii in school, we decided to take the time to visit, and I am so glad we did. On the day we left for Pompeii, we ended up arriving at the train station about half an hour before the train we had reserved and were lucky to be able to change our ticket to an earlier train for free in what turned out to be a first-class cabin! This meant our first train ride in Italy on the fast train from Rome to Naples was luxurious with free snacks, drinks, and nice seats in a quiet cabin.

Once we got to Pompeii, we met up with our tour guide who was incredibly knowledgeable, but unfortunately, wasn’t great with children which meant John and I had to find ways to entice and engage Maddie to follow along on the tour (or just let them play in the streets of Pompeii).

We also had to remind both girls multiple times that Mount Vesuvius wasn’t going to erupt during our visit. Below is a picture of me pointing out Mount Vesuvius to Ada and another one of our family in the forum at Pompeii in front of the Mountain.

After talking about Mount Vesuvius, of the first stops on our tour was the area where the pottery from Pompeei was stored. When archeologists dug up Pompeii, there were areas in the layers of volcanic debris that was completely hollow. They soon realized that they were hollow because that is where Romans or animals who hadn’t been able to escape had been buried. They were able to recreate their final resting poses by filling in the empty spaces with plaster. These were the most touching parts of our tour:

Aside from seeing these plaster casts, my favorite part of Pompeii was learning about how Roman’s lived in AD 79 when Pompeii erupted. I loved seeing the intricate tilework on the floor of a wealthy Roman home and the decorations preserved on the walls of this Roman laundry business:

I also loved this motif which was in front of a Roman temple:

It was also neat to find out how public fountains were created. Below Maddie and Ada were able to put their hands on the portion of the stone fountain worn down by Roman hands almost two thousands years ago.

I also was reminded how deeply patriarchal Romans were. Roman women had no power. They could not vote and were deemed property of their husbands or fathers. In this theatre (and most in Rome), women were required to stand in the upper sections while men were able to sit in the seats. No wonder we still have so many problems today with gender equity when this society had so much influence on the western world!

Overall, it was a great day trip from Rome and one of the more educational days of our year abroad.

New World Cuisine

As I mentioned in this post, I’ve joined an International Women’s Club of Oslo and have really enjoyed getting to know a group of women from all over the world. This year I’ve participated in the walking group, the Explore Oslo group, and the New World Cuisine group. New World Cuisine, one of my favorite activities, is a monthly lunch get together where one woman hosts a group of 6 to 8 at her house and we learn how to make a recipe from their home country. I’ve learned how to make lamb casserole, fondant and mascarpone cake from a french woman; hungarian dumplings, lentil soup, and a zucchini quiche from a woman from Slovakia;  cheese, zucchini, and chocolate souffles from another french woman; and alu posto (potato in poppy seed paste), chholar dal and chicken rezala from a woman from East India. I also had the opportunity to host a group at our apartment in late March which was so much fun (though surprisingly stressful). We made a NYtimes Chili recipe, brown butter corn bread and my mom’s blue berry pie. Here’s a link to the recipes and a few photos from our time together:

I have truly been grateful for the opportunity to connect with and learn from so many interesting women from all around the world this year.

Hosting Friends in Norway and a visit to Iceland

During the month of February and March, John and I have been so grateful to have so many friends visit us. In February, two of John’s former advisees from St. Andrew’s, Yousaf and Holly, came to visit us which we all enjoyed. Holly took a detour from her vacation in Spain to visit us for a full day. Yousaf, who was headed to study abroad in Australia came for almost a full week.

Yousaf and John standing in front of the Oslo Opera House.

In March, I had three friends visit! For the past few years, it seems, I haven’t had the time as a working mom to enjoy really long visits with friends or even keep in touch with many of them and I am just utterly grateful that I had the time to explore Oslo with all of them. I am also grateful that they chose to spend their time (and money) and brave the flight to Norway (and our cold winter) to visit us!

Mary Lewis, a good friend of mine from Davidson, who has decided to continue living in France for the year came to visit a second time for a long weekend in early March. We hiked round-trip 7 miles from a metro stop to Ullevalseter, a small cafe hidden in the Marka Forest in Oslo. I was a little nervous hiking in the snow but with ice cleats and poles, we ended up having a wonderful time.

We also went ice skating in Frogner park and went to a small house concert hosted by a friend whose daughter is in Maddie’s class. Trina Sojourn, a biracial singer from Baltimore, played and sang for about 25 of us in my friend’s living room. Here is a pic of her at the house concert and a clip of her performing in Norway on “The View.”

Molly, my friend for over 25 years (!) came to visit for a week just after Mary Lewis. We enjoyed downhill skiing and cross country skiing together;

eating Norwegian food and hiking in Bekkestua, and in the Marka forest;

marching for women’s rights and climate change on International Woman’s Day with Greenpeace (where I’ve been volunteering once a week this year);

exploring downtown Oslo; and exploring a museum about the Norwegian explorations to the Antarctic where we saw the “Fram” which Roald Amundsen took with him when he became the first man to reach the South Pole

I was actually hoping to take both Molly and Mary Lewis on Korketrekkeren, this amazing long (10 minutes!) sled ride in Oslo. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough snow on the run for either of their visits. So, a few days after Molly left back to the states and after a good snow fall, John and I leapt at the chance to go down together. Here are a few pics of our run:

Mimi, a good friend of mine from graduate school and my first job at Navigant ended up visiting next from California. We also went downhill skiing, explored Vigelland Park, and then we took this amazing 4-day trip to Iceland. (Many thanks to John who took care of the kids for 5 days!) Iceland is an amazing and somewhat otherworldly place to visit with breathtaking natural sites just minutes from a nearby parking lot on Ring Road or the Golden Circle. I also noticed a lot of similarities in food, language, and culture to Norway due to their common Viking heritage. Below are a few pics from our trip:

In Þingvellir National Park, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates collide
Stokkur Geysir which erupts every 10 minutes in Geysir Iceland (where the word Geysir originated)
Seeing the Northern Lights at 1AM in Geysir Iceland! (since our hotel woke us up, we even got sleep that night!)
Gulfoss Falls near Geysir Iceland- this waterfall carries 7 times more water than Niagara Falls!
Diamond Beach, Iceland (icebergs wash up on shore from a nearby melting glacier which is receding by 1 foot a day thanks to climate change)
Hiking Vatnajökull Glacier, Europe’s largest glacier, which is also receding because of climate change
Eldraun Lava Field, a moss covered field of lava that came from the eruption of Laki in 1783
Learning about Geothermal Energy at a Geothermal Plant in Iceland. 70% of Iceland’s electricity is hydro and 30% is geothermal which means they get all their energy from renewable energy. This particular plant was developing a technology to turn CO2 into rock. Iceland’s electricity rates are also among the cheapest in the developing world and they also get almost all their hot water inexpensively from geothermal energy.

As you can see, we had an amazing time. John ended up having an adventure in Sweden with the girls while I was gone which I’m sure he will post about soon. John and I are also looking forward to hosting even more friends and family in May!

A Week in Greece

During Maddie and Ada’s week-long February break from school, we chose to rebook our vacation to Greece. This past summer, we had intended to visit as a family so I could volunteer with refugees for this amazing Norwegian organization called “Drapen i Havet.” Instead, I spent those two weeks in the hospital with my mother in Atlanta who is, fortunately, doing much better. Because Maddie and Ada’s winter break was only one week long, I couldn’t volunteer in February (they require volunteers to work a minimum of 10 days) but we were able to tour the country as a family. It turns out that unlike July, the weather in Greece in February (50-60F and mostly sunny) was perfect. We were also lucky that Maddie had just finished a month-long unit in school on Greek Myths which we supplemented at home by reading D’Aulaire’s entire “Book of Greek Myths” which, by the way, is an amazing way to introduce children to ancient Greek mythology.

To get Maddie and Ada excited about our trip, we watched a few travel videos about Athens, Delphi, and Hydra, the three main places we would visit. Their favorite video by far though was this street food tour of Athens which showed up on the YouTube “next” feed. Maddie and Ada loved learning about Greek food beforehand and were even more excited about tasting it when we arrived.

We spent our first and second day in Greece enjoying the amazingly cheap Greek food (when compared to Norway!) and visiting the absolutely incredible Acropolis Museum and fascinating Archaeology Museum. The Acropolis museum which was located close to our Airbnb is seen here from one of the pedestrian only streets in Athens.

Maddie and Ada enjoyed the children’s activities provided by the Acropolis museum. Ada loved finding all the different kinds of animals in the museum and Maddie enjoyed finding all the Greek gods.

Maddie loved seeing sculptures depicting all of the Greek myths we had been reading about. On the left is Maddie with a smaller version of the East Pediment statues made for the Parthenon of all 12 Greek gods witnessing the birth of Athena. On the right, Maddie is below one of the original statues on the East Pediment of Hestia, Artemis (aka Diana, my namesake) and Aphrodite.

I had recently finished a book called the “Parthenon Enigma” which explored the meaning behind this specific frieze which I was excited to see in person:

According to the book, the youngest person in the center image is the King Erechtheus’s youngest daughter getting ready to change into ceremonial robes so she can be sacrificed to save Athens from losing a major battle. The Greek gods are seen seated to the right and left of the family and are looking away because they do not enjoy watching mortals die. Before the ceremony, her sisters, standing on the left with the ceremonial robes balanced on their heads, had made a pact to die together. So after their sister is sacrificed, the two sisters jumped off the hill of the Acropolis together. They are glorified in the ancient play “The Erechtheion”  as the perfect Athenian women because they sacrificed themselves for their city. Their mother becomes the first priestess of the Acropolis near where her husband is buried (also called the Erechtheion) and her three daughters are buried in the Temple dedicated to Athena and named after the maidens (the Parthenon).

My favorite takeaway from the Acropolis Museum was the museum’s argument for the return of the missing Parthenon sculptures currently displayed in the British Museum. The British Museum bought them from Lord Elgin who stole them from Greece in the 1800s and has argued that they shouldn’t be returned to Greece for their safety. The Acropolis museum, a beautiful and incredibly safe museum is Greece’s reply.

The next day we visited the Archaeology museum and saw even more Greek Gods including a small replica of the statue of Athena that was originally in the Parthenon. (The original was 38 feet tall!)

Our third day in Greece, we wandered through the Monastiraki flea market,

ate lunch at a wonderful Souvlaki restaurant recommended by a friend,

and visited more Ancient Greek structures including the Acropolis. Below is the amazing Theater of Dionysus which seats 17,000 which you can view as you head up to the Parthenon. On our trip, we learned that the Greeks, which created the concept of drama and theater, also invented the amphitheater. Evidently ancient Greek amphitheaters like the one pictured had perfect acoustics which I think is incredible.

The Parthenon was of course spectacular. Below is a selfie of our family in front:

Maddie was so taken with the structure that she decided to sketch the Parthenon in her journal which she wrote in every day during our trip:

Ada has for a while now has refused to let us take her picture but after seeing the Parthenon decided that with the right pose, pictures were tolerable:

After visiting the main ancient sites and museums in Athens, we decided to take a day trip to Delphi. The Ancient Greeks believed Delphi, located a few hours north of Athens was the center of the world. There they built the Temple of Apollo where the Priestess’s of the Temple, also known as Pythia’s, gave prophecies to Greek leaders for over 500 years (evidently under the influence of methane which seeped into the Temple from a geological fault below). As you can see in the photos below, Delphi is a beautiful place to visit. Below is the Temple of Apollo and a few pictures near it:

After visiting the remains of the Temple, we saw many original sculptures in a nearby Museum. My favorite was the Sphinx which was placed to keep watch over the large treasure stored near the Temple.

Maddie and Ada’s favorite part of our trip was playing with a new Greek friend at one of the local restaurants in Delphi.

On the way back to Athens we stopped to get a picture of this mountain town where Athenians live when they go skiing at a nearby mountain in the winter. Stray cats, like the one posing below, were ubiquitous in Greece and were very much appreciated by our animal-loving daughters.

After Delphi, we left for Hydra, a beautiful Greek island a 2-hour boat ride from the city. Hydra, as I mentioned in this post, is car-free which was a welcome change from the busy car congested Athen streets. There the kids loved playing on the beach, eating ice cream, feeding the stray cats, and taking long walks through town and around the Island. Below is a picture of Ada with one of the many donkey’s on the island- the main form of transportation:

The harbor at Hydra:

Maddie and Ada playing on the beach on a day when the high was 55F. Coming from Norway, 55F felt very warm to us and so Maddie and Ada refused to wear coats and insisted on playing in the cold Mediterranean ocean. I think at least 3 Greek mothers asked me whether my children should wear more clothes during our vacation in Greece. A Greek man who went swimming in the ocean while Maddie and Ada were playing on the beach mentioned that Greek children wear a lot of layers in this kind of weather.

Here is a picture of Ada running down the car-free streets:

After two nights in Hydra, we reluctantly headed back to Athens for our long flight home. We decided to end our trip by eating dinner at a restaurant on top of Lycabettus Hill in Athens which gave us the opportunity to say goodbye to this incredible country.

Oslo – 2019 Green Capital of Europe

This year the European Commission made Oslo the European Green Capital of 2019 and I’m not surprised. Our life in Oslo is so much “greener” compared to any other place I’ve lived in the US because the city has policies which make living sustainably the easiest, least expensive choice. Let’s start with transportation. As I mentioned in this post on walking, Oslo has improved the quality of life for their citizens by designing a walkable, bikeable and transit friendly city.

They have done this in part by increasing tolls for gasoline powered cars going into the city (driving into the city one way with a non electric car costs an individual around about $10 in tolls!), removing parking spaces, and increasing the price for parking in the city. These policies discourage vehicle traffic into the city, subsidize and encourage the use of public transit, and encourage a switch to electric cars. Car trips into the city have declined by 20% in the last 4 years. Because of these tolls, significantly reduced taxes on the sale of all new electric cars, and the availability of lots of charging stations around the city, more than half of the cars sold in the city are electric or plug-in hybrids simply because it is the most inexpensive choice.

Because fewer people are driving into the city, the city has been able to remove 600 parking spots on the streets replacing them with bike lanes, plants, tiny parks and benches. The city bike share program is thriving (and there is plenty of public support for biking as shown by several public bike tool fix it places like the one below). This year Oslo is also planning to make much of their center of the city car free which is pretty incredible.

Not only are personal trips becoming greener but 35% of city buses in Oslo currently run off biogas (generated from they city wide compost, as mentioned in this post) and by 2025 60% of the buses will be electric. Because of all these changes Oslo has lower levels of air pollution and a better acoustic environment than other European cities.

Many European cities have made portions of their city centres car free because of the immediate impact on the quality of life of their citizens. I hope larger cities in the US will follow suit. We just got back from a trip to Greece where we stayed in Athens for 4 days and Hydra, a tiny island off the coast with a ban on cars for 2 days (instead of cars they use donkeys). John and I both breathed a sigh of relief when we got to Hydra and I think it was mostly because of the stress from all the cars in Athens. Unlike Athens, walking in Hydra (like walking in Oslo) with a 4 and 8 year old was a pleasant experience. In general, Hydra (like Oslo) was also generally much quieter and calmer than Athens (until now I hadn’t thought of one’s “acoustic” experience in a city as related to how green it is but now I understand why)

Not only is the transportation sector in Oslo becoming “greener” but so are the buildings. Starting next year, there will be a ban on using fossil fuel heating oil in all new buildings and all new public buildings will be required to produce more energy with renewable energy than they consume. In addition, the small number of households that currently heat their homes with fossil fuels are given free help from the city to transition to heating with electric. Because electricity in Norway is 98% renewable (mostly hydroelectric) and because of Oslo’s work on making their transportation less dependent on fossil fuels. Oslo plans to cut carbon emissions by 50% from 1990 levels by next year and 95% by 2030. This is exactly the scale and speed that our world needs from all cities to fight the climate crisis and moving at this scale has some pretty incredible benefits. I am also yet again reminded how much more effective policies are (as compared to individual behaviour) to fight climate change and make our world a better place in the process.

P.S. Check out this awesome comic by Joel Pett which I think summarizes why both Republicans and Democrats in the US (regardless of whether they believe in climate change) support policies like those in Oslo.

P.P.S Although Oslo plans to become practically carbon neutral by 2030, they aren’t counting carbon emissions from people purchasing food or products, people flying (Oslo is planning on adding another runway to their airport), or for the oil the Norwegian government is allowing to be drilled in their oceans (Norway is being sued by several nonprofits for allowing new oil drilling in the Arctic). So, if you compare them to lots of cities in less wealthy countries, their carbon emissions per capita are in the middle of the pack. So, it is obvious that even more policies are needed to reduce carbon emissions (carbon tax anyone?).

The Outdoor Life

One of the stereotypes of Norwegians is that they love being outside no matter the weather. As I mentioned in this post, it all starts in Barnehage (children’s garden/daycare) when most children under the age of 6 spend practically all day outside while their parents are at work. All children bring all the necessary gear to school (rain suits, snowsuits, fleece, long underwear, balaclava’s, etc.) so they can be comfortable outside no matter the weather. Parents even have to supply the daycare with a pram so babies and toddlers can nap outside. All preschools in Norway also go on outdoor field trips (tur dags) at least once a week. While in Bergen, I’ve witnessed an entire class 16 toddlers have an outdoor picnic (with hot drinks supplied by their teachers) while it is literally hailing outside. Here are a few preschooler groups getting on public transit on their turdag day:

So, from an early age, children understand that there is no such thing as bad weather (only bad clothing) and they develop a deep connection to nature which lasts them a lifetime. Even though I tend to think of myself as rather outdoorsy, this approach to life is a cultural adjustment that our family is trying to make this winter (when the highs are in the low 20s during the day) and I know it is making us happier and healthier this winter. So far this winter, our entire family has gone sledding, ice skating, cross country skiing, and downhill skiing.

Sledding obviously is free and made affordable by cheap plastic bumboards that most kids bring to school every day. Many Norwegians also spring for heavier duty sleds that can steer and brake. Oslo is a hilly place and there are a plethora of sledding options throughout the city which are covered in snow 6 months out of the year. Here is a picture of Ada sledding down a hill on her bumboard:

There is even a sledding hill primarily for adults called Korketrekken which is free (if you bring your own sled) and involves a sledding hill that literally starts at the top of the Marka forest (an area that makes up two-thirds of the city) and ends close to downtown Oslo. It takes 10 minutes to go down the trek. John and I haven’t been down it yet but plan to do so soon. If you’re interested, here’s a great video about it:

We’ve also enjoyed ice skating. There are quite a few outdoor ice skating rinks in Oslo and one that is a 10 minute walk from our house. They all have public skating hours and are free if you bring your own skates (which you can pick up used for $10.) We’ve gone ice skating twice in January and Ada and Maddie love it (though John who is not yet comfortable on skates is not so sure:).

Our family has also taken up cross country skiing which is quite popular in Norway and free if you have your own equipment (which again is inexpensive if you buy it used). Maddie gets to take cross country skiing lessons once a week for five weeks every Monday morning during school this winter. Ada gets to practice going cross country skiing every Friday with her preschool just outside school when there is snow on the ground. Here is a photo of Ada’s class skiing at school today (Ada is in a purple winter suit on the left):

John and I also signed up to take some cross country skiing lessons on Thursdays in the Marka Forest with friends and we are both loving it. Here is a photo of me and John on our cross country skis:

Maddie and Ada are also taking downhill skiing lessons every Wednesday after school at Oslo Winter park which is in the Marka Forest and accessible via public transit (though they get there on a bus from school which is a half hour drive). During the lesson, I get to go skiing with other parents at the school which has been a lot of fun. Downhill skiing is probably the most expensive winter sport in Norway but even so a season pass plus equipment and lessons in Oslo is a lot less expensive than going on a week-long ski vacation in the US.

One of my favorite parenting books was loaned to me by a friend in Atlanta while Maddie was just a year old was Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. In the book, Richard Louv discusses the scientific studies that show how exposure to nature is a requirement for a healthy childhood and for the physical and emotional health of both children and adults. On average, children in the US spend only four to seven minutes of unstructured playtime outside per day. Children (and adults) who spend time outside regularly statistically do better academically, are happier, and of course healthier. Louv links the rise of ADHD, obesity, and mental health disorders that are becoming more common in children and youth in the US with the decline in outdoor play. Unfortunately, some of this decline is probably because access to safe outdoor spaces is not available to many who live in lower-income urban neighborhoods in the US.

Norwegians, on the other hand, regardless of income status are virtually guaranteed safe access to the outdoors. Oslo is surrounded by the Marka Forest which makes up two-thirds of the area of the city and is a nationally protected area. That in itself is an amazing achievement (my hometown of Atlanta which prides itself on being a “city in a forest” only officially protects 5% of its forest)  On weekends even in the winter (which lasts 6 months in Norway), the Marka forest, easily accessible by public transit and free for the public, teems with activity while much of the center of Oslo is quiet. Norwegians simply love being outdoors. It’s no wonder that Norwegian’s regularly rank among the happiest people in the world.

Family, Christmas and History in Denmark

My mom’s first cousin, Margaret Hunter, had the good fortune of marrying Bjarne, a Dane. They have been living in Denmark for almost 30 years and graciously hosted us for Christmas this year. We all had a fabulous time visiting with family and learning about the Christmas traditions and the incredibly rich history of Denmark. After being away from family for more than 6 months, Margaret and her family made us feel like their apartment in Copenhagen and house on Møn was our home too. After picking us up from the airport, Margaret took us to a local playground with built-in trampolines:


The next day, as Christmas present from my sister, we took the train to see the Nutcracker in Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest theme park in the world (created in 1843). To me, the park was a little like going to Longwood Gardens in Delaware or the Botanical Gardens in Atlanta during the Christmas season with a few older amusement park rides like those found on Rehoboth Beach. Here is a pic of Ada and John waiting for the model train around the Christmas tree:


And another pic of them riding the Elf train:

The highlight of our trip came the next morning on December 24th when we drove a hour and a half to their house on Møn, where Bjarne grew up.  While Bjarne, his brother, and my cousins, Peter and Peyton helped prepare a delicious Danish Christmas dinner, Margaret took us on a short walk to the beach where Maddie and Ada made stone soup (using a bucket, sand, rocks, kale from the garden, flowers and leaves):

Before dinner Maddie and Ada had an incredibly giggly time playing with Peter and Peyton who they quickly nicknamed Peter Pan and Pey Pan. Here is Ada on top of Peter:


and Peyton reading to the girls:


Around 5pm, we sat down for a delicious Danish Christmas dinner (roasted duck, roasted pork, browned potatoes (with butter and sugar), regular peeled potatoes, gravy, prune and apple stuffing, pickled red cabbage) with a few sides added by Margaret which are common in the US like waldorf salad, and baked sweet potatoes with pecans.

After dinner, we then played a really fun Danish Christmas game called “pakkeleg.” Margaret and her sister-in-law purchased and wrapped about 15 small presents and put them on the table. Margaret passed out two cups with a dice each in them. If you rolled a six, you could pick a present from the table or steal a present from another person. The dice passed from person to person pretty fast until all the packages were taken. At this point, Maddie was despondent because she hadn’t rolled a single six. Margaret then timed the game for approximately ten more minutes when we had to roll and pass the dice really quickly. If you got a six in that round, you had to steal a present from someone else at the table. That is when Maddie started getting lucky and by the end Maddie and Ada were both ecstatic because they ended up with 3 presents each (and John and I had only one because they were all stolen!) Here is a picture of Maddie playing with one of the presents Peter got from the game:

After pakkeleg, we sat down to eat dessert: ris à l’amande which is like the Christmas dessert common in Norway but instead of warm rice pudding with sugar and butter, this rice pudding was served cold and had chopped peeled almonds, whipped cream, and vanilla. It is topped by a cherry sauce and is delicious. Hidden in the ris à l’amande was one peeled whole almond. Whoever got the whole almond in their dessert got a present. If you were the lucky winner, you were also supposed to hide the almond in your mouth so that everyone would eat all the ris à l’amande hoping to get the almond. I was the lucky person who got the almond on my first serving! (but also was not very successful at hiding the almond in my mouth as there was a noticeable bulge that John and Peyton quickly pointed out.)

After dessert, we cleared and moved the table so we could move the Christmas tree into the center of the room. Bjarne lit the candles on the tree and then we all danced around the Christmas tree singing Danish and English christmas songs which Margaret kindly printed out for us. (One of the Danish songs was the one we learned in Norway about the barn elf eating the julegrot which we wrote about here.)

The highlight of the night for Maddie and Ada came after dinner. In Denmark, everyone opens presents on Christmas Eve and Maddie and Ada got to see their presents delivered by Santa! 

The next day was a relaxing day on Møn recovering from all the Christmas festivities, playing with cousins and new presents, and eating the abundance of leftovers from the Christmas dinner. We did get to fit in a trip to a Viking burial ground with Margaret. You had to actually crawl through the entrance and once you get in, you can see bones with other artifacts from the Vikings all of which is protected by plexiglass from visitors. The Vikings period started in 800 and went to 1050 which means this burial ground was probably around 1,000 years old.


On the 27th, as we started to leave Møn to head for Copenhagen, we stopped quickly to see some incredible chalk drawings from the 1300s in the church where Bjarne and his family were baptized and where they plan to be buried. The chalk drawings were covered in plaster in the 18th and 19th century and restored in the 20th century for visitors like us. As you can see, they are beautiful:

Here is a sign listing who has led the church since 1584!


On the way back from Møn, we got to see quite a few wind farms. Denmark has the highest percentage of power produced from Wind in the world (43% in 2017!) They are quite beautiful. I got this picture of a wind farm in front of a solar array heading back to Copenhagen which is just a beautiful illustration of what future awaits our children if we want to stop climate change:

In Copenhagen, Margaret dropped us off so we could go on a boat tour of Copenhagen. The picture on the left is of Maddie and Ada in front of the palace where the royal family lives. The Monarch in the Denmark is one of the oldest in the world. The current, Queen, Queen Margrethe II can trace the lineage of the royal family back 1,000 years to the Vikings!

Most of our pictures by the way have to be taken surreptitiously because usually when Maddie and Ada notice we’re taking photos, they will either hide or make funny faces like the one below:

The next day Maddie and Ada were ecstatic because Margaret rented us a Christiana bike so we could explore Copenhagen on bike. Copenhagen, by the way, is one of the most bikeable cities I’ve seen. Not only is Copenhagen incredibly flat but there are also protected bike lanes separate from traffic lanes for cars and sidewalks for pedestrians. So, Margaret feels completely comfortable biking 40 minutes to and from work every day and we all felt completely safe on our bike ride through downtown Copenhagen. Below is a pic of me testing out our bike:

Because Maddie and Ada insisted, Peyton biked them instead of me or John and we headed to Peter’s apartment in Copenhagen where we had lunch. Peyton and Margaret then led us on a 2 hour bike ride of Copenhagen where we saw many sites including the castle where the royal family lives:


Besides the royal palace, we also stopped for photos at the statue of “The Little Mermaid” installed in 1913 because the author of the story, Hans Christian Andersen lived and died in Copenhagen in the 19th century.

The next day was my birthday. John made a delicious olive and rosemary frittata, smoked salmon on toast, and grapefruit for breakfast. We biked to the Rosenberg castle which was built by King Christian IV in the early 17th century. Maddie and Ada’s favorite part of the castle was the basement where you got to see the crown jewels that the Queen of Denmark still wears today:


John then took me to Souls, a vegan restaurant where he gave me the best birthday surprise- Michelle Obama’s new book and tickets to see her speak in April in Oslo! (while Peyton and Margaret set up a horse obstacle course for Maddie and Ada in their hallway.)


Margaret then treated us to a wonderful dinner with their friends who are currently pastors at the international church in Denmark and used to be pastors at the the international church in Oslo.


The next day we visited the Experimentarium in Copenhagen which was listed by TIME Magazine as one of the top 100 greatest places in the world in 2018. This science museum met our expectations and more with a ton of great interactive exhibits including one on bubbles, several on the shipping industry in Denmark, and of course lots of playing with balls.

On our last day before our flight back to Oslo, we squeezed in a trip to the National Museum in Denmark where we learned more about Vikings and life in Denmark. One of my favorite parts of the museum was the “boring button” which children could press in an exhibit meant for adults when they were feeling bored. The boring button in the Viking exhibit taught Ada and I about how the Vikings thought that the sun and moon were carried across the sky on a horse drawn carriage. Maddie and John pressed another boring button where museum staff, dressed in period clothes, told Maddie about what life used to be like in Denmark. In an exhibit on old toys in Denmark, the boring button near the dollhouses played audio of a Danish kid playing with a dollhouse.

Besides the boring buttons, Maddie and Ada also enjoyed the part of the museum exclusively for kids where Ada got to see what an old schoolhouse was like in Denmark and Maddie got to play in a replica of a Viking ship:

Overall, we had an incredible time in Denmark and are so grateful for our incredible family for hosting us and sharing with us places where we could learn about the rich history and traditions in Denmark.