Monday, July 13, 2009

Hvar, Croatia

We have been back in Oregon since July 4th, but before too much time passes I must make an entry about our trip to Croatia. We left Copenhagen on June 25th, flew to Budapest, Hungary where we met my sister, Susan, and her family at the airport and then all flew to Split, Croatia. From Split, we boarded a bus for a 35 minute trip to the harbor, where we caught a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride to the island of Hvar. The ferry dropped us off in the town of Jelsa and we got a van ride to the town of Star Grad, and to our villa. The whole journey took 12 hours, from start to finish and by the end, as we realized just how far away we were isolating ourselves, we wondered if this place was going to be worth it.

Not only did we have a good time, Stari Grad and the island of Hvar has become one of my favorite places in the world. Never have I arrived at a city or country and felt like I immediately belonged. We didn't realize until we got there that Hvar is one of the top ten islands (in the world) to visit. It has everything: scenery, recreation, inviting ocean, warm weather, fantastic food, and friendly people. A country that relies significantly on tourism, they have their logistics and such organized and efficient. We decided not to rent cars for the 9 of us, for the week. It limited us to staying on the island and not seeing much of the mainland, but we had plenty to do and plenty of time to relax and enjoy where we were. Having just ended a eventful year, we needed a vacation with "down time". I will have to get back to the mainland another year and investigate the beautiful parks and cities.

Stari Grad is the oldest town in Croatia (a country that used to be part of Yugoslavia, and is located south of Austria and across the Adriatic Sea from Italy). It was a Greek outpost dating back to 300 B.C. It sits on one of the many islands off the mainland of Croatia, and tucked 5 miles deep in an inlet, guarded by small mountain peaks. The country has had eras of occupation by the Greek, Italians, Austrians and French, before it's most recent socialist status but draws it's architectural influence mainly from Venician culture. The stone buildings and red tile roofs look as if they are carbon copied from Italian villages. The language (Croatian) is a strong slavic, but heavily influenced by an Italian tone. One would think that Italian was being spoken, and many d.

Stari Grad is where my great-grandfather was born and lived, before moving to Portland, OR. Susan and I were on a "roots" quest, like many Vranizans before us, and as many foreigners do for their families as well. We visited the cemetary, the church, the old family house and managed to meet with another Vranizan - but realized our family lineage was too distant. The original Croatian spelling is "Vranjican" and some changed it to "Vragnizan" later, to appeal to the Italian interactions. Our roots hunt added a different dimention to our vacation that was terrifically stimulating, as we wandered the old city cobblestones in our search and connected with locals. Turns out, Vranjican is a very well-known name and anyone who has lived there knows it well. As a matter of fact, in the history book of Stari Grad, the Vranjican brothers were infamous in their efforts in the French resistence at the beginning of the 1800's and were endowed with nobility. Yes, we ancestors of blue bloods. Maybe not direct to our specific family, but it sure makes for a good story.

Our villa sat up the hill, so from our terrace we viewed the old city and harbor. Mornings we would wake up and have coffee on the terrace while the girl cousins played and we figured out our adventure for the day. The vegetable and fruit market opened every morning at 6 am, which was only a 5 minute walk, if that. We were just minutes from the store, market, tourist information, restaurants and places to rent bikes, scooters, boats. For a vacation spot without a car, we did just great. On the days we wanted to travel away, we rented a van and driver, which was faster and less expensive than the island busses. Other days we scootered to one beach and rented motor boats and explored a more private cove. Molly and Lucy were sick during the trip and we got to experience the doctor's office, which turned out to be a pleasure. Molly's fever prohibited a couple days of play, but she bounced back.

Our vacation crescendoed with a trip to the Amfaro Hotel in Hvar Town on the last day. We lazed in the sun and played in their pool for 6 hours and then back in Stari Grad had a private one-of-a-kind dinner in a Croatian konoba, cooked by an egocentric and off-center yet famous chef, named Igor. We had a traditional peasant meal made with all local fresh foods, meats, fish and poulty with heavy sauces. We ate arugula salad with our fingers and had 4 rounds of carbohydrates: bread, mashed potatoes, polenta and gnocchi inbetween each meat course, followed by ice cream and a local liquer. We had to take breaks between courses and the kids were invited to help prepare food in the old, miniscule kitchen.

Our trip back to Copenhagen was extra long, as we battled thunder and lightning storms and airport travel which is never fun. We overnighted our very last night in Copenhagen at the Marriott Hotel, downtown - THE most American hotel in the whole city. It sort of prepared us for the re-entry. The last long flight home was long, yet uneventful. We landed quietly in Portland on the fourth of July, rented a car, drove ourselves to our temporary condo downtown without any fanfare or regalia. Just what we wanted. We forced ourselves to stay awake to see the fireworks from our bedroom window - a rare treat and then slipped into a jet lagged sleep.

Our very first activity on the first day back was a trip to Fred Meyer Grocery Store. But that's the beginning of another story.....

Thanks for your continued reading interest. Love and Light to all,
Mary Jo
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Last Days of Danish Life

Our lives here in Denmark are coming to a close. In a few short hours we will board a plane for Croatia for our last European adventure and then home to Portland. In the last days we have shut down our domestic, school and work lives. Craig's last day in the Europe office was Friday the 19th. The movers packed us up in one 8-hour day Tuesday the 23rd, and yesterday both girls finished school, Maya having graduation ceremonies from 5th grade.

The above phrases are simple to type, but the experience goes much deeper. There's something very significant about reducing your life posessions to one carry-on suitcase, leaving the comfort and sanctuary of our home, saying "good-bye" to everyone we've known while living here and walking away. For us, it's a little easier since we are going back to our Portland home and friends. Also easier because we have less here to pack up and less personal ties to break.

The good byes are always hardest for the people we leave behind. Just as new friendships become significant and we both realize there's more to be had, we abondon them to the hardships of the Danish life that we've all come to know. The oasis of the CIS International Coomunity reduces, and for those who remain, an instability in the already fragile balance of personal dynamics. Many who are staying dread the uncertainties they will face, but encouraged by those who remain, knowing at least that they will not be as brand new and confused as the newbies. We will remember our friends dearly next year and look forward to hearing how they continue their adventures.

Being part of the ex-pat community continues to be so unusual. Families just don't say "Good bye and I'll see you in the fall". We say "Farewell and have a good life!" People go off to new destinations worldwide while others remain. There are hopes and plans to meet again but we all know that time, chance and serrendipitous travel will direct the circumstances. We are like spinning tops around the globe and if we stay in contact, we'll meet up with some one, some where. There are people that we really hope to see again, and when we do, it will be a joyous celebration. But we may have to wait years...

Maya's graduation on the 24th was sweet. At 10 am her class marched into the performing arts center to "Pomp and Circumstance" and other than a short speech from the principle, directed and performed the ceremony. Classmates played the piano, recited poety, electric guitar and drum band, a slide show of year-long memories, personal reflections and singing. The two 5th grade teachers, Ms. Tearse and Ms. Christiansen along with the principle, Ms. Stanners handed out roses and diplomas. Afterwards families joined in the atrium to say their final good byes and last photos with classmates. And with that, Maya became a 6th grader - a middle schooler. Lord almighty, help us!! Molly was officially released at Noon and
became a 4th grader, bound for Rieke. We walked away from CIS with bittersweet memories.

That afternoon we joined many CIS families at a nearby beach (Charlottenlund Fort). Turns out, it was the nicest day we've had since living here. As if the city is taunting us saying - "See what you'll be missing?". It must have been 82 degrees and no wind. The girls swam and played in the sand for hours. The ladies talked and analyzed once again (as Molly puts it) "our weird Danish life". We walked for almost an hour with our friends Ilene and Andrew Bremwell (Andrew is in Maya's class) back to their apartment, stopping for drinks and ice cream along the way. Craig joined us, and we sat on their veranda and drank a beer overlooking the Waterfront, seeing the ships in and out of port and the numerous sailing boats, kayaks and skulls. It was an end to a perfect day and a long year.

Since Tuesday we've been staying at an apartment hotel near Trianglen Square, between Copenhagen central and Hellerup. It's an old apartment that is owned and run by a small hotel. While only half the price of major hotels downtown, our apartment is mixed in with people who live here regularly. There are 2 spacious, high-ceilinged rooms with twin beds around the perimeter of the room and then dining room and living room furniture in the middle. A small kitchen and bathroom and foyer complete the space. We love it. We're right across the street from a bakery and a market and near restaurants. It's been a great location to finish out our stay.

I need to get up and pack and get going, once again. This blog will continue.
Love and Light,
Mary Jo
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Dip in The Oresund

Life is a series of crossing and re-crossing our steps. It's the experiences that we have between those steps that give us a new perspective and makes it seem like we're treading anew. No place is exactly the same if we are different inside.

Such was the feeling as I rode through Dyrehaven (The Deer Park) perhaps for the last time yesterday. What a pleasure it's been to see the changes of the season and the deer habitat. The foliage was bright green, bursting with life. The new baby fawns were feeding and scampering together in packs, a short distance from their adult guardians. While Van Morrison, my "minister of soul", piped through my IPOD I was filled with splendor and gratefulness. Nature is my greatest teacher, because I feel closest to God.

About an hour into the ride, I came out on the Standvejen, near Skodsborg. I stopped at a local beach where people come out every day, all day long, for their dip in the Oresund. The sound is the waterway between Sweden and Denmark and the water temperature runs slightly higher than the ocean. It's a fairly common sight to see bathers walking across the street in their bathrobes, getting out of their cars in robes or changing in the bathhouse provided. They walk out onto the pier, take off their robes, some with suits and others without, and step down into the water, swim for 5 - 10 seconds, get out, put on their robes and walk or drive back.

Danes will do this year-round, which amazes us foreigners. The Danes are hearty people, man. They train at a young age to enjoy the out-of-doors. Mothers purposely put their babies in prams outside in the winter for naps! I guess that's why when it's summer here, people where shorts and sun dresses when it's in the 60's. That's summer baby! But I digress.

When I got to Skodsborg I figured this was the opportunity to join in a Danish pastime. It was now or never. I walked away from the popular pier and down the beach, near some boulders and modestly hidden from the roadside. I stripped down to "au natural" and walked right in. I did the Danish 10 second swim, came out and quickly dried off and dressed. The whole episode couldn't have lasted more thn 3 minutes and I felt refreshed and envigorated. We all knew there was a good reason they do this.

Biking home south along the Strandvejen, I took a mental picture of the views of Sweden, ships going in and out of port, the windmills, the sailing boats and docks and committed to memory what a unique and interesting place this city is to live in.

Later that day, my friend Geeta Adams had a farewell luncheon for Gail Gorman and I - Americans both leaving after only a year here. Everyone brought such fabulous foods and desserts and I had a rare glass of wine in the middle of the day. The group gave us a tea pot from Illums Bolgihus, the quintessential Scandinavian household products store. The gift couldn't be any more Danish, since tea and cofee are the daily fuel source. It was nice to have a formal good-bye to mark my sisterhood of fellow ex-pat wives. There's a solidarity among these women - a lifeline to sanity in a sea of uncertainty. My thanks and appreciation to them all.

Today and the next 2 days will be a somewhat avoidance of packing, by taking more bike rides and visiting with friends, assemblies at school and such. I'll leave the main push for the weekend. Craig is officially off beginning Friday evening, for 2 weeks. We'll bust out the last 3 days together before the packers arrive Tuesday morning.

This is the beginning of the end. The transition back home will take 2 months, from the time I start packing here, until the last box is unpacked in our Portland home in mid-August. To quote the greatest known band in the universe, "What a long strange trip it's been".

Love and Light,
Mary Jo
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Waiting to Move is Agony

The end of the school year is dragging along as slowly as the snails that come out onto the concrete during the rains. The girls aren't done until June 24th, 12 days from now. The movers come on the morning of the 23rd to start packing and I'll have so much organized that I'm sure they'll finish in a day, rather than the scheduled two days. We'll move into an old hotel apartment near the city during the packing.

It's been cloudy, cool and drizzly at times this week. And then yesterday the rains hit. It's been raining and windy for 24 hours straight with no telling when it will let up. I joked that our summer was the month of April, when the sun shined every day and I actually wore a pair of shorts. But there is some truth to that.

The weather is actually good to keep me inside and organize the packing. Even though we have a greatly reduced amount of stuff, it still needs to be sorted: things to give away, to sell, to go in the container, to fly to Portland and to go to Croatia. I do a little bit each day. I have spent a lot of time "pre-selling" our belongings that we can't take back. It's my own version of Craig's List. I guess I could call it "Mary Jo's List". Via emails, I've managed to sell off upwards of 50 or 60 items, including Craig's bike, a bed, hair dryer, lamps, christmas lights, vacuum cleaner, shelves, iron, clocks, wine glasses, even extension cords. I have things in piles per owner with tags and amounts and next week will begin distributing them, based on our need. We'll keep things like the toaster and the TVs until the last couple of days.

Maya and Molly have little homework and are beginning to see their friends leaving for the year. All the talk is about who's leaving, where people are going for the summer, when movers arrive, and things like that. I'm setting up sleepovers for the girls this weekend so they can be with friends who they won't see again.

I am so ready to leave, mentally. There is little left that I absolutely need to see or visit. I've been to 20 museums and ridden all over the place. I've visited beaches, castles, restaurants. I've bought everything that I care to bring back. Since I knew I was leaving, I didn't volunteer for committees at school or pick up more yoga teaching jobs or other activities that would give me roots here. I've had a disconnected feeling since the beginning of March. Now it's just a matter of going through the motions and moving on to the next step. Naturally, when you want something to happen and fixate on it, it seems to take forever.

There are annoyances creeping up around us: things are breaking or not functioning well in the house, my bike was pilfered with (yes, I used the word "pilfer") by a person trying to steal bike parts, and has been in the bike shop for most of the week, the garden is out of control with weeds, the weather is much like Portland rain in the winter. Get me out of here!

One consolation has been a connection with other moms, who are having experiences just like me. It's nice to hang out over coffee or on a bike ride and vent or enjoy the Danish experience together, as an outsider. I'm grateful for these few dear friends. I look forward to getting their emails in the future, and I'll be able to know exactly what they're going through. Perhaps I would meet up with them at some exotic location in the future. Who knows...

I had no idea I'd write so much. I've been blogging a lot lately. I guess I feel I have so much to say before we leave. I will miss this house because it's been such a sanctuary in our experience here. It's been cozy and welcoming and provided just what we needed. But we move on, and practice impermanance. Belongings don't mean as much as the expereince. It's about the journey, not the vehicle.

Love and Light,
Mary Jo
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Norge in a Nutshell

It is said, "If you want culture, go to Copnehagen. If you want nature, go to Norway". Last weekend we went to Norway and it gave us all the nature we could hold and more. I absolutely loved it, perhaps because Norway's landscape reminds me so much of the Pacific Northwest, or perhaps because the people are laid back and friendly or perhaps simply because we were just away from Denmark. It took some interesting travel logistics to get us where we want to go and Rick Steves would have been proud. Traveling without a car, our connections were tight but never rushed, and often just steps from accomodation to transportation.

Here's how it went: Thursday we took the overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo, Norway. We had a 4 bunk berth with private bath and a window which was comfortable and cozy. There were at least 5 restaurants and numerous bars on board as well as a movie theater, kids disco, swimming pool and huge shop. We dined at the classical Norwegian all-you-can-eat buffet. Lots of fish, not much salad. The next morning we rose to gray skies and rain, but that was it for the rest of the trip. After breakfasting on Baresso coffee and breads and Molly played at the lego area, we pulled into Norway's capital city and walked from the ferry to the Central Train Station, about 15 minutes.

After picking up our train tickets we boarded the train heading north into the mountains. The first train ride lasted about 5 hours and took us from city to mountains then above tree line into glacial melt and villages surrounded by melting snow. Eventually we came to the town of Myrdal and switched to the second train (5 minutes between) that was the most scenic train ride I've ever experienced. The historic train line was built in the early 1900's, zig-zagging back and forth through mountains and into the Flome Valley. 22 tunnels had to be bored to make it possible. This one-hour ride stops for tourists to take pictures of the waterfalls and pastural landscape as you drop into the beginning of the Sognefjord. I was so overcome with emotion that I actually cried.

We arrived in Flome, a frontier town designed as a connection from tourist train to fjord ferries. While others made connections we hunkered down for the night in a beautiful new hotel, with a family room made just for us. We enjoyed beers and sodas on the deck in the sunshine, looking out over the fjord. The town was so quiet and undisturbed. I guess in the peak season, the town explodes with business.

The next morning I got up early to hike to a nearby waterfall and catch some views. Then, after breakfast we booked and went out on kayaks on the water! It had to be the best weather and water conditions I've ever experienced: clear blue skies, 70 degrees and water as still as ice. Irvin, from Wisconsin was our guide and we messed around in double kayaks for an hour and then headed back in. Unfortunately he had another tour so ours couldn't run longer.

We hung out in the town a little longer to watch the hordes of tourists roll in and out and then caught the high speed ferry to Bergen. This catamaran took us 5 hours from the end of Sognefjord and the highest mountain peaks all the way to the ocean and weaved throughout hundreds of islands in the archpelago of Norway. The captain would slow down every once and a while to point out features, but for the most part we kept going. Once he announced, "to the right you will see the North Sea and.... the sun", which gave us a good laugh. Speaking of the sun, daylight in Norway at this time of year is about 21 hours and even at midnight or 1 am it's never really dark.

Bergen is a historic fishing village with it's own characteristics separate from the rest of Norway. I was surprised how interesting and adorable the town was. Getting off the ferry, our hotel was only a 5 minute walk. After getting our room arranged for sleeping and a late dinner we fell to sleep around 11:30. It had been a long day.

Sunday, our last day, was spent sightseeing around Bergen. Maya had some homework to finish and we were all a little tired, so we mostly stayed in the downtown area - the fish market, the castle, harbor and old fishing quarter. As our big adventure we took the funicular (steep train car) up the mountain to this viewpoint overlooking the city, islands and sea. Again, it couldn't have been a more beautiful day which is rare for Bergen, a city that gets 80 inches of rain annually! This viewpoint had trails and outdoor playgrounds and all sorts of activities up above. We messed around, had a hot dog and then walked the popular trail back down to the city.

He had to dine on local fish and chips right in the harbor, then gathered our things at the hotel and taxi'd to the airport. Funny, how it took 3 days to get to that point, but only 1 hour and 15 minutes to fly back to Copenhagen. The next day was hard on everybody, especially Craig who flew to China for a 7 day trip. It was the kind of travelling that is hard on our bodies - irregular eating, poor sleep, sitting for lengths of time. "Power travel".

I'm now just counting the hours and days until we leave. The weather is crummy with no sign of bettering. I'm slowly packing, tossing, selling, organizing our belongings. I've managed to pre-sell about 70 household items to friends and ex-pat aquaintances. Now it's a matter of when to make the exchange, based on how badly we need that item. Dressers, alarm clocks, telephones, hair dryer, drill, tvs, bike, etc. I'd say that's a common feeling among other moms at CIS. Everybody's ready for school to be done and to get on with leaving to whevever it is they will spend the summer. Copenhagen isn't bad when the weather is nice. But if it's summer and one must wear coats then let's just get the heck out of town.

The packers arrive June 23rd, same day as Maya and Molly's school party days. We're moving into a small hotel in the Trianglen Square for 2 days while the packing is going on. Last day of school is June 24th, Maya graduates from 5th grade, we celebrate and the next morning we leave for Croatia. Closing down life here is nothing compared to what I went through last summer, moving from Portland. I have no anxieties or stress. Very few utilities to shut down, not many farewells and good-byes. We'll quietly slip out of the city as quietly and as unnoticed as when we arrived.

I am longing for a constant to return to our lives. To not have to put on my coat of armour before I walk out the door. To knowing and understanding how things work and relax amongst friends and peers. We are in limbo - not really belonging anywhere except amongst ourselves. But that's powerful in itself.

We congratulate all the Portland students who have finished their school year and SO WISH we could have been part of the 5th grade clap-out at Rieke. An era has passed.

Love and Light,
Mary Jo
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Bicycle

I've gone over this blog entry dozens of times in my head, as I pedal the streets of Copenhagen. There's so much to say about bikes and their relationship with the people and the city. I thought, til now, I'd seen everything: Women riding in high heels or mink coats, men riding in business suits, smoking, riders with helmets, and without, babies on the back seats with binkies in their mouths or eating hot dogs and other snacks, babies fallen asleep, moms carting up to 4 kids on their bike attachments in front and back, people talking on their cell phones or texting, teens hauling their friends off the back cage, even people brushing their teeth! I've seen lycra and top-of-the-line gear as well as hacked bikes that are rusting and creaking with no business even operating any more. But yesterday I saw a new one: a boy pulling his home-made stereo on a trailer so he could pump out the music while he rode.

I'm really going to miss bicycling the city and countryside. I love hopping on my bike and riding to places unknown and seeing it all close-up. I love pulling up to the ATM on my bike and withdrawing money and back on the streets in 30 seconds. I love running errands and pulling my bike up to the front door of each spot, never worrying about a parking spot. I love that my body is the machine to get me where I want to go and not the car.

Biking is not necessarily everyone's first commuting choice. It's a matter of economics. Not only are cars expensive here (25% tax on everything) but registration costs 180% of the value of the car. Yes, you read that right. If a car costs $40,000 than the registration is $72,000 in addition to the cost of the car. Many people simply cannot afford that, which makes a $500 bike or a monthly bus pass much more attractive.

And the city is well connected with bike only lanes aside from pedestrians and cars. Cars and bikes respect each other and obey the rules. There's no other way 150,000 people per day in Copenhagen can commute by bike and get along with car drivers. Lycra and bike shorts? Well, for the long commuters who ride fast and far each day, they wear the good gear. But for most people, they just wear their regular work/school/life clothes. If you don't want to sweat, you just go at an easier pace. Bicycling is built into the way of life. You can walk, take the bus or train, or hop on your bike. Often times it takes me less time to get somewhere than to take mass transportation, not to mention the health benefits.

Bike repair shops are everywhere. Get a flat, you can drop it off on your way to work, with a note for the shop owner (who arrives at 10 am) and pick it up at the end of the day. There are rails on steps where bikes need to go up and down and courtesy bike racks everywhere (never enough though). Copenhagen has about 1 million people and supposedly 1.5 million bikes. We own 7 for the 4 of us!

Our neighborhood Danish school was training their primary grades for bike safety last month. Looked like around 4th graders they took out for weekly rides, then they "graduated" with an event. Sounds familiar with the program at Rieke last year. 1 and 2 year olds here start riding on a push bike, where they sit on pedal-less bikes and push with their feet. This gets them balance at an early age and later they can get pedals and skip the training wheels altogether.

I am grateful that I will return to live and bike in Portland, Oregon - one of the most biked cities in America. However, there will be hills and there won't be the ease of bike logisitics, but both Craig and I will try our best.

We just got back from Norway and I will blog about that some time this week. It was stunningly beautiful and very worth the trip.
Love and Light, Mary Jo
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lee and Sheila Cohen Visit and our Trip to Ærø

In our whole time living here we have had two house guests: Carole Vranizan (my mom) last October and Lee and Sheila Cohen (Craig's dad and his wife) who just left 2days ago. These guests have been big emotional boosts for us and offered us something significant to look forward to. Carole came after we had figured out the basics but the Cohens came after we mastered them.

Lee and Sheila arrived early last Tuesday, after a red-eye flight from NYC. The first day, while the girls were at school, I drove them around our neighborhood, the beach and we had an outdoor smorrebrod frokost (lunch) in Dyrehaven (the Deer Park.

The second day I took them downtown for the Strøget (walking street), Nyhavn Harbor, The Changing of the Guards at the Queens Palace, Town Square and lunch at Peder Oxe.

Thursday and Friday were national holidays so Craig and the girls had time off from work and school. After renting a larger car to fit all 6 of us, we took off for Frediksberg Castle in the town of Hillerod, about 40 minutes away. We had not visited this castle yet, hearing that it is the most impressive castle in all of Scandinavia. Rick Steve's comments that it is the "Danish Versaille" did not let us down. We oohed and aahed our way through the grounds and insides. Later that afternoon Molly, Maya and I saw "Night at the Museum 2" while Craig had a business meeting and then Kirk Nichols joined us all for Itzi Pizti pizza at home.

Friday through Sunday we took a trip to Ærø. Ærø is one island over and one down from Zealand. It's a 2 1/2 hour drive and a 75 minute ferry to the town of Ærøskøbing, on Ærø. If you've ever seen the Rick Steve's travel show about Denmark, he raves about Ærø and has spent a lot of personal time there. We've also heard Ærø is in a book called "The 100 Places to Visit Before you Die". Well, we made it and it was spectacular so I guess we can all go to our graves blissfully fulfilled! Ærø has 3 big towns, numerous villages, 5,000 population and 500,000 visitors a year.

The old village of has been preserved in original 17th century. It takes all of about 45 minutes to walk the entire town, and that's at a slow saunter. We stayed at an Inn that dates to 1830's but our rooms were fortunately newly renovated. From our hotel we could walk to the harbor, through the village, rent bikes and ride the countryside. The countryside is filled with farms for cattle and wheat that spill right into the ocean. Most homes are still working "gaards" or 3 sided-buildings that shelter the wind and elements and include barn, workshop and house. Some homes and one church date back to the 13th century. The air was so fresh and clear and people friendly and charming - they smiled and waved. I think the farther we get away from the big city, the friendlier the Danes seem to be. Either that or a more relaxed lifestyle. Shops are open only a few hours a day, except during peak tourist season, July and August.

As remote as we were, we still managed to book a hotel room across the hall from another CIS family! and down the hall from the director of the school! Not only that, we all made reservations the first night in the same restaurant. Not much of a coincidence actually, when there were only two restaurants to choose from. On Saturday Craig took the gang into Marstal to see a fantastic Maritime museum and to view other villages while I rode 20 miles around the island.

We took an early ferry off the island Sunday morning and then drove north to Odense to the Hans Christian Anderson Museum. Being one of Denmark's 10 most well-known citizens, we owed it to ourselves to learn more about him. H.C. is a big man around these parts. Every detail about his life has been painstakingly documented in this museum, brought ot life in movies and statues and volumes of his in 150 different languages. Did you know that H.C. Anderson is the author with the most translations to other languages? I think he and Ann Frank are competitors.

I realize now why Danes are so intent on their history and proud of their heritage. They have a museum for every aspect of their lives, from post offices to authors to vikings to castles. Folks make outings to these places and absorb everything about being a Dane. One can't help but maintain pride and ownership of their country. and that's perhaps one reason why they would be slow to change their monetary system, let go of their monarchy, or willing to join the EU. But that's my opinion.

The last full day with Lee and Sheila was spend back downtown where we hit the highlights again, and then some: Lagkaghuset, the best bakery in town, where we sampled sweets and breads, over the river to the walking street, shopped in Georg Jensen and Illums Bolighus, walked up to the top of the Round Tower (a real feat for Sheila!) ate a hot dog in Kongen's Nytorv and walked through Rosenborg Castle and gardens before training home. The girls really enjoyed their time with the grandparents, playing the penny game, doing puzzles, teaching Papa Lee how to play Wii, and silly card games. All-in-all it was memorable trip for them all.

I'm feeling a little tired and grateful for a little rain to force me inside and rest. I tried playing tennis yesterday for the first time in 2 weeks but reinjured my achilles. (Just came back from the doctor who said that if I'm not careful I will rupture my achilles tendon and then I'd be facing surgery. So, I have to avoid all weight bearing exercise, don't stretch it at all and wear shoes with a heel. It could take weeks to feel better).

Maya is on the last few days of her Exhibition Project, meeting with her team this weekend to polish their presenation for Tuesday morning. Molly is beginning a Habitats 2 week project and has yet another all day field trip to a nature center next week. Craig is working more and more at his new LaCrosse position, and relinquishing more of his Danish job to locals. He still rides his bike to work at least 3 days a week and on weekends and is the leanest he's been since high school. I posted and sold more than half of our european belongings already and will continue to advertise until they're all gone. Too bad Craig's List is so unused here, or it'd be a snap. Seems as though farewell parties are very popular social occasions for the ex-pat moms and wives leaving. My friend Geeta is throwing a party for our American friend Gail and I on the 16th of June, at her house. There seems to be a party going on somewhere for someone every day for a few weeks.

This weekend we're cleaning out closets (amazing how much you can accumulate in 1 year) and sorting for moving. We'll be gone the following weekend for 4 days in Norway and then Craig will be in Asia the week after. We are moving out on June 23rd, into a hotel apartment for 2 nights while the movers pack the house. I will be sad to leave this Danish sanctuary. It's been a safe, uplifting haven and an incubator of all of our growth this year.

One final note. The pictures you are seeing with this blog entry were DELETED mistakenly on the ferry ride back from Ærø. I had a complete melt down and was beside myself with loathing and disappointment. 2 days later I investigated recovery software and after paying a pretty penny for it, got all the pictures back. I am continuing to learn more about technical stuff than I ever really cared to, but I have to keep up with my kids somehow!

This entry has been way too long, so I'll cut it off, except to say that we need to get our kids back to the USA: Molly completely forgot what the tv sitcom "Seinfeld" was. I brought home DVDs from the library to get her caught up. No member of the Cohen household can go without! And side note to Jill Fitzpatrick - I've go tthe kids watching old episodes of Little House on The Prairie. More to follow

Love and Light,
Mary Jo
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