mercredi 27 février 2013

My French Tourists

Ok, let me start off by warning you that this may sound like a rant. This a topic that I have been giving a lot of thought to in the past year as I try (and have failed) to adapt to the French way of being a tourist. Let me explain.

The French love to eat. No big surprises there. They also love to drink. No big surprises here either. And they love to do this several times a day, especially when they are on vacation.

Sounds great, right?

Not if you actually want to see some of the place where you are on vacation.

This is what typically happens (with my French tourists, of course this is just my experience with my French family and friends):

1. Wake up at around 8.30-9.30. This could be later, but usually not earlier, at least not for childless people under 40. Breakfast and showering take about an hour.

2. Drive, walk, etc. to the day's destination. This could bring you up to 10.30, maybe more, maybe less.

3. Walk around for half an hour before starting to look at all the restaurants and talking about which one to eat in. Maybe visit a monument or two to take pictures.

4. Pick a restaurant around 12 and walk in and sit down.

5. You order around 12.15.

6. The first course comes around 12.30, sometimes later.

7. Stay in the restaurant at least 2 hours, talking and eating.

8. Around 2 or 2.30 you finally leave the restaurant.

9. Visit a museum for 2 hours. This would take you up to 4.30.

10. Walk around half and hour. You are enjoying your sightseeing time, but your French friends are all talking about have a drink somewhere.

"What?" you think, "we already spent 2-3 hours eating and drinking!"

Just when you were just starting to get a feel for the place you are visiting...

11. You go with them for a drink, spending an hour talking in the café.

12. Now it is around 5.30-6pm. Time to get home and get the apéro out! Besides, your French friends are tired (from all the drinking and eating, haha) to do anymore "touring".

13. You leave, only having just had a taste for the place you just visited.

14. You go back to your gite or wherever it is you're staying and spend hours eating, drinking and then playing games.

Châteaux de Lastours, France. On one of my trips with my "pack" of French friends and family.
Author of photo: Den Nation.

I often feel like it's me against them. They want to do things all together, so no one ever splits up. But anyway, I am always the one who wants to do something different, so there never is any need to split up. Whenever there is a discussion about what to do they are usually in agreement, even my husband. I am the only one who ever has other ideas.

So now I often skip the afternoon drink. I just can't do it anymore. I have to get out there; I want to know the place I am visiting. And besides, I am often not thirsty anyway.

I try to understand, I really do. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be with your friends and family, just laughing and having a good time. That's great, it really is. But I have to get out there and see the place where we are; I need to watch the local people, hear the local language, admire the local architecture, walk in parks, etc. and not just sit around drinking and eating and visiting museums.

My husband's family find it really strange that I don't want to participate in the afternoon drink. They feel badly that I am not there. I tried forcing myself to go, but I just can't leave a place knowing I haven't seen its nooks and crannies. I want to find hidden treasures. I want to take lots of photographs.

But when they feel badly, I feel guilty. This can really put a damper on everyone's mood. They talk to me about it, telling me it's strange that I'm not there with them. But what can I do?

Does anybody else feel like this? Am I really alone in this?

vendredi 22 février 2013

A special arrival in Copenhagen

Thank you to Crystal from for the Paris/Voiron goodies that showed up in my mailbox a few days ago.

They are now enjoying their new home in Copenhagen.

Crystalgoestoeurope in Copenhagen! Photo by Den Nation.

I'm just waiting for a cozy rainy evening to eat  devour the chocolate in front of a movie with my husband.

I actually don't think I want to use the nail file because it's too pretty to scratch up!

Thanks again! So when is the real Crystal coming to Copenhagen?

mercredi 20 février 2013


"Hit it harder", yelled the man, "harder!" The young costumed girl, looking a bit mystified, took another swing at the barrel with her bat, in the hopes of breaking the wooden exterior. The next young hopeful was waiting behind her, impatiently waiting her turn for a swing at the barrel. The barrel swayed in the wind; the man pulled on the rope holding up the barrel.

Dragør shoreline. Author of photo: Dennation.

So what's this about, you may ask? Fastelavn is the Danish word for carnival. This may conjure up images of Rio's colourful carnival. No such thing here. Only children dress-up in Halloween-style costumes. The city of Copenhagen does celebrate a Rioesque carnival, though, but in May, not February.

Cute house in Dragør. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Historically people used to hit a wooden barrel (looks like a wine barrel) with a black cat in it to ward off evil. Nowadays mostly children hit a hanging barrel as if it were a piñata. The barrel no longer contains a cat but some candy or a prize. Most of the children are dressed up as if it were Halloween. The person who breaks the barrel is hailed the king or queen.

A barrel waiting to be smashed to bits. Author of photo: Den Nation.

There is even a special Danish pastry associated with Fastelavn. Fastelavnboller are sweet, round balls sometimes covered with icing that are filled with whipped cream. The cream is usually white, but you can find fastelavnboller filled with chocolate whipped cream and coffee-flavoured whipped cream. I have yet to try them and unfortunately I don't have a picture. I better hurry as they are everywhere now, but I have this feeling that come March 1st they will disappear, just the Galette de Rois in France on February 1st.

We celebrated Fastelavn in Dragør, a tiny fishing village just outside of Copenhagen. Starting at midday, the town has a team of horseman riding around town singing traditional Fastelavn songs and drinking hot drinks. The townspeople would follow them around town singing and drinking with them. While all this was happening, there were several rounds of children hitting barrels. The entire celebration culminated with the horsemen gathering in park to hit a barrel. Each horseman would charge at the barrel, giving the barrel a big wack everytime they passed. After about 30 minutes, the barrel was finally broken and a queen was crowned. I somehow managed to take home the last piece of barrel that was broken as a souvenir. The atmosphere was really lively; children were sledding down the hills in the park and the adults were drinking hot together.

You can just make out the horseman about to hit the barrel. Author of photo: Den nation.

I was enchanted by the village church. From the outside the church looked ordinary but the inside, wow! It was just as I pictured a Scandinavian church would look like. Each pew had a candle attached to it, the wooden panelling was intricately carved and there was a miniature boat hanging from the timber roof frame!

Viking church in Dragør. Author of photo: Den nation.

The hanging boat! Author of photo: Den nation.

Fastelavn was really something special for me. Maybe this kind of event would really bore some people, but I like learning about traditions that are part of another country's culture and history. I never knew something like the Danish Fastelavn existed before coming here and I probably never would have gotten to experience this if we had stayed in France. I can't wait to learn more!

The horsmen lined up for singing and drinks. The musicians are sitting in the carriage.
Author of photo: Den Nation.

samedi 16 février 2013

jeudi 14 février 2013

Cycling Woes

I could see it coming. I knew it when I saw her. She was standing at the corner of the road, her arms flapping around, waiting for the red light to change to green so she could cross the street with her father. As I approached the intersection, my apprehension increased with each passing second. The father saw me coming and stared intently at me. The girl started dancing beside her father, all the while oblivious to the fact that I was quickly approaching. With my fingers curled around my brakes, I crossed the intersection, reducing my speed. The father said something to his daughter but nothing so important to make her turn around to acknowledge me. She continued dancing and chattering away. I was almost upon them. So close. 

I slamed on the brakes.

This is my cycling life in Bordeaux.

I am probably one of the world's most nervous drivers. I hate it with every fibre of my being. And I am cheap too; I always love a good deal. And let's face it, I do need the exercise. So that's why I cycle instead of driving or taking the bus. Even though I have accepted that cycling is not a foolproof means of transportation, there are things about it that really bother me.

In Bordeaux you have to watch out for other drivers. You do have to watch out for other cyclists and pedestrians, but you really have to know how to handle bad drivers. For me that means just letting them go and always assuming that they will abuse your right of way. If they want to turn when I obviously have the right of way, I slow down and let them turn. Maybe I am a wimp, but I prefer to let them go than risk my life. Cyclists are killed by cars. I always, always ride with my fingers wrapped around the brakes, ready to squeal to a stop if need be. Just like with my example above. 

In Copenhagen the situation, I feel, is better. Of course I don't have that much experience cycling here, but I have been out a few times already so I have a feel for the cycling scene here. Let's start off with the cycling paths. 

There are always cycling paths on the main roads. How many times in Bordeaux have I cycled past a parked car and seen the driver or a passenger sitting there and thought, "Have they seen me?" I always wonder if they are going to open their door or pull out of their spot and hit me. There have been a couple of close calls. Once I was going home at night and I saw the driver looking at his phone. I rode past, and of course the door opened and nearly hit me. What got to me was when I saw the driver looking at me in shock. And I thought, "Of course you didn't see me, don't look so shocked, you were paying more attention to your phone then the road." If I had been there one second before, just one second...

And then there was the time another cyclist got hit by an ambulance. I kid you not, by an ambulance! I was cycling away, minding my own business in the lane for the buses and bikes (rare, but they exist sometimes). Another cyclist overtakes me and starts to gain on me. An ambulance overtakes me and then, I couldn't believe it, hits the other cyclist and she falls over. I slam on my brakes. And no, the ambulance did not have an emergency situation, its lights were not flashing and its siren was not ringing. 

My bicycle in Christianshavn. Author of photo: Dennation.

I would be naïve if I said that there weren't any risks here too. A car could skid on some ice or slide in the rain and hit me. The cycle path, however, is the forbidden zone, where nobody is allowed but bikes. On the left side are the cars and on the other side is the pedestrian pathway. The drivers know we are there. Often there is a what I call a buffer zone between the cars and the cyclists. So there is less chance that a driver would pull out and hit you or open a door and knock you over. In France on one side you have cars, and on the other side you also have cars and many drivers like to think we don't exist or think they have the right of way. 

Yes, here we have the right of way over the cars (unless, of course, there is a red light)! I am riding away here and I see a car approaching in the other direction, getting ready to turn left in front of me. As I have been conditioned by France, I stop immediately. Imagine my shock when I realise that he has no intention of turning and is obviously waiting for me. In France if you stop they would usually turn. Not here. I can see the driver looking at me and I instantly know what he is thinking by the look on his face, "what are doing, why have you stopped, you know you have the right of way, why are aren't you continuing, what's wrong with you?" 

And then there is all the glass. I do support drinking in public, the kind where you want to have a picnic in the park with your friends, but I do not support drunk people smashing their bottles on the street. Because then I have to deal with the consequences, not them. I have had so many flat tyres that I have lost count. My local cycle repairman knows me so well that sometimes when I go past his shop and he sees me through the window I can see him tensing up. If I enter he says, "Oh no, not you again!" Sometimes I don't let him talk, I just say, "It's me, I'm back!" and he says, "Just great!" I've considered asking him if we could just tutoie each other. I have the feeling here that there is a lot less glass around on the ground. Of course I know that if I go into the centre of Copenhagen on a Friday or Saturday night that I will definitely encounter glass, but it's all cleaned up the next morning. In France it feels like it's permanently there. Anyway, the cycle paths are so well-trodden here that glass doesn't stick around for long.

This doesn't mean I'm saying that everything is perfect in Copenhagen because it's not. There are bad drivers everywhere and you do have to watch out for other impatient cyclists. The pedestrians are a problem as well - they often stop off their pathway and onto the cyclists' pathway. Also, while there are many cycle paths, they are not everywhere. The main streets have cycle paths, but the side streets do not and some streets in the centre don't have separate lanes for bicycles either.

I hope you have enjoyed my cycling stories. Maybe I will think of other things to talk about and create a part 2. I'll definitely talk about this again in a few months time right before leaving to see if my feelings or observations have changed.

mercredi 6 février 2013

So this is Denmark

Barely 3 days into our Danish experience, we have already settled into everyday life. We arrived after a hectic journey ladden down with heavy suitcases Sunday evening; Monday morning my husband was at work. We were welcomed by snow which disappeared right away, thankfully.

Even though it is snowing now, we have been spared the worst of winter here; namely, December and January when the sun sets very early. Right now there is an hour's difference with Paris; luckily this will disappear shortly.

We haven't really had time to do much since we arrived. Paperwork, buying food and house items and getting our bearings in our new neighbourhood have taken up most of our time. Monday night I was hit with a horrible headache that lasted all day Tuesday and which I can still feel today. I wonder if it is stress? I have to wonder, though, how can it be since I have everything going for me in my life?

I have a wonderful husband, a warm bed, good food to eat and am living my dream life in Europe. I do have everything. I am eternally grateful for how my life has turned out.

Nyhavn waterfront in Copenhagen. Author of photo: Dennation

So what I am saying is that I not disappointed with this mundane life. I wanted to live abroad and this is it - I am happy to experience living everyday life in Denmark. Anyway, there will be plenty of travel opportunities here in the months to come. Let's see what we'll get up to for the weekend!

Wish me luck as we are going to sort out our immigration status here in Denmark this afternoon... gulp. I'm off...

A special thanks to Crystal for your advice regarding watermarks and photographs.

samedi 2 février 2013

Back to France but not for long

I am back in France after 9 days in Italy without internet. I stayed in a really beautiful but remote location. It was so strange to click on the wifi connections button and to see the empty list. I don't think I have ever seen such an empty space when clicking on that button.

I love visiting my father's town. I have even thought of living there, but the reality of life there makes it highly unlikely I ever will. I have this strange relationship with the place, there are so many great things about it but at the same time some really dark aspects about living there, but I am always pulled back eventually. It is always so difficult to leave; it doesn't matter whether I stay 3 months or 1 week.

As soon as I figure out how to put watermarks on my pictures I'll put one up of the town. I'm not really comfortable putting up pictures without watermarks so if anybody out there can help out this blogger newbie and tell me how you do it, I'd be really grateful.

When I went to La Poste this morning I let out the Italian si instead of the French oui. It's crazy what an affect speaking Italian had on me after only 9 days there. My Italian has suffered a lot since I moved to France and I hope to someday work on it again, but I always knew my Italian would go downhill since I speak French all the time. I have to admit, though, that I was both horrified, amused and pleased when I heard that si come out.

Speaking of being back in France...we're moving to Denmark tomorrow! I can't believe it, we are actually going tomorrow. It doesn't feel real yet, somehow it can't be true, I just got back to France. We can't be leaving?! Well, I guess tomorrow when I get there I'll believe it, haha.

I do want to keep talking about Bordeaux and France while I am there as my move to Denmark is only a temporary one. I am an immigrant in France and in Denmark I will truly be an expat. I will be moving back to Bordeaux after a few months, after all. I hope that during these few months in Denmark I will learn about the local culture and language and maybe even travel to Norway and Russia. A girl can only dream!

So I hope to see you here for more (for the few readers that I have, haha).