Black Friday in Denmark

Danes don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (for obvious reasons). However, the Black Friday experience seems to be catching on here, sorta. The online scene consists of many Danish companies having online sales starting at different times on Thursday and Friday. And what were these great offers? Answer: 20% off.* You know you’ve lived in Denmark too long when 20% off actually sounds like a pretty good deal. Yes, I bought a vase. To be fair, it is a really awesome vase. But it still sounds lame. I’ll make it less lame by giving said vase it’s own blog post. It’s very special. Ok, enough about the vase. I’m obsessed (with the vase).

In real life, for at least the past two years, and probably longer, Santa brings Christmas to Aarhus on the last Friday of November. In Denmark, Santa is called Julemanden. Julemanden arrives in the harbor from Greenland (not literally, at least I hope not) and then gets in his white Cadillac to lead a parade around Aarhus. Santa then lights the 23 meter tall Christmas tree in front of Aarhus City Hall and everyone sings a few carols.

"Black Friday" in Danish

“Black Friday” in Danish

Since Santa always brings Christmas to Aarhus on Black Friday, many shops in the city, including the mall, are open for “night shopping.” This means that they open on Black Friday at a regular time (9 or 10am), but stay open until 11 or midnight, which is special because normally retail stores here close around 6 or 7pm. In typical Danish fashion, the weather was windy and cold with intermittent spits of rain. Perfect for a night out. After watching Santa light the tree, I decided to go on a cultural field trip and see what Denmark’s Black Friday had to offer. I hit the mall first because it was closest and I’m lazy. There was a huge crowd and the predominant “deal” was 20% off any item at all stores.

The most popular discount.

The most popular discount.

A few of the stores had DJs and from 11pm-midnight there was free champagne (which I didn’t stick around for, dumb I know). The other main attraction at the mall was a Justin Bieber-esque Dane playing the piano and singing top 40 tunes. People seemed entertained. I then decided that drinking a large latte at 8pm was good idea. (Rookie mistake).

Next, I decided to take a walk down the pedestrian street . Although there were a lot of people out, it was a rather relaxed atmosphere. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry and lots of families were strolling down the pedestrian street eating candied almonds and sharing hot drinks they had bought at the various Christmas themed specialty stands that pop up this time of year. So overall, my Black Friday experience in Denmark was more relaxing than the US version of the tradition. For a little taste of the festivities, here is a short and lovely video featuring the aforementioned Aarhus Christmas activities: Click here!

Thanks to the latte, I was up that night until probably midnight. So really, I should have stuck around for the free champagne at the mall. Next year?

*Disclaimer: Obviously I’m not aware of every single sale occurring on the interwebs, there may have been deeper discounts available. If you are looking for an amazing sale in Denmark, they all happen after Christmas.

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Summer Vacation Part 1: Napoli

Heather and I are just back from our first real European holiday. That’s not to say we haven’t been vacationing. We’ve done our fair share of that. But this year was the first that I was entitled to my full, state-provided five weeks of paid holiday. Seeing as I had to be in Rome over the Fourth of July weekend for a conference, Heather and I decided to make an extended vacation out of it, starting with two days in Napoli before the conference. After Rome we went on to Florence and further to Switzerland, but we’ll leave that for another post.

We flew from Aarhus to Copenhagen on July 1st and from there directly to Napoli. The flight was uneventful but SAS service is clearly going down hill. There’s now only free coffee but no free water. Ugh. Luckily, it’s a pretty short flight despite being on the other end of Europe. Lying under the shadow of Vesuvius, the whole Napoli metro area is enormous and sprawling but the airport is tiny. So tiny, in fact, that it doesn’t have any gates. Just deplane on the tarmac and bus to a door.

Our initial experiences with Napoli were chaotic. We got in line for a taxi at the airport only to watch taxi drivers repeatedly yell at one another and then refuse service to some passengers for no obvious reason. For 20 Euro we managed a relatively uneventful taxi ride to our hotel near the central train station. The contrast with Denmark, however, was striking. Napoli is hot, crowded, and loud. And motorcycles are everywhere, going every direction, all the time. Honking of horns seems to be a signal for everything from “Hello!” to “F* off.”

We stayed at UNA Hotel Napoli based on some internet recommendations and price comparison. It turned out to be a great decision because for 12 Euro we were upgraded from a standard room to an Executive Suite, which I can only describe as the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. It had three balconies, a full bathroom, various electronic controls, and a free mini bar. You can see it in the pictures below; you can see where the room is on the fourth floor of the building, in the roundish section on the far left of the picture. They also had a rooftop patio where breakfast was served. All for about 100 Euro/night. Again, from Denmark, these prices are unimaginable.

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Our main reasons for being in Napoli were (1) pizza, (2) Herculaneum/Ercolano, and (3) something Heather remembered from The Borgias. We took care of pizza right away by eating the best pizza I’ve ever eaten at Pizzeria Fortuna. Some pizza the next day from Pizzeria Donna Sophia was still good but not as excellent. Fortuna is about as much of a hole-in-the-wall as a restaurant can be, so maybe I was biased by it’s charm. Five Euros is also similarly unimaginable from a Danish perspective where that amount of money might buy a can of CocaCola but certainly not a pizza.

As I said, our primary cultural objective was to visit the excavations of Herculaneum, a Roman town destroyed (along with Pompeii, etc.) in the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Most tourists apparently visit Pompeii because it is more famous and larger. But guidebooks pointed us to Herculaneum as a better-preserved site despite being smaller. Given temperatures in the high-80s F, we figured a smaller site was more manageable. It turned out to be a good decision. The site is located about 30 minutes from Napoli, which we accessed on the Circumvesuviana commuter rail line (which, IMHO, is one of the best names trains of all time…of all time). The modern town, Ercolano, seems economically impoverished (like much of the Napoli region) with the strange addition of a short tourist strip between the train station and the site. Some relatively recent changes, however, meant that the entrance to the site was well-marked up to a point after which the directions were essentially “go left and it’s over there somewhere.” Luckily, when we reached the point of maximal confusion in a somewhat narrow intersection of alleys, a friendly local pointed us (unprompted) in the right direction.

Herculaneum

Herculaneum

 

As you can see in the picture, the site is quite large and its setting shows the scale of the devastation from the eruption. Modern Ercolano can be seen as the buildings at eye level in the rear of the image. The entire Roman town was buried in ash underneath that level. The entrance to the site is at the lower-left (you can see a line of people there), about 30-40 feet below modern ground level.

The site was fascinating and well-worth a few hours of exploration. It’s moderately well described through a combination of map, guidebook, and some sign postings. Many of the buildings are strikingly well-preserved. A set of bathhouses, in particular, shed light on the nature of life in the wealthy town. Many of the houses are two story structures with central fountains, balconies, and ornate tilework or frescoes. Some pictures are included below.

 

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After visiting Herculaneum, we headed back to Napoli (again on the Circumvesuviana). The return trip lacked the gang of apparent drug dealers evading police, break beer bottles, and smoking weed, but was still pleasant. But then there was the heat.

We had another half day in Napoli, which we used to do a bit of additional sightseeing. Again, it was really hot, so we didn’t venture around much. But we figured we needed to attempt to take Neapolitan transit, which was probably a mistake – the system is chaotic (like many things in Napoli) – and not helped by the lack of schedules, the fact that buses, trams, and metro are all controlled by different companies. But, after a short tram ride, we did manage to take a look at the harbor and a couple of castles. The area around Castel Nuovo was much more touristy than the more trash-filled area around the train station; there was a lot of shopping there, and shopping that seemed nicer than the guys selling mobile phone cases on cardboard tables outside our hotel. Indeed, a neoclassical mall, Galleria Umberto I, is just across the street from the Castel. Oddly, all the stores were out of business.

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With that, our trip to Napoli was over. We got a taxi ride back to the train station, where the drive let us out in the middle of a road with traffic going by because he said it was the best place to get out.

Onward to Rome!

PS. Napoli is also famous for the Rum Baba. We are not fans, despite the pre-consumption optimism shown in my face below.

Rum Baba

Rum Baba

And so we go (or leave) home

About a year ago, Heather and I were wrapping up our final weeks in the United States, packing up our apartment (or apartments, depending on the exact timeframe), saying “bon voyage” to friends and family, and emotionally preparing ourselves for the move abroad.

Since then we’ve done a lot. We’ve made new friends, started new jobs, adjusted to all the differences (and similarities) of Danish culture, society, workplaces, government, healthcare, grocery stores, and so on. We’ve really established ourselves here in Aarhus and enjoyed all the benefits of living the expat life: travel to fun locales, shockingly good tax rates, and the sensation of never quite knowing where home is or will be next.

Yesterday we started packing up our apartment. We’re in the process of moving on to a new apartment. Our next place is just down the street from where we live now, but we’ll be taking a few months between apartments in a quaint house a little closer to the city center. It’s sort of our winter “stay-cation” for the really dark months ahead. But we’re also packing up to travel back to Minnesota for about ten days. So a third of our stuff is packed up for the trip, a third is packed up for our January move, and the remainder is scattered around in piles that we’ll have to consolidate, box, and move in the first few days when we return in January.

Our twenties have apparently been defined by moves, from dorms to apartments to other apartments to houses to condos to apartments, back and forth, yadda yadda, lots of boxes and trucks and miles on the road. Now we’re moving again and travelling internationally in the middle of the move. Realistically this is up there on the list of dumbest planning decisions ever.

But the thing that’s really striking me with this move is that it’s opening up all kinds of questions about place, about the idea of home, and about the role of physical geography in a digital age. Heather and I have always thought of Minnesota as our home and I think we continue to do so (I won’t speak for her). But increasingly Denmark feels like home. It’s where we’re rooted, where we spend most of our time, and where we come home to (even though that’s in the process of changing). When we travel, Aarhus is where we come home to feel comfortable after my work trips or the hectic activity of travel.

One of the critical aspects of surviving expat life is recognizing that non-expats can’t really understand what your life is like if they’ve never lived abroad, and even then every experience is unique. Flying back to Minnesota feels like we’re leaving home, even though we’re headed to the place we’ve always known as home. Wrestling with those feelings is something I know will be hard to explain and probably even harder to understand.

The Deal With Cinnamon in Denmark

A good reason not to be single and 25 in Denmark….brought to you by our friend Allison over at Our House in Aarhus!

Our House in Aarhus

(Stick with the video until they get through the introduction. It’s worth it to see the guy get covered in cinnamon.)

 

So it turns out that the piles of cinnamon we’ve been seeing around are the result of a Danish birthday tradition. If you reach the age of 25 and are still single, you get doused in handfuls of cinnamon. (Sometimes it’s much more than handfuls, as you will see if you watch the videos in the links below.)

If you turn 30 and are still single, you get covered in pepper. (Or maybe you’re just given some pepper in a pepper shaker, people disagree a little bit on how this ritual is enacted.)

This post on the Huffington Post travel blog claims that the birthday ritual dates back to the time of traveling spice salesmen, who often remained bachelors because they traveled so much. And it has a video…

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In the two months since our last post

When we last posted, we’d just had a really fun trip to Zealand on what might have been the last nice weekend of the summer. It’s two months later, and winter is definitely rolling into Jutland. It’s been hovering around zero here (that’s in Celsius) for the past two weeks, but it has been tolerable due to the lack of wind. No snow yet, but we’ve had a lot of morning frost.

What have we been up to since our last post? Well, quite a bit. I’ve been swamped at work between teaching my masters seminar, prepping two courses for the Spring, and work on several ongoing projects. On November 14th, I taught an all day workshop for faculty about the statistical package R, which kept me thoroughly busy in preparation for the first half of November. Heather, too, has been quite busy with her new job at Aarhus Købmandsskole, where she’s been working as a teaching assistant in the English department. On top of that, we’ve been continuing our Danish classes two nights a week and Heather’s been taking a Bollywood dance class. So, in short, we’ve been incredibly busy. But, we’ve also had some time for fun.

In October, we took a week-long trip to Berlin. Week 42 (as Danes somehow manage to count the year in weeks, a skill I still haven’t picked up) is Kartofflerferien, or potato holiday, when all schools are closed. The holiday’s origins are that it was around that time year that potatoes ripened, so schoolchildren all had to go home to help their parents’ with the harvest. It’s the Danish equivalent of Spring (Energy) break – a completely arcane event that survives because of its promise of vacation rather than its original purpose. This was the first time that Heather or I had been to Germany and it was worth the trip. We took the DSB Intercity train direct from Aarhus, which takes about 7 hours, but dropped us off just outside of the city center. We stayed at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin, which ended up being a fairly convenient place to see lots of the major tourist attractions.

While we were there, we met up with an old friend of mine, Dani, from Stanford who recently moved to Berlin with her husband and son. They showed us around Markthalle Neun for a really fun street food event. Aside from that, we spent a lot of time walking around, seeing the city, and eating some pretty great food.

We spent the first day in Berlin visiting Museum Island, a World Heritage site that houses several museums of mostly antiquities, as well as the Berlin Cathedral. We ate dinner at a little French bistro, which was probably geographically improper but proved worth the trip. The next day, we stopped by some obligatory tourist sites, including the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag Building. Unfortunately, the Reichstag Building was closed for maintenance so we didn’t get a chance to go inside, but it was impressive from the outside.

The highlight of that day, however, was our lunch at Restaurant Fischers Fritz, which was our first ever meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant (and a two-star restaurant event). In short, the food was fantastic. Certainly the best lunch I’ve ever eaten and the service was impeccable. The choice to go for lunch was apt, as the restaurant was only hosting a few tables of mostly business meetings and the lunch menu kept things affordable.

On our last day, we had plans to see a few more museums, but one of them was closed and the other had really rude employees, so we instead decided to spend the day at the Berlin Zoo, the oldest zoo in Europe. It’s a really beautiful place, with a very park-like atmosphere and a large variety of animals. The highlight was probably the new aviary, which showcased birds from every continent, including in some interactive exhibits. That night, we ate a traditional dinner at Zur Letzen Instanz, the oldest restaurant in Berlin, for a meal of fix and roasted pork.

Here’s a gallery of some highlights from the trip:

The week after our Berlin trip, I spent two days in Vejle at the Hotel Vejlefjord for the Danish Political Science Association annual meeting, which was a really small but fun conference with political scientists from the five Danish universities (yes, there are only five). It was a great time to socialize and, in typical Danish fashion, included a three-course dinner with 7 courses of alcohol.

Denmark doesn’t celebrate Halloween, so the end of October passed somewhat insignificantly. November 1st, however, is known as J-day, when all the Danish breweries release their “Julebryg,” or Christmas Beer. We avoided this, thankfully, and thus didn’t get caught up in a day of drinking that starts at about 2pm and continues for twelve hours.

So, in short, that’s been the major news from here. Work has kept Heather and I pretty busy, but we’ve also been trying to make the most of the Danish autumn. We don’t have any major trips planned except for our triumph return to the United States on December 20th. We’ll be back for two weeks, then we’ll return to Aarhus so we can move from our current apartment into a place we’ll be staying for three months in the winter. We’ll tell you more about that later.

Exploring Zealand

Thomas and I decided to take a quick trip to that other part of Denmark to do some exploring before we became a two income household. (Yes, I got a job! More about that later.) Our main destinations were the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and Kronborg Castle, both of which are less than an hour north of Copenhagen by train. Thomas took Friday off from work and we rode the train from Aarhus to Copenhagen. After spending Friday night there, we took the train north to the town of Humlebæk (yeah, I can’t pronounce it either), where the Louisiana Museum is located on the shores of the Øresund (in English, The Sound). I don’t claim to understand or like modern art, so if you would like a review of the art at the museum, ask Thomas. I did really enjoy the sculpture garden and architecture of the museum.

HTLaMus LaMus1 LaMus2 LaMus3

Here is the wishing tree from the Yoko Ono exhibit:

LaMusWishTree

LaMus4

The museum also had a great cafe where we ate the most traditional Danish lunch I’ve ever had. It featured the typical things, like various cold salads involving cabbage, some new potatoes, a small amount of beef, and a cream soup. After refueling, we took the train a little further north to Helsingør.

helsign

We spent Saturday night at a cute little hotel in Helsingør. We had a very nice dinner in the cozy restaurant downstairs and then listened to people scream outside our hotel window until 4am. Yay. Helsingør is in a pretty strategic location. Super close to Sweden, which is just across the sound. So, back in the day, the Danish kings charged anyone entering or leaving the Baltic Sea through the sound and started raking in the cash. Today the city is strategic for another reason. I hear alcohol is very expensive in Sweden and since Helsingør is just a 20 minute ferry ride away from Sweden, you can guess where the Swedes might go when they get thirsty.

On Sunday morning, we toured the castle/fortress built to enforce the “sound dues,” as they were called. The abridged history of Kronborg:

-Built in 1420’s as crappy fortress to collect cash from ships

TCastle

-Late 1500’s, Frederick II upgraded the fortress, largest ballroom in Northern Europe was added. Great for a giant fredagsbar.

ballroom

-1629, some guys accidentally burned down the castle, except for the chapel, hate when that happens.

The Chapel.

The Chapel.

-1631, King Christian IV (or C4 as he liked to be called) dumped a whole lotta money into the property to restore it to its former glory, but this time Baroque style.

-In 1658, during one of the Danish-Swedish conflicts, the Swedes invaded and stole a whole bunch of stuff from the castle. Bye-bye cool fountain.

No fountain.

No fountain.

-Improved defense of the fortress. Thanks, Swedes!

My phone thought we were in Sweden for awhile.

My phone thought we were in Sweden for awhile.

-1740’s until 1900ish = prison. Not so exciting.

There are two other pretty cool things about Kronborg. The castle is the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which he calls Elsinore. Additionally, there is a pretty cool cat sleeping in the basement.

This is Holger.

This is Holger.

Holger will sleep in the basement of the castle until the realm is in trouble. At which point he will wake up and…….something. I liked Holger. Thomas wants to name our first dog Holger.

After this adventure, we took the train back to Copenhagen and had just enough time to rest up before a trip to Manfred and Vin, one of the restaurants we really like in CPH and that is actually open on Sundays.  A great way to end a wonderful weekend!

Why haven’t I been posting much?

So this is just a quick update. I realized I haven’t posted much on the blog recently. Luckily, Heather is planning some really nice posts about Aarhus Festuge, where we attended some cool events and she volunteered, and about the challenges of being an expat in Denmark. So, look forward to those soon.

But, the reason I haven’t been posting much is because it’s been a really hectic time of year. Labor Day weekend is the traditional date for the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, in addition to being the start of the academic year, so the last several weeks have meant a combination of trans-Atlantic travel, course prep, conference prep, and recovery from all of that.

APSA was in Chicago this year, which was disappointing because it was in a familiar hotel in a familiar city, but the upshot was that I got to see a lot of Northwestern friends and plenty of other friends and colleagues who I only see once or twice a year. Prepping for a conference and following up with everyone about research ideas, papers, and so forth meant I lost a couple of weeks at the end of August and beginning of September. Luckily, its the last international conference I need to travel to until April, when I’ll be back in Chicago for the Midwest Political Science Association meeting. (Just to reassure you that I don’t just visit Chicago all the time, my two other conference for next year are in Rome and Washington, DC.)

Since APSA, I’m starting to get back into the swing of things at work, which is important because I started teaching my first independent course last week. The class, entitled “Does Public Opinion Matter?” is a master seminar for students here at Aarhus that tries to combine political philosophy, the psychology of opinion formation, and empirical studies of opinion-policy congruence. I have 20 students who will hopefully learn something, which is my goal for the class. Simultaneously, I’m taking a teacher training course provided by the university that required me to visit the small town of Ebeltoft, east of Aarhus for three days prior to APSA and that involves a bunch of ongoing work throughout this semester. Ebeltoft was a beautiful town that I’d like to visit again in order to see more than the inside of a hotel conference room. Arguably the whole teacher training program will make me a better teacher. We’ll have to see about that. At this point, it has just made me tired.

So, this post is basically just an excuse for not keeping the blog updated, but as I said, Heather will have some actually interesting news to post about soon.