Sunday, May 29, 2011

More Than Just a Danish

Now that we have answered our burning question, we must move on to the other amazing sights of Denmark...

Day 3: Klampenborg

After the rain passed we headed on a hike into the woods. Henrik and Astrid are living very close to Jægersborg Dyrehave, the Deer Garden. The walk was beautiful as we were surrounded by oak trees. The forest is kept natural so the trees that die and fall are not removed unless they are somehow endangering people or animals. We saw tons of deer, including some albino. Eventually we arrived at Eremitageslottet a palace built during the rein of Christian VI.

On the route back we saw some beautiful swan. As we neared the entrance, we arrived at Dyrehavsbakken the world's oldest amusement park . It was great with all its old time feel, some rickety rides, and many places to stop for a beer, ice cream, churros (the Spanish solution to funnel cakes), cotton candy and popcorn. Dean and Morgan went on a  tropical forest ride where they got to shoot at bugs. Maia, Henrik, Astrid and I went for the famous roller coaster, the Rutschebanen (Danish for "The Roller Coaster"), which is a wooden roller coaster that opened in 1932. It is a really tall rickety old coaster with great speed, twists and turns. Quite impressive, especially for its age. We ended with very tall ice cream as that seems to be the only way to order ice cream in Denmark. It was a great way to finish our visit to that area.

We packed up our belongings and headed to Middelfart which is about 2 hours northwest of Copenhagen. We stayed at the Quality Hotel. I highly recommend it. It might have been a series of carriage houses with a stable or something similar. While it is now a conference center we lucked out on a very quiet night at the hotel in a very quaint town. We found dinner at the Asia Restaurant only a couple of blocks away. The restaurant had only been open for seven months, it was huge and almost empty. However, the decorations and the fish tanks were like eating in a small aquarium. It was beautiful and the food was really good too.

Day 4: Legoland
Our day started with a very nice buffet breakfast at the hotel. Our goal was to make it to the park around 10 when it opened.

The lego structures at the park were nothing short of amazing. I'll let the pictures tell most the story of our day.

These were our favorite rides, or at least our favorites of the ones in which we could carry a camera.

Throughout the park we saw many Lego animals and people. The attention to detail was astonishing.

By train and by jeep, goin' on a safari...

They also had a really nice aquarium, with of course Lego decoration for the fish, sharks and stingrays to swim around.

And there were just some fun lego people we got to know throughout the day...

We enjoyed our Legoland adventure.

That evening we returned to Henrik and Astrid's place as the next morning we caught a flight back to Spain. We had a fabulous trip and apparently got out just in time. Later that day the Denmark airport closed due to the volcanic ash from Iceland that floated south.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Search of the Danish Danish...

Day 2: In search of the Danish.

We took the train into Copenhagen followed by an automatic metro. Automatic as there was no driver so it was similar to the terminal transport systems found in many large US airports. For a driverless metro it appeared to have a pretty extensive track system. It must be run with the same iRobot engine used for the Roomba.

Once there, we crossed a large town square, Kongens Nytorv, where we saw the guards marching. At noon everyday there is a changing of the guards at the Queen and Prince's residence, Amaliehaven. We happened to catch the guards marching to their barracks as their shift had ended. We were quite lucky with timing throughout the day as we were often in the right place at the right time for sights that most tourists don't actually catch.

The architecture intermixed with the canals and boats was stunning. We enjoyed a walk along the canal as we waited for our turn on a boat tour of the area.

Astrid and Henrik were our guides once we hit the water. Our cruise took us by many important locations near the water including the Operaen, the little Mermaid statue (although our backside view didn't look like much), the Trekroner Søfort which guards the entrance to Copenhagen, and the cruise ship harbor. Along the way we happened to see a person bungee jump over the water. In addition, we saw the royal ship out in the harbor with the Prince on board. It is very unusual to catch that. We decided to disembark at Amaliehaven, (Amalie Garden) where there was a beautiful fountain. The sight line connecting the Operaen across the water, through the fountain, and leading to the center square of the Royal Residence, Amalienborg Palace was very purposefully articulated for its beauty.

We continued our journey walking towards the Royal Residence, Amalienborg Palace. We got the typical pictures of the guards at the doors but we also happened to catch a wedding procession on bike taxi.

Moving further down the street past the residence we headed towards a beautiful church and then back to the center of town. The mix of old architecture along with modernly furnished interiors is quite interesting to catch.
We continued on towards Christianshavns. Along the way Henrik pointed out the  Danish Parliament, also known as the Christiansborg Palace which is attached to his office building, the oldest office building in Europe still in use. The Danish Parliament building does have quite an interesting history.

After grabbing some lunch to picnic along the canal, we continued our walk through Christianshavn to Vor Frelsers Kirke known for its spiral staircase on the outside of the building. We arrived as they were closing but they let us in as long as we didn't take too much time. Maia, Henrik, Astrid and I decided to go to the top first and take other pictures on the way down. Morgan and Dean waited below. The first part of the journey was on the inside and my understanding is that there are some 400 stairs total to the top. As we approached the top, the climb continued on the outer staircase which eventually narrows down to nothing. Maia squeezed herself in at the very end of the staircase. The views of the city from there were outstanding.  Once we finished taking pictures we headed down. The old clock mechanism was in an enclosed room and is currently not working but they plan to restore it. I was lucky enough to be taking a picture through the glass on my way down (the others were ahead of me), when the man who takes care of things opened the door allowing me and a couple of others to take some inside shots. He also gave us a bit of history on the church.

Day two was coming to an end and still no danishes. The sites were beautiful but it was time to go in search specifically for those flaky pastries. On our walk to the metro that would take us back to Klampenborg, we discovered the Lagkagehuset, or layer cake house. The bakery was named after the looks of the outside of the building. We thought that sounded promising and sure enough, there they were. 

It was a really cool place as the windows opened up completely for an open air feel on the corner of the canal. We were able to see a floating bar/cafe across the water.

So, yes we can find danish in Denmark, but did they originate here? I decided it was time to consult wikipedia... Check out the history section on the Danish.

We finished off our day at Henrik's place for a very tasty grilled meal. We do miss grilled food.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is the Danish Really from Denmark?

We had a burning question and decided the only way to find out was to see for ourselves. So we packed up the kids and took a few days off to visit Denmark. Our flight through Brussels confirmed the fact that Belgium is known for beer and chocolate as at least 50% of items for sale at the airport were one or the other. (I suspect those two words just got the close attention of at least 50% of our readers as well.)

We flew to Copenhagen where we met up with Henrik and Astrid. Some of you may remember Henrik as he lived with us in Madison in 2007 while getting started on his masters program at UW. He also joined us for Thanksgiving in Missouri that year. And as you know, if you take someone home for the holidays, they become part of the family. Astrid, his fiance, we met last summer when they visited and we are excited to welcome her into the family as well.

Our first day we visited the Experimentarium. We were lucky enough to catch the Body Worlds exhibit which was incredible as always. I'm glad the girls got to see it and we talked about about the science of our bodies and what incredible machines they are. I especially like the posed athletic position forms. There were some interactive stations which asked questions and then you had to stamp your hand to find out the answer. Morgan seemed to enjoy the hand stamping. Maia was a bit more curious about how the body works and remembered some of her science from Thoreau where she learned about the number of bones in your hands. I had seen the exhibit in Milwaukee but there were some parts that were different here than there.

In addition to Body Worlds there were many other really amazing hands-on activities with water flow, bubbles, energy, senses... There were several biking power demonstrations. In the one pictured it was measuring your power output and based on that filling a small cup with some green Gatorade-like drink. It was a really nice museum. From there we found a place for lunch. It was a quirky little Italian place that served everything from pizza (Maia) to bagels with cream cheese (Morgan) and the two guys that worked there were more likely Turkish than Italian. Most importantly the food was great and nothing beats a good bagel, a food not found in Spain. Well, perhaps Belgium beer and chocolate. Feel free to place your vote in the comments area.

As if that wasn't enough food, the girls and Dean got big-as-your-head ice cream cones which they ate standing by the ocean. It was quite breezy so we didn't last long in the cool wind. We did see some Danes with very thick skin jump in the water, come out shivering and then jump back in again. I guess it is their version of the almost Polar Plunge. We hit a park briefly before heading to Henrik's parents house for dinner. They have a beautiful private home with a lovely garden. It has been a long time since we have seen that much privately owned grass. The company was outstanding, the food was excellent, and it appears Danish beer will give Belgian beer a run for its money.
DAY 1: Still no sign of Danishes...

Friday, May 20, 2011

This & That-Here & There

The past few weekends we have stayed closer to home but been busy nonetheless. I've added a map so you can see where these places are.

Beach Surprise in Algorta
We rode our bikes down to the Ereaga beach just past the Old Port area of Algorta on Sunday May 1 to find some really amazing sand sculptures. The artist was still there putting on the finishing touches. I don't know his story but he welcomes donations from passersby and certainly deserves them considering the attention he paid to details in his work.

Culture in Arrigorriaga
On May 7 we took a train to Arrigorriaga, a small town just outside of Bilbao. They were having their XVI International Clown Festival. We actually didn't see any clowns but we did catch an impressive marionette act, the Grannies from Austria who were 4 men dressed in drag as old hags. They were pretty funny as they took the observers on a tour including scaling a building (losing underwear in the process), "stealing" a bike and a car, along with other shenanigans. Dean and I agree that much of what they did would probably not be acceptable as a public family show in the US. Following that was the acrobatic team Circo Claxon in the pictures. They were quite impressive.

Hanging Out with Friends in Mundaka & Gernika
On Sunday we headed to Mundaka to visit Marina and her family. Marina lived in Madison last year attending High School at La Follette. We took the metro to Bilbao and then hopped on a slow train in the direction of Mundaka. It was an older train that reminded me of RENFE circa 1980's. The scenery was quite beautiful along the way. We got off in San Cristobal where we met up with Marina and her family. From there we started our hike to Mundaka. Not far into our journey we found the Torre Madariaga and museum of biodiversity. We learned about biodiversity in the world, and the birds and wildlife native to the Basque region. One of the coolest rooms was the animal photo room pictured below.

At the top of the tower there were telescopes where we could get a close up of the surrounding terrain. I believe the purpose was for bird watching but they must have all been napping as we didn't see any birds in the hills.

We continued our journey along the water as we approached Mundaka. Mundaka is a beautiful small town on the ocean. While there are people that live there full time it is a hotspot for tourism in the summer months. They are known for their great surfing. Pictured below is a white building on the beach. That's where Marina lives with her parents and her sister. We stopped there for lunch. They had balconies off of each of the rooms. Too small for patio furniture but nice to stand on and get some fresh air. What a great flat and location. I can imagine how relaxing it would be to come home from work and have views like that. The beach is in a cove-like area so the water is relatively warm there. After lunch we took a bit of a tour around the town. On the edge of the ocean was a chapel. The girls found a horse that took a liking to them, or at least to the attention they were giving it.

From Mundaka we grabbed the train heading back in the direction of Bilbao but stopping off in Gernika. Gernika was bombed by the Germans in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War and pretty much decimated. Hitler's airstrike was in solidarity with Franco's work to overthrow the Basque government. One surviving item is the oak tree. In years prior to the war, the Basque Assembly would gather under the oak tree to discuss issues of the region. The oak tree died of old age but the trunk has been preserved. Around the corner is another oak tree, an offspring, as its replacement. The tree of Gernika symbolizes the freedom of the Basque people and serves as a reminder of the past. Oak trees in this area are considered sacred and may not be removed. Pablo Picasso painted numerous pictures telling the story of the atrocities of the war and the bombing in this city. At this point, most everything in Gernika is new as the town had to be completely rebuilt after the war.

On the Run in San Sebastian
On the 14th we headed to San Sebastian. Dean was primed and ready for the half marathon on the 15th. We had a slow moving day on the 14th and just wandered around San Sebastian a bit to get oriented as to where we needed to be for the race on the 15th. San Sebastian is known for its tapas/pinxtos which are small appetizers you get in the bars and cafes. We've made meals out of that more than once. That evening we caught a really nice kid-oriented theater production. The Mariantoia Oliver Company is a four person act that combines dance, acrobatics and clowning around.

The following morning Dean ran and did quite well finishing in 1:40:49. The run was along the ocean for a large part of it so the scenery was nice and he felt the race was very well organized.

Taking a break in Hondarribia
Following the race we took a trip along the coast to Hondarribia, a small quaint town on the eastern border of Spain. It was an important shipping area for exports but is increasingly host to lots of tourism and has a port full of private yachts. The kids wrapped up their weekend on the beach playing in the sand and water a bit until they were just too cold with the wind. I took a stroll through town to get a flavor for life on the border of France.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spring Break Part II: Salamanca

Salamanca is about 4 hours south west of Algorta. 14 years have passed since my last visit. Prior to that I studied there one summer in college and I had visited in 1985 as well. While much of the college town remains the same, Salamanca as a city has really grown. 

We started with a tour of the city. Since we were staying in Barrio La Vega which is on the other side of Rio Tormes, we had about a 10 minute walk in towards the center of town. We took some pictures of the views as we approached. 

Once across the bridge, we headed directly into the monument zone. The first on the list was the Catedral Nueva, which by US standards isn't all that new seeing as it was built between the 16th & 18th century.

You may have noticed the carving on the cathedral of an astronaut, which of course didn't exist when the cathedral was built. My understanding is that relatively recently they needed to clean up the outside of the building where some of the intricate carvings had eroded. They apparently did this with a bit of creative license to "modernize" the outside.

Not far from the cathedral is the Patio de las Escuelas and the historical university building with its famous frog carving.

From there we headed towards the center of town. Maia happened to notice some Jewish stars on some buildings which also had some moorish influences. That sent me on a mission to find out a bit about the presence of Jews in Salamanca. As it turns out what Maia had discovered had no real meaning other than the builder liked that architecture. However there is some history, although most remnants of it are completely gone at this point.

The Plaza Mayor is one of the most beautiful central plazas in all of Spain. If you have the opportunity to visit, stop in at Meson de Cervantes, another favorite study spot for me. While you can sit outside, I recommend going in and checking out the photos on the walls. It shows some of the history of the plaza from the times when cars were allowed, and how it has transformed into the meeting place that it is today. Once you are done in the plaza, across the street is a large indoor market which is a great place for picking up fresh fruit and vegetables.

The park pictured is Parque La Alamedilla. I remember studying there as an alternative to la Plaza Mayor as it tends to be a bit quieter. There is a bar/cafe in the park, where I had the best granizados de limón, basically a lemon slushy. Unfortunately we were told this is a seasonal drink that is only available in the summer. We'll have to go back some time for that...

Just outside of Salamanca there are many options for day excursions. We went with our friends, MaLuz, Sara, and Lola to La Peña de Francia and La Alberca. We drove up the mountain and stopped along the way to take in the views before reaching the top. It was quite cold up there and a rather gloomy day but we got some great pictures anyway.

At the top was a beautiful old monastery.

After having a drink to warm us up a bit we headed back down to an adorable little town called La Alberca. There we found a great place for lunch and took a tour around the city before heading back to Salamanca.

The sights were stunning and the company was great. Yet another successful adventure.

Monday, May 9, 2011


For those living in the Basque region, Semana Santa is something of a misnomer. It is actually semanas, as the girls had two full weeks of spring break. We made the most of our time. They make up for it by being in school until late June.

Part I: Lauren attends Eurocall SIG in Barcelona
I left a couple days before everyone to head to Barcelona where I attended the Eurocall-CMC Telecollaboration conference. Upon arrival Mercedes and family, my youngest sister of my Basque family, met me at the airport. They took me to the bed and breakfast I had reserved near the downtown area of Barcelona. Ana’s Guesthouse was wonderful and I would highly recommend it. Ana and her daughter Natalie were great, breakfast was perfect and the house was lovely. Here are a few pictures of the patio courtyard and living room. Hard to believe this is just off of the downtown area of Barcelona.

At the conference met a colleague from León with whom I had been communicating for over a year. It was a small conference attended by people from all over Europe and Scandinavia. It was interesting to learn about what people are doing with language technology in other parts of the world. It was also interesting to realize how different US expectations are of connectivity as compared to other regions. While not all of our students are connected at home there is a definite move in the US to expect students to find ways to get connected when they have to be; via cellphone, at the library, or at school. While other countries are connected, and so are their students, they don’t expect students to be. Some instructors still hesitate to require students to use media and the resources that make the web a richer resource than a traditional paper. Much of the work is done during the school day when they can get access to a lab. They do have the same issues as we do which are bandwidth and filters.

The final keynote was a US colleague, Steven Thorne, who is always a great speaker and stretches all of us a bit to move out of our usual comfort zone. All in all it was a great two days and I’m glad that I attended.

Part II: Look UP!!! High!!!
On Friday night Dean and the girls flew out to meet me. I unfortunately had to switch to a different B & B as Ana didn’t have enough rooms available for all of us. We stayed at BBB - Jardinets Guest House. The rooms were nice and the girls especially liked the elevator.

We met some of the other guests who were also friendly although it didn’t have the same family feel and was a bit more do-it-on-your-own than Ana’s. Our room was on the front of the building on a busy street but we managed with the night noise. The location was really convenient.

At this point, I had realized in Barcelona, it is very important to LOOK UP. The architecture everywhere is amazing and if you don’t look up you miss most of it.

Saturday we started out on our own. A long walk down the street took us to Las Ramblas and the pier. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of some of Gaudi’s amazing creations. The Pedrera and Casa Batlló were definitely worth the time to study from the outside.

We stopped briefly at Plaza Cataluyna.

From there we headed down Las Ramblas. At the end of the street near the pier we stopped for some pictures at the monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus, Plaza de Colón. We decided to skip the inside. On the way back up Las Ramblas we stopped at the Boquería, a large open market full of all kinds of food. We picked up some fruit and smoothies. Like everything during Semana Santa, the place was packed.

Our last photo op before lunch was Gaudi’s Segrada Familia. We again decided to stick to just taking pictures from the outside. I’m not sure how or when people ever get really good pictures of this church as it has been under construction for years. We did the best we could but you’ll have to just imagine what it would be like without all the scaffolding. The amount of detail put into all of Guadi’s work, and especially this one is beyond words.

Later we met up with Mercedes, Carlos and Unai for lunch. We were in plan to see more of the city from the very top, or what seemed like as high as we could go. We headed up the steps to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) and then kept going.
Before long we found ourselves at the Olympic stadium. It was pretty cool to be walking where all those amazing athletes shared their talents with the world. It’s nice to know that the buildings are still being used regularly for a variety of other events.

By this time, Maia and Unai were fast friends. Unai never napped as he was busy looking for Maia and a bit for Morgan too.

We eventually found our way to the teleférico that took us to the top of the mountain and Castle Montjuic with some great views. There was an African festival there that day so we caught a bit too much of some rap music and a really good storyteller.  Of course we have some pictures of the views as well. Barcelona is a HUGE city.

On our way back down the mountain we caught the magic fountain show. The fountain leading up to the MNAC was timed to "dance" with the music. At night it also has colored lights but the sun sets rather late here so we didn't stick around for that.

It was a long day and a lot of walking but the girls did amazingly well and we all slept very well Saturday night.

Sunday we  headed to Parc de La Ciutadella where we again met up with Mercedes, Carlos and Unai. It turned out to be the day of the Green Festival so besides the park being packed, there were hundreds of tents set up with all kinds of information on living green. I especially liked the Caballitos Ecológicos, pedal powered carousel with the recycled material horses. Not pictured is the music for the carousel that was solar powered. Very cool!

We enjoyed the park, the bicycle built for four, and most of all the company for a picnic. Later that afternoon we made our way to Mercedes, Carlos & Unai’s house. Yolanda, the sister that I went to high school with in Portugalete, joined us for a walk to the park and dinner. Nothing beats great conversation and great company.

Monday we headed to Parc Güell, another one of Gaudi’s amazing works of art. I have long been fascinated by the mosaic work that he did. It was unfortunate that the park was so packed, as it was hard to get some of the photos I was hoping for. Aside from that, I had seen it in many pictures and was glad to finally have a first hand view. Yolanda met us there with some of her housemates. It was nice to spend a little extra time with her as I rarely have the opportunity to catch up. She’s the one of the four that I see the least. We had a lovely afternoon in the park but wanted to keep things a bit lower key so the kids didn’t get too worn out.

Tuesday was our final day. I was on a mission to see Casa Batlló on the inside. So, Maia and I headed down shortly after it opened and Dean and Morgan met us later. It left me speechless. The admission  included a guided audio tour that was great as it  helped to point out the details that I would have otherwise missed. What an amazing place. He paid particular attention to light and glass as well as wanting to give it a maritime feel. You may notice the soft waviness of some of the design. There were no less than 20 points of interest on the audio tour. We were there for probably 2-3 hours. Gaudi used a mixture of soft wood, metal, and mosaics with attention to the most finite details. He was also very focused on reusing materials, something that is quite popular today but was innovative during his time. I’ll let the pictures tell the tour.

Following our busy 5 days of Barcelona, we had a couple of days in Algorta before a 5 day excursion to Salamanca. That post coming soon...