I hope everyone has enjoyed the Easter break and long weekend. I love Easter. It has always been a time I’ve spent with my family – both Richie’s and mine. So I knew, unless we had some plans, it could potentially be a time I would become homesick. I’m happy to say, this didn’t happen and we thoroughly enjoyed our first Påske!

Five-day break

Firstly, to make Danish Easter even more welcoming, the Danes include Maundy Thursday (Skætorsdag) as a bank holiday so it’s a five-day break. Great thinking Denmark.

Shut up shop

During this time, most places shut. You won’t find cafes trading as usual or the supermarkets open. So everyone stocks up on supplies. It’s the same at Christmas apparently. There are occasional supermarkets open but you’ll have to search. Despite us doing a big shop on Wednesday, we ran out of milk by Monday. I found a Netto open and walked in to find chaos. Everyone was in there. There were no baskets or trolleys left, most of the shelves were empty and people were grabbing the last items off the shelves. It was not an experience I’d want to repeat, with a huge pushchair in tow. Let’s just say bread was used to bribe Lydia as I had to mount the bottom shelves just to squeeze through the crowds. I also learnt I’m not pronouncing ‘brød’ (bread) correctly. When said bread fell on the floor and I couldn’t reach it, I got very confused looks as I said ‘brød’ and pointed. I say it like bru(l). The ‘d’ is is pronounced like a non existent ‘l’, where your tongue sits between a ‘d’ and an ‘l’. The ø is like uu. Basically it feels like you’re just about to throw up and splutter out a br….u..l..d… (shh i didn’t say d). Except this isn’t working for me so I need a new technique.

Church

Coming from a family of Bishop Dad and Vicar Mum, church featured a lot in my childhood Easters. As an adult, I haven’t attended church as much and the reality of our Easter Day morning here, was catching up on sleep after a very broken night with Lydia. Denmark is a Christian country and has a state church called the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark. But it seems church-going across the Easter period in Denmark, isn’t the reason for the five-day break or shops shutting down. According to a national survey taken in 2000; 48% of Danes think spending time with the family is particularly important during Easter; 37% regard it as a holiday; 10% mentioned ‘attending Church’ and ‘the Christian message’ as the main feature of Easter. (http://denmark.dk/en/meet-the-danes/traditions/easter)

Påskefrokost – Easter lunch.

My Dad’s cousin Anne, lives in a wonderful apartment in Christianshavn. On Good Friday (Langfredag), she hosted a traditional Easter lunch, which in Danish is called Påskefrokost. It includes bread, eggs, salmon, prawns, herring, lamb, frikadeller (meatballs) and salad, all washed down with beer and snaps with cheese, coffee and chocolates to finish. It was delicious!

Anne also hosted the occasion for us to meet more of my extended family, including second cousins who I haven’t seen since I was about 12. We all now have little girls around the same age so it was lovely to see them all playing together and to reconnect with my Danish relations. We came home filled with Danish food and joy.

Gækkebrev

Although we didn’t do this with the family, it is a standard Danish activity for children to make a gækkebrev. This is a snowflake paper cut-out, with a poem written in it. The child doesn’t sign the letter but instead puts dots for each letter of their name. The recipient then has to guess who sent them the letter. If they guess right, they receive a chocolate egg from the sender. If they can’t guess, they have to give the sender a chocolate egg. It’s a tradition dating back to the 1800s and during the Easter break, children (and adults) can have fun making them at the National Museum in Copenhagen.

Easter egg hunts

Easter would not be complete without an Easter egg hunt and yes they do have this in Denmark. Across Copenhagen, there have been egg-hunting events over the Easter break, including at The Frilands Museum and Carlsberg Visitors Centre.

Earlier in the week, Lyds and I went to an Easter-egg hunt organised by Danielle, who I first met at Manchester Airport when we were flying out to move here. She is from Bath and has lived in Copenhagen for seven years. We have kept in touch and it was so lovely to meet up and for Lydia to meet other bi-lingual toddlers in the making!

On Easter Sunday, all three of us went along to an Easter egg hunt organised by an Expat Group we are part of on Facebook. This was held at one of the group member’s houses and a chance for families to meet up, eat food and fellow expat children to play/hunt eggs. I never thought I’d be one of those people who joins a Facebook group to make friends but the Copenhagen Expats has been so helpful and welcoming and doesn’t really feel like that. We have met up with a few of the group before and everyone instantly clicked because we are all in that unique same boat. I’m actually quite bowled over by the fact someone would open up their house to host on Easter Sunday to people they barely know, all so we could feel part of a new different family. We enjoyed the afternoon sun, exchanged stories, swapped advice and made some lovely new friends in the process.

Bank Holiday Monday

What do you do with that extra day after all the chocolate has been consumed? In our case, Rich had to prepare for an interview on Tuesday so I had a walk and play in the park with Lydia after discovering the Netto chaos. From our local parks of Søndermarken and Frederiksberg Have, there are look-out points to Copenhagen Zoo. Yes really, that photo is from a stroll in the park. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of saying “let’s take a walk to see the elephants/giraffes, zebras.” Post on our new area will come soon.

This is really the view from the park.

All this however wasn’t enough excitement for Lydia’s day. As Rich was reading her bedtime stories, she poked him in the eye, so deeply, he couldn’t open it and was in a lot of pain. I can now inform you the Danish 111 system (1813) is very efficient, as is A&E. After speaking to someone on 1813, Rich got a taxi to hospital at 8.30pm, where they were phoned through to expect him, and he was home with an eye patch by 9.45pm. His eye is scratched and he has to use a special cream for the next four days. The eye patch can be taken off tomorrow (Tuesday) just in time for his interview.

Life is never dull around here. Hence still writing a blog post at midnight.

Happy Easter/back to work after Easter everyone! x

Looking back on my first settling in post, after just ten days in Denmark, I think, oh how minor those settling in wins were! Fast-forward six weeks, we have completed settling in level two and it feels good. It’s just in time for our next house move, and for the Spring weather to kick in. Double whoop.

Level two has been all about the admin, to function as Danish residents. The actual process of registering as a Danish resident was fairly straightforward, thanks mostly to still being in the EU – just! It has been all the other ‘extras’ that come with integrating into a new country, that have taken time and caused a few teething problems (can’t type teething without shuddering – it’s been one of those weeks!).

I’m going to write a separate post on the paperwork you need to set up in Denmark, in case it’s useful to future expats. But to give you an example; to open a bank account, you need a health card, to get a health card, you need a CPR number, to get a CPR number, you need to be registered as a resident, to register as a resident…you get my drift. So after a month of using English bank cards with exchange rate charges and buying the more expensive single tickets on the metro because you can’t get the resident travel card that requires the CPR number, I just wanted to feel like I lived here. Instead, I had moments of feeling like a sort of tourist/visitor/outsider/half Dane who doesn’t understand what you just said to me even though I said ‘ja tak’ and fluttered my Danish blue eyes. I’m a fraud!! Well no longer. Sort of.

So let’s get to the settling in level two wins….

Win number 1: We are permanent Danish residents.

Paper-work is complete! See next blog post on the hoop jumping this involved. It also means we don’t have to drag Lydia around to offices while we wait in queues to get it all sorted.

Win number 2: We have Danish bank accounts.

The debit cards should arrive this week, which means no more exchange rate charges or doing binge ATM visits.

Win number 3: Travel cards like the locals

We have resident travel cards which equals cheaper travel and the easy Oyster-style cards. I had a low-point, when taking a bus journey with Rich and Lydia one day before I got my travel card. Rich had already been sent his, and we thought he could add me to his journey, which is what you can do on the metro and s-tog. Apparently not. To cut a long story short, it ended in a ticket officer who didn’t understand us, we didn’t understand him, suddenly asking for my ID and zapping it with a hefty £90 fine. This was NOT a settling-in win day and I felt frankly fed up with all the admin and waiting, to get something as simple as a travel card. I got over it with the help of chocolate and added to my admin to-do list by appealing.

Danish metros and trains are brilliant and incredibly pram and bike-friendly. Buses with prams/pushchairs are harder work. There are two spaces for prams on the bus and if they’re full – you can’t get on. You also have to board the middle of the bus to use that space. So if you don’t have a travel card and want to pay in kroner, you need to park the pram in the middle and get to the front to pay the driver before he/she sets off. But the drivers aren’t in charge of checking payment, it’s the ticket inspectors, who randomly board public transport. So quite often, the bus has set off, probably assuming you’ll swipe your travel card in the middle. You then have to navigate getting to the front to pay, while leaving your pushchair/child, while the bus driver is still driving or about to stop and you try and get in there before other passengers board. It definitely seems a design fault in an otherwise great public transport system. Before I got my resident travel card, I paid for single tickets by coins or debit card. But you can in fact buy a travel card at a visitor rate, which I would recommend if you’re visiting Copenhagen.

Win number 4: Nursery place

We have navigated the Danish childcare system and Lydia is on the waiting list for a nursery (This also requires a separate blog post). I feel settled that I know she is going to be able to enjoy playing with more Danish children soon, as I have mum guilt that we aren’t doing enough exciting day trips with her.

Win number 5: Our first visitors

Richie’s parents came for five days, staying nearby and my best friend Ali came for a weekend visit. Both times it rained and was freezing but we still loved showing them around Copenhagen, our new home. Richie’s parents also brought with them a suitcase of extra clothes for me and toys for Lydia. It was like Christmas!

Win number 6: La La Land

I went to the cinema with Ali and watched La La Land. It’s a trivial win but while Rich and I are both juggling settling-in admin, work, job searches and full-time Lydia care, we can’t even contemplate something like a cinema trip. In fact, we haven’t even switched on the TV since we got here. So 2 hours of watching this, reminding me about the excitement of pursuing your dreams, was a happiness win. (Except the ending, which I’m just glossing over – sob.) It also gave me an incentive to make use of the piano in this house, by learning some of the score. Happy times for me; for Rich, piano practice apparently sounds like ‘torture.’

Win number 7: Family Firth time.

I am sure we will look back at this time as really special, as we are managing to spend so much time together and watch Lydia come on leaps and bounds. Before we moved to Denmark, she was just about walking and said a few words. Now she runs, jumps, side-steps, dances and has new words everyday including tak! It’s so lovely to see and for Rich to share this stage of development so closely with her. In between job applications and meetings, he is doing an incredible job at Daddy daycare on the days I’m working.

Win number 8: We got through winter

I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s warm, but it’s definitely heading that way. Gone are the seven-layers approach to dressing and almost…almost, gone is the winter coat. The lighter evenings are wonderful and during the last week I’ve been able to play with Lydia outside in our allotment area before her bedtime, which is idyllic.

Win number 9: We have a new Danish home

And we move in two days! Our new home for six months will be in Valby (pronounced Valboo). We were cautious not to get somewhere much longer while we still don’t know what our average joint income will be. This is a ground floor apartment, fairly central and by a lovely park and zoo. We have managed to find another lovely family who are leaving most things for us while they move to their summer house for half the year. Apparently this is quite common in Copenhagen as you are never far from a beach. So people move 30 minutes down the road, to live by the sea in the summer and rent out their city apartments. We will be sad to leave our wonderful first Danish house but it feels a natural time to start a new Danish living chapter. And guess what…change of address admin – already done!

Win number 10: Work is in progress

Rich has made so many more contacts now we are living here and has had positive meetings – including in the tile industry, his speciality. It’s a bit of a waiting game as the appointing process takes so long. So irons are constantly being thrown in the fire and we are still staying positive that one will come good.

My freelance work is going well and I’ve been very lucky to find someone who took a chance on me and not only gave me my first project but is letting me use their office in central Copenhagen while I set myself up. This means I get to feel part of a Danish work place, which I think is a massive settling in help/win and I’ve learnt more about Danish culture from being there.

Lunchtime is important and most work places have it at 12pm, some even at 11.30am, where everyone will gather for around 30 minutes or so and enjoy lunch and not talk about work. Eating at the desk is just not a thing here and when you start to explain that’s what you’re used to, you actually realise it’s pretty gross. So…at 12pm I am treated to a table laid with rye bread and an abundance of fillings to choose from. During my first couple of weeks, I would pick a selection of fish, tomatoes, cheese, avocado and eat it like a mixed salad with the bread. This isn’t Danish. The Danish way is creating a perfectly formed instagram-worthy smørrebrød. This is the Danish open bread – not to be confused with the Swedish Smörgåsbord. And there are ‘rules’ on what fillings work with what. Which is why, in my half-baked attempt at putting a mix of everything on my bread, I started to get a few looks. Then one lunchtime, while looking with concern at my plate, they uttered, “You have some interesting combinations there.” I knew I was getting this all wrong! And then I was told about ‘the rules.’ I actually still can’t quite remember what they are as I go for the copycat approach. But I do know my philosophy of ‘cheese goes with everything’, is not correct. And actually, the ‘rules’ taste good.

Other work-place-perks include being taught Danish rap as a way to learn the language, and in doing so, finding out the name Brian in Denmark, is associated with being a bit of a chav – apparently! I tried to explain this is nothing like a British Brian. So, driving on the way to a filming day, my colleague introduces me to the rap song  Det’ Brian. This was definitely a work highlight. It went something like this:

Song: Pizza med ananas og skinke, det’ Brian

Colleague: Pizza with ham and pinapple – that’s Brian.

Me: Hmm I like ham and pineapple.

 

Song: Og nik’ en skalle uden at blinke, det’ Brian

Colleague: Head-butt without blinking – that’s Brian

Me: Gosh head-butting without blinking-that’s a thing?

 

Song: Ikk’ at forstå ironi, det’ Brian

Colleague: Understanding irony – that’s Brian

Me: Well done Brian.

 

Song: Ansigts-tattoo på en pige, det’ helt Brian

Colleague: A girl’s face with a tattoo on it – that’s completely Brian

Me: Maybe it’s a pretty flower?

 

Song: Er det Brian? Ja, det’ Brian. Hvor Brian er det? Det’ helt Brian

Er det Brian? Ja, det’ Brian. Hvor Brian er det? Det’ helt Brian

Colleague: Is it Brian? Yes, it’s Brian. Where’s Brian? It’s definitely Brian.

Is it Brian? Yes, it’s Brian. Where’s Brian? It’s definitely Brian

Me: I got you Brian! Note to self: don’t order pineapple and ham pizza in public.

 

Settling in level two – you’ve been fun, sometimes challenging, mainly eventful. Now time to ease back, enjoy the sun….and get ready to enrol on our Danish language courses!

Following on from my post about the house we’re staying in; this post is about the area.

It’s called Amager. Amager West to be more specific. It’s a little island to the south of Copenhagen, where the airport is based. But it doesn’t feel like an island because it connects to central Copenhagen by bridge which you can cycle, walk, drive across and the metro takes you to the city centre in 10 minutes. From getting to know more locals in Copenhagen, I’ve learnt that Amager has had a hard time of it in terms of shrugging off a poor reputation. Someone I work with said its nickname is ‘sh*t island.’ Poor Amager. But I’ve also learnt that Danes have high standards. Their version of rough, is Sheffield’s upper-end.  There’s even a beach here. So, Amager – I like you. I admit, there’s not a lot to do and see in our immediate surrounding area but what is unique about where we live, is that it’s part of a haveforeninger.

There isn’t an exact translation for haveforeninger in English but it’s pretty much like a large-scale allotment. There are rows and rows of lanes, and either side is a plot of land. Instead of a shed within the garden plot, there are houses. These used to be used for summer residences only, which is why they look and feel like summer houses (this reminds me of my grandparent’s summer house on Rømø, which makes it feel familiar). In 2008 the whole area was legalised, so that all the houses could be used as permanent places to live. Each allotment community has a playground in the middle, along with a parking area. It means that in the Spring/Summer, the children all come out to play in the central area and ride their bikes up and down the lanes. There is a real sense of community about it, which is lovely. When it was Fastelavn, people came out to celebrate in each allotment square and you got a sense that everyone knew each other. They clocked straight away, we were the English family staying for two months.

 

Making use of Lydia's adorable jacket bought by her stylish aunt Hannah, before the warm weather kicks in!

 

Our local playground

 

The Danes like their flag. There are quite a few scattered around the 'allotments.' They are raised for special occasions like birthdays and festivals.

You also notice, walking around here that they like their Danish flag. From having Danish family, I know the importance of the national flag. It’s not unusual to have a flag pole in your back garden in Denmark and on special family occasions and festivals like birthdays, weddings, Fastelavn, the flag is raised. Our first ever family visit to Denmark was during my older sister’s 10th birthday. My uncle raised the Danish flag in his garden to mark the day. See retro 1992 pic below!

The Danish flag being raised for my sister's birthday in 1992. This is my Danish uncle and younger brother and sister.

Back to the post about our area of Amager… It’s quite hard to show the scale of the haveforeningen –  without a drone anyway.  Cue Rich, “you are not using your blog as a reason to buy a drone!” The second idea I had was to put a Go-Pro on my head while I cycled around. But I don’t own a Go-Pro and it’s not up there on our list of priorities right now. So I attempted cycling with one hand, while filming with the other. I put a rough edit of it together and showed it to Rich. He laughed. Maybe I’ll try again before we move to our new apartmnet but for now, I’ll leave at this. Happy weekend everyone.x

 

Our first experience of renting in Copenhagen has been nothing but positive, thanks to the owners of the house we’re staying in and its design. They have gone travelling around Bali for two months and have kindly left everything for us to use. Rather than ramble on about how nice it looks, I thought I’d ask our landlords about the inspiration behind their beautiful home. Not only are they lovely people who agreed to help me with this post, they are also architects, so they know what they’re talking about.

Which Danish designers inspire you?

We are not inspired by any particular Danish designers, but more by a general Nordic architectural tradition based on concepts as light, minimalism and functionalism. We moved some walls and made a new kitchen in order to create one main living space with large windows towards south. We find the daylight important, especially during winter, when it is very sparse.

When the house is rather small, it is important to have one large open space, it makes the house seem bigger. Is does not matter to us if the secondary rooms are small as long as we have one large airy living space.

Have you got any typical Danish pieces in the house?

We do not own any real Danish classics. 🙂 It is a mixture of old, new, second hand, inherited and self made. As long as it has a certain quality to it, we do not care who made it.

The leather chair is an Argentinian classic called The Bat Chair. Our version is a Danish reinterpretation by OX Denmarq.

What three words would you use, to sum up Danish interior style?

Modernism, second hand and furniture classics.

We create intimate spaces within larger spaces with lighting and furnishing.

What is your favourite part of the house?

The large windows and the sunlight coming through it.

 

There are quite a few small lamps rather than one main light in the house. Is this a deliberate choice and is it part of a hygge lifestyle?

It is very deliberate. We use lamps for furnishing in order to create smaller spaces within a larger room. It makes the room seem bigger and more “hyggeligt”.

Did you create the desk space in the hallway?

Yes, I designed it and built it from bare sheets of birch and mdf. We wanted a small office space and it is the only place, you can close the door.

The same with the sliding doors and cabinet in the children’s room. It is made from sheets of birch, and the idea was to keep the room close to the living space, so the children feel comfortable, and don’t take all the toys into the living room. However, it is still possible to close it, when they have to sleep.

I made the kitchen as well, where the kitchen table is made from pieces of oak that goes all the way to the floor in one movement.

It is these details that have made living here so enjoyable. I love this art work, painted by the owner’s mother. The artistic eye runs in the family!

Thank you for having us to stay. It’s been the perfect launch pad into Danish living. We will be sad to leave at the end of the month!

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Happy pancake day everyone!

We have enjoyed our usual style of slightly shrivelled-looking homemade pancakes this evening, topped with a standard lemon and sugar coating.

But on Sunday we embraced the Danish version of pancake day celebrations, which is Fastelavn.

The Fastelavn leaflet through our mailbox

After getting a leaflet through our mailbox, I thought we’d been invited to someone’s birthday party. Google translate left me a little confused so I asked our neighbours if they’d been invited too and that’s when they explained Fastelavn to us. My Danish family then told me more and showed me this photo.

Taken by a family photographer friend Susanne Mertz in Christianshavn, circa 2000.

Fastelavn (pronounced Faste-a-loun) is celebrated in Denmark every year on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday. Some call it a Nordic Halloween. Children dress up, but unlike Halloween, they don’t have to be scary. In fact, there are no limits when it comes to costumes (a blessing or a curse to parents!). At our local event, the costumes varied from fairies, a bunch of grapes, to a loo, complete with a loo-roll holder arm.

Once they’re all gathered in their finery, the children form an orderly queue and take it in turns to hit a large barrel. It’s similar to piñata, but is called “slå katten af tønden,” which means “hit the cat out of the barrel.” Apparently, back in the day, a cat would be placed in the barrel and the barrel hit with a stick until the cat escaped. The cat was then chased out of the town, with the idea it was taking bad luck away with it. Cats are spared this ordeal nowadays, although I think I’d be the one more terrified at waiting for the stick-bashing moment the cat escaped, alarmed, angry and with claws at the ready. I’m so scared of cats, I once caused Rich to jump out of bed to my rescue, when he heard me scream outside our front door after a late shift. I’d seen a cat and it was staring at me.

So…luckily, no cats involved in Fastelavn anymore, except for a drawing on the barrel. Instead of a cat escaping, sweets fall out of the barrel, hurrah! The child who successfully frees the sweets, is named the Queen of Cats. The child who takes down the last piece of barrel, is named King of Cats. What’s left, is a bit of a mess on the floor. Lydia isn’t old enough to have a go at hitting the barrel, or eat sweets, so she toddled over to the aftermath and stared. Being an under-age Festalavn partaker also meant I got away without dressing her up. Next year may be different…Lyddie Loo?!

'Slå katten af tønden' leftovers.

After barrel hitting is complete, some children then go around their neighbours knocking on doors for sweets or money. In our area, they had a little community party instead.

Fastelavn also involves food. A typical Fastelavn treat is a sweet roll covered in icing and filled with cream. These are sold in shops in the run-up to the day. I’m not sure how I missed this but I did (sad face).

Lucky I had my shrivelled up pancake instead.