Personal Reflections on London and Denmark

IMG_1326I recorded a few podcasts about our trip that will post over the next few weeks.  The first one is located here.  But since the podcasts are meant to educate listeners about travel, it is hard to include the feelings I have about our trip.  So, this post is an extra one about my impressions and reflections.

My goals when I planned this trip were:

  • Show my kids the places I have lived and loved
  • Introduce them to other cultures and people
  • Allow them to experience life in another country–not just see the sights
  • Expose them to the people and places that changed history
  • Get closer to them and help them get closer to each other

Preparing the Invasion  Having lived in both London and in Odense, Denmark, I thought it would be easy to take the kids to these cities and feel comfortable in them. After all, I had spent significant time in both places.  But, I have to admit, two days before the trip, I had an overwhelming panic attack. Did Patton have that feeling before the invasion on D Day?   What was I thinking taking my kids across the world?  What about terrorists and so forth? What if we got separated?  What if, what if, what if?

I had done so much planning and strategizing.  I had an plan that would make both General Patton and Rick Steves envious.  I knew what sights were in the same area and how to get to them.  I knew how much time we needed for transportation and with the help of Google Street View, I knew details about the neighborhood we stayed in.

To calm myself, I reviewed my plan over again and plugged every detail into my phone.  It made me feel better. Until we landed.

Places I Lived and Loved: London  I thought it would be a great idea to take the Heathrow Express Train into London.  It was faster than a cab and much cheaper.  We flew Carry-on only with Backpacks and rolling bags so it was supposed to be simple.  Not so much.  But, we found our way to the Train and into the City. Google Maps is the trip planner’s best friend.  It gave me timetables and options for the Tube as well as Street Views so I knew how to walk from the Tube Station to our Flat–right to the door which was behind the building.  Phew.

IMG_1118IMG_1115When we reached the flat, it wasn’t quite ready.  Lucky for us, the best fish and chips shop in London was literally right across the street.  Never having been in a tiny fish and chips shop, the kids were overwhelmed with the fast pace.  They both opted for the Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas.  Mushy Peas did not go over well.  They are kind of like pea soup without the soup.  Not too bad if you added a bit of salt and pepper and ham.  The kids also got fizzys–that is what the Brits call sodas.  We sat on the street watching the hustle and bustle around us. Being from a quiet town, this was an experience for all the senses. Big cities move at a fast pace.

After dinner, we had a few hours to kill before bedtime and the kids opted for a trip to Oxford Street–the famed shopping street.  It has changed since my time in London over 20 years ago.  The more posh stores have been replaced with H&M and Primark and many American stores.  Maybe for the Brits, this is great but it was a bit disappointing for us.  However, we did join the masses of Londoners in Primark and buy a few things we needed as well as a few cheap souvenirs.

Lulu and the Loo Then, came the reoccurring problem we experienced the entire trip: Lulu needing the use Loo. She must have the tiniest bladder of any human being and the worst timing too.  Just after we leave a place with a free toilet, she needs to go.  REALLY BAD.

NOTE:  According to Bob the Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, you can’t call it a bathroom or restroom in England because, as he was quick to point out, you don’t take a bath there and you don’t rest there.  So we spent the rest of our trip not trying to trip over our tongues when we said, “Where’s the toilet.”  Sounds so vulgar to my prissy American ears. 

Thank goodness for the Golden Arches and Starbucks. They saved our bacon more than once.  By the end of our 2-week trip, we finally remembered to go to the toilet before leaving any location with a free toilet.  I really should have taken pictures in each Loo.  I could have started a new blog rating them.  I think my favorite was the toilet at the Tower Bridge.  It could have been in a designer magazine. Marble countertops and gleaming faucets, modern toilets and excellent lighting.

IMG_1873The funniest Lulu/Loo experiences we had were in Denmark. The first public toilet in Copenhagen is in the Round Tower.  We had discussed this building during our family home evening prep for the trip.  Dad had explained that the Tower had a chute that people pooped into. After a few years, it got so filled up that they had to clean it out.  We joked that it was a Crap Shoot as to who got that job.  Anyway, we found the Toilet in the Tower. And guess what they built right next to it?  A modern toilet.  We had a great laugh and a few photo moments and thought fondly of Dad who wasn’t with us to see it  Ah, Shoot!

IMG_2088Then, we found this sign for the toilet at a Danish castle called Egeskov.   Conde Naste Travel Magazine voted it one of the most beautiful places in Europe and they were not kidding.  But the sense of humor and the family charm well exceed anything in any other castle in Europe.  It really was the best castle experience I have ever had.  More about the castle itself later.

Meeting the Rainbow of Humanity London truly is the most ethnically diverse city I have ever seen.  The first time I visited London in 1981, it wasn’t that way but today, you see people from every continent, every country, every ethnicity, every religion.  We live in a pretty homogenous part of the US.  But in our small part of the world, we have diversity.  On my street, there are families from five different countries and our kids go to school with a diverse ethnic group (very surprising for Utah Valley). But I am not sure we were prepared for the array of languages, clothing, and beautiful faces we met on the Underground.

From Burkhas to belly-piercings, the array of ways people dressed was incredible.   We heard different languages everywhere we went.  Some I recognized: Russian (of course), Czech, Spanish, German, French, Danish, Swedish, Hindi, Arabic, Swahili,  Chinese, Japanese and of course American (the really loud people on the Tube).

IMG_1222Alex had an assignment to meet and talk with local people.  That was a great experience for us to learn more about London and its people.  The woman who let us into the flat had recently arrived from the Czech Republic told us a bit about her reasons for moving to London. The guard at the British Museum, Kenneth, explained what it was like to live in London and his decision to move to a suburb so his kids would have better schools. A woman making bracelets from tires at the Greenwich Market explained that she had come to London from Hungary for a better, more vibrant life. Gary at the skate park discussed politics, religion, and travel with us. And Edward, our archeologist guide to Stonehenge explained about his life as an archeologist and his new assignment to write curriculum for British schools teaching the kids about their own pre-history.  These are some of the things my kids will remember most.

When you meet the SEA of humanity and SEE that they are not to be feared and that you have more in common with them than you have differences, you gain a different view of the world and its problems.  If we all understood how interconnected we really are, it would help end the violence.

Experiencing Other Countries One reason I wanted to rent a flat was so that the kids got the feel for what it is like to LIVE in London.  Our Danish cousin working in England, came to London to visit us.  IMG_1310Maria gave the kids a perspective on their experience.  For the kids, the flat was a tiny, cramped space.  It was smaller than 1/6 of our home.  But when Maria came in, she was so impressed with the size and told the kids that it was huge for a London flat.  Going to the grocery store was also an adventure.  Seeing different foods, the small size of the store and even having to pay for the plastic bags was eye-opening.

Alex has always thought he wanted to live in a big city with public transportation and bustling life.  He enjoyed London very much.  He told me it was his favorite city and he was going to move there.  Then, we went to Copenhagen and his favorite city quickly changed. The day we were in Copenhagen was unusually hot (we were not dressed for that having come from rainy London). In the Danish fashion, the short skirts came out to celebrate the weather.  Danish women are very pretty and Alex enjoyed the view.

In the end though, he kissed the ground when we reached home and said that he loved home most.  I did the same thing after my first trip in 1981.  Then, I went back again and again and eventually moved to Odense and then to London and Moscow.  Maybe he does have the world traveler/citizen of the world gene in him. I’d live in another country in a heartbeat.

Making History/Living History In Europe, just about everything you see is older than just about anything in the United States–much of it older than the country itself. Especially in London. Starting with William the Conqueror in 1066 and his fortress that turned into the Tower of London where all those beautiful ladies lost their necks to St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster and all the Victorian edifices build by the most industrious queen, London is awash in historic buildings mixed with the modern.  There are plaques on even seemingly normal buildings telling you of the famous people who lived there or the important events that took place there.

When we visited Salisbury Cathedral, we saw the Magna Carta written in 1215 which limited the power of the king and which is considered a founding document for modern democracy.  While viewing it, an American woman next to me turned to the docent and said in a Texas accent (and I am not kidding or exaggerating), “Well, this is older than our country!” I could not help myself and replied, “This document is one of the reasons why we have our country.” I wanted to say that the floor she was standing on, the cathedral she was in, the town she was located at and even the dirt she kicked as she walked was older than our country.

IMG_1707Speaking of Old, one of the most fascinating things we did was to take a tour to Stonehenge with an archeologist.  I let the kids choose what they wanted to visit outside London for a day excursion and they chose Stonehenge.  There are several tour companies taking sight-seers to Stonehenge, but I wanted more than a distant glimpse of some big rocks (you can’t get up close and personal like I did in 1981). So, we went on a tour with Edward from Tours from Antiquity.  Edward spent the time it took to drive to Stonehenge as well as other henges and Salisbury explaining the Pre-History of the area. His research dates human activities back to 5000 BC and he explained the types of cultures creating henges all over the countryside.  I learned more in 20 minutes with Edward than I had learned the previous three times I had visited Stonehenge.

Note: If you are ever at a cocktail party and someone begins to discuss the Druids and Stonehenge, you can let them know that the Druids were about 3000 years too late to the Stonehenge Party.  And there is no evidence for aliens even though I kept trying to get Edward to confess that there was–especially when I saw the crop circle in the field nearby.  He tried to tell me that it was just a farmer turning his tractor around, but those of us who grew up near Area 51 know better.  Diverging question:  Why are they called cocktails anyway? Well the answer to that is also almost older than the US. 

IMG_1231In our time machine, we went back in time and visited many amazing sites and met with incredible people who changed the world.  Bill and Ted would have been proud of our most excellent adventure.  At the British Museum, we saw the Rosetta Stone written in 196 BC and used in the 1800s to understand hieroglyphic writing.  We visited the Parthenon by viewing the friezes from its facade.The friezes are called Elgin’s Marbles because Lord Elgin, a lover of all thing Greek, found them laying around on the ground and loaded them in his ship in the 1800s and brought them back to London.  They served as dual purpose as balast for his ship.  We viewed Egyptian mummies and fist bumped with Amenhotep III.

IMG_1580We learned about British kings and queens: how they lived, loved and died.  The Tower of London was an incredible journey back in the bloody history of London–the battle fought by William the Conqueror, the prison for the famous and infamous and the location that for so many beautiful necks to lose their heads.  The Tower is now besieged only by tourists.  I guess it is arguable which raging horde is worse–the invading Normans or the invading Tourists.

For me, one of the most important historical figures we met was Winston Churchill.  The War Rooms where Churchill and his generals strategized the battles against Nazi oppression are now open for everyone to see.  These rooms located in a bunker under a government building in Whitehall remained virtually untouched for decades until they were turned into a museum in the 1980s.  When I lived in London, I had never heard of the museum.  For a student of history, the War Rooms were a tactile journey back in time.  Seeing the map where the battles were planned and troop positions recorded was incredible as was listening to the speech Churchill gave to the British people while standing at the table where he gave the speech on the BBC.

But all history and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  So, some history has to be experienced in a fun atmosphere.  The Medieval Banquet in London was a fun romp back to the gastronomical lives of kings and queens.  Complete with jesters, knights and wenches, the evening was pure fun.  Pounding the table, singing Hey Nonny Nonny, and calling out Ho Wench were so much fun.

IMG_2141The other fun romp in history was in Denmark at Egeskov castle.  Touring the castle itself takes about 30 minutes at kid speed and about 2-3 hours at adult speed. But we spent the entire day there with our Danish cousins enjoying the amazing grounds with a zip line, a tree walk, bungie jungle gyms, hedge mazes, secret alcoves, music gardens, automobile and motorcycle museums and (wait for it) Segway Jousting! Not even kidding–maybe exaggerating.  The kids rode their trusty Segway steeds through the course.  Alex got fancy with his ride. Check it out.  Besides all the fun, the view at Egeskov is incredible.  Built in the middle of a lake on the oak timbers of an entire forest, Egeskov has the ultimate moat.  I could not take a bad picture that day.

IMG_2007Places I Lived and Loved: Odense Growing up as an only child was lonely so my mom decided to have an exchange student come live with us.  Lene was from Denmark and was also an only child.  We became very close during the year she lived with us so I decided to live with her for a year after high school graduation.  Her parents, Hans and Hanne, opened their home to me.  Going back to Odense was a real mental time warp.

Not much changes in Denmark. Everything looked the same as it did 30 years ago.  Taking my kids to the house I lived in, the school I went to and the city streets I walked was fun. Attending Church with people I had know 30 years ago was incredible.  And beginning to remember my Danish was a real brain-bender.

IMG_1948Odense is the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen but it is also the birthplace of some of my greatest adventures and fondest memories.  It might not be as exciting as London in terms of sights to see but it is filled with great memories and family that I love.  We are so close that we are sisters by choice if not by blood and our children are as close as they would be if they were really cousins.  That is the great gift I received in Odense.

Getting Closer My biggest hope after being safe IMG_2644was that my kids would grow closer to each other and to me.  I think we achieved that.  Before we left, we talked about how we had to be a team while we traveled and watch out for each other.  We talked about how we needed to put our petty differences aside and not allow the tiny annoyances to ruin the experience.  The kids were great!  They didn’t fight the entire trip (besides a few minor scuffles) and we all got to be together in a place where we had to stick together.  Even though Alex would not let me say it out loud, we were the Three Musketeers. I loved watching my kids open their eyes to the big world, to take in history, to understand their place in the sea of humanity.

IMG_2671We did not only get closer to each other but we also got closer to our Danish family.  It was the highlight of the trip to spend 5 days with Lene and Kurt and their amazing kids.  It would not have mattered what we did in Odense.  Just being together with them was everything wonderful and then some.  Our kids just love every minute together. It was fun to see Alex having his hair braided by his older girl cousins.  It was fun to see Anna learn to play football (yes–soccer) with her cousin even thought she got the mother of all grass stains on her new pants.  It was amazing to see Hanne again and go back to the house I lived in the 30 years ago.

I was also able to reunite with our other Danish exchange students, Steen and Kim.  Thanks to Kurt, we drove to Arhus and met them and their families and enjoyed an amazing day just being together.  In 3 seconds, 30 years of time melted away and it seemed like we had talked only yesterday.  The day weIMG_2393spent together was actually the day Steen and I had graduated from Western High School 30 years earlier.  Kind of poetic.  I loved their wives and their kids and they loved my kids too.  I can’t wait until they visit us in the States.

What Does it All Add Up To?  You travel to see new places–or old places as it turns out.  But in the end what you really take home with you are the people you meet and the time you share together.  Travel is about getting to know yourself and others in the context of a different environment. It’s about reuniting with friends and making new ones.  It’s about returning to places you lived when you were a different person and introducing your kids to your past self. It’s about riding a bike and playing a game of SKATE with a famous person you didn’t even know was famous. It’s about getting to celebrate your 10thIMG_2600birthday in Denmark with your family singing to you in Danish.  It’s about tasting chocolate from four countries, sharing your favorite cookie (Hob Nobs) and your favorite pastry (brunsviger) and trying liver pate for the first time. It’s about banging on tables and drinking a soda in a pub in the middle of an ancient henge circle.  It’s about leaving the comfort of your routine to enlarge your view of the world.

And even then, you can’t explain what happens to you when you travel.  It’s all that and so much more.  No travel log can describe the feelings I have after this trip. People ask me if I had a great trip.  Of course, I answer that it was wonderful.  Then they want me to tell them about it.  I can describe some of the places and some of the experiences, but I can’t put into words the feeling and the change that was wrought in me and my kids and in our relationship with each other and the world.  That is the souvenir I bring home.

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Worth a Thousand Words and Better than Mine

LONDON

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DENMARK

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