I am going to go full American on you for a minute. Or two. Bear with me. But it’s Saint Patrick’s Day today. And with 32.3 million¹ self-proclaimed Irish-Americans, myself included, it’s a fun day to do so. That’s 1 in 10 Americans people. But wait. Isn’t St. Patrick’s Day Irish? Like from IRELAND. Yes. Yes. It is. Did you see what I did there? Claimed it for my own? Pretty American eh? Hang on. Don’t be offended yet. Let me explain. I have learned a few things living abroad.
Growing up, Saint Patrick’s Day was a pretty big deal in our family. My given name is Erin Kathleen. Kind of Irish. My brother is Michael Shannon and my other brother is Colin Patrick. We had an Irish Setter named “Paddy” growing up. And as cliche, groan-worthy, or just downright confusing as it may sound to actual Irish people, every year on March 17th my mom made corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, and a side of green jello salad. I now know how Irish-American that meal is. Especially the lime jello. There was nothing grown from the earth in that “salad,” just saying. My own children made leprechaun traps at school and my sister-in-law puts green food coloring in the toilet as “evidence” of their sneaky appearance overnight. Think of it as the “Elf on the Shelf” of March. Thanks, Pinterest. March 17th is a big day. To us Irish-Americans. “Kiss me, I’m Irish.” Continue reading “Happy St. Patrick’s Day from this American Mutt”→
Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Denmark. There is no time off work. The kids get no break from school. We will not be traveling anywhere. Unless you count my husband’s day trip across Denmark to a meeting in Aarhus, delivering him back home late. My eldest son was busy delivering pizzas. The youngest had studies for a spelling test today. It was a regular day here in Denmark. It was Thursday. Torsdag to the Danes.
But that is ok. Full turkeys are hard to come by. If you do find one, it may cost you a pretty penny. Or plenty of kroner. Probably both. And good luck finding a Russet or a Yukon gold. There is some crazy nut tax that makes pecan use prohibitive or down right luxurious depending on your position and wallet. Canned pumpkin is equally overpriced and only found at the “American/British” aisle in certain grocers popular with expatriates. Maybe you have an inside source at the American Embassy. Or maybe you thought ahead and smuggled back a few cans of Libby’s and the requisite evaporated milk.
Most everything else you can find for your traditional recipes that you may or may not have printed, preserved and packed over the border with you when you passed. But, I didn’t make them yesterday. It’s ok. We’ll do it tomorrow. When we have time and can tune in some American college football via the old rabbit ears of streaming internet with VPN hiders. Yep. We may even head to the nearby park and toss the pigskin around. The football. Not the futbol. The football. It’s brown. And has laces. At least ours does. At Thanksgiving.
And while it may not be traditional or specifically timely, thankful we are. Grateful that we can. We miss family and friends celebrating afar, especially on days like Thanksgiving. But we are grateful that we have had this opportunity to explore this life across borders. Over here in Denmark. These are some of the things that I’m thankful for. Things that make this our Danish life.
Last night we celebrated an authentically Danish Halloween. That statement alone may seem controversial to some. Do Danes even do Halloween? Why yes. Yes they do. But Danes fall on two sides of the fence when it comes to the prevalence of what they see as a very American holiday. Some embrace it full on, while others ignore it, or worse, admonish the obvious escalation in adoption of the holiday here. We have witnessed an increase in participation, just in the two years that we have lived in Copenhagen. More jack-o-lanterns gleaming from windows and restaurant perches. Orange and black decorations in shops and on the street. Pumpkins for sale for the entire month of October.
And for what it is worth, last night’s Halloween was definitively Danish. How so? Let me share. First of all we took our daughter to a Danish neighborhood. One of the cutest neighborhoods in Copenhagen if you ask me. Trick or treating in apartment blocks where we live proves a challenge. What bell to ring and which floor to traipse to? Hard to know in a town that only partially celebrates. So we walked a little ways to the Kartofflerækkerne. The “potato rows.” Darling little row houses sit sandwiched along several blocks near the Lakes in Østerbro. You can find them running between Øster Søgade and Øster Farimagsgade. Each with a little fenced yard, on Halloween their gates and doors are open. Decorated with cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns and fog machines. Many sporting more haunting decor.
Madrid didn’t do it for me. Not the first time. Millions and millions of Madrileños can’t be wrong. But it didn’t make my heart sing. Not at first.
Let’s rewind. For a minute. Two years ago. Having moved my family around the world to Copenhagen, Denmark. We took a flight leaving Portland, OR to Vancouver, Canada on to Frankfurt, Germany then finally landing in Copenhagen. Capital of Denmark. That alone was exhausting. We picked up a tiny (at the time) rental car and dropped seven HUGE overstuffed overweight bags at my husband’s office. What a great first impression that was. And then, after only two days in damp, dark Denmark, we took our very first European family trip.
Flying around the world to Copenhagen
SHOVING all our goods for the next 4 months into a European “minivan.”
Why? Why did you do that? Well. We had a few weeks before my husband’s job contract was to start and the children had open spots in their new school. We had to move out of our house in Oregon because we’d already rented it to incoming Aussies. What better way to spend those gap weeks than traveling. Immediately. I know it sounds intense. (As it turns out – it was.) But this was part of the reason we took the job in Denmark to begin with. All those amazing travel opportunities.
We decided on Spain. For a week. We planned to split the week between Barcelona and Madrid. That Renfe express train between the two cities is amazeballs. You should try it. It was November. It was definitely not peak season to visit Spain. Perfect timing we decided. The weather was pleasant. Not too hot. Not too cold. Definitely warmer and brighter and lighter than the dark, near December we encountered upon landing in Denmark.
This was Spain. This was my first visit to Spain. My husband’s first trip to Spain. My childrens’ first visit to Spain. This is why I chose it. Why we chose it. I wanted our first familial foray into European exploits to be a FIRST for us all. Perhaps in retrospect, a wee bit of familiarity might have been preferable. Make our transition easier. Maybe.
Madrid is amazing. But Madrid is a metropolis. The third largest capital in Europe behind London and Berlin. Madrid is HUGE. And crowded and bustling and busy and loud and large. We were overwhelmed. Overstimulated. Exhausted. And because of this, I will admit, we were underwhelmed with the Spanish capital. Lo ciento España. I’m sorry Madrid.
We had a perfectly situated Airbnb apartment near Puerta del Sol. The epicenter of Madrid. Of Spain, really. This is kilometer zero. All mileage in Spain is calculated from this point. There is where first impressions are made. Ours ? A wary sense of outsider-ness. I don’t know how to explain it any other way.
It was different from Barcelona’s colorful, whimsical, mosaic’d and mercado’d beach vibe. Madrid hit us like a Flamenco dancer – fast and loud – clapping and stomping to a beat we couldn’t hear. We couldn’t understand.
Maybe it was the somewhat intimidating costumed characters strolling around the plaza at Puerta del Sol looking for a little pocket change in exchange for a photo op from passing tourists. Chubby spider men busting the seams of their suits; slightly tarnished Mickey and Minnie Mouses taking breaks with their “head” under their arms. But the most disturbing and definitely creepiest – was the red headed giant butcher knife wielding Chucky looming atop the fountain mid plaza. THIS is what my daughter, then 8, remembers most about Madrid. Did you see him? He was creepy.
I have to jog her memory (and mine) about the delicious chocolate con churros at world famous Chocolatería San Ginés. OH YEAH! Those were good! Can we get those again? Maybe. We’ll see. And how about that stroll through Retiro Park, listening to the live music at that outdoor cafe while boats paddled in the nearby lake? Oh yeah! That was good too. Is THAT where we had the milkshake? Yes. Yes it was.
World famous Chocolatería San Ginés, Madrid
Fall – Madrid Spain
Musicians can help make Madrid yours – Retiro Park
And how about renting bikes and riding along the canals down to Casa de Campo (a gorgeous green space/park five times the size of New York’s Central Park?) Remember we found the ropes course and climbing structure? That was MADRID? Yes. Yes it was. OH. That was cool! A little stressful I will admit as parents letting our 8 year old ride an adult sized bike in a not as bike-friendly town as our new home Copenhagen, but she did it. In spite of the hills!
The wee lass riding a bike in Madrid
Renting bikes and riding through Madrid
Madrid, Spain in Autumn
And how about that kilo of bacon we bought at the Museo del Jamon? HAHAHAHA! Group chuckle inducing memory jog. Having just moved to Europe and not yet used to metric weight system, I ordered one kilo of bacon. It seemed reasonable at the time. There are five us and three are growing children. As we watched him slice and slice and slice….and SLICE. And. SLICE. And keep slicing. We soon realized we’d made a critical error. OH. Kilos. Got it. (For those of you – who like me – didn’t get the conversion immediately – one kilo of bacon is exactly 2.2 pounds of bacon.) Yep. I cooked that bacon for an hour. Couldn’t take raw bacon home to Denmark you know. I will admit – although I couldn’t shake that animal fat smell for days – it was delicious.
So many fun memories when we sit and think about it. So why then the ho-hum response when we look back at Madrid on our list of places visited? Timing. Bad timing. Unfortunately I think our collective familial state of shock that we had actually packed up all our earthly goods, sold off half, put some on a ship and stored the rest in my mother’s attic and shlepped ourselves AROUND THE WORLD – before even establishing ourselves in our new home just MIGHT have had a little to do with it.
When my husband had an opportunity to travel back to Madrid for work, at first I wasn’t interested. Too many other places to see. Don’t need a repeat. But I am SO GLAD I did. Two years later. This September. I will be happy to show you how I made Madrid mine. More intimate. More accessible. More approachable.
How do you make a huge city feel less intimidating? More like yours? I’ve got ways. Now. I’ve had to learn. Ways we have made it work in the past two years. I’m happy to share. I’d like to hear yours. Madrid is mine part II to follow. Stay tuned. Memories help – a place looks better in retrospect sometimes. Look at all those things we did. We are grateful. That matters. It helps make a place like Madrid ours.
Cheers from Copenhagen, xoxo Erin
Pescatoria at the Mercado Anton Martin – such a nice fish seller who helped us in our VERY limited spanish! LOOK AT THAT KNIFE!
The art exhibit at Palacio de Cristal, mid Madrid in Retiro Park didn’t help with our sense of dislocation.
Retiro Park in Fall, Madrid Spain
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Sharing with Faraway Files Travel Blog Community – a link up hosted by Katy at Untold Morsels, Clare at Suitcases and Sandcastles and me – Oregon Girl Around the World. Click the badge to add your own post or come over and read where to travel next! Cheers, Erin
This list is for you. This list is also for those who know someone who moved around the world. You may not know these questions, but we do. We hear them ALL THE TIME. Ok, ok. Maybe a little dramatic. But not really an exaggeration.
These are truly the most commonly asked questions that you will constantly be asked after moving abroad. For as long as you are abroad. There is no statute of limitations for the consistency of these questions. Unless you choose to stop meeting new people altogether. And what fun is that? The more the merrier I say. You never know what spark might be alit until meeting that new person. But I warn you. Before that fire can be sparked, you will have to run the gauntlet of the following questions. It’s a ritual. A never-ending expatriate* ritual.
TOP THREE QUESTIONS YOU ASK A NEW PERSON YOU MEET IN COPENHAGEN: