Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A tour of the botanical greenhouses of Aarhus Universitet

The University International Club hosted a fun outing to see the newly renovated greenhouses on campus today, so the boys and I went.  It is truly beautiful place.  My favorite was a large dome that housed waterlilies, piranha, catfish, butterflies, huge palms, and orchids. The boys were enamoured of the venus fly traps, pitcher plants, and sundews and delighted in watching a trap close around one of their fingers.



A 36-foot egg drop and many silly videos later

Aditya was prancing around the living room three days ago and managed to injure his toe on a coffee table, so, while Suresh was away at a conference in Italy, I grounded us for three days to give the toe a chance to heal. (Thanks to all our family and friends who sent in get-well wishes and notes of concern ... you'll see in a later video that Aditya is now running around and is just fine).

The problem was this: we have no toys here in our apartment, so in an attempt to amuse the children, I said off-handedly at dinner, "Who wants to do an egg drop from our balcony tomorrow?" We live on the fourth floor of an apartment building and I thought it would be a perfect place to try out this kind of project - dramatic enough to keep the kids' interest.

The boys' expressions said it all. They were IN.  They were so excited that, unbeknownst to me, they stayed up together past their bed time creating a list of materials they would need for the egg drop in the morning.  The next morning they presented me with a list:

aluminum foil
packing peanuts
bubble wrap

Laughingly, I told them we'd go to the nearby grocery store and only use stuff we could find there as well as any items we could recycle from home.

We ended up with:

scrubbing sponges
rubber bands
a cardboard box
plastic straws
aluminum foil
wooden clothespins
an empty plastic bottle
paper plates
a broken bungee cord

 The boys were very excited.  They got to work.  They were so worried about the eggs breaking that I boiled a couple so they could run some prototypes first, dropping contraptions from about 10 feet instead of 36. I gave them very little input and guidance about design, wanting to know what they'd come up with themselves. Rohan favored balloons and sponge padding. Aditya entertained ideas involving bungee cord armor, balloons, parachutes, packing material made of straw pieces, and paper airplanes.  It took us two days of trial and error to finally get to the point where the boys were willing to try their contraptions with a raw egg from our balcony railing, which I measured using string and a ruler to be about 36 feet of the ground.

Here are both boys explaining their final contraptions. You can see the Aditya was so intent on finishing his project today he didn't bother to get out of his robe for the video.

Here's what happened:  Rohan went first.

We nervously unwrapped his egg.

Then it was Aditya's turn. The contraption came apart half way down.

Oh, the suspense!

Aditya's victory lap: no toe problems here!

I think we can be officially freed from house arrest to go out on the toe and have more wide-ranging adventures. Tenants living below us can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A birthday, a music video, and an attempt to channel a deer

Suresh's birthday!

Suresh's bike sported a pink balloon on which was written, "HAPPY BRTHDAY PAPA" by Rohan:

I was impressed that the balloon stayed on the bike through Papa's ride to get a haircut and back, and on throughout the entire 14km bike ride that then followed.

In the morning were decorations and cake:

and a special lunch out at Kähler Spisesalon to have New Nordic cuisine. The famous Danish smørrebrød translates, with some irony, as "bread and butter," but is, in actuality, delicious open faced sandwiches on hefty rye bread with fancy ingredients, such as smoked mackerel, chives, remoulade, potatoes, pancetta, poached egg, grasswort, gurkens, capers, tomatoes, and fish roe, piled on top.

Kähler's claim to fame is that it is a 175-year old Danish ceramics company whose clean, rustic style dominates the Danish ceramic industry. All the food in the restaurant is served on Kähler-ware, and according to the menu, the company takes great pride in making "ceramics you can taste," and in carefully choosing ware that complements the food. 

We then went on a beautiful bike ride along the harbor to Thor's Forest. Much of the scenery looked like this:

and this:

A short diversion into the Marselisborg woods took us to Aarhus Deer Park, a sanctuary for sika and roe deer and wild boar.  The deer are entirely tame and approachable; the boys got to pet them. They seemed entirely used to humans and completely at ease with our visiting them up close.

All these deer brought memories of the great number of white-tailed deer that we saw in our neighborhood in Berkeley, and in particular the pair of deer we saw one night on the street where we lived. It was night-time, and as they moseyed away from our car's headlights, Rohan giggled and said that the only thing he could see were their behinds.  This tickled both boys no end, as, yes, they are going through that phase. (Someone please tell me it ends soon and doesn't last through adulthood!) Aditya then composed a poem about this vision of the deer that went like this:

There is deer by the pair,
There is deer by the pair,
And the only thing they do is stick their butts in the air.

And if you don't like it,
We don't care,
'Cause the only thing they do is stick their butts in the air.

They're so proud
That you're cheering so loud,
'Cause the only thing they do is stick their butts in the air.

When the moon shines bright,
They go to their lair,
And when they're sleeping tight,
They stick their butts in the air.

All those deer in the Marselisborg Deer Park just happened to be the perfect setting for the music video version, he decided.

Rohan, meanwhile, was attempting to communicate with the deer in their language.  He found one young buck who did an impressive throat rumble.  I had no idea that this is the sound that deer make.

And here is Rohan, thus inspired:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Walking among giants

We attended the Aarhus Sandskulptur Festival today at Marselisborg Lystbådehavn in Tangkrogen. It was a 12km bike ride round trip, and the boys did great!

The theme of all the amazing sculptures was, "Land of the Giants," and so featured some famous giants like Goliath, and the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk.  It was a very foggy day by the bay, so the huge sand sculptures took on a mystical appearance as they were enshrouded in mist.  Pretty neat effect.

And of course, no Danish festival would be complete without a giant mermaid ...

Monday, May 19, 2014

By bike and bus

The kids are really, really jazzed about not having a car, and about having to get everywhere by bike or bus. As a professional worrier and plain old mom, I do not share this enthusiasm, particularly because the younger one is not a steady biker.  But, I do relish the thought of getting them out every day into the fresh air for exercise and exploration, and I know my anxieties are not necessarily what I'd wish to pass on to them. So out we went into the Danish sunshine.

Here's what we've managed to achieve so far with minimal injuries (mainly bikes falling over on the boys and scraping their legs) and minimal hair graying or loss (mine, of course).

For biking practice, we biked around and around Aarhus Universitet's beautiful campus lake today. We saw fish in the lake, mallard ducks on the water, and overheard a lot of English being spoken amongst students and teachers going to their various classes.  I declared victory when, by lunchtime, neither of our sons had a) fallen into the lake, b) demanded that he be allowed to swim in the lake, and/or c) collided his bike with the ride-on lawnmower that was careening around the grounds at a rather alarming clip.

While we were meandering around in search of a restroom after lunch, I saw a skeleton of a large rodent in one of the campus building windows and, thinking I might be able to strike up a conversation with the skeleton's owner, made a beeline for the entrance.  I'm sure that it's because I'm a former student of zoologist, geneticist, and developmental biologist Michael Akam of Cambridge that I can sniff out a zoological museum a mile away.  And, indeed, the building turned out to be the university's Natural History Museum.

Ah, home away from home. :)

Birds of fashion

My beloved sunfish

Rohan and the sperm whale skeleton

Biodiversity display of butterflies

An entire room full of avian eggs

Aditya wonders whether he is as large as a Komodo dragon

And by bus, we were able to see the Aarhus cathedral, tallest and longest church in all of Denmark:
The church organ, taken especially for Coleen James

A hushed request to see the bell tower got us entrance to a winding staircase of 131 steps ...

... which ended here, with the bells ...

... and a splendid view of Aarhus. Perhaps not having a car isn't so bad after all.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Where in the world is Whisper?

Photo credit: Cristina Might

Whisper is with my dear friend Cristina and Cristina's lovely family in Salt Lake City, living the good life.  We drove her back from Berkeley so that she, along with both our cars, could stay in Salt Lake while we embark on our European adventure.  Although she travels well (she adopted us in Philadelphia, travelled by plane with us to Salt Lake, and then by car with us to Berkeley and back), we did not particularly relish the thought of putting her through a month-long European quarantine before she'd be able to join us.  So instead she's being given the royal treatment in her own hometown.  She's being especially pampered by Cristina's daughter Victoria, who just turned three and is very sweet and loving toward Whisper.

 I've told Cristina to make sure she tells Whisper not to get too used to such luxurious treatment. Already I am concerned about prying her from that furry pillow thing Whisper has already ousted from their resident dog Penny.

Doing as the Danes Do

It's our fourth day in Denmark, and we're basically over jetlag.  Today, Friday the 16th of May, also falls on a national holiday known as "Bededag," or "Prayer Day," which strangely no one here, especially the Danes themselves, wish to explain.  They just translate the name of the holiday for us, throw up their hands and announce, "but we don't pray!" But the stores and restaurants close on this day, and we were warned we might not find much to eat. So, for many here, it's a day off work, and a fun start to a three-day weekend.

Moving here for three months means we have become honorary Danes. We have official government registration numbers, which qualifies us to receive government-sponsored healthcare and free Danish lessons (yippee!).  (Of course, to get a head start on this, I bought and downloaded Pimsleur's Danish lessons for my iPhone ahead of time.) So, in keeping with the spirit of things, we found out that the way Bededag is now celebrated is to buy specially made buns infused with cardamom. They look like a cross between hamburger buns and dinner rolls, and smell of cardamom but have no actual pods in the dough. In preparation for this holiday, we picked up eight of them at the grocery store yesterday and happily ate them this morning with fresh Danish butter.

We then tried out our rental bikes.  I admit that on the whole, our boys appear quite drunk, with all their giggling and falling about themselves, and while I like to think of it as being drunk on life, their bike riding is no exception. In addition, Rohan just graduated from training wheels before we left Salt Lake last August, and has not had much practice since. When he got on his slightly-too-big rental bike here in Aarhus, he wove around wildly on the grass before crash-landing in some bushes.  I had visions of him doing the same in two-lane traffic. So it was with great trepidation that I adopted and embraced another fine part of the Danish way of life:  that of biking everywhere, and of allowing our drunk-appearing children to do so as well.

What made the whole endeavor entirely possible is the fact that almost all the roads in Aarhus have generous bike lanes, separated from the road by a small curb, and from the pedestrian sidewalk by a change in pavement.  We got Rohan warmed up on the grass, and then in a deserted parking lot, and then we were off ... to Riiskov, which appeared from our map to be a nice big green patch with the promise of isolated bike paths away from actual streets. 

It was a splendid day for biking, sunny and breezy and cool. 

We started off at our apartment (marked below with a red drop pin), and walked part of the way through the city in order to reach the bike path at the entrance of Riiskov from the south.  Soon, though, the boys tired of walking and campaigned to ride.  As Rohan wove his way along city streets, he got a number of fond, encouraging looks from older passers-by, and other bikers kindly gave him a wide berth when overtaking.

Riiskov did not disappoint: it indeed was a huge green park, with splendid foliage and a wide paved bike path with separate paths for pedestrians. Things went so well in Riiskov (only one tearful encounter with the pavement on a steep downward slope) that we pushed on into the residential neighborhood the borders Riiskov on the north, and just kept going.  The trail ended on a sandy beach where people were sailing, kayaking, walking or jogging, often with their dogs. I later learned we were at a beach called Akrogen, where we could see a lot of the northeastern coast of the Jutland peninsula of Denmark.  While we stood admiring the view, a large, impressive ferry boat plowed past us to the dock in Aarhus proper several times. (Wonder where that ferry goes, and if we'll take it somewhere sometime?)

The light in Denmark is just wonderful for photography, perhaps because of its latitude or for some other reason the light falls on everything gently here, giving it the appearance of an inward glow. Here's what greeted us at Akrogen Beach.

After enjoying this beach, we retraced our path through the lovely green park of Riiskov to wind up at the "Strandbaren," a Beach Bar on Pier 4 near to Aarhus city center, which was kicking off the summer season with a beach party complete with music, beach volleyball, sand toys for kids to play with, mixed drinks, and bar snacks.  Suresh and I eased ourselves into the comfy bean bag chairs provided under the shade of an umbrella and sipped our hurricane cocktail and lime capirinha, while the boys made castles and gigantic sand pits.

If this is doing as the Danes do, then I say, "Skøål!" to it all!