Hello 2017 – please be kind to us

Happy New Year!  I hope the holidays have left you refreshed and ready to tackle the new year.New year roses2016  in the wider world was something of a tough year but to all those people breathing a sigh of relief that the year is over, we can’t kid ourselves as the decisions made in the US election and Brexit referendum will define the year we are now in even more than they did 2016. I think that for the first time in a long time the events of the world really stressed me, it felt like it was one thing after another last year and very few good. This year I need to try to take a step back and concentrate on what is close to me and what I can have an impact on.

So I’m back after a two week break from this blog however it feels a lot longer. The end of last year was hard for me in many ways and I have neglected this blog somewhat.

I have been lucky enough to be busy with Dejlige Days Welcome and some other PR consultancy work in the last quarter of the year. We also moved from our apartment into a temporary place and then we’ll move again in March to our proper new home. Whilst old hands at moving it is still time consuming and disruptive. I also made the decision to stop taking morphine for my pain and there were certainly a few Trainspotting moments (showing my age here) as I reduced the dose. So 2017 sees me clean of opioids, much more refreshed and ready to take on 2017.

I don’t believe in resolutions but I do believe in goals. It is a coincidence that my health is improving as the date changes but I am now in a position to make further health changes. I am making a green smoothie from this book to have each morning in an attempt to get lots of vitamins and also to stop my habit of a coffee and an apple tart from Andersens in the morning (if you are not trying to be healthy they are amazing and you need them in your life!). I also want to lose a little bit of weight, this is again for health reasons but also vanity. After my accident I put on a fair bit of weight and due to my medications this has been had to shift. I don’t look how I like to and so that will change too. I have been letting little health things slide in the face of a bigger health issue so these will also need to be tackled.

I have been feeling that my creative side needs more of an outlet. I am a big believer in the idea that if you want something no one else is offering then do it yourself. You may know that I am now the organiser for Craftenhagen (check our Facebook page for more info) and we have some fun, informal monthly events planned. However I am extending Craftenhagen to offer more formal taught craft and creative classes in 2017. These will be offered in English. The first one is scheduled for April. If this sounds like something you might be interested in I have a mailing list you can add your name to here.

Finally Dejlige Days Welcome. My relocation service has been growing slowly over 2016 but this year I hope to see it flourish even more. I am dedicating the first quarter of this year to this, promoting my book and my blog. I will have more news about the changes to my packages and also extensions to the current service in the next few weeks. Also be sure to like my Facebook page as I shall be sharing a lot more about news and events in the city there. I am also on Twitter and Instagram (and very active on both) in case you’d like to follow me there too.

So all that leaves me to say is here’s to 2017, treat us kinder than 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every dollar (or Kroner) spent is a vote

When I was at the opening of think.dk, there was a quote that stuck with me.

“Every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in.”

This Christmas I took this to heart. Many gifts I have bought have been from Etsy, handmade or vintage and from small businesses (where apparently an actual person does a happy dance). If I have bought a book, it has been either a very old favourite or well-chosen book that I hope the recipient will enjoy. For friends I created something they will enjoy but not clutter up the house after Christmas. My son will, as usual, hand make something for his grandparents.screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-21-05-01

This year I also gave myself a budget for charitable donations. I donated to Danske Folkehjælp Christmas fundraiser after reading this article. I also donated to Snap og Sokker, who are raising money to buy socks for homeless men in Vesterbro (read more here, their fundraiser is nearly over so don’t delay). A friend of mine instagrammed this photo and I popped over to The Fmly Store and bought one of their cool Christmas jumpers which they donate half the price to Save the Children.screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-21-06-32 Finally, each morning we see a homeless man who has been sleeping at Sydhavn Station and has such an awful cough. He has clearly been living on the street for a long time. I bought a hot coffee and a cheese roll for him on a cold morning last week. I got a smile for the coffee but the cheese roll resulted in the widest, most genuine smile I have been lucky to receive in a long while.

In the wider scheme of Christmas, when I am very aware of how fortunate and privileged my family is, these small things really make my money vote for a world I want to live in.

Is winter swimming crazy?

I was walking along the beach on Amager today and although the air temperature was well below freezing I still spotted a winter swimmer. Whilst I gather my thoughts for new posts this month (it been a bit quiet here whilst I’ve had my mum staying), I thought I’d share this post from last year about winter swimming.

Last week I found myself in the well-to-do suburb of Hellerup as I was craving a browse around a book shop for some Christmas gift inspiration. I found myself drawn down one of the side roads leading to the front as the sun was actually shining and glittering off the sea. I was sitting looking out towards Sweden when I realised that I was sitting right by the Vinterbad or winter swimming area. A young woman emerged from the wooden building (which I now know is the sauna) wrapped in a small towel, which she discarded at the end of the jetty and jumped stark naked into the cold sea. She swam around for about thirty seconds, dipped her head under the water and then climbed out of the sea, wrapped herself in the towel and disappeared back inside, looking pretty pleased with herself.

IMG_2594A number of things struck me about this scene (although not the first time I have witnessed winter swimming). One was the complete comfort she had in being naked, she wasn’t super skinny or an exhibitionist, but seemed completely at ease. There was a building site nearby and not one builder even glanced over. Secondly was the total lack of hesitation in jumping into the sea which at a guess was probably well below 5 degrees in temperature. I ease myself into even a heated pool, shocked at the cold. And finally the sheer joy she seemed to have after the swim.

There are 80 official winter swimming clubs in Denmark with 20,000 registered members. Most official clubs, which seem to have saunas in a lot of cases, are full but you can be added to a waiting list.

The oldest club (I think) in Copenhagen is Det Kolde Gys (The Cold Thrill or Shiver) based at Helgoland baths since 1929 and there is a new one at Sluseholmen in the newish harbour baths there with a sauna and a special rotating ice breaker in the main pool. I believe they also have a waiting list. But don’t let waiting lists stop you, there are plenty of jetties all along the coast just waiting for you to dive in to the icy seas. You just won’t have the luxury of a sauna. Last winter I saw a number of winter swimmers at Bellevue coming from their cars in dressing gowns, disrobing, diving in and then returning to their cars to go home.IMG_2595I made me think that perhaps I was missing out on the Viking experience of winter swimming. I love swimming in the sea and the liberating aspect of it but only on a hot day. I have been warned that starting winter swimming is not a whim thing. If you are new to it, it’s best to start at the end of the summer so your body gets used to the gradual change in the seasonal temperature of the water. They say the sea never gets colder than minus 2 degrees otherwise it freezes, although the surface may freeze and need to be broken before you can dive in – you definitely need to be feeling brave. But is it worth it?

There are supposed health benefits to winter swimming even if you only dive in for a few seconds. It invigorates blood circulations, raises your metabolism and flushes out your system of toxins add onto that the amazing natural high that can last for up to four hours afterwards due to the release of endorphins, there is no wonder it is so popular here.

Are you a winter swimmer or is it a step too far into the Viking way of life?

A version of this post appear in The Huffington Post

Getting ready for winter {health}

So the DMI and media outlets are warning that this winter is going to be the coldest since 2009/10 and I can attest that winter was a harsh one but with the plus point of plenty of snow.

Winters here can seem very long and dark at the best of times and you need to start preparing your health reserves early.surviving winter

For me it is the dark that really takes it toll so for fear of repetition from last winter my daylight lamp is a crucial part of making winter bearable. I use it to wake up naturally in the morning and also for a blast of daylight during the day. I really do believe that it makes a difference to my mood and general energy levels over the winter. They are not cheap but are definitely worth the investment.

On the subject of darkness, our bodies can really start to miss Vitamin D over the winter so it is well worth considering taking either a Vitamin D supplement from the autumn onwards or a decent multivitamin including Vit D. These can be bought relatively inexpensively from the pharmacies and you can buy very specific combinations depending on your age etc. Although my son eats a varied, healthy diet I have decided this year to supplement this to try and keep the sniffles at bay.

Flu jabs are another thing to consider seriously. Many workplaces offer these for free and if you fall into specific categories you can get the jab for free from your doctor (over 65, pregnancy after the 12th week, obese, have heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and other health complications which you can discuss with your doctor). Last year I paid for my jab at the pharmacy (they advertise dates and times) and they were happy to give it to me, however they refused my husband and directed him his doctor. One way or another you can get this done easily and its worth it to avoid really suffering.

Lastly for comfort and warmth make sure you have a decent pair of warm, waterproof boots, a longer length winter coat, warm hat and gloves, ear muffs so you can enjoy the winter without freezing. If you are newly moved here from the UK whatever you would wear normally in the winter will not be enough if we do indeed get another winter like 2009/10 as is being predicted so it’s time to part with a fair chunk of money, but like the daylight lamp, good quality is a worthwhile investment.

For more ways to survive winter once it arrives, here is something I wrote last year. Also bringing hygge into your home this winter,  and how to take on winter like a true viking.

What I love about apartment living (and some things I don’t)

When we decided it was time to move to a house, it was a decision I was happy to make and I am looking forward to the changes it will give us. But I do have a soft spot for the kind of Copenhagen apartments we have lived in. I don’t think any have been less than 90 years old and that gives a certain kind of charm. So what is it about them that is special?img_4414

High ceilings – I love the high ceilings we have had in all of our apartments. It means that the special pictures, and my stag horns,  can really be seen and enjoyed. It allows the light to really come into the rooms. Although the features on the ceilings such as the rose around the lights are not original they give it a certain vintage charm. Plus you can really go wild with a Christmas tree with high ceilings!04_stue

Big windows – it is universally accepted that I am something of a nosy bonk so I like being able to look out and see the world go by. I also love the feeling on a dark winter’s evening of being able to see the warm glow of our neighbours’ windows (as no one seems to bother with curtains) but at the same time I don’t feel that there are eyes watching me as I add to that warm glow in the street.

Wooden floors – Danes love that connection with nature and wooden floors are an example of this. I don’t find having carpetless floors makes the home feel cold, if fact it seems more welcoming and bright because of them.

Tiny bathrooms – this one may seem odd but over the years I have come to like having a small and cosy bathroom. It is the warmest room in our apartment and not a shock to the system in the morning. I am looking forward to, possibly, having a bath in our new home but will miss our miniature bathroom.source-unknown

The ratio of living to sleeping space – this was something I only realised that I appreciated when we started looking at houses. You spend the most time in your living and dining room and the kitchen and in apartments these spaces take up the larger percentage of the floor space.

Community – now I will admit this is something lacking in our current apartment building and it is something I see as an important element in successful apartment living. In our first apartment building we had a lovely community of kind-hearted and welcoming people, and in our second one the same was true but to a slightly lesser extent. They still had a Christmas tree in the hall downstairs and everyone gathered for the lighting of it complete with gløgg. home6

Proximity to life – living in an apartment in Copenhagen means you will most likely live in a busier area and that means life – in the shape of shops, coffee shops and playgrounds. Living in Frederiksberg I loved our local shopping streets and the business owners there. Whilst in the city it was like being part of a village. I haven’t found the same connection in Østerbro.

Drying rooms – a quirk of living in an old apartment is having a drying room in the attic or basement and for some reason these places fill me with pleasure.

Things I don’t love…

I do try and be positive about life but as time has gone on in our present apartment I have found there are frustrations associated with apartment living and I think they are mainly related noise and where we live at the moment.

Noise – I have never lived in an apartment building where I have heard my neighbours as much. I am not sure if it is mainly a practical thing – the acoustics of the old building makes noise carry down walls, the selfish nature of neighbours or simply that I am at home more. As we have less of a community feel in this building I feel less able to say anything about it. But I do moan about hearing Game of Thrones through the floor, the stomping on my upstairs neighbours and general door slamming.

Street outside – we live on a fairly busy road in Østerbro. This is the first time we have lived somewhere with constant traffic noise. As we are on the route to the docks at Nordhavn we have lorries passing by in the early hours of the morning that make the bed shake. We also seem to be on a route for lively inebriated people on a Saturday night who shout, sing and play loud music from boom boxes on cargo bikes. The cars on the road also mean that we have a constant fine black dust settling and it seems that it is a never-ending task to dust (one I am not that diligent about!)

Community – one thing moving to this apartment in Østerbro has made me appreciate is the level of community we have had in other places, even Berlin. I barely see my neighbours and whilst I have forced some to become more than just people who pass with a nod and a brief hej, I am not feeling that there is any level of community. I know that neighbours can change once you move in but if I were to ever move to an apartment again I would want to find out more about the make up of the building. We have too many rental units in our place with people changing on a regular basis and with young people who have no interest in being part of the building. In a way this makes the move to a house on a street a lot easier.

So weighing up both sides of apartment living – it feels that now is the time to move onto something more quiet and private. We have done the apartment living thing and enjoyed it but unless I can capture and relive that time on Bulowsvej in 2008-11, it is time to start a new era of life.

Sankt Hans Aften – a Danish midsummer tradition

 You may have heard people talking about Sankt Hans Aften (St John’s Eve) or seen posters advertising events for the evening of the 23 June. It is the midsummer celebration in Denmark, which is typically marked by the burning of huge bonfires with a witch atop close to water. Across the beaches and lake areas on this evening there are big public and private gatherings with speeches, picnics and traditional songs which culminate with the burning of the bonfire.
It is a little confusing for some people from outside Denmark as the summer solstice is celebrated in astronomical terms on the 21st June. In Sweden midsummer is celebrated on the Friday or weekend closest to the solstice, and Danes and Norwegians will observe it on the 23rd.
 

We have been to the event in Frederiksberg Have a number of times and it gets very crowded but is great fun, even if the speeches do seem to go on for ever (and longer if your Danish isn’t great). Not sure how it will pan out if the weather continues to be cold and wet but the Danes are nothing if not resourceful. The legend says if the fire can’t be burnt then there will be less hazelnuts come the autumn.

Find your local celebration and enjoy a real Danish midsummer (hopefully without rain, we need our hazelnuts!)

 

 
 
 
 

Cultural differences – saying thank you

Moving to a new country means adapting to new ways and embracing differences but at the same time it doesn’t mean that you have to lose your own ways and identity.IMG_5051In the eight years I have lived in Copenhagen I have adopted a number of Danish ways – embracing hygge, living in a white and less cluttered home, having two single duvets instead of one, airing said duvets out the window on a Sunday but at the same time I have kept hold of many of my own British ways.

Sometimes it is easy to explain away how you do something as ‘well I’m British (subtext a bit weird)’ but as time goes on and the more you integrate with Danes you will find you are told that its not done a certain way or that you need to conform. But when I believe that something is Ok or should be done a certain way I will do that as long as the motivation is coming from a good place. And it usually turns out alright.

Gift giving is area I have certainly fallen foul of. In the UK is very normal for parents to club together to give teachers an end of year or Christmas present. Not so here and I was on the receiving end of quite a lecture about the suggestion of giving the staff at my son’s international preschool a couple of cases of champagne for Christmas. I did it anyway and almost all the parents were happy to contribute and the staff delighted to receive.

Same as my physio, I gave him a box of delectable cookies for Christmas as a seasonal gift but also as a thank you for his role in my recovery but I was warned by a Danish friend that it would embarrass him and I shouldn’t do it. It didn’t cause any embarrassment, surprise perhaps, but not embarrassment and in fact he said they were the best cookies he had ever eaten (sadly not baked by me!) I heard that part of the reason for this surprise is that Danes generally aren’t good at saying thank you for things – in a country where everything generally works well there is no need to give extra thanks for a job well done.

But I come from a standpoint that if you take time to complain about things not being done well, you should take equal time to say when things are good and make sure people feel appreciated – whether that is a teacher, a medical practitioner or the bloke who cleans the stairs in your apartment building – wherever we are from you like to feel you have done something well and are appreciated. Yesterday I called my insurance company with a query about a claim. The result of the claim had made my day and I shared this with the lady I spoke to, she was taken aback but said she would pass the message onto the person who had worked on it.

As with the examples above, they all come from a good place – we want to thank people for a good job done and should continue to do this even if it isn’t the norm.

 

Trusting your gut

There is something I have learnt the hard way and that is to trust my gut feeling. When I have convinced myself that my intuition or my gut feeling is wrong and gone ahead with a decision, it has always been the wrong one. It is easy to mock people who say “something doesn’t feel right” or “my gut is telling me no” but there is actually a real psychology behind it. Psychologists believe that a gut feeling comes from forgotten or suppressed thoughts, experiences and feelings so it’s not possible to pin point why something feels right or wrong but you just know it.IMG_4204

When we moved the Berlin we were desperate to get a rental after months of soul-destroying searches. We widened our search to a more outlying neighbourhood and on a reconnoiter visit to the area, my gut again was screaming no! It wasn’t a place that filled me with joy, quite to opposite. We found a beautiful apartment in the area and took it despite my misgivings and then spent eighteen months regretting it. We believe a different choice could have changed our whole Berlin experience.

On the flip side there have been gut feelings that have worked out splendidly for me. My first job was the perfect example, I had no idea what I really wanted to do except be a writer and a communicator so started applying for entry-level jobs in PR. I sent off hundreds of applications but there was one that I felt was me – campaigns and research assistant at CAMRA. I wanted to work for a place that I would feel a genuine interest in. I got the interview and then the job offer with a tiny salary. When I started I asked why I’d got the job and the reply was the interviewers had a gut feeling I was worth the gamble. The eighteen months I was there they took lots of gambles on me – I appeared as a spokesperson on high-profile news programmes, I learnt how to build a website, I was given a significant campaign as my own and taken on a lobbying trip to Prague – all with zero experience when I walked in the door at age 22. Mike Benner was my boss and I don’t think that any other boss in the ten years that followed ever gave me the support and belief in myself that he did – all because of gut feelings at the start.

Our move to Copenhagen was another follow your gut moment. With just a guide book and a weekend visit to the city I knew I wanted this place to be my home. And eight years later I still do.

So where is all this going? I am not saying follow your dreams but follow your gut.

Sometimes we want to rush things and ignore our intuition and moving to a new country or job means that we feel we must make fast or snap decisions but you need to listen to your inner voice. You may need to make the best decisions you can with the information you have available (another post there!) but take time to make sure you feel as comfortable as you can with them. But it is also important not to have too much pride and not admit that something is a mistake. I often hear from expats for whom the move hasn’t worked out that they can’t return home as they would be seen as failure. Quite frankly moving to another country in the first place is a massively brave thing to do and its even braver to say if it’s not working out or to change how you are doing it. It’s all about you. Over the years I have realised that for so long I was a passenger in my life and now I am the driver, as I do the best to follow my gut.

 

‘No happy hookers’ on Istedgade

Recently I was on the bus going down Istedgade and noticed a large number of board signs hung on lampposts at the top end of the street close to the station. This area is the last remaining part of the Red Light district (as well as Gasværksvej) as Istedgade gradually gets cleaned up. Eight years ago it was common to see prostitutes on the street much further along towards Enghave and these days they are concentrated in a smaller area but it is still a problem. Whilst prostitution in brothels is legal in Denmark, many of the prostitutes on the street in Istedgade are trafficked or drug users but this doesn’t seem to put customers off and I am ashamed to see men who I believe should know better picking up women here.IMG_3748

The signs are in both English and Danish and have been in existence since last year if the hash tag #nohappyhookers is anything to go by. I have been trying to find out who is behind the signs with no luck so far but Googling them did lead to some interesting websites and forums where men who pay for sex here justify their motivation and accuse others who call them out on their choices as peddling myths about who these women are and how they are treated by their pimps. Sadly I think that the men who need to read these signs and take the message away will ignore them. Nonetheless I think it is a positive initiative if nothing else it helps raise the awareness of the negative issues surrounding prostitution in Vesterbro and perhaps will make the odd punter think twice.

If anyone reading this can point me in the direction of the organisation or people behind the signs I would be very grateful, please leave a comment below or mail me privately, you can find my contact details here.IMG_3749

Apartment noise and how to be a good neighbour

For many people moving to Copenhagen it may be the first time living in an apartment building or at least for a long while. Generally people in the UK live in houses and for many a family home will be significantly larger than a family apartment in a European capital city, especially in Copenhagen. Most apartments in the central parts of the city will be at least a hundred years old and with that comes the inevitability of noise.IMG_0227

A standard turn of the century apartments buildings will have eight apartments, two on each floor coming off a main stairway with a second back staircase to the yard. This narrow stairway was generally used by domestic staff in more affluent apartments and as an access to the outside privy (which thank goodness in most buildings is a thing of the past).

In the first building we lived in I can honestly say that we heard very little noise from our neighbours. Sometimes the little children downstairs crying in the morning, the lady upstairs doing her exercise DVD (infrequently) and some noise on the stairs. As our bathrooms were separated by a wall there was the feeling that a personal boundary was being crossed if your neighbour was using their bathroom at the same time. Once we had our son I was conscious that we were contributing a little more, less social, noise but our neighbours, then as now, were very relaxed about what they termed ‘family noise’. As one said children are not noisy forever plus children are generally in bed early and the noise ceases but if you are the kind of people who have loud obnoxious parties that is a lifestyle choice you are unlikely to grow out of.DSC00971

In the second apartment we were equally lucky to have quiet people around us but now in our third Copenhagen apartment (and now one we have a commitment to as we own it) we are much less lucky.

I believe that there is an element of managing your expectations about how much noise you will hear from your neighbours – moderate footfall, children scampering around, the rumble of a TV or music, children’s voices and playing sounds, the occasional raised voices, water noises and the occasional intimate acts would be norm but all should be generally bearable. You will be undoubtedly be contributing a similar level of noise yourself.  One friend had her downstairs neighbour complain in the daytime that he could hear her two-year old running about – to me that is the downside of apartment living that you need to get on with and some slack needs to be given, after all she won’t be two forever.

The place we now live in, from our floor downwards, has normal considerate neighbours – families with children of varying ages, an old man, a middle-aged lady and some slightly geeky male Master’s students. But hit the top floors and it is more like a frat house at time. Loud parties well after the agreed house rules times and when asked to turn down the music at 5am our immediate neighbours upstairs felt they could negotiate how loud it could be! One neighbour had a habit of coming home at 6am and blasting music with his door open for two hours on a Sunday morning and even worse on Christmas morning.

It is a hard thing to tackle. There are house rules that the owners of the apartments see  when buying the property but there are no real sanctions if these rules are broken. In general in Denmark these rules are not excessive – simply don’t make noise after a reasonable hour. In Berlin our house rules were very strict and a little excessive such as no noise of power tools and machines on a Sunday so not playing music when the rest of the world is sleeping seems pretty fair to me.

You have to assume the rules are passed onto tenants. If tenants are causing the problems you can contact the owners if you can and complain and it is up to them to deal with it. Sometimes just pointing out the noise is unacceptable can work as people may genuinely not realise how loud they are. Although the guy with the early morning parties denied it was him when I challenged him about it, they seem to have stopped. Perhaps my veiled threat to call the police next time worked.

Being a good neighbour. To me there are obvious things you can do to remain a good neighbour – if you have wooden floors don’t wear heavy shoes indoors; don’t run your washing machine late in the evening especially if you use a fast cycle; don’t put your speakers on the floor as the sound reverberates; move your bed away from the wall so any bedroom activities is not too intrusive to others; try to instill into kids that too much stamping about it not good but remember they are still just kids; if you think your TV or music seem loud in your room, it probably can be heard by your neighbours; if you plan to have a party let your neighbours know in plenty of time, let then know when you plan to finish and turn down the volume at the time specified in your house rules. None of these things will really impact on your daily life but make you a much better neighbour.

In a culture where people expect to be told if their actions are causing a problem but there is a trust that people will live in a considerate way to others, tackling anti social noise is a troubling issue. Throw into that the slight influence of Jante Law it becomes even more problematic. I have a whole arsenal of less than pleasant things I can do to get back at my noisy neighbours (all of which my husband has banned me from doing so we retain the higher ground) but in the meantime I can simply ask for music to be switched off or turned down and hope that our neighbours will do the right thing.

I would love to hear from others how you have tackled this issue.