Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Celebration: December 31, 2012

Orthodox Christmas isn't until 7 January, however,  holiday lights and decorations began appearing in Skopje in early November.  Each week, something new has been added.  On our first day back in Macedonia, our Christmas Day, Dan and I were accosted by a gang of men hanging out at Macedonia Square.  They were wearing their gang colors--red and white with faux fur accents.  Curiously, they all wore hats, white wigs and long beards.

The members of this Santa-suited gang grabbed the hands of smiling children, tourists, and other unsuspecting foreigners and led them away.  The gang leader grabbed our hands and led us to a snowy little corner where we were held hostage by the gang's mascot until we agreed to have our photo taken.

The Santas, the trees, the lights are all related to the four days of celebration for the New Year.  New Year is a big thing in Macedonia.  My friends have told me that during the socialist period, celebrations related to religion were frowned upon so they were kept private.  The public celebration was for the New Year.  People get new clothes, go to many, many lunches, visit friends, and exchange presents for the New Year's celebration not for Christmas.  

Along the pedestrian street, tables have been set up to sell holiday greeting cards, New Year's hats and noisemakers, bottle rockets, and firecrackers.   Groups of children carelessly throw lit firecrackers on the streets and sidewalks.  For days now sporadic explosions have filled the air.

This afternoon, cafes blaring music were packed with people getting an early start on the celebration.  Tonight, there will be music in the square and fireworks afterward.  

 The decorated Makedonija pedestrian street

Happy New Year
Среќна Нова Година

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sweden: December 24, 2012

Yesterday, we took the train from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Malmö, Sweden, and spent our last night there.  As the day wore on, the weather in Malmö became progressively colder and snowier from a sudden storm.

It was Sunday, so only museums were open.  We first went to the Moderna Museet (very modern with a lot of surrealism and photography) and then onto the museum at the Malmöhus Castle.  By the time we got to the Castle, the snow was blowing at a 45-degree angle and beginning to accumulate on the ground.

When we came out of the museum, snow was freezing on the castle's moat.

During the night, the storm stopped and the temperatures warmed causing most of the snow to melt.  Today, Christmas Eve day, we explored more of outdoor Malmö's sights. The sun even showed it's face, briefly.

Malmö's Lighthouse                                   Turning Torso Building

The Turning Torso building is a residential skyscraper designed by Santiago Calatrava.  It is visible from most parts of Malmö.  It is 190 meters high and from bottom to top gradually twists 90 degrees.

Leaving our winter vacation adventure behind, we flew back to Skopje arriving just after midnight.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Denmark-part 4: December 22, 2012

On our last full day in Denmark, we traveled by train about 40 minutes north to Helsingør (Elsinore in English) and the palace known as Kronborg Slot.  The palace was made famous by Shakespeare as Hamlet's Castle of Elsinore.  It sits on land's edge surrounded by a moat; it is within view of Denmark's once bitter enemy Sweden.  On our visit, the moat was beginning to freeze and someone had kindly set up hand/face warming fires leading toward the entrance.  
Hamlet's Castle of Elsinore

The Ballroom
Inside the castle, we learned more about the wars between Denmark and Sweden and the subsequent looting by Sweden of much of Denmark's treasures.

 A View of Helsingør from the Castle
 Helsingør's Train/Bus Station

Back on the train toward Copenhagen, we stopped 10 minutes south of Helsingør at the town of Humlebæk to visit the Louisiana Museum.  Being Americans we wondered why the museum was named Louisiana.  One of the museum's employees explained that the museum patron and the owner of the villa at the center of the museum had had three wives, consecutively, that were all named, conveniently, Louise.  Hence, Louisiana became the name of the museum.

The museum sits on the edge of land with a view of the Øresund.  Monumental sculptures, like the Henry Moore shown below, are placed throughout the park-like gardens.

Inside the museum consists of modern art which includes a huge collection of Alberto Giacometti sculptures.  The current temporary exhibit was self-portraits in paint, photography, and mixed media.

We closed the museum up and walked to the train station for the ride back to Copenhagen and another great meal.

The food in Copenhagen is extraordinary--and expensive.  Our dinners often cost more than our room.  But, we ate the most luscious scallops (not Dan as he is allergic to them), duck, beef and each dish was beautifully presented.  Tonight, we ate at Gorm's Gourmet Pizze & Vin (Nyhavn 14) which is a few doors from our hotel.  We shared an appetizer and a special Christmas duck entree.  Again, fabulous.  One night we ate at Brdr. Price (Brothers Price) for creative Danish Modern food.  Dan's meal was a take off on the smørrebrød.  He ordered steak and was served sliced, savory beef steak with lettuce and other vegetables piled on a piece of bread.  I ordered the duck confit salad.   It was shredded duck confit with some bits crunchy served with friseé and pomegranate seeds.  Tasty combinations!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Denmark-part 3: December 21, 2012

And, let there be sunlight.  There was real sun today--even more than the December average of 2 hours per day.  Today, we visited the Rosenborg Slot a royal palace that houses the Danish Crown Jewels.  It is a small palace built as a summer residence by Christian IV in 1606.  It has been a museum since the early 19th century.
Shoppers and beautiful buildings along a Strøget

Most of the afternoon and evening was spent at Tivoli Gardens.  The Christmas lights and decorations were magical.  

A winter tree decorated with red hearts - a symbol of Denmark

Tivoli is a year-round amusement park with rides, restaurants, concerts.  We froze our butts off.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Denmark-part 2: December 20, 2012

Today is Dan's birthday--it's a big one.  We began the day with pastries--Danish, of course.  The tender, sweet Danish pastries in Copenhagen are the best we've ever had.  The next food course was gourmet cupcakes at a shop in the Magazin Du Nord.

It is another gray day so we visited several museums: the National Museum (Nationalmuseet) and my personal favorite, the National Photography Museum and their Edward Steichen exhibit located in the new library.

Near the Parliament, we chatted with a guy who has been standing vigil every day since the war in Afganistan commenced.  It was day 4082.  Imagine.....

One of his signs had a poignant quote by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower made April 16, 1953.  

We lunched nearby at the Kanal Caféen smørrebrod restaurant.  These are usually only open for lunch.  At Christmas time, they are especially busy with locals eating Christmas lunch specialties, but we got a seat and table and our table mates helped us decipher the menu.  Smørrebrod is usually a slice of hearty Danish bread piled up topped with meats, cheeses, vegetables--an open faced sandwich that you must have a fork to eat.  This was quite unlike the US version of smorgasbord (meaning an all you can eat buffet).

In the evening, we went to a concert of Handel's Messiah at the 16th-century Church of Holmen.  The first part of the church was built by Christian IV in 1619.  Over the years, the church has been remodeled and added onto to create its current cruciform style.  Handel's music was performed in the very center of the cruciform.  It was glorious.

There were seven hours and one minute of light today.  We didn't actually see the sun today, but the sun rose at 8:36 a.m and set at 3:38 pm.  While sunrise/sunset times varied slightly each day, everyday that we are in Copenhagen, December 18-23, will have only 7 hours and one minute of light.  These are the shortest daylight days of the year here.

Statue of Hans Christian Andersen

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Denmark-part 1: December 19, 2012

Tired of the fog and haze of Skopje, Dan and I booked a December flight to Copenhagen to celebrate his birthday and see Christmas lights.  We also thought it would be an escape from the grayness of Skopje.  In watching the weather forecasts, the temperature highs/lows seemed comparable to Skopje.  So, we packed our suitcases with thoughts of clear skies, and cold but sunny days.

Our first day in Copenhagen was.........gray.  It was gray all day and while the temperatures are comparable to those in Macedonia, we had not factored in the wind-chill that made walking around really cold.  So, we layered up and left our room looking like Mr. and Mrs. Michelin.

That first day, we visited some famous Danish landmarks like the queen's palace, the citadel, the statue of The Little Mermaid (written by Hans Christian Andersen).  She really is little and she blended into the grayness of the water and sky.

On our second day, we caught brief glimpses of the sun.

These scenes are in the Nyhavn (New Harbor) area of Copenhagen.  Our hotel, Hotel Bethel, was just across the canal from these lovely, renovated structures.

Hotel Bethel (on the corner)

The Strøget (pedestrian streets) were hung with garlands and hearts.  The hearts are taken from Denmark's coat of arms which is three lions and a group of hearts.  

 A view of Copenhagen from the Rundetårn (Round Tower), a working observatory

The Rundetårn interior

We were also struck by the amount of bicycles used in Copenhagen no matter how cold, how wet the weather.

We tried to eat dinner at a Danish restaurant (Sankt Anne's) tonight but found that it was open only for lunches.  The restaurant was also completely booked through Christmas Day.  Instead we settled on a Chinese restaurant on the same street.  The food at Dim Sum (Sankt Annae Plads 16) was fresh and tasty.  The scallops were luscious, tender, and the best I've ever had.