Stunning Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen

IMG_1223 (1)It did seem odd that the name of the most visited art museum in Denmark is called the Louisiana MOMA. It is actually named for the villa that looks like a Louisiana plantation house and it was named after Alexander Brun’s three wives who were all named Louise. It has been transformed over the years into an exquisite sculpture garden and gallery all hugging the shores of Oresund Sound in Humlebaek.

IMG_1215 (1)The train takes you to within a 10 minute walk of the Museum. The museum has a permanent collection both indoor and out, plus 2 special exhibits. When I visited I was able to view the retrospective for Danish artist Tal R and a fascinating exhibit of South African artist William Kentridge. I was disappointed because the Marina Abramovic exhibit was due to open the following Saturday, but then I’d have missed Kentridge. (I know, first world problems.)

IMG_1235 (1)

Four powerful paintings by Danish artist Tal R

I wandered the grounds looking at the sculpture and then stopped at the cafe to eat lunch. I’d been told by a fellow plane passenger that the smorresbrod at the Louisiana Cafe was delicious. I can confirm that the salt-cured ham, North Sea cheese from Thise, mustard mayonnaise, and pickled cucumbers are yummy over bread. I ate on the patio and enjoyed conversation with the people around me. One woman overhead me say I was from California and she and her husband came over to introduce themselves. I bumped into them a few more times in the galleries and we compared thoughts and they encouraged me to see some things that I had considered passing by due to time.

I enjoyed my afternoon at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art so much that when I return to Copenhagen I will make time to go again. I also wondered if we have anything quite as spacious and beautiful for sculpture in the USA. My art dad Jim says that there is something like it in New York on the Hudson. I will have to explore!

IMG_1242

The William Kentridge show made a big impact on me.

 

Danish Royalty Inspires

IMG_1132I have to admit as an American I am not sure what I think of the idea of royalty. Does it have to more to offer than the USA’s celebrity culture, or is it much of a muchness? I was vaguely aware that Denmark has a royal family before I left for Copenhagen. I was not prepared for Mike Bike to get almost teary eyed when we stopped at her palace as he talked about the role she plays in his life.

First when we stopped at the Christiansborg Palace on the bike tour, we watched the Queen’s groomsman exercising her carriage horses in preparation for an upcoming public celebration of her golden wedding anniversary. While we watched, one of the palace chauffeur’s stopped one of the royal family’s Bentley limousines for a few minutes. Mike Bike got very excited that the Queen or one of the princes might be in the car.  No one was in the car, this time.

Then we moved on to another official building and Mike Bike said we should come back and see the tapestries that current Queen Margrethe II designed. She is apparently an accomplished artist. (We moved on before I could figure out exactly where we were.) Then as we came back from Christianshavn we stopped at the Queen’s Palace.

The Queen’s Guard was changing shifts and it was easy to find a spot in the courtyard to watch. The Danish changing of the guard is much more accessible but still displays the kind of tradition that people who live in countries with royalty seem to appreciate. The guards wear bearskin hats from Canadian bears. While the guard is changing you can only walk your bike in the courtyard. The flags flying over each palace–Queen, Prince 1, Prince 2, so that you know who is home and who is away.  The band plays when the Queen is home.

IMG_1133Mike Bike explained that a particularly low point in his life he asked himself, “What would Queen Margrethe do?” He finds her wisdom and talents as a linguist and artist inspiring. She is married to her French husband Henri for 50 years and successfully raised two sons.

As we regathered after watching the guard change, we saw the same Bentley go by. We could see the Queen in the back seat and it was the same car we’d seen earlier. We all enjoyed the excitement, but none as much as Mike Bike. It is very endearing.

Breaking into Copenhagen

I arrived late on a Monday night and then I took the train early to Malmo, Sweden on Tuesday, so my first full day in Copenhagen was Wednesday and I had not yet seen anything besides the train station and a pastry shop. I had reserved a spot with BikeMike Tours after hearing about it from Rick Steves. After witnessing just a little of the bike traffic, I was glad I booked a tour and would have a guide for my first foray into the city.

Copenhagen is a 1000 years old and committed to keeping their streets cobbled and their footprint much the same. It was not designed for cars. Yet it is a dynamic, economically vibrant place. Bicycles allow them to move people without sacrificing the quality of life that their history offers. The cycling culture is such that people ride everywhere in all weather and with cargo bikes if they have children or a load. As one fellow tour rider from the USA noted, “No one is wearing lycra bike shorts or riding a fancy bike.” It is part of the fabric of life and very utilitarian.

I digress, I want to tell you about this fabulous tour.

Mike is a bit gruff when you first meet him at the shop. His website can also be offputting to some:

i am not just another #$@%&*! bike tour guide. I am bike mike.

I appreciated that he was being very forthright about what his tour was and was not. What it is: an exciting tour of the city at a good pace with a guide who LOVES Copenhagen and Denmark. I ride my bike as my main source of transportation and I “kissed” the curb; my bike went down but thankfully I did not. So the city cobbles and curbs can be challenging especially to riders from the USA. It is so worth the risk.

I arrived feeling very jet-lagged and hoped that the fresh air and exercise would revive me. There were about 18 of us in the group with a mix of Europeans and Americans. Mike leads the way and expects you to follow, and we did. People in my group did a great job of keeping up.

Mike does stop often to share information about this beautiful city and its culture. He is unabashedly proud of their socialist welfare state and the monarchy. He is a real enthusiast and he will infect you with a love of Copenhagen.

He also gave good tips on restaurants along the way. Although his description of a typical Danish lunch–open faced sandwiches of pickled herring followed by a shot of snaps (schnapps)–sounded like a fast track to a nap!

He said we would ride through whatever weather came our way just like a local. However, when a particularly nasty bit of rain and wind came through he let us grab a coffee at the national theater and then ride on. This added an hour to our tour but no one complained.

In fact, we were all full of good will toward one another at the end. The tour was well worth the DKK 299 in cash.

I also learned about these really groovy Danish locks that fit onto your bike as a permanent fixture. Mike uses them as do most people in Copenhagen. I walked across the street to the bike shop and bought 2 to use at home.

What is Your Travel Stake?

stakeI am about to embark on a wonderful holiday in Denmark and England. Even though the logistics of the trip are mostly planned out–I have all of my hotel rooms, but not all of my train trips and ferries sorted–I am getting clear on my travel stake before I pack my bag.

In my leadership training with CTI I learned to be very clear about my stake, that is what my goal is for myself or for the organization or group I’m leading. I have found this concept helpful in planning a travel adventure–especially with others, and even when solo. When I haven’t thought about my stake I tend to get overwhelmed by all of the competing agendas of other travelers and my trip experience is diminished.

For example, for this upcoming trip, my stake is about reconnecting with old friends and keeping space open for meeting new people. My intention for this adventure is mostly about relationships. If I look back on my time in Denmark and England from Heathrow airport lounge, I will be very happy if I had plenty of time for long talks with Susie and then UK Sarah, and if I had a few memories of conversations with new friends I made along the way. Sure, there are things I want to do (bike rides) and places I want to see (Winchester Cathedral), but they can make way for people if that is what is needed in the moment.

Being clear about your stake is even more important when traveling with others. I often ask the question of my travel companions: What is your highest priority for this trip? Or what would you regret not doing on this adventure? I share mine, and then we are clear and we each do our utmost to make sure that everyone is able to experience at least this one thing. It may be eating at a fantastic restaurant, or having time to hike a certain trail, or time every morning to sit in a cafe with a flat white and read a book. Or maybe it really is spending time with the person you love and the rest is just background.

I have a tough time traveling with medium size groups. There are so many competing stakes and I get swamped by the friction. You would think that the trip itinerary is everyone’s stake, but each arrives with another sometimes secret agenda: gelato from the famous place in Siena, cycling around Lucca, or tasting as much wine as possible in 7 days. A good tour guide or group leader discovers what those things are for their guests and works to make it happen. I now accept that my travel style is either solo, with one other friend, or in a small family group, or maybe in such a large group that I can still carve out my own stake. Medium size groups are not for me.

Of course a wise travel planner also leaves room in the schedule for the unexpected invitation to join a birthday party for an 80 year old woman who does an awesome Tina Turner impersonation. But that is an Irish tale for another day.

Preparing for Denmark Adventure

hygge

I am visiting Denmark this summer. I found my hotel on Trip Advisor. Thanks to Rick Steves’ I am taking a bike tour in Copenhagen with Mike. My chum Susie from University is going to show me her Malmo, Sweden on June 6–the national holiday to celebrate being Swedish. I have printed the instructions to find hidden Giant sculptures around Copenhagen on a bike scavenger hunt.

I am excited that I am going to be able to see two more Scandinavian countries (after Norway in 2013). Originally I thought I’d get into the countryside and see more of Denmark. Then I realized that second half of my trip involves a lot of travel through England, so enjoying one city more thoroughly and staying in the same hotel is appealing.

I discovered Helen Russell’s humorous memoir Year of Living Danishly at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. I read it to prepare for my trip. The culture in Denmark is similar to Norway in many respects. The author refers to Jante’s Law, which I experienced growing up with a Norwegian grandfather.

Aksel Sandemose outlines 10 rules for living Danishly in his novel, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, known as Jante’s Law.

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than us
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than us
  5. You’re not to think you know more than us
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than us
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything
  8. You’re not to laugh at us
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything

cod bookSome people think it is synonymous with humility and essential to maintaining the egalitarian Scandinavian society. Some people think it is about enforcing conformity. In another memoir, In Cod We Trust, by Eric Dregni, about his family’s year in Norway, he observes, “These ten commandments may have begun as a morality tale of how not to act, but over time these rules were adopted to teach kids not to be self-important narcissists.”

I am curious to soak up as much of the culture as I can for the relatively short time I am there, and to find out more about Jante’s Law.