Travelog

Why are Danes so Happy?

Posted on: Monday, April 11th, 2016
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Last month, the United Nations declared Denmark the happiest country of the 156 they surveyed. For the third time. Since 2012. “Happiness” may be a worn-out word and hard-to-measure commodity. But the UN has cred. And for this (admittedly biased) Danish-American and world traveler, Denmark certainly gets my vote.

But why? Press coverage offers good answers and theories every time the country wins. And here are five of mine.

5 reasons why Denmark is the happiest nation

  • Denmark has pride

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Danish pride leans toward the subtle and sincere—not the USA!USA!USA! kind of pride screaming through America’s jingoistic masses. Rather, Danes find pride in supporting their businesses, minimizing pollution, keeping things clean, revering tradition, and respecting each other. The feeling is visible and palpable.

  • Denmark celebrates culture

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The arts of all kinds are omnipresent in Denmark. The libraries (as in the picture, above) feel more like playrooms. That renowned Danish design is everywhere you look, yet so is visual variety and crazy-different history. From breakfast pastries to stunning museums, from second-hand stores to Copenhagen’s famed shopping district, “distinctly Danish” describes most every detail. You’ll have a hard time finding a McDonald’s, Starbuck’s, or Budweiser.

  • The Danes are open-minded

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Danes have little interest in debating lifestyle options that make many religions and politicians pontificate ad nauseum. Their socialist-democratic style of government and individual entitlements ensure that most folks have few worries. And few folks worry about telling others how to live their lives.

Does all this permissiveness make Denmark unsafe? Hardly. During my last three-week visit a few years ago, I saw one cop. He carried no gun. He looked lost.

  • Danes practice “hyggelig”

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Hyggelig is hard to explain; it’s more of a feeling—that cozy, warm, comfortable, secure sensation that might happen when you, say, curl up by the fire with your BFF, guitar, cat, and beverage of choice. It has to do with food, family, fun, and enjoying what you have—even if the day may be cold, wet, and gray.

  • Danes value freedom of time

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Despite the rumors, Danes are driven, hard-working people—fiercely independent and self-sufficient. That’s how they compete in the world economy and afford their way of life. But they value their free time even moreso—with short work weeks, family leaves, and lifelong education—and generous vacations.

Might a young Dane be encouraged to fill the backpack and take a gap year? Ja! Might a family put careers on hold and sail off to a one-year sabbatical? Ja! Might BreakAways to their pristine natural settings, to neighboring EU nations, or to tour the world be more of an birthright than a faraway fantasy? Ja!

It’s no wonder that the likes of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders find themselves discussing Denmark as an example of how a country can succeed—for everyone, not just the 1%. The world is noticing. So does the UN.

Denmark, you win. I’m happy for you.

Shhhhh…Don’t Mention St. John

Posted on: Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
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So I’m at a gathering and someone breaks out a travel trivia book. Live-ability, largest island, crime rate, what have ya. The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) makes the Top 10 crime rate list. But I guess aloud that St. Croix and St. Thomas probably account for that unfortunate distinction. Lovely places, but sh*t goes down.

I haven’t been to the VI in 21 days, but the sun still runs in my veins. That’s a good thing. Because otherwise, these MN winters can, like, make you crazy. I love it here. But the gray season can become an endurance contest. Who will win?

St. John isn’t perfect. But it’s close, as vacation islands go. Of course, you can’t really go wrong when you’ve got an island the size of Manhattan, only 4,000 full-time residents and another 10,000 or so peak season. Nearly 3/4 is national park. The friendlies are local, and the cool are natives. (Reverse that…)

That’s why I’ve been going, when possible, for nearly three decades. One time, I stayed for more than five months. More recently, my family of four stayed a few weeks and then headed south for 69 days of serious island hopping.

The water’s always warm. Roads are mostly twisted, and you drive on the left. (Why? Because everybody else does!) Frogs sing all night. The beaches are mostly public, pristine, and roomy. You can’t go wrong—and may want to add it to your travel bucket list.

But please: Just don’t tell anybody…

Bucket List for Today (Akumal, Mexico)

Posted on: Friday, March 20th, 2015
Posted in: Travelog, Latest Trip | Leave a comment

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A stranger buzz-crafting at the beach bar commented to me today, “There’s much better beer at the lobby bar—if you’re tired of this insipid piss!” “So I’ve heard,” I nodded, “That’s on my bucket list for today!” He laughed and slammed his beery hand. “That’s great; I though bucket lists were a lifetime thing!” “Nah,” I advised,

There is only today when on vacation; that ‘lifetime’ stuff can wait.” 

Thus we convened the committee of two and, from that spontaneous summit, this list came to life.

Bucket list for today: 11 pretty okay ideas (because ten is never enough) 

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  • Check e-mail just once a day; reply rarely and keep it to one sentence.
  • Text only when necessary for kid control or group logistics.
  • Avoid digitalia; read books; write in journal.
  • Get exercise: Swim, snorkel, paddleboard, kayak, splash, chase kids.

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  • Meditate, or approximate by hugging a tree or staring at the sea.

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  • Eat too much, and ignore the scale in the room even if you can convert kilos to pounds.

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  • Early to bed (exhaustion) and early to rise (the construction that is ubiquitous in paradise).
  • Don’t worry about a thing—especially to-do lists left at home and the Bucket List for Today.

Memory Bank Riches: Tuscany, 2012

Posted on: Thursday, June 5th, 2014
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DSC_0059 - Version 2 P1030074My last BreakAway was exactly two years ago. Our extended family (11 of us!) flew off to Italy for 17 days. You know you’re alive when you go, in a matter of hours, from watching your son run with fleet speed in the state baseball tournament to healing jet lag on a Tuscan terrazzo.

Travel always comes at a cost—not just the cash kind. In this case, we stole our son from his team; how did we know they’d still be alive in the big tourney? But you make choices—and sacrifices—to make long-term travel happen. Basking in the Tuscan sun and drinking in the wine, cuisine, and people cured all second guesses.

That Euro journey took epic planning and coordination. 11 people? Three families (with homes and pets and jobs and … )? 35 days away from busy-busy for my four—who moved on to Scandinavia for the last three weeks.

Sure, it would have been nice to stay home and win State. But landing in Italy and watching the kids have water-balloon fights in a mountain village makes for an even richer memory.

Italia Flickrs…

Posted on: Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
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It’s never too late!

Look! Hark! Flickr has (finally!) uploaded the Tuscany 2012 mix!

Click and find yourself in Barga, Lucca, Pisa, Viareggio and more!

Be reminded of the dolce far niente…

Ciao!

 

The Home-Again Blues

Posted on: Friday, August 17th, 2012
Posted in: Travelog, Blog | 2 comments

The little girl in the ruby slippers says, “There’s no place like home.” And she’s right: After a long travel adventure, home can feel like the most dull, predictable, and (just say it) boring place on earth—versus the nonstop stimulating scenes of faraway places.

We’ll save seeking cures for another post. So for today, here are 11 signs that you may be suffering the Home-Again Blues…

  • The city you live in seems like a nice place to visit.
  • Your precious, private, cushy bed seems no more special than the one in Sommocolonia, Hornbaek, or Stockholm—and the relentless construction next-door causes more sleep disruption than a 7-hour time-zone change.
  • Those great photos (all 5,555 of them) now look like a hallucination.
  • That time the kids lost their cool and you blamed travel fatigue? It happens sometimes at home too—so what to blame now?
  • The food in American seems so dang mass-produced, unlike Tuscany’s homemade pastas, Denmark’s bakery goods, and Sweden’s super-fresh seafood.
  • You get annoyed looks (instead of a wise grin) from bartenders when you order a “Stor-stark” (large, strong beer).
  • The credit card statements are arriving and are more shockingly expensive than you expected—but you now know it was worth every penny.
  • You’d love to tell more stories to more people, but most just ask, “So what was your favorite?”
  • You realize that about 95% of the fears you faced before going were irrelevant.
  • A month after coming home, you still haven’t unpacked everything—and would rather grab the gear and fly away again.

If only…

Food, Glorious Food!

Posted on: Sunday, August 12th, 2012
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Back home, eating returns to auto pilot, which is to say the pantry is always full, the menu of restaurants staggering, and the supermarkets’ provisions seemingly endless. Food in America can be an embarassment of riches, really—while eating on the road (with kids in tow) can be a challenge.  Still…

  • One misses that authenticity

It’s true: Most places, even in Europe, offer more selection than they did even a decade ago. And BK, KFC, and all the greats sneak up on many corners. Still, the fare in Tuscany can feel worlds away from that of Copenhagen. And even Denmark’s menus often look little like Sweden’s.

 

Best of all, most anywhere you go in Europe, the little bakeries and butcher shops still abound. And fussy, local loyals still shop daily not only to pick up fresh goods, but to socialize. You just don’t find that experience at your typical Costco or Giant.

 

 

  • The more things change…

A foodie-traveler can quickly pick up on what’s new and trendy. In Scandinavia, for example the New Scandinavian food movement is epic—so much so that not only does Denmark have the world’s greatest restaurant in Noma, but American cities are picking up on it in a big way.

Yet beware of tummy ennui. A friend just told me of a colleague who returned from Italy complaining of boring food. “Could that be true?” he asked me. Too true, I fear. After a few weeks in Tuscany—where few eateries dare to vary from traditional ways (and menus look the same for both lunch and dinner)—one begins to crave Indian, Asian, or anything other than Tuscan!

  • A wistful moment

Yet the ongoing thrill (and occasional challenge) of deciding what, where, and how to eat makes traveling so distinctive and memorable. What I wouldn’t give for one of those “boring,” three-hour Tuscan meals about now…

BAD DAD: Don’t Take Your Kids on BreakAway!

Posted on: Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
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The family vacation may go the way of the dodo bird—if work bennies and family units continue to fall apart. Perhaps that’s why some of us keep advocating long-term family travel:  escaping your homelife for weeks or months for eye-opening education, stimulation, and inspiration—before it’s too late.

It sounds good in theory, right? Not! Throughout this 35-day trip exploring a long slice of Europe, the offspring demonstrated symptoms of fierce dissatisfaction and outright insanity. Only a BAD DAD would put them through such challenging enviroments and experiences.

Thankfully, we did survive. Yet I recommend all parents and families bury their dreams. Just stay home. Stay plugged in to as many techno-devices as possible. And stay away from terrifying situations like these 5—which represent only the tip of a dangerous iceberg…

  • Boredom. A parent never knows what will thrill (and what will make shrill) the children. But be aware that the castle may enchant the daughter, but disgust the son; the fishing village may excite the boy, but nauseate the girl.

  • Gelati daily. What parent can resist, “Daddy, can I have a treat?” But I implore you:  Just say no! Or before you know it, you’re buying $7, triple-scoop frozen stuff several times a day in expensive Scandinavian cities—or you’ll be punished with world-class pouting and stink-eye (til you finally give in).
  • Language angst. One great reason to drag your kids through foreign lands: Try some other languages. Be prepared, though, for them to pick up even fewer words than you do, and to routinely ask, “Daddy, will you order my gelati for me?
  • Exhaustion. It can happen any time and any place, but it usually flares up in the most remote, inconvenient occasions. It’s called melt-down—and not the kind that two-year olds do, but a much louder, heavier performance. “I’m hot!” “I’m tired!” “I can’t walk another step!” are just a few signs that this disease has struck.

  • Food fights. Are your children picky eaters? If you are so delusional as to say no, may I invite you to take them on tour through countless international eating escapades. No primi, secondi, or contorni will arrive as envisioned. The kids will gag at their own pizza choice—and then steal your steak. Pack 555 granola bars!

I blame myself…

Okay, that rant may show my surly side—but it also suggests you bring a big jar of Chill Pills when you travel as a family. Mellow days and magic moments will abound, of course. But so will scenes that make you shake your head (if not bang it on a wall) with befuddlement.

I guess that’s called growing up. And it never stops, so long as we keep living it up.

If you get the chance, please go see for yourself. It may be the most meaningful, challenging, unpredictable, amazing gift you’ll ever give to yourself—and those dang kids.

Some Stockholm Secrets

Posted on: Sunday, July 22nd, 2012
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Our family of four spent this BreakAway’s final five days in stunning Stockholm—a Swedish city that shines with history and pride, drips money from its mostly cloudy skies, and is built on 14 islands that lead to 25,000 more. Many (most?) residents have a summer “cottage” on one of those islands.  And by “cottage” these days, they may mean McMansion.

So there’s a lot to love. In fact, Stockholm won honors for being my favorite city during a previous seven-month stay in Europe; a future post will show all that remains to adore. This time, though, Stockholm freely revealed its traveler frustrations and quirks. Here are a few photos that share a slice of that pricey pie.

(Nothin’ but) gray skies. We arrived in July to see the sun, damn it. But she was as elusive as a happy-hour beer. My bad: Last time I was there, it was in July and nary a cloud appeared in the sky. But, wise traveler, don’t expect the same magic twice. This time called for jackets and ponchos–but maybe (if you’re lucky) sunscreen and tank tops two hours later. Oh well, Stockholm remains a rare waterside gem. Just don’t count on too much sparkle and shine.
A dear, dear place to visit (but I couldn’t afford to live there). Stockholm ranks as one of the top five most expensive cities in the world. Of course, this veteran traveler knows how to cut corners and seek bargains and therefore sniffs at such stats. Well, believe it. Sure, you can find deals and surprising values. But meantime, visit your Mr. Money ATM early and often.
A propensity to vacate. They must live well in Stockholm–and not need (or want) to work much; stores kept short hours–on the days they were open. And even in the tourist high season, many (especially restaurants) shut down for weeks. A hotelier told us his five fave recommendations were all closed. Meanwhile, everyone told us to eat at nearby Nostrano. We’d love to, except that a small sign on the door whispers that they’re outahere until long after we are too.
A dark side. To paraphrase Bill Bryson in Neither Here Nor There, suicide is the national sport in Sweden. Indeed, the locals could, at times, carry themselves with rushed, brusk attitudes–and even treated each other rather rudely. Sweethearts and traveler’s saints abound too. But be prepared to be ignored, underserved, and stared at.

 

(More!) Wonderful CPH Snapshots

Posted on: Thursday, July 12th, 2012
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Ask most amateur travelers—like the happy couple I recently met, one Dutch, one Italian—and they may not get all hyped about Copenhagen. Their popular dream destinations remain Paris, Florence, Rome, and other top tenners. When they finally get to the USA, they’ll head straight to New York and San Fran.

But if you met more weathered wanderers, they might get misty when reminiscing Copenhagen. As Euro cities go, it’s as unique as any. Yet the stereotypes more are elusive—unlike a Rome that, once there, may live up to your fervor but also looks a lot like all those images you’ve seen in the media for millennia.

Copenhagen calls with warmth—when you’re ready. And if it the weather happens to be un-warm (we are north, after all), know that this city should own the copyright to “cozy.” And the tolerant, proud, safe mindset thats prevail will inspire even the most jaded traveler.

It’s a great place to get lost—and that’s easy to do!  Here are some more impressions from my precious days in the Old Country…

Art happens. Relentless graffiti notwithstanding, art is like air in Copenhagen; it’s everywhere. This sand sculpture–with a funky performing center behind it–was one of dozens that sprang up for a summer-long competition.
You can get there. The busses, trains, and ferries all run on time, and all over the place. Cars are rare, small, and unnecessary.
The cuisine rocks. New Scandinavian food is taking over the world like the Vikings did back in the day. Here, at Fiskebar, a cool vibe sets the stage for world-class fare, design, and service.
The world’s first amusement park amuses on all levels, with a happy surprise awaiting around every corner.
Danish design defines cool, clean, and funk-tional. ‘Nuff said.
Great brains live(d) here. Hans and Soren remain critical thinkers and writers long after they’ve moved on. You can visit their graves in a beautiful, old cemetery–but they remain understated as can be.