Thursday, December 18, 2014

From Exchange Student to Family Member

When I was 16, I traveled to Denmark to become an exchange student for one year.  To do this, you complete an application where you can select 3 countries of choice, but ultimately you are placed where there's a willing host family.  I went to a family in Vejle, Denmark who lived on several acres of what had been a working farm at one time.  Now it was a house with a big yard, garden, and 3 buildings for storage.

There was a mom, dad, and sons aged 8 and 16.  The 16 year old was on his way to spending a year in Michigan while I took up residency in his bedroom. The younger son would become my teacher, playmate, and friend.  It was a fantastic experience and I grew to love that family very much.  Over the years we've visited each other many times.  Much has changed with our living situations- marriages, divorces, children added, different homes...but our bond with each other remains strong.

At my school 10th grade graduation with my Danish dad, Henry and little brother Jacob

An article the Vejle paper did about me coming to Denmark while my older Danish brother, Michael (right) and his friend Joergen (left) went to America.

A few weeks ago, my Danish mom celebrated her 80th birthday and I went over to join the family for a weekend at a Helsingoer hotel called Marienlyst.  This is a city about one hour by train from Copenhagen, and it's quite famous for its castle, Kronborg, made famous by the Shakespeare story of Hamlet.  Remember, "To be or not to be"?  My older Danish brother wanted it to be a surprise for the whole family, and to his credit, no one knew!  I showed up at dinner and there were smiles and hugs all around.  It was a fabulous event.  What made this a really fabulous weekend was that no one had to prepare meals or do any cleaning.  The hotel had a package that included 2 large meals and midday coffee and cake.  How often do you really get to enjoy your family without someone bearing the burden?  We even stayed up late playing cards.

We walked along the sea, where you can see Sweden just across the water.  At night it's glorious to see all the lights.  The castle was a must see.  They hosted an annual holiday market for vendors with a variety of home made goods.  Santa made an appearance. There was even singing around the enormous Christmas tree inside the castle.  What a memory!  It was a great weekend- one that I will never forget.  I'm so lucky to have this other family to call mine across the ocean!
You could travel by horse carriage from the city to the castle

Kronborg Castle
Some of the performers dressed for Christmas

Santa and his helpers.  He's sitting on a deer skin and the helpers pass out small gingerbread cookies

These hand made bags were very colorful on display at the holiday market

Christmas is celebrated by using lots of elves.  These had potato heads.
A family photo taken while we were all together

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oregon Waterfalls along the Columbia Gorge

Oregon is a place with a diverse range of terrain and climate, depending on which part of the state you visit.  We went there in November to enjoy some of the waterfalls and were not disappointed.  this was the rainy season, and it did indeed rain every single day.  Many waterfalls are incredibly easy to access, so you literally just have to walk from a paved parking lot a few hundred feet to see the stunning views.  If waterfalls are your thing, you should put Oregon on your list.

If you fly into Portland and rent a car, the nearest place will be the scenic drive along the Columbia River Gorge.  Plan to take several hours so you can stop and enjoy all the falls.  Also be prepared for fog.  Though the river and falls were very pretty up close, the fog was so dense at times that we couldn't get a panoramic view of the area.  It's not a bad idea to use a restroom, and pack snacks and drinks to take with you.  There weren't many places along the scenic route to stop.  Travel Portland had a great article with links to all the falls along the way that we used to get initial information.  Truth be told, you really don't need directions once you're on the old Columbia River Highway though.  There is signage that takes you from one to another. You'll know you're nearby a waterfall when you see a pullout or parking lot.  This highway runs parallel to I-84 so if you're really in need of a pitstop, you can seek out the main highway and find a town.  I'll include some of the waterfalls we saw along the way.
Look for the ENORMOUS boulders in the creeks, covered in moss and leaves

Hiking trails are easy and many are paved

You can get close enough to feel the spray of the water

Look at the tiny people and you will realize how tall this waterfall is
For driving directions, there's a link at Travel Oregon that gives you turn by turn directions. You'll be starting at the Crown Point Vista House (below) where you can get a nice view of the gorge area on a clear day.  Not sure if and when that happens.  By our photos, you'll see lots of dense Oregonian fog.  Inside is quite beautiful.  Photos tell the story of the highway and the history of the people who came here in the early 1900s.  It really is a manmade marvel.

View of the river from the Crown Point Vista House

Photo essay about the highway and the history

If you need a local spot for lunch, we went to Cascade Locks and got a recommendation from someone who lives there to try East Wind Drive-In.  It's the dictionary definition of a hole in the wall joint.  I think there were maybe 5 stools.  You order simple food- burgers, fries, ice cream, etc.  We had salmon burgers and they were fantastic.  The ice cream cones were so large you might have to hold them at your belly button to lick the top!  OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you won't go hungry!  The locals add berry to the ice cream as it comes out of the machine and it's not only pretty, but creamy and fruity too.  Our entire trip took about a half day.  I would love to do it again in drier weather!