Friday, February 16, 2018

Finding the Secret Tree Giants in Copenhagen

Did you ever know that Denmark is the land of the giants? Don't believe me? Come on, and I'll prove it to you! :)

One day when I was checking my Facebook, I noticed that someone (K.G.) shared an article about the 6 Forgotten Tree Giants of Copenhagen. It almost sounded as if it were a made-up story, because I didn't know if I wanted to believe that there are wooden giants living in the outskirts of Copenhagen, the capital and largest city in Denmark, but I thought to keep the idea in the back of my mind for another day. Fast forward to "another day". Luckily for me, my husband has family in Copenhagen, so I thought that we might just have to check on the validity of this story once and for all.

Thomas Dambo's Website
First and foremost, you have to go to Thomas Dambo's Website to get all the information. This site is also in English, which is helpful to those foreigners on vacation who want to find something off-the-beaten-path during their trip to Denmark. I think it is also more interesting to do something out of the ordinary if you have the time. Here, you can read about the story, see pictures and find maps that will lead you to the giants. Though I did those very same things before we started our quest, I was still in doubt that they actually existed. The maps were handmade, which gave it all a treasure hunt type of feel, but they also made things a bit confusing since we weren't very familiar with the area. I just thought our chances of finding even one giant were pretty slim, let alone 6 of them, but we were still up for the challenge. I guess if the maps were super easy to read and the giants easy to find, it wouldn't feel much like a hunt. We were super excited to see what we could find.
Sleeping Louis
The first giant that we found was called "Sleeping Louis". He was number 1 on the map. It is so weird that this is near a walking path, because you would never know it was there if you weren't looking for it. We actually walked past it at first and found it on the way back. At first site, this giant is quite impressive. He was laying on his side in his peaceful slumber, and though you could tell that he was completely made of wood, it still felt a bit like you were actually sneaking up on real, sleeping giant. We approached slowly at first, but once the boys got closer, they became braver and more interested. They started to peek in Louis' mouth and then ended up going inside. Both boys also really liked playing on Louis, as well. After all, he was very much like a jungle gym.

Hill Top Trine
Next on our tour was giant number two, Hill Top Trine. Though she was a walk down a path into nowhere, there was no hiding her. They weren't kidding either when they said "hill top". Trine was relaxing along a pretty steep hill, which made it feel a bit dangerous. Man! I'm getting old! My kids loved that hill, but there were older people who wouldn't even dare to climb it. Where was I? A bit in the middle? I went up and down that hill, but I was a bit fearful. I'll chalk it up to being a careful mom, and call it a day. Man, that's weak!
Just as Louis was perfect for climbing, so was Trine. The boys just needed to find a good spot to climb on, which wasn't as easy as it looked from the top of the hill. Little man needed a bit of a boost from daddy, but with a bit of grunting and pulling, big brother managed to climb up onto a shoulder. My kids have no shame. It didn't take long before one was picking the giant's nose and the other was sitting in the palm of her hand. Okay, so maybe sitting in her hand isn't a rascal-type of thing to do, but the smile on his face made me think that he was thinking something naughty! :) Trust me on this one! I invented that smile, so I know.

 For being so stiff, these giants looked so comfortable. How do they do that? These wood workers are real craftsmen. It is amazing what they can create out of wood, but then to make something as hard and stiff as wood look comfortable is truly something special. I love trees and nature and wood. Natural stuff rocks, in my opinion. This is one type of art that I do appreciate.

Oscar Under the Bridge
The last giant was a bit harder to find. We knew which area to go to, but the issue was that it was in an area where we weren't sure where to park the car. You need a car to find these giants. This isn't the type of adventure you can do without having your own card. The map led us to a small island of sorts, and since the X was a bit bigger than the area on the map, we weren't really sure where to go. The parking lot where we put the car was close to the Arken, the Museum of Modern Art. This parking lot had a really great playground. We bribed the boys with a snack and some time on the playground if they made the trek with us one last time to find giant number 3. They weren't very thrilled with all the walking, even though they loved playing on the giants. I guess it is a "kid" thing. Again, the path seemed to go nowhere. We even walked along what didn't seem like a path, but we were following the map. We had the bridge in sight and knew that the next giant was hiding underneath. We just had to get there. Little brother needed carried a bit of the trip, and though it was the beginning of July, it wasn't a very warm day. That's the thing about Denmark. You can never tell what the weather will be like in the summer. The day was sunny and pleasant for the most part, but we were wearing light jackets and jeans. A warmer day would have been better spent on the beach for people such as ourselves who lived landlocked in the middle of Jutland, but it was perfect weather for hunting giants! As we approached the bridge from the other side, we could see that a giant was, in fact, under the bridge, holding on. It was a bit difficult to see more until we were actually about halfway on the bridge. There were already a group of people there to see "Oscar Under The Bridge" as he was called. With one arm raised and crossed over himself, Oscar didn't seem too comfortable. This was the first of the three who seemed to have slid down the hill towards the water and was trying to grab a hold of the bridge to break his fall. His facial expression even showed a bit of discomfort. Poor Oscar! Though he was easily one giant that a person could feel sorry for, I somewhat liked the change of scenery. Yes, all of the giants were in nature, which was a nice change after spending some time in Copenhagen, but the fact that this one was near water gave Oscar somewhat of an added appeal. I particularly liked that one of his hands and feet were actually touching the water. I didn't know if I felt happy or sad for him because of this. Could it be that this was his bright side or the thorn in his side? I decided it was his bright side, because there is something calming and beautiful about the movement of natural waterways. Though he looked uncomfortable, I wanted to believe that this water was what made it all bearable for Oscar to sit day after day, clinging to the bridge.

The level of difficulty of climbing on him wasn't so severe, but the threat of wet shoes was forever looming in the sound of the waves. The boys just needed to be careful, otherwise it would have been a long day of sitting in wet jeans and shoes before we got home later that night. The only thing that I wasn't too fond of was the overcrowding. It wasn't a tourist trap by any means, but for this giant, there just wasn't a lot of room for humans besides or on the giant. It almost felt that we had to wait in line to check Oscar out. It is fun to find these giants, but I like it when there aren't so many people. It makes it feel more like finding treasure. Apparently, we were on somewhat of a pilgrimage that day, if you could call it that. The same people who arrived just after we did to see giants 1 and 2 were there for giant 3. The overcrowding alone would have been a good reason to take a break and split up the group, but having two hungry boys who were tired of chasing after giants was more of the reason why we headed back to the parking lot and the playground. 


Playing on the Playground near Arken
One thing I have to say is that the Danes really know what they are doing with playgrounds. Even though the materials used might not have been that advanced and though the ground below is almost always sand, the look and function of these playgrounds is really quite refreshing. It allows more room for exploration and experimentation. Instead of having two swings and a slide, there are many different options for climbing and imaginative play. My boys had to try everything out.

Reflecting on our Day Trip and the Last Three Giants
It is amazing how much energy they seem to have when they see a playground. I could lie to myself and say that they were recharged by the healthy foods their mother had given them, but I just wasn't convinced that the granola bars(not organic) and juice boxes(probably filled with tons of sugar) were really the causes for the sudden energy boost. The most important thing was that they were able to play for a bit. There is no faster way to turn a family fun day into a nightmare, if a child isn't able to play. If I were to explain this to my husband, I only need to say one word: "Gettysburg". That was a trip we really looked forward to, but our kids really sucked out all the joy on that specific day, because it wasn't any fun being stuck in a car. I get it, and now we have definitely learned our lesson. Don't get me wrong, that trip was filled with plenty of kid "things", but apparently, we thought we could get away with doing something "adult-friendly" (that doesn't sound right) first. I think every vacation/small trip/family outing needs to be planned with all family members in mind, but mostly, the kids need to be happy. It is often said, 'If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy'. This is VERY true in our house, but when it comes to trips, the kids are a major focus for us. We like them and want them with us, so we compromise. I wouldn't say that they like doing everything we plan for our "adult" time (again, that just sounds wrong), but vacations should always factor in one important thing: children should always have the opportunity to play. If my kids grow up one day and only remember the playgrounds from the many different towns and countries we visited and not the touristy places most towns and countries are known for, then I will feel happy knowing that they had a childhood that was filled with fun, but a good balance is what really helps keep everyone from killing each other. Downtime and fun time for all is essential. This playground being near the 3rd of 6 giants seemed to be a good place for families to picnic and rest, and for kids to recharge their batteries. It was at this point that we stopped to think seriously about the last three giants. We were taking the ferry back to Jutland a few hours later, and though finding the giants was a good way to kill time, we didn't think it was realistic to try to find the last three before going to the ferry on time. This would just be an adventure to continue for another day. We weren't leaving feeling defeated for having only made it half way, because it was a nice feeling to have something to look forward to doing in the future. We knew we'd be back in Copenhagen again to visit family, so it would only be a matter of time before we would find ourselves on another giant hunt, which means you'll have to stay tuned for another post to see if we ever find giants four, five and six: Tilde, Thomas and Teddy!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Legoland (Billund, DK)

Living in Denmark with two small children would, of course, lead us to visiting LEGOLAND! Heck, I think I would visit this place without kids! :) We talked about visiting Legoland for a long time with my two kids, since they are obsessed with the tiny building blocks. Luckily, we were given season passes one year, so we made it a necessity to visit as often as we could.

When to Get There and Where to Park
When traveling to Legoland, it is good to get there about 20 minutes or so before they open, so you can get a parking spot across the street. There is another, larger parking lot, but you have to walk a ways. I guess if you put it into perspective, it isn't as big or as far as a parking lot to an amusement park in the US, so either would be fine. We have parked at both.

Being Careful at the Entrance
When you get to the entrance, you will probably want to take some photos but be careful, since the best place to take the pictures might be very close to an actual road. Don't get hit by a bus! That is an order! It is also nice that there are bathrooms you can access from outside the gates. This is helpful if you have traveled a long way to get there and can't wait until the gates open.

Finding Discounts Before You Go
If you look on cereal boxes, Lego toy catalogs or even certain egg cartons, you will find coupons that get a child in free with a paid adult. It pays to do a bit of research ahead of time. There are other places where you can find discounts, so if you live in Denmark or know someone who does, see if you can get a coupon. Coupons are good!

Getting to Know The Park Before You Go
You may also want to get a map when you get there to plan your attack. We now have the park memorized, which is helpful. When you walk in, there are a bunch of stores right away. It would be good to talk with your kids about gifts. It saves a lot of hassle. We reason with our kids and say that there is no way we are going to buy something and have to carry it the entire day. It makes sense to them, especially if you tell them that they will be the ones carrying it. Works like a charm! Along with a map, there may be some type of paper they give you when you buy tickets. It will have the kids look for clues throughout the park. When you have found them all, you can turn the card in for a prize at the large store by the entrance. It isn't worth going crazy over, since it tends to be a cardboard hat or something, but it could get you out of buying something for your kids. Just an idea.

After the stores, you will find some great Lego displays. There is the Lego Friends ready for a photo op as well as the Miniland made entirely out of Lego. (Americans, I know you want to put an "s" at the end of Lego, but that is not the Danish way. Seriously. I'm fighting it even now!) There is an airport, harbor, railroad, castles, famous name it. They also have some things that move, like the planes and trains. This could easily catch your eye, but I would try to avoid it at first. As I said, have a plan! There may be very long wait times for different rides, so you might want to go to those first.

My boys love Ninjago, so we always start in the Ninjago area first. This just so happens to be in the back of the park, but on the same side as the entrance, so it isn't a complete haul.

We pass the Duplo area that is for the little itty bitties, which is still technically for my kids. They are 4 and 7, but Duplo land is for babies and small kids. Since parents often accompany their tots on rides, you can't say that there are some things too small for bigger kids. I just don't know why you would spend time there as a bigger person if you didn't have small children. My kids still enjoy the little Ferris wheel and airplanes, and they LOVE the giant Lego playhouses they can go in. This is just a playground that is made out of giant Legos. It could be a nice place to visit if the park is super crowded. There are no lines in the playground, which could give the kiddos a time for some much needed play.

Entertaining the Kids While Waiting in Line
I have to say, though, Legoland has the long wait time covered. In all the long line areas, you will find a big box of Lego bricks. The kids can play in here while the adults wait in line. When the parents need to move on to the final bit of waiting, the kids will then join them, which means that their actual waiting time is much less. This also gives the adults a break. The lines at Disneyland Paris are super long and boring. The parents are left to entertain the kids, so they don't whine or annoy the other people around them. Legoland scores big points with this mom. I actually get to visit with my husband in line and not have to worry about the kids. Thanks, Legoland!

Ninjago World
When we get to Ninjago World, there is a large pagoda that looks like it is from some Asian country. That is the cool thing about the park; it is separated by the different Lego themes. Here, you can train to be a ninja with a few different tasks, and you can also see life-size versions of the Ninjago guys. You may even be lucky to see Mom-and-Dad-sized Ninjago dudes walking around, but this isn't that common. We head straight for the ride before we begin our training. This is one of those 3D rides where you sit in a car that never leaves the ground. You get to sit with three others, which is perfect or us, and with your 3D glasses, you get to move your hands in order to fight the bad guys. There is a sensor on the car which adds up your points, so you can see who won. This is always good family fun. My 4 year old loves it, but we went on this ride some good friends and their 4 year old daughter. Let's just say that it wasn't for her. Poor little sweet pea! :( I still feel bad about that. I guess I have my boy-mom googles on when it comes to those things. I was so ready to get the bad guys; I wasn't thinking clearly.

Watch out for all the added stores...if you're super cheap like me...
Whenever you leave a big ride, you will exit the ride through a gift store. Again, remind your little ones about the large store by the exit where you have promised to take them to see which exciting things Legoland has to offer, and walk quickly. There is also a lazer maze here that we like to do. After all, it is all part of our Ninja training.  In the Ninjago area, there are other sections for ninja training that don't require lines. One is for balancing and one is for hitting buttons with lights.

Finding the Galaxy Far, Far Away
There is a Star Wars section just outside Duploland, which is called Imagination Zone. You can find all your favorite scenes and characters made out of Lego from episodes 1-6. There is also a large fighter ship in the very back of the park next to Ninjago World. You can push a button and hear it "take off". This is next to the theater, where you can watch a movie in 3D or not on the topics of Nexo Knights and the Lego Movie. This may change from time to time. If you show up on time for the movie, you won't be let in, so be sure to arrive at least 5-10 minutes early. There is also some decent food options here if you like burgers. They have a veggie burger I would recommend.

Cowboy Land (Legoredo Town)
After Ninjago World, we work our way to Legoredo Town, which is what we call "cowboy town". Here, it feels like home! Hahah! I am a Yankee, through and through, but this is the "American west", which is the only America I can get. I'll take it. We LOVE the toy store in this section, because you can bring in any Lego figure you have bought in one of those mystery bags and change it out for a different one. This place came in handy when we somehow managed to buy 2 pink Batmans. I'm not all about that gender separating stuff, so we kept one. One is enough though. We traded the other one. There is also a place for you to roast twisted dough on a stick. It's a Danish thing. Why they have it in the "American section" is beyond me, but it allows the kids to cook over a fire. You have to pay for it, of course, but it isn't much. You can also pan for gold and ride down the "log" ride. This is a water ride, which most amusement parks have. It is being updated now, so I'm eager to see what they do with it. My kids like to ride on the merry-go-round. It plays country music! They also like to pay a visit to the "lady" on the bench. There is no way to describe this lady, but I have a feeling she is going to be playing a role in my boys' journey through puberty. The Lego lady...not a real one. On the way out of this area, there are some sights of home: mini Mount Rushmore and Sitting Bull.  There is also a small playground a the top of the hill behind Sitting Bull. It could be a nice place to let the kids play. They have some pretty amazing restaurants in this area. You can spend a lot of money if you eat at one of the buffets with steaks and stuff. I like the Mexican place that has vegetarian wraps.

Miniland Rides
 There are some fun rides for the middle-sized kids that we like to go to next. This is still called Miniland, like the small village, but it is on the outskirts of the miniland. These rides are very "carneval-esque" and can actually be good for smaller kids and adults, depending on which ride it is. My boys love the Frog Hopper, which is only for little kids. There is also a spinning one that would make me vomit, but we all enjoy the Safari jeeps and the small boats. The lines here aren't as long as the big rides because they keep them moving.

Pirate Land/ Water Rides, but Not Necessarily Wet Rides)
Pirate Land is the next place on the path. I have mixed feelings about Pirate Land. On one hand, it is a lot of fun when it is warm out, because there are a lot of rides that have to do with water. On the other hand, if Legoland feels it is too cold or has some other excuse, this section may be closed. That could be a bummer if you have traveled a long way to get here for the pirate stuff, and then you discover the pirate stuff is closed. We have been lucky enough to visit on a few occasions when it was open. The Pirate Splash Battle is fun, because you get to ride a pirate ship and shoot water cannons at the pirates in the other boats. You can also ride a larger pirate ship that swings back and forth or you can ride on small, spinning boats like the tea cup ride at Disneyland. A family favorite is simply called the Pirate Boat. This is one of those rides that babies can go on, because it just requires people to sit in a boat and look at the scenery. Here you are taken to a pirate hideout. Everything is made out of Lego, which is really neat. There was a ride like this in Kings Island in Cincinnati when I was a kid, but it was with the Smurfs. I was never a roller coaster kind of girl, so that was my ultimate fav. Brings back memories! There is also a large, circle water ride here that isn't for pirates, but for vikings. It is on the edge of Knights Kingdom and Pirate Land. Many amusement parks have this type of ride as well. This one usually has someone getting wet. Luckily, there is a changing house for those wanting to put on bathing suits and large, stand-in dryers that will help with those wet clothes. Just be sure to have some coin money on you to operate them. Sometimes, we also eat at the restaurant here. If you have season passes, you get discounts on food, and since I'm a vegetarian, I need to scope out the places for my people. I can easily get fish and fries here! The kid's meal has more food and is cheaper. Heads up!

Haunted Mansion / Well worth a visit if you aren't a scardey cat
At the fork in the road leading to cowboy town, pirate land and the mini land, you will find a rather large, green mansion. This is a haunted house with a large drop ride inside the building. No one in my family has the stomach for that, so we just go through the house. It is actually really cool inside. Your little one has to be a certain height to enter, which doesn't include the ride. You get to find ghosts and witches and skeletons. It is super cool. I was really curious about it once, and since the lines for it are always so long, I had never gone in. We were there one day when there wasn't a line, so we tried it out. The house is so worth the visit. There is so much to see that would entertain the entire family, just not those timid little ones who don't like ghosts and stuff. It is all made out of Lego, so they are friendly ghosts.

Knight's Kingdom
If you are interested in bigger rides, you are getting to the right place. There is a large castle that is actually a roller coaster, which lets you know you are in Knights' Kingdom. Across from it is a small, outdoor theater where you can watch a king, princess and wizard battling. It is always a nice excuse to take a break. We like to eat our ice cream here. Though it may be expensive, it is a must in my opinion. The Danes love to eat ice cream!

Adventure Land
Adventure Land is next with some rides that are more interesting for the bigger kids and adults. If you look at the map, you will find the height requirements for different rides. It also shows that some rides require adults to go with children in order for children to be allowed. Xtreme Racers is one of the higher rides that they have, but the other rides are on the ground and great for kids of all sizes. The one ride that is in a large Egyptian pyramid is great for little kids who don't mind shooting skeletons with lazer guns. It is very similar to Ninjago, but you can only sit two at a time. One thing that is a must for families would be the Fire Brigade. This isn't really a ride, but an activity. You can be a large group working together for this one, so the lines moves rather fast. You have to get your fire truck to the fire, put out the fire with water guns and then be the first to return. It is just for bragging rights, but it is a lot of fun!

Polar Land
The last area is Polar Land. This place has a little bit of everything. They have penguins that will entertain the little ones, a large roller coaster, and a ice pilot training school. This last one is a personal favorite of my older son. My younger son is too small for it, so big brother goes with dad. The ride is really a mechanical arm with a 2-seated chair. First, you get to program the ride to go where they want: up, down, spin, etc. and store the info on a card. You, then, take the card to the station and insert it by the machine. The computer will read the card and do what you programmed. It is kind of neat.

Riding the Rails
Normally, this is about the time we ride one of the trains that they have at Legoland. We have stood in lines or walked quite a bit by this point and need time to sit. They have a larger train that takes you around Miniland by ground, but there is also an elevated train that goes over the same area that is also an option. The lines seem long, but they move fast, since there is usually lots of room on the trains. You could also go up the Legotop, which takes you above Legoland.

Lego Driving School
If you have a middle-sized kid (ages 8-14), you might also want to stop by the driving school. There is an extra charge here, but your child can go through driving school and even get his/her own license. We did this with my niece once, and she loved it. My kids are still too young for it, but we look forward to trying this when they get bigger.

Finding the Discounts and Atlantis Underwater World
On the very edge of the park, there is a discount store, which I have to check out every time I'm there. We rarely find anything, but I can't pass up a sale. This is also where they have something called Atlantis. This is where the aquarium meets Legoland. That is pretty much all I have to say about it, but we still like it.

The Big Lego Store
Now is the time that you can stop by the big Lego store before you leave. If you followed the signs for the clues throughout the day, you will get your prize here. This place is usually a mad house. We arrive when they open and leave when they close. The big shop is always our last stop, which is probably what everyone else does too. No big deal. There is a place for the kids to play just outside the store if you want to shop alone. I'm always happy that my kids are satisfied with getting a new catalog. Since we have season passes, we go often, which would make stopping at the store each time a rather expensive summer! Hahah!

Eating at Legoland (Bringing your own food vs getting our favorite, hotdogs)
We like to get a hotdog at some point, since those are everywhere and we get a discount with our season passes. This is usually the last stop before we head out. It gives the kids a bit of a supper before they get in the car and pass out. You don't have to eat at Legoland, though. Coolers and wagons are welcome. You just have to be responsible for your stuff, but there are plenty of areas where you could sit and eat. One in particular is by the castle. Here, you can find some picnic tables. Also, if you are a smoker, you don't have to go through withdrawals. There are designated smoking areas throughout the park for your cravings to be fulfilled.

Final Thoughts
That's about it. This is a great place for a family. There are other amusement parks in Denmark that might be better for the bigger kids or those roller-coaster-crazed individuals, but we really like that Legoland has so much to offer the entire family. Maybe as the boys grow, we'll be more inclined to visit those bigger-kid places, but Legoland is fine for now! As long as you love Lego, you will love Legoland.