Although it’s half the size of Tasmania, Denmark sprawls across an untidy collection of peninsulas and islands with a bridge connecting it to Sweden. In basing ourselves in the second-largest city of Århus for a week, we missed out on exploring almost half the country — including Copenhagen. However, we found more than enough to keep us busy in Jutland.

Climbing up a stair of too-many steps, outside Aarhus, Denmark, September 2014
Because we're staying in the city centre, we soon find that we just want to be outside in the bush for a while, so we investigate natural playgrounds and native reserves.

Lana paddling in the water outside, Aarhus, Denmark, September 2014
When we stop to investigate the beach, Lana can't resist the lure of the water, but its cool temperature doesn't tempt her linger.

We reached Århus after a stopover in Moscow and an overnight at a Copenhagen hotel.

Lana wearing an Aeroflot mask, August 2014
Once on board our Aeroflot flight from Beijing, the girls are thrilled with the toy packs that are distributed by the cabin crew. This is the first non-budget airline we've taken on our trip, and the difference in service (especially to passengers with children) is very pronounced.

View of planes from Moscow's Terminal D, August 2014
We have quite a long layover in Moscow, but upon discovering a strictly-supervised "Mother's Room" in one corner of Terminal E, we're able to rest and play until it's time for our flight.

After all our international flights, the 2.5 hour flight from Moscow to Copenhagen was by far the most difficult for our family. We were still on Australian/Beijing time-zones and so all the girls slept on the plane and — feeling like it was about 3 in the morning — had difficulty waking at our destination. In a comical performance, Brioni kept falling back asleep as soon as she had acknowledged she was awake, and it was hard to get her to stand up and walk off the plane. I ended up carrying both Calista and Lana off the plane with the cabin crew following behind with our hand luggage. I had actually carried Delaney onto the plane fast asleep — she had fallen asleep in the Moscow airport — and she didn’t wake until the next morning at the hotel! Thankfully, our hotel was directly adjacent to the airport, so we didn’t have to go far in such a state of fatigue.

Aisha looking at breakfast options, August 2014
Our Copenhagen hotel offers a free self-serve breakfast bar from 4 to 6 am, which means that when a child wakes at 4.30 saying she's hungry, I know just where to go!

Aisha arranging the bObles foam blocks at Hilton Copenhagen, August 2014
Trust the Danes to come up with a simple idea that keeps children like mine amused for hours. The girls played on, with, and around these high-density foam blocks for hours!

Our arrival in Denmark has felt like a cultural shock. My first task was to purchase four car-seats for use during our travels in Europe. All the countries have slightly different regulations, but because we’ll be passing through so many of them, I needed to cater to the highest common denominator. Germany has the strictest laws regarding car-seats — children under 12yo and 135cm tall must remain in a booster-seat. This meant that I had to get four booster seats for our travels — whereas in Australia we only use two. I had researched online, discovered what the Danes called booster seats and found a retailer who sold them and was open on a Saturday! This was our first stop once we had collected our hire-car from Århus airport.

I had inadvertently selected a huge department store — much bigger than anything we have in Australia — that served as a combination of Woolworths (supermarket), Big W (department store) and Mitre 10 (hardware) combined. It was only after we arrived at the store that I realised that half of Denmark was shopping alongside us. I’m not an eager shopper at the best of times, and the size of the shop and newness of the language — along with the weekend crowd — felt very overwhelming to me. One great mystery was all the shoppers with their trolleys. Everyone had a shopping trolley except me, and I couldn’t see anywhere from which to obtain one. To add to my stress, I hadn’t been able to change money and wasn’t certain that my brand-new credit card would actually work!

We wandered through the huge warehouse of a store before finally locating a staff member who could speak English and could point us in the direction of the car-seats. Then it was time for a food-shop. In browsing the items in the aisles, I realised how much I rely on the ingredient labels on processed products before I make the decision to purchase something. In Australia, I either stick with trusted products or read the labels carefully. This is very important, especially to Brioni who doesn’t want to inadvertently consume any dairy or egg. Perhaps I expected more items would have English labels, or — more likely — I didn’t expect anything at all and felt that with the internet on my side I could handle any gaps in my knowledge of Danish. However, having just arrived, I was still without mobile internet access, I couldn’t translate the unpronounceable words I was reading, and I felt quite powerless and overwhelmed by it all.

Soon I announced to the girls that I felt overwhelmed by the crowds and the the newness of the situation. We chose semi-familiar products from the fresh-food section, settled on a few products and exited to the carpark. The revolving door at the entrance to the store was a novelty for the girls, and a safety-mechanism stalled its movement if they got too close to the glass. For me, their experimentation felt like a fine balance between exploration and torture as I just wanted to retreat and rest. On the way out I finally located and identified the trolley bays. In Australia, paid employees or contractors collect the shopping trolleys and bring them in-store for the the convenient use of shoppers. In Denmark, the trolleys remain outside in the carpark — held ransom with coin-operated locks — and so shoppers have to collect their own trolley before they enter the store. Once I understood the system, it made sense, but for a while there it felt bewildering.

We’ve borrowed a small apartment in the centre of Århus for a week. I felt that we needed somewhere in which to settle while we adjust to the different currency, language, time-zone and way of life. This time with a smaller hire-car will also allow me to become used to driving on the right before we move into a bigger campervan for our tour of other countries.

Our first couple of days was spent in and around home. The girls and I slowly adjusted to the European time-zone and learned to navigate our way around Århus, stopping at small playgrounds and exploring the natural parks. The first major attraction we visited was one spotted by the girls while they were reading a promotional magazine at the airport — a wildlife park with wolves!

Skandinavisk Dyrepark

Skandinavisk Dyrepark is a wildlife park near Tilst in the northeast of Jutland. The park has several kilometres of tracks to walk around with northern European native animals in “natural-looking” ranges. We visited primarily for the opportunity to see the wolves but discovered that the playful polar bears and awesome mammoth exhibit were more fun. The largest polar bear likes to jump up out of the water, lunging at the spectators on the wooden walkway above his pond. It’s scary but also fun, and the girls would move from one side of the walkway to the other to call to the bear.

In the mammoth exhibit, everything is free-to-touch except for the ancient mammoth skeleton. This sort of interactivity means that we can properly examine the bones, marvel at the weight of the mammoth tooth and feel the texture of the different animal furs. I appreciate places like this that allow a healthy level of participation with the exhibits.

The park sells food to feed the deer and goats and provides wildlife talks at various times throughout the day. A fabulous playground at the half-way-point picnic ground is worth the admission price alone. We’ve never seen a climbing mountain (volcano?) quite like it, and the all-timber obstacle course kept the girls entertained for almost an hour.

Horsens museum

The museum visit was a bit of a mistake. Although I was aiming for the Industrial Museum, we mistakenly spent half a day at the more modest Horsens museum because it was so fun. Horsens is the birthplace of Vitus Bering — he who charted the Bering Strait, proving to European scientists that Asia and North America were not connected by land. His grave was excavated in 1991 and the museum has replicated it (and his skeleton) and then built a comprehensive exhibit around his life and death. Downstairs, in a very child-friendly room, children are invited to climb into a pit of fake dirt (I didn’t know such a thing existed!) and excavate the skeletal bones that are buried. Other activities included bone puzzles, worksheets and colouring-in sheets.

It was difficult to get the girls to leave the skeletal exhibit to explore the other floors of the museum, but when we did, it was only to learn that other rooms were even more fun! One large room is devoted to illustrating and explaining Danish idioms and proverbs. Another wing of the museum displays an impressive collection of vintage toys, along with a puppet theatre, dress-up room and toy collection for children to play with. Our visit to the Horsens Museum was so successful that we only left when it was closing time, and the girls have begged to return to it … so we may never actually get to the Industrial Museum at all!

Girls playing at Horsens Museum, October 2014
During our visits to the Horsens Museum, the girls play for hours at the toy exhibits made especially child-friendly, and this remains one of their favourite places in Denmark.

Water labyrinth

Our time in Århus coincided nicely with the Århus festival, so many extra art exhibits and activites were on offer. Our favourite independent installation was Jeppe Hein’s water labyrinth. Located outside, it’s a square platform fountain of varying drops that appear in a line, creating a maze where any willing participant can navigate a path that keeps them dry while still surrounding them with a wall of water. When the paths change, the water starts off at a low pressure, giving fair warning if you happen to be standing in the wrong spot! West Australians can experience one of Hein’s water labyrinths at Forrest Place in Perth.