Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bittersweet surrender

Finals time always comes with a “let me be done!” attitude. The end of finals always signals the end of yet another semester, but this time I’m approaching finals with slight hesitation because this time they’re signaling the end of my study abroad. So, unlike most other finals which finish in relief and sleep deprivation, this finals week is coming to a very bittersweet end. I have one test left, a back pack left to pack, and itineraries and e-tickets to print out, but then I am off on 18 days of Euro-adventure round II. But, it also means that in less than 3 days, I will be saying good bye to the city that has become my home and the friends who have become my family in the past 4 months. Exciting? Yes. Sad? Yes…as I said: bittersweet.

So, now every time the desperate thoughts of “let me be done!” run through my brain, they are accompanied by “how is it this time already?!?” I will be cliché and say that it feels like yesterday that I was sitting anxiously on the plane, imagining how the semester would turn out. Well, I feel it is safe to say that there is no way I could have anticipated everything that has happened this semester:

I ate dinner in a castle; went running in Venice during a storm; spent a night bar hopping with professional handball players; and drove a car in Italy. I practiced my Spanish (but butchered everything else); mastered hostelworld.com and every budget airline site; waded through flooded Venice; and napped at the Eiffel tower. I had a bonfire at the Monterosso beach; tried grappa and lemoncello; drank beer with my Danish teachers; and had lectures at Oxford and the London School of Economics. I learned words like hygge and jordbær, conquered the metros of Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London; went on bar crawls, pub crawls, wine crawls, and coffee crawls; went to Ukrainian and Danish birthday parties; and shot a hand gun. I had a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt; got a Danish haircut; went to a funk show in Christiania and had Palm Sunday mass in Italy. I watched a basketball game in Kiev; got a rose from a polite Venetian; learned how to cook everything with oil, garlic, onions, and peppers; and celebrated 4 birthdays in one Skinderpalooza. I planned an impromptu trip to Amsterdam; had my first oral exam that wasn’t in a language class; went to a presentation about Barbie; and got very familiar with shopping in Copenhagen.

I went places I never heard of; did things I had always wanted to do; and made friends I will never forget. And while my friends are all counting down the hours until they are on their way back to our country where things are open 24/7, drinking laws are strict, and convenience is key, I still have 3 more weeks of adventuring. This means many more people, pictures, blogs, stories, mishaps and memories to be had…and although I’m tired and yearning for some peanut m&ms and a chipotle burrito, I’ll dry my eyes, wave good bye, and say hello to the next great trek.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Europe: CHECK!

With the end of the semester fast approaching, my head is full...not of theories and theses, like is typical of this time of year, but of memories and stories, all of which I hope to never forget. So, I will be true to my finals mode and make some lists to clear my head (so I will have room for all of the memories to come)...Here we go!

My Semester Abroad in Numbers:
• 6 weeks lived out of a back pack
• 2 nights spent sleeping in airports
• 15 airplanes
• 11 countries
• 25 cities
• 44 blog posts
• 2977pictures
• 3 ballets
• 2 plays
• 6 art museums
• 2 boats
• 5 trains
• 1 roommate, 3 quadmates, 9 flatmates
• 1 scar
• 11 languages
• 5 hostels
• 1 B & B
• 5 hotels

Best of Copenhagen:
• Bakery: Christiania
• Sandwich shop: Eat Me
• Museum: Museum of Kunst
• Beach: Klampenborg
• Late night food: Shawarma
• Club: Kulor Bar
• Bar: LA Bar
• Place: Nyhavn
• Park: Kongens Nytorv (King’s Gardens)

Best of Europe:
• Meal: Dinner in a Castle – Amsterdam, Netherlands
• Hostel: Rivoli Cinema Hostel – Porto, Portugal
• Museum: Aros Art Museum – Arhus, Denmark
• Beach: “Fisherman’s beach” – Alghero, Sardinia, Italy
• Hike: Monterosso to Vernazza hike – Cinque Terre, Italy
• City: London
• Town: Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
• Late night food: Walk to Wok – Amsterdam, Netherlands
• Club: Tiger.Tiger – London, UK
• Bar: Kulor Bar – Copenhagen, Denmark
• Church: St. Michael’s – Kiev, Ukraine
• Language: Russian
• Clothing store: Desigual – Barcelona, Spain
• Gelato: Tiramisu – Venice, Italy
• Pastries: Porto, Portugal
• Focaccia: Cinque Terre, Italy
• White wine: Cinque Terre, Italy
• Red Wine: Alghero, Sardinia
• Prettiest Place: Manarola – Cinque Terre, Italy
• Pizza: Poco Loco – Alghero, Sardinia

Of course, these lists will need some serious revising when I get back to the states after my next trip...but for now, I have cleared a little bit of room in my head for more...Bring it on Europe!

A home away from home away from home

When I came to Copenhagen, I was seeking a social experience. Of course I wanted to meet the Danes and experience their culture, but like so many of my peers, I really wanted to have fun and take a break from my hard-working-student life at home. Well, if you've been reading my blogs then I'm sure you have been able to tell that I've been living up to that dream, having both a social and a fun semester (it'd be pretty hard to miss...no reading between the lines needed.) But, DIS just happens to have this nifty thing called the visiting family program, where they set you up with a Danish family to hang out with on occasion; perfect for those of us who don't want a full-time host family but still would like some family time. Well, to add to the good fortune I have had this entire semester, I was paired up with the most incredible family, made up of a mom (Birgit), dad (Claus), two brothers (David and Daniel), and sister (Ditte.) Throughout the semester we have spent hours around their table, talking and laughing and eating delicious food, soaking in the hygge ("coziness") of their home right outside the center of the city. Early in the semester I went to Ditte's 18th birthday brunch, I spent a night out on the town with David and Daniel, compared musical tastes with Claus, and watched clips of Daniel playing handball with Birgit. From the start, I have fit right in and feel like I have gained a second family and a home away from my home away from home. Hopefully someday my two families will be able to meet on my side of the pond, but until then I have some great memories to go on.

Obamamania



When I was in China last summer, Kobe was the celebrity in the spotlight; this year in Europe, it's Obama. And I quite literally mean a celebrity; Obama is everywhere: his face is on everything, his posters cover every surface possible, and he is always on people's minds and entering into conversation. I started off my semester watching the inauguration in a random pub, finally feeling proud of my country for the first time in a long time. Since then, it's not uncommon to have a conversation go:

ME: "I'm American,"
EUROPEAN: "OBAMA!!!!!"

The Obama-related interrogations are definitely made easier by the fact that I have always been a firm Obama supporter, but these conversations are always a little bit tricky since I have lived out Obama's first months on the outside. As of right now, the only things I know about how things are going under our new president is from media and hearsay, so it will be quite interesting to re-enter an Obamafied America. But nevertheless, how refreshing.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Freedom or tolerance? Do you have to choose one or the other?

Today I watched as my entire News Media in Transition class argued for the Muslim side of the argument surrounding the Muhammed Cartoons that were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. After a class discussing this issue last week, we all received an email from our Danish teacher expressing his surprise that we - the American students, the poster-children of free speech - were not siding with the free-speech-above-all argument. And today as we sat through a panel discussion in the class, it became increasingly difficult to listen to the conservative and intolerant arguments that free speech should not be limited no matter who it offends or what lines of cultural, social, and religious sensitivity it crosses.

I have often had a hard time with American "political correctness," feeling that being PC was keeping Americans from discussing important issues and was exacerbating instead of healing some of the divisions in our society. But after these few classes, I started thinking: what exactly is American PC? Disregarding the extreme cases, it is a way of people being respectful, censoring themselves rather than causing unnecessary offense. In a country made up of so many backgrounds and opinions, we must use this sort of self-censorship so that our speech can be used as a means of exchange rather than attack.

And according to the speaker defending Jyllands-Posten’s, this “self-censorship” signals the beginnings of the loss of free speech. But I wonder, why do Danes feel so confronted about their rights to free speech? Defenders of the cartoons say that the cartoons were supposed to foster a debate about self-censorship and free speech, but why were they feeling threatened in the first place? Is this merely Denmark’s way of reacting to the diversity that is beginning to infiltrate its historically homogenous society? Or more, a way of recognizing the intolerance embedded in their social fabric, and not knowing how to negotiate it?

The US has battled over issues of free speech throughout the entirety of its existence and yet has seemed to accept that in order to protect our rights to both the freedom of speech and security, free speech is limited by permeable boundaries. In order to protect our rights, we have to learn to respect them and use them consciously and responsibly.

I agree with the defending argument that free speech should not be given up because of one group, but I also think freedom of speech can be exercised without being purposefully offensive, which just seems ignorant, irresponsible, and intolerant. Intolerance marks an entire culture, rather than the intolerant individuals within it. In our world today, we cannot afford to be intolerant.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Back to unreality

I had to get over my complete exhaustion before I could finally start processing my traveling experience. And it's interesting; I have realized that the things that stood out most were not in contrast to the United States, they were in contrast to Denmark. Maybe it was because the US is everywhere: in advertisements, in products, in language, in pop culture. Whereas Denmark, well, even Europeans sometimes have to ask where Denmark is. Here we are constantly reminded of how American we are, because anything outside of the Danish norm stands out, and yet while we were traveling, it was surprising to realize how Copenhagenized we had become. First of all, being from the US, we are all used to diversity in some form or another. But it was a shock to reenter a society not only full of diversity, but where people do everything they can not to conform. And it was almost hilarious to see how Danish we looked in our black leather jackets, boots, and scarves. And it was even weirder to go out and be surrounded by scantily clad girls and overly aggressive guys, which is almost non-existent here in Denmark. Even more, we had to relearn how to react to the dangers of big cities. Never once have I been afraid of pickpockets in Copenhagen or been worried to walk around late at night, whereas I had a death-grip on purse at all times as we wandered the streets of cities like London and Barcelona. In ways it was a relief to come back to the safe, sheltered bubble of Copenhagen, and in others, it was almost like falling back into a haze of unreality.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some food for thought...

The US is one of two developed nations that permits the advertisement of prescription drugs, but is this ok? There are reasons that the rest of the world prohibits this type of advertisement, which is something we have been discussing in my advertising class. Follow the link below and watch the video clip; think about it...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwendcLch-4

Monday, April 20, 2009

Black taxi, you are colourful today




The black taxi is to Londoners what the yellow cab is to New Yorkers: an easily spotted mode of transportation accessible by the flick of a hand. But more and more, taxis are taking on a new role as their traditionally sleek exteriors are being replaced by colorful advertisements for everything from tourist attractions to fashion magazines to shampoo. This picture perfectly exemplifies London’s transformation into a center of media hybrids where nothing is as it seems anymore: taxis are advertisements, advertisements are artwork, PR is advertising, and there is less and less paper involved in news papers. And even more, this eye-catching taxi, which proclaims not too subtly “Black taxi you are colourful today,” embodies the creative elements that are infiltrating the London media scene. Clearly, nothing is black and white anymore when it comes to London media, and the only way for journalists, advertisers, and various media firms to conquer the grey areas is to use creativity and innovation.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tips for no one in particular

Just a few things I've learned along the way:

#1: Don’t be afraid of hostels.
From what I’ve heard, the hostel industry has come a long way. If you use your resources and do your research, you can find hostels that aren’t half bad, and who wouldn’t mind saving money on a hotel and going out for a night on the town instead?

#2: Be wary of budget airlines.
Є20 flights can be alluring, but make sure to read the fine print. Be aware of hidden fees, especially when it comes to baggage, and save yourself the stress of throwing out half of your luggage in an airport; find out where the destination airports are located; and be ready to be uncomfortable. If you take all of this into account, budget airlines can be a great money saver for the aware and prepared traveler.

#3: Use public transport.
Once you get the hang of it, metros and buses aren’t hard to figure out. And not only do you save bank on taxi fares, but your range of exploration expands immensely.

#4: Pack light.
Not only will this save you money on checking in bags, but it will make it a lot easier to use public transport and maneuver your way through crowded streets and will be much less of a hassle if you get lost, have to back track, or simply have to walk a long way.

#5: Always prepare for the weather.
After spending what I thought was going to be a warm, sunny, beach vacation in the cold and rain, I am a big advocate for bringing that rain jacket and sweatshirt, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.

#6: Ask questions.
It’s more likely that locals will know the best places to go than your tour book, or at least how to get to where you’re looking for. So ask.

#7: Pick and choose.
After too many, a museum is a museum is a museum, so go to the ones that will actually mean something to you and will add to your experience. Plus, museums are rarely the most memorable parts of traveling, so give yourself a break.

#8: Wander.
Don’t plan every minute. Leave some time to walk around, take some pictures, people watch, and discover cool things and places that you won’t find in a travel book.

#9: Use travel books.
When used in moderation, they can be great tools. Just make sure to find one that fits the type of trip you’re looking for and you’ll be set.

#10: Indulge.
If there’s anything you should be willing to spend some money on, it’s food, especially when going to countries famous for their cuisine. So stop counting calories, spend an extra few Euros, and make your taste buds happy.

#11: Record.
Whether it’s through a blog or a journal or a scrapbook, make some sort of record of what you did. It’s easy to forget the little things, which are often the best things, so take a minute and write it down, you’ll be thankful for it in the future.

#12: Grocery shop.
One of the best ways to get a quick introduction to a culture is by going into a grocery store. You get to see what people eat and how much they spend. Plus, it’s pretty easy to find some yummy treats for not too much.

#13: Laugh.
Traveling is full of mishaps and misadventures; laughing at them will make for a much more enjoyable experience.

Highlights

London
Tiger.Tiger, restaurant and night club.

High tea.

Nottinghill and Portobello Road.


Pretty cupcakes on Portobello Road.



Oxford
Punting through the Oxford colleges.



Venice
Wading through San Marco's square.



Cinque Terre
Foccacia.

Swordfish at hilltop restaurants.

Bonfire on the beach in Monterosso


Vernazza, the second village.



Alghero

Two meter long pizzas at Poco Loco.


Fi fi the Fiat.



Barcelona
Park Guell, despite the rain.


Market on La Rambla.


Porto
Rivoli Cinema Hostel.

Vogue night club.

View from the rooftop terrace.


Ceramic tiles.


Pastries!



Madrid
Tapas.

Making the best of it with Paige.


Paris
Nutella and banana crepes.

Lunch in the Louvre courtyard.


Lounging by the Sacra Ceour.

I love Paris in the springtime



No trip to Europe is complete without a jaunt to Paris. So to Paris I went. After leaving Paige in Madrid, I hopped on my first non-Ryanair flight to Paris where I stayed with Jon, a friend of mine who I grew up dancing with and who now dances for EuroDisney. Our reunion may have been an ocean (and what seems like worlds) away from our old stomping grounds, but being with an old friend made me feel much more at home in Paris, and there’s nothing like being with something familiar after weeks of being in new territory.

Since this wasn’t my first time to Paris, we didn’t feel the need to rush around the city seeing every possible sight-to-see. Instead, we lounged on the lawn by Sacra Ceour, perused a museum of erotic art, meandered through the streets of the Latin Quarter, spent an entire day in the Louvre, and spent awhile searching for an apparently non-existent market in Belleville. We ate delicious meals, attracted strange looks as we arabesqued in the Louvre courtyard, got two great nights of sleep, and I made a poor attempt at learning some basic French. Jon had to work on my last day in Paris, so I spent my time laying out by the Eiffel Tower eating baguettes and pan au chocolate and wandering down the Champs Elysses.



My stress free, sunny time in Paris was the perfect end to a perfect trip. Now, just a hop, skip, and airport away from Copenhagen. I’m ready.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Doggie piles

People in Europe don't clean up after their dogs on the street....gross.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Coffee culture

I was always a tea person; coffee was a once-in-a-while shot of caffeine after an all nighter or before an early morning paper-writing session. Well, it turns out that life in Scandinavia has turned me into a coffee person, just as my dad warned me it would. And while museums and churches gave me insight into the cultural and religious histories of the countries we were visiting, the coffee shops that we entered to escape the unceasing rain gave us a different sort of cultural emersion. As it turns out a “large” coffee to those in Europe is anything bigger than a shot of espresso. So, to those of us used to having the option of a venti house drip from starbucks, learning to sip a miniature cappuccino or café con leche turned out to be unique cultural exercise. (And the people watching wasn’t bad either.)

Rain, rain, PLEASE go away!

My philosophy with traveling is to roll with the punches...but what happens when the punches keep coming? After 3 weeks of rain, not only have I gone through 3 umbrellas, but everything I have with me is damp and mildewing and my optimism is running dry.

No longer able to laugh off our misfortune, our half-hearted attempt at seeing Madrid was accompanied by a constant stream of explitive-punctuated grumbling. But after only an hour of trying to see Madrid's beautiful palaces and churches from beneath our umbrellas, we gave up. I guess maybe one day I can come back and see more than just the bottom five feet and eight inches of "el puerto del sol."

Porto deserves some credit


Most people haven’t heard of Porto, we hadn’t either. Unlike Barcelona, Venice, or Paris, saying we went to Porto requires specification of country and map coordinates. But, we saw that there were Ryanair had cheap tickets to Porto from Barcelona and we jumped at the opportunity to go somewhere slightly off the beaten path, and I don’t think we could have made a better decision.

Porto is like a Mediterranean Prague. Now, I haven’t been to Prague, and Porto is not in the Mediterranean, but that is the best way to describe it. The orange tiled rooves, ceramic tile covered buildings, hanging laundry, wine barges, and tiny pastelerias led us to pat our backs on our find. And, to top it all off, it turns out that this city, the home of port wine in northern Portugal, just happens to be the cheapest city in Western Europe (quite the relief after our previous destinations.) And to make things even better, our hostel was perfect. Young, hip, and comfortable, the Rivoli Cinema Hostel, complete with film-themed bedrooms and rooftop terrace, was cheap and perfectly located. Things couldn’t have worked out better.

Thoroughly museumed out and without any idea what to do in Porto, we opted out of museums and churches (although we did take a tour of a port wince cellar) and instead spent most of our time trying out all of the delicious pastries displayed in every other window, wandering the streets, sipping capuccinos, and scavenging for neat jewelry finds. We also made good use of our time meeting locals: the one night we had in Porto was spent out at a great local club that we wouldn’t have found without the help of a group of local students who we met at a jazz bar.

For being a city that only merits half a page in our Let’s Go! book, Porto was quite the diamond in the rough and was definitely one of my favorite parts of my trip.

Barca baby!



Told by at least a dozen people that Barcelona was their favorite city, I went there with high expectations, which were more than met. Two days was not enough. But, I think we did a pretty decent job with the time we had. After sleepy Sardinia, it was quite a thill to be in a city so full of life. And, lucky for us, we were greeted by a cloudless sky on our first day out and about. After some serious headscratching as we tried to figure out the map, Megan, Rob, Mike, and I made our way towards the beach, stopping to see two of Gaudi’s most famous pieces, Casa Mila and La Sagrada Familia. Needless to say, we were a happy bunch with smiles on our faces and Starbucks venti house drips in our hands. What a relief to finally replace our jackets with swimsuits and bake on the beach!

But, our umbrellas weren’t retired for long. We awoke the second day to wind and rain, berating us as we tried to finish our sightseeing, perhaps regretting not visiting Park Guell the day before instead. But, we made the best of it, spending half the day in a chaotic market packed with fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses in every color, size, price, and variety (mouthwatering, to say the least.)

And of course, I can’t go without mentioning the nightlife. I’ve always heard that Spaniards sleep less than other Europeans, and after our two nights out, I understand why. Though the first night’s attempt at going to a club was unsuccessful, the nice weather made for decent late night wandering. And anyway, we definitely made up for the first night’s shortcomings by going to a tapas bar, sangria bar, and two night clubs the following night, coming back to the hotel just in time to leave for the airport.



Barcelona will definitely need to be revisited. But, it’s safe to say that my whirlwind Barca experience was an enjoyable preview.

Ryanair: the costly low-cost airline

This day in age, flying is everything but easy. I can still remember the days when security was minimal, you could check your bags without maxing out your credit cards, and you could walk to the gate. And now that airlines have minimized their luggage allowances, taken away in-flight snacks, and implemented rules that nearly require nudity to pass through security, I didn’t think it could get anymore complicated; that was until I became acquainted with Ryanair.

Ryanair: the Irish airline that boasts Europe’s lowest fares and highest percentage of on-time flights. Even after taxes a lot of the flights still cost under є30…not bad, right? Well budget travelers, be warned. There’s a catch: try є20 to check a 15 kilo bag (plus є12 for every kilo over the weight limit) and є7 in check-in fees. And on top of that, you get cramped planes that don’t pull up to the gate, flights that arrive at obscure airports hours outside of the destination cities (which are rarely main tourist destinations), flight attendants who talk over the intercom for the entire duration of the flight, snacks and drinks for absurd prices, and rocky landings that make you wonder where the pilot got his license. (Although, it was hard not to laugh at an entire airplane full of people sprinting across the tarmac in pouring rain on more than one occasion…the absurdity of this sight managed to make up for some of the discomfort and inconvenience.)

Luckily I was able to sneak my lone (yet bulky) backpack (below) through without checking it and I brought an umbrella for the trans-tarmac treks, making my experience a little less wet and pricey. And though 6 of my flights cost less than my one flight from Paris back to Copenhagen on a non-budget airline, I don’t foresee myself jumping at the opportunity to fly on Ryanair anytime soon. I guess it all comes with the territory of being a poor college student traveling through Europe.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What to do on an island (not) in the sun...

Sardinia: an island off the west coast of Italy, known for its beaches and cheese. Well, without the sun, beaches have been out of the question, and health consciousness has steered us away from too much cheese, but being the savvy adventure seekers that we are, our 4 days in Sardinia, though not what we expected, were amusing, to say the least.


To start, we got a big surprise when our “bed and breakfast” turned out to be a family’s apartment in which we (true to its name) each got a bed and a breakfast in the mornings. But that is not all we got. Being in such close quarters with our hosts, Sebastiano and Elisa, made us feel like we were living in a host family; and for me specifically, this meant a week of Spanish emersion. While Sebastiano is Sardinian and his Italian is almost as incomprehensible to me as his handful of English, his wife, Elisa, is from Cuba, and took it upon herself to help me practice my Spanish. (I very quickly became the resident translator as well as the pupil of a very enthusiastic Elisa.)




After recovering from our arrival at our B & B, we stepped outside to another shock: a completely deserted city. As it turns out, we arrived in Alghero in the middle of siesta, meaning that from the hours of 1:00 and 4:30, Alghero turns into a ghost town. But, after the shops open back up, Alghero becomes a bustling little port town full of gelato shops, pizzerias, and fashion boutiques way outside of our price range.

And though Alghero is bigger than we expected it to be, we have managed to exhaust its entertainment resources by eating lots of gelato, attending a Palm Sunday mass, conversing with the friendly neighborhood wanna-be rap star, eating 2 meters of pizza (seriously), and lounging on a beach during the one afternoon of sun alongside a speedo-wearing fisherman who was fixing his nets.

But we weren’t going to let cabin fever slow us down, so I climbed behind the wheel of our rented Fiat 600 with Megan as my navigator and Paige as the traffic negotiator and set off to explore Sardinia. We ventured all through the north of Sardinia (Fertilia, Capo Caccia, Porto Torres, Castel Sardo, and Sassari), wandering down random roads, picnicking at deserted beaches, and stopping for pictures whenever necessary. And despite having to deal with horrible Sardinian drivers and an angry rain cloud, it was all worth it to sit on the hood of the Fiat watching the sun go down once we arrived back in Alghero.
video


Sardinia: the beachy vacation we had been wanting? Not at all. But we definitely had more adventures than we bargained for. I guess if it’s the unexpected things that make the memories, then we will have a lot of them. And now that I have them, I wouldn’t trade them for anything…not even a Mediterranean tan.

Rain, rest and relaxation

Wow traveling is tiring. We’ve been racing around for the past week and a half going all out every day, squeezing the most out of the lemons that life has given us. Now, Megan, Paige, and I taking 4 days in Alghero as some down time before we head off on the Iberian leg of our spring break. We were hoping to spend these four days relaxing on some of the world-renowned Sardinian beaches soaking up the Mediterranean sun. Instead, the rain clouds that scattered while we were in Cinque Terre are back and instead of putting on our bathing suits and sun screen, we’re gearing up with sweatshirts and umbrellas.

I was so proud of myself when I set off on this trip in true backpacking fashion with only a hiking backpack for my three weeks of traveling. Now, the t-shirts, dresses, and sandals seem to be weighing me down for no reason and I’m longing for the hoodies and long-sleeved shirts that I left behind. But, as I said, little did I know that I would be spending my beach vacation hiding under an umbrella praying for the sun to come out. So much for going back to Copenhagen with a golden glow. I guess we’ll be making the most of what we’ve been given by catching up on our emails and some much needed sleep.

A slice of unreality

Cinque Terre: five villages of coral and goldenrod buildings spilling off of vineyard covered cliffs into the aqua water of the Mediterranean; beauty that cannot be described by words or pictures. I’ve been trying to find a way to write about it, but I am at a loss for words. So, in light of my writer’s block, I will do what I can with some of the 500 pictures I took in the past two days to illustrate this little slice of paradise.


The beach in Monterosso, the northernmost village where we stayed.


Looking south along the coast during our hike from Monterosso to Vernazza.


Vernazza, the second, and my favorite, village.


Vernazza...so full of life; the pure embodiment of "Italy."


Manarola: Where we picnicked on the rocks for lunch.


Riomaggiori, the southernmost village.

Our time in Cinque Terre was a perfect intermission between our visits to some of Europe’s big cities. Somehow we got lucky and had almost 2 full days of sun, which was perfect for hiking from town to town and lounging on the rocks by the sea. We stayed in the northern-most village, Monterosso, at a lovely hotel with helpful and friendly staff, and from there were able to hike or take a train to the other 4 villages. Besides the friendly people and beautiful scenery, we ate like kings between eating fresh seafood and local wine at quaint restaurants and seaside picnics complete with just-baked focaccia and cheese. And to round off our escape from reality, we were able to lay on the beach at night, drinking lemoncello around a bonfire, gazing at the stars.
I’m still not sure if Cinque Terre was a real place, it was all too perfect to fit into my conception of reality. Nevertheless, we’re off to see more of what Europe has to offer…at this point all I have to say is: bring it on.

The river ran through it



Right now I am on the train, zipping through the Italian countryside on my way to Florence. Unfortunately, I will be there for only about 20 minutes before I’ll be catching the next train to Pisa…but, no leaning tower for me. Instead, my final destination is Monterosso, the northernmost village of Cinque Terre. After the hustle and bustle of London and Venice, this chain of 5 seaside villages will be a nice retreat.

This being said, Venice was an experience unlike any I’ve ever had. The labyrinthine streets and canals can lead even the most skilled navigator astray and it seems that every restaurant and café is designed as an unjust trap to the hungry tourist. While still picturesque, the Venice I left at 6:00 this morning was far different than what the travel channel displays. My Venice had no sun saturated squares or singing gondola captains to offer; instead, the streets were congested with umbrella traffic and our shoes seemed to have acquired small oceans. Already I am imagining a return trip to Venice when my view of this world-prized city will not be constricted by an umbrella impeding my view of anything above eye-level.

Though I still feel slightly soggy and can smell the dampness on the clothes that I washed in the bathtub and hung to dry on every protrusion in the hotel room, my Venice hardly dampened my traveling spirit. In fact, the constant downpour provided a Venice experience that could never be found in a guide book. With only the Museo Correr under our belt and lunch that nearly cost us our unborn children, we gave up on the traditional tourist hot spots and split off to see what we could make of this waterlogged city.

Megan and I decided that the best use of our time would be shopping, an automatic go-to without churches and museums. Of course, our college-student budgets kept us away from the Guccis, Armanis, and D & Gs that give Italy its fashion status, but the stores full of jewelry were enough to keep us occupied and somewhat dry for most of the afternoon. After enough window shopping to make any boyfriend drop, we both made successful Venetian purchases: a pair of Murano glass earrings for Megan, and a Venus cameo pendant for myself.

With a few hours to spare before we were meeting the others for dinner and emboldened by our finds and a scoop of tiramisu gelato, we decided to brave the storm and go for a run. Though we found our way to a small park a few miles from our hotel, which I’m sure is lovely when the sun is shining, this was no “jog in the park.” Aside from hurtling over boardwalks, running up stairs, leaping over puddles, and dodging poncho clad tourists, we were weighed down by our rain-drenched clothes and soaked to the bone within minutes; so much that the concierge at our hotel asked us why we went swimming and asked if we were participating in a triathlon. And in ways, it felt like we were in a race of some sort, running to cheers of “Ole! Ole!” and “Bravo!!” from passersby.

After hot showers and thorough towel-drying, we headed to the ultimate post-run carbo-load: a hearty Italian meal; little did we know that getting to our restaurant would either require a boat or a sturdy pair of waders: it was only 7:30pm and the Piazza di San Marcuolo had already begun to fill with water. But, a long detour and some skilled navigation by Jeff brought us to our cozy restaurant where we had a delicious meal of fresh mozzarella, pasta, bread, and wine and friendly conversation with a Greek couple who adamantly insisted for us to visit them in Athens. But towards the end of our dinner the sirens started and we soon found out that this meant “high water…” and high water there was. Only 20 feet out of the restaurant, Megan, Jeff, Paige, and I had to lose our shoes, roll up our jeans, and dive in. As we got closer to the Piazza, the water went from ankle deep, to calf deep, to knee deep, but at that point there was no turning back.



Picture the scenes in the movie Titanic where water is beginning to flood into the corridors, now apply that to an entire city. Little did I know that when they say “Venice is sinking” they literally mean that Venice is sinking to the point that it floods every single night. And by this I am not meaning one or two inches. In a matter of a few hours, the Piazza di San Marcuolo had become a lake. The sight was eerie. We stood in the middle of the flooded square that had been filled with tourists earlier in the day. The water shimmered with the reflection of the Basilica, chairs from the plaza’s cafes were almost completely submerged, and the soft sound of a violin resonated off the walls of the Museo Correr. Watching people wade through the water was reminiscent of cinematic end-of-the-world scenes we know so well. And yet, leaving the hotel this morning at a quarter past 5:00 revealed that the world had not ended, and only the damp streets paid testament to the previous night. In another part of the world, this might seem disastrous; but to Venetians, they merely say “Let the water come.”
video

Return to the motherland



When I came back from my trip through the UK and Ireland at age 12, I told my mom “I am going to live in London when I grow up.” As I set out to London this time, I wondered if it would hold the same appeal at age 20; and I can say with complete certainty that it did. After living in Copenhagen, which seems almost like a bubble that exists completely outside of reality, being in London felt something like being doused in cold water: shocking and refreshing at the same time. London’s grit and diversity stood in such contrast to Copenhagen that I felt as if I had traveled continents away and the fast pace, hustle and bustle, and big buildings were exhilarating, almost like a shot of adrenaline.

At age 12, I fell in love with London’s culture and history; at age 20 I fell in love with its corporate world. On our bus tour of London, our guide said that the uniform of Londoners is a pinstripe suit, with a briefcase in on hand and a newspaper tucked under one arm, and this couldn’t be truer. Everywhere you see people rushing about; hurrying on and off the Tube; clearly walking with a purpose to get to that next meeting. Because we were in London on a study tour for our News Media in Transition class, we got to see what is behind the walls of glass and steal that house gears of London’s corporate machine.

On day one we went to a TNS World Panel, a company that does market research for some of the world’s largest manufacturers, including Coca Cola and GM. There we learned about how TNS goes about gathering and analyzing data that they use to consult their client companies.
The next day we listened to a presentation about advertising and ethics at London’s only broadsheet newspaper, the Telegraph. After hearing over and over again that “print newspapers are dying,” it was refreshing to hear a perspective on what a powerful newspaper is doing to adapt the digitalizing world. And although what we heard was a bit too rosy and cheery in light of the current economic crisis, it was interesting to see how the Telegraph is reorganizing to accommodate new media and the demand for online content. In fact, we got a tour of their modern new headquarters which reflect the changes that the Telegraph’s making: no long is their newsroom a sea of cubicles full of journalists going about their own business, it is a designed like a wheel, where each spoke is a different branch of the paper with a hub in the middle making each branch easily accessible to the others.

Of course it was interesting to see the innovation going on inside of the Telegraph, but it didn’t change my opinions on journalism as a career path for me, but our final visit to Edelman, a global PR agency, was a different story. This was a company that was taking globalization by the reins and embracing the changes in the world of advertising, marketing, and PR. To say the least, this is a company I would love to work for, and I left the presentation wondering what it would take to get a summer internship there. First of all, when we walked in, it was obvious that Edelman was not stuck in the old ways. The interior was contemporary and artsy, nothing like a traditional office building; the employees were young and fashionable, working away on state of the art computer equipment; there were meeting areas furnished with leather couches and there was even a bar and café where we saw employees working on projects together. In the presentation, we listened to how Edelman is working on making their office a reflection of what they are doing in the PR world by facilitating conversation and exchange. They also talked about how advertising, marketing, and PR are merging and what Edelman is doing to cope with this. I was fascinated.



In contrast to all of this, Oxford was the essence of academia. We left London for Oxford to hear a lecture on journalism in Iran (which turned more into a lecture on Iran and politics) which definitely appealed to the International Studies scholar in me. But even the town emanated a scholarly feeling; its gothic architecture and polo-wearing Oxford boys outdoing any Ivy by a million. And while we got a real taste of British business in London, our British emersion continued with pub food, taxis and a boat ride through Oxford.

All in all, my second British experience was more than I could have asked for, and I will be doing what I can to come back as soon as possible…hopefully as a resident.

Mishaps and misadventures

The last I wrote, I was preparing to bed down in the London Stansted Airport. In other words, I was about to attempt to balance on a heating unit, cover myself with a smaller-than-usual towel, ignore the Portuguese family that sounded like a pack of snoring lions, and sleep….all at the same time; not an easy feat, but worth the £40 it was saving me in hotel charges. I woke up, stiff and cold, dodging a broom, inches from my face, sweeping away the debris of a long night of airport-squatting, and yet laughing, nonetheless. To say the least, the less than desirable night of “sleep” was nothing other than laughable, and a surprisingly fitting end to a week full of mishaps and misadventures.

The last time I was in London, I was one of 36 khaki-and-red-polo clad middle schoolers. Now, though eight years have passed and my khakis and polo have been replaced by a leather jacket and pashmina, not much has changed. It turns out that it is hard to maneuver a large group of American students around London, no matter what the age. And we’re not just talking about your typical Americans, but Americans who have been sheltering away from reality in Copenhagen; a combination that left plenty of room for error.

For example, a head count and leash might have been useful implements as we tried to cram 30 people on the rush-hour Tube. Our Canary Wharf hotel was at least 30 minutes away from everything, so more than once we lost someone, watched as our leaders were carried off on trains without us, took the wrong trains, and got held up by technical problems. Of course, this made us late for lectures, forced us to learn how to maneuver our own way through London transport system (including the night bus), and even made us miss our entire tour of Oxford.

And, to say the least, this chaos was not limited to the program-organized parts of the trip; being set free in a city like London was bound to have its consequences. Again, let me remind you that Copenhagen has had a sheltering-effect on all of us, sending us back out into the world more naïve than when we began the semester. In other words, it took us all awhile to remember that the world is not made up of honest and reserved Danes. But, it didn’t take us long to realize this as we saw people get their purses stolen, got scammed by ticket sellers who sold us tickets to Billy Elliot and then turned around and gave us tickets to Blood Brothers, and entered clubs full of girls who were trying to pretend that their tank tops were dresses and guys who had no problem taking advantage of this…a little bit shocking? Yes.

But aside from all of this, we managed to have a great number of adventures. For example, the place we had dinner one night turned out to be the number one most happening club on Monday nights, complete with two DJs, thousands of students, and four floors of dancing, and a foam party in the basement. Another night of wandering brought us to Zoo Bar, a club that was completely dead above ground and a raging techno party below.

Of course, we did do some things not by accident. I spent a lovely afternoon wandering down Portobello Road in the Notting Hill area of London; I had high tea with Jeff, Sarah, Rebecca, and Jenni; and I went to a typical British pub dinner and movie in Oxford. An though this list may seem short in comparison to the accidental one above, I’m ok with the fact that most of the most memorable experiences on this trip I just happened upon, that always seems to be the best way to go about travel.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Living the life

London: Better than I remembered.
Oxford: Better than I imagined.

It will be a couple weeks before I can write a real post about the past few weeks, it will take me longer than I have to do any justice to the great time I've had. But I will say this: as soon as I get back to reality, I will be doing whatever I can to find a way to live here in the future.

Now, with 6 hours down and 13 to go in the Stansted Airport, we have used everything from inflatable pillows to towels to stake our claim of the most comfortable looking benches in the seating area that we have conquered. I will soon be doing my best to make myself comfortable with my backpack as a pillow to await tomorrow morning when I will board a plane to Venice and be off on my Mediterranean adventure. Maybe this college-student-backpacking-through-Europe thing is a little bit uncomfortable, but at this point I don't think life could get any better.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Week of Culture

They always say that the tourist experience is different than the local experience, and I strongly believe that. I never experienced New York like I did with a New Yorker, and I’m sure Kiev would have been completely different had I been there without a native. Not only do you get to see the local dives and “live like the locals do,” but you often avoid the not-worthwhile tourist traps and experience the real value that a place has to offer. The interesting thing about my experience with Copenhagen is that I came here as a tourist, or at least as an outsider, and yet I have yet to act as one. Yes, I have done some sightseeing, been to a museum or two, and visited the most popular shopping areas, but I still fall very short of doing the things that every tour book screams are MUST-Dos in Copenhagen.

This being said, I find my way of culturing myself in Copenhagen preferable to lines at ticket counters, landscape paintings, and rooms full of old furniture. My approach has been to toe the line; I can’t exactly say I have been getting the truly local experience seeing as I have been exploring sans locals, but I haven’t been acting as the typical tourist might, either. Last week, for example, was jam packed with Copenhagen culture: a mix of high and low, chic and quirky, upbeat and relaxed. On Monday, Kanika and I attended the test screening “Love at First Hiccup,” a romantic comedy based on a Danish movie produced in the 90’s which turned out to be a Disney Channel movie gone wrong, to put it nicely. Tuesday I opted for the high culture and went to the Royal Ballet Theater with Caroline and Jessie to see the Danish Royal Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet. Although, it is hard to say whether or not the ballet was good; to say the least, if the ballet had a nosebleed section, our noses would have been bleeding heavily, seeing as we were in the last row of the top balcony and our seats resulted in us watching an empty stage for half of the 3 hour long performance. With midterms a-comin’, Wednesday was spent attending to my studies, but by Thursday, we were bringing in the weekend at Kulor Bar, dancing the night away to what seemed to be the same techno-pop song on repeat. Friday was a similar story, except this time the venue was LA bar and the musical genre was American classics. Saturday brought a change of pace with sleeping in until noon and a 3 hour breakfast consisting of eggs, toast, and banana pancakes drowned in Nutella. Stomachs full but hearts light, we had a girls date to see Slumdog Millionaire where we had a lesson in language barriers: Hindi dialog subtitled in Danish epitomizes the phrase “lost in translation.” A dinner of shawarma provided a nice intermission before heading off to a funk show at Christiania, very funky and very Christiania. And of course, no week of culture is complete without a museum visit, but a free visit to the Glyptotec on Sunday afternoon solved that, as well as any need to see sculptures from Mediterranean Empires for a very long time.

Local: not quite, tourist: no…I’m somewhere in the middle, but life couldn’t be better.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I am an addict

I got my first taste of Europe when I spent three weeks in the UK and Ireland when I was 12 and since then, can’t seem to satisfy my cravings for more stamps in my passport (and all the things that that entails: new places, people, sights, cultures, photographic opportunities, foods, languages, memories…you get the picture.) Well here I am, 8 years later, on my third European adventure…and it has barely begun. In a little over a week I will be headed off on my 3 week long spring break (tough life, I know) which will start with a week in London, the birthplace of my globetrotting addiction. Under the auspices of my second CMM study tour, I will get a chance to revisit the usual sights – Big Ben, the Eye, Buckingham Palace – but will also get the chance to explore London sans chaperones. From there I will head south, to spend the majority of the remainder of my trip in the warmer regions of the Mediterranean. Though I won’t have the chance to travel to the hotspots of Rome and Florence, I will get at least a taste of Italia by visiting Venice, Cinque Terre, and finally Alghero on the island of Sardinia. If the sights, food, and wine aren’t plentiful enough, I will have little to worry about because my next two stops, Barcelona and Porto, will surely have enough paella and port wine to satisfy any appetite. Finally, before returning back home I will take a jaunt up to Paris.

Of course, my traveling won’t stop there. The end of my semester will be jam packed with possible trips to Brussels, Iceland, Bornholm, and Oslo before I head off on another 5 week adventure (if I haven’t gotten my fill yet.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Europe is fantastic for any level of thrill seeking; the endless possibilities of cool places to go befuddle even the biggest planners. Hours spent searching Google and learning the ins-and-outs of Ryanair and EasyJet still leave too much still to be discovered…so here I go, passport and Let’s Go Europe! at the ready. We’ll see where they take me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

10 Observations...Installment #2*

#1: The tortoise and the hare
One critique of Americans is that we never slow down; we are always on the go and in a rush to get from one place to another. I have always been a fast walker, even by American standards, but my “rush-factor” is exacerbated by the fact that strolling seems to be the norm here, at all times of the day. Now, there is no downtown financial district in Copenhagen like you find in most American cities, so maybe this observation would be different if I were to find myself in the middle of a lot of Danish businessmen, but per my experience, I seem to be the hare in a race of my own.

#2: Business casual
Danes’ walking speed, however, is not the only representation of the more easy-going Danish attitude. One of the most shocking examples of this is the fact that what we consider “business casual attire” tends to be just “business attire.” The be-suited businessman hurrying through the crowd, blue tooth in place and heart attack pending is a rare sight in Copenhagen. In place of Armani 3 piece suits, boardrooms witness CEO’s in Diesel Jeans and sport coats. Do you think it has something to do with striving for an egalitarian society?

#3: Danish language
I opted out of taking Danish classes while I’m here - scared off by the fact that not only is Danish difficult to learn, but only 5 million people speak it – but even those who are taking it don’t seem to be having much luck. For us non-Danish speakers, the rules we stick to are: 1) a word never sounds how it looks, 2) cut out about half the letters and just let the rest fall out of your mouth, and 3) just realize that you will almost always be wrong. It is actually quite a beautiful language, but only when spoken properly (and that's the tricky part.)

#4: MIA
One of the classes I am taking is at København University (KU), meaning that, unlike my other classes, I have a class with Danish students. The interesting thing about this class is that Danish students don’t like to come…perhaps this is explained by the fact that the entire grade is based on a final exam at the end of the semester which is only based on the readings…either way, teachers are always impressed by American students’ attendance habits. (And American teachers get upset when students ditch…?)

#5: Respect the Sabbath
I came slightly prepared by the fact that Minnesota’s blue-light laws force things closed at earlier-than-usual hours, but being from a country where you can find just about anything at any time or on any day, I was surprised to discover that most places close by 5:00pm, almost nothing is open 24-hours, and that, by law, nearly everything shuts down on Sundays. How’s that for a day of rest?

#6: Blomsters
The saying goes "a rose is a rose is a rose" or "a blomster is a blomster is a blomster" (when substituting the Danish word.) I'm not sure that by saying Copenhagen's streets are lined with blomsters brings the right picture to mind....but the blomster stands on almost every street corner bring beautiful splashes of color to the dreary streets of Copenhagen in winter. Who knew that some flowers could mean so much?

#7: Hippies at heart
Here, environmental friendliness isn’t a trend, it’s not something you do as a symbol of your liberalness, and it’s not just for people who wear Birkenstocks (I’m not sure any Danes wear Birkenstocks, actually) and tie dye, it’s just something you do. When you go to the grocery store you bring your own bag or you buy one there, people ride bikes or take public transport, all the outlets have switches, plastic bottles are literally reused (just like they used to do with the glass Coke bottles), and cans and bottles can be recycled at any grocery store for cash back (1 DKK per can, 3 DKK per plastic bottle.) America…please take a leaf or two out of this book.

#8: The price is...wrong
Copenhagen is not the place for a poor college student. Even with the dollar rising and a budget in place, my wallet and bank account are in need of some serious resuscitation. With cups of coffee costing $8 a pop and $10 pints of ice cream, it’s easy to say that Copenhagen is an expensive city.

#9: Rain rain go away
It seems as if I’m moving to progressively darker and gloomier places. From Colorado, with its 300 days of sun a year, to Minnesota where the winters are long, cold, and dark, to Denmark where blue sky is a rarity. But, one of the perks of the seemingly perpetual gloom is that even a small glimpse of the sun feels like a gift. And as we start moving from winter into spring, the noticeably lengthening days seem to be a crescendo towards a promising spring.

#10: Quiet city
One of the token sounds of big cities is the siren, but in a safe city like Copenhagen, the need for an emergency vehicle seems to be few and far between. City noises are common sources of complaint to city-goers, and while Copenhagen is far from a sleepy city, it has nowhere near the amount of noise disturbance as your typical city. While New York’s soundtrack might include traffic, yowling cats, and angry pedestrians, Copenhagen’s would have street violins and accordions, chiming church bells, and the occasional techno beat.

*I want to make sure it’s clear that my observations are based on my personal experiences and surroundings in the center of Copenhagen; therefore, they may be slightly biased and may have been different if I had been living in a different area of Copenhagen (I am writing as a casual observer and not an anthropologist.) I appreciate the corrections I have received from those who are reading my blogs and I apologize if anything I write is misinformed, please continue to make me aware of any mistakes. Thank you!

Lessons the DIS way

So yes…I have been here for 8 weeks and, seeing as I have not yet written any posts about the school part of my semester, you are all probably wondering if I am really studying abroad, or if I am just taking a really long vacation. Well, I would say that it is a little bit of both. To say the least, anything away from the rigors of Macalester can be considered a vacation. My semesters are usually spent hurrying from one thing to another, where every minute is scheduled and hundreds of post-its fall victim to the scribblings of my to-do lists. Now, for the first time in a very long time, I have time to breathe, to relax, to have fun…and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Why would I cross an ocean to spend my time with Microsoft Word and a highlighter?

This being said, just because I’m not refining my paper-writing skills or improving my IS vocabulary does not mean I’m not learning a lot. It is all about trade-offs. Now, Copenhagen is my library and Europe is my classroom; instead of papers, I write blogs; my all-nighters are due to dancing instead of cramming; I’m more worried about proving myself in the kitchen than in the classroom; I research traveling destinations and hostels rather than revolutions and international codes of conduct; my planner is full of flight schedules rather than test dates….not bad.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. I rush out the door every morning, coffee in hand, for my 8:30 classes. I take notes, give presentations, study for tests, and meet with groups for projects. I do readings, realize I’ve done the wrong readings, and read again (the compendiums aren’t always very straight-forward.) When I put it this way, it probably sounds pretty similar to what you would find at any college…but the fact of the matter is the structure of school here is very different, even if subtly so, to what I’m used to.

For example, my teachers are professionals rather than PhD’d professors whose life is to teach and to research. Readings are gone over point by point in class, instead of serving as theoretical background for class discussion. And for that matter, class discussion is minimal; it has been a long time since I’ve faced the blackboard and stared at the backs of people’s heads (this is when I wonder how we can be graded on “class participation.”) I am currently in the biggest classes I’ve ever taken, with head counts of a whopping 60 students. And one of the best things? No 20 page papers this semester.

Wednesdays are dedicated to field studies, where we go with our classes to different places in Denmark as a way of seeing in real life what we are learning in the classroom. This could be going to a business, a newspaper, an NGO…a club? Yes, last weekend my Creative Industries class had a field study at Vega, one of the largest clubs in Denmark. We started with a tour and a discussion with a Vega staff member and then finished by watching a concert of the Danish band Small. (It was quite an odd experience to be out clubbing with a professor…beer and dancing included.) To say the least, the phrase “Copenhagen is your classroom” is no joke.

Neither is “Europe is your classroom.” As I’ve mentioned before, we went on a short study tour in Western Denmark for my News Media in Transition class and will be heading out for our long study tour to London in a week and a half. And if that isn’t enough, merely living and observing in Europe/Copenhagen is enough to supply lessons for a life time, even if it's not in the typical way.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Settled in

Traveling is uncomfortable. There is nothing glamorous about wearing the same thing 5 times before you wash it, eating things you can’t pronounce and feeling sick the rest of the day, using body language as your main means of communicating with the people around you, or taking the wrong public transportation and spending hours finding your way back to the starting point. And yet, these are the things that make traveling exhilarating and liberating by breaking the bounds of the comfortable and routine. So what happens when you unpack the suitcase, stop needing a map, and get comfortable? For the first time in my history of traveling I am able to give some answers to that question.

The other day I was walking back from the gym and as I passed my favorite Shawarma shop, I realized that my days of walking through Copenhagen as a dumbstruck tourist are over. As in any city, there will always be new places to see, new things to learn, and secrets to be discovered. But I can now tell you how to get to the Norreport station (and pronounce it correctly); I know my favorite brand of yogurt in the grocery store; I can tell chicken from turkey just by reading the packages; and I can pick out my favorite street performers on Strøget. I may not know all the ins and outs of Danish transit but I know the rules of buying and using a ticket; I no longer need to convert everything from kroner to dollars; I know not to jay-walk; and I can use military time without my brain cramping up. I bring my own bags to the grocery store; I know where to return my bottles and cans; I no longer have to analyze my coins in order to hand over the correct change; and I am less afraid of getting hit by a bike. Of course, there is still plenty learn and lots to observe, but with 8 weeks behind me and 15 weeks to go I am happy to say that I am rather comfortable.

Monday, February 23, 2009

10 observations from a watchful eye

I'm no anthropologist, but I thought it about time to record some of my findings about Danish culture. Many times I have been asked if I feel like I'm missing out on learning about the Danes because I don't have a host family, but I have found that being even the least bit observant pays off.

#1: Danish Fitness:

A few weeks ago, I decided to do something to counter the effects of my sloth-like behavior since arriving in Copenhagen and forfeited the 999DKK to join a gym just a few blocks away. After the first few days of getting my muscles used to some sort of physical activity, I began noticing some subtle, yet interesting parts of Danish fitness behavior. First of all, shorts and baggy t-shirts (my usual work-out attire) is out while stretchy pants and running tanks is en vogue for active Danes. Second, while in American gyms are full of 40-somethings trying to cope with mid-life crises, it is rare to see anyone above 30-ish in the gym (at least in the Fitness World that I frequent.) Also, Danes seem to take a lot of down time during their workouts, and not just as between sets breathers. Not to say that I’m always the energizer bunny, but I feel that breaking a sweat is part of the point of going to the gym, and I’m used to seeing people pumping iron like there’s no tomorrow.

#2: Nudity:

In the US, it’s not uncommon to see saggy older women baring it all in the locker-room at the gym, but here, even younger generations are less modest about their bodies. Of course, I’ve heard dozens of times about how differently nudity is treated in Europe, but that still makes it no less of a shock when it’s staring down at you from a billboard or used as part of a TV commercial.

#3: To market to market:

I can’t speak for the outlying regions of Denmark, but at least in Copenhagen, there is no such thing as a super- anything…there are no supermarkets and definitely no super-Targets or Walmarts. Here, grocery shopping is not a once-a-week activity where you stock up like you’re awaiting the apocalypse. Instead, Danes stop by the local Netto or Irma almost daily. In addition to that, environmental consciousness extends into the grocery stores as well, where you have to either bring your own bags or pay for a new one (something that I also saw in China last summer), cutting down on the amount of plastic bags floating around.

#4: Fashion:

Copenhagen has been called “the Paris of the North;” very modern, European, beautiful, and fashionable it is still very Danish and its Scandinavian roots hold firm, something that shows through in Danish fashion. While it is definitely true that Copenhageners are fashionable, they remain en vogue in a conservative, non-ostentatious way. With black the prevailing color and scarves the dominant accessory, girls are typically wearing a combination of leather boots, tights or leggings, long shirts or dresses, and peacoats and guys in tight jeans graphic tees and checkered scarves.

#5: Street Etiquette:

When jostled on the sidewalk or squeezing past someone in the aisle of a store, never will you hear a Dane say “sorry” or “excuse me.” More than once, I have had to bite my American tongue to keep from giving away my foreignness.

#6: Service:

I feel like in the US you can’t go into a store without being berated by the sales people trying to get you to sign up for their credit card or notice their latest promotion. At the very least, you get asked if you’re finding everything ok and if you’re needing assistance, there is almost always someone at the ready. Here, without the promise of commissions or tips driving salespeople or servers, service tends to be very slow and impersonal.

#7: Children:

There are kids everywhere! My theory? Denmark’s social-welfare system leads to less work which lowers the demand for daycare and increases the amount of parent-child time…not a bad deal.

#8: Couples:

Maybe another explanation for the number of kids around is the number of couples. While walking down the street, I have noticed that most people are walking in twos. And it seems that Danes are less commitment-shy, and seem to begin pairing of in early high school.

#9: No reservations:

One of the first things I was told about Danes before coming to Denmark was that they were a very reserved people, but thus far I have only noticed the opposite. Yes, Danes aren’t prone to small talk across a cash register, but once approached, they are more than friendly. For example, lots of times when you ask a Dane for directions, they won’t stop at trying to explain the way and will actually take you to the place that you are trying to find. Or when going to someone’s house for dinner, you are treated like an old acquaintance or family member and the meal will last as long as the conversation, which is rarely shorter than 4 hours.

#10: English:

I have yet to meet a Dane who does not speak English; and by “English,” I do not mean English that is hardly discernable through a thick accent and muddled grammar and vocabulary, but English that often times is better than mine. And yet, Danes never fail to warn you that their English may not be too good and that you should not hesitate to correct them. (I guess that just goes to show a bit of the infamous Danish modesty.)

Skinder-woes

The initially faulty internet connection, sticking doors, and awkwardly close quarters seemed fair dues to pay for the prime location and great company of living in Skindergade. Even the small ocean that has taken up residence in our bathroom and the frequent untriggered fire alarms seemed (almost) acceptable…and maybe even a touch endearing. But as light bulbs have burned out, black outs have displaced entire floors, and small waterfalls have made their way through our ceilings from the floors above us, our lenience has gone from genial to exasperated rather quickly.

In a way, maybe the trials and tribulations of Skindergade life are serving as a substitute to the obstacles faced by those with host families; while they are struggling with Danish dinner-table etiquette, we are wondering why you have to frequently dump water out of the dryer; or while they are maneuvering the intricacies of Danish environmental consciousness, we are attempting (and learning) to cook sans oven and with only an assortment of mismatched utensils at our disposal.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think anyone here would trade our living situation for anything. If being able to wake up at 8:23 and still make it in time to an 8:30 class isn’t enough, avoiding strikes on the bus lines and hour long commutes, having Copenhagen’s best entertainment at our fingertips, and the undeniably beautiful cityscape right outside our door leave us with little but superficial complaints. And, as I said before, being in good company makes Skinder-life all the better. Well past the stages of the inevitable freshman syndrome that comes from being in a new place with new people (where everyone hangs out with everyone simply because no one has anyone), we are still close as ever, sometimes more like a family than merely a group of friends. Our days are punctuated with early morning doggie piles, family-style dinners, and ongoing card games, movie nights, religiously followed TV shows, and mildly unsuccessful homework sessions.

Of course, along with our family-like bonds come family-like bickering, wrestling, and provoking (it’s not such a rare occurrence for those coming home at 4 in the morning to do whatever they can to wake everyone else up). The girls have done what they can to teach the boys the most basic of domestic skills and yet the ever-present mess in the kitchen has been a cause for verbal abuse (met with excuses that they're used to living in a frat house) and Cinderella-like Sundays.

Naturally, I say this all in good fun and high spirits and I couldn’t feel more lucky when considering my living situation. These Skinder-woes can’t even be considered bumps in the road, just parts of this fabulous experience.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Everything looks different by sunlight

After four weeks of cloud cover, yesterday's sun brought warmth and a new light to the city that I have been getting to know so well. The already pedestrian-saturated streets were full of people slightly less bundled and slightly more cheerful; vendors and street performers seemed to have multiplied over night; and shops and cafes doubled their capacity by putting tables outside for those clearly anxious to shed their winter gear and make an early debut to the sun-bathing season (although it's still a little early for that.)


And little did we know that this beautiful sun was setting the stage for a beautiful Valentine's Day because as the sun warmed our skin, the Skindergade boys were setting up to warm our hearts. Us third floor girls had spend the week harassing the boys to plan something for Valentine's Day, feeling that we had paid our dues in cleaning and cooking (as we have served as stand-in maids, mothers, and wives) and deserved some display of their affections, But, after meeting many protests at every mention of Valentine's Day and many accusations that we were "ducking them" by not including them in our Friday night girls' night, we approached Sunday with low expectations...which were soon to be exceeded. Thinking that, at the most, we might each receive a "blomster" (also known as a flower) as a toke of their affections, we were surprised to be to told to be in the kitchen at 3 o'clock sharp, making sure to remember our shoes, socks, coats....and blindfolds? So, sitting with scarves wrapped around our faces, we were informed that we were being sent on a scavenger hung and would shortly be receiving our first clue. We removed our scarves to find that it was not being delivered by the typical Hallmark cupid, but by two of the boys wearing nothing more than bright pink mankinis.

After nearly dying of laughter, here is what we read:
Clue #1:
Here's a treat for our lovely ladies,
Don't worry, this won't lead you to an abandoned baby,
It's a hunt for our love, you will find
Check your mail, if you don't mind.

So...down the stairs we went and in our mailbox found:
Clue #2:
Our internet sucks, and that's not cool,
The place you'll be heading next is in school,
Take a walk, if you can,
Go to the place where our travel plans for the 'dam began.

Easy enough...we trekked down the street to the DIS computer lab where we collected:
Clue #3:
Cheap wine is the way to go,
We always have fun and that's fo' sho,
Go to the place where our nights begin,
Buy some Vina Morena and dig in.

A little trickier, but we knew just where to go...the wine aisle of Netto, our grovery store of choice...and sure enough, hidden between the wine bottles:
Clue #4:
We all love to dance, we all know that,
The next place you'll go is classy unlike our frat,
Put on your tutus and dancing shoes, too,
Go to this place and you'll find your next clue.

Hmmm...this one almost deceived us, but only for a second...and off we went to the Royal Ballet where clue #5 was stuffed into a display case outside:
Clue #5:
Owen plus Vanilla Ice can be found dangling here,
Lace them up, have no fear,
The hunt is almost over, your presents away,
A line of stallions, we are your dates.

And as we skirted the edge of the skating rink that sat across the street from the ballet, we saw our boys sitting outside of a cafe; balloons, flowers, and champagne in hand. After giving hugs and toasts all around, we laced up and slipped and slid across the ice, surrounded by beautiful Copenhagen.



What a perfect Valentine's Day.

I said brrr...it's cold in here!

Sooner or later I will have a post cataloging the top hang outs we have discovered since being here. But for now, I wanted to give a brief shout out to one hot spot, or cold spot, rather, that we visited Friday night; and that would be the Absolute Ice Bar in Hotel 27.


After night after night of going out in a group of about 20 of us, the girls decided to have a night (or at least part of a night) to ourselves. So we made reservations and found our way to the infamous ice bar, a bar made completely out of ice blocks harvested in the arctic. Kept cold 24/7, 365 days a year, the ice bar is a younger sibling to the famous Ice Hotel in northern Sweden, where everything down to the glasses drinks are served in is made out of ice. For a cover charge of 150 DKK, you get to spend 45 minutes in the ice bar, dressed in designer parkas. We had been told it was disappointing, but, being easily fascinated, we thought it was fabulous and had a fabulous time! (Especially after befriending the bartender and getting to spend an extra 45 chilly minutes.)

Of course, the boys were upset that we left them behind, so we met them later in the night to dance until 5 am...but the ice bar was definitely a great warm up, or cool down, rather, for the rest of the night.