Despite all my travel posts this past month, I am in fact still living and thriving in Denmark. The past two weeks post-Rome have been busy and sunny, making me not want to leave in just one short month. Really, how is it already nearing the end of April?? It’s madness. Not that I’m unhappy to be returning home; I do miss all my friends and family more and more everyday. However. Copenhagen feels like a second home now, and I know I’ll miss my routine when I leave it.
As the semester winds down, I’ve been working on a lot of group projects and gone on a few field trips. In my core course we’ve been working with a magazine associated with the Red Cross here in Copenhagen as they launch a new campaign titled “Could I Become a Dane?” It’s meant to be a response to the Prime Minister’s recent campaign that tells immigrants that if they want to come to Denmark, they have to work for it. That’s not the most positive message to send to the newest additions to Denmark’s population, so the “Could I Become a Dane” campaign is meant to highlight all the great aspects of Denmark and why immigrants should want to come here. We all contributed to a video for the campaign (I said: “Denmark is great because it’s a ‘we’ society, not an ‘I’ society”-claim to fame), although I’m not exactly sure where or when it will be shown. Still, it was a fun experience.
In my Rewriting Democracy class we’re designing an actual app that will be used by future DIS students. My group’s app is a Q & A forum where incoming students post questions and current or previous students answer them. It’s pretty cool that we’re doing this, although we really have no clue what we’re doing. It’s all trial and error, but we’re learning a lot about app design and creation. Our teacher has a lot of faith in us to figure it out on our own, which is exciting yet challenging because that’s just not what we’re used to at our home universities.
We are doing something somewhat similar in my Creative Industries class. Our semester-long project was to create a merchandise product for DIS to sell to current students, with one group selected in the end as the winner. My group designed a laptop sticker that was a camera with an image of Copenhagen in the lens. None of us are graphic designers, but we were all pleased with the final product and marketing plan. Sadly we didn’t win, although we weren’t too surprised. Writing all this makes me appreciate how cool my classes here are…all this hands-on stuff is so much more fun than the usual lecture format.
Aside from all the academics, springtime in Copenhagen is simply delightful. All the flowers are blooming and everyone is outside soaking up the sunshine. Last Saturday I took my book to the giant park near my dorm and read under a tree for a solid two hours. This Wednesday I drank wine on a lakeside bench with my friend for an even more respectable four hours (hoorah for no open-container laws). Just walking around makes me fall more deeply in love with this city, and I can’t imagine having spent the semester anywhere else.
The best part about Copenhagen in spring, though, is Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is an amusement park located right in the center of the city, and it’s the coolest place in Copenhagen. I say “amusement park” because there are rides, but it’s nothing like, say, Kennywood. It’s smaller and has the vibe of an old-school carnival, but way more upscale. There are expensive restaurants and cafes, as well as a beer garden and grassy places to sit and picnic. The place is unnaturally clean and well-kept, with immaculately arranged flowers and trees everywhere. I’ve been there twice so far, once during the day with my Hans Christian Andersen class (many of his stories were inspired by Tivoli) and once at night (last night, in fact) to see the weekly concert.
All in all I really can’t believe how quickly this semester is winding down. Going to make the most of it, especially now that the temperature is rising (slowly but surely) as my homework load is falling (maybe the only good thing about group projects).
So, to continue my last post. After the feast that followed our Vatican visit, we made our way to the Roman Forum, which is filled with the ruins of important ancient Roman places. It was huge, so we gave ourselves a few hours to walk around and see everything. Despite having seen nothing but ruins over the past few days, I was still amazed by this place.
That night my friend Maggie, who is studying abroad in Copenhagen with me, arrived in Rome, after spending the first part of the week in Budapest with her class. Finally, the five roommates were all together once again. She arrived later in the evening, so we got a quick dinner at a restaurant near our hostel and spent time catching up. My friend Colby from high school was also in Rome, so we decided to all meet up the next day.
If only it were that simple. We decided to take the train to Tivoli, a small town about an hour outside of Rome, and made plans to meet at the train station the next morning. Kacie, Cirsten, Maggie, and I arrived about 15 minutes before our train was due to depart, but we couldn’t find Colby. Julianne had said that she would meet us on the platform, so we decided to split up, with Cirsten and Maggie heading to the platform to meet Julianne and Kacie and I walking around looking for Colby. Without wifi we couldn’t contact anyone (I really don’t know how you people made it before cell phones), so we were worried about Colby not making it in time, or us missing her.
After a few minutes wandering around the station with no luck, we had to go back to the platform or else miss our train. Before we lost wifi Colby had said that she wasn’t sure if she would make the train on time because she was so far from the station, so we figured that was what happened. However, when we got to the platform none of our other friends were anywhere in sight. With only a minute left before the train was due to leave, Kacie and I jumped on the train, hoping that the others had gotten on before us. As the train pulled away and we walked up and down the carriages, it became obvious that the other three were not on board. Very confused, we sat down and decided to find wifi as soon as we got to Tivoli and figure out what happened to everyone.
After arriving, we waited for the next train to arrive first, hoping that maybe they just got on the next one. After that one came and none of our friends were on it, we found a restaurant with wifi and got lunch. As it turned out, both Colby and Julianne had missed the train and were doing their own things in Rome. But we still couldn’t get a hold of Cirsten and Maggie, who we somehow lost in a span of five minutes. It was frustrating, but after a few months of being used to not being able to reach people I wasn’t worried. FINALLY, we got a message from them saying that they were in Tivoli eating lunch somewhere too. They had gone to the wrong platform at first, but did eventually get on a train when they realized we had most likely gone without them.
After that minor setback, we could finally enjoy our day. And Tivoli was simply gorgeous, with rolling hills and that classic Italian vibe. The town is famous for its villas, so we spent the afternoon at Villa Gregoriana, which was complete with waterfalls and sunken grottos. I can’t even tell you how great it felt to be out of the chaotic city and walking around nature. The sound of the rushing water, the smell of the blooming flowers, and the feel of the stone railings all contributed to a feeling of rejuvenation, and I walked off for a bit by myself just to let it all soak in. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to see the other villas, but we did get to walk around the town and, of course, eat gelato.
On Saturday I finally got to see Colby! We had a great day together, talking about our adventures abroad (she’s studying in Ireland this semester). We spent the whole day walking. First we climbed to the top of the giant white building in Piazza Venezia that I still don’t know the actual name of (Julianne always called it “The Wedding Cake”) to get a great view of the city. Afterwards we walked into some churches and made our way to Villa Borghese, a huge garden area. Unfortunately it started to rain for the first time all week, but that was fine because we would just take shelter in restaurants or gelato shops and eat. Honestly, I think I ate something substantial every hour that day (no complaints here).
Sunday was the worst day weather-wise, which was unfortunate because it was Easter Sunday. After sending Kacie and Cirsten off to the airport (that was a hard goodbye), the rest of us trekked over to Vatican City for Easter services. They didn’t start until 11 but we got there by 8:30 to beat the crowds. We actually found some seats in St. Peter’s Square, but that didn’t feel too lucky when we sat down on the drenched chairs and felt the water soak in. Maggie and I shared an umbrella, but it only covered our heads because the water from other people’s umbrellas fell down on our legs and laps. After an hour we were soaking wet and pretty miserable. Maggie, always the optimist, tried to keep me going, but I wasn’t feeling it, especially since we couldn’t see anything over all the umbrellas. Eventually Julianne and I decided to make a run for it, thinking of the inevitable pneumonia we would catch if we stayed.
After running back to her apartment feeling like I had just gone swimming in all my clothes, we put on sweatpants and sweatshirts, bought fries and chocolate cake from the one open place near us, and put on The Lizzie McGuire Movie. It was a pretty perfect Easter, even though I felt so guilty for ditching the Vatican services. Maggie and Colby stayed for the whole thing, and were rewarded for their suffering by a close-up view of the Pope, while I sat under a blanket watching a Disney movie. Not my finest hour, but I regret nothing.
Both Colby and Maggie left later that day, so more goodbyes were in order. My flight didn’t leave until Monday morning, so I spent the night at Julianne’s. After ten days of nonstop travel and sightseeing, I was definitely ready to get back to familiar and comfortable Copenhagen. Getting on that plane and being once again surrounded by tall blonde people speaking a language that I didn’t understand a word of yet felt so comforted by, I felt like I was going home. I had a perfect week with my best friends in one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen, and I felt pretty damn lucky.
I spent the majority of my week off in Rome, eating pasta and drinking wine in the sun. It was glorious. We arrived on Monday morning to 70 degrees and clear skies, so excited to explore the Eternal City and reunite with Julianne, our other roommate who is studying abroad there. After checking into our hostel we immediately found pizza for lunch and walked around a bit. My first impressions of Rome were not entirely positive, unfortunately. Our first taste of Rome was the area around the main train station, and it wasn’t exactly picturesque. Coming from quiet and clean Scandinavia, I was completely overwhelmed by all the aggressive street peddlers and homeless people getting in our faces looking for money. Everything was loud and there were cars and vespas coming from all directions. The bus to Julianne was overpacked with sweaty people and made me realize why people tend to avoid public transportation. Copenhagen’s busses are like luxury vehicles in comparison.
BUT that’s all the complaining I’m going to do because Rome is a truly incredible place. The area where Julianne lives and goes to school is in the nicest part of town, and is full of winding cobblestone alleys and little balconies overrun by flowers. We spent that first evening wandering around, ending up at an impressive piazza complete with a large fountain and the Pantheon. Upon entering the Pantheon I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was inside a place that was built nearly 2,000 years ago. A common thought I had throughout the week was HOW is it possible that this thing is still standing? As I looked around I felt a mixture of amazement and sadness, because my dad wasn’t there with me. It just didn’t seem fair that I, with my very basic understanding of Roman history, got to see all these ancient monuments while my dad, who has read “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” for fun, couldn’t. My friends suggested I make a video of the Pantheon so I could send it to him, and so began a video documentary of my time in Rome, which I sent to my parents every night.
The next day we made a day trip to Santa Marinella, a small beach town about an hour outside of Rome. We started out with a simply life-changing lunch (gnocci with shellfish, white wine, lots of bread) before heading to the beach, where I slept on and off for two hours. It was too chilly to go in the water or wear a bathing suit, but I did manage to get some nice color on my face (you would be pleased, Mom). There was hardly anyone in town because it’s the off-season, so the beach wasn’t crowded and we had a very relaxing day.
On Wednesday we had our first full day exploring Rome. Our first stop was the Colosseum, which is just as amazing as everyone says it is. It blows my mind how there’s this massive ancient structure in the middle of the city that somehow fits in with all the comparatively modern buildings around it. Of course, nothing in Rome could be described as “modern”, but you know what I mean. The old and the new mesh together seamlessly in Rome, which was one of my favorite things about it. Although we waited awhile to get in, it was so worth it when we walked out onto the ramparts and looked over the crumbling ruins. I’ve never seen anything that looked so unstable yet so sturdy at the same time. Again, I was overwhelmed, realizing that I had never looked at something so old in my life. Looking down on the “stage” area I was in awe thinking about the long-gone people who once gathered right where I was standing to watch gruesome fights for fun. It didn’t seem very real.
After such an incredible experience we were in dire need of food (although we were pretty much always craving food). Lunch was ravioli and gelato (gelato was consumed at least twice a day…again, my mind would briefly stop functioning from the moment I saw gelato to the moment I looked down and realized I was vigorously scraping the bottom of the cup trying to find any last remnants of said gelato).
Afterwards we explored a beautiful old church, Santa Maria Maggiore, which blew me away. Europe is full of stunning churches, but Roman churches are on an entirely different level. Gold everywhere, intricate murals covering the ceiling, and the most impressive altars I’ve ever seen. Walking into churches in Rome really makes you appreciate the sheer power of the Catholic church.
The evening was spent walking for a LONG time. We saw some monuments, gorgeous buildings, and made it to the Spanish steps in time for sunset. Then we walked all the way back through the busy shopping district. By the time we got to the restaurant for dinner it was past 8:00 and we were starving. Luckily, we were at Tony’s. Tony’s offers a “special”, and we decided to get that without really knowing what to expect. It turned out to be six appetizers, three giant entrees, and unlimited wine. By the end of it we were delirious, vowing to never eat again. Or at least until the morning.
Thursday was probably our busiest day. We started out early with a tour of the Vatican, which we splurged on a bit because we decided to pay extra for a skip-the-line tour. That turned out to be a really good decision though, because the line was absurd (they get 22,000 visitors PER DAY). Having a tour guide was necessary, simply because I wouldn’t have gotten anything out of the visit otherwise. There were so many people crowded into such a small space that we could barely move, and I kept losing my friends. The only thing that prevented me from having a full-on panic attack was the tour guide’s voice in my ear (we wore a headset to hear her) and the little flower on a stick that she held up so we could follow her. The Vatican museum was, again, very impressive, and I couldn’t believe all the ancient art they had.
Nothing could prepare me for the Sistine Chapel though. I can’t imagine Michelangelo lying on his back for years painting that ceiling. My disbelief was only strengthened when I learned that Michelangelo wasn’t even a painter at that point. He didn’t even respect painting as a respectable art form. But Pope Julius II wanted him to paint it, and he couldn’t say no, so he learned how to paint and just went for it. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures, but then again an iPhone camera probably wouldn’t have done it justice anyway.
Our final stop on the tour was St. Peter’s Basilica. At that point I was already completely overwhelmed by the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel, and walking into the largest, most ornate church in the world almost sent me over the edge. I could barely form sentences, but the church was so indescribable that it didn’t matter. I just walked around looking like a crazy person, with my jaw dropped and tears in my eyes. There were mummified popes all over the place, beautiful religious murals, and, oh yeah, Michelangelo’s Pietà. It was, in a word, cavernous. I didn’t know where to look so I just turned circles. There I was, spinning around the basilica, bumping into people trying to take pictures. I probably would still be lost in there if my friends weren’t with me.
It was somehow the most draining yet most fulfilling experience of my life. Still not sure about it. Naturally, the only way to recover was pizza and gelato.
Last week was my first independent travel break, and it was jam packed with walking, visiting, and eating. I’m going to break it up into a couple parts so I don’t post a novella on here. My first stop was Stockholm, a city full of sweaters and cobblestone (my kind of place). I’m happy Stockholm is the last place I visited in Sweden during this semester (although looking at my track record there’s a good chance I’ll wind up there again at some point). Going to the smaller places made me grow very affectionate towards Sweden, but Stockholm sealed the deal and made me feel the kind of love for Sweden that I suspect married couples feel for each other. Or something like that.
On Saturday morning I took the five hour train ride to Stockholm, winding through misty forests and wild landscapes. Sweden doesn’t even have to try to be beautiful, it just is, and that’s one of the things I love about it (sorry for sounding like a lovestruck teenager, can’t help it). Anyway, at the train station I met up with Kacie and Cirsten, two of my best friends from home who came to Europe for their spring break. We had a joyous reunion and made our way to the hostel, where we were sharing a small room with another young woman who is from Austria but was looking for a job in Stockholm. We spent the rest of the day just walking around the neighborhood and catching up. I can’t even describe how wonderful it was to be with them again, although seeing them made me remember how much I miss home.
On Sunday we got up early to start our Stockholm adventure. Unfortunately it was both raining hard and windy, but my trusty umbrella fought a valiant battle against the elements and managed to keep me about 65% dry. We started out at Gamla Stan, or the old town. Because we were there so early on a rainy Sunday there was no one else out, and we felt like we had been transported back in time. Every time I looked down a new street or around a corner I was amazed by how picturesque everything was.
We eventually found ourselves at the Royal Palace and decided to go in. It was grand, of course, but very dark. No white marble and open windows like Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. To be honest, it felt pretty weird and creepy in there, and I can’t imagine anyone feeling comfortable living there.
After that visit we stopped for some fika, which I was very excited to introduce my friends to. They had coffee, I had tea and cake, and we left feeling refreshed. After wandering around the downtown area trying to figure out transportation, we finally made our way to the next stop: the Vasa Museum. This place was probably my favorite. It’s a whole museum dedicated to a giant ship that sank in Stockholm harbor in 1628 and was excavated in 1961. Somehow they pulled it out of the water and preserved it well enough that a museum could be built around it. It was incredible, and really made me appreciate modern transportation. I simply can’t imagine crossing the Atlantic on a boat like that…how did our ancestors do it?
We also hit up the Nordic Museum, but couldn’t stay long because it was late and closing. Dinner was at the Hard Rock Cafe, because being around my American friends made me crave American food. After devouring nachos, a burger, and fries, I felt much better with life. All in all we had a great stay in Stockholm, and I would love to return one day and pick up my love affair with Sweden where we left off.
I was lucky enough to spend this past weekend in Paris with my friend Aly, and let me just say that it exceeded all expectations. I bought the ticket a week before leaving and with all the homework and pastry eating I barely had time to actually research what to do in Paris, resulting in me stepping off the plane and thinking “ehhh I’ll just wing it”. Thankfully, Paris is one of those cities that you can just walk around forever and not get sick of, so my lack of a plan was perfectly fine.
Aly and I spent the first day just walking along the Seine, after getting lost trying to find the Eiffel Tower (which was embarrassing considering that it’s a huge landmark that can be seen over most buildings). Despite our numb hands we kept stopping to take pictures every few feet and marvel at all the French things (people ACTUALLY bike around with giant baguettes in their baskets). We finally made it to Notre Dame Cathedral, but the line was so long to get in and there were hundreds of people just thronging in front of it that we decided to take an obligatory picture in front of it and move on.
Our last activity of the day was a visit to Shakespeare & Co., aka heaven. It’s a bookstore as bookstores should be, with all the books you could imagine, reading areas, an old books section, and a cat. The original Shakespeare & Co. was a meeting place for people like Hemingway and James Joyce, so I was nerding out hard. Unfortunately you couldn’t take pictures inside, but here’s one that I got from the internet:
That night we got dinner and headed to bed early, exhausted from early flights and nonstop walking. On Sunday we set out early for the Musée d’Orsay, an Impressionism art museum. Even though we got there before it opened we still had to wait in line for 30 minutes, but it was well worth it. Unfortunately that meant that we didn’t go to the Louvre, since that line was two hours and we didn’t want to waste the whole day inside museums. Of course we still got pictures outside (if you went to Paris and didn’t take a picture outside the Louvre, were you actually in Paris?) before walking through the nearby gardens and getting lunch.
After lunch we got Nutella crepes for dessert and walked along the Champs-Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe. It was so much fun just looking into all the stores and imagining what if? We did walk into Ladurée, the famous macaron store, but walked right back out when we saw the prices. Macarons are delicious, but not THAT delicious. Since we didn’t climb up the Eiffel Tower (another extremely long line) we decided to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which was perfect. Paris is absolutely ginormous, especially coming from Copenhagen.
Afterwards we decided to get even more views of Paris and took the metro to Montmartre, a district in the northern part of the city situated on a huge hill. At the top of the hill is this truly grand basilica, which was packed with tourists but was so cavernous that I barely noticed. The view was again incredible, although I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to find an ugly view of Paris. Aly and I took a breather on the steps, looking out on the city and listening to a musician play his guitar for all the tourists.
We ended the day at Pére Lachaise Cemetery, one of Paris’s largest cemeteries with a lot of famous people buried there (like Chopin and Oscar Wilde). It was such a cool place, with large graves shaded by trees scattered everywhere. It was the one peaceful place we visited in Paris, mainly because it wasn’t quite as full of tourists.
Our flight left Monday morning at 6:05, putting us back in Copenhagen just in time for class. It was a rough day, but the weekend was so worth it. As much as I loved Paris it did make me appreciate Copenhagen more. First of all, I’m so spoiled here with everyone knowing English. Hardly anyone knew English in Paris, and some people were very impatient with us for not knowing French. Which is understandable, I shouldn’t just expect everyone to know English. But again, I’m spoiled by Denmark. Paris is also very overwhelming in sheer size and number of tourists, and we were confronted by some very aggressive street peddlers who targeted tourists to sell their stuff to. Copenhagen just feels comfortable, and you never have to worry about large swarms of tourists or people on the street getting in your face trying to sell you something. By the time I got on the metro from the airport I was even happy to hear Danish again. It may be complete gibberish to me, but it’s my gibberish and hearing it feels like home.
This past week saw the arrival of the sun, which has been something of an urban legend here in winter. For the first two months of my stay here I supposed that the sun could exist, but I personally could not confirm it. My sunglasses lay abandoned on my shelf, gathering dust as I walked out the door every morning without them. But not last week. Last Monday I woke up to blazing sunshine, which made me do crazy things like blast Taylor Swift as I got ready for the day and wear heeled booties to class. And it lasted all week! It was like the whole city came alive, with everyone eating outside in cafes and windows being thrown open for the first time in months. Walking around one of the city’s many parks I realized all at once how much I love Copenhagen, and how much I don’t want to leave it in just two short months (!!).
On Wednesday I had two field studies with my Cross-Cultural Communication class. First we visited the U.S. Embassy and talked to one of the guys in charge of visa regulations (a Texan who was all about ‘Murica). Next we headed to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, where we met the creators of a controversial show in Denmark called “Perker Dansk”. “Perker” is one of the most offensive terms for an immigrant, and is sometimes considered the equivalent of the n-word in the US. The show is documentary-styled and follows Danes who have immigrant parents, as a way to generate more cultural understanding. The title of the show is meant to draw in viewers, showing how less concerned with political correctness the Danes are compared to Americans, or even Swedes. The general consensus in Denmark is that the show itself is really good, but the title just turns most people off to it.
On Thursday my first class was cancelled so I got brunch with some of my friends in that class. I just have to mention it because it was so good. We went to a place called the Greasy Spoon, and I got four pancakes and bacon for FOUR DOLLARS. We then got a giant pot of mac and cheese to split among us, which was consumed in under two minutes, for TWO DOLLARS once it was split. Shoutout to the kroner, which is much more favorable now than it was in January. Loving life.
On Saturday I had an all-day field trip with my Nordic Mythology class. In theory it should have been a fun and interesting day, since we took a bus and basically drove around the island of Zealand (where Copenhagen is located) visiting Viking sites. But, the sun left us, and the day was freezing and cloudy. Plus all my exhaustion had caught up with me and I was simply not in the mood for an all day Saturday field trip. All of this contributed to it being a pretty miserable day. We first visited the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, where they have five actual Viking ships on display that were excavated from the nearby fjord. That was pretty impressive, especially because they were so well-preserved.
The rest of the day was spent driving around, stopping to visit a burial mound (the Vikings in that area simply piled all the bodies on top of each other, creating mounds of bones under the earth that are still visible today) and the site of an excavated Viking village (which was really just a plot of land with some sticks outlining where the houses stood). The highlight of the day was probably when we went to the site where they believe Beowulf took place. In reality it was just a few mounds of dirt, but we were reassured that a great hall was excavated at this spot just a few years ago. So, that was the summation of the trip: some sticks and dirt. I really wanted it to be a cool experience, but sadly I just couldn’t get excited about it.
Sunday was better, since I went on a zoo trip with my floor. To be honest though I wasn’t impressed by it and it was kind of depressing. The habitats were pretty small for the most part and the animals just seemed so cold and sad. Despite this, I still had a good time and got to talk to people I didn’t know very well from my floor.
In other news, today is the two month anniversary of my arrival in Copenhagen. I know I keep saying this, but it truly blows my mind how fast this semester is going. There’s still so much I want to do! But at the same time I really miss everyone at home. It’s an odd mix of emotions.
Sorry about the delay between posts, school has returned with merciless amounts of homework. To continue with my Ireland trip…Dublin! We left on Wednesday, after a morning spent at BBC Northern Ireland talking about reporting in areas of conflict (turns out it’s not much different than it would be anywhere else). We drove back on a bus, which meant nap time for everyone except our teachers, who insisted on talking about “learning objectives” for Dublin over the loudspeaker.
Almost immediately after arriving we went to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour and drinks. The tour itself was fine, but the free tasting and drink at the end were what made the visit for me. I had tried Guinness in Belfast but didn’t like it at all, so my expectations were not high for the tasting. Our guide told us the proper way to drink Guinness: inhale, take a sip, exhale. And voila, Guinness turned into a magically delicious elixir.
Yes, I drank a pint of beer and loved it. Not my usual choice of red wine or gin & tonic, but when in Ireland, right? We all had a great time up on the top floor of the Storehouse, where there was a bar and panoramic views of the city. I even met some people from Pittsburgh, including a Duquesne student studying abroad in Dublin!
Afterwards we went out to eat and I quickly lost steam, ending up in bed by 10. Life of the party right here. The next day we did an interview activity at Trinity College (which is beautiful by the way) where we walked up to Irish students and asked them about their feelings toward the Irish and UK flags. We experienced a lot of rejection at first (naturally), but finally a hungover guy was willing to talk to us. He was the classic disillusioned college student, telling us that the Irish flag represented “the failed Capitalist system” and that he preferred the Communist flag instead. He seemed serious, but then told us he was just kidding about all of that, so we were left pretty confused.
After that enlightening experience, we saw the Book of Kells, an ancient copy of the New Testament complete with gorgeous details and illustrations, and walked around the Trinity library. It was essentially my version of heaven, and I wandered around for awhile with one of my classmates before realizing that everyone else was gone.
We then had an hour and a half of free time, so four of us got lunch at a cheap pizza place and walked around the city, ending up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Next we had a talk with a local musician about the history and impact of punk music in Ireland and Northern Ireland, followed by an Irish dance workshop and musical pub crawl. Yes, a very educational evening, no fun at all.
But actually, the Irish dance workshop was awesome and I’ve found myself days later just casually doing the steps as I make dinner. The pub crawl was also great and I even learned some folk songs (getting in touch with my Irish heritage, Grandma!) Afterwards our group continued to more bars for our last night in Ireland, enjoying the live music and friendly locals before our return to the more reserved Denmark.
The next day was a sad one, as we departed for Copenhagen. We all got really close on the trip and didn’t want to leave each other quite yet. So, six of us ended up going on a spontaneous day trip to the middle of Sweden on Saturday! Our original plan was to rent a car and visit Møns Klint, a cliff in southern Denmark that’s apparently very beautiful. We didn’t make it there though, as the only cars we could rent were stick shifts and no one knew how to drive those. So we took the bus to the train station, got on a train, and ended up in a national park somewhere in Sweden. It was one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done, and I loved it. We weren’t prepared at all, with no food or proper hiking clothing, but we made it work.
We had some close calls, like when the bus driver didn’t speak any English and we had no idea where we were/where we should go, but everything worked out and it was a great day. Overall it was a fantastic week and trying to get back in the swing of classes has been a rough transition. At least I still have my daily pastries…
Back in Copenhagen after an INCREDIBLE five days in Ireland. I’m splitting the trip up into two posts, for all of our sanity. So to begin, Belfast. We arrived Sunday evening and went straight to dinner, followed by a stop at the ever classy Filthy McNasty’s, a bar in the city center. It was clear from the second we walked in the door that we weren’t in Denmark anymore, as people actually talked to us and the live music was good. I can’t even describe how nice it was to be in an English-speaking country again, although the accents were so thick that at times it still felt like we were listening to a different language.
We started early Monday morning, with half of us going to an elementary school and the other half (including me) going to a talk with a professor at Queen’s University. The school was beautiful of course, and with the sun shining I definitely questioned why I wasn’t studying there.
The professor we talked with was also Jewish, so we talked a lot about what it was like being Jewish in a city divided between Catholics and Protestants. There is a minuscule Jewish population in the country, and he told us (half-jokingly) that you were expected to be either a “Catholic Jew” or a “Protestant Jew”.
Afterwards we walked around for a bit and stopped in the Student Union for coffee, where I bought a book of Yeats’s poems (impulse buy #1 in Ireland). Our next activity was back at Queen’s, where we had a talk with another professor, this time about flags and public space in Northern Ireland. We learned that flags are a very controversial symbol in Northern Ireland, with nearly a dozen flags being used and each one charged with some meaning, from the Irish flag and the Union Jack to IRA flags. Today there are no flags hung from city hall, except for the UK flag on certain days, due to all the controversy. Flags in Northern Ireland are also associated with paramilitary groups, since they are the ones using the flags most visibly, and for negative purposes. What really interested me was that there is no official flag for Northern Ireland. The government has tried in the past but the idea was so unpopular that they let it go. All in all the lecture was one of the more interesting ones we have gone to, and definitely got us thinking about the serious division in Northern Ireland, and Belfast in particular.
Walking down the street you wouldn’t think that there is so much violence in Belfast’s past. The city reminded me a lot of Philadelphia without the skyscrapers, and because the city center is a neutral zone we couldn’t see any definite signs of conflict. Our afternoon activity changed that perception though, as we had a tour of Falls Road and Shankill Road. The Falls Road is on the Catholic/Republican side, while the Shankill Road is on the Protestant/Loyalist side. Our guide on the Falls Road was an ex-member of the IRA who was jailed as a teen for attempting to bomb a building on the Protestant side, while our Shankill Road guide was jailed for murdering Catholics in the past. It was pretty insane talking to these men, because they told their stories so matter-of-factly and didn’t seem at all fussed about the fact that they were terrorists. The tour was long and freezing, and was only made worse by the depressing content. We did the Fall Road first, and once we reached the Protestant area our Catholic guide couldn’t cross the invisible barrier between the two, which was also wild. He truly did not feel safe crossing the street and entering the Protestant side for even a second, and made no contact with our waiting Protestant guide.
We walked past a lot of murals from both sides, most of them depicting violence and hatred for the other side. We asked our Protestant guide if he thought that the murals fueled the conflict, and he seemed very confused and told us that the Catholics don’t see these murals since they never go on Shankill Road. We were talking about the Protestants though, wondering if young people walking past these murals would be influenced by the hatred depicted in them. He just didn’t get it and couldn’t see how that would cause problems, showing just how deep the conflict is.
The walk really left an impression on me, because I hadn’t realized how serious the conflict between Catholics and Protestants was until then. I knew about the Troubles and the violence, but I had no idea there were still issues today in 2015. There is still a giant wall dividing the Catholic and Protestant areas of town, which greatly disturbed me. It’s like a self-inflicted Berlin Wall. People don’t know their neighbors and don’t want to, simply because of differences in religion and political affiliation. The schools are segregated and even bus stops on the same street are designated Catholic or Protestant, reminding me of 1950s-era America. It’s simply unbelievable to me that these divisions exist today in a Western country.
But the day wasn’t all depressing, as dinner was ridiculously good and I ordered two glasses of wine (impulse buy #2)(no regrets). The next day we left early for Derry/Londonderry, in the western part of the country. The city was originally called Derry, then renamed Londonderry by an English king in the 1600s. Today the Catholic Republicans call it Derry and the Protestant Loyalists call it Londonderry, causing a lot of confusion for all of us. This small town also happens to be where the Troubles began and the site of the infamous Bloody Sunday. We had another walking tour of the murals in the area, painted by the Bogside Artists (three men who have all had friends or family die in the conflict).
Derry (which I’m going with because it’s shorter) is truly a place stained by violence, and you could just feel it walking around. Our guide (one of the artists) pointed out the quiet street where Bloody Sunday happened, and showed us where his friend was shot and killed. What’s amazing is that the majority of people killed seemed to be teenagers. Again, it just doesn’t seem feasible that this all a part of recent history.
Afterwards we warmed up with a lunch of fish and chips and set off for Giant’s Causeway, aka the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
The place looked a bit familiar, and I soon found out that parts of Game of Thrones were filmed here (!!!). Not only that, but our bus driver is also the bus driver for the cast and has met them all. I was nerd-ing out big time, which was made even better by the complete awe I felt just looking around. We stayed there for about an hour, climbing rocks and trying our best not to be thrown into the water by the gusting wind. Even so it wasn’t nearly enough time to explore it all, and I definitely want to return again someday (preferably during the summer).
That night we attended a comedy show, which was really funny but also kind of scary because we were right in the front and constantly getting picked on by the comedians. After a few drinks and much laughter, we were ready to go back to Filthy McNasty’s for a second time. This night was wild. As soon as I entered the bar I was ambushed by a drunk Irishman (I honestly don’t think any of the people I met in Belfast were 100% sober) and asked about life “in the States”. After talking to him for a bit I caught up with a guy in my class who was getting a Guinness at the bar. We tried to make our way back to our friends but were stopped by a rowdy group of Irish girls who recognized my friend from the show (he was especially picked on by the comedian) and called for us to come over.
They were very drunk and very excited to see us. Let me stress that this would absolutely NEVER happen in Copenhagen, where people don’t even make eye contact for fear that they’re invading your privacy. So we went over and I started talking to one of the girls while the rest of them fawned over my friend. I found out they were our age and students at Queen’s University, and came from different parts of Northern Ireland that weren’t Belfast or Derry. After I told her about what we were studying there she got very interested and really stressed that the conflict isn’t as bad as it seems. Their group was a mix of Catholics and Protestants, and she made it clear that “it’s the older generations’ problem, not ours”. But, she admitted that it’s different if you grow up in Belfast and not in the smaller towns and villages. I loved getting this younger perspective, because everyone we had talked to at that point was older and directly affected by the conflict.
We didn’t talk about politics for long though, as two of our other friends soon joined us. Before we knew it the bar was closing, and the girls all insisted that we come back to their place. We all looked at each other, thought something along the lines of “ehh it’s Ireland” and a minute later we were all piled in the back of a taxi. When we got back to their house near the university the girls started blasting some music and kept taking pictures of us to send to their friends. It was so weird being the “exotic Americans”, but we rolled with it and had a great time. Eventually they put on some Irish music and started dancing, which just seemed too cliche to actually be happening. And they knew how to party, not letting us leave before 3 am and giving us more than enough to drink.
When we left we all friended each other on Facebook, and even though we only hung out for a few hours I actually felt like I had made some friends. After this experience I’d say that it’s true that the Irish are extremely friendly and welcoming, and the place certainly had a different atmosphere than Denmark. Even though Belfast is a part of the UK it felt much more “Irish” than “British”, and I really loved exploring the city a bit. As a Catholic myself it was very strange being in a place that has a history of discrimination and violence against Catholics, but on the flip side it was just as weird being in a city with a history of violent Catholic terrorists. Very memorable time, and it only got better from there. Sorry again for the super long post, and I’ll write about Dublin sometime this weekend!
The past week has been a blur of pastries and field trips, two things that I’ve realized are most defining about my Danish experience. If there’s one thing we’re deprived of in the US, it’s bakeries. Here it’s impossible to walk down a street and not pass at least two or three bakeries, their windows fogged from the warmth inside and displaying rows of delicious goodies. Pass the first one, no problem. Pass the second one, start thinking. If I buy something here I won’t buy anymore pastries for the rest of the week. No, bad. Save money. You don’t need it. By the time I reach the third bakery on my walk, it’s all over. The giant cinnamon bun or chocolate croissant or donut is long gone before I even realize what’s happened. It’s like I temporarily lose consciousness, resurfacing moments later with no evidence of the pastry massacre except my sticky fingers.
Mom, you’ve always said I lack a sweet tooth. That era is officially over.
When I’m not devouring pastries, I’m probably on a field trip. The past two weeks alone I’ve been on five. The first was last Tuesday night, when I went to the Royal Danish Theater with my Hans Christian Andersen class to see two ballets. Since I’ve only ever seen The Nutcracker, I was pretty excited, and the Danes did not disappoint. The first performance was a modern ballet and the second one was more traditional. The modern one was incredible and so weird, and didn’t feel like a ballet at all. I loved it. The next day, Wednesday, is our designated field trip day, and I visited the National Museum with my Nordic Mythology class. We mainly walked through the Viking Age exhibits, looking at runes and lots of dug up graves. As our tour progressed the only thing I could think of was how I could never ever survive in Viking times.
This Tuesday my Rewriting Democracy class went to a HeForShe event at the UN City building instead of class. HeForShe is a new campaign started by UN Women that wants to achieve gender equality by getting men more involved in the movement. It only launched four months ago but has gotten a ton of attention due to social media and a speech given by Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame in support of it. The event was a part of Social Media Week here in Copenhagen, and was a lot of fun. It made me feel so lucky to be here, because I would have never gotten the chance to go to something like this in Delaware.
Then on Wednesday I went on another field trip with this same class to the Agency for Digitisation, a government branch. It’s amazing to me that Denmark does nearly everything online. Every person is given a citizen number (I just got mine last week) that gives them access to health care, education, taxes, everything. All of your information is kept in a database, and you do EVERYTHING through it, like schedule doctor’s appointments and enroll in school. We were trying to explain to the government employee talking to us how this system would never work in the US, because people wouldn’t like the government storing literally all of our information in one place like that. We asked him if people are worried about the database being hacked, and he said they weren’t. I still can’t get used to how trusting the Danes are. They completely trust their government to protect them, and have no problem whatsoever with having all of their information collected and stored in an online database.
Finally in the afternoon I went on a walking tour of Copenhagen through Hans Christian Andersen’s eyes with my H.C. Andersen class. I thought it would be pretty boring since I’ve already seen so much of Copenhagen, but there was a lot I didn’t know that made the walk interesting. Since the shootings nothing has changed about the city, except for all the flowers laid out in front of the synagogue and the increased police presence. Everyday on my walk to the train station, just around the corner from my dorm, I walk past police officers guarding an apartment building. At first I thought they were just patrolling the area, but now I think they’re protecting someone who lives there, maybe a cartoonist or a newspaper editor. They’re very friendly, despite holding machine guns.
Tomorrow I leave for Ireland! I’m so excited, and am trying to will away this nasty cold I’ve come down with. We’ll be spending three days in Belfast and two days in Dublin, two cities I’ve always wanted to visit. Hoping I can sneak away and find the Game of Thrones set in Belfast.
This weekend Maggie and I used our Eurail pass to spend the weekend in Gothensburg, the second largest city in Sweden. We didn’t really have any expectations, especially as most people couldn’t understand why we’d want to go to Sweden when we could go to London, Paris, Prague, etc. But we managed to prove all the naysayers wrong and had a great time!
We arrived Saturday afternoon in the rain, and after a bit of a rough start trying to find our hostel we set out exploring the area. Despite the dreariness we walked around all afternoon and evening, exploring one of the huge indoor markets and walking around Haga, one of the more charming areas of the city. We got pretty lost at one point, which was made worse by the fact that our map was quickly disintegrating in the rain (just like your trip to Stockholm, Grandma and Pappap!). Of course we forgot our umbrellas in the hostel, but we made do and ended up finding a cozy cafe where we got our bearings and drank some hot tea with chocolate pastries. Sometimes getting lost isn’t bad after all, especially when you find out of the way places like that.
In the name of thriftiness we packed pasta to make for dinner at the hostel, which actually had a very nice kitchen. We were worried about what to do with the rest of the night since we didn’t really want to leave the hostel and go back out into the rain, but we ended up meeting some people and hanging out with them in the hostel common room. One was a young American woman teaching English in France, and the other two were friendly Colombian men in their late 20s. Fulfilling cliches of South American men, they were drinking tequila with their pizza and made sure to kiss us on both cheeks when they left to go dancing.
By some miracle, the sun came out on Sunday and gave us a beautiful day. Maggie and I got up really early to do as much as we could before our train left Sunday night. We got a City Card, giving us free admission to all museums and free access to all public transportation. My favorite museum was the Universeum, a huge building with a built-in rainforest, aquarium, and outdoor mammoth exhibit. The monkeys are allowed to roam free in the rainforest part, and a few almost jumped on us, which gave us some unsettling Hunger Games flashbacks.
I loved walking around the streets and parks, especially because everything was so much more open than in Copenhagen. The streets and sidewalks were wider, and the roads weren’t as winding and difficult to navigate. It’s amazing what sunlight can do; we wandered an area for ten minutes before realizing we had already been there the day before. Everything just looks better and happier in sunshine. I certainly fell more in love with Sweden, and can’t wait to visit Stockholm in a month. And it’s not just because Sweden is very beautiful and blonde, but also that the people seem so warm and loving. Their humanitarianism aside, Swedes just seem to truly care about the people around them. Everywhere I looked I saw families, not just one frustrated parent with a bunch of kids. The parents were so relaxed, letting their kids run around and not constantly calling out to them to slow down or stay close.
One of my favorite parts of traveling somewhere new is just taking a break and observing those around me. Sitting on the train I watched out the window as a father in a newsboy cap sent his 12-ish year old son on the train. He held onto his son’s shoulder till the last second, and, watching through the windows, followed him as the boy walked down the aisle searching for a seat. He had two other little kids with him, and they all waved goodbye even as the train rode by and the boy couldn’t see them anymore. I’m not saying you wouldn’t see that in the US, but something about it was very touching and of course made me miss my own parents back home. It just seems that families in Sweden make time for each other, and when they’re out doing things like eating in a cafe or walking around a museum they aren’t stuck behind their phones. Instead they slow down and enjoy each other’s company, something that seems unusual coming from the fast-paced, super connected US. So, to conclude, everyone should try to get to Sweden!