Saturday, May 11, 2013

That Thing We Don't Talk About

Well, the time has just about come. I have less than a week remaining here in Denmark. It's hard to believe how much I've done since I first arrived nearly 4 months ago. Essentially anything I did here was a first considering I had never been outside North America before coming here. I've learned to appreciate the things that we have in the US as well as come to realize that the US is clearly not the best in every aspect. I could go on and on recapping and reminiscing what I have done during my time abroad. But I think the fact that I have too much to say to be able to say anything speaks volumes. Of course, I know my Danish family reads this but I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have gained a new family and become a big brother for the first time at the age of 21. Thank goodness for modern technology and the ability to video chat from thousands of miles away; otherwise saying goodbye would feel a lot more permanent. Before I waste too much of my precious remaining time left here, I say vi ses in a week Denmark. Jeg kommer til at savne dig.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Tomorrow is the first day of May, which means the month in which I will be going home is arriving. I don't want to talk about that so I'll talk about my trip to the island of Bornholm this past weekend. I went with a trip organized by DIS. On Friday night, I got on an overnight ferry departing at midnight that would arrive in Bornholm by 6. Needless to say, I slept miserably on a half-reclining cabin chair. When we arrived to Bornholm, I pulled myself together and convinced myself that I wasn't tired despite barely getting any sleep the night before also because I insisted on staying up for the Eagles pick in the first round of the draft. The draft started at 2 in the morning and the Eagles picked at almost 3; totally worth it. 

Anyway, when we got to the island we checked into our hostel and ate breakfast before receiving bikes to ride for the weekend. I was hoping we would get our hands on some proper cycles but I my hopes were dashed with women's 7-speed cruisers. It would have to do. I signed up for the trip on my own so I didn't know too many people on it but I teamed up quickly with one of the guys who shared my interest in biking and seeing as much as possible in the two days we were there. 

At 8, running on about 4 hours of restless sleep, we embarked on the first leg of our journey. (This would be a good time to pull up a map of Bornholm in another tab so that you can follow along.) From our original location of Gudhjem, my biking comrade, Tim, and I headed south toward the town of Svaneke. It turns out we were a little ahead of ourselves, because all the hotspots we were supposed to check out in Svaneke were still closed so early in the morning. So we continued along the route to Nexø, which is the second largest town in Bornholm yet could be ridden through in its entirety on bicycle in about 30 seconds. When we had seen enough of Nexø, we headed back north towards Svaneke. There, we treated ourselves to the famous smoked herring of Bornholm, bones and all. Dessert was homemade ice cream from a local store. I tried to order my ice cream in Danish but it evolved into a hybrid sentence of Danish and English that confused the girl at the counter and was more trouble than it was worth. 

We then made our way back through Nexø and to Dueodde. Dueodde has some of the finest white sand in the world that is used for hourglasses. Personally, I didn't find it too much different from the sand in Avalon. The dunes were my favorite part. 

After Dueodde we headed towards the town of Aakirkeby, which has both the Danish words for town and church in it but it was a slight misnomer because there was no typical Bornholm round church in sight. From there we started riding back to home base in Gudhjem. By this point my legs and butt were beyond sore and my mind wasn't exactly sharp. We joined forces with another group headed back to the hostel and succeeded in taking the most indirect route back and taking much longer than we had hoped. On top of this, a steady mist had enveloped the island, diminishing our spirits. However, our spirits were lifted once again when we arrived back from a long day's ride and refueled with dinner. In all, Tim and I ended up riding between 90 and 95 kilometers, or roughly 60 miles. I had never ridden more than about 10 miles in one day before in my life. I promptly fell asleep by 9 o'clock. 

The next day I awoke refreshed yet still very sore. After breakfast I joined Tim again, along with a group of 4 others that had the same plan as us. We headed north this time and had more of a nature day. The weather was much nicer and the sun was shining all day. I even got some sunburn, or some combination of sunburn mixed with windburn. Our first stop was a set of cliffs along the eastern coast that was home to a really cool cave. We climbed down the cliffs and went as far as we could into the cave before it became too narrow and we hit a dead end. From the cliffs we went to Denmark's tallest waterfall. Denmark is a very flat country so I was not really surprised to see that the waterfall was barely pushing 30 feet tall. Regardless of its diminutive size, the woods surrounding the waterfall were covered with green undergrowth and was definitely a beautiful sight to see. 

After the waterfall we rode along the coast to the tip of Bornholm called Hammeren, or the Hammer. One of the things that amazed me most about the island was the diversity of the land. There were cliffs, farmland, woods, beaches and the Hammer was no exception. It was an extensive series of rocky hills that looked out into the Baltic Sea. Not far from the Hammer was Hammershus, the medieval ruins of a fortress resting on the top of a hill in north Bornholm. Hammershus was the last visit on my bike tour of Bornholm and it was worth the wait. We all agreed that the views from the ruins were reminiscent of what I've seen in pictures from the Scottish isles. The sun reflecting off the sea and no other land in sight was breathtaking. After we left  Hammershus we rode back to Gudhjem up and down the hills along the coast. There we boarded a bus and headed to the ferry that would take us back to Zealand. The two days I spent in Bornholm were short, yet jampacked with as much as my body could handle. In all I biked about 130 kilometers and reached the southern and northern most tips of the island. It left enough of an impression on me that I would love to return some day and take a breather by the sea. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring has arrived

Spring has arrived. It's been relatively warm for long enough that I don't think announcing it finally will jinx it. When I walk out the door in the morning I can hear the birds chirping and I can't help but smile because winter is finally over. On most days, I don't even need a jacket(!); appreciate the little things, right? As the warm weather has eased in, I've been taking advantage of it little by little. The past ten days or so have been bookended by nice spring walks with the family.

For the past few weeks I've been playing a lot of soccer outside with Jonas. We play across the street at the old elementary school where they have a walled in court/field that is a perfect size for one on one action. I usually win. One of the days we jumped the gun a little on the spring part; in the middle of our game between Jonas, his friend Jesper ("ginger") and myself, there was a sudden downpour of snow. We were not to be discouraged though and we continued playing even as our hair gathered flakes and the ground turned white.

Last weekend I went to mormor and morfar's house for the first time in Hillerod. We enjoyed a great Saturday brunch, complete with roast beef and plenty of wine. After lunch we headed into the woods nearby and built a small fire along the trail and visited the ruins of an old cottage that the king used to use when he wanted to get away from it all. I could empathize with him; it was nice to walk around nature on one of the warmest days thus far. Also, I found a frog.

Last week I went to the Carlsberg factory with my friend Hannah from St. Mike's. The two free beers at the end was why I wanted to go and it was worth it. But we spent more time playing with a barn cat we named Carl than we did inside the buildings. He liked me better because I gave him some of my sandwich.

The day before I walked around the city for four hours taking pictures of the graffiti that's all over Copenhagen. A lot of it is pretty cool and it's something you sure never see on postcards or travel brochures; it's not exactly something the city takes pride in.

There have been some small moments the past few weeks that I think have defined the change in the season. First, we spent much of Saturday working around the garden and Jonas even managed to drag me into helping him clean out the hen house. At the end of the day the kids wanted to camp outside that night in a tent; we decided against it in the end but just the thought of it would have been unheard of just a week earlier. (Good thing we decided not to; we got frost that night.) Then on Claus' birthday the next day we went to a park nearby and basked in the sunshine and ate cake together. The whole family came along, including mormor and morfar.

It may sound strange, but I think it was Friday that I knew it was spring at last. I was riding my bike near the lake by Fredensborg Palace after a day in the city. It was extremely windy, yet I was not cold. As I sped downhill towards the lake, the song First Breath After Coma by Explosions in the Sky came on shuffle on my iPod. The cool breeze, the perfectly aligned trees along the path, the approaching lake and that song were in perfect harmony at that exact moment. If you don't know that song, check it out and maybe you'll understand. Happy spring!

Here's the song: It was around 3:16

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A new perspective

I've been busy here with actual written schoolwork so I've done what Americans do best: I outsourced my next blog post to my sister, who visited recently for a week with my parents. Enjoy.

Derick asked me to provide a guest post about my experience in Denmark during spring break. I certainly am not the writer in the family, I usually leave that to Derick but I’ll do my best to make it interesting! After a long flight and meeting Derick in the airport it still didn’t seem like we were in Europe. It wasn’t until we got off the DC-like metro and began walking through the streets, wheeled suitcases trailing behind, that it hit me I was in a whole new world. After checking into the hotel, we wandered through the city in search of a dinner locale and we took it all in. We had an early bed time the first night both succumbing to jet-lag and in preparation of our Easter Monday dinner with Derick’s host family. Our first full day started our trip of castles, visiting the Frederiksborg Slot. After hopping on a train to Fredensborg and a short ride we arrived at Derick’s home away from home where we were met by bare-footed ten year olds running to greet Derick and us. We were welcomed into Derick’s “home” with hugs and introductions and soon after sat down for our traditional Danish feast of herring three ways, eggs in mustard sauce, pork roast with crispy skin, liver pate with bacon, and meatballs, red cabbage, and great homemade bread . I’m sure I’ve forgotten something but you get the gist. We sat eating, conversing, and joking as if we had known each other longer than an hour or so. After introducing the family to some of our American Easter candies like jelly beans and Reese’s eggs we enjoyed delicious almond cakes and headed to the Fredensborg Slot where the Queen spends the summer months due to its close proximity to a large, picturesque lake. Then at dusk we headed to the train station to get back to the city and our hotel for the night. The next two days consisted of a lot of sightseeing including the Rosenborg Slot, Amber Museum, Round Tower, Boat Tour of the Canal (where we caught a glimpse of The Little Mermaid, among other sights), and Kronborg Slot. Wednesday night was probably the most memorable experience of the entire trip. Each year the Queen moves to her summer homestead which, as I stated before, is in Fredensborg. Fredensborg is the town Derick has called home for the past 3 months. When the Queen moves, the entire town meets at the train station before night fall, supports the scouts by purchasing torches, and then proceed, flaming torches in hand, through the city to the slot. Then everyone assembles near the front door where the mayor welcomes the Queen, the Queen speaks, and the national anthem is sung. This description may provide you with thoughts like strange, barbaric, or dangerous, but it truly was a sight to see that no picture could capture perfectly, although Derick did pretty well. Once again we were able to spend time with Derick’s host family and we all had a good time in the process. Thursday and Friday once again resulted in sightseeing galore with trips to the Zoo, Carlsberg Brewery, and the newly opened National Aquarium all of which were reached by a combination train, bus, metro, or walking. Our final night was spent with Derick’s host family first at the local Chinese buffet and then at the bowling alley. We played a couple games of pool and just enjoyed the company of each other before having to travel back to the city to pack and prepare for our long trip home.
The trip was fabulous for lack of a better description but before I finish up there are just a few general observations that I noticed while wandering through the city from site to site.
1. Bikes are just everywhere. They are taken on the metro and trains and are parked wherever the rider stops. The riders, particularly the women, don’t change their outfits to fit their means of transportation. You would not believe how many women I saw riding their bikes in skirts, dresses, and high heels which leads to my next observation.
2. High heels, at this time of year high heeled boots, were the footwear of the choice by most women walking through the city.
3. Uggs and Ugg-like boots were not seen at all. Like I said earlier, high heeled boots were the choice over comfy furry ones.
4. Derick had told us that bright colors weren’t really common in everyday attire, however he didn’t let us know that we should have packed our fur coats. There were a large amount of women sporting fur coats in varying lengths and designs while walking on the street, riding their bikes, and utilizing public transportation.
5. Denmark has both paper and coin currency similar to the U.S. however unlike the U.S., I did not find any coins on the street, and I had ample opportunity with all the walking we did over the week.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's Been A While... I've been at tea

I've been up to a lot in the past few weeks and 'real' work has gotten in the way of my motivation to write entries. Here's some short stories.

A few weekends ago I went to Sweden and played laser tag. It was awesome. Never thought I'd be putting those things all in one sentence. 

PBR is readily available in alcohol stores in Sweden. I wonder if drinking it comes with the same connotations there.

Sweden could care less if you come into their country from Denmark. I was never once asked to show identification coming into Sweden, or leaving. 

The next day I went to London with my class. It was my first time in a country where English is the first language since mid-January. 

The London Underground isn't as difficult as it was made out to be. Maybe it's because I've gotten used to figuring out a transportation system in a foreign language.

I got to visit Cow PR company in East London. They've done campaigns like creating an ice cream specifically for dogs, a men's fragrance for Burger King and the world's first hat for horses. I would gladly take a job there.

Bloomberg is extremely proud of their fish tanks and the fact that there is no privacy in the whole building. They also have a great selection of food in their cafe that they treat their guests to. I also left with a little better idea of what the company actually does.

BBC doesn't let you take pictures inside their offices. That was a bummer.

Media law is much different in Britain than the US, as we found out from a Schillings law firm representative. 

The London Eye is pretty cool, I guess. 

The whole trip made me want to re-watch the Harry Potter movies. I saw the Millennium Bridge that the Dementors blew up, Platform 9 3/4, and the inspiration for Diagon Alley.

The London Dungeon made me want to go by pure volume of advertising; I didn't.

I realized I don't understand the majority of modern art. Then again, if someone tells me they understand the artistic value of a uniform pile of bricks on the floor or an empty plain picture frame I won't believe them. 

Big Ben is even bigger than I expected, even though I found out the tower isn't part of Big Ben, but Elizabeth Tower. 

British comedians are hilarious, even though sometimes I sat awkwardly silent because I didn't get the British culture reference (Birmingham took the butt end of a lot of jokes). Also, they need to work on their impersonation of Danes speaking English. 

Squirrels in London are the tamest you'll ever see. They'll come to you even if you don't have food. 

The Tower Bridge was cool, but it would have been cooler if the Olympic rings were still on it. The London Bridge, not to be confused with the Tower Bridge, was less exciting. 

Our tour leader, Anders, was a walking fun fact. I learned so much about the origins of Britishness just from following him around.

I stumbled upon the Women of World War II Memorial I had learned about in my WWII class last semester. 

Fish and chips is good, but it's not something that can blow you away. The high tea, on the other hand, I could get used to. 

London was awesome, but I'll take laid back Denmark any day.

And now I have this week to show my family around the place I've made home for nearly 3 months.

Monday, March 18, 2013


This weekend I got a taste of a genuine Danish short family vacation to Lalandia. Lalandia is a family resort on the southern island of Denmark called Lolland. It has an indoor waterpark, movie theater, restaurants, and even goats. I was quite possibly the only American there all weekend and I couldn't have been happier. It was nice relaxing with my host family and getting a true immersion experience. I can guess that not many other DIS students have been treated to Lalandia like I was. My favorite part was getting to spend quality time with my family away from home. I've never been a big brother so it was fun having my younger 'siblings' wanting to show me all around the waterpark and play in the water with them. My favorite part of the Aquadome, as its called, was a waterslide that went outdoors. The water was extremely cold at first and outside there was even ice along the edges, but once you got used to it, the slide was a blast. It was a new experience for me because it was a legitimate slide, but essentially without any rules. So the result was people caroming down the slide five at a time, bumping into one another going backwards, sideways, feet first, headfirst and any which way. My host brother Jonas and I had some battles of who could make it down first and I have my fair share of bumps and bruises to prove it. The real test at the end of the slide was to swim through the frigid water to the outdoor hot tub; a rewarding experience for those who braved the cold. All in all I feel even more a part of the family to the point that I'm included in the some of the friendly sibling teasing now; in English and Danish.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I'm Hungry... You mean like the country?

It would take hours to describe the extent of my week long excursion to the wonderful city of Budapest, Hungary. But I also realize that you have things to do that are more important than reading a novella about my trip and if you do not in fact have more important things to do then I apologize because I have more important things to do than writing said novella. So here is the abbreviated version of the abbreviated version. For additional viewing pleasure, refer to the over 300 photos I posted in an album on my Facebook. If you are not my Facebook friend, I hear Google has a pretty extensive catalog of images that are probably pretty similar to mine. 

Day 1: The Journey to the Center of the Universe... or at least it felt like it
Saturday morning kicked off bright and early when I caught the local train from Fredensborg with Geena at 7:51. We then took the S-Tog into Copenhagen and met Andrew at Copenhagen Central. From there we took a train to Malmo, Sweden, where we took a bus to Malmo Airport. We then flew to Budapest where we took a bus to the metro station, took one metro train and then switched to another before arriving at our final destination, the Black Sheep Hostel in Budapest. Grand total: 3 trains, 2 buses, 2 metros, 1 plane, 8-9 hours. That night we went on a hostel sponsored pub crawl to some Budapest ruin bars. Ruin bars are bars or clubs inside what appear to be rundown buildings. One of the coolest ones I found was Szimpla kert. Google it; Lonely Planet rated it the third best bar in the world.
Fun fact of the day: That night we went on the pub crawl with 8 Americans who are studying in Istanbul. One of them is in the same class as a high school classmate of mine that is also studying in Istanbul. Small world. 
Bonus Fun Fact: The first metro we took was in all honesty, terrifying. It was my first time in eastern Europe and the metro train looked like a relic of the Soviet Bloc and completely out of place in the 21st century. Although my week in Budapest was amazing, I certainly had my doubts sitting on that first metro, especially after a long day of traveling. 

Day 2: We'll Just Look It Up Later
Andrew, Geena and I spent Sunday tagging along with 6 of the other Americans, who were trying to see as much as possible as fast as possible because they were leaving very early the next day. This resulted in us essentially following the Hop On, Hop Off Bus route but without ever getting on a bus. All in all we walked nearly 15km throughout the day and saw Hungarian landmarks like Heroes' Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, Buda Castle, the Chain Bridge, and St. Stephen's Basilica, among others. While we were walking around, though, we pretty much just took pictures of things without knowing what they were and then looked them up afterward. I don't think the other Americans could have squeezed any more out of their one day in Budapest if they tried.
Fun Fact of the day: Kebab shops are everywhere in Budapest and they have both affordable and delicious gyros.
The three stoodges at Heroes Square

St. Stephen's Basilica

Matthias Church

Buda Castle

Vajdahunyad Castle (Hogwarts Budapest Campus)

Buda Castle from Chain Bridge

Chain Bridge

Day 3: That's an Interesting Smell
Another day of walking awaited us on Monday. Most of the people we had met had left for other places so the three of us headed out ourselves to the Great Market Hall. Along the way we passed one of the largest synagogues in the world and took a stroll down Vaci Utca, a walking mall similar to Stroget in Copenhagen or a larger version of Church Street in Vermont. Inside the Great Market Hall is incredible. On the ground floor there are so many produce, sausage and paprika stands it's impossible to figure out which one to choose. In the basement there is a mix of fish markets and pickle shops creating the most confusing attack of scents on the senses that I felt lightheaded. Upstairs there are several gift shops selling traditional Hungarian trinkets and food stands where we tried langos, a Hungarian dish like pizza but essentially with a funnel cake as the dough. After the market we hiked up Gellert Hill, the best perspective view of the city. In the evening we met new roommates at the hostel in the form of two Aussies and a South African which we became immediate mates with. 
Fun Fact of the day: Australians do in fact say 'mate' and 'far out' in regular speech. I also learned a new word to call change in your pocket: 'shrapnel.' 
Interesting arrangement

Food stands galore

Nesting dolls everywhere

Upstairs in Great Market Hall

View from Gellert Hill


Day 4: Parkour Not Welcome Here
In the morning we took off another walking tour of Budapest, this time accompanied by our new Aussie friends. It was cool to show them some of the places we had been already and witness the amazement on their faces that we had just a few days back. Along the way to Margaret Island, a small island in the middle of the Danube, we stopped at parliament and took in its massive glory. Margaret Island was alright, but it seemed like more of a local jogging spot than a tourist attraction, at least at this time of the year. From there, with our stomachs growling, we went on a mission for lunch which we found at Food Fusion. $2.50 for ham and cheese on a baguette: mission accomplished. While we enjoyed our lunch at the edge of the Danube overlooking parliament from across the river, we witnessed two teenagers who were doing parkour get apprehended by the police. Either parkour is illegal or they were subjected to a random search of all their belongings, including shoes, bags, pockets and clothing. When the search was done the police just walked away and the two teenagers went about their business and smoked a cigarette as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. From there we went back up to the Castle District to see some of the sights we had rushed through on Sunday. The views from Fishermen's Bastion never get old. The afternoon was capped off with a taste of delicious Transylvanian funnel cake from a stand by Buda Castle. 
Fun Fact of the day: That night we made more friends at the hostel with a guy from New Zealand and a couple from Germany. Together we all went back to Szimpla kert where we experienced the strange phenomenon of a girl walking around the bar selling carrots. One of the Aussies bought one and it was dubbed the worst carrot he had ever tasted.

View from Fishermen's Bastion

Day 5: Just Slothin Around
By day 5 we had seen most of the touristy parts of Budapest, albeit the entrance fees deterred us from going into most of them. So we planned a day at the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Gardens and it was above and beyond my expectations. From the outside, I'm going to be honest the zoo didn't look like much. But inside the gates you could get lost in all the animal houses, exhibits and creatures. The best part by far was the sloth exhibit. We entered the building and were shocked to learn that these awesome animals were just roaming free. Not only that, but the sloths would approach you when they saw you and pose for pictures. The icing on the cake was that one of the sloths had a baby resting in her lap that was the funniest/cutest looking animal I had seen up close. We spent hours at the zoo and were exhausted by the end, but we managed to go to Szimpla again, this time adding a Colombian to our crew but losing two Germans. 
Fun Fact of the day: I saw my first baby sloth and baby elephant, Geena got sprayed by a lion and prairie dogs are some cold-blooded sonsofbitches. Also a South African told me I had beautiful hazel eyes; and it was a girl.
Baby sloth

Baby elephant

Day 6: Soak and Recover
We knew for quite some time that our sixth and final day would be spent at the Szechenyi Baths, a famous thermal bath complex in Budapest. Our new Kiwi friend joined us and took pictures with his cool waterproof camera. Inside an architecturally amazing looking exterior is a massive courtyard complete with what are essentially huge hot tubs. Inside there are more baths of varying temperatures, saunas and ice baths. I found out quickly that I do not enjoy saunas and promptly exited, but the the 'cold' baths were basically the ocean temperature in June. It was great to relax our sore feet and bodies in the soothing hot water for a few hours. In the evening we were treated to a traditional Hungarian dinner at the hostel for free and spent one last night with all our new international friends before repeating the gauntlet of transportation in the morning. 
Fun Fact of the day: Unbeknownst to us, the Indonesian president was in town and he was presenting a wreath at Heroes Square while we were walking past to the baths. The police presence around the square was confusing and intriguing to say the least. On the way back we passed a gathering protesting the passing of a fourth amendment to Hungarian's constitution, which we were unaware of until later. 

So there you go, my trip to Budapest. Despite its appearance, this is in fact the abbreviated version. All in all I got to see all 9 landmarks that were pictured on a postcard I saw and made friends with a wonderful crew of mates from around the world. If you would like to hear the exclusive extended director's cut version with optional commentary from the producer then you'll just have to ask me about it some other time. If you've read this far do yourself a favor and make some langos; you'll enjoy it.