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Vienna: Cakes, Cafés and Culture

Disclaimer: This post is about to be one of my longest (and most overdue - sorry!) posts yet. Last week, I went on a week-long study tour to Vienna, Austria, with my clinical psychology class. It was absolutely amazing; here are some highlights!

As you can see, Vienna is all about the classical music (see above). Vienna is also all about the delicious cakes (see below).

Sunday

Sunday morning dawned bright and early; our class met at the airport at 8am to catch our 10:10am flight. Thanks to DIS, our tickets had been booked for us on Austrian Airlines, and we were allowed to bring both a carry-on and a checked bag for free. The flight was an easy two hours, and then we were in Austria! After a few minor mishaps, we boarded a bus to take us to our hotel: Austrian Trend Hotel Ananas, a classy hotel located right next to a metro stop. Side note: Apparently the word “ananas” means pineapple in every language. The things you learn while in Austria…

After checking in, we tried our hand at public transit to head to lunch (on DIS!): Café Frauenhuber. There, we tried our hand at an Austrian classic: Wienerschnitzel, or bread-coated veal. It was absolutely delicious, not to mention hugely filling. We topped off the meal with ice cream and an apple dessert. Seeing as how large a role food played in the rest of the tour, I’d say this was an appropriate introduction to Vienna.

Above: Weinerschnitzel! So authentically Austrian! Below: The first of what would become the many desserts on this trip…

Post-lunch, we headed to our only scheduled afternoon activity: a two-hour walking tour of Vienna! A local tour guide led us around the small city centre, pointing out tourist-y sights and supplementing them with historical facts. A few pictures from the tour:

Above: A photo of the art university to which Hitler applied. He was rejected, which lead him to abandon this academic path in favor of his infamous allegiance to anti-semitism. You can’t help but wonder what would have been different had he been accepted…Below: A distant shot of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, one of the largest churches in Vienna. Expect many more photos of this building. 

Above: A side shot of the Hofburg Palace, the former imperial residence of the Habsburgs and the current residence of the Austrian president. It’s absolutely huge, taking up a large portion of the city centre. Below: A shot of another side of the palace. Historical fact: Hitler stood on this balcony to proclaim the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany during WWII. Alexis did not know that tidbit before asking me to take her picture here…

We were on our own for dinner. A group of us headed to Stephansplatz, the area surrounding St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in search of a simple meal. We stumbled upon Café Europe, an outdoor café with cheap food and really strange desserts. After a great meal, we ended the night with classic Austrian beers (Wieselburger Bier) at a local bar. Fun fact: It’s hard to find normal restaurants/bars in the city; the Viennese venue of choice is definitely the café.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning brought a guided tour and art workshop at one of Vienna’s many art museums: the Albertina Museum. After a quick glimpse at the museum’s most famous piece, we headed into the temporary (but fantastic!) Matisse/Fauvism exhibition (yes, I am name-dropping and no, I’m not ashamed). One artist in particular caught my eye: André Derain. This was my favorite of his pieces. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures, so you’ll have to make due with the Internet links. After our tour of the exhibitions, our guide lead us to a back room for an hour-long painting workshop. We were given paints, brushes and essentially free reign to do as we wish with our blank canvasses. There was a suggested still life to paint (see below), but most of us abandoned the lemons in favor of more abstract pieces.

Above: Sarah shows off her art skills. Perks of going to an arts high school…Below: Alexis and I post-painting at the Albertina.

With two hours until our next visit, we splintered off into smaller groups to find lunch and explore the city. Several of us ended up at Café Griensteidl, a venue once frequented by the likes of Kafka. We grabbed a quick lunch before checking out nearby Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church). As soon as we stepped inside, I was speechless; there was just so much to take in. Gold-encrusted wall hangings and intricately-carved embellishments hung over and from every available surface. I think Kate put it best when she said that she now finally felt like she was in Europe; this was a baroque-style church at its finest!

Above: A shot of the cafe menu. Below: My “snack” of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. All the cafes in Vienna have a menu section deemed “snacks” that includes sandwiches, sausages and other types of small meals/appetizers. They’re typically the cheapest things you can get, so I was a fan. 

Above: Dessert, of course! We stopped for delicious cupcakes from a dessert shop in the city centre. Below: The main hall of St. Peter’s Church. A photograph can’t even begin to capture the intricacies and ornate style of this interior…

After our mini-explorations, we reconvened as a class to head to our next visit: a lecture by Dr. Nidal Moughrabi, a hypo-therapist/anesthesiologist (uh, what?) in the area. Hypnotherapy is not the same as hypnosis, per se; rather, it is a method to promote mindfulness, wellbeing, and a relaxed, self-centered state. At the end of his lecture, Dr. Moughrabi gave a brief demonstration of the therapy in action.

Above: Courtney undergoes hypnotherapy provided by Dr. Moughrabi. Before this photo was taken, he instructed her to lift her arm and simply “let it float,” which she then unconsciously continued to do for the entire session.

Post-hypnotherapy session, we were free from scheduled visits for the rest of the night. Alexis, Kate and I headed to Karlskirche (St. Charles's Church) for some more sightseeing. Located in the city centre, the church boasts of a large green dome, the interior of which is decorated entirely with stunning frescos. You can take an elevator to the top of the dome for a closer look at the artwork, as well as a view over Vienna! On Tuesday, the elevator was broken, so we didn’t get a chance to go up to the top, but we made it back on Friday afternoon (see Friday’s photo section below for pictures!).

Above: The front entrance of Karlskirche, including the reflection pool. Below: Me in front of the Karlskirche earlier in the day.

Later on, a bunch of my classmates and I opted for a classic Viennese activity: a night at the opera! For 4 EUR (about $6), you could purchase a standing room only ticket for that evening’s opera. The conditions in the standing sections are pretty brutal; because there are so many people crammed into such a small space, it can get really warm. Fortunately, there are little posts you can lean on to help take some of the weight off your feet. But after the first act (about one hour), we were all ready to head out. Despite the less-than-ideal viewing conditions, the opera was an incredible experience. After all, how many American college students can say that they have enjoyed (half of a)n opera at the famous Vienna opera house? Post-opera, we grabbed drinks at an Australian pub, where I tried another classic Austrian beer: Zwickel.

Above: Ceiling inside the main lobby of the opera house. Below: Ceiling over the grand staircase of the opera house.

Above: Jessica, Alyssa, Cara and I posing for pre-opera photos. Below: Me at the edge of the standing room section. Note the beautiful stage cover and plush red seats and abundance of gold.

Above: A closer shot of the gold stage cover. Note the ceiling/fancy light fixture at the top of the photo. Below: Our opera-going group (also known as almost our entire class).

Wednesday

Wednesday brought Freud Day, which might have more been more appropriate on Friday (thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week). We kicked off the day with a visit to the Freud Museum, which is located in the man himself’s old apartment in the city. Though it was extremely interesting to visit the famous psychologist’s former digs, the museum itself did not have much of his original furniture or belongings. The archives mostly included photographs or copies of his papers. After the museum, we grabbed a class lunch at Café Landtmann, otherwise known as “Freud’s favorite café.”

Above: About 2/3 of our class (and Max, our teacher, near the top-left) in front of the Freud Museum entrance. Below: Alexis and I in front of the museum.

Above: Freud’s waiting room. No, that is (unfortunately) not the couch on which Freud infamously instructed his patients to lie upon. Apparently, that couch can be seen at the Freud museum in London. Below: An excerpt of one of Freud’s famous pieces screen-printed on a wall in the museum.

Above: Me chillin’ with a Freudian bust. Below: Freud’s favorite café. Somehow I doubt that this glass cover was there during the 1900s…

Above: Delicious fish for lunch. Below: Mozart torte, a type of dessert with a custard filling. Fun fact: It was delicious. I seem to notice a theme with my descriptions of meals…

Keeping with our Freudian themes, we then headed off to visit Sigmund Freud University, a post-secondary institution that offers specialized degrees in different types of therapies, including psychoanalytic therapy, Gestalt therapy, systematic therapy, and client-centered therapy, to name a few examples. The purpose of our visit was to learn about current psychoanalytic therapy research, though the whole thing ended up being more of a sales pitch for the university than any sort of stimulating lecture on the efficacy of particular therapies…

With our final visit of the day under our belts, a large group of us headed off to the Wiener Riesenrad (literal translation: Viennese giant wheel), a giant ferris wheel located in the Viennese amusement park Prater (which, might I add, had a free entrance fee…take that, Tivoli!). We loaded up into two of the cabin-shaped gondolas for amazing views over the city. After the wheel, spontaneity got the best of my classmates, who lined up for bumper cars. Watching them ram into each other and race around was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, especially after an incident involving the loss-and-eventual-rescue of a tupperware container in the middle of the track.

Above: Kate and Courtney consult the map about how to get to Prater; once again, this becomes a pretty familiar sight by the end of the trip. Two people you definitely want to travel with! (Oh, and Meghan…also known as the one willing to ask for directions.) Below: Wiener Riesenrad. Check out the adorable gondolas.

Above: Meghan’s first time on a ferris wheel, and she handles it pretty well…Below: One of the views of Vienna from the top of the wheel.

Above: Sun peeks through the clouds over Vienna. Below: Sarah looks excited about bumpin’ some cars…

Above: Meghan saves the day/tupperware! Below: Cardboard cutout fun at the park.

For dinner, a group of us checked out a nearby Nepalese restaurant with an all-you-can-eat entrée deal. The food was amazing, not to mention super cheap. Post-dinner, we headed out to the bars to celebrate Alexis’s twenty-first birthday! Thanks to a recommendation from a woman at Sigmund Freud University, we ended up at Kaktusbar, a slightly-overpriced venue near the city centre. We toasted to Alexis’s birthday and danced the night away. Little did we know that the metro stops running at 12:30am on the weekdays…One forty minute walk later, we were finally back at the hotel. To add salt to the wound, our teacher told us the next day that taxis are really cheap in Vienna…oops! Oh well…happy birthday Alexis!

Above: Birthday drinks at Kaktusbar. 

Wednesday

Today started with a visit to a local music therapist, Susanne S. Tuschi. She introduced us to the history of music therapy, as well as hosted a mock-session with us. In addition to playing instruments and singing, Susanne made music with water by pouring it in and out of cups into a larger water basin. The sounds were so soothing; I can definitely see how music can be used as a therapeutic technique. After our music therapy session, we headed to the Leopold Museum, an art museum that houses some of Austria’s most significant and famous art. We took in pieces by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, two highly-prolific and influential Austrian artists. Side note: Being in Europe is doing wonders for my art appreciation skills. Now that I have seen pieces by Munch, Van Gogh, Klimt and others in person, I feel so much more cultured…

Above: Death and Life by Gustav Klimt. Below: Above: Cardinal and Nun (Caress) by Egon Schiele. Ever heard of The Kiss? It’s Gustav Klimt’s most famous piece. It is not housed at the Leopold, but at the Belvedere, another art museum in Vienna. This piece by Egon Schiele, however, pokes fun at Klimt’s painting by imitating the intimate kiss and putting a comedic spin on it.

With our afternoon free, Kate, Ian and I headed off in search of Schönbrunn Palace, the former imperial summer residence. Ironically, the summer residence is only about twenty minutes away from the winter residence by metro, but in my opinion, Schönbrunn is much more impressive. Someone described it to me as the “Versailles of Vienna,” and this nickname surely doesn’t disappoint: the grounds are absolutely breathtaking. Warning: there will be far too many photos of the same exact thing here, but I just couldn’t help myself!

Above: Front entrance to the palace. Below: A shot of the palace from the back. As you can see, the gardens are meticulously kept, and the palace is huge.

Above: A more expansive shot of the garden. There is a large fountain (Neptune Fountain) at one end, as well as the Gloriette on the top of the hill. 

Above: Up close and personal with Neptune Fountain. Below: A shot of the Gloriette, a structure that once served as the dining room of emperor Franz Joseph I, as well as signified Hapsburg power. Now, it houses a café and tourist shop.

Above and below: A view of Vienna from the top of the hill. 

We grabbed a quick lunch at a café on the palace grounds before heading to Belvedere, the former residence of Prince Eugene of Savory. Today, the Belvedere houses two art museums and several famous pieces, including Gustav Klimt’s acclaimed The Kiss.  As photographs were not allowed inside the museum, my description will have to suffice; The Kiss was even more stunning than I had imagined. It was large, taking over close to one-half of the wall it was mounted on, and the gold shimmered behind its thin front-piece of glass. In a word, it was breathtaking. Before coming to Vienna, I only vaguely recognized Klimt’s name; now, I have seen the originals of some of his most famous paintings, and I can safely say that I am a Klimt fan. Thank you, Vienna, for that!

Above: About the hundredth photo I have of Kate looking at a map…but this time, with a chandelier. The café was a bit fancy, to say the least…Below: Me excited about the couch seating in the café.

Above: A shot of the Belvedere front entrance. Below: The gardens of the Belvedere, as well as another view over Vienna. 

In the evening, we met up for an all-class dinner at Café Museum before heading to a night at the symphony! DIS treated us to floor seats at Musikverein, one of Vienna’s most famous and beautiful concert halls, to hear the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. We listened to pieces by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Gustav Mahler and admired the decor of the Musikverein; in my opinion, the concert hall was even lavishly-decorated than the state opera house!

Above: Alexis’s first beer of her twenty-first year! Below: Beef goulash for dinner. 

Above: Sacher torte, one of Vienna’s most famous (and delicious) desserts. Below: The ceiling of the Musikverein. Check out that ceiling and those eight (yup, count ‘em, eight) chandeliers…

Above: Meghan and I before the symphony. Below: Kate, Alexis, Cara, Alyssa and I pre-symphony.

Thursday

Thursday brought a change of pace and a trip out of the city to Mauthausen, an Austrian town home to a former concentration camp. Mauthausen Concetration Camp, now known as KZ-Gedenkstätte Mauthausen (Mauthausen Memorial) was a labour camp during WWII; its prisoners were primarily well-educated and upper-class individuals who opposed Nazi Germany. Words cannot capture emotions as strong as those elicited by such horrific sights, so I will be brief and let the photos and captions speak for themselves.

Above: A large green space outside the camp’s walls; the prison guards would sometimes play soccer here. Below: The Jewish Memorial, appropriately shaped as a menorah, at Mauthausen.

Above: Writing on the wall in the shower rooms. Some messages, left behind by visitors to the camp, speak of revenge. Below: The book of names of those who died at Mauthausen. Over 80,000 names are listed. The book resides in the Room of Names, a visual representation of the magnitude of deaths.

Above: The main entryway. The green building on the left is an example of what the bunks looked like. Below: Barbed wire on the edge of fence surrounding the camp.

After some inner reflections, we headed into the town of Mauthausen for lunch. During our tour of the concentration camp, our guide suggested to keep an open mind about Mauthausen and its residents. He spoke of the struggle of reconciling your ancestor’s history and your own worldview. He would know; he himself was from a small town in Austria made famous as the birthplace of Adolf Hitler. This fact and his larger point really hit home with me; we don’t decide where we come from, only who we become. I had never before considered the experiences of those who lived in the towns outside the walls of these camps, only the tragedies that occurred inside. It’s a delicate subject, as anything meaningful is, but just some food for thought.

By the time we arrived back in Vienna, it was after five. Chelsea, Meghan and I grabbed dinner at a local brewery near our hotel. We had schnitzels, homemade pizza and delicious beers. Later, we met up with everyone to out to the bars (more specifically, a bar called Gnadenlos) for dancing and drinks to celebrate our last night in Vienna.

Above: Kate, Alexis and I pre-the alligator shot game/cocktails.

Friday

We wrapped up the academic facet of our study tour on Friday morning with a slightly depressing discussion about existential psychology and the meaning of life. To sum of the discussion content in a sentence: “The only thing you know for sure about tomorrow is that you are one day closer to the day you die." 

To lighten the mood, Kate, Alexis and I headed back to Karlskirche to see the frescos up-close. We took the elevator up to a platform before climbing rickety-stairs all the way to the top of the dome; needless to say, I was terrified the entire time. The artwork was beautiful, though, as was the view of the church from above.

Above: The altar. Again, very ornate. Below: A shot of the platform and stairs we had to climb up to get to the very top…

And now, the frescos:

Above: The fresco at the very top/on the inside of the dome. Below: A photographic attempt to show how far up we were…unfortunately/fortunately, the safety railing was in the way.

During the afternoon, we also headed back to St. Stephen’s Cathedral; I hadn’t had the chance to check out the inside yet, but the interior was just as gorgeous as Vienna’s other churches.

Above: A shot of the exterior of St. Stephen’s. Below: A shot of the inside. Check out those tall ceilings…

Above: Intricate carvings on the staircases. Below: Carvings on carvings on carvings.

To commemorate our time in Vienna, the three of us headed to Demel, a fancy (and therefore overpriced) café, for our final Viennese meal. We ordered sausages, salads and schnitzels, as well as delicious desserts. Demel is home to a famous cake-making 

Above: Chocolates for sale at Demel. Below: Our final meal in Austria.

Above: I went with the sausages. They were cheap and good! Below: My almond chocolate cake and final dessert of Vienna. Fun fact: I’m pretty sure all the cafés in Vienna have the same dessert menu. I don’t just mean serve the same desserts, which they do, but that they literally all have the same menu. I suppose that’s one way to keep café culture alive and well…

All in all, it was a great trip with awesome friends, food and new experiences. Vienna truly is a place of culture; its echoed in the musical scene, the art appreciators, the food, even in the architecture. I never would have considered visiting Vienna on my own, and I am so glad I got the chance to experience the Viennese life after all. I could seriously get used to eating those cakes, though…

Thanks, Vienna. And thank you DIS for such an awesome (and did I mention delicious?) trip!

Four countries down, two months to go!

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Plane Tickets for Cheap??

I may have completely gotten lost today on the way home from submitting my residency permit application with the other DIS student I’m sharing my host family with and been freezing cold and sleep deprived and homesick and miserable all day long.

But I learned how to ride the Metro and the S train successfully. We even took the right bus, just in the wrong direction… and ended up stranded in the middle of god knows where Denmark where there weren’t any lights or anything around us at this bus stop but snow and once in a while a car. For forty minutes, and we ended up calling our host parents and our host dad came and picked us up.

And I got to run around Copenhagen (lost) and just finding my way and getting to appreciate the city and it’s offerings.

I’m a little miserable and today is a day where Murphy’s Law has completely taken form.

I also am starting to adjust, slightly, and am starting to somewhat understand and find my way around. This is a nice start. I think I’m really going to like it here.

And on that note, goodnight everybody.

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dovahqueene presented Americans thatonecotton, Katie, Ulises, onlybattlesnovictories, and queeriswhatiaimfor with some Danish candy... And this is what went down!

⊰ details and blog post here ⊱

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Danish!!!

Travel Break: Paris, Berlin and London (Oh My!)

Ten days. Three major European capital cities. One college-student budget. The result? The longest Tumblr post known to mankind. 

Paris

Who: I met up with Kate, and we did sightseeing together for three days. Because of our flight schedules, I had half a day to myself in the city before departing to Berlin.

When: Arrived late Friday night, left Tuesday morning (3 full days).

Where: Most of the hostels in Paris are over-priced and far away from the city centre. Rather than splurge on a dorm in a hostel, Kate and I split the cost of an apartment from Airbnb. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Paris, I would highly recommend this option; our apartment was located in the swanky area of Rue de Rivoli and within walking distance to Notre-Dame, the Louvre and Hôtel de Ville. The only slight drawback to our housing arrangement was the fact that it was a bit…pink. Due to our procrastination, the only reasonably-priced apartment available was a “romantic get-away” in the center of Paris, complete with a fluffy pink bedspread, a queen-sized bed and a complimentary guitar for the musically-inclined. Regardless, the value for the money and the location was hard to beat! After Kate left, I spent my last “night” (if you can call four and a half hours a night) at St. Christopher’s Hostel near Gare de Nord. It was a bit further out of the city, but it was a cheaper option for my last few hours of sleep in Paris.

What: What didn’t we do in Paris? From the typical sights to daily baguettes and camembert cheese for breakfast, Kate and I did it all: the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, the Lourvre, Musée d'Orsay, Pompidou Center, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, Sacré-Cœur, Tuileries Garden and so much more. Read on for a more detailed account and photos.

Above: A snapshot of the one-bedroom apartment we rented from Airbnb. The literal “water closet” is in the background, whereas the kitchenette, sink and shower are located behind me. Below: A shot of the water show at Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), which was literally located right across the street from our apartment.

We started Saturday morning with an ambitious task: Versailles. Because the palace is a bit outside of Paris itself, we needed to take a regional train to get there. After buying the appropriate tickets (or so we thought), we attempted to get on the right train…only to find that the train to Versailles was not running. Hm. We deduced from a map that the normal train route was under construction and that we needed to take a different train and a replacement bus, after which we would have to walk another fifteen minutes to get to the château. Despite these minor complications, we arrived at the palace to find the BEST NEWS EVER. If you’re between the ages of 18-26 (which I am) and are a citizen of the EU (which I technically am not BUT I HAVE A DANISH RESIDENCE CARD which counts as proof of citizenship!), you can get in to all of the museums and many of the historical sights in Paris for free. Yes, that’s what I said - for. free. In a city as expensive as Paris, this was a godsend. 

With free entry thanks to our Danish residence cards, Kate and I took a brief tour of the palace and the gardens. Unfortunately, because it was Saturday and there was a  special “water show” going on, entry to the gardens was not free. In fact, it was an absurd amount to pay, but you only go to Versailles once…right? 

Above: Me in front of the classic golden gate of Versailles. After Kate took this picture, we each spent the next fifteen minutes taking pictures of other tourists for them. Below: The front of the château.

Above and below: Keeping up my trend of Europe’s fanciest ceilings.

Above and below: The Hall of Mirrors.

Above: A shot of the gardens from inside the château. Below: A shot of the gardens from inside the gardens. I believe they extend for three miles beyond this…needless to say, Kate and I didn’t take a tour of them in their entirety.

After navigating our way back to the city, Kate and I headed to Musée d'Orsay, an art museum that is housed in a former train station. My friend Sarah had recommended the museum to me, and it did not disappoint; theMusée d'Orsay houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist piece in the world. From Monet to Degas, Renior, Van Gogh, Manet, Cézanne and more - the entire collection was absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately, no photos of the pieces were allowed, but I did sneak a few pictures of the building itself.

Above: The main hall of Musée d'Orsay. Below: Behind the museum’s famous clock. 

After grabbing lunch (my first crêpe experience! Seriously, why can’t America have street food as nice as this?), Kate and I took on the ultimate tourist sight of Paris/arguably the world: the Eiffel Tower. Of course, the lines were ridiculously long, but we opted for the much shorter line (and cheaper option!) at the stairs. You can only take the stairs up the first two levels of the tower (710 stairs in total!); after the second floor, you have to buy a separate elevator ticket to take you to the very top. Despite my fear of heights, we went all the way to the top; needless to say, the view was incredible. All in all, we spent about three hours at the tower, and I took about a gazillion pictures (evidence below).

Get ready for “Kate Does the Eiffel Tower: A Photo Sequence.” Photo one (above): Kate takes the first step. Below: My photo of first stair-steppin’. I think the security guard behind us thought we were really crazy to be taking these pictures…

Above: One level down, one more staircase to go! Below: We made it to the second level! It was a tad windy (note hair).

Above: The working wheels of the elevator pulley-system. Below: The infrastructure of the tower.

Above: A glimpse of the view from behind the gate on the second floor. Be patient; the best photos come last! Below: Final photo in the Kate sequence; we’re on our way up in the elevator!

Above and below: Bonjour, Paris! The view from two opposite sides of the top of the tower.

Above: Terrified but so happy to have gone all the way to the top! Below: Kate and I at the top.

Above: Surprise! I ran into my friend Ashley from DIS at the top of the Eiffel Tower! How does that even happen? It’s a small world…Below: One last picture together before heading back down.

Above: Classic picture of the tower’s silhouette. Below: Classic solo picture with the Eiffel Tower.

After taking the elevator down (no way was I doing the stairs again), we headed to the nearby Rue Cler neighborhood for a night of authentic Parisian dining and shopping. The main avenue of the neighborhood is lined with open-air stands, restaurants and shops that sell anything from wine to dessert. Dinner included duck, lamb chops and crêpes with ice cream for dessert. Post-dinner, I bought a bottle of wine, and we went back and sat in front of the illuminated Eiffel Tower in awe. Is it strange to call a tower beautiful?

Above: Lamb chop dinner. Below: Crêpes with Nutella ice cream. Definitely one of my favorite foods of the semester.

Above: Night-time Eiffel Tower. At 9:00pm, the tower literally sparkles with a brief light show. Below: Upwards shot of the tower.

To cap off our busy Saturday, we took a night-time boat cruise (yes, we’re extreme tourists) on the Seine. We passed some of Paris’s most famous sights from the water, including, of course, the famed Eiffel Tower. Below: View of the tour from our boat cruise.

On Sunday, Kate and I braved one of the most crowded tourist traps of all: the Louvre. To be honest, the Louvre was not my favorite. Yes, the building and art that it houses are both magnificently impressive; but it simply isn’t my favorite style of art. I much preferred the collection at Musée d'Orsay. We spent about an hour and a half browsing the Louvre’s collections before calling it quits, but not before braving the crowds at Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. Conn kid that I am, I wanted to see Winged Victory…but the part of the museum that holds the statue was under construction. Louvre: 1, Jordan: 0.

Above: Me posing in front of the pyramid entrance. Thanks to Rick Steves, we avoided the long lines here by using the secret underground mall entrance. Below: The staircase descending into the museum from the pyramid entrance.

Above: Venus de Milo. I’m surprised no tourists made it into this picture…Below: My view of the Mona Lisa about 99.5% of the time. Yes, she is small, and yes, the crowd of tourists wrestling to take a picture of or with her is obscene. 

Above: Kate vies for position among the ruthless crowd. This picture just about sums up the struggle that is seeing the Mona Lisa. Below: The result of my face-to-face time with Mona. About two seconds after this picture was taken, a women shoved me out of the way so she could take my spot. Reason #43 why I didn’t particularly care for the Louvre…

Post-Louvre, we headed to the Arc de Triomphe. Again, entrance was free (thanks Denmark!), and we got to climb to the top. The top offered a beautiful vantage point of the famous shopping avenue Champ-Élysées (more on that later).

Above: Shot of the Arc de Triomphe. It took Kate and I a solid ten minutes to figure out you get to the structure via underground tunnel rather than trying to cross the death-trap that is the traffic roundabout. Below: Shot of the pillar carvings inside.

Above: 284 steps later…and an awesome view of the Champ-Élysées (the avenue on the right). Below: View of Paris’s hilltop community Montmartre (more details on that below).

Above: View of the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Below: One last look at the Champs-Élysées before heading down it ourselves.

The Champ-Éysées is Paris’ busiest avenue; it’s chock-full of bakeries, restaurants and high-class stores. At one end of the avenue is the Arc de Triomphe; at the opposite end is Tuileries Garden (more on that later). Kate and I spent our afternoon strolling down the avenue in search of lunch and desserts; of course, Paris did not disappoint.

Above: Lunch of crêpes. Below: And dessert of…macarons, of course! A shot of macarons at Ladurée, a world-famous French bakery.

Above: Kate poses on Champs-Élysées with newly-purchased macaroons. The Arc de Triomphe is in the far distance. Below: My eight macarons that cost far more than I would like to admit…worth it? Yes.

Flavours (above and below from left to right) included pistachio, chocolate and coconut, lemon, Columbian chocolate, strawberry candy, salted caramel, vanilla and chocolate.

Kate and I then headed to Notre-Dame. Thanks to this semester, I have seen a lot of cathedrals, but the grandeur of Notre-Dame is unbeatable. Normally, tourists can climb up the tower for a view of Paris and a closer look at the cathedral’s world-famous gargoyles. Unfortunately for Kate and I, the tower was “on strike” when we were in Paris. No one could really specify who was on strike, but it makes for a funny story. Plus, I’m not sure if my feet could have handled another 400 stairs… 

Above: The western facade of Notre-Dame. Below: A closer look at the exterior carvings. This photograph does not even begin to do justice to how magnificently intricate the details are…

Above and below: The interior of Notre-Dame.

As Kate and I were strolling around the back of Notre-Dame, we stumbled on the one sight in Paris I had told myself I had to see: Pont de l'Archevêché, alternatively known as the “Love Lock” bridge. I have wanted to see this bridge for over three years; I think it’s absolutely beautiful, and the photographic possibilities are endless. Yes, it’s a bit of a cheesy idea: Couples come to the bridge and place a lock on it together, then throw the key into the Seine. Both sides of the bridge are completely full of locked locks; people have even begun to lock their locks to other locks. How many more times can I say locks in this post?

Above: A section of the bridge. Below: My new favorite place; Notre-Dame is in the background.

Above: The Paris lock was one of the more common locks to be found on the bridge. Below: An up-close shot of some of the locks; the Seine is in the background.

Above: In case you couldn’t tell, this is my new favorite place to take pictures (sorry, Nyhavn!). Below: Kate lives the Parisian life; what could be better than eating macarons on a bridge in Paris? This is basically the same question some random Parisian man asked her as she was sitting there…

Above: Have I mentioned that I am in love with this bridge? So much so that I spent over two hours here across two days. Below: Kate and I with Notre-Dame in the background. Fun fact: The woman who took this picture also took our picture on the Eiffel Tower the day before. Again, small world…

On Monday, Kate and I rode out to Montmartre, the artist community of Paris. The area is filled with cute shops and cafés, as well as souvenir stores exploiting the area’s connection to Moulin Rouge. The neighborhood is on Paris’s only hill, the top of which is graced with the picturesque Basilica of the Sacré Cœur

Above: The Sacré-Cœur. Below: Pigeons in Europe are crazy. Not pictured: The one hundred millions salespeople that tried to sell Kate and I plastic Eiffel Towers, friendship bracelets, etc.

Above: My first (and sadly, only) French croissant! Below: A snapshot of the market area in Montmartre. In this area, artists with clipboards will often approach you and begin to draw your profile…only to charge you for the final product when they’re finished. An artist has got to make a living, right? 

Above: A shot of Paris from the top of Montmartre. Below: Me posing in front of Paris.

From Montmartre, we made our way to Sainte-Chapelle, a medieval gothic chapel famous for its beautiful stained glass. The stained glass was absolutely breathtaking. Exhibit A:

Above: The main alter in the chapel. My camera had trouble processing the light shining through the glass, but you get the idea. Below: A closer look at the stained glass.

After Sainte-Chapelle, Kate had to run to catch her flight. I spent the rest of the evening adventuring on my own, beginning with a walk through the beautiful garden Tuileries. I then headed to my final sight of Paris: the Pompidou Center, a modern art museum with an architectural design as cool as the art itself.

Above: Art installation at Tuileries. Below: Soft light and tree-lined avenues at Tuileries.

Above: Some beautiful flowers in the garden; the Louvre is in the background. Below: Parisians enjoying the wonderful weather (seriously, the weather was absolutely gorgeous; lucky us!).

Above: The outside of Center Pompidou. The tube-like structure snaking up the side of the building is an escalator (see below). On the top floor, you have an awesome view of Paris.

Above: View over central Paris from the top of the Pompidou. Below: View of the Eiffel Tower from the top floor.

Above: View of Montmarte and Sacré-Cœur from the Pompidou. Below: The view from the top floor a little after dusk.

Above: The first piece in the contemporary art exhibition. Below: Getting colorful. Don’t ask me what it means, I just like it.

Above: A variety of French synonyms for the word “cunt." Below: A bunch of pantyhose stitched together and weighed down with seeds. 

After grabbing dinner, I headed back to the hostel for some "sleep.” I got up at 4:30am to catch an 8:45am flight to take me to Berlin.

Berlin

Who: Me, myself and I. I’ve wanted to go to Berlin for a while now; I’m German by descent, and I’ve always wondered if I would feel any type of connection to my heritage. I took this trip solo, and though I at first felt unsure about traveling alone, I can’t recommend the experience enough. 

When: Tuesday morning - Thursday night (3 full days).

Where: I stayed in an all-female dorm at Generator Hostel Mitte in the hip neighborhood of Mitte in Berlin. The hostel was awesome; it was safe, cool and close to a bunch of awesome bars and restaurants. It also happened to be located on Oranienburger Straße, Berlin’s main drag for prostitutes. Apparently prostitution is legal in Germany? Oops…

What: Unlike Paris, Berlin focuses much more on history and its impact rather than tourism. That being said, it’s still a tourist-y city. While I was there, I saw Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Berliner Dom, Kulturforum, Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, Topography of Terror and more. Details and photos below.

Above: Brandenburg Tor (or Brandenburg Gate), a landmark of Germany. Below: A classic meal of currywurst and pommes fritas. This meal cost me about $3 less than lunch in Paris…

Thanks to advice from my friend Josh, I started my trip in Berlin off with a Sandeman’s free walking tour. The tour was awesome; my guide was extremely knowledgable about the history of Berlin, and hearing the stories behind the sights helped me contextualize the city and its culture. I’d highly recommend the walking tour to anyone interested in visiting in Berlin; it also inspired me to re-visit certain sights, as well as gave me the historical perspective you need in order to truly understand the city.

Above: The first “sight” on my walking tour. Apparently, this is the hotel balcony over which Michael Jackson infamously dangled his son. Good to know that Berlin tour guides have their priorities in order…Below: The nonexistent Hitler’s Bunker. The city of Berlin decided not to mark the land for fear of creating a memorial to the dictator, hence the grassy area and parking lot.

Above: Socialist propaganda. Below: An over-commercialized Checkpoint Charlie (the crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War). The original gatehouse and actual memorabilia can be found at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum; these guys just stand here for tourism’s sake.

Above: My first glimpse of the Berlin Wall. There are three sections of the wall still standing; this section is located close to Brandenburg Tor, whereas the other two are located in different areas of the city. I made sure to visit all three. Below: Another photograph of this section of the wall.

After the tour, I made my way back to one of the more powerful stops on the trip: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, alternatively known as the Holocaust Memorial. I spent quite a bit of time there, wandering amongst the heavy slabs of concrete. I took endless photos, lost in thought and mesmerized by the scene of over 2,100 of these rectangles surrounding me. 

There is no correct interpretation of the memorial. The further you walk in, however, the more the ground dips below your feet; the blocks appears taller, and you feel as if you are drowning. I also visited the museum underneath the memorial (see below).

On Wednesday, I started my morning with a visit to another standing section of the Berlin Wall and the Berlin Wall Memorial. In addition to the wall itself, the memorial area features a documentation center, photos of those deceased and information booths. Seeing holes that had been shot into the wall was powerful, as was seeing the photographs of those who had been killed trying to cross. Too often, I think we forget that Germany has had her own horrors, too.

Above: Old poles formerly inside the Berlin Wall. Below: Flowers on a grave in front of a remaining section of the wall.

Above: Graffiti near the wall. Below: A small tree-lined cemetery near the memorial.

I then made my way over to the final (and most famous) section of the Berlin Wall: the picturesque and graffitied East Side Gallery. Here are a few of my favorites scenes from the gallery:

After walking down the entire wall and back (1.3 km one-way), I stopped at a local place called Scheers Schnitzel for some cheap lunch. I don’t know who I’m kidding; this entire semester is one big food tour.

Above: Schnitzel and kartoffelsalat. I really am going to miss schnitzel…Below: Cake from Café Einstein. Berlin likes to emphasize its connection to Einstein with cheesy coffee shops.

Because Berlin is a big city, I then took the advice of WikiTravel and took a tour of the city via public transit. Bus 100 is a double-decker bus that travels from one edge of the city to the other. Of course, I snagged a seat on the top for the best view of the sights. I also dedicated part of my Wednesday to a Picasso exhibition at Kulturforum, a cluster of museums in Berlin. Though I am glad I went to the Picasso exhibit, a lot of the art museums in Berlin were not really my style. What did intrigue me, however, were the city’s history museums. Unlike in Copenhagen, museums are all open very late in Berlin. Many of the historical museums are also free; it’s as if Germany wants to educate as many people as possible about its past, regardless of their age, budget or schedule. 

I myself dedicated Wednesday night to a visit to the Typography of Terror museum/documentation center. The center is located on the grounds of the former headquarters of the Gestapo; in fact, bricks of these Nazi institutions still remain. The documentation center chronicles Germany’s role in WWII and showcases propaganda, memorabilia and historical documents from the time period. While I was there, I saw at least five separate school groups of German kids hearing lectures from the center’s workers. Once again, it seems like the Germans want to educate others as much as possible about their history.

Above: The remains of the former headquarters of the Gestapo. This is part of the Typography of Terror museum. Below: Brandenburg Tor at night. 

Above: The Reichstag, or Parliament building. See that glass dome thing in the back? You can actually go up inside it and see a great view of Berlin…for free. The only problem is that you have to book tickets in advance. By the time I got to Berlin, all the tickets for the entire week were sold out! Below: One of my favorite graffiti pieces near my hostel in the Mitte district.

On Thursday, I woke up early to check out from the hostel and store my stuff in the luggage room before my last few explorations. I was moseying my way down Oranienburger Straße when a man stopped me to ask for directions. We got to chatting, and I gathered quite quickly that my new friend Björn (can you tell he’s Norwegian?) was still a bit drunk from the night before. He disclosed that he was about an hour late for his company meeting, that he and his wife were going through a separation and that he hadn’t been to Berlin since he was seventeen…fifteen years ago (yes, math is a thing, he’s thirty-two).

After some walking and talking, he dropped the bomb: “So, could I buy you breakfast or lunch or whatever meal it is right now?” I politely declined, but Björn decided to play unofficial tour guide and point out the nearby sights, most of which I already knew. He actually did have some interesting things to say about architecture and statues, although there was one weird point when he called me one of the “good USAsians.” Apparently, many of the “USAsians" Björn has met are not so nice…Anyway, after about another half an hour, I shook him off by heading to the Berliner Dom, a cathedral which apparently did not interest Björn so much as heading toward central Berlin did. We said our goodbyes, and I headed inside Berlin’s cathedral.

Above: The backside of the Berliner Dom. Below: The alter inside the cathedral.

Above: A wider shot of the interior of the cathedral. Below: The view from the walkway at the top. 

Above: Proof that I ascended to such heights all by myself! My first time on a tall structure without the coaxing of my friends needed documentation. Below: The walkway provided a nice view of central Berlin…as well as the never-ending construction that seems to be everywhere in Europe.

Above and below: Crypts inside the cathedral basement. I was definitely not expecting to see these, so walking in on them was a surprise/terrifying.

I spent the rest of my last hours in the city wandering, enjoying and exploring. A few photos:

Above: Old meets new in Berlin. In the foreground is Marienkirche; in the background is the TV tower, known as Berliner Fernsehturm. No, I did not go up it; I’m not that brave! Plus, it cost 13 Euro. Below: A snapshot of KaDeWe, a famous department store in Berlin.

Above: Front of the International Auschwitz Committee statute. Below: Back side of the statue.

Above: Another shot of Brandenburg Tor. Seriously, the Germans love Brandenburg; the image of the gate even decorates the outside of the subway cars (below).

Above and below: Scenes from different areas in Tiergarten, a large garden located in central Berlin.

Above: Siegessäule (Victory Column), a statue located in the middle of Tiergarten. Below: A graffiti of Anne Frank located outside the Anne Frank Center, a mini-museum of Anne Frank’s history. One of my favorite museums from the trip.

Above and below: Berliners are proud of their little walking signal-people with hats.

I then headed to the airport at around 6pm for my 9pm flight. Let me tell you: Flying at the end of a day of sightseeing is way better than flying in early in the morning before sightseeing. And then I was off to London…

London

Who: I met up with my friend Ellie from my home school, my friend Michael from DIS and Tory’s sister Abby, who lives there.

When: Arrived late Thursday night and left early Sunday morning (2 full days).

Where: I crashed with Abby in her flat on Abbey Road. She literally lived one block away from the Abbey Road crosswalk. 

What: Again, London was jam-packed. I saw Trafalger Square, Harrod’s, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Somerset House, Abbey Road, Hyde Park, King’s Cross Station and Platform 9 ¾ and more. By "saw,” however, I literally mean just saw. With only two days in the city, I had to be picky.

Above: An example of how London handles tourists failing to look the right way before crossing the street. Below: A shot across the Thames of the London Eye and Big Ben.

On Friday, I took Abby’s advice and took a tour of London via the 139 bus; it literally picks you up right in front of her flat and takes you through the main areas of the city before dropping you off at Waterloo Bridge. All of the buses in London are the classic red double-deckers; of course, I stole the exact front seat. It took literally all of two seconds for me to feel nausea at the sight of cars coming from the opposite direction. England problems…

Later in the day, I met up with Ellie, and we went to Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, we got there after the church had closed, so we did not get a chance to go inside. Plus, the admission fee was 20 pounds (about 32 dollars)! The architecture is beautiful though…

Above: One of the front faces of Westminster Abbey. Below: A wide-angle shot to document just how large the church is.

With the rest of our afternoon unexpectedly free, we walked by Big Ben and did the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel that offers beautiful views of the city. We also stopped by to see Buckingham Palace before grabbing classic dinner at an English pub.

Above: Me in front of Big Ben. Below: From New London to London - Ellie and I in front of the Thames River. 

Above: A shot of the London Eye and its orb-like gondola-things. Below: One of the most expensive city views I have ever paid for…but it’s beautiful, no?

Above: Another shot over London from the Eye. Below: Ellie and I get our tourist on in a classic telephone booth pose.

Above: Ellie consults her phone’s map. We’re lost, as usual for my travels in European cities. Below: A front shot of Buckingham Palace.

Above: A shot of the Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace. Below: Authentic fish and chips from an English pub! Major goal of the trip achieved.

Later on in the night, I met up with Abby at Convent Garden. We had a few drinks together before heading back to her flat, where I managed to get my crossing Abbey Road picture without any tourists. Jordan, 1; London, 0.

Above: My classic “crossing Abbey Road” picture, taken circa 2am. Below: My signature on Abbey Road, signed about eight hours later (note the daylight). Lesson learned: Avoid tourist traps by doing things like Abbey Road in the middle of the night. There were significantly more people trying to cross the famous crosswalk at 10am than at 2am…

On Saturday morning, I traipsed around a bit by myself before meeting up with Abby again in the afternoon. I saw the Tower of LondonLondon Bridge and Tower Bridge. Many people confuse the latter with London Bridge; Tower Bridge is certainly more iconic, but the real London Bridge is pretty plain-looking. In the afternoon, I met up with Abby at Somerset House, a beautiful arts and culture building in central London. Lucky her; she actually get to go to school there.

From there, Abby and I went to Harrods, which was absolutely chaotic. The place was packed with people pushing their way through the rooms and common spaces. I’m glad I went because it’s one of those “you gotta do it” things, but I don’t have any desire to go back. Abby and I then took a  brief stroll through a section of Hyde Park.

Above and below: Tower of London. 

Above: A shot of Tower Bridge from London Bridge. Below: A shot of Tower Bridge from on the bridge.

Above and below: Different perspectives on Tower Bridge. I like the contrast between the modern blue and white and the brown tower.

Above: A shot of the anticlimactic London Bridge. Below: A shot of Somerset House. In the wintertime, they put an ice rink up in front of the entrance, though they only had put up the SKATE letters when I was there.

Above: Harrods, a classy department store in London. Again, not my favorite London sight…Below: A scene in Hyde Park.

In the evening, I met up with my friend Michael from DIS and his friend for dinner. I then capped off the night for a visit to King’s Cross Station and a few other night-time photographs before heading back to Abbey Road. There, Abby and I got froyo and watched Sherlock Holmes (classic) before I headed to bed due to an early-morning flight.

Above: Platform 9 and ¾ in all its glory. The scene is obviously a huge tourist sight; they give you a scarf and wand and will take your picture “running” into the wall. Again, I avoided the tourists by checking out the platform late at night - lesson learned. Below: The ceiling at King’s Cross Station.

Above: A shot of the entrance to Selfridges, a high-end department store in the city. Below: Trafalger Square at night. Apparently that blue rooster is part of a temporary art exhibition.

Above and below: Shots of the signs for the Tube, London’s metro system.

Then, here’s the kicker: The only affordable flight home from London was at 8am on Sunday morning. Knowing that I had to be at the airport at 6am, Abby and I made sure I knew how to get to the right night bus that would take me to the express train to the airport. I purchased my train tickets in advance and made sure I had enough money for a one-way bus ride. It takes about an hour in total to get from Abby’s flat to the Gatwick Airport; the express train part of the trip only takes about half-an-hour and it leaves every half hour on the half hour, whereas the bus from Abby’s neighborhood to Victoria Station takes about twenty-ish minutes.

With all of this in mind, I got up at 4:30am to catch the 5:05am bus from Abby’s neighborhood to Victoria Station. All went smoothly until I got to the station and was approached by a Slovakian woman. She asked me for money, citing the fact that she did not have enough pounds to pay for a ticket for the 4:30am train to the airport and that she would miss her flight unless she caught this train. Out loud, I apologized that I could not give her any money, but in my head I was thinking, “Wow, she’s late already, it’s 5:30am, not 4:30am.” With that, I walked inside the station to find a giant electronic billboard in front of me: “October 27th - 4:28 AM.”

…Happy Daylight Savings Time.

For a few moments, my mind could not even begin to comprehend the fact that I had been awake since 3:30am and that I would now be an hour early for my 8am flight. Dejected, I headed toward the track for my train when a British family approached me and asked, “Why aren’t the trains to the airport running?”

First of all, how the heck would I know? Secondly, the trains to the airport were apparently not running, which made the situation even more dire/hilarious. We ended up finding some employees who directed us to a replacement bus to the airport. Of course, we had missed the 4:30am departure by this point, but we got first choice of seats on the next bus at 5am (which was lucky for me, as some people had to stay behind because the bus was full). The real cherry on top of this story, however, is the fact that it while it takes a half an hour to the airport by train, it takes exactly an hour to drive to the airport. Despite my 3:30am wake-up and the Daylight Savings Time confusion, I got to the airport at exactly the time I was supposed to get there: 6am. All’s well that ends well, right?

And we’re back

Well, there you have it: three European capitals in ten days. My words and photographs cannot do justice to the experiences had and lessons learned from this week. If study abroad has taught me anything, it’s that there is nothing quite like traveling, be it with friends or on your own. I wish I could relay the sentiment into words, but instead I’ll settle for this far-too-long (yet somehow still brief?) account of my adventures. I am so incredibly lucky to be having these experiences, and I can’t wait to see what my travels next week will bring.

“Arrive in Budapest at 5:30 AM. Go directly to baths.”  // TRAVEL WEEK 1

Now that I’m finally sitting safe and sound in my apartment in Copenhagen, the mishaps of the past week seem amusing and the high points seem even more exquisite. DIS is the best and gives us two weeks during the semester to travel independently, in addition to our study tours with our core course. For my first travel week I went to Amsterdam, Prague, and Budapest.

We were supposed to leave for Amsterdam Saturday afternoon. I arrived at the airport with several of my housemates to find that SAS was on strike - our flight was canceled. I summoned all of my strength to remain positive as we waited to speak to customer service… and waited… and waited. We befriended a kind Lithuanian man, who enthusiastically told us about a recent trip he had take to the U.S. and watched our belongings while we got mediocre sandwiches from 7/11. Five hours later, the customer service rep tells us that we are rebooked for a flight at 6 AM the following morning. I wasn’t so positive anymore. 

Stole this photo from my housemate Bianca. Thought you all needed to experience my wrath towards SAS.

Feeling dejected, we took our complementary cabs back home. Things turned around when the best housemates ever (shout out to you, Souls) cooked the weary non-travelers a delicious meal. I went to bed early, setting my alarm for 3:30 the next morning (Does that even constitute morning? What is time? Were we even in the same dimension after losing an entire day to the Copenhagen Airport?)

At 4:15 AM, approximately 17 hours after our scheduled departure, we were standing outside our apartment waiting for our cab in an utter dystopia. The streets were lined with beer cans, and people were still drinking and laughing, running in and out of bars. We crammed into one cab and headed to the airport - take 2. 

One flight, three utterly confusing hours in a train station (where we harassed the info desk guy to no end and a wonderful train employee told us to buy 3 day public transportation passes. Bless that man) and a 20 minute walk later, we were finally checked into our hostel. At this point we were forced to weigh whether we were more exhausted or starving, and eventually hunger triumphed. We ate at the Pancake Bakery, where I got a Greenland-style pancake (crepe) with spinach, cheese, and cashews. It was everything. 

We explored the city for a few hours, literally stumbling upon the Amsterdam Cheese Museum (this is a real thing) where I ate ALL THE FREE SAMPLES and had a long talk with an employee who told me she so happy to talk to someone who “shared her passion for cheese” #me. The 3:30 AM wakeup call eventually caught up to us, and we headed back to the hostel for what turned into a four hour nap and a very low key evening.

I was tempted to buy a wheel of cheese and eat nothing else the entire weekend, but alas, I was dissuaded.

The next day we were the best tourists ever, visiting the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, and the Heineken Experience. The line for the Anne Frank House was long but moved quickly, and the experience itself was completely worth the wait. Everyone seemed to collectively agree upon the importance of being silent as we worked our way up the narrow staircases. Photos aren’t allowed, but this is definitely an experience that will stay with me for a while. The story of Otto Frank haunts me the most. How do you survive something so terrible only to find your entire family is gone?

From there we went to the Van Gogh Museum. Once again, no photos allowed, which I honestly appreciated. It was nice to just wander around and really absorb the paintings rather than be worried about documenting everything. In addition to the paintings, many of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother and other family members are posted and translated on the museum’s walls, and it was fascinating to learn more about his life.

Next, we headed to the Heineken Experience. I don’t really know anything about beer and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I loved every minute. We started by learning the history of Heineken - apparently they’ve been using the same strain of A-yeast since the 1800′s, which was developed by a student of Louis Pasteur. We got to see how the beer is brewed (water + barley + hops + SECRET yeast), and then moved on to one of the weirdest experiences of my life where we were instructed to “Be the Beer.” This was one of those bizarre “rides” with moving seats and water spraying you in the face. Amsterdam was getting weirder by the minute.

After working our way through several other interactive exhibits (most brilliant marketing ploy I’ve ever seen) we got two free beers at the tour’s end. All in all, this was so interesting and fun and the perfect end to the day. 10/10 would recommend.

Our final day in Amsterdam, we took a canal boat tour through the city. It was drizzly and cold, so I wasn’t too sure about this, but the boat was cozy and I loved hearing more about the city’s canals and houseboats. We also found the famous I amsterdam sign and took very touristy photos. That night, we headed to Prague (the only flight of this trip that went as planned. Thanks Czech Airlines!)

My friend Michael is studying abroad in Prague this semester, so I bid adieu to my traveling companions at the airport and headed to his apartment. Prague is insanely beautiful. The next day, we visited Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge, the John Lennon Wall, and Prague Castle (my Fitbit was very pleased with me). Some of the prettiest views I’ve ever witnessed. The sun was out, which is something you really come to appreciate after winter in Copenhagen, and it was great to explore with someone who knew their way around the city (Hi Michael).

My last day in Prague was more laid back - I went for a run, drank a lot of coffee, and did some planning for our trip to Budapest that night. When Michael got out of class, we hurriedly downed a fried cheese sandwich, chugged some mulled wine at Cafe Louvre, and went to dinner at a beautiful Italian restaurant with one of his roommate’s families. Three dinners is normal right? With that, it was time to catch our overnight bus to Budapest. 

The bus seemed like a good idea when we booked it. Cheap, easy, saves us a night of lodging in Budapest. However, the driver played insanely loud music for the entire 7 hour ride, while yelling over said music to the bus attendant. At 5:30 AM, we were dropped off on the side of the road. In Hungary. So that’s a thing that happened. 

Luckily, I had screenshot a few Google Maps of the city the previous day, and I figured out how to get us from the bus station to the Szechyeni Baths (because duh thermal baths open at 6 AM). By some complete miracle we made it, secured a cabin for our belongings, and walked out of the sulfur-smelling building to this - 

The baths were completely and utterly surreal. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and due to the absurd hour, there were no other tourists (only aging Hungarian men). We spent hours moving between the different pools, and I could have stayed all day, but we finally gave in to hunger and sleep deprivation and took off to find our Airbnb. 

I was extremely cranky by this point, but somehow we once again navigated the public transportation system and located the apartment. I ate three cheese roll things which cost 50 cents each from the bakery next door (the Hungarian forint = Monopoly money) and promptly passed out for three hours.

That night, we ate at Hummus Bar, which I had thoroughly researched prior to my arrival in Budapest because hummus. I ate this. It was very important.

Following dinner, we walked along the Danube. Everything was lit up in gold and absolutely breathtaking. The Parliament building was probably my favorite, and a photo can’t even do this experience justice. 

The next day, we went to the Central Market Hall - this was a huge market full of spices, fruits and vegetables, and a lot of meat. We also ate one of the best lunches I’ve ever consumed. Please observe.

After lunch, we walked to St. Stephen’s Basilica, which offers an amazing view of the city. The inside of the church was also beautiful, but I chose to just take it in rather than taking photos.

Budapest caught me completely off guard. Initially, this city wasn’t even on my radar, but I think that’s exactly why I ended up loving it so much. There weren’t the same crowds of tourists as in Amsterdam. Everything was so ornate and beautiful, but in an almost understated way, without throngs of people taking photos around every corner.

I should probably be more sure of where we went after St. Stephen’s, but this was after seven days of traveling, and to be honest all I really know is we took a cool funicular to the top of a mountain. There were beautiful statues, gorgeous museums and chapels, and a very hyggeligt bar where we enjoyed drinks before working our way back down the winding paths. We inhaled falafel and baklava near our Airbnb and called it a night early. 

Around this time, I realized my flight back to Copenhagen with Norwegian Air the following day was canceled. Another airline strike. This was beyond frustrating, but rather than wait for Norwegian to rebook me, I found a flight through Malmö, Sweden the following morning. From there I knew it was just a 30 minute train ride back to Cope. I was trying very hard to keep my cool, but it was getting tough at this point. 

I took an Uber to the airport aggressively early the next morning, as I am now the most cynical traveler on the face of the earth. The bizarre Hungarian airline, “Wizz Air,” that I was flying promptly charged me $132 for my second bag and to print my boarding pass. Next, I was aggressively frisked going through security for no apparent reason. Finally, as I made my way to the gate, which was not even located in the airport but through a mysterious tunnel outside, I was told I was supposed to have checked one of my bags and would have to pay again. I cried. The very kind man working at the gate jumped up and down on my suitcase, trying to cram my backpack inside it, then finally ushered me through without making me pay. Sometimes people are really nice at the moment when you need it most. 

After an hour flight, forty minutes on a bus, thirty minutes on a train, and twenty on the metro, I finally walked up the stairs to my apartment, incredibly relieved and weirdly proud of myself. Despite the crying at the airport situation and spending an obscene amount of money (be on the lookout for my receipts, Norwegian), I had made it home (is it weird to be calling Copenhagen home?)

Moral of the story: traveling is hard, but worth it. Waking up at 3:30 to catch a flight, it’s hard to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, until you’re sitting in a bar on a boat in the Czech Republic and toasting “na zdraví.” Traveling also made me appreciate how much I love Copenhagen and how lucky I am to spend four months in one place. I want to see Europe while I’m here, but even more, I want to focus on getting to know this city and its intricacies.

Tonight, we went out for burritos and cheesecake for my roommate Callie’s birthday. The owner was also American, and it was nice to hear a familiar accent. She came over to our table while we were eating to tell us that we could stop by anytime, if we ever needed anything. She knew what it was like to be in a new place. One thing I’m learning from being here is that people can be very kind and that it is vital to appreciate that kindness when it appears. Sure, some people suck, but a lot of people really do want to help if you just ask (or even if you don’t). The smallest act, like helping a lost American get to the right bus stop, can make the biggest impact on someone’s day.

This semester is passing entirely too quickly, and I’ll try to write again soon - hopefully the next post won’t be this long. 

Tak! 

Maggie

Goal Statement

Being educated abroad will greatly affect my future endeavors. I don’t merely learn in the classroom, I learn from daily living. Gaining perspective and new insight from another developed country and its culture is a concept that is challenging to put into words. It is only accomplished for me through the experiential components. Immersion into a new way of living, even if only temporarily, is life-altering.

By having this experience abroad, I am able to consciously engage in a different way of life. I’m not a simple-minded, one-path-only American who’s stuck in the same mundane ways of living, who thinks the US  is superior. I’m gaining perspective.

One aspect I appreciate about the Danish culture is that no one acts superior to one another, or more precisely, no one is encouraged to act as such. Education level, how much melanin your skin produces, financial status, looks… those are all secondary characteristics and not something to pride oneself on. The Danes see one another as equals, and treat one another accordingly. They are overall a gracious, kind hearted people. Wish the US would take note!

For those of you who are out there thinking that you’re too old to have an experience abroad, think again! Enlighten yourself and travel. Travel while you can and while you’re well. When Opportunities come knocking, answer the door.

3, 2, 1...

Three days until departure, and my life is a whirlwind of to-do lists, emails from DIS, and nagging insecurities. I am beyond excited, though simultaneously terrified, of what experiences next Sunday might hold.

But first, a quick update on the packing front: aside from my liquids and shower items, my checked bag is packed! Take a look:

And yes, that is a full-sized suitcase (don’t let the angle fool you!). So far, I’ve managed to fit at least seven sweaters, four pairs of jeans, and three pairs of shoes in there (among other items, of course). The secret(s) to success? Rolling your clothes. I never believed it until now! Stuffing socks and underwear inside boots can save some space, too. And my new favorite rules: only pack what can be layered and/or what can be worn for a variety of purposes. For example: I was debating between packing a gold sequin dress and a black and silver sequin dress. The black and silver dress could be dressed drown with tights and a cardigan for more casual, everyday wear, whereas the gold sequin dress would only fit in at a club or concert (as well as single me out as a non-Dane!). Needless to say, I chose the black and silver. Welcome to my packing process…

Above: An inner look at the suitcase magic. Scarves on scarves on sweaters on sweaters! And a flashlight (safety matters).

The scale I’m using lists the weight of this bag as just under 40 pounds, so I should theoretically be in the clear with regards to the airline baggage restrictions…I always get nervous about those kind of rules, though, so I’ll have to wait and see what the departure date brings me.

My carry-on luggage is another story. I’m hoping to squeeze on with a small (basically empty) suitcase to fill with treasures for the trip home, as well as a backpack stocked with my laptop, camera, and some in-flight entertainment. Oh, and I guess I should bring my passport.

Disclaimer: This is where the packing notations stop and the “I’m actually going abroad ohmygod” rant begins. 

I have been preparing for this adventure for, quite literally, an entire year. I first found out about DIS the summer before my sophomore year of college. Now, in three days, I will be on my way there as an enrolled student. 

One year ago, I didn’t even have a passport. I had (and still have not yet) left the United States. I still hadn’t declared my major, and I wasn’t sure if my financial aid would transfer to any study abroad program. I knew I wanted to see the world, but I didn’t have the resources, the opportunity, or the connections to do it. In a way, it hasn’t been just one year of waiting and preparation: it’s been two decades of pent-up wanderlust and countdowns until the college semester abroad!

They say going abroad is one of the best experiences of your life. I believe it. But I also know that things may not turn out to be perfect. I may end up spending more money than I originally budgeted; I may sleep through an alarm and miss my 8:30am class (and that might happen more than once); I might throw up after drinking too much wine at dinner. Maybe I will end up having Friday classes after all; perhaps I won’t get to visit all the other countries I had hoped to see. But amidst all the potential and actual mishaps, there is something I have to remember about the study abroad experience:

You only have this one semester, in this one place, at this one time, once.

Yes, I don’t know the language (nor can I pronounce it). Yes, I will be living with people I’ve never met before (in their home, nonetheless). Yes, there will still be homework and grades and finals and stress, concepts I am all too familiar with. Yes, I won’t get to see my boyfriend for over four months. Yes, I can’t just call home whenever I need help or a verbal hug. 

But…

Yes, I will eat delicious Danish food for every meal. Yes, I will spend a week studying with my classmates and friends in another country. Yes, I will navigate the public transportation system like a local. Yes, I will experience unforgettable sights, sounds, and feelings. Yes, I will grow from this change.

And yes, it’s true: I am so incredibly lucky to be spending a semester abroad in Denmark. 

Plus, who knows? Maybe some Danes might even mistake me for one of them (also known as Jordan’s Life Goal #322).

Next Sunday, my passport won’t look the same. Instead of this blank page, I’ll have a new stamp. Come next December, I hope I’m a bit different, too.

Traveling to Copenhagen, Abridged

Hello friends and strangers alike! Realizing I could potentially write a Great American Novel about my experiences thus far in Copenhagen, I’ve decided to break it up into small, readable chunks. Here are some brief thoughts/experiences I have concerning my initial travels to Copenhagen.

  • Almost missed my first flight to Amsterdam due to weight problems with my bags. Made it to the gate in time to go to the bathroom and fill my water bottled before boarding.
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has really great food.
  • Children on planes may be slightly irritating, but their reactions when the plane starts descending are absolutely hilarious.
  • Window seats are great and terrible. Great because you get a window, terrible because sometimes you wake up both passengers next to you to use the bathroom, trip over something, and rip out a woman’s headphone from who knows where.
  • Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is so quirky and beautiful; I must return.
  • Sometimes you forget your sunglasses on a plane. Sometimes your headphones will break unexpectedly. Sometimes you have no ability to access pictures on your barely-functional American phone for your blog. Sometimes all three of these things will happen. Hopefully, like me, you at least end up safe, with all your luggage at your final destination.
  • Flying alone is not nearly as hard as you may initially believe. You will surprise yourself, I know I did.

That’s all I got for now! Look out for a reflection post on my first impressions of Copenhagen (with pictures!) very, very soon! In the mean time, feel free to ask me about my trip! if you’re flying alone, I definitely could give you some tips or reassurance.

Safe travels,

Joey

Options, options, options

At the yard on DIS building v23 as I pumped air in my bike tires:

Me: “Hey!

Classmate: Hey! What’s up

Me: Just getting ready to bike home. What’s up with you? What are you doing on the first travel break?

Classmate: I am going to Amsterdam, Munich, Dublin, Barcelona then back to Copenhagen. I am so excited I have not traveled yet.

Me: Wow! That’s great!! How are you doing all of that in one week??!!

Classmate: I’ll be spending about two nights in each place and I have just come to accept I won’t be getting any sleep, but whatever. How about you?

Me: I am staying in Copenhagen for the week. I want to spend the week biking and exploring the city. Also I want to catch up on some sleep and relax.

Classmate: That’s cool too! I got to go, see you later.

Me: See you! Have a blast!

And with that he left to catch a plane and I biked 20 km home. 

This week is very exciting for all of us at DIS. Many are exploring around Europe and some of us are exploring Denmark. Regardless of the plans, we are all looking forward to a thrilling week.

 

On study abroad

Unless one tries very, very hard to deliberately remain the same in every possibly way, it is impossible to partake in a study abroad experience and come back without experiencing some degree of change; I am no exception to this. As a result of my study abroad experience in Copenhagen, at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad, I am quite a different person. Through the experiences I have had the opportunity to have during my short time at DIS, like the numerous travel breaks, weekend trips, one credit study tours, adventure trips, and cultural activities, I have definitely changed. Living with a host family in a homestay, visiting countless other countries, trying a huge array of new cuisines, learning to cook the ‘Danish way’, learning from Danish professors in a new way, and making friends with local Danes has provided me with new outlooks on the way I viewed myself, my world, and my education. So much so that I have chosen to extend my time at DIS for an additional semester for an unconventional full year experience to continue my growth.

First and foremost, the major changes occurred for me in the educational setting. At my home university, I go to school in the town I have lived my entire life (Baltimore, Maryland), with several friends I have maintained throughout my education since early childhood. So, going out of the country, let alone to a school outside of my state, was a huge decision. Secondly, being in a foreign country and not knowing a single other person, even among the thousand other American students coming to DIS, was terrifying. It forced me to break out of my comfort zone in order to make friends, to find my classes, and to enjoy my studies here. Education in Denmark is approached very differently than it is at my home university. The classes are higher in expectations of independence on the students, and the courses are structured in a more integrated, discussion-based type of learning. Through this sort of learning, I had to grow accustomed to participating in classes, something I never do at my home university. I had to grow to be comfortable with public speaking, both in numerous presentations and large class debates and discussions, which occurred on a daily basis. In this way, my confidence in myself, my capabilities, and my own formulated thoughts, opinions and reflections on the information I was learning grew to major heights. I also had to learn to work effectively, efficiently, and cooperatively with other students in classes and on assignments.

DIS professors are big supporters for all things involving group work and student interactions, I quickly learned, and this set me up for an entirely new learning experience. At my home university, opinions of students are not highly valued in the classrooms. Our courses are highly lecture based, where the professor speaks and the students attentively listen while silently taking notes. Very little interactions occur between the students in classes, unless you are taking a physical education, lab, or science based course. Learning in this new way at DIS made my confidence in my own intelligence increase drastically. I feel, as a result of my educational experiences here, that I have learned more deeply from my professors in a lasting way, and have strengthened my critical thinking skills. I prefer learning in this manner as opposed to the usual manner of teaching at my home university. and it has me considering going out of the United States for my graduate educational endeavors, if I so choose to go to grad school.

The larger, more overarching changes in myself come more from the private sector of my life, the one which exists outside of school and education. By living with a host family, I set myself up for constant, direct interactions with a new culture. Which, to be honestly, completely overwhelmed and drained me. My first night in Copenhagen was so overwhelming that the second I was alone in my bedroom, I sobbed into hysterics before falling asleep. However, after the initial shock wore off, I began to love my choice in doing a homestay. My host parents were highly comforting to me in times of high emotions, like earlier in the semester when a death of a family member happened and I was unable to attend the funeral back home. With my host family, we used my being there as a learning experience for all of us. We even had English to Danish, Danish to English dictionaries sitting on the kitchen table in case the language barriers even hindered our conversations together. Over my months here, I spent countless hours eating chocolates and drinking coffee with my host mother, seeing war films with my host father, gossiping about boys with my host sister (who doesn’t live at home and works for DIS), and making jokes with my host brother (who also does not live at home). I learned so much about the Danish culture from my host parents and their associated friends, colleagues and extended family members who came to visit over the course of this semester. I learned about all of the Danish holidays and holiday traditions, how to plant a garden, how to carry myself when interacting with other Danes, and I even learned a lot of Danish words from my host family along the way.

However, the biggest lessons I learned during this semester came from my host mother, Else. Nearly each night of the week, I spent time with my host mother, either helping her cook, learning Danish recipes, doing the cooking myself, or teaching her some of my own recipes. From doing this with her, I learned to look at food in an entirely new way. Initially living in a homestay brought me personal challenges, involving relinquishing control over what foods get purchased during grocery shopping. My host parents always made sure to buy the foods I liked, of course, but my not being in direct control of all of the food in the house and around me was a major deal. I usually, back home, take care of my disabled father, and thus I do all of the grocery shopping and the cooking around the house. So to not be in complete control was a struggle. Additionally, not being able to know one hundred percent what I was eating in the first few weeks (due to my lack of Danish knowledge and all of the food being labeled in Danish) was an amusing frustration until I learned to recognize and decipher the food labels. The lack of nutritional labels on every food we were eating was wholly unusual to me, coming from the states. It took me several weeks to unlearn the habit of checking for a nutritional label immediately after picking up an item of food. Cooking with Else taught me to be less restrictive with the foods I allowed myself to eat, to open myself up to trying new foods (something I never did prior to my time in Copenhagen), and to stop trying to count calories and fat content and just stop counting out numbers in my foods. Cooking with Else taught me to let myself heal my relationship with food, which I never realized how much I needed.

My time in Copenhagen has changed me in ways I never imagined. I am much more social, immensely less shy, and filled with a large degree of confidence I used to be lacking. I have grown more comfortable with food and with the size of my body, allowing myself to stop making this a major source of focus in my daily life. Through my Danish friends and my Danish family, I have been lucky to firsthand learn and engage in a new culture, adopting some of their mannerisms and clothing style. I have learned to appreciate not being harassed on the streets or while eating my food in a restaurant, and most importantly I have learned to appreciate the utter quiet that comes along with public transportation in Denmark. I may not have learned to stop using so many adjectives in my vocabulary, or to stop apologizing profusely and being overly polite in common circumstances. But, I have gained a new sense of self, and an appreciation for how my home and how Copenhagen differ. From my experiences, I hope this new shift in my sense of self, and my new appreciations, will stay with me upon my return and time back within the United States, within Baltimore, within my home. Copenhagen, in my short four months here, feels like another home to me, and I will miss it infinitely when I leave it.