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.
Ten days. Three major European capital cities. One college-student budget. The result? The longest Tumblr post known to mankind.
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.
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…
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 London, London 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.
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.
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.
On Wednesday, Max, Claire and I climbed to the to top of Vor Frelsers Kirke, which translates to Our Saviors Church. It was not only beautiful on the outside but inside as well. The view was spectacular and as you can tell from my selfie I was thrilled to see all of Copenhagen.
I am now settled into an apartment in Copenhagen and am nearing the end of my arrival workshop! In light of this, I think it’s due time to share my first impressions of the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) and the city of Copenhagen.
DIS is living up to my expectations. Though some of the workshops feel remedial to me, I realize that a lot of skills I’ve acquired while working in student affairs the past couple of years has better prepared me for certain challenges which arise when studying abroad than my fellow students. Still, it’s nice to have people remind me, “if you’re in deep shit, ask for help” (quoted from a real presentation by a real DIS employee). Also, the tour around the facilities was absolutely invaluable. Apparently students in the past have walked into gentleman’s clubs on accident in search of their 8:30 classes. I pray I will never make that mistake.
The semester looks like it will be pretty intense. I have sixteen books and two compendiums for reading materials. When I checked them out, they told me I broke a record. Some may say that it was a mistake to take four literature courses in a single semester. To them I respond with the old adage: you only live once.
My housing situation is pretty great. I live in a shared apartment with a single Dane and fourteen other American students. Our community is based around creative writing, so I’m really excited to see what individuals from all different backgrounds produce! We also live right by all the classrooms. We are so close that DIS offices and employees are literally working the floor beneath us. Though I slightly regret not choosing homestay for the purposes of immersion, I’m hopeful that the DIS Buddy Network and other organizations that I’ll be signing up for tonight at an activities fair will help me meet the Danes!
Now after spending a few days here, I’m absolutely loving Copenhagen. However, the city and I didn’t start off that strong. When I first moved in, it was raining pretty heavily. As I looked at the intelligible signs and shops, lugging my enormous suitcase along the cobblestone street, I had a moment where I truly thought I had made a huge mistake. I was tired, wet, and stressed out of my mind. This is wrong. I thought. Since that moment, though, Copenhagen has surprised me over and over and become a place I can see myself someday calling home. As I discover new locations and familiarize myself with the streets, I become more and more confident that I have made the right choice for study abroad. I’m even getting used to the erratic weather! Who knew it was possible to experience wind, rain, and sun in so many strange combinations?! Here are some highlights from different adventures I’ve had throughout the city thus far:
Here is a theater. It sticks out so much from the rest of the city but I love it all the same.
There is tons of beautiful water in this city. This is just one example.
This is some sort of partially-underground train with graffiti I found with my housemates. We bonded. It was great.
Here’s some construction and a really prominent rainbow–only in Copenhagen! (Well, maybe not, but let’s pretend.)
Here’s an embarrassing harbor selfie. I tried taking a selfie with some fellow students at the first orientation session in honor of the Danish Prime Minister’s selfie with Obama and Cameron, but it was too dark to see any faces. I think this unfortunate face more than compensates for that loss.
I’ll be sure to post some pictures of more iconic Copenhagen places soon! Until then…
It’s officially been a week since I left Copenhagen to come home to Michigan. I’ve started writing my good-bye post to Denmark and DIS multiple times since even before I left, but I never felt ready to go through with it until now.
By the end of the semester I, and most people I knew, were ready to go home. Even though every day we could exclaim at least once to our friends about how insane it was that four months were already coming to an end and that things were never going to be the same, the novelty of living in Europe had begun to wear off. I think we were all getting antsy about returning home and indulbing in the familiar holiday laziness to come. Perhaps we were so eager because the reality of actually leaving the fantasy world that is study abroad had not set in.
Instead of providing endless prose about all that has touched me about Copenhagen, I’ll attempt to sum those things up in a list. In no particular order, these are the things I’ll miss/do miss about the beautiful city:
Bike Culture- There is something inexplicably satisfying about successfully riding your bike in Copenhagen. Yes, it is speedy, healthy, and eco-friendly, but none of those things are what makes it so wonderful. It is the unique and beautiful perspective of the city that is given to you as you fly by. Feeling more like a local isn’t too bad either.
Architecture- The age of Europe gives its cities history and beauty that is hard to find in the U.S. It is truly a gift to live your life in a city as beautiful and elegant as Copenhagen.
Fashion- I could write for pages about it, but I’ll leave it at this: It’s refreshing and inspiring to be in a city of people who know how to dress themselves so well, regardless of age or gender.
The Low-Key Attitude- It is certainly a change of pace from the high-strung, competitive nature of American culture. It allows you to have time to breathe and think in a way that I find difficult in the States. This low-key manner is seen everywhere, from teaching styles to business practices to social interaction.
The Language- Although I didn’t take a Danish language course, there is something about the sound of Danish that I find beautiful. This may be a rare opinion but it’s very easy for me to listen to.
The People- This includes all of the Americans I met in Copenhagen through DIS. I met some of the most fascinating and inspiring people this past semester for which I am very thankful.
Strangely, it has not been as difficult to transition back to American life as I anticipated. Although initially I was surprised at how openly rude Americans seemed to be, it has come back to me quickly. All in all, I think that four months was the perfect amount of time for me to figure out just what it is that I can handle. Copenhagen is somewhat of a “training city” in that it is definitely a real big city, but it’s manageable to a newcomer in a way that New York does not seem to be.
I have grown as a person in unimaginable ways, and I can already tell that the changes will be permanent and for the better. Among the long list of things I learned about myself are the newfound realizations that: I have a pretty decent sense of direction, I can cook, and being on my own really isn’t such a terrifying thing.
Beyond what I learned about myself, what I learned about the world has been so enlightening it cannot be fully expressed. I was suddenly provided with perspective on so many aspects of the world that I had previously shied away from learning about. I came to realize that it is much easier to understand something when its history is right under your feet. I was able to see things that I know many people never will, and I take that with so much gratitude. I am privileged to have been able to reduce my ignorance in such a hands-on way.
I cannot express in words how grateful I am to every single person who contributed to my semester in Copenhagen. I will never be the same as I was before I arrived there, and I am entirely okay with that. Studying abroad is something that I feel is foolish to pass up if it is an available option. There is nothing else I can imagine that could teach a person more about him- or herself than this.
I want to thank DIS for the gratuitous numbers of opportunities they provided for my classmates and me. I have already recommended the program to many people and will continue to do so for years to come. Thank you for everything. You have helped me to become more of the person I wish to be. There is no greater gift than that.
You wouldn’t know it from my weeks long absence, but I actually went places, namely Berlin and Amsterdam, and did things. When I came back I was immediately swamped with work, and then I just got lazy. The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, but the second best time is now. So here it goes.
Berlin: I flew in Friday night and stayed at a place called Heart of Gold Hostel, themed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. My interest in Berlin was initially sparked by the Pergamon Museum, which actually has the Pergamon Altar closed to the public until 2019. So that was a bummer, but the Pergamon Museum was still a high point with the beautiful Ishtar Gate:
Nearby is also the Berlin Cathedral, which I climbed as high as they would let me and got quite the view, both inside and out. Fun fact: they keep bees on the roof to be more sustainable.
(The Lustgarten from above)
And of course I enjoyed the East Side Gallery, which I was lucky enough to see on a nice, warm day. I ate doner kebab for the eighth time in five days and watched a woman shout at her little dog.
I also enjoyed the Topography of Terror, a free museum on the former site of the Nazi secret police headquarters; the DDR Museum dedicated to life in East Germany; and the Ritter Sport flagship store, where I got to make my own concoction. Mine was strawberry and rhubarb:
I feel as though you can explain much of the history of the 20th century through Berlin alone, from WWI to the Nazis, from the Cold War to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
(A Jewish man was cleaning off and leaving small stones on the Stumbling Stones, memorials to those affected by the Holocaust)
Yet it is also undeniably modern, as evident in the citywide light show I was fortunate enough to be in town for!
I have heard that expression many times and have always thought that there is some truth to it, especially now that the semester has come to an end. I know I will find myself thinking of Smørrebrød for lunch, dinner with my host family, the 2 for 10 kroner croissants from 7-eleven, the sweet embrace of my mom’s guide dog, all the laughter every night for dinner, and so so so many other moments of every day life.
I bring with me laughter, heart-warming experiences and relationships, many Daim chocolate, newly gained appreciation for many many things I once took for granted and plenty on which to reflect.
The gratitude I feel cannot be uttered in words, yet I don’t want to be a thief. Why do I say that? Because one day on my train ride to Copenhagen a young man from Ghana told me that feeling grateful and not expressing is like stealing. By doing so you rob the recognition and love that can be expressed to a person.
I will be forever grateful to Smith, DIS, my host family, my family, old and new friends, and all the people who made this possible through their support and encouragement. Thank you! Gracias! Tak!
Today I may be leaving Europe, but Europe is not leaving me.
This morning while I was riding the train into the city, the girl that was sitting in front of me turned to the Danish man sitting next to me and asked how she could get to the walking street. The man answered, “Do you mean Strøget?” and she answered yes. He tried explaining to her that it was just on the other side of Tivoli. She still seemed confused so I offered to walk her there, because I was headed to Vestergade which runs parallel to Strøget. While we were walking she told me she was visiting from Israel and she had never been here before. I was really happy that I was able to show her around the city. It made it feel like my own. I felt at home.