Published

It’s been almost nine months since I last posted. A lot has happened since then. I’ve been studying and looking for jobs, I’ve started my DIS intern application, I’ve started a personal blog, and many other things. It’s been a busy nine months.

I didn’t pull up this old blog to this, though. If anyone still looks at this or has an email subscription that they had forgotten about I thought you would be interested in knowing that one of my travel essays was published in the Travel Section of UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal.

You can read it online or buy a copy. If you do decide to buy one, go ahead and tell them I sent you and that you bought it because of my outstanding essay. I’d like word to get out that my work sells. Gee, that’d be great. Anyway, enjoy.

http://ucb-cluj.org/issue-3-fall-2013/

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Goodbye

I wanted to make this a language post where the English word meant goodbye, but I couldn’t think of the right word. In Danish class we learned to ways of saying goodbye. “Vi ses” means “see you (later),” which is a problem because, for most people I am saying goodbye to now, that just isn’t true. The other option was “hej hej,” meaning “bye bye”. That is accurate, but the bouncy words don’t exactly fit what the mood should be. So I I wen’t with “farvel,” or in English, simply “goodbye.”

I’m not good at goodbyes. I’ve never really done them much. Yes, I have said the words before. I say it almost everyday in one form or another to at least one person. But I have never really said goodbye before. By that I mean that I have never looked into the eyes of someone that I have grown close to, realized that I will most likely never have that same view again, and said “I hope the rest of your life goes well. I’m glad I got to share this little bit of it,” because that is what goodbye really means.

Sometimes I wish that all of my friends that I made her in Denmark were Danish, because, as strange as it seems, it would probably be more likely that I would see them again. If they were all Danish then I would know where to find them and could come visit all at once. Or they could come visit me with one of their 30 annual vacation days (Danish labor policy joke! Zing!). But really, the chances of me travelling to all of the places that I would need in order to visit everyone is just too low. I would like to, but we will see what happens.

Sometimes avoiding goodbyes is easier than actually saying them. So I have been doing some of that too. It’s pretty familiar since before goodbye has always been so temporary I often felt like it wasn’t worth doing. Now I avoid it because of how permanent it is. Despite my attempts to avoid it I still say goodbyes. Sometimes my mind tricks me into thinking I’m saying “vi ses,” or at least “hej hej,” and not “farvel.”

I start packing tomorrow. I am going to miss everybody and I am going to miss this country. Denmark, I hope that when I step foot on that airplane on Monday that is goodbye, and not goodbye. And as for everyone I’ve met, well, I hope the same thing, but if not, then I hope that the rest of your life goes well, and thank you for sharing this little bit with me.

-Riley

Russia – Moscow

We didn’t get sick on the train. At least not yet…

After a nine-hour train ride on which I slept like a baby, we arrived in Moscow and were greeted with something perfect – snow! There wasn’t much snow, and it wasn’t sticking, but  just to be in Russia and having something come down, I don’t know,it seemed like an experience that I feel had to have as part of the trip to Russia. That and the freezing cold, both of which I got to feel during that first day in Moscow

From the train we boarded a bus and were thrust right into Europe’s biggest city before breakfast. Moscow’s population is around 12 million people. The population of Denmark, the whole country, is between five and six million people, or half the size of Moscow. That was a shock that I never got used to. But anyway, we got breakfast and then were bused to the Kremlin and the Red Square.

St. Basil’s and the Kremlin

I learned something interesting and fundamentally important about the Red Square when we visited, that is that the name has a different origin and meaning that I thought. The name is really more of a mistranslation of the original name Красная площадь – or the Beautiful square. And the name seemed fitting. Passing through the Iberian Gate, with the GUM Department Store and Kazan Cathedral on my left, Lenin’s Mausoleum on my right, and of course, St. Basil’s Cathedral ahead. This was the heart of Russia. This is what you see in your mind when you think of Russia, or at least this is what you see when you Google it.

Inside St. Basil’s

We spent a long time, maybe too long, in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral taking pictures. we were out in the cold for so long that we had to take a bathroom break, which meant that we had a chance to go into the GUM Department store. GUM stands for Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin, or Main Universal Store. Now it is just a very pretty, very large building with some very expensive shops. Obviously, what with the whole Communism thing and all, it wasn’t always this way. It was always the GUM, but during the time of the Soviet Union the G stood for Gosudarstvennyi, or State. This shinning store once sold the same goods as any other store, but it tended to actually have those things instead of just claiming to. That’s your history lesson for the post, at least I think that’s all that is going to make its way in here.

After our wandering around the Red Square and the inside of St. Basil’s we finally made it to the hotel, which took quite a while. Traffic in Europe’s biggest city can be rather challenging. We passed the stadium built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics and found out that we were staying in a hotel built for those same Games. We had little time to rest in our rooms before we did something that I had been excited and nervous about since we were told about it. That afternoon we were going to form groups and have dinner with a pair of Russian students arranged by our teacher and one of his Russian professor friends. And so, at 4:30 that afternoon we went into the lobby and met our forced Russian friends.

I was in a group of four DIS students and our Russian friends were a very nice couple. We went grocery shopping, wandering around the cold city, and back to their apartment where we had potatoes and chicken. I don’t know what to say because the experience isn’t something that is easy to describe. It’s not like I can describe the conversations that we had. That would be too much. However, after dinner we left, and we thought we were headed to a park with some tea on our way to the metro station, but we somehow ended up wandering around the freezing cold city for hours. It was interesting to hear about everything from somehow who lived there. And we had the opportunity to see the red stars glowing above the Kremlin at night which along with a few other things that we certainly would not have seen otherwise. One of my favorite experiences was crossing an 18 lane street in Moscow. Yes, 18. That was not a misprint. We waited on the corner for probably about five minutes as the cars sped by and then we had 30 seconds to cross all 18. So, we had to book it because I had already learned in my brief time in Moscow that cars do not yield to pedestrians. 30 seconds means 30 seconds in this country.

The next day was our last full day in Russia, and it was a busy one. We finally had an academic visits for DIS. We started with a question and answer session with the Young Guard of United Russia, the younger people involved in the largest political party in Russia, the party that is strangely associated with Vladimir Putin. I’ve heard the term “Putin Youth” tossed around a few times, which is full of uncomfortable connotations. But it was an interesting meeting. We met with the leaders, who were all a little older than us, and our   teacher (who has translated for Putin and the Queen of Denmark – no big deal) translated for us. With the US election just weeks away, our hosts wasted no time in finding out who was voting for who. In case you were wondering, all of the Russians that I talked politics with (which weren’t many, mind you) were on team Obama, and the Young Guard was no exception. After that we asked a few questions, and they asked a few of us. You could tell by their answers that they were certainly politicians.

Our next visit was to the Kremlin, which I thought was actually great timing. We met the type of people who controlled the country and then we saw from where. In Germany the Reichstag has a glass dome on its roof that allows anyone who is there to look down into the main hall of Parliament. The government offices are also set up with one glass wall so that anyone walking along could look into any office. This transparency is their way of making up for the not so great history of government control. Russia is exactly the opposite. The seat of the government is located within the Kremlin which is just an enormous wall. It was the original heart of the city from which Moscow grew. It is still a wall and just as impenetrable as ever. We made it through security but I don’t want to even think how much of a pain it must have been to book the tour. Apparently our group was not allowed to follow our teacher on a tour to see it ourselves but we were required to hire a certified tour guide. Also there were guards everywhere who would not even allow anyone to step from the outside of the sidewalks. We saw a couple get thoroughly chewed out in Russian for attempting to cross the street.

Something inside The Kremlin. I just felt like this post needed more pictures.

Speaking of crossing the street, while we were waiting outside we had an interesting experience with the traffic guard outside the Kremlin. First, one of our group attempted to take a picture or two of the entrance, the guard saw him and waved him over. Somehow conveyed in gruff Russian-English that he wanted to see his pictures and said “delete” to every picture that we was in. Apparently even the crossing guards can implement censorship in Russia. That was the second most interesting thing that happened while we were waiting after that. The guard got a cal on his walkie-talkie and seemed to become a little more strict, not allowing anyone to cross even if the light allowed it. Soon a cavalcade of big black cars with tinted windows pulled up, the guard tightened, saluted, and relaxed as the central car went inside. Our professor said that it could have been Putin. we all agreed that it must have been Putin. Who else could it possibly have been, right? That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

Our final visit for the night was also political. Because of lack of space we had to have our question and answer session outside on the rooftop terrace of an opposition newspaper. Our meeting was with Roman Dobrokhotov, an opposition journalist who had recently made a name for himself when he cried out at the conference announcing the extension of the presidency from four-year terms to six. He has done quite a bit since then and become somewhat of an opposition celebrity. So, to recap I somehow found myself on a rooftop in Russia on a cold night, the Kremlin in the background on one side and the city on the other, talking to a man who the government would very much like to not have speaking to anyone ever. I felt like a spy. The conversation was interesting but understandably shortened due to the cold. One thing he said did stand out, though. Someone asked something along the lines of “what advice do you have for solving problems in the US” and his response was basically “You don’t know real problems so just relax.” Obviously I am paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.

The next morning was reserved for one purpose – shopping. Our flight was in the afternoon, which meant that we had to leave around noon to ensure that we made it through the congested Moscow traffic. This meant that the only thing that we really had time to do was peruse the enormous outdoor market right next to our hotel.

It was part flea market, part tourist trap, and overall pretty great. It was so large and winding that I spent between two and three hours shopping despite my running nose and frozen fingers. At first I spent time in the tourist area and found the typical matryoshka dolls modeled on NFL and MLB teams as well as fur hats, t-shirts, and replica Soviet Union paraphernalia. I actually really enjoyed this. There were a few more handmade goods at this market than at any other place that I had seen yet in Russia and for some reason even the tourist junk seemed nice now. Maybe it’s because I realized that in a few hours I might never again get to be around these things that I had come to take for granted. I would not be in Russia again and since a lot of what was around me was actually what I thought of when I thought of Russia it was perfect at the time. Tourist areas are created as an amalgamation of all that people would come to see, and this condensing of a country allowed me to quickly soak in as much Russia as I could in my limited time remaining. Yes, I know that it is not all Russia, but try to tell me that you don’t think of at least some of the things sold at tourist markets when you think of Russia. And besides, up a set of stairs was the real authentic market. The one still fr tourists but also for those who lived nearby and just needed to pick up something to decorate their apartment with or a new knife, or something else just as mundane. This area was part stalls full of antiques which I did not doubt the authenticity of nearly as much as the area below (though still a little bit) and part blanket maze with goods spread out in front of shop tenders. Here I found old watches, old razors, old comic books, old shirts, old furs, old pictures, old picture frames, old propaganda posters, old instruments – basically anything that was part of daily life in the past 50 or 60 years could be found here somewhere. The problem was actually finding it. It was cold and I had a limited time, so i made an initial speed-through to get my bearings, but the market just kept going. When I thought that I had finally reached the end I turned a corner and realized that there was more. I turned back around a saw that there was a staircase leading down to a whole other level that I was not even aware of. This was hopeless and I unfortunately never ended up buying anything from those people in Russia. It’s a shame really, after it had become a habit to discreetly check every new street for an antique or second-hand store, here I was in the middle of the largest garage sale in Russia, and I was too overwhelmed to even start. I suppose I should be careful what I ask for. I wound up taking my bag full of tourist treasures (that I had spent every last ruble on) and running into a friend. Instead of running around frantically searching for the perfect memento we ended up spending our last bit of time in Russia happily drifting through the market together instead of a mad dash to find a forced memento. That was a good choice.

Oh yea, and some of us did get sick. Pretty badly actually. But not really sick until the last day and even then one of the girls was up and ready to shop before I was. What a trooper.

-Riley

Lenin Mausoleum

Christmas Stalin complete with flowers

Cathedral of Christ the Savior – AKA The Pussy Riot Church

Russia – St. Petersburg

It’s weird to think that Russia has always seemed so far away. yes, it is far away from home (at least the European part of it is) and yet my flight from Copenhagen to Denmark was only about two hours. I mean, we lost (lost…gained…I don’t know how to say that) just as much time by changing time zones. That seems perfectly symbolic actually – the distance was short but the change was sharper.

When we landed and opened our eyes I was met by a lot of sleepy faces that quickly turned to match the expression of one person who I do not think was even able to shut her eyes the whole flight due to excitement. “Guys…we’re in Russia…” she said with her smile reminiscent of a child on Christmas. I never thought I would hear those words.

After leaving the surprisingly small airport in St. Petersburg we got on our bus and headed into the second largest city in the largest country in the world. Our trip took us through the Moscow District I hate taking pictures out of buses, but I suppose that is something that I need to get over. So, sorry about not having any pictures of my first impressions of Russia. It was actually a good introduction. There were rows of communist era buildings, the gate monument marking where the Russians had held the Germans during the siege of Leningrad, and a typical St. Petersburg down which you could see almost to the horizon. So, sorry that I missed that.

We arrived at the Hotel Azimut, formerly the Hotel Sovietska, or Soviet Hotel, and had about an hour before we left on our sightseeing tour. Of course, being in Russia, my roomate and I did not want to waste any of our precious time sitting around a crummy hotel so we had our own mini sightseeing tour. St. Petersburg radiates out from the Neva River and is designed with a ring of canals as a means of navigation and in an attempt to copy the “Western” style of Amsterdam where Peter the Great had spent some time. The theme of attempted Western shows up a lot, trust me. We passed the outermost one, the Fontanka, or Fountain canal, about a block from our street. The water of the Fontanka used to be punctuated by, well, fountains obviously. I wish they were still there, but it was still very pretty. Even more pretty was the church that we found just past this canal. pastel blue and white exterior with glistening gold onion domes and crosses. There was a wedding there that day. At least I am assuming that’s what it was. I can’t imagine why else there would be two white SUV limos (the first of many that we saw in Russia) and a group of attractive younger people all dressed very nicely getting their pictures taken. I don’t remember if they were smiling while they got their pictures taken. You would think so, but I am not sure if I saw a Russian smile during a picture the whole time we were in the country, and we saw a lot of Russian tourists. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if their faces were expressionless during the whole photo shoot.

After our little jaunt around our neighborhood, the whole group left on our sightseeing tour where we saw a Lenin Statue, a statue of Peter the Great, some churches, etc. I know that’s not the best way to write a blog but if we are ever going to get through this then I can’t be explaining every single place we visited. You’re just going to have to trust me. Ok? Ok.

Something from the tour that was worth mentioning was our stop at an Eastern Orthodox church. Russia and religion is fascinating. Russia once considered itself the “Third Rome” or the heir to the Roman Empire after the fall of Constantinople. Before the revolution in 1905 Russia was the most religious state in Europe if not the world. After the Revolution the “opiate of the masses” was essentially wiped out. I’ve said this before about the Czech Republic, and I can almost guarantee that I will say it again about Russia, but imagine waking up and suddenly having a change like that. Incredible. So a whole generation grew up without religion. Now their children are adults and many of them, at least the ones that I was able to talk to, are religious. I admit that I didn’t meet a lot of Russian people who wanted to speak English with me, and when I did I didn’t feel the need to jump right into religion, but it did come up and it seems like a good number are. Why? In the US many younger people initially go to church because their parents made them because their parents made them and so on for generations. But that obviously was not the case in Russia. I thought it was interesting.

The next morning we were greeted by 5 degree Celsius weather at 9 AM. Of course we were going on a canal and river tour so the temperature seemed to be constantly dropping until we hit the Neva river itself and the wind seemed to blow away whatever warmth was left. Luckily the little ferry had blankets, unluckily the really didn’t seem to help. The was wasn’t much help either. It was surprising and beautiful, but not much for warmth.

Despite the cold the tour was wonderful. We had a knowledgeable guide and a lot of interesting sights. After walking through maybe the most beautiful park that I have ever seen, we reached the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. We had seen it coming from in the distance for a while now and everyone seemed to be looking over their shoulders as we made other stops on our way there. Everyone just wanted to get to the “Candy Palace.” The church is what a lot of people imagine Russia to be like, at least when those people are not imagining Russia to be one giant slum where a few really rich people do despicable things like plot to bring back Stalin. Neither of those thoughts are true. In fact, the church is so completely out-of-place in St. Petersburg. The city was designed to look Western and the church was later designed to look like the ideal Slavic Eastern Orthodox church. So the church is really overcompensating for something that would make it appear misplaced even if not done to the same degree. Either way it is pretty cool.

The Candy Church

Right across from the church is the first souvenir market that we went to. This is where I learned that I am not a great haggler. This business major is looking worse and worse all the time. I accidentally redeem myself in Moscow though, but I’ll get to that. We saw Matryoshka dolls of all shapes, sizes, and themes. My personal favorite was the dictator theme – Bin Laden inside Gaddafi inside Stalin inside Hitler. That was cute. And then there were the chess sets, my favorite being USSR/Russia vs. the US in which all of the pawns were leaders. There were Soviet watches and medals and of course the fur hats. The next day a few members of our group was looking a little warmer and more fashionable from the ears up.

Before that we had a lunch of chicken kiev and borscht. I don’t know what you’ve heard about borscht but I seem to recall my mom saying it was terrible. She was wrong. It is delicious. I don’t have anything else to say, I just wanted to call out my mom on that one. I guess I can say that overall our tour did a great job of keeping us eating Russian food. And for that I am surprisingly grateful.

The next morning also began on a freezing cold boat, but with the same strong sun shining down through our misty breath. The boat ride was again beautiful but we were all glad when it ended and we could get into the warmth of the  Hermitage Museum of Art. The hermitage is a wonderful building, first for its architecture, and then for the history that this is where the Revolution took place. I stood in the same room in which the leaders of the provisional government were arrested by the Bolshevik leaders. Yes, the art was beautiful and the architecture grand, but the history really seemed to be the interesting part.

After the museum came one of the more unique parts of our trip: St. Petersburg Behind the Facade. St. Petersburg is often criticized by Moscow and other places in Russia as being simply an overgrown museum, a place that was designed to be looked at and appreciated and not a real city. This, in a way, is true, which is why almost all of my thoughts thus far revolved around how pretty everything was. The purpose of this tour was to change that. It was supposed to show another side of the city and all of the problems that went along with that. It certainly did show another side, but I am not sure that it showed me anything that I hadn’t already guessed at during my 20 years of growing up in the US. This was much more what I expected from Russia.

Our first stop, after a crowded bus ride on which we were essentially told it is common practice to bribe the ticket checkers who work on every bus, we stopped at a vodka bar. It was a small small place set a few steps into a building with windows peeping just above the sidewalk. Inside there was a bar, one small table, a counter along two walls, a parakeet, a refrigerator, and a lot of alcohol. The Russians always follow a shot of Vodka immediately with food, either bread, herring, a pickle, or something equally unappealing. So there was food, but I didn’t see a menu. I didn’t see a drink menu either, but I don’t expect there would be too many fancy cocktails available. Apparently there are places like this all along the main walking streets in working neighborhoods. These aren’t places you go for a few drinks with friends or for a wild night. Instead these are places that you go into when you are cold and walking somewhere. Work, home, church, the hospital, anywhere really. Oh, and they typically open at 9 AM. I was not even awake at 9 AM today.

Next stop was a communal apartment.Communal apartments are a throwback to the Soviet Times when the proletariat essentially took control of the houses and apartments of the upper-class. You would think that this would have gone away with the fall of the Soviet Union, but it didn’t. The beautiful old apartments with their 10 foot ceilings and elaborate crown molding still house more people than they should. They still house typically one family per bedroom and up to 10 families per apartment. The numbers obviously differ based on the size of the apartment and the wealth of its inhabitants. Our host was lucky enough to have one room to himself that he has lived in his whole life and inherited from his family. His apartment mates were not necessarily so lucky. We did see their one kitchen, one toilet room, and one shower room. I didn’t take pictures inside because, well, it was someones home to a lot of people, not a place to be gawked at. I wanted to allow a little privacy. Instead you’ll just have to try to imagine it .Imagine your bedroom. Now imagine your whole family living there with you. Imagine your bathroom with its one shower and one toilet. Now imagine that you share with 20 people. Imagine your bedroom walls. Now imagine hearing, every night, the people who you did not necessarily know living right next to you. The loudmouth, the alcoholic, the newlyweds  the angry couple, the baby – any or all of them could be right there at all hours of the day and night. Imagine your privacy. Now imagine it gone.

It’s nearly impossible to count how many people actually live in a communal apartment now, but best guess is that it is around one million people. It could be more or it could be less, but either way it is a lot. Despite this there are wealthier people buying up all of a communal apartment at well over what they are worth and moving in. They do this for the central location and nice bones of the building. The sacrifice is that they have to spend time repairing the building after 90 years of communal living. Most interestingly, this forces the upper class to not only live next to but share a stairway with people who live in communal apartments. In the stairwell we passed a man with no shoes and a large beard on one landing and a man putting his car keys into his nice leather jacket. In the courtyard we could see broken windows outside and bare bulbs inside three-fourths of the walls and one side with newly painted walls, white curtains, and a chandelier softly lighting the inside of a nice apartment. Such is Russia, I suppose.

Private Apartment

Communal Apartment

Our final stop was much less exciting, but still interesting. It was just a market where the locals shopped. There were vendors selling meat, produce, dried fruit, candy, stuff like that. As interesting as it was to see a selection of animal heads for sale, the most interesting part was how incredibly nice everyone was even though we did not speak the same language. Well, one girl did speak Russian and she was given a whole watermelon, so I guess they really liked her, and this made me like them even more.

Our final day in St. Petersburg revolved around two things – a guided walk of Dostoeyvsky’s St. Petersburg based on his life as well as Crime and Punishment and a performance of Boris Godunov at the Mariinsky Theatre. The walk was interesting, but not much worth mentioning without getting into the life of the author. It was simply another interesting lens through which to examine the city.

The starting point of Raskolnikov’s walk in Crime and Punishment. This is one of the very few signs in English in St. Petersburg. Tells you something about the literary tourists that visit.

The opera, however, is certainly worth mentioning. Unfortunately I don’t know what to say. Anything worthwhile would require an explanation of the plot, a comparison to the classical version that we saw previously, and an examination of what might be implied with what was said. I’ll just say that the focus was on the communist party, which is something that I don’t think that we could have imagined previously. Since I can’t describe the show itself I can at least say something about the place itself. The building was again beautiful and historic. The girls in our group enjoyed playing ballerina in the halls and everyone enjoyed taking pictures and fitting in with the tourist crowd.

That night we took the midnight train to Moscow. However, while waiting in the train station we had one person…how do I put this nicely? After a day of not feeling well her stomach rejected her food in the middle of the train station. That was unfortunate, but it happens. Unfortunately she was also the former roommate of someone else who was sick. Uh oh…it was spreading. We were just about to get on the train. Will we make it to Moscow safely or will we all succumb to the plague after 9 hours in confined quarters? Tune in next time to find out!

I needed to include at least one. They are still everywhere and will not disappear until the building does.

You can’t be too picky about your beaches in Russia.

Lenin on the armored car

The light has just been left on to slowly fade out over the past 11 years

Missing Things

It’s a strange feeling knowing that within a half an hour someone you love will no longer physically exist.

The last few days my dog, Satchmo, has been unable to use his back legs. My family had talked about what we would do given any possible direction that this might take. We’ve talked about what we were even were capable of doing. So it should not have felt like a surprise when I received a call from my mom today saying that he wasn’t getting better physically and seemed to also be deteriorating emotionally and mentally. But it did. All three of us, my mother, my father, and I, knew what we had agreed we would do given this situation, and so my parents were there with him as I got off the phone nearly 5,000 miles away.

Three days ago I read an article about a man put to death in South Dakota. This man had been convicted of something terrible that I don’t want to mention. The article went on, for some terrible reason, to describe the execution. I don’t remember it all, nor do I want to, but I can paraphrase: “turned a slightly purple” “took eight heavy breaths” and “eyes remained open.” The next day I found out that Satchmo couldn’t walk. The day after that he received his own final injection. I am not arguing for or against a death penalty or a change in the way that executions are carried out, but I just couldn’t stop thinking that my dog, whose biggest offense was eating my CD collection and the freezers electrical cord, was going to be taken from the world the same way that this man had.

I could go on and on about memories. About the time he rode on my lap as a puppy during on our way home for the first time. About the time he ate my friend’s hat and sunglasses. And his leash (with him attached). And my CD’s. And a pizza. And just about everything, really.About the time he had such a high fever that he likely burned off a few too many brain cells. About learning (almost) how to fetch…just last year. About spending hours playing a forced game of hide and seek through the orchards in the freezing cold nights. About all of the times that he put his happy little head in front of mine as I tried to watch TV and with that smile convinced me to forget everything except a pat on the head and a flip of the jowls. I’ll reminisce some other time, this isn’t the place.

Instead, I’m writing this here, in my travel blog, first of all because I felt the need for some kind of memorial, but mostly because this is part of my abroad experience. I feel the need to point out something very important to anyone who thinks they want to travel: You are going to miss things. Some good things. Some bad things. For however long you travel you will miss them all. You know this when you leave, of course. Depending on who and where you are you realize that you won’t be around for a friend’s birthday or maybe the beginning or ending of a life.  You know that things won’t be the same when you get back, for better or for worse. I know I thought about that. But it is different when that moment of change actually happens and you aren’t there. That moment where you realize that things will not be the same. That there won’t be that same happy, grinning, oafish, slobbering face there to greet you like it has for every return since you were 11 years old. The moment you realize that is the only moment that matters and no matter what you can’t prepare for that.

For me this moment was the loss of a friend but I know that for many of my friends here their moment has been played out on national TV for the past week. For them it is the loss of a home, a school, or the catalysts of childhood remembrance now eaten away by a hurricane. The thing is, everything is always changing and you are bound to miss something. But, the way I see it, and I think the only way to make it bearable, is that for twenty years I was missing everything in Denmark. I know it doesn’t make much sense, but that is what I need to tell myself. You can’t be everywhere, so it is better just to accept that no matter how much you try not to, you are going to miss things, so make the most of it.

Satchmo, this isn’t a fitting remembrance, but it isn’t supposed to be. That doesn’t belong here. That belongs somewhere more private and with me. What matters is that idea comes across and that I write something vaguely about my dog who is thousands and thousands of miles away.

Goodbye, Satch.

Long Study Tour Part 2 – Prague

Yes, I know I am a little late. The problem with having a week of from school every two weeks is that during those two weeks there has to be a lot of school jammed in. It wasn’t really that bad but I also had some other things that I wanted to do. And I probably just got lazy. Anyway. Here we are now, ready to dive into Prague.
Admittedly, I have never been to the Czech Republic any time other than the Fall, but I would suggest that if you go, you go then. Because it is hard to imagine it being any more beautiful than at that time. The road from Dresden, Germany, to Prague, Czech Republic, used to be called the worlds longest brothel. A highway lined with worn down women in front of dilapidated houses. I don’t know if this is true anymore (we were told it wasn’t) because instead we took more of a country route – and I am glad we did. The hills, occassionally interrupted by flat, reminded me of home, but compared to the shades of brown found in Central Washington the Czech Republic looked like a rainbow. A rainbow made of different greens, reds, yellows, and oranges. It would be possible to drive up a hill surrounded by green and yellow, forcing you to believe that those colors along with the light blue above are the only colors on earth, and then suddenly find yourself at the top overlooking a valley so full of red and orange that it looks like the forest is up in flames. It was a beautiful drive.

Coming into Prague was not as promising. It looked like any other European city, though maybe a little dirtier than some. However, we kept driving, right by an overpass, and turned onto a street and things changed. Shops and restaurants filled with people contrasted with the industrial look we had just passed. This street was close to the old town and also where our hotel was. After a few days in Berlin and a 45-ish minute commute to the center of the city this was a welcome change.

We had about an hour and a half before we left for dinner so I quickly dropped off my suitcase and ran out to see what I could of the city. We were close to everything. A short walk down our street led to a large square. From here I could see spires in the distance, their main buildings hidden by the intricate architecture of the buildings between me and them. I decided to head for those spires. The winding streets seemed to be pure Europe as I had always imagined it’s cities. The small shops hidden in courtyards separated by the tiny passageways off the main walking streets were ideal. The constant flow of statues  seemed right in place, maybe this was helped by the fact that posters for classical musical concerts outnumbered “popular” music at least 3 to 1. Where there weren’t any concerts advertised there were just jazz clubs. There was at least the hint of music everywhere. Finally I made it past the shops filled with beautiful watercolor painting, matryoshka dolls, gaudily colorful scarves, and Bohemian Crystal into a beautiful square. At this moment Prague was perfect. Nevermind that I had just been followed by two different people trying to exchange money with me and passed by three more. That was just part of the experience. And besides, if it ended in this square then who cared.

That night we walked a different direction street full of expensive American and Western European brands housed in modern buildings on our way to dinner at U Fleku Brewery and Restaurant. That was a contrast, though a designed one. The building itself felt like an old castle or countryhome and we were serenaded by an old man on accordion accompanied by a husky man on tuba while we enjoyed our goulash and heavy dumplings. the meal was great and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. On the way out we had to wait for the line of people stopping at the gift shop.

The next day began with our one trip outside of the older city area and into the business (read less toursity) area as we visited T-Mobile Czech Republic. It went well but I did much more exciting things that need to be talked about instead so I will move on. After an incredibly cheap and delicious doner kebab lunch (finally cheap food in Europe) we were on our way to a meeting with a representative of the Czech Brewer’s Association at Staropramen Brewery. This meeting was more interesting if just for the fact that the presenter was the president of the Czech Brewers Association and had previously had the equivalent role prior to the Velvet Revolution and separation from the Soviet Union. Think of that. You would essentially have to learn the ideas of Western Economics as the the state was simultaneously moving in that direction. Something else we learned, and one student learned very directly, is that the Czech Republic does not like to consider themselves part of the Soviet Union. Instead they prefer to think of themselves as being occupied by it. I already knew that people from this area considered themselves Central European despite what Westerners thought, but I had no idea about the Soviet Union part. That is, I had no idea until one of us asked a question about the differences between business in the Soviet Union and now and the presenter slowly moved towards him repeating the words “Soviet Times” before answering the question. There was nothing menacing in his answer, it was just a simple correction, though a correction that I had never thought about before.

Once we left this presentation it was back to one of my favorite things about Prague – the escalators. That might sound incredibly seen these escalators. The metro in Prague seems very deep, but instead of splitting the escalator into two separate pieces which you have to get off of and switch they just kept it going all the way down to the bottom. When I say they are long I don’t think you understand. When I say deep I mean the possible equivalent of 6, 7, or 8 stories below ground. You must be thinking “wow, Riley, that must have taken forever!” No. The escalators also moved incredibly fast. Fast like you had to simultaneously put two feet on the stairs as you entered or else half of your body might be carried down while have of you remained at the top. The whole process took two minutes from top to bottom. I am sure there are some safety regulations in the US, but we were certainly not in the US here. And that was great.

That night was another reminder that we were no in the US, though it was unnoticed by almost everyone but me. At the bar that some of us found that night I discovered that my soda water, coke, or even water was more expensive than beer. No wonder this country consumes more beer than almost any other European country – the soda prices could drive you to drink (Ha!).

The next morning we started off our day with a visit to the Danish Export Council. The most interesting thing here, at least for me, was hearing about someones experience moving from Denmark to the Czech Republic for work. I don’t know if I would be able to do that, but this meeting forced me to think about that question. After that we wandered around. We went to the Lennon wall (I heard Lenin so I was a little disappointed  and along my favorite part of the city – St. Charles Bridge. The view from here is beautiful. Since we were all in our business attire someone had the bright idea of a Linkedin profile picture photoshoot. So that’s what we did. I’m not embarrassed.

Our final academic visit was with LEGO. Just so you know, most LEGOs are produced in the Czech Republic. That is why we met up there.

That night we had dinner at a French restaurant and while the food wasn’t amazing and the service was terrible, this is the one meal that I am going to remember. We sat down and were immediately asked what we wanted. I assumed it was an enthusiastic waiter, which was a good thing  but we did not have any drink menus so we asked for some and got one. One for all 30 of us. He was back in about two minutes and we repeated our request for some menus which was me with a heavy sigh and two more menus. 3 for the 30 of us. Eventually this was repeated enough times that everyone was able to look. We now had a waiter and a waitress. The water was taking orders asking “beer, white, red” while the waitresses was waiting for the student to choose which beer, which white, or which red. About halfway down the table someone realized the discrepancy and asked for clarification. The waiter stopped for a moment before throwing up his arms and storming off. From my seat I could see him tear up the orders that he had taken and throw them at the waitresses and thump up the stairs yelling something that I interpreted as “!@#&*# – I go for beer now!” Whether that beer was for those who ordered them or himself I am not sure but based on his smile as he returned and the length of time that he was gone I have my guess. I don’t know about everyone else but I thought it was hilarious.

This was our last night in Prague. It was a fun night and I like to think that everyone made the most of it. I know that I had fun. And everyone survived, so that was good. I learned that one of my favorite things about Prague is the St. Charles Bridge at night. Seeing the other bridges lit along the river, the Prague Castle on the hill lit up, even the white ghost-like birds illuminated as the swooped in and out of the lights illuminating the buildings from below. Prague does do a great job of highlighting their city with light. Of course they have to since there is little there that isn’t tourist related.

Everything was aimed at tourists. The signs were all in English. English was spoken by everyone. There were more postcards than anywhere I had ever seen. Those concerts I mentioned earlier were not for the people who lived there. The people of Prague could not afford the smallest item in many of the shops. I even learned to hate the the pretty prints that could be found in every shop precisely because they could be found in every shop. They were not paintings but computer images designed to look like watercolors and mass produced. They were artificial, like much of Prague.

Don’t get me wrong, Prague is probably the most beautiful city that I have seen in my life. But it was beautiful because it was made to be beautiful. the lighting directed you hat to see at night and therefore directed you away from certain areas. It was beautiful but by the end of our time I was ready to move on to something less artificial. ready to move on back to the countryside that we drove through to get here.

at Staropramen brewery

Lennon Wall

Long Study Tour Part 1 – Berlin

I’ve decided that I need to split my study tour into two posts. Or it might be better to say a minimum of two posts. There was just so much that happened during these six days. Since Berlin is where we went first that’s where we will start.

My study tour experience started with me waking up around 5:30 AM on Sunday.  I guess that might be inaccurate; my study tour experience might have started when I went to sleep around one or two the evening before after procrastinating on packing. I include that in the study tour experience because getting hardly any sleep was a consistent theme throughout the tour. Looking at those on the bus with me early on Sunday morning it seemed safe to say that I wasn’t the only one starting off the trip with a sleep deficit. To our credit I don’t think a single one of us complained about being tired until we were on our way back to Copenhagen six days later. How could you when there was so much to do?
After a bus/ferry/bus ride totaling about six hours we arrived in Berlin. From the outside the hostel looked like most of the other buildings that we had seen as we entered the city. It was big, rectangular, and gray. Next to it were a few buildings that were big, rectangular, and gray. And across the wide street was a bigger building that was rectangular and gray. Welcome to Berlin. That isn’t fair. Berlin is more than bland blocks of concrete, though at the time I didn’t know it.

Our first order of business after unpacking was to go on a tour of the Berlin underground bunkers. The problem was getting there. A group of nearly thirty of us wandered around the subway looking for our tour. Eventually we found it. Two guys in black t-shirts standing in front of a dark green door built into a wall tiled the color of key lime pie right across from an escalator between the bottom and middle floors of the subway. Behind that door is one of the bunkers that was used as a shelter for the people of Berlin during World War Two. I could go into all sorts of history right now but I wont. You can look up some information on WWII yourself. The tour itself was interesting. I was a little confused by the tour guide. What he was saying was perfectly clear, instead I was confused by him. He appeared to be in his mid-20’s, transitioned from English that was free of the stereotypical German accent to German very easily, and he was Israeli. The Israel thing was the confusing part. Our whole group seemed more than a little surprised. It seems strange to find an Israeli in Berlin, and even stranger for him to be working in a museum dedicated to the lives of the families of the men who would have at one time killed him and his family on sight. I admit that I am not an expert on Israel, or the Nazi’s, or anything relating to them. Maybe my lack of knowledge is confusing me, but I am pretty sure that was unexpected. I found the situation extremely interesting. Apparently it is less interesting to anyone living in Germany, because the Israeli population is growing rapidly along with the middle eastern and communities and other groups that the group that once held power there would hate. Anyway, the tour itself was fine. It was stuffy and hot and made me feel tired afterwards. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live there for a night or more.

After the tour we booked it over to our restaurant, and, after getting lost a few times, we arrived. DIS treats us well on study tours. Anyway, being in Europe we didn’t leave the restaurant until around 10 or a little later, at which point we were on our own for the evening. Unfortunately we knew nothing about the city or its layout and our hostel was at least two trains away. Berlin can be a big and confusing place when you don’t know what you’re doing.

In the end we all made it back to our beds in time to drag ourselves out of them for them for our only full day in Berlin. By 9:30 we sneaking glimpses over our shoulders at remnants of the Berlin Wall as we were being hurried into the headquarters of Deutsche Bahn. Our meeting in this glass covered building was in a large conference room high above Berlin. It was hard to focus on the presentation when you could turn your head slightly and see the whole city. Somehow I managed. The presentation on the corporate strategy was interesting and I knew that I would have time after to explore the city from this vantage point once we were done.

From here on the day became much more interesting. We passed the Wall remnants on our way to the next stop – Brauhaus Mitte. Yes, the restaurant was located in a mall, from my seat I could see a walkway with cheap stores as well as a McDonalds, and yes the Bavarian flag decorations did seem a little cheesy, but the pork leg and potatoes were both delicious so I completely forgot everything else. Apparently our professor had really wanted us to have this traditional Oktoberfest meal and I am glad he did.

Do you know what doesn’t sound like a good idea after eating a leg of pork ? Movement. Do you know what we did right after we ate? Went on a bike tour. Despite what a lot of us had imagined, it worked out almost perfectly. The pace was slow and we had some movement to help us digest. It’s a good thing I didn’t feel terrible during this tour because that might have ruined one of my favorite tour experiences of the whole week. The weather was absolutely perfect, the biking aspect was relaxing, I got to fulfill a lifelong dream of biking through a major city in a suit, and we learned quite a bit. Again, I won’t go through and give you a tour of Berlin but I will write a few things. First, Berlin does have beautiful buildings. Before I mentioned the gray blocks that I saw, well, that was not in the center. The center has the same beautiful architecture as any old European metropolis, though nearly all of it is a replica and less than 60 years old. That might be the most interesting thing. All of this was destroyed at some point and rebuilt. Luckily Hitler knew that the city would be bombed so he had statues removed from churches and concert halls and hidden in the countryside or submerged in lakes. At least he managed to do something right. Second, Berlin is building a castle. They are attempting to rebuild the old royal residence on Museum Island. It would cost an immense amount of money. Even more when you consider that Berlin is heavily in debt at the moment. Our tour guide hated the idea and let us known it pretty clearly. If someone who relies on beauty and tourism for his livelihood dislikes this idea so strongly, then I wonder what everyone else besides the politicians must think. Finally, the Berlin wall was a letdown. Yes, the tall blank barrier can still give you chills if you take the time to think of the stories associated with it. If you think of all of the lives affected over the course of the 28 years that it stood there. But it can be nearly impossible to do that at the wall itself. There are  people everywhere getting their passport stamped with an East Berlin Visa by some teenager in a fake uniform, buying food from “Snackpoint Charlie” or the “Cold War” ice cream shop, and avoiding the men standing on the street selling replica Soviet paraphernalia. The magic of the wall doesn’t seem to exist here. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe I am simply to removed to understand. It doesn’t affect me enough to make feel. But when I see something like this, I certainly feel something. I guess things change. Sometimes rapidly and for the better after decades of wait, and sometimes gradually until the reason for the change is left behind. I can however appreciate the extreme capitalism that has taken over the area that used to be the East Berlin side of Checkpoint Charlie. That is pretty ironic.

After the bike tour, while I was still sorting through my first interaction with the wall at Checkpoint Charlie a group of us were headed to the Wall. We were going to another area, the East Side Gallery, the largest stretch still standing. I was headed to the area that I had imagined when I thought of the Berlin Wall. After all, this is the area where artists created a memorial to freedom in 1990, not even a year after the wall fell. These were people exhibiting their new-found voices on a wall that had held them or others in for years. This was an outpouring of emotion and pent-up frustration in the form of pain on concrete. People came afterwards, not just to see this, but to experience it, to write their message of freedom on the wall. It doesn’t feel like that now. The 1990’s originals were damaged by all of the graffiti and many were re-painted or simply painted over by new artists within the past few years. You can’t see the messages that people wrote for their dead loved ones after the wall came down, you can’t see the exultations of freedom scribbled across the wall, you can’t see any emotion. Now what you see is a penis drawn on an angel, or an accusation of racism, or a “Paul wuz here Spring Break 2011!!!” That kind of thing. I’m not saying this wasn’t present on the wall before, I’m sure it was, but It seems more present than I had imagined. There was nothing really inspiring about the wall unless you want to say that we have moved so far forward that the wall is no longer even a symbol, but just a wall. Yea, I’m an optimist, let’s go with that.

For dinner I had the obligatory sausage and the best pretzel of my life. I have nothing else to say and I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all but it was something very German and therefore important enough to share. Plus it was my first experience with a stereotypical semi-rude, semi-incompetent, European waiter at an outdoor cafe. Overall the meal was exactly what I had been waiting for in Europe.

After enjoying dinner and the company I lucked into an experience. Son, one of the other students, had done some research on Berlin before we went and decided that he wanted to go to the German government building, the Reichstag. It’s an incredible building made even more magnificent by the enormous glass dome on top of it. I happened to be online while he was looking into it and asked if I wanted to go. I looked at a picture and of course agreed right away. Being the seat of the government you can no longer just walk in, you have to schedule a time and provide a name and birthdate for anyone who wants to enter. Son took care of all of that for us and we received our clearance via email after the bike tour Monday afternoon. That night, at 9 PM, the four of us who had registered were inside an enormous glass dome overlooking the city of Berlin. I admit that the view wasn’t perfect; Berlin doesn’t have the most dramatic skyline, and it lacks the illuminated castles and cathedrals that make touristy Europe so beautiful. But the architecture itself was interesting and the view was still impressive. Among the sites was the Brandenburg Gate lit up in the night . Seeing that I could only imagine what it must have looked like from my point of view even just 25 years ago. At that time I would have been on the border between East and West Berlin and the gate would have been illuminated not by spotlights – but by searchlights. How things change.

The city reflects this change in almost everything. The government offices next to the Reichstag are designed so that the side of each office is a window which can be seen into from the park. The Reichstag dome where I was standing was made entirely of glass and mirrors so that, while in session, any citizen or tourist can look down and see what their government is up to. The bred mistrust can be seen by the attitude of outsiders as well. The French embassy in Berlin next to the Brandenburg Gate looks nearly identical to a bunker complete with slots for guns in case the statue of Victoria, goddess of Victory, decides to stop staring at the French from her perch atop the Gate and take action again.

By 9:00 AM Tuesday, just  41 hours after we arrived, we were essentially done with Berlin. At this time we were on the bus, in business attire, with our luggage packed below us headed for Air Berlin, our final business visit in Germany. Air Berlin wasn’t exactly in the heart of the city, which is why I can say that we were basically done with Berlin at this point. After seeing seat and lounge mock-ups that Air Berlin was implementing followed by a brief presentation and lunch we were on our way to Prague.

I was excited, but if I had known what I know now, I would have been even more so.