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

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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

Legoland

Like most children, those colorful little bricks were a huge part of my life growing up. The building blocks of my childhood as it were. So, when I learned that I was going to Denmark, the birthplace of Lego, I made up my mind quite early that I would make a pilgrimage to the child’s holy land. A pilgrimage seemed fitting; while I did not  worship LEGOs as a child I did use them to create temples. So, off I went, across the open expanse of  Western Denmark  with my two Haribo bags bought specially for the occasion in my backpack and an expectant smile on my rosy face. I felt like a kid again.

However, there was a problem: Logoland was not the place I imagined. Here’s the place where I wish I could say “It was better!” but this isn’t that kind of story. Yes, Legoland was fun, but it wasn’t the children’s Shangri La I had envisioned.

I almost didn’t get to experience any of this though as my day started off with a near disaster. By that I mean it started off with me almost being late. 68 minutes after missing the first train out of Humlebaek I scrambled up the stairs of the bus departing from Copenhagen on its way to Legoland in Billund. Despite the setback, I was on the bus and arrived in Legoland about four hours later.

The ride through the plain Jutland countryside to Legoland did not inspire a lot of confidence in the magnificence of the park. The drive reminded me a lot of driving through Central Washington (though again, to flat) which, while beautiful in its own way is not necessarily the most exciting place.  We passed miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers) of farmland interspersed with a few towns and gas stations. Coming from the US where mini-cities seem to spring up around amusement parks, the two small signs were the only indication that there was anything here except more farmland. And then we saw it. The large circular drive in front of the entrance surrounded by huge blue, yellow, green, and red bricks. This is what I was expecting. I can only imagine that for a child walking under this gate beside the stacks of LEGOs could only be comparable to walking beside the pillars of the Parthenon.

At the gates!

I was finally at Legoland and it felt much like I thought it would! And then something strange hapened. I walked into the gate and the first thing I saw was a clothing outlet store. And then another one. And, what is more important, the buildings housing these stores weren’t even created entirely of LEGOs! What kind of a ripoff is that! Legoland implies a land made of LEGOs, not a normal strip-mall with just an above average number of LEGOs in the windows, at least that what child Riley had conditioned me to believe all of those years ago. Needless to say, I was outraged.

Fortunately my anger passed as we went through the rest of the park. There were many LEGO’s and many amazing things made out of LEGOs, the crowds were small due to school starting two weeks prior, and ride passes were included in the admission cost. In fact, I actually started to feel better the more I explored. Granted, I was still a little let-down, but I think that mostly stemmed from the fact that the chairs and tables were not made entirely of LEGO and the sidewalks were a plain gray instead of multicolored. Though, having stepped and sat on my fair share of LEGOs I can understand why those decisions were made.

Ok, so I had overcome my anger with Legoland and started to enjoy myself. Once I did that a few things really stood out to me. First, the ice cream. Maybe it seems better as I am writing this because I am hungry but I do remember that the ice cream was great. I didn’t plan on getting ice cream but once I saw that I was close to being the only person not walking around with a cone I began to feel the pressure. You might be wondering why everyone had these cones. Because they are delicious, that’s why. I can’t explain what it is exactly but it seems to be less sugar and more cream which translates into the fluffiest ice cream you’ve ever had without being overpowering. It does help that the whole thing was dipped in chocolate chips. Yea, that helped a lot actually. And that was just the soft serve ice cream. The real amazing looking ice cream comes in scoops, and in a cone which has an opening as big as both of my fists pressed together. The thing is huge. I can’t tell how many scoops it has but it is at least four, and on top of those four-plus scoops there is strawberry jam, a whipped cream like substance, and topped with an amazing treat called a flødebolle. I would show you a picture but it is something you really should experience for yourself. Wow, I wrote a lot about ice cream. Maybe I should have called this post “Ice Cream” instead of “Legoland.” Oh well.

Back to Lego’s, the miniland area was very impressive and by far my favorite. I can’t say why exactly but it was interesting seeing not only the enormous cities, ships, and palaces but also the small people. Legoland did a great job of keeping the displays interesting even past the initial wow-factor. Looking down at the recreation of a small German town only becomes more exciting as you can see story lines playing out in the miniature people residing there. An old couple holding hands or a young one walking away from everyone else. There was a man kicking the tire of his broken down car while his son and wife looked on from the roadside. Hidden between a building and the small shrubs which served as a forest was a moose and a man taking pictures of it. There were miniature men with miniature cameras everywhere, as if poking fun at the large men taking picture after picture. Yea, this was definitely my favorite.

My favorite mini old couple

Mini Nyhavn

When not admiring the small world we did explore the full-size world. Like I said before, ride tickets were included in admission so we did a few rides. My friend Kirsten would be upset if I didn’t mention that she beat me twice at a laser tag type game.

Well, it looks like I have somehow managed to write too much again. Someday it will be shorter and more consistent. I could just cut this down but that would require editing and editing is for squares.

Despite my early complaints I certainly had fun at Legoland, and in retrospect it seems even more enjoyable than when I was there. I think you could take this as a nice analogy for childood, which makes me realize that it did, in a strange way, fulfill my goal in making me feel like a kid again. The problem I had wasn’t with Legoland, it was with me and my expectations. It was a marvelous time but it was not the toy equivalent of the Wonka Factory. If you happen to find yourself in the middle of nowhere in Denmark I would certainly suggest stopping by. If you happen to find yourself a student in DIS I would strongly suggest stopping by and saving quite a bit of money by going through DIS.

Giant LEGO Chief Sitting Bull

Giant LEGO Mount Rushmore

Mini LEGO Yoda and Mace Windu

My Bad

I’ve been in Denmark for 12 days and I’ve written twice. Oops. But here is my justification: I’ve been doing so much in those 12 days that I just wouldn’t know where to start. What would I include? How would I decide what to cut? I don’t want to sell anything short but with so much happening I wouldn’t have a choice. You wouldn’t want to read all of that, right? Of course not. Trust me.

So, to summarize…this week was busy. It was a good week but busy. I don’t want to leave you with nothing so I will do a very small day by day summary (give or take a few days).

Monday August 20 (Orientation)

  • Learned that my train line into Copenhagen is under construction until late September. To avoid getting lost on my first day, my host dad came in with me  and we met more students on the train.
  • Went window shopping for food in Denmark to acquaint ourselves with the Kroner. Yes, I learned the value of the Kroner but more importantly I learned that I won’t be eating out very often in the next four months. Things are expensive.

Tuesday August 21 (Orientation)

  • More orientation
  • Some wandering around
  • Feeling sore

Wednesday August 22 (Orientation)

  • Feeling really sore
  • Of course, I was sore from wandering so what did we do? Wander around Copenhagen in the DIS Amazing Race. This was actually a great time. I saw more of Copenhagen, I learned a little bit of history that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I met my professor for my class on Russia. All of that was great  but I think that just getting out and seeing the city was one of my favorite parts.
  • The DIS activities and Immersion fair was ok. There are some really interesting opportunities. Traditional Danish dance, I don’t even know what that is. The real highlight was free hotdog. Hotdogs here come in little baguettes instead of buns. Sounds delicious, right? Yea, unfortunately they also come with remoulade sauce. Bummer.

Thursday August 23 (Class)

  • First day of class. I can’t get into too much detail.

Weekend August 25/26

  • I did a lot during the weekend. Can’t afford to waste time! But the most exciting thing I did was purchase my student membership at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which is just down the street. For 125 DKK I can go anytime I like. I can even just go to read on the lawn overlooking the sea or relax by the lake. Not a bad deal. My timing for getting this pass was planned to coincide with the Louisiana Literature Festival. I bought my pass and then promptly ran through the museum to see Jeffrey Eugenides speak alongside Jonathan Safran Foer. Two great American authors not only all the way over in Denmark, but also only minutes from my house! That’s something I didn’t expect. After that I spent a couple of hours wandering the museum until my mind couldn’t take anymore information and I left vowing to come back (I already have).

That’s all you get for now. Not even a picture.

At some point I going to have to get better at making decisions about what should and shouldn’t be included, and I promise that I will, but for now I am more focused on enjoying myself. And that’s what I am doing.

-Riley

Hello, Denmark

The sign for me on the front door

The sign on the front door

20 hours after stepping out my front door in Yakima I crossed the threshold of my new front door in Humlebæk. There were some great experiences during those 20 hours, and even more in the hours following. I want to share every single one of those experiences. But I can’t. I am much, much too tired for that (did I mention 20 hours of travel?). So, instead I will summarize and most likely butcher any attempt to convey the feeling of what has been going on. But at least you will know what has been going on. And I will get to sleep. Mmm, sleep.

Ok, first thing first. My friend Kirsten and I had planned ahead to travel to Copenhagen together. She flew into Sea-Tac from Portland and from there the two of us went from Sea-Tac to Toronto, to Copenhagen. We met at Sea-Tac and within seconds of meeting the man at our gate, whom I had just been talking to called me over with a loud “Luvaas!” Kirsten and I went and were told we had just been upgraded to first class. For those of you wondering, that is the best way to start 14 hours of plane travel. Long story short, Kirsten and I enjoyed being somewhat noisy, eating our three course meals, and watching The Lorax or Cool Runnings. You know, classy things. Judging by the silence in the cabin, all of the sullen looking middle-aged businessmen we were flying with were likely engrossed in the same activities. We fit right in.

The problem with flying first class for five hours is that it makes sitting in the very middle of coach for eight hours seem so much worse. However, I did survive and managed about 1.5 hours of sleep.

Arrival. It honestly didn’t hit me that I would be gone for four months until the moment I was handing over my passport at customs in Copenhagen. Not when I packed the car to go to Sea-Tac almost a full day earlier, not when I went through customs in Canada, not even when I said goodbye to my parents. Just then, when my fingers lost contact with my passport did I realize what was happening. But I was happy. After collecting baggage and winding our way through the airport like a semi truck, a group of us DISers arrived at host family check in where we would wait for our families. Though, I didn’t wait. The first thing I saw upon walking into that room was three extremely blonde at waist level with three sets of blue eyes staring straight at me. Behind them stood a tanned, dark-haired woman and a tall, blonde-headed man. This was the introduction to my family: Thomas, Lisbeth, Lærke, Pelle, and Sofus. But more on them at a later time. They deserve their own post.

After a ten minute tour of the city center we continued on to Humlebæk. It was a pretty drive, though much too flat.

Soon after arrival we had lunch (Sandwiches!) followed by, and I did not think that I would be writing this, a swim. Yes, a swim along the beach in Denmark. Not a nap after all of that  travel. Not more food, a walk around the park, or anything like that. A swim. I was told it was an extremely warm day and that the water would likely be warm. Thomas, my host father, guessed the water temp to be 20° Celsius. Kids, if you don’t know your conversions, at least learn Fahrenheit to Celsius so that you don’t do what I did. I knew it was cold but I had no idea it was that cold! By the way, 20° C is equal to 68° F. It was not 68° F. Despite this, I began to enjoy myself as I spent more time in the water. It was nice to be surrounded by so many happy people speaking so many languages (I was able to discern English, Danish, French, and Spanish). The setting was ideal: on one side the Louisiana Modern art Museum with its beautiful statues and grounds while on the other side, between the cloud-like sails of passing boats, there was Sweden as clear as day. It was  beautiful.

Louisiana Day 1

A sculpture on the Louisiana grounds at sunset

The night after that was uneventful. There was talking as the neighborhood kids stopped by to play (there sometimes seemed to be 50 of them all running in and out), a dinner of Thai inspired cashew chicken (Thomas enjoys Asian recipes), and one last sunset lit swim before bed.What a wonderful day.

Some pre-sleep swimming

I know that I did not do the day justice. Forgive me, I am exhausted. You will just have to take my word for now.

Denmark, it was nice to meet you.

-Riley