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.

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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

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.

Swedish Weekend

I am officially exactly one week behind on blogging. It could be worse.

I last left you in Norrebro Bryghus with my European Business class. This was at about 3:30 on Friday afternoon. By 5:30 I was loaded into a car with Thomas, Lærke, Pelle, and Sofus on our way to Sweden.

We were going to Sweden for two reasons. First, Lisbeth was in Sweden all week working extra hours. Apparently Southern Sweden doesn’t have enough doctors and she could make some extra money for their next trip. We were on our way to pick her up. Secondly, I had never been to Sweden and my host parents had decided that I should. I agreed and so we went.

After a 20 minute drive North to Helsingor we were on the ferry headed to another country. The ferry itself is actually worth mentioning. Though the trip was short (no more than 25 minutes) the set-up was actually very nice. The style was sleek and simple with white walls and colorful, strange shaped chairs. Of course there was a little cafe and a hot dog place. But there were also two slot machines, a bar, and a mini-mart. Having only ridden the concrete boxes that serve as ferries on Puget sound (though I had never thought of them so negatively until now), the whole thing seemed over the top. Thomas explained that at one point in the journey we crossed  into international waters, which helped to explain the huddle of people clutching cigarettes and alcohol (heavily taxed items) milling around until about 10 minutes in when the loudspeakers announced something in Danish/Swedish. Also, I learned that Sweden sells alcohol in liquor stores like many US states. Thomas explained this as we watched a man look sadly down at the bottle in his hand as we crossed into Swedish waters.

Off the ferry we headed to the cabin that our neighbors and family friends had lent us for the weekend. We took a moment to get out of the industrialized city of Helsingborg and into the countryside where I could see an immediate difference between Denmark and Sweden. This is also when I realized that I was in Sweden, a whole other country. Yea, strange, right? Including Denmark and the US I have been in six countries prior to this so Sweden counted as 14.2% of the countries that I had been to and I hadn’t even had to prove that I should be there. There wasn’t even anyone sitting at the customs both! I was a little disappointed. Anyway, back the countryside. It was lovely. Along the road there were yellow and green fields with a think forest of trees just beyond them. Every so often a small yellow or red house would be plopped down into the middle of one of these fields, reminding me, for some reason, of LEGOs. And there were finally hills, small hills, but it was an improvement over Denmark in this respect.

The cabin was small and basic. No water and no power. Despite that (or maybe because of), it was wonderful. It was a traditional Swedish red (I didn’t know there was such a thing) dot surrounded on two sides by a cow pasture and a national nature reserve on the other two. The inside was just as idyllic. With no electric lights we had to open all of the windows and light candles as soon as we arrived but doing this only seemed right. Electricity would just have ruined the mood.

Sweden

Cozy

Sweden

Our Swedish cabin

After a freezing trying to cook dinner over the small fire and stuffing myself with the sausages we did cook, we all went to sleep early.

The morning was still cold but the hot oatmeal warmed me up right away and we took off on a hike around the nature reserve. We hiked for about three hours and at the end Thomas asked me how this compared to the forests in Washington. I couldn’t bring myself to break it to him that Washington had Sweden beat here. So I just avoided the lie and said that both were lovely and shouldn’t we be going to get Lisbeth soon?

Sweden

Pelle is apparently good at catching animals

And that’s what we did. Lisbeth was justifiably exhausted but she was still ready to get hiking. The next stop was a nature reserve along the coast, but we were not there for the nature. We were there for a very special piece of art. This is somewhat of a secret and I am not positive i should be telling you about it…but oh well, lucky you. A nature reserve is supposed to be an area reserved for nature, right? This means no construction or man-made distractions not sanctioned by the government. So how did a man, for 30 years, manage to collect driftwood and turn it into a sculpture? I don’t know, but I do know that sculpture does not do this monument justice. My family had a hard time describing what exactly we were going to go see, and now I can understand why. We follow the majority of the other hikers off of the path for maybe half a kilometer and I see Pelle leaning against an upright wooden rectangle. I admit that I was a little disappointed. Sure, the box seemed to be maybe 6 or seven feet tall and a couple of feet deep but nothing very impressive. Certainly nothing worth driving out of our way to see. But then I took a step forward and saw this.

Sweden

My first look into Ladonia

Sweden

Sweden

This was the microstate of Ladonia. For 30 years an art professor had been coming here illegally to collect driftwood and turn it into this monumental fortress by the sea. Basically the story is this: the government wanted the fortress to come down and the artist didn’t want it to. After years in court the government won. The new owner of the fortress simply said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I don’t care. Your rules don’t apply here, we are a free country. Long live glorious Ladonia.” And that is the story of one of the strangest places I have ever visited. Does this count as country number 8?

A view of my host family

Sweden

When we finally left Ladonia we went further into the nature reserve towards the sea. The sun was starting to set as we climbed up the coastal highway past small clusterings of white buildings below. With the green around, the sea behind, and the reddening sky above, it looked like something out of a magazine. And apparently we weren’t the only ones that thought so. There was a photo shoot for Volvo happening along the road. An elegantly tall blonde woman in a long turquoise dress was standing to the left of the car while an even taller man in a suit (top three or so buttons unbuttoned of course) stood next to her. My first thought was “wow, they must be cold,” and my second was “wow, that picture is gorgeous.” Not the gorgeous people, not the gorgeous car, but everything as whole. I admit, if that car could get me to this place and this view on a consistent basis…I would buy it.

At the top of the cliff, where the road had to stop or take the plunge down into the see, we got out and walked a ways to make our cup of noodle dinner. It’s good to know that some things are consistent everywhere you go. Apparently marshmallows are apparently not one of those things. We roasted Haribo marshmallows. If you have ever had a Haribo candy with the soft white bottom that you have always thought might be marshmallow then you have had this and it does not roast well. I never thought I would say this, especially not while in Europe, but I think it has too much sugar.

Our meal was timed almost perfectly with the sun. As we finished Pelle and Sofus raced to the top of the hill where the sun was almost disappearing into the water. The rest of us followed more slowly but our steps did quicken as we neared the top. I couldn’t believe I was in Sweden watching this sunset. It all seemed to perfect.

As the last piece of the glowing orb was swallowed (you know the way the last bit always seems to go down faster, like momentum is finally sucking it in), my host family started clapping. Though fitting I also thought it was strange. Lisbeth leaned over and told me that during the summer Skagen, Denmark there are bands and orchestras that play on the beach as the sun goes down and everyone, including the musicians, applauds the suns exit as the music stops. And that, she told me, is where we were going in two weeks. I can’t wait.

Sweden

Goodnight, Sweden

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

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