Sunday, March 28, 2010

Copenhagen aka Blondehaven

Fresh back from my trip, I am super excited to tell you all about my Easter travels. First on the agenda was Copenhagen, and for the short 30 hours that I was in Denmark, I tried to make the most of my time and take the city by storm. I arrived, waited about 40 minutes for my bag (had a mini-heart attack that they lost it) and then got the metro to the city center. It was on this metro ride that I first noticed what a minority being a brunette was. In my entire train car, I was the ONLY non-blonde person. Not only that, I was short - not your typical tall, blonde Dane, that's for sure!

Once off the train, it was quite easy to find the hostel. A few turns and ta-daaa there was the graffiti-covered alley way that led to the hostel! It kind of threw me off, so I poked around the alley for a few seconds, when a man who looked like he hadn't showered in days came up to me and in Danish asked me a question. I smiled nervously and just said 'hostel, hostel' and he motioned for me to follow him. I did and thankfully he took me to the hostel, which was at the end of the alley where it opened up to the other street. After I checked into 'Sleep-in-Heaven' as it was called, I headed back out to check out the city and couldn't help but take a photo, mostly to show Grammy that I can survive scary alley-ways!
I didn't really have a good idea of the city when I set out, so I mostly just grabbed the tourist map and started walking. The first thing I noticed were bikes. Endless amounts - which in a sense reminded me of Amsterdam. The different thing about these bikes is that they are so special they merit a bicycle street light. There are street lights for cars to go, people to walk and bikes to ride! I couldn't believe it! As I neared the Old Part, not only were bikes pedaling around but they were stopped in every corner and in the center of all the squares all sans bike racks. I was surprised that no one bothered to lock up their bikes, just trustingly left them standing on the kick-stand. At one point the wind picked up and one bike toppled, which created a domino effect and about 10 bikes fell over. Because I was standing so close I probably looked like the culprit, but I swear it wasn't me!

Since all of the streets aren't perfectly straight, I spent no time getting lost and ended up on Strøget - the longest shopping street in Europe. However, I did not buy a single thing, nor was I tempted. I think that Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in all of Europe. Their sales tax is super high which makes it sort of cost prohibitive to go on a shopping spree for a girl like me. Probably better that way, as my suitcase was already bulging from my stupid over-packing. Something I did enjoy about the Danish Kroner (their money) was that it has hearts on it - which is the symbol of the Royal Mint. When Strøget ended I happened to be at the City Hall and the famous Tivoli Gardens. This amusement park, opened in 1843, is the most famous in Europe. While it is not as extravagant or fancy as Disneyworld, I am sure Walt got some excellent ideas from this place. Sadly, it doesn't open until mid-April, so I couldn't take advantage of the old-fashioned rollercoasters.

After trying to peek in the gates and through the fences, I re-started my wandering, just hap py to be plodding along between all of the different colored buildings. With blues, yellows, oranges and pinks, the streets of Copenhagen sure aren't lacking in the color department. They say that Danes are some of the happiest people in the world, and I wonder if all the bright colors they have around their city contributes to that at all. It sure put me in a good mood to see all the pastel houses with bikes parked in front! Walking was only made better with a Frankfurter in hand. Over canals, past palaces, through colorful alleyways and next to big sailboats, I was a happy tourist with no care in the world. I guess this is how Danes feel everyday!

One of the buildings that impressed me the most was the old Stock Exchange. Built in 1640, the thing that impressed me the most was the tall spire that tops the building. The tower, often referred to as the 'dragon-tower' has 4 dragons whose tails make up 3 crowns at the top of the spire, which were made to represent the 3 Nordic powers at the time - Sweeden, Norway and of course Denmark - which at the time was known as the Kalmar Union. Somehow, this place has survived all of the fires that have ravaged Copenhagen, and is one of the oldest and best-preserved buildings in the city. Looking at it, you can't help but feel a little Viking spirit!

Continuing with my Viking spirit, I stumbled upon Nyhavn Canal - the oldest canal in the city - a place for locals and tourists alike. On this Friday night it was full of Danes meeting for happy hour - some sitting at the outdoor bar seating with pints of their favorite beers and blankets that each barseat has, and others sitting on the dock with their cans of store-bought beer, just as happy. I opted to buy a cool glass of Carlsberg (Denmark's famous beer) and sit myself on the dock in front of a blue sailboat and read my book. You would have thought I was a Dane, except for the obvious brown hair ha! I couldn't help but think that if I lived in Denmark, this would surely be my favorite place to spend the sunny days. Carlsberg beer's slogan is 'Possibly the best beer in the world' and although it was good, I would say that I've had better, but at that moment, it was a perfect fit - but I think that the boat-lined canal, the pastel-colored buildings and the sunset helped make such a positive effect.

Once the sun set, I decided to wander back towards the center (see Grammy, I'm safe) and after a few streets came upon a large building that was lit up. Curiously, I stepped inside a large church-style building that had a sign saying 'concert' well it said it in Danish but it was something like 'konkertzen' so I figured it out quite easily. Since I was already there, I thought, why not, and bought a ticket for this concert that I had no idea what it was. Turned out, it was an Easter concert with a full orchestra, 100 singers (a mix between young boys dressed in blue sailor suits and middle-aged men in tuxedos) and some special guest singers (all with Danish names) who showed off their baritone, soprano and baas voices. I ended up sitting in the balcony next to a couple whose son was performi ng. After two hours of classical music, the concert ended to non-stop applause and thunderous cheering for the young boys. Four encores later, I headed out with tired feet from a day full of walking and traveling. I made my way back to the hostel but of course took scenic routes, noting the night scene of the city. On my way back, I stopped off at a 7-11, something we don't have in Spain, and got a slice of pizza and an Arizona Iced Tea (mmmm America) and called it a night.

The next more I awoke to the pitter-patter of rain and my heart sunk. With only one day left in Copenhagen, I didn't want to waste the entire day inside. I got around, and headed to the lobby for the desk man to call me a taxi to the central station. I wanted to leave my suitcases there so I wouldn't have to come back to the hostel before catching my night bus to Sweeden, and in the meantime, I met a nice girl who was also traveling alone and asked her if she wanted to come to the center with me. Lias, pronounced Lies, was a Brazilian anthropology student living in Léon, France, and was just in town for the weekend like me. Since she had been in town the day before as well, we both had the same things left to see and set out when the rain thankfully slowed to a light drizzle. My hair become quite curly as we headed to Christianhavn, a small island connected to the city center by a bridge. This part of town is where the oldest neighborhood is situated and of course was filled with rainbow colored streets as well. Inside this neighborhood is Christiania, a sort of free-town. With 850 residents, the people living in this neighborhood have proclaimed the area an autonomous anti-national and by some special Danish law, don't have to abide by the same rules as the rest of the city. They have their own rules, and accept anyone and everyone. Originally this mural-filled acreage was the site of the Danish baracks in the 1600s. Eventually they stopped using it for this and only a few watchmen were set to guard the grounds. In 1971 Danes in the neighborhood torn down the surroundin g fences and took over the area for themselves. Jacob Ludvigsen, a well-known Danish journalist, soon after published an article stating the new area a free town, with the following mission statement: The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. Nowadays its filled with homeless, beggars, addicts and a whole mix of people, but still is quite interesting, and a one-of-a-kind place to visit. When we entered, I saw a sign that said 'We seek a lower standard of life for a higher quality of living', which made me stop and think for a minute. We really liked the murals and interesting art of Christiania, but the harshness of the people didn't keep us in the area for long, and soon after entering we opted for a warm café to get away from the chill of the air and the people.

Along with my coffee, I got a DANISH! Well, not an exact Danish as we Americans would think, but a delicious Danish pastry to accompany my drink. When we finally got our temperatures high enough to venture out again, we had the National Gallery as our destination. Free, it seemed like a great idea, and after an hour of getting lost and a lot of Danish help, we finally found it. It was filled with a lot of shocking photographs and some really nice Danish art as well as some interesting modern pieces. Closer to the center than we thought, when we left the museum we easily found the shop where I bought my necessary Christmas ornament. A glass frosted egg with a dainty velvet bow and silver top, my Danish egg will decorate my tree perfectly one day and remind me of my Easter holiday trip to my first Scandavian country.

Ornament purchased, we headed off to one of the most popular tourist attractions - the Round Tower. Completed in 1642, this is the oldest observatory in Europe, and when it's not nighttime (or cloudy like it was) it's a great place to get a good view of the Latin Quarters from the sky. Looking out over the city, the majority of houses were dotted with red-roofs, no matter what easter-egg color the house was, and the towers and spires of the churches reminded me of Prague, because walking around the city from the street, I hadn't noticed how many there were. If it hadn't been for the wind, I am sure we would have stayed up there longer to soak in the view, but we opted for a cold beer instead. Another Carlsberg for me!

After we had a beer to warm us up, Lias and I parted ways, her to dinner and me to check out the Amalienberg Palace, a 15-minute walk away. As the winter home for the Danish Royals, I thought I might get a glimpse of Queen Margrethe II but no luck. Another major thing tha t I missed while in Copenhagen is the famous Little Mermaid - (yea, Ariel's role model!). Known as the most famous sight in the city, Hans Christian Andersen's mermaid was no where to be found - supposedly she was on a trip to Shanghai! Sad but true.

The sun was setting and so was my time in Copenhagen. I headed back through the narrow stone streets towards the Central Station and settled in on the bus for a 9 hour-ride to Denmark's Nordic neighbor - Sweden. Although only in the city for a short time, I really liked it and the easter-egg colored buildings really started off my Easter holiday right.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Easter Vacations!

Well, I'm quite aware I have been the worst blogger this month. Only one blog the entire month so far! Shame on me! Nothing too significantly exciting has been happening here, but tomorrow morning I will start my Easter travels, so I am quite pumped about that.

This week at school, I had the kids working hard on some Easter arts and crafts. Last year we decorated eggs, but with SO many students, I decided to pass on that activity this year and instead we made birds with real feathers (which the kids think is possibly the coolest thing ever). I had about 40 kids make birds and after the holiday break I will come back and hang them all up from the ceiling so it will appear that all the different colored birdies are flying. I liked the hanging butterflies from last year so much, I wanted to repeat something similar.

The Easter trip will go something like this: Copenhagen (2 days), Stockholm (4 days), Riga (5 days) and Berlin (6 days). I am so excited about each one, I don't know which to look forward to the most! Sadly I think it might be rainy/snowy in Copenhagen and Stockholm, so I might be in for a cold start to the trip, but the forecasted sunny skies in Riga and Berlin give me hope. As always, I will be a blog-master when I come back and let you know how all of the places went! Until then, I hope you have a good rest of the month and enjoy your Easter holiday!


Friday, March 5, 2010

In like a león out like a oveja

Well, March is already here and it seemed to have started opposite than the 'in like a lion out like a lamb' saying. On Saturday, the last days of February, we were supposed to have the 'perfect storm' and the newspapers and radio were warning people not to leave thier houses after 6pm. We shut all the windows, pulled the shutters and waited...and waited and waited. No big storm ever came. At 6pm on the dot, I was walking along the beach with a t-shirt, not feeling any perfect storm hitting! Somehow it missed San Sebastián and made a big ruckus in France, but we got lucky.
After that, the weather was gorgeous for a few days, so Heather and I took advantage and planned an Hondarribia tourist day. I go there every week day, but am pretty used to getting off the bus and speed-walking straight up the hill to work, and really never appreciate it for the little beach town that it is. After Spanish class we took the bus, and Heather was quite excited to see the bus ride. It has become quite mundane for me, but it really is a gorgeous ride, between rolling green hills and through little villages. Our first stop in Hondarribi was the beach of course! It's funny, I have worked there for a year and a half and have NEVER seen the beach. It was quite big and of course deserted, but as the warm weather comes, I am sure it will be packed. I definitley won't ever go to the Hondarribi beach in the summer - can't imagine seeing all my students when I'm in a bikini. There has to be some student-teacher rule against that no? After some beach strolling we stopped at Il Capo, a cute little Italian restaurant where we sometimes order pizza from at work. With our tummies full with tasty pizza and some pasta we continued our walking tour of the city and headed up the hill to the old part. Alde Zaharra in Euskera if you were curious. This part of town, I have seen before, because sometimes I come to work early and just wander around. The houses are basically built right on top of each other, smooshed into a small walled part of the city. All painted white with green and red (the Basque colors) and sometimes blue accents, the town is quite picturesque and makes you feel like you've really walked into a walled-city from many years ago. The cobblestone roads warn you when a car is coming, which still amazes me that they even fit on the narrow and steep roads. Heather found Hotel Obispo and was tickled pink, because her last name is Bishop - which is Obispo in Spanish! I didn't know that. As time neared for me to go to work, we decided to finish up the trip with a coffee to counteract the wine we had a lunch. We entered the Parador - the 4-star famous hotel in Hondarribi. Built in an old fort, the grey stone blocks made me feel like I was drinking a café con leche in a castle! I wish we could have stayed the night there! When we were finished feeling like queens, I headed across the bridge to work, where Jon and Xabi, my favorite 14-year old students, were anxiously waiting for me. Usually I am at work like 20 minutes early, so arriving 4 minutes early had scared them and they were worried I wasn't going to show haha.

Other than that excursion, nothing too big has happened. I successfully booked my Semana Santa (Easter Week) plans. We have two weeks and for these two weeks I will be hitting Copenhagen, Stockholm, Riga (it's in Latvia - a place I didn't know existed until two weeks ago), and Berlin! Counting down the days! I leave the 26th of March and will of course make blogs alllll about the trip. I will write more blogs before I go for sure, but wanted to share the future plans with you!

Hope your March is starting off well - getting more to the lamb part quickly! It's going to get colder here, so I will pull the boots back on soon, but hopefully not for much longer! I need some warm weather over here! I have started buying flowers every week though - makes it feel more like Spring. This week I bought some daffodils from the center outdoor market and put some blue food-coloring in them to give them a little spice, just like Grammy does! They brighten my day every morning :)