Friday, August 29, 2008

Kobenhavn (a.k.a. Copenhagen)

Copenhagen is an interesting city and has some of the "classic" European things including a castle, a palace, and a windmill. I think compared with other major cities I went to, it has a bit more of an urban, yet still historic feel to it.

* I attended Church and fortunately had all the meetings translated in English with the use of some interesting headphones, amazing technology!! Luckily I wasn't the only one who was wearing them. I still had the opportunity to slaughter the Danish language by attempting to sing the hymns. The Copenhagen temple was around the corner from the chapel and I was glad I could see it. Another highlight for that Sunday was seeing the original Christus statue (as replicated in LDS temple Visitor's Centers). It, as well as the statues of the 12 Apostles by the same artist in the same church, are wonderful works of Christian art. I attempted to catch a Carl Bloch painting but that shall have to wait until a future trip.

I had a nice walk along the harbor and was able to see the Little Mermaid statue. Hans Christian Andersen (no known relation to myself) is the famous Danish author of the tale. Tourists swarmed the statue but I was fortunate to get a few shots.

Fredericksberg Garden was a lovely park to spend a Sunday afternoon in. It even has hammocks! I rocked out, literally.

Copenhagen was still a pretty busy place at night and was bustling with tourists who were enjoying the end of the weekend. There was a long pedestrian street with lots of shops and some museums (I did stay away from the Erotic Museum). Other sites included the Round Tower (one of the oldest observatories in Europe, dating from the 1600s) and the World Clock Tower (supposedly one of the most accurate clocks). I set my travel alarm clock to it, but unfortunately a couple nights later it fell and the battery came out. Oh, well. Someday I would definitely like to go to the top of the Round Tower to get a sweet view of the city.
Some other random observations:
* Outside the train station I saw a male bike-taxi driver wearing a shirt that said "BYU Women's Track" which included the old BYU cougar logo. I thought it was pretty funny. (I know this must seem like an inside joke for some readers.)
* I don't like Copenhagen laundromat dryers. I couldn't get the dryer off of the "cool down" setting. At least the dryer was in English, unlike the washer with which I had to take a complete guess on how to operate.
*It was my reminder to put on sunscreen. Th sun seemed to be on steroids and I did get burned. I had a really nice ankle-sock line the next day to show off with my sandals.
* I cannot praise the strawberries enough. So good! And so good looking!! Not quite like the genetically-induced-oversized - mutant-looking strawberries that I have grown accustomed to in California.
*This was my first time staying at a YMCA hostel. I really had the urge to start singing the YMCA song and do the dance, but I settled for a more discreet whistling of the Village People tune.
*Danish danishes (the pastries, they're not called danishes in Denmark) are, not suprisingly, better in Denmark than the United States. I made sure I bought one at the train station before I left for Norway.
That's Copenhagen in a nutshell. Stay tune for Oslo, Norway next.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


My first and last destination in Scandinavia was the beautiful city of Stockholm. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen. From the greenery, to the cleanliness of the streets, to my favorite part of the city, Gamla Stan (a.k.a. Old Town) with it's history and beauty well preserved including its narrow cobblestone roads, colorful buildings, and numerous waterways. I admit that in my travels that Oslo did prove some good competition as far as "most beautiful city" with its historic buildings, parks, and flowers; but Stockholm does beat it with its beautiful old town, just barely. I had to withhold from expressing my true envy towards the Scandinavians about how beautiful their country is, with their green landscapes, enormous blue skies, rivers, and lakes. I just wanted to shout, "Do you realize how beautiful your country is??" As I continued through my journey and pondered more about it, I did gain a greater appreciation for the composers and artists that had the ability to capture it their patriotism and spiritual connection to their surroundings through brush strokes and musical notes and communicate the feelings that words can't describe. More on that in later posts.

Just a few other things I noticed when I arrived in Sweden:
* I learned that since I know a second language, I automatically go into Spanish mode when I hear a non-English language being spoken. From the time I got off of the plane, all I wanted to speak was Spanish. I even caught some Spanish slipping out. As I progressed through my trip, I wasn't sure if I should speak Norwegian or English and sometimes I felt the ability to verbally communicate in either language abandon me in my moment of need, reducing me to a mute (sometimes mumbling), pointing customer.
*I couldn't help smiling when I saw some pre-teen boys get on the train, sporting some interesting hairstyles. Yes, I thought, I am definately in Europe now.
*Scandinavia is a lot more diverse than I imagined. There is a huge immigrant population, especially from the Middle East and Africa. I had more pita kebabs than Swedish meatballs.
*I found it kinda funny how the airport terminal seating reminded me of Ikea furniture. Same fabric, in "airport-standard" black, yet with a touch of European style and comfort. If I had to take a nap in any airport in the world, Arlanda International would be my top choice.

On my last day in Stockholm, my "big" Stockholm day, I made it to a couple popular tourist sites. The first one was the Vasa Museum. In the 1600's a huge warship with 2 decks of cannons was built. It was set to sail to Poland, where the kings of both countries had some conflicting issues with each other. On its maiden voyage, supposedly to Poland, some gusts of wind toppled the top-heavy ship and it eventually sunk, no more than a mile or two away from the harbor, where it laid underwater for 333 years. Remarkably, due to the amazing Baltic Sea's mix of salt and fresh water in the harbor, the ship was preserved quite well and 95% of the original ship is displayed to the public. It was quite an amazing site! I'm also very glad to not have been a sailor in the 1600's.

After the Vasa museum, I hopped back on the ferry and journeyed to Skansen park, one of the most popular tourist destinations. It's a large park that preserves its Swedish culture and traditions with re-creations of Swedish buildings, shops, farms, windmills, and a small zoo. After eating a waffle with Swedish cloubberry jam and cream, I watched a couple of the craft demonstrations including pottery and glass-blowing. It was cool! As I was leaving Skansen, it began to sprinkle. The sprinkle soon turned into a downpour. The green beauty of Scandinavia does have its cost. I attempted to seek refuge at the National Gallery but I found out that it was closed on Mondays. Despite my little travel umbrella, my feet and legs began to get a bit soaked, and I sought temporary shelter in the tourist center (where I noticed a large collection of Abba CDs for sale, props to the Swedes for their loyalty to their pop culture) and a nearby mall. I made one last stop in Gamla Stan with the hope of a short break in the rain and maybe I could take more pictures. The rain never stopped until I got on the plane the next morning. By evening time I was pretty soaked and decided to stop by the grocery store for dinner and head back to the hostel. I wasn't the only one looking for a warm, dry place. The place was really hopping!! Some of the hostels I had been to were pretty busy, and most people kept to themselves, but this time dozens of people were sitting around and just talking, eating, drinking, and having a good time. I met some of the jovial French and Australian people I was sharing a room with, and talked with a concert pianist from London who was performing in Scandinavia. I met a guy from Zambia who was studying in Stockholm for a few months before he goes on to continue his studies in Spain. Nearby a young men's choir from Germany was singing (and I love it when guys sing) in impressive harmony of songs ranging from the 1950's pop to modern songs. As they started a card game and the beer came out, the singing turned into lots of laughter. It was a fun evening, and a great people watching/meeting experience. Probably for the first time in the trip, I felt like I was one of the first ones to retire early to bed at 12:30 in order to get up at 6:00 for my flight the next morning.

This is just a brief post on Stockholm. I definately want to go there again. Stay tuned for Copenhagen, Denmark next.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Notes On the Train 2

This is from August 3, on my all day trip from Bergen, Norway to Stockholm, Sweden. Just some more random thoughts:

* "Good luck and bad luck continues with the trains. I didn't know I needed a reservation from Oslo to Stockholm. It didn't say anything in my train guide and I was worried when a conductor told me the train was full. I lost my comfortable seat in Karlstad when a young Swedish soccer team invaded the car and I had to settle for a jump seat in the next car. The good news was that my train wasn't late arriving into Oslo, woohoo!!"

*"I still have not bought any real souveneirs. I figured I could always go to the Scandinavian shops in Solvang, or San Diego, San Francisco, Salt Lake City... or any other places that start with an 'S.'"

*"How I hate sitting near the restroom! For the six hours from Bergen to Oslo, I would get an occasional whiff of "public restroom" smell, even though there were 2 doors that separated me from the restroom." Oh, the annoyance...

*"Last night I was assaulted with a bag of Museli in a Bergen grocery store. I guess if this is the worst crime I have to face as a tourist, than so be it. Those crazy Norwegian hooligans..."

Referring to my trip to Voss, Norway the day before. My plan for a day-hike to a waterfall was spoiled by rain and the need to do laundry at a partially-hidden laundromat (where I met a girl from the US who was born not far from where I live and has an aunt in my hometown, small world...). But I did manage to enjoy some of its beauty.

*"Skies are beautiful as usual, in their partly-cloudy manner. I loved how in Voss the clouds would delicately drape over the hills...
I LOVED the wild raspberries in Voss. At first I didn't want to touch them until I knew exactly what they were, but I saw a woman who validated that they were safe to eat. Having been "pre-washed" by the recent rain, I could just pluck them off the bush and pop them in my mouth. Sooo good...
Having recently tried the Voss brand water back in the states, I decided to see if the Voss tap water from the train station sink was any good. The result: Best tap water ever!! Much better than I expected, I don't remember any aftertaste. Huzzah for Voss tap water!! "

"I had a moment of free time that I think, in a "tender-mercy" kind of way, was meant for me to just chill. The batteries in my camera were dead and I had at least an hour before the train back to Bergen arrived. There was a small promontory of rocks that stretched into the lake where I just sat and chilled. It felt pretty cool to be surrounded almost entirely by water. I watched tiny ripples being formed by, as I later discovered, little fish no longer than my little finger. Although I was on vacation, I have found it hard to relax. I am always thinking ahead, trying to plan the evening or the next day, thinking about work, thinking about what I was going to eat next. thinking about finances, a little scared of the fact that I will be starting my new job in a few days. But I tried to soak in the moment and eventually a feeling of peace confirmed that everything will be alright. Enjoy the moment. And I did."
Here's just a few shots of Voss and my chilling spot:

That's it for now. Stay tuned for when I hit Sweden in my next post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Notes on the train

I may have mentioned before that I spent a lot of time on trains while in Europe. A lot of time, some journeys consuming practically my whole day. Most of the time it wasn't bad at all. In fact, one of my favorite parts of my trip was the train ride between Oslo, Norway and Bergen, Norway. I knew Norway was beautiful, but I was practically floored. Here are some of my notes that I wrote while on my journeys:
*Copenhagen to Oslo (a trip that took me four hours longer than I previously planned, one of the rails was closed so I had to hop a bus in Goteburg, Sweden, and take one or 2 more trains from Sweden to Oslo.)
One of the cool things that I noticed as I was standing in a very crowded Swedish train to Goteborg, was a mother and son, both in full back-packing gear. I thought, how cool is that? What a great bonding experience for them both. I'm guessing they were German. The boy, who looked no older than 8 or 9 years old had his own large backpack with a tent hooked to it. Clad in typical outdoor wear, including a bandana around his neck and his shaggy hair poking out from his hat, he looked like he could be a model for REI. They finally were able to get a seat and there was such a tender moment to see the boy napping on his Mom's lap. I really was tempted to take a picture, but circumstances wouldn't let me, and I had no idea how to ask their permission in German. It was a sweet moment. I had seen a lot of young adult backpackers, but this moment was special.
As I spent a lot of time looking at the scenery (and I apologize for lack of pics in this blog, my windows on the trains would not open), it would start to bring out an inner poet. As I was accomplishing my 17 year dream of going to Norway, I could not help expressing some of my thoughts, so here are a couple...
"I stare at the horizon where my dreams and reality meet,
A view only attainable by the hills I climb.
The heavens above watch over me like a protective parent,
Reminding me of its consistency and infinite presence..."

Oslo to Bergen route
It's hard to describe some of the beauty of Norway in English, but here is an attempt with some words that I wrote down:
"Wildflowers of purple, pink, yellow, and white against the green back drop of fields, hills and fjords. Pine tree needles hanging from the boughs like the oversized sleeves of a wizard or the wings of angels. Patches of snow in late July cling settles in the crevices of the hills. Lakes and streams of emerald green. Grass-covered roofs, some occasional livestock, and capsized row boats catch my attention." For a moment I considered living out the rest of my days as a Norwegian shepherd in such scenery, but I realized this would not pay off my loans.

Some notes based on random thoughts from 7/30/08:

"The train system has not been as easy as I thought it would be. I'm stuck in a tunnel on the way to Bergen and we've just been advised to open the windows, (I was in that tunnel fo almost an hour, that's when I broke out my notes and camera and kicked off my shoes a seen above). Oh, and did I mention there's no air-conditioning? I'm beginning to worry about my trip from Bergen to Stockholm, since I jus have such a short window of time to catch the train from Oslo. From one end of a country to the end of another... "
In regards to eating on a shoestring in Europe: "They say man cannot live on bread alone (that's all I had on my train ride). Well, maybe kebab-pitas, an occasional hot dog, water, and chocolate milk can be sufficient. Not very well-balanced, I know. I still await mytaste of the famous Norwegian strawberries (bought at the fish market in Bergen, I liked the ones in Denmark better, but they're soooo good! And little too! And beautiful - almost took a picture of the Danish ones, but was holding out for the Norwegian ones.) I have become a con osier of Scandinavian chocolate milk. My favorite was called Chocio, which I believe was from Denmark. I have also discovered that there is such thing as hot dog dressing. Some dressing comes with a bit of a garlic taste, it was quite good. Sometimes potato salad might be added to the hot dog wrapped in a Scandinavian tortilla. That was new. "
"Phillips batteries stink - will not buy any more of them." I bought 2 packages of Phillips in Copenhagen for my cameras, none of them worked. I tried to uphold this oath when I was looking for camera batteries in Stockholm. Four or five stores - all Phillips. Finally got some more expensive German batteries at an electronic store, but oh, the peace of mind.
"Train seats are more comfortable than airplane seats." I had painful circulation issues on the flight over that kept me up most of the flight. Love the space of train seats.
"Why does a cool lightening storm have to begin once I get back to my hostel?"
"Scary, I'm starting my new job a week from now/ Luckily I have my Tarascon Outpatient Pediatrics pocket book. Something to rotate between my pocket Book of Mormon and Norwegian phrase book."
"Dutch guys rock!"
"Time to liberate my feet from my shoes. They've been so good to me. On Sunday I counted about 6 blisters. I curse my sandals!"

I'm going to leave it at that for now. I'll probably post more thoughts traveling between Bergen and Stockholm.