"To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom....Since our office is with moments, let us husband them."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Familial Events

While my family was here for 8 days we did more than just eat Christmas dinner and celebrate Thanksgiving. One night we went to Tivoli to see it all lit up. It was gorgeous. The only thing that could have made it better was snow, but I think that may have been asking for too much.

We also managed to stumble upon a winter light show over the little lake in the park. It was pretty cool.After taking that in we headed over to the Glass Theatre, which is also in the park, to see the 25th annual Crazy Christmas Cabaret. This is an original comedy show put on every year by a British woman, who writes a new script for each show. This year was a parody of Around the World in 80 Days, which was titled Around the World in 80 Minutes. The majority of the show was either raunchy humor or stereotypical jokes about different parts of the world. This show in general is quite the crowd pleaser, as over 75% of the 1,000 people attending were repeat visitors. That number of people coming back year after year lets the writer include some recurring themes from year to year, which meant sometimes the crowd was laughing hysterically only at the appearance of certain characters. My family, especially my Dad, loved it, and as expected we laughed the hardest at the jokes regarding the good ole USA and its NRA president George Brush. Personally, I was excited that I was able to understand the jokes about Danish culture. Made me really feel like I have become somewhat integrated.

Another day we took a trip outside the city to the town of Roskilde, which sits on a fjord, and use to be capitol of Denmark way back when. There are two primary attractions there, and we saw both. First was the Roskilde Domkirke which is an old Catholic Church, which is now Lutheran Reformed, where all the Danish Kings and Queens have been buried. It was a unique place, and somewhere I had been wanting to go for quite a while. Second was the Viking Ship Museum, where remnants of 5 Viking ships that were scuttled in the Fjord had been put back together. It was amazing to see wood that dated back to the 11th century.

My favorite activity took place on Sunday night. After a dinner in a restaurant that dated back to the 13th or 14th century we all headed back to my parents apartment, where I had left my laptop. We got back from dinner just in time to start watching the Browns game in the 2nd quarter. This was special for a couple reasons. One, I hardly get to watch any Cleveland sports games with my Dad anymore, which was always our main thing. Two, I'm not sure if I'll get another chance to watch a Browns game with him this year just due to scheduling. Three, this is the first season since 2002 that they have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. To top it off, the Browns won the game against the Ravens in incredibly bizarre fashion (I'll spare you all the details), making it a game to remember.

That's all the recap I'm going to do on my parents visit. In other travel related news, I'm off to Vienna for the weekend tomorrow. I'm quite excited to see this gorgeous city in winter and explore everything it has to offer. I'm sure I'll take lots of pictures and fill you in with how the trip went. Luckily, it's only a weekend so there won't be too much to say.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

So as I mentioned in my previous post, my family came over for Thanksgiving. One of the main events was making Thanksgiving dinner for my host family. First, when I told my host family that my real family was coming over towards the beginning of my stay in Denmark, they were so relieved. I guess DIS explains to the host families the importance of Thanksgiving to American's, and especially American students as its normally a time when they return home. All of this information made them nervous about the whole situation, and they were more than happy to pass off the meal to my family and me.

The preparations began a week ahead of my family's arrival, as shopping lists and cooking utensils were cross-referenced. This led my host family confused as they had no idea what all this food could be for, or why we needed a 6 kilo turkey (about 12.2 lbs) for only 8 people. Working on a deadline of the Thanksgiving meal taking place Wednesday night, my mom had her first Danish shopping experience the Monday before. She managed to find almost everything. Anything she couldn't find initially, my host Dad helped her with on Tuesday evening. Later that night the pumpkin pies were baked. When I got back from a DIS dinner that night, I just couldn't help but beam as the smell of pumpkin wafted down to me as soon as I entered the door.

Wednesday was then the big cooking day. Unfortunately, I had a major group assignment/presentation due the next day so I wasn't around too much. This meant I missed my favorite part of cooking, which is the browning of the onions and celery for the stuffing. The aromas associated with that step just whets my appetite and gets me prepped for the meal. When I did return, my nostrils were treated to an even better smell and caused me to announce to absolutely no one that "Its Thanksgiving!". I lended my assistance for the final steps, but for the most part the meal was set.

As we sat down on the table we were greeted by turkey napkins and an amazing meal: turkey, mashed potatoes, homemade cranberry applesauce, cranberry jelly, stuffing, carrots cooked in brown sugar and raisins, gravy, pumpkin bread, and a pretty nice Ohio Amish red wine. A true feast!

So the most important part of this meal was my host family's reaction. I think its safe to say that they were pleasantly surprised, especially regarding how all the flavors meshed together. I can also proudly say that my host brothers acted like Americans and absolutely stuffed themselves. I had never seen Victor eat so much, and Marc must have had four helpings of mashed potatoes. All and all, the meal was a huge success! The last surprise of the evening was people's reactions to my mom's pumpkin pies, which were excellent as usual. My host parents were not expecting it to be like it was. The texture and lightness really threw them for a loop.

The only negative of the meal was that my host family had no idea what to do with all the left-overs, as its not something they are used to (and I'm sure I've mentioned this before). I managed to make a bowl of potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and gravy to have for lunch the next day, and I was able to extend the shelf life of the applesauce to today, and the pumpkin pie to yesterday, although, sadly, it was thrown out with four pieces left!

After dinner one of the best parts of the evening happened. My whole family went down to my room and we called both sets of grandparents via Skype. Needless to say, they were both shocked to be receiving a call from Copenhagen that was coming form a computer. It was great to hear how excited they were by hearing my voice as well as the rest of my family's.

Overall, the transplantation of Thanksgiving across the Atlantic was a huge success, and I think a true cultural experience for my host family to take part in. And perhaps most importantly, I got my favorite meal, and was able to enjoy it with my family, so I was more than satisfied!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Christmas 24/7

Note: My parents and brother recently spent a week in Copenhagen visiting me, during their time off for Thanksgiving. This will be the first of 3 posts about their visit.

Thanksgiving is a great holiday. In fact, it may be my favorite. And I'll go all into what it was like in Denmark in my next post. But, while here, I think I determined a very important function for this holiday. It tells everyone exactly when they can start to think about Christmas.

See, in Denmark, Thanksgiving doesn't exist. No Indians or Pilgrims. This also means they have no established date in their calendar of when Christmas thinking should begin. So it becomes an arbitrary process, at best. And in my opinion, they arbitrarily decided way too early. Christmas decorations, music, and advertisements first started appearing on the streets and in the stores of Copenhagen almost 2 full weeks ago. And, since the country is pretty much completely homogeneous, and the country's official religion is Reformed Lutheran, there are no public qualms about decorating. So, pretty much, everything is covered!

Not only that, but Christmas is a huge holiday for the Danes in terms getting together with friends and family and sharing a meal. However, because there are so many friends and family, these meals have already started. And, because these meals have begun, restaurants have started to cater their menu for Christmas meals. What this means is that while my parents and brother were here, we had pretty much the same food 3 nights, because it was the only option on the menu. Don't get me wrong -- I love the Danish Christmas meal, and I really like the fact that it's a set meal like Thanksgiving, but there's only so many times you can have it in a week. Three types of herring, smoked salmon, shrimp, fried plaice, beets, red cabbage, tomato, liver pate, chicken salad, roast pork, roast duck, apples and prunes, potatoes cooked in brown sugar, pickles, crackers, cheese, and rice pudding. With that kind of lineup, once is enough.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Can't Help But Look Up

Denmark is fairly far north. It is situation around 55 degrees North latitude. That's equivalent to the southern tip of Alaska. This means that the lighting patterns are very similar to Alaska. For example, today's sunrise was at 8:03 AM, and today's sunset will be at 3:50 PM. Pretty Early. Which means it gets very dark very early. While this can be incredibly disheartening and can manage to throw anyone's internal clock way off, I'm attempting to find some good in it. So far, the only positive thought I can manage in regards to leaving class and thinking its 10:00 PM is that it makes the end of my commute home really splendid. I don't know if its the clear, winter skies, but the stars seem to be shining much more brightly now, and once I enter my neighborhood on my bike, my speed slows way down, and I pedal with my eyes firmly affixed above. I love looking at the stars no matter where I am, and there's something relaxing and perhaps charming about them. And as long as I manage to stay upright on my bike, and not run into anything, I will continue to look forward to getting the chance to look up.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Feeling a little Danish

When I walk the streets of Copenhagen no one confuses me with the native Danes. I don't have people tell me I could pass as a Dane. My Danish language skills are non-existent. In other words, even though I've been here for over 3 months in some ways I still feel very much like a guest in the country. However, there are two times each week for some unknown reason that I feel quite Danish. After my Human Health & Disease course on Tuesdays and Fridays I have a 20 minute walk home. Normally, I occupy myself with my iPod, and as I walk down Amagergade I feel Danish. I feel like I belong, and that this place is as much mine as anyone else's. And that is a really great feeling.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Positive Outlook on Life

It's important to go through life with a positive outlook. It just makes everything seem better. So, I strongly advocate this concept; however, not if one has to have delusional thoughts to make it possible. Take for example the Swedish nationalistic views in the mid 1700's from Karin Johannisson's article about Swedish Mercantilism:

"Moreover, the Nordic climate was unusually favourable, a number of writers maintained. The cold protected the people from infectious diseases and made them 'merry, lively, and manly'. The snow on the ground prevented nutritious substances from evaporating and, when it melted, transformed the rotting leaves and needles into rich humus. The woods were teeming with useful game -- "if anyone seriously tried to domesticate our moose, they might well become our camels" -- and lakes and rivers were swarming with salmon and other splendid fish, pearl-filled molluscs, oysters and lobsters. The people could also rejoice over what the Swedish climate spared them from. They were spared from the burning sun of hotter countries 'where the people, drained by the heat, for much of the year must splash around all day in their water barrels'. They could walk in the forests without fear of tigers, lions, leopards, and apes and they could fish in the lakes and rivers without being frightened by dreadful hippopotamuses and bloodthirsty crocodiles. Given persevering application, all this splendour would show a wonderful capacity to multiply. 'When wilderness and wastes are cultivated, a whole new land will be created, much more fruitful than this, milder in climate, pleasanter in ever way, rich and able to support and feed many million people more than now.'"

That's what I imagine when I think of Sweden, too!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Michigan still wins at some things

As some if not most of you know, yesterday was the Michigan - OSU football game to determine the Big Ten champion. And while Michigan lost, again -- it's time to go Lloyd -- there was one aspect Michigan beat Ohio State at: number of fans in Copenhagen. As I was walking around downtown yesterday I saw a Dane -- he was speaking Danish and everything, so there's no chance he was a tourist in disguise -- sporting his maize and blue paraphernalia, including a block M hat. I can lovingly report that I saw 0 Ohio State colors, insignia, etc. When you've lost 5 years in a row, one has to take solace in any moral victory one can get.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Accent Troubles

I have problems with accents. I just can't imitate them. My friends can attest to my horrible attempts at an English accent. Not only can I not do them, I don't have one myself, especially when it comes to speaking in a foreign language. All my time spent in Germany has consisted of me speaking in German, and being talked back to in English, all because I have an American German accent. And the easiest way to spot a non-native speaker of a language is their accent. Here in Denmark, normally the roles are reversed. I'm listening to non-native English speakers, and normally I notice an accent. However, I have been thrown for a loop a couple times in the last week. First, about a week ago, I was ordering a chai tea from a Baresso (a Danish Starbucks) near DIS, and speaking in English when one of the girls behind the counter asks me where I'm from. This isn't a normal question I get while being out and about in Copenhagen. Typically, this would be a question asked by someone else not for Denmark. Then, to confound things, she didn't have an accent. Or to put it more precisely, she had an American accent to go along with her English. I was confused. Was she an American living/working in Denmark? So I sheepishly asked where she was from. Copenhagen. I was pretty embarrassed. Turned out though she spent a year in Michigan during high school. Same thing happened on Wednesday at the hospital. One of the doctors I was shadowing starts talking to me in perfect American English. Confused again, I ask where she's from. Denmark. She just spent some time at Vanderbilt in Nashville studying. Almost all the Danes speak very good English, but I have to say I'm impressed by these two's American accents. They are the first I've heard in Denmark. Now if I could just manage that in Germany.

Got a boo boo? Go to the ER!

If you haven't figured out already from my posts, the Danish and the American health care systems are quite different. On Wednesday, I was able to experience the Danish in action as I shadowed one of my professors for the morning. We spent most of our time in the ER as she was the on-call doctor for surgical consults. Granted, I haven't spent that much time in American ER's to truly comment, but overall, the Danish version seemed to operate in much the same manner. The one major difference was the utilization of the ER by the Danes. Remember, Danes' health care is covered by the taxes they pay, so a visit to the ER doesn't cost them anything extra. This, in turn, leads to some people coming in for things that they really shouldn't. This included a twisted ankle that wasn't even swollen, and a single in-grown hair on a person's back. The first got nothing, the second got a band-aid. The other interesting aspect was how serious they take possible infectious disease. One woman came in with diarrhea and vomiting. She was immediately isolated, and both the nurses and doctors wore a second layer of clothing that was immediately removed upon leaving the room. While this may seem over the top, it does work. Denmark is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a true resistance to penicillin. Spending 5 hours in the hospital was great, and made me realize I had really never done anything like that before -- just being on the floor of the hospital and seeing patients as opposed to observing surgeries. Mathilde, my professor, was a little upset by the fact that I couldn't have any of my own patients just because nothing presented itself. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to go back before I head home and maybe then I'll get my first patient!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Dangerous Commute

Everyone in Copenhagen bikes to commute. This topic has been addressed multiple times by me already. What could there possibly be to add? How about the fact that Danes bike to commute all year round, which includes yesterday morning after it snowed the night before!

First, everyone was incredibly excited for the first day of snow. In fact, it meant "that winter is really here now," or something along those lines. The event coincided well with Sunday night's meal, which was a typical Christmas dinner, as it was some holiday that I don't even think my host parents truly understand -- they had to look it up on a calendar just to know when it was.

The snowfall was nothing extraordinary, a light dusting that managed to stick to the ground, but it was more than enough to make for an interesting commute the next morning. I quickly realized this when trying to turn a corner and felt my bike wheels slipping on the slippery stuff. For the rest of the way to the bus stop I was that Ohio driver who slows down to 20 mph just because of a little snow on the road. I felt like it was the better choice then having my butt on the ground.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dealing with pain/suffering? That'll be 150 DKK

Once again the Danes have a great concept regarding health care. This time its in regards to patient compensation for malpractice and in this case there is no doubt in my mind that this should be implemented in the states. The Danish system is not even comparable to the American system. They are night and day. Just in case you are not aware, the American system is based on litigation and the court system. Personal injury lawyers have ads everywhere, telling patients that if things didn't go perfectly that court is the answer, because that's where patients can receive compensation. This, in turn, requires doctors to spend money on malpractice insurance to cover themselves in case a patient proceeds with a lawsuit against them. It doesn't even matter if the doctor did nothing wrong; there is nothing stopping frivolous lawsuits. So there's the recap on the American system.

Now for the Danish system. The Danes base their system on no fault compensation. For full information on the system check out this website: http://uk.patientforsikringen.dk/public/dokumenter/

I'll do my best to try to summarize the information. First, the patient compensation is looked at as a patient's right, therefore all patients are covered by this "insurance" in pretty much all cases, except for dental care. The compensation scheme applies to injuries caused by both examination and treatment. But there are limits, as you cannot obtain compensation for an injury caused by the illness or accident for which you were treated, nor can you obtain compensation for treatment not leading to the recovery you expected. Compensation can be paid if the injury was in all probability caused in one of the following ways: if the injury could have been avoided by better treatment; if the injury is due to the malfunction or failure of technical apparatus and instruments, etc.; if the injury could have been avoided using another treatment technique or method of equal efficacy; if the injury is very unusual and serious in relation to the disease you were treated for and therefore goes beyond what you should reasonably have to endure. Compensation itself is fixed in accordance with the provisions of the Danish Liability for Damages Act. Compensation can be paid for loss of earnings, loss of ability to work, permanent damage, and pain and suffering. Compensation can also be paid for recovery costs resulting from the treatment. In the case of pain and suffering there is a cap set at 150 DKK per day, or about $30 per day A board consisting of doctors and governmental workers determine if claims are appropriate and deserve compensation.

This system creates equality amongst all patients, and also acknowledges that doctors are human and can make mistakes and should not have to be punished to provide compensation for the patient. If the doctor has made a grievous error than there is a board that can provide appropriate punishment. What this allows, though, is for doctors to practice medicine in a non-defensive posture, as they do not have to constantly protect themselves. All in all, a much better system than what the states makes use of. Again, the hangup with implementing a system like this in America would be the issue of where the government would get the funds to provide compensation as it would probably require more taxes, which are never popular with the American public. Nonetheless, in my opinion, this is a great system that would make medicine better for all involved.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Where am I again?

Forgive me if I seem uncertain where I am at certain times in my life. I blame my professors at both Carleton and DIS for this. Upon my return from traveling a common theme in my classes has been to spend the first few minutes and name the cities where people went. In my Human Health & Disease course this included both of my professors as well. It turns out that they spent a week in the United States at a DIS seminar, which happened to be taking place in Minneapolis, Minnesota where DIS is headquartered. This also meant that they took an hour drive south and spent a day at Carleton. It's kind of odd to think that my Danish professors have been to Carleton more recently than me. Henriette had two impressions of her trip worth sharing. First, she couldn't believe the minuscule size of our dorm rooms. She has no idea how we can live in such a place. Maybe Carleton should take notice of this. Second, the rural areas south of the twin cities reminded her a lot of southern Sweden, so if any of you were contemplating a trip to southern Sweden save your money and visit me instead!

Then to add to my confusion I received an e-mail yesterday from Herr Paas, who is the head of the German department at Carleton, and was my professor for German 204 last fall. It turns out that he and a couple of Carleton administrators are going to be coming to Copenhagen for a seminar or something, and they want to take some Carls (Carleton students) out for dinner. This will then be my second encounter with a Carleton professor at DIS.

For the recap. DIS professors going to Carleton. Carleton professors going to DIS. So this begs the question, where am I again?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Final Travel Thoughts

Whew! Three straight weeks of traveling is a lot. Still, it was a great experience that I wouldn't have changed at all. Just in case you haven't already read, below are posts about a lot of the places I visited and some of the things I saw and took part in. Also, all of my pictures are now posted on Webshots for your perusal. But now for my concluding thoughts.

First, it was insane the different kinds of transportation I made use of. Automobile. Charter bus. Ferry. Streetcar. Metro. Local Train. Regional Train. National Train. Night Train. Airplane. Public bus. I pretty much did it all. Shows how well Europe is connected.

Second, I have come to the conclusion that everyone -- Americans that is -- should do Europe twice. Once as a student. There are just certain experiences people get traveling on the cheap that they would never get if they had money, such as staying at hostels and meeting the people there or eating at cafeterias. It's just a different and enjoyable way to travel. With that said, I also feel that people should go back to Europe when they have more money to truly enjoy some of the more expensive luxuries Europe affords such as great food. This is definitely a blueprint I plan on following.

Along some of those same lines the people I met, especially in Florence were great. It was also interesting to note the differences in ages and what that made the trip be for each person. For example, I met two college aged students that were taking some time off from school and just enjoying Europe. But then I also met two people that were 30+ who almost seemed to be escaping from certain aspects of their life by traveling to Europe. I found this dichotomy to be quite intriguing, and really nothing more.

So it was a great trip, but I am definitely not looking forward to going back to school. DIS doesn't do any favors as I have an exam on Friday and a presentation due in a week. But still, less than 2 months of classes, and then I'm done. Time has really been flying.

The last two months aren't just classes, though. I still have plenty of excitement to look forward to. First, my parents and brother will be here in less than two weeks to spend a week in Copenhagen and celebrate Thanksgiving with me and my family. Then a week later I will be taking a weekend trip to Vienna to experience that amazing city in the winter. Then finally, once classes are done I'll be spending a couple days in London before heading home. So I definitely have things besides classes to keep me occupied.

Siena and the end

After a very easily hour and a half train ride south, Liza and I arrived in Siena, which is a small, kind of touristy town in the heart of Tuscany. Our first sight was cathedral of San Domenico, which was built in the 1220’s in completely red brick. The coolest aspect of the church is not its age, though, but rather the fact that it displays human remains. St. Catherine is the patron saint for both all of Europe and also Siena, and her head and finger are proudly displayed for all to see. Her actual head and her actual finger. I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand the Catholic concept of relics, even after taking a class in it at Carleton. We then headed through town, which itself is from the medieval times and only open to pedestrians to Il Campo, which is the famous town square. It is a huge opening surrounded by buildings and the town hall, that is covered in bricks, which quite surprisingly are burnt sienna in color. The square reminded me a lot of a gigantic bald spot, as there were people, mostly university student age, sprawled across it enjoying the late morning sun – just like Carleton during spring term.

We then enjoyed another fantastic lunch at a small hole in the wall place, where there was no menu. Liza and I split our pasta dishes, homemade tortellini and homemade ravioli. For the second course I had no idea what my options were so I told the waiter/owner to give me his favorite. After receiving translation help from an Italian customer, the owner understood and placed an order of lamb for me. It did not disappoint. It was a great last real meal for the trip, and a good way to remember Italian cooking.

Post lunch Liza and I headed towards the last major tourist sight in SienaSiena’s Duomo or cathedral. This was a stunning building regarding both the exterior and interior, which were both made of white and green marble that was layered in stripes. Perhaps the most dazzling aspect of the interior was the floor. Most of it was covered, but the parts left open for us to see were made of marble that was placed in various scenes. It was unbelievable. I can’t imagine seeing the entire floor at one time.

Our last “event” of the trip was buying Liza a new book for her trip back to Budapest. We found this cute little American bookstore of the main pedestrian road, run by a middle-aged American. Liza and I both had thoughts that that would be a cool thing to do as a job, if either of us ever wanted to spend any serious amount of time somewhere in Europe.

Upon leaving Siena, Liza and I had a long night of travel to look forward to. First, it was an hour and a half train ride back to a suburban Florence station. There, we enjoyed our dinner of salami and cheese sandwiches, which hit the spot perfectly during our hour layover. We then had a 2-hour train ride to Bologna central where we arrived around midnight. We then had a 4-hour layover until our next train. That was an experience. Luckily, we found a waiting area and were able to claim some seats for part of the time; however, the room was still freezing and definitely had a particular odor. Sleep was not easy to come by there. Finally, we had a 3-hour train ride back to Milan central, which was highlighted by seats not meant for sleeping and an incredibly cold compartment. We then had our last food in Italy at a little café outside the train station after which Liza and I got on our separate buses to head to our different departing airports. Our trip was done, as was my three straight weeks of travel. My next post will have some overall thought about the entire time as well as information on other things happening in my life that find important, but haven’t yet shared.

The Inferno: Florence

The next stop on the Italy trip was the Renaissance city of Florence. This city in many ways mimicked my reading of the Inferno by Dante this summer – including Dante lived in Florence for true symmetry. My main problem with the Inferno was that all I ever knew was the general concept of what was going on. Dante made way too many references to ancient Greek gods and goddesses that I had no knowledge about. This resulted in a very hollow reading of the book and the desire to read it again in a class setting where these things could be explained to me. I had the exact same feeling with Florence. Florence is a city of art and architecture, neither of which are my specialties – nor do I really have any passing level of knowledge either. This led to in some ways a very hollow visit as well, as I felt like I wasn’t really appreciating the things I was seeing simply due to ignorance. What this means is that I can say I saw the David – which I did – and that I went to the Uffizi – which I did – but I didn’t really “see” either of them. I guess Florence will be due a second visit either after taking a class or two – probably unlikely – or with a tour guide of some sort – much more likely.

So in Florence we had three big visits. I’ve already mentioned the first two – the Academia where David is and the Uffizi – and the other one was to the main cathedral simply known as the Duomo. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the Science museum as one of the days I was in Florence was All Saints Day – November 1 – and a lot of places were closed. The Duomo was magnificent from the outside to say the least. Its grandeur was only increased when Liza told me that the entire structure was constructed without scaffolding, and that no one knew how to build the domed top for over 100 years. Not only did we due the typical tourist walk through, which as cathedrals go, was somewhat disappointing – apparently most of the art, etc. has been moved across the street to the Duomo museum, which we did not visit – but we also attended the night mass on All Saints Day. This was my first and possibly only Catholic mass. It was most certainly a unique experience. Not only do you have all the Catholic ritual, but you also have it taking place in Italian. It created a very foreign experience. Somewhat oddly, what my attendance did cause was a desire to attend a church service back home, which I haven’t done in quite a while. Sadly, I don’t even know how much of a possibility that is with the little time I’m at home during my break, but that’s a different story. The one cathedral that was absolutely breathtaking from the outside was the Santa Croce cathedral. I never went in due to the cost, but it is where Galileo is buried along with Dante:

Unfortunately, the Italians have some weird rules about photography. A lot of museums and cathedrals will allow you to photograph as long as you don’t make use of your flash; however, none of the museums or cathedrals in Florence would allow any interior pictures, which means that I’m lacking a fair number of typical pictures that I would normally take.

There were some very important gestational discoveries made in Florence. In terms of food itself, we learned first hand how expensive Italy really is. This caused us to pack one meal a day and eat decently the other. One fun meal was at a self-service restaurant much like the one in Genoa, where we were able to stuff ourselves with pretty decent Italian for a relatively cheap amount of money. But by far our best meal was at this little trattoria we ate at for lunch one day. It was an incredibly small place, with tables and chairs stuffed in every available inch, and you shared tables with other patrons to maximize the space. There was also no menu, as it changed daily and the waitress just ran through it quickly once you had sat down. It had amazing pasta, and my second course was an incredibly tender piece of beef that was lightly fried and covered in tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. Liza was a bit more thrilling and tried tongue. I had a bite or two and have to admit not being a big fan. It’s just weird to imagine eating a cow’s tongue. I also had some amazing gelato, as apparently Florence is known for this specialty. I feel like even if was the freezing outside – and Florence was warm, but it wasn’t that warm – that I could indulge myself with good gelato or ice cream. Perhaps the biggest food discovery was my wine preference. Obviously, being in Italy a fair amount of wine was consumed, and I have to admit to being – at least at this stage in my life and at this stage of my limited wine tasting career – a fan of white wines. They just tasted better to me than the reds, although I have been told this is a little odd, and that red wine is more of an acquired taste. I guess time will tell.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Florence was our accommodations. Being the cheap students we are, Liza and I tracked down the cheapest decent accommodations possible. This turned out to be a campground right near Piazza Michelangelo, which meant we had an amazing view overlooking the city and the river. We stayed in a quite spacious house tent; however, it was still a tent, which meant no heat, no electricity, and no power outlets. This led to us sleeping in multiple layers and piling on the blankets, as well as a conservation of cell phone and battery power, and spending time outside at the bar/café.

Spending time there, however, was great, as unlike in Genoa, we were able to meet some really cool people. There were about six of us including Liza and myself that hung out for three nights. The other four were all from Oceania, three Australians, and one New Zealander. Two of the Aussies were dating, while the third was on their own. We had our self-proclaimed “posse” which shared stories about our travels, home, and also just in some good fun and company. I can easily see where this aspect of traveling can be addicting.

Our last morning in Florence was spent sending a couple last e-mails while we had internet access and then enjoying an amazing breakfast at the king of breakfast restaurants – McDonald's. There was one right by the train station that we made use of as we were leaving later that morning for our last city, Siena. Oddly enough, I also ran into a friend from DIS who was also on the Czech Trek with me who was on her way to Venice. This was the second DIS person I had seen while in Florence. It’s amazing how small of a world it is.

Snow and Palm Trees

The next day was another travel day as Liza and I left Genoa for Florence. This travel involved about 4 hours of train rides, which were highlighted by some interesting occurrences. For the first train ride we were going from Genoa to La Spieza, which took us on a route that hugged the coast. Despite the rain, we were greeted with some great views of mountains right on the coast of the sea, along with numerous palm trees. It had a very Florida like feel, except for the presence of the mountains. In La Spieza we changed trains as we began our trip to Florence. This also brought about a totally different kind of scenery. Now when we looked out our window we were once again greeted by mountains, but this time it was the southern edge of the Italian Alps, which already had seen some snowfall. Talk about a dichotomy of climates. Snow, coupled with palm trees, and neither being artificial!

Another crazy thing happened on the second train. Liza and I were enjoying our gourmet lunch of peanut butter and nutella sandwiches when another American couple, asked us what it was we were eating with the peanut butter. We explained about nutella, and started talking with them. Of course, they asked us if we were studying in Europe and where we went to school, etc. When we told them we went to Carleton and began to explain about it being a small liberal arts school in Minnesota they interrupted us, and quickly interjected that their son goes to Carleton. It gets better. He is also a junior. Still better. He was my next-door neighbor last year in Goodhue! Talk about a crazy small world. We ended up chatting with the couple for 20 minutes or so until they got off the train discussing traveling and studying in Europe, and various Carleton things as well, such as the new dorm to be built and the current status of the dinning halls. Who knows whom we’ll end up running into in Florence.

A City on a Hill

Genoa was exactly what I wanted. Exactly. A gorgeous Italian city on the Mediterranean with great weather. For example, what kind of flora first greeted me outside the train station? A palm tree, of course:

This city is famous for a few separate things. First, pesto and ravioli were invented here. Second, this is Christopher Columbus’ hometown. Third, it has a quite extensive medieval quarter. Fourth, it boasts the second largest aquarium in Europe. But that’s it. This is not your typical tourist destination, especially in comparison to other Italian cities. The amount of sights was perfect for my 1.5 days that I spent there.

My second impression of the city – my first was based on the palm tree sighting – was that I felt like I was backpacking as I rode the bus to the hostel for the first night. Never before in my life had I seen so many switchbacks on a road. That’s pretty much all we took the entire way up. What it does create is this very interesting cityscape as the building right next to the one you are in is only 5 feet away, but its also 10 feet lower. This pattern continues all the way to the water’s edge. Supposedly, this is similar to how San Francisco is constructed. I’ve never been to California, so I have no idea.

The first morning Liza and I walked down into town, which was awesome. We went down these narrow alleys and lanes, and numerous staircases, amongst all the houses that line the hill. It gave a really interesting perspective of the city itself. Eventually, we made our way down to the more touristy areas with the old buildings and churches, along with the famous Italian piazzas. We walked around for quite a while until we made our way to the aforementioned aquarium. Of course we went in. It was pretty fun, and of course, to demonstrate that there are connections to other people throughout the world at all times, one of the exhibits was on the biodiversity of Madagascar, which is where one of Liza and my mutual friends is studying. We then ate lunch on a bench near the water and enjoyed the warming effects of the sun’s rays – I had not seen the sun for about a week previously. We then continued to walk around the historic center, where we found an internet café where Liza excitedly learned that the Red Sox swept the Rockies to win the World Series. I guess if the Indians had to lose to someone in the playoffs its good that it was the eventual league champions. Another interesting find during our walking was Genoa’s “red light” street. Walking down one narrow alley we intersected another one that was completely lined with prostitutes, and this was at two in the afternoon no less! A more important and useful find was a gelato shop, where I had amazing raspberry gelato. Oh, do the Italians know how to do food. All this walking also led me to another impression of Genoa. If Copenhagen is known for everyone riding bikes – and rightfully so – then Genoa needs to be known for everyone riding scooters. Take a look:

The other interesting tidbit regarding Genoa that came about was the hostel where I was staying. First, it is the only hostel in the city so there are not a lot of options for those travelling on a budget. Still, I was shocked by the clientele making use of the accommodations. There were only a handful of students like me. Otherwise, you hadyoung families, old families, old couples, young couples, and older travelers going along. I have never seen such a hodgepodge of characters at a hostel. Normally, fine accommodations such as these are reserved only for students like me – on a very tight budget.

Just because we were staying somewhere cheap doesn’t mean that our dining followed the same pattern – it tended to be cheap, but very good. For example, that night Liza and I ate at a self-service place off of the main shopping street in Genoa. Imagine a high scale cafeteria. For 13 euro I was able to get a 2-course dinner, salad, fruit salad, and bread, and this was a high quality meal no less. Liza and I were both proud of our find, even if it was recommended to us by a website. We finished dinner around 9pm and when we left we were absolutely shocked to find the streets of Genoa deserted and all the stores closed. Apparently, Genoa isn’t much of a party city. That night another trend continued as I was greeted by fireworks from the harbor as I was getting ready for bed. I never figured out exactly why there were fireworks, but it was an impressive display, and very interesting to see from the perspective of being on top of the hill, which allowed me to look down upon them. This was the third time I had seen fireworks in the last 3 weeks, though. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues. In my room that night I also met a really interesting guy. His name was Guillermo, and he hailed form Le Mans, France. He was 7 months in to a 2-3 year trip biking around Europe. He was not using a motorbike, but rather the standard bicycle. So far he had gone through France, the entire coast of Spain and Portugal, back through France, and was just starting Italy. He hopes to continue along the Mediterranean until he works his way to Egypt and Turkey. There, he’ll make the executive decision about continuing on to Asia, which he wants to do if he has enough money, or to continue through Eastern Europe and eventually head back home. Not bad for 3 years of travel.

A Day of Travel

Getting around Europe on public transportation has already been an adventure. Luckily, this trip, while more complicated than my travel plans from a couple days ago, went much more smoothly. Still, it was a get-on, get-off journey. First, we had to walk about 5 minutes from Liza’s flat to the tram stop nearby. We took the tram a couple stops until we reached the metro station. The metro was utilized until the end of its line, which stopped at a bus station. We then rode the bus for another 30 minutes or so to the airport. At the airport, our plane ended up being delayed by an hour or so, which seemed to be pretty typical of all the flights leaving the terminal – mind you, it was the budget terminal. We also didn’t immediately get on the plane either – we had to take a bus to board the plane. After the hour and a half flight to Milan, we then took another bus to disembark from the plane to the terminal in Milan. Once we gathered our luggage it was yet another bus ride, this time about an hour, to get into the city central and the main train station. There, we bought our ticket for that night and grabbed a quick dinner from a pizza stand. On a side note, maybe it’s the mental realization that I was in Italy and thus the Italian food should be really good, but the calzones I had were amazing. We then caught an hour and a half train south to Genoa, which is the first stop on our weeklong Italian sojourn. Still, once we arrived in Genoa we weren’t done. It was another 40-minute bus ride up to the hostel (more on this later) before we could finally say we were done traveling for the day. Time of departure: 12:45 pm. Time of arrival 10:35 pm. Quite a day.

Buda or Pest?

That is the question if you are living in this gorgeous Eastern European country on the Danube. And for my gracious hosts, the answer was and is central Pest. Liza met me at the train station around 1:00pm – 3 hours later than expected – and took me back to the flat she is sharing with two other Carls, Haggai and David. After getting the first food since dinner the night before, and getting a chance to throw some of my dirty clothes in the wash, Liza showed me around her new home city.

Budapest is definitely Eastern Europe – possibly even more so than any other city that I have traveled to thus far, or will travel to on this trip as well. However, it is absolutely gorgeous as well. We walked by St. Peter’s Basilica, which is absolutely enormous and its grandeur matches its size as well, and then walked across the Danube into Buda where we strolled along the river getting stunning views of Budapest Castle and Palace, another cool church, and perhaps most spectacular, the Hungarian Parliament, which might be the most magnificent building that I have ever seen in my life. But don’t trust me – form your own opinion:

We then met back up with Haggai, David, and Liza’s new boyfriend Dan at their apartment and went down the street to one of Liza’s favorite local spots for dinner. Almost all of us had a scrumptious gypsy steak, which was a heavily peppered cut of pork, with the much needed garnishment of fat from somewhere on the pig on top. Post dinner Liza and I hung out at one of her favorite bars, where unfortunately there was not any traditional gypsy music. Evidently, on Tuesday nights there is a band that plays absolutely amazing music. We were only entertained by some odd religious a capella.

The next morning, with the little time I had left in Budapest, I was busy finishing laundry and getting packed and all set for a week in Italy, which was slightly disappointing, as I would have enjoyed having some more time to explore Budapest and be a tourist there. Nonetheless, the warmer weather of Italy is/was quite inviting.

Prague: A City of Serendipity

The arrival into Prague was uneventful. It was also the only portion of the trip that would retain that designation. Pretty much every event/thing/item that followed getting off the bus in the city had some unique twist to it. First, upon arrival a group of us attempted to find our hostel with no real directions or true sense of where we were. About 20 minutes and a lot of steps later we finally found the place. Once we became settled, we then headed towards to Old Town square. There we found the Old Town Hall and the Astronomical Clock. Prior to continuing, we decided that some lunch was in order, and quite randomly stumbled upon a great little pub that had traditional Czech food, so we ended up all ordering the same meal – the goulash – which was splendid to say the least.

After lunch, we explored a bit of the Jewish quarter and then continued on to one of the lesser-known bridges crossing the Vltava River. It afforded some great views of the more famous Charles Bridge, which nicely allowed for a different perspective. Once we crossed the river, we headed up to Prague Castle. Simply unbelievable. Prague Castle contains the Old Royal Palace, but more importantly it also encloses the St. Vilius church. I’m not exactly sure what to say about this church. It was breathtaking. I'm pretty sure neither my words nor my pictures could fully do it justice. We took our time and walked around the church, as well as climbing its 279 steps to the top of one of the towers (the exact number is known because we were warned about it before beginning). From the top of the tower we had an amazing view of all of Prague. The only negative was the lousy weather wasn’t conducive to having a clear view.

We then walked down from the castle and briefly walked around New Town, before crossing the ever-famous Charles Bridge into Old Town. From all of this walking around I came to two conclusions. First, Prague is incredibly touristy. There were tourists everywhere you were. It reminded me of New York City in some ways with just the incredibly large number of people milling about. And this is in the end of October – definitely not high tourist season. Second, if you are British you were visiting Prague. Obviously, that is an overstatement, but I heard so many British accents everywhere that at times I thought I was in London. The Brits are probably just being smart and taking advantage of the 40 Czech Kroner that every 1 British Pound is worth.

That night our serendipitous decisions continued, as we decided to see a black light theater show called “Rock Therapy,” which was based off of Beatles music. It was an experience to say the least, or I guess a bit better one could say a trip. There was no dialogue, just Beatles music and some odd compilations done by the troupe putting on the show. I think to truly enjoy the show a person needs to take the song “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” a bit more literally. The show did remind me of home, as it was definitely a show for the Geibs.

After the show, we left the theater and were walking down the street when we were suddenly greeted by fireworks. It turned out that there was a huge mall opening that night very close by and a party was being thrown which included bands and fireworks. Once the show was done we of course had to check out the new mall. It was pretty high class in terms of the stores inside but also its architecture and design. A definite change from places like the Mall of America or the mall back home.

The next day was a slower day, which was needed after the constant going, going, going of the previous couple days. I woke up and went to the train station to purchase my ticket for that night to Budapest. I had researched the train I wanted before hand, but did not purchase the ticket, as I thought it would be cheaper to buy it in person than online through a ticket broker. Unfortunately, and quite surprisingly, I was wrong, as I paid about $20 more in Prague. I then decided to it was necessary to see St. Wenceslas Square. However, somewhere along the lines I lost my map, so that became a 2-hour adventure of walking around Prague. Eventually, I found a tourist information booth, purchased a new map, and found the square. It reminded me a bit of Unter den Linden strasse in Berlin, which leads up to the Brandenburg Gate. In both cases you have a wide, tree-lined street, lots of people, shops on either side of the road, and the street ending in a national monument.

I then met up with my friends from DIS, had a late lunch, and then headed out to see the actual Mucha museum. Even after seeing most of his work the previous week it was still quite interesting. My favorites are “The Four Seasons” and “Four Precious Stones”.

We ate dinner that night at some random restaurant in the basement of a building that we stumbled upon in the Old Town area. It was really good, and probably one of my last cheap meals for the rest of my travels.

I hung out with my friends for the last time on the trip for a couple hours back at the hostel before I had to head to the train station. Luckily, the train station was only a metro stop away from the hostel, and the metro stop itself was only 50m away from the hostel. So around midnight – my train didn’t leave until 1 am – I gathered my bags, said my goodbyes, and headed towards the metro station. This is when the fun began. First, after I got down to the station I realized I was at the wrong line. This required 5 minutes more of walking up and down stairs to get to the correct line. Once I did that I then heard an announcement saying that the train I needed was no longer running for the night, even though on the schedule it was supposed to run three more times. So I then walked another five minutes back up to the street level to try to find another way to the station. I stumbled upon two taxis, and asked them if they were in service. I received a gruff shaking of the head to indicate no. At this point, I was beginning to worry a bit, and started to walk towards the station. About 10 minutes later I found a taxi that was in service, but he didn't take credit cards for payment, and my Czech Kroner supplies were running low, which meant we had to stop at an ATM, where I needed to withdraw about 200 Kroner. Of course, the ATM the taxi took me to only allowed withdrawals in 500 CZK increments. This meant that I was going to have some extra money at the end of the trip. Nonetheless, I managed to get to the station on time, and went and boarded the train. The train had to be from the 1970’s, as it was dirty and worn down. Luckily, I had an entire compartment to myself to sleep in for the 9-hour ride to Budapest. It was also a good thing that I was alone, because by the end of the night I needed to strip down to almost no clothes due to the overactive heater, which constantly spewed incredibly hot air even though I had it set as cold as possible. The fun continued though, as I woke up around 9:00 am to find that we weren’t moving. Figuring it was just a scheduled stop I milled around my compartment putting things away, etc. Half an hour passed and we still weren’t moving. Finally, I questioned a German passenger what was going on and it turned out the train had some troubles in the evening. We were three hours behind schedule and in Bratislava, Slovakia. This means that I lost 3 quite valuable hours in Budapest – I was only supposed to be there four about 24 hours as it was – along with having to occupy myself quite a bit longer on the train. Such is the life of a young traveler.

Shaky Legs

This day started like all the rest on the trip: shower, breakfast, and gearing up for another day of challenges. We experienced a slight change in location, as we took a 30-minute bus ride to Mala Skala, which is another rock formation close to where we were staying. My group’s first event was rock climbing and rappelling. This was my first attempting to climb a real rock, and my first time since 4th grade at climbing anything. A lot has changed since then, and I made it up the first face methodically, but absolutely fine. I figured out I have issues when it comes to knowing where to go once I’m on the rock. Indecision regarding the path wrecks any rhythm to my climbing. It also wrecked my chance on the second face, which was a bit more difficult. About half way through I was stuck and didn’t know where to go, so my attempt was called. Nevertheless, I made progress and even have proof as you can see below:

Rappelling, on the other hand, went a lot more smoothly after just the little bit of prior experience I had now accumulated. I found it much easier to trust the thought that I was well supported and safe, and that I could in fact simply let myself fall off the face of the cliff. The rappel was really fun and allowed for some great views. The rock also started to curve in a bit towards the end, so for the last 1/3 of my descent I was in mock Navy Seal mode, as I was more ziplining down a rope rather than rappelling.

We then walked to lunch in the nearby town where we had another typical Czech meal: soup, meat (fried), and potatoes. Post lunch my group headed in a new direction towards some caves. At the caves another scavenger hunt of sorts was set up that involved us climbing up and down rocks, ladders, walking on nets, and of course exploring a few caves, most of which required us to be lying in the prone position just to be able to move. It was so much fun. This was what I always dreamed of doing when I was little. It was like my own Goonies movie.

That event brought to an end my “adventure” aspect of the trip, as the next morning we will be leaving for Prague, where I’ll be spending 2 days/1 night.

Epi Shot

There is nothing better than the knowledge that you are going to wake up to a nice, hot shower and a good breakfast. Unfortunately, I did not have that knowledge this morning. First, I woke up to our door wide open – I think it was that way all night. Our room had a slight problem. The last guests must have locked themselves out or in – either is oddly possible – and broke the doorframe to get in or out. This has not been fixed, which means that our room does not fully lock itself. It has made hiding valuables quite the game, though. Second, the showers here are pretty bad. Plain and simple. No hot water and no water pressure. Not the best conditions to wake up to.

Breakfast was the typical European breakfast, but it was accentuated with something special, massive doses of epinephrine – adrenaline. This was due to this morning’s activities. Rappelling down a 150-foot sheer cliff, taking a zipline across a gorge, and then walking back across on a rope bridge. These things get you going, no doubt. Impressively – especially for me – I was able to complete all of these awesome pursuits. Rappelling was definitely the most fun, and difficult, at least initially. I had problems with placing myself perpendicular to rock wall, especially at the beginning, where there was enough of a slope that you felt like you could stand. Once I was able to pass that aspect it was smooth sailing – or falling all dependent on your outlook. Rappelling is definitely something I want to try again, as I feel like it will be a lot more enjoyable with some experience under my belt. The zipline was fun, but nothing great. It was a zipline across the gorge. Nothing too spectacular. The rope bridge, on the other hand, was the most intense activity – hands down. Walking across this thin rope, with everything swaying in the wind and with your body weight, causes an intense and constant adrenaline rush. I was so happy to have both feet on firm ground afterwards.

After another typical Czech lunch of vegetable soup with meat and potatoes the group of us that went rappelling, etc. in the morning were now embarking on a hike through the woods surrounding the castle. It was beautiful. The trees and soil remind me, once again, of northern Michigan as white pine, paper birch, and sand is ever present. It gave me a brief feeling of home, even though I am halfway across the world.

And the wheels on the bus go round and round...

One of man’s greatest abilities is our capacity to invent new things. It is what has propelled the human race to where we our today. However, we have failed miserably when it comes to inventing a good form of bus transportation conducive to 26 hours on a bus over a 72-hour period. I just hate buses. Sunday afternoon was the beginning of another 15-hour bus ride, this time to Cesky Raj in the Czech Republic. It was not a pleasant experience to say the least. Not to mention the crazy feelings of déjà vu that ensued, primarily due to the fact that I was on the same ferryboat from Gedser, Denmark, to Rostock, Germany, for the third time in a week.

In another moment of déjà vu, the first stop the group made was at a former Nazi concentration camp. This time we visited Theresientstadt, which is notorious for being the camp that Nazi officials would show off to foreign dignitaries and Red Cross workers to demonstrate the high level of facilities and care provided to the detainees. If the Nazis were good at one thing it was propaganda. We were able to watch one of their “movies/documentaries” that “showed” the true conditions of the Jews and the camp. It was unbelievable how well they were able to pull a veil over the real events that were taking place. For this reason, though, the camp had a very different feel than Sachsenhausen, as there were many more trees and well kept buildings. It seemed entirely out of place. The other interesting aspect was the focus of the museum on Czech issues. The plight of the Jews was definitely mentioned, but at times it took a secondary seat to the plight of Czech citizens unduly imprisoned and murdered. Some people might complain about this fact and how they are ignoring the largest population that was murdered during the Nazi atrocities; however, it seems to make sense to me. If the Czechs do not put an emphasis on themselves and what they went through, who will? Undoubtedly, it is human nature to focus on the group that you most closely associate with, but the troubles of all peoples needs to be recognized, even if it is only a tenth in scale.

Following the concentration camp, we arrived at Hruba Skala, our castle accommodations. “Wow” is the only word I could utter as we arrived. It was absolutely gorgeous. The rocks. The castle. The trees. The sky. It was picturesque. It was also exactly what I wanted – being out in the middle of nowhere with the ability to run around and enjoy nature’s beauty. After getting checked in, settled, and experiencing the loads of fun that icebreakers always are, we had an hour and half before dinner, so a group of us went down in the valley/gorge area and explored. We were climbing all over the place – up hills, up trees, up rocks – all resulting in spectacular views. The only thing missing was Craig, as he would have been eating all of this up.

The rest of the evening was spent socializing with other people on the trip, as there is not a whole lot of nightlife in the area – none to be exact. It was a fun night nonetheless, and it really got me excited for the rest of the trip.

2 Weeks of Traveling: Recap Time

So I've just arrived back in the CPH -- or the KBH if I'm feeling quite Danish -- after two great weeks of quite contrasting travel. The first week, as you'll read, was highlighted by the amazing "visceral" experience of being outdoors climbing and trekking, while the second week was a who's who of art and culture. I'll be formating these posts in a similar fashion to what I did for the first week, which will slowly work their way to my most current thoughts with each post being written relatively recently after the events took place. Enjoy!