Halloween at Tivoli

My friend invited me to follow her kollegium, Danish-styled dorms, on  a trip to Tivoli. It is my first time visiting Tivoli, Copenhagen’s famous amusement park situated right around the heart of the city. Tivoli opens and closes at different times of the year and reopens to a different theme each season. I was able to get in for free this time  with the International kollegium, otherwise I would have had to pay 99DKK for the entrance fee. You have to pay for rides separately. Expensive.

_MG_3749 _MG_3814 _MG_3851

After going through the turnstile at the ticket booth, you are immediately welcomed with the Halloween decor. Ironically, Halloween isn’t popularly celebrated in Denmark, but they do take the time to set up the Halloween theme at Tivoli. In February, the Danes have a carnival called Fastelavn where children dress up similar to Halloween. Not many Danish children go trick or treating here since not enough households participate in candy-giving  on Halloween. My host parents told me they regard it as a “new holiday”.

The Danish version of roller coasters seems to be more toned down compared to  American roller coasters. I cannot say I am particularly impressed with the hyped up amusement park. Tivoli gives off a different vibe than what Six Flags would give me. When I think of Six Flags, I would think of roller coasters and everything else is insignificant. Tivoli has a more carnival feel that is more welcoming for family leisure engagements.

I didn’t end up going on any rides since it was quite expensive. Actually, my friends and I spent most of our time trying on hats and masks. The only thing I ended up purchasing was the flæskesteg sandwich, the Danish version of roast pork, is considered to be one of Denmark’s principal national dishes[1].

It smelled amazing and tasted pretty good. It reminded me of the Chinese version of roast pork.

 

 

I am curious how Tivoli would look like for Christmas assuming the decor would be completely different.

 

Advertisements

Eastern Europe Reflection

I spent my first travel break visiting Eastern European countries. My original plan for travel sake this semester was to explore all of Scandinavia, Baltic seas, and Eastern Europe. Perhaps, this would be the only part of the Eastern Europe plan that will come through. Studying abroad in one of the highest standard of living city, I really looked forward to this trip to more affordable cities. The prices surely did not disappoint although I would not call them dirt cheap.

Eastern European cities, like Scandinavia, are relatively underrated travel destinations in comparison to Western Europe. Sure, it’s not the metropolitan iconic cities like London and Paris, but these cities gives you a very different European experience. At the end of the trip, we asked each other which was our favorite city (to hypothetically live in). Being used to living in a huge city, I cannot imagine living in Prague. Although we only stayed in the central area, I felt that the city was extremely small especially since I could have easily see all the main attractions in two days. It’s a beautiful city with the old European feel that I think I can better appreciate if it’s not something I get access to daily. There was noticeably a lot more older tourists in these Eastern European cities and particularly in Budapest. Budapest is a lot more spread out than Prague and the prices are slightly lower. Walking along the promenade at night is beautiful and perhaps, the most memorable part of the trip. I can see myself enjoying frequent walks along the river. However, I don’t think the city has enough attractions for me to want to stay there long term. Vienna is the most modern and busiest of the three. I can see myself living there mainly because it’s like any other city. I didn’t realize that it’s ranked the world’s most livable city until after the trip. I’m not sure what elements make it so, but I wouldn’t mind staying there for a bit longer to find out why.

When I think of…

   Prague, fairy tale, Charles bridge, and Czech dumplings 

Budapest, the promenade, affordable living, and Hungarian food

Vienna, opera, Mozart, and Schnitzel

comes to mind.

Yes, food is always on my mind.

Last Pit Stop: Vienna

By the time we got to Vienna, I was pretty worn out. The very painful shoes that I worn certainly did not help. This time around we decided to stay at a couchsurfer’s house. There a few hours gap between when we arrive in Vienna and when our host could pick us up. We decided to explore the city for a bit before meeting up with our host so we had to find storage for our luggages in the train station. Originally, the storage lockers were all occupied and just as we were walking away someone emptied one of the larger lockers. We were so lucky because there were two other people looking for lockers as well, but the person who took their belongings out happened to use a locker right by where we were standing. To our convenience, he was using a large locker or else it would be awkward figuring who’s suitcase to squeeze in the smaller locker that wouldn’t have been able to hold all of our belongings. We bought a 3-day Vienna card for unlimited train rides and discounts to attractions for the duration of our visit. It turns out that Vienna also has an honor system similar to Copenhagen where there are no turnstile to go through, but you’re expected to pay for your ride expecting occasional check up on your tickets. Before meeting with our host, we visited the Schönbrunn Palace on another beautiful sunny day. The palace was encompassed by a large green garden. We climbed to the top of the hill for a nice top-down of Vienna. The audio tour inside the palace gave a good overview of the history of the palace and important historic figure; admittedly, I did not retain much of the information except the part about the 6 year old Mozart performing to the royal family.

IMG_3508  IMG_3475

Lately that evening we were picked up from a train station and driven to our host, Christine’s house. She told us that her neighborhood is considered to be a very green and expensive area. The only reason she is able to afford it was because her grandmother had bought the house many years back. Indeed it was a nice residential area; the only problem was that we had to take a bus to get to the nearest metro stop, very much like my transportation situation back at home. All three of us stayed in her son’s room while Noah slept on the couch during our stay.

Not wasting any time, we decided to head out that evening to explore the city a little bit even though we were all exhausted. We visited one of the popular cafes in Vienna. To be honest, I was a bit turned away by the planned when I heard that we were going to a “cafe”. By cafe, I imagined something like a coffee shop serving coffee, beverages, light snacks, and desserts. This cafe that we went to for dinner was more like a restaurant or rather, a diner. I was extremely excited to finally enjoy a nice sit down meal after days of irregular meals of mainly desserts. 

v1

My first two choices of pork dishes were all sold out. I was slightly disappointed, yet had a feeling of satisfaction because that meant I had good taste is selecting the popular/good dishes, haha. I ended up quickly picking some sort of beef dish along with a beef liver dumpling soup. It turned out the beef dished that I had ordered was a stew, well more like soup to me because it was very liquid. Despite having to finish two soups for dinner, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.

  v2

On Saturday, we left the house early to visit the Vienna Naschmarkt before it gets too crowded. The market is separated between the flea market and the food stalls. I didn’t have much interested in the flea market section even though I did see some interesting vintage items for sale. We made our way past the scarves and other little potential souvenir items to the produce and snacks section. I immediately bought a salty pancake from one of the stands and shared it with Brytne to satisfy my stomach as breakfast. Most of the food stands sold similar items such as dried fruits, spices, salads, and chocolate. We saw huge loafs of bread; I was tempted to ask to hold one for a picture. We all ended up buying some dried fruit snacks. I bought a little bit of coconut bites, dried mango that tasted nothing like mango, and tiramisu flavor chocolate coated over nuts.

IMG_3511  IMG_3520  _MG_3544

Making our way back to the city center, we decided to go inside Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Another beautiful church with art all around. Vienna had a similar pedestrian shopping street similar to Copenhagen’s Stroget. Being the birthplace of Mozart, many of the souvenir shops printed Mozart’s face and violins on them. They even have Mozart chocolate which is made up of several layers of sweets including marzipan, pistachio, nougat, and chocolate. I was convinced to buy some since the picture made the chocolate look so colorful, but of course the taste did not live up to expectation. We made our way to the Spanish riding school where we decided to purchase tickets for a horse show for the next early afternoon.  Since we had time, we headed north towards Vienna’s giant ferris wheel. I didn’t understand what was so spectacular about this must-see. It did give a nice view of Vienna, but I already had a chance to it the day before. We then tried looking for this cafe a random Australian girl recommended to us the day before. In the end we gave up trying to look for the cafe and settled for a random one on our way. I eagerly order the pork schnitzel. I ordered a mini version of it, but don’t underestimate the small breaded meat because it was extremely filling.

IMG_3658  _MG_3636

After our lunner (? haha), we quickly head towards the Raimund theater to try and get stand up seats to a musical called Elisabeth. We would like to go to an opera, but Christine advised us that the chances were slim that Saturday because a new show was premiering at the Royal Opera House. Christine told us that Elisabeth is a famous musical that she’s watched over 20 times because she loved it so much. For some reason, I was under the impression that we were going to an opera until the act started and I was confused on how musical-like this “opera” was, silly me. Since Elisabeth had been playing in Vienna for so many years, we easily bought good seats near the front of the stage for Elisabeth. There were English subtitles on the screens to the sides of the stage so I was able to understand what was going on. I really like the songs and the story overall. I can relate to Elisabeth or Sissi, an empress of Vienna. The story revolves around beautiful Sissi who married the emperor and losing her freedoms living in the palace. The song I Belong To Me really describes my stubborn fight for freedom. By freedom, I refer to the ability to do whatever I want. I take freedom to get extremes by what I meant to be able to do whatever I want. It’s my main motivators to make a lot of money because money is freedom. Money gives me options. To be free is to have options. Though the play portrayed Sissi’s yearn for freedom to be a very selfish desire because she abandoned her son to travel all over the world. Her neglect ultimately led to her son’s suicide and eventually death took her away as she wailed away with misery. Despite sharing the same desire for freedom and ownership of self, I hope I don’t turn on the wrong edge become someone who selfishly pursues freedom at the expense of others.

The next morning we loaded our belongings into Christine’s car before leaving for the horse performance. 1 word – Boring. That perfectly describes my experience with the performance. I was so bored of seeing the repetitive horse dancing routine, I almost fell asleep. I cannot believe I paid around 20 euros to watch horses trying to ballroom dance. I was not impressed with what they trained the horses to do because the trainers had trouble instructing the horses to follow directions multiple times during the show. Before leaving the riding school, we tried Vienna’s famous sachertorte cake in their cafe. It might not be the most authentic version, but it gave us a good enough idea of what all the type was all about. As usual, I was unimpressed with this fudge cake. For some reason, it came with a bit of a sour taste. It had the try and spongy taste that I normally do not enjoy anyway.

IMG_3662

With time to spare, we decided to browse around the Albertina museum before meeting up with Christine to get our luggage for the airport. We only have time to look through two exhibition including the Matisse one. As a faster museum browser, I was done quickly since I do not normally read the signs by the art. Outside of the museum we saw a mini protest going by. Since none of us understood German, we were not sure what the people were not protesting about.

We met Christine in front of the Wien Mitte Mall. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of shopping done for this travel break. I really wanted to buy a nice pair of casual shoes, but it’s always so hard for me to find shoes. It is especially hard to find a pair with a good price without sacrificing quality. I think I spent more money than I had originally anticipated. Cheap prices can be deceiving because you end up spending more since everything seems so affordable.

Well that was an eventful week that made me desperately want to just go back to Copenhagen and plop back on my bed.

When in Budapest

After a joyous overnight train ride, we arrived in Budapest. I really enjoyed the night sleeping in a train cabin middle bunk. It matched my desire to sleep in a small tight space that cradles you to sleep. The only obstacle was that we had to cross through Slovakia to get from Prague to Budapest so Britney and I had to pay extra for our 3-country Eurail pass (encompassing Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria).

I was exhausted the first day and the gloomy weather did not help. Budapest was noticeably bigger and more spread out than Prague because it took a 45 minute walk from the train station to our hostel. We went on a free walking tour in the afternoon to get a nice summary roundabout of Budapest. Budapest was just as windy as Prague; it was very much to our surprise that we were experiencing much colder weather south of Copenhagen.

Budapest was much more modern than Prague. We learned from our walking tour of the recent reconstruction over the past century due to destruction of the city over the battles in Europe. Budapest is separated by the river with two islands called ‘Buda’ and ‘Pest’. Originally, Hungary wanted to make Buda the capital, but the area is too small so they joined the city with Pest to increase the landmass of this one city and announced it the capitol of Hungary. We also learned that Hungarian food is ranked one of the best cuisines in the world. They also produce low cost quality wine that is not well advertised so generally people don’t think of Hungary when it comes to wine making. The tour guide also claimed that Budapest was the true origin of the love locks on bridges and not Paris. I feel that Hungary is a humble eastern Europe gem that many overlooked. The nation is rich in culture and history that is overshadowed by its neigbhors.

Unfortunately, I did not realize the strong bath house culture so I did not bring a bathing suit. The first night, we walked so much that my feet was almost numb. We wanted to check out a small bath hall on the Buda side, but they didn’t rent bathing suits since it was almost closing. Only Chloe remembered to bring a bathing suit so she was able to experience the more traditional Turkish steamy bath hall. We went to Budapest’s largest and most popular bath house, Szechenyi, the next day, but it was much more modern and crowded.

Hungary is just as affordable as Czech, if not, more affordable. We ended the night at a crepe restaurant ordering both savory and sweet crepes. I was extremely full after the savory crepe and potato, but for the cheap price, I had to squeeze in a chocolate crepe. It was nice to take a night stroll along the river on our back to Pest where our hostel was located.

_MG_3283  _MG_3287  IMG_3294

As a city girl, seeing the city lights at night and the sounds of the cars racing in the freeway really reminded me of home. Though I doubted this trip. As gross as it sounds, I was very excited to sit down in the hostel and take my Sperry’s off. I had the largest blister on my right big toe ever taking up a good inch.

Day 2 in Budapest was wonderful with the complimentary good sunny weather that makes any travel all the better. I was very excited to hit up the largest central food market in Budapest first thing in the morning. Upon entering, we were mezmorized by the pastries, affordable pastries that is. We all immediately purchased a pastry before wandering around the 3 story market. Generally, most shops sold similar products from baked goods to honey to paprika to alcohol. I considered the food market to be an obvious tourist trap that I voluntarily indulge myself in for the unbeatable prices, or what I considered extremely cheap after living in Copenhagen for a bit. I ended up buying a number of pastries, sweet and spicy paprika, and goose liver (yes, Hungary is also known for that) as souvenirs. I was hoping to purchase their famous white wine, Tokaji Azul, but I wanted to wait to see if I can find better prices along the way.

_MG_3302 IMG_3329 IMG_3356

After the central food market, we went to Budapest’s St. Stephen’s Basilica. It was a beautiful church with amazing decor inside. Unfortunately, Church of Saint Stephen in Prague has won my heart; it would be extremely hard to one up that. We’ll just have to see about Vienna who also has a St. Stephen’s Church. Right by the basilica was this structure with spiral stairs that brought us up to see a nice city view of Budapest. Despite, the tiring hike up the stairs, the view was worth the effort.

After that we headed towards the Szechenyi bath area which is surrounded by a park. Brytne and I rented swim suits which were like non padded leotards. I was feeling a bit exposed, haha. We went for a 30-minute Swedish-Thai massage before dipping in the water. To be honest, I was not too impressed with my massage because I didn’t feel like it did anything for me. In the pool hall, there were many little pools with different temperature to choose from. There were also saunas that I did not get a chance to go in. The place was a little too crowded and the smell of fainted sulfur was not my favorite. Chloe explained how the smaller bath house she went to the night before was very different and much more steamy and traditional. I left early because I was determined to buy a more comfortable pair of casual shoes before leaving for Vienna the next day.

I went to WestEnd mall by a train station. They had many familiar brands such as H&M and Aldo. However, the prices in these stores were not as cheap as the prices for food. I found a pair of Timberland that I really liked, but I wasn’t ready to make a $160+ USD purchase and left empty handed. I rushed back to Home Plus Hostel to enjoy the free dinner they provide on Thursdays. To my disappointment it wasn’t a nice traditional Hungarian cuisine, but just boiled pasta. Sadly, I did not get a chance to sample any Hungarian cuisine. Right before the train took off Thursday morning to Vienna, I quickly ran to buy a lángos – a Hungarian snack made with fried dough and typically complemented with a garlic spread. It tasted like some awesome fatty food for game night. It was a satisfying end to my visit in Budapest.

20131004_085708

Thursday night, Chloe and I along with other folks staying at the hostel ventured out to explore Budapest’s ruins bar. The Szimpla Ruins Bar is ranked the world’s 3rd best bar and it sure lives up to it. That place is huge and full of art and surprises everywhere. I liked how it is very much a tourist attraction, but many locals also go there. I tried a glass of the Tokaji Azul and for the first time, I finally appreciated some sort of wine. Although I don’t normally like sweet stuff, I actually like sweet white wine. The nice atmosphere and listening to interesting travel stories made it a very enjoyable night.

Beautiful Praha

I felt like this semester started out slow, but I do begin seeing how fast things are picking up as it’s time for my first travel break. Going with two friends, we explored 3 cities: Prague, Budapest, and Vienna.

Prague was the city I was looking forward to the most. I’ve heard so many nice things about the city and how affordable everything is. Cheap prices is definitely something a student from Copenhagen misses experiencing. Sucking up to another early morning flight, I kind of wish the duration of the flight was longer so I can have a longer nap. I dozed off before the plane took of because like Stockholm, I barely had any sleep before. For Prague, we stayed in a B&B that Chloe found.

It felt surreal to be in Prague! With the research I did the night before, I was very eager to hit up some of the attractions immediately. Britney and I ate at a nearby restaurant the B&B host suggested. The must-eats in Prague included pork knuckles, Czech dumplings, roast duck, and beef goulash. Little did I know, that was my only opportunity to sample Czech cuisines. It was a difficult decision because there were so many things I wanted to try and the prices were conveniently affordable! For a decent meal, my bill totaled to be less around $10 USD. I ordered this sirloin cut with dumplings while Britney ordered the roast duck. Just as the pictures on Google listed, Czech dumplings look and taste very different from Chinese ones. They look and taste like bread. I wonder what characteristics are needed to be considered a dumpling. The meal was very delicious. My only complaint was the slow service we received. We ended up staying in the restaurant for 2 hours.

IMG_2188   IMG_2190

After the meal, we quickly headed towards the Old Town Square. We were in awe of all the beautiful buildings. We had our tourist tag, DSLRs, on us the whole time. Everything was so eye pleasing. From Old Town, we made our way to the famous Charles Bridge. It was extremely crowded with tourists and hawkers. We promised ourselves we must come back at night to see the bridge. We ended up coming back several times for the duration of our 3 day visit.

On the other side of the river was the palace. We figured we’d leave that for the following day when Chloe arrives. Just aimlessly wandering around, we accidentally tumbled upon the John Lennon Wall. It was a colorful graffiti wall with a few stencil prints of Lennon’s face and songs and lyrics spread across the wall. It’s an interesting attraction because I’m sure if I were to visit the wall again in a few months, I’d experience something different since the wall is actually covered with layers and layers of graffiti. Right by the wall is a cafe dedicated to The Beatles called the John Lennon Pub.

_MG_2311  _MG_2331  _MG_2347

We crossed back through the other bridges to see the Dancing House and other neighborhoods of Prague. We decided to check out the mall by our flat and called it a night.

The next day, we checked out as few of the attractions again with Chloe in the morning. The walk on the Charles Bridge was much more enjoyable with barely anyone on it. We then hiked up the stairs to the Palace. For the first time in my life, I was absolutely wow-ed by the Church of Saint Stephen. I’ve seen a lot of nice buildings in Europe, but the church was truly amazing! It’s going to be hard to one up this one. This massive structure built with incredible details left us on our stomachs trying to capture the essences of this beauty. The view at the top of the hill was gorgeous as well. I completely agree that Prague is a beautiful city. Normally, many things fail to meet my expectations, but Prague sure did not disappoint.

_MG_2442  _MG_2479  _MG_2565 _MG_2618

Chloe’s local friend took use around the castle again at night and it was a different experience. Prague was not as well lit at night as pictures online suggest, but I would still recommend exploring the city after sunset.

The following day, we visited the Jewish Cemetery and museum. We tried to do some souvenir shopping, but the marionettes were pretty expensive. I think the most I’ve purchased in Prague were pastries. After mindless walking, we headed for the TV tower for an overview of Prague. Interestingly, the tower was advertised as the World’s 3rd ugliest tower. I’m not sure why, unless it was a relative comparison to the rest of Prague’s buildings.

_MG_2811

After some photo shoots of the river at night, we returned to the flat to rest before catching the overnight train to Budapest. Prague is the first city that gave me the Old Europe vibe. It is indeed gorgeous, but I’m not sure if I want to live here.  It’s quite small as we walked around many of the same places several times.

 

I LOVE STOCKHOLM

I finally visited the original city I wanted to study abroad in, Stockholm. I almost did not end up going the past weekend. Originally, I figured it’s a good weekend to go before my series of traveling kicks off. However, I was holding back on buying tickets because the weather predictions for the weekend in Stockholm was all rain. After a few days, the weather forecast changed and it showed that it would be sunny instead. Having a short chat with my host mom, I was convinced to commit to visiting Stockholm this weekend. She told me that the weather is only going to go downhill from here and there is no guarantee that the weather would be better in the near future; Scandinavia is known for their harsh winters. Despite the increase in price for booking on the Tuesday before my flight which was on Friday, the investment was worthwhile. Since it was roughly $30 USD more expensive than if I were to book the flights in advance, I figure I would save money in accommodations by searching for a host through Couchsurfing. I have only used Couchsurfing once when I decided to go on my solo trip to Taipei.

Booking an early morning flight on Friday also meant that I had to leave my house at 6AM to head to the airport. I didn’t end up sleeping for more than 2 or 3 hours with my last minute packing and quick attractions research. At the Stockholm airport, I struggled a little with purchasing a shuttle bus ticket to get to the city center because the kiosks would not accept my American credit card that doesn’t have the chip and pin installed. While waiting at the counter for assistance, I decided to buy a 24hr Stockholm card. The card included free entrances to over 80+ museums and transportation. I do later regret making this purchase a little because this 24hr limit got me the whole i-must-make-the-most-out-of-it mentality within the 24hrs of activation.

My original host lived in a beautiful neighborhood painted in nice pastel colored architecture. Whether it’s because of the sunny weather or that the architecture is truly that amazing, I thoroughly enjoyed the neighborhood. Already a see a difference between the Stockholm and Copenhagen architecture. By late afternoon, I headed out with my host to explore the city. We walked from his apartment to the Parliament, Old Town, and then to some of the museums. I activated my Stockholm card through my visit to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa Museum is considered a  must-see in Stockholm to see the recovered voyage ship from the 1600s. This massive fleet is surely more impressive to see than the skeleton displayed in Copenhagen’s national museum. To be honest, I can do without see the ship because it was a ‘quick walk around and I’m done’ type of visit. I then visited the open air museum, Skansen. By the time I got there, many of the attractions in the park were closed. I saw some animals and buildings from the outside. There was a nice view of the sky during sunset in the museum. After that, I took the tram back to the city center and decided to meet up with other Couchsurfers.

_MG_1212   DSC04987   IMG_1604 IMG_1734

After a frustrating two hour wait, I finally found the other CS-ers. It took so long due to limited communicative mediums as we were only able to communicate via CS messages in free wifi zones. Although Sweden is known to have one of the most advanced online networks, free wifi zones were very limited. Originally, I suggested to visit the Ice Bar. How cool would it be to sit in a bar where everything including the cups are made of ice? Unfortunately, the cover fee was pricier than what the other CS-ers would like to pay. We had a nice walk around the city despite not ending up at a nice bar to hang out. We parted shortly after a rest stop in a McDonald’s. Due to some circumstances with my original host, I ended up staying over at one of the CS-ers I hung out with instead.

The next day, I met up with another CS-er to join a free walking tour of the city. There was more talking than walking than what I would have enjoyed since I’d rather visit a few more sights. It’s a struggle to find traditional Swedish cuisine because it’s mainly the homemade meals that makes it Swedish. I ended up getting Mexican food for lunch after the tour. After the tour, we decided to visit the Millesgården Museum which was a bit north of Stockholm. It took less time to commute to and actually find the museum than expected. We went straight to the outside garden. Again enhanced with the beautiful sunny sky, the arrangement of the statues and the view of the sea made the garden look very picturesque. At the garden, we met up with other CS-ers. After spending several hours admiring and taking photos of the garden we decided to explore Old Town again. Old Town was a nice historic area with colorful old designs and narrow alleys. Without much of a plan in mind, we stayed in a bar a bit before deciding to make dinner at one of the CS-er’s flat.

_MG_2034   _MG_2057   IMG_2090

More CS-ers joined later that night. I love meeting other CS-ers because they’re usually people with such open minds, interesting stories, and different perspectives to share. None of us in the flat that night were from the same country or ethnicity. We were a diverse bunch consisting of a Swede, Brit, Singaporean, Latvian, Portuguese, Indonesian, and the American me. The great night ended with a surprise volcanic eruption. I will not further expand on the meaning of that in this blog, teehee.

I was quite sad when Sunday rolled along since I only have until the afternoon to explore the city. People have asked me why I wanted to visited Stockholm because there really aren’t many attractions here. I thought about it for a bit and realized that was true. I mean there are some museums and other sights, but they weren’t things that I MUST see. I was happy to visit the first H&M although I wish I could’ve seen IKEA, but that was just too far away. It’s the atmosphere and the people that I’ve met that made this such an incredible weekend. It’s my stubbornness of wanting to study here, but cannot that makes the city all the more glorified. I’m sure after reading this post, you would not understand why I am in love with the city. It’s something you must be there to really feel it and you have to be me with the mindset that I had. I just spent my last hours souvenir shopping and having a casual lunch with a CS-er.

Before leaving, I had an urge to make myself a promise to visit the city again before my semester ends. I didn’t let that idea live in my mind for too long because I was afraid that I will actually book another flight back. It’s not exactly the city, but the weather, the people, the whole package that made it so wonderful. I know I’d be fairly disappointed for a round 2 when I can be spending that additional weekend elsewhere.

First Weekend Day Trip to Malmö

I spent my first weekend (day trip) to Sweden’s supposedly 3rd largest city, Malmö. I say supposedly because it’s an awfully small city. By no means do I intend to give it a negative connotation; I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this once upon a Danish territory city. It was a last minute decision to go with some friends. It was only a half an hour train ride from Copenhagen station to the Malmö station.

I was extremely delighted to set foot in Sweden, the country where my beloved city, Stockholm (shh!), is situated. I’m not sure if it was because the weather was perfect  that day or if the city is actually really beautiful. I really like the calm cozy vibe this city gives off. To my surprise, I did not find as many blonde hair blue eyes in Sweden (if you can consider the city completely Swedish). I wonder if the city’s national identity is a sensitive topic to locals in Malmö or not. I regret not stopping to interview a local to gain some perspective.

One major difference I did notice between Malmö and Copenhagen is the lack of national flags waving everywhere. I assumed that the Swedes would have a similar practice of hanging the national flag everywhere like the Danes. The Swedish kroner is worth slightly less than the Danish kroner so the prices were a tad bit cheaper. It was hard trying to find snacks that I cannot find in Copenhagen in Malmö.

Although the castle was relatively disappointing, the Torso Tower was worth seeing. It’s the tallest building in all of Scandinavia!

_MG_0604   _MG_0565

Core Course Week in Jylland

After attending 1 week of classes, we are off to visiting Western Denmark aka Jylland with my European Business Strategy core class. If there are any readers to this post, it’s going to be a boring recap of my day to day activities for the week. Stray away if you were hoping for something more reflective because this is just going to be a detail dump.

Day 1

We started our core course week journey to our first company visit conveniently located near Frue Plad, Vipp – the designer garbage can. It was raining in the morning and honestly all I wanted to do was to sleep on the bus, but nope, we had to walk to Vipp since the bus cannot stop near the location. The owner of Vipp told a very interesting and touching story of how the business came about. They business strategy to be better position in the market is by increasing their price. I cannot imagine buying a designer garbage can, but surely it has a good enough market to sustain itself.

Finally we hopped on the bus to western Denmark and our first destination is the Egeskov Slot Castle, one of the oldest and best preserved castle in Denmark. The surrounding area was nice, but with the gloomy weather, it was not very picturesque. Many parts of the castle was closed off so we were not able to explore much.

We stayed in the Danhostel in Skanderberg in these cute red cabins. The cabins were very nice. I claimed one of the beds in the attic. The class had dinner in the hostel. Considering it was a hostel buffet, the food wasn’t too bad. Afterwards, there was a bit of confusion of when we should be gathering around the fire place. Instead of making s’mores, it’s a Danish traditional to make snobrød – roasting dough on a stick to make bread.

Clearly, I don't do too well with flash.
Clearly, I don’t do too well with flash.

Day 2

We started the day off with a visit to Hummel in Aarhus. I think most of us agreed this was everyone’s favorite presentation. Hummel has a relaxed culture where the presenters were all wearing Hummel shoes. Despite their global vision, Hummel is mainly popular in Aarhus. After the presentation we had a chance to explore the city of Aarhus, the closest thing to a college town in Denmark. It was a nice quite town that I can never imagine living in; I’ll be so bored. We passed by this cool art exhibition. Large metal freight storage containers were reused as musical instruments. Unfortunately, we could not stay for the concert, but it would’ve been cool.

DSC04919

Next stop, Fængslet State Prison Museum. I was quite looking forward to this except once again, many sections of the actual prison was not open to the public.

There is not death penalty in Denmark, but they do lock you up like this for punishment.
There is not death penalty in Denmark, but they do lock you up like this for punishment.

We stayed in another chain of the Danhostel in Horsens. This hostel was not as clean looking as the first one. I tried hard not to think about the possible creatures lurking around in the room, ugh.

I was really excited for the arranged Bowl ‘n’ fun buffet for dinner. I later learned that it’s not out of the ordinary to have a buffet setup in bowling alleys here in Denmark. First buffet, then 1 hour of bowling. I shied away from telling people that I used to be on the bowling team since I’m such an incompetent bowler. This will remain a secret from my class even though I outplayed my competitor :).

I think you instantly become everyone’s favorite professor when you offer to drop your students off at a liquor store. ‘Nuff said about that night.

Day 3

During the last day in western Denmark, we visited the Dansk Supermarked. We seem to be visiting larger companies each time and you notice how the company organizational structures also become taller. Despite being known for flat organizations, Danish institutions cannot escape the hierarchical practice with growing companies. I was hoping to ask the presenters why the logo of Netto is a dog carrying a basket. I thought Netto was the Danish Petco when I first arrived in Copenhagen. Wouldn’t you think a store with a dog carrying a basket logo be a pet shop of some sort?

The class had an arranged lunch at Helnan Aarslev hotel for a traditional open burger meal. Actually, the piece of bread was so small that I didn’t even realize that there was one under the massive patty. We were supposed to glaze the beef patty with a layer of the beaten raw egg yolk provided and add horse radish, pickled peas, and red beets on top. The horse radish tasted like wasabi so I opted out on that.

DSC04924

We ended the trip with a visit to the ARoS Art Museum. We’ve been complaining about having too much time to spend in each location. This time we actually wished that we had more time to explore ARoS. I think everyone in my class would agree that the 360 Rainbow Panorama on the rooftop. It’s a simple, yet amusing massive piece of art. The Boy was also a notable artwork in the museum. This gigantic life-like sculpture of a boy brings the attraction to the second floor of the museum.

  DSC04932 DSC04967

The last two days of the core course week was spent back in Copenhagen. The concluding company visits include:

Day 4

Coloplast

Brewpub

Day 5

SAS lecture

Equality in Denmark

As a supporter of equality and feminism, it is interesting to see the Dane’s take on equal opportunity. America is known as the land of the free where everyone has the opportunity to pursue the “American Dream”; actually achieving it is another story. Americans are always fighting for their rights and the idea of being equal. With such disparity in household income in the United States, it’s hard to imagine that equality exists. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that America is still a land of opportunities. But, when you compare it to the measures Denmark has taken to preserve an egalitarian society, we’re quite lacking.

You can just imagine how much this idea is embedded in the Danish culture when an outsider like me can readily make such an observation within days of living in Copenhagen. What is their secret?

1. Eliminate personal titles, call them by their first name.

“Professor…”

“Please call me by my first name”

In the US, we are taught to formally address someone older or that we are not familiar with  Mr., Miss, Mrs, etc. Why are personal titles considered a polite way to call someone? How can we treat everyone the same, but still being respectful and not rude? Personal titles are creating distinguishments between people, separating them by status. Shouldn’t everyone be treated with respect? If yes, then we wouldn’t need any special treatment to show consideration and make them stick out. Of course once in awhile, additional gestures to those very close and dear to us are appreciated.

2. Factor out money from the equation with high taxes to create a strong welfare beneficial to all.

One of the biggest dividing factors between humans is the social status set by income level. Want a more homogeneous society? Easy. Straighten out the bell curve. Denmark, along with the rest of Scandinavia are known for their notorious taxation. Depending on your income bracket, you can expect up to 60% of your income donated to the state. These numbers should shut all the complaints Americans have on the U.S. tax rates. You’d rarely hear a Dane complain about the high taxes. It’s not that they particularly enjoy losing half their income, but their contribution is going towards the imperturbable welfare system. Citizens are provided with “free” healthcare, education, and flexicurity in the workplace. The unemployment rate in Denmark is competitively low; even if you’re unemployed, expect state aid and counseling for months. Despite how much you earn, everyone alike can enjoy the same benefits from the government. These factors decreases the discussion of comparison if you receive similar treatment in the end.

3. Hire loving and trustworthy politicians.

This is quite a funny one to mention coming from the perspective of an American. Although I’m one of the most politically withdrawn individuals around, even I find it hard to shed such positive light to these public figures. This is where you can see how powerful the word “equality” has its influence here. They love their government and the royal family. The crowned prince participated in the annual Ironman triathlon with everyone else — Casual. The mayor of Copenhagen attends events and walks around without a swarm of armed men making up half the crowd — Trust. Officers from the Parliament would personally pass out flyers and interview locals to support their party — Loving.  It takes a great level of mutual trust for those three observations to be made possible. People believe in the government and politicians would trust that public appearances would not put them in danger. Everyone is equal despite their jobs so there is no security concern.

IMG_8848 IMG_8915

The problem arises if you are super wealthy, super intelligent, or maybe super healthy even. If that is the case, you either adopt the egalitarian mentality or adopt a new citizenship elsewhere. Ironically, Denmark is also ranked as one of the world’s most competitive countries. You would assume that “equality” and “competition” would be hard to preserve under  the same society. This paradoxical mix would require some more investigation to comprehend.