Monday, October 29, 2012

Copenhagen, a million years late

This is embarrassing. I went to Copenhagen in July. I give up on full entries, at least until I catch up, but I loved Copenhagen, so I did want to tell you about it! I was there for a weeklong course, so I feel like I got to see a lot of the town, plus get a normal-life feel for it on my walk to the university (hint, bicycles everywhere). It was also when I learned to keep earplugs and a sleep mask with me anytime I'm staying in a hostel...

--The Little Mermaid is underwhelming. You'll go see it anyway of course, this is just a warning. Extra points for a photo with only you in it (no other tourists) or one of a guy mocking a sex act on her...

--Tivoli Gardens is also overhyped. It's expensive to get in, and once in you have to pay for all the rides separately (or do an expensive day pass). Once in, it's basically carnival rides in a nice garden with lots of restaurants. It seemed like many of the people were there for eating or the concert that was happening on the lawn while we were there--we wondered if it was locals with season passes.

--Nyhavn (New Harbor) is cool. The buildings are pretty brightly-colored row houses, and you can get harbor tours from there. The restaurants and cafes are crowded, but fun. Great people-watching.

--I loved the gargoyles around Town Hall!

--Copenhagen has a LOT of castles, almost all of which are surrounded by nice parks and gardens. My favorite was Rosenbourg Palace and its garden (a huge park that when I was there had big outdoor screens set up for the European Cup final), but Christiansborg Palace was cool to wander around--you can go into the ruins below the castle where you can see footprints of the walls of previous castles build on the spot (it keeps burning down).

--We quickly visited Christiania, the hippie drug town in Copenhagen that has its own laws. It was interesting to walk through, but we didn't hang around long. It is certainly not your normal tourist attraction...

--If you're a fan of city vistas, there are a couple things you can climb to see the city. The Round Tower was recommended to me. It's cool because you climb the inside with a ramp, designed that way so that the king could ride his horses up to the top back in the day. There's also an art gallery halfway up.

--Finally, as usual, I recommend wandering around and finding cool cafes and random things to see.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Norway at last!

I went to Norway in June… It’s been a chaotic summer. I think at one point I calculated that over a month and a half I spent more time way than at home. I have a new respect for people who live like that. As much fun as I had, it’s not for me. But I did have some awesome trips, like Norway.

I love trains. The stations are right in the middle of town and you only have to be there when the train leaves, as opposed to airports in the middle of nowhere where you have to be 2 hours early and blah blah blah. Trains also have the added benefit of scenery. This can be kind of boring if you’re traveling across flat fields, but in pretty areas, it’s awesome. Scandinavia is more than pretty, so we took trains most of the way during our trip. The routes were only called “scenic” for certain parts, but really, it was all amazing. I could probably have just ridden around the country in a train and been happy without ever setting foot on land.

We first took the train from Stockholm to Oslo. We had an afternoon in Oslo I believe, but it was enough time to see a lot of the city. It’s not tiny space-wise (particularly large when you consider it’s only got 600,000 inhabitants), but the town is manageable. There is a large palace, a red-brick city hall that has a lot of interesting art if you look closely but is just ugly if you take in the whole thing, and a nice harbor. Where there was a sustainable seafood festival with a bluegrass banc while we were there! Delicious and random. I think my favorite part of Oslo though was the fort, built on a hill above the harbor with a view out onto the fjord, which was covered in sailboats on the beautiful sunny day we were there.

The next morning it was off to Trondheim by train. The journey takes you a long way north and then over some mountains, so the scenery changed a lot—we saw everything from beautiful lakes surrounded by forest and small summer cabins to huge valleys and then finally snowfields. Yes, in June.

Side note: I had a total nerd moment about going to Trondheim, since it is the name of a planet in the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card.

Trondheim is the farthest north major town in Norway and is pretty small population-wise, but has an amazing cathedral, the seat of the Norwegian church for a while I think. The exterior is amazing. Very imposing. It was, unfortunately, closed by the time we got there, and we only had one afternoon, so we missed it. But it was fun to walk around, as was the summer palace of the royal family, a nice house they had bought from a rich citizen. Trondheim also had a fort (tiny, it looked like a house actually) above the city which gave a beautiful view.

The next day it was off for the only non-train part of our trip—the coastal cruise down to Bergen. We had a small boat without much to do but watch the scenery, which was fine! It was an overnnight trip, and we stopped in a few small towns along the way. It’s the main coastal ferry, so it was fun to see the different places. Even at 1am, where we stopped at a place that had sounded interesting but we didn’t have time to really visit, so we wandered around in the twilight (summer in Scandinavia, no real night, remember?). While the boat mainly stuck to the coast, to get into a few town we took trips down fjords, which are amazing. More on those later.

Bergen is a cool town. It’s the town of seven mountains, and you can take a funicular up to the top of one, which gave a really amazing view which was the definite highlight of the city for me. The fish market (the best smoked fish you will ever taste) and the medieval houses were also cool. 

The trip back to Oslo from Bergen (or vice versa) is a really popular tourist trek (see the Norway in a Nutshell tours if you’re curious), and they have it down to a science. You take a train from Bergen to a town nearby, then a fjord cruise from there to another town, where you take a scenic railroad that climbs a mountain, and then get back on a normal train to finish the trip. The trip is popular for a reason. It was a cool combination, going from a boat on the fjord cruise to a train station in the snow an hour later, and the scenery the whole way is amazing. The fjord cruise is where people get their stunning pictures of plunging green mountains and blue water. Whoa. And the railroad back to Oslo again goes along beautiful, winding lakes. I loved the whole trip. Norway got way more than one country’s share of natural beauty.

As a warning though, it is also incredibly expensive, so don’t plan the trip until you’re sure you have enough, or you’ll be terrified by how much you spend. For example, a convenience store packaged sandwich cost almost 9 dollars. It is unreal. So don’t plan to go there and be frugal! But do plan to take an unholy number of pictures and spend hours sorting them, loving every minute of it as you relive how amazing it was.

Note: I'm apparently out of photo space for my blog. The pictures are on facebook, so until I work out what to do about the photo thing some other time, enjoy them there!