Sorry it’s taken me a little longer than expected to get this last update out – I’ve been busy recovering from my hiking excursions and starting the cleaning/sorting/packing/moving process since I am leaving for Seattle in less than two weeks!
I think I left off on my update right before we went to Copenhagen – we hopped the train from Berlin to Hamburg, switched to Copenhagen…and then our train got on a boat! Chris (my brother) and I couldn’t figure out what was going on and why we were being forced to leave the train until we got up four flights of stairs and found out that we were on a train ferry! That was a cool experience. When we arrived in Copenhagen, my friend Anja (who I met in 2006 in South Africa and have been friends with ever since!) picked us up and we headed to her apartment. I find Denmark fascinating, especially the ‘free’ college education and health care system..and the fact that she was living in a great co-op townhouse in probably one of the worst neighborhoods (right past the drug hotspots & prostitution headquarters). She offered to take us on a walking tour that afternoon, and so we headed to the town hall square, a church where all the royals marry, the university, Parliament, and the round tower before heading to one of the city’s summer “chill fests”. We spent some time in the square because it turned out to be a Turkish cultural festival, which was really cool to experience. I also loved the story of the round tower, used for astronomy: it was built by a king who built most of the extravagantly decorated and beautiful architectural pieces; and he built it with no stairs so he could ride his horse to the top! (After all the staircases I climbed this trip, albeit for incredible city views, the idea of getting to the top of a cool building with no stairs was pretty attractive!). For dinner we tried out traditional Danish cuisine; I experienced a type of beef patty with onions fried on top with a fried egg, and new potatoes, beets, and some pickled vegetable we never identified. It was one of the best meals of the entire trip. Afterwards, we walked around some more neighborhoods and visited the old site of the Carlsburg brewery.
Day 2 in Copenhagen yielded similar weather to Prague: rain, rain, and more rain. We tried to tough it out but most of the museums were closed due to a royal birthday (or something) and so we walked along the river and royal gardens in the rain (and saw another changing of the guard). Our culinary experiences included Danish hot chocolate and “cold feet” – which is what eating hot dogs on the street is nicknamed, since you get cold standing there during lunch! That evening, my brother joined my friend and her boyfriend in a road race. Unlike most American races, which might be 5k, this one was a “Danish Mile” -7.5something k. (My sneakers were in terrible shape with holes in the bottom at this point, so I took pictures and explored the neighborhood while they ran along the river). After they finished, we headed to find dinner Christinia, the hippie druggie community (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freetown_Christiania) where I thought it was ironic that they help first-time users ‘safely’ decide which hash to get and yet crack down on ‘hard’ drug usage.
We next spent a day in Malmo, although we spent most of our time wandering the streets rather than at any one attraction. Malmohous castle had an interesting history exhibit on Malmo (and how it swapped between being Danish and Swedish territory at various points in history), and there were incredible gardens and parks scattered across the city. We happened to see groups of young adults running through the streets dressed in sailor suits or white dresses, blowing whistles and yelling most of the time – turns out it was the last day of university, and the traditional end of school year festivities include running around and drinking all day! Not too different :p from some U.S. customs. On our way back to Denmark, I noticed a giant wind farm in the sea. Wind farms and wind turbines fascinate me, and someone on the train told me that the wind farm outside of Malmo is the city’s largest investment in wind energy and powers 60,000 homes. We swapped to an overnight train heading to Amsterdam. We had a four person compartment; one of our two companions was a Swedish businessman from Stockholm who works in wind energy, and the other happened to be a community college professor from Florida (small world) who was teaching for the summer in Spain.
Our train was delayed and we arrive in Amsterdam a bit late (and in the rain of course), which was disappointing because I was planning to meet up with two friends at the Amstel Hotel for lunch. My map was ruined in the rain and my blood sugar plummeted, so it took us even longer to find our hotel and drop off our bags. I had planned to walk to the hotel for lunch, but between the weather, my stupid blood sugars that refused to cooperate the entire time we were in the Netherlands, and being so late, we hopped a cab and managed to make it in one piece. After lunch, we managed to walk across a good portion of the city and see the Rembrandt statue, paleis, dam square, new church, magna plaza (cool mall building), and wander through the tulip market before heading to the Anne Frank House. And wow…that is one of the most moving and significant museums/tributes that I have seen while in Europe! Although for lunch we had traditional fare, for dinner we somehow ended up at an Argentinian steak house. If you’re looking for guacamole while in the Netherlands (or really in Europe), that is the place to go!
On day 2 we hit up the Rijkskmuseum..which wasn’t my favorite since I’m not a huge fan of Dutch-style art, but my brother liked it. (At this point I’m slightly annoyed every time I have to explain to multiple security people what my insulin pump is, and why I have to carry juice boxes into the museum with me – and I’m also so grateful that everyone has spoken English so there’s not that extra language barrier to overcome! phew!). We then headed to Mike’s bike shop and headed out of the city on the best bike tour I’ve ever been on. We rode past plenty of canals and waterways, saw some gorgeous scenery (including deer on someone’s front lawn), and stopped at a farm where we tasted fresh cheese and saw them make wooden clogs and talk about the culture and history of clogs. We rode back through the forest and park where some of the Olympic facilities were built, and visited the houseboat community (2,600 houseboats!). I was also interested to hear our guide talking about Amsterdam’s history with legalizing cannabis. Apparently Amsterdam officials were worried about the drug problem and did research to find out the problem; they determined that buying cannabis was the link to the criminal underworld. By legalizing and undoing that, they could crack down on the harder drugs and addiction problems. They also opened up the first 24 hour clean needle swap, addiction centers, and health check clinics (that are still anonymous today) that helped a lot of the problems that Amsterdam set out to fix. After we got back from the tour, we squeezed in a trip to the Van Gogh museum – another one of my favorites for the entire trip. We headed to the train station with our bags, but stopped in Dam square to observe what we thought was going to be a rodeo but turned out to be a shoeless sand soccer tournament! It was the perfect end to our stay in the Netherlands before we hopped onto our overnight train (and literally counted sheep from our window) and arrived in Zurich the next day.