Sunday, June 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Utrecht! (+ lovely Bremen)

Hello again! I'm now settled in my dorm at the University of Oslo. I'll spend the next couple days writing in installments about my adventures the past few weeks, then I'll be caught up and continue writing about Norway as my adventures here progress.

After I left Hamburg I hopped on a train to Bremen, where I spent a couple hours in the afternoon and wanted to spend more. Bremen is lovely! It's full of beautiful old buildings like the City Hall and old churches. I has rostbratwurst for lunch (sausage in a roll), and then wandered around town, exploring, as usual. I went into a nice church at one point and noticed that it seemed to have strange background noise. The noise changed at one point, and sounded like an organ, but without a tune. I went into one of the ancient crypts and discovered that someone was tuning the organ! That was entertaining. I also explored the schnoor, the old part of Bremen that has some extremely cute 400-year-old houses, narrow alleys, and delicious ice cream.

I wouldn't have minded staying in Bremen for another day, but I decided to stick to my (rough sketch) schedule and hop on a train to Amsterdam. When I arrived at the station in Amsterdam it was overcast and pretty dreary, so I took a spontaneous decision to skip Amsterdam for the day and head to Utrecht, about a half-hour train ride away. Utrecht was also overcast, and I wandered around for a while before finally finding an OK hostel, all the while wishing I knew some Dutch. I was placed in a 14-bed room with 5 guy roommates, but the hostel had wifi (none in Germany whatsoever), so it was fine (and I switched to a smaller room the next night).

Utrecht the next day was warm, sunny, and beautiful (I now understand how much the weather effects my perception of a place...). It's a cute university town/city with a lot of history, and as luck would have it, I was there on its 888th birthday! I got into museums free and got to watch people gathering in a square listening to someone important speaking Dutch. After hot chocolate and a croissant I wandered around the canals, narrowly getting run over by bikers (a common theme in that area of the world... more bikes than cars). I saw a church and a museum called the "Utrecht Archives," that was certainly not like any other archives I've heard of. It actually seemed like a few modern-art exhibits scattered around with a bit of history. But it was free, so I can't complain.

After having turkish food for lunch (another common activity) I climbed up Utrecht's beautiful church tower (the tallest in the Netherlands), which has more than 400 steps. The tower is separated from the rest of the church because the connecting section collapsed in 1674, and they haven't bothered to rebuild it yet. As usual, I took a handstand picture at one of the lookout points. Later that afternoon I had ice cream at one of the many stands around town, and was surprised to receive exactly two scoop-sized scoops. Anyone who has ordered ice cream in America will realize how strange that seems.

The next day I took off to Amsterdam, where this time it was sunny and welcoming. In the next few posts I'll take you through my travels in Amsterdam, an impromptu night in Brussels, two weeks in Spain and Portugal, a quick stop back in Denmark and Sweden, and finally my arrive in Oslo.

For now, ha det bra! (That's bye in Norwegian).

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Marzipan, Turkish Food and Starbucks (Lübeck and Hamburg)

Hello again! This time from Lisbon. It's wonderful to be back, but before I go raving about Lisbon, I'll write about how I got here.

The morning of my departure to Germany I took the train to Copenhagen and bought a Eurail pass, which gives me 10 days of rail travel in the span of two months. Pretty awesome, though we'll see later that it does have setbacks. Anyway, from Copenhagen I boarded a train bound for Lübeck. That was very entertaining, because the train went on a ferry to get to Germany! We were on the ferry for about 45 minutes and could get off the train and hang out on the boat. I arrived in the afternoon in Lübeck, Germany, which is a beautiful town. It's full of beautiful, 500-or-more-year-old churches and houses and, of course, Germans. It was pretty exciting to get to use a bit of my German (I checked into the hostel all in German!) but also tiring since I really don't know much German.

While in Lübeck I did what I do best: wander. That has become my #1 way of visiting places and I really enjoy it. I had dinner at "Tony's Pizza"--very German, right? I actually ate a lot of non-german food while in Germany (especially turkish, there's turkish food all over the place). The next day I saw two churches, two museums, and Lübeck's famous Holstentor gate. It rained, unfortunately, so I went into a cafe and read some H.P. Lovecraft that I had downloaded to my iPod (very handy when one doesn't want to bring books on trips!). I also ate some of the marzipan that Lübeck is famous for.

The next morning I hopped on a train to Hamburg (all these trains were paid for with my rail pass). I got to Hamburg with no map or idea of the city, so I procured a map at the tourist office and wandered around looking for a dry place to read it, because it was raining again. The public library was right next to the train station which I thought was fantastically lucky, until I discovered it was closed. I wandered around the library building, which contained other offices, hoping to find a dry space with a table and chair. This is where I looked super sketchy, by hopping into an elevator with someone going up to an office, randomly pressing the button for floor 3, and discovering that floor three was barren except for blocks of cement and construction materials.

So, lugging my suitcase, I left the library building and walked into the center of Hamburg, where I found a place with dry tables and chairs--Starbucks (oh, how American of me!). At Starbucks, I ran into a classmate from college! Such a coincidence. We sat and chatted a while, and she helped me figure out my Hamburg map. I ended up finding a decent hostel and then commenced my wandering again. I climbed a huge church tower (St. Michael's) and saw the crypt of the church, which had an odd exhibit about copper. Walking towards the center of Hamburg, I came upon the ruins of St. Nikolas church, which is now a war memorial and has a beautiful gothic tower. I ended up walking the whole day, who knows how many miles, all over Hamburg. I found a neighborhood full of portuguese restaurants and was relieved to be able to speak a language that I know better than German! I had a lovely Portuguese dinner, then walked around Hamburg until around 10:00, when, of course, it was still light out.

The next day was spent mostly on trains--it took 5 to get from Hamburg to Utrecht. But... at the moment I'm quite sleepy and it is almost 1 AM, so I think I'll write about the rest of Germany and the Netherlands later. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Summer 2010 Starts in Scandinavia

...and the summer 2010 European adventures begin.

I'm in the Netherlands! Utrecht, specifically. But I'll start from the beginning.

I flew over with Icelandair, which gave me beautiful views but no food. After a brief stop in Iceland I flew to Copenhagen (all the while looking for Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano, but I didn't see it). Some family friends picked me up at the airport and took me across the bridge to Malmo, Sweden where I stayed with them for three days. It was so much fun to experience Denmark and Sweden at the same time, and really nice to stay in a house with friends while I got over jetlag.

The first night I slept a hearty 14.5 hours, then went to see Malmo, which is beautiful! Nice cobbled streets, squares with cafes all around, and lots of bikes! (My gosh I have been overwhelmed by bikes this trip!). I saw the castle/fort, which is now a museum, as well as the train station and some of the cute squares. Then I headed to the workplace of my family friends in Malmo, a daycare center. The kids were so cute, but not sure what to make of me! It was fun to just watch them play and listen to all that Swedish.

The next two days were spent in Copenhagen, around which I must have walked 10 miles a day! The first day I saw Rosenborg castle, which has some of the most beautiful decorations, artwork and treasures I have seen. I had falafel for lunch and wandered for the rest of the evening, then took the train back to Malmo for the night. The next day I did even more wandering, this time in the rain! I had seen rain was predicted so I just trudged through it in teh morning and did a self-guided Copenhagen walk from a guidebook. It was centered around the Stroget, the main pedestrian street in Copenhagen, which I loved. I also saw the University (and tried to look like a student since they don't seem to welcome tourists), and the Radhus (city hall), which was a strange experience. The Radhus is open to tourists and they do give guided tours, but you can also just wander around. So that's just what I did, and I passed all these people dressed in suits, carrying papers, working in offices, and speaking Danish. I felt like such a trespasser! I had already started planning some great mystery movie with thieves dressed as tourists wandering around the Copenhagen city hall.

In addition I walked through Nyhavn, which is the place on all the guidebooks (besides the Little Mermaid). It's a row of cute, colorful buildings along a canal. (Do an image search for Copenhagen and I'm sure it'll come up). I walked all the way to Amalienborg palace, which is gorgeous (I didn't go inside, though), and could have walked to see the Little Mermaid, except she's currently at the world expo in China, so it wouldn't have been worth it to walk all that way. Besides, my feet were sore!

That afternoon the sun miraculously came out, but I went to the national museum (should have switched my schedules!). I also wandered around another palace--Christiansborg--and ended my afternoon with a visit to the Copenhagen library to look up train schedules. The library is a black, modern glass building shaped liked a diamond.

Back to Malmo for the night, and the next morning I was off to Germany! But I think I've written enough for now. Coming up next: Germany and the Netherlands, including marzipan, train rides, coincidences, and more bikes.