Sunday, August 29, 2010

Becoming Scandinavian

Hi again!

It was fun to arrive back in Copenhagen--I got there around 10:30 at night and it was still so light out! I took the train back into Malmö, then headed back to Copenhagen the next morning to meet up with a friend from college who was doing a summer program there. It was so fun--and funny--to meet up with her on the other side of the world. We had smørbrød (bread topped with pickled fish, in my case) and chatted, then wandered around a bit. I headed to the train station to take the train to Helsingør, up the coast of Denmark. Helsingør is a cute little town, but what makes it famous is "Hamlet's castle." Apparently, Shakespeare took his inspiration for Elsinore from Helsingør. The castle is on a peninsula jutting into the water--across the sea is Sweden--and it is beautiful. I explored the part under the castle, which was made up of lots of dark, dank cellars where people stored supplies or hid during raids. That even freaked me out, and I'm not scared of much.

After visiting the castle I took a short ferry over to Sweden, then took the train down to Lund, a beautiful little university down near Malmö. I admired the half-timbered houses and ivy-covered brick university buildings, thinking about study abroad (what would my major need to be for me to study abroad in Sweden?) and getting lost. After only a short while I hopped back on the train and returned to Malmö, because it was already past dinner time. I spent the evening with family friends, then took a train to Oslo the next day!

My departure to Oslo was on June 25th, the official midsummer celebration in Sweden. I was sorry to miss the festivities, but it was fun to see girls on the train wearing flowers in their hair, and the views out the window were beautiful.

When I arrived in Oslo I began by not finding the metro station for a while, then paying 4 dollars for a metro ticket when I finally found it, taking it a few stops, and dragging my bags through the rain all across the University of Oslo campus, then discovering that I had passed the dorms a while before. A slightly frustrating arrival, but I was still excited to be there. I found my room and met my roommate (from Minnesota!), and after a bit of unpacking and a meal of fish and boiled potatoes, walked around the area with some fellow summer school students.

During our first official day we took a bus tour of Oslo: we visited the Viking Ship museum (amazing!), drove through the center of town and saw the new Oslo opera house, which is an amazing modern building. Sunday I spent the day waiting in line to officially register, and then I started class on Monday. My class had about 24 students in it, of all ages and from all over the world. It was so much fun to meet my classmates and learn about where they were from. My teacher was also great--a very entertaining norwegian guy who also managed to teach us a lot, and who spoke mostly in norwegian.

After our first day of class we had the official summer school opening ceremony at Oslo City Hall, which was amazing! We all dressed up, and the vice mayor of Oslo spoke, along with the director of ISS and an alumna of the first ISS in 1947. There was also a performance by a band from the University of Oslo, and afterwards we had fancy hors d'oeuvres and champagne and met the American ambassador to Norway. All in all awesome! Then we missed our bus back, so some friends and I stayed at a bar near city hall for a while, then took the T-bane (metro) back.

So thus began my norwegian adventures! I had class every weekday from 10:15-1:00, then had lunch and either hung around in the afternoon, explored Oslo, or attended "Norwegian Life and Society" lectures. In the first week I watched the USA-Ghana world cup match in a park in Majorstuen, the zone near my campus, and went to the Oslo Ice Bar. As you may have guessed, that is a bar made out of ice! The walls, tables, bar, chairs, and glasses were all ice, and we were given big poncho-like parkas to wear. Definitely a crazy experience.

I spent my first weekend in Oslo visiting the islands in Oslo harbor and swimming in the not-too-cold ocean, then celebrating the Fourth of July, American-Norwegian style! There was a celebration in Vigeland park (Norway's most famous statue park), attended by lots of American x-pats, with food, stalls selling souvenirs, and entertainment ("Independence Idol"). I got some norsk jordbær (norwegian strawberries--delicious) and wandered around in my red, white and blue, happy to be able to celebrate my first Fourth of July outside the US in good American fashion.

ISS organized some fun events for us--one was "norwegian cultural evening," where we saw some great folk music and dance performances, and some traditional Sami "yoik" (singing). Afterwards, we had traditional norwegian sausage and cornstarch porridge which was surprisingly delicious. We also had a fun evening of folk dance instruction and spent some nice afternoons at Sognsvann, the beautiful lake right down the metro line from campus.

Next time: white-water rafting, Stockholm, and more fun in Oslo!!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Back to Santiago de Compostela (or S-d-C, as I like to call it). On our full day there we went to see the cathedral (surprise, surprise), and all the museums it includes. It is quite a fantastic piece of architecture, and the museums and the cloister were interesting. The cathedral was full of people--there was a line out the door at one part, and services were going on. There were also confessionals scattered around inside where people could confess in an array of languages. We tried to find a way to get to the roof (guided tour only, it turns out), but ended up just wandering around the huge cathedral. We stopped for lunch at a place nearby and got traditional spanish empanada and flan, then did as the spaniards do and took a siesta! We both decided we could get used to daily siestas.

In the afternoon I wandered back to the cathedral and went to the door that had previously had a huge line leading to it. There was no line then, so I wandered in, right as it was about to close. I saw from the signs that it was the way to the crypt, which I had been wanting to visit! I walked up some stairs and came upon a priest who asked me a question (I forget what) so I responded "no se" (I don't know). My answer must have sounded portuguese, though, because the priest then switched to portuguese and we went on to talk about iberian languages. "Are you a pilgrim?" he asked. I told him I was just a tourist, but tried to look less touristy (I refrained from pulling out my camera). A security guard was standing by, looking impatient and waiting to end our conversation so he could close up the crypt. "Ok," said the priest, "now go and hug the statue of Santiago (Saint James), go thank God and pray." I thought "Maybe this isn't the time to tell him I'm not religious" so I marched up to the gold statue covered in jewels that overlooked the whole church and gave it a quick squeeze. The security guard then signaled that they were about to close, so I hurried through the crypt, which I believe houses the relics of Saint James, but I couldn't really figure out where (it wasn't very crypt-like). I rushed outside again, happy and amused to have discovered what it is like to be a pilgrim in Santiago de Compostela. I love the places wandering and curiosity can take me.

Jackie and I had dinner at an Italian place that night, and struck up a conversation with some Irish people at the table across from us. It turns out they had come (by boat) from the same province where my relatives live! It's fun finding connections like that. That evening we headed to a pub with traditional Galician music (similar to Irish and Scottish--bagpipes, even!), which was so much fun. We came out from the cramped stone cellar reeking of cigarette smoke, but it was worth it.

Early the next morning we hopped on a bus to Salamanca, again passing through the beautiful Galician countryside. After a brief siesta in Salamanca we headed to the Plaza Mayor, a big square surrounded by archways that makes Salamanca famous. The plaza was gorgeous and bustling with tourists and locals. We walked around the archways, eating some spectacular ice cream and window shopping. We wandered from there down the street to the old and new cathedrals, which were beautiful, like the rest of the city. Many of the buildings in Salamanca are ornately-carved sandstone, and many have signs written on the stone in red ink in a beautiful old-fashioned script. We passed by many university buildings (another thing that puts Salamanca on the map). After a quick dinner we returned to our hotel to watch a bit of spanish TV and go to bed. By this time we had discovered that castilian spanish is much harder to understand than many dialects of south american spanish that we had studied. Getting out of galician-speaking areas made it a bit easier, but was still no piece of cake.

Our spirits were revived the next day when we stumbled upon Marcos, a peruvian guy selling scarves and jewelry on the street. I could understand his spanish almost perfectly, and he was certainly a talker! He asked us where we were from and what we were doing in Spain, then told us about his life in Salamanca and all the other friends he had made. Finally we bought some souvenirs and tore ourselves away from the conversation (it was fun, but it had been 40 minutes already...). We visited the inside of the cathedral, which was gorgeous, then after a brief siesta, decided to try to find a part of the university we could tour. Though the guidebook instructions were pretty clear, none of the buildings it mentioned seemed tour-able. The clerks in the university store didn't even seem to know! So we gave up and just admired the outside of some university buildings. We spent a beautiful evening in the still-bustling Plaza Mayor, then headed to Madrid the next morning!

After small-town S-d-C and Salamanca, Madrid certainly felt huge. We wandered a bit on the first evening, but decided not to stray too far from our hostel. The next day we slept in, then wandered through the streets near our hostel, stopping to buy some spanish books (mine was €2 and awfully written, but still fun). We saw the Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, two big squares, then had another siesta. In the evening we walked by the Prado (museum) and past many fancy hotels in that area, stopping for a quick bite at a restaurant that was too expensive for our budgets. The next morning we had tortilla española (like an omelette) for breakfast and then followed a walking tour in my guidebook that took us back to the Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, but also gave us some good info about the sights around Madrid. We ended up at the palace, where we took a tour. It was huge and gorgeous--maybe the prettiest palace I've seen.

That evening while Jackie took a siesta I wandered to the Retiro park, which used to be the park of the royal family but is now just a wonderful place for Madrileños to hang out, take a walk, or paddle around in the pond there. I enjoyed people-watching for a while, then met Jackie and walked to the Plaza Mayor for dinner. It was a touristy restaurant, to be sure, but a wonderful location to admire the beautiful plaza and watch people and street performers in the square. After dinner we wandered to an area that my guidebook had praised as a wonderful place for nightlife, but not much was happening. We also explored another square that was much less exciting than my guidebook had made it out to be. Though we didn't find much of interest, it was still fun to wander around the streets of Madrid at night.

The next morning we had our regular breakfast of chocolate and pastries, then headed to the airport. First, a quick note on Spanish hot chocolate--it is delicious. So thick and rich that it seems like someone just melted chocolate bars into a cup. It became our morning staple, and was sorely missed when we flew back to Portugal, where the idea of delicious hot chocolate doesn't seem to have taken hold.

We hung around Madrid airport for longer than we'd hoped because a luggage cart crashed into our first plane and made it un-flyable, but finally we arrived in Lisbon and headed back to my host family's house for dinner. The next morning we finally got to Careca (best croissants in the world), and then took a taxi to the airport, where Jackie flew home and I headed back to Copenhagen!

Scandinavia, part two is coming soon :)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lisbon, Porto, and our "pilgrimage" to S-d-C

Back to Portugal...

So my friends' first full day was certainly full... and fun. In the morning we headed to Restelo to go to my favorite pastry shop for breakfast, but unfortunately it was closed! (on Thursdays). We settled for another pastry shop down the street, which was fine, but not as good as Careca, of course. After lunch we went to Belem (again) and finally got to see the Tower of Belem, which is always such a treat. It was windy and full of tourists, as usual, but of course lots of fun. Afterwards we unfortunately had to drop Becky off at the airport so she could catch a flight to Morocco, but then Jackie and I continued our touristy fun. We went to the center of Lisbon, where we explored the Praça do Comércio and had lunch in a little café during an absolute downpour (the downpour decided our lunch location). When the rain eased up a bit we took the tram up the hill to the castle--another must-see in Lisbon. I don't think I'll ever get tired of exploring castles. We walked down through Alfama (the old part of Lisbon), which was all decorated for the Festa de Santo António (big festival in June in Lisbon), and saw the Cathedral of Lisbon--including a beautiful ruined cloister that I never knew existed! That was a treat for me. We had lanche (traditional portuguese afternoon snack) in a café in Alfama, then headed home for a late (even on portuguese time!) dinner.

The next day we had breakfast with my friend Marisa, then walked around central Lisbon again, exploring Baixa, Rossio, and the Avenida da Liberdade. We met two of my portuguese friends later and walked around Bairro Alto to a beautiful garden and overlook, then had pastries with them in a very very slow service café. After finally paying a bill we shouldn't have had to pay (heh) we headed home on the train, taking time to admire the cute stray dogs and cats by the Cruz Quebrada train station. We had dinner with some of my host sisters' friends, then had a nice long sleep and a lazy saturday morning. When we finally managed to lug ourselves out of bed we went to Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, a great sandwich shop in Belém (best falafel ever!) and then visited the Palácio da Ajuda, a palace near my old high school that proved quite tricky to find. It was nice to see, but nothing compared to the palace we visited later in Madrid.

That afternoon we took the train to Cascais, and Jackie finally got to see a portuguese beach! It was pretty late, so it didn't feel very beach-like, but it was still quite pretty. I had forgotten how picturesque Cascais can be. We strolled through some tourist shops, then had dinner at a British pub (why not) that was mostly full of tourists. The best part of the evening was what was on the screen at the pub: US vs. UK world cup game. We were surrounded by brits and some americans, who of course got very into the game.

Dessert was at Santini, a "famous" ice cream place with delicious ice cream--all the portuguese rave about it. We decided to skip the big Santo António festival because it was pretty late, so we just went back to my host family's house to get ready to take the train to Porto.

Our ride to Porto was uneventful, though when we got there we had to drag our suitcases up one of Porto's many cobblestoned hills to find our hostel (I had forgotten how hilly Porto is!). The hostel was nice, though, and the hill provided for a wonderful view of the city. After a quick rest-up there we had dinner at a little informal, very portuguese café down the hill, then called it an early night.

Our full day in Porto made me realize what a great city it is. I had been there once before, but only for a few days, and it was great to get to visit it again. We saw a beautiful old bookshop that I had remembered from my last trip and had lunch by the water after hopping on a wonderful boat cruise down the river. In the afternoon we did some more wandering, got some pastries for lanche (of course!), and discovered a shopping street full of shoe stores and jewelry stores that begged us to go in. After a full day on our feet we decided to have dinner early--around 6:30--but the waitress at the café we chose had a difficult time understanding the idea of dinner at 6:30 (normal portuguese dinner time is 9). We finally got some sort of food and called it a night.

The next day we were off to Santiago de Compostela! We took a 4-hour bus ride north and ended up changing time-zones, even though we hardly traveled east or west. The Galician countryside was so beautiful, and reminded me a bit of Ireland (that wasn't the only thing that reminded me of Ireland... see my next post). When we got there, I was surprised to see that most of the signs and information was in the galician language, which seems closer to portuguese than spanish (though neither of us could figure out which cues to follow in terms of pronunciation). We got to our tiny room on the fourth floor of the hostel, dropped our bags, and then walked to the center of the town (not too far--it's pretty small!). The town was beautiful, but the most exciting part was of course seeing the cathedral! We feasted our eyes on the famous landmark, then wandered through the old archways and alleys, enjoying watching the pilgrims, tourists, and street performers. We had dinner at a bar (watched Brazil beat North Korea) and then had a good night's sleep in our tiny room.

More on Spain to come! I hope you're enjoying reading, even though my blog posts are so much after-the-fact!

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Love Portuguese Ducklings

Hi again! Shall we go back to Lisbon?

On Sunday afternoon I went to Belém to meet my friend Mariana for a picnic in the gardens there. It was wonderful to see her, spend an afternoon catching up, and wandering around beautiful Belém. I had walked from my host family's house to Belém and after a nice afternoon, walked back (about an hour each way--keeps transportation prices down!).
For dinner my host family and I went to Alfama, the old, moorish part of Lisbon. The next Saturday was the festival of Santo António, one of the biggest festivals in Lisbon, so Alfama was full of people, music, decorations and stands selling sardines, beer and ginja (portuguese cherry liqueur). We had sardines at a cute little restaurant across from a church (in a residential area--during the festivals the people who live in Alfama just give up their front stoops to the celebration). It was a lot of fun and very, very portuguese.
I spent a relaxing Monday afternoon at the Tropical Garden in Lisbon (also in Belém--one of my favorite areas), admiring tropical plants and cute families strolling around. At one point I found a cute little stream full of ten ducklings and spent the next 45 minutes staring at them and taking videos of them. I was absolutely in love.
That evening I met up again with Mariana and another friend, Inês, and went with them to their latin dances class. It was great to spend time with them, and I got a free dance class on top of that! After dance I went back to my host family's house for dinner with my host grandparents, which was fun--always nice to reconnect with the rest of the family.
The next day I reconnected with the other side of the family--I had lunch at my host grandfather's house. It was just like old times; I used to go to his house at least a few times a week for lunch, and each time various aunts and uncles and cousins would come and eat with us. After lunch I headed into Lisbon to Santa Apolónia train station to check about train tickets, which involved a lot of walking around construction zones, but it was fine. Afterwards I had some time to explore Lisbon, so I decided to check out the "University City" part of town and the national library. That was a sort of funny afternoon, because there's really not much to see. The library is nice enough, but I looked quite creepy walking around upstairs to areas where there were just offices or random exhibits that I didn't have much interest in. The rest of the university area was mostly big blocky buildings and busy streets.
The next day was much more exciting--my friends Jackie and Becky arrived! I met them at the airport, then after lunch and a quick rest at my host family's house we walked around Belém (again!) where we saw the Jerónimos Monastery (absolutely beautiful manueline architecture, and it houses the tombs of Vasco de Gama and Luís de Camões) and had a snack. We missed out on the Tower of Belém because it closed early, but nearby we stumbled upon a funny TV program that was being filmed outside in the gardens. It was quite hard to tell what was going on, but it was still fun to see.
That evening we got a beautiful view of Lisbon at a miradouro (viewpoint) and went back to my host family's house for dinner and an early-to-bed for my jetlagged friends (who thus far had done an amazing job with the jetlag!).

Well I do have much more to write but I figure it has been so long since I posted that even this little bit is good enough. I'll try to get caught up to Oslo, but you may just have to wait until I'm back in the states to hear about my norwegian adventures. Sorry!