Monday, November 17, 2014

Way Up North in Scandinavia

When I came to Germany in August, I never thought I'd visit Scandinavia. Northern Europe was simply never on my radar. But sure enough, I booked a $45 flight to Copenhagen and flew to Denmark on Halloween weekend with my two best friends in my study abroad program! (And yes, this post is late. Term papers are piling up and reminding me that I actually have to do school work while abroad.)

I've heard of Copenhagen before studying abroad, but I honestly had no idea where it was. I guess Americans don't learn about Scandinavia much in history classes. A couple of people in my program visited Copenhagen and absolutely loved it, so my friends decided that we couldn't pass up a $45 plane ride to a new country. Spontaneous adventures are always the most memorable, right?

Our flight to Copenhagen was at 7 a.m., so my friends and I woke up at 3:30 a.m., got ready, and took the 4:30 subway to the airport, which is naturally located on the other side of Berlin. When our plane landed in Denmark at 8 a.m., I was pumped up on adrenaline and coffee, ready to explore! Despite getting four hours of sleep, we weren't willing to waste our precious time in Denmark.

Copenhagen isn't huge, but my friends and I planned ahead and researched some attractions we wanted to visit. Our proposed schedule was packed with pretty buildings and landmarks, but we dropped off our luggage in our three-bed hostel room and got breakfast before exploring. Right away we noticed that Copenhagen is crazy expensive! The exchange rate is intimidating enough (1 USD equals about 6 Danish Krone), and on top of that, we couldn't find a restaurant with breakfast cheaper than $15 in the city center. I was absolutely starving though, so I willingly paid $16 on a much-needed breakfast of yogurt with muesli, fruit, toast, cheese, ham, and coffee. Spoiler alert: every other meal in Copenhagen was just as expensive.

After breakfast, we basically power walked through Copenhagen to see as much on our agenda as possible. Here are some pictures:

Nyhavn, the old sailors' port

The picturesque entrance to Rosenborg Castle

We visited Copenhagen during fall, when the leaves were turning a beautiful red-orange. Of course, we took advantage of the park in front of the Rosenborg Castle for picture opportunities!

The famous little mermaid statue

Inside of the Round Tower, a 17th-century astronomical observatory with a winding ramp instead of stairs

Amalienborg, home of the Danish Royal Family 

The Church of Our Savior with its famous twisted spire

McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and 7-11. Was I in Copenhagen or Ohio?

A Danish hot dog with pickles, fried onions, ketchup, and Danish mustard. And yes, the hot dog is red!

We made a point to get danishes from a Danish bakery, which I swear was were best pastries I've ever had. I got a croissant-like pastry with jam and icing on top!

I had a typical Danish dish for dinner: pickled herring and salmon. I never had herring before, so I assumed the fish would be cooked and taste like plain white fish. I put the herring in my mouth and spit it right back out onto the napkin. The raw texture and extreme saltiness surprised me, and I was completely taken aback and disgusted! The next few bites were pretty tasty, though, because I knew what to expect.

Another amusing aspect about Copenhagen was the bike culture. More people rode bikes than cars in the city, and every building had a bike rack out front. Syracuse doesn't really have a bike culture due to the crummy weather, but my friend from California said she felt nostalgic for home with all of the bikes.

Being American, my friends and I were pretty nostalgic for Halloween, since we arrived in Copenhagen on October 31. Europeans haven't really jumped on the Halloween bandwagon yet. Fortunately, one of my friends decided to look up Halloween events in Copenhagen, just in case. We were surprised to learn that Tivoli Gardens, a big amusement park in the middle of the city, was hosting a fall festival! Of course we decided to go, despite the pricey admission. The park was decked out with pumpkins, orange lights, and festive decorations. Some people even dressed as zombies and walked around the park scaring people, although we aren't sure whether these people were park workers or random Danish men. Although the festival celebrated autumn more than Halloween, I'm glad I got a little taste of the holiday while abroad!

The next day, my friends and I finished everything on our Copenhagen "to-do" list, a day ahead of schedule. The city is amazing, but there isn't a ton to do while on a budget. We'd been joking all weekend about taking a $20 train ride to Sweden just because, and on Saturday we decided to go for it. Everything on our "to-do" list was checked off, and Malmö, Sweden was only a 20-minute train ride away. Malmö is, of course, not the same as Stockholm, but we were ready to explore a new country, no matter how small the city was. 

The first thing we noticed about Malmö was that tourism isn't huge there. The city had one tourism office that closed at 2 p.m., and our train didn't arrive until almost 2:30 p.m. To make matters worse, the fog and clouds were so thick that we literally couldn't see 50 feet ahead of us. Here is a picture of the Turning Torso, the tallest skyscraper in Sweden. The building is apparently really pretty and unique, but we couldn't even see a third of the way up!

We all agreed that gazing out on the Baltic Sea would be an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience, so we trekked about a mile to the nearest coastline. One glance at the clear blue water made all of the our annoyances about the weather disappear. I didn't realize how much I missed the open water until I was gazing out at the vast expanse of sea. The scene was extremely picturesque; the Baltic Sea didn't have a beach per se, but we found a dock surrounded by large boulders and spent a good chunk of the afternoon taking pictures and relaxing.

By the time we left the Baltic Sea at 4 p.m., the sun had already set. I can't believe how little sunlight Northern Europe gets during the winter months! My friends and I tried to explore the city center, but we couldn't see much in the dim light and scoped out a Swedish restaurant instead. I wanted Swedish meatballs, but the restaurant didn't offer them so I settled for a delicious stuffed chicken. We ate outside, covered with comfortable blankets that the restaurant provided, before heading back to Copenhagen for some late-night souvenir shopping. 

Northern Europe was exactly how I imagined. The sun didn't shine one time in the three days we were there, and the air was frigidly chilly. The cold weather seemed welcoming, though. Both Copenhagen and Malmö  seemed to have a nautical/ocean theme, which makes sense because Scandinavia is located on the ocean.

My trip to Scandinavia was short and sweet, but I wouldn't change a thing about the weekend. Spontaneous European weekend trips with good friends can certainly create memories that last a lifetime.