September 15-19, 2016: Biking Vikings

Now that preterm was over, we took a 5-day trip to Scandinavia. We got a very early flight out of the Bologna airport to Copenhagen via Amsterdam at 6am. The shuttle doesn’t even run that early. And you can’t hail a cab in Bologna. So instead, Will and I met at the train station around 4:30 to find a cab. We went to pick up Gianna and then we were on our way to the airport. The cabbie was listening to Bruce Springsteen—Born in the USA if I remember correctly. We flew KLM and I must say that Dutch is not a pretty sounding language.

From the Copenhagen airport, we took a train. We tried to board a train that we thought was taking us to the city center and we got yelled at by some angry Swedish woman who was blowing on her whistle not letting anyone get on the train. It was going to Sweden and not picking any passengers apparently. Our Airbnb was not too far from the Little Mermaid so we made a short detour there first. It is certainly a little mermaid. Really tiny. It is quite disappointing and unimpressive. But the Chinese tourists there were taking it all in nonetheless.

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Now going to the Airbnb, I had yet to receive instructions from the host about how to get into the apartment. So I was frantically texting him. He was at the airport about to board a flight to Spain. So he’d be unreachable for a few hours after. Finally he called me and told me where to find the key. He actually had sent it to me earlier but I hadn’t found the message in my spam. I don’t know why it was in my spam. We figure he occasionally rents out his personal apartment. And just goes on vacation when people book it. The apartment was expensive enough. Also, the apartment was not far from the bus but we couldn’t figure out how to use it and where to buy tickets. And when we found out how much the tickets cost, it turned out to be just as expensive to take a taxi/uber. So we ended up ubering everywhere. Their public transportation is not very affordable and the subway doesn’t even go to the city center, it goes around it. Talk about a useless metro.

When we got to the apartment though, it was hard to tell if he actually lived there. It was decorated as if he lived there with his son. But the fridge was pretty bare. For the record, same deal with our Airbnb in Stockholm. The host definitely lived there, but his fridge was empty as if he didn’t. The Copenhagen apartment was in a really nice neighborhood and it was a large penthouse. Believe it or not, that was one of the cheapest places we were able to find.  He had a balcony that looked out into a courtyard and then shared access to the roof as well via a back staircase. To get to the roof, you have to go through a scary attic. It’s dark and unfinished. Used for everyone’s storage. The rooftop was really nice though. You get a nice view of the neighborhood.

For lunch, I had an open face sandwich. That’s apparently what they’re known for in Denmark. Denmark is very expensive. Will found an article that listed things you could buy for 5 euro in Copenhagen. On that list: half an open face sandwich. Obviously half of an open face sandwich is a quarter of a sandwich.

One of the best decisions we made was doing the free walking tour of Copenhagen. You only have to tip the tour guide. And our tour guide was very good. He showed us around old Copenhagen, told us about the history of the city and taught us about Danish culture and why they hate the Swedes. There is the Danish concept of hygge, which doesn’t really have an English equivalent. It’s something along the lines of comfort and joy. Danes are well taken care of by the government in social welfare programs. Even university students get paid to go to school. It’s an incentive to not work and focus on studies. The goal is to have a hygge time and the government facilitates that.

Everyone in Copenhagen rides bikes. They’re probably more numerous than cars. And amazingly, no one locks their bikes. They might lock it to itself, which doesn’t do anything really. In Italy, these bikes would get stolen so easily. I heard from someone that the reason is because if everyone was to park their bikes and lock them up to poles, there wouldn’t be enough poles. Or they’re just very trusting. In any case, this is why they are referred to as Biking Vikings. The tour guide was pretty funny too, he came up with that.

The tour guide showed us the royal palace, and we basically walked right up to the front door and no one stopped us. The Kings are all named Christian and Frederick. They love Christian X because he “led” the resistance against the Nazis. The current princess is Australian and very beloved because she learned to speak Danish in 3 months and met the prince at the Sydney Olympics. On the contrary, the Queen’s French husband never learned to speak Danish and he is “retired” from doing nothing. So they don’t like him very much.  We also walked right into the main legislative building, no questions asked, no metal detectors or anything.

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The tour guide even convinced us to do the boat tour and pub crawl too. He gave us a good discount on the pub crawl. It was 3 pubs for around 15 dollars, including 2 drinks per pub. The boat tour was not really worth it though. The tour was in four different languages. The one guy spoke all four languages and repeated the same thing 4 times. So we didn’t really get much out of it. We passed by rows and rows of houseboats. There is a waiting list to get a parking spot for your houesboat. One of the things he pointed out for some reason was a parking lot. And we saw the Little Mermaid from the other side, just as unimpressive from the water. Being a city built on water though, it was cool to see the city from the canals just to get a feel for the neighborhoods. When we pulled back into port, there was simultaneously some artist doing some project in which she rode a raft made out of garbage. So there were people all along the canal in Nyhavn and they applauded as we pulled in—though not for us. It was super awkward and hilarious.

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And the fully dressed Danish hot dogs with three different kinds of onions and bacon!

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For dinner in the famous pretty Nyhavn with the postcard connected colored buildings, I had pork chops and potatoes in a brown sauce. It is apparently a typical dish of Denmark. On the pub crawl, we met Iris and Julia and Marcel from Germany. And that’s all I wrote down about them. I don’t really remember much else about them writing this two months later. The pub crawl was fun, when we got home, I just passed out. I don’t think I’ve ever drank that much before. It was in the double digits. But I guess it helped that I ate before. I didn’t even throw up. I was just exhausted by the time we got home.

I took a shower in the morning and the shower situation is kind of ridiculous. This apartment is too nice (and the host is an architect) for the bathroom to be so impractical. The shower is a tub base with a shower head in the middle of the tub. The shower head is a stick from which water comes out at about a 30 degree angle. It’s one thing that the water comes out in two different directions, but then the tub doesn’t have a curtain. So the water just gets everywhere in the bathroom and then he has a little scraper to scrape the water into a drain under the washing machine. But the flooring is also not conducive to just plain scraping. You can do that a little bit, but it’s still soaking wet.

We had lunch at Halifax Burger and I had an excellent burger. It was expensive and tasted expensive. We took a cab to Christiania, which is a free town, which is bizarre in itself. They are essentially unregulated. Even though they are part of Copenhagen, they claim independence and run their own affairs. There is a sign at the entrance to the neighborhood. On one side it says Christiania and the opposite side says “You are now entering the EU.” There is a decades-long waiting list to live here. And I don’t know why, because it looked like a dump. And smelled like weed everywhere. Although, recently, they’ve apparently been cracking down after some drug dealer killed a cop. But for a long time, it was known as a bastion for drugs. He musician Lukas Graham is from this neighborhood.

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Decor on The Roller Coaster

Then we spent the rest of the day at Tivoli Gardens, an old theme park in the center of town. It is famous for having the world’s first roller coaster, aptly called roller coaster. And it also has a shopping center. Our boat tour ticket was a combined ticket to get into Tivoli, so we got a discount. What we didn’t know was that the entrance fee was separate from the ride tickets. So we ended up spending extra money buying a wristband. But we got our money’s worth with the wristband once we bought it going on basically all the rides, including the baby ones like the vintage cars. Except for the biggest roller coaster which was closed for some reason. Gianna and I were stupid and took off the back of the wristband so it was just adhesive and then we had to basically stick tape around our wrists. You were only supposed to take off a little bit of it to then stick it to itself. Roller coaster was fun. It was an old wooden coaster, so no upside downs, but some sharp turns. There actually has to be someone on the coaster to operate it. He stands in between two of the cars. He has a seat, but the guy was just standing. So you can imagine, it is fairly tame.

It was also much colder than I was expecting it to be in Scandinavia. I know it’s in the north, but I figured September would still be warm. I was wrong. And I was not adequately dressed. The amusement park had rides that went way up in the air. The best view of Copenhagen and the outskirts was on the rides. You could even see wind turbines in the distance. Obviously up in the air with the wind was even colder. And that’s how I caught a cold. One such ride was this insane thing that rotates you on 3 axes. You are at the end of a pendulum that swings all around 360 degrees. But at the end of the pendulum you are in a gyrating seat that spins horizontally and vertically. And we waited a long time to get on this ride. Most other rides had no line, but this one only sat a few people per ride. And after going on the damn teacups, I was already so dizzy, this just made me more nauseous. I felt more like I was going to throw up than after the pub crawl. I didn’t, but I felt like I could have. I was feeling so sick and miserable and Gianna and Will just wanted to get on more rides. The rides were more like carnival rides than amusement park rides. Kind of like Luna Park perhaps. Naturally, they all make you dizzy. That’s their objective. The animatronics on the Hans Christen Anderson ride were kind of embarrassing compared to Disneyland but I suppose that reinforces that it is more like a carnival than a theme park. Also there was some major cultural appropriation in the Chinese-Japanese section of the park.

After, we went to the Radisson Blu concierge to ask for a restaurant recommendation. Well, Gianna did that. She is used to concierge service. She made us a reservation at Harreford, an expensive steakhouse. So yes, it was partially our fault that we spent so much money, but Denmark was also just generally expensive. Personally, I don’t really like to eat steak, but Gianna and Will were ecstatic about this place. It looked like mostly businesspeople. And by this time, we were starving.

After dinner, we went home and played board games. The host had some games and also a PS3. There was a version of Jenga called Tumble which is a 4×4 tower. You roll a die and then have to take out the corresponding piece. It’s actually more fun than Jenga. And then we played Ludo, which is a version of Parcheesi. And I lost miserably.

Our last morning in Copenhagen, we had brunch nearby at a great place called Pixie. And then we almost missed our train. It wasn’t entirely our fault. The platform was number 26, which was not even in the train station. We had to run almost 15 minutes away to catch this train. And then there was a passport check before we got on the train which slowed us down too. They hate the Swedes that much that they don’t even let their train into the station.

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The train ride was pretty long, but the ride itself went through some really pretty Swedish countryside. There are these majestic lakes. There were some stretches of land where you could see that the train was tilted at an angle. The train was smooth and quiet. We got our passports checked again on board when we entered Sweden, but no stamp.

Our Airbnb host picked us up from the train station in Stockholm. It took us a while to find him cause there are two levels of the train station and we were of course at the wrong one. We saw this band with crazy hair. Our host coincidentally had pretty crazy hair too, very hipster. That was nice of him to pick us up. We figured he was worried cause it was his first time hosting. But actually, he said he had to wait two hours before for his guests, so he figured it was easier for everyone if he offered a pick up service. We paid him about 20 bucks. He even brought us to the supermarket to buy metro cards. The public transportation was much more reasonable in Stockholm and he taught us where to get the bus. The apartment was small but was a penthouse that overlooked the lake.

We went to a Thai restaurant he recommended for dinner. It’s called Thaiboat and…it’s on a boat! They weren’t going to seat us and then we magically got a table. It was also cold there since it’s on a boat. I was thankful for hot food and good old white rice and I drank some hot water. I felt very Chinese. We passed by a park full of Swedish kids playing Pokemon Go. They must’ve just gotten it here cause it seems very popular. This cute kid even came up to us and asked us if we’d seen a certain Pokemon. Everyone in Denmark and Sweden speaks English. Sometimes they even speak English to each other.

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Pokemon Go is still big here.

We took the bus back and I returned to the supermarket to try to get something for my cold. I was hoping for something to help me sleep, but apparently they don’t sell drowsy medication. It’s illegal for some reason to sell mixed drugs. So I had to settle for cough drops that did not help. And plus I was stressed over planning what we were going to do. Meanwhile, Gianna had to get back to the apartment to watch the Alabama game. She is overly dedicated to Alabama football. And I just don’t understand it. That was the first college football game I watched. And it wasn’t even my school.

The next morning we started in Gamla Stan at the Nobel museum. It was underwhelming. I don’t know what I was expecting but there really aren’t too many artifacts they can display except for Nobel prizes, which aren’t kept in their possession. They have some outfits and table settings from the ceremony. Some science experiments. Some videos. Chairs that Nobel laureates sat on at the ceremony. And lots of pictures. I contemplated buying dad a Malala postcard, but I decided against it.

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I had a salmon and spinach quiche for lunch that was pretty decent. In the pretty old town was Storkyrkan church, which is actually the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. It has an incredible organ and a famous statue inside. There was a band playing outside the palace. It was some military band where all the members were pretty old. And the very instant they stopped playing all the Chinese tourists swarmed them for pictures, I guess so they could show their friends that they have pictures with Scandinavians?

We walked down the main shopping street looking for a store that would sell IKEA shirts. We found none unfortunately. There is a notoriously narrow street in Gamla Stan that is narrower than my wingspan. The narrow streets make for good pictures. We took a ferry to another island. Stockholm is made up of several islands. We missed the ferry we meant to take cause we took a wrong turn and went down pretty far before realizing it. It was a case of Google Maps being wrong and my intuition being right but we went with Google naively. Coincidentally, this island had a Tivoli amusement park too and there was this crazy roller coaster that was a regular coaster but the car also rotated. They’re really into making you dizzy.

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This island has a ton of museums. Will and I went to the Vasa museum, which was amazing. The tour guide was straight no frills, just the facts. But the museum was awesome. The Vasa was an old Swedish majestic warship that sank 30 minutes after it left port on its maiden voyage. Under Stockholm Bay for hundreds of years, it was well preserved in the salt water and was rediscovered in the mid 20th century. Now there is a huge preservation project which we learned all about. And the museum is all just this one ship. It is enormous. I couldn’t even fit the whole thing in a picture. There was a movie about the Vasa that featured some cool CGI (better than the battleships in Hacksaw Ridge).

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Gamla Stan

Gianna instead went to watch Bridget Jones’s Baby at a local theater. She missed out. We met her in her natural habitat at a Starbucks in Sodermalm. Together we walked to a lookout point to see the whole island of Gamla Stan. I had a really great dinner at Harvest Home. It was a quaint homey restaurant. And the waitress was really friendly. I had a huge dish of spare ribs.

We took the T to Icebar, which is a bar entirely made from ice. From the seating and tables to the walls and bar. The shot glasses are carved from ice blocks. I had a grey wolf which was absolut and lingonberry. They give you a lined poncho to keep you warm. Poncho is probably not the right word, but it cloaks over you and has a hood. But you really can’t stay in there too long cause you get cold easily. The three of us hung out at a McDonalds for a bit, the only place we could get a cheap snack. We took an uber and the driver tried to charge us before we even got in the car, so we didn’t take it on principle.

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Our last morning, we took an uber to the other side of the city to Drottningholm Palace. To get there by public transportation would have taken twice as long. And we didn’t have much time. The grounds are really pretty and well kept. The palace itself was understated. The second floor was more ornate. That’s what you do in Europe—churches and palaces. There was a cool confidential dining room where the royal family could have dinner without servants. Essentially the kitchen was underneath the dining room and there was a rigging system that allowed them to raise the table fully set. There was a Chinese pavilion on the grounds that opened at noon. But we were there and had to see it even though that was cutting it real close. We didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to get a cab. We ended up taking a bus to a place we could get an uber.

We passed by the front of the enormous palace in North Gamla Stan to get to our reservation at Den Gyldene Freden, the oldest restaurant in the world. The Nobel committee eats there on a weekly basis. There are several rooms that all have a different décor. They’re kind of cavernous or crypt like.  I had Zorn’s meatballs with lingonberry and very good bread. There was a cauliflower soup amouse bouche that soothed my throat. I also tried some of Will’s pickled herring which sounded gross but it was actually kind of like sashimi in port wine and black currant.

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We rushed through lunch so we could get our stuff back at the apartment and then double back and head towards the airport. It involved a lot of run walking. The bus back to the apartment was fast but taking it back into the city was longer. There was a throng of little blond kids getting out of school bottlenecking the bus. The Arlanda express goes from Norrmalm to Arlanda airport in just 20 minutes. It was relatively cheap (not knowing I could get a small student discount making it even cheaper) but it was a super nice train. We sat at a bar looking out the window. It is eco friendly and there are outlets and WiFi.

Our flight was delayed but luckily we landed in time because we had a really short layover. We even got to sit next to each other by some miracle on the second flight. Gianna and I happened to be sitting in the same row and then Will got upgraded to the seat between us in economy plus. I had a miserable flight. My illness moved to my nose. And my ears wouldn’t pop. The pressure just kept building up and I was in so much pain. I thought I’d pop a blood vessel. It was that bad. I had to hold my nose and blow really really hard. And even that, it didn’t fully pop. I was uncomfortable the rest of the night.

Overall, it was a very expensive trip for five days. Scandinavia is gorgeous but very expensive. I don’t know how we spent so much money, almost a thousand dollars personally. It all happened so fast. The three of us had some quality bonding time though. So that was a really nice hygge time.

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