Sunday, June 14, 2009

14 June

Today is the last day of my trip. What?!

Somehow I was fortunate enough to have nice weather two days in a row; the sun was shining again when I awoke this morning.

I met Marie and her roommate for coffee at noon, and then spent my afternoon visiting the Danish National Gallery and the fortified citadel in the north of the city. The National Gallery was great (free admission!) and had a fascinating collection of artifacts from 20,000 BC to present day. They had arms & armor, pottery, and jewelry from the stone age, bronze age, and iron age. I was really impressed by the quality of the preservation.

The citadel was really neat too (also free admission.) Visitors were invited to walk along the ramparts, which overlooked the water and the surrounding area. There were a lot of people out today enjoying the nice change in weather, and it was certainly nice to be among them.

Tomorrow I have to get up at (censored) o’clock to travel across town to the airport to catch my morning flight back to the States. Fortunately, Continental has great entertainment options on their transatlantic flights, so the trip shouldn’t be too grueling. I will finally land in Raleigh at around 3:30 pm.

I only have a few days in Raleigh before I’ll be heading back up to Blacksburg, where I have two jobs for the rest of the summer to earn money so I can eat in the fall.

I am looking forward to seeing some of you in a few days!

The Copenhagen Opera House

Farewell photograph. I need to shave...

Shields from the bronze age

More picturesqueness. <-- That is a real word

Pretty Anglican Cathedral overlooking the moat across from the citadel

13 June

I got up nice and early this morning and caught a 7:50 train from Göteborg to København (Copenhagen), Denmark. Most of the ride was pretty uneventful. The weather was cloudy and we traveled through mostly rural areas until we arrived in Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, near the southernmost tip of Sweden.

We were parked in Malmö for about 15 minutes before setting out once again to cross over the Kattegat into Denmark. The crossing was pretty dramatic – we were high above the water for several minutes on a huge bridge before plunging into a tunnel and finishing the last bit of the crossing underwater, finally emerging in the Danish capital, København (pronounced Cope-m-hawm).

What a beautiful city! Apparently the city was just emerging from a week of constant rain showers as I arrived. A friend of mine from high school, Marie LaHaye, is spending part of her summer in Denmark studying psychology and working with special needs children in Copenhagen. She met me at the train station when I finally arrived at about noon, and we spent the day exploring the city together. We visited the historic old town, grabbed some lunch, and finally hit up a grocery store for some dinner fixings. I cooked my favorite dish, lemon ginger chicken, for Marie and her roommate.

I am staying at the Denmark City Hostel, which is conveniently located only a few blocks from the train station and the city center. It is the largest city hostel in Europe, boasting a remarkable 18 stories of rooms. I am on the 13th story, and my room has an incredible view. Unfortunately, the hostel is run by fascists who charge $15.00 for breakfast and $8.00 for an hour of access to their wifi. I am somewhat appalled, but at least the rooms are nice.

As a side note, the bar/café I am in right now is playing Def Leapord. Pour some sugar on me.
After dinner I took a second walking tour through the city to appreciate the pleasant weather and ambience. Being rather exhausted after a long day, I came very close to just collapsing into my hostel, but resolved to explore the city again by night. I was handsomely rewarded by a spontaneous midnight fireworks display just as I arrived at the central square. People streamed out of the nearby bars and nightclubs to watch the display. I asked several Copenhagen natives what was going on, and they were just as surprised as I was.

Just a regular Saturday night, they said.

Marie is good at taking pictures (Gotcha!)

Countless canals

View from my hostel. Nice, yes?


Friday, June 12, 2009

12 June

Well, today it rained all day. Hard.

The two main things on my agenda for my last day in Sweden (yikes!) were visiting the Volvo headquarters/museum and the Palmhuset (a gigantic greenhouse with several self-contained ecosystems worth of plant life.

Thanks to the great public transport here, I was able to minimize my exposure to the constant downpour and visit both places. In between, I got to see some more of the city. The Volvo museum was really cool - it housed nearly a hundred cars, trucks, and engines from the company's 80-year history. There were also a number of recent concept cars, including one that actually takes 3 cars worth of air pollutants from the ambient atmosphere and absorbs them into its catalytic converter as it drives. Very cool.

Palmhuset was also exciting to see. Each of the five sections of the greenhouse had a distinct temperature and humidity. As a result, trees and plants from 6 continents can be housed inside.

At the end of the day, the conditions shifted from steady rain to sporadic torrential rain, adding considerably to the excitement of pedestrian travel. My shoes and socks are now totally soaked from walking through puddles for hours, but my jacket is holding up alright.

I fly home in less than 72 hours... it is really incredible how quickly these past weeks have gone by. I still haven't seen Copenhagen though - so I still have that to look forward to!

This concept car was designed exclusively by a team of women engineers.
"A car that meets the expectations of women exceeds the expectations of men"
The headrests have grooves in them to accommodate ponytails.

This concept car cleans the air while you drive it

This is not a car at all

11 June

Today I traveled from Stockholm (on the Baltic coast) to Göteborg (on the coast of the Skagerrak.) Göteborg was founded by Gustav II Adolf, a.k.a. Gustavus Adolphus, in the early 17th century. We know the city as Gothenburg.

Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city, is ideally situated at the mouth of the Göte river. Its strategic location has made it the busiest port in Scandinavia, and today Gothenburg is known as "the face of Sweden." After traveling across the country from east to west, the most noticable thing about Sweden was its flatness, especially in contrast to Norway. Sweden's flat terrain make it ideal for high-speed rail travel and agriculture, and I have certainly noticed a pick-up in the speed and quality of the trains over here.

I arrived in Göteborg at about 1:30, and contrary to the weather forecast, it wasn't raining. Rather, I was greeted by relatively amiable overcast skies. I spent the afternoon exploring the city and walking around the harbor. As the day progressed, the skies darkened gradually and it began to rain. I headed back to my hostel (via a very extensive tram system) at around dinnertime and made myself a nice frozen pizza.

One of the city's many canals

The Göteborg Opera house, which overlooks the river

Bicycle path

Thursday, June 11, 2009

10 June

For anyone expecting a day of wild kayaking, rich in capsizing and collisions with cruise ships, I apologize. After several days of better-than-average weather in Stockholm, the conditions returned to normal today, with rain and temperatures in the low 50's.

I went and watched a very wet changing of the guard at around noon, and otherwise spent the day walking around the city again. I was determined to find a cheap place to eat that wasn't cheeseburgers/kebabs, and after a long hunt, I found a hole-in-the-wall Sushi/Thai place with really good prices. I considered getting the sushi, but I was famished, so I went with a pad thai dish. IT WAS SO FREAKING GOOD. Best pad thai I think I've had. The nicest part was that it was only 89 SEK including tax and tip, making it essentially the same price as a thai entree in the United States. Dinner was definitely the highlight of this rainy Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

9 June

I was really tired last night... I haven't used any buses or trams since I arrived in Trondheim a week ago, so I've been walking 10-15 miles a day. Good exercise, but at the end of the day I'm beat! I resolved to reward all my city trekking with a night of sleep sans alarm (For the first time on the whole trip!). A dangerous prospect.

So I awoke at noon to a sunny city and a maid cleaning the room. To make up for some of the lost time, I ate my breakfast on the go (a cinnamon roll and a coffee) and headed over to the National Museum, which is basically next door. My favorite part of the museum was the section with the Swedish design. I got to see the famous "Concrete Chair" and a plethora of other super cool furnishings. Unlike the National Gallery in Oslo, I was actually allowed to bring in my camera, so I took a ton of pictures. There was also a whole section of European art from the 16th century to present. There was a large collection from the famous Swedish painter/designer Carl Larsson, as well as some selected works from Monet, Degas, Gauguin, and others. The paintings were cool, but the 5000 square feet of Scandinavian design (furniture, silverware, light fixtures, and much more) was really awesome!

After a few hours in the museum, I set out into the heart of the city again, with no clear intentions but to walk. The weather has been really great since I got hear, so it's been nice to just wander around. I got a nice hot lunch, capped off with a crepe at the neighboring cafe. Then I walked over to the central station and grabbed my reservations for Thursday's train to Göteborg.

Tomorrow is already my last day in Stockholm... I haven't decided exactly what I want to do yet...

Tune in tomorrow afternoon and find out!

These billboards are all over town - I like 'em!

The cuteness brigade is in attack mode!

Stockholm's National Museum

The famous "Concrete Chair"

Cool cabinet


8 June

So today I finally checked into my hostel in Stockholm. I wasn't allowed to check into a room until 3, so I had a lot of time to kill with my luggage. I left all my clothes in the storage room at the hostel and went for a three-hour walk through the city.

This hostel has a pretty bizarre wireless internet set-up, so I was hoping to find a cafe somewhere and grab a coffee/check my email after walking around Stockholm for a while. That didn't go very well... I went to seven different cafes, none of which had wifi or any employees that knew of a cafe that did. I eventually broke down and just had a cappuccino sans internet. While there I was able to use wifi from Burger King of all places, but after 20 minutes I was prompted to pay by the minute.

When I was finally able to check into my room, it was time to hop on the train again to head back to Uppsala for a barbecue with Caitlin's hallmates. We grilled up some tasty local sausage and steaks and indulged in some interesting conversation. While abroad, my favorite thing to talk about is the local perception of America. I try my best to be a good ambassador.

After dinner and a few beers it was about 10 pm and finally darkening a bit. I walked back through Uppsala one last time and took a few parting photographs before catching the 10:09 train back to Stockholm. I was hoping to get some dramatic nighttime shots when I got back, but it turns out that the Swedes actually turn off most of their lights at night... so it was... dark.

Stockholm by night

Barbecue time!

A pleasant evening in Uppsala

Sunday, June 7, 2009

7 June


Caitlin and I spent today walking around the city of Uppsala and enjoying the pleasant weather. We visited the botanical gardens, the cathedral, and walked along the Fyråson river, which runs right through the heart of the city. I got a pizza for lunch, which came with a nice salad, for only about 8 dollars. This was very nice. Sweden, to my surprise, does seem to be about half the price of Norway.

Tomorrow I am taking a morning train back to Stockholm, where I'll be moving into my hostel and getting acclimated once again to the urban surroundings.

Botanical Gardens

Botany pwns.

Placid section of the river running through town

Awesome neoclassical architecture!

Uppsala cathedral

6 June

Happy D-Day everyone!

Today was my first full day in Sweden. I am staying with my friend Caitlin Cossaboom for a few days before I transition into the Chapman Hostel in Stockholm. Caitlin is spending the summer at a University in Uppsala, which is 40 minutes north of Stockholm by train. Today was Sweden's national day, so we took the train into town and explored the city. It was very exciting for both of us; neither of us had been to Sweden's capital, also the largest city in Scandinavia.

Venice is the Stockholm of the South.

You might have heard that the other way around... but Stockholm is freaking awesome. What Sweden lacks in fjords and mountains it makes up for with its stupendous architecture and glorious cities. Uppsala and Stockholm are both very picturesque and welcoming. Most things have been about half the price of their Norwegian counterparts thus far. Add another point to the Swedish column.

Our day in Stockholm was mostly spent touring the city on foot. We visited the royal palace and saw the changing of the guard, explored some of Gamle Stan (the old city), and sampled some of the local delicacies. Swedish pastries are excellent.

We eventually returned to Uppsala for our evening, where we watched Sweden play Denmark in a World Cup qualifying match. Crushing defeat - Denmark edged out the Swedes 1-0.

Tomorrow Caitlin and I are going to explore Uppsala's town and gardens and do some laundry. Monday morning I am headed back to Stockholm for a few days.

Part of Stockholm's extensive network of waterways

It was actually quite chilly - about 45 degrees or so

The old Chapman ship, which is now a hostel

My awesome hostess for a few days, enjoying a Swedish pastry!

One of the ten thousand islands which comprise the Stockholm archipelago

Saturday, June 6, 2009

5 June

Goodbye, Norway!

It's been a great twenty days. While it is still fresh in my mind...

9 Great Things About Norway:

1. Stupendous geography, rich in vast mountain ranges, spectacular fjords, numerous waterfalls, and huge forests
2. Friendly, well-educated people
3. 100% powered by renewable energy (hydro power!)
4. Good train system, excellent bus system
5. You have to pay for bags at the grocery store (encourages using your own)
6. Great hostels! I was most impressed with the breakfasts.
7. Good traditional cuisine (great seafood!) a nice mix of international foods
8. Free water at most restaurants (!!!)
9. Universal healthcare and welfare (Norway is essentially a socialist country with a very high standard of living)


5 Somewhat-less-than-Awesome Things About Norway:

1. Food costs 3-4 times as much than in the USA (The standard combos at McDonald's range from $13-$17)
2. Alcohol costs about 3 times as much as in the USA and wine/liquor can only be purchased at special government-run stores with limited hours (Cheapest pint of beer I found was $9)
3. Unique currency, not a member of the E.U. (But they are a member of NATO)
4. Smoking is really, really cool and is very popular among all the cool people here
5. Economy is currently anchored by oil exports (meh)

Today was a super-long day of travel. I left at 8:20 AM and arrived in Uppsala, Sweden at 7 PM.

There was a great sunset last night. Like, really incredible.

And it turns out that today was graduation day for schools all over Sweden. And during my layover in Östersund I saw between 30 and 50 dump trucks which had been converted into party wagons full of drunken co-eds blaring party music and drinking champagne.

It was madness. A completely inappropriate introduction to the country, but enjoyable all the same.

Tomorrow is Sweden's national day, so Caitlin and I are going into Stockholm, which is only a 40 minute train ride from here. Time has been tight here, but I'll do my best to keep up with posts.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

4 June

Last night I actually had roommates for the first time in a while. I had my own room (accidently) in Flåm and the hostel in Stryn was pretty much deserted. I was sleeping in uninterrupted silence and it was great! So I had gotten to the point of taking it for granted. Unfortunately, I had a rude awakening. (Get it?!) I was accompanied last night by a symphony of snoring, with sounds ranging from clogged drain to flatulence to band saw.

Some time before I fell asleep I resolved to switch to a single room for my last night in Norway, since I have done so well on my budgeting thus far. After taking care of that upon waking, I grabbed a quick breakfast, checked my email, and headed out into the rain to explore Trondheim. As I mentioned in my last post, Trondheim's Nidaros Cathedral, whose construction began in the eleventh century, is the largest cathedral in Scandinavia and the northernmost in the world. The nearby archbishop's palace also host's the Norwegian crown jewels.

When I woke up this morning I had around 1300 NOK left, and only two meals to pay for. I initially resolved to go shopping, given the crappy weather, but there was a non-rip-off exchange desk at the train station where I changed most of my money into SEK (Swedish crowns).

So all I bought in my shopping excursion was a pineapple.

However, the cashier rang it up as a kiwi. So I got a big, ripe, extra-sweet Costa Rican pineapple for less than a dollar. Definitely the best buy I have made since my arrival in Norway.

I spent my day visiting the cathedral and a few other sights and window shopping in a few different malls to avoid the rain. I also got the reservations for my train travel in Sweden tomorrow. I'll be traveling on an X2000, which sounds more like a fighter jet than a train. Fine with me!

The Nidaros Cathedral

Detail of the masonry

Trondheim canal with Nidaros in the background

3 June

Today was another big travel day. I awoke in Stryn in 8:15, had breakfast, and caught the three hour bus back to Otta, where I had a 5-hour layover. Fortunately, bus station layovers are better than airport layovers because in bus station layovers you aren't in an airport. The bus station was right in the middle of Otta, so I had a chance to walk around town a bit and grab a non-airport lunch. However, a hamburger with fries (no drink) from a place at the mall still costed me 18 dollars due to the whole being-in-Norway situation. Apparently most of Norway is twice as expensive as Sweden? (According to the guy running the Stryn Hostel)

After my long travel break, I caught a 3-hour train from Otta to Trondheim, Norway's fourth largest city. Trondheim was once the capital of Norway, and its cathedral is the largest in Scandinavia and the northernmost in the world. For most of the train ride we were traveling through a blizzard... which I guess isn't too odd, seeing as Trondheim is the farthest north I have ever been!

When I finally arrived in Trondheim it was 9 pm, and thankfully, it wasn't raining. I forgot to check online for directions to the hostel before I left Otta, so I had to make a quick reference in the train station to find out how to get to the Trondheim Vandrerjhem. Despite strict ordinances in Trondheim against street signs, I managed to find the hostel without too much difficulty. Again, there is a pretty good view. Tomorrow I'm hoping to do a tour of the city. It'll be my last full day in Norway!

Sunset, at 11:15 pm

12 AM. It doesn't get any darker than this.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

2 June

Today was the Tour de Fjord.

I awoke at 7:50 to get an early start on the day, because the weather was calling for afternoon showers. My knee had gotten verrrry stiff and sore overnight, to the extent that I was limping through breakfast. Again, there was a great breakfast at the hostel. Fruit, veggies, cereal, bread, jam, nutella, salmon (!), waffles, hash browns, eggs, and much more. I rented a bike for... free actually. There were signs everywhere advertising bike rental for 99 kr per day, but the guy told me I could rent one for free. I wasn't going to demand an explanation.

My first stop was the pharmacy in "downtown" Stryn, where I bought some painkillers for my knee. I popped 1000 mg of the good stuff and got underway. My destination was Loen, a quaint town 13 km away, where I there is a glacier coming all the way down into the water. The methodical motion of pedaling the bike didn't really hurt my knee at all, even before the meds kicked in. After a few kilometers, it was totally loosened up.

After about an hour of hard pedaling, and several stops for photos, I arrived in Loen. There were no glaciers in sight. After a few minutes of confusion, I came to a sign that read: "Kjenndalsbreen: 19." For a moment I tried to convince myself that I was on Route 19 and almost there. It seemed plausible, but after a little later I came to a sign that read: "Kjenndalsbreen: 18." I wasn't even halfway there yet. This was going to be one hell of a ride.

When I finally did make it, the scene was pretty cool. The Kjenndal glacier is one of the arms of the enormous Jostedalsbreen glacier (on which I went skiing yesterday.) The nice thing about the Kjenndal is that it extends down into a valley very close to sea level, all the way down to 500 feet, so there is a road leading all the way to the glacier. I was told by someone that the Kjenndalsbreen was only about 30 minutes away from Stryn by bike, so I had only packed a bit of water and my camera. The water ran out quickly, but I got to refill it with meltwater from the glacier. Delicious!

Rain showers were due to roll in for the afternoon, so I only rested for a few minutes before beginning the long ride home. The head wind on the return trip was pretty ferocious, making even flat sections of road difficult. When I was about 8 kilometers out, I rode through a ten minute downpour, which actually felt pretty nice. My first stop back in Stryn was the grocery store, where I devoured a bunch of bread, a pastry, and some apple juice mixed with sparkling water.

All in all, the ride took about six and a half hours with stops and covered a distance of 66 kilometers (about 41 miles).

I took the pain meds at about 9 o'clock this morning and my knee still feels a lot better, so I think I'm in pretty good shape. I am now sitting down to enjoy the packed lunch that I was planning to eat after a two hour bike ride. Unfortunately, I placed it in the freezer instead of the fridge, so it is currently thawing.

Today was another good day. Exercise! Tomorrow will be my longest travel day yet: I depart Stryn at 9:40 and I don't arrive in Trondheim until after 10 pm. I'll be fine with a day of rest, however.

Pretty flowers along the road to Loen

Sweet glacier

Check out the hot, hot ice on rock action!

The innermost reaches of the Nordfjord

Monday, June 1, 2009

1 June

Well, today was the day.

I awoke at 8:15 and actually had a great breakfast at this hostel! I had an orange, a waffle with jam (!!!), and strawberry yogurt with muesli. I have never really been a fan of yogurt, but on this trip I am starting to warm up to it. Particularly mixed with muesli. SOOOO GOOOD.

Getting to the ski center is usually pretty simple - there is a bus that goes from Stryn to the Ski center (45 minutes away), but right now it isn't running. I don't know why. So I was only able to get to the Folven, at the base of the mountain. Folven is basically a big drunken party full of skiers and snowboarders from around the world. Everyone I had spoken to assured me that I could just show up and get a ride without a problem. Surely enough, the first group I approached offered bring me along.

Bjorn and Inge brought me along in their car and we drove up the mountain together. They got me there quickly, gave me some basic advice, and Bjorn lent me his (really, really nice) ski goggles. We were driving up the side of the mountain within minutes, which was really incredible. The road has only been driveable for a week now. The snow had been cleared, leaving somewhat of a canal which snaked its way to the top. In some places there were eight feet of snow visible; much higher amounts were present but unknown because there was no way to check! The trip to the ski center was truly surreal.

When we arrived I just had to rent gear and buy a lift ticket. Renting the gear was really quick and easy, because everyone in Norway has their own. The lift ticket was also pretty straight forward. I found the prices to be very reasonable by Norwegian standards. One day ski rental was $50.00 and my lift pass was $65.00. Considering the once-in-a-lifetime factor, I was happy to pay up. All that was left now was the mountain/glacier. Most of what I skied on today was a glacier, albeit covered in 15-30 feet of snow. The ski center gets around 30 feet of snow in a typical season, and it never totally melts. (It's supposed to snow on Wednesday, actually.)

After gearing up, I made my way to the lifts. First there was a traditional chairlift, which brought me from 3500 feet to 4300 feet. Then, there was this thing called a t-bar lift. To use it, you grab this T-shaped bar, tuck it behind yourself, and lean back. The sensation is something analagous to waterskiing uphill. The T-bar brought us from 4300 feet to the top of the mountain at 5300 feet. (!)

So, this one time I went skiing in West Virginia. Hahaha...

Before today, I had been skiing twice at Snowshoe Mountain. I was expecting the skiing to be challenging, but manageable.

To put it bluntly, I got pwned. The "easy" trails were much steeper than I anticipated, and the snow was difficult to maneuver in. It was very heavy, because there had been several consecutive days where the temperature did not drop below freezing. On my first run, I made my way very clumsily down the mountain, crashing every few minutes. When I skied for the first time a few years ago I suffered initially with the Zoolander complex; I wasn't an ambiturner. Only being able to turn one way makes slalom skiing very difficult (read: painful). Today I was having similar problems, which were antagonized by the steepness, the heaviness of the snow, and my 16-month hiatus from skiing. One of the wipeouts twisted my right knee pretty badly because the ski didn't pop off, but it didn't slow me down too much.

On my second and third runs, I fell much less, but I was also in some pain from my earlier wipeouts. All in all, I lasted about 3 and half hours on the mountain before I was beat. I returned my equipment and managed to hitch a ride all the way back to Stryn, where I just took a long nap.

Upon awakening, my right knee is hurting a lot. Walking isn't a problem, but turning it or laterally shifting my weight is painful. Fortunately, I can put my feet up and relax for the rest of the evening. The pain isn't particularly acute, rather it is a constant reminder of the crazy day I have had. Oops! I am sunburned too. Oh well. Worth it.

Pretty blue ice/water

The Stryn Ski center from the first lift

The second (T-bar) lift, going the rest of the way up

Showing off my casual skiing attire at the top

The Strynfjell valley

Miraculously still standing after many falls!