It’s that time of year again … to revive the travel blog! One year later, I am blessed to be studying abroad again, although shifting my focus a few centuries and a couple miles north of Classical Roman Italy. This round of blogging finds me in Copenhagen, Denmark, studying Cross-Cultural Communications and Viking history while also pursuing my newfound (and small) obsession with the Nordic countries. Admittedly, this interest began with the show Vikings on the History Channel, followed by the Last Kingdom on Netflix, and accompanied by a series of magnificent Scandinavian musical discoveries on Spotify; discoveries rivaling the feats of Viking Sagas. But anyways, here I am, fulfilling my Nordic dreams. I’m excited for this adventure, for this change of pace and educational direction. I’m exchanging the hot, Italian sun for 60 degree, frequently rainy Copenhagen; Latin for Danish and Swedish; Classics for Vikings. You might be asking why in the world did I choose these classes with my Classical Languages and Literature and Linguistics majors? Well, I’ve added a minor: Modern European Studies! So the Cross-Cultural Communications will count towards the minor but Viking history is just purely for fun and my own personal and academic enrichment.
The first class is three weeks long, consisting of a week long study tour to Belfast and Dublin while the second is four weeks long with a week in Iceland. After the seven weeks total, I have about ten days to explore. Although a few of those days near the end are claimed by a medieval festival in Visby, Gotland, an island on the south-east coast of Sweden (pictures to come of my homemade Viking apron dress). I’ve only been in Copenhagen a day and I already feel like this will not be enough time.
The trip out felt remarkably different from last year’s trip to Rome. I definitely wasn’t freaking out as much and felt much more confident about my abilities to speak to strangers and face the total unknown entities of the Amsterdam and Copenhagen airports. I also managed to grab a couple minutes of sleep on the plane, and I think that made my entry into the city slightly less overwhelming. I also surprised myself at the ease of talking to my new companions once I arrived at the airport. The DIS (Discover in Scandinavia: the program I’m in) representatives slapped different colored stickers on us, meant to organize bussing and housing, and herded us out to the bus area. Dazed and confused with a ‘sunshine yellow’ sticker that looked exactly like the totally separate ‘neon yellow’ sticker, I managed to introduce myself and make the typical introductory smalltalk, resulting in my first friend (she even sat next to me on the bus!).
I’m living in what’s called a Residential Community, which is basically a large building with five floors, filled with DIS students, all American. My floor has seven girls, me being placed in the lucky room with two other roommates. It was with them that I discovered that my shampoo opened inside my bag and colored my viking dress and sandals a sticky purple. But after telling this to my parents, my dad informed me that there’s an easy fix: water. Thanks dad! But our location is magnificent, about a fifteen minute walk from the DIS school facilities in the heart of Copenhagen.
My plane arrived late in the afternoon so I spent most of the evening unpacking and setting up my room. At 7pm, everyone in the building gathered in the ground floor apartment for pizza and mingling. It was hot and sweaty, crowded with total strangers but the pizza was good and the company better. So far, everyone seems really cool and interesting and I’m excited to be able to get to know them. Everyone seems pretty spread out over the east coast and the midwest, with not many people from the west coast. The overwhelming majority finds themselves in Denmark for the first time, so it’s comforting to know that we’re all in the same shoes! The group dynamic already seems vastly different from what I experienced with Paideia. It is truly a blessing that we are all studying different things, with no common denominator in which to compete. There’s no feeling of being sized up for ability, which makes me feel much more comfortable. Although, there is a dismal lack of Classicists and I desperately miss many of the Paideian joys and adventures.
After falling asleep around 10pm and waking up at 7am, I began our first true day in Copenhagen. Because I didn’t have the time or energy to go shopping the previous night, I went in pursuit of breakfast. Right down the road I found this restaurant called Bowl Market, specializing in porridges! It was perfect and delicious. The staff were so friendly, patiently explaining the entire menu to me and recommending their favorite porridge bowls. I ended up going with this blueberry, lemon extravaganza with a shot of espresso. Those of you who know me know that I can’t function without a proper breakfast, or without food for that matter, so I was happily set up for a day of exploration.
We had our opening ceremony at 9am at this church built in the late 1800’s. It was a beautiful building and an equally beautiful ceremony! We were given words of inspiration from the Director of DIS about her study abroad experience in San Fransisco when she was younger, a trip that turned into 19 years in the U.S., as well as a funny and cliché jeopardy game set up by former DIS students. We were also serenaded by an amazing pianist, playing two songs from a Danish composer, one of which happens to be featured in a Tom and Jerry episode. Once the ceremony ended, we formed groups of six and went on a scavenger hunt of sorts throughout Copenhagen.
My group was great! Two other gals and three dudes, with one of the dudes acting as navigator. Our first stop was Nyhavn (pronounced new-hawn), which means New Harbor. It’s one of the most picturesque and most recognizable locations in Copenhagen! I think it was built by King Christian V but all the kings are named either Frederick or Christian so it gets kind of confusing. We had a DIS professor tell us a little bit about the location, where she pointed out the oldest tattoo shop in Europe! Watch out, mom and dad. The small harbor also contains the last few places that Hans Christian Anderson lived towards the end of his life. It was a magnificent first glance into the beauties of Copenhagen. It was made possible by the toils of Swedish prisoners of war, apparently the Danes and Swedes have always been at war for control of the water ways. Our guide told us that Danes love to joke and poke fun at Swedes and vice verse.
Our second stop was Amalienborg, the home of the Danish Royal family. It was a very regal site, made more magnificent by the film crew shooting a movie on Amalienborg Slotsplads! Unfortunately, my group didn’t want to stick around for the little blurb about the location so I’ll have to go back and do some more exploring.
The third stop was Christiansborg Palace, which is where Danish parliament currently takes place. Here, our guide informed us that this was actually the third version of the palace, the first two burning down because the fireplaces were covered with wooden boards and it took people two days to realize that the building was on fire. There are still remnants, however. Inside the gates of the palace, the courtyard, horse garden thing remains from the first palace while a chapel remains from the second. The latter still stands because the guard who was trying to save it used gunpowder to blow up the connecting buildings! Pretty crazy. Our guide also told us that there are nine political parties in Denmark so the government is always lead by a minority party and the Prime Minister must be exceptionally good at negotiating. The palace also has a tower that you can take an elevator to the top of for a beautiful view and an extremely expensive restaurant. Our guide recommended we go to the tower during a cloudless day and to the restaurant with our mom’s credit card.
The final stop was Rosenborg Castle, which is a small castle built in 1606 in what is now the King’s Garden. It was built by King Christian IV during the Dutch Renaissance so it has a large Dutch architectural influence. Christian IV was notable for trying to expand Copenhagen by inviting a lot of Dutch architects and business men to promote investment and economic growth. In the 1600s, the castle was actually located in the countryside and acted primarily as the royal residence until the early 1700s, when they decided that it was too small. It has a beautiful moat and the garden is unbelievably gorgeous. A lot of Danes go there to picnic and sunbathe whenever the sun happens to come out. I will definitely be going back there and I hope to go inside the castle!
We wrapped up the morning with a stop and the Studenterhuset (the Student House) for a free coffee and croissant, much needed after a very active morning. Students from all over Copenhagen gather here to study, meet new people, join volunteer groups, and see live music! It is an amazing space and I can’t wait to utilize it. It felt so good to sit down and it was only around 1pm at that point! Quite the busy morning.
Class began promptly at 1:30pm. Instead of doing the mundane syllabus talk and what not, we started off the session by going on a field study to one of the largest Islamic centers in Copenhagen! There we listened to a talk given by Imran Shah, an influential and important figure in the institution. He talked to us about Islam and what it meant to be a Muslim in Denmark. It was pretty incredible. I realized that my theological education was extremely limited to Christianity, some pagan religions, and a little bit of Judaism so this was an amazing opportunity to expand my knowledge about Islam. He also encouraged any questions that we had about anything, even if they would be typically considered as taboo or inappropriate. After the talk, he gave us a quick tour of the Mosque, which was very cool. I had never been in a mosque before and he explained some of the cleansing rituals that take place before entering the Mosque and the prayer schedule. He also talked about Ramadan, which is happening right now. In the Islamic faith, those who are healthy and able can opt to fast for the month of Ramadan, which means no eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset for the month of June. We were shocked to learn that there are no exceptions even with the sun rising at 2:30am and setting and 10pm in Copenhagen! It was pretty incredible.
I ended my day by going grocery shopping, which was much needed as I had barely eaten since the porridge. I also had about 40 pages of readings to do but I sat at the kitchen table with a lot of my floor mates, which was good bonding time! It was a great day, I’m very happy so far, totally exhausted but excited for what’s to come.