No matter if I’m in the States or abroad, traveling or settling into college, the third week is always the toughest for me. Perhaps it’s because the novelty of being in a new place is starting to wear off and the rigors of change start taking their toll, or because a bit of homesickness sets in, the longing for familiarity amidst strangers and strange things. In all my travels, the third week has always been a bitch, a sort of identity crisis and emotional wreckage. I think I was lucky last summer because the program I was on included the same people and topics for the six weeks, without any final exams or final projects or anything like that. I had much more opportunity to settle in and get into a tentative schedule. Here, on the other hand, we had one week of school, one week in Ireland, and then a final week of class, including two papers and a mega group project before embarking on a totally different class with totally different people. So on top of the third week chaos, this was a little bit more of a stressful week. But my toils would be rewarded, for we have a three-day weekend before the next session starts and I’m using that time to go to Norway with a couple of my floor mates! It was a very spontaneous decision, born from the desire to hike the fjords and we’re pretty darn close to Norway so why not.
But before my Norwegian saga, there were indeed some highlights throughout the week. DIS, the program I’m on, hosts the occasional get-together for its students in some of the parks around Copenhagen. Apparently it’s a very popular past time for Danes to have small barbecues and gathers of friends in the evenings at parks during the summer time. This one was at Amager (pronounced Amayer) Strandpark, which is actually a little beach! Strandpark translates from Danish into beach park. I decided to go because the thought of hanging out at a beach sounded fun, although it was in the low 60’s and cloudy.
They had set up these little grill apparatus (fun fact: apparatus is both the singular and plural form of the word, it’s a fourth declension noun from Latin) and gave us little sticks on which to grill our Danish hotdogs. We had the full barbecue complement, including marshmallows in a bag boasting they were American style, and potato chips! Not a green thing in sight other than the grass we sat on. They had also set up some Danish games to play although the group I went with opted to explore the beach instead of playing the games.
That excursion created a nice little break in the monotony of class, homework, and floor mates worrying about Norway. The final week was surprisingly intense for everyone. One of my floor mates had a seven page paper while a few others had a three-hour exam at the end of the week. I think my class was rather lucky to have just two mini-papers and a group project. Although, our teacher didn’t really tell us what the group project was until Wednesday, which was unfortunate because the thing was due Friday with a group presentation to go along with it.
But nonetheless, the project was pretty interesting. We got to put our cross-cultural communication skills to the test by going out into Copenhagen and talking to some Danes. The point of the project was to interview Danes about some aspect of Danish culture, whether it be immigration, religion, or their perception of Danish culture. My group decided to focus on how Danes, both traditionally and non-traditionally ethnic, thought about their identity as being Danish. We thought this was interesting because early in the week we had a guest speaker named Fatima Osborn, an incredible woman who is a female Imam (a Muslim spiritual leader) as well as a survivor of Ethiopian refugee camps and civil war in Somalia. She arrived in Copenhagen when she was 12 and managed to learn the language, get an education, and become a successful optometrist. Her story is truly incredible and she fully identifies as Danish, feeling that Denmark is her home and country and loves living here. Imran Shah, the Imam we visited the first day of class, feels very much the same way. He fully identifies as Danish. Both, however, have experienced discrimination based on their skin color and religion, and know that many traditionally ethnic Danes would not consider them to be fully Danish. So my group wanted to explore that phenomenon and see what people on the streets had to say.
We went to this area called the Glass Market (Torvehallerne in Danish), which is a popular shopping and eating spot for Danes during their lunch break. It’s really a good mix of a lot of different people and nearby there is a park called Ørstedsparken, which is a great place to find Danes practicing the famous Danish hygge on nice days. My group split up with two going into the Glass Market and the other two going into the park. This part of the project was really challenging for me because those who know me know that I’m relatively shy. Added to that, Danes are very private, reserved people and look at you like you’re crazy when you approach them in the street. Usually they’re very kind and willing to talk to you but approaching them is not the easiest thing in the world. We certainly got rejected by a few people but those we did interview provided very interesting answers. We asked them three questions: 1. What does Danishness mean to you or how would you define being Danish? 2. How do you think someone can become Danish? 3. Have you noticed Danish culture/being Danish changing over the years? If so, how?
We recorded all those who assented and spent about seven hours on Thursday putting together all the audio clips into a podcast type of thing. I am now a GarageBand expert and might make my debut as a DJ soon. If you’re curious, you can listen to our finished product here: What Does it Mean to be Danish?
The differing answers were pretty incredible. Also seeing how difficult the Danes found it to answer, which is understandable. But to be fair, if someone were to randomly approach you and ask you to define your national identity, you might be kind of stumped! We discovered that there are extremely different views on what it means to be Danish and what it takes to become Danish. Some people couldn’t define what Danishness meant to them but had a much more clear picture of how someone could assimilate to the Danish culture. Others were quite adamant that it could take generations for an immigrant to become fully Danish. And then we had a young man, who, like Fatima and Imran, fully identified as Danish even though he wasn’t born here. But he, like the other two, is discriminated against and stereotyped because he doesn’t look traditionally Danish! It’s a wild world, especially for a country who claims to be as accepting and open-minded as Denmark.
So that final project was really interesting to do. And it was really interesting to listen to all the other groups projects! Some did video, some did audio like us, and others just had pictures and quotes from people. Most of the six groups focused on some aspect about being Danish, which made it even more amazing that all of the groups had such different outcomes. And with that, the class was done! Our professor took us out to lunch one last time, to a Turkish buffet that was absolutely delicious. Another fun fact, Turkish immigrants are the largest non-European immigrant group in Denmark. Anyways, it’s wild that this class and session are already finished. The three weeks flew by and it’s crazy to think that the next session is about to begin. I have to say that I’m pretty excited for this next class, to learn about Viking history! I already took a look at the syllabus and I think I’m really going to enjoy every aspect about this class, even the homework.
Thus ends the third week crisis and begins my brief, Norwegian saga!
We had a pretty late flight, made even later by the fact that our flight was delayed. So we ended up taking off around 11:30pm and arriving in Bergen, Norway a little before 1am. And the airport bus, which is supposed to run every ten minutes, showed up a little after 1 but the bus driver decided to take about an hour break so we didn’t actually get to the city center until a little after 2am. And then we had to find our Air Bnb, which took a good amount of time and including us getting lost in a park but we arrived and sank wearily into bed a little after 3am. It was a late night. But the apartment was really nice and on the top floor of the building so it had an amazing view.
And an early morning too! Because we had to get up at 7:15am in order to get back to the bus station and get tickets for Norheimsund, so we could go hiking around the fjords. It was slightly brutal, and everyone was feeling grumpy. It was a little awkward because none of us really knew each other that well and the silence kept moving between companionable and irritable. But we managed to get to the bus station and had some trouble buying the tickets but made it. We also almost narrowly missed the bus because we ran to get some breakfast at a supermarket across the street. It was quite the morning. But it was made better by the stunning bus ride that took us through the Norwegian country side and into fjord country!
Norheimsund is a tiny, sleepy town that’s in the Hardangerfjord region. There were only a handful of tourists, and most go to Steinsdalsfossen, a massive waterfall that you can walk behind. We wanted to see the falls but we really wanted to do some hiking. But as we left the bus, we realized we had no idea where to go. So we decided to stop in the Norheimsund Marine museum cafe and ask the locals what they’d recommend doing. We talked to a very stereotypical Norwegian lady; tall, blond, athletic, and beautiful. It turns out she lived in Boston for a while so her English was excellent and she told us about one of her favorite hikes. She said that it was pretty steep, which basically meant that it was going to be extremely steep for us. But away we went, onwards and upwards!
I would consider myself a fairly fit individual, people who know me know that I love to work out and try to stay in shape. Trust me when I tell you, this was such a difficult hike. My leg muscles were burning, my lungs wheezing, shirt soaked in sweat. But it was so worth it. At first it was just your typical, forested, up a mountain hike. And then, after about an hour and a half, what looked like just a tree-covered mountain yielded scenery that seemed like it would spawn a couple of trolls and fairies. We joked about straying off of the path and being abducted by some mythical creature. I kept thinking to myself, god damn, this is hard. Wait, I’m climbing up a mountain in Norway! I had to keep pausing, mostly because I was quietly dying but also because I need to slow down and appreciate the fact that I was actually hiking in Norway.
Towards the summit, there were even a couple of beautiful lakes to complement the overall Scandinavian aesthetic, their edges dotted with a couple of adorable cottages. We decided to keep going up this rocky, even steeper part to get to one of the highest points.
From there, we could look upon a part of the Hardangerfjord, and it was breathtaking (due to both the beauty and the exertion). We all sat down and flung off our shoes and ate some food, gazing at the natural beauty of the fjord. We took some pictures and just before we were about to head down, a group of locals with their Swedish friends showed up and we got chatting (Norwegians seem to be a lot more friendly and approachable than Danes, and much more willing to initiate conversation). Lo and behold, one from the Swedish group lived in Greenville, Michigan for a couple of years! What a small world.
The descend down the mountain was a lot faster but also killer on the knees and ankles. We passed the time by talking about movies and TV shows and the time seemed to fly. Before we knew it, we were back in the Norheimsund marine museum, getting ice cream and sitting beside the water. It felt so good to sit down. After that brief rest, we hiked along a relatively easy foot-path to Steinsdalsfossen, which was really cool but our tired bodies and minds were rather over nature at that point. There were also a ton of locals so it didn’t seem as authentic as our earlier hike. They did have a really cute touristy shop though, and I ended up buying a Norwegian winter headband! I gotta prepare for Michigan winters. We hung around for a while and waited for the bus, where we had yet another bus scare. Normally, you can purchase your bus tickets from the bus driver and most of the busses are equipped with credit card readers, except for this one, of course. I think the bus driver must have seen total devastation and helplessness on our faces when he told us this because he said we could just pay him once we got to Bergen. And maybe because he wanted to show that there is still kindness in the world, he forgave our debt. Bless that kind Norwegian bus driver.
We immediately went in search of food once back in Bergen. One of my companions had a travel book, which recommended this restaurant called The Penguin so we decided to check it out. It served traditional Norwegian food, and was a little pricey but we decided to treat ourselves after a long, successful day so we went for it! I got a class of wine and a traditional fish pie, which was absolutely delicious. It was a marvelous end to the day. But before we headed back to the apartment, we wanted to check out the tourist information center and see what types of activities we could do on Sunday. Both the Penguin and the tourist center were located right in the city center of Bergen, which was surprisingly charming. There were lots of shopping centers, beautiful old buildings, and a huge fish market right next to the harbor. To make the atmosphere and experience even better, our trip to the tourist center was super successful. We ended up booking a ferry from Bergen to Balestrand, sailing right through Sognefjord, the second largest fjord in the world! It was even more perfect because Balestrand has great hiking trails as well as two Viking burial grounds, so we were super excited.
The only unfortunate thing, another early morning. But this time we were prepared with breakfast foods and gave ourselves plenty of time to walk down to the city center. It was also on a really nice ferry-boat so we had about four hours to relax before we landed at Balestrand. We sat on the second floor so we could have easy access to the back deck. The ride was stunning! It was a rainy day but the clouds made the fjord look even more mystical and magical.
Balestrand was very similar to Norheimsund, sleepy and cute. It was rainy when we arrived and rained pretty much throughout the hike. The way up was kind of fun to hike in the rain but it made the trip down very slippery and tricky. But despite the rain and my burning glutes, it was another gorgeous hike. I couldn’t believe I was hiking up another mountain but there I was, onwards and upwards. The ascent up this mountain seemed even more magical than the first mountain, which didn’t seem possible at first. But green moss was everywhere, majestic trees towered above us, and knotty trunks turned into fairy homes before our very eyes. Maybe it was the rain, the exhaustion, or the environment itself, but the hike was spent in relative silence, giving time to appreciate the clear air and amazing surroundings.
The walk down went rather quickly despite the treacherous nature of the mud and slippery rocks, which was nice because it was starting to get really chilly and miserable with the constant rain. We ate a meager lunch in a wooden structure built near the trail head and sat for a while, looking at the rain falling over Balestrand. We had plenty of time to kill before the ferry so we took our time walking back to the harbor area and putzed around some of the shops. We got some snacks at a little grocery store and then sat and ate and talked until the ferry arrived. Since we were so early, we were determined to be first in line in order to get good seats but somehow we didn’t quite make it and ended up towards the end of the line. And the ferry was totally packed so the group had to split up and I ended up sitting with one of the girls on the first floor of the ferry, which definitely wasn’t a bummer because I got to read and dozed the entire time. I felt so exhausted from the past two days. We got back to Bergen around 9pm and decided to make a dinner of salad, fruit, and miscellaneous things while enjoying the comfort of our Air bnb. It was quite fun to cook altogether! And we created quite the feast, healthy and everything. We even lost track of time because the sun doesn’t really set until after 1am so we ended up going to bed kind of late. But we slept in the next morning, which was glorious so it didn’t even matter.
Monday was our Bergen day and day of rest. We packed up and cleaned the Air bnb and mobilized around 12, which I thought was pretty impressive. One of our first stops was to this adorable cafe near the city center and near Bryggen, which is Bergen’s old town and most famous tourist attractions. We wandered around there after coffee and a quick stop to a yarn store, and went in and out of the many galleries and artsy stores. I ended up getting a small print and three bookmarks that I’ll probably just put up on my wall because they’re so beautiful. We also went to some of the other tourist shops, where I got mittens and a snow globe. It was sort of rainy in the morning but then the clouds cleared and it was a beautiful afternoon! Perfect for walking around a city. We even got our mountain in for the day and walked up to a highpoint to look out over Bergen and the harbor.
We ended the day by getting dinner at the fish market, although I got a moose burger so that was a little different from fish. It was really good! I wasn’t really sure what moose would taste like but I sort of liked it. We also got some ice cream, which was delicious. We ate by the harbor and talked until it was time to go. Instead of the bus, we took the tram to the airport, which was another great way to see the city. It also played really funny toons every time it reached a tram stop. Once we got to the airport, we had a surprisingly difficult time finding the terminal. It was really funny and I had a laugh attack because we had to walk so damn far in a maze made out of poorly labeled construction fences. It was ridiculous but hilarious. And we made it to the terminal eventually.
Everything was flawless until we got on the wrong train from the Copenhagen airport and accidentally went to Sweden. It was a bummer because we got home so late but just another adventure to add onto the narrative of the trip. Although, I’ll never forget the moment when the ticket woman asked where we were going and we said, “Central station”, to which she replied, “in which country?”. My heart dropped but we were able to laugh about it. The Norse gods had to rescind their good fortune at some point!
And now for the world of the Vikings! I’m super excited to learn about Viking history so I’m really looking forward to the next couple of weeks. Happy 4th of July to everyone and have a great holiday. Until next time!