Monday, April 28, 2008

Berlin Revisited

Returned last night from Berlin, Germany. Another amazing trip to this wonderfully dynamic city!

What I love about this city is how it is constantly remaking itself yet not forgetting its history. Berlin is this big major metropolis, yet without all of the usual arrogance of a big city that is frequented by tourists. Here it seems people are happy to share their town with others!

We were only there for a weekend, again too little time. I've said it over and over, Berlin is one of those cities that you could spend three months in and still not have found all of its interesting secrets. Mind you this is the city that was the capital of Prussia, that saw many battles, where the Kings and Kaisers lived, that was the capital of Nazi Germany and the epitome of the cold war, a city split in two; so there is MUCH to be found in Berlin.

For the day we were there, I took the group tour of Berlin, very revealing in the history of the city. Than I went to the zoo to see the famous Knut, polar boar. He is now big but still adorable (have to remind myself that with one swipe of his paw he could kill me). But before heading there, I swung back around on the S-Bahn to a humongous flea market. My only regret is that I didn't have enough time there or enough suitcase space to buy all that I wanted at this great fair!

I have to finish with this picture; it is the site of where Hitler's bunker was. The Soviets bombed the bunker so if you were to dig it up, all you would find is rubble and maybe the cement floor where the monster walked. Now this location is a parking lot/grassy knoll in front of an apartment complex, where people walk their pets...I think its sweet justice that one of the worst human beings the world has seen, his final resting place is a location where dogs take a regular piss!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rush Hour in Copenhagen?

Is this a bike race? Some charity event? Perhaps an unusual tour group that opted to ride instead of walk around Copenhagen? WRONG!

The pictures above show rush hour, Danish style. Did you know Denmark is the second largest country in Europe to use bike cycles as a primary form of transportation (after the Netherlands)? EVERYONE bikes here, to work, to school, to parties, for shopping (i.e. after one of the ballet's I went to see, I saw one of the musicians getting on his bike, instrument strapped to the back). The number one crime in Denmark is bike theft.

For us exchange students from countries not so predisposed to this environmentally friendly method of commute, learning to adjust to the prevalence of bikes took some getting use too. First thing I had to be cognizant of was "Do NOT walk in the bike lanes." They have dedicated bike lanes here and woe to the pedestrian who wonders into this privileged space, you will get a loud bike horn in your ear! Next I had to be aware that bikes are everywhere and to pay just as much attention to them as to the cars.

Within the first few weeks when I was here, I was very apologetic if I got a dirty look from a biker, assuming I had made the mistake on the street. Than I read up on the rules and now I'm an educated walker and know my rights! For example on the sidewalk bikers have to walk their bike, anyone riding is in violation of the law and I don't care if you are in a rush, you are in the wrong and I'm not yielding! You are not suppose to bike in the park, again walk it, if you think you're going to be real slick and try to get away with it, don't expect me to help. At pedestrian cross-walks, you bikers have to stop as well, so I will walk through when the light is green and I don't care if you are coming up at a 100 miles per hour and fall over, you know the rules, don't try to pull one over on me. Well you get the picture, it seems even as a pedestrian I can be an aggressive little thing...

But I had to write about this very interesting facet of life in Denmark!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Causal Days in Copenhagen!

Sunday evening, spent a delightful holiday weekend here in Copenhagen. Friday was a national holiday, my friends and I ventured to Dragor, a historical fishing village in the suburbs of Copenhagen (next to the airport). The picture above is one of the many homes that make up the quaint streets of Dragor.

A bunch of us went on this trip and took along a picnic. This is the view from our picnic table. Big blue skies, light breeze, sunny day and enticing lapping water. We even spotted one guy canoing in the sea!

Saturday, a friend of mine and I went to the Danish National Gallery. I loved the colors of these rooms that were displaying art. Saturday evening I hosted a dinner and it went really well. I'm so proud of first dinner party without the aid of my family. My only complaint is that I didn't have enough food. Today I took a D-I-Y walking tour of one of the posher neighborhoods of Copenhagen. Sadly, the batteries in my camera died and I couldn't take any pictures...I'll try to go back via the bus and snap some shots.

As the sun was out for the first time in months here in Copenhagen, you can imagine what it was like in the city...EVERYONE was out. I had to jockey to get a spot on a bench by the lake in Ostebro, where I spent a leisurely two hours reading a book. It was heaven.

ps - in a nod to Joe and my mom who sometimes wonders onto this blog..had a group meeting for my Emerging Markets class on Thursday, where I nearly got into a major fight with a member of my group who was just arguing with me on EVERY point. I was essentially told to re-write my section of the I stayed up Thursday night and got it finished (since the group deadline was noon on Friday, which no one else made but me!) See...I am studying LOL.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Queen Margrethe II Birthday!

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark celebrated her birthday yesterday, April 16th. As part of the tradition of celebration here in Denmark, the royal family comes out onto the palace balcony (their city palace, Amalienborg) and wave to the masses outside.

Naturally as a mad fan of all things royal, I was there standing, camera in hand and a Danish and American flag together to be waved. While not a national holiday (tomorrow is the national holiday, something called Prayer day?), there were lots of little children around, I'd say 70% of the crowd was under the age of 10. But I was NOT the only tourist there, thank you very much (but I was the only one who screamed like a banshee, hee hee). These Danes are much quieter than us Americans, they clapped and cheered respectfully for the Queen, but I know if the same thing had happened in the States, chances are good we would have created more of a raucous. The above picture is my view of the Royal family (I got a good look at the Australian-born Crown Princess, very pretty!).

The whole thing was done in 1/2 an hour, the Queen and family came out three times and once the crowd sang parts of the Danish version of Happy Birthday (much more complicated than our American version, I've heard it a couple of times and the only part I can remember is the end where you chant, "hoo-ahh," three times). This is a picture of a little baby boy all dressed up for the event, in the traditional Danish Royal Guard outfit. His family was kind enough to let me and some friends snap his cute!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Krakow, Poland

Back from Krakow, Poland...quite the interesting experience. I am a bundle of mixed emotions over this very old European city; its beautiful, vibrant and alive yet the entire time I was there I couldn't help but remember all the tragedy that has befallen here. There is a sorrowful undercurrent that flows through Krakow. Everyone is modernizing and seems to not want to look back, yet the buildings still remain, the statues, the walls - are all standing sentinel for those people who didn't make it to this renaissance period for Poland.

Of course it didn't help that on Friday my friend and I went to Auschwitz, which of course made me cry. I can't help but be mindful of how, while some Pole's helped to save their neighbors, many were all to willing to give into their latent antisemitism. From what I've read, the Nazi's could not have gotten away with what they did, if it hadn't been for the willing participation of the people in the countries they invaded. (Here in Denmark only 51 Jewish people perished, the Dane's saved the rest of their 7,200 Jewish population through hiding and sending Danish Jews to neutral Sweden). These feelings of xenophobia seem to have either stayed on or are part of the Polish make-up; I didn't see any non-white non-Catholics in Krakow (aside from tourists). Its one big homogenous society.

Following the horror of WWII, Poland than endured communism, in which I'm sure many more Poles one talks much on it, but I'm sure more sadness ensued.

This is the city square, EVERYTHING happens here (I saw mini-concerts, wedding party photos and flame throwers). Its quite pretty, when walking through, if I didn't know better, I'd think I was in Venice. Its this square that exhibits best how much Pole's want to toss off their tragic history.

This is the interior courtyard of the main castle in Krakow - doesn't it look so very classical European??? Krakow was Poland's capital for much of its history and had a long history of royalty. I believe their royal family now lives in exile.

I am glad I went; there is so much history here in Poland. But I was definitely happy to touch down in Copenhagen.

On a side note, the friend I went with was acting very weird by the last day of our trip. Very passive-agressive, clearly giving off behavior that she didn't want to be there with me. I wish she had just said why, was it something I said, did, didn't do? Was I boring? or smelly? Now that we are back in Copenhagen, I'm wondering, should I say something to her and if so, what? Or should I just forget about it?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Royal Danish Experience!

Here's a story of a lovely little American exchange student in Copenhagen who goes to the Danish Royal theatre with her her Danish buddy and Danish buddy's mom and friend. They treated the American to tickets to the ballet Onegin (which was very kind of them!). The theatre is a lovely old European building, with creaking wooden floors, pretty marble busts, smooth velvet curtains and colorful walls, just as you imagine a theatre experience should be.

The seats were amazing! Second tier, front row, right in front of the stage - the view of the theatre from that row is pictured above. Seats so close, that this American exchange student could see the sweat off the dancer's faces. Just as the house lights were to go down, everyone in the theatre stood up. This American exchange girl was confused. She turned to her Danish buddy (a Danish buddy is someone the Copenhagen Business School international office puts together to help the exchange students transition to life in Denmark) and asks, "why is everyone standing?"

It seems standing is the protocol for when a member of royalty is in the house. Guess who should be watching the ballet this evening....Queen Maragethe II of Denmark!! American exchange girl, who happens to be an avid royal watcher, well to put it mildly, I freaked out! There in the same building, with little ol'e moi was the Queen of Denmark! Eeck!!!

Not only was the ballet wonderful, with phenomenal dancing talent and costumes to die for (not allowed to take pictures during the performance otherwise I would include here) but I was watching it with the Queen of Denmark! OH MY GOD! And, and, to top it all off, the Queen was directly across from me. Her seats and our seats were on the same level in the theatre (you could have drawn a straight line from her to us).

As I was snapping this picture above, she actually looked at me and I waved, but she didn't wave back. Her bodyguard was laughing at me (probably because I was the only one in the theatre taking a snap of the Queen). I'm sorry the photo is crap, I really am not a good photographer, but that is her!

I tell you, just when I think my Danish experience can't be topped, something amazing happens. What a fantastic evening!!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Foreign Exchange Experience

Here is a picture of my recently bought hyacinths, they smell heavenly and just ad a much needed dash of color (that is my family photo adjacent).

Had a lovely weekend in Copenhagen; went to the art museum, had dinner at a family friend's home and on Sunday a bunch of us ladies from my residence hall went out for lunch. This brought up an interesting question for me because of a situation that arose.

My next door neighbor here in Copenhagen is a sweet but VERY quiet German girl. She is very shy and I think because her English is not so good, she does not come out much. I often hear her in the room, watching her German television, but she rarely hangs out with us in the hall or to be honest goes out. It led me to think, is she getting the most out of her exchange experience? Is part of your experience meeting others or perhaps its just living in a new place, on your own, in which case she is excelling at?

I've noticed that most of us exchange students are highly extroverted, but she is not. Yet I can't imagine that would hinder you from interacting with others - for example yesterdays lunch was a big group affair, she could have certainly come and blended in, no conversation really necessary. Instead she opted to stay in her room and watch her German television. Also, she barely uses the common kitchen, opting to cook in her room (don't know how??), again isolating herself. And than when I do speak with her (we take Danish class together), she often comments on how she dislikes Copenhagen and wants to go home to Germany. I can't help thinking this has something to do with her not meeting with others.

But perhaps I'm not seeing all sides of the story, is there more than one way to have a foreign exchange experience?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Copenhagen Metro

Here it is - finally - my Copenhagen Metro semi-rant. I've down-graded it from full rant to semi, because well, its more the human behavior that bugs me rather than the actual metro system (which is quite efficient and easy to use). The above picture is the entrance hall of my neighborhood Metro station (and yes in Copenhagen they call it the metro).

Copenhagen's metro system is relatively new, with just two lines. Prior to the metro, the best way to get around were the S-trains. The S-trains are still heavily used, just not as much for inner-city travel.

This is the name of my metro station stop. Its pronounced (Kon * gaens New *tor), which means "Kings Square." Because this stop is in the really posh part of town, the station is quite nice. They have an entrance to the big department store right from this stop. Also this stop is where we get a lot of advertisers and attention, for example a few weeks ago this coffee company came in and papered the place with ads and than they build this mini-lounge (complete with carpet and leather chairs) on the platform and gave away free coffee. This week Coke has come in and also papered the place, but instead of free Coke, they've put up this big film screen on one of the walls and are running a cute Coke mini-movie ad.

This picture shows you what the actual metro cars look like. See those posts with yellow tops, those are where you would click or date stamp your card if you don't have a monthly pass (I invested in a monthly pass, made more sense and cheaper). Its very easy to cheat on the metro, since there are no gates barring you from getting on, the whole thing works on honesty. But woe to the person who gets caught by the metro police (who come in from time to time to check everyone has a ticket), NOTHING - no excuse in the book will work, you WILL get a 600 kroner fine (which is roughly $120).

This metro runs electronically, no driver, which is great and I'm totally spoiled because if you miss a train, the next one comes within 3 to 4 minutes (unlike DC where you could wait up to 15 minutes!). The reason I say there is a bit of a rant here is that people riding the metro can be so rude! For example:
  1. When the train comes you have like a minute to get in the car, and people will crowd the door and than take forever to get in, like strolling. Jeez, dude move!
  2. Ladies with their baby prams can be massively annoying, they will take up like half of a car and just could car less about you trying to get on or off.
  3. On the escalators, people will stand on both sides and rarely move, so you can't run to catch a train.
  4. The other big thing that bugs the hell out of me, people do not yield seats, they can see you're laden down with a ton of stuff but they could care less.
  5. My favorite incident - some family had two suitcases that they placed in front of two chairs and than sat in four more chairs, thereby taking up six chairs, rather than sitting with their suitcases.

Overall I like the Copenhagen Metro system, it makes my life easy but it seems no matter where you go in the world, the behavior of the riders is universal in the bad habits. If only I could ride the Metro alone, it would be much better : )