Archive for the ‘Denmark’ Category

The Journey Home and Back

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

My journey home began on Tuesday, May 26 at 6:27 AM in Gothenburg, Sweden. While we were in Bad Pyrmont, Simon Kolle gave a lot of his time to helping me get a train ticket from Copenhagen to Frankfurt. The plan was that we would explore south Sweden after which the guys would drop me off in Copenhagen, and then head back into Sweden to see Stockholm and catch their ferry to Estonia. Unfortunately, the only bridge from Denmark to Sweden costs € 30 to cross each time, meaning they would pay € 60 to drive from Sweden to Copenhagen and back to Sweden. We found a train that made the crossing for less than half that price.

From Gothenburg to Copenhagen took 3 1/2 hours. The trip from Copenhagen to Frankfurt was a little over 9 hours, leaving me at Frankfurt-Am-Maine a little after 9:00 PM. My flight went out at 12:05 PM the next day. During the next 15 hours I read, ate lots of McDonald’s, slept fitfully for 2 1/2 hours, read some more and had a pleasant conversation with 2 other Americans returning to the U.S.. My Canadian passport gave me no problems abroad until I tried to re-enter my home country. I had several moments where I was genuinely worried that I wouldn’t be allowed back in, at least not in time for the wedding. Happily everything was resolved and my flight touched down in Pittsburgh at 9:16 PM. By the time I arrived home it was past midnight, making the entire journey around 48 hours long, once Europe’s 6 hour time difference is taken into account.

It was amazing to be back in the good ol’ U.S.A.. Though reconnecting with loved ones was the best part of coming home, I spent a great deal of time pursuing less noble pleasures that are in-feasable or impossible on a trip bound by a limited budget. I slept on a comfortable couch (My bed being taken by guests visiting for the wedding), took showers as often as I wished, ate piles of food when ever I wanted, and drank gallons of Mt. Dew (Which is not sold in Europe). Yet the time with friends and family was the highlight of my brief stay. I spent most of my time with my wonderful fiance, Emily, though other highlights include watching and playing basketball with my friends. My sister Marina’s wedding, the entire reason for my return, was worth the effort and expense involved in attending. It was also good to see one of my best friends, Andrew, and a close cousin, Darren, just before they left on long journeys of their own.

The week passed in the blink of an eye and before I knew it I was on my way back to Pittsburgh, flying to catch the plane before it left at 3:15 PM. The flight to Frankfurt was almost disappointingly non-eventful, landing an hour early at 8:35 AM. A bit after 10:00 I started catching local trains (Instead of the far more expensive ICE) from Frankfurt to Berlin where I would rendezvous with Dan, Matt and David. As I sat alone on the trains I found myself missing home quite severely. My train came into Berlin Hbf at 7:46 PM. The return trip lasted a merciful 33 hours. My home sickness faded somewhat when I was reunited with the guys and we explored the streets of Berlin, passing the Reichstag, Brandonburg Gate, and walking along the path where the Berlin Wall once stood guard over Communist east Berlin. I had so much to see and home would be waiting for me at the end.

My brief interlude in the U.S. taught me several important things; even McDonalds is delicious if its the first American food you have had in a month; contrary to what I have staunchly believed my entire life, I actually enjoy Coke; I need more than my driver’s license to re-enter the U.S. with a Canadian passport; no matter how amazing your journey is and how memorable your experiences are abroad, returning, in the end, to the comfort, love and security of home trumps all. But that will come in due time! For the moment, keep us all in your prayers as we continue to see the world!

Daniel Shenk

The Fall of Denmark to Popcorn

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

May 22, I (Matt) self-consciously sang for the Kolles and the youth group on speakerphone and we made our exit with many heartfelt thanks, our sights set on Denmark. Our stomachs were full of delicious ice cream and dinner. Our car was roadworthy with new brake rotors, new oil, and new(er) tires. Our roofbox was securely locked to the top of the car. Our new friends were waving goodbye. As we left Bad Pyrmont, Ziegler summarized my thoughts in mentioning how refreshing it had been to enjoy the company of new friends, especially female friends. The four of us are good friends and all, but honestly, the testosterone levels are quite unbalanced.

Ziegler, the intrepid driver that he is, manned the helm into the night while we entertained ourselves until falling asleep. I woke briefly around 2 am as we pulled into a rest stop. We rose the next morning almost 30 km from the Denmark border. Eat a breakfast bar and we’re off. Denmark excited some of us more than others; for Ziegler it would be only his second country he would enter for the first time. It would be my seventh. My excitement is fairly constant here in Europe. Imagine our horror, then, when we missed the sign that signified the border. Undaunted, we chose to drive north and take bridges to Denmark’s Zealand island and Copenhagen, rather than ferry across the Baltic Sea. Still on the mainland, I was struck with the view from one bridge we crossed. While the guys in the car rolled their eyes, I blazed a trail through the woods down to the bridge. I got a few photos of the bridge, the river district and a carnival below, and some much needed exercise. Apparently walking along Danish roads is illegal because multiple cars honked at me. I gave the thumbs up back.

On the road again, we arrived in Copenhagen after crossing much more impressive bridges across the Baltic Sea. Shenk expressed disappointment in missing them, but he was subconscious in the backseat. We parked by a canal through downtown and David and I located an ATM machine. With cash we bought a pay-and-display parking ticket for an hour. We spent a little over an hour in the National Museum, a celebration of Danish history (and how far they have fallen). Whereas they once controlled Norway, Iceland, a fourth of Germany, and half of Sweden, they now kind of own Greenland. The fascinating museum traced the peoples of Denmark through prehistoric, stone, bronze, iron, and the modern (Christian) ages. Danes from the Stone Age (apparently 2.9 million years ago to 2,000-3,000 BC) were documented through the optimal conditions of the area’s bogs and burial mounds. People and animal remains have been pretty extensively preserved for thousands of years, down to clothing, hair, and the tools that define the age. With developments in tool production and trade, the Bronze Age and Iron Age lasted until around 800 AD. Then the cool guys showed up. Viking is the the Norse term for raiding, pillaging, vandalizing, plundering, and ravaging; as it became the Danish foreign policy, the amount of wealth in gems, gold, and silver skyrocketed. Going a viking meant placidly navigating the open seas, friendly bartering with the townspeople, capturing women’s hearts with passionate love ballads, and drinking large amounts of Diet Coke. Olaf the Viking was on a boat. And, as the youngster say these days, he was making bank. Then he got Jesus and both his people’s love for the ornate and their empire only grew. The museum regrettably closed at five, before I could uncover how they had lost all that land. Presumably, it was their forfeiture of the viking foreign policy. We all heartily agreed the exhibits to have been worth the money we paid (nothing) and more.

We returned to our car for an apple snack. The door had been left unlocked. Thankfully, the vikings hadn’t raided or even vandalized. Next we checked out the main walking thoroughfare, a broad pedestrian path down the center of the city, lined with shops. We were most surprised by the frequency of American stores. We would walk past a Burger King and another two blocks later and then another. Déjà vu or something. I kid you not, we passed four 7-11 convenience stores in a kilometer. How low the Vikings have fallen. Along the route, we passed a street performance of Native American music. Three men, two of seeming South American decent, were dressed in full fringed regalia, stomping and playing panflutes and drums to decidedly non-Danish music. It was just our luck to travel halfway around the world for some Native American music.

We made our exit into Sweden to camp for the night, less like Native Americans and more like backpacking bums. The Swedes have loose (read: awesome) rules on camping; it’s legal on public land as long as it’s done some ambiguous distance from private land. We stopped at a grocery store in Landskrona; David and Ziegler sought provisions. We had decided that we would need a bigger pot to cook soups for the four of us, and we hoped to find one there. They did, and it was cheap. Out of the pots, they uncovered one missing a handle on its lid and asked about discounts for inperfections. Originally 140 Swedish Krona (14 Euro), they paid 100 (10 Euro) for a gleaming new pot (sans handle). Besides a loaf of bread and vegetable oil, they also made another wonderful find: popcorn. I had joined them in the checkout line (after befuddling a clerk by entering the wrong way) and the three of us walk triumphantly from the store. On the way out we passed a bar and a dance floor. There a dozen Swedes were line-dancing to country music with 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots. America won’t stop following us. (As I type this, we’re driving through Dresden a day after Obama’s visit. Weird.) Following a long lane outside Landskrona, we found an ideal camping spot surrounded by trees and fields. To celebrate the new member of our group, we used the pot to cook pasta and our first toast per David’s suggestion. We retired after the satisfying meal, Shenk and David in a tent while Ziegler and I shared the car.

Sunday morning we returned to the town and a Catholic church. We could somewhat follow along with the same liturgical service though we couldn’t understand the Swedish sermon. As far as the Catholic services I’ve attended, it was a pretty welcoming of the four disheveled foreigners that morning. As we left, the priest thanked us in poor English for “worshiping together.” The small church also housed the largest amount of modern art we had ever seen in a Catholic church. Most was obviously symbolic if quite abstract. The art made me wonder if they were the products of a local artist or member of the congregation and reminded me of worship services at home. We drove on and spent the next ten or so hours in Gothenburg, taking turns borrowing local Internet access and maintaining personal correspondences. When not using the computer, we busied ourselves by reading, writing, exploring the city center, and cooking food. As our first major meal with the new pot, we prepared a feast. Near the car’s parking spot near a city canal, Ziegler set up the stove and cooked soup and our last bag of Ramen noodles. (Never fear, however, we restocked the other day, thanks to Shenk.) We also popped our first batch of popcorn. Delicious. Speaking of which, I think we should eat popcorn tonight . . . more on that later.