For my final trip as a study abroad student, I went to Denmark, where I visited Langley and Ashley (ADPi friends studying with DIS) in Copenhagen and then Jens and Ulrik (friends from the EWH summer institute) in Aalborg. The weekend was an amazing chance to catch up with friends, experience a new culture, and enjoy Christmas in Europe, and I couldn’t have asked for a better last trip!
I arrived in Copenhagen on Friday night and was greeted at the airport by Ashley. We went straight to Langley’s dorm, and during the metro ride and walk over I already became so impressed with Copenhagen. The city is beautiful, and the neighborhood Langley lives in is very quaint. And of course, the Christmas decorations made it even better! After finding Langley, we went out to dinner at a little café which I was excited for because they promised me it would be very “hygge.” Indeed it was! Candles everywhere, very relaxed atmosphere, and even a pile of blankets for customers to use in case they wanted to curl up. We stayed there for hours, laughing and catching up. (and by the way my sandwich was incredible – pesto, avocado and smoked salmon… winner combo). Afterwards, we roamed around the city, took lots of pictures by the many Christmas decorations, and then met up with their friends who were hanging out in a dorm with lots of Danish students. As happy as I am to be in a foreign speaking country, being in Copenhagen also made me notice the benefits of being in a country where everybody also speaks English, because it seems like the students here have a much easier time immersing themselves in the local culture. During Friday night alone, I might have met as many Danes as I had met French people all semester! (well that’s an exaggeration… but still).
On Saturday, Langley went to a German Christmas market with a school field trip, so I spent the day exploring Copenhagen with Ashley. We started the day in Christina, a very interesting hippie-town which is part of Denmark but has their own government. It’s a very eclectic and colorful place, and I really enjoyed seeing it. My favorite was a craft shop, run by three women who make jewelry, ornaments, and other metalwork objects and art. I spent a long time admiring everything and trying to decide what to get. I ended up choosing several handmade ornaments and a huge paper star lantern which is illuminated from within and meant to be hung from a ceiling. Very hygge. I can’t wait to put it up in my apartment next semester!
Then we roamed around – wandered down the canal which is lined with houses of every color (making the town feel like something out of a children’s storybook), saw the cathedral, walked by Tivoli (the amusement park which served as inspiration for DisneyWorld), and stopped for a Danish pastry. Then we headed to the Danish Design Center, a fascinating design museum where I learned a lot about Scandanavian design and engineering innovation in general. Needless to say, I really loved this place. My favorite pieces included the LifeStraw, the AMBU disposable videoscope, and indestructible chairs for prison cells made out of garbage.
I was lucky enough to spend the evening with Ashley’s homestay family, where I learned a lot about Danish Christmas traditions. Some of my favorites:
-Advent candles have numbers along the side counting down to Christmas. Every night, the candle is burned until another number is burned away.
-Advent wreaths are hung from the ceiling.
-St. Lucia is still a very celebrated holiday, and every year on Dec 13th, the 5th grade girls dress up in white dresses and wear advent wreaths and walk through the school singing a special song.
The next day, Langley and I woke up early and hopped on a train straight to Aalborg, to visit Jens (and his fiancé Isabella and newborn son William) and Ulrik. I met Jens and Ulrik this summer at EWH, and they remained as the last of the Europeans from the trip who I still had to visit; this was a trip I’d been looking forward to all semester.
The day I spent in Aalborg was one of the best days of my semester (not to mention the most hygge!). After spending hours oogling over baby William and his “natural” mohawk, we sat down for lunch, where I sampled some typical Danish sandwich combos such as liver and beets. Might sound strange, but it was actually quite delicious! Throughout the lunch, I kept getting distracted by all the cool things in Jen’s house, such as the hammock cradle Jens’ father made for the hammock he bought in Honduras, or the fact that rather than any traditional lamps, the room was filled with warm, glowing light-fixtures (similar to the star I bought in Chritiana).
After lunch, we headed into town. Snow was falling non-stop, so the walk into town turned out to feel quite adventurous, especially because Jens was pushing William in a huge snow-proof stroller. Dealing with that stroller would be enough to make me never want to leave the house, but he handled it like a pro. Along the way, I enjoyed anecdotes such as Ulrik offhandedly mentioning that he was going to get a bike with snow-spikes in the tires so he could ride his bike on ice. The idea sounded crazy to me at first, but then I noticed that there were indeed still many bikers on these slick, frozen roads. Seems like nothing can stop the Danes from biking! Also, along the way we discovered some Danes who had just finished making a 4-tiered snowman, so naturally we ran over and posed with it right away!
Downtown Aalborg was very cute, and we enjoyed exploring the Christmas markets, hopping into Christmas shops when we were cold (notice the theme yet?), and then sitting down for hot chocolate. Yes, there were candles everywhere in the café. Yes, it was very hygge. Of course I loved every minute of it, but the best part was just getting to sit with William and take in all his adorableness!
Heading back seemed even more treacherous, because by then there were at least 6 inches of snow. I couldn’t believe how calm Jens and Isabella were with handling that huge stroller, seeing as I was even getting warn out just from walking. We stopped in the grocery store to pick up food for dinner and paper for traditional Scandinavian paper crafts, then headed home.
The evening at Jens’ house was the best part of my time in Aalborg. It was filled with so much laughter, reminiscing, story-telling, and best of all, Danish traditions. Some of the Danish things I experienced included:
-Folding paper strips into star ornaments. (Ulrik was a pro. Langley and I struggled a bit more…)
-Dinner: rice porridge (“rice a la mande”). This dish is a delicious holiday tradition. Just rice and milk cooked for an hour together then served with butter and brown sugar, but it was amazing! In Denmark, it is believed that this is what Santa and the elves eat. Understandable.
-It’s also believed that Santa lives in Greenland. Less understandable…
-Dessert: pancake balls (“aebleskiver”). The Danes take pancakes one step further, cooking them in a special pan with lots of little circular dishes so that they end up as little balls. Like pancake donut holes!
-Elf beer: despite the name, this is a non-alcoholic drink that people enjoy during the holidays. Yum.
-Glogg: The Danish take on hot wine. Every European country seems to do it slightly differently. In France, “vin chaud” is red wine cooked with orange slices, cinnamon, and cannelle. Glogg is similar, but it has almonds and raisons as well.
-Karaoke: Not that karaoke alone is Danish, but Langley and I tried to join in with one of the Danish songs. That was when I realized that not a single word in Danish is spelled as it looks. Although Jens and Ulrik did seem to think they noticed a word, which they described as “amazing, the only word in Danish that sounds how its spelled!” – “stjerner”. But the pronunciation sounded more like “sti-erne,” so I remain unconvinced that any Danish words make sense!
Overall, this trip was the perfect way to wrap up a semester of travels in Europe. I enjoyed experiencing new culture, as the Scandinavian countries feel very unique compared to the rest of Europe, but most importantly I enjoyed catching up with old friends (and making some new ones!). I will always remember how fortunate I was this semester to visit countless countries, but even more, I am grateful that I’ve had friends waiting for me in almost all the countries. That, more than anything, has made all the difference.