• Stockholm

    I think this may be the longest post yet!

    Tuesday, June 16th

    The trip to Stockholm would be one of the longer train rides by distance, but with a train that could hit 100 mph in the open Swedish countryside, crossing the width of the country and heading an equal distance north only took five hours. We arrived and headed to meet Katerina, who lived with Brock’s family as an exchange student a few years ago. We had the far outside train platform and in trying to make our way to the main part of the train station, we wound up outside instead, and the entrance to the train station was on the other side of the building. Once we got that sorted out, we met up with Katerina and headed straight for another train: a commuter line towards her house in the suburbs. It didn’t take very long to reach the stop in Sollentuna, probably 10 or 15 minutes. The house was then about a five minute walk from the station.

    Not wanting to carry around our bags everywhere, we dropped those off… and headed back to the station. It is kind of the hub of the community and has a big, new shopping mall right next to it. Unlike most American malls I know of, this mall also had a grocery store in it. We went through it and gathered items for that night’s dinner. The grocery store was different from the ones back home in a couple of ways. First, there were TVs by the cash register playing nonstop ads. Change could be handed over via a machine, which also dispensed change in case you needed some back from your 100 SK bill. FYI, the conversion rate was something like $1 = 8.2 SK. Much like Kansas, they only allowed weak beer in the grocery stores. Different from Britain, where they were selling Magna Carta themed scotch at the National Library. In Sweden, the only store to buy liquor or beer at was the System Bolaget (pardon the spelling), a government run liquor store. Those stores seemed pretty nice and it looked like they had a very large selection. We were told that they were supposed to be impartial, so I guess it was also a good place to go if you wanted a recommendation for wine or any other type of alcohol. The store’s mission was also to reasonably limit consumption, thus it still had rather high prices. I also noticed people mostly buying beers as single cans so I do not think there were many cases of things available.

    With the ingredients for dinner, we headed back to the house. This is what we had:
    – Swedish meatballs
    – Lingonberry jelly
    – Brown sauce for meatballs
    – hard bread (think of large sheets of dark crackers)
    – small potatoes
    – Four types of pickled herring, which is raw fish. All four types were very good. A large portion of the flavoring comes from the sauce. One had dill, another was just mostly vinegar and onions (probably was the least great out of the four), another was caviar and whatever sauce the dill was in, and the last was honey mustard.

    I am also probably forgetting a couple of things we had at the meal. I should also mention that it is a tradition to have a shot of schnapps for midsommer, so I also had that.

    After dinner was dessert. Since it was about 55-60° in Stockholm, it was the perfect time for ice cream, right? We headed to downtown Stockholm and wound up at this ice cream stand on top of a cliff. It was on the opposite side of the water from their theme park and you could really see a lot of the city from up there.

    Wednesday, June 17th

    In the morning, we got transit passes sorted out. Much like other cities, Stockholm also used a card for access to its transit system. That allowed us access to any of Stockholm’s forms of transit: tram, bus, train, ferry. One thing most people probably don’t realize is the fact that Stockholm is on a series of islands. There are plenty around town, but the downtown area is focused on three main islands of varying size and a good amount of water in between them, at least a couple hundred yards in a lot of places but far less where the bridges connect them.

    We took a train into central station and then walked to one of the area’s smaller islands. It seemed like a big nature preserve. That was a bit of a problem as I was hungry and wanted to find a place to have lunch. We finally came across this bistro-type thing that was serving pizza. The menu was mostly in Swedish, but I recognized the words BBQ, brisket, and pizza, so I ordered a brisket pizza. This place reinforced that the Swedish really like bread, as they had all you could eat soft and hard bread. They also had free water, which was very unusual, as most places charged for any sort of liquid beverage. This restaurant was also the place to go if you were wearing a suit and tie. As it got closer to noon, the place kept on filling up with businesspeople. One of them sat near us and starting speaking the lyrics to “American Pie” after a while, which was pretty funny. He also tried to explain the meaning of the song, which was equally funny.

    By the time lunch was over, it was time to head towards the island that had the old town. We were going to meet up with a free walking tour outside of one of the metro stations. We waited for a while and were about to give up, and then I realized we were at the wrong entrance to the station. Many places had two or three entrances to the same station and Stockholm was no exception. The tour was nice but it was a bit hard to understand our tour guide. I think she was Ukrainian and trying to speak English… in Sweden. Old Town was cool, but much like the old town parts of other cities. Lots of cafés and restaurants and randomly placed areas where the cobblestone streets got wider, which the cafes filled with little tables.

    There was still a bit of time left in the day after the walking tour, and that was filled with a visit to the Vasamuseum. The Vasa was a ship that the king launched in 1632 or so from Stockholm. The ship made it an entire half a mile before sinking in the harbor. It was a very unstable ship and thus it didn’t take much for it to capsize. They would test ships by running something like 20 men from one side of the deck to the other, but they had to cut the test for the Vasa short because it was so unstable. The ship had something like 200 people on board when it launched but it was so close to the harbor most of them were able to be rescued. The conditions in the harbor allowed the boat to remain in decent shape, albeit underwater, for the next 330 years until some expert salvager rediscovered the location of the wreckage in the 1950s. It took them a couple years to drill out tunnels under the boat to attach cables and another couple years to get it out of the water. From there, I think it took something like 7 years for the boat to try out and then they spent 17 more years spraying the entire boat with some chemical stuff that’s also in nail polish (?) that replaced the water. In total, it took over 30 years to get the boat out of the water and ready for display in the museum after it was rediscovered.

    You’ve probably figured out by now that this was a pretty large boat. It was something like a six story museum in order to see all parts of the ship. It was also probably 25-30 feet wide and over 100 feet long. For those who’ve been to the Steamboat Arabia museum in KC, this was a far more impressive museum because the entire boat was on display as one massive piece. They claimed it was 98% original, with the 2% coming from things like new rope riggings and their massive undertaking of replacing all the iron nails with stainless steel ones that won’t rust. I guess they also had to rebuild some areas a bit since some parts damaged by the wreck and water meant reconstruction was like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle. Since it was a boat from the 1600s, there were far fewer artifacts to be found than in something like the Arabia, but they did have some of the recovered remains on display with anthropologists` analysis of the identity of the remains, what injuries they had, and whatever diseases they carried. Only three of the 64 cannons were brought up with everything else in the 1960s because the vast majority were salvaged for their value very soon after the sinking. One of the more interesting displays was about the rear end (keel?) of the boat. It was covered in various carvings. Through recent sampling, they have been able to figure out what materials were used to paint that part of the boat and thus figure out what colors coated the surface. Opposite of the boat’s rear end was a wall with a colored replica of the carvings.

    Later on that evening we went to a bar with our hosts. They were meeting us and some others at a subway station. Brock and I joked around about how it’d be funny if some of the other people waiting around the station were waiting for the same people. One of them was! After what seemed like a long walk, probably because it was raining, we finally arrive at the bar. It looks small but you go down a set of stairs and it’s clear that this bar has taken over the basements of most of the block. There were rooms with tables, rooms with shuffleboard, arcade games, and of course the bar. Our group of about 10 or so grabbed a table and played a board game called Ticket to Ride. Brock and I made fun of the poor geography, since the game is played by connecting places in the United States. Kansas City (Kansas) was one of the cities on the map, so it was easy to point to the map and tell everyone where we were from, that misplaced spot in the middle of the map. Since we knew about US geography, we did very well and easily built the most train routes of all the teams playing, accumulating the most points based on route complete. However, we didn’t realize that was only half of the scoring, and that you got points based on how your connections were between cities. We had a bunch of short, efficient connections. About half of the group was Swedish, with a couple of Germans and a Belgian. It was interesting because there were four languages (Swedish, German, English, Dutch) and the only language everyone knew was English!

    Thursday, June 18th

    Thursday morning was very cloudy with an ominous drizzle that always seemed like it was threatening to turn into a rainstorm. Nonetheless, we made our way into town and towards Skansen. The best way to describe the place is as a combination of a zoo and living museum. As Katerina told us, there was a guy who would go around Sweden collecting all of these old buildings, take them apart, and have them shipped to his park (Skansen) in Stockholm. Many of the buildings were open for touring, complete with a cast of people playing the roles from the time period their building was supposed to represent. It was pretty cool to see all of those things, and it was also nice that they spoke English well!

    Seeing as how I haven’t covered it already, I guess I’ll interrupt the post and mention that the Swedes learn English as their second language starting when they are six years old. Around middle school age they can pick up a third language and around high school they can pick up yet another language if they want to, but by learning English from a very young age, it appeared that most Swedes could speak English to a point where native English speakers could easily understand it. Katerina said they used to learn German as their second language so a lot of older people know German, but World War II changed that. Most of the phrases I recall people not knowing were things that are rather uncommon in English anyways. Like flag stick (flag pole). Or wreath, which one girl tried to pronounce as “writh”. The frequency of English also meant that a lot of menus seemed to be English… except for the pizza place I once ordered a lunch from that had every ingredient listed in Swedish.

    Anyways, back to Skansen. Highlights of the buildings. First, a fully functioning bakery that smelled as good as a fully functioning bakery should. A couple of homes belonging to wealthy families that had their original painted walls, as they were built long before wallpaper was invented. On the opposite end was the poor peasant family house where the ceilings were probably three feet high. Very cramped quarters. In many of the lower class houses, the beds looked more like couches, as the people would sleep sitting up or reclined slightly. There was not enough room for a full sized bed anyways. In what was probably a normal to upper class house, there were two fairly large rooms, but only one was used for everything. Why? It was the room with the stove to heat the house in it, and it was definitely too expensive to heat two rooms. The second room was only for special occasions, such as a priest visiting or holidays. An old tavern was turned into a restaurant, which was a smart idea because we needed a place to eat lunch. Once again, they had unlimited bread and water, but this place also offered unlimited salad. Not to miss out another traditional Swedish meal, I made sure to get Swedish meatballs once again.

    My favorite house wasn’t Swedish at all, but rather a small Finnish hut. It had a very low door, and once you entered, you wouldn’t want to put your head above the level of the top of the door… because it was filled with smoke. In the style of house, they would capture the heat from the fireplace very well, but it also led to the side effect that anything at a level higher than four feet or so was smoke. It was pretty surreal. There was really only one disappointment with all of the buildings, and that was the tall, round, brick tower on top of the hill in the middle of the park. You couldn’t go in it!

    I mentioned that it was a zoo, so I guess I should mention that, yes, it did have animals. They had huge enclosures for the animals, a lot larger than I have seen at any other zoo. They had reindeer in the park. Sadly, they did not fly. There were also grizzly bears, who were very playful. At first just two were playing and running around, and it took a while to realize there were actually three of them, one was just watching the zookeeper clean out something in one corner. There were a couple of other exhibits with normal animals, like wolves, but those weren’t too exciting.

    Once we left Skansen, the threatening sky finally unleashed the rain for about fifteen minutes, just long enough to get back out to Sollentuna.

    Having a home cooked dinner was amazing, once again. It was four courses. Let’s see if I can remember all of them:
    Course 1: Shrimp salad served on some bread
    Course 2: Cucumber salad (as in a regular salad with lettuce and stuff too)
    Course 3: Grilled chicken, grilled blocks of cheese that were different (they were salted and squeaked when you bit into them) and of course bread and potatoes.
    Course 4: Dessert. It was good. I think it might have been something lemon flavored.

    Such a large meal requires exercise to work some of those calories off, right? With that in mind, we walked around the neighborhood some. Going past the train station for once, we got to see the area where the community would be holding its midsommer celebration the next day, the hospital (and the word “hospital” in Swedish is spelled pretty close to “sick house”), and the bay.

    To finish off the night, we watched a movie in Swedish with English subtitles called Ondskan, or Evil in English. Since you have to continually pay attention to movies with subtitles if you want to understand what’s going on, I can provide a pretty thorough summary of the movie. It was a semi-autobiography from a Swedish guy set in something like 1961. He gets expelled from his high school in Stockholm for getting into yet another fight, and the principal makes sure that he can’t get into any other school in Stockholm. His mom sends him away to a boarding school somewhere else in Sweden. As the new kid, he’s at the bottom, but that’s fine because he wants to just get through the school without causing any problems. There’s a small council of upperclassmen that run the school and he won’t give in to their demands to do menial things like cleaning their muddy shoes. This means he winds up with a weekend detention, as he turns down the first two options for punishment. Since these are really nice guys that he is dealing with, his task is simple. Dig a hole… which they make him fill in once he’s dug it. At one point he’s challenged to a fight in the ring, and becomes known as “rat” afterwards because he won’t fight. He’s also subject to things like random room checks. One time they throw a bunch of fish guts on his floor and so he goes back in the middle of the night and tosses them on one of the sleeping council members. At another point they use the four stakes he’d put in the ground for his weekend detention (since he’s now pretty much perpetually in weekend detention) and tie him to them and toss buckets of cold water on him. He’s saved from that by one of the girls who works in the cafeteria and always serves him food after the detention. They aren’t supposed to even talk to each other, let alone have a relationship. Once the council members figure out that they aren’t going to break the main character guy, they start picking on his nerdy roommate. The roommate wants to stand up for himself and eventually winds up getting challenged, then defeated in the ring. He leaves the school pretty soon afterwards, which makes all of the teachers mad because he was one of the brightest students. The main character guy is also good at swimming. Near the beginning of the movie he makes the swim team despite being an underclassman by setting a new school record. That’s how he first begins to stand out at the school. Later on, he wins a championship named for another student’s rich family (who was obviously supposed to win). Anyways, sometime after the championship, his girlfriend gets fired, and his roommate has left, so he’s feeling pretty miserable and alone. At one point he also goes home for winter break, where we find out that he has been getting nightly lashes from his stepfather (which probably explains why he was violent in school before…) while his mother plays piano so she won’t have to hear the noise. Sometime after the roommate leaves, he gets mad enough to challenge a couple of the council members to a duel (since it’s always a 2 vs. 1 fight) and breaks the nose of one and arm of the other in about 10 seconds. The council members finally get what they need to have him expelled when they look through his mail and find a letter from his girlfriend admitting the relationship. They turn the letter over to the headmaster who expels the main character. For Christmas, his roommate had given him a big law textbook, as his dream was to become a lawyer some day. He uses this textbook to find out that the confiscation of the mail was illegal, and brings in the family lawyer in front of the headmaster and a bunch of other people to make a scene. He is allowed to finish the year at the school (with little harassment apparently, as the movie just jumps ahead to graduation) and winds up with great grades, good enough to get into any college. He goes home and puts his stepfather in the hospital, and it’s understood that his stepfather is now his ex-stepfather. The movie then jumps forward to somewhere when he meets up with his old roommate, who’s doing well in college and offers to pay for his college too.

    Friday, June 19th
    I woke up not feeling to great on Friday morning, so I went back to sleep… and slept all morning. The good news is that once I woke up, I felt pretty good. It was now Midsommer Eve. Combined with the day of the week being Friday, most of the country apparently took off from work. Our host family left for their summer house in the south part of Sweden. The mall was about half open, which was good enough for getting food. I thought it was funny that one of the French themed restaurants had a sign in it for Gare du Nord in Paris, as it was the train station that you arrive at when you come from London. We also went to the mall because we thought there was a post office. That post office was nowhere to be found until Brock found it on an interactive map… as part of the grocery store, of course. I guess Hy-Vee does the same thing at home. We got a box, loaded it full of our junk and successfully sent it to the United States after having a couple hundred Swedish Krona taken off of our hands. I know the box was successfully mailed because it has already arrived back in the states.

    From the post office we headed straight for the community’s Midsommer festival… which we didn’t realize involved an entrance fee, as we had gone cashless in the country to that point. A quick ATM stop fixed that and we were soon surrounded by probably a thousand Swedish people and their families. The area was pretty small, probably no more than 10 acres, but it was full of activity in the old barns and courtyard in the middle. There were games and activities for the little ones, like corn hole, face painting, and BB gun shooting (imagine that at a festival in the US). They also had plenty of concessions featuring Swedish traditional pastries and non traditional goods like cotton candy. For about thirty minute intervals, they had dances around the completely decorated Maypole (or whatever they call it for this purpose) with simple songs and a live folk band. The band was notable because a couple of the musicians were playing a keyed violin. It has a name that I don’t remember, but I do remember that it was very easy to find by searching for “Swedish key fiddle” (Sorry, I write a lot of these posts without access to look things up). For the other part of the hour they had games and competitions for the kids to play. One of the different ones was a tug of war, except it was a loop that could fit 3 or so hands and so it was 1 vs 1 vs 1 instead of two teams. It started raining part way through the time we were there (as it had started at noon, or when I woke up) which meant a lot of people cleared out, but there were probably still a couple hundred that stayed through the 10 or 15 minutes worth of light rain. There is one very important part of Midsommer that I am forgetting. The wreaths! Many people young and old created these out of leafy twigs, flowers, etc. and wore them. Some were very simple while others were more elaborate and obviously carefully crafted.

    The community celebration took up most of the afternoon and left a bit of time to rest before dinner. We walked through the neighborhood to a house where a couple of people we met at the bar on Wednesday were hosting dinner. They were very hospitable and made sure we were very well hydrated and fed. Before dinner, everyone had made a wreath (yes, including me), so it was quite a sight to see a dozen people in their early 20s sitting around a table with a bunch of flowers and leaves on their heads. I wish I would have taken a picture, it would have been good to put in this post. Once again, the group was half-international and half Swedish. We had a German from a couple days earlier, another German, and a Danish (who’s name was “Yo” and from a Vietnamese background). Most of the group knew each other from the neighborhood or from traveling together through Southeast Asia sometime last year. Once again, we had a multiple course meal complete with everything Swedish, from salad to bread to meatballs to potatoes to herring to two types of delicious, strawberry based desserts.

    Sometime after dinner, we made our way across the neighborhood again, this time to a house hosting a party. This is where it became really obvious that the Swedish custom of taking your shoes off when you go in a house was taken seriously, as the entry room was one big collection of shoes that people had taken off, even though all of the floors in the house were covered with heavy duty cardboard. Before I had even made it to the house, there were lots of people to introduce yourself to, and one of these was a guy named Oscar. In the interest of making the explanation easier, here’s how the conversation basically started (O for him, M for me, obviously):

    O: “Where are you from?”
    M: “The United States, a place called Missouri”
    O: “Really? I am going to study in Kansas next year.”
    M: “Where?”
    O: “Manhattan, Kansas at the State University”
    M: “No way! I just graduated from there!”

    Stockholm, Sweden is about 5,000 miles away from campus, and I had just met a guy who was going there in the fall! He is going to be part of the golf team, which made sense, as sports are how many Europeans make their way to a university in the middle of the US. He knew which dorm he was going to be in (the small one for international students that’s the oldest dorm on campus but has the nicest rooms) and had already met his roommate, another golfer, at a tournament somewhere in Europe. He was also already interested in K-State’s football (yes, the American type of football) team and Royals baseball, so I think he’ll have fun.

    And that’s how this post will end. There’s not too much more to write about leaving Stockholm the next morning.

    image

    image
    image

  • Copenhagen

    Monday, June 15th

    Copenhagen was meant to be a stopover on the journey to Stockholm, and we planned on just walking around the city. We were staying near the train station which meant we were also close to the center of town. There was a bakery across from the train station, which is probably the best bakery on earth. I got a cinnamon roll with cinnamon frosting and another with chocolate frosting. Also, like many places, they gave you a better deal if you got things to go, so that meant those cinnamon rolls were to go and I had to find a place to eat them. There was a large town square nearby. It was empty of people, but full of pigeons. They were scattered around the square at first, and then Brock dropped some of his breakfast. That meant they started swarming around us to pick up crumbs. Even though they had cleared the area around us, we still had to sweep our feet back and forth almost constantly to keep the birds at a nice distance.

    With the breakfast and birds out of the way, we made our way to the palace. Denmark is one of those countries that still maintains a royal family even though they don’t really serve any purpose in ruling. I guess this would be a good time to mention that election posters were everywhere. On every available signpost. Lining bridges. I guess they must have regulations on the signs. They were all poster-sized, had the candidate’s name, a nice professional photo with a background of the party’s color, their party (and probably its slogan) on the bottom, and that was it. No attacking other candidates, and I only saw one billboard in the entire city. It was an electronic billboard at that, and was showing ads for Jurassic World instead of campaign ads most of the time. Anyways, the palace was quiet because it was closed to tours on Monday, so there was just some normal weekday office work traffic.

    The guys on the train/ferry the night before had mentioned a place called Christiana that was supposed to be kind of shanty/free-rule town. That just basically meant it had more trash lying around than normal, more graffiti-ed surfaces, and some questionable architectural modifications done to some buildings. That was about it.

    Copenhagen has a fort on an island, and that was the next stop. On the way, we found a secret treasure of Copenhagen: public trampolines. I would say they were about a square yard size, but there were about five or so of them in a row. From a distance, they would just look like coverings for spots where a line of trees would be planted. The abundant amount of springs built into the coverings made it clear that they were made for fun. After bouncing around for a while, we continued to the fort. I guess it still has some use by the army, but it was neat to see a fort that was something like 300 years old. The only way to get on the island was on two wooden bridges over the moat. The entrance was also built into a large berm on the island side. There were a lot of joggers on the berm and around the island area in general. Close to the north side of the island was the famous mermaid statue in Copenhagen. I am not really sure why, as it isn’t a particularly large or fancy sculpture. Nonetheless, the area around the statue was swarmed with tourists.

    Making the way back towards town, there were more canals. They were lined with Amsterdam-like buildings, but they were mostly stucco instead of brick and were very colorful. It was rare for two adjacent buildings to have the same color. There were also tons of boats lining the sides of the canal, which was bigger than the ones in Amsterdam. It really felt like a coastal town.

    Sometime after lunch, the exploration of Copenhagen continued. Like many European cities, there were not too many tall buildings in the center of the city. If anything was tall, it was either a government building or a church. Eventually we came across a unique church. It was called something like Rundtaarn, which means round tower. To get to the top, you had to follow the spiral ramp most of the way up, when the ramp turned into narrower and steeper steps. At the top, it was easy to see pretty much the entire city because the church was at least a few stories taller than any other building in the area.

    In the early evening, we were making our way back across the town square. Soon, you could see a large band approaching, followed by people dressed very formally and carrying flags. The whole group with the band was at least a hundred people. The band then stood in front of the town hall for a while and played something that I assume was the Danish national anthem or similar. The whole ordeal was for a town hall meeting. Very different from the United States.

    image
    image

    image

  • Amsterdam

    Thursday, June 11th

    The morning was spent hunting down the perfect Belgian waffle for breakfast and making our way to the train station at the south end of the city. Another early afternoon train meant we didn’t arrive in Amsterdam until fairly late in the afternoon. Decided to purchase an “I amsterdam” card because it included a lot of attractions around the city and public transport. The latter point was especially important because our hostel was two and a half miles from the central train station. It was very hard to find a decent hostel in Amsterdam but the place we stayed at in Brussels was a chain and had a couple of open rooms listed on their website. The side of Amsterdam where the hostel was located felt suburban compared to everywhere else we stayed. A few large office towers were around the area along with the first large parking lot I had seen in Europe. We were also located just a couple hundred feet from another one of Amsterdam’s train stations, but it wasn’t one that offered any international service. The hostel was also much larger than the one in Brussels. Someone said there were 800 people staying there, which would make sense because they had a plaque up for an award as one of the best “extra-large” hostels in the world.

    Most of the attractions in Amsterdam closed at 5pm, so there as not much to do the first night besides walking around town and finding a place for dinner. At first, we wandered around Vondelpark. We would later see a sign somewhere saying it gets 10 million visitors a year. About 9 million of those must be under 25 and at least 15,000 of them were in the park that afternoon. Nearly every grassy area of the park was packed with young people and their bikes, usually sitting in small groups.

    It also became pretty easy to find central station since all of the roads lead towards it,  and all of the canals make concentric circles, so as long as you keep on passing over canals along a road, you can be sure that you are on the correct road.

    Amsterdam felt as small as Brussels, but was also far more dense. In the rings around canals, almost all of the buildings were 3 stories tall. Amsterdam and a good portion of the Netherlands is on ground that is not quite solid. They have to drive wood piles down to a firmer layer of earth and build on top of those, which I guess limited building height for a long time. Many older buildings are leaning in any direction due to the settling of their piles. Forwards, backwards, left, right. It felt like an optical illusion at first because some buildings do it so dramatically but there is absolutely no space between the buildings. I noticed reinforcement rods inserted into some buildings much like the ones you can see all around Philadelphia. They have figured out the foundation issues because a lot of the newer developments around the edge of town or directly on the coast in the center of town are very tall like modern skyscrapers.

    Traffic was probably the worst in Paris, but it is definitely the craziest in Amsterdam. First, they claim to have more bikes than people. That means lots of bikes, almost every road has a dedicated bike lane, bikes get their own traffic signals, and of course tourists rent bikes so they also add to bike traffic. The bike lanes also include motorized bikes so sometimes you have to watch out for really fast moving bikes. The city even has a four level bike garage near central station because there aren’t enough places to put bikes on the ground.

    Of course, there are plenty of cars in Amsterdam. Thanks to the bikes, car traffic is only the occasional gridlock. There are probably about the same number of busses as London (which was a lot). There is also an extensive tram network. Then there are pedestrians. Everywhere. Certain parts of the city were (technically) closed to cars and bikes in the afternoon and evenings because there was not enough room for everyone. We found out that if a car taps on one of the pop up barriers, it will go down to let the car through, at least to get out of an area.

    Water traffic was also an issue with boats of all sizes and people of all levels of boating expertise operating them. A fair number seemed to be party boats, which probably did not help things on the water. The canal bridges (or at least a majority of the 1200 around the city) light up at night which looks awesome.

    Friday, June 12th

    Taking advantage of the iamsterdam pass, we headed for the Van Gogh Museum early in the morning. I don’t think I’ve been to a museum dedicated to just one artist before this one. I would say about 90% of the artwork was Van Gogh’s with the remainder coming from his friends. There was also a few inserted here and there from something the museum was trying to do where they had digital artists respond to letters Van Gogh had written. It did not really make too much sense. Having the whole museum dedicated to one artist meant that it was possible to see how his work developed over time. I think it was also at this museum where I realized how silly it was that people were taking pictures of the paintings. Besides the fact that almost all of those pictures had to be turning out poorly in a rather dimly lit, crowded gallery, couldn’t they just go home and find a nice picture of the painting online or at least in a book?

    After the museum, we headed up to central station to meet up with one of Brock’s friends, Ruth, who was an exchange student at LSN when we were in high school. We set out to find a Dutch lunch and made it entire block from the station before stopping in a Dutch fast food joint called FEBO. It seemed like a hybrid between vending machine and fast food counter. There was the counter where you could order things like fries and milk shakes and then there were these mailbox like things that you put coins into so you could get the food out of them. I got something resembling a fried loaf of cheese from one of the mailboxes. It tasted pretty good. Like a mozzarella stick, but in a loaf.

    That wasn’t an entire lunch, of course. We eventually found a place that served real Dutch food: Dutch pancakes. Kind of like a flat crepe but thicker and topped with whatever you want. I had Nutella and bananas on my pancake and it was delicious. I guess I didn’t quite master the art of rolling the pancake up because I noticed the waitress laughing at my eating technique part way through the meal. Also, I guess I should mention I only got one pancake because the thing was absolutely massive! One pancake easily took up the entire dinner plate.

    We then went to Media Markt, the European version of a Best Buy looking for Dutch music for Brock to buy, since he’s trying to get a CD from every country. It was a pretty big store in one of the new coastal towers. I bought a couple of flash drives because they seemed really cheap (and were a decent brand) to back up pictures on and possibly send a flash drive home when we planned on sending other stuff home.

    Then came the zoo, mostly because we were getting tired of museums and it was a decent day to be outside. We thought about going to the Anne Frank house but decided against it after seeing the line outside and the fact it looked like they had tried to make the house look a lot more modern.

    It was a pretty typical zoo. Some parts had cages like I remember the KC zoo used to have, where animals had boxes with bars. There was a little island with monkeys on it where you could let them get kind of close to you with the watch of the zookeepers. That was fun. There were also a couple of unusual animals. First, something most Americans probably haven’t seen: a raccoon. Yeah. They also had something that I hadn’t seen in a zoo: African hunting dogs. They looked a lot like German Shepherds, but they had very short hair and lighter fur.

    Dinner was at some strange restaurant with some strange decor. We went with Ruth back to the train station and decided it was a good time to take advantage of the boat tour included in our i amsterdam cards. I think we had the 8:00 cruise so the sun was just starting to set a bit. We had already seen a lot of the streets around the center of Amsterdam, but it was nice to get some background on certain places and see the city from a different perspective. There were a couple of points where we had to wait on amateur boat tourists to turn around or move out of the way before we could move our much larger boat down the canal. At one point we did scrape the boat on the side of a bridge because it was so narrow. One thing that I hadn’t noticed but was pretty common and pointed out on the boat tour was the hoists at the top of many houses. It made a lot of sense because a lot of the buildings are 3 or 4 stories and would have far too narrow staircases (many probably just have spiral staircases) to move things normally.

    We returned to the hostel that night to find out that our room set up for two people the night before could actually hold three people. We had a couch the day before, which with the removal of the end pillows and addition of sheets becomes a single size bed. I forget the guy’s name, but he was traveling around Europe for a while this summer before starting medical school somewhere in Michigan.

    Saturday, June 13th

    It had been a few days since we had been to an oversized museum so we decided to tackle the Rijksmuseum, the national museum for Holland. It definitely gave a good overview of Dutch history and even had a few stray Van Goghs that weren’t at his museum.

    The Rijks took up most of the morning so I was getting pretty hungry. After walking down a main street for a long time, we decided to turn around, but to go over a couple of blocks before doing so. There, we quickly found lunch at a burger place serving beef from happy Dutch meadow cows, according to the menu.

    Then we headed towards Heineken to be tourists and tour the brewery. The line was really long, but we were close enough to get the free WiFi. Our i amsterdam cards would have saved us a couple of bucks on the tickets, but I caught on that the smart lady in front of us was using the WiFi to buy online tickets for the tour. A couple of minutes later, I had done the same thing and we probably saved about 30 minutes of standing in line. The tour was terrible by brewery tour standards. It was a bunch of gimmicky displays and the only really interesting part was the old brewery room. As in the old room where they no longer brew anything. It wasn’t a complete ripoff as we did get two and a half very fresh Heinekens as part of the tour along with a souvenir glass about half the size of a normal glass. I would still recommend that it should be skipped and it would be much better to tour pretty much any American brewery. The tours of Coors, Miller, and even Boulevard were great compared to this tour.

    The underwhelming Heineken tour left some time in the day before dinner. There was a modern art museum included in the i amsterdam card, so we figured why not visit it. It had some name that I don’t remember, except I know that it was very hard to spell. The museum was only about a ten minute walk from the brewery near the area where the Rijks and Van Gogh museums were also located. While the Tate Modern in London had its fair share of strange things, this museum seemed stranger overall. It was definitely dedicated to modern art. I guess one redeemable thing about the museum is that it had a really oversized map of Amsterdam in one room as an art piece that made a good spot for posing for a picture.

    The hunt for dinner eventually wound up at a pizza place. That may seem boring, but this was what I believe is called a Neapolitan pizza place. They have really hot ovens that can cook pizzas really quick. Since the weather was a bit cold, it was nice to have the oven out in the open part of the restaurant. It was also a bit different to see your food being prepared right next to your table, since we did wind up at the table next to the prep and oven area. The place was called Sotto, which I am only mentioning in case I want to look up their website sometime.

    I headed back to the hostel to get some rest before the next day’s long journey to Copenhagen. This turned out to be a great idea because I woke up to someone speaking Dutch at 5:00 am. The Dutch announcement was soon followed by an English announcement telling you to leave the building and a loud alarm. There was no fire, but it managed to get everyone awake and out of the building for about 15 minutes.
    image

    image

    image

  • Our Train Rode a Boat! The Journey to Copenhagen

    This post is out of order, but I thought it was appropriate since we’re taking a lot of the same route today (Copenhagen to Hamburg).

    Sunday, June 14th

    I wasn’t planning on writing a post about today because it was supposed to be mostly train travel. Thanks to the German and possibly Danish train systems because I am not sure who is operating this train, I am now writing this post on the last leg to Kobenhavn, which may also have another e thrown in there if you use the German spelling and is spelled as Copenhagen in English.

    Booking the trains with two connections was easy. The Dutch made it easy. The first train ride, operated by the Dutch was also easy. No problems from Amsterdam to Osnabrüeck, Germany. Just a bunch of low-lying Dutch countryside with the happy Dutch meadow cows advertised on yesterday’s lunch menu.

    Osnabrüeck is where our troubles began. We were supposed to have a little over an hour in the town. That was fine. Then the train showed up late, which was a problem. At first it was fifteen minutes but soon changed to 20 and it showed up a bit after that delay. We were only going to have 15 minutes to change trains in Hamburg so the train was going to have to make up time to get there on time. It didn’t. This train, like the last, had a printed timetable at each seat and every stop fell further and further behind that timetable. At least the German countryside was nice to look at in most places. We arrived in Hamburg and the train for Copenhagen had already left about 15 minutes earlier.

    Thankfully, the Germans had a international ticket counter. It wasn’t specified as one like every other train station but we were able to easily get tickets to Copenhagen for a train exactly two hours after the original one. Then it showed up late. And they switched the platform for it on us three times! Once the train finally arrived, some people got on and the rest of us were left to stand around until a couple of fellow Americans who also had Eurail passes started waving their reservations around. We started doing the same and all of us were soon onboard the train. Everything went fine after that, right?

    We sat around in Hamburg for about fifteen minutes for some unknown reason. Probably someone arguing about train reservations. After a few minutes of moving we had another person come and sit in our group of four seats with a common table in the middle. By the next stop he had left and then there was a problem with the train radio which meant we had to sit around for a while. At least this train has been the nicest so far. We didn’t think it had power outlets which was its only negative aspect, but later figured out they were above our heads when the person in front of me plugged something into the ceiling. The seats are plush, and seem very clean. The headrests almost resemble a pillow, and they are far more plush than the usual one that looks like a Kleenex. The scenery is also the best on this leg. The North Sea occasionally appears on the right side of the train, with villages, wind farms, and farm land on the left.

    I thought that would be the end of the post and packed up my little tablet and keyboard. Maybe I would add a couple sentences about our arrival in Copenhagen. Well, things were just getting started.

    OUR TRAIN WENT ON A BOAT

    Yep. We thought there was a bridge or some land route that connected parts of Denmark to the north, and that’s how we’d get to Copenhagen. It wasn’t. We went straight from the coast of Germany to the coast of Denmark. None of the American group seemed to know what was going on until the train announcement came over in English that we would have to get off the train while it was on the ferry. What ferry? No one mentioned a ferry. So we got off the train on the ferry. The whole thing seemed very surreal, especially after 10 hours of traveling already. No one really told us what to do, but soon enough we figured out that it was best to leave the car/train/RV/semi deck and go up to the decks above us.

    You would think that a ferry making a short 45 minute journey from the German to Danish coasts would be pretty small and pretty simple. The boat was like a miniature cruise ship! There was plenty of nicely furnished seating, a restaurant, a duty free shop complete with food, beverage, and an oddly large beauty supply section. There were a couple other snack and store places that seemed to be closed, which was reasonable for a short ferry ride on a Sunday night. Prices were in DK (Danish currency) and Euros, and the going rate seems to be 10DK for 1.34 Euro, which also happened to be the price for any can of beer or soda, which you could buy by the caseload. By this time, the sun was setting, so we basically got a free sunset cruise.

    Since we had spotted the American (and English speaking) guys earlier, we talked with them on the boat. They were both from Rice University and were at the end of a month in Europe. They had traveled kind of in a U shape around Germany, starting up north, working south, and then swinging north up to Copenhagen for a flight back to the US. Gave us some helpful pointers, which was nice and it was good to have a conversation with actual native English speakers, which is quite rare over here. We also had an English speaking hitchhiker stop by our table to ask for a ride. He sounded British and I had to break the bad news to him that since we were on a train that our car did not have any extra room.

    The train did successfully arrive on the Danish coast, where I continued writing this post into the Danish dusk.

    image

    The Hamburg Hbf station

    image

    The boat on the ferry's car deck.

    image

    The German-Danish waters at sunset.