Choosing to Bloom

I’ve been thinking a lot about “blooming where you’re planted.” By that, I suppose I mean looking for the best in all situations. I’m realizing that finding yourself anywhere in the world can be a wonderful experience or a terrible one, depending on your mindset.

Occasionally, I’ll be asked, “Why did you choose Aalborg, of all the places you could have gone in the world?” Aalborg sometimes gets a bad rap: it’s too small, there isn’t enough to do, it isn’t glamorous. My study abroad experience could have been entirely different if I had gone to Paris or London or some other adrenaline-packed, busy metropolis. Then again, I could have complained my way through a semester in any city.

A common sight.
A common sight in Aalborg.

I’ve found myself in Aalborg. I’ve found myself this sweet, simple, cozy place. Yeah, I might recognize the people who are usually on my bus route. Sure, I might get familiar with the people who work at the grocery store. The trees are finally covered in light, baby leaves and there’s lots of green grass. I have a favorite coffee shop. I’ve found myself here and now and, I’d like to think, I’ve chosen to bloom.

The spire of the Budolfi Church, seen from Algade on an overcast day.
The spire of the Budolfi Church, seen from Algade on an overcast day.

Some pictures from a trip to see the Rubjerg Knude lighthouse, which is being devoured by sand dunes:

So much wind, but amazing views
So much wind, but amazing views
In this picture Romania, the U.S., the Netherlands and Italy are represented!
In this picture Romania, the U.S., the Netherlands and Italy are represented!
Debris from old buildings that used to exist in the area scattered across the sand: proof of how destructive nature can be.
Debris from old buildings that used to exist in the area scattered across the sand: proof of how destructive nature can be.
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Leeds/Edinburgh/Liverpool

They say that all good things must come to an end. This week was was one of those good things that came to end all too soon.

I quite honestly can say that I feel like I’ve been living in a dream-like state since my trip to Aarhus. I can’t believe my luck. I hope I can hold on to the sheer gratefulness I feel for these opportunities I have had.

I left Aarhus Monday morning to fly to London. I ignorantly thought that London was a lot closer to Leeds than it is, but I was happy to make the journey since I knew that Jeremy would be waiting for me in Leeds. I don’t want this post to be overly romantic (I don’t consider myself a very gushy-mushy romantic person), but being able to visit Jeremy this week was a real treat.

Seeing Jeremy’s experience abroad firsthand was amazing. Our experiences have been different in countless ways, but are equally valuable. Leeds and Aalborg couldn’t be more dissimilar. Leeds is a huge city; in comparison, Aalborg looks like a little village. In Leeds, there’s always something to do. It’s a city that seems to pride itself on excitement and activity. For example– we visited the Leeds City Market one of the days I was there and I was blown away by the amount of vendors selling anything I could think of: fruit, clothing, electronics, candy, meat, etc. etc. We bought Jeremy a pair of new shoes (for only 5 pounds!) after searching through massive piles of shoes while the vendors shouted prices at us. I had never seen anything like it.

Tuesday morning, we hopped on a train to Edinburgh. Edinburgh is one of those cities that I have always wanted to see, since I was very young. My twelve-year-old self would have been screaming with excitement. When we arrived, I felt like a little kid in Disneyland for the first time. It’s like you’ve been transported back to a medieval city, complete with a majestic castle atop a massive volcanic rock. The city is built around the castle and the architecture has retained its original style. I’m beginning to realize that children are special because they are so easily excited. They’re constantly curious and amazed by everything around them. As adults, I think it is important to reclaim that childhood awe that we so quickly grow out of.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

Our hostel was perfectly located, right along Prince Street and walking distance to all the best sights. We were the ultimate tourists: snapping pictures, stopping to read all signs/historical markers along the way. Of course, there was no shortage of bagpipe players (Jeremy’s least favorite instrument) and kilts for sale (which I unsuccessfully tried to convince Jeremy to buy). I blissfully shopped in the U.K’s largest vintage/thrift store. We ate ice cream. We sat in the Prince Street gardens and soaked up some sun. In essence, I would absolutely revisit Edinburgh and see more of the city.

Old, winding streets. If you go to Edinburgh, wear comfy shoes so you get the full experience of walking around!
Old, winding streets. If you go to Edinburgh, wear comfy shoes so you get the full experience of walking around!
Gorgeous blooming trees in the Prince Street gardens.
Gorgeous blooming trees in the Prince Street gardens.
Best ice cream ever.
Best ice cream ever.

Later in the week, we did a quick day trip to Liverpool, England. There was plenty of Beatles memorabilia. Some guy stopped Jeremy and said, “You look like John Lennon, do you play music?”  We continued on our way to the Tate Museum and looked at modern art. Marcel Duchamp, Matisse, Jackson Pollock, all the best. We also walked to the Liverpool Cathedral, the largest in England. Later in the afternoon we found a Krispy Kreme donut shop (so random) and had I had an apple-pie donut, a choice which the cashier commented on as “So American.”

The Liverpool Cathedral, the largest in the U.K.
The Liverpool Cathedral
A carousel down by the Tate Museum and harbor
A carousel down by the Tate Museum and harbor

After another extremely long day of travel (I depressingly had to catch a coach at 1 am to make my flight out of London), I have returned to Aalborg. I was greeted by beautiful warm weather, more leaves on the trees and my adorable Danish neighbors made me dinner. I was sad to leave England and Jeremy for another couple of months, but I’m happy to be back in Denmark too.

The best thing about this week was realizing how far Jeremy and I have come. We are both becoming more independent, mature and confident people. I’m glad that we happened to study abroad at the same time, but also have our own unique experiences. I’m sure the next time we see each other we’ll have entirely new stories and realizations. Until then.

This picture captures the way I felt all week well.
This picture captures the way I felt all week well.

Aarhus, I love you.

Another weekend getaway. This time, the city of Aarhus.

I just need to start off by saying: if you’re ever in Denmark, please go to Aarhus. I can’t recommend it enough. Copenhagen gets a lot of hype and is undoubtedly amazing, but Aarhus is special. If Copenhagen is the boisterous football star older brother, than Aarhus is his humble, artistic sister. Do you get the idea?

I’m not sure I’ve ever fallen in love with a city so immediately. My friend Molly and I began joking about how something we drank must have been spiked because everything seemed unnaturally beautiful.

One of the best things about Aarhus is how compact it is. It is really hard to get lost here. There’s a couple distinctive landmarks that helped me orient myself in the city: ARoS Museum of Modern Art (more on that later), the harbor and the Aarhus Cathedral, which, fittingly, is dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, St. Clemens.

Aarhus Cathedral looking daunting and gorgeous
Aarhus Cathedral looking daunting and gorgeous

Aarhus is the definition of cozy. There’s tons of sweet side streets with cafes and little shops. Galleries everywhere. Parks galore. Canals run through the city and on sunny days (which I luckily got to experience), crowds of people lounge waterside. The Latin Quarter was my favorite area– mainly because the plethora of second hand shops and Mexican food restaurants. I satisfied a burrito craving both evenings and was not disappointed by the Danish interpretation of what Mexican food was.

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Vintage dresses galore
Vintage dresses galore
Greenhouses and vegetable beds in the historical neighborhood Den Gamle By
Greenhouses and vegetable beds in the historical neighborhood Den Gamle By

ARoS is hard to miss. On top of the rectangular, brick building, is a circular, rainbow walkway that can be glimpsed from most parts of the city. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s permanent installation, completed in 2011, is called “Your Rainbow Panorama.” Guest are invited to walk through the circle, viewing the city six stories below in each color of the rainbow. It definitely isn’t the only thing I enjoyed about ARoS; I was continually impressed by the work on display at the museum. From Janet Cardiff’s wonderfully terrifying “Carnie” installation (search it on Youtube if you want nightmares), to idyllic Northern-Jutland landscapes by the Danish master Peder Severin Krøyer, there was something for everyone to enjoy. And, of course, you couldn’t miss Rob Mueck’s hyper-real sculpture “Boy” which is nearly 15 feet tall.

ARoS
ARoS
Photo op in "Your Rainbow Panorama"
Photo op in “Your Rainbow Panorama”
Little Molly, big Boy
Little Molly, big Boy

The whole time I’ve been in Aarhus (I’m currently enjoying a lovely window seat in my hostel) I’ve been realizing how lucky I am to be able to travel outside of Aalborg and find what else Denmark has to offer. I’m lucky to be only an hour and a half from this city that has resonated with me so deeply. Aarhus might not have the same glamour as Paris, Rome or London, but I’ve found it to be unassumingly beautiful and — dare I say — preferable in its simplicity. If I run away someday, you’ll know where to find me.

I have another big week of travel starting tomorrow. For now, rest and enjoying a quiet evening.

Skagen/Grenen/Den Tilsandede Kirke

Blogging is weird.

I don’t know how else to put it, but I’m sure that fellow bloggers can relate. A blog is an online, public journal. A little piece of your soul that you put on a screen, for being read by other people and, thus, criticized, judged, etc.

So, in relation, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I choose to reveal about myself and my life online. I’m able to curate a particular image of myself that is (as I try) honest, but is really only a small snapshot of everything I’m experiencing. Heck, all social media is the same. It’s all curated, it’s all carefully constructed. I think that is important to keep in mind that a blog is such a small aspect of a person. I’m sure, when I return home, some will expect me to say: “I had an incredible, flawless time abroad! Do it immediately! Every second is enjoyable!” And sometimes, I think this is the impression that one can get from social media, like blogs, where the individual can choose to only write about pretty, comforting things. The truth is, when I return home, I’m sure my response will be much more complicated. Being abroad is a beautiful experience, but it is beautiful because of its complexity. I don’t know if a blog can capture the experience as a whole.

Anyways, I still love to blog. I just think it’s important to keep everything I just said in the previous paragraph when reading and/or writing online. I really like to share what I’m experiencing online for others, but also for myself. The internet is this crazy infinite, eternal entity and it will be interesting to look back on this whole period of my life years in the future.

The weeks go by too quickly.

This week was special. I got to visit the charming town of Skagen, which is nestled at the very top of Denmark, on the peninsula that juts out towards Sweden. When a couple friends and I left Aalborg early in the morning, it was pouring rain and we all considered turning back and postponing the trip for a nicer day. I’m glad we didn’t because during the hour-long train ride, the clouds began to clear and although it was still overcast, the rain stopped for the remainder of the day.

Two things are immediately noticeable about Skagen: the smell of fish and the bright, cheerful yellow that nearly all the buildings are painted. It was a quiet day, the chilly weather kept most people indoors. This left the beaches beautifully abandoned; we were able to enjoy them with just the sound of our own footsteps along the rocky shores, the waves, and the occasional screeching of gulls and other water fowl.

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I enjoyed searching for sea glass and other humble treasures that lay strewn across the sand. I collected several items in the pocket of my rain coat: shells, glass, smooth stones. We also found several WW2 bunkers that were used by German soldiers. Some of them looked as if they were being slowly sucked into the sand dunes, others looked as if they were going to be swept into the sea. Graffiti and soot from long-burnt-out campfires decorated the cement walls. If I was feeling especially brave, I would peer into the decrepit bunkers through holes created by vandals and others explorers.

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One of many WW2 bunkers
One of many WW2 bunkers

After walking nearly 4km, we reached the very tip of the country, where we could watch the Baltic and North seas smash together in a wild display of splashing foam. The peninsula is called Grenen.  Behind me was sand, grass and a lighthouse on the horizon, in front of me: endless ocean, theoretically Sweden, and an angry ocean that insisted on battling itself forever.

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Jonas (Spain), me, Pavel (Brazil) and Cassidy (California)

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We headed back to town for some long-awaited, warm pizza. We we’re cold, exhausted and damp, but incredibly proud of our accomplished journey.  The pizza warmed us up, and we began in the opposite direction in search of Den Tilsandede Kirke, in English, the sand-covered church.

A long trail led to the church, through dark firs and grassy sand-dunes. The church was built between 1355 and 1387. This building is older than the United States (!!!) and continues to retain its simplistic beauty. Part of the church was demolished in 18th century, because a sand dune repeatedly was blown in front of the entrance and it became too much work to dig out. I’ve grown to appreciate minimalism more since I’ve been in Scandinavia, most churches are painted white, with simple decoration. I can see how, in some ways, these churches seem more revered in their unassuming appearances. They politely ask for your attention, rather than demanding it.

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Den Tilsandede Kirke looking ethereal with a stormy grey sky

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Towards late afternoon, we decided to head home. As we ran to catch the train, I could feel the shells and stones clinking together in my pockets, little pieces of the top of Denmark that I will always have.

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

What a week. From enjoying to the sunny weather, to exploring, to school projects and meeting new people, I have been busy nearly every day. It has been busy in the best way possible (full of new and entertaining happenings)– but also the kind of busy that makes me step back, astonished and ask, “How is it already mid-March?” I find myself cherishing each experience because it’s all going by much too quickly.

Aalborg has been looking especially stunning
Aalborg has been looking especially stunning
Baby leaves! I can't help but stop and take a picture; I'm so excited for green trees!
Baby leaves! I can’t help but stop and take a picture; I’m so excited for green trees!

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One thing that has been on my mind: distance truly does make the heart grow fonder. In more ways than one. I wouldn’t say I miss home as a geographic location that much, but I miss the people that create the place I call home. It wouldn’t be home without the faces that I associate with home. I miss them, but being far away from loved ones has also helped be realize how lucky I am to be surrounded by unending support, encouragement and love. I have taken it for granted in the past; now I have a growing appreciation for my vast support system that my amazing parents, family, friends, boyfriend, etc. all form. I have received letters, gifts and pictures in the mail. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as coming home to find something in my mailbox and, more than once, I have teared up reading  simple thoughts that the sender put in a card and sent across the ocean. There’s something so special about hand written notes. Also, whoever invented Skype deserves an award.

Sunset from a rooftop
Sunset from a rooftop
My California-based friend Molly. She's kind and intelligent and a good person to have around.
My California-based friend Molly. She’s kind, intelligent and a good person to have around.

My heart has expanded in other ways too. The people that I have met abroad have been some of the most selfless and inspiring people I have had the privilege to encounter. I’m lucky to say that my friend family has extended across the Atlantic. I have been reassured that humans are inherently good. People all over the world want to be loved and accepted, just like I do. Yes, humans are silly and make bad decisions and fight and are messy. But they’re also looking for connections and others who will share in their human-ness. I think that’s the most important thing that we, as humans, do. We’re so much more than our superficial differences.

Dinner parties have become a regular thing and I couldn't be happier about it! There's something very rewarding about cooking and sharing food with other people.
Dinner parties have become a regular thing and I couldn’t be happier about it! There’s something very rewarding about cooking and sharing food with other people.
Thai wraps. So yummy.
Thai wraps. So yummy.
Post-dinner entertainment from Tess and Molly.
Post-dinner entertainment from Tess and Molly.

I’m really looking forward to the coming weeks: I’m in the process of trip-planning! I’m beginning to think I’m a hopeless addict for travel– too bad it’s a very pricey addiction. There will be more on the upcoming adventures later.

Short and Sweet

This week was decidedly Danish. I’m starting to feel a little more of a “local” as I settle in to my routine, familiarize myself with the twisting streets of Aalborg and find my favorite corners of the city to observe life from. I spent a couple hygge evenings with friends, over Carlsberg beers and pancakes, and more than a few hours in tucked-away cafes, reading or pondering how different my life has become in a very short amount of time.

Delicious lunch at a cafe down the road. Fig bread, brie, berry marmalade and a smoothie. Can I have this every day?
Delicious lunch at a cafe down the road. Fig bread, brie, berry marmalade and a smoothie. Can I have this every day?

One item of interest: I finally got myself a bike! I’ve been wanting one more since the weather has been decent and I saw one on an online forum where people post things for sale. Usually there are some pretty good deals and when I saw “red woman’s road bike, good condition, 400kr” I went for it. It was very spur of the moment, but bikes sell so quickly here.

The bike is a bit scratched up and makes some rattle-y old bike noises, but it is good enough for the time I will be here. What used to be a 30 minute walk is 10 minutes. I’ve really come to love zooming down the streets (it’s quite fast). I hope to find a basket for grocery store runs.

My new (old) red bike.
My new (old) red bike.

Other than that, it has been a very quiet week. Most everyone I know has come down with the flu this week and seemingly all around the same time. Most were in bed for 4 – 6 days. At a school the size of Aalborg University, it’s hard not to catch what nasty bug is going around because you’ll mostly likely encounter more than one sick person. I’ve been doing my best to avoid getting sick (i.e. constantly washing my hands, eating copious amounts of garlic and lemons) and I haven’t had any symptoms yet, thank goodness.

One last thing. I never think that I will enjoy a crime TV show, until I watch one. I just finished the Danish television series The Bridge and I couldn’t be sadder. Is there anyone out there who shares my love for Saga Noren? I wont give anything away but if you come across this gem, give it a chance! You wont be disappointed.

Wall mural at 1000Fryd. No racism, no sexism! Can you see why this is my favorite bar?
Wall mural at 1000Fryd. No racism, no sexism! Can you see why this is my favorite bar?
Sweet little necklace I bought from a local artist.
Sweet little necklace I bought from a local artist.

Springtime and Weekend Getaways

Spring is on its way over here in Denmark and we couldn’t be happier. I say “we” because I’m sure everyone (Danes included) share the same sentiments when those clouds blow away and the temperature reaches up into the mid-forties. I never thought I would feel this way, but 45 degrees is completely manageable and if it isn’t sleeting, it’s enjoyable even! Ha! The other day, my neighbor was having friends over for drinks on the patio, wearing shorts and obviously basking in the rare sunshine that we were so lucky to have for a couple days. I’m pretty sure those are the afternoons that everyone is dreaming of right now. Currently, it is back to the cloudy/windy/sleet-y mess that I am getting quite used to– but I couldn’t have been happier to absorb some vitamin D this week.

Flowers EVERYWHERE
Flowers EVERYWHERE

Besides the beautiful sunshine, this week was pretty amazing, I have to say. Tuesday night I joined a few friends for “Vegan Dinner” at one of the local bars. Now, being a vegetarian is nearly impossible in a country like Denmark. They love anything with meat in it and I’ve gotten used to maybe one vegetarian option on most menus– if any! Their version of vegetarian is usually “dusted with bacon-bits.”

Pretty sunsets in Aalborg, viewed from the hill behind my residence
Pretty sunsets in Aalborg, viewed from the hill behind my residence

So, when I was invited to come to not only a vegetarian dinner, but a vegan one, I was ecstatic. Tusin Fryd, the bar, is probably my favorite haunt found in Aalborg so far. Everything on their menu is vegan (White Russians with rice milk, please) and it’s entirely run by volunteers. It’s a very casual, friendly and welcoming atmosphere that I’m immediately drawn to. Their vegan dinner is in very high demand, so my friend got us on the list a week in advance. We weren’t disappointed. For 25kr each (about $3.75) we got a hearty Indian stew and a hunk of baguette. There was enough food for everyone to go back for seconds, which I eagerly did. It was probably the best meal that I have had in Denmark so far, one, because of the food, but also the atmosphere and the lovely people I got to share it with. We all went home satisfied and full of warm food.

Another cool experience I had this week was going to the local sauna. I’d never been to a sauna before, but it is decidedly Scandinavian, so I knew I would come across one eventually. The sauna was at a large complex that also housed a cafe, three swimming pools and a library. My friends and I alternated between the sauna and the swimming pool, finally understanding how Danish people make it through the long winters. I could only stay in the sauna for short amounts of time before hopping back in the pool, but it was refreshing and I left with my skin feeling softer than it has in a long time. I definitely know where to go now if I need some time to relax.

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Steamy pools on a cold day

Finally, I got to visit Copenhagen again this weekend and this time, I wasn’t alone. My boyfriend, Jeremy, flew over from England (where he is studying at Leeds University) to experience a little of Scandinavia. He bought tickets a while ago and surprised me with them for our second year anniversary. I was really excited for him to see one of my favorite places in the world and I don’t think he was disappointed. Saturday (our full day in the city) was one of those rare sunny days; that was enough to make it a successful trip.

Morning views
Morning views
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Danish coffee = A+

Nyhavn seemed even more colorful than before and flower shops were bursting with springtime blooms. Bouquets lined the sidewalk. The city seemed to wake from hibernation: Strøget was completely packed with pedestrians, cafes were filled with coffee-seekers, ice cream shops opened their doors and beckoned with traditional Danish pancakes topped with ice cream. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much. Jeremy and I shared an insanely unhealthy concoction of churros, chocolate sauce and soft serve. It was delicious.
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We also got to explore the Latin Quarter of Copenhagen a bit, enjoying a more eccentric side of the city. We saw a woman dancing with her enormous pet rabbit and took up a woman’s offer of FREE HUGS. Around sunset, we climbed the Round Tower (a historic observatory) and got a phenomenal 360 degree view of the city. I even spotted the bridge that connects Copenhagen to Malmö, Sweden. Do you ever have experiences where you wish you could put them in a box and store them away for when you want to have them again? This was a weekend like that. I couldn’t ask for more.

Views from the Round Tower
Views from the Round Tower
Christiansborg Palace and where the Danish Parliament currently resides.
Christiansborg Palace and where the Danish Parliament currently resides.