A Look Back to the Future -=EuroHop 15/16=- Pt.1: Denmark, Sweden, Holland

This is a Class S journal

continue to Part 2 —>

Prologue

What can be done in 23 days? I asked myself when I started planning for my winter break of 2015. I was uncertain: the world is so large! As usual, so many places to go, so little time. A small sale by British Airways to Copenhagen caught my attention. I know someone in Copenhagen area, oh, and also someone in Odense, wait….

I had an idea, a brilliant one. I rushed to the map on the wall, and I pinned down every friend I had in Europe. I connected them one by one, and I had my itinerary: 23 days, 7 countries, 7 friends revisited. I met them in all different ways, from the ancient journey I had to Nepal before everything started, to the most recent experience in the tropical Costa Rica. (both trip journals available in the near future, as I will slowly recap each of them) I will start by Copenhagen, Denmark, and slowly work my way to the central Europe. I knew it was destined to be an epic voyage, and it surely was:  Start on December 12th 2015, finish on January 4th 2016. However, I had little idea how much this journey would end up impacting my life. I simply thought it was gonna be great fun hopping between different nations close to each other. Oh, silly me, I was too naive.

December 12th, I finished my last exam, and rushed to the airport: I have a big and a small backpack, but the burden in my heart was the greatest. I was excited, yet worried: what if all my “friends” end up like strangers? What will we talk about? Will we even fight and will I get kicked out into a strange city? What if they forgot me? I was ready to begin, and I was not ready to begin either. With panic and excitement, I boarded the BA flight to London. The A380 is almost empty, with barely anyone in the cabin, as my entire row was just me, lonely as usual. The flight was ridiculously bumpy, and the entire ride was particularly easy when you consider I slept my whole way through. Yes, I do love bumpy rides, they make me sleep easier. I now start to realize I seem to thrive in particularly unwelcoming situations…hmmmm….

I was awakened by the smell of food. I asked the hostess for 3 glasses of wine since practically the plane was empty, and I downed them all.

Destination: Europe!

After 3 hours in Heathrow LHR, I was aboard the flight to Copenhagen, Denmark. It was late already, and the darkness, my old friend, came in again. I was quite confused once I got off the airport, as there was nothing to indicate which direction is the right train. There were only 3 machines selling tickets, and for those poor folks with credit cards, they don’t take cards. The line was also unbearably long. I bought a ticket, a train came, and I boarded.

 

 

 

 

IT WAS THE WRONG DIRECTION.

 

 

 

20 minutes later, I ended up in Sweden.

Copenhagen airport is at the side of a narrow straight called Øresund, and the wrong direction of train took me across and straight into Sweden. (pun deliberately intended) Right at the first station across the gulf of shame, the train came to a halt, and a group of police rushed in. They quickly took out the refugees hiding in all corners of the train, including closets, bathrooms, and under my seat, and demanded passport check for everyone else. I got off the train afterwards and looked for a way back, to Denmark. The very first thing I did after I landed was taking a train to the wrong country, stupid Young! I read til Malmö (to Malmö) as fra Malmö (from Malmö), and Malmö is the Swedish city on the other side. What great shame it is, especially given that I have some basic Danish and Swedish skills!

Did you know? The connection between Denmark and Sweden is a remarkable engineering feat called Øresundsbroen: it is half tunnel, half bridge connected by a half artificial island in between! The design lowers the cost and allows the passage of both large and small ships with minimal environmental impact.

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Øresundsbroen with sea ice

After being laughed at by the conductor, again, on the way back to Denmark, I was more ready to get to my hostel. It was a 5 block walk from the station, and I truly experienced the Nordic cold, 12am, with just a thin jacket. I checked into the hostel and could not sleep due to the jet lag. I thus decided to watch some silly cat video do some work instead, and I dozed off instantaneously. Ah, work-induced-sleep, works every time.

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A morning view of København/Copenhagen

Denmark

København/Copenhagen

I was ready to begin my day when I woke up at 10 am. I booked a bike tour a few days back, and I quickly walked through the wind-swept Copenhagen in the dead of winter and located the bike shop. The streets are not busy at all, and nobody seems to be enjoying Tivoli, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. The bike tour conducted by Mike is touted as the northernmost year-round bike tour in the world, and I was the only one stupid enough to not bring a pair of gloves.

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Tivoli, used to be the happiest place on Earth, until Walt Disney stole the slogan

The bike tour crossed many little cobbled streets, parks and monuments. We passed a statute of the most famous Dane ever: Hans Christian Andersen. (If you don’t know him, King’s New Clothes, the Ugly Duckling, or the Little Mermaid should give you a hint.) I am always a big fan of his tales, so full of hidden messages, that only the adult version of me got to understand during my Scandinavian studies.

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København/Copenhagen in the morning

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Thank you, Hans Christian Andersen, for giving my childhood a hue of bright color

 We also passed the castle near the sea, where a lot of men and women fended off one last wave of Swedish intrusion during the last war. After that, the Swedes never attempted to invade again, preserving the nation we now call Denmark.

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Cobbled grounds in the former military camps painted with bright red

After a short break, we finally reached the famed Little Mermaid. Despite this being my first time in Denmark, I have actually seen the Little Mermaid before. It was transported to the Shanghai Expo Denmark Pavillion during 2010 Expo. I am glad that she is back in where she feels more comfortable. This de-facto national symbol had all the crowds surrounding her, yet she still retained all her tranquility.

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The Little Mermaid, is all purpose of life lost, or is it just a new beginning, darling?

We continued to the royal palace, and watched an exchange of guards. Each shift is an excruciating 24 hours with no breaks except one bathroom break at 12 hour mark. The special training they went through must be hell. No food for 24 hours? Oh no. No SLEEP!? OH HELL NAH.

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Good luck brothers. Rest In Pieces, wait, you guys cannot even rest!

We then passed by Nyhavn/New Harbor, which is one of the oldest harbors in Europe. The canals are so lovely, that I may just stay there and people-watch if we were not on a tour.

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Nyhavn in the morning.

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What a beautiful city. I should consider living here.

Then we stopped by the parliament, city hall, small square, oldest church, etc. It was absolutely a blast, given the day was so sunny and wonderful…. I highly recommend the bike tour with Mike, except by the end of the trip, I could bite off my hands and never felt them because they were frozen like pieces of black forest ham.

I then stopped by the famous food market for lunch, and how could I miss the gorgeous smørrebrød (Danish open sandwich)? The market has one of the best smørrebrødsrestauranter around, and I never know how this could be the first time I have it. I felt my life was finally complete. My purpose was found. With this, I would stay single my whole life: my heart is given to smørrebrød.

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If heaven is like this, I cannot WAIT to die

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Oh yeah no doubt, I am gonna be living here

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My life motto. Though I tend to use the second half a bit more.

After the hearty lunch, I returned to the hostel. I passed out due to severe jet lag, but managed to wake up before too long. I took a stroll in the famous Christianshavn area, with the famous community of Christiania. The city was not as cold as previously thought, but I was still severely underprepared: I forgot to pack a lot of stuffs while I was hurrying to get to the airport! (or simply I don’t have a thick pair of pants to protect me from the Nordic wind!)

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Woah what a great day! It is almost 5 degrees celsius!

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The first ever self-sufficient (used to be) hippie community in the world: Christiania

Did you know? You can buy a share of the community and support the technically illegal Christiania with their weed industry there at  www.christianiafolkeaktie.dk  ? (requires some basic Danish skills, 1USD=6.5DKK)

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Christianshavn, København

I also walked towards the harbor waterfront, and I was very surprised by the modern buildings and offices lining both sides, and the quality of life cannot be better. The incredibly well-tinted glass windows, the colorful walls, and the sleek design, all helped tremendously to the beauty of the neighborhood.

What else is in København, you ask? well, nothing much else, except THE BEST RESTAURANT IN THE WHOLE WORLD YOU EGG!!! Noma, the epitome of Nordic molecular cuisine, has been awarded with the title of Best Restaurant in the World for a few consecutive years. I was unable to get a meal there because the best restaurant has to have a corresponding price tag, which my wallet swears to commit suicide if I decided to book a seat, and more importantly, I am a miserable fuck who has nobody to dine with. Yes I am very lonely, but not THAT lonely okay? Going to literally the best restaurant in the world alone? I would rather die and never eat there than going alone!

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I guess this little door is the ultimate destination of my life. one day, Young, one day.

After a few minutes of daydreaming of being inside the door instead of outside, I was tired enough. I walked all the way back to the hostel and ended my day. The sun set later than I suspected, given Denmark’s high latitude. I slept all the way through the night and woke up early to catch a morning train to Odense.

Odense

I used my excellent elementary Danish skills to locate my train in the enormous train station, and I was warmly welcomed by the sun. The train ride was a bit over 1 hour, and I was ecstatic: finally I would reunite with Markus, an old friend who I met in Nepal, the journey that started all journeys.

Did you know? Denmark is mostly an archipelago, with numerous islands such as Sjælland, Fyn, Bøgo, Falster, Lolland, etc. Only Jutland is connected to Germany by land. Everything else is an island

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On the bridge connecting Sjælland and Fyn.

The local train slowly docked at the little station of Odense, the city where Hans Christian Andersen was born. Markus gave me a big hug at the train platform. He had not changed one single bit. We visited the Andersen Museum, and carefully studied his entire life. We had a great time in his childhood home, as I have never experienced Hans like that before. His difficulty in childhood and adulthood alike, reflects onto me like a mirror, and his extensive journey also shines light into me. He is a remarkable man who died in solitude, and why does my life so far fits so perfectly with his? Will I end up trying my best in career and relationships but only succeed in the former? Only the almighty time will tell.

We later went to the little yet lively Christmas market, and so much random food was on sale, indeed so celebratory the entire city was!

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“Divorce cheese 60 Kr.  P.S. divorce not guaranteed.” price tag of a type of smelly cheese

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Odense streetview

We later returned home, and Markus along with his girlfriend Anne treated me with the most Danish dish for Christmas ever: æbleskiver! We also caught up with each other’s life, and had a great tea! The wind may be howling outside, but my heart has never been warmer with this great reunion. Thank you Markus, for being such a great person. You are a reporter for both news and life, and I am so glad to be part of it.

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Æbleskiver, literally “apple slices”. It contains 0% apple and looks 0% like slices.

After a great dinner of some kind of cinnamon rice porridge (?) I was very sad to bid farewell. I hugged Markus and Anne, and watched their waving hands disappear beyond the dimly lit corner of the apartment building. I boarded the train back to Copenhagen, and transferred to a train to Malmö, Sweden. No, this time is NOT by accident.

Malmö, Sweden (again)

I was almost filled with tears when I saw Anna by the train station. I could not believe I was able to meet two long-missed friends in one single day. I am always an avid learner and I always try to befriend as many people as possible during my journeys. I am always so happy when I get to know someone and understand where he/she is from, what is his/her job, life and family, why he/she travels, and how do they eat their local food, how does their country feel….. However, the saddest part of traveling is leaving these adorable people, and knowing that you may never cross paths with each other in your lifetime. But I knew that was wrong. The friendship you build with people during your travels are different. It is not like you are forced to be in a small room with boring biology posters in a high school; you and the other person choose to be together, choose to talk to each other, choose to become friends: the camaraderie of traveling is built to last. Among the 7 billion people in this world, you find this particular person interesting to travel with, to talk to, to be happy for each other. That is why I always believe that traveling is almost sacred. Giving is always a noble cause, but sharing is a holy act. You give when you have extra, but you share because the other doesn’t have enough. And for sharing, there is nothing more beautiful than sharing an experience together. That is why seeing Anna in the Triangeln station was more than just a reunion. It proved that it is possible, to still be part of something bigger, to feel connected, years after traveling together. Our memories on the 4400m Titikaka lake will never fade, and neither will our friendship.

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Wrapping gifts for Syrian refugee children’s first Christmas in Sweden with Anna

We headed home, and since my jet lag brought my biological clock into Azerbaijan time zone, I was able to help Anna pack some gifts for the Syrian refugee children for Christmas! The migrant crisis was the most severe in Germany and Sweden, and the first stop of many refugees is Malmö because it is right by the straight past Denmark, which still has very strict laws regarding asylum seekers. (That is why you see the action taken on the train during my first accidental visit on my first day.) Thus, many refugees congregated in this little city, applying tremendous pressure to all aspects of the society. However, the Swedes are warm, strong and welcoming, and they are still making the best out of this crisis. No matter which side you stand on this crisis, you will come to respect their actions. I am also highly honored that I could do something to help the children in need. I am really happy that I can be part of this generosity, and knowing that I at least made some children’s Christmas a bit brighter after months of traversing danger and hostility, I can say I did something instead of watching it like a cold-hearted bystander. I never believed in donating money, because in China, lots of donation moneys went to the organization leaders’ pockets for Gucci handbags and Rolex watches. (I am talking about you, local Red Cross leader’s daughter 郭美美/Meimei Guo!) That was exactly why I went on those volunteer trips to Nepal, Peru, and Mexico, because I want to help with my bare hands and actual actions, not by my money. Donating money is great, but donating your time is better, as the latter is truly your own.

We had a great time catching up, we talked a lot about the time spent on the Peruvian/Bolivian border and highest navigable lake of Titikaka in 2013. We talked about the other person in our gang at that time, Bi Hui, who I later met in Bogota, Colombia in the year. We chat about food, future, family, more food, and Edwin, our Venezuelan friend met in Cusco… And before we knew it, we both passed out on our beds.

By the time I woke up, Anna had already gone to her work. I made my breakfast and now ready to explore this city. After getting familiarized with the public transportation, I went on for the museum and used-to-be castle Malmö Museet. It was one of the strangest museums I have ever set paws in. In it there was a presentation of the refugee crisis during WWII, an art gallery, a historical recount of the city, and the story of a great expo that took place more than 50 years ago. And then, there is this:

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O–K–??? abolishing hell??? what?

It was apparently some kind of movement/petition for the pope to abolish hell. The podium reads ERRARE HUMANUM EST, which credits to the famous philosopher Seneca, and it means “to err is human” in Latin. The movement believes all will commit sins in life, and nobody will thus go to heaven since none is perfect, and they need the pope to abolish the hell.

After exiting the museum, I took a little stroll around the park by the straight. The sea breeze was gentle, yet the weather was brutal, with temperature hovering around freezing point. I got to see the tallest building in Scandinavia, called Twisting Torso. It is a bizarre building facing the ocean.

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Twisting Torso

After my little stroll, I took the bus and decided to visit Anna at her workplace. And please be prepared, Young the crappy storyteller is gonna tell you something magnificent.

 

Anna, the first Swede I have known in my life,

WORKS IN A FUCKING IKEA!!!!

I simply cannot find this more stereotypical than anything else I have ever encountered in my life. This is beautiful, as if the world is aligning itself to the most stereotypical thing it can do: A Swede working for IKEA, an American with a shotgun and a bald eagle, and Young being single as fuck. The stereotype trifecta is now complete.

Since I already found myself in an IKEA, in Sweden, I guess I had to go all the way. How, you ask? Just watch me go complete Sweden overload.

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KABOOM! Swedish meatballs in an IKEA in Sweden! stereotype, IT IS OVER 9000!!!!

I finished the tasty meal within seconds, and went for another one, and another one. #noregrets

Anna finally met up with me in the canteen, and we took a bus back to the city, for a tasty vegetarian buffet~! It is very typical for restaurants in Sweden to change into a specific type of buffet meal for the holiday season. It includes all kinds of cheese, fish, vegetables, ham, and picked food with others, of course, some of them were swapped for this vegetarian restaurant.

We rolled home on our round bellies, and fell asleep like two dense rocks.

We woke up for a late breakfast, and we strolled around the city on this cold day. We had the best falafel (acclaim pending) in Sweden, and I had to hug Anna goodbye for my flight, but don’t fret, I will see her soon. How, you ask (again)? You will see. 😉

The flight went smoothly, and within an hour, I was in the city of canals.

The Netherlands

Amsterdam

Upon exit of the airport, I took a train to the central station. As soon as I walked outside, I could feel the sensation of holidays. It was December 15th after all!

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Today I love you, but will you love me back?

The city of canals, under the decoration of lights, balloons, music and ever so many couples, made me both excited and depressed at the same time. I walked among streets filled with laughter and hope, all by myself. I felt distant, as if I am a bird perched on top of a tree, observing the people underneath speaking a foreign language: love. I felt the happiness, but as if I was touching it, not embracing it.

I fell asleep in the hostel after a great Tibetan meal, and dozed right off into jet lag…

December 16th, I woke up to the sound of canal cruises: the city had awoken. I finished my breakfast and sprang right into action. I started with the flower market by a canal. I walked past people going to work, cars and trams criss-crossing in the narrow streets, and shops opening their windows. I quickly found myself surrounded by all kinds of flowers: tulips, tulips, and tulips! The market was just waking up, so the few people along with millions of bulbs made a stunning contrast.

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Each bulb was ready, ready to blossom into the most beautiful thing in the world. Kind’of like humans, don’t you think?

I continued to a place that I longed to visit: Katcabinet. It is the biggest museum dedicated to cats and cat-related productions. As a lazy fat cat myself, I cannot resist the beckoning of home, and here I come. The museum is filled with all kinds of cat pictures, posters, vases, etc. The owner started the museum after her beloved cat died, and till this day, the old lady still lives in this little mansion.

After feline so much cat-like, I continued my journey and visited Anne Frank Huis. The little hideout Anne Frank lived in during the period in which her diaries were written is now a grim remembrance of the Nazi terror that permeated through every Jew’s soul. The museum does not allow photography, and out of respect for Anne Frank and all her fellow victims, I will not post any pictures. I hope we humans learned a lesson from the biggest war of our history.

After lunch, I met with Wouter, a great guy who I met in Santa Elena of the Monteverde region in Costa Rica. He is a rather quiet guy, but filled with a lot of passion inside. He rode in with his cool Yamaha bike, and we had a Heineken beer together in a square. We talked about our past, present, and future, and walked around the canals. He showed me many little details, such as why the old houses facing the canals always have a hook at the top: to lift cargo from the boats into the second floor for safekeeping. We also discussed the incredible housing prices in the old canal towns. Thank you Wouter for your kind hospitality.

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The canals in Amsterdam

The next day, I woke up early and made breakfast. I wandered around the city for a few hours before setting my next destination.

What does Vincent say when he cannot find his car?

………

……

“Where did my Van Gogh?”

 

I apologize for such a great horrendous joke.

No I take that back. I am too proud to admit my jokes are bad. They are awesome.

I visited the famous Dutch painter’s museum, and I got also treated with Edvard Munch’s fine Expressionist works as well! Though I am no art connoisseur, but I am at least able to figure out the basic color usage, brushwork, structure, and light contrast that both artists share to an astounding degree.

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One of the 4 versions of The Scream by Edvard Munch. Can you hear the cream?

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One of the many Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh. Yellow reaches extreme in his hands

After another bunch of walking around, some coffee, a bit more Heineken, I was finally ready for my challenge: shwarmas. Yes, here, they have arguably the most affordable shwarmas in the world, and how can my wallet let me loose? I have had it every single day since I have been in Amsterdam, so I better make the last one worth it. I had already become friends with the shop owner, who left his wife and son as he migrated from Libya, so I now ask for the biggest combo plate. This was my doom, my end, and unsurprisingly, I was facing it all by myself.

“I fear not!” I murmured.

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Though alone, today, I Amsterdam

Though I was mentally prepared for what was about to come, I was still completely shocked when the food was presented in front me. It radiates some aroma of a distant place called the past, filled with a scent of exotic middle east, along with a white sauce that reminds me of…. WHO AM I KIDDING I FINISHED THEM ALL IN 1 MINUTE.

20151217_195027 Ah, food, my mortal enemy, we meet again

After another slumber, I was ready to head towards my next destination. I went to the train station, and boarded a Thalys train I booked many days ago, since it is the only way that my wallet does not scream at the ridiculous prices. The train cruised at an incredible speed. I estimated it to be at least 350 km/hr (220 miles/hr). It only stopped in Rotterdam and Antwerp, and by nightfall, I arrived in Europe’s city-in-the-middle.

And it is…

—->  Please continue to part two here!

8 thoughts on “A Look Back to the Future -=EuroHop 15/16=- Pt.1: Denmark, Sweden, Holland

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