Diana in Copenhagen: Final Reflection

January 5, 2015

As I sit and write this from my bed in Massachusetts I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I’m home. After one hundred and twenty eight days, thirteen cities, ten countries, four classes, and countless memories, my time abroad came to a close and I could not be more grateful for the experience.

As I look back on the semester I decided to revisit some of the questions I asked myself before embarking on the adventure. I was unsure about living in a single room for the first time in college, but doing so certainly had its perks. I liked having my own kitchen and not having to work around someone else’s schedule, but I’m not as concerned as I was about having to go back to having a roommate in the future. As much as I liked living alone, having a roommate can be a lot of fun and it’s nice having someone to hang around with all the time.

I was concerned about Copenhagen being so expensive, and it really is, but I like to think I handled my budget well. I became pretty obsessed with saving money on day-to-day items so I could instead spend on things like traveling that were more important to me. This meant shopping at the discount grocery store for only the cheapest items, cooking in for nearly every meal, rationing instant coffee, and not buying many souvenirs. I also saved a lot of money on public transportation by having a bike. I’ll be honest, it was hard to part with my bike, Gwen, but I sold her at a good price causing it to only have cost me $32 for the entire four months. I feel like I got much more value out of putting my money towards experiences over material goods, and think that contributed to a much fuller and happier experience.

One last thing I voiced concern for in my first Travelogues post was how my directionally challenged self would manage getting around a city. While I’ve gotten slightly better in this arena, I would be lying if I said I was much more capable now. I decided to purchase a phone plan in Denmark providing lots of data, so I sadly still used Google Maps as a crutch to get around. I didn’t have phone service when traveling though, so I did do better job navigating from memory and by using with good old fashioned maps out of necessity.

Beyond these few concerns, my semester abroad made me exponentially more independent, which is best evidenced by my final trip of the semester. Since I wanted to book my Copenhagen flights round trip, I picked a date to fly home before knowing my finals schedule. As it turned out, I had enough time between my finals and my flight home to take advantage of the ease of European travel one last time. After failing to find someone to travel with me though, I decided to take a chance and book a trip to Spain alone. You might remember I traveled alone in London, but Spain was different, considering this time I had no one to meet up with when there. As the trip neared closer I started to get pangs of regret thinking I should have just pushed my return flight up a few days, but now I am so happy I followed through.

Beautiful benches at Plaza de España in Seville

Beautiful benches at Plaza de España in Seville

A view from the Alhambra in Granada

A view from the Alhambra in Granada

The trip was the perfect culmination of my experience abroad. It forced me out of my comfort zone more than others had because I was completely solo, had few things planned since I lacked time to do so during finals week, and had a language barrier to deal with. While this trip was indeed more challenging than others, being by myself made me deeply appreciate everything I saw and let me reflect on everything I’d done in the four months leading up to it too. I was able to be more observant, think about and process things on my own time, more readily meet other travelers, demonstrate the highest degree of independence, and do everything I could to appreciate a culture different from mine for the last time before coming home. Comparing this trip to my others, especially my solo trip in London, made me realize the true growth I’ve undergone from living abroad. In a post from a few weeks ago I wrote about using my little notebook to not feel uncomfortable when eating alone. I brought the same little notebook to Spain and put it to use again, but for a different reason this time. While having tapas alone one day in Triana, a neighborhood of Seville, I wrote, “This time I’m writing in the notebook while sitting alone not because I feel awkward, but because I don’t want to forget a single thing.” Being alone that day in Seville was probably one of my favorite days abroad, and it made me realize how far I’d come in such a short time.

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While the trip to Spain was an amazing way to culminate my experience abroad, the entire four-month span I was away had a profound effect on me. There are many reasons why I’m happy to be home, but am forever grateful for the friends, lessons, and memories from my semester in Denmark.

Thank you all for reading. Farvel!

Me, at the Alhambra in Granada

Me, at the Alhambra in Granada


Diana in Copenhagen: Preserving Memories

January 5, 2015

Most of what you’ve heard from me over the past four months has been about how I’ve made memories. I’ve tried to open a virtual door to give you a peek into this once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ve had the joy of living. For this post though—my second to last one—I’m instead going to share with you how I’ve been trying to preserve every memory I’ve made. As I just finished up my exams at Copenhagen Business School I’m tempted to phrase it like this: I’ve put enough time and capital investment into these past four months that I want to make sure not a second or penny is wasted. I want long-term value out of these experiences so there have been multiple ways I’ve tried to keep them.

Blogging
If you are reading this you are clearly aware that I am one of the Foreign Correspondents for UR whose job it is to write about our time abroad. There are many reasons why this position has value: it will help me build a writing portfolio to use when applying to jobs, it’s paid, and it will (hopefully) look good on a resume. The primary reason why I was so eager to apply, however, was because it would force me to reflect and describe what I experience in my time away from Richmond. Many students who go abroad keep blogs for themselves to help them keep track of our hectic lives, and I wanted to do the same but worried that I wouldn’t be as diligent in doing so as I’d like. So many friends told me that your months abroad are the best in your life but that they finish in the blink of an eye. I knew how easy it would be to get caught up in the excitement and fantasy overseas and forget to blog on my own time, and I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice. I sought this position to gain the added pressure of deadlines and quotas so I could follow though on making the meaningful reflections I knew I’d appreciate later. With this being said, I hope you have appreciated at least something I’ve had to say over the past four months, but also know that I’m writing these posts somewhat selfishly.

Pictures
I have a Facebook account and the sky is blue. Both are probably equally obvious in this day in age, and I’ve used my social media profile to preserve many meaningful memories for myself. Of course, the whole point of social media is to be just that, social, but my albums full of hundreds of pictures are less for giving others a glimpse into my life abroad and more to help me keep track of my countless experiences. I am religious at adding specific locations to where a picture was taken so I can have deeper and more meaningful memories of the amazing places I’ve seen. We found an awesome restaurant in Rome, for example, and I tagged its location as “Roma Sparita,” the name of the quaint restaurant versus just tagging it as “Rome, Italy.” If anyone ever visits Rome I will always remember the name of this little restaurant filled with the best cacio e pepe you’ve ever had and locals who will stare when you walk in because you’re not from Italy. The magic is in the details, and my Facebook account has helped me to remember them.

Another thing I use Facebook for is to remind myself of why I liked things so much. Before I went to Florence I really wasn’t sure why the Statue of David was as famous as it was, to be honest. Upon seeing him in person though, and reading the description of what Michelangelo’s depiction signified for the Florentines, I was amazed. I wanted to remember why I was in such awe and admiration in that one moment, so I captioned the Facebook photo with an excerpt from the description on the plaque beside the statue. I don’t do this for everything, but for certain ones I think it’ll be helpful to know not just where exactly a place was, but also why I thought it was meaningful enough to capture it in a photograph.

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Me, with Michelangelo’s David

Journaling
The only time I have kept a journal was when I was really young at a residential summer camp (the same one mentioned in my first post, if I have any loyal followers on this thing). While I never continued the practice, I have looked back on it countless times and been entertained and amused by what eight-year-old Diana had to say about camp dances and making three bull’s-eyes in archery. I love reading about all of my thoughts, fears, excitement, and experiences so many years after the fact. Some parts were a nice reminder of things I did, but others shared stories I had no recollection of. The journal acted like a portal in that sense, taking me through a mind I knew but with memories I’d forgotten. I love revisiting that little window into the past and I knew how much I would appreciate doing the same years from now too.

This, like the others methods I’ve described, I keep for myself. I use my journal so I can be reminded of the ridiculous times I spent gallivanting around Europe or laughing myself to tears with friends in the dorm. I try and write about everything too. One entry spent two whole pages detailing the unbelievably delicious Thanksgiving dinner I had when my parents came to visit and another describes why exactly I was so enthralled by the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican. My blogs help me articulate many feelings and observations I have, but my journal helps me focus more on my day-to-day lifestyle and smaller goings on too.

Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican

Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican

Since I keep the journal for myself, I also try and be as honest as possible. I mentioned how I use Facebook to remind me of all my memories from abroad, but that’s not the entire truth. Whether it is deliberate or not, our use of social media often tells a distorted story. The pictures I, and most others I would guess, put on social media show us at our best. We take pictures of the Octoberfests, the Amsterdam Music Festivals, and all of the other amazing adventures to help us remember the great times we’ve had. Just because this overall experience has been so amazing doesn’t mean it didn’t have its share of difficulties, though. I was home for less than forty-eight hours between my ten weeks away this summer and eighteen gone this semester, and that wasn’t always easy. Am I taking pictures of myself feeling a little upset in my room and posting them on Facebook to tell a fuller story? Of course not, but I think the tough times are just as valuable to remember as the great ones. I know no one’s going to be reading my journal so I feel comfortable preserving all of my memories in there, good or bad, and think I will appreciate how my time abroad wasn’t always a breeze but that I struggled and grew from parts of it as well.

Diana handwritten book
Keychains

One last way I commemorate my experiences is with keychains. I inherited a big green hiker’s backpack (named Yertle) from my sister that she used abroad, and I stole this idea from her. She added a keychain to the backpack from every city she visited when she travelled, and their accumulation was pretty amazing. My favorite part about studying abroad was traveling the continent, and I loved having the physical proof of that dangle behind me. Yertle got a little louder and a little heavier after every trip, and hearing the clanking of the keychains as I walked toward each next adventure brought a smile to my face. I felt like those pieces of metal weren’t just bought at insanely overpriced souvenir shops, but that they were earned and that each carried its own set of memories along with it. Unfortunately I lost one Amsterdam keychain due to an aggressive baggage-claim process so I took them all off the backpack to avoid further casualties. I also did so though, to find a way to better display them, and my plan is to get a large map and hang all of the keychains from pins in their locations. I realized my love for travel while abroad, so I hope this collection is just the beginning. I want to fill the map, fill the journal, take too many pictures, and keep writing too.

My favorites are the one from Denmark and the one with the Pope giving a thumbs-up

My favorites are the one from Denmark and the one with the Pope giving a thumbs-up

Stay tuned for my final post with more reflections from my time abroad, and happy holidays to everyone!


Diana in Copenhagen: Christmas Spirit

December 2, 2014

Winter in Denmark is upon us. The sun doesn’t rise until eight in the morning and calls it quits early at about four. Temperatures are cold but that’s nothing compared to the wind that will nearly blow you over and make you cry involuntarily. As a Massachusetts native, I am no stranger to these facets of winter, but I have to say they do make days drag on a bit slower.

There’s one thing though, that makes the cold and darkness all worthwhile. Christmastime! The Danes don’t hold back when in comes to Christmas, and they enjoy celebrations early since they (obviously) lack the need to wait until after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season.

Christmas markets have popped up all around the city selling an array of goodies like fuzzy hats, honey, and glassware. The markets have a magical aura about them with everyone in the holiday spirit enjoying outings with their friends, families, and loved ones.

A display at one of the Christmas markets

A display at one of the Christmas markets

A personal favorite sold at the markets is a Nordic traditional holiday drink called gløgg. Gløgg is a mulled wine consisting of red wine, sugar, and spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves and it smells like Christmas in a cup. You can buy gløgg, hot chocolate, waffles, warmed nuts, and many other goodies for your stroll—there’s something for everyone.

Another wonderful part of Christmas in Copenhagen is the iconic Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world and it is truly a magical place. The Gardens close for winter but open twice to celebrate the Halloween and Christmas season respectively. While Tivoli is always characterized by beautiful lights and landscapes, its Christmas displays take things to a whole new level.

The main entrance to Tivoli Garden

The main entrance to Tivoli Garden

Tivoli is a winter wonderland surrounded by lights, fake snow, and rides for people of all ages. You can purchase unlimited rides with your entrance fee, buy individual tickets inside, or not go on any at all. I had already tried all the rides (multiple times each, in fact) earlier this year when the weather was warmer, but even the wind chill couldn’t stop me from getting on the swings on my latest visit. The ride is simple: a bunch of chain-swings that get raised up a tall pole that spins. While it’s not the most exhilarating ride in the park, the swings give a magnificent view of Copenhagen. The ride is most stunning at night when you have the best seat in the house to see the wonderfully illuminated park and city. Perks of the swings: the wind drowns out sound so you can sing whatever song you want up there and no one will know. My go-to has been Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” but “I Believe I Can Fly” and “I’m Like a Bird” are viable alternatives.

Inside Tivoli Gardens

Inside Tivoli Gardens

We were lucky enough to happen upon the light show that night as well, and it was a great way to culminate a wonderful visit to the Gardens. Every night, there is a light show over a pond in the middle of the park and the Christmas show was Nutcracker themed. It’s a Christmas tradition in my family to listen to the Nutcracker soundtrack when we decorate our tree at home so seeing a beautiful light show with spinning holograms and colorful shooting streams of water was an awesome experience that reminded me of my traditions at home.

It’s not just the Christmas Markets and Tivoli that make this Copenhagen festive though—the whole city is lined with lights and wreaths. The excitement is infectious, so much so that even Santa needed to pay a visit. Last Sunday, hundreds of people gathered in City Hall Square to celebrate the lighting of the tree. Enthralled faces watched as Santa climbed his way up the ladder and little children hopped frantically up and down believing it would help him light the tree. It really felt like I was part of a great community when everyone started counting down in Danish and the energy was palpable. At “en” or “one,” Santa’s wand sparked, the tree lit up, people cheered, and Christmas carols started playing. It was a beautiful tree and an even more beautiful moment I was lucky to enjoy.

If you’re looking to escape wintertime happiness and festivities, Scrooges of the world, don’t come to Copenhagen.

Happy Holidays everyone!!

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Diana in Copenhagen: My Luxurious Travels

November 4, 2014

A big reason for why I chose Europe for study abroad is because of the expansive list of travel destinations it offers. One thing I love about the time I’ve spent across the pond is the luxury of being able to visit so many remarkable places around the continent. Luxury is actually an important term here too, in fact, because it perfectly describes the nature of my travels.

Anyone who has traveled abroad knows all too well that budget airlines represent the peak of extravagance. When you fly Ryanair or Easy Jet you quickly forget you’re boarding a cramped bullet-shaped tomb that offers little to no leg space and enforces a strict one-bag policy, and instead imagine yourself entering a five star hotel with wings. Magical flight attendants, or “angels” as I prefer to call them, patrol the aisles offering up foreign delicacies like M&Ms and tired-looking sandwiches at prices higher than your current altitude. You’re flying so high in the air, no wonder this place feels like heaven.

“Comfort” is another word that comes to mind when describing the beauty of budget-travel. It is common to go to great lengths seeking cheap flights and you will sacrifice nearly anything to obtain them, namely sleep and time. Pure exhaustion is an inevitable product of this plight and you become grateful for all of the amenities available in your travels to make you more comfortable. It’s great having your knees, even as a girl standing at a mere five feet and two inches, touch the seat in front of you regardless of whether the chair is reclined or not. It’s cozy. As for a pillow? Don’t worry. Your faux-leather purse stuffed with your phone, wallet, camera, sunglasses, and clunky global adapter makes the perfect alternative. Adjust the purse against the window just so, or prop it up on your own shoulder if you’re a lucky middle-seat inhabitant. Go ahead, you. Catch up on that sleep you missed leaving for your flight at four in the morning—you deserve it.

It looks like it would make a wonderful pillow, right?

It looks like it would make a wonderful pillow, right?

 

An advanced demonstration on how to use this purse-pillow. Take notes.

An advanced demonstration on how to use this purse-pillow. Take notes.

These cheap flights bring even more excitement, like accidental layovers! A girl-on-a-mission dead set on finding the most inexpensive flights knows full well that those Expedia, Skyscanner, and Kayak prices are not set and could change at any given moment. You expertly have all three, amongst others, loaded on different browser tabs with the window pushed to the side of your screen to cross-reference departure times with your class schedule. Sometimes you forget to breathe, let alone realize you’re about to book a flight from Prague with an eight-hour layover at eleven at night. Things happen. But have no fear, as a seasoned budget-traveler you know you have options—options like going through security eight hours early with your purse-pillow and finding the least-awkward couch on which to sleep in public. Bonus travel tip: drape your jacket over your head to block out the florescent lights and strangers’ judgmental stares.

A couch I found in the Vienna airport that I caught some sleep on.

A couch I found in the Vienna airport that I caught some sleep on.

Maybe after reading all of this, you realize that traveling by plane may not be your cup of tea. Lucky for you, there are other cheap options like the train. I booked a night train back from Amsterdam a few weeks ago, and boy was it an experience! We checked into the station a few hours early so I could print my ticket, only to realize our train had been cancelled due to the German workers going on strike. Yay! After meeting with one seemingly knowledgeable woman we learned that the company could not compensate us for a hotel room for the night but that she could get us on a train that left in just a few hours. Everything sounded reasonable until we talked to another worker who correctly informed us that the strike would be ongoing through the night and that the company could, in fact, put us up in a hotel for a new next-day departure. No one could find the woman we spoke to first but to this day we’re convinced she didn’t work for the train station at all and was actually an actress planted by a mortal enemy trying to ruin my life. Luckily, we caught her mistake and waited about an hour for busses to ship all of the train’s stranded passengers off to a hotel for the night. The room was actually quite nice and I would have enjoyed a pleasant bath if we’d had the time.

We didn’t, of course, and boarded another bus at five in the morning to finally begin our journey home. We were delighted to catch our train until it unexpectedly stopped on the tracks for about an hour. That delay made us miss our connection, causing us to wait a few hours for the next one.

Which was delayed.

That delay made us also miss our final connection, as I’m sure you could have guessed since the cycle is a predictable one.

The great thing about train travel is that you can book tickets in advance to reserve a seat. The bad thing though, is that you lose those reservations when striking Germans cancel your train. At this point you have some choices: you can go all “Hunger Games” and fight for the few vacant and un-reserved seats, you can find a seat in the Bistro car and convince the workers you really are drinking the same coffee for six hours so you don’t give up your spot, or you could prop yourself up on the floor in the hallway and enjoy the ride. We opted for choices A and B and touched down in Copenhagen more than twenty-four hours after our intended departure from Amsterdam. I told you it was an experience.

I hope my sarcastic tone is evident in this post and that my misery gave you at least the slightest amusement. That being said, I also want to convey the appreciation I have to be able to travel as I do, because I know it is not an option everyone has. I recognize how lucky I am to have the chance to even write a satirical entry complaining about legroom on a flight I took to hike the Swiss Alps. I cannot express the amount of gratitude I have for these kinds of opportunities, and I thank Richmond but above all, my parents for making them possible. I have the unbelievable opportunity to explore the world at twenty years old—you could ship me in a cardboard box for all I care.

Moments like this make everything worth it.

Moments like this make everything worth it.


Diana in Copenhagen: Time to be Spontaneous

October 27, 2014

After spending about two and a half months in Copenhagen I have started to get comfortable in my life abroad here…too comfortable. I’ve adopted a normal routine consisting of cooking, grocery shopping, going to class, going out, making it to the gym on occasion, traveling, and watching Netflix. Somewhere along the line I lost the passion to explore my surroundings and seek out all the amazing things I have at my fingertips in Copenhagen. This realization came with an overwhelming sense of guilt and worry that I was taking my short time here for granted.

So I decided to get off my butt and do something.

A friend was feeling a similar way and we made a plan to be spontaneous, that’s not too contradictory is it? We decided to simply get on the metro and ride it until we saw fit. Originally unsure of our final destination, we got off at the Kongens Nytorv stop and started walking.

This dropped us onto the longest pedestrian street in the world, Strøget. The street is packed with shops of all varieties, ranging from the more affordable stores like H&M and Zara to ones like Emperio Armani and Burberry that will make your bank account cry. I ventured into a few stores but even the “cheap” ones were pricier than I would have liked (remember how expensive Copenhagen is), and I wasn’t really in the mood to shop anyway.

This walking tour also took us to something called the “Happy Wall” which is an interactive art piece made of brightly colored wooden boards. Visitors can flip the boards between colored and black sides to create their own vision, whether it be a message, a picture, or a symbol. Many also sign the wall with happy thoughts and well-wishes. It is a really cool piece in the middle of the city and acts as a glowing representation of Copenhagen’s renowned happiness. If you’re not aware, Denmark was voted the happiest country in the world in both 2012 and 2013, and fell to a more-than-respectable third place standing in 2014.

The Happy Wall

The Happy Wall

One nice message I saw.

One nice message I saw.

For lunch we got sandwiches at a small shop that offered a student discount and took them to one of the most beautiful spots in the city. If you have yet to see the picturesque colored houses lining the canals of Nyhaven you have done a shockingly impressive job at avoiding Instagram. It’s practically a requirement for visitors to snap a photo of the vibrant homes along the water, and it’s not difficult to see why. Nyhaven is a stunning place that was bustling on this beautiful Saturday afternoon. We became mere faces in the crowd of both tourists and locals alike out enjoying the scenery on a nice fall day.

Many people were out enjoying food and drinks by the canal.

Many people were out enjoying food and drinks by the canal.

My favorite thing we encountered that day though, was an open-air photography exhibit called Copenhagen Green. Right off Kongens Nytorv Square, there were rows of pictures depicting scenic locations around the city where you can visit for free. There were images of water sports and nature centers as well as gorgeous cemeteries and parks. Not only are the people of Denmark happy, they are very eco-friendly as well. Denmark is one of the “greenest” countries in the world so the fact that their capital city boasts such beautiful sanctuaries was no real surprise.

The best part about this exhibit was that each photograph provided a description of the location. Outlining activities you can do at each place, the photographs made each look enticing enough to visit that day. Of course, our theme of spontaneity continued and we followed one photo’s posted directions to our next stop.

The photograph advertising the Amager Nature Park.

The photograph advertising the Amager Nature Park.

We found our way to Amager Nature Park, the last stop on one of the two metro lines Copenhagen has. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the exhibit’s photo showcasing curious deer-heads, but what we found was beautiful. The park was expansive and made home to many animals. On a backdrop of the silhouetted city, various cows, deer, sheep, and horses meandered around the spacious green and we could walk right up beside them. The juxtaposition of the wildlife with the nearby city was beautiful and I felt lucky that happenstance had brought me there.

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I loved the contrast this green open area had with the city. This is a great example of what Copenhagen can offer being a small and eco-friendly city.

I loved the contrast this green open area had with the city. This is a great example of what Copenhagen can offer being a small and eco-friendly city.

As dusk approached it got a bit too cold to be outside, but we didn’t head back before witnessing a gorgeous sunset over the Nature Park. A flock of birds flying through the sunset made for a cliché day’s end but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the cheesiness. It was a great culmination to a day that successfully revived my curiosity and appreciation for the city I’ve made my temporary home.

A beautiful end to the day.

A beautiful end to the day.


Diana in Copenhagen: Alone but not Lonely

October 24, 2014

I know this post is very delayed but I have a good reason, I promise! We had a fall break this past week and I had the opportunity to travel around Europe and visit Dublin, London, and Amsterdam. While they were all amazing and I loved each for different reasons, this post focuses on London where I had a very different trip from those I’ve grown used to. Hopefully I’ll get to write about the other cities in another post.

The walk from my hostel to this point was just about 5 minutes long. It was so easy to get to and such a cool place to explore.

The walk from my hostel to this point was just about 5 minutes long. It was so easy to get to and such a cool place to explore.

If any of you remember my first entry, you’d know that I’ve been lucky enough to make many international friends in my years working at a YMCA summer camp. Many of those friends are strewn about England, so I saw it fit to visit London and meet up with as many as I could in the city. Unfortunately, I forgot to consider the whole concept of people having “lives,” and how they would restrict my friends from abandoning their universities and jobs to parade around London when it was convenient for me. This meant I was unable to connect with many good friends, but it did not mean that I wasn’t going to go to London. Rather than view it as a failure of a trip, I took it as an exciting opportunity to travel alone for the first time.

“Alone” might be too strong a word because I did end up meeting up with some amazing friends, but I stayed in a hostel by myself and was on my own to explore on most days. I did have a friend I could have stayed with in London, but she worked during the day and I chose to stay in a hostel to have more independence with timing and such.

My friend Laura and I met up for dinner and had drinks with this beautiful view of St. Paul's Cathedral. There are many places like this one (Madison) that give you great views of the city without having to pay the London Eye or the Shard's high prices.

My friend Laura and I met up for dinner and had drinks with this beautiful view of St. Paul’s Cathedral. There are many places like this one (Madison) that give you great views of the city without having to pay the London Eye or the Shard’s high prices.

I can’t say I wasn’t anxious about deciding to face the city on my own (I mean, I’ve seen Taken), but I was eager to use it as a chance to learn something about myself—to learn if I could do it, and to enjoy it too.

It was a great choice.

A few specific things stood out to me as being most notably different when traveling alone including planning, openness, and eating. I’ve outlined my feelings on each as honestly as I could, and I hope you enjoy my insights!

Planning
You can’t rely on anyone else to do the planning when you’re alone. This meant I spent an exorbitant amount of time arranging every aspect of my trip. Where was I to stay? What sights did I want to see? Was I going to stay in London for the whole trip? When and where could I meet up with people? There was no shortage of variables to manage but the organizer in me, which has been dormant as of late, got oddly excited planning out the four days. I even made an itinerary for my parents.

Where to stay was probably the most important decision I had to make since it was most vital to safety and convenience. After spending hours scouring websites, I decided to book three nights in a twelve person mixed room at the Horse & Stables Hostel. The location was nearly perfect as it was just a five-minute walk to the Thames and London Eye, and the hostel boasted great Trip Advisor reviews for solo travelers. I ended up really enjoying the hostel and would recommend it to anyone, solo or otherwise! There was a bar and restaurant right downstairs that gives discounts to hostel patrons, the workers were very friendly and helpful, the facilities were clean, and the location was amazing.

My bed was the one on the top right. It wasn't too difficult sharing a room with other people, but the mornings were tough to get ready in the dark without disturbing anyone.

My bed was the one on the top right. It wasn’t too difficult sharing a room with other people, but the mornings were tough to get ready in the dark without disturbing anyone.

Planning activities was also important to me, because I wanted to make the most of my time in the city. London is quite expensive, which directed my research to deciding which attractions were worth visiting and which could be done in a walk-by. I saw all the major sights in city center: The Shard, The London Eye, Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey to name the highlights, and only decided to go into The Tower of London after some friends’ recommendations. I saw everything I wanted and then some, and the foresight helped me to save money on the attractions that were less worthwhile.

As my last point on planning, I’d like to say how much I enjoyed signing up for guided tours. I did two group tours during my stay and liked the structure and personal aspect that came with both. It was good to join a group every once in a while to break up the alone time and provide a chance to hear interesting facts on some awesome places. I did a bicycle tour one day that took me around all of London’s major landmarks. My guide was both charismatic and informative, and I only shared the tour with one other girl! It was more like a friend was showing us around than a tour, and it was cool to see the city by bike. I did my second tour my last day and ventured out of the city to visit Oxford University and the Cotswolds. This was a day trip run by London Walks and it’s a great alternative to strictly staying within bounds of the city. Even though I was the only person buying a student discount when the rest of the group was buying senior ones, I loved what this trip had to offer. I would have gotten an incomplete perspective of the places we visited if I had gone alone, and it was worth the money to have an expert paint you a fuller picture. I wouldn’t have known the elaborate backstories or history of each location and the quirky facts each guide shared enhanced the trip exponentially.

This was one of the stops on my bike tour. This was at the Leake Street Tunnel where graffiti art is legal!

This was one of the stops on my bike tour. This was at the Leake Street Tunnel where graffiti art is legal!

 

his picture is from my trip to the Cotswolds. This village only has a couple dozen people who live there during the week.

his picture is from my trip to the Cotswolds. This village only has a couple dozen people who live there during the week.

Openness
The main reason why I chose hostel-living over crashing on my friend’s couch (for free) was the possibility of meeting new people. I figured making friends for a short while was a superior alternative to being alone every second. I consider myself a friendly and outgoing person and feel comfortable befriending people pretty easily. When you’re traveling with a predetermined group though, as I have done on all my previous trips, you are less likely to seek any kind of deeper connection with the people you come across. You don’t need to. Alone though, you are much more willing to befriend the guy at your hostel you met by the toaster at breakfast, just as I did on this trip. Actually, the night before he was lucky enough to witness me spastically try and plug in the hostel door’s code to use the bathroom. Our second encounter was by the toaster at breakfast.

After a few second exchange, we discovered we were both flying solo and spend a few minutes eating breakfast together. After a bit we decided to tag-team our explorations instead of each going alone and spent the entire day sightseeing to the point where I could hardly walk. We shared a nice fish n chips lunch and sat in the hostel bar having tea to warm up when we got back that evening. Many people I know wouldn’t be open to meeting someone on a whim like this but the friendship felt quite natural to me. I can’t speak for him, but I believe the day was far more enjoyable spent with a buddy than traipsing about the city alone.

The issue of trust and safety should not be ignored, but neither should the value of being open to new people. Being cautious and aware is an absolute necessity, but you can do so without sacrificing opportunities to meet some really interesting people.

Eating
I am an extrovert who thoroughly enjoys being alone. I cherish time by myself in my thoughts and often find it calming. One time where I am less secure in that solitude however, is when I’m eating. For whatever reason I have a personal stigma against eating alone, and these were the times I found most difficult during my trip. As I mentioned earlier, I took a day trip to Oxford and the Cotswolds and really loved the outing. One portion of the excursion was difficult though, and that was when we stopped for an hour in a village of the Cotswolds for lunch. I brought a notebook with me to take notes along the trip, and I think my notes from lunch will give a more honest representation of my feelings than anything I’d try and express after the fact. I wrote:

“Went to a second village for lunch, we had about an hour. This was one place where it was very apparent that I was on my own. I like being on my own, I really do. I didn’t feel awkward of self-conscious at a lunch table for myself at all really, I was more just lacking on what to do.

I didn’t want to be a person staring at my phone by any means, not that I had any service or data to do anything. People watching and taking in my surroundings was an obvious choice of activity but that can only continue for so long before those around you think they’re being observed like zoo animals.

This time was when I was very appreciative of the little notebook I brought with me to take down notes. I feel more connected with my surroundings than I would have staring at a screen and get to document this moment that is an important one, in my opinion, to paint a full picture of my first real experience traveling alone.”

I was at such a loss of what to do I even put my terrible artistic skills to work and sketched my chai latte. It tasted supremely better than it looks in my rendition, believe me.

unnamed-5

I found my time traveling alone to be particularly enjoyable. I loved the independence to do things on my own time, thrived on making connections with other travelers, and appreciated what the experience helped me discover about myself as an individual. I just might have caught the travel-bug on this London excursion and I would absolutely do another solo-trip in the future. Maybe onto Morocco next? Only time will tell.

Traveling alone means you get a plethora of awkward solo pics...

Traveling alone means you get a plethora of awkward solo pics…

...lots and lots of solo pics.

…lots and lots of solo pics.


Diana in Copenhagen: Getting Around the City

October 6, 2014

As in any city, there are many ways to get around Copenhagen. It is quite small, 34 square miles and about half the size of Richmond, which makes moving throughout it pretty simple. Unlike Richmond, however, very few people choose cars as their primary mode of transportation. Danes prefer two wheels to four, and bike more than anywhere I’ve ever seen. They also walk a fair amount and take full advantage of their great public transit system. I have found Copenhagen to be quite navigable and thought I would give a breakdown of the different modes of transportation available to residents here.


 

Biking
Denmark is famous for its biking culture. Before I came here, people told me that everyone bikes and they bike everywhere. I took this note in passing and greatly underestimated what they meant by the word everyone. Danish businessmen and businesswomen bike in their suits to and from work. Women bike in heels and stylish dresses. Children bike behind their parents on small plastic tricycles. People even bike to go out at night, which is one thing I actually might advise against. The weather hasn’t gotten too wintery yet, but I’ve been told people won’t even let driving rain and brutal temperatures keep them off the bike paths.

A tiny boy riding a tiny bike outside of my dorm. There's a school or kindergarten right next door so I see lots of children around drop-off and pick-up times. Sorry the picture's a little blurry!

A tiny boy riding a tiny bike outside of my dorm. There’s a school or kindergarten right next door so I see lots of children around drop-off and pick-up times. Sorry the picture’s a little blurry!

 

Hopefully this will give you an idea of what I'm talking about. So. Many. Bikes.

Hopefully this will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. So. Many. Bikes.

On that note, I’ll add that the infrastructure of the city completely allows for this bike-obsession. Bike lanes run parallel to every street and they even have their own separate traffic lights. There are smooth ramps up stairs at metro stations to make it easier for riders to bring their bikes along too. At any metro stop or train station you’ll see upwards of a hundred bikes and the trains themselves have cars where you can actually “park” your bike and find a place to sit. Biking is a good way to save money on a car or public transit, and it is also popularized for being an environmentally friendly way to get around.

A parking station for your bike on the train. There are different cars where bikes are allowed and not.

A parking station for your bike on the train. There are different cars where bikes are allowed and not.

My take: If any of you readers follow me on social media you might already know that I bought a bike upon my arrival to Denmark. I went to a few bike shops and worked my negotiating magic before finding a great deal with a woman through a Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook group. I named my bike Gwen and, I’ll admit, became a little obsessed. I would recommend that anyone staying in Copenhagen for a semester or longer buy a bike. Economic reasons aside, having one has been an amazing experience and has made me feel like I’m really immersing myself in the city’s culture. It’s easy to bike to class, to the gym, and to friends’ places and it gives me a much fuller view of the city than I ever would have from a metro seat. I’ll spare you the cliché of talking about the wind blowing through my hair and how freeing it feels, but take my word for it.

This is my beautiful bike Gwen! (Please withhold judgment of me for naming her.

This is my beautiful bike Gwen! (Please withhold judgment of me for naming her.


Walking
Like I said in the introduction, Copenhagen is small, which means walking is a pretty good option to get around. It takes longer than other alternatives, of course, but if time is a non-issue walking is a great choice. Pedestrians here are different from those in the States though, in that they actually follow the rules. At every crosswalk where you see a little red “do not walk” illuminated man people actually stop—an action I rarely see or practice back home. In my experience, I will cross a street if there are no cars coming and it is safe to do so. In Denmark, however, if you happen upon a crosswalk in the middle of the night on an empty street you will likely find pedestrians waiting their turn to legally cross. Their lawful obedience is due in part to a threat of a 700 kroner ($118.86) fine if they are caught. That being said, I have only seen one police officer roaming the streets in my ten-week stay in Copenhagen so far. This leads me to believe that Danes are generally just a very respectful and rule-abiding people who enjoy a much safer, yet inefficient, way to walk.

My take: I respect their obedience, I really do. I just don’t understand it. Even when I’m in no hurry I find it silly to halt my progress and wait on one side of the street when there isn’t a car in sight. Besides this, walking is quite nice here. The sidewalks are kept very clean, they are well lit, and you don’t have to worry about sharing the space with cyclists because of the expansive network of bike lanes. Like biking, walking also gives you a nice chance to take in the city and explore its personality.


 

Public Transportation
Public transportation in Copenhagen falls into one of three categories: metro, train, or bus. All are really easy to use and the same slip or pass will gain you access to any of the three. They’re all very clean, sleek, and modern too which makes for a pleasant ride. The options for payment differ from systems in the US by operating on somewhat of an honor system. That is, you can get on and off as you please without paying and just hope you won’t encounter a uniformed agent asking for your ticket. Like jaywalking, this system runs on honor and the threat of a fine, this one for a whopping $130. There are other options to buying a ticket each ride though, including getting a monthly pass or purchasing a card called a Rejsekort. Since I bike most places, I chose the latter option which gives me a discounted fare. To use it, I put money on the card and simply tap it against a sensor to check in and out at the different stations. With the Rejsekort, each trip costs about $2.50 where a monthly pass is priced around $55. There are other options available too, and which is best for you depends on how frequently you’ll be riding the lines.

The metro line we use. The "S" marks where trains leave from, my dorm is off Flintholm, Norreport is city center, and Lufthavnen is the airpo

The metro line we use. The “S” marks where trains leave from, my dorm is off Flintholm, Norreport is city center, and Lufthavnen is the airpo

My take: I took the Commuter Rail to school every morning in high school and I have to say, the Danish network of public transit is an upgrade. I’ve also ridden the metro in Boston and New York and the system in Copenhagen is significantly nicer and more pleasant to use. As for the honor code method, I’m indifferent. Once or twice I’ve accidentally ridden a few stops without a ticket and was lucky enough not to get caught. I have friends who do so frequently and have never been stopped. That being said, I’ve been checked for my ticket about five times and an agent recently fined three friends when they risked travelling with expired monthly passes (I feel for you guys). A quick calculation shows that if I rode the metro more than fifty-two times without being caught it would be financially worthwhile in the end. I’m smart enough to recognize though, that those odds are not ever in my favor and I pay for my rides.


 

Cars
There are far fewer cars in Copenhagen than you would expect to find in a city, and that’s because of their unbelievable expense. There is a 180% sales tax on cars. Let that sink in. Furthermore, gas prices are astronomical. If you think prices in the US are bad, I would think again. A gallon of regular gas in Copenhagen will cost you about $8 compared to $3 ones in the States. Considering this, most cars you do see are tiny. There are more hatchbacks than anything else and it makes me think my 2008 Scion xD would fit in great over here. As far as taxis go, they exist but aren’t frequently used. You can imagine how expensive fares would be and they’re relatively unnecessary when the metro runs 24 hours a day.

The cars in Denmark are very small compared to most you see in the United States.

The cars in Denmark are very small compared to most you see in the United States.

My take: I’ve been in a car once since arriving in Denmark and that was when I left Copenhagen to visit a friend in the city of Aarhus. She was borrowing her parents’ car for the week so we made a small trip instead of walking to the bus. Other than that though, I haven’t used a car and also haven’t missed them. Taking a taxi never even crosses my mind considering they are expensive even in the cheapest of cities. I like the lack of dependency on cars though as it provides me with a polar opposite experience than what I’ve had growing up in a suburban area. I’ve always been very reliant on cars for getting around and I’ve enjoyed becoming familiar with other alternatives.


If you ever visit Copenhagen, I have a few tips for you. After you fly,  do not take a taxi from their airport because it will be expensive, I assure you, and the metro conveniently leaves from inside the airport. Metro stops are prevalent also so I would save the money you’d spend on a taxi to buy food or get a nice drink somewhere. I would also suggest renting or borrowing a bike on your trip because it will help you to get around efficiently and give you a taste of the Danish way.

This breakdown should help you understand how to get around this amazing city, and now you should all visit so you can try them for yourselves!


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