Here at university we have something called “Reading Week”. It’s one week without any scheduled classes, usually before some upcoming deadlines, for students to catch up on the reading for their courses or get some coursework completed and ready for submission. Seeing as this was my very first reading week at uni, I only had one deadline for a single essay that I had already planned around.
Something funny happens when you live in a city like London (and my flatmates will agree). You seem to forget, after only a mere couple of weeks, all of the amazing and truly infinite resources that are at your disposal. When I realized I did not have anything interesting planned for reading week, I feared I had reached complacency. That being said, about 4 days before we actually left for Denmark, I booked plane tickets and a string of youth hostels in a bit of a frenzy that could only be half cabin-fever/fear of complacency and half oh-my-gosh-winter-is-coming.
So there we were shoving any clothing we might possibly need for 4 days into 2 small backpacks and deciding to wear all of the heaviest things on the plane. We got up bright and early (though in London it was more “foggy and early”) to take a train to Gatwick Airport via London Bridge, a journey that only lasted about an hour. Cecilia and I had planned to be there early thinking that not only would we need to go through security, but most likely border control as well. However, upon arrival, we were able to exchange some pounds for Danish Krona and get through security without any real hassle or time constraints. The flight itself was fairly calm and uneventful, the highlight of which was passing over large clusters of wind turbines poised in the water off of the coast of Denmark. After being awarded our new passport stamps and bundling up before we left the terminal, I expected it to take at least an hour to get into the city centre of Copenhagen from the airport. This was not at all the case. Copenhagen has a lovely public transportation and metro system that runs from the airport directly into the city with no line changes whatsoever and the entire trip could not have lasted more than 25 minutes.
Coming up from the metro into the fresh air and the notably different style houses lining the streets was really incredible. There is nothing like arriving in the midst of the city and suddenly being immersed in it all. After checking in and dropping off our bags we headed to Tivoli Gardens, one of the oldest amusement parks in Europe. Tivoli was completely dressed up for Halloween with floating jack-o-lanterns in the lake as only one of the many decorative efforts. The park was utterly charming with old rides and food stands throughout offering us every opportunity to try a Danish hot dog and some warm gløgg, a traditional Danish apple drink served piping hot. Of course not all of the rides made complete sense since we were not well-versed in the complex world that comprises Danish fairy tales.The weather was quite chilly and by the end of the evening we were wearing multiple layers with gloves, hats, scarves, and, as often as we could manage, hot chocolate, tea, or gløgg in our hands.
The next morning we ventured out to see some of the traditional Copenhagen sites such as the Little Mermaid statue and the canal with all of the delightful and colorful wooden houses lining the water. We wandered into a beautiful park with an old military fortress in its center. By pure chance and luck, we got to sit in on a military band concert which hilariously included several Beatles’ songs. After quite a bit of walking and trudging along all bundled up with our backpacks, we saw everything we had hoped for and managed to find some more delicious street food along the way. Of course because we only had so many days away from London, we couldn’t stay in one place for too long. So that very same afternoon we hoped on a long, and quite cold, train to Gothenburg, Sweden.
By the time we arrived in Sweden it was undeniably dark and cold so all we had it in us to do was catch a tram and head to the youth hostel. The next morning we once again ventured out into the city of the day with our growing backpacks to pack in as much as we possibly could. In Gothenburg we devoted our time to the Haga district. Haga is a long and charming cobblestone street filled with antique stores, independent design and toy stores, clog making shops, and most importantly coffee. ‘Fika’ is the Swedish term for the coffee break of the day and, boy, were we ready for some tea and coffee after hauling our bags around for days. The warm drinks were splendid in contrast with the cold we were fighting off outside, but better than that were the giant cinnamon rolls that closely resembled huge soft pretzel twirls. Two words: Absolutely delicious.
Catching a train to Olso was next on our list, and we arrived in Norway at a similar time of night as in Sweden so the events were quite similar. We left the train station, caught a tram, and checked into the hostel. After feeling well rested the next morning and playing a competitive game of what we call “Adult Tetris” (trying to fit everything in your backpack in the most convenient and comfortable way), we ventured out into the capital city. Going to the Viking Ship Museum was #1 on both of our to-do lists so naturally we made it our priority, and it was worth every priority we awarded it. While the University of Oslo had just started restoration work at the museum as of the 31st of October and one wing was taped off, I found it even better than if it had been totally open. Seeing the preservation of large-scale artifacts up close and personal was one of the reasons I chose to come to London for university. This sort of work in museums and heritage is what I want to do with my degree, and to see it in such an intimate way and on their very first day of work at the museum and in such a small setting was quite magical. The Viking ship museum was pretty quaint, but it really enhanced the experience more than anything else.
Next up on our list was the Kon Tiki museum which was withing easy walking distance. The Kon Tiki was a balsam raft that Thor Heyerdahl used to sail from the coast of Peru to Polynesia to prove that it was possible that the islands could have been first populated by the people of South America. Despite the overwhelming condemnations and doubts that the expedition received, it was a wild success with the journey going relatively as planned and taking 101 days. It is an important moment in history for both anthropologists and explorers, and when you visit the museum the raft that you will see is the actual raft on which Thor and his crew made the journey.
The Fram Museum was another stop, albeit unplanned, but completely worth every moment that we spent there. The museum housed a huge ship, The Fram, that made several historic expeditions in the Arctic regions. What was really unique about this museum was the placement of an entire ship inside, and beyond that, the very accessibility of the ship to its visitors. We were able to walk along its decks and down into the depths of the original wooden ship. Every once in a while the Northern lights and stars would be projected onto the white triangular roof above the decks of the ship so that one might gain an even more surreal sense of what it might have been like on such an expedition. Talk about complete immersion.
After talking a quick walk along the water outside and admiring the views of the mountains and mist from the shores of Oslo, we resigned to figuring out our final trek to the airport, and after several hours, 2 more passport stamps, and a hop, skip, and jump across the North Sea we were back home in London. So it goes.