25 August: Last day in Denmark, Estonia in sight…

The biggest challenge started off right after a cozy breakfast with Astrid, Melissa and Bodil: my suitcase. When leaving the Netherlands I somehow managed to fit everything in there. It seemed like a giant 3D puzzle. Now, after having spent one week in Denmark, I had to repack, which wasn’t easy. Both my suitcase as well as my backpack were fully stuffed. My reliable little orange suitcase weighing only around 17kg could only close when I put all my body weight on it. But, it worked!
I brought Astrid a little children game in order to practice with Dutch words. She liked ‘pop’ (doll) the most of all. The typical Dutch ‘ui’ sound was something her sister was more talented in when it came to proper pronunciation. She kept on struggling with the name of the square she saw when visiting Amsterdam. ‘Spui’. I’ve been thinking how to explain this pronunciation issue here, in words, but I guess I just gave up on that.
We took the train to the city centre for some last sightseeing. My stay in Denmark had almost come to an end already. We strolled around Astrid’s university, being amazed by the good looking dormitories. So many facilities to be used by all! There was a sweet little gym in one of the dorms, there were colorful reading rooms and I even spotted a hobby place where you could make something nice out of wood. I guess student life in Denmark must be very comfortable.
One of the highlights of today was a trip to Freetown Christiania, the Lithuanian Uzopis in Denmark, but then more pure. It’s a self proclaimed autonomous area with a little less than 1000 inhabitants. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take some pictures there since every meter a warning sign could be spotted with a camera and a cross through it. There seemed to be quite some cannabis trade going on there. Astrid told me that this place was founded during the 1970s and that the inhabitants of Christiania made their own sewerage. A typical thing which is created here are the Christiania bikes, carrier cycles.
Another thing I forgot to mention earlier is that in Denmark there is a special yellow color which is used for some of the houses. It’s a bit like the reddish paint often seen in Sweden, This ochre color is rather the signature of Denmark. It stains a lot since when you pull you finger over it, it turns yellow. I guess not a day has passed without telling Astrid how much I like this color. I absolutely adored the little ochre house blocks meant for navy and army people. Astrid lived in such a house for quite a while. They look so sweet!
When we slowly started to end our trip for this day we came across a food festival. I was offered some porridge which is usually eaten by the Danish military guys. It was delicious. After half an hour in one of Copenhagen’s parks we realized time had come: I had to go off to the airport soon. Goodbye Astrid, goodbye Melissa, goodbye lovely Denmark… It felt strange to say goodbye. On the one hand I was very excited to start my new student life in Estonia, but on the other hand everything during the past couple of months had felt so secure, that I wasn’t really ready for all the upcoming uncertainties yet. A new place to live, a new university, new friends… Here I go again!

23+24 August: Sightseeing in Helsingor and Copenhagen

Friday August 24, 2013
Time for a trip outside Copenhagen! At the station of Hellerup we took the train to Helsingor. It took about thirty minutes to get to this place situated in Northern Denmark. Astrid told me it’s probably the nearest you can get to Sweden when standing on Danish soil. Indeed, the ferries took only a few minutes to reach Swedish neighbor Helsingborg. We started off with a tour through the casemates of Kronborg Castle. Our guide spoke Danish and even though I could understand quite some words, the core message never really became that clear. Luckily Astrid helped me out with the translation. We saw the famous statue of Holger the Dane, the sleeping giant who’ll following the legend only wake up when the Danes are in danger and thus in need of his power. Kronborg is furthermore known through Shakespeare’s Hamlet and even nowadays the plays are regularly still performed there.
Our lunch consisted out of a sandwich with brown Norwegian cheese. We sat on some rocks, in the sun, with the view of Sweden. At the seaside I felt like being a four year old again, searching for the nicest shells to be found. Helsingor is a colorful place covered in Danish flags. The atmosphere was pleasant and once again very cozy. People were obviously enjoying this warm summer day. We visited the accessible looking library, the narrow streets and of course an ice cream store where I had the best tastes combines in one horn: raspberry, liquorice and chocolate mint. Too good to be true!
During the train ride back I noticed how common it is to drink beer in public. Pretty much every passenger in our compartment did it. Suddenly a random guitar man started off with a cheerful “always look on the briiiight sight of life…”. He even personalized his songs, so a young man called Hendrik had the train ride of is life. Suddenly all songs were dedicated to him. 
Back in Copenhagen I met Astrid’s sister Bodil who just came back after a little holiday. We were all too tired to cook and decided to go to a bagel store where a friendly Italian served us with pleasure. I took the spicy chicken bagel which indeed make me long for some refreshing cups of water. During the evening Melissa wrote me to wish me a pleasant trip to Estonia. She would leave the same day to Copenhagen and after a short break continue her way to Sweden for her exchange study. It was a complete surprise that I would meet her in Copenhagen so I did my upper best took keep my visit to Denmark a secret. It felt so strange to lie to Melissa, stating I’d drink a cup of tea with my parents while actually sitting around in Copenhagen with Astrid and Bodil.
To conclude the blog post about yet another active day in Denmark I’d like to mention that during this day the little mermaid celebrated her 100th ‘birthday’!
Saturday, August 24, 2013
A long and exciting day! I woke up quite early because Melissa would arrive at Copenhagen airport around 10.30. She still had no clue I’d be there as well. It’s quite sweet how important the Danish flag is within the Danish culture. It’s used in the Christmas tree and also during birthdays. Apparently that’s not all. Also at the airport a lot of people were welcoming their loved ones with the red-white colored flag. Astrid bought a Danish as well as a German flag so that Melissa surely couldn’t miss out on us. After a lot of waiting I suddenly spotted a green female looking backpack heading our way. There she was! I was waiving like a maniac with that little German flag. The first seconds she only noticed Astrid but then suddenly here eyes became bigger and the confusion seen on her face increased. “Nienke?!?!”. She was speechless. It was so good to see her again. One of the first things she did after we gave each other a big hug was sending a text message to her mom: “Nienke ist hier!!!”. The surprise worked out so well…
After we had all came back to our senses we dropped Melissa’s luggage off at Astrid place and then took the train to the city centre. The little mermaid was one of the first things we could cross of our list. Honestly I’m not too impressed by the statue. The buildings at the old harbor seem way more attractive and therefore we went there next. It was so busy and so many activities were organized in town this weekend. The most important one of this day was definitely the Gay Pride. More about that soon.
What I have to mention once again is how pretty the people in Copenhagen are. I’m not sure if this is because everything is so new to me and therefore looks perfect, or if it’s really like this. The people here have sweet noses and great haircuts. In the Netherlands the guys are known for their use of hair gel. Most of them look if they have put half a pot on their heads, that shiny. I don’t like that. On the other hand, in for example Russia or Estonia there are a lot of guys who don’t put any styling products in their hair at all. I think the men in Denmark found the absolute right balance. I guess the haircut is the first thing which makes me decide if a person is good looking or not. I would at least consider one third of the men I saw in Copenhagen to be ‘wow!’. They just have such a fresh appearance and a simple yet good looking way of clothing themselves. Of course there are enough exceptions, but still, this thought often crossed my mind.
We visited my favorite shop Illums Bolighus once again this day. I bought a small reminder of my stay in Denmark, a little wooden horse with the design of Royal Copenhagen. I guess in the future this one has to be accompanied by a Swedish Dala horse. Astrid, Melissa and I had a good time in the Lego store as well. There were a lot of ‘hard to find’ products there, like the opera house in Sydney. At the very end of the shop a big wall was created where you could pick your own desired Lego blocks. I ended up buying a Lego calendar which has to be rebuild every month. After all the shopping we sat down on a sunny square having lunch and observing the locals and happy tourists.
Time for some action. This day the Gay Pride was held and we decided to have a look. My goodness, so many colorful people to be found there. The drag queens were impressive. When I took a picture of one of them he/she suddenly came up to me, mumbling something in Danish. Apparently he/she wanted to have money but I didn’t have any. I slowly walked away but he/she kept on following me. Then I decided to run, just in order to escape. “Oh, I am Hillary Clinton!”, he/she screamed. The drag queen followed me for a few more meters but then gave up, probably because of the enormously high heels he/she was wearing. Hm, what an excitement. We enjoyed some performances at one of the main squares and I kept on taking pictures of all the fascinating people surrounding me. I felt so boring myself, they all seemed to be so outgoing and strangely unique. There were a lot of people protesting against Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law by wearing Putin-clown-shirts. Still, the atmosphere was peaceful. Everybody was happy.
The Gay Pride was however not the end of this lovely Saturday yet. We were invited by Astrid’s parents to come by and have diner. It was absolutely wonderful to meet these warm hearted people. The food was lovely and the conversations fun. Melissa and I were even invited to celebrate Christmas with them. We saved the absolute best for last this day: liquorice ice cream from a store called ‘Paradis’. Wooooow, that was too good to be true! If you’re a liquorice lover and ever in Copenhagen, this is a must-eat. 
Back home Astrid’s couch hosted a tired Dutchman and German. It was crazy to realize that the next day around that time I would be in Tallinn already…

21+22 August: Sightseeing in Copenhagen

Wednesday August 21, 2013
What a delight to lay down and sleep. I definitely missed out on that during the previous night when I was in the night train from the Netherlands to Denmark. We took the bikes towards the city centre after a slow but cozy breakfast. Our sightseeing started off at a covered food market. Everything looked so clean and tasty. There was a smell of rosemary and happiness in the air with a hint of liquorice. Quality isn’t cheap though. I was kind of shocked to see a small package of liquorice being sold for around 13 euro’s. Still, I tried this kind in Kaunas once and I must say it’s worth it.

I didn’t really know what to expect when travelling to Copenhagen. In my mind it looked clean, brightened up with Scandinavian colors and with a fair amount of decorative details on the buildings’ facades. The city turned out to be a little less decorated than on first hand expected which makes it less overwhelming in comparison with for example Riga. The building style used in Copenhagen is very simplistic, yet not boring. It has a right balance and still makes the atmosphere cozy and warm.

In the main shopping street I found my new favorite store. Illums Bolighus it’s called. It’s packed with wonderful Scandinavian designer products, from accessories to kitchen utensils, furniture and even clothes. Once I have a proper job I definitely have to go back here and buy some long lasting products for my apartment (or house or whatever place I may live). All products just looked so attractive and far from being kitsch. Loved it.

We had a lunch break in the city centre and I ordered a delicious sandwich with chicken on a bread which had this typical Northern cardamom taste. Back home the food happiness only continued with some wraps and ‘chocolate coated marshmallows’ (negerzoenen in Dutch) as dessert. Also some chocolate ‘skildpadder’ (frogs with heavenly filling) disappeared that evening while watching some Kaunas pictures and hilarious Youtube video’s.
Thursday August 22, 2013
Off to Frederiksberg! What a nice castle to be found there. The park surrounding this building was also worth taking a look at. I even spotted some elephants from the zoo. Everywhere in the park there were little canals. On a sunny day like this it was just a delight to take a walk here. When our dosis of nature was sufficient we cycled off to Vesterbro, a rather alternative district but with many fancy, hip restaurants. We furthermore had a look at ‘Lithuania square’. It looked a bit messy, but the most characteristic element of contemporary Lithuanian culture could be found there: a basketball court. The square was surrounded by Latvia Street and Estonia Street. The Latvia part looked slightly Sovietic, with old fashioned bricks as a kind of artwork attached to the building. The opposite, Estonia street, looked a bit more colorful.

One of Astrid’s friends is a guide on a boat. We decided to join her on one of the rides. The sky looked rather dark but as far as we had seen there was no rain predicted for that day. That was a mistake. When being in between a cruise boat, an army vessel and a 1700s-like looking ship a heavy shower struck the no roof having boat filled with tourists. Many people were covering their heads with a tourist map in order to stay dry. After just a few minutes it rained that hard that the maps fell into hundreds of pieces, covering the tourists’ heads. We were soaking wet. I somehow had my winter hat in my backpack so at least when the rain stopped I managed to keep myself warm by wearing my happy red hat. We decided to head back home in order to change out clothes, but after having cycled for 20 minutes we were basically dry again. A hot tea and some more Danish chocolate treats were however still very welcome.

An afternoon stroll at the sea side made me realize how clear the water in Copenhagen actually is. The reflection of the sun on the calm water gave us the more seldom becoming chance to get a slight tan this year. The air in Denmark is so clean, so pure. Yes, I really enjoy being here. The apartment blocks on the sea side looked so attractive, yet so expensive. Also the offices in this area had a proper allure. Close to the harbor housing pricy yachts a little beach was to be found with happy children splashing around in the sea. Our walk continued with a short tour through Hellerup where a lot of little shops offering quality goods can be found. I was told that the shops assistants over there are incredibly friendly, which didn’t come as a surprise. In one of the supermarkets we bought some pasta carbonara and wine for that evenings’ diner. During our food shopping session I just kept on walking around with my little Danish Crown to Euro converter paper. I was still as shocked about the high prices as the first day I arrived in Denmark.

We concluded the day with the documentary ‘Oma and Bella’, a piece from Astrid’s impressive DVD collection. It is about two Jewish ladies living in Berlin, one originating from Poland, the other from Lithuania. In this simplistically filmed docu the granddaughter of one of the ladies shows an insight of the thoughts of these sweet grannies while cooking Jewish meals. Another lovely day had come to an end…

19+20 August: The night train to Denmark

It has been quite silent on my blog previous week before my departure to Estonia, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t done anything exciting. Monday I took the night train to Copenhagen to visit Astrid, my first roommate in Kaunas. I didn’t want to make that public yet since Melissa from Germany (from the same semester in Kaunas) would also come over to Denmark. I wanted to surprise her and I can say already now that it worked out perfectly fine! 
Just a little bit about the start of my exchange… Sunday night I arrived in Tallinn and yesterday I participated in the first introduction day. It was quite overwhelming, so many foreign students, so much new information. I’m a bit confused about everything, having quite a to-do list. I have to apply for an Estonian ID card, arrange my public transport card, get my tenancy contract and most important, draw up my own study plan in a rather complicated looking system. I guess in a week or two I’ll feel a bit more settled. More about my start in Tallinn later! Let’s first have a look at what all happened last week when I left my lovely home country and headed towards Denmark!

Monday August 19, 2013

Monday August 19, 14.19 o’clock at train station Emmen-Zuid. The start of yet another adventure. Off to my first night train experience. At Utrecht I met an elderly couple from the Netherlands on their way to visit a family member in Copenhagen. They told me that the 18.14 train to Warsaw is the one bringing us to Copenhagen too. They were quite surprised when I told them I didn’t book a bed and wished me lots of luck for the long night I was about to spend in a small cabin with several others and a non-adjustable chair. There is always such a special atmosphere in the air when being on a train station, especially when an international train is on its way to arrive. The night train consisted of several compartments which would be split somewhere in Germany. One part headed to Berlin/Prague, another to Warsaw and one little wagon in between would have the Belarussian Minsk as its end destination. I hopped in the Copenhagen section where two Australians joined me straight away. They were middle aged, had a strong accent but happened to be reliable travel companions. Actually our place was already packed with luggage when a young well perfumed German young man stepped in with a gigantic IKEA bag and some more ‘I have been away for a semester’ looking travel bags. I felt like being squeezed into a little luggage storage room with three men.

We kind of had an interesting route. Instead of crossing the German border straight ahead we first went southwards to Eindhoven and even Venlo. The window in our compartment was such an old fashioned one you see in movies when people hang half out of it, waiving with their white handkerchiefs. It was lovely to lean on the opened window, feeling the wind going through my hair while enjoying the landscape to the fullest. When the sun had just set we arrived in Cologne, Germany, which is pretty much the complete wrong direction when wanting to go to Denmark. I guess there were some construction works on the train rails what made us having to take this unusual track. In Cologne our cabin became even more full. An Asian looking Turkish young man stepped in. He told me he is half Turkish, half Tartar and that the meaning of his name is strong soldier. He was very talkative so during a three hour break in Hannover at 03.00 in the night we kept on chatting about paragliding, ballooning, studies and traveling through Europe. When I offered him a piece of liquorice he suddenly didn’t talk that much anymore. He was obviously struggling with the extraordinary taste.

It was a long night and I didn’t manage to sleep longer than half an hour in a row. It got very chilly and besides that I got some massive stomach pain. Luckily as soon as it was getting light again I started to feel better. When we passed by Neumünster the sunrise looked oh so breathtaking. Denmark was slowly getting in sight. At the border in Padborg a Danish train conductor hopped in. It wasn’t really the most friendly welcome since she started screaming at one of the Australian passengers straight ahead. “You fool, don’t you see it’s raining, close the window!!”, even though the fresh air was actually pretty refreshing. So, there we were, in Denmark. It reminded me a lot of the Netherlands, even though the concrete houses are build in a slight different way and from time to time some wooden Scandinavian accents can be spotted on the houses. We were delayed for almost two hours so basically it took me an entire day to get from Emmen to Copenhagen. But, it was surely worth it. When I stepped out of the train I met the Dutch couple again who were curious if I survived the night without bed. “She is still smiling!”, I heard them saying from a distance. Yes, I survived, but maybe next time I should allow myself to spend a little more for the comfort of a bed. Nevertheless, another experience to cross off my list. 

Tuesday August 20, 2013

As soon as I got out of the train I realized it was Tuesday already again. Time to find Astrid! She was waiting for me for a while already. After a big welcome hug we took the train to Hellerup, the area where she lives. Together with her sister she has a cozy apartment filled with an impressive collection of DVD’s. We brought back a lot of memories from our time in Kaunas and of course I also had to inform her about all the gossips. After I took a warm shower I noticed my need for a nap before being able to do some sightseeing. Late noon we filled our stomachs with tasty Danish bread and brown Norwegian cheese. Then we headed towards the city centre on our bikes. I could luckily borrow the one from Astrid’s sister. It must have looked a little strange since I was way too big for it. When cycling down to Copenhagen’s city centre there were a few things which caught my attention. First of all, a lot of bikers use helmets. That’s not common at all in the Netherlands. Second, people on a bike give a stop sign, raising their hand, when they are about to slow down and stop. That should be introduced in the Netherlands as well! Obviously the cyclists seem way more respectful in Copenhagen. Astrid told me she was rather shocked by the aggressive biking style in Amsterdam when she visited the Netherlands a few weeks ago. The third thing I noticed was that the bike lanes were very spacious, so that was very comfortable. Fourth, I spotted a lot of dog crap on the pavements. That’s something I didn’t expect to be honest. Then, the fifth thing I came across is that there are so many handsome people in Copenhagen. Just naturally beautiful. So many discoveries…
Near the Russian embassy we got off our bikes trying to spot something of a demonstration that was held there. Unfortunately the big manifestation just ended but we could still see a lot of rainbow colored flags and people wearing anti-Putin t-shirts to show they’re against the ‘gay propaganda’ law in Russia. The atmosphere was peaceful. Then, Astrid’s friend invited us to come and see a choir concert in Copenhagen’s beautiful Marmorkirken. One hour long we enjoyed the heavenly voices of the choir members. It was great to see so many age groups represented on the church seats (which were surprisingly comfortable). Again, also here the atmosphere was very cozy, like no single evil in the world would exist.

 
Back home I settled on my new bed, the couch. In between Scandinavian design pillows and under a Micky Mouse blanket I went off to dreamland.
Curious for the rest of my activities in Copenhagen? Stay tuned! I’ll upload some more blog posts in the course of this week.

Der Countdown läuft

The next adventure is waiting around the corner already. In one week it’s time to leave the Netherlands behind and start another Baltic project, this time as an exchange student in Tallinn, Estonia. This is part of my two year Master program in Journalism and Media Analysis which I follow at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania. I’m very curious what Tallinn University has to offer me and what kind of nice trips I’ll be able to make during the upcoming autumn semester. Slowly but steady I notice that the activities of the previous three months come to an end. I finished my internship at the communication department of building cooperative Domesta while receiving compliments from my kind colleagues. Also my last gym visits are in sight. Quite interesting how my attitude towards sports has changed. I never practiced sports much, however, since the beginning of June I’ve been going to the gym several times a week and I furthermore have been exploring the rural Dutch north on my mountain bike, accompanied by my neighbor Bianca. The fact that we had a long winter in Kaunas during which I was glued to my seat in front of my laptop made me realize something had to change. I hope to continue this good habit in Tallinn too. 
 Estonia, pretty much up North!
I’m really looking forward to leave to Tallinn but at the moment I don’t experience the excitement (yet) which I had when leaving to Riga for the very first time, or when starting my Master degree in Kaunas. Am I getting used to this globetrotting/Balttrotting? During every semesters’ start I’m a bit skeptic about the behavior of all students who participate in an exchange program for the very first time. On the one hand they can be very curious, ready to grab every travel and culture-acquaintance possibility there is. However, on the other hand I know from my own experience that the majority of all students are keen on drinking and celebrating an average of six parties each week. It’s always interesting how those kind of people react on partypoopers like me. Some state I’m boring because I don’t want to get wasted, but some, which I give a thumb up, respect my disinterest and do join for an exploring walk with me, or a train ride to a random place with Soviet leftovers. As I’ve noticed through social media there will be incredibly many foreign students in Tallinn this year so I’m pretty sure there will be some new friends there as well.
During a dark day in 2009. My first time in Estonia!
The above concern doesn’t take away that there are especially many small things I’m looking forward to to undertake again. Some examples:
– Food shopping. I kind of like going to supermarkets. Now I can decide on my own again what to eat and when.
– Picture hunt tours. I’ve been in Tallinn many times before but I’m sure there are a lot of places still to be discovered. Especially since I own a new camera I’m looking forward to shoot some not so tourist like snapshots, especially in the suburbs.
– When in Tallinn I really like watching the huge cruise ships from Sweden and Finland. I’ll live very close to the harbor so I’m pretty sure watching the boats will be a pleasant activity during for example a little study break.
– Finland is only a two hour boat ride away. I’d love to have a look in Helsinki once again or to take the train to Mikkeli and visit my ‘Finnish mom’ Anu. Another thing on my wish list is a trip to Finnish Lapland.
– Going out for diner. I always loved this in Kaunas since it’s almost just as expensive as cooking your own food. I hope there will be some student budget proof places for tasty meals in Tallinn too. Cozy!
– I’d love to discover more of Estonia. I’m planning to visit a friend in Rakvere and it would also be nice to say hello to my former colleagues from the Institute of Baltic Studies in Tartu. Hm, I should maybe also have a look at Saaremaa island since I’ve never been there yet.
– Maybe I can be an election observer in Narva once again? That was a true adventure previous time in 2011, Russian style!
– I would love to show Estonia to my father, maybe even in winter time so he can experience how fascinating yet cold it can be then. 
– It will be so nice to see my Estonian ballooning friends again which I met in Riga earlier this year. Who knows, maybe I can join their team a bit. 
– I’ll share my room in the student dorm with Marika from Latvia. We know each other already a little longer since she also studied in Kaunas. She’s a non-party animal roommate with regular ‘living hours’, so that’s a delight.
– Oh, and of course I should not forget about the actual reason why I’m going to Tallinn: studies! I picked some interesting courses I guess, so hopefully my time at Tallinn University will be well spend. I’m looking forward to the courses like Globalization, Identity and Communication, Consumerism and Related Social Problems and European Union and Media. I’m not really sure about the exact courses I’ll take yet. I might even want to take a language course. Maybe a German one? It would be an asset to get this difficult grammar fixed so I might expand my job search field to Germany too.
As you can see, enough to do, enough to like. I think everybody should always have things to look forward to, especially when you’re getting a little older I could imagine that those kind of desires make you live longer and age more happily. I cannot imagine myself without bucket list items.