Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Day-cation to Sweden

For travelers, the most amazing and convenient thing about Europe has got to be it's size. As you (hopefully) already know, European countries are very resemblant of American states. This close proximity is exactly what allowed Federico, Alexandria and I to casually spend a day in Malmö, Sweden!

Quick geography lesson, Denmark proper is connected to Germany but the country also consists of a peninsula (Jutland) and 406 islands (although only around 70 are actually inhabitated). Copenhagen is located on the largest island, Zealand. So Copenhagen is actually closer to Sweden than the next biggest Danish city (Aarhus). See the map below!

When Federico and Alexandria invited me to come to Malmö with them while Victoria was at school, I was so excited! Since I had arrived in Denmark, I had yet to spend a day alone because I went to school with Victoria on Friday and then it was the weekend but I wasn't really looking forward to when I'd have to be alone so it worked out perfectly that I had some travel buddies! :)

We packed a lunch, took a train from Hellerup (the round-trip ticket cost 30 euros) and 45 minutes later we were in Malmö! Of course, since both countries are part of the Schengen Area we didn't have to go through border control. So easy!

Malmö was actually one of the biggest cities in Denmark until the 17th century when Sweden took over control. Honestly, besides the differing language and currency, I didn't notice many other differences between Sweden and Denmark. However, I was only there for one day so obviously I'm not saying that Sweden and Denmark are the same but at least on the surface they look very similar!

I know it sounds harsh but I didn't think Malmö was anything that special. Victoria said that she pretty much only goes there when she wants to do some shopping because it's a bit cheaper but there's not much else to do. I mean I still thought it was cool just being in Scandinavia in general but I think Stockholm seems much nicer. Whatever, even though Malmö wasn't all that great, at least I can say I've been there! If I never went, I never would've known what it's like. I think to be a true world traveler, you have to be able to visit every place (even if it's nothing extraordinary) and gain your own personal understanding/opinion of it.


No idea who put this on display in the center of the city or why?

So I did a little research online about Swedish and Danish and, to my surprise, discovered that they're both supposebly easy for English speakers to learn... This article on Matador Network has Danish listed as the second easiest language for English speakers and Swedish as #9. Wtf... Maybe it's because I honestly haven't attempted to learn either language but their pronunciation just seems impossible!! According to Matador, both languages have simple grammatical structures but difficult speaking patterns and vowel sounds. 

Aw someone's trying to find their lost teddy bears!

Scandinavians LOVE their bikes!


I thought this tree looked really cool! 

We saw two Swedish daddies on a stroller date with their babies! I thought this was the cutest thing ever and also really suitable because Sweden ranks #4 in the Global Gender Gap Report 2014 (followed by Denmark), so it makes sense that men would be doing so-called "feminine" duties. After reading online a little bit, I discovered that in Swedish a new gender-neutral pronoun "hen"is becoming more common instead of using "hon" (she) and "han" (he). I think this is really interesting because it shows just how committed Swedes are to obtaining 100% gender equality. To read more on gender equality in Sweden click here :)

Although Malmö wasn't the coolest city ever, I had so much fun hanging out with Federico and Alexandria! It was awesome to speak Italian again and I got along with them really well :) They're such a nice couple and remind me so much of me and my boyfriend, Mihai, because they love to travel! Last year, Federico and Alexandria spent a semester living in Helsinki with Erasmus (An EU university student exchange program) and also take two trips together every year to a new European city. 

Speaking of Mihai, in case anyone is wondering, our long-distance relationship is going great :) He's now living in Kiel, a medium-sized city in the northern-most region of Germany (if you look at the map at the beginning of this post you can see Kiel; it's only 4 hours from Copenhagen!) with his permanent host family. He said his host family is a perfect fit for him, which is great news!! Check out his blog here for more info! 

Sometimes the distance is really hard though because it's easy to feel a little bit forgotten whenever the other is having a ton of fun in a new country. It's important for us to remind each other just how much we care by making the time to talk. Me and Mihai can both be really busy sometimes but we always try to wake up earlier or stay up later to talk on the phone. Communication is key :)

Some really good news is that Mihai and I will be seeing each other in 5 days!! I found a workaway (budget travelers can work for someone 20-25 hours a week in exchange for room & board) only 45 minutes away from Kiel! I'll be staying in Germany for a month and I'm beyond excited to see Mihai after 2 months apart! 

Hope you're enjoying reading my blog just as much as I'm enjoying writing it! I have a lot of blog posts to catch up on (the stuff I wrote about in this post actually happened 3 weeks ago...) so expect another post verryyy soon! Until then, hej hej! :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Alright so I'm going to continue where I left off with my last post! The next morning after we went out, we slept in, Victoria made me breakfast and then we went to the center of Copenhagen for the day to do some shopping, sightseeing and get some lunch :)

I love their Royal Copenhagen porcelain!

Tiger is the coolest Danish store ever! You can find everything here at really good prices

Yummy Danish pastries at the best bakery Lagkagehuset

Danish brown bread filled with nuts & grains, so good & healthy!

Nyhavn, the iconic, colorful, waterfront area, a must-visit!

Sunday morning, Susanne woke us up at 8am to go running. We went through the park and along the Baltic Sea. The view was so beautiful and there was actually a really small campsite hidden next to the sea! So if you ever want to take a camping trip to Copenhagen, check out Hellerup! We also saw some people swimming in the sea!! I couldn't believe it... it was September in Denmark (not exactly ideal beach weather) but Victoria and Susanne told me it's normal for Danish people to take a little freezing cold dip in the morning to wake up and get their blood pumping. Well here's a couple pictures from the park and beach path! :)

Charlottenlund Palace, a former royal summer residence 

Love this cute little cottage in the park

When we got home, the Ravn-Rahbek family was preparing a huge Danish brunch. Victoria and I were cooking in the kitchen when Susanne, Victoria's mom, asked us to come outside and help her carry something. Victoria's hands were covered in flour because she was making crust for a pie so told her mom she was too busy to help. But Susanne wouldn't have it, she just kept begging us to come outside and help her! The two actually started arguing but we finally went outside only to find a huge surprise waiting... Victoria's Italian host brother, Federico, from Turin and his girlfriend, Alexandria, sitting there!! I was so confused... I had no idea they were visiting and neither did Victoria; it was a surprise visit for her birthday, which was 2 days later! Susanne, explained that she woke us up early that morning so we'd be ready when they arrived and she made us clean the house the night before in preparation for the guests. A very successful surprise, I'd say! :)

After a delicious brunch full of Danish pastries and bread with this strong but good Danish cheese called Danbo, bacon and eggs, Skyr (Danish yogurt, so yummy and filled with tons of protein!), fresh fruit, tea and coffee, Federico, Alexandria, Victoria and I headed into the city!

From left to right: me, Benedicte (Victoria's older sister), Susanne (Victoria's mom), Olfort (Victoria's dad), Christoffer (Victoria's older brother), Alexandria and Federico

I wouldn't mind waking up to this every morning! ;)

Federico studied design in college and is really interested in architecture so we went to see a new bridge that was just built a couple weeks ago across a canal. 

We climbed the 400 steps to to the top of the Church of our Savior and saw an amazing view of Copenhagen 90 meters above street level. I’d definitely recommend visiting this church, entrance was only 5 euros with a student card! 

Selfie at the very top of the spiral!

Next we walked through Christiania, which is a small community, founded in 1971, within the city that’s independent from Denmark. There are around 850 residents and they don’t have to pay taxes to the state. It’s like a mini-Amsterdam because although the sale of cannabis is still illegal there, it’s been tolerated by the authorities in the past and continues to thrive.

As soon as I walked through the arch, I knew Christiania was very unique. There were colorful paintings all over the wall, people relaxing smoking weed, stands selling tie-dye shirts and pipes. Basically, hippie central. There’s a “Green-Light District” filled with stands selling hash, weed, pre-rolled joints and space cake. I wish I could’ve taken pictures to show you but there’s signs prohibiting cameras because the residents want to keep their activities (smoking/selling dope) private from the authorities. The drug sellers conceal themselves behind black sheets that hang from their drug stands and also wear bandanas and hats so only their eyes are visible just in case some Copenhagen police decide to raid the place (which they do occasionally). 

A lot of Danish people really resent Christiania. Victoria’s mom, Susanne, described Christiania as “the place where all the bums hangout smoking hash and do nothing productive for society”. Victoria said that it’s not fair that Christiania residents don’t have to pay taxes since a lot of them are actually extremely wealthy from selling drugs. However, there’s also people who believe that Christiania benefits Copenhagen because it concentrates all the drug trade in one small neighborhood. It’s a pretty controversial subject. 

Christiania has actually done some productive things as well! They invented the Christiania bike, which has a small basket attachment in the front for children to sit in or to put groceries and won the classic Danish design award in 2010/11. There’s also a famous Danish singer Lukas Graham who grew up in Christiania (he sings songs in English and they’re really good! Check out “Drunk In The Morning”). There are some very high-rated restaurants in Christiania as well. It's without a doubt a one-of-a-kind place that deserves a visit!

Outside the entrance to Christiania

I snuck a picture of this sign!

We went to Copenhagen Street Food where there were little food stalls with a lot of different types of food from around the world. We got shared fish and chips and a meat platter, it was good but not amazing and a little expensive. There's another food market that's very similar called Torvehallerne that I think is much better! We wandered around the canals and streets a bit more before returning home.

Danes ride bikes everywhere!

Well that's all for now... look forward to my next posts soon, which will be about Danish birthday celebrations and a mini-vacation to the Swedish city of Malmo! Also if you're looking for some creative/style inspiration check out my friend's fashion, art and photography blog Tori State of Mind! One last thing, if you want live updates of my adventures add me on snapchat @jdawgxx :)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hej København

I'm leaving Denmark today... I can't believe how fast time has flown by! It seems like just yesterday that I got here. Well I should probably catch you up on everything that's happened in Denmark these past 3 weeks! I'm definitely going to have to do more than just one post though ;)

I arrived here back on August 27th. Victoria's mom, Susanne, picked me up from the airport and drove me throughout Copenhagen giving me a mini tour before taking me to their hometown of Hellerup (only a 10 minute train ride from the center of Copenhagen). As soon as we got to the Ravn-Rahbek household, I was awestruck. They live in a huge 100-year-old house that was originally built in a dorm room style for young people/students. They have a large, charming backyard filled with apple and pear trees, flowers blooming everywhere and an idyllic swing set. We walked inside and I met Victoria's dad, Olfort, who was cooking up some delicious pasta with sugo for dinner. Conversation was easy with Victoria's parents; they were both so friendly and welcoming! I remember being so excited to call this place home for the next 3 weeks.

After unpacking, Susanne and I went to pick Victoria up from the furniture store where she works. Just to explain really quick, Victoria was also an exchange student in Turin for the 2012/13 year so that's how we became friends. As soon as we saw each other, Victoria and I ran up to each other and hugged. I hadn't seen her in over 2 years but it was like nothing changed at all! I love how when you're true friends with someone, the time spent apart doesn't affect the friendship one bit :)

One of my favorite spots to relax, the sun room

Nothing better than a sunny day at the most charming house in Hellerupe ;)

After 3 crazy weeks of sightseeing and going out in Italy, I was exhausted and looking forward to some R&R. So when Victoria asked me if I wanted to come to school with her the next day, I may have cringed a little. Then when she asked me if I wanted to get up at 6 am to go running with her before school, I may have cringed a lot... but I couldn't say no! While traveling, my policy is to always say yes to any opportunity. I don't want to have any regrets or missed experiences just because I was "too tired" or maybe "too nervous". Anyway, the next morning Susanne burst into our room bright and early, as promised, telling me to take my sleeping mask off and for us to get running! It was definitely a wake up call compared to sleeping till at least noon every day in Italy... I've come to learn that Danish people are extremely fit and active. Huge difference to my Pugliese family (Sabrina failed gym class last year) haha. 

After our quick run through a cute little park near Victoria's neighborhood we got ready and left for school. In Denmark, they attend 10 years of primary school and then 3 years of "gymnasium" (high school). They're 18/19 years old when they finish gymnasium so it's one more year of high school compared to the United States (random note: Italy also has one more year of high school compared to the U.S.). However, in Victoria's family everyone took a gap year to travel at age 15/16 before they went to gymnasium. Victoria went to Italy at this time and technically "lost" a year of school because her credits didn't transfer over from Italy but her parents would argue that she "gained" a year of intelligence and experience and it doesn't matter that she'll be one year older than her classmates in gymnasium. Victoria has an older brother, Christoffer, and older sister, Benedicte, who both also went to Asia (Hong Kong and China, respectively) with AFS between primary school and gymnasium. This isn't extremely common in Denmark but I've met a couple other Danes who've done it as well.

Anyway, to me, gymnasium felt a little bit like college. Basically, you take all of your core classes with the same 20-30 students all 3 years of gymnasium and this class becomes almost like your family. Except every gymnasium offers slightly different education tracts and every student decides which classes they'd like to focus on the most. For example, Victoria does the music and Italian tract so she'll be with different students in music and Italian class but then she's with her main class for the core subjects like science, math, English, etc. Another student may choose to focus on biology and physical education and will thus have more class hours of those subjects. Victoria's classes are different every day. Sometimes she finishes at 3pm, sometimes 1, it all depends on which classes she has that day or if the teacher is present. Just like in Italy, if the teacher is sick or absent then that class is just canceled for that day.

Students also have a lot more freedom in gymnasiums; part of the campus is outside and they're free to walk down the street and buy lunch from a cafe. Also something that really astounded me was the fact that Danish students call their teachers by their first names! Most of the teachers are very young (in their late 20s) and extremely friendly/casual with the students. There's a lot of group work and discussion. It felt like students and teachers were on an equal level which allows students to really state their ideas/opinions without being intimidated. This critical thinking style of learning definitely works because Denmark ranks #1 in the Education First English Proficiency Index. I have yet to meet a Danish person that is not fluent in English. I think the country could be considered bilingual; their English vocabulary is astounding (possibly better than mine! haha) and they speak with ease and without strong accents. Danish people say that in order to be successful on a global level, English is necessary because since Denmark is such a small country that could easily be overlooked since no one around the world speaks Danish. 

I thought I might pick up a little bit of Danish after being here for 3 weeks but to be honest I barely even tried... it's just that since everyone speaks perfect English there's no need to learn Danish, not to mention the pronunciation is IMPOSSIBLE. Nothing is pronounced the way that it's written and you need to use the back of your throat to make the sound! When I told Victoria's parents I wanted to try and learn a little bit of Danish they just scoffed and said "Psh forget it!". 

Anyway, back to Danish school. All the students literally looked like models; tall, skinny, blonde, blue eyes and dressed head-to-toe in designer brands. Everyone is so stylish and trendy, especially in Hellerup. Hellerup could be described as the Beverly Hills of Denmark. It was rated to have the most attractive singles in Copenhagen and everyone is pretty wealthy. Sometimes when I tell other Danes that I'm staying in Hellerupe they give me a condescending look and claim it's filled with snobs. I think this could be partially true but I've also met tons of down-to-earth, friendly people as well, including Victoria and her family. 

Okay, sorry I keep getting off subject, so Danish teens are very mature and sophisticated. It's funny because EVERYONE in Copenhagen ALWAYS wears black! Victoria says it's just the classiest color and very fashionable. When I asked her friends what to wear when we went out, they all answered, "Black!!" haha I think it's ironic because I feel like Danish people are very happy yet they always dress like they're going to a funeral! Well here's some pictures of Victoria's gymnasium! :)

During gym class I went to the library to "read" ahaha
New glass study area added to the old school building

After school we took the train home (most Danish teens either walk, ride their bike or take public transportation to school because it's the most convenient and you must be 18 to get your drivers license). We relaxed for a little, ate some dinner then got ready to go out! Once a month, Victoria's gymnasium hosts a huge party for the students but first we had to go "warm-up". "Warming up" is how Danish people say pre-gaming; I think it's such a cute expression! They start warming up so early too, at around 6 we went to her friends house which was filled with people everywhere drinking beer, wine, gin & tonic, vodka and this weird licorice liquor (Danes love black licorice!). I've always heard that Danish people drink a lot, which is definitely true. Denmark is rated #11 in the list of countries by alcohol consumption per capita, drinking on average 10.6 liters annually per capita. However, I feel like they learn how to handle their alcohol since they start drinking at such a young age. Beer and wine is legal at 16 years old and liquor at 18. Despite being such a health-conscious country, a lot of teenagers smoke cigarettes. Victoria says it's more like a social trend in high school but most people stop once they graduate. 

So anyway that night we "warmed-up" for a couple hours and then walked to the party at Victoria's gymnasium. It was so crazy (a lot cooler than homecoming back in the U.S.)! Everyone was drunk and the school was selling beer. I couldn't believe that a school party sold alcohol to the students but that's Denmark for you! So relaxed. Every room had different types of music and flashing lights just like a night club. But the night didn't end here; after staying at the gymnasium for a couple hours we took a train into the center of Copenhagen to go to a legit night club!

Gymnasium party!!

In Denmark it's legal to drink in public so I brought a beer with me on the train but I accidentally dropped it all over the floor... it was so embarrassing! Public transportation in Denmark is very clean so I felt really bad! Anyway, we went to "the most exclusive" night club in Denmark called Zen. It was a little expensive to get in: 100 kroner. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Denmark isn't on the euro and has their own currency called the krone (plural = kroner and it literally translates to crown). About 7 kroner equals 1 U.S. dollar. Before coming here, I thought Denmark was on the euro and was really surprised when I first arrived at the airport and saw signs saying candy bars cost 40. I was like wtf 40 euros for a candy bar?! Haha oops I'm dumb. But anyway, Susanne said that Denmark stays on the kroner because it benefits their economy since their currency isn't dragged down by other EU member nations. In 2000, Denmark tried to introduce the euro but it was rejected in a referendum.

Okay sorry back to the nightclub! So we stayed at Zen for a while then stopped for McDonalds (I was starving after 6+ hours of partying!!) before going home at around 3:30 am. To say the least, I was exhausted! Danes really go hard!

Well that's all for now because this post is already SO long (and I only wrote about the first 2 days in Denmark...). Stay tuned for more posts about life in Copenhagen! Don't forget to sign up for e-mail notifications! :)