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Verdun, Reims, Paris, Segovia, Madrid, back to Copenhagen

First week of Spring Break.

semi-overcast 49 °F
View First Week of Spring Break 2009 & Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark on kchapman88's travel map.

I've never had a knack for sleeping while traveling. Not on cars, planes, trains, you name it. Don't get my wrong, I wish I had the gift. It would be great to be able to multitask and satisfy such diverse needs like covering long distances and catching up on some much needed Z's at the same time. But I've never gotten the hang of it--something about it feels unnatural. Trying to force sleep in such a foriegn environment makes me feel about as out of place as a guy wearing a shirt at a NASCAR event. This unnatural feeling of sleeping while traveling is only amplified when you happen to be crammed into an 8' x 8' room with five French people who either cannot or will not speak English, aboard a high speed train ripping through the French countryside at speeds over 100 mph. So you can imagine how well I slept last Thursday night.
The night started off uneventful enough, for me sitting for about an hour or two at the Paris station waiting for my train to arrive. I was heading from Paris to a small town called Segovia, in Spain, to visit a friend from school. I spent most of this time waiting people watching-- I couldn't get over the French. Usually, when I have previous stereotypes of a certain people or culture, they are usually immediately proved wrong by my first few interactions with the particular people. Not so for the French, they not only reaffirmed by stereotypes of them--rude, stuck up, etc.-- they exceeded any expectations I had conjured up for them. No doubt, I had only met a few French people, and some of them seemed very pleasant, nonetheless, the majority of my interactions were far from pleasant. Our waiter on the first night was genuinely rude the entire night, the ticket man at the train station snapped at me for not knowing where my gate was, and the overweight lady behind the hotel counter--a perfectly nice, luxuorious hotel, I might add-- acted as if I had just shot her new born puppy every time I asked her for directions. I thoroughly enjoyed the rich history and cultural aspects of France, it was really a tremendous experience to see the battlefields of Verdun, the Champagne caves of Reims, and all that Paris has to offer. That being said, I was not sad to say goodbye to the people of France. When the train had finally arrived, I was apparently so eager to say farewell that I got on the wrong train car.
I got to my room--or hostel on wheels-- and was the first one there. I immediately made my bed and put on my headphones, hoping to avoid having to deal with any of my French roommates who would soon be trickling in. It was already 11:00 p.m., and I was pretty tired. But as soon as I had closed my eyes, I realized I should probably use the bathroom just so I don't wake any of my other roommates, which would be a disruption I imagined the French blowing vastly out of proportion.
So I made my way to the toilet and hurried back to my room. But, suddenly, a lady popped out of the room next to mine, and asked me a question in French. "Je ne pas parle Francais," I responded, and stepped around her as I continued on to my room. I had no idea what her question was but I was fairly confident I didn't have the answer to it."Espanol?" She called after me. "Italiano?' She asked again before I could respond. She must have been taking cues from my darker complexion and features. "Anglais," I replied.
She then told me in very broken English that she and her other roommates could not lift her bag onto the storage racks (which are above the three-high stacked bunk beds). An older man came out of the room (I wasn't sure if this was her husband or not) looking exasperated, I sensed that they had exhausted every other option. She wondered if I could give it a try. I poked my head into the room, and sized up this bag--knowing full well the excessive packing abilities of women-- before making any sort of a commitment. It was a big bag, no doubt, but it wasn't enormous. In my mind, I chalked their failure up to being French and thus inevitably wimpy, which was probably a bad way to think about it. I was fully confident that I could get that damn bag up onto the storage rack.
So I stepped inside and grabbed the bag by handles on either side, and pulled it up to my waist. I then lifted it to shoulder level, and stepped onto the lower two bunks so that I could reach the storage rack above me. Whoa. The weight of this bag was arresting--it wasn't just heavy, but very unbalanced. It was the kind of weight that made me remember, 'Yes I have dislocated my shoulder twice, maybe I shouldn't be lifting this huge French purse above my head." But I had already passed the point of no return. I gave it one final serious heave, and pushed the damn thing onto the rack. I jumped down triumphantly, a wave of patriotism sweeping over me, as the lady thanked me numerous times.
I returned to my room, got into bed, and rolled over and faced the wall. And while that brief bit of strenuous exercise didn't help me sleep any better that night, it wasn't a bad consolation prize to be waking up Friday morning in the country of Spain.

The first picture is from the battle of Verdun. This battle raged between the Germans and French, and later Americans, during 1916, the permanent scarring is still clearly visible today-- it looks like a never-ending field of green ski moguls-- the result of incessant artillery shelling.

The second image is from a Champagne 'Cave' in Reims. These bottles must sit for years horizontally as part of the process of making Champagne. They have miles and miles of tunnels like these that hold thousands of bottles of Champagne.

The third image is the of the Gardens at Versailles.

The fourth is a picture of Paris from our hotel room, near sunset. You can see the Eiffel off in the distance.

The fifth picture is a picture of the beautiful town of Segovia, Spain.

The last picture is an image of the Spanish Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain.

All in all, it was a great 10 day trip. I'm looking forward to the Czech Republic next week.


Posted by kchapman88 12:09 Archived in France Tagged educational Comments (0)

Fastelavn and FC Kobenhavn vs. Brondby IF


A couple weekends ago there was a Danish holiday called Fastelavn, which is a halloween of sorts for the Danes. Just about every kollegium (or dorm) throws a party for this holiday, and Keops Kollegium (where I live) was no different. Although I am far from understanding the logic behind the celebration or the deep roots the holiday holds in Danish culture, I can tell you how we celebrated. For the most part, it was pretty similar to any other party I have attended, with the main exceptions being that everyone dressed up in costumes and the night was interrupted about an hour into the celebration, as the Danes led everyone down to the basement of our Kollegium. Downstairs, we each got the chance to help beat the hell out of a small barrel with a wooden bat, until the barrel finally gave way and large amounts of candy seeped out onto the floor. The barrel had a picture of a cat on it; apparently, the Danes used to put a cat in the barrel in order to dispatch bad spirits, but this pastime has become less violent over the centuries and now a picture of a cat is symbolically used instead.

All of this is besides the point, us Americans were thrilled to finally get the chance to meet and hang out with some Danes who live in our kollegium, for the Danes are a pretty solitary people. To see them around is rare, for them to acknowledge you or anyone else is even more so, and for them to talk to you is a downright small miracle. At least this is the case in my kollegium, where there is not a great gathering place and all of the hallways are open-air.

At the party, there was some segregation among nationalities, but not as much as I expected. There is a large contingent of Australians and New Zealanders in my kollegium, and I have noticed that they have an uncanny ability to break the ice in these types of situations. Come to think of it, I don't believe I have ever felt awkward around any Aussie or Kiwi, even if we have just met. I guess it must be that it is hard to take them too seriously when they have that funny accent.

I got to talking with one Dane, named Simon, at the party. I don't know many Danes in my kollegium, but I had seen Simon around a couple times and he had always been nice enough. I kept asking him about where some good live music was in Copenhagen, and eventually he offered a solution, "Well, why don't you just come out with me one night and we'll find some good music?" I gladly accepted, but I doubted the idea would ever matriculate.

You learn quickly that as little as most Danes talk, when they do say something, they mean it. The following Friday, Simon came and knocked on my door, making good on his offer. We found a good venue and heard a solid band play--oddly enough, they sung in English and spoke in Danish in between songs.

This past Monday, Simon invited me to watch a big soccer match between hated rivals FC Kobenhavn (Copenhagen) and Brondby IF, with him and some of his Danish friends. I did, and quickly realized that this was the first time I had been isolated with only Danes during my entire time here so far in Denmark. At the start of the match, the Danes were nice enough to occasionally talk in English so I could understand, explaining why this was such a big game and with what team their own personal loyalties lay. Brondby IF is a team from a Western suburb of Copenhagen, and apparently these two clubs have no love lost between each other. A few minutes into the game, Simon informed me sternly, looking me right in the eye, "You are rooting for Brondby."

As the game went on, the Danes talked less and less in English and seemed to have all but forgotten that I didn't speak Danish. I got pretty immersed in the game, myself, with no understandable conversation to distract me from the action. As the game progressed, Brondby appeared to be the clear underdog. FC Kobenhavn always appeared to have possession and they had numerous shots on goal. Brondby, though, had a mesmerizing way of bending but not breaking on defense, time after time getting themselves out of trouble, with the goalkeeper stopping shots on goal and headers coming from seemingly impossible angles. Finally, in about the 75th minute, the Brondby defense finally broke, as a FC Kobenhavn player got a cross behind the goalie and easily put the ball in net. The Danes rooting for FC Kobenhavn erupted, and Brondby never could recover and get an equalizer. I found myself somewhat disappointed after the game, feeling somewhat of an allegiance to the Brondby team.

The next morning in class, three students strolled in with fresh FC Kobenhavn blue and white scarves wrapped around their necks, talking about last nights game, having apparently jumped in to ride shotgun on the bandwagon. As I watched them, I couldn't help but feel my allegiances as a Brondby fan had been even further cemented.

Posted by kchapman88 12:36 Archived in Denmark Tagged educational Comments (0)

Visit from the British


Last night, I finished up studying around 5 p.m., and left the DIS headquarters in downtown Copenhagen to catch a bus home. It is only about a five minute walk to the bus stop, which is on the old market square, but that short walk produced some short-lived excitement.

I was listening to music when I exited the DIS building. I immediately heard loud shouting and chanting as soon as I had stepped outside, and I shut off my music to try and figure out what the commotion was about, for Vestergade is usually a pretty quiet street. The shouting and noisiness increased as I reached the old market square, and was now accompanied by loud sirens and an occasional, piercing 'Crack!' sound. The old market square is fairly small, and it is adjacent to many winding, narrow streets, which are the products and remnants of Copenhagen's medieval footprint, when there was no need for either wide nor straight roads. I stood, disoriented, at the bus stop, knowing full well that my bus wouldn't be arriving for another 10-15 minutes. The shouting and chanting grew louder, and it seemed to be encompassing me, echoing off the tall buildings that line the many surrounding streets. Cars labeled 'Politi' quickly navigated the narrow streets and bystander pedestrians as they zoomed towards the old square, sirens blazing, running many a red light in the process. Other large, black 'Politi' vans, which looked like the equivalent of a SWAT vehicle in the U.S., already were parked and scattered around the old square.

Demonstrations, though rare, are not unheard of throughout Copenhagen. There have been both political and social unrest in recent years that have led to the occasional uprising that will turn violent, sometimes even fatal. During our orientation, our program strongly advised us to not only to abstain from actively participating in any demonstration, but to avoid the direct path and wake of any such protest as well.

Finally, some of the unruly packs of people emerged from these narrow streets and came into plain sight. Still chanting, they people marching were also setting off firecrackers that would trigger a cloud of smoke that would hover and hang over their collective heads. Each pack of people was surrounded by dozens of bright neon green-clad police officers, who escorted them through the city. The several packs marched in the same general direction, but having come from different streets, they were forced to merge in the old market square. Their presence didn't seem to bother the locals, in fact, they seemed to not notice the hordes of noisemakers at all. I wondered what they could possibly be protesting, and I was even more curious about why the police appeared to be protecting them. I asked a man who was also waiting for the bus, if he had an idea about what this was all about.

"Oh yes, its for the futbol game tonight. Those are the Manchester City fans, they just flew in from England this afternoon for the game." He responded. He then added in a quieter, more somber tone, as if consoling himself, "Gosh, they are always tough, good team, good team."

I didn't get the chance to see the game, but I heard from friends that FC Copenhagen executed an exhilarating come back to tie the match at 2-2 with only a few minutes of stoppage time remaining. The Danes appeared to count this as a victory, which I guess is natural for a small nation that is used to losing in sports. Their national identity seems to take its roots in the fact that since its founding in the 900's, the Danish nation has consistently and steadily diminished in both land mass and global prominence, having repeatedly been defeated in many military engagements throughout history. This, some of my Danish teachers say, factors into the humble mindset that the vast majority of Danes buy into. Danes seem to have a mentality, both with sports and everyday life, that if you set the bar low enough, you will never be disappointed. I guess there is some truth to take out of it-- and it certainly made a tie game with the proud Manchester City team that much more reason to celebrate.. And I'm sure it felt pretty good to the Danish, to send those ruthless fans who had commandeered the city for a few hours back on a plane to England without a victory.

Sorry for the lack of updates lately, nothing too exciting has been happening. Lots of class, homework, etc. The next few weeks should be pretty busy as well, getting ready for midterms and spring break travels.


Posted by kchapman88 04:52 Archived in Denmark Tagged educational Comments (0)

Trip to the Jutland


Last Thursday morning, around 9 a.m., I am sitting heavy-eyed in what appears to be an ordinary business conference room somewhere in the rural Denmark Jutland (mainland). Having endured an early wake-up and three and a half hour bus ride, I am sipping on coffee and eating fine bread with cheese while trying to keep my attention on the man standing behind me, as he addresses our European Culture and History class. I am situated at the head of the table, the only student with his back to the speaker, who stands a mere few feet behind me. I am trying to pay close attention to the man standing behind me, not only hear what he has to say, but also, for my own safety. For the man is a massive, six foot, 250 pounder, with tattoos running up and down his neck and arms, a convicted criminal sentenced to seven years of incarceration. He is not shackled or restrained in any fashion and there is not a guard in sight.

The only other person in the room besides the convict, my classmates, and our two Danish leaders, is a female jail warden, who runs and operates this state prison of Denmark. Nevertheless, after a few minutes, most of my classmates show no signs of concern that I am feeling, perhaps because they are not within an arms' reach of a felon, as I myself am. They are growing more and more comfortable in asking questions, and the prisoner answers them as if he were a liberal-arts professor discussing a John Donne poem. "We are able to leave every third weekend, we must give the prison and address and call once we have arrived, and take a drug test upon our return to the prison." When asked about meals at the prison, he informs us that the prisoners do all there own cooking and are given a stipend to go buy what food they choose at a local grocery store once a week. When asked what kind criminals inhabit this "open" prison, the warden interjects. She tells us that they have a wide variety of criminals, ranging from petty thieves to murderers to rapists, noting that most criminals start serving their time at a traditional "closed" prison before moving to an open prison.

We later get a tour from our prisoner, who shows us his cell block. Inside we stroll past the prisoner's kitchen, complete with a full knife set. As we walk by the 'cells' which are more just like dorm rooms (some even had playstations), prisoners walk freely past on either side of me. They do not do us any harm, but they do seem pleasantly surprised to see women wandering their halls. Our tour meandered around the prison grounds, finally concluding at their church, which doubles as a cafe and gathering place. As we said goodbye, our leaders presented a bottle of wine to the warden and prisoner, which is a traditional Danish gesture. We got back on the bus, and drove another hour to our next destination. I quickly fell back asleep. When I awoke, I couldn't help but to think that our tour at the "open" prison was just a part of a weird dream.

On Friday we went to a local school (see below) called a hojskole, as well as a modern art museum in Arhus. Arhus is the second largest city in Denmark, second only to Copenhagen. Saturday morning we toured an old castle built a thousand years ago, before having lunch and making the long drive back to Copenhagen.
It was a great trip, very interesting and scenic. It was especially interesting to see the differences in our prison system and educational system. Hopefully, I can get some pictures from the weekend up soon.


Posted by kchapman88 07:34 Archived in Denmark Tagged educational Comments (0)

Super Bowl and Bowls of Supper


Last night I watched the first half of the Super Bowl via Danish broadcast in the common room of our kollegium. While the room was mostly occupied with Americans, the majority of them were either female or indifferent about the game (or both). They were more disappointed that the advertisements were in Danish, and therefore they were not going to be able to witness how much creativity millions of dollars and a 30-second national television audience affords. Instead, many of them socialized over chips and dip and Carlsberg's while they talked about their experiences so far in Copenhagen. So this forced me to saddle up to watch the game intently with an Australian, a Chinese student, and a German student, who all three live in my building. They were much more interested in the actual football game.

The trio were all very excited to see the game, the Chinese student was actually watching the pre-game for about an hour and half before kickoff, even though his English was not all that good. They were equally curious about the game as they were excited for it. The Australian said he had watched the Super Bowl for seven consecutive years, but that is the only game he gets to see all year. Once they had discovered that I had played American football, I was immediately and incessantly grilled about all aspects of the game, from cheerleaders to knee injuries to the fans of both respective teams playing. It was entertaining to answer the questions, for they forced me to think of the game in basic terms. "Yes, there have to be five offensive lineman on any given play no matter what." And later, "The tight end can either block or go out for a pass." The questions evolved, however, and became progressively more difficult to answer. "I don't know why they wear dark visors even though the game is at night." And eventually, "I'm not sure why the quarterback has to reach under the center's ass to receive the snap." Finally, the Australian asked a most basic question, and yet, I couldn't have had less of a clue what the answer was. "Why is it called a touchdown if you don't have to touch the ball down in the end zone?" To this, I stared blankly at the screen for several seconds. I reluctantly said, "I have no idea, but I imagine it probably had to with some rule back when football first originated." I couldn't tell whether this answer was deemed satisfactory or not, but that train of thought was interrupted when the Chinese student turned to me and asked, straight-faced, "Once you are graduated, will you think of playing for N-F-L?" I surprisingly restrained my urge to laugh, and answered quickly with another question, "What is the most popular sport in China?" Without hesitation, he stated, "Table-tennis." I said to this, "Have you ever thought of playing table-tennis professionally when you graduate?" He smiled and shook his head, and the analogy was apparently understood.

James Harrison's 100-yard interception to end the half was my cue to bed, for it was already past 2 a.m. and I had class at 8:30. As I left the room, the Australian gloated that he didn't have class the next day. He stated proudly that he was going to watch the game in its entirety like a true fan. He then added, just for good measure in his thick Aussie accent, "I might just sleep until four in the afternoon tomorrow."
I thought I'd give an update on my cooking excursions. The only time I cook is for dinner, and it usually consists of eggs cooked with vegetables. Tonight I got ambitious and cooked some tortellini with vegetables. I've royally messed up rice and vegetables two times, and so I've been sticking to my go-to of eggs mostly. These meals are consistently very ugly. They seem to always retain a partially liquid and partially solid state, forming a sort of egg/mushroom/tomato/oregano goo--forcing me to always eat these meals out of a bowl. But they taste good enough for me--granted that, I have noticed that my standards for taste (which were never that high) have plunged rapidly since I've been cooking for myself. It isn't a good feeling to cook for a half-hour and then eat a meal that wasn't tasty at all, and then have a sink full of dirty dishes staring you down, ready to occupy your next half-hour. So instead of improving my cooking, I've just lowered my qualifications for what a good meal is. Problem solved.

I'll be heading with a class to the Denmark mainland this Thursday, and won't be returning until Saturday night. So there probably won't be anymore updates until I get back to Copenhagen. I think the trip should be very interesting.


Posted by kchapman88 11:47 Archived in Denmark Tagged educational Comments (0)

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