Berlin, Leipzig, London, St. Andrews, Edinburgh was the exact order of the cities to be visited and all places I had somebody to see which made my trip all the more special. I caught a train Friday afternoon Berlin bound, getting there at 1:00 am in the morning. I have been to Berlin last summer when I was living in Leipzig, Germany. I absolutely loved the city because it had a rich history starting from the late 19th century to the darker Nazi history and the more recent Berlin wall that divided the city smack in the middle. There was a lot to see at every corner and it was a lot more international than most German cities. My first couch surfing experience didn’t go as well as I thought. They should really specify on the website that it is NOT okay to volunteer hosting if you don’t have a couch. I found myself walking the streets of Berlin with a map at 2:30 am dragging my luggage to a hostel called Three little pigs. Early morning I woke up to start my day in Berlin which consisted of a 4.5 hour bike tour around Berlin and meeting a dear friend I was going to spend the next 5 days with. It was a little chilly in Berlin but not nearly as bone shattering as Copenhagen so I went out with much optimism for the day. I got a free ride on a tandem bicycle to the station and met up with my fat tire bike tour people. After doing London fat tire bike tour, I was hooked on their junkies program which basically meant that if I do a bike tour of all 4 cities (London, Berlin, Barcelona and Paris) I do each with a discount and I get to earn a free tee shirt in the end. Half way through the bike tour, it started raining so we had to put on ponchos and ride down the streets looking like ghosts. We covered Richtag, checkpoint charlie, Berlin wall, the Opera house, Postdamer platz, Berlin victory column, Humboldt university, Brandonburger tor and along the way took an hour break at Biergarten to complete the German experience. I was with a group of middle aged Brits who thought racing on the bike was the more enjoyable activity than the tour itself. Our tour guide was a Scottish gentleman who knew everybody’s name within 5 minutes of the tour and was delighted to converse with each of us. After getting my Berlin stamp on my Junkie card, I was off to meet my friend from summer Yanessa. I was so happy to see her after nearly 8 months and I realize how much has happened since then. I was starving so we went searching for Shawarma along the way getting distracted by a forever 21 and Berskha. We met up with her Brazilian friend who we were going to stay with and we went out for the night to Berlin’s finest the Matrix . It was full of people from everywhere and they had great music on every one of their 5 dance floors. We had a lot of fun and got home close to sunrise. A few hours later we woke up because we needed to have lunch with Yanessa’s friend. Unfortunately, he had work so he wasn’t able to meet with us so we went off to find brunch on our own to a place he recommended. The search was an epic failure which took two metro lines, a bus ride and a walk to find and it was not only more expensive but the food was horrible. My hamburger was burnt and I am pretty sure what I ate wasn’t bacon. Disappointed, we went to catch our bus which to our dismay was sold out already. We had to get a late bus ticket and meanwhile go to the Olympic stadium to drop keys off.
Yanessa and i were Leipzig bound where I was going to visit my summer internship professor and a few friends I have made during my stay. My professor, who requested to be mentioned as Alexander the great in my blog, so kindly booked a hotel for me to stay during my visit. Early Monday morning, I went to see my Alexander the great and Netsanet (my ex-coworker and very good friend) who I was going to . We went to grab lunch and caught up. Afterwards I headed on to the center of the city Augustusplatz to meet up with Joana (my summer roommate). The next couple of days in Leipzig were spent with me spending time with my Leipzig gang and it was time to be off to city #3 again.
My departure was a bit dramatic as I had to leave Leipzig at night to Berlin for a morning flight to London. I was once again on Berlin streets at the oddest hour looking for shawarma and falling asleep at the airport. When it was boarding time, I was told since I had to print by boarding pass before hand, which I didn’t, I had to pay $90 …. FOR A $60 flight. I was furious at everybody! I had exactly 12 hours to spend in London. Half of my Smith gang (Kritz and Shuming) and one of my earliest friends of college, Nino is also studying abroad in Queen Mary University of London. We walked around London main streets, visited Museum of Natural history, Hotel Chocolate and went to and Egyptian street food place for dinner to avoid the pocket-burning costs of London. I was leaving for Edinburgh on an overnight bus.
After a painfully long bus ride with barely enough space for me to shift and a total of 2 hours to sleep. Thankfully, Jalu came to greet me at the bus stop. I fell in love with Edinburgh the minute I stepped outside. It is a quaint city with grey, architecturally unique buildings that had a sense of calm. It has a touch of modernity but not too much, it still maintains an old, homey feeling. I remember thinking that it was the most beautiful city I have been to. Eskit was already there so the minute I got there, I crashed and woke up as room service came to Jalu’s room to vacuum. That is when we realized, Jalu was living like royalty the past 3 months. Well, my definition of royalty has narrowed down to the size of bathrooms bigger than stalls. The next two days we spent shopping and eating and sleeping and sleeping. On Friday, we went to visit Shuming at St. Andrews university, apparently the same university Kate and William went to. It is located in the middle of nowhere – St. Andrews to be exact. A little university town that seems unoccupied by humans at the first glance. Shuming made an amazing dinner for us and we went out to see the life. A few minutes out and about in town, we got kicked out of 3 bars and 1 club because we didn’t all have our cards so we decided to buy ice cream and have a girls night in. We went back to Edinburgh the next day for our last night. Not surprisingly, Edinburgh had much more to offer for the night. We met up with Jalu’s friends and had a fun night. It was a relaxing full week of break spent seeing people I have missed for a long while.
Coming back from my spring break two days ago, I felt a rush of Happiness then an even bigger wave of sadness sweep over me within a matter of seconds. Whenever I talked about the end of the semester or leaving Denmark, I would have a sinking feeling and I could feel knots forming. Then it hit me… my relationship with Denmark has become quite complicated. It feels too much like home. It feels too comfortable. Our time is fleeting and It feels like I will miss this place like no other. I have to start finding reasons to get excited about getting back to the U.S…no that will take me too long to do so I’ll find reasons to start hating Denmark. It will be hard.
We have now entered the LOVE HATE PHASE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP.
The two weeks after London were mostly dedicated to freaking out about upcoming exams and papers rather than actually sitting down and doing them. If I had a mild case of procrastinatia then it was now in a terminal stage.The weekend after the week we were back two of my closest friends from Smith, Shuming who was currently studying abroad in University of St. Andrews and Chloe from France. Shuming arrived in the afternoon and Madame Chloe was supposed to arrive in the evening. After picking up Shuming from the airport, I was eagerly awaiting the phone call from Chloe telling me she had finally arrived to Copenhagen. I had not seen her since August and I was excited to have her finally meet my friends and spend time with her. A few minutes after her scheduled departure time, she called me saying she had missed her flight. She was so angry when she called me because she missed her flight for a simple misunderstanding. I was so sad she couldn’t come for the weekend. I knew that I was going to see her in exactly a month when I go to Paris so I was soothed.
Shuming on the other hand came to visit the wonderful Copenhagen at the start of her Eurotravels. I had the best weekend with her since arriving in Copenhagen. We went out on Friday to officially celebrate Fitse’s birthday and Shuming was introduced to Copenhagen by night.On Saturday morning, we made a festive breakfast and watched a movie before going out sight seeing to Nyhavn, Amalienborg Castle (where the queen and her family lives), Marble church, the little mermaid and various other spots in the city. I am embarrassed to say I was seeing these places like a new tourist rather than a resident of Copenhagen for the past two months. It was a surprisingly beautiful Saturday and people were outside enjoying the day as well. Fitse and Eskit parted from us late afternoon and Shuming and I decided to check out an Irish Bar in honor of St. Patrik’s day weekend. On our walk down the center of the city we passed a Spa called Fish Kiss. No, it is not just the name of the spa, it is actually Fish kissing your feet or rather chewing it away. It is new thing on the beauty radar but of course it has been around in Asia for a while now but basically, people stick their feet in a warm water filled with Gara Rufa fish a.k.a Kissing fish a.k.a Doctor fish which nibble away the dry and dead skin off of you.I have been wanting to go there for quite a while but going with Fitse and Eskit seemed next to impossible. Shuming was up for the adventure so we got in. The first three minutes of my feet in the water, I was cursing at myself for my adventurous impulses. It was probably a couple hundred tiny fish just chewing away at me and I could feel each of their mouths tickling me and I couldn’t stop laughing. Though,after a while I got used to the sensation and I didn’t want to leave. Since the treatment was slightly expensive, it came with a coupon for a free Champagne at a really fancy Italian restaurant close by we made sure to enjoy after our half an hour of spa-ing. We went to an Irish bar called the Irish Rover on Stroget that was supposed to have live music. We were already exhausted when we got there and the sound system was failing the musicians so we decided to go home and sleep instead. On Sunday, I woke up early to study for my Public Health exam and since shuming was leaving in the late afternoon I decided to take her to one more site. We went to the top of the Roundtower which used to be an observatory, a church and a library. It had an amazing view of Copenhagen. When it was time for shuming’s flight, I saw her off to the station and went to the library to finish studying. After an hour in the library, shuming inboxed me saying her flight was actually on Monday so she was actually back at my apartment chilling with Daniel. I was so happy because I got to spend one more day with her before she left.
I was very stressed out about the amount of things I had due for the following week for nearly every single class. On Monday. Richard told us that he had decided to give us an extension on our papers until after our second break, God bless his heart. Then suddenly, my week became cleared. I only had an Exam for Econ on Friday and plenty of time to prepare for it.The only thing preoccupying my mind that week was buying tickets for the second travel break and budgeting. By the end of the week, I was off to my second adventure to Berlin, Leipzig, London and Edinburgh!
SPRING BREAK INDEED.
Apologies that it took me almost the entire March to write about London, maybe it’s overwhelming greatness that I needed to process it first or I was just being lazy. The second one is more like it. In all honesty I write this from Edinburgh, U.K getting ready to leave for Copenhagen after enjoying my second break but fast rewind exactly two weeks the Sunday morning I was packed and ready to take on London. I headed to the airport to meet up with the lovely BMD gang. Everything went smoothly… Or so it seemed until we got to London. Excited and chatting away at the baggage claim, I stood and watched as my class mates picked up their luggage one by one but my luggage was nowhere in sight. What a lovely way to welcome me London… Really. I had to report a lost luggage to Scandanavian airlines (SAS) at which point I was given a small baggie full of basic necessities for the next 24 hours that contained among other things, a nail file … Of course SAS because God forbid if my nails grew so long overnight I’d be a danger to society. We checked into our hotel on King’s cross road close to the king’s cross station otherwise famous for the magical platform 9 and 3/4. (Warning: too many Harry potter references ahead) then went on to our first visit of the day. Wellcome collection – a visitor destination that has exhibitions that explored the connection between medicine, life and art. It had some pretty interesting pieces. One of the memorable ones be was an eye on the wall that flips open when approached. Slightly creepy but thought-provoking. Another one was made by people from rural Kenya which portrayed an interpretation of what they perceived scientific research looked like.
Jamie Oliver’s Restaurant – to be honest I had no idea who he was but after thorough googling, I understood that Jamie Oliver was the hot-shot chef of U.K which explained the struggle to enter the place. Dinner was classy, but of course so is skinny dipping if its got white wine to go with it.
Sunday night, I decided to take it chill and go to bed in our o’ so fancy holiday inn where I had to make the tough decision of taking the soft pillow over the firm one and escaped to dreamland.
London school of tropical hygiene and medicine
First and best academic tour of the entire trip. A charismatic, well-spoken presenter talked to us about the global malaria problem where multi-drug resistance has become an overcoming issue for the available treatments and the absence of vaccinations despite the time and money out towards research and development. He spoke about the very real problems in health care structures that fuel the spread of this preventable disease. I thought I loved the presentation because it addressed an issue I was all too familiar with and the fact that he talked about some of the obvious solutions in simple terms. It seemed like my classmates shared similar sentiments.
I am embarrassed to admit that a group of us went to chipotle for lunch, yes we chased down an American fast food chain in the U.K. I was rebuked by a very KritiKal friend about it only a few minutes after.
The burritos are quite so large that we took extra 3 minutes or so to take final bites that the BMD group left without us to our next cultural activity. I met up with my friend Krithika who is currently studying abroad in UCL from Smith as we were in a state of confusion and disbelief that they went to what could possibly have been the most exciting part of the London experience – Bike tour of central London. After several minutes of deliberation/getting lost we went to the place stated on our booklet only to find the rest of the BMD gang right snout to start the tour. Since we were the late birds, another guide was assigned to us and we proceeded to our own little bike tour that covered some of the major London sites like Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, St. James park which took about 3 hours. I might have burned all calories from the previous week doing just doing the bike tour. I should just cancel my gym membership and do bike tours around Europe to avoid another abroad 15.
Post-bike our tour we had a fancy traditional English tea at the Royal Garden Hotel … It lived up to its name. It was as royal as my mind can imagine starting from the names of the different teas like white tiger and tropical fruit to the assortment of knives, forks and beautiful china. The “tea”, even though it stared with just that was accompanied by a selection of tiny sandwiches followed by delicious pastry. It was pretty much a full course meal. No wonder the English needed excuses to “tea” every afternoon.
By the end of the day, I was feeling like I was decomposing in my clothes I was wearing for a second day in a row. Thankfully, after Steph’s multiple calls to Scandinavian air, I was notified that my luggage was discovered in Copenhagen but it won’t arrive till the next day. Since it was already pat 24 hours since I lost the luggage, I was entitled to purchase any necessities worth £70 . I wasted no time in going on a shopping spree. I got clothes and other very very necessary materials. Afterwards, I was off to see my uncle Daniel (yes, that brings the ranking of people I know with that name to #1) and his family who lives in the outskirts of London. I hadn’t seen him and his wife Mahlet in 2 years and his daughter Yemariam, in a while. As much as I hated people stating how much I grew after every distant encounter, I found myself doing the same thing when I saw her. We had a nice reunion chatting about our family and having Ethiopian food for dinner. I have missed the homey taste of it.
Tuesday was much more relaxed with only one academic visit that ended around noon. I went off to have lunch with Krithika who took me to an Indian restaurant. It was nice catching up after months filled with some of the most interesting events in our lives. Afterwards, I was off to visit the Warner Brothers Harry Potter set. I think Rachael Barton said it well when she said it as a somewhat religious experience.. There were moments I was so incredulous that I was a little teary. Since the moment the great gates of Hogwarts opened, we were in the magic of Harry Potter world going through the tiniest details of the movie production. The best walk was up Diagon Ally where Harry first fell in love with Hedwig and found Olivander the wand maker. With the HP tune playing in the background, I was captivated in the moment remembering how I grew up with the entire series. I remember when my friends and I walked out of the last HP movie, we felt empty, as if there was nothing more exciting in life. We were first warned that some secret revealed and so they were… Hogwarts is about 1000 times smaller than what it looks like and the rest was left to the magic of computers. I was half expecting to be walking through it I guess. Nonetheless, it doesn’t change the fact that HP museum will go down in history as one of the highlights of my life…right next to getting born.
Nightfall I went to see Krithika at her dorm which was in central London which allegedly with a view of the tallest building of Europe – I did not witness such a thing.. Gemma – a fellow Smithie and a comrad that shared Biochemistry struggles was also in Kritz’s dorm. We went out to the city and I saw London by night which was quite a sight to behold.
Wednesday was purely academic tour dates. We visited the institute of cell and molecular science of Bart’s at first. This could be my least favorite visit of the trip starting from the design of the building which made it look slightly like a kindergarten to the presentation on stem cells. I think 90% of the class was seen snoozing or bordering it at one point or another. Lunch was an Indian feast at one of London’s famous spots Tyyabs then we were off to Spirogen – our last visit for the day and the trip. If this visit was to compete for first place, I’m afraid it would be with the kindergarten.
The only thing I was looking forward to in the day was the arrival of my dearest friend Jalu who is currently studying abroad in Edinbrugh. I met up with her at the station and naturally there was some screaming and squealing that got some Brits in the station agitated. It did feel like ages since I have seen her. We went to my hotel and rested waiting for Eskit and Ruth who also had their study tour in London and my cousin Anis who goes to school in London. We all went to … ADDIS ETHIOPIAN RESTAURANT and caught up over a plate of doro wot and tibs. Though I must say I was a little disappointed about the bland taste of their food, nonetheless home food never leaves me unsatisfied. Afterwards we went sightseeing to Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and the London eye.
Thursday brought with it it’s own set of buff surprises. In the morning. We had a walking tour of East end of London. Our Scottish tour guide had a morbid fascination with Beyoncé -we all have a bit of that condition – and cyber acronyms … As if his thick accent doesn’t do him enough to be misunderstood. In the afternoon we had a rugby match to watch. Oxford Vs Cambridge. That goes on the list of highlights. It was exceptionally good weather for the day and we started enjoying spicy Japanese beer even before the game started. It was my very first rugby game and I quickly found out why I hadn’t bothered thus far in life. This game must be the most aggressive sport played without any shields…. But the again, the average players had thighs as thick as logs. (An expression of my own invention) We were rooting for Oxford of course, and we got close to fans trying to learn chants but failed miserably so we just picked up random names of the players and started shouting them until we gathered considerable number of stares. Oxford won the cup of course! Jen, Alex and I went to celebrate with them to the local bar which was packed with people. We left early and made our ways to our hotel. I had to go meet up with Jalu and have dinner together for her last night of stay.
Friday we had the wrap-up session for the tour and had to say our emotional goodbyes to our hotel rooms. We headed to our final non-academic visit right outside of London to see the Hampton Palace.
It was so good to be back to Copenhagen. It felt like coming back home to mama. I have missed my friends and Daniel so much.
On Saturday, there was a chocolate festival in Copenhagen we decided to check out. Our taste buds went through some of the horrific tastes of licorice chocolate, to a really sour chocolate beef to carrot chocolate that tasted like horrible baby food or baby soap, I couldn’t tell. I got a free ice cream due to the lack of smaller notes among other free things that day. Ibironke joined me, Alex and Jen later in the day and we went to the glass market to hang out.
Sunday was Fitse’s birthday but she was coming back from Italy that night. Daniel and I decided to get her cake, candles and tiny Danish flags and go to the airport to surprise her. We caught her right about to leave the airport and went outside to light her candles and sing her birthday song. Eskit was coming in only a couple hours later from her trip so we waited for her at the airport and surprised her too.
The week started with a bang and ended with a BANG BANG!
Every year for my birthday, my friends and I… well mostly myself just do things in my birthday week honoring my birthday. We’d call it Jay J. week. This year Jay J. week was not a huge celebration as I was too stressed out with two exams during that week. To top it off for my big week, I had birthday jitters starting from Monday that I could not seem to shake off. It was a down start to my week. I had my interview with my summer adviser Professor James Bardwell and I met an Ethiopian that worked in his lab named Tsinat. They explained to me what I will be working with for the summer. I could tell that they were both motivated scientists ready to welcome me which got me excited for my summer. When I got home on Tuesday – the eve of my birthday-, Daniel was home ready to get me excited about my birthday with a bottle of wine and a birthday present. I was just so thankful to have such a thoughtful roomie. We went out afterwards to see some of the people from my program, Jen, Alex and Ibironke. Eskit and Fitse joined later on because they were both studying for their exams. The party became even bigger as we were joined by some of the friends we met at Fendika and other Danish friends. It was not very well planned but somehow everybody ended up being there for the countdown to midnight. I was so happy! Although, the actual birthday on Wednesday was spent at home cramming for my Biomed exam on Thursday which I did not end up taking because I woke up with a severe headache. I took my exam on Friday morning and finally felt liberated because I had nothing to do for the weekend except get excited for my long study tour to London the following week!.On friday afternoon, I went to Christiania, the liberal town of the hippies where all the mary, Joes and Annas lived. It was a slightly unnerving place for me but I managed to keep my cool. I was a tad bit more relaxed as Ibironke, Jen and Alex joined me and Daniel to hang out. Friday night we went out with the BMD gang to celebrate Rachael’s birthday. It was the first outing with my class and I really enjoyed it. It set up a good tone for the week ahead of traveling with the great group of people. Since my besties, Fitse and Eskit were already off to their destinations Italia and Austria, I was all alone for that Saturday. I decided to be daring and bike to DIS from home to what I thought was a group meeting that was happening. I was fooled by the simplified directions given to me by Daniel and got lost. Being lost in the crazy bikers city was one of the most stressful things that has happened to me the past couple of months. After an hour long of biking and walking with my bike, I finally reached my destination to find out that, the group meeting has been moved to google docs. A little disappointed, I stuck around DIS library to get some reading done and exchange money for london. On the way back, I got lost again then decided to just take the metro with my bike. It is safe to say that I won’t be biking to school again. I guess I’ll re-think that when I am back in Copenhagen….for now, OFF TO LONDON!
(Unfortunately, none of us took the responsibility for taking pictures, I only got selfies)
I was feeling rather motivated this week so I decided to pull up my pants and get myself a gym membership. After extensive research, I found one 17 minutes walk away from my apartment. I grabbed my phone and back pack full of gym clothes to get registered and have my first real full workout since Copenhagen. My only workout has been a lot of walking and endless flights of stairs to my apartment on the 4th floor. On my walk to the gym I noticed a bike rental shop. I have been wanting to get a bike ever since I found out I was coming to the biking kingdom of the world. I went to the shop to ask how much it would cost rent it until I leave on may. I picked out a blue high wheeled bike with a basket for 700DKK. I bargained it down to 500DKK then I realized I didn’t have cash. I asked the owner if there was a bank close by and he told me there was one around the corner. He pulled out the bike I piked and slowly wheeled it to the door, I was a bit confused and just stood there watching him wondering what he was doing. He then turned to me to take the bike and said “Bank is up the street, go get money”. I still was in complete awe as I rode down the street with a bike I haven’t paid for to get money to pay for it. I learned about the high level of trust in Denmark largely because of the social welfare system but this was beyond the normal level of trust…even for Denmark. I got money from the ATM and rode back to the shop to officially pay for the bike and signed a piece of paper saying I rented the bike until may and left with my new baby to the gym. Then my luck followed me to the gym. The front desk guy at the gym who lived in the U.S for 2 years thought I was American because of my accent and because I didn’t correct him, ended up discounting more than half of the membership fee. I nodded along as he passionately spoke about the football teams. If he had asked me a single thing about football, he could have so easily figured out I am not who he thought he was. I remembered what Daniel said to me when he was talking about how Americans sound like when they speak so I dragged my speech a bit and added a lot of “like”s and “you know what I am saying“s here and there and the guy was SOLD. So in one day, l got to make a friend, a bike, a gym membership and a lot of endorphins by the end of the day. This was going to be my active week.
The week went by quicker than I can process the events that happen, as always. On Saturday, Eskit’s roommate decided to take me, Eskit and Ruth ( a friend from Eskit’s class) to Malmö, Sweden. We walked down the shopping street and actually did a little shopping which is close to impossible to do in Denmark. We ended up having extra swedish Kroners to spend that we bought piles of chocolate and candy to get rid of them.
On Saturday night,There was an Ethiopian band called Fendika coming to perform in kobenhavn so my friends and I went to get a piece of home that we have missed so much. Even though the entire band consisted of 5 people, they danced to every popular beat in Ethiopia starting from eskista to oromigna, guraghigna, welaytigna and even seleme seleme which is always the crowd mover. We sang along, danced and met some Ethiopians residing in København and one of them happened to be my brother’s college buddy. We spoke with him and some of his friends and felt like we found an Ethiopian niche of our own. It was a great night.
On Sunday, I had my first social with Danes. It was a birthday party for Priscilla, Fitse’s roommate. Even for a socially awkward person as myself, it was another level of awkwardness emphasized by the massive wall of language. The guests chattered away and I chugged down cake and wine and reserved to speaking only to Fitse and Eskit. I was too busy being awkward that I forgot to even say happy birthday to Priscilla. I think Jerome Jarre was talking about this situation when he stated “How to be owkwarrd…” …I’m preying really hard that I’ll get better with my communication skills or my Danish soon.