After Japan, I stopped in Canada for a short time (I mean short, about 48 hours) to drop of my Archaeology gear, grab gear for a year away and say farewell to family and friends. After going to Japan to Canada to Sweden, I had some pretty serious jet lag. I don’t even know how many days I lost or gained (I mean I almost circled the globe). The year I had in Sweden has been great and far too many things have happened this past year to tell them all. I stayed in a small University town (they call it a city, but its pretty much a big town) in northern Sweden called Umeå. I’ve made friends from what feels like every corner of the world because the international students make up a large portion of the student body. While my time in Umeå has been great with joining a speed skating competition (no, my team did not do well), bbqs at Nydala Lake with friends as well as fikas (coffee breaks), to surprisingly joining a band. 2014 also happened to be Umeå’s turn as the European Cultural Capital. While the opening ceremonies were kind of neat and was the most people I’ve ever seen downtown Umeå, there weren’t many events in the “Cultural Capital” theme afterwards. However, Umeå already has lots of events any regular year. One is Umeå Open which is at the Folketshus which is a venue with several different stages and concert halls inside. It was a very neat place. Swedish culture really embraces and supports the arts. I, and international student, playing with a band full of international students, was being given money from the government so we could afford to rent a rehearsal space and also cover gear rental for any shows we did! I wish something like this existed in Canada!
Being in Umeå I’ve been able to take a few trips to Stockholm and beyond. One of the best parts about my year in Sweden has been the access it has given me to the rest of Europe. Although I am about to embark on a backpacking through Europe, I have spent some time in a few places outside of Sweden throughout the year.
I managed to make it to The Netherlands a few times throughout the year. Mostly I treated this as vacations and didn’t do much except relax at Victoria’s place. We spent a few days in Amsterdam and also took a day trip into Belgium though. In Amsterdam was the first time I felt like I was in the Europe I had always seen on television. Cobblestone streets, canals, more pedestrians than cars. We spent one evening at a tiny and rather well hidden Belgium Pub called De Zotte. It had a great atmosphere to it. It was exceptionally small which added to the atmosphere. It felt like a good place to get away from the more touristy pubs and relax with a beer and some friends. Not only did the pub serve great beer, it came equipped with a cat, which is something I’ve never seen before. Now, I’m allergic to cats but as I drank it became harder and harder to resist petting it until it ended up sitting with us while we drank. If you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, I highly suggest you find this little gem of a pub.
I spent most of my time in the city of Den Haag (The Hague) which is on the coast. This is where I did pretty much nothing except freeload at my girlfriend’s place. The city is very beautiful and has a smaller version of the Amsterdam canals. The biggest plus is there are a lot less crowds and tourists. Oh, and more whole fish (its like Japan all over). I guess eating pickled Herring with some onion is a big thing for the Dutch (I prefer the stroopwafels I guess). However, there were battered fish bits called Kibbeling, which were super tasty!
Belgium was a quick trip. In and out of Brussels within a day. What is Belgium known for? Beer and Waffles. And thats exactly what we did. We took a tour of a brewery and got some Belgium Waffles afterwards (Wow, just wow. Belgium waffles are delicious). Apart from this we spent a lot of time wandering around the city and seeing the architecture. St. Michael Cathedral was impressive to say the least. The parliament building in particular, although under construction, was the biggest thing I have ever seen. It was massive and just so powerful looking. It was the first time I could understand just how magnificent it must be to see the Pyramids and wow much they would boggle the mind to see in person. We did hit up one museum, The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). As a musician, I absolutely loved it but I think anyone could appreciate it. From early digital analog and Ondes Martenot’s and Thermins to ancient Tibetan horns and Saxophones, it had it all. Apart from just how interesting these instruments are, you get to hear them. You are provided with a headset that reacts when you get close to each display and allows you to hear them. Really cool. After our day in Brussels we were on the train back to The Netherlands.
Now this spurt of travel was right around Christmas as I had some free time with my classes finished. I left The Netherlands on the 23rd to not intrude on my girlfriends Christmas. I traveled to Copenhagen where I had a few days before meeting a good friend of mine and his dad and brother who were coming over to watch the World Junior Hockey Championships in Malmö, Sweden (yes, the stereotype of Canadians loving hockey is true). I stayed at a hostel in downtown Copenhagen, arriving late on the 23rd. My plan was to spend Christmas eve (the 24th for Canadians) sightseeing in Copenhagen before meeting the boys on Christmas day, the 25th. That was my plan. With my day of travel I hadn’t eaten really anything, and I arrived in Copenhagen so late nothing was open. However, the hostel was also a bar. Uh oh. I sat down intending to have one beer and see if the kitchen was open (it wasn’t) and then go to bed. Then a Kiwi and an Aussie sit down with me. I don’t know if its a Commonwealth thing or what but we were all best friends, just for the evening. We swapped stories of where each of us were heading and what to see if we ever make it to each others countries. I’m not a shy person, but I’m not one to befriend someone so easily so I relied on booze as the icebreaker. It was a good evening and by the end of the night we were buying each other shots. But the next day was hell on earth. It was one of the worst hangovers ever (I can’t say THE worst, because a few months later I went to Russia… I’ll get to that). I wasn’t sick, but was completely unable to function. So much for seeing the city. Definitely the worst Christmas eve I’ve had but I only have myself to blame. After a full day of recovering, I went to the airport to meet the boys on the 25th of December.
We were staying in Malmö, Sweden which is just a short train ride across the channel from Copenhagen. We didn’t get into too much trouble. Mostly because we were so busy watching the hockey tournament. Both the teams we were pulling for 1.Canada, 2.Sweden, lost. Finland had a big upset win in the final against Sweden. Malmö was a nice city but didn’t seem quite as active as a lot of the other places I had been (as I found out on New Years, its common to go over to Copenhagen for a night out instead). In the interest of saving money, my friend didn’t want to do too much cooking or eat anywhere too fancy so we ate A LOT of kebabs. I vowed never to eat another one again after the trip (and so far have not). Once New Years rolled around, I actually had a friend from Umeå who was in Malmö and invited us to join our friends. And thus history repeated itself. After only eating a couple hot dogs during the day and screaming our heads off at the Canada vs. USA hockey game, we went out drinking. The night started great! The people we met we made fast friends with and they were taking us to a club in Copenhagen. However, after the hockey game my friend and I had a few drinks at our hostel, and then we had a few more when we met up with the others (its part of culture in both Canada and Sweden to have drinks before going to the pub or club in order to save some money). We then continued to drink all along the journey to Denmark. The train was like a can of sardines! I don’t know how it was able to travel with people squished in the way they were (I guess its good prep if I ever go to India). Copenhagen was like a war zone! Fireworks were going off every few metres! Not just vertically but horizontally as well! By the time we got to the club I was exhausted and wanted nothing to do with anymore booze. I had given my coat to my friend to coat check it with his. After a few hours in the club I realized how long the trip home was and that I needed to get to bed asap as my body could not handle drinking on a week of kebabs and hot dogs. Not able to get my coat, I luckily had my visa and hostel key with me. When I went to buy my train ticket though a plastic pass popped out of the machine, “Did I just buy a years pass?” (No, the credit card bill later showed it was just a rechargeable card). My phone was both dying and doesn’t work in Denmark and since I couldn’t find anyone when I was leaving, they wondered what had happened to me. My friend the next day just said, “thank god you’re alive.” Thank god indeed. I don’t know what it is about Denmark that makes for such crazy evenings. Sadly, it wasn’t the last time.
We had one more day in the notorious Copenhagen. We had all gone together. Me, my friend, his brother, and his Dad and his friends. We did a little bit of sightseeing in Copenhagen (finally) but the weather was miserable. Before long we ended up in a pub to hide from the weather. After a few hours in the pub the weather didn’t improve. My friend’s Dad decided we should go back to Malmö. One of his friends, lets call him “Slacker,” was closer to mine, my friends, and his brothers age. Slacker decided we should go to the strippers. Now being an upstanding citizen, I of course have never been to the strippers. We decided, “why not?” and went with him. We found one but went into the pub beside it for a few drinks first. We sat at the bar and were served by Gustav who we quickly took a liking too. He was a funny guy and we all were telling joke to each other, even he was enjoying himself. When we told him we were going next door he told of us a street with better strippers (funny… all he mentioned was a street name). We then went next door past the bouncer ,who could have been Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and into the pink smoke haze of a room. It was a tiny place and only two girls were working. Makes sense with the time of year I guess? What do I know? I’ve never been. Everything I thought the strippers was did not apply to this place. They took people into private rooms when they ordered lap dances and kept insisting we buy they a very expensive bottle of champagne to enjoy in the back room. Well, we are (were) either very innocent or very dense. The next day when I looked up the name of the place it was, of course, actually a brothel. At the time I thought, “so thats the strippers? I don’t think I’ll go again.” But, I had never been to the strippers and apparently still haven’t since it was a brothel.
Three very odd nights in Copenhagen. It’s a beautiful city, I just wish I saw more of it! After this I said goodbye to my friends and went back to Umeå to return to studies and rejoin the band. It was all very typical and routine for a student life. Until I went to Russia…