As I write this post, I am four days away from having been in Sweden for a month. That, frankly, is astounding to me. Time has absolutely flown by, especially punctuated by the fact that I finished my semester on a Friday and began work on the following Monday. It has never felt overwhelming but rather to some extent a continuation of the hectic pace of the school year. These last couple of weeks, however, things have begun to slow down. I’ve adjusted to the rhythm of the Swedish lifestyle and become more acclimated to the city and at work. For the past two weeks, we’ve had national holidays on Thursdays which translated into everyone taking Friday off as well.
For the first long weekend, I stayed in Stockholm. The break commenced with a concert in Stockholm at an amusement park that also doubles as a concert venue. That may sound conflicting and it absolutely is. There isn’t even a venue, it’s more of a stage in the middle of a square that gets jam-packed with people. I went with Christina, Mats (a Wally from two years ago) and two of his friends from the Stockholm School of Economics. We were there to see J. Balvin who is a famous reggaeton artist from Colombia. It was shocking how many Latin American folks came out for the concert. I heard a couple of Swedes remark that every single Latino in the city must’ve been in attendance. They were all carrying Colombian flags regardless of what country they were from, which is something that you would never see in actual Latin America. Before the concert began, it was so crowded that it was difficult to move. You had to establish your position and refuse to give an inch. Thankfully the concert started, and people spread out a bit before the anxiety of the situation became too much. We danced, sang along to Spanish music and vibed with the crowd. It was an extremely entertaining show. The highlight for me was watching the reaction of the Europeans during one number where J. Balvin was receiving a very erotic dance from one of his backup dancers. The misogyny, or at least the extent of it, was something that Europe hasn’t seen in music in quite some time, I guess.
On Saturday, I was invited by my friend Greg to attend a black-tie event in Stockholm. I had met the women who were hosting a couple of weekends before. There was no specific reason for the formal event other than it was an annual tradition and hosted at one of the most exclusive clubs in the city. Greg told me that we wouldn’t stand a chance of getting in without the invitation to this occasion. Aside from the exclusivity, I realized before the event that I did not have any black-tie appropriate clothing. The one suit that I had brought for the Wallenberg events of the previous weekend was navy blue and my formal shoes were brown. I was prepared to be a foreigner at a mostly Swedish affair, but I didn’t want to stick out like someone who didn’t belong. Greg graciously offered to loan me an old black suit and a tie to match. All I had to come up with was some shoes and a white dress shirt (which conveniently I had also left back in D.C.). Enter H&M, the greatest discount department store the world has ever seen- and a Swedish company. I bought appropriate shoes and a shirt for about $45. The evening was memorable. I met a ton of people and got to experience a part of the infamous European club scene. I’ve had an epiphany in the last few weeks that has resulted in a shift in my demeanor. While being conscious of the societal differences between Swedes and Americans, I’m going to retain more of my (American) individuality. Swedes, due to their appreciation of American culture, have been extremely receptive. A prime example of this was at this party where I would approach random Swedes, introduce myself, and strike up a conversation. That is something that a Swede would simply never do, but with a little liquid courage, I, on the other hand, will do gladly.
Fast forward another week and it was time for, yet again, another four-day weekend. This time, however, I ventured out of Stockholm to my 19th country since this adventure began, to Denmark. I had spoken to my cousin Grace who studied abroad there during her undergrad and she provided me with perhaps the most helpful traveling tool I’ve ever received. She compiled a google map where she had pinned all of the sites within the city and organized them by category (i.e. shopping, museums, restaurants). I simply went through the list, picked the ones which appealed to me the most, and I had my list of things to do. When I went to book somewhere to stay in Copenhagen I was confronted with a very expensive reality. After some research, I determined it would be cheaper to actually stay across the water in Malmo, Sweden, and take a 30-minute train across to Denmark each day. Due to the Schengen agreement, as part of the EU, there are no customs/immigration checkpoints, everyone is free to move as they please across borders. For the same price as a bed in a 10-bed mixed dorm in Copenhagen, I had my own room in a 4-star hotel in Malmo with breakfast included. I was in heaven.
One of the items I found on Grace’s list of suggestions for Copenhagen was Frederiksborg Castle, which was about an hour away from the city. It was recommended as an easy day trip from Copenhagen and I decided that it would be my first stop upon reaching Denmark. Navigating the train station was a bit challenging because there were all different types of lines and even if you knew the ending station you didn’t necessarily know all of the stops it would make. Eventually, I figured it out, albeit with a little help from the nicest 7eleven employee. The castle was a fifteen-minute walk from the train station. It is situated on its own man-made island surrounded by a moat and then a larger lake. It is the most expansive palace in all of Scandinavia. Additionally, it is also now the Denmark Museum of National History. Upon entrance, you are provided with an iPod mini and a pair of headphones and sent on a self-guided tour through almost 60 rooms. Each one was intricately decorated with carvings in the trimming and endless paintings of important figures from both Danish history and the monarchy.
The most spectacular room, in my opinion, was the church. The walls were decorated by the coats of arms from families and governments from all over the world. The organ is 400 years old and still being played today. One of the next stops after the church was the ballroom with its long marble floor and small balcony from where the musicians would welcome the king with the traditional trumpet salute. I spent a good while wandering between the rooms, taking lots of pictures and learning about Danish history. For example, I didn’t know that previously Norway was under Danish control and Finland was under Swedish control. The Swedes and Danes were bitter enemies and there is still acrimony today. After the Napoleonic wars, Denmark lost control of Norway and it became part of Sweden until 1905. It has been fascinating to learn about the different monarchies of Europe and how they were all intertwined through marriages and alliances. I never used to understand my sister Caroline’s borderline obsession with the British Royal Family but now I can sympathize a bit more.
The remainder of my time in Copenhagen was spent walking around. Walking around implies a casual stroll but I literally walked the entire city. It was reminiscent of my travels with Max when he and I would look at a map, mark out a quadrant or two and easily put 15 miles of tread on our shoes in a single day. I visited the Church of Our Savior which has a spiral staircase inside that leads to a panoramic view of the city and saw a couple of the other castles/palaces the city has to offer. The highlight, and most touristy spot, was the colorful street along the canal that most people associate with Copenhagen. I had been wary of going and set low expectations. I thought there would be hordes of people jostling for ideal selfie positioning. Indeed, there were a lot of people, but the atmosphere was nothing like what I expected. Lining the street are endless restaurants with outdoor seating. Danes and foreigners alike were sitting, eating and drinking. The others, like myself, meandered along the street or stopped and sat along the water with our feet hanging over the sides of the canal. I surmised that there is no open container law by the sheer number of people who were sitting around drinking canned beer openly. I must’ve sat there for over an hour people watching and enjoying the scene.
Besides that particular street, (called Nyhavn I believe) the other thing most synonymous with Denmark is the bicycles. They are everywhere! What motorbikes are to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, bicycles are to Copenhagen, Denmark. The striking difference, however, is the order within the city that allows the volume to operate seamlessly. There are bike lanes everywhere separate from the sidewalks. People actually follow traffic laws. I saw the standard bicycle seats for young children, but also large carts attached to bicycles and even one man transporting a table on his bike. I was impressed by the number of people who chose this mode of transportation. When I needed a respite from the humming city, I found a lovely park in the northeast part of Copenhagen. People were lounging about the grass enjoying the perfect weather. I found Copenhagen to be very similar to Stockholm in some regards but yet vastly different at the same time. I’m looking forward to exploring the other Scandinavian countries in late July. For now, it’s back to work.
The next blog post will be dedicated to Electrolux and will give a more detailed look at my role in the company for the summer. As always, thank you for your readership.
Until next time,