Copenhagen, July 17-20

Looking over Copenhagen

Cassidy and I saw Diplo on the Wednesday night before I headed to Copenhagen, giving me only a few hours of sleep before catching the 6:20am train. I slept most of the five-hour ride, which I assume was beautiful, and got into my hostel around noon.

I couldn’t check in until 2, so I grabbed a veggie burger and walked around the Assistens Cemetery, where Hans Christian Anderson is buried. The cemetery is more of a local park than anything, with young (shirtless…) fathers lying on blankets with their babies and couples sharing benches.

I headed back to the hostel and took a well-needed nap on the top of a three-story bunk before waking up to a new girl named Betsy in the bunk below talking to one of our roommates across the room. I heard her say she was from the states, so I rolled over and asked her where she was from: Maryland – only an hour outside of DC. We talked for 20 minutes before I actually got out of bed and we saw what each other looked like.

Christiania

Three 18-year-old English girls who just finished their A-levels came into the room after a short while, and the five of us grabbed a bite to eat before heading to Christiania, which is kind of a free town within Copenhagen. There’s a marijuana market there, lots of artwork, bars, outdoor seating and a large warehouse where a couple hundred people live. We had beers by a lake there and enjoyed the late sunlight until 10:30 before heading back.

Christiania

At the hostel, we met another group of seven Brits interrailing after their A-levels, as well as an American named Maxine, and chatted with them for a while before going on a walk. Most of them intended on going out, but we mostly just wanted to explore.

Copenhagen Opera House

Betsy and I spent pretty much all of our time together, though I took a walking tour by myself. We went to the Danish National Museum and a theme park called Tivoli, where we ran into an Australian girl who took a bike tour with me in Stockholm. We rode a roller coaster there after exploring a bit and then grabbed dinner. We went back to the hostel and spent some more time with the large group of British students.

Tivoli

The next day, Betsy and I went to a really nice food market, where I had a Smorrebrod, which is a traditional Danish open sandwich. Mine had mackerel on it and was by far the best thing I ate in Copenhagen. We also got this Jersey cow ice cream on a stick that was fabulous – mine was sea salt caramel and pumpkin seed and hers was some kind of honey oat flavored. After the food market, we headed to the National Gallery, which had a really nice modern collection.

Secret Tunnel

Two years ago, my friend and I were travelling in Berlin when we met two English-speaking girls – Sisi from Copenhagen and Chloe from Oxford – and ended up spending an evening and a lunch with them. They were both au pairing and had met only a couple months before. Anyway, I told Sisi I was in town and she met up with us at the gallery.

Sisi and Me

It was pretty wild seeing Sisi after such a brief meeting two years ago and catching up on everything. Chloe still lives in Berlin, and the two of them have stayed good friends since we met them. Sisi is back in Copenhagen studying, where the government pays students to go to school. We spent a few hours in the Botanical Gardens, walking around and at a café in Norrebro, the neighborhood our hostel was in and where Sisi lived.

There’s something really special about international friends – regardless of how short of a time you meet them or where you are in your life, it’s always nice to catch up and see them when you are in the same place. There’s this strange openness about these friendships because you know that you having ever connected was by such a slim chance and that the friendships may be just for a day or two where your paths cross. You may never see these people again, but if you do it’s always interesting and welcomed.

Americans in Copenhagen

After grabbing drinks at the café, we said our goodbyes (maybe to one day see each other again, who knows where) and Betsy and I headed back to the hostel. The other American girl we met, Maxine, and I left to see a DJ set by Dillon Francis and Flosstradamus. The show was sick – I moshed for the first time, though it was more of a toned down mosh pit than others – and we left with a new Danish friend to grab some more drinks. 

Flosstradamus

As usual when I have to travel these days, I got almost no sleep before having to get up at 5am to head to the airport for Norway, where I currently sitting on the shore of a fjord sipping on some coffee. Will get back to you on that one. 

A Letter to Stockholm

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Dear Stockholm,

Thank you for welcoming me to Europe with open arms. Looking back I will remember you by the people I met and the stories they told.

From an American girl finishing up her third session with her favorite tattoo artist, to an English friend who once hallucinated on what he thought was throat medication that his mouth was a jazz bar where a customer kept buying drinks and spilling them, causing him to spit over and over again. And the Swiss friend who hallucinated on something less accidental and took 200 selfies because he thought he was so beautiful.

New Friends

Your stories gave me new ones to tell.

Like giving Diplo a high five after yelling “AMERICA!” at him and drinking too much with the Swedes we met at his show, at an outdoor venue looking over the entire city and the long day’s sun that sets past 10pm.

Before Diplo at Mosebacke Terassen

And like travelling 45 minutes through a daunting subway system to get to a bar that wouldn’t let us in before close, only to meet two Swedish girls who were infatuated by our foreign accents.

“Come out with us tomorrow – our friends will love four cute foreign boys!”

And the boys got so excited about these two Swedish girls while I chuckled to myself wondering if they knew why I wasn’t excited in the same way…

Visiting Skansen

Like a group of us almost crashing our bikes every few minutes on a bike tour because they had back-pedaling breaks instead of handle ones.

Thank you for the stories and the friends, and the wonderful introduction to this continent I don’t think I’ll ever want to leave.

Brennan

Europe: Day 1

I’ve officially made it to Stockholm after an uncomfortable seven hour flight (being 6’2 and sitting in economy just doesn’t ever work out) that I somehow managed to get some sleep on (thanks Benadryl).

It’s raining right now, and I’m exhausted, hence me not feeling too bad about sitting in the hostel for a minute to catch my breath. I’ve been wandering through the city center all day by myself – my friend Cassidy gets in tomorrow, so I haven’t been too concerned with making friends in the hostel just yet. I think most everyone is probably out doing their own thing right now anyway. I’m planning on doing a bike tour tomorrow so I can get better acquainted with the city and maybe meet some new people.

I’d forgotten the feeling of being alone in a foreign city, the awkwardness of ordering things in English and longing to talk to the few people I hear speaking my own language. There’s a strange juxtaposition in feeling independent yet confused and lost. I’m realizing again that I’ll have to put in work to get what I want out of these next couple of months here – learning a few phrases in the local language and going out of my way to make new friends and exploring buddies.

But first I’d like it to stop raining.

A Letter to New York City

Times Square

Dear New York,

I come back to you like an addict, an on-again-off-again lover who feels in his heart that one day we will only be on.

I love the way the cool air of your subway trains almost makes up for the suffocating heat of your platforms, the satisfaction I feel when I snake past frustrating packs of stopped tourists on the sidewalk, the relief of finding a Starbucks without a bathroom line after an over-delayed train ride holding my bladder. 

Though I’ve never called you mine, I hesitate when a stranger asks if I’m a tourist or a local. I proudly recite directions when I know them and tiptoe reluctantly around the many questions I cannot answer about you. 

I leave you today not knowing when we will be back together, or for how long, but the tryst has been satisfying for the time.

Till we meet again.

Brennan 

The Highline

A Letter to Atlantic City

Caesar's Casino

Dear Atlantic City,

Give me my money back.

I did not plan for you. I did not know your beaches bordered casinos, that my nights would be spent with beeping slots and spinning wheels and green tables 

And I wanted another Beyoncé ticket.

Yes, I first walked away from your enticements, even. But patience is a more difficult game than any within the walls of your buildings, and waiting led me back.

And I will not be seeing Beyoncé again.

Brennan

Let’s Run Away

Today marks five days into my grand summer trip, already having taken two planes and four busses back and forth between three different cities. The short of it is that my two friends, Laura Ann and Jodi, flew three separate planes to New York on Friday before bussing to Atlantic City for the weekend, back to New York for a day and then to Baltimore and back on Monday/Tuesday early morning to see Beyoncé. But of course the short of it won’t suffice.

When I first got into New York City, I spent about five hours in Port Authority reading The Bean Trees and waiting for Laura Ann and Jodi to get in (Jodi’s flight was cancelled and she got in late). Of course American Airlines wasn’t satisfied enough with cancelling Jodi’s flight and lost her luggage, promised her twice it would be there Friday night or Saturday morning, then within two days and then finally guaranteed 100% that it would get here Sunday afternoon. Nope – came in at 2am on Tuesday morning, four days later.

Atlantic City nights

We stayed with my friend Jacob in Atlantic City, where I lost more than I’m willing to admit in the casinos (didn’t even realize that was the main appeal of AC) and enjoyed a long day at the beach playing Frisbee and jumping into the cool waters. Jersey was different and the same than expected, as most things are, with plenty of guidos (one of whom hocked a big one on a cop) but also people just wanting to soak in the ocean breeze and sun. The weather was perfect, and it was really good to see Jacob again.

Tossing the day away

It’s funny how Jacob has become friends with Laura Ann and Jodi through me, my friends from home befriending my friends from college. We explained it many times to his family and their friends, assuring them that we weren’t just taking advantage of their house but were all good friends enjoying a reunion.

The crew on Ventnor Beach

From Atlantic City, we headed back to NYC (but for real this time – not just a day at Port Authority) to meet up with our friend Christa, who we are currently staying with. Most of the day was spent shopping for Jodi since she was still wearing her clothes from Friday and American Airlines offered to buy the things she needed for the trip. They originally said up to $100, but that is certainly not enough for toiletries, clothes, underwear and beachwear. We grabbed the biggest pizza I’ve ever seen at one of my faves, Artichoke Pizza, and headed back for the night since we had an early morning.

Monday was our Baltimore day, and of course since things can’t be easy, Megabus sold our bus tickets in front of our faces five minutes before our scheduled departure. We barely managed to make it on standby on the next bus out, which broke down after 40 minutes. No worries though – I managed to snap this cute photo in the grass at the rando New Jersey gas station we got acquainted with! Yes, those pants have both leopard print and faces, and yes, I had to wear my Yoncé outfit all day, which constantly required me to check my pockets, which couldn’t hold my phone and wallet for shit.

Ready for Yoncé

We got to Baltimore just in time for a sit down dinner (phew) and headed straight to M&T Stadium for Bey and Jay. I would write about the show but there are few words that capture the joy I feel when I see Beyoncé live. The production was sick, Bey managed to step up every number from her last show and the interactions between Jay and Bey were beautiful. I won’t say I didn’t cry during a good half of the show, especially when a video of Beyoncé riding slow motion on a black stallion appeared on the jumbotrons for a solid minute.

We caught our Megabus (on time) at 1:10am and got back to Christa’s apartment at 5am, and today has been mostly chill, grabbing lunch with Laura Ann’s cousins and hitting up the HBO store for some Game of Thrones shot glasses. Laura Ann is headed out tonight, Jodi on Thursday and me on Sunday, though my journey is just beginning. I’m headed to Stockholm then to begin a two week tour of Scandinavia before heading to London.

The Hoarder House and a Promise Kept

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I took a weekend trip to New York City over the weekend with my friend Matt from abroad to visit a couple of Northwestern friends, Sarah and Kristin (who also studied abroad with me). Of course, many hilarious shenanigans ensued –

The entrance of the hoarder house.

The entrance of the hoarder house.

– like living in the hoarder house.

After a fun day of exploring the city (Upper East Side, Washington Square, Times Square and the Financial District), Matt and I headed to the apartment we would be staying in with Sarah. As we waited in the lobby, we commented on the swanky building and classy adult tenants.

The bedroom.

The bedroom.

Little did we know, we would be staying in a hoarder’s apartment.

When Sarah arrived and picked up the keys, we excitedly headed up the stairs to the room. When we opened the door, we were surprised with piles and piles of stuff (or as I like to call it, the horde). There was a two-foot-wide path parted for us, paving the way through old stuffed animals, furniture, jewelry, clothes, movies, DVDs, bags – you name it.

"Horde-ified"

“Horde-ified”

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Matt amongst the horde.

Okay so maybe it’s a little bit unfair for me to make fun of all this, but it was a pretty strange welcome into the greatest city in the country; only in New York, I couldn’t help but think.

It turns out that the apartment belonged to a woman who passed away a few years ago who made her sister promise that she would go through everything very carefully. I assume she had a problem with hoarding and was highly attached to her things. I can imagine that it would be a huge, emotional commitment for her sister to go through the horde, but it’s equally unbelievable that someone would ask her sister keep a promise like that.

Stack of expired tuna cans in the kitchen.

Stack of expired tuna cans in the kitchen.

Wooden hand covered in old costume jewelry.

Wooden hand covered in old costume jewelry.

I guess it’s not up to me to judge the intricacies and eccentricities of someone’s mind and attachments, but as sad as the situation was, it was also very weird and darkly comic as an outsider to the story.

Of course, we were curious to explore the place (as much as possible on the thin path we could walk on). There were paper-white eggs (secretly years and years old) in the fridge, wonderful costume jewelry laid out on counters and pill bottles still half full. The apartment seemed almost frozen in time – as if the woman still lived with all of that stuff. Maybe, in a way, she did.

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But the years of waiting untouched made obvious wear upon the things: the towel shed when I dried off after a shower, the liquid hand soap turned hard in its bottle and a strange dusty taste filled the air. The toilet seat fell off the toilet. A bottle of ketchup had turned brown.

I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the apartment’s tenants know what lies beyond the doors of the hoarder house. Did they know her when she was there? Do they know what still remains? It was a unique privilege to see and live inside of a mystery like that, and I will certainly never forget my night in the hoarder house.

That’s a promise I can keep.

Porto, Portugal

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After finishing The Great Gatsby on the plane to Portugal, I made significant progress on 1984 on the three hour train ride from Lisbon. A young Portuguese couple snogged obnoxiously across from me – I wonder what Big Brother would think about that…

I arrived back in Porto at noon, where Connie and her dad picked me up from the train station. I’m pretty sure we hugged for a solid five minutes; the three months since we’d seen each other had been too long. It’s pretty amazing how quickly we picked everything back up, mouths constantly chatting a stream of gossip and updates in the car on the way to her house.

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Connie’s mom was in Brussels during the week, so their housekeeper cooked our meals while she was away. Every meal was served with warm soup, hearty traditional Portuguese food, fruit and dessert. We only had to eat out once, and it was to try a traditional sandwich called a Francesinha. My favorites included a dried and salted codfish called bacalhau that the Portuguese prepare in many different ways (ours was in a delicious casserole with gravy served over a smashed potato), a sweet mango mousse and a baked milking (or baby) pig served with rice and some kind of soft, roasted nuts. Eating with Connie and her family was one of those situations where I was constantly being encouraged to “have some more” – and that I did. I may or may not have had to let out my belt a little bit after each meal.

IMG_4702The milking pig dish, made by Connie’s mother at their farm.

We spent my time in Porto sleeping in, eating late, long lunches, exploring the city and catching up after a long time away. There’s something very special about our friendship, two people from totally different cultures and continents who have never had friends from the other’s respective country before. As different as our lives had been before our chance friendship, we both have a zest for life and love for each other.

IMG_4506Connie and me inside the Clérigos Tower.

Aside from getting a good tour of the city – seeing where Connie shopped, where she went out and where she went to relax – we did see a lot of the tourist spots, many of which Connie had not been to herself. I’ve actually had a similar experience taking friends around Little Rock and Chicago; it’s quite fun to be a tourist in your own city. We toured the Palácio da Bolsa (their historical stock exchange building), trekked up the Clérigos Tower for a view of the entire city, saw the amazing stairs of the Livraria Lello bookstore (click here for some Google photos – visitors were not allowed to take photos inside), visited the Serralves modern art museum and gardens, peeked inside the Sandeman Port wine caves, visited Foz (the posh area of Porto where the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean) and got the best view in all of Porto (which is actually in the city of Gaia that lies across the river, accessible by any of Porto’s famous six bridges). We even went out with her sister and her boyfriend in the lively, young bar district.

IMG_4642Me in the gardens at the Serralves during a light rain.

Because of the money I saved on food, I was able to buy a lot of presents and souvenirs for myself. This included a few bottles of the famous Port wine for my family and friends (and one just for me). There are many competing wine houses in Porto and Gaia that get their grapes and wine from the Douro valley to the east of Porto. Connie’s farm has a vineyard that makes other kinds of wine, and on my next visit I may get to help with the wine making (yes – that means stomping on the grapes with my feet!). Connie’s family told me they would take me to the valley next time, as it is supposed to be absolutely breathtaking.

IMG_4583Two bottles of Port wine.

Connie’s mom is a politician and both of her parents are economists, which allowed me to learn a little bit about the economic crisis in Portugal and Europe. I think it’s important as an American to realize that economic problems are not just in our country but throughout the world. It’s a tough problem with no foreseeable solution that will likely be left in the hands of my generation. We had long talks at dinner about the history and current events of Portugal, something I was lucky to hear as a tourist. It is a rare opportunity to actually get to talk about these things with people that have an inside perspective.

IMG_4617An elderly Portuguese woman leaning out of her apartment.

Connie and her family kept telling me how sorry they were for the weather – it rained lightly for a lot of the trip and was often cloudy. I did not mind at all; it put me in a pleasant, pensive mood and allowed a lot of self-and-world-reflection (as often happens to me in my travels). At one point, however, the sun peaked out through the clouds, gleaming on the rooftops of Porto.

“See what we mean about Porto in the sun?” said Connie’s mom.

I did. There was magic coming from the orangey glow of the roof tiles and the bridges (one designed by Eiffel himself) casting shadows on the river – but not for a moment did I felt cheated of Porto’s beauty, not even on the rainiest, greyest day. Whether rain or shine, economic crisis or wealth, Porto will always be beautiful.IMG_4608

 

Lisbon, Portugal

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Portugal was exactly what I needed – sleeping in, exploring and eating long (and large!) meals. Europe is always a good reminder that I can and should enjoy the present without worrying too much about the future or things I need to get done.

For brevity’s sake, I’m going to chunk my posts into segments: Lisbon, Porto and Connie’s farm. Today is Lisbon.

My trip from Evanston to Lisbon took approximately 26 hours that included taking a bus to O’hare, flying from Chicago to Boston, Boston to Madrid, Madrid to Porto and then taking a train from Porto to Lisbon. Needless to say, I was exhausted when I arrived at Yes! Lisbon Hostel at 5pm a day after I started my trip.

ImageThe view from my hostel room’s deck.

When I arrived in Lisbon, I met up with Connie’s sister Eduarda, her boyfriend and their friend. We ate at a nice cafe before wandering the city a bit. They took me to the new riverfront area that just opened after years of construction. Apparently, there are some problems with the foundation, and it’s going to go under construction once again. Nevertheless, it was stunning. We could see Lisbon’s version of Brazil’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue across the river, a constant reminder that “we are a Catholic country.”

ImageThe colorful Portuguese houses.

After a short walk, I headed back to my hostel for an early night (I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours!). I woke up early the next morning to start my free Lisbon city tour. We got a short history lesson and then explored the city. There was a huge earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 years ago that destroyed 85% of its buildings and forced them to totally remodel the city. That is the reason that many of the streets are much wider than you will find in Porto.

ImageWe tried Ginjanha on our tour, a sweet, thick hard liquor made from sour cherries.

On the tour, I met an American girl named Piyali who had just finished working at a consulting firm in London for the year (can I have that job!?) and was traveling for a few weeks around Europe. We went to a cafe after the tour with an Irish man named Paul who teaches English in Seville, Spain (Sevilla for the Spanish speakers!) and explored the city. We didn’t have a set path or itinerary but got a great feel for the city! Paul left for his hostel, and Piyali and I got some delicious Portuguese pastries before exploring more.

It was really cool to talk to a young person that had been working for a couple of years so that I could get some great insight about what to expect in the next few years. Piyali made me feel a lot more at ease and excited about the “real world” while also making sure I knew that I would always miss college. She kept telling me how much she missed it and that I should really enjoy these last few months. I think that was an important lesson, especially at the start of a new quarter!

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Piyali and I headed off to a nice restaurant, drinking some great wine and indulging in appetizers (a tasty tuna spread on bread) and two traditional Portuguese fish dishes. It definitely hurt my wallet, but I had leftovers from dinner for breakfast the next day and would be in for a treat in Porto as far as homemade food!

After dinner, I was extremely tired, so Piyali and I parted ways and returned to our hostels. I spent some time (in my pajamas) on the computer in the hostel’s bar before the lights went down and they started playing loud music. All of the sudden, the bar owners started yelling, “FREE SHOT TIME! EVERYONE IN HERE NEEDS TO HAVE A SHOT IN THEIR HANDS RIGHT NOW!” Well, I was in no dress or really mood for shots, so I embarrassingly ran out of the bar to put on some more clothes before heading downstairs to socialize a little bit. I met a bunch of high school students from Switzerland and talked to them about culture and our countries. It was getting late and I was still a bit jet-lagged  so I went to bed early and left for Porto early the next morning.

Check out some of my photos from Lisbon on flickr!