Sunday, August 7, 2011

Final note from Denmark

It’s just about that time – having bid adieus in the office on Friday, I leave Denmark Monday morning, Berlin-bound. Before I pick up travel buddy Lindsey at the airport and set off for our 8 day trip to Berlin and Munich, a quick note on the past week:

The office, as per the usual, was relatively quiet, and all the quieter for the continued lack of two on holiday, made three when Lars spent a few days in Berlin (bonus: he handed off his map to me). Finalized details for his trip to Cairo to work with the project there, tested the newly launched “Scribe,” a version of RoboBraille specially designed to suit Stanford’s server, and continued the quest to spread the word about RoboBraille in the US by communicating with a few folks of interest back at Dickinson. Otherwise, spare time was spent shipping off my now rather useless laptop (a painful reminder of expenses in Denmark, where 50% tax is the norm) and attempting to revise my Fulbright research grant proposal while I have access to a computer with which to do it.

…And then it was Friday, which meant a bit of a last hoorah in Copenhagen. After last weekend’s successful outing, I met up with fellow American Alex for another little round of bar hopping, beginning with one of last weekend’s popular destinations and ending a few blocks away, where our previous guide/pack leader Steffen was DJing for the evening. Down shifting, we paused for snacks and relocated, croissant in hand (with marzipan and almonds- fantastic.), to the Nyhavn area, then wandered up the canal towards the Opera House, which looks even more impressive than usual when set before a rising sun. I attempted a quick photo of it, but the given lighting and my lack of attention to camera settings yielded a peculiar result – fittingly, though, as a reminder that the best experiences simply can’t be replicated.

All in all, safe to say it was an unforgettable way to spend my last night in the city, complete with a shooting star over the Opera House (I kid you not).

(Dickinson readers especially, I’ll have to postpone a more substantial experience reflection until my return to the US, as the upcoming hostelling trip also, unintentionally, will make me vaguely incommunicado).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

City that never sleeps: the Danish version

A comment on last weekend, as previously promised: namely, weekend night life in Copenhagen, and a small taste of the Statens Museum of Kunst.

First order of business, actually, is social media, which is where my Friday night Copenhagen adventure began. After virtually bumping into me mid-twitter travel discussion, a fellow American blogger and travel enthusiast suggested we meet up sometime between his settling in and my taking off. It was the first time I’ve met with someone I had no connection to outside of the virtual realm, and it was quite the success. In the process of settling in for grad school in Copenhagen, Alex is a much more seasoned traveler than I, as you'll see by visiting his blog, Virtual Wayfarer.

We made plans to meet outside of Nørreport train station in Copenhagen, one of the most popular spots in the city, and the American count rose to three as we were joined by Alex’s friend Laura, visiting for the week. [Side story for another time: the perk of waiting around is people watching, particularly when this includes overhearing a discussion between a scantily clad young woman and an older African fellow attempting to talk her out of prostituting herself. Some choice quotes there, let me tell you.] The three of us purchased our individual drinks in the first bar of the night, and I’m pleased to report that neither Laura nor I suffered the necessity of purchasing another drink for the rest of the evening. Perks of being female, you know.

It was as we sat around chatting in this first bar, one of the numerous underground establishments in the city (literally, I mean, not speakeasies or something), we fell into conversation with the lively Steffen, who quickly became our native guide as he swept us into his group of friends for their night’s outing. Not quite a bar hop but not quite a pub crawl... a leisurely stroll, perhaps. While I’m on that topic, by the bye, bicycling remains a popular form of transportation even for Friday night outings- highly entertaining and/or painful possibilities there. We only saw one fellow tip over on his bike, but he popped right back up, no harm no foul. In proper Danish style, we were out until sunrise – which, wonderfully, Alex and I managed to observe with a silhouette of Rosenborg Castle while waiting for the morning train.

At one point during the evening, I voiced the widespread observation that alcohol has a tendency to make Danes seem more, well, human (no offense, Denmark). Noting the commonality of that vague conclusion, my fellow American/pretend-significant-other-in-scaring-off-unwanted-advances kicked it up a notch, commenting with something along the lines of “For most people, drinking is an excuse to be stupid. For Danes, it’s an excuse to be social.” …That was the gist, anyways, and well done. Not that they aren’t perfectly wonderful people when sober, of course, it’s just a remarkably more difficult society to crack into. With this in mind, I have to endorse experiencing the night life if you’re going to really experience Denmark. If you miss out on the leisurely drinking and chatting aspect of the culture, you miss out on a lot and might just go away with an unjust impression of the Danish character.

Next and last item for now: the National Gallery, or the Statens Museum of Kunst. The arts, free admission, and within very easy walking distance of the Nørreport train station, so naturally I had to go. Maybe it’s just me and I missed the large Danish section of American history classes, but it’s a history and culture I knew little about before this summer, so the Danish and Nordic collections won my attentions right off the bat, though they yielded few surprises in terms of Northern European art history. Either way, I always enjoy a leisurely afternoon spent meandering around an art gallery, and it made for a good weekend wrap-up as I began my last week of work at Sensus.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sensus update and a drizzly weekend among the no-longer-"quick"

You have a fairly good idea that your quesadilla is not going to be overly authentic when the guy taking your order pronounces it “kway-sah-dill-ah.” …but it’s likely as close as you’re going to get in Denmark, where the only consistent non-Danish population is Middle Eastern (who, incidentally, tend to be the folks making your “Italian” pizza and manning your “Mexican” restaurants). Take what you can get- it wasn’t bad for a “kwaysahdillah.”

This little “Mexican”-Middle Eastern-Danish encounter fell between taking the afternoon off to collect some thoughts and wander and laptop stuttering out its last breaths before my very eyes, so I’m using a temporary Danish replacement from the office. Until the laptop fiasco, though, the afternoon had been a successful one: train to Copenhagen, train back up to Helsingør, ferry to Helsingborg (Sweden) where I was pleasantly surprised to find the town in the midst of a little festival, and another ferry back to Helsingør, at which point I hopped the train back to Hillerød and wandered around town before stopping for the kwaysahdillah dinner.

One week left at the office before I head out for a week of exploring Berlin and Munich, and things are winding down (for me, at least). Managed to track down and – through a fair bit of persistence and determination – get in contact with various associations and NGOs working with the blind and visually impaired in Egypt, arranging meetings for Lars’ upcoming trip to Cairo as the project there comes to a close. Exciting development with that: RoboBraille now includes Arabic services, including text-to-speech for now and with plans to expand in the near future.

Other office goings-on have included write up reflections on my week at summer camp (for the RoboBraille newsletter and for Synscenter Refsnæs) and testing out/helping prep for the newly running RoboBraille/ ”Scribe”  service for Stanford University, Sensus’ first real foray into American institutions. As part of that, seeking out potential Egyptian contacts has been accompanied by seeking out potential American contacts and brainstorming a plan of attack for spreading RoboBraille services into the privatized world of US institutions.

Beyond the office, the laptop fiasco, and the Sweden and “kwaysahdillah” excursion, things have been rather low-key. Finished Paul Theroux’s Old Patagonia Express (fittingly, while on a train) and David Grossman’s To the End of the Land (while lounging in the Frederiksborg Castle gardens)- both excellent but in very different ways, so I highly recommend both but with the understanding that it’s a matter of personal taste and they’re not meant for everyone. Grossman’s is particularly intense, but in a fantastic and poignantly human way…. Also made use of last weekend’s drizzly weather to check out Assistens Kierkegaard (current home of Hans Christian Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard, and Niels Bohr) and Roskilde Domkirke, a 12th century Gothic cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage site, inspiration for the spread of the brick Gothic style in Northern Europe and the main burial site for Danish monarchs since the 15th century. 

Should be another (potentially brief) post soon with news from this past weekend, which was much more, well, lively, if you can forgive the terrible pun. Friday night in Copenhagen and watching the sunrise behind Rosenborg Castle before taking the morning train home, visiting the Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery) on Sunday, etc.