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Travel Break #3: Part 1

I’m currently sitting in Stockholm-Arlanda airport in Sweden waiting for my return flight to Copenhagen. In the last 48 hours, I’ve visited two cities in two different countries as part of my personal goal to see as much of Scandinavia as possible this semester. Before I head out on the next leg of my journey, here is a quick recap of the week. (Click here to see all the pictures.)

On Monday, I came to terms with the fact that I had bed bugs in my kollegium room——while reading in bed the night before, one that had just bitten me crawled out from under the sheets filled with fresh blood (ew). I’m including this story in the summary not to scare off people from studying abroad, but rather to emphasize how helpful DIS was in the extermination process.

I immediately went to the Housing & Student Affairs Office on Monday. They promptly walked me through the steps of cleaning the room in preparation for the exterminator (vacuuming, washing clothes and bedding at 60° C, placing the bed vertically, etc.). The kollegium coordinator would not be in until Tuesday to make the exterminator appointment, but the assistant told me to use the DIS Emergency Number should anything change before Tuesday. In her words, “We don’t want you to feel like you don’t have any options if the situation gets worse. Just give us a call.” I felt a little better.

On Tuesday, the kollegium coordinator, Karina, called the exterminator and was able to get an appointment for me at 1:30 P.M. (DIS covers the full cost of bed bug extermination, by the way, so the process is very simple for the student.) At exactly 1:30, the exterminator came by to spray my room. He was nice enough to spray the additonal three single rooms, the living room, and even the apartments above and below my own so that the bugs would definitely die off. He’ll be back in another two weeks for a follow up, and I can happily say I haven’t seen any signs of bed bugs since he came by. If you end up with bed bugs abroad, I can promise it’s not the end of the world, especially if your program has a contingency like DIS’s.

Anyway, fast forward to Friday when I left for a one-night/one-day trip to Oslo, Norway. Norway is a place I have been waiting all semester to visit because of its connection to Denmark; the two used to be one country. Interestingly, it is one of the few European countries that did not join the EU. Norway is one of the richest countries in the world because of its oil reserves and does not want the economic restrictions of EU membership. Its price level is also higher than Denmark’s, as I quickly learned: 55 Norwegian kroner (NOK) / $9.50 for a 1.5L bottle of water and a chicken salad sandwich…in a convenience store.

Around 7:30 P.M. on Friday, I took a 45-minute flight to Oslo and then hopped on the “airport express” train to Oslo Central Station to meet my host, Edgar, for the night. This travel break was/is my first time trying the “couchsurfing” site Airbnb. Basically, people from all over the world open up their houses or apartments for a nightly fee ranging from dirt cheap (for a basic apartment or house) to hotel-level expensive (for mansion-esque accomodations). Many students at DIS as well as my visiting famiy have used the service and loved it, so I gave it a shot.

Edgar did not disappoint. A friendly, hospitable resident of Oslo, Edgar met me at the station and walked me to his apartment. After letting me unpack and setting me up with some wifi and a set of keys, we took a short walk around the neighborhood and up a hill to see Oslo by night. I also got to see a plaque marking the exact spot where Norwegian artist Edward Münch painted The Scream, which turned 150 years old in 2013. Afterwards, he left to meet a friend for a drink, while I headed back to the apartment five minutes away.

At this point I tried to buy a snack, but my debit card was declined. Protip: ALWAYS check with your bank to see if the countries you are visiting allow for debit transactions. Big banks should not have this problem, but mine is a bank that only exists in New Jersey. So, even though the bank knew I was traveling to Norway, it was Visa that blocked my card in Norway because they control (somehow) and can block the debit transactions of the bank’s debit cards outside the US. Confusing, yes, but don’t let it happen to you. Always have a back-up credit card and/or extra cash for emergencies. Thankfully, I did.

Crisis aside, I had a room to myself and was able to get a good night’s sleep before a full day of sightseeing in Oslo. At 9:00 the next morning, Edgar was kind enough to show me pretty much the entire downtown area for about 5 hours because he didn’t have other plans. I saw the opera house, the parliament building, the royal palace, the harbor and the fjord in the distance, a newly developed neighborhood on the water called Aker Brygge, an old military fort, the national cathedral, and an immigrant neighborhood called Grønland (“Greenland”).

Oslo's Opera House

Oslo’s Opera House

Outside the Royal Palace

Outside the Royal Palace

Throughout the day, I learned about Edgar’s own interest in travel——he has seen most of Europe and Asia——and his impressive knowledge of Norway’s history. Edgar’s hospitality also blew me away, as he had no obligation to be as much of a tour guide as he was. I’ll probably never see Edgar again, but he left me with a memorable impression of Norway and its people.

No rest for the weary: Stockholm was my next stop at 6:30 P.M. on Saturday. Sweden and Denmark have always hated each other because territorial disputes and wars in the past, so I wanted to see just how different the culture was.

The flight was equally short, but the weather had turned south——heavy rain and near-freezing temperatures. I took a bus to Stockholm’s Central Station, then changed to a metro to get to my next host’s apartment. (FYI the $18, 24-hour transportation pass is a great deal.) Roni, a man from Beirut living in Stockholm, met me at the station and walked me home. His English was not great, but his first words at the apartment were, “Feel at home, this is your apartment.”

Roni did not extend the same offer to show me around (as is to be expected from a host), so I spent some time planning my day in Stockholm before going to bed. At 9:00 A.M. this morning, I headed off into town to see the famous Vasa Museum, which Edgar had recommened to me. (I got lost for 45 minutes on the way…oops.) It contains a perfectly preserved 17th-century ship that sank into Stockholm Harbor on its maiden voyage. No one looked for it until the 20th century, and in the 1960’s, a team of explorers had the ship raised in one piece from the bottom of the harbor. The ship is massive, fully intact, and well worth a look if you’re in Stockholm, espcially with all the supplementary exhibits around the museum.

The Vasa

The Vasa

Afterwards, I went to see the royal palace. I arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard, after which I went to see the national cathedral. Because it had a ridiculous entrance fee of 40 Swedish kroner (SEK) / $6, I settled for the royal chapel just outside the palace. No pictures allowed, but I snapped one that you can find in the photos.

The weather was still bad, so I stayed close to that area and wandered around a nearby island taking plenty more pictures, including selfies. In terms of culture, however, the Swedes do not seem very different from the Danes. The biggest difference appears to be the language. It’s similar to Danish but different enough in spelling and pronunciation that it’s hard for both sides to communicate easily. Swedes are also more obsessed with punctuality than the Danes are; they will wait outside or walk around the block until the exact moment of an appointment or visit.

One of many shameless selfies from Stockholm

One of many shameless selfies from Stockholm

As the weather got even rainier, I grabbed a quick lunch, picked up my luggage from Roni’s place, and went to the airport about an hour earlier than I had planned.

Despite the quick turnaround, I definitely saw a lot of both Oslo and Stockholm this weekend. These two short days whetted my appetite to see more of the two cities in the future. It was also an excellent test of my “survival” skills while traveling alone; traveling with other people can be exhausting. I navigated two cities’ public transportation systems, dealt with money issues, and got myself through three countries’ airports in 72 hours. If I can do it, anyone can.

Tomorrow I am staying in Copenhagen to register for Spring 2014 classes at PC——my sixth semester, yikes. Then on Tuesday I’m off to Vienna, Austria, for a five-day trip on my own at another Airbnb host’s apartment. Hej hej for now!

Comments

  1. Very impressed with your “survival skills” Vince. The incidents that you experienced are what life can throw your way and being able to weather them in a calm and collected manner as you have will be invaluable in your life ahead. I am proud of you. Of course you can always call me if you ever need any advice or help. Anxiously awaiting your next interesting entry.

  2. It’s always nice to hear a bed bug story with a good ending .. for the person of course, not the bugs ;) Glad to know that there are organisations like DIS, which help foreign students quickly deal with pest problems.

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