362. The Spanish Steps

IMG_6350 (480x640)I took a very lovely stroll after dinner (Pizza, of course) to the famed Spanish Steps. Having only a couple of nights in Rome, I had been doing laps of the city on one of the tourist buses, so it was really nice to be able to go for a walk. In the peak of summer (it had gotten to about 35 degrees in the afternoon), it was about 10 or 11pm by the time I was comfortable with a big walk through the city! It also took about that long before I could handle a warm meal, let alone before the restaurants of the Mediterranean were serving dinner!IMG_6346 (480x640)

Walking through town I decided that if anyone plans to do any walking whatsoever through Rome, they shouldn’t bother going out of their way to find a particular fountain, because they are just everywhere. I also really enjoyed the mix of ruins, glorious churches, fountains, and more modern buildings all over the show. IMG_6351 (640x480)

The Spanish steps were quite the magical experience. Even though by that stage my dislike of anywhere thronging with tourists was really massive, I didn’t really mind all the people around. Most were just sitting on the steps, drinking some wine, chatting away, and there were all kinds of Spanish guitar playing buskers making for a very romantic atmostphere, not to mention the beautiful lights.

Apparently they are the biggest flight of steps in Europe, but at 138 stairs I think maybe it is meant to be the widest.

This was occasion number two where someone almost violently grabbed my arm and demanded I take a photo of them (no need for pleasantries, apparently). I don’t know what it is about me but I guess I must have looked like the opposite of whatever tourists in Rome think a thief looks like, as it happened many more times and each time I was just as surprised at how rude people could be when asking for a favour. Or perhaps I was just more annoyed because I had such a short amount of time to get to all the places I wanted to go and I was always in a hurry. It wasn’t until the third time it happened that I decided I would just zoom right in on their eye, or miss the attraction behind, hand them back their camera and walk away before they had a chance to look at the photo. Serves you bloody right for being a rude bastard!IMG_6345 (640x480)

119. Hunting down Santa

The first sign we were getting close to finding Santa was the photo of him above, seen on the wall of the Mack’s Brewery. Obviously he had been drinking there very recently. Makes sense, being the closest brewery to the North Pole and all.

Later on, I spotted what clearly must be where he gets his groceries and homewares and thought maybe I could bump into him there.

I ran into one of his reindeer. I couldn’t work out which one, but it wasn’t Rudolf. He was no help though.

I swung by his house, but he wasn’t home.

So then I thought maybe I’d catch him at Church

But alas. Despite all of the signs he had been there, I didn’t manage to find him anywhere. Rumour has it he holidays in Hawaii around this time of year.

113. See the Northern Lights

Seeing the Northern Lights was pretty much the only thing on my bucket list. Probably because it is so rare to be in a position to see them, and even then it isn’t a guarantee. As for the rest of the Bucket List? Well that seems to be a constantly growing list of things I say “sure, why the heck not?” to.

When I got a Scandinavia Eurail Pass, I thought maybe I could use some of the days on it to venture somewhere north and see the lights. As it turns out, Northern Finland, Tromsø in Norway and Iceland are the best places to see them. I picked Tromsø, and naively thought I could take the train there from Oslo. As it turns out, the train ride is like 28 hours or something ridiculous. Plan B: Norwegian Air. By that stage I was obsessed enough with the idea of seeing the Northern Lights to start seriously stretching my budget.

As it turns out, Norwegians treat domestic flights just the same as international ones, and airport security stole all my liquids, including expensive cosmetics and drinks that we’d bought for the weekend. Bastards.

More challenges to the Northern Lights adventure included discovering that you don’t just wait until nightfall and look up (much to my surprise). You generally have to join some sort of overpriced commercial tour and get out of the city. The one we picked was about $150, to jump in a minivan and “chase” the Northern Lights (coincidentally, it was called the “Chase the Northern Lights Tour”) there was hot chocolate and cake though, which was a slight comfort. The driver takes you to places where the sky is clear and sightings have been reported, which gives the highest chance of seeing the lights.

It is a real gamble whether or not you will see them, especially when there is flight booking involved. Joanna Lumley apparently spent 2 weeks in northern Norway trapsing around trying to see the lights and came up with nothing. In order to boost our chances we went for the whole weekend, giving two possible nights to see them.

By the time I arrived in Tromsø, after 5 days of seeing the weather forecast get steadily worse as it got closer to our arrival, I was resigned to the fact that we probably weren’t going to see them, but hey, at least we tried. I was also insanely jealous of my friends who had gone a few weeks earlier and have THE most amazing photos, as though they are photoshopped. Its like they put their faces on a postcard. We had actually considered that same weekend, but there was a full moon and we were attempting to make a scientific guess as to when we would best see the lights, so picked one a few weeks later. As it turns out there was a massive solar storm on that original weekend. Murphey’s Law.

On the tour we drove almost all the way to the Finnish border and as it turned out, we did get to see a faint snippet of Northern Lights activity afterall, and I was most proud of my bear-grylls photography skills, fashioning a tri-pod out of a rock and a tea cup, and fiddling with the settings on my $90 camera. It’s still a terrible photo, but they told my I’d never get anything on my little plastic Canon! Take that, cynics.

Also, the lights don’t actually look green in real life. More of a pale white-ish glow. Those postcards are very misleading! The giveaway is in the overexposed colours of everything else and the pale blue sky.

My friend Ryan had a much more fancy camera, and here are the photos he managed to take:

And finally – “stop taking photos of me you wierdo!” – I was clearly way too excited by the whole thing. We may have also been the only people on the tour to take beers along. I thought it was a brilliant idea, given the huge amount of standing around in the cold waiting for things to happen.

109. Tromsø

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Tromsø, a set on Flickr.

Tromsø is about as far north/close to the north pole as one can reasonably get, short of chartering planes and other such expensive activities. The aim of the game was to see the Northern LIghts, which was pretty much the only thing on my bucket list. As it turns out, seeing the northern lights is quite the gamble. You can see from the photos that the weather changed very quickly in the two days I was there. My friend Ryan who accompanied me explained something all scientifical about wind currents and weather phenomena that make Tromsø so liveable despite being so far north but I forgot the details…

Tromsø actually reminded me a great deal of Queenstown in New Zealand – beautiful views, a picturesque wee town, that whole ski-bum feel (although there were only a few cross-country ski routes around, not actual mountains) and absolutely exorbitant prices – the Tromsø economy is probably also designed to rip tourists off. As if Norway wasn’t expensive enough already! A great money saving tip though is to stay in the cabins at the campground. So much cheaper, and accomodation is per cabin, so the more friends you have, the better. It was essentially the same as a hostel, apart from a short walk through the snow to the bathrooms.

Two days really was a long time in Tromsø. We managed to tick off every reasonably priced tourist attraction, and then got to the silly stage, which involved tree climbing and pretending I was Rose on the bow of the Titanic. There were some very cool looking “tours” that included things like staying in a Sami tent and going dog sledding, ice fishing or eski riding in the snow, but just getting to Tromsø was stretching my budget enough. If you have the money, there are some very cool experiences you can have there. Otherwise, it was a great little town to check out.

86. Walking on a Frozen Lake

You might call this one cheating, as I already tried out the whole walk-on-water thing at Uni, but back then all I really did was stand on the edge because I didn’t want to be all wet in class.

Well, in Helsinki, I decided to step things up a notch. As I wandered out to the Olympic Stadium (seems to be a massive deal there) there was a gigantic and fairly solid looking frozen lake. Even though I saw people walking dogs across it, I wouldn’t have considered a short cut across it unless I knew the ice was really thick. However, when I saw a little old lady dragging one of those wheely shopping carts across I decided to break from my “assume nothing” travel rule and give it a crack.

You’ll be happy to know I succeeded, and made it to the middle of the lake with great excitement! It actually got old really fast though, as it was super slippery and I really missed the handy grip provided by the pavement.

Made for some cool panorama shots though!

53. Aarhus Waterfront

Taking my newly acquired Chihuahua (sadly I only get him for a week) for a walk was an ideal opportunity to explore the Aarhus Waterfront. And it was lucky he was there as I may not have been dragged along to discover what is possibly one of the best road signs I have ever seen:

Particularly hilarious as I don’t think it would have been possible for a car to get to the spot where I found this gem.

Due to the impromptu nature of my exploration I again only had my phone with me so the photos don’t quite sum up the beauty of the harbour.  Further more I think my appreciation was largely due to the fact there had been a snowstorm less than 24 hours beforehand, and suddenly the sun was beaming. Nonetheless, here are a few snappy’s of the harbour.  I was particularly enamoured with the old style boats, but don’t be mislead into thinking they are the only type of boats in use in Denmark! They did have modern ones with real engines, but they weren’t nearly as picturesque.

 

43. Build a snowman in Sweden

What better place to build my first snowman? unfortunately the timing was more the issue. After Team Trans-Tasman put in an excellent performance at the Free Bar, we weren’t feeling too flash the next day. No hangover would be too big to prevent us from a day trip to Malmo, Sweden though.

Malmo is a 35 minute train ride from Copenhagen central station, and a day-trip definitely worth doing. It cost about 85DKK, which is around $15 each way and was an absolutely beautiful town. There was some lovely art work and sculptures around the city, and of course beautiful, old, wonky Scandinavian buildings.

Something’s not right in this sculpture…

The Malmo central station is really pretty, and all of the top sites are within walking distance. Plan A was to use my nifty smart phone for a bit of a walking guide, but the swift realisation that different countries = different network providers foiled that. Luckily the information centre was just to the left of the station and the handy guide drew us a little walking tour and pointed out the best sites.

She looks cold…

Given the previous night’s shenanigans, refreshments were high on the to do list. The next hurdle was my lack of access to the xe.com app. Silly me, forgetting to check the exchange rate! I had no idea if 1 Krone is worth more in Denmark or if the price of a coke at Sweden’s 7/11 was ridiculously high (turns out it was a combination of both). I spotted another H&M store (hard to miss, just look for the giant posters of David Beckham’s Bollocks) and figured that would  be a great way to estimate the exchange rate – the Danish store has prices in multiple currencies. Sadly in Sweden they only list SEK on the price tags. How rude. I did, however, discover that they must have different ranges in different countries. I resisted the urge to buy more clothes and went back out in to the snow.

Am I the only one that wonders about building safety regulations in Scandinavia..?

It was a tad more windy than I was used to in Denmark/Copenhagen and I almost wished I had my snow goggles on me. I was being absolutely blasted in the face with snow. On the upside, Malmo is known for its parks, so I felt it was a perfect opportunity to tick a crucial item off the bucket list: Build a snowman.

Snow in my FACE

After observing some children make one (it wasn’t creepy, I swear), we quickly worked out the technique – make a little ball of snow and then roll it along until it becomes a big ball! Don’t ask me the physics of it all but the snow on the ground seems to stick to the ball like velcro. Perfect. What we didn’t anticipate was just how laborious making a decent snow man actually is. So as much as I would like to claim the above pictured snow man was ours, it was in fact made by children and ours was more like this:

He was hungover too.

Once we finally had 3 odd shaped lumps of decreasing sizes stuck on top of each other with a bit of dirt/leaves to make a face, we decided it was time to throw them at eachother. Much more fun than manual labour!

Some more snaps from Malmo:

Cutest phone box ever.

I had assumed that this was the Castle in the middle of the park, but in fact it was actually the Casino

17. The Bus Stop Warm Up Dance

Also known as uploading my first ever youtube video!

For the last 5 days it has been incredibly cold in Aarhus. It snowed on Friday for the first time this year, and picked up a little more on Saturday. Since then it hasn’t snowed much more at all, but it is cold enough that all of the snow is still on the ground.

The other morning I woke up to see a whole bunch of toddlers (from the local pre-school I think) all rugged up in their bright coloured snow-suit onesies sliding down the snow-y hill on rubbish bags. They were like little brightly coloured marshmallows all over the hill outside my window! A most hilarious sight.

Obviously the Danes have been aware of their weather patterns for some time now, so most places you go are heated to an appropriate temperature and the only time the cold has ever been an issue is when standing still at the bus stop. And so came about the Bus Stop Warm Up Dance. Everyone had been laughing at a girl from Finland and I for doing ‘The Penguin’ to keep warm (I learned it at Outdoor Persuits so it must be legit) where you keep your arms straight by your side, hands out like a penguin and shrug your shoulders up and down. Fastest way to warm up your fingers! After a few wines to spur on our creativity, we decided to take it one step further and make up a little dance. Worked a treat! Though to be fair it didn’t make us look any less silly.

10. Live in a warm student flat

This one is definitely new. Never in my time in Dunedin would I have lived in a flat characterised a s warm!

My residence is an interesting concept – it is similar to a Hall of Residence in NZ Universities, except that you have a setup more like a house – big shared kitchen and lounge, yet each room is leased out individually. Heating, internet etc are all included in rent so the heaters are always on.The ‘flats’ which is not the proper term over here – I have yet to work out how they describe them – are all in big blocks of 5 or 10 next to eachother in what looks like a giant collection of concrete communist cell blocks.

Skjoldhøjkollegiet

I later learned from a Danish student who has a friend who works as a cleaner here, that it was apparently built during the cold war as student housing, but also intended as a backup should they suddenly need to fight the communists. The most fascinating part is that there are apparently miles and miles of tunnels under the buildings that were meant to be filled with ammunition supplies. The authorities, however, decided that perhaps that wasn’t a good idea when they realised that 70% of their students were actually communists themselves and would probably bat for the opposition.

The name of the place is “Skjoldhøjkollegiet” which translates to Shield Hill (the area) College. It took a few days to work out how to pronounce it! When all the exchange students were meeting and greeting everyone would ask where eachother were staying (largely in an attempt to find out who was at the same college as you) and each person would sheepishly grin as they attempted to pronounce their accomodation, knowing full well they were way off. Eventually I worked out it is pronounced Skoll – le – hoi – koll – ee – gee – it.

Entrance sign/map

The college is like a student village – there is a small supermarket, bar, gym and a number of clubs/associations. There was even a magazine at one point but apparently it has fallen by the wayside. One of the major bus routes ends there, but a lot of people have bikes. It is about 5kms from the University campus so transport is pretty necessary.

My bedroom is a pretty decent size – could easily fit a double bed or other furniture in there, and I have my own bathroom (that feels a bit like a hospital bathroom). The shower consists of a loose/moveable showerhead that hangs on a hook next to the sink, and when you use it it has to be hung on the wall. I have to keep remembering to put the toilet seat down when I shower as there is no curtain and it points straight at the toilet.

My bedroom for the next 5 months

Toilet and shower facilities

Lounge/Dining table

Ping pong table

Kitchen

There are 847 bedrooms between all of the flats, and each flat has 12 bedrooms. The lounge area is really big, and in my flat there is a makeshift bar, a table tennis table, a decent amount of couches around a TV and a massive long table. In the kitchen I have half of a mini fridge (there are six of them) and lockable cupboard space.

People come and go all the time according to when the University places them, so it it seems a lot of the furniture and decorations have been accumulated over years. Some of the other international students have foosball tables and pool tables in their flats! In one of them there was a very cool ‘decoration’ on the wall, making use of a supermarket trolley.

Awesome “decorations” in one of the flats. Apparently it has been there since the 70s