letting the days go by.

30 March 2008

back from outer space. also known as scandinavia.

On my last night in Oslo, when I was completely beat from the whirlwind tour of 5 countries in 2 weeks, I was sitting in the hostel reading and chatting with my two British roommates, a blond bloke named Jack and his Italian compatriot Vince who had just eaten whale steaks and were prepping for a night on the town, and Jack, after demonstrating his girly scarf with a catwalk across the room and approving of my massive Oasis catalogue (the first time that has ever happened) on my iPod, asked me what my favorite part of my Grand European tour had been. And I had no idea what the answer was, nor do I have any idea how to go about writing about it, so bear with me if this post rambles the way I rambled from Austria to the Czech Republic, across Germany to the Netherlands, up to Copenhagen, Stockholm, and finally Oslo. Also, there's a veritable bonanza of photos on Facebook, so have a look at those if you have time to sift through three entire albums.

I set off from Vienna in the afternoon, and by dawn we were back in the sick NYU dormitory, watching the sun rise over Prague from the roof-top terrace they have, more than adequate for soul-searching cigarette breaks. Johanna met me at the station, thank God, because Prague is dirty and full of bizarre Czechs, only out-bizarred by their language, which has absolutely no vowels, as far as I can tell. Prague itself is lovely and the club scene is far more jumping than Vienna - there's a scene in Lost in Translation where the two go out to a club and end up at a karaoke joint, and that was pretty much me, wearing Johanna's jewelry and Jamie's shirt, chain-smoking and beer-chugging. 4 a.m. stop-over for fried cheese sandwiches and then I collapsed on someone else's bunk bed - a rollicking way to start the whole mad adventure. We took the next night in, watching a movie and drinking fine wine, after spending the day marauding around the city and seeing the necessary sights: the Charles Bridge, the Lennon Wall, that big two-towered church and the busy Easter festival set up in the square. Much of the stay was based on being around people as much as possible, having conversations with Johanna that resembled the streets themselves - twisty and with no clear direction - because I'm going back to Prague with the Central Abroad group in something like two weeks, and I can't wait.

After a Kafka-esque scramble through the city to get me on my train to Amsterdam via taxi, the maddening train system (I mean, there's something to be said for Austrian Efficiency when it comes to public transportaion), and lots of wandering, which inevitably failed, I ended up on a train bound for Frankfurt. I swear, if I never see Frankfurt until my flight out of there in July, I'll be thrilled. Before that, though, it was 5 in the morning, I was on a train station in Fulda, Germany, fairly happy because I can at least understand Deutsch, and the sleepy German passengers were being booted off the train for reasons my groggy mind couldn't grasp, so there I was, the lone American, sitting on my backpack with 100 other Germans waiting for the final train to godforsaken Frankfurt. That's something like 5 trains in less then 12 hours, but finally, finally, it was Amsterdam.

Of course I smoked weed in Amsterdam, and I'm sorry to report, I absolutely cannot enjoy the sticky-icky, the dro, the ganja, the mary jane - but the whole escapade was completely worth it, just to walk into a coffeeshop (appropriately called Amnesia), go up to counter and say, "I'd like to buy some weed please." Of course, the answer to this should be "WELL CERTAINLY HERE YOU ARE" and not what the woman actually said: "Would you like to get high or stoned?" "HIGH!" I blurted, and then I was the owner of half a gram of premium weed. So then a kind local rolled us a joint and there we were - 2 puffs in, though, I felt my heartrate triple and my thoughts go into hyperdrive and I was frantically nodding my head to the ridiculous music and we went and got pancakes afterwards, after giving the remaining stuff to some old American biker dude sitting behind us, who laughed and said that he'd been in the same situation himself. Zoso, though, has never sounded so good.

Had a much better night when we went out bar-hunting after a day ambling beside the canals and dodging bicycles. Heard some incredibly legit blues coming from an unmarked door and dove inside - these incredible Dutch dudes, wailing away on guitars and fiddles, singing about their women and their dogs and all the ache they were in, and then they'd start bantering in Dutch. Alabama in Amsterdam, and plenty of beer to wash it down with. We ran around Madame Tussaud's wax museum, posing with all the mannequins, went to the Van Gogh museum (featuring many things from Vincent's own trash can, including a probably priceless doodle of a shovel), and got hailed on a lot. Which was annoying, but Amsterdam is beyond gorgeous, the Netherlands is still the coolest country name in the universe, and I'm going to retire to a windmill surrounded by tulips.

Copenhagen was full of swans and rain and coldness - kind of a comedown after Amsterdam, really - plus, we were only there for a night due to these alleged terrorists who clearly wanted to kill us. We saw no such violence - a lot of parks and swans and more swans and Hans Christian Andersen basically leaping around every corner. Went in an old castle and saw the Danish crown jewels, most legit indeed. It was Easter weekend, though, so the city was fairly quiet in general. We ended up splurging on an Italian meal because we didn't understand the currency at all, and still don't - not nearly as good as all the pancakes we had in Amsterdam, or the fine Indian feast we treated ourselves to, complete with a bottle of shitty white wine, or the incredible brunch we had where they gave me an entire pot of coffee. But I was just glad for blue skies and blue seas and to finally be there, in Scandinavia. Just say "Scandinavia" a few times and you'll get the feeling.

A quick jaunt over the water and we were in Stockholm, where things got completely unpronounceable. Dutch just looks like German with more vowels, but Swedish is a class of its own - this was before Norway, which has all those lovely circles over its letters and lines through its O's. Accosted some old man for directions, checked into our hostel, and prepared to battle the cold - and man, it was cold. I bought some tights in Copenhagen which turned out to be mandatory for setting foot outside in Stockholm, and added a Swedish hat and some gloves THAT I STOLE from a tourist attraction (I was trying to do one ridiculous thing per country) to be as bundled as possible. We took a boat out to the archipelago, ate some delicious shrimp chowder (Karli, I understand your love of soup now), and coped with the Ice Bar being closed until May by getting giant beers at a better bar, anyway. Old Town Stockholm, aside from being rife with tourists (making it very easy to shoplift a pair of over-priced gloves), looked so much like Schwaebisch Hall - windy streets and narrow buildings. Again, due to the holiday, pretty much everything was closed, so we sought warmth in some churches, said "Sweeeeden" a lot, and were not at all surprised when the Swedish Royal Drum Corps performing outside of the palace burst into "Dancing Queen." It's Sweden, after all. Fruitless voyage to Ikea, which was fucking closed, and a feast at TGI Friday's because they apparently realized the city would be full of homesick tourists who would appreciate the free refills. I had 4 Pepsis, for the record.

Annie and I split ways and then I was off to Oslo - like Berlin, like Scandinavia, half of my infatuation with the place was based soley on the name itself. Oslo! I was supposed to press on towards Bergen, on the other side of Norway, where all those fjords are, but when I got off the train at Oslo, I realized, horribly and scarily, that I was alone in Norway, starving and light-headed, and sans cigarettes and a bed to sleep in that night. So I made some decisions, with the help of some cigarettes, and decided Bergen could wait (it was also snowing ala Hamilton last February), I was staying put in Olso. Which turned out just fine, in the end. Traveling alone, though, has its pros and cons. It was incredibly nice to feel only responsible for myself, to know if I was bored it was just me being bored, to take my time walking around and basically not plan anything in advance - but these are small consolations for the god-awful act of Dining Alone. I'd rather starve than sit in another restaurant by myself, eating a meal for one, talking to no one besides the waitress. There's nothing lonelier in the world than that. Fortunately, the Indian waiters were fairly chatty, the soup I had on my first night was mind-blowing (and hot, which was something I hadn't experienced in an entire week), and the last time I was on my way to the Philharmonic so I could've cared less. I did see the Oslo Philharmonic, which was fantastic, if only for the incredible parade of the elderly. Also saw The Scream, after chasing it down, and some Viking Ships, and a Stave Church.

But this might have been the best thing I experienced in my entire time there, if you're still reading (and I know this is longer than Proust right now). I took a boat out to these islands where all the famous museums were, and I was about to rush to get the boat back to the mainland when I saw a little stretch of coast - probably no more than 30 feet of rocks. But I sat there and missed the boat entirely, digging for shells and sitting in the sun and jumping back when the tide started rushing in. That may have been my favorite part of the whole nutty voyage - just sitting quietly in Norway with the water, not thinking anything in particular, looking for the best shells.

So there it is. The epic tale of Rachel's Spring Break, the Scandinavian Tour. Now I'm off to call the fam-o-rama from a phone booth.


roryetc said...

worth the wait. THANK YOU!!!

Karli said...

Oh my. I'm glad you've finally realized the joys of a good soup. Shrimp chowder...sounds delicious. Don't talk about Czech like that - I've got to learn that crazy-ass language next year. Have I told you yet how many times I'd have called you by now? It would definitely be in the thousands. I love you.