The reindeer and the quiche

Having experienced Oslo, Copenhagen, and now some of Stockholm, I have been able to start comparing them. After exploring Stockholm, I felt the European influence of Copenhagen and the importance of tradition like Norway. And our dinner tonight was a good example of this–reindeer with an appetizer of quiche.

The reindeer reminded me of the importance of tradition I felt in Norway. Oslo was calm, quiet, and rich in their history, family, and nature. Our activities included fantastic museums of vikings, world-famous cross country ski jumps, and a home-cooked meal of reindeer. Stockholm so far has shared this importance in history and tight community that I think was demanded by the harsh winters of northern Scandinavia. Coincidentally, we had traditional reindeer in both countries, learned about their naval pasts, and the Nobel prizes they commonly share.

In contrast, the quiche reminded me of the excitement and international influence of Copenhagen. Denmark differed from Oslo both in diversity and atmosphere. Copenhagen was far less nature-focused and far more social with bars, restaurants, and stores from all over Europe. Where Oslo shut down from its relaxed days around 10, Copenhagen seemed to stay alive all night long. Stockholm shares this aspect  with Denmark–the connection with the rest of the European nations–at a capacity that Norway doesn’t.

Summing up my reindeer/quiche dinner analogy, Stockholm strikes a great balance in my opinion. It has the cool old buildings, lively atmosphere, and great food like Copenhagen paired with the northern traditions, rich history, and awesome museums like Oslo.

Stockholm (or some of it at least)

What little I have seen of Stockholm so far has been quite beautiful, especially Gamlastan, the old town. 

When walking around Gamlastan you can feel how old and storied it is. There are streets that haven’t been changed in hundreds of years. This contrasts greatly with the Stockholm across the water which gleams with the glass and steel indicative of modern society. 

Overall, I have found Stockholm to be an interesting blend of old and new.

Cultural Artifact: Who is Mr. Walker?

Down the street from our hotel in Stockholm stands a massive, four-paneled sculpture of a running man (cue Running Man song that has erupted all over social media). However, it’s difficult to determine in which direction this fellow is running, allowing to the various degrees of perspective offered by this piece of art.

The statue sits in a little park that has been overlooked in recent years, explained one local who passes the statue every day on her way to work. She describes it as much too modern for her tastes, especially as someone who lives in the Old City, Gamlastan, a small island south of downtown Stockholm that was once the power center dating back to the 14th century.

She sat with me to uncover some additional information about this towering sculpture. Of course, any information that she found was in Swedish, and she promptly translated for me.

Jan Håfström is a very famous Swedish artist who sought to add more color to the small park. In 2014, he placed the 7-meter, 2000kg statue entitled “Who is Mr. Walker?” It is based off the American comic series “The Phantom.”

However, Håfström changed the appearance of the Phantom to reflect the nature of the park. Unlike other parks throughout Stockholm that provide green spaces and a relaxing ambience, Norrmalm is grungy due to lack of maintenance in recent years. It’s loud, dirty, and busy.

Håfström saw this park as a microcosm of Stockholm. Rather than standing guard to fight off the evil, this hero flees the city. At what point would a hero cease protecting and escape into the unknown?

My friendly local and translator has a theory.

With the Syrian refugee crisis raging, many European countries were forced to accept hundred of thousands of desperate individuals, Sweden being one. Sweden accepted roughly 240,000 Syrian refugees, whereas the United States accepted an estimated 10,000. The United States’ capitalistic economy and infrastructure was able to provide for the refugees. Sweden, on the other hand, a country of 9 million people, found immense difficulty lending assistance to a quarter-of-a-million people with no means of income in a socialistic environment.

Swedish news outlets spoke of collapse; and to many, this idea rang true. Sweden’s infrastructure faced a hurdle it had never seen before, which continues to challenge the very nature of their society today.

I had the privilege of seeing this systemic collapse firsthand. Myself and another individual had fallen ill while on our trip. We awaited the arrival of a doctor to visit us at the hotel, but no one arrived. One option remained: a trip to the hospital.

The hospital looked deserted upon entry as it loomed in the night, almost phantom-like. It resembled any other hospital in the States, but the processes and protocols were far from the same. I won’t go into much detail as I value my privacy, as opposed to the Swedes.

The nurse (an American, thank god) asked me questions in the waiting room, questions that I’m used to appearing on colored forms. The nurse warned me ahead of time that they were understaffed that night, so it would take a while for results to come in and a doctor to visit with me. Of course, my symptoms were far from life threatening, so I understood the delay.

In the end, nothing was found wrong. I essentially went to the hospital for cold-like symptoms. Now, some of you may be hysterically laughing because this is precisely the opposite of the American health system, where there is now an ER around every corner.

In Sweden, this is quite commonplace. My friendly local explained to me that their high taxes allow for free healthcare, but at what cost? It took her three months to see a doctor for her back problems. Indeed, this circles back to the Syrian refugee crisis. The hospital may have been understaffed because the medicinal personnel were dealing with the larger, aforementioned issue.

Håfström has planted an idea. It’s our duty to uncover the meaning of his message and make the appropriate changes; otherwise, we may all end up like Mr. Walker, running from our problems.

Old Friend, New Place

Coming to Copenhagen, I had very few expectations. It was the city I had done the least research on, and I feel as though Denmark is rarely mentioned in the US- outside of its happiness rankings. However, my lack of preparation was compensated for upon arrival. Outside of the fantastic plans and info session coordinated by our trip leaders, I also was able to contact an old friend way back from elementary school who was currently studying abroad for the summer in Copenhagen. I reached out to him right when we arrived, and we were actually able to meet up later that night!

Sam had been in Copenhagen for the past two months taking classes at the local university, so he was pretty well versed in the Danish culture- a kind of understanding I feel you can really only achieve through living in a place for some time. Therefore it was really interesting hearing his perspective on the Danish people and their way of life. I bombarded him with questions for probably two hours, and I think I learned about a lot that I otherwise would have had no exposure to.

For instance, I really grilled him on the whole “happiest people in the world” deal. He commented that it’s probably true, but not in the way we would expect. People aren’t all smiling on the streets and skipping around, but they’re truly grateful for everything that they have going on around them. They have a general feeling of contentment about their lives that he felt really contrasted how we live in the US.

Outside of a great conversation, Sam was also able to send my way some awesome recommendations for what to do with our free time in Copenhagen. I really strive to skip the tourist traps and focus on local experiences when traveling, and he was able to help out a lot. One of my personal highlights from our time there was a suggestion of his, GoBoats. Basically, you and a few friends are able to rent a small boat to drive around and explore the harbor in a different, more relaxed way than we were able to on the huge canal boat tour. Here’s a pic from the GoBoat ft. Jacob – Snapchat-4157644463023688829

Copenhagen was a wonderful place, and I felt as though I was really able to immerse myself there by knowing someone local. It was a truly unbeatable way to learn about the city and its culture. I hope to one day be able to return!

 

 

Millenials


During our first full day in Sweden, we have wandered the halls of the Royal Palace, cruised around the city on a boat tour, and chowed down on reindeer. By far the most impactful part of my day was around that dinner table with some of the most intelligent people I have the opportunity to call my peers at TCU. We come from different walks of life with a vast array of experiences, and here we are connecting in Scandinavia. Conversation centered on respecting differences in opinion is such a privilege. It should not be so rare, but it is in the hostile world we live in today. 

We spent three hours engrossed in issues such as Black Lives Matter, marriage equality, transgender bathrooms, separation of church and state, nuclear energy, and corrupt charity. We did not always agree, but the floor was open to all to share their opinions. This all began when we were interrupted by protestors marching past our restaurant. Our whole group shushed so that we could find out what their cause was, and we soon discovered that they were with Black Lives Matter. There have actually been multiple protests of these type throughout Europe since recent events in the US. Often, the groups march to protest outside the US embassy, although I do not know if that was the end destination of this group. At the same time, it is currently pride week in Stockholm, so the city is covered in rainbow flags and there are different events planned. Both of these issues sparked a conversation about the progressiveness of millennials. Our generation has grown up in the midst of huge social changes. We have seen the plight of minority groups fighting for their rights since we can remember. Many of us have become passionate about causes of our own, either for justice for ourselves or people that we feel particularly passionate for. This combined with our college educations tends to provide the stimulus to push our generation towards having more “liberal” social views. Despite that, all of us still have variation in perspectives depending on the region and background we came from.

It was fascinating to hear the opinions of my peers and to compare their views to my own based on our experiences. It truly is a wonderful privilege to be amongst a cohort of well-rounded, respectful, and driven young men and women and to get to be challenged by their questions around a delicious meal in a beautiful place. It could not get better than moments like this.

Norwegian Fiddles

When we were asked to find a cultural artifact that we connected with, it was easy for me to decide what to look for: some type of traditional musical instrument. After spending a bit of time in each city, I’ve decided on this type of violin from the Norwegian Folk Museum.imageIt is called the Hardingfele, or Hardanger fiddle. It is similar to the violin in terms of how it is played and the general shape/construction, but there are a few key differences. This instrument has significantly more decoration than a typical violin. The typical violin also has the scroll on top (the part on the end that looks like a swirl) while the Hardanger fiddle usually has some animal carved into the head of the instrument, like a dragon or a lion. It also has more strings than a typical violin. You still only play on four strings, but this instrument also has several strings under the strings that are played, and these strings resonate in response to the main four.

Obviously, being a music major, I will choose a musical instrument as my artifact, but I chose this one in particular because it was probably the strangest instrument that I have seen on this trip, and I knew the least about it out of those that I have seen. I found it very interesting, especially when the girl in the photo played it during the demonstration at the museum. It was used for dances, and you could tell it took a large amount of skill to even be able to play simple dance music. I knew going into this trip that I wanted to see instruments, but I was not expecting anything like this strange instrument.

Round 2:Copenhagen 

Copenhagen was a very diverse city that was ripe for exploration. I loved going on a boat tour around the city and particularly enjoyed seeing the opera house that towered over the water and had hosted a professional cliff jumping competition. Across the bridge from our hotel an area called Christiania, marked by a spiral church tower, was of particular interest to me. The area was known for selling marijuana which is illegal in Denamark but was tolerated on the specific island. I found this very interesting because my home state Washjngton allows the selling and purchasing of marijuana but federal law prohibits this behavior for the general country. This odd, mixed-signal style of law is very interesting to me because it seems that there is a shift in developed countries towards marijuana consumption. I can’t help but think that mixed policy will often gravitate to no policy or lax enforcement in general. Besides this experience I had the low of washing my laundry and purchasing copious amounts of chocolate from the local grocer on the way. Copenhagen was a blast and I cannot wait for Stockholm!