After Berlin, Steve and I took the bus to Munich, in the south of Germany. As we soon found out, Bavaria is very different from the rest of Germany. The culture, history, architecture, and lifestyle are all very different. One thing that we had not accounted for on Easter Vacation was Easter itself. When we arrived on Good Friday, almost all the stores were closed down. This meant that we had to eat at the only place still open; the food court in the train station. After not eating a lot for the past few days, the food there was phenomenal. We made sure to buy food at the grocery store that Saturday so that we would not have same problem on Sunday.
After spending a few days in Stockholm, Steve and I flew to Berlin. This was an experience that I had been looking forward to. Everything I had heard about Berlin was great; cheap food, cheap entertainment, cheap hostels, lots of things to do. The city did not disappoint. After arriving from Stockholm, we became lost on the train station to our hostel. Luckily, many of the local Germans were very kind and helped us find our way. The next day, we began to explore the city. The best thing I saw was the German historical museum. This covered the history of Germany from the historic times to the present day. To see everything would take more than an entire day. All of the exhibits were incredibly interesting and had a lot of artifacts. What struck me most was how non-biased the Germans are about their history. They openly discussed its pitfalls, Nazism, its history of imperialism and nationalistic aggression, and other uncomfortable topics. Not once did an exhibit attempt to gloss over a part of history, or attribute it to the morality of the time period. In fact, there were times when I felt that the exhibits were too hard on Germany and possibly biased against it. As a fan of history, this was amazing. Throughout Berlin, there are other weird museums that I passed on. This include the Museum for the History of Video Games and the Currywurst Museum, dedicated to all things currywurst-related. We then visited other must-see sights such as the Reichstag. After a while all big cities start to look the same, so we walked a lot to local parks and nature areas.
For Easter Break in the UK, students get 2 weeks off from class. English students use this opportunity to go home in visit their parents, but all of the study-abroad students knew that this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Most of the study-abroad students planned trips that I would call “typical”. Barcelona, Madrid, Florence, Rome, Brussels, Amsterdam, etc. My friend Steve, a student from Purdue who lives in my building, and I decided that we didn’t want to do a typical American trip in Europe. After all, when we’re old our wives would probably make us go to those locations, but this might be our only chance to go somewhere really cool and off the beaten path. So, it was decided; while all of our friends would be heading to sunny places, we would be heading to Stockholm.
I just got back from my two week spring break and I can’t believe how quickly it flew by! I won’t go into details about every single day because it would turn into a small novel, so I’m just going to discuss the highlights of my trip. I started my journey on Saturday, March 31, which feels like forever ago! After some difficulties and confusion, Suzanna and I managed to catch our plane from Malmo. Our first stop was Poland. Suzanna has family in Lodz, Poland where I stayed Saturday night. Her friends took us out and showed us around the city. Despite the snow and frigid weather, it was a great start to the travel break! In the morning, my friend Kenny and I took a train to Krakow. We arrived late Sunday night so we just found the apartment and went to sleep. The next morning we went to Auschwitz Concentration camp. While it was very interesting and eye-opening, it was such an emotionally draining experience, and I found it hard to look at some of the exhibits without crying. After touring Auschwitz with a guide, Kenny and I took a quick bus ride to Birkenau, which was massive and truly indescrible. By the day’s end I was completely exhausted and just wanted to go to sleep.
I just returned to St. Gallen from a two-week Easter break, where I traveled through several parts of France and then down to Rome.
I started my journey in Paris, which is a city that has been at the top of my list to see while studying abroad. Although I came in with very high expectations of the city, it exceeded all of them. It was absolutely beautiful, and there was so much to see and do. I was there for a little under a week and still did not get to do all of the things I had wanted to do there. I of course saw all of the traditional sights like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but I was also able to get to a few more hidden treasures, like the Catacombs and the Opera Garnier – the inspiration for Phantom of the Opera. As I had a long time there, I was also able to just wander through the streets, which was probably my favorite part of discovering Paris.
This past week the first year HEC students did not have classes so I had less classes than usual. While I usually try and go into Paris once a week, I was able to go in multiple times at different times of the day because of my schedule. On Monday, I met up with some UVA friends for lunch at a place that makes French tapas. It sort of reminds me of a tiny version of Mas in Charlottesville! We then went on a hunt for a Longchamp bag that I was trying to get for my sister. For some reason every store we went to that sold Longchamp was out of the specific color and size I was looking for. I went to four stores, each telling me that the next store would have it! I eventually did find the bag several days later at a store I didn’t even know carried the brand. We also sat in the Luxembourg Gardens for a little bit as the weather was very nice that day.
I met my Mom for the first week of spring break in London. After a few days in the city, we traveled to Bath to experience the British countryside. Yesterday we took a bus tour with a small group, and while we expected to see Stonehenge, we learned much more about the ancient history of Britain.
Our first destination was Stonehenge. While it was an iconic experience, there is still so much mystery about the monument’s purpose and significance that the only factual aspect we learned about was the stones themselves. The bluestones had to have been transported across the rolling hills all the way from the Italian mountains, not even an easy feat in modern day transportation.
One of the things about Barcelona that I am beginning to appreciate more and more is the strong Catalan influence. Initially, Catlan’s pervasiveness startled me. Although both Spanish and Catalan are official languages of Catalunya, most store fronts, official documents, and even public schools rely on the regional dialect. It just did not make sense for a province to speak a different language than the rest of the country. However, that was before I learned more about the area’s history and the population’s testy relationship with Madrid. It was hard for me to understand at first, since the area’s history extends back to the last Ice Age. Seeing as the textbooks we read in elementary school generally started in 1492, it can be tough for Americans to think of a population with such a long time span in mind.
Spain is known for many things, among them world-class food, a lively and passionate populace, and an engrossing history. This past weekend I was able to experience at least two of these on a trip to the small, ancient town of Girona. Located in the north of the nationality of Catalunya, about an hour’s bus-ride north of Barcelona, Girona is a beautiful town with a rich cultural history. The span of the region’s history is astounding, with evidence of human presence dating back as far as one million years. The town of Girona itself has its roots in Roman times, and throughout the years has experienced no less than 25 sieges and changed rulers 7 times.
Two weeks ago I went on study tour to Western Denmark. I like that it was differentiated frequently as Western Denmark, because Copenhagen is about as far to the east as one can be in Denmark before swimming. The historical sites were visited were significant but not ostentatious. One, the Jelling stones had just received a UNESCO world heritage acceptance and was scheduled to expand its museum due to funding increases. There we learned the history of Gorm the Old and Harold Bluetooth. Yes, the same Bluetooth for which the wireless technology is named. As it happens, the inspirational carving for the wireless devices was a depiction of Jesus. The carving was commissioned by Harold Bluetooth to proclaim that the Danes were now Christian. This he had done in response to implied military threat from the kingdom of Prussia which had recently killed the royal family of another non-Christian nation. Denmark actually derives its name from Jelling. Translated literally it means ‘field of the Danes’ and was the place where Gorm made his home after convincing the other chiefs that he was in charge.
We also visited Nyborg slot (castle), and it was very cold. Normally closed in the winter, for good reason, we were given a special tour by the museum director. The Nyborg slot is hoping to gain UNESCO acceptance as a heritage site in the near future. The castle itself was one of many in the area that provided a strategic fortification around critical trade areas. It was the royal palace for a long period, but fell into disrepair when the monarchy left.
The academic visits on the study tour presented some interesting information. At Novozyme we were shown a graphical comparison of fossil fuel reserves compared to agricultural production potential. While most will know that OPEC dominates the fossil reserves (with some outlying supply in other nations), it was surprising to learn that the U.S. has dominance over agricultural production. Of course, this was in line with the business model at Novozyme where they develop enzymes that enable bio based products to mimic those of petroleum base. In light of this information it has been interesting to compare the energy policy of the EU with that of the States. Here they are pushing quite hard for renewable energy development as a security issue. Security used in a broad sense, both in terms of physical threat from disaster or terrorist action and economically from the cost of inputs from foreign nations. The EU has a large dependency on imported natural gas, most of which comes from Russia. So, the development of local and renewable energy systems gives a measure of economic and political independence from fossil fuel suppliers in addition to reducing green house gasses.
The topic of global warming, or climate change, is an interesting one here. In Virginia the Attorney General was or is in the process of aggressively attempting to prove some research that showed climate change correlation to be faulty. In Denmark, it is a known fact that humans are having an effect on the climate and the questions are ‘how much effect?’ and ‘what will it cost to change?’. Dong energy, a large Danish firm, though small by EU standards, has already purchased 500 3.6 megawatt wind turbines and has completed the largest windfarm in the world off the coast of Cumbria. A speaker from Dong informed our class that they are commissioning Siemens to produce some prototype 6 megawatt turbines in anticipation of future growth. Part of the renewable energy systems class has been devoted to understanding the myths behind wind power. For instance, many of the towers are not loud at all. During a visit to see some turbines on a windy day, the only kind during which they would make noise, it was impossible to hear them beyond 100 meters, and quite difficult even then. The other most common myth, about bird death, we were given statistics on. In Denmark approximately 30,000 birds are killed annually by windmills, in comparison to 5.5 million by cats. I quite love cats and hope that no legislation is passed against them, in Denmark or at home as I am quite certain my cats have been eating the neighbor’s birds.
On a more personal note, shopping has been an adventure. I’m realizing that not being able to read, or at least read very well, has been subtly defining my shopping patterns: find a familiar place with familiar things and only go there. Today I forced myself to branch out and head to the somewhat larger grocery store. I wasn’t able to find everything I needed. I’m not sure if this was because of an arbitrary time constraint or if they weren’t actually there. Maybe I just missed them. Either way coping with a language barrier has made me realize how it forces one away from integration into society. Denmark has reported issues with integrating immigrants into its culture, maybe it’s because it is difficult to gain functional proficiency with the language.