Monthly Archives: November 2012

A weekend in Copenhagen

One of my favourite parts of my trip earlier this year was making friends from all over the world. As a result one of my least favourite parts was having to say goodbye to them.

When I told Eva and Kristine, two girls I travelled with for 2 weeks in South East Asia, that I would be visiting them in Denmark some time, I don’t think they believed it would actually happen. But a couple of months later I was booking my flight to Denmark for the weekend and taking them up on their kind offer of free accommodation. Although I would have been happy to go alone, I was even happier when one of my best friends Amy (who had met the girls briefly in Bangkok) decided to come with me.

So Amy and I were up at 5.30am on a Saturday morning, eager to spend as long as possible exploring Copenhagen. Boarding the flight I felt that familiar feeling of excitement and intrigue that I had left back in Melbourne earlier in the year. One thing I love Amy for is her enthusiasm for the smallest of things, making her a brilliant travel partner. The first of these was the fact that we could sit at the front of the train from the airport to the city centre. She was excited about having such a clear view of the sights, which actually turned out to be the inside of a tunnel and a train track. She may have wasted her energy on that one!

Stepping out of the metro, the first thing I noticed about Copenhagen was the extreme number of cyclists and bikes parked at the side of the street.

A place to park your bike – how would you find it?!

There are wide cycling lanes everywhere, making it very easy, healthy and cheap to use this method of transportation. There are barely any cars around compared to the UK and it was surreal to walk around a capital city where the traffic was so dense. I loved it.

Cycling lanes in the city centre

Copenhagen is considered one of the world’s most environmentally friendly cities and 36% of all citizens commute to work by bicycle. I wish that the UK were equipped to deal with cycling so well. The fact that the metro was quite difficult to navigate (one downside of the city) made it even more logical to own a bike.

The girls met us at the station (with their bikes, obviously!) and led us back to an apartment which Eva’s aunt had kindly let us borrow for the weekend. The apartment in itself was a work of art and Amy and I just could not believe our luck! It was right in the centre of town and decorated with fairy lights and quirky items – the kind of place I would like to own one day.

The street our apartment was on

The living room of our apartment for the weekend

On our first day of sightseeing the girls took us through the centre, to the harbour and around the castle.

A sunny day in Copenhagen

We were amazed to see that all the outdoor seating had individual blankets. It’s a testament to how trusting the Danish are compared to the British. Unfortunately in Britain there’s no doubt they would get stolen! Even some of the bikes were leaning against the wall with no lock, and the window of our apartment was constantly left open for the cats to come and go. Although it was pretty cold at this stage, we just had to get a hot chocolate at the side of the harbour in New Haven where pretty boats lined the dock. That’s where the free blankets came in handy!

Sitting at a cute bar by the harbour

Pretty lights over the river

Copenhagen opera house

Unfortunately, one of Copenhagen’s top attractions – Tivoli Gardens, were shut at the time we were there. Another disappointing part of our trip was that a lot of the city was under construction which really obscured what I’m sure would have been a far more impressive landscape. However, this didn’t detract from the view from my personal favourite experience of the weekend on our second day – climbing the twisted tower of Vor Fresler Kirke Church.

The twisted tower

On Eva’s recommendation we had avoided the much visited Round Tower in the centre of Copenhagen in favour of better views at the church. I’m sure it was the right choice as I can’t imagine views of the city better than this.

Chilling at the top of the tower

Sunset over Copenhagen

The bridge to Sweden. I couldn’t help but notice how flat the surrounding areas were. No hills in sight!

I wouldn’t recommend climbing this tower if you are claustraphobic, scared of heights or extremely unfit. The climb involves a lot of rickety stairs and a very narrow spiral of them to the top.

Narrow stairs

The girls also introduced us to a chain of juice bars called ‘Joe and the juice‘. Now this is something I really wish we had more of in the UK (apparently there is one in Soho in London) as they are well known for only hiring good looking men who are basically hired to flirt with you! Obviously they have been heavily criticized for this but personally I don’t see the problem. It’s been happening with women for years (Hooters for example) and Abercrombie and Fitch manage to get away with it. The men must be okay with being objectified or they wouldn’t work there, although I do wonder what type of man would have an ego so big as to go for the interview in the first place! Every time we walked past a store we couldn’t resist a quick glance at the waiters and I can confirm that the rumours are true!

Joe and the Juice

Another notable highlight was visiting Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 residents regularly referred to as ‘The Freetown’.

An awful photo of Amy and I at the entrance to Christiania

It began as a small military squat in the 70’s and grew when inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood broke down the fence to take over parts of the unused area as a playground for their children. Some claim this happened as a protest against the Danish government at the time there was a lack of affordable housing in Copenhagen. It’s basically a small hippy village where they sell cannabis freely. The residents pay no taxes, have created their own laws and keep themselves separate from the rest of Copenhagen. Measures for normalising the legal status of the community have led to conflicts, and negotiations are ongoing. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos beyond the boundaries, which was a real shame considering the masses of interesting graffiti, sculptures and artwork inside.

Leaving Christiania

We also visited Copenhagen’s botanical gardens which were beautiful on a bright Winter’s day.

Gardens

Because I refuse to grow up, I will be bringing the most awesome pants with me everywhere from now on – photo opportunities galore!

We even had time to spend a few unexpected hours in Sweden before our flight home on Monday. I did not expect to be visiting 2 new countries in 3 days but the 30 minute train ride to Malmo was just too tempting! We decided to skip a visit to Copenhagen’s famous little mermaid statue as I had heard from several people that it was underwhelming. Since we were on a limited time schedule we deemed it not worth a visit to somewhere that was time consuming to reach.

Eva and Kristine really made our visit to Copenhagen. They acted as our own personal guides and gave us intelligent insights into the city and their way of life in Denmark – something we never would have benefited from if we had been alone. It was so easy to be able to follow them around and not waste time map reading and getting lost. The full Danish breakfast they made for us on the Sunday morning didn’t hurt either! I really rate staying with residents of the place you’re visiting and it’s something I hope to do more of in the future. Of course I would also really like to return the favour and have them visit me. It’s lovely to hear about Britain from their point of view. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that British men aren’t all they’re cracked up to be – at least from my experience anyway!

Sunday night sushi with the girls

Copenhagen has repeatedly been recognized as one of the cities with the best quality of life, and from spending just two days there I can see why. I love exploring new places and this was no exception. I like to wander around, gather my bearings and really get a feel for the place. But I have to confess that a lot of my feelings about somewhere new are formed very quickly. There are some places that I just instinctively love without reason. Within an hour of landing at the airport I knew this was one of them, and I’d love to return one day.

Some of these photos were stolen from Eva (her DSLR beats my compact hands down – I definitely need a new camera!). All facts in this article were taken from wikipedia.

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The truth about solo travel

As someone who’s never been completely comfortable in her own company, I never imagined I would embark on a trip around the world on my own. It’s the best experience of my life, but the truth is that it was also one of the hardest.

It took me a long time to consider going alone. For years I wrote off the idea of travelling on the basis that I’d have no one to go with. Coordinating your time with someone else amongst both of your careers and responsibilities is not easy. But then I met someone who had travelled alone and was full of stories, and for the first time I considered the idea myself.

The problem is that when you’re planning something like this, you create a romantic vision in your head of what it will be like. You spend so long thinking about how great it will be that you don’t think about the potentially difficult times and how you might deal with them. The reality of what I was about to do only hit me about 2 weeks before I left. People would ask me how excited I was and I’d reply with what they were expecting to hear. But inside I was terrified I’d made a mistake, and I was faced with an overwhelming fear of what was ahead of me. I realised that the theory of booking something like this and the reality of going were two completely different things.

I’d never even been away for a weekend on my own. I struggled with moving to Birmingham (2 hours from my hometown) – how did I ever think I could cope with going around the world without any of my friends? I cursed myself for my poor decision-making and I was a nervous wreck saying goodbye to my mother at the airport. If someone had offered me a way out and all my money back at that moment, I would have taken it.

Then in my first few days I was faced with this. A flight cancellation, being stranded in Dubai for 24 hours, an extreme lack of sleep and missing the start of my Stray Asia tour.

plane

Finally boarding the plane in Birmingham 17 hours after my original flight. That was the only day of the year that flights were cancelled due to the snow.

Almost 40 hours after my original estimated time of arrival in Bangkok, and after getting very lost for two hours, I ended up at a bus station. I had missed the public bus my tour company had recommended to catch up with the group, no one around me spoke any English, my phone battery had died and I had no idea where to go next or what to do. Pair that with my lack of sleep over the past 4 nights and it was possibly one of the most stressful and overwhelming experiences of my life.

The bus station in Bangkok. Just looking at this picture makes me panic a bit!

I have to admit that there wasn’t one day in my first week where I didn’t cry. I had never felt homesickness like it. As soon as the sun would set I would literally feel sick with a longing to be home. It seemed so ridiculous. I could go days in Birmingham without seeing friends and be fine with it, but knowing I didn’t have the option to see them was completely different. I don’t see my mother very often when I’m in the UK but somehow within hours of being away I missed her. I’ve honestly never felt so lonely in my life.

I considered bringing my flight home forward and felt completely defeated. I wondered how I’d ever thought I would be strong enough and imagined it would never get any easier. I wrote a very honest account of my feelings in a blog and I couldn’t shake the feeling that some people would read it and think I was pathetic and ungrateful. I would tell those people to try solo travel themselves. Then come back to me and tell me they can’t relate to the way I was feeling. So many people have said to me that they’d love to travel alone, and I’m so lucky. It’s all well and good rambling on about how amazing it would be in theory, but how many people have actually got the guts to do it? Not many.

But guess what? I did find my way to my Stray Asia group in Sukhothai eventually. I realised that when I’m faced with a challenge like that, I rise to it. After a difficult first week, things slowly started to get better. I started to think about home less and less. I became more sociable, felt more relaxed and really started to enjoy the experience. I began to realise that all the lines people kept feeding me to make me feel better were actually true.

‘You will make so many friends – it’s easy when you’re travelling’

‘You won’t want to come home by the end of it’

‘It will be the best experience of your life’

Queenstown

Sharing a jump with a group of friends in Queenstown

I was so glad I hadn’t panicked and brought my flight forward (I would have missed out on a visit to my beloved New Zealand). It started to get better, then it got great, and then 3 and a-half months down the line I found myself at the airport in Melbourne, devastated to be going home. I’m a big believer in facing your fears and this was a big one. Although I’ve now done several extreme sports, I still credit the solo travelling experience as the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I hate to throw a cliché out there but it really is true – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. My struggle at the beginning only made the rest of the trip more satisfying, and I feel like I’m better equipped to deal with what life throws at me because of it.

Bondi beach

Enjoying my own company in Sydney (and discovering the beauty of the self timer)

Since I got back I’ve read several travel blogs and realised that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. It made me feel more normal and less weak for having a hard time when I should have been having the time of my life. This post is in no way intended to put people off travelling solo, but to prepare them for the reality of it and tell them that it does get betterI had my ups and downs but the good times by far outweigh the bad. After going through what was initially a tough experience I wouldn’t hesitate to go alone again. I now know that like any big change in life, it just takes a bit of time to adapt, and that realisation would make another solo trip a hell of a lot easier.

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