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Published: November 5th 2013
Well, because this update has been such a long time coming, I feel it only makes sense that it is divided into three parts: an update on Sweden, a brief overview of a brief trip to Warsaw, and a recounting of adventures with Winnie in Copenhagen and Paris!
As I seem to move about a bit in life, I think I have found a pattern to my transitions. The first two weeks are a honeymoon period where I am delighted by my choice to take on an adventure and dive in. Then, the following two months are filled with self-doubt and the spinning question of what in the world I moved for?! That is accompanied by a glorification of all that is left behind in the last location. Then, life finds a rhythm and I start to accept my location as my new home and reality. By those calculations, I’m just on the cusp of leaving behind the self-doubt and settling into life here!
A family loss of wonderful Uncle Phil was sudden and remains a shock. I am thankful for the time
spent with him over the years, and that I had time with him this summer. The wonders of technology and great family and friends have soothed the pain and lessened the distance remarkably well. It was special to be able to think of him in Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur as they are familiar places to me and reminded me of some of his own Paris stories.
My school continues to be a positive learning experience. My colleagues are helpful and welcoming, and the kids are so delightful! I was fortunate enough to accompany another teacher on a field trip with the 9th
graders to the geology museum in Copenhagen. I really find the students to be a joy! It was great fun to work with a small group as they navigated the museum and completed their required work. It is awesome to experience how kids all over the world and from very different backgrounds have so much in common.
In order to branch out and meet new people, I hopped on the website MeetUp.com and found some groups that interested me. One event in particular that grabbed me was a hike to two
ancient volcanoes in the region. I met a group of 6 from Helsingborg and we headed out on a train, a second train, and then bus to the town from which we started our 18-kilometer walk. Other Meet Up groups from two other towns joined us, swelling the group to 30. We strolled through gently rolling farmland and past sweet pitched-roofed houses. At last, we came to the volcanoes. I had prepared myself that these were likely to be underwhelming, and indeed, in this case; it was the journey and not the destination that was notable! The volcanoes are so old that now they are lovely little hills covered by trees. But, the afternoon was well spent meeting new people and enjoying a sun-filled day!
Another Meet Up group that interested me was a knitting group in Copenhagen. So, my knitting and I made the journey from my apartment to a coffee shop in Copenhagen. I was a little surprised when I breathed a sigh of relief upon exiting the subway and finding myself in a graffiti-covered station. I guess I was craving a bit of grit and city life! A group of
about 15 women met and chatted while knitting away on various projects. They now plan to meet monthly and make some projects for the local children’s hospital. I am glad to have found this little community to enjoy!
As we are closing in on winter, I cannot help but note the change in light. The days grow shorter, and the light at the peak of the day has the raked quality of late-afternoon hours. This winter will surely prove interesting as I experience a lot more cold and dark. Whenever winter comes up, I’m told about candles and cozy interiors. The Swedes are not strangers to coping with the weather, so I’ll have to imitate them! I read that Sweden is the number one consumer of candles in the world… I’ve already joined them in this consumption and I’m sure many more candles will be purchased. I’ll take on the chilly winter with cheery candlelight!
Sadly, the Swedish classes did not pan out well. We seem to have chosen a school that was not equipped to deal with us. At this point, I feel a little
uninspired to dive in to the language, but perhaps in time, this will change and I’ll give it another go at another school.
As my school uses the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, I needed to be trained. This sent me to a wonderful training on inclusion of students with various needs in the IB classroom. Meeting other teachers from all over Europe and the Middle East gave me a glimpse into other international schools and life in other countries.
Though much of my time was spent in the workshop, the evenings and one lovely afternoon were available to explore Warsaw, a bit. The city shows the effects of WWII. Many of the buildings were rebuilt in the 50s, and there is the general feeling that hangs in Eastern Europe of Russia’s influence. That said, there are lovely big boulevards and plenty of places to enjoy.
A few fellow teachers and I jumped at the chance to eat perogies and wander the city starting in the “old” square that was remade to
Fika- the break for coffee and cake... I took a slight variation on the idea
look like it did before the bombings of WWII. In some of our initial interactions with locals, I had to remind myself that not everyone speaks English, something I’m a bit embarrassed to admit! I’ve grown accustomed to the extremely competent Swedes.
On our afternoon off before our flights home, we wandered over to an enormous park with incredible fall foliage to enjoy. Chopin was Polish and has quite a memorial statue in one nook of the park. As the weather was pleasant, many families were out enjoying the park. It was darling to see many kids walking around with bouquets of brightly colored leaves.
Since the focus of my short time in Warsaw was work, I didn’t gain much insight into the culture or people of Poland. But, the afternoon spent watching locals in the park and walking the city streets did give me a positive image of the people and city.
Copenhagen and Paris:
After a long haul since August, finally a break arrived! I didn’t even have the chance to collapse into it!
Instead, I became ill with the flu and limped into break a few days early! Thankfully, I was able to pull myself together enough to meet Winnie in Copenhagen as we had planned on the first day of break!
Winnie had set up an Air B and B for us for the night, so we met there. Before she arrived, I had a nice chat with our host, a native of Copenhagen, who gave me some great information about the city and Air B and B. Though I live in Scandinavia, I could see for others who do not how interesting it would be to see a typical Scandinavian apartment. Winnie immediately noted the dominance of the color white and sparse decorations. The room was comfortable, and the guidance of our “hosts” was helpful.
Having Winnie experience the city and culture for the first time spurred some great conversations. She couldn’t help but remark on the presence of fathers caring for their children! I shared with her some of what I had learned about the government systems and culture, and found that I knew more than
I might have thought!
Copenhagen has certainly won me over. It is a great sized city in that it is a walk-able but full of cultural activities and energy. Though there is great public transportation, the overwhelming volume of people on bikes offers an energy to and movement that is really invigorating. Like Paris, the buildings are low, allowing whatever sun there may be to reach the people on the streets! Scandinavian design is also a treat; the new modern structures in with the old buildings works really well, in my opinion. And, though the city is clean and really easy to manage navigating and enjoying, it does have funky edge or grit that I really enjoy.
Winnie and I took in some of the great sights in addition to just walking and people watching. And eating. We prioritize eating. I hadn’t been to the church Vor Frelsers Kirke yet, so we trekked over there and climbed the windy, steep, creaky steps up to the tower. Well, this area of the world is windy. Very, very windy. So, as we stepped out onto the overlook, the
gusty wind had my back glued to the tower! I couldn’t stand to chance stepping toward the railing! The view was incredible though! Some braver souls than us continued the climb and took the spiral staircase up and up the outside of the church’s spire!
The commune of Christiania is just a block away from the church, so we strolled over to have a look. The man at the Air B and B had cautioned us that it was not really much to look at, and indeed, we were a bit disappointed. I suppose in my mind I was expecting either a fun-loving group of hippies in a drum circle or an industrious self-sufficient community. Christiania is neither. The area had a depressed feeling about it and not much to see or explore that we could see. That sent us back out for a walk along the water and a great lunch of salmon on dark rye bread.
Winnie and I hopped a train from Copenhagen back to my town later in the evening. We snuggled in so I could rest and tend to my cold
and hopefully be ready to take on the next day. We had learned the Danish word “hygge,” roughly meaning “cozy,” from an article that included a little video (I'll put the link at the end of the blog). We certainly aimed to achieve hygge in my apartment as we lit candles and chatted, not minding the cold rain and dark outside!
The next day, we aimed to take on Helsingborg, but the weather had other plans! Little did we know that the windstorm that had rocked England was headed to Sweden! With our bellies full of tasty cinnamon rolls, we braved the wind and rain to walk around my town a bit, but, after being blown around for a while, we took our chances and headed to Malmo to see if the weather there was any better. We found similar weather there, so we tucked into the most hygge-looking restaurant we could find and enjoyed some lovely fish and conversation. Magically, we had a few hours of sun to enjoy walking around Malmo before we were warned by a kind Swede that a storm was coming at 7 that night. So, we hustled
back to Helsingborg and bundled up against the raging wind outside! Surprisingly, over a week later, I still need to boil my water as there has been some bacteria found in the water due to that storm!
As we made our way the next day to Copenhagen for our afternoon flight, we stopped in the Danish town across the sound from me. Helsingor has the castle that Hamlet is based on, and it is remarkably adorable! It is not modern like Helsingborg, but full of windy streets and homes from the 1600s! Smashed roof tiles and other bits of damage showed the intensity of the wind from the night before!
Ah, Paris! What a great place to have your dear friend live! The RER broke down on our way from the airport into the city. I realized it was the first time in months that I had been around anything close to disorderly! The complaints and huffs and puffs in addition to the rowdy teens somehow made me smile, as they contrasted so starkly to the neat order
I’ve experienced in Sweden. When we arrived in Gare du Nord, it was rush hour. The hustle and bustle along with the diversity of people kept me smiling!
With Winnie working during the days, I did my usual of these last few visits and walked Paris. The canal by her house was a great starting off point to enjoy my morning croissant and plot a route for the day. I relished the buzz and crowds! I couldn’t believe how much I liked being in the rush!
I visited many favorite streets and sights, but I made a point to find the Memorial to the Deportees of WWII that I had missed all the times before. It was, of course!, closed for the afternoon. What I could see seemed really well done, except for the information board. I was fuming reading it, as it didn’t make any acknowledgement of France’s role in the deportation of people. In this rather gloomy state from not being able to enter the monument properly and being frustrated with France’s typical treatment of this period of their history, a Frenchman and his
daughter asked me for directions. They were so kind and lovely that I snapped out of my funk and returned to taking in the day and sun!
Winnie, and most of the French, had the Friday off for All Souls Day. After a slow croissant-filled start to the day, we took a walk in the drizzle to the extraordinary exhibit about the mechanics of what we wear under our clothes (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/opinion/sunday/dowd-the-tortured-mechanics-of-eroticism.html?_r=0
) It was an extremely well-curated exhibit, including a part where we could try on various structures! Of course, as it was France, there was a movie real showing the clothing of different time periods in various films. It was an afternoon very well spent!
The visit to Paris and time with Winnie recharged me thoroughly! The time spent in cafes sipping coffee or beer and watching people or the drizzle gave me plenty of time for the first few months of life in Sweden to sink in. I’m learning a lot about myself from this move! I’m feeling grateful for it all!
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