Copenhagen, Denmark: The City of Bikes

Dear Mom,

I fell in love. With the city of Copenhagen. I think it’s the start of something really special.

Love, Ryan


 

I don’t know if it was the excitement of travelling to a new country, or if it was the cultural beauty that surrounds the entire city. But I am in love with Copenhagen.

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 2.32.33 PM.png

Our story begins at 1:30 a.m. and, after two buses, a plane, and a subway – a Canadian and two Turks arrive in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. This stunning city of 1,250,000 people (22% of Denmark’s 5,700,000 citizens) can best be described as the perfect mix.

Copenhagen is the perfect mix of the values I have noticed in Nordic countries (among them compassion, trustworthiness and politeness) and the excitement and beauty I imagined of continental European cities.

It is the perfect mix of a city where you feel comfortable to  grab a Danish hotdog (10/10 recommend) and sit on the patio with a glass of wine (11/10 recommend), while it also is sparking with innovation and brought the world Tivoli Gardens (the inspiration behind Disneyland), Lego and Hans Christian Andersen (author of The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling.)

It is the perfect mix of a historic city that has undergone two devastating fires that nearly destroyed the city yet still has stunning towers from the 17th century, while at the same time screams cosmopolitan with neon H&M signs hang from architecturally stunning buildings.

Perhaps the entire essence I have observed in Copenhagen is best described in the following story:

After eight hours of travelling on one hour of sleep, our contingent was exhausted. As we aimlessly tried to find our hostel while squinting at a tiny map found on a parking meter, a Dane on a bicycle (one of about 1 million we observed, as 35% of residents bike to work daily) came right up to us and asked if we were lost. His kindness helped us find our home for the next three nights.

We then embarked on a free city tour (yes free, because the tour guides believed visitors deserved to see the best of Copenhagen at no cost), hearing many fascinating stories on this fascinating city. The highlights for me included Christiansborg Palace, the house of all Danish power, and Amalienborg Palace, the residence of the Danish Royal Family.

A ride on the Metro showed me what an incredible moral compass Denmark has. There was no check in or gate to present our pre-purchased Metro ticket prior to entering the train – the system trusts that Danes won’t sneak on the bus. (Unless there actually was a checkpoint and I just missed it, in which case I sincerely apologize to Denmark.)

After supper in a trendy pub, and a walk along the populous streets of central Copenhagen, I could see just how urban and modern this city is while still retaining the historic roots.

However, don’t get me wrong. Denmark has faced their fair amount of criticism, most recently for their management of incoming refugees. I’ll offer my observations on this in a future blog post.

Tills nästa gång, (Until next time)

Ryan


 

Ryan’s Rankings:

For every trip, I’ll share my thoughts on hostels, restaurants and places to visit.

Sleep in Heaven: 5/5

This was the first ever hostel I stayed in, and it was a fantastic experience. The atmosphere was beautiful, the staff was welcoming and I felt secure at all times. All in all, simply wonderful.

Copenhagen Free Walking Tours: 5/5

I cannot properly describe how great this service has been. The guides were informative and funny, and showed us Copenhagen from a completely different perspective. Well worth the two hours.

Bertel Skager: 4/5

Passion fruit. Cookie. Double chocolate. The best cheesecakes imaginable can be found here. A little expensive, but a fun way to treat yourself.

National Museum of Denmark: 5/5

I easily spent two hours wondering around here. This free museum offers many fascinating exhibits from prehistoric Europe to Life in Denmark from 1600-Present.

Advertisements

Tallinn, Estonia: A City of Contrast

A stormy crossing across the Baltic Sea served as the opening act for my first European adventure: a weekend trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 3.04.27 PM

Estonia, a country of 1.3 million people, is bordered by Latvia to the south and Russia to the east. The Baltic Sea connects the country to Sweden and Finland, with just over 500km between Tallinn and Stockholm, and 80km separating Helsinki and Tallinn.

Now a republic, control over Estonia switched between Denmark and Sweden until 1710, when the country became a part of the Russian Empire. Estonia first became an independent country in 1918, prior to becoming a member state of the Soviet Union and remained so until it’s collapse in 1991.

Tallinn is the capital city of Estonia and with a population of just under 500,000 hosts about 30% of the Estonian population.

During my brief, six-hour whirlwind tour of this foreign land, one unique aspect of Tallin stood out. It was a city of contrast.

Old Town Tallinn is called one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, and its historic buildings include Toompea Castle, which currently houses Estonia’s Parliament, and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a 19th-century Russian orthodox cathedral. Yet within walking distance of this historic area lies the urbanized part of the city, which is among the top ten most digital cities in the world. The software used in Skype was created by Estonians. The contrast between the two areas of this one city can be seen

The contrast between the two areas of this one city can be seen in the above photo, with skyscrapers towering over historical Estonian buildings.

One of the most remarkable lessons taken away from this trip is just how easy it is to travel from one European country to another. In just 800km and a 16-hour ferry ride, you were in a completely different country. For comparison, the distance from Yarmouth to Sydney, Nova Scotia, is 700km.

Our weekend trip kicks off a string of adventures planned in the coming weeks including Denmark, France and Belgium. I can’t wait to share the lessons that are to come.

Tills nästa gång, (Until next time)

Ryan

Finding Your Happiness

where-did-you-find-that-ive-been-searching-for-it-everywhere-i-created-it-myself-happiness-1444847227

Everyone has been in a situation in which they’re in completely new surroundings at one time in their life.

It could be starting at a new school, beginning a new job, entering into a new relationship or ending an old one, rediscovering yourself, moving to a new city or travelling to the other side to another continent.

When the going gets tough in these situations, it may feel it’s easier to give up. Settle in your bed with a good series on Netflix, and all of those difficulties will disappear.

But, is that really living?

These past 16 days in Stockholm have been a process of discovering myself. It has been a process of establishing what I need to feel comfortable, secure, and happy.

Imagine it like this:

You have just been parachuted into a completely foreign environment with only the bag on your back. You need to set up your new life in these brand new surroundings.

How the hell do you do that?

First, you find some incredible sources of support. These past 16 days, I have met some incredible people from every corner of this planet who are kind, welcoming, intelligent and insightful. Any point I have felt lonely, homesick or overall just feeling down, they have lifted me up.

Second, you establish what makes YOU happy. YES YOU. One night shortly after my arrival, my friend and mentor Morgan Atwater suggested I create my travelling feel-good list. What is that? A list of things that make me happy which could be done regardless of where I’m located. For me, this included doing yoga and stretching, going for a walk in the woods, writing and dancing. By having this list, I know what tools are necessary to make myself happy.

Third and finally, you make mistakes. Because that’s how you’ll learn. Bought a horrendously overpriced carton of milk? Next time you know what not to get. Took the wrong bus? Next time, remember to grab a map. Can’t understand a restaurant menu because you don’t speak a lick of Swedish? Learn a few common phrases (or do as I do and download Google Translate).

And voilà! Through these three steps, this cold, confusing land I found myself in two weeks ago is starting to feel like home. So remember, if you ever feel completely lost in a new situation: find some incredible sources of support, establish what makes you happy, and make mistakes.

Tills nästa gång, (Until next time)

Ryan

Välkommen till Stockholm

There’s something terrifying yet thrilling when you arrive at a destination that is 5500 km away from everything you know, everything you love.

There’s something terrifying yet thrilling about walking through a crowd, where you don’t hear a word of your mother language.

There’s something terrifying yet thrilling when you walk around with your eyes the size of saucers, taking in your new surroundings.

There’s something terrifying yet thrilling about starting a new adventure. But that is exactly why it is an adventure.

Throughout my first week of living in Stockholm, Sweden, I have been noticed one key aspect. Life here is so similar to life in Halifax, yet so very different.

The people in Stockholm are friendly and welcoming, just like in Halifax. The systems in Stockholm are set to help you succeed – in everything from the transportation system to the education system – just like in Halifax. And the weather is pretty much exactly the same.

But there are key differences.

While in Halifax it isn’t uncommon to chat with the person next to you on the bus or on the sidewalk, that doesn’t appear to be as common in Stockholm. Instead of attending six hours of class per day for fourteen weeks as we do in Halifax, in Stockholm you attend four hours of class per week for four weeks, but must to plenty of readings and independent study. And while it is common to work continuously from morning until night in Halifax, all aspects of work grind to a halt in Stockholm for the daily fika (I’ll write more on this beautiful cultural aspect in the future.)

So I have been here for one week. What have I learned?

Perhaps it could best be described in the following story.

When I arrived, one of my first tasks was to set up a phone plan and Internet. However, this proved to be more difficult that imagined. In order to activate my new SIM card, my Canadian telephone provider had to unlock my phone. To do this, I had to access my online account with the provider.

In a completely separate series of unfortunate events, the power adapter for my Canadian plugs blew a fuse. This left my laptop dead. And in order to search for a location to purchase a new power adapter, I had to search it on my phone. Which was not activated.

(Okay looking back I can there were many obvious solutions to this situation, i.e. borrow someone else’s charger. Find one at the local store. Call the service provider from another phone. But when you’re tired, hungry, jet-lagged and in a different continent, this problem seemed colossal.)

When faced with this seemingly complicated problem, I looked at the steps I could take to solve the situation. Okay, my laptop was dead. Let’s change the fuse. I need to contact the Canadian provider. Let’s borrow the phone of a friend who has international calling. One thing after another and the complicated problem was history.

So what was the lesson I had learned?

When faced with an overwhelmingly large problem, sometimes you must take a closer look and discover the necessary steps to solve the situation.

Tills nästa gång, (Until next time)

Ryan

My New Chapter

For me, one of the most beautiful analogies of life is that of a book. The thought that each and every one of us has this beautiful collection of memories, characters and stories bound in leather that is still in the process of being written has such alluring imagery to it.

In this book, every new experience marks the beginning of a new chapter. For me, this is the beginning of my new chapter.

In anticipation of my five-month exchange to Stockholm, Sweden, I wished to start (yet another) blog to share my observations and the lessons I have learned. And you will find that here.

However, there is more to this chapter.

For the past several weeks, I had the opportunity for reflection. I had the opportunity to identify my passions in life. I had the opportunity to reminisce on what makes me happy – what I thoroughly enjoy. And through this time of reflection, I identified what exactly is my purpose.

My purpose is to stand against that which is wrong. My purpose is to stand with those who fight for what is right. My purpose is to voice my opinion – My Unsolicited Opinion.

Politics has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I have followed elections, leadership conventions, debates, the rise and fall of controversial issues and the rise and fall of leaders with the greatest interest. Every path I have chosen in life has led me back to this passion. So today, I am beginning a new chapter with that passion.

An Unsolicited Opinion will also be my platform to express my opinions on issues that matter to us. From student concerns to LGBTQ+ issues to the underrepresentation of young adults and youth in Nova Scotian and Canadian politics to self-acceptance and self-love. An Unsolicited Opinion will be a place where I can share my thoughts and a community to hear the opinions of others on current events that impact our lives.

In addition, An Unsolicited Opinion will be a place where I share the lessons I have learned through the experiences that lie ahead in this chapter. From my exchange to Sweden to professional and personal development to academics – these all contribute to the classroom of life.

I look forward to the chapter ahead. I look forward to the experiences to come and the lessons to be learned. I look forward to the return of treasured characters and the introduction of new. And above all, I look forward to sharing what this chapter has in store.

-Ryan