What a year this month has been!

By Jason

 

Traveling does a funny thing with time. Weeks can feel like months, months like years, and yet you can still let it slip by so fast that it turns out you haven't updated folks nearly at all. Sorry about that, my dear friends. Give me a second, and I'll catch you up on where we've been and where we're going.

First off, where we've been:

Bergen, Norway

You guys kinda know the deal here, but we had the unparalleled opportunity to spend two weeks in Bergen, where we were matched up to our wonderful hosts Silje and √ėyvind. We worked with them on their farm, splitting wood and sharing stories. We found them through HelpX, and I cannot recommend this program enough. 

The deal is essentially this: in exchange for about 4 hours work a day, we were provided living quarters and all of our food needs at home. Additionally, we had amazing experiences with their family, including taking boat rides out of the fjords, fishing and crabbing, meeting local folks, working in a farmers market, and more. 

But the best thing to me were the evenings after dinner, when Silje would make coffee for the four of us and we'd talk, sometimes for hours. You see our hosts are veteran travelers, and to tell you some of their tales here would be to risk incredulity. Suffice to say, they've been around the world a lot, and they also brought their boys in tow, showing them new experiences and homeschooling them all while educating them in the world. Their example has dealt a HUGE blow to the assumption that you can't travel with kids.  

I'm so happy to know that that doesn't have to be true. 

Lessons!

  • HelpX is incredible. Helping with work is an amazing way to immediately thaw the ice between guests and hosts, especially when you don't know one another. Additionally, it feels nice to put in some good work, and it vastly reduces the potential awkwardness inherent in a guest/host relationship. Also while we weren't paid for our work, the experiences we received from this we literally could not buy. If you were to try and put together the same trip from paid tours you A.) wouldn't come close and B.) would spend an arm and a leg to do it. 
  • Adventure can be had with kids, you just have to spend a little more time planning it out and have the will to succeed at it.  
  • We learned how to eat a whole crab. It was delicious. 

Takeaways

  • After this trip, if we can, we're going to raise chickens. There's just something incredible about being that in contact with animals, particularly food animals. 
  • We spent a fair amount of time talking with one of their boy, who was learning English. He did an amazing job communicating with us, even when he didn't quite know the words or the appropriate grammar to use. His confidence in just openly using what he did know to try and speak with us was an inspiration. Both of us walked away a lot more confident in using our own second languages.
  • Eating as a family is a great experience, as is after-dinner conversation.  

Surprises

  • You can  get a burrito in Norway, but you'd better be willing to shell out around $30 for the privilege. 
  • HOWEVA, Taco Night is becoming a Norwegian institution, so finagle yourself an invite for a taste of home. 

Copenhagen, Denmark

Oh, Copenhagen.  Situated physically and culturally between mainland Europe and Scandinavia, Copenhagen is a truly unique and wonder place.

Copenhagen has been rated as the most livable city in the world. Ok, so the lowdown:

  1. Copenhagen loves its bikes. Like, LOVES them. So Copenhagen has dedicated bike lanes on every street, and dedicated laws to protect cyclists. So many people commute via bike that they literally have cyclejams. The result is a cleaner city, seemingly fewer cars, and undoubtedly better health.
  2. If you don't like to bike, don't worry! Their bus and train system is amazing. They run all day and night, and you're probably not going to wait more than 10 minutes to catch it.  
  3. Copenhagen (or maybe Denmark as a whole) loves art. Denmark is more than willing to directly subsidize art and culture projects as well as education.  

We were very fortunate to be able to spend a few days with our friends Marin and Joon and they pointed us to all the best spots. One of the highlights for me was the Free State of Christiania. You can read up on this, but the gist is that essentially a bunch of hippies decided to take over an old army base in the center of Copenhagen and establish a collective and commune there. 

Christiania is functionally autonomous, and continues to be so because of the will of the voters of Copenhagen. I have no idea  how they are able to keep it organized, but they've got great food, markets, and of course an open-air pot market (known as the Green Light district). The rules there appear to be pretty simple: no hard drugs, no pictures, and no running.

Somehow it appears to work.  There was a very nice, even family-friendly vibe there. People there said it was much different from the Amsterdam cafe scene because this was truly a community. 

One of the other great opportunities we had there was to go to a board game awards event held in a school for acrobats after hours. So what's going on in this picture? Joon had set up one of his installation art/experimental games at the front and was gathering people around. It's a very interesting game that doesn't convey well to photographs, but essentially you are blindfolded and have to shoot at zombies as they come after you. The crowd is watching a screen and is yelling out which way you have to move. 

It's pure chaos, but so much fun.  

Lessons

  • You can live for art, but you have to work for it. Some places and communities are more suited for this than others. I found myself thinking while I was there that it is so important to surround yourself with others that share your goals and dreams, so that you can support and guide one another to your excellence.
  • Denmark (as well as many other European countries) is amazingly generous when it comes to education. This seems to produce a lot of well-educated, interesting people, forming a society that is more multi-layered and vibrant. Additionally, if you wanted to move to a country like this the best route is through the educational system there.
  • It's important to do what you love. 

Takeaways

  • Once again, staying with friends (new or old) is amazing way to experience a place. I'm so glad for our great community of friends.
  • I'd like to live abroad at some point. Both Joon and Marin are away from their home countries (Belgium and Iceland, respectively), and I think it's a hugely rewarding thing to do. Also English is largely spoken wherever you go, and non-native speakers use it as an international language to function in foreign lands. It kind of kills the embarrassment of not speaking the local language when you realize that all the other tourists from all the other nations are also trying to communicate in English. 

Surprises

    • "I'm not afraid of small spaces, and I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of small spaces up high." - Judy, in describing what it felt like to be at the top of an endless stairway to the heavens (pictured above) 

     

    Belgium (Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, all over really)

     Ok, so I have a lot of great pictures of Belgian architecture and countryside, all of which you can see on our Flickr. But I felt like I should showcase food here for one simple reason:

    I have to believe that the Belgians are the happiest people on earth, and this is because of their food. My GOD  the food.

    Here's the rundown: 

    • Waffles. Every town has their own style, and you're going to be tempted to try every one. Do not do this, because you also have to visit the...
    • Frituurs. Belgians own  fast food. Get here and get you some. The Frituur is an institution here, and it's a pretty simple thing. Essentially each one has their own proprietary mix of duck and horse fat oil. They display a large collection of meats. You pick a meat (or several) and they fry it on the spot. Its glory is its simplicity.
    • Beer. Belgians have made a religion out of beer, and beer out of religion. The Trappist monks have devoted their life to God, but they've devoted their productivity to beer and it's incredible. The monks function as non-profits, and sell the beer in order to fund their religious endeavors. We had the singular opportunity to visit the Westvleteren monastery to pick up some of the "Best Beer in the World." The whole experience was probably worthy of its own post.
    • Chocolate. I'm no sweets guy, but Judy is writing a whole article for Saveur about it, so you'll have to read that when it comes out. If you like chocolate, you like Belgium.

    We met Jim in Cologne, Germany, and from their proceeded on a week long road trip around Belgium. Highlights of that trip include the Mozart Hotel (styled in a combination that can only be described as Baroque Hamam), all the food I've already described, a day at Bastogne, and a brief stopover in the Netherlands. We also visited several gigantic antique markets and the British cemetary at Dunkirk. 

    Lessons

    • Eat local food, you will enjoy it. Or at least learn something about your own tastes.
    • Traveling for a month is a lot of work - it's amazing to have some time to relax. From this leg and from the road trip we've discovered that we have about three weeks of hard traveling in us before we need to lay low for a day or two.  
    • Go to historic battle sites. Others paid a very high price so that you can have what you have today. It's good to remember that.

    Takeaways

    • Do not be afraid of horse as a food.
    • Gotta bring Belgian beers into my rotation.  

     

    Now

    So now we're in Germany, and we've had the last week to get our bearings and get setup for the next couple of months. So many thanks to Jim and Kait for having us!

    Here's some highlights of what is to come: 

    • Oktoberfest! Next weekend in Munich.
    • Alpine snowboarding in Austria!
    • Spain and Morocco!

    Hit us up on the interwebs! We've got Facetime and Skype as well, so let us know if you want to talk.