Sunday, January 29, 2006

Winter in Denmark....ooh, aahh

Well, as turns out we were right to assume that we didn't need to bring winter jackets to Denmark. I think the coldest that it's gotten here is -5, whereby everyone thinks it's FREEZING and we just laugh and think of how cold it used to be in Kingston. Yesterday I went for a walk with some friends in the deer park near the sea. Somehow it came up that everyone was wearing two pairs of pants. Everyone was shocked to find out that at ~0 degrees Celcius I was only wearing one pair of jeans! Hilarity!

That's not even getting into the snow part...So far it's snowed 3 times this winter. The first time it snowed here, we were in Holland so we didn't actually get to experience it. The last two times were in the past two weeks and each time couldn't have yielded more than 10-20cm of snow. Well as it turns out, snow is a HUGE deal here - the trains stopped running, the airport closed and people were urged not leave their homes to go to work. And there we were thinking that we'd only use the trains to go to DTU in bad weather. Apparently our backup plan is a failure...I think we'll just take our bikes.

Monday, January 16, 2006


The Danish have a very strange marking system. Rather than percentages, letter grades or GPAs, they have a 13-point system:

00 – no work submitted
03 – work completely unacceptable
5 – failure
6 – barely sufficient
7 – below average
8 – average performance
9 – slightly above average
10 – excellent, but not particularly original
11 – excellent
13 – exceptionally excellent

Part of the logic seems to be that there is no way for anyone to change their grade to improve it (for instance, you can’t put a 1 in front of 03 to make 13). As well, markers base all of their marks on the “average” 8. There is no bell curve to raise marks, even for particularly hard tests. Everyone could fail if the professor feels it is justified. To receive a 13 is a real accomplishment, professors will only hand them out every few years… Of course, in Denmark, you don’t necessarily want that much prestige (everyone is equal).

And, if you want to know your mark, you can always check the professor’s office door, where they post everyone’s mark (complete with your name and student number).

Visiting the Netherlands

We spent the Christmas holiday in the Netherlands (i.e. Holland) visiting Marieke’s mum’s family. It was very relaxing, especially since I could understand very little of what was being said (my limited knowledge of Danish provided me no help with Dutch)… It was even a White Christmas. On Christmas Day 2 (Dutch Boxing Day), there was a bit of snow. By the next day, there was so much snow (3 inches) that they closed the airport and stopped the trains (some people slept on the trains until they started again, to avoid paying for a taxi home).

We visited Amsterdam, which is still a very interesting place, but has unfortunately transformed into more of an American frat boy’s hang out. The city centre is filled with “erotic museums” and small shops selling drug paraphernalia and posters of the pope doing unmentionable things. We visited the Anne Frank House, the world's thinnest house (2m wide) and generally wandered the canals (pictures). Before leaving, we walked through the Red Light District, which Marieke had not seen on her previous visits with her family. It’s a short stretch on either side of a canal, with women in bikinis standing around in red-lit windows, looking bored and talking on cell phones. Quite sad really.

We also greatly enjoyed the larger variety of available foods. Marieke finally found tofu in the regular grocery stores, as well as peanut butter. And, they have some amazing Dutch specialties, like:

  • “Syrup Waffles”
  • French fries with fritesaus (tasty mayonnaise)
  • French fries with curry sauce
  • Chocolate sprinkles (for your morning toast)
  • Vla (like Jello pudding, but sold in milk cartons)
  • Pannekoeks (a.k.a. pancakes)
  • Poffertjes (small pancakes)
  • Olliebollen (literally “Oil Balls,” covered with powdered sugar, a treat for New Year’s Day)

With all these delicious foods, I have no idea how the Dutch have all managed to avoid becoming obese.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Joining Spin Class at DTU

So...After a month of unsuccessfully trying to make it to a DTU spin class I finally went. Most of the time the classes conflicted with Danish or school. The one time I was able to make it, I spent about 20 minutes trying to find the place and then when I finally did the door was locked. After knocking a few times I decided to give up rather than relentlessly knock and make a fool of myself in front of a bunch of Danish strangers.

Last Friday I finally was able to make it to class. It was a beginners class, which I figured was a good idea even though I'd done a winter's worth of spinning in Canada. Well...I turns out that going to a beginner's class didn't really make much difference considering that all instructions were in Danish. To boot, the instructor was an Italian guy who knew Danish but no English (so clarification was kind of out of the question). After struggling to figure out all the bells and whistles on the spin bikes with the help of the lady beside me (which were way too complicated for what they were), I proceeded to follow an our long class in Danish.

One thing that surprised me was the demographics in the classes. At Queen's, a sports team or clubs mostly have undergrads, and a handful of masters/PhDs/law/medicines join them. Here it's common for professors and university staff to join clubs, so basically I was the youngest person in the classes!