Thursday, February 23, 2006

Reading Week 2006 – Day 0

It wasn’t technically Reading Week, but I’ve never really had a perfect attendance record anyway. Besides, from a Canadian perspective, the Olympics were so close to Denmark.

I apologize now for this overly lengthy description of our trip. To summarize: we went to the Olympics, as well as Florence, Venice and Milan. It was fun. If you want more details, please keep reading.

Our trip got off to a bit of a shaky start. As we were about to board the plane, Marieke noticed that she had lost her jacket somewhere in the airport. Luckily, the Copenhagen is pretty small. Then, our discount flight to “Paris” really landed in Beauvais, which is an hour’s bus ride from the outskirts of Paris. Some might question why we would fly to Paris to start our Italian vacation, but the flight was really cheap and everywhere in Europe is really so close together. The next morning, it was only a four hour train ride to Torino…

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Reading Week 2006 – Day 1

Having only planned this trip two months ago, we had found that all reasonably priced accommodation in Torino was completely booked. Several people chose to stay in Milan (an hour and a half away by train) and commute daily, but we found a cheaper option.

We found a small campground in the mountains that was open year-round. When we first emailed them, they pointed out that they were primarily open to RVs and that it would be much too cold to camp. But we figured, how cold could Italy really be? Besides, we’re Canadians and we’ve camped in real winters before.

So, when we arrived in the mountains and found that the temperature was 10°C, we were feeling pretty smug. How could they possibly be holding Winter Olympics in weather like this? We weren’t feeling quite so confident though, when we found out that this warm weather meant that our campsite was flooded. We managed to find a couple of slightly elevated spots that weren’t soaked and set up our tents.

We had to hurry, since we had tickets to see the Canada vs. Germany men’s hockey game that night. The Palasport Olympico is quite a small arena, so we had a great view from our seats in the “nose bleeds” behind the net. The seats were far from full, but it was great to see that the Canadian fans vastly outnumbered the Germans. A large majority of the fans appeared to be Italians, but they still happily cheered and waved Canadian flags every time Canada scored (final score: Canada 5 – Germany 1).

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Reading Week 2006 – Day 2

Back at our campsite, we had only a few hours to sleep, before we had to catch another train: we were going hiking along the Italian coast, about two hours south of Torino. We slept some more on the train, and when we awoke and looked outside, we were shocked to see palm trees and orange trees in full bloom. We even saw a few people playing tennis in shorts! We quickly realized that our long underwear and extra sweaters, which had seemed like such a good idea at 6am, would spend most of the day in our backpack.

We hiked along a small trail from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, through a beautiful area know as Cinque Terre. The trail was originally used by local farmers to travel between five (cinque) coastal towns and to access their orchards in between. The scenery alternates between spectacular views of the Mediterranean, lush vegetation and the small towns (all of the buildings are painted pink, yellow or orange). The trail is apparently a popular tourist destination during the summer, but was pretty much deserted for us.

That evening, we returned to Torino, where we met up with Ieva (Marieke’s classmate from Latvia), Tyler (Steve’s brother, now a British banker) and Vladi (Tyler’s friend, a Latvian-Californian). They were also camping with us, although Vladi was slightly under-prepared…

Monday, February 20, 2006

Reading Week 2006 – Day 3

When we awoke, after a slightly chilled sleep, we found that Vladi had been awake pretty much all night. He had not brought a camping mat, and his sleeping bag was “three-seasons.” He had spent several hours in the heated washroom, and then in the campground restaurant when it opened. So, our first order of business was to find him some better equipment. Luckily, in our small mountain town, we found a sports store, which still had a wide selection of swimming equipment (including a cheap inflatable mattress).

We had tickets for an afternoon hockey game, so we had a chance to slowly walk around Torino, which was not particularly interesting. There were a few statues and historical buildings, like anywhere in Europe, but without the Olympics, I don’t think there would be much reason to visit. The highlight of the tour was lunch: we found a small cafeteria, with amazing pasta at very cheap prices.

Since we were traveling with two Latvians, we had chosen to go see Latvia play Sweden. Our seats were even further up into the nose bleeds (back row!). The Latvian fans were much louder than the Canadians had been. There were strict rules preventing people from bringing food or noise makers, which the Canadians had followed but which were apparently not enforced. Some Latvian fans even managed to bring in drums. One group also had a Latvian flag that was so large it covered about fifty people. By comparison, the Swedes were quieter, but more heavily drunk (notable especially considering this was an afternoon game).

The game was lots of fun in the first period (several times, Latvian players seemingly tripped on the blue line and fell down). The mood became subdued by the second period, when the score quickly climbed to 5-0 for Sweden. After the game, we found yet another amazing (cheap) restaurant.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Reading Week 2006 – Day 4

Marieke’s Birthday! And we finally got some snow in the mountains! Everyone slept comfortably, but we all felt in the mood to sit around indoors for a while. In the campground restaurant, we watched some cross-country skiing on the big screen, and drank innumerable cappuccinos (each only about 1$, compared to about 7$ in Copenhagen). We had planned to do a bit of hiking, but ended up just sitting around enjoying more Italian food.

That evening, we caught a shuttle bus up to our next Olympic event: Freestyle Aerials. As the bus climbed up the mountain, it began to snow. By the time we reached the event, it was really snowing. The big screen read “Competion Posponed until 20:00” (especially funny when read with an Italian accent). Unfortunately, at 20:00, it was still snowing as hard, so the event was further postponed, until Tuesday, after we’d left. Still, the two hour wait was really fun, talking with fans from all over the world and jumping around trying to stay warm.

By the time they told us to go home, it had snowed so much that the road back down the mountain was impassable. So, rather than wait in a line for them to clear the road, we walked to a nearby restaurant and had some dinner. By the time we came out, the last few people were just boarding buses (looking much colder than us).

We descended the hill, and decided to have some dessert and drinks in another restaurant (to celebrate Marieke’s birthday). The mixture of snow, mild temperatures outdoors, and warm restaurants meant that we were soaked. We decided to head back to the campground, and put our clothes into the dryer, and continue the party in the laundry room.

Unfortunately, we found that we couldn’t work the dryer without special tokens. We were unwilling to sleep outdoors in wet clothes, so we moved all of our sleeping bags into the laundry room, and slept indoors…

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Reading Week 2006 – Day 5

Early the next morning, Marieke and I boarded a train for Florence, leaving Ieva, Tyler and Vladi asleep in the laundry room. A high-school friend of Marieke is studying jewelry in Florence and she took the day off to show us around. We visited the Duomo, and walked around the streets, which are beautiful but covered with graffiti. After a hike up to Piazza Michelangelo (for a beautiful view of the city), we had another amazing calzone/pasta dinner.

You might have noticed a repeated mention of eating out… Well, the last time I toured through Italy, as a backpacker on a very tight budget, I didn’t get a chance to eat in many restaurants, as they all seemed so expensive. This time, my perspective was completely different. After four years at Queen’s, I was used to regularly eating in restaurants with a group of friends (at least once a week). However, since our arrival in Denmark, we have only eaten out in a restaurant three times (in six months), simply because it is so expensive. A good meal with wine in Italy was $15 as opposed to the $20-30 for the same meal that it would cost in Denmark. We definitely took advantage of this…

Friday, February 17, 2006

Reading Week 2006 – Day 6

After dinner the previous night we caught a train to Venice, spending the night in a campsite/hostel/cabin. In the morning we took the train into Venice. Anyway, what a gorgeous city! You sort of have this picture in your head as to what you think it looks like. I never thought the buildings would be quite so beautiful, the canals so blue (beautiful but in a kind of eerie, “how could they be so blue” kind of way) or the streets so quaint. We spent from about noon until six, losing ourselves in the city. Among other things we saw Piazzo San Marco, Basilica San Marco not to mention the dozens of costumed people walking around for Carnivale. Needless to say we also enjoyed some surprisingly cheap pizza (by the slice) and a Kono (like an ice cream cone, of pizza!).

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Reading Week 2006 – Day 7

We then returned to Copenhagen, by a particularly long route. First, we took a train to Milan, where we had a few hours to quickly see the Duomo, which was largely invisible behind scaffolding as they attempt to restore it. A much longer train ride returned us to Paris. We had hoped to spend the rest of the night before our morning flight in the comfort of the airport. However, we found that the Beauvais airport is only accessible by bus, and that these only run about three hours before flights depart. So, we had about six hours to kill, until 6am. We walked around a bit, and saw the Eiffel Tower all lit up. But, we had had about enough walking, so we spent most of the time sitting, trying to stay warm, wondering how homeless people do it every night.

When we finally got to the airport, it wasn’t much better. It is still under construction, so we had to sit for a couple hours in a very drafty tent on the runway. After we got home, we spent the rest of the day trying to heat up again.

We’ll post pictures soon...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Green-land vs. Canada-land

Unrelated to the cartoons controversy, Queen's Golden Words published this article about our Canadian "War on Denmark" over Hans Island (click to enlarge).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Time for a Vacation

If there's anyone out there who regularly checks this site, you may have noticed that there haven't been many posts recently. This is not because we are in hiding until the uproar over Danish cartoons dies down. We've just been busy.
The Danish have a different school year than Canada, divided into four semesters: Fall (Sept - Dec), Winter (Jan), Spring (Feb - May) and Summer (June). The Fall and Spring semesters are similar to those in Canada, with about 5 courses lasting 13 weeks and then exams. In January and June, students can take an "accelerated" course. The courses are only three weeks long, and usually involve lots of labs and project work.
In Canada, we were used to a Reading Week in February, but classes are just starting here. There will be a week's holiday for Easter, but that wasn't soon enough for us. So, we've decided to ignore school for a week and vacation in Italy.
Plus, there's a few sporting events we wanted to see there. If you happen to be watching CBC, keep an eye on the Canadian fans at the Canada vs. Germany hockey game on Thursday and the women's Freestyle Aerials on Sunday. We'll post more when we get back.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

And Suddenly No One Asks, "Where's Denmark?"

So...You must all be wondering what it's actually like to live in a country which is now under the scrutiny (well, maybe that's an understatement) of the Islamic world, not to mention a lot of other countries around the world. Anyway, this whole cartoon deal only really became known to most people within the past few weeks. Apparently when they were published in September, some Islamic clerics wanted apologies from the paper (Jyllands-Posten, a name which I'm sure has become a household name around the world by now) and from the Danish government. After not getting an apology from either group, these clerics sought out support from Islamic states around the world. I'm kind of confused about why it took 4-5 months for the the Islamic states to respond...But anyway....The rest is history...Everyone has heard of riots in Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon as well as the boycotts of Danish goods that are happening in many of the Islamic states.

So...What's the attitute in Denmark, you ask? Well it depends who you ask I guess...Some would applaud the editor of the paper (Flemming Rose) for trying to express freedom of speech and for attempting to break down taboos, while others think it's completely unacceptable and many people who have opinions somewhere in between. A lot of the Muslims in Denmark are trying to not rock the boat at all when it comes to the sensitive politics, others are taking to the streets. In fact when I was at a group meeting today, I saw a protest rally going on down one of the major streets in Copenhagen. I'm not sure if the rally was peaceful or not. I guess I'll find out in the news soon enough....