Maiden Voyage to Europe: Denmark, Hungary, Croatia, Norway

I just returned from the most euphoric trip to Europe that opened my eyes and restored my faith in humanity again and again. Four countries in two weeks allowed my best friend and I to extensively explore: Copenhagen, Denmark; Budapest, Hungary; Split (also briefly Brac, Salona, and Skradin), Croatia; and one bonus night in Oslo, Norway due to a 10 hour flight delay. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to embrace these new cultures: eating their food, drinking their beer, taking their public transportation, and enjoying their people for all of the differences and similarities I could possibly spot. After a long and trying final semester of my Master’s degree, this trip was the best graduation present I could have asked for, and also a most wonderful learning experience.

Our journey began in Copenhagen – a city of pure magic. Hygge is what you’ll feel basically from the moment you touch down to the second you’ll leave. Our first initial thought was: these people care. It’s the way people talk in a cheery tone, and dress with warm scarves and beards. It was our first sip of chai tea and hot cocoa artfully designed and topped with love. The way the architecture, castles, cobbles, and canals, allow you to feel as if you’re in a real life fairytale.

IMG_5881 IMG_5872 IMG_5663You see it in all of the alluring parks, and in the décor of every establishment you enter. Hygge is the way the Danes get through the long dark winter; they design life around them to feel utterly and truly cozy. Hygge lasts all year long, but thankfully we visited during the mild spring weather. It was a bit drizzly and rainy at times, but that didn’t stop us from seeing it all. Daylight shocked us by stretching until 11pm, which happily helped us overcome jetlag.

Our Hostel Sleep in Heaven [Struenseegade 7, 2200 København, Denmark], was the favorite accommodation of the trip boasting a bar stocked with Carlsberg beer and a pool table.

IMG_5669 IMG_5921The hostel was located in the ‘hipster’ part of the city, Nørrebro, within walking distance to great restaurants, parks, and loaded with interesting street art and abundant man buns only a 20-minute ride from city center.

IMG_5616 IMG_5618We got a 72-hour pass allowing us access to all public transportation in the city, a great system, though many of the Danes use bikes to get around. One of the most amazing memories I have from the trip stems from a moment on the bus trying to get to the market. One bus was taking forever to get there, so we decided to hop on another one instead. We then became a bit disoriented with our directions. The bus was jam packed, but I attempted to make my way up to the conductor to ask for help. I navigated my way through and got up to some hefty ladies at the front who completely blocked my path – but saw my goal. They squeezed me through and when I was blocked again, they tapped the shoulder of the man who was in my way. I communicated my problem, the whole bus listening with perked ears, and the driver told me what I had to do. The women squeezed me back through, and the entire bus reminded us when our stop was and even on the street continued to direct us. An entire bus genuinely caring about the well being of two travelers completely unconnected to them. I’ll never forget how they, and so many others along the way, took time out of their busy days to make sure we got where we wanted to go – sometimes without even being asked to do so.

Hans Christian Anderson, famous for regaling the world with fairy tales such as the little mermaid and the ugly duckling was a Dane. He shared stories with the world, which made people dream and believe in happy endings. He is buried not too far from where we stayed, and I swear his magic is still lingering in this truly beautiful city.

A quick plane ride landed us in a totally different world – Budapest – an aggressive fast paced city. Hopping off of the metro into this new playing field was blur, even the steep escalators move quickly so we had to adjust from our lackadaisical time in Copenhagen.

IMG_6009We got another city pass here to gain access to all forms of public transportation, which brought us throughout the huge city.

IMG_5926IMG_5982We stayed in a hostel with a great location, but I wouldn’t recommend it because the doors didn’t lock! Yikes. Either way, we met some great people there and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I don’t know what I was expecting from this city, but all of my dreams were positively blown out of the water. This city has personality. Intense, oddball, slightly schizophrenic personality. The city itself is physically split by the Danube River, Buda and Pest were once truly separate entities. On the West you will find the green rolling hills of Buda, and the East the flat city center of Pest; the two identities are connected by a number of bridges which can be walked. Great history, unique museums, architecture,

IMG_5939 IMG_5988spas, nature, fantastic food, nightlife, and one of the best markets I have ever been to – this city has truly got something for everyone. The people may seem stoic at first glance, but how can you blame them? 20th century Hungary was not a fun place to be, but time heals all wounds. Plus, for every stone-faced individual we encountered there was another who overcompensated with kindness and understanding. On our journeys throughout the city getting lost in the public transportation system is always where we found the most helpful individuals who went out of their way to get us back on track. Crazy, hectic, amazing, I could spend a lifetime in this city and never see it all, and definitely never be bored.

I didn’t have a lifetime though, just five days. They whizzed by and before I knew it I was on a train to Split, Croatia. This wasn’t the fastest way to get from A to B, to be honest I wanted to take the bus, which was quicker. I am so glad I trusted the judgment of my friend because the ride was beautiful and relaxing, just what we needed after Budapest. From Budapest to Zagreb (Croatia) we spent the evening watching rural gypsy towns of Hungary fall behind us, and a man named Ivan told us about the land.

IMG_6457We had a quick layover and picked up the journey to Split where we had a tiny cabin with slightly claustrophobic bunk beds. We opened up the window and the night came quickly with so many stars. The fresh air and motion of the train knocked me out, but my body woke me up at dawn, how thankful I was! The early morning fog in the middle of the mountains was beyond breathtaking.

IMG_6437 IMG_6471After watching the sunrise I fell back asleep for a short time, and woke up refreshed and ready for the day. Croatia was definitely the most ‘vacation’ like country we visited, warm, coastal, and inviting. People on the whole were amicable here, so much so that we started calling people our family members. Fruit-stand grandpa, coffee-mom, hostel-sister, everyone treated us with such kindness. We stayed in the CroParadise Green Hostel [Ul. Čulića dvori 29, 21000, Split, Croatia], which was in short walking distance to the beach and all of the action. It had a nice little balcony great for eating breakfast on,

IMG_6905and a sweet rooftop lounge to bring back a bottle of local wine from Pipi’s right across the street.

IMG_6699Old town Split is pretty much all walking distance, and a picture perfect place with its architecture, beaches, forest, and mountains;

IMG_6596IMG_6904it has a variety of trendy restaurants and tons of souvenir shacks. What makes it so interesting to me is that the Diocletian Palace, built by a Roman emperor in the fourth century, is so well integrated into town. Inside the walls of the palace is a maze of intricate alleyways to explore, shop, grab a meal, or visit a museum.

IMG_6611If you love fresh seafood or homemade pasta you will be in heaven here, where both are superb and in abundance. The beaches in Split were rocky, but among some of the most lovely I have visited. If you have the time, get out of Split and take the ferry to a nearby island.

IMG_6627Hop onto the bus and head north to any number of nearby towns or parks, see as much of this amazing country as possible.

Our leisurely yet fun-filled days in Croatia came to an end, and we headed to the airport to make our connecting flight in Norway, where we took advantage of our delay and had our last hoorah’s in the seemingly never ending spring daylight of the far north. We found again the Scandinavian hospitality and mannerisms we started our journey with in Denmark. Oslo is a small city, but the center was surprisingly (to me) posh and modern. We walked the strip sprinkled with statues,

IMG_7078 IMG_7070saw some sights, and had a light dinner, some beer, and it was time to head back to the airport for real.

It felt so good to be a stranger in a city, soaking up every ounce of new I could possible hold. We met so many fantastic people on the road, and I have learned lessons from them that I will continue to carry back home. In a world that can be full of stress and heartache the most cleansing tool to rejuvenate yourself is travel. Put your hands into humanity and let yourself go, see that most people choose to help, not to hurt. Stay weird. Ask for help. Take the bus. Pics or it didn’t happen! A detailed account to follow on the feed and fun that took place over the two weeks of travel.

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