Monday, December 29, 2014

layovers + lollygagging

Copenhagen, Denmark
55.6761° N, 12.5683° E

I've been on the move for 27 hours. I'm currently sitting at the airport in Copenhagen, waiting on my last flight of three today. Final destination: Aarhus.

If today is at all reflective of the next 5 weeks, I'm in for quite the trip.

The day started with my typical morning routine, albeit at 4 AM: a 9-minute snooze following the alarm, a long wall to wall stretch (the yoga teachers in Santa Barbara often cue this as “ocean to mountain." I smile to myself each time.), stumbling in the dark to find pants, and a groggy stroll to the kitchen for a cup of warm water and lemon. The routine ended, however, after a shower and a bowl of oatmeal. After that my dear old dad threw my luggage into the car and we were off to LAX.

“Did I just hear you say you were going to Denmark?”

I had just left the check-out counter and was walking toward security, fumbling with getting my passport and passes back safely into my bag. I looked up at the unfamiliar, but friendly voice. It took me a moment to respond, as paused to think to myself, “Did I just say I was going to Denmark?” Reality hadn't set in yet.

“Uhm, yeah. I think so. I mean, yes. I am.”

He was an American journalist who had just recently come home from several months covering the Syria conflict from Turkey.

“I'd love to write full time. I've toyed around with the idea but was never brave enough to take the plunge. So now I teach writing. You know what they say, 'Those who can't do, teach,'” I joked. (I'm not sure why I said that -- I actually really hate the claim. But strangers often spur word vomit.)

“No! No. We uhh need uhh good educators out there,” he offered quickly. I'd forgotten: self-mockery often doesn't sit well with strangers -- there isn't enough context to cushion the deprecation as humor. Politeness abounds. I assured him I was kidding and we chatted about past travels all through the security line, until we were separated by the guard. I waved goodbye, proceeded through security, and found a seat near my gate.

A few minutes later, the journalist plopped his things down next to me. Turns out, he was on my flight. Actually, he was on standby. He told me about Syria, about covering gun laws back home in Oakland. I told him about Cuba, about student teaching in Santa Barbara.

“Wait, what's your name?” Formalities often get lost in such flurried meetings.

They called my boarding group over the loudspeaker and I bid him goodbye again, neither of us sure he'd get a seat. A few minutes later, as I was debating whether to catch a quick nap or read the new book my brother had gotten me for Christmas, I got a thumbs up from the aisle. We entered into a witty exchange of text messages between the front and back of the aircraft until we were told to put our devices away.

After the flight he invited me to breakfast, remembering that I had a 9-hour layover. I told him about my elaborate plans to meet up with friends so we rainchecked for a drink later that day. I'm not sure how my friends, who I hadn't seen since July and August, would have felt about me bringing a stranger from the airport to breakfast. Maybe they wouldn't have been all that surprised.

Casey, who had driven up from Los Gatos, was waiting for me when I stepped outside. We did the skip-run-hug you see in the movies, though the best thing about our cinematic friendship is that it's real. From there we drove to meet Jordan, another great friend from the college dorm days.

Millionaire's Bacon
Jordan took us to his favorite breakfast spot, an Asian-fusion restaurant called Sweet Maple. My sunrise flight was good for something, since he marveled that we were actually there early enough to get a seat straightaway; normally, he related, by the time he and his friends stumbled there for weekend brunch, the wait could be at two-and-a-half hours. It was easy to see (err taste) why: everything was lovely and delicious. Since Sweet Maple is “Home of Millionaire's Bacon,” we couldn't get away without a side order of the house specialty. I didn't give into the hype until I had my first bite. Best. Bacon. Ever. Ever ever ever. It was like a flat-iron steak, supposedly marinated in syrups and spices for four hours. Whatever they're cooking process, it was grand. At that point I'd already been up for a quarter of a day and needed a caffeine fix. I opted for a Misugaru latte, only because I'd never heard of it before. Misugaru is a Korean multi-grain mix. Jordan described my latte as “frothy shredded wheat.” Spot on. Sweet Maple uses a lot of basil in unexpected places, and it is delightful. One of these days I'm going to try making their huevos rancheros using basil instead of cilantro.

Next up was a visit to the Marin Headlands. We walked down a dirt path, through a tunnel, and over a bridge to a sweet old lighthouse.

They're the two best friends that anyone could have.

Then we played some bocci ball at a water-front bar in Sausalito (aptly named Bocci Bar). 

We closed the day at Brickyard at the Marina, where our (often elusive) friend Trey met up with us. One stellar breakfast, too many photos exploring, half a game of bocci, and several drinks later, Casey had me back at the airport with two hours to spare. It was easily the best layover ever.

Despite a full two hours, I barely caught the plane to Copenhagen because of a small mix up. The check-in agent had told me which seats the airline had put on hold for a weight cushion, so I snagged an empty 4-seat row to myself at takeoff. I made a first-class bed for free.

Ironically, the first person I spoke to upon landing in Copenhagen was not Danish. I had gone to exchange my USD to Danish Kroner and, after I had asked the teller a few questions about currency, I politely asked if she was American since I hadn't picked up on any accent. She laughed and said she had grown up in Florida. When I asked her what brought her to Denmark, she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and replied, "The only thing that makes you move halfway across the ocean." Suddenly my grad-school shenanigans didn't seem so crazy; a boy may have prompted me to go back to a school next to the ocean, but I hadn't gone so far as to cross one. Still, there's a reason she didn't need to elaborate. It's universal. Feeling lucky after my last layover full of fun, I told her I had four hours before my last flight and asked if there was anywhere to go right outside the airport. It was a 12-minute Metro ride to the city center. Even better.

Marisa, my travel buddy since SFO and fellow English student-teacher, and I were itching to explore. We went into Copenhagen, warmed up with an espresso while we people watched, walked around a bit the city a bit, and were back at the airport with time to spare. So now I'm here.

The plane is boarding soon so I'll leave you with three things I learned during my short time in "The City of Spires":

1. Babies are even more adorable when bundled.
2. Everyone bikes in Copenhagen. Even when it's snowing. 

Not the beach cruisers I'm used to.

3. Graffiti has similar aesthetic/angst throughout the world (or at least the parts I've seen). On the way back to the airport I pointed out the "Fuck Metro!" scratching on the subway rail to Marisa. "Ironic, isn't it, since you'd have to be utilizing the Metro to have written that?" An elderly man with a white beard and colorful scarf leaned over to peer at what I had gestured to. He scrunched his brow and frowned. Then he smiled. And then he launched into a full on giggle. He giggled so long that I started giggling. Then Marisa giggled. Just moments earlier I was marveling at some of the subway signs, written in Danish, that I could not even pick one word out of with confidence. The domino effect reminded me that, sometimes, you don't need a common language to share a moment. 

If only the author of "Fuck Metro!" knew his angry decree resulted in a warm moment between strangers. 
Gotta go make that flight - I've come too far to stop short. I'll write again soon. 

Sending love and best wishes for the New Year, 

Copenhagen is adorable. Definitely coming back. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

packing + playlists + panic attacks

"I left the baggage home, I brought my luggage in.”

I finished packing a whole ten hours before my 7 AM flight. A personal record, qualified only by the fact that eight of those ten hours should be spent sleeping. I haven’t slept much since starting grad school in July, and I figure that writing a pre-travel blog post might prompt me to do some writing while I’m actually abroad, so I’m up doing that instead, on a platform I haven’t touched since...the drop-down menu to the right says 2012.

In just a few short hours I’m headed to Aarhus, Denmark to participate in a teacher-exchange program. But not before a nine-hour layover in San Francisco. Thank goodness for wonderful friends in and around the city who are willing to wake up early on a Sunday for some fun(day) before the long flight to Copenhagen.

My brother caught me mid-packing in the photo to the right. I sometimes hate (the amount of time spent on) packing, but there is something really amusing about the whole process. What’s amusing is the notion of painting the unknown -- planning, collecting, and stowing the things you may need, or want, for some prescribed window of time in a novel location. Sure, decisions are informed by practical and logical considerations -- weather, for example, or length of stay. But I really only have whimsical imaginings to guide me.

You may, for instance, ask, “A swimsuit?” Yes, temperatures in Denmark average 32 degrees in January. But packing one is more mindset or mentality than function and practicality. It’s symbolic. It's the potential to have use for one. I likely won’t need it but I like the idea of leaving the door open.

“Teacher” or “professional” attire is in the duffle to the right. Romping ‘round Europe gear is in the pack to the left. And every eager student has a sweet backpack.

The book Santa Comes to California is a gift for my host family. They have a 6, an 8, and a 10-year old; two boys and one girl. I hope they like stories. 

Akin to the swimsuit, the little black dress is for New Year’s Eve, maybe. Then I turn 27 at the stroke of midnight. For the first time in my life, I’ve no clue where I’ll be on my birthday (Germany, perhaps?), or with whom I’ll be with (a fellow English-teacher travel buddy, to start). So maybe the LBD is silly. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

There ain’t no rest for the weary (or the wicked), but maybe for the bleary-eyed. My eyes are going cross-eyed from staring at words as they form on the computer screen.

Oh, but also, the quote above is from one of my favorite songs to pack to, “Up in the Air” by Dumbfounded. Another pre-travel favorite is Fashawn’s “Samsonite Man.”

For the sobering holy-moly-this-is-happening moments, when I needed a little more quiet, I put “Make it Rain” by Ed Sheeran (featured on Sons of Anarchy) on repeat. There’s also something oddly calming about “Hanging Tree.”

But I wrote this post to "Riptide" because I’m so excited I could howl at the sliver of a moon. 

I’m not quite sure what the next month in Denmark will bring, but I hope to share more as it unfolds. Feel free to drop me a line, or an address if you’d like a postcard. Wishing you all celebrations and annual starts that are joyous and safe. I will follow suit on my travels.

If nothing else, the last thing my grandma said to me this evening was, “Keep your clothes and take your vitamins.” Thanks, Lolai.

See you all in the New Year,