Seville, Granada, Cadiz … these are the cities that spring to mind when you talk about southern Spain in winter. Cities with rich architectural history, stunning old towns, vibrant cultural attractions and a charm guaranteed to steal your heart. Malaga? Not so much. Unless, that is, you’re on the hunt for ugly cement resorts, overly crowded beaches, shady tourist restaurants, and an old city swallowed long ago by the forward march of industry and excessive tourism. At least, that’s the Malaga I expected. My lazy Google pre-trip search did little to assuage my concerns. Photos from above showed me a modern city with beaches and a skyline marked by the jarring sight of ugly hotel elbowing its way in front of ugly hotel. A perusal of a few top 10 things to do in Malaga lists further cemented my plan to use Malaga and more specifically its airport as a cheap way-station to get into and out of as quickly as possible.…
For Danes and their expat guests alike summer is a special treat. It comes as a reward for those who have survived the long dark winter months and while Denmark is not nearly as cold as one might imagine, days with more than 17 hours of near complete darkness can be a hefty challenge. So, it is with an unusual zeal and zest for the sun that Danes embrace the spring and summer months where the opposite occurs. With less than four hours of darkness at the summer’s apex, there is ample time to bask in the warmth of the sun.
This creates an incredible sun-centered summer culture in Denmark where locals flood the streets for no better reason than spending a few relaxing moments outdoors. Visitors often note a certain level of surprise at the hundreds of Danes lounging along the city’s many bridges, wonderful outdoor cafes, and the thousands of Danes that add color, vibrancy, and the scent of BBQ to the city’s many parks.
I snapped this photo while meandering my way through Christianshavn’s back streets. The Christianshavn part of town lies in the heart of Copenhagen and is crisscrossed by a series of small canals. It is a wonderfully historic district, full of beautifully painted old buildings and sagging cobblestone streets. The building’s walls are decorated by thousands of leaning bicycles, while doorways are often framed by blooming rose bushes. In the photo above, I captured a Danish woman relaxing in the sun while chatting on her phone. Half lost in conversation and half distracted by the afternoon’s warmth. For me, it helps showcase the charm and spirit of summer in Copenhagen – something that everyone should experience.
Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.
My final day in Oslo was spent meandering the city’s cobblestone streets, wandering through the old harbor, and resting lazily in the park reading my book. I’d paused at the local rail station during the previous day’s walking tour and picked up a discount reservation for an overnight train from Oslo to Stavanger on Norway’s western coast. To my disappointment, my Eurail pass only reserved a reclining airplane like seat, but – it would have to do. The train left late in the evening – 10PM if memory serves and would take just over 8 hours as it wound its way along the southern coast, before hockey-sticking up through the Fjords to Stavanger.
The late departure gave me the entire day to explore the city and relax. Hildur was off work at 4:30 which gave me a sold 4 or 5 hours to explore. Eager to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I struck off down towards the old harbor. My path took me along major streets with old buildings, showcasing an eclectic mixture of architectural styles from all over the world. Despite the inherent beauty in most of the buildings, one stands out in my memory: the US Embassy. The building stood on the corner of the street which encircles the Palatial Park/Main Palace. It was an odd building. Ringed by an imposing 10+ ft tall black fence, the building was all blacks and grays. About 3 stories, it was square, with an odd architectural design, one which had arrow slit like windows. The whole thing oozed a sense of…I don’t want to say Evil…but perhaps…unfriendliness is a better word. It may have just been the color and the architectural era it hailed from. Either way, it left me feeling disappointed and misrepresented.
Though I’d poked around the main Harbor the day before, I relished the opportunity to continue my exploration. The harbor is home to some 5-10 “tall ships” which is to say old/classically modeled sailing vessels. Many have been converted into tour vessels but others are still classic sailing ships. All offer a beautiful ambiance to the harbor which is ringed by cafes and small kiosks not to mention an incredible view back towards the down town area.
From the harbor I struck back up, re-tracing the previous day’s steps, towards the Parliament building and central greenbelt. From there it was up and down the main shopping street. Lined with people, the street also provided a wide selection of street performers. From jugglers, to musicians most of the usual types were in attendance. Some of the more a-typical ones, however, included a puppeteer playing the piano, and cripple using his two crutches to alternately perform tricks while bouncing a ball with them. The sights and sounds left me chuckling at times, wincing at others and of course scratching my head in bafflement at yet others.
The street eventually led me down towards the main train station, where I headed to the left, and quickly ended up in a picturesque square which was doubling as a flower market. The market was awash in colors, scents and people as passerby’s paused to relax, pick up flowers, or wound through the square on their way to some errand or meeting.
Eventually my meanderings took me back through the warren of H&M stores and small cafe’s towards the old National Theater. The boulevard it sits on is split down the middle by a series of small fountains, flowerbeds overflowing with blooming flowers, and of course the usual assortment of relaxing and sunbathing Norwegians. I paused briefly next to one of the fountains to capture the photo above – two young children at plan. There’s something about it which just seemed to strike me as being a bit classic. Boy meets girl. Boy wears blue. Girl wears red. Both enjoy the innocence of youth, combined with the joys of a youthful, inquisitive nature, while relaxing in front of a gorgeous fountain on a beautiful blue day.
From the fountain I decided to see if I could explore the inside of the city hall. It was, after all, a rather unique building. It seemed only natural that the interior would be equally interesting. The 5 minute walk down to the main structure was quick and enjoyable. I say walk, but it was more a lazy meandering as I lankily ambled my way along the sidewalk. The building – a massive red brick creation – served as a picturesque backdrop for various pieces of artwork, often added seemingly at random. A prime example is the large clock shown above, which I found all the more beautiful due to the relatively basic and plane brick backdrop that it had been set within.
The building’s main entrance was equally interesting. Though not completed until 1950 due to the War, the building was started in 1931 which is reflected in its general feel and appearance. Parts of the design left me thinking of a simpler, less ornate version of the Chrysler Building in New York. Interestingly, the City Hall is also the site of the award ceremony each year where Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded.
The building’s immediate interior is a massive open room. The room has a variety of different murals – all done in a similar style – decorating each of the walls. The murals reflect the nation’s history and toils, while conveying a very propaganda-esq artistic style. One which, at least in the US, we’ve often come to associate with former Soviet and more Socialist governments. The murals focus on the people, their labors, culture and wars. Not surprising given the building’s history and completion in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
After leaving the City Hall, I found my way back up past the Royal Palace before connecting with Hildur, who had just gotten off work. After a quick nap, we decided to pick up some Sushi to go (which to my surprise was only slightly more expensive than fast food), before heading to the park to enjoy the weather. We ate, chatted, and enjoyed the weather before saying our goodbyes. It was time to head to the rail station and to continue my exploration of Norway’s culture and natural beauty.
My stay in Oslo was incredible. Made that much more delightful by my incredible hosts, who truly went out of their way to share their city, culture and local cuisine with me. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will always have very fond memories of Oslo, in no small part, due to their hospitality.