Sunshine and Culture

The next day started out with me apartment hopping. I moved from Sara’s apartment to the apartment of two other friends, Lauren and Darshali. Because Lauren happened to have the afternoon off, she decided to join me in my exploration of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, one of Madrid’s main art museums. However, almost as soon as we got there we issued a groan. The line snaked around the block. With plummeting hopes we decided to walk towards the main doors and assess how dire the situation was. To our great surprise, the door was locked. Turns out we had showed up right before opening hours and the line wasn’t hopeless after all. To make things even better, the museum was free that day. So without too much ado we waited for about 10 minutes in line before being ushered inside.

In order to stay relatively crowd free, we decided to work from top to bottom, something that happened to actually make sense chronologically. The museum’s oldest collections are housed at the top of the museum, while its more modern works are shown on the main floor. I will say that one of my favorite moments was running into a few El Greco paintings. I had always found El Greco a bit odd when I studied him in Art History and Spanish class, and while I still find his artwork strange, I left liking quite a few of them. Yay art! Overall, we spent well over two hours at the museum–and we didn’t even get to have a good look in all of the rooms! Unfortunately, our grumbling tummies told us that they would rather eat than spend another hour in the museum, so we set off for lunch.

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After a nice lunch, Lauren had other obligations, thus leaving me to my own devices. I’ve discovered through my various travels that while I am a huge fan of public transportation (probably a product of growing up with the practically non-existent public transport in Los Angeles), I am an even bigger fan of walking.

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Madrid is a fairly walkable city, so I walked through the Parque del Oeste and caught a glimpse of the Temple of Debod. The temple is an original 2nd century BC Egyptian temple that was given to Spain after Spain helped the Egyptian government in 1960. The construction of the Great Dam of Aswan posed a threat to several nearby historic monuments, and Spain responded to an UNESCO call asking for help to preserve Egypt’s monuments. The Temple of Debod was then given to Spain as a thank you by the Egyptian government. After taking in the temple, I turned around and began to walk back into the heart of the city.

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Not too far away from the park is Madrid’s Royal Palace. Unfortunately it was closed when I passed by, but I wasn’t too put out. While I do enjoy visiting palaces, I’ve seen so many this past year that missing this one wasn’t devastating. I did however enjoy taking a quick walk around part of the palace grounds.

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Right next door to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena. The cathedral is named after Madrid’s patronness, the Almudena Virgin. According to legend, an image of the Virgin was found by the king on the city wall, thus creating the Almudena (derived from an Arabic word meaning city wall) Virgin.

Similar to palaces, I’ve seen quite a number of cathedrals this past year, and have started to pass them by. What made me want to go into this one was pictures that I’d seen of the ceilings. The multicolored panels were definitely worth a short stop.

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After saying hello to the installation of Pope John Paul II just outside the cathedral, I decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment. From there I reunited with all of my Spanish ETA friends for dinner. After a tasty selection of tapas we went to San Ginés, which is a cafe renowned for its hot chocolate and churros. I must admit that it’s definitely famous for a reason. The melted hot chocolate was fantastic, but it was so rich that my friends told me that it’s rare for anyone to ever finish all of it.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo

Again, I’m really not very creative with titles, but, in case you can’t tell, I was on a train! After a drawn out series of family debates, my Dad and I decided to spend part of our Christmas holidays in Vienna and Salzburg. To get there we decided to go by train. Now, you’re probably wondering how long that takes. The answer: four trains, four cities, and about 26 hours. We went from London St. Pancras to Vienna via Brussels, Cologne, and Prague. Yes, it took awhile. Yes, this travel plan was part of our family debates. But hey, we made it.

Our first stop was in Brussels. Unfortunately, it was only for about an hour so we didn’t bother to leave the station. But, this did mean that we had a chance to wander around and explore the station. The one thing that really intrigued me was the special charging stations that they had. Instead having standard outlets, they had outlets that were connected to bikes. In other words, if you wanted to power your electronics you had to be prepared to hop on a bike and power them yourself. I had used my laptop for a bit on Eurostar (I’m sad to report that they did not have wifi) and decided to try testing out this bike system in order to charge my laptop for a bit. The system definitely worked, although I don’t believe it charged my laptop as quickly as a regular outlet would. But, it was a fun experiment. I was also thoroughly impressed by the middle aged woman next to me who managed to pedal her bike, charge her phone, and talk on the phone all at the same time. Granted, she wasn’t able to sustain this for too long.

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From Brussels we boarded an ICE train to Cologne. Unlike the last time I boarded an ICE train, this time I was supposed to be on it. Like the last time, it was an incredibly pleasant experience. The seats were plush, the atmosphere was nice, there was wifi, and we were even offered snacks and drinks. Before we knew it we were in Cologne.

Now I had heard two very different things about the city. One friend living in Germany told me that Cologne was supposed to be nice, while my German cousin told me “I can’t stand Cologne, although the Rhine bridge and the cathedral are nice.” So my Dad and I arrived in Cologne without a clear idea of what to expect. We had about three hours to kill and it just so happens that the Cologne Cathedral, one of the two things that my cousin likes, is right next to the train station. Unfortunately we arrived around 7:15 pm and couldn’t go inside, but we contented ourselves with walking around the cathedral and taking a few pictures.

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But, not all was lost. We were very lucky because Cologne’s Christmas market is right next to the cathedral. So, once we had finished taking pictures of the cathedral we spent our free time wandering around the market. In retrospect I think it’s probably the best Christmas market that we went to.

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IMG_6483  IMG_6476  IMG_6479 The night train wasn’t anything special and we managed to get to Prague without a hitch early the next day. We had about an hour before our final train to Vienna and so we went for a quick walk around Wenceslas Square (above). It was here that in a happy twist of fate I happened to catch up with my Brazilian roommate, Nicole, and her boyfriend. I knew that she was spending Christmas break in Prague but didn’t bother to tell her that I would be there since I was only there for an hour. I figured the chances of us meeting were pretty remote. Guess I was wrong!

After we boarded our train to Vienna it was all a matter of just sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying the final stage of our journey. We spent the majority of our trip going through the Czech Republic (for a better idea of our trip I pinned all of the major stops we made on the Map page) and I managed to snap a few pictures before we crossed into Austria.

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Trondheim

We finally made it! At around 8am the Finnmarken docked in Trondheim after a particularly impressive bit of parallel parking.

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My first view of Trondheim

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A tough parking spot

My parents graciously decided to stay with me in Trondheim for a few days so my first impression of Trondheim was a hurried mix of sightseeing, grocery buying, and Ikea constructing. My initial thoughts on Trondheim are that it’s very beautiful and very walkable. You could easily walk all of downtown, otherwise known as Sentrum, in a few hours. The bus system here is also great, if very expensive.

The first place we had a chance to walk around was the Stiftsgården, or the official residence of the Norwegian Royal Family in Trondheim. The building was originally built by a wealthy member of Trondheim society and was later purchased by the government and eventually converted into the royal residence. Norway has not always been a prosperous country so many of the Stiftsgården’s original antiques were sold long ago. The current furnishings were mostly provided from the marriage and coronation of Princess Maud of England, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, to King Haakon VII. Fun fact: the Norwegian Royal Family didn’t actually come from Norway. When Norway achieved independence from Sweden in 1905, the Norwegian government decided that it wanted to remain a monarchy instead of becoming a republic. In order to actually establish a monarchy (since they could no longer use the Swedish one), they invited Prince Carl of Denmark to become the king of Norway. When Carl accepted, he changed his name to become King Haakon VII, and Princess Maud became the Queen Consort.

We also got the chance to see the Nidaros Cathedral and bought a combination ticket to see the cathedral, archbishop’s palace, and the crown jewels. Because we were short on time I wasn’t able to see too much of the archbishop’s palace, but I did learn that the building has been reappropriated throughout the years, and was most notably  a site of resistance against the Nazi invasion. As for the crown jewels, they were of course beautiful but I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures.

Now for the cathedral! The cathedral dominates the Trondheim skyline and is in fact the largest and most northern medieval cathedral in Scandinavia. The cathedral was built in this location because it is where Saint Olav was buried. Saint Olav was the king responsible for brining Christianity to Norway, and with the help of his sword, Olav managed to convert the entire country to Christianity within two years. Olav was believed to be a saint because when he died in battle it was said that those who came in contact with his body were healed of their wounds. When the body was exhumed a year later it was said that his body smelled of flowers and showed no signs of decay. The body was originally laid to rest inside the cathedral so that pilgrims could come pay homage to Saint Olav; however, when the Reformation took hold in Norway priests feared that harm would come to body and hid it away inside the cathedral. To this day they still haven’t discovered where the body is, although they continue to test graves within the cathedral. While the cathedral itself was beautiful, for me the highlight of our tour was climbing to the top of the cathedral tower and getting a great view of the city skyline. Overall it’s an experience that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

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Stiftsgården

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Old Town Bridge in Trondheim

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Part of Sentrum

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