our not so happy travels

I am happy to report that I’ve made it to Aarhus, Denmark! However not without some trouble. Everything started off great. I arrived at the Chicago O’Hare airport ahead of schedule with my parents. I met Emma, a student from UW that was also studying in Aarhus for the semester. We met up a few times in the Fall and decided it would be easiest to travel together. We booked our one-way flights to Copenhagen and decided we’d take a train the rest of the way to save some money and experience public transportation in Europe.

Our flights were great. We had one flight from Chicago to Toronto, which was about an hour long and overall a fast and smooth ride. We then had a four-hour layover at the Toronto airport where we ate supper and passed the time getting to know each other a little better.

The Toronto airport was well organized, had great food and had a clean, quiet atmosphere. The time passed quickly and before we knew it, we were being called to board our flight with Air Canada to Copenhagen. The flight was a little over seven hours and we flew through the night. Our cabin was almost empty, and Emma and I both got a section of seats to ourselves. I slept longer than I expected I would, and the extra room to stretch out definitely helped.  I woke up and watched as we flew into the sunrise. The window seat has always been my favorite. It’s one of those instances where I feel truly at peace. Flying above the clouds and watching the world move below is something I will never get tired of.

When we touched down in Copenhagen, Emma and I were both feeling tired, but in good spirits that so far everything had gone according to plan. That is where things began to go downhill.

Trains in Denmark: Don’t take them!!! I have since learned even the Danes are not very fond of them, and that there are much cheaper and easier ways to travel. But at the time, all of this information was unknown to me.

Emma and I took a chance and bought discount tickets being offered for a train headed to Aarhus about two hours after we landed. The trick was these tickets were only for this specific train. So, if we missed our train, we would have to buy entirely new tickets. With normal, not discounted tickets, it’s easy to change your train to a different one in case you miss it. But, in the spirit of saving money and traveling cheaply, we decided to risk it thinking we’d be able to make it work. I’m sure anyone can guess what happened next.

Yep, we missed our one and only chance to get on the train. BUT, not for our lack of trying. We did everything right. I asked one of the employees at the ticket counter what platform we should be at, and confirmed that I was reading the timetables correctly, she explained how to find out correct train cart and seats, and everything made sense. Fifteen minutes before our train was scheduled to arrive, we stood at the platform watching how everything went down. We saw the name Aarhus appear on the timetable and waited for a train that was labeled Aarhus… except there was none. No trains had the word Aarhus written on any of them. Ten minutes later, we finally admitted defeat. We were stressed, tired and more than anything we were confused. Did our train just not come at all? I decided to go back to the ticketing station to buy new tickets and ask for more help, while Emma watched our luggage on the platform. After I explained our situation to a staff member, he came back with his manager and she did not look happy about this predicament. Trust me lady, I wasn’t either. Despite her demeaning tone and telling me multiple times, “You NEED to ask the staff on the train for help,” (spoiler alert: there weren’t any around to help us), she graciously honored our discount tickets and allowed us another chance at getting on the next train without having to buy new tickets. I also learned that Aarhus was only a stop on the train, therefore the train would be labeled with its final destination rather than any of the stops it made, which was information I did not know before. Neither of us had ever taken a train, so we had no idea what to expect.

So round two, we see the train labeled Aalborg which I had been told stopped in Aarhus. As quick as possible we lugged all of our suitcases onto that train and knowingly into the wrong carts and the wrong seat. There is only about a minute for people to get on and off the train, and we had no help lifting our 50 pound suitcases up the train stairs. But we thought we had made it on the right train.  Well, we hadn’t. We learned we were STILL on the wrong train when a man came to check our tickets, but this one also stopped in Aarhus. Thankfully, he let it pass and allowed us to ride the train until our stop. We then proceeded to endure a stressful, loud and uncomfortable four hours on the train, trying to keep our luggage from rolling all over the floor and out of people’s way. We missed our first train, got on the wrong train the second time, and sat in the wrong seats in the wrong cart but we finally made it to our stop. Our troubles didn’t end there.

The train stop was attached to a mall where we figured we could buy sheets and pillows for our dorm rooms. Everything else was provided in our rooms except the bedding. We also met our mentors from the university that were assigned to give us our keys and help us make it to our dorms. We pushed our luggage through the mall full of people only to decide that bedding at this mall was significantly more expensive than other places. We left empty handed and decided to take a taxi to our dorm buildings. Emma and I lived in different buildings that were across from each other, so with our mentors and luggage in tow we finally arrived at our dorms. The buildings were old and didn’t have elevators, so we had to carry our things up multiple flights of stairs to find each of our rooms. We had also run into some communication issues with our mentors as English wasn’t their first language, and pretty much anything we came across in the mall, the taxi and at the dorms was all in Danish. We even struggled to order from those automated machines at McDonald’s. People might be able to speak English in Denmark, but that doesn’t mean that they choose to.

I got to my room and barely had enough energy to shower and change out of my clothes. I did not even attempt unpacking. I set up my wifi router, contacted my parents and tried to sleep. There was a lot I wasn’t prepared for and the stress of the day took its toll on me (see my sad blog post about my night full of self-pity that I find totally justified given the day’s events). I could only hope for these feelings to pass and for things to get easier.

If I could give any advice for people traveling to Denmark: Don’t take the trains. Never take the trains. Save your sanity and spend the extra money for a flight or look into taking a bus instead.

Overall, we made it and I am thankful for that. But I have a feeling there is a long road ahead of me. It’s going to take some time before I learn the city and start to feel like I fit in here. But hopefully the worst is behind us and it’s only up from here.