Copenhagen Exchange Program Detours: Hamburg, Malmo, and Doha

Most of my fellow participants at the summer exchange program in Copenhagen extended their stay after the program ended to do a lot of traveling in Europe. I would’ve liked to do that, but I didn’t have the luxury of time or money to do so. Nevertheless, I was able to do a bit of traveling beyond Denmark, and, while it wasn’t the grand Europe trip I’d hoped I could undertake, I’m still happy that I got to see a bit of two other countries: Germany and Sweden.

Hamburg

I spent a weekend in Hamburg, Germany, as easyJet flew there for an affordable price. Visiting Germany has, for some reason, sort of been a dream of mine, even though I don’t have a strong affinity with or knowledge of the culture. I guess it’s because I want to learn German someday – as it is, I’m focused on learning Japanese, but perhaps at some point in time, I’ll try learning German as well.  

The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is Germany’s second-largest city, and it has a reputation for being quite international. Being a transportation hub, what with its busy harbor, it’s known as the Gateway to the World. (It was also my gateway to Germany!)

(Left) Rathaus/Town Hall, (right) Alster Arkaden

(Left) Rathaus/Town Hall, (right) Alster Arkaden

When I arrived there, it was already late noon, so I just walked to Rathaus (the Town Hall), where a wine festival was going nearby. I had Maultaschenschnitzel for dinner; it’s a breaded dish with lasagna-like layers of pasta and minced meat inside, kind of like a giant ravioli. I walked around a bit more and saw the Binnenalster, one of Hamburg’s artificial lakes, and the Alster Arkaden, a shopping arcade. I also found out that the Hamburg Dom, a large carnival (one of the biggest in Germany), was ongoing during my visit, but after walking around too much, I was already too tired to check it out.

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The next day, I went to the St. Pauli Fish Market to have a delicious brunch. I had the most delicious fish and chips I’d ever tasted in my life, a shrimp sandwich, and bratwurst (because I couldn’t leave Germany without trying an authentic German sausage).

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Then I joined a short ferry tour of Hamburg, saw some churches (St. Michaeli and St. Petri), entered the Rathaus but unfortunately missed the guided tour, then headed off to a dinner appointment.

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Dinner was with a lovely family that I’d gotten in touch with through Couchsurfing. I’ll not name them for privacy reasons, but anyway, I tried Couchsurfing for the first time, and contacted them in the hopes of staying with them. However, circumstances changed, and I ended up booking a hostel, but wanted to meet the family anyway, as they seemed genuinely nice and sweet. They were happy to host me, and so I spent some time talking to them and playing with their kids. They’re quite an international family: the father was Irish, the mother was American with German roots, and one child was adopted from China. They’ve also lived all over the world! I loved talking to them about their experiences and outlooks on life, and found that I shared a lot of their perspectives. Together with two more guests, one from Hong Kong and another from Denmark, we had a lovely homemade German dinner: barbecue, vegetables, salad, and flan cake for dessert. I’d love to meet this family again someday, as I was touched by their kindness and hospitality – they even drove me to the nearest station and gave me tips on how to get to my next destination.

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My next stop was the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s red-light district. I read several reviews about it and asked people for tips just to make sure that it wasn’t a problem for a woman to travel there alone. They said that as long as I exercised common sense (sticking to main roads and well-lit areas, avoiding potentially shady people, etc.), I’d be fine, and they were right. There were some homeless and/or drunk people on the streets, but I had a safe time there. It helped that there were also police cars parked around the area, and that it was generally well-lit. I saw the police apprehend some people and appear to break up a scuffle, but other than that, the Reeperbahn wasn’t so bad. It certainly was an eye-opening experience to visit a red-light district. Kabukicho had nothing on the Reeperbahn. (As an aside, at the Reeperbahn, I saw a shop selling pin-up fashion, but it was too expensive for me. Shame; the clothes made me look slimmer, and were pretty – I hardly see pin-up clothing anywhere else.)

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Again, I missed out on the Hamburg Dom on the second night, as I was too tired, and I finished touring the Reeperbahn a bit later than expected.

The next morning, I walked around the Old Warehouse District, then returned to Copenhagen. Despite thinking that a weekend in Hamburg would be more than enough, I left wishing that I could’ve stayed a bit longer. Who would’ve known that exhaustion would set in on the first day, and that I wouldn’t have enough time to rush everything the next day? Oh well. I hope to visit Germany again someday, as I’d love to see the other cities, such as Munich and Berlin!

Malmo

Malmo, Sweden’s third largest municipality, is just an hour away from Copenhagen by bus, so a day trip was quite feasible.

I read and heard that Malmo, like Hamburg, was also quite international, as it was home to several immigrants, and sure enough, there was an international food fair going on near the bus stop at Gustav Adolf’s Square. There was so much I wanted to try but not enough cash on me, so I settled for some paella.

Iconic statues at Stortorget, Malmo

Iconic statues at Stortorget, Malmo

I saw most of Malmo’s main tourist attraction: the city hall, St. Petri’s Church (Malmo’s oldest church), Malmohus Castle (inside of which was a museum that had a dark, creepy, but fascinating section on Malmo’s dark past – some of its infamous prisoners, Malmo during the Black Plague, and the like), and the Turning Torso, Scandinavia’s tallest building.

Turnng Torso

Turning Torso

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I also tried Swedish meatballs for lunch for a very cheap price at, of all places, a Latin American restaurant near St. Petri’s Church called La Empanada. I only paid SEK35 (about USD5) for several pieces of meatballs, when you’d normally have to pay much more than that in other restaurants. Despite the almost too-good-to-be-true price, the meatballs were delicious. I could even have as much lingonberry jam as I wanted.

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My trip to Malmo was quite short. While I would’ve liked to visit Stockholm instead, it was good to visit Malmo to see what it was like. After all, it was already quite close to Copenhagen, so why not, right?

Doha

Actually, I didn’t get to explore Doha (in Qatar) at all; I was only there in transit for some long stopovers. I wish I could’ve used that time to see Doha, but again, there was the usual problem of not having enough budget.

Still, I was impressed at how Qatar Airways gave me a free night at a nearby hotel on the way back to Tokyo. They have a policy that entitles customers to a free night at a hotel, provided that their stopovers are at least a certain amount of time long, and that there are no other earlier flights that they could have booked on that day. I happened to meet those conditions.

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Qatar Airways took care of everything for me: they got me a temporary visa, took care of my transportation to and from the hotel, and even gave me meal vouchers for dinner and breakfast. As if all those weren’t enough, I was surprised that they gave me a suite room – enough for an entire family! – and that the meals were buffets. It was nice of them to give me such fancy arrangements and food, and I was so happy that I’d really love to fly with Qatar Airways again.

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