So I’m in Maine now, my home state, a place I’ve only visited four times in the past ten years. I’ve been here about ten days now and it’s been emotional. It’s strange returning “home” after so much time away. It has changed some, but just cosmetically. It remains the same way I remember it. The people are charmingly simple and kind, though not necessarily friendly. Family is family. We might not be overly close any more, but the emotions that come with seeing them are pretty simple and expected: good and comforting to see mom and dad; nostalgic and reminiscent to see grandparents; emotional seeing my sister and nephew again.
Last night I was talking to my parents about the future, about my plans for fall, which apparently will now involve moving to Hanoi, Vietnam. It’s clear talking to them that they wish for me to move back, if not to Maine specifically, at least to the U.S. where I’d be more present. And for the first time I said the words I had never wanted to say to family: I don’t want to live in the U.S. They were hard words to say, but I’ve finally said them and now I’m emotionally preparing to leave already.
It’s often said home is where the heart is, but I think such a statement is far too reductively simplified. Maine feels like home in certain ways and my heart is here. It is with family and the familiarity of the regional culture and the endless pine forests and hundreds of rivers and lakes and the coast. But Maine isn’t home; my life isn’t here. And then there is Korea. My life is in Korea and my heart is with everything it has taught me over the past six years and all the personal growth I’ve undergone there. It is the place I became a man. But I don’t want to go back. So where is home then?
Home isn’t always a simple thing. The heart is often torn and frayed and splayed in too many directions for home to simply be where the heart is. And now as I prepare to head back to Korea in a few weeks for just enough time to pack up all my stuff and move it to Hanoi, I am forced to wonder what exactly everything means. Where is home? Where is my heart? To whom do I belong and to whom am I obligated?
People often say that you can never go home again, which might be true, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s possible to even find it again once it’s lost. Regardless of the answers or non-answers to such questions, I’m looking forward to Hanoi. I like change and I like new opportunities. If it’s not home that’s fine with me. I’m currently writing this at Cafe Nomad in Norway, Maine, a fitting place to write for a semi-nomad like myself.
One thing about Maine that must be noted, boasted about, and enjoyed is lobster. Last week for dinner we bought four 1.5 pound lobsters for only $36 and steamed them at home for dinner. Most places in the world charge exorbitant prices for lobster, but in Maine the price is, if I can create a new word, “in-orbitant.” Delicious.
Dublin Castle isn’t exactly a castle in the sense that we typically think of the word. In fact, it is more a collection of 18th century administrative buildings. But, regardless of its traditional castle-hood or lack there of, it is quite a lovely spot to visit off Dame Street in Dublin.
Dublin is also home to some great churches, including these beauties (in order) Christ Church Cathedral, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint John The Baptist, and Saint Augustine Church.
For reasons only a few other people could possibly surmise, I wasn’t much looking forward to my stop off in Dublin. In fact, coming to Dublin frightened me a little, and while in Prague last week I did my best to change flight times, destinations, and dates in order to avoid coming here, but my attempts were to no avail.
The reason I was frightened of coming to Dublin, was that I thought there would be ghosts here, phantoms that would oppress me and shadows I wouldn’t be able to light. And my first night in, after traveling longer than expected from Copenhagen, my fears did in fact seem prescient. However, after a full day of wandering around the city I can say that my fears were all for nothing. The ghosts I expected to encounter aren’t here at all.
Though the ghosts I feared to find here have proven themselves largely absent, there are still ghosts. But they are ghosts of a different kind. They aren’t malicious or oppressive or in any way maleficent. In fact, they have been quite the opposite. The ghosts I have found here have been of a munificent kind. They have calmed me and brought me a peace of mind I haven’t had in weeks, a peace of mind that I didn’t expect to gain for weeks. They have palliated certain pains and brought comfort I couldn’t have expected. They have helped me to feel at ease and hopeful and unafraid of the September to come. They may have fixed me in certain ways.
Unexpectedly, I am happy here in Dublin, a place with more character in a single city block than there is in all of Seoul. It’s a place I had long wanted to visit until the time actually came. And now that I am here I know that the ghosts of Dublin are not to be feared at all, but are to be embraced for all the things they represent.
In downtown Copenhagen near Frederik’s Church is Amalienborg Palace, which is the winter home of the Danish royal family. The palace is made up of four identical facades and an octagonal courtyard and in the middle is a statue of King Frederik. My inner-nerd was quite excited to visit Amalienborg, because I fondly recall the days when I played Sim City 4 obsessively and always loved to build the Amalienborg landmark because it looked great and didn’t do much harm to my city budget. However, the Sim City version and the real version aren’t even comparable, as the real palace is much much more impressive.
A few blocks directly west of Amalienborg is Frederik’s Church, or the Marble Church, a Lutheran church located just west of Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen. The interior of the church is absolutely beautiful and its dome is the largest in all of Scandinavia.
This morning I woke up to wind and sunshine and thought it a good day to head across the sound to Malmo, Sweden’s 3rd largest city. To tell the truth the thought of beautiful, blonde, bikinied Swedish women at the beach was a temptation I didn’t give much effort to resist. The train from Copenhagen Central Station took about 35 minutes and cost about $15 dollars, though the return trip was a bit more expensive for some reason.
After arriving at Malmo Central, I hired an old, beaten up, brakeless bicycle and headed straight for the beach, which wasn’t hard to find. Malmo actually has four or five distinct beaches and it seems they are all connected by a continuous bicycle/pedestrian road. I pedaled a few kilometers along the bike lanes and visited a couple beaches. Unfortunately, because of the wind, I didn’t stay long because of the amount of sand that as getting kicked up in my eyes and whipping my legs. But I did stay long enough to take a quick dip in the Baltic Sea, which was beautiful, dark blue, and, expectedly, fairly cold.
After heading back into town, I pedaled toward the Turning Torso, which is the tallest building in the Nordic Countries and looks not as oddly out of place as I expected. Much of Malmo appears to be modern, luxury development with a lot of new apartment buildings and shopping centers built along the northern coast of the city.
Back in the older part of the city not far from the train terminal is Lilla Torg, or Small Square. Here there are tons of shops, cafes, and restaurants, and a lot of al fresco dining and sitting about. Many of the buildings in Lilla Torg date back as far as the late 15th century and have been beautifully restored. And located not far is St. Peter’s church, which is also used as a restaurant and concert hall. Lilla Torg is quaint and full of energy and a great place for a lunch on a warm summer day.
Elsewhere in the city are other sites, namely Malmohus Castle and Kallbadhuset (a sauna), but, because of the brakeless bicycle, I was forced to foot out much of the afternoon, which limited my range. Besides that, it was terribly hot today, over 28 degrees, and the sun here is relentless (18 hours a day in summer). Additionally, my transportation pass expired at 4:30pm, so I wanted to get back to Frederiksborg before having to buy a new transport ticket.
Tomorrow will be last day in Copenhagen before moving on to Dublin for the weekend and then on to Portland, Maine to see family. I plan to visit a local park that a Danish friend recommended and then get my laundry washed before heading to the airport. More to come later.
This morning I headed north to Helsingor (Elsinore), a coastal city that is home to Kronborg Castle, Shakespeare’s inspiration for his play Hamlet. Located at the eastern-most tip of Zealand, it is Denmark’s closes point to Sweden. The town is an old port that has remade itself in recent years into a service oriented tourist town. The village is small and compact and packed with cafes, restaurants, and pubs. There is also a surprising amount of clothing shops and stores.
It only takes about an hour from Copenhagen Central Train Station and costs 108 Danish Krones each way (about $20). The C Train stops at Klampenborg where passengers can transfer to a Helsingor-bound train. This morning I was made to use a bus instead, because of railroad repair, but in the evening returned by train, which was much faster.
Across the Oresund (the straight that separates Zealand from Sweden) is the Swedish university city of Helsingborg, accessible from Helsingor by a 30 minute ferry ride. Helsingborg is a larger city than Helsingor and has more dining and shopping opportunities if that’s what you’re into. The most prominent site is the red brick city hall with its large clock tower. And straight up from the harbor is Karnan, a medieval tower that was build on a hill behind the city as a defense against possible attacks from the sea. Having grown quite tired I stuck nearby the harbor, climbing the Karnan tower and then meandering my way through the streets closes to the sea before heading back across the sound.
Overall it was a good time today as the rain was held at bay and eventually the sun came out. It was also the first time since I left Seoul that I felt like I was actually traveling. Strange. Anyway, if you’re ever in Copenhagen, definitely take a trip up to these two cities and enjoy the small town coastal feel of each.