Sea of Lights

I promised I’d post today about Copenhagen, so here it goes. After a 3-hour, very spacious, train ride from Aarhus, I arrived in Copenhagen on Sunday. What followed was two lovely day spent in Andersen’s city.

A Pagoda in Tivoli

Since I travelled the first day without a camera, I confess I have very few decent photos, but they’re more than made up for by the light show at the Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world, but it doubles as a beautiful set of gardens. I spent my evening wandering it’s lanes and paths taking sparkling photos of the light show. What was once a verdant botanical garden was now a canopy of light!

One of the more beautiful decorations.

In particular, Tivoli did incredible things with the pond, upon which there was an actual wooden vessel. The park had little chinese-style (Junk to be precise) boats upon which children and their parents were sailing. The lights were arrayed to evoke small lily pads across from what was surely a replica of an 18th century ship.

The pond from one angle.

Simultaneously, they had strung up the willows and oak trees with lights , so the barrenness of winter was replaced with a brilliant yellow.

Finally, even the rides and attractions managed to add to the allure of the park. Each was strung up in abundance, down to the last detail. For example, the tower was a deep blue that radiated magnificently around the predominantly yellow buildings around it. Despite it being pitch dark, I felt like I was in a near perfectly lighted exhibition.

The Blue Lights

After my decadent stroll, I joined Floriane, an Oxford and Cambridge Society member for glauwein – a Danish variety of mulled wine perfect for this sort of evening. We had a great chat about life after university, and about how to engage alumni in the future. As a classicist herself, now working in an Art Gallery, it was really brilliant to hear about all the doors an Oxbridge degree can open. Looking for more of this sort of thing in the five days left!


Old and New

Denmark has been so fun I just haven’t had time to update my blog. Apologies. I’ll be writing one this evening about Copenhagen, but for now, more about Aarhus. Aarhus is an idyllic city nestled near the edge of the Jutland peninsula, as you probably know from my previous post. However, it’s also a city vibrant with new culture and modern beauty. Indeed, it houses an inspiration art gallery where I spent most of my Sunday.

The gallery, properly called ARoS, from the old Danish name for Aarhus presented its first public exhibition in 1859. Since then it has endeavoured to present the work of modern artists from across the spectrum of mediums. From what I saw the gallery is still going strong! I am not one for modern art, usually, but I was struct by how innovative yet aesthetically pleasing much of the work was; I’m used to getting one or the other, not both.


Upon entering the main exhibition, I was immediately greeted by the imposing, yet impeccably sculpted, Boy by Australian artist Ron Mueck. The piece was inspired by aboriginal children hunting in the outback. Venturing further into the exhibition, I saw my first Warhol, the iconic Marilyn. Quite a treat!


The temporary exhibition in the gallery was also not to be missed, as it was a restrospective of the London School, of which Freud, Auerbach, and Bacon were leading practitioners. The school emphasises a figurative, yet unsparingly truthful portrayal of the human form. This is at least what I got from the guide – I’m sure History of Art students await me on my return to set me straight. I particularly enjoyed the more surreal Bacon works, as I found them more evocative and arresting. Three Studies at the Base of a Crucifixion, while twisted, had me staring for a good five minutes.

Two of the Three Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

Finally, the most contemporary exhibits had some fantastic works by Icelandic artis Dodda Maggy. A specialist in film, she uses cutting to produce beautiful arrangements and piercing images. I spent a good 45 minutes in that exhibit.

After, I spent a lovely evening with alumni Amelia and Nikola, who showed me around Aarhus and with whom I enjoyed a traditional Danish meal. A lovely end to a lovely day!

One of Dodda Maggy’s beautiful works

Alumni Profile: Amelia Herridge Ishak

As promised, I’m happy to bring to you our first alumni profile, of Amelia Herridge Ishak in Aarhus (pronounced or-hus), Denmark. Amelia has a bachelor degree from UCL, and completed an MPhil at Trinity Hall, Cambridge in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic studies (what we call an ASNAC). 25198693_10156001537792430_442109565_o

She first arrived in Aarhus during her undergraduate degree, where it was a compulsory part of the course. She came with close friends. She thought it would be “a better place for my studies”, because Aarhus University is renowned for its Norse and Viking studies program. It’s also well known that Copenhagen’s English is so proficient that most students end up speaking their mother tongue most of the time.

After Cambridge, she decided to return to Aarhus to “do various things…it was where Simon [my boyfriend] was. I also fell in love with the city”. She shrugs her soldiers when I ask about why she loves Aarhus. “It’s calm, it’s beautiful, there are no unsafe parts, and people trust each other…very much so; they are very friendly.” On top of that, she wanted to start her PhD to work with a certain professor, and that’s in the works. “It’s getting there”.

As for Cambridge, she misses her friends, those “kind of people who understand exactly what you do…it’s sometime hard for people to understand what I do because it’s so random!”. She also says she made many friends who now form a really close unit. There were five: two still in Cambridge, one in York, one in Iceland and Amelia in Aarhus. The people was the thing she enjoyed most about Cambridge. There are “so many different things that people say make Cambridge great, but none of it is worth it without the people…what’s the point of the May Ball without friends to join you? You meet people who will be with you for the rest of your life.”

In five years, she “hopes to be a Doctor, in the academic sense…its kin of the ‘goal/plan’ at the moment”. She really wants to teach, but’d be equally happy with research. But the plan is now firmly on getting a PhD and “I’ll figure out the rest after!”

Regardless of what happens, I can say I received a very kind welcome in Aarhus, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about my travels tomorrow!

Fun Up North

Apologies for the delay in writing. I had such a fantastic, and whirlwind, time in Oslo that I simply have not had time to write anything down (the lack of an adapter didn’t help).

As soon as I touched down, my amazing alumni host, John, whisked me off to his place in the Norwegian hills. He is a software executive, but in his spare time he brews (really excellent) beer. The Pilsner was particularly good. So, over fantastic homebrew, he, his family and I discussed the intricacies of Norwegian politics. Riveting stuff for some of us. John was also President of the Queens’ Boat Club, so I can confirm I was drunk under the rug pretty comprehensively.

The next day, I toured Oslo, where I had the pleasure of meeting up with Asle Toje, the Research Director of the Nobel Institute. In other words, he compiles the dossier on each Noble Peace Prize nominee, which is used by the Nobel Committee to determine a winner every year. He’s also a highly regarded foreign policy analyst in Norway, and appears on their TV fairly regularly. More importantly, he’s also a Cambridge graduate (and friend of John). We truly are everywhere.

The Nobel Institue

Over coffee, we discussed the Nobel Prize and the future of conservative politics in Europe – one of his many areas of expertise. I was particularly interested to hear that the Nobel Committee prefers to receive a narrative ‘op-ed’ style briefing on each nominee, rather than something stale on each potential recipient. It reminds them that they are real people. Given that the Nobel Prize ceremony is happening this weekend, a very apt conversation!

I also managed to get up the top of the Opera House, which has a richly veined marble walkway up to the roof. I got some truly stunning photos!

The Opera House

In the evening, I joined John and a few of his friends for a fantastic dinner at the Norwegian Company, a private club across from the Parliament. The King Prawn terrine was succulent. The reindeer meet was also superb, but I did feel slightly awkward for eating Rudolph! The musical entertainment, provided by some students from the local music high school swiftly brought my mind of such things, however. A rendition of Tchaikovsky’s The Nightingale by a fantastic coloratura was especially moving. Fittingly, I ended the night with a White Russian!

The Storting (Norwegian Parliament)

I left Oslo in the morning thoroughly pleased, though a little bit worse for wear. Again, I am awed by the hospitality of the alumni and how our community stretches through time and place. More to come from Aarhus tomorrow, including a profile of Amelia, a young alumna who started up the Danish alumni committee.



Old Friends and Older Buildings

After leaving my new friends in Edinburgh behind, I was thrilled to spend a day in St Andrews with friends from my old high school. Pearson College is an international school; when I was there 82 countries were represented, despite there being only 160 of us! At breakfast that morning the eight of us were repping Canada (New Brunswick and Newfoundland), Germany, Slovakia, Guatemala, United States (California), Scotland and Denmark. Quite a bunch!

The knave of the cathedral.

Anyway, they might be old friends, but the ruins of St Andrews beat them all by a couple of centuries. The city itself is rather quaint, but you can get a pretty good sense of the place through the half-standing cathedrals and worn spires. The remains of the St Andrews cathedral are particularly impressive; it certainly evokes a feeling of majesty despite the remains being strewn about on the seaside.

Entrance to the Cathedral Ruins

Sibia (my friend from Guatemala) and I also walked the pier – out to the ocean. The windswept coast was a sight to behold. You could almost hear the Selky’s cry over the vast expanse.

In the evening, my German friend, Alex brought me to an alumni gathering of the German Society of St Andrews. Not only did this offer a great look into how other universities doe their alumni fundraising (lots to talk about at Cambridge!), it was a chance to have a vigorous debate about Europe with a few Germans studying international relations (I promise I didn’t start it). A light-hearted but vigorous evening!

On the St Andrews Pier

I’m writing this from an Oslo airport, and am now excited to see what the Nordic countries hold – I’ve come to realise that this unfortunately includes different plug sockets.

Some Top-Notch People

As I leave Edinburgh today, I can’t help but think with gratitude of all the alumni that have made my stay in this city so amazing. Their thoughts and stories have given me ample things to write about and have been excellent company the past few days.

In particular, Ian Robertson has been super in ferrying me throughout my few days here. He even managed to secure a meeting with an MSP in the Scottish Parliament.

Ian Roberts and I.

I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with MSP Jaime Johnston, who had a number of insightful things to say about how the Brexit referendum will impact the devolved administrations. Thanks as well to his staff for the superb tour.

Ian also recommended the brilliant National Gallery, where I spent my afternoon. I particularly enjoyed the Dutch collection – there was a particularly well done Rembrandt self-portrait – did you know he painted one every year for almost 40 years?

National Gallery Entrance

I also managed to get great pictures of some of the marble busts. This one of Lucius Verus, co-Emperor with Marcus Aurelius. He was known as a wise ruler, and eventually deified by the Roman Senate in the 170s.

Lucius Verus

I’d also like to profusely thank Mary Jane and Professor Laidlaw, the Secretary and the Chair of the Edinburgh Alumni Society. I was lucky enough to stay with Mary Jane one evening. We had an absolutely fantastic discussion about the workings of Boards of Directors (she manages some of the Scottish Government’s investments), and her life in Brussels. Watching and discussing the 10 o’clock news was also brilliant. Professor Laidlaw’s hospitality at the New Club was stellar – it was a very good first time for haggis! He also made sure I had a number of alumni: Hugh, Barry, David, Rosemary and Neal. David’s advice as a young graduate was particularly helpful!

I should also say that I was lucky enough to stay with my friend from high school, Sean, but I’ll be seeing him in Dublin so more then!

I leave Edinburgh so glad to have met members of the alumni society, and I’m excited to see what St Andrews and eventually Oslo hold!

Also managed a great picture of Holyroodhouse!



At the Top

I spent the day at Edinburgh Castle! What a majestic site. You could see as far as the eye could see on its ramparts, from the Firth of Forth to the Pentlands. I also managed to snap a stunning photo of Arthur’s seat from the top of the castle.

Arthur’s Seat

Edinburgh Castle has been besieged 26 times in its history (the most besieged location in Britain). Yet it remains in remarkably good shape. This is likely due to the large-scale restoration and expansion works in the 1850s (when all things Scottish were the rage). In fact, the main gate was a Victorian addition, added specifically because the castle didn’t look ‘medieval’ enough – or at least didn’t seem to live up to stereotypes.

By far the most dazzling aspect of the castle were ‘The Honours’ – the Scottish Crown Jewels. I didn’t manage to take pictures (no photography allowed), unfortunately, so I’ll try to relay in words. The sceptre, a gift from Pope Alexander VI – the pope of The Borgias fame – is gilt silver with a splendid crystal orb; it is much smaller than the English one. The sword is massive, and was very probably the inspiration for the great longsword in Game of Thrones.

Speaking of Game of Thrones…

It also has a silver handle and was a gift from Julius II. The Crown has a less ‘foreign’ history, and comes from the 1540s. Taken together, they are the oldest surviving crown jewels in the British Isles.

Peering through a Gun Turret

The quirkiest element of the day was the ‘1 o’clock’ gun’, which is fired every day except Sundays, Easter and Good Friday. I then walked through the War Museum, the Scottish branch of the IWM. The display was impressively reverent and captured the important role Scotland has played in the British Armed Forces. Interestingly, Scotland was the prime recruiting ground for the army, both because enlisted soldiers don’t rebel, and because it was one of the prime ways a young Scot could escape poverty. Thus, the Scots formed the crack troops of the British Forces, and it was a Scot from the Royal Scots Regiment (the oldest in the British Army) who took the imperial standard from Napoleon’s forces at Waterloo.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the regimental museums, where individual stories of gallantry took center stage. At the IWM, history is often portrayed through grand arcs, while the Regimental museums at the Castle did well to focus on the real impact and bravery of ordinary men and women.

Finally, I stopped at the profoundly moving War Memorial. Each regiment has a small shrine in front of which are placed two red books. One records those killed in World War I. The other has printed all those killed in World War II.

The War Memorial exterior. Fittingly, no photos allowed inside.

Thumbing through, it was most revealing to see lists of names, which were placed in alphabetical order, noting that they had all been killed on the same day. Alphabetical or not, it was a testament to the sheer loss of life experienced during those two conflicts (Scotland lost more per capita than any other part of the UK).  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Departing the Castle, thoroughly sobered, I was of course greeted with a bagpiper, whose sounds are becoming more and more amenable…


Coming up later today, a great conversation I had with an alumna (from Emmanuel!), and my thoughts on the Scottish Parliament.