I have been a dreamer my entire life, whether that’s a blessing or a curse I’m still not sure. When I was in high school I found it hard to focus on homework because my mind had such a strong tendency to wander.
Instead of concentrating on y=mx+b, I would be daydreaming about becoming like Henry David Thoreau, living in isolated self-sufficiency; or finding love; or traveling the world—especially Europe.
Conveniently enough, my senior year I became great friends with our Danish foreign exchange student. Her name was Signe. After graduation we kept in touch via a combination of phone calls and snail mail, and we talked a lot about the possibility of me coming to stay with her and her family someday. I wound up getting a job at a local café and saved up enough money to make that possibility a reality. On my nineteenth birthday, I flew the 4,700 miles from Tampa, FL to Billund, DNK.
Denmark had everything from rolling hills covered in blue cornflowers, to thatched roof cottages, to regal castles which looked like they belonged in fairytales. It had cities, rural scenery, and quaint towns which managed to possess the qualities of both of the above.
Denmark is rich in history, and I could feel its importance through the traditions kept alive throughout the generations. A very fond memory of mine was when Signe and I went to her Grandmother Ruth’s house for afternoon tea. She spoke very little English, so in order for her and me to have a conversation Signe had to serve as our translator. I warmly remember Ruth telling me, through Signe, stories about her family member’s travels to and from America, showing me historical family keepsakes, and allowing me to explore the exquisite garden in her backyard—it looked like a wonderland.
Another staple memory of my trip is all the time Signe and I spent riding motorized bicycles through their rural town, listening to Fleet Foxes through the stereo which we attached to the back of her bike as we wandered through the hills of the Danish countryside. The warm sun shone down on us and a tender breeze blew through the fields of wheat around us; sounds slightly mawkish, but it felt like something out of a film.
When Signe’s older sister would visit, she would drive the two of us around for day and weekend trips. One trip the three of us took was to Copenhagen. We visited Amalienborg (the royal family’s winter home), Rosenborg Castle and the Danish Crown Jewels, Freetown Christiania, Tivoli Gardens, and of course, the Little Mermaid statue. It was during that trip that I experienced perhaps my favorite moment of the entire visit. We were on a double-decker bus (the top floor, naturally) on our way back to the hotel room from sightseeing. As we entered what felt like the heart of the city near the train station, I looked up at the clear blue sky and the regal statues of some of Denmark’s famous figures, and it dawned on me that I was in the midst of actually living a moment I had been dreaming about for years. I excused myself from the girls for a moment, pulled out my iPod, and turned on Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve. As the violins began to play as we drove through this beautiful European city, the magnitude of this surrealistic experience flooded through me. I had only ever lived this out in fantasy, and at that moment it transitioned from dream to reality, and it was a feeling I hope I never forget.
After my month and a half in Denmark I had enough European memories to last me a good long while; and to be honest, one of my favorite parts about traveling is coming home again. I learned to appreciate things that I usually wouldn’t think twice about, like my native tongue and a general sense of belonging. It was so good to see my family again. I haven’t forgotten my Danish friends, though; Signe and I Skype every Sunday.
So, why do we travel? We travel because of those “double-decker bus” moments; soul quenching moments where we feel the vastness of the world and the opportunities it has to offer. It’s a chance to meet new people, to learn about their history and traditions, and to learn a lot about yourself. If we as people really do learn something new every day even while we’re in our comfort zones, surrounded by familiarity, imagine the things we could learn while exploring new territory. In my opinion, not regretting the time spent traveling has just as much to do with the traveler as it does with the place. Of course, visiting somewhere you’ve always dreamed of never hurts.
About the Author: After graduating nearly three years ago, Amy Shull traveled to Washington State, where she had a seasonal job at a lodge in the temperate rainforest. About nine months after returning home, she made the trip over to Denmark. She currently resides in Florida.
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