Katherine Fraser is a stylist who has throughout the US, Canada, and South Korea before settling in New York City.
Who and Where
Where did you travel?
In April, 2012 I traveled to Berlin, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Amsterdam, Netherlands.
I had a limited amount of time, 2 weeks, and wanted to hit a few places somewhat near each other. I definitely wanted to check out the emerging young art scene and party scene in Berlin. I’ve always been interested in Scandinavian countries, and knew Copenhagen and its architecture would be beautiful. Amsterdam seemed like a must-see place, being one of the most popular places to visit in Western Europe.
Who were you with?
I was with one of my best friends, Dinah, who was living in Newcastle England at the time. I had already been to England very briefly but nowhere else in Western Europe. She hadn’t been anywhere else in Europe either at that point. We thought exploring a part of W Europe would be a great way to spend time together. I liked traveling with her in particular because we had split up our duties. She planned our sleeping arrangements/what areas we should stay in and I chose a lot of our day-to-day activities.
I enjoyed traveling with one other friend. You can share beds, share sandwiches (meals in general), but there are only two different opinions to deal with. If one of you wants to do something the other doesn’t, you can easily compromise by doing both, or choosing a third option you both agree on. They’re also there to remind you of things you may forget, like when one of us thought one of our flights was a day before it actually was.
Where did you stay?
Dinah and I chose to use couchsurfing.com. We were broke and in our early twenties and thought it would be a great way to meet locals and make friends. Dinah was in charge of finding our accommodations via the website. At the time, we didn’t care much where we stayed in the cities. We had researched the areas we wanted to explore, but since we were couch surfing, our main objective was to find non-creepy hosts. Her rules for finding good hosts: they have to have profile photos that include other people, and they needed to have reviews from past guests. We wanted to see that they have friends and aren’t weird. Having a good photo goes a long way and says a lot about how the person represents him/herself. Going for a host that has reviews from previous guests is a no-brainer.
Who did you stay with?
We stayed with one female host in Berlin. She was great, a neuroscience major at a local university who was very helpful and sweet and had many experiences hosting and being hosted through Couch Surfing. In Copenhagen, we had one host, a guy in his mid to late twenties. He was a bit quiet but definitely nice and helpful. He walked us around the city for a couple of hours and went out to dinner with us for our first night in town. He had a good friend that was also staying with him at the time who was very nice and helpful. In Amsterdam, we had two separate hosts. Our first host was also in his early twenties. He picked us up from the airport in Amsterdam and brought us to his apartment. One of his friends came over soon after we arrived. She was sweet and we all ended up biking around together, going out to eat and partying together the first night. Our last host was a beautiful Dutch man who lived with another guy. He was in his late twenties, as was his roommate. As soon as we arrived at his house, we sat down and got in to a deep, great conversation with the two hosts that lasted a couple of hours.
It was great that most of the hosts had friends come over soon after we arrived at their apartments. It took a bit of the awkwardness out of the first few hours when you’ve just arrived at a stranger’s house. I would definitely recommend couchsurfing to others, but to be smart and safe about it.
What items were you most happy to have with you?
I had a plug that converted to all types in W Europe and that was handy. I bought it on Amazon. I was also happy I had a few different pairs of shoes. When my feet were sore from walking around all day, I could switch to a different pair at night or the next day if my feet were still bothering me. Otherwise, I was glad I had bandaids for blisters – basic things that are easy to find at your local drug store and would be an annoying extra step to take when you’re traveling and have a lot you want to accomplish each day.
What couldn’t you find that you wished you had?
I wished I had some basic medicine for the common cold. Dinah and I both caught a respiratory cold during the trip and made due with random things from our hosts and the pharmacy but it would have been nicer to have some Dayquil/Nyquil or something similar for the worst days. I’m sure it’s easy to find similar products but, when you’re feeling bad, it’s handy to have something familiar in your pack.
Any other packing tips?
DON’T OVERPACK! I made this rookie mistake. You won’t see anybody again, so you can always repeat outfits. If you have a friend with you, you can share things as well.
What to Know Ahead of Time
Are there cheap airlines within these countries that are good to know about?
I flew SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) between Berlin and Copenhagen for $145, and between Copenhagen and Amsterdam for $101. I had heard about Ryan Air (a popular budget airline in Europe) but I don’t think it flew to Copenhagen at the time, like it does now.
Was it necessary or helpful to know the languages?
We did not learn any of the languages before traveling. We could get by with English and some sign language. We learned hello and thank you in every language, but that’s about it. I would recommend knowing hello and thank you for sheer politeness anywhere you go.
How safe did you feel throughout your travels?
I felt very safe. I live in New York City and have lived in other cities, so I wasn’t too intimidated by where I was going. I knew to have my wits about me, but I wasn’t going anywhere where pick pocketing was a major issue. We were careful about not walking anywhere too quiet alone late at night and we took taxis when we needed to. I brought one of those money wallets that you wear around your waist (my mother insisted). I didn’t use it once (sorry mom). I made sure to tuck my money and passport places that were easily accessible to me but not to strangers. It was my first time traveling alone to countries where English was not the first language, which was intimidating, but I did not feel unprepared at all.
What To Do
What were the coolest places you visited?
I loved the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, which is a contemporary art museum in Berlin. We walked around and went out in Kreuzberg, which, at least at that time, was the hippest place for folks our age. It has decent thrift shopping and cafes. There is a lot of great public art and graffiti in that area.
For nightlife, I’d recommend Berghain, a club with great European house music (books people from all over the world). Go at 4am Saturday morning and stay until Sunday afternoon. It’s open the whole weekend. It’s especially great if you’re in your early to mid twenties. Very international. To get in, you have to wait in a long line and play it cool. Don’t go in a large group. Don’t be loud in the line.
Most of our time in Copenhagen was spent on foot. I would’ve loved to rent a bike but it was pretty cold. We stayed in Vesterbro and could easily walk to the city center and other places of interest. It’s also within walking distance of the main train station. The first day we arrived, we spent hours walking around the city center and the Lakes (Soerne). They were beautiful. We went to Assistens Cemetary and strolled around for a couple hours as well. It has beautiful landscaping, as well as Hans Christian Anderson’s grave.
We also went to Christiania. I’d seen a show about it on the Travel Channel. There’s a community that has lived there since the 70s, when the military base closed down and squatters moved in. It’s the only part of Copenhagen that has (questionably) legal pot. They’re actually a “self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood.” I wouldn’t recommend going there except to buy some pot and take a walk. It’s mainly marijuana tourism (unless that’s your thing).
The boat tour that goes past Nyhavn and other culturally and historically significant buildings is a must-do. It highlights waterfront architecture, which I found really interesting.
The boat tour of the canals here is great too, highlighting history and architecture. And of course you have to rent a bike. It’s Amsterdam!
For shopping, there’s a small area that has great thrifting called Haarlemmerstraat in the Jordaan District. We especially loved the store Wini.
The Eye Film Institute in Amsterdam had just opened when we were there. On top of having a great view, it had an incredible exhibit at the time when we went.
For nightlife here, we liked Trouw. It’s a very popular club.
I’d recommend skipping Leidseplein. It’s a busy area but full of not-so-great restaurants. I think it’s only popular because of the pot cafes, and maybe just because it’s so busy. I would definitely recommend going to a pot café if that’s your thing, mainly because you can order the type of high you want. If you want to be able to bike around the city and explore all day, or if you want to spend the day laying on a blanket in the park, you can order the hash/marijuana for your needs. I would not recommend staying in one, however. I never spent more than 10 minutes in one so I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that they’d be filled with obnoxious tourists or pot-snobs.
I’d absolutely recommend exploring on foot in each city as much as possible. Take a bus, cab, or train to whatever neighborhood you’re interested in and wander.
Photos by Katherine Fraser
Interview conducted by Evy Bround