Category Archives: 1997 Europe

Travel with the whole fam


Hello to all!

Skals Efterskole
Sunday, March 1, 1998

After driving all day from Hamburg, Germany here we are in Skals, Denmark. This is a tiny town where the majority of the population are students of various schools. Skals Efterskole is a public Danish boarding school with 108 students (somebody picked that number because it’s so divisible) in ninth and tenth grades. They have names like Jesper, Axel, Lars, Heidi and Stinne. They live in three houses on campus during the week, with four or five students per room. There is also an auditorium, a roller-blade ramp, a gym, a dining room, and classrooms on campus.

The First Day

I woke up to the sound of one of my roommates franticly saying “Forrest, you have to get up, you have to get up, breakfast is in one minute,” (They all speak almost perfect English). So I fell out of bed and pulled on pants and a T-Shirt and ran out the door, where I was surprised to see a heavy snow storm whirling around me. “It never snows in Denmark in March, and this is the first time it has snowed this year,” one said. Anyways we were the last two into the dining room where they explained to the person in charge that it was not their fault that they were late. It took me a week to figure out why everybody is always on time here, if not they have to walk to the ‘mailbox’, a box two kilometers down the rail road tracks where they must go and stamp their hand in their free time. Back home this would not work, the late person would just hop into daddy’s beamer and zoom off, but it sure works here.

After breakfast they have time to go back to their dorms and clean up and listen to music. Their favorites are Mettalica, Konghuest (a Danish rap group), Rage Against the Machine, Body Count, and Aqua. As I was told ten thousand times before I left, Aqua is a Danish group, and they are very proud of their first group to hit it big.

Other famous Danish things are The Little Mermaid, Legos, and Carlsberg beer (they were also proud of the first Danish beer to hit it big). Danish teenagers drink more alcohol than any other nationality, a fact that they shrug off. However, there is much less alcohol related violence here than in the US, and they cannot get a driver’s license until they are eighteen.

Next we all go to the auditorium to watch the daily news, then they have a discussion about it. The big news now are the elections. There are about twenty big parties here, so nobody has the majority. Most of the students that I talked to will vote for the liberal party, which, in Denmark, supports lower taxes and less government involvement.

“For example, a regular family four-door car here costs as much a Porsche in your country,” said one of my friends, Rasmus, “There is three-hundred percent tax on new cars here.”

I then asked “Doesn’t that mean more people ride bikes, making less pollution?”

“No, it means more people buy older cars that make more pollution.” he said.

“And does the government spend the money on good things?”

“No, they jut make more useless government jobs.”


You can draw your own conclusions from this conversation, but many more people do ride bikes here, and the government does spend money on things like BIKE PATHS and PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.

The rest of the day is school, with lunch around noon and supper around six. Two hours a day are allocated as homework time, and the rest free time.

There were snow flurries on the morning of my sister’s birthday, but nothing worth playing in. The next day, however, there was about four inches of perfect sculpturing snow on the ground. A tiny lump of my snowman from the first day had survived, so I gave it life again by putting it into my new one, which was two meters tall.

The first weekend in Denmark we spent at the summer house of the director of the school. No hot water there and the only heat came from a small wood stove. We went to the northernmost point of Denmark, where the Baltic and North Seas meet, and I stuck one hand into each. I was cheating though, wearing Gore-Tex with Thinsulate gloves. The wind chill was, uh, cold. We also climbed on some bunkers from WW2. The sea is moving in here about one meter per year, swallowing a graveyard, a church and a lighthouse.

Sunday we went to the largest aquarium in Europe, Nordsømuseeten (The North Sea Museum). I felt proud that the seals were looking at me, but when I moved and followed their line of sight the were staring intently at the door of that their their feeder was about to come out of. Oh well.

For the last few months the students (all of them) have been practicing a dance routine. The second Saturday we went with them to Århus where they had a segment in a day long show with other schools. So, which school won? Hah! Tricked you! You, as Americans, think it is perfectly natural to have such a thing as a competition. They thought it was strange that I thought it was strange that it was not a competition, just a performance.

The other acts varied from young people groups dancing to middle-aged people doing hand-springs off of a spring-board. There was even a group of older people square-dancing to Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’. No, not a competition, just for fun.

At Skals Efterskole the three main rules are: no drinking, drugs, or sex on campus. On the fifteenth of March a popular girl drank a beer and got expelled. The student body was taken into the auditorium and told, and within seconds people were crying. I thought somebody had died until someone was nice enough to lean over and tell me. After the announcement a firey debate ensued, questioning the rules, terms of expulsion, and Danish law. At the peak of emotional intensity one of the teachers said ‘But, if she writes a letter of apology, the punishment will be lessened to a week of suspension.’ The rest of the day was pretty tense, and I outwardly sided with the students. I never asked the main question on my mind, though, which was: why did she do it in the first place, and what did she gain from it? The cultures are so different it is hard for you to imagine.

The third weekend I decided to study some Danish teenage weekend culture by going home with one of my friends, Kasper G, or just G (pronounced ghee). He liked to lead off his questions by saying “Hey man I was wonderin one ting…” His obsessions are free style rapping and Bruce Lee. The first night we walked down to the movie rental place where we got some Jackie Chan movie and Spy Hard, both his choices.

Saturday night we did something “a little more Danish:” stay up most of the night and visit discos, bars, and a Hip-Hop Jam. He admitted that the Jam was terrible, especially when the rapper tried to free style in English. Kasper could do it better than the paid guy.

The last day in Skals, the 24th, everybody was sad that we were leaving.

“I do not want to make friends with you tonight, I’ll just cry in the morning,” said Lasse, who then started to ask questions about life in the US. This is how all of the friendships with people started here, as someone different is always interesting. The next day he did not fulfil his promise of crying, though.

On the road again, now through Germany to Rheden, The Netherlands. But this is another story, for some other time. Today is the 27th of March, and we have been gone for 170 days, and have just nineteen left. HOOOOOOOOOOOME!!!!!!!!!

Don’t forget to write,

Michael Forrest Dysart Oliphant

Long Message From Forrest

to all:

The last Wednesday in Spain my family and I went to a ninety minute Flamenco show, but I felt as if we were only there for ten. The percussion section included a gourd rhythm instrument, a drum, plus the traditional clappers (Sorry folks, no castanets). There were two guitar players who played using their entire hands as opposed to just strumming. Then one guy who played a flute. About the dancer my sister said “She was not wearing a frilly colorful dress, it was just black. She moved so fast that her hairpins flew out all over the stage.” I’ve tried unsuccessfully to come up with a better description, I suppose it is more like a feeling that must be experienced than a describable thing. Throughout the performance the audience would spontaneously yet unanimously interject phrases like “Vale” “Olé” or simply “Va.” I suppose standing ovations are not a thing Spaniards do, because during the applause the only people standing up were five Americans. But Spain has been in our dust for awhile, we left about two weeks ago.

To get to Busswil, Switzerland, we had nothing shorter than an adventure. We woke up at eight in Seville and caught a bus to the train station. Then we hopped on the train, where we were greeted by a lovely ski club from Pensacola. We got to listen to them (complain) about their tour guide all the way to Madrid, I wonder how many times I heard “Well this is just the last straw…” A sigh of relief was unanimous in the family as we stepped off of the train.

Then on up to the Spain/France border where the train stopped for awhile in the border town of Irun. Finally someone who worked for the train company came to our car and said “Tienen que salir del treno ahora, que no dejen nada, que vayan calmamente pero rapidamente. Hay taxis esperandoles. Hay una bomba en la estación en una maleta dejada,” which meant “You need to leave the train now, don’t leave anything, go calmly but quickly. There is a bomb in the station in some left luggage.” So we hopped into the free taxi with the nervous looking driver, he drove us across the border and we continued our trip.

Oh the pain, we got to “sleep” in another couchette, all the way to Paris. We spent a few hours there, where I watched the bags while the parents went out and found some French pastries (our last for the trip, if all goes according).

Then onwards towards Switzerland. At exactly 3:27:20 we catch our first glimpse of snow of the trip. Claire was excited, to say the least. As we continued, however, the snow faded and disappeared. After a few more trains we are in Busswil, near Bern, in the Swiss-German speaking part of Switzerland. If you are looking at a map now you realize that Paris is not part of a straight route from Seville to Busswil, but with Those Mountains in the way it is the only route.

The first comfortable bed in more than a month was slept in by me in the house of Ueli, a Swiss friend of an American friend. The next day we begin our search for snow by heading towards higher altitudes, it was obvious that we would succeed when people with skis got onto the train. We got off of the normal train and got onto a narrow-gauge one which is able to make tighter turns. Finally we are able to touch snow, Claire immediately makes a snow angel, and I start rolling a ball for a snow creature. Later on my father and I rent some cross country skis and hit the trail, it’s not as easy as they make it look in the Olympics: both people much older and much younger than I were passing me right and left. Then we take a train that is mostly windows to Montroux, somehow we have crossed the blurred line into French speaking Switzerland. It is a lake town with a huge pedestrian road by the lake, after a walk we go back to Busswil.

The next day we go to Biel to rent bikes. They turn out to be the “Swiss Cheese” brand: yellow with holes. My ride around the lake was six hours, but it was only supposed to be one. In an act of desperation I knocked on a stranger’s door who was nice enough to give me a ride back to Biel, after we crammed the disassembled bike into her tiny car. I had to hold the door shut for the whole trip.

There was nothing very exciting at the Swiss/German Border. We headed north in train to a town four kilometers from the Dutch border, where we slept in the house of some friends that we met in Taizé (a long looooong time ago, in October). There I concentrated on getting better from a small cold that I got traveling. Besides that, I went across the border with my family to a market in the cheaper Netherlands (Netherlanders go to Germany to buy gasoline, Germans go to the Netherlands to buy coffee and cheese). This day had some of the strangest weather I’ve have ever experienced, rain changed to sunshine, then wind, then snow, and all over again. I also spent time listening to my much neglected CDs.

Next a train to Hamburg where we spent too much time in a train station with a bunch of scary people while waiting to rent a car. It was our prison because outside it was raining and snowing hard. Finally we got the car, a cute VW Polo, and we were on the road again. Although the road was icy we survived to the Danish border where we got our passport stamped for the first time of the trip.

We kept on until we arrived to Skals, the town of the Folk School where we will stay for the next four weeks. I am showed the room that I will be sharing with four other kids my age, then I am showed to the computer lab where I type this here letter, and now we are caught up-

Peace on Earth,

Forrest Dysart Oliphant


¡Ola a todos!

Jan 14 1998

Last day here in Casa Materna. While moving things from the office to a storage room I found about ninety pairs of furry boots. Strange… I found out that they were donated by the police after being confiscated. Mal intentions with furry boots. What is the world coming to? After receiving a warm farewell we spend an hour packing, lots of fun.

Jan 15-16

Portici to Naples to Rome in train, then spend the day in Rome. One of the strangest situations happened as we were sitting in the “American Bar” eating our last Italian Pizzas surrounded by Japanese Tourists. Our “couchette” in the train was tight to say the least. I remember sleeping in a train on as a child and loving it. What was I thinking? In France I feel the urge to learn some French, but seeing as we will only be here for a couple hours I push that out of my head. Spain, along with that old familiar Spanish of mine, here I come!…


…or so I thought. Northern Spain is completely bilingual between Castellano and Spanish, but the street language is Castellano (NOT a dialect). Some words I picked up: ciutat (city), estació (station), bitllet (ticket), pa (bread), vi (wine), xocolate (chocolate). As if there is not enough confusion for me already, pronunciation of regular Spanish is different, with Ss, soft Cs, and Zs either left out, or pronounced th or s (recepción becomes rethepthión, and ¿Cómo estás? becomes ¿Cómo e’tá’?).

The street outside of our hotel is always alive, especially at night. A huge pedestrian walkway attracts tourists, who therefore attract street performers. The performances range from statues, who just stood there, to the outrageous, like Spiderman or the orange faced guy, who jumped around and made as much noise as possible. An incredibly complicated frog mannequin who played the piano inspired dreams of puppetry arts for me… anything is possible.


The most fun that Claire an I had in Valencia was the Gulliver children’s park. Children (including me) have lots of fun running all over a huge cement and fiberglass Gulliver. This is one of the many things that would not be allowed in the USA, somebody would sue when their child hurt themselves.


Here we are in Sevilla, our new home for the next month. We spend three nights in a hostel getting to know the downtown area and finding a language school for my mother and I. We finally choose CLIC and move into an apartment where we cook our own food for the first time in four months. Language school is fun, there are 12 people in my class now, and we have class for three hours per day. I’m currently tackling the subjunctive, but most of you don’t want to hear about that. Claire got a pair of rollerblades, while I’ve got Spanish and Trigonometry to keep me occupied. The whole family went on a school sponsored trip to an olive oil factory, with the BBC tagging along filming for one of their travel shows. When you are involved in something like that you realize how fake everything on TV is. “No, wait, can I ask you guys to walk back through that door again?… One more time…” But it was fun anyways.

write me-

peace on earth-


PS: I’ve got access to e-mail 3 times a week for the next 2 weeks, so write!
PSS: Current plans have us coming home directly after spring break.

Casa Materna

Lets see… I last wrote to you in Florence…this is going to be a long letter.

After Florence we went to Orvieto, a tiny town perched on a mesa accessible only by the Funiculare, a combination trolley/ski lift (use your imagination). We settled into a hotel for 300K Lira for two nights, and later found a convent (nunnery) that was willing to take guests for two nights. Later on, when we got the bill, we realized that this place was a little bit more expensive, 350K. I thought it was pretty cool to find on their movie shelf “Sister Act” along with the assortment of religious films. In the market we found a woman selling pomegranates for 5000 Lira, but I was able to talk her down to 1000.

After Orvieto we slowly made our way south towards Portici. We never had the need to jump onto any moving trains, but we did get to jump off of one!

Oct. 30. A couple trains and cab and here we are in the Casa Materna Orphanage. Founded in 1905 by Ricardo Santi when he brought two children home who were selling matches and living on the street. It was a spur of the moment thing for him, little did he know what Casa Materna would eventually grow to become. At it’s height there were one-hundred children living here and around three-hundred bussed in for schooling. There are now around twenty living here, none of them official orphans, and 240 students are bussed in to school here. Most residents are placed here by the state from what we would call broken homes, but some are just from poor families. Most of the children that come to school here come from the poorest parts of Naples and Portici, and do not have to pay. However, the children’s parents that can pay gladly do because it is one of the best schools in the area. There is also a public language high school on campus, whose students have fun trying to communicate with me. I’ve already been invited to a party, and have no idea what to expect…

The resident children all have astonishing stories, I am sure that a book could be written on each one, but I have only scratched the surface of a few of the stories.

Breakfast, at 0800, consists of bread and orso or hot tea. Lunch, at 1400, has a first course of pasta or rice and a varied second. Supper, at 1900 is about the same as lunch. Lunch and supper are both always followed by an apple or pear. Every mid-day meal is an adventure. They file hundreds of children into the lunchroom, then silence is called for. Three or four minutes later, when it is finally quiet one selected child pipes out:

Padre Santo, Padre Buono
(PAH-dre SAHN-toh, PAH-dre BWOH-noh)
Questo Cibo
(QWES-toh CHEE-boh)
È il tuo dono
(EH eel TU-oh DOH-noh)
Danne andre ai poverelli
(DAH-nay AHN-dre eye PO-ver-EL-ee)
Perche siamo tutti fratelli
(PER-kay SEE-ah-mo TU-tee FRA-tel-ee)

Followed everyone saying AMEN, and then the chaos resumes. The prayer is the same one that has been said at the midday meal for the ninety-two years of Casa Materna’s existence. In Italian it rhymes, but here is the English translation:

Holy Father, Good Father
This food
Is Your gift
Give it also to the poor ones
Because we are all brothers

The other night I went with a group of Casa Materna residents my age to the movies and saw “Secrets and Lies” dubbed in Italian. Every single second here is an Italian lesson, una lezione d’Italiano, and by now I figured out that Spanish with an Italian accent just wont do. I wonder if I’ll still be able to speak Spanish after all this is over, or if my brain can only hold two languages, if any unused ones will be pushed out. Throughout this trip I have seriously considered becoming a linguist as my life work, leaning all languages possible. I already know how to count to ten and say yes and no in five languages, and I will probably know more by the end of this trip.

Naples, along with most of southern Italy, is a sad situation. ‘Official’ estimates guess 27% unemployment, but local people say 40%. This, along with a measly 60% attendance rate of school aged children, does not point in the direction of a brighter future. Crime, petty and organized, does not exactly help things. I have heard plenty of stories of specific crimes, but I want to have something to talk about when I get back.

I was amazed to find that everybody in Naples speaks Neapolitan, while only the educated older people and most of the younger people know Italian. The difference is not like two dialects of the same language, they are almost two entirely different languages. Non parli napolitano per favore… Italiano!!!


PS Thanks for the personal E-mails… some day I’ll be able to reply… If I ever find some time…

PPS Snail mail takes minimum four days, maximum three weeks to get here, if it does at all.


After spending a week at the Monastary of Taizé partying with a bunch of crazy Germans until 2 am every night (8 PM your time) and spending the day thinking of home we hopped on a bus and then a few trains and ended up in Finale Ligure Italy. We spent two nights there and finally the sun came out. The water is so incredibly clear it looks fake. Then I spent the rest of the day collecting beach glass. Every store, restaurant and street vendor here has got some type of dance music blaring. I miss home. Now we are in Florence, just being tourists. Hanging out at the youth hostel is pretty cool. Until I write again, Ciao



First try of e-mail from this strange new land. It did not take long for me to receive my first culture shock, while standing in line at the airport to check in passports and stuff a guy came up behind us and lit up a cigarette. It was pretty strange.

After arrival we watched the cars go by the airport (not a minivan or SUV in sight, they were all tiny) then we caught a taxi to our hotel (the metro was on strike). After sleeping for a while to try to catch up on the six hour difference we set out to explore the section of town we were in. There was nothing but advertisements and crusty stores, but after awhile we found a nice place and got some food. After vowing to wake up early in the morning and go downtown we went to sleep. I slept until 1:30 and then laid awake in bed until 6 when I fell asleep until 10. The time change is really messing us all up.

We spent Thursday as tourists in downtown Paris and saw all of the tourist things.

Friday we hopped on a train to Dijon and began checking out this city. It is cleaner and nicer than the outskirts of Paris. I also spent Friday turning sixteen. I guess now I feel obligated to get a car. Maybe a MINI like Mr. Bean. Speaking of Mr. Bean I saw a theatre advertising a movie of his coming soon, called BEAN (the ultimate disaster movie).

Here I am today, Saturday, writing this message with a funky European keyboard at the only place I could find to use the Internet.

Tomorrow we head to Taizé.


Europe Index

From Dijon, France. Sat, 11 Oct 1997

  • Paris, France
  • Dijon, France

From Florence, Italy. Fri, 24 Oct 1997

  • Taizé Monastary, France
  • Finale Ligure, Italy

From Portici, Italy. Thu, 20 Nov 1997

  • Orvieto, Italy
  • Casa Materna, Portici, Italy

From Seville, Spain. Tue, 10 Feb 1998

  • Goodbye Casa Materna
  • Rome
  • France
  • Barcelona
  • Valencia
  • Language School in Seville

From Skals, Denmark. Tue, 3 Mar 1998

  • Flamenco y Adiós España
  • The Trip to Switzerland
  • Busswil, Switzerland
  • Bike Ride Around Lake Biel
  • Germany
  • Denmark
  • Skals Efterskole Arrival

From Rheden, The Netherlands. Fri, 27 Mar 1998

  • Skals Efterskole
  • Rheden