If I were to run away from America, I would run away to Copenhagen. Copenhagen is the city for hippies and hippy wannabes. Copenhagen is Portland on hippy steroids and, I think, the future for most cities if the human race is going to survive beyond the year 2038. (No, I do not know anything about 2038, it is just 25 years from now and I will be even older.)
The first thing I noticed both times I have been here is: There are a lot of bikes in this city. The second thing I noticed was: No one seems to be actively stealing these bikes that are everywhere. The third thing I noticed was: Riding a bike looks like more fun in Copenhagen than at home. Everyone rides bikes, they ride bikes like cars don’t exist, and almost everyone living in Denmark looks younger than me, could this be because of the bike riding?
I decided that I could see a lot on foot on my first day and I was right. The plan was to climb a couple of towers, visit the Danish Design Museum, and see most of the sites around the center of town. This plan was an actual plan, it had been mapped out and thought about, and it took about an hour to completely unravel.
I wanted to get my climb to the top of Vor Frelsers Kirke before it got too windy. The church (kirke) has a unique tower with an exterior stairway climbing around the spire and even though I am scared of heights, I thought climbing up to the top would be fun. From a distance it did not look very high anyway. The church was across town so I took off right after a moderate breakfast (that’s right, folks, I’m not always a pig). Well, I did stop at a pastry shop along the way that my family practically begged to eat in when we were in Copenhagen five years ago. (We did not eat there because I had been yelled at in so many bakeries by that time that I was a bit scared. Okay, the truth is I thought it would be expensive and it was crowded and I didn’t want to wait in line.) It wasn’t expensive and the line moved quickly. (This news will probably not make my family happy. Oh, and it was delicious.)
After my little snack break, it was off to climb a tower. It took me some time to get across town, but I enjoyed the walk. The weather was perfect. It was everything I need in weather: sunny, a little breezy, and warmish but not hot. I did my one good deed for the day along the way, a middle-aged couple were climbing a long series of stairs with their luggage and the husband (I’ll assume he was married because of the way he was acting) made it to the top of the stairs and was standing there watching his wife drag her far-too-large luggage up the stairs. Now, I am sure the reason he was standing there was because as they were packing back in the US he said, “You’re taking too much stuff, Honey. Are you going to lug that all over Europe?” Of course she said she would and now he was standing at the top of the stairs watching her and thinking, “I knew it.” She, on the other hand, was thinking, “I wonder what the divorce laws are in Denmark.” I couldn’t help myself and intervened by carrying the bag to the top of the stairs. It weighed about 30 kilos and it was too big, but I got to feel good about myself and that is the most important lesson here. This little ego-boost carried me all the way to the church where I suddenly was confronted with the fact that this little tower was in fact a big, tall, spiraling, death-trap of a tower.
I went inside, paid 40 DK ($8), and then began my ascent of fear mountain. The ticket dude said that there were over 400 stairs which didn’t scare me, I can climb stairs without sweating, but what did scare me was how these 400 stairs turned into ladder-stairs after about 150 stairs. It was steep, it was 400 years old (not an actual fact, but it could be older), and there were signs every ladder-stair set warning of imminent death. If I was in America I would have ignored the signs, we warn people about everything, “This plate is hot. This door might open. Watch out for falling rock.” In Europe they don’t warn people about many things, so when I saw a sign letting me know that death was just around the corner, I started to get even more frightened. I stopped at one point, took three minutes to decide whether to finish or to go back to the bottom ashamed of myself. That’s right, me, Mr. Wonderful, the guy who just carried a lady’s luggage to the top of the stairs, I was having a moment that can best be described as self-loathing. I almost turned around, but the thing that moved me forward was that I HAD PAID for this experience. If I pay for something, I am going to finish it.
My strategy was to not look down. Even inside the tower I had to repeat this over and over, “Don’t look down. Don’t look down. This tower will not fall over. You will survive.” (I have issues, I really do think tall buildings are going to fall over when I am in them.) Everything was peachy keen until I reached the final ladder and could see the door leading outside. If there were not five or six people around I would have crawled outside, but because I HAD PAID and there were other people around, I sucked it up and stood outside. It was terrifying, it was a great view, and my hands were so sweaty I was worried I was going to drop my iPhone while taking a couple quick pictures. I then began the climb on the outside of the tower. The only thing that saved me was that the railing was about two meters high and it was solidly attached to the tower. As I neared the very top I ran into a Danish fellow who pointed out where everything in his city was. Danish people are the best. We spent about 15 minutes talking about our travels, our jobs, and our shared fear of heights. He said he climbs up here about once a week to keep himself alive. I like to take naps to keep myself alive.
The climb back down was just as dangerous because everything was so steep. The good news was that my legs were no longer shaking like new-born colt’s. I made it to the bottom and celebrated by sitting on a bench for 10 minutes.
Next on my list of things to do was a stroll down by the waterfront and around by the royal stuff. I also wanted to see the Marble Cathedral that was designed after Saint Peter’s in Rome. The waterfront was nice. People were out riding bikes, kids were playing and everyone was enjoying their time. As I got closer to the Marble Cathedral the tour groups got thicker, but most of them were there to see the royal stuff, only the Italians seemed interested in the church. I am beginning to believe that Italy might be the only country in Europe still interested in Christianity at all, but I could be wrong. The Marble Cathedral was okay. It didn’t have any striking characteristic other than the dome.
I walked a little further and then had to take a break. My feet were killing me. I had blisters on both feet and it was time to do something about it. My go to solution is always duct tape, but finding duct tape in Copenhagen was a challenge. Eventually I got some and patched up my feet. It helped some but my walking shoes have proven to be a bad choice for travel.
I then headed off to the Round Tower cutting through the large park by the old castle. I remembered being here five years ago and took a couple pictures. The Round Tower is probably a good spot to see the city, but after my climb up terror tower nothing was going to impress me too much anymore. I got up there, took a couple pictures for families that needed photos and then decided it was time to visit the Danish Design Museum. On my way to the museum I walked by a little coffee shop that had seats outside and I thought that a latte would be just the thing to pick me up and keep me going. I didn’t have enough change for a large latte, so I ordered a small one. I waited picked up my latte and then went outside to drink it. When I was done with my cup I thought I would return it since that is what polite people do. I went in and the girl who had helped me with my order said, “Your latte is ready.” I looked and there on the counter was a much smaller latte than the one I had just consumed. I drank someone’s drink and paid for a small. Nice work, Champ! They encouraged me to drink the smaller drink, but I felt like such an idiot that I just ran like Tom Cruise. At least I had the Design Museum in the future to salve my wounded ego. I had wanted to go to the museum the last time I was in Copenhagen, but my family wanted to go to Tivoli. (Tivoli is worth an entire day if you are ever in Copenhagen and I think it was the right choice. My kids didn’t need to spend any more time being bored in museums.) I walked to where the Design Museum was located five years ago and found a large cafe affiliated with the Danish Design Museum and a sign that said, “No Exhibits Showing.” This was disappointing, but it explained why it had been hard to find information about the museum. I have since found out that it is located in a different area of the city.
Striking out on the museum was a bit of a bummer, but then it was off to the city hall…It was closed. I was beginning to feel a little like an idiot, not uncommon for me and after this trifecta of stupidity it was more than a feeling. At this point I surrendered, I stopped by to see Hans Christian Anderson and noticed that his statue is now shorter than it was last time I was in Denmark, my visit with Hans inspired me to visit my other favorite statued writer in Copenhagen, Soren Kierkegaard. Soren hangs out over by the library and has a little courtyard that is very pleasant. I dropped in on him and then wondered if I could bust into the library. It was about five pm and I figured the library would be closed, but because it was my lucky day the library was open until seven. The new wing of the library is called the Black Diamond and is just as good as a Danish Design Museum anyway. I snuck around for a little bit, trying to go places I was not allowed and then saw that there was a special exhibit on Kierkegaard. I talked to the ticket lady, she said that there were English guides and that it was worth my time. I could also see the collection of cartoons by a Danish artist, and was allowed into the room with the treasures of the royal collection (these were rare books, not crappy crowns and gems). I spent the next two hours checking stuff out. I took a bunch of pictures in the rare book room before I saw a sign saying, “No Photography.” so I did the ethical thing and deleted all the pictures even though there were some pretty cool things like letters from Nietzsche and musical scores from Beethoven and Mozart.
Kierkegaard was a fascinating guy. I know him in the simplistic terms “the Christian Existentialist,” but he was so much more than that. He was a prolific writer and wrote under a bunch of pseudonyms when he wanted to write something especially controversial. His life was short, died at 42, but his influence in Denmark was huge.
Finally I decided it was time for dinner, unfortunately 7:00 is late for Danish dinning standards and I wandered around until 9 until I finally bit the bullet and got some Chinese take-away, which tasted just a little bit better than the bullet. Food that sits under a hot lamp all day is never a great choice, but you might notice that great choices are not my thing.