Tag: Copenhagen

Noticing Things in Copenhagen 

1. Groups of British women under the age of 30 are not nice. I overheard (I wasn’t eavesdropping, these folks were belting it out like Chile’s soccer team singing the national anthem) several conversations while in Copenhagen. Almost all of the conversations were about how much they hated one of their friends who was not there. It was like watching one of those Housewife’s of ___________ shows, but a live version where I couldn’t change the channel. 
2. I don’t trust men who nap on their bellies in parks. I don’t know what it is, but there is something not right about it. 

3. Chinese tourists are quickly replacing American tourists as the most clueless and ugly travelers. We’ve held the title for a number of years, but I think we will soon be number two in one more category. (Good thing we still lead the world in other stuff like military spending and prison population.)

4. Eating an entire Danish sweet roll meant for a family of six is possible if you are really dedicated.


5. There are some really funny words in Danish.

 6. When in Copenhagen get across the water to the food truck building. What a great place to eat…now if they just finished that bridge. (My apologies to the Danish people for indicating that they work slowly on building projects. I thought very little had been done in the three years between my visits, but most of what has been done is underground.)


7. I’m still afraid of heights and climbing this tower was a bad idea. It did get the old ticker going. (I’m not sure if I should post these pictures because one of my blogging friends recently found his picture being used on dating sites…and not by him…he claims. On second thought, anyone who finds these selfies helpful in their dating pursuits needs more help than I can give them.)


8.That statue of Hans Christian Andersen looks pretty solid until you try to climb all the way onto his shoulders. 

9.Everyone should visit Freetown Christiania. (The three rules of Christiania: No photos, no running–because running causes panic?, Have fun.) This place was an abandoned military base and some hippies came along and started squatting there, and 30 years later somebody needs to buy a broom. For those of us who believe there could be a utopian world out there if we could all just chill out and live in peace, Christiania is a realization that it can happen, but it would be a huge mess with lots of old dudes sitting around at 9AM drinking beer. 

10. You can get a magic rock through airport security, and you can sit on the floor with the magic rock between your legs while doing the splits. 


11.Biking is by far the best way to get anywhere in Copenhagen and therefore it should work in the rest of the world. Copenhagen doesn’t have Southern California weather by any stretch and they make the whole bike thing work. If you are a bike hater you need to come to Copenhagen and see it in action. 
12. If I were ever to run away from life Copenhagen is where you’ll find me. 

Copenhagen: The city not the chew


We traveled from Oslo to Copenhagen on an overnight ferry. The boat was one of those 11 floor numbers with hot tubs, bars, dinner buffets, and thousands of people trying to find a good deal in the Duty Free store. I prepaid for a dinner buffet thinking that it would be a good way to spend some time while onboard. I was about half right. It was a feeding frenzy. Imagine trying to get next to the stage of a Pearl Jam concert with a full plate of food, it was like that. I did get my money’s worth, which should be the subtitle of my tour. When I asked the waiter what drinks were free he said it best, “Nothing is free.” Wiser words have never been spoken by a multilingual waiter. 
This is my third trip to Copenhagen (aka the city I have been lost in the most), and my list of places to visit has not diminished. There is a vibe to this city that can only be compared to a very old version of Portland, Oregon. 


We walked through the spine of the city looking for lunch and ended up at my favorite food area near Norport. There is a permanent marketplace with lots of fresh food choices and outdoor seating. The sun appeared, we ate Danish open faced sandwiches, and relaxed. 
After lunch we walked to the waterfront, I was really curious about what it would be like down there since the last time I was here the plans for revitalizing the area were expansive. I was surprised, not by what had happened, but by how little had been done in three years. It looks like they added about 100 feet of work to the walkway and built three quarters of a bridge (and three quarters of a bridge won’t really get you too far). After my initial disappointment, it made sense. What I like best about Copenhagen is it’s relaxed attitude about life and I suppose you don’t get a Danish level of relaxed if you are driven to complete a huge building project in one year. The lack of progress on Seattle’s waterfront is nightly news back home…but here in Copenhagen I’d bet there isn’t too much angst about the bridge to nowhere. 
We climbed to the top of the Round Tower. Walked the streets and eventually checked into our hotel. It was laundry day, so I did my load of clothes, hung them up around my room and then took a little nap. 


We looked for dinner for about 30 minutes before deciding to eat hot dogs and it was the best decision of the night because there was a little concert area set up for the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. We sat down with our dogs, got a couple beverages, and then watched the show. The featured jazz performers were on their break while we got situated and then a bit of magic happened. Some guy got up, started belting out a couple tunes on his clarinet, and I turned to my wife and said, “Is that guy part of the group?” She couldn’t tell either. Here’s the problem with my jazz ear, I can’t tell good jazz from bad jazz. What I could tell was that this guy was really into it. He was blasting out some notes, some squeaks, and he moved around like he knew what he was doing so I assumed he was pretty good. When he stopped the crowd applauded loudly, which just goes to show that I’m not alone in understanding good and bad jazz. Then reality hit. He picked up a bag and started hitting up the people who were clapping for him. Some people gave him money and then the most Danish thing happened. The guy who ran the beer kiosk confronted the musician and told him to stop. (I assume all this through the body language because my Danish is limited to: Hello, I’m American and don’t speak your language.) Anyway, the musician stopped begging for a minute and as soon as the beer guy turned around, the musician/beggar went back to work on the crowd. The beer guy came over again and the process was repeated. I couldn’t help but think that this was the Danish attitude in a nutshell: There was a level of respect for the individual, but in the end, the guy was going to do what he was going to do. Nobody raised a voice, nobody called the cops, nobody got upset. When it was all said and done, the begging musician took his earnings to the beer stand and bought a big beer. (I’m thinking about buying cowbell and putting this strategy to work today. Wait for the musicians to break, start banging a cowbell, collect money, buy beer…). 


We got back to the hotel to watch Iceland lose to France in the Euro Cup. It was a little disappointing, but hey, I’m in Copenhagen it’s hard to stay bummed when you can say that. 

An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Covers: Copenhagen

Today’s manhole cover comes from the capital of Denmark and one the world’s happiest cities. Why is Copenhagen one of the happiest cities in the world? According to the Danes it is because they have low expectations and therefore their expectations are usually met. This is why I am generally happy with myself. Okay, let’s take a peek at  how Copenhagen keeps people from falling into the sewers.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

I will start with the items that I am certain about, which should not take long, and then I will venture off into conjecture. Item #1: Someone should probably learn how to spell Copenhagen. I know there isn’t spell check on manhole covers, but come on “København.” That isn’t even close. If you are going to write words in English at least learn how to spell. The only other thing I can really say about this manhole cover is that the city might have been established in 1857, at least that is what I think “Ke afløb” means. It could also mean that the city was underwater for 150 years because the rest of the manhole cover looks like some kind of hippie Atlantis thing is going on.

Let the guessing begin: There are three buildings portrayed on the manhole cover and none of them are going to meet the building codes in modern day Copenhagen. The walls are not straight, the windows are off-center, and there are fish swimming on the walls. Is the city underwater? Well, then explain the rain, it can’t rain underwater. Are the fish swimming in the air? Or are these just paintings on the side of buildings? Whoever designed this cover must have been spending too much time in Freetown Christiania smoking left-handed cigarettes.

If I were to look at the cover with a symbolic eye I would say that the three buildings represent the three nations (Denmark, Sweden, Norway) that took turns bossing each other around in the olden days. The center building must be Denmark because it has the largest fish and the largest flowers. The one on the left must be Norway because the country is a little fatter than Sweden. The building on the right has to be Sweden because the fish looks drunk. (There is an interesting triangle of drunkenness in the three countries. Ride a ferry between the nations and you will find that the boats are really just floating liquor stores designed to sell beer and alcohol duty-free.)

Five of the six flowers on the buildings appear to be poppies. This must have something to do with the opium trade. I’m not sure what it has to do with the opium trade, but there could be no other explanation. The one different flower appears to be in the Denmark tower and it looks a little like a royal flower, or it could be a thistle. Maybe there are lots of thistles in Denmark because they don’t want to use weed killer because they are so environmentally friendly.

In the water below the three towers are little fish that look like the American cheese snack crackers we call Goldfish. They could also be those snack fish known in the United States as Swedish fish, I am certain they don’t call them Swedish fish in Sweden though, they are probably called Red Chewy Fish Candy. In Denmark they probably call them Drunken Fish. (Side note, I knew a child who ate a lot of these Swedish fish and then threw up. I asked him if he was practicing ‘catch and release.’ The child did not think it was a good joke. I still think it is a pretty good one.) The little fish look like they are having fun, so they must be Danish fish without very high expectations. They aren’t smiling, but they are jumping in the water and it doesn’t get much better than that for a fish. I imagine a fish’s life is a bit boring: the weather never changes, you can’t take a nap, wi-fi connections underwater are pretty spotty, and everything pretty much tastes the same.

Okay, your brain is probably pretty tired by now, learning new things can wear you out, so eat some Swedish fish and take a nap.

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TSOJ: An Interview with Myself

I sat down with myself, as I often do, in a chair in front of my computer and asked myself a few of the questions people have asked me since returning from TSOJ. This will be my final blog entry for a few months because I have a couple secret writing projects I am working on.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

How did The Summer of Jon come about? 

TSOJ happened through a series of fortunate events that I will not detail here in fear of boring everyone to death, but the main reason I was in Europe on my own was because I am not an understanding travel companion. My wife has endured a few of my trips and did not want to spend her vacation on a forced march across Europe. I am aware of my “problem” but I cannot help myself. If I am somewhere new I want to see everything, and, sometimes that leads me to avoiding things like food, rest, and bathroom stops. For example, when I did the Norway in a Nutshell and got on the wrong boat I did not eat for about 13 hours. I refused to pay for a boat hotdog and decided that I just wouldn’t eat. A personal decision like this is not always popular with my family members.

How did you plan your trip?

I have never used a travel agent and actually enjoy planning trips so I spent a great deal of time putting the pieces together for my trip. I always start with my airline ticket. I spent about a month watching airfare and trying to estimate when rates for the summer would drop. Flying from Seattle to Europe is not cheap, but Icelandair usually has the best rates and there a few oddities about the airline that made me finally go with them. The first oddity is that all of their flights go through Iceland (not that odd considering the name of the airline). You can chose to fly right through after a layover in Iceland, but why would you do that? A few days in Iceland is a great way to shake off the jet lag and there is no stranger place to visit. You can extend your lay-over and the airline ticket cost is the same as if you stopped for an hour. Iceland is expensive, but it has the best hotdogs in the world and has the world’s only penis museum.

The second oddity about Icelandair is that it is cheaper to fly open-jawed. My flight went: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Munich–Iceland–Seattle. Had I gone: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Oslo–Iceland–Seattle it would have been more expensive. I knew that I would start somewhere in Scandinavia and end somewhere in Southern Europe, so I went to the airline website and began plugging in dates and different flights until I hit one that would be as cheap as possible and allow me some flexibility in planning.

After I had the flight booked, I decided where I wanted to go in between my arrival and departure. This part of the planning is the most fun for me. I knew I wanted to go to Oslo, Prague, and Vienna, and I wanted to go back to Copenhagen and Berlin. All I had to do was connect the dots. Then I looked for the cheapest and most efficient way to go from point to point. (Fly if in Scandinavia, train if in the European main land.)

The final piece was then hotels. There are lots of affordable spots to stay in Europe, but I found that I could save a ton of money by staying in places with shared bathrooms. Some people may not like this, but here is a little secret: Most of these hotels have only a few rooms that share the bathroom, so it isn’t too bad. You will also have a sink in your room. I also make sure that breakfast is included in the price. You can get an inexpensive breakfast in Europe, but I like being able to pig out in the morning and breakfast restaurants are not on every corner.

If you were to re-plan your trip, what would you do differently? 

I would trim a day off of Reykjavík and add it to my time in Prague. I would also take one of my Munich days and add it to Vienna. All of the places I went were wonderful.

Logistically, I would take earlier trains, or reserve a seat. Trains leaving after 10AM are filled with college-aged-backpack-wearing EuroRail users so there is always a battle for seating and the trains are crowded. An early train is less likely to have those EuroRail folks because it is before they are awake.

What were some of the highlights?

The Vigeland statue park in Oslo. Getting on the wrong boat on the Norway in a Nutshell tour. Eating Thai food in Berlin. The evening bike tour in Prague. Vienna…just all of Vienna.

What was the loneliest moment?

Good question. I can tell you exactly when because it was strange. I was walking along the waterfront in Copenhagen. There is a nice wide path that leads all along the waterfront to the Little Mermaid statue.  It was a beautifully clear day and I had been on the road for about a week and a half. I was listening to my iPod and a Macklemore song came on. The song reminded me of my family and wished they were with me. I recovered by eating some ice cream.

When were you the most lost?

I don’t know. In Norway if you count distance, Copenhagen if you count time it took me to get back to a familiar place, and Munich if you count directional sense. I still have trouble understanding how I got so turned around in Munich.

Why do you get lost so much?

I have decided the reason I get lost when I travel is because there are no mountains around. Where I live it is easy to get oriented by looking at the mountains or ocean. Flat land confuses me.

What scared you the most? 

Climbing the church spire in Copenhagen. I really did want to turn around and go back. I don’t know if I could go back and do it again. The afternoon bike tour in Prague was not for the weak-kneed either.

What was the strangest thing you saw? 

I saw a lot of odd things, but in Copenhagen I saw dwarves ( not little people, but like Lord of the Rings dwarves). I don’t know how else to explain it but I went into a store in Copenhagen and there were people dressed in felt tunics and felt pants. The tunics and pants were embroidered with fancy designs. They had those pointy shoes with a bell on the tip and had little deer-antler knives tucked into their belts. They were not dressed up for some party, I could tell that this was the clothing they usually wore. It was like a time machine had dropped them into Copenhagen and they were trying to figure out what the hell happened. I wanted to take a picture so badly, but refrained because I didn’t want to get stabbed to death by a dwarf in a supermarket.

What is the dumbest thing you did? 

Aside from getting on the wrong boat in Norway? Probably eating the sandwich in Prague that was “Mexican flavored.” Really, really bad choice. Oh, buying my day-glo shoes in Berlin could be considered pretty dumb, but I kind of like them now.

What is the smartest thing you did? 

Before I left I would have to say buying my backpack/carry-on bag from EBags. It is a great suitcase thingy. Once I was on the road I think most of my choices were pretty good.

What’s the deal with bike tours? 

There is no better way to see a city in my opinion. The bus tours are okay, but bike tours allow more freedom and it is a great way to meet people.

Will you ever have another SOJ? 

I hope so, but who knows. I think people need to do their own Summer of ______________.

Don’t you think it was a waste of money? 

Travel is never a waste of money. I will quote Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”  

Let’s end the interview like they do on Actor’s Studio. 

Okay.

What is your favorite word?

Euphony

What is your least favorite word?

Cacophony

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Words

What turns you off?

Conflict

What is your favorite curse word?

I don’t really swear. (I have just been informed by family members that I do swear.)

What sound or noise do you love?

Laughter, specifically the laughter of my family.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Techno music.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would like to get paid to write. I wouldn’t mind being a tour-guide.

What profession would you not like to do?

Anything where I have to sell stuff.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

That was funny.

TSOJ: Berlin, like a local (who speaks no German)

East Berlin

East Berlin

When you are in Berlin during the summer you will get a whiff of something unpleasant, something that smells like a sewer and that is because it is the sewer. I don’t know why the sewer smells like it does, but it is one of those distinctive aspects of Berlin that are inexplicable. In a country with the infrastructure like Germany one would think that moving human waste without having the odor escape from the sewer might be a priority, but apparently it is not, but after a few days in Berlin I did not notice the smell any longer. The only thing I did smell was on a particularly hot day I got on a subway and smelled what can only be described as Atomic B O. I wondered who on the subway needed a shower, the good news was that the person in need of a shower was the dude wearing my shirt. The best part of me stinking up the subway car was that I really didn’t care. Yep, I should have put on more deodorant, but I didn’t and now it is too late. I was trying to conserve a little travel sized deodorant for the whole month-long trip, but I was now running low and in my effort to conserve I probably went a little too far. (I have since come to my senses and purchased another lump of deodorant.)

One of the best things about going to Berlin was seeing someone I knew. Aristea was a Berliner and had been a student at my school this past year. My first words to her when I met her in the summer were, “Your city smells.” (I’m all class, all the time.) Despite this first encounter, she agreed to meet with me while I was in Berlin. We met at the Jewish Museum (after I found it, I got lost twice thanks to 70/30% rule of German signage) and I met Aristea’s friend Chloe who was visiting from France. We wandered through the museum for a little while trying to understand what was going on, but I was struck immediately by the use of one word in all of the descriptions of the Jewish people in the exhibits: murdered. Almost all of the Holocaust/Jewish museums I have been to say things like, “Issac perished in Auschwitz, or Issac was executed in Auschwitz, or Issac died in Auschwitz.” Murdered is a personal word, it is not a word used to describing mass killings. I am certain that this word was used purposefully, to personalize the deaths of these innocent people, but also to hammer home the deaths were intentional and not accidental or part of the machine of time.

The modern wing of the Jewish Museum.

The modern wing of the Jewish Museum.

Another beautiful day in Berlin.

Another beautiful day in Berlin.

Several of the exhibits were just experiences. I stood in a large room looking up at a shaft of light, there was no explanation, but to me it seemed like the hope of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. They could see something in the distance but were surrounded by darkness and the light was very far away.

That light was way, way up there.

That light was way, way up there.

The next spot was a little courtyard with large rectangular blocks of cement. At first everything seemed normal, until you stood in the courtyard. The blocks provided a visual illusion that you were standing upright, but the ground was actually on a slope and it was difficult to walk because the visual cues were telling you one thing, but the reality was different.

Looks straight up, but it isn't.

Looks straight up, but it isn’t.

We eventually got upstairs and began the history part of the museum. I thought I knew a little about Jewish life and beliefs, but it did not take long for me learn about five times as much as I had ever known. I learned about traditions, about Jewish beliefs, about Jewish history, and about stuff I hadn’t ever considered. We were there for two and a half hours and we could have stayed there twice as long.

Aristea standing in front of a sound wall. The headphones picked up different voices as you moved around. No one spoke English, but a few times I recognized a name and age from the voices.

Aristea standing in front of a sound wall. The headphones picked up different voices as you moved around. No one spoke English, but a few times I recognized a name and age from the voices.

The Tree of Wishes. Grab a paper apple, write a wish, hang it in the tree. I put, "I hope the Cubs win the World Series." That is a lie, I put up a little hippie note about love and peace.

The Tree of Wishes. Grab a paper apple, write a wish, hang it in the tree. I put, “I hope the Cubs win the World Series.” That is a lie, I put up a little hippie note about love and peace.

Large glass courtyard set aside for eating and thinking after the visit.

Large glass courtyard set aside for eating and thinking after the visit.

After the Jewish museum we were off to eat Thai food. I love Thai food, but I also suffer from the idea that the best ethnic food can be found in America. Why did I believe this? Primarily ignorance, but a little of it was buying into the idea that America is a melting pot of many cultures and everywhere else in the world is pretty much a collection of mono-ethnic cultures where people don’t mix. This is not the case, the world is incredibly diverse and while America has good Thai food, so does Berlin, really good Thai food.

We met Aristea’s mom at the restaurant and got seats outside along the street. I really love the relaxed attitude of eating outside in Europe, it is one of the great pleasures of life. At our table to eat Thai food, we had a French woman, two Berliners and an American, it was very international, the best news was that everyone spoke excellent English. It was so nice to be able to be taken care of by my German-speaking hosts. They ordered, picked up the food, and picked up the bill. I had some duck and curry. It was very good, and I got to try a mango drink that was also very nice. I spent a lot of time talking to Aristea’s mom about the United States about her travels. After I told her about my harrowing experience climbing the tower in Copenhagen, she told me that it was possible to climb up into the tower in the center of the Tiergarten. I hadn’t planned on climbing anymore towers, but this one looked pretty safe compared to the one in Copenhagen. After dinner, we walked to a coffee shop and had some caffeine and cake to top the evening off. It was one of those leisurely evenings that seem so hard to accomplish in America. Culturally we could learn a lot from the Europeans when it comes to eating and relaxing. Imagine eating a meal for two hours in America, it just doesn’t happen, but it should.

At the end of the evening, Aristea’s mom drove me back to my hotel by way of all of the places I should visit on my last day. I managed to make it to all of the locations on my final day in Berlin, but nothing was better than the evening that I got to pretend I was a local.

TSOJ: Final Thoughts on Copenhagen

Disposable forks, knives, and spoons made from wood instead of plastic. That's a good idea.

Disposable forks, knives, and spoons made from wood instead of plastic. That’s a good idea.

1. People vomit a great deal in Copenhagen. I did not witness any of this vomiting, but I did see the aftermath on the mornings I was there. Most often this mess took place near a trashcan. I have read a little about what is now a problem plaguing most European cities: Drunk tourism. With cheap flights all over Europe there are people dropping into a different cities, pulling weekend benders, and then flying home. If I lived in Copenhagen it would be something I would complain about frequently, but the Danes seem content to let idiots be idiots.

Bag of water used to slowly water a tree. Easy to fill up, easy to use, and smart.

Bag of water used to slowly water a tree. Easy to fill up, easy to use, and smart.

2. Innovation is a Danish thing. I like the Danish way of thinking: The little bike locks, the recycling machines in stores, the sanitizer for toilets instead of paper seat covers, the variety of cargo bikes, and the integration of the old and new with their public buildings.

Recycling machine: put your empties in the hole, the machine reads the bar code and prints out a receipt that can be used in the store.

Recycling machine: put your empties in the hole, the machine reads the barcode and prints out a receipt that can be used in the store.

3. There are no ugly Danes. I don’t know if it is just a genetic thing or if ugly people are not allowed to live in Copenhagen, but everyone is tall, elegant, and stylish. Young people, middle-aged people, old people all appeared to be models out of some hip fashion magazine. It isn’t just the clothing, there is something about the Danish way that makes them look like the coolest people on the planet.

Soren K, father of Danish "meh?"

Soren K, father of Danish “meh?”

4. Danes (be ready for a wild generalization) don’t judge people. There is a true live and let live attitude. In Denmark this lack of judgement is a two way street. You can grow your dreadlocks out and wear a purple tunic, but don’t get an attitude about my pointy-shiny shoes and business suit. I relate this attitude back the the writer/philosopher Soren Kierkegaard but I could be wrong. The attitude could predate Kierkegaard and he could be a product of the existentialist Danish way of thinking.

Old mileage marker.

Old milage marker.

5. Copenhagen is still my favorite European city. I didn’t think I could ever love a city more than Paris, but Copenhagen has something indefinably great about it. Paris has its museums, iconic buildings, and famous boulevards, but Copenhagen has swag. Copenhagen doesn’t care if you like it or not. It doesn’t try too hard. It just does its thing.

TSOJ: Tour de Copenhagen- A Very Bad Guide to Biking in CPH

Copenhagen is a bike rider’s paradise. Wide lanes are built on almost every main street just for bikes, the city is pretty much flat, and there are places to park your bike wherever you go. This “biking infrastructure” makes riding a primary mode of transportation for locals and it is what draws tourists like me to rent a bike just to ride around and see life outside the crowded tourist center.

The bike rack near my hotel. Most of the bikes are not locked to a fixed object.

The bike rack near my hotel. Most of the bikes are not locked to a fixed object.

I can imagine that many Americans are skeptical of all of this biking nonsense but the Danish grow up riding inside cargo bikes, and as soon as they can pedal they are placed on a seat and told to get moving. Biking is not a counter-culture movement pushed by a group of fava bean eating, patchouli wearing, left-handed cigarette smoking, no-shower November members of the community, it is the community. Here is a quick list of the types of people I saw on bikes: Everyone.

Rush hour in CPH. The lady just left of center is carrying her two kids in a cargo bike.

Rush hour in CPH. The lady just left of center is carrying her two kids in a cargo bike.

Typical bike commuter in CPH.

Typical bike commuter in CPH.

You can’t swing a Schwinn without hitting a bike in Copenhagen. After spending a day and a half watching all of Copenhagen parade by on bikes, I decided it was time to travel like a local and rent a bike. It didn’t hurt that the blisters on my feet forced me to either sit in a park all day (not a bad choice on a day like yesterday) or get on my bad bicycle and ride. I picked up a six hour rental bike at Bikesetti for $16, I went with the deluxe model because it was a little larger than the other bikes and thought I deserved it. The bike dude (he was a dude in every sense of the dude moniker) gave me a few brief instructions, “Arm like this to stop. Arm like this to turn right. Arm like this to turn left. Always look around before doing anything.” This was solid advice and he then gave me directions to get to the Elephant Gates in the most scenic way possible. I was lost within 10 minutes, but it didn’t matter, I was roaring along the paths like a pro. My first realization was that there are two types of riders on the paths, ones that want to get somewhere fast, and then me. I spent most of my day on the right side of the path watching people flow by me like water in a river. At first I was a little competitive and didn’t want to be passed, but I eventually realized that it was not a race and I had six hours to get wherever I was going. This realization occurred about the same time I was riding up a hill. I also decided that everyone else must have a much better bike than me because my deluxe model was pretty slow.

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The deluxe model.

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Almost all the bikes in CPH have this little lock on the back wheel.

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Just take your key, turn it to lock or unlock the back lock. Simple, easy, and apparently prevents bikes from being stolen.

After a few more wrong turns, I found myself out by a bunch of railroad tracks and had to adjust my progress. I stopped found the Carlsberg Tower and headed in that general direction. I knew the gates were close to the tower and within ten minutes I was taking pictures of the Elephant Gates. The gates are really cool and initially I had intended on taking a brewery tour, but decided that I needed to maximize my six hours of bike riding so I went up to the south side of the Frederiksberg Garden and checked out the zoo from the outside. There was no bike riding in the park, so I looked, walked seven meters, and then sped off to ride along the waterfront.

The Elephant Gates in Carlsberg.

The Elephant Gates in Carlsberg.

Elephants...at a gate.

Elephants…at a gate.

The gates were built before this symbol was hijacked by the Nazis.

The gates were built before this symbol was hijacked by the Nazis.

I don't know what the elephants are rolling with their trunks, but it looks like a big marble.

I don’t know what the elephants are rolling with their trunks, but it looks like a big marble.

For another two hours everything went well. I saw some cool stuff, ate some ice cream, and then proceeded to get very lost. How lost? More than usual. On a bike you can get so lost that the streets you are on are not on the tourist maps they hand out everywhere. I didn’t panic, I just took out my phone and used my compass. Turns out I was a little turned around and had been heading the wrong direction. Eventually, an hour later, I found my way back to the city core and dropped off my bike. I was a bit on the exhausted side and decided to take a nap when I got back to my hotel.

Statue of the creation of Zealand.

Statue of the creation of Zealand.

The Little Mermaid, she was in China last time I was in CPH.

The Little Mermaid, she was in China last time I was in CPH.

I don’t think there is any lesson to be learned here, but I do think my ability to get lost is something I should only do on foot.

Biking Copenhagen is certainly easy and something most tourists should do, even if you are directionally challenged like me.

 

TSOJ: Copenhagen–Terrifying Towers, Nonexistent Museums, and Stealing Coffee

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.)

Bike graveyard, or bike parking lot?

Bike graveyard, or bike parking lot?

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?

See it doesn't look too bad from here.

See it doesn’t look too bad from here.

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.

Up close it is much taller.

Up close it is much taller.

The ladder/stairs  are great for getting the old ticker moving.

The ladder/stairs are great for getting the old ticker moving.

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 city from the tower.  Sweaty, shaky cam.

The city from the tower. Sweaty, shaky cam.

The railing that saved me from the walk of shame.

The railing that saved me from the walk of shame.

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. imageAs 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.

Duct tape works on everything.

Duct tape works on everything.

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.

Hans Christian Anderson, they took his pedestal away.

Hans Christian Anderson, they took his pedestal away.

Soren K, chilling in his garden behind the library.

Soren K, chilling in his garden behind the library.

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.

The skybridge between the old and new wings of the library.

The skybridge between the old and new wings of the library.

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The old wing, with free wifi.

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Who needs a Design Museum when you can just go to the library?

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.

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