Tag: Denmark

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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An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Oslo

Manhole covers say a lot about a city, or at least they say something about a city. Most manhole covers are boring utilitarian objects placed over holes to prevent the general public from falling into a sewer and dying, but some cities have taken a few extra steps to make their manhole covers into something more than just a round piece of metal.

Our first manhole cover comes from Oslo. First take notice of all the crosses surrounding the round stuff in the middle. There are a lot of crosses. These could either be there for traction, or they could be saying something about Oslo. I really don’t know because this is an inaccurate guide, not an accurate one. Next, notice the four stars surrounding the dude in the middle. These stars are Amazon’s rating of the city. (Some of the people gave Oslo four stars because it is far away from the USA. Others gave Oslo four stars because it didn’t have a McDonald’s on every corner. I believe most people take one star away from Oslo because of the cost of a beer.) The guy in the center of the manhole cover is holding either three really big arrows, or three crutches with sharp ends. If he recently twisted his ankle because there was a woman laying in the road (which appears to be the case) then they are crutches. If they are arrows then it is probably saying something about power or archery. There is an outside chance these could also be darts used on a really big dart board.

In his right hand he (let’s assume he is the King) is holding what appears to be a really large washer (not the kind you use to clean clothing, but the kind that is used to hold nuts and bolts tight). The washer is an ancient symbol of things getting too loose. When the King of Norway (who at the time was probably the King of Sweden or Denmark, because Norwegians were using big arrows as crutches instead of using them to shoot Swedes or Danes) thought things were getting a bit too loose in Norway he would pull out this big washer and say, “Ongy, bongy, dingy, wingy, lingy.” (Rough translation: Things are getting too loose, it is time to tighten up and start behaving.) Then the loyal citizens would stop acting so crazy and become more orderly. I can think of a few countries that could use the big washer these days…I’m talking to you Netherlands.

Hiding just behind the King are two lions. These lions are trying to eat the city stars but because the King is sitting on them they cannot. This symbolizes the power of the King to keep Oslo a four star city. If the King were to disappear, then Oslo might drop to a two star city, one star if the lions are really hungry.

Beneath the King’s pigeon-toed feet, is either a lady or some sea creature that looks like a lady. This is where knowing a little about Oslo’s history would probably help, but research is not happening at 5:30 in the morning. One thing can be certain, the King’s feet smell. Look how the lady/sea creature’s face is turned away like she is trying to catch a breath of fresh air. This might be because the King had a tough job and his feet would sweat.

Finally, take notice of the most disturbing aspect of the lady/sea creature: her feet/fins. There is nothing there, her legs just end. I know feet are hard to draw, or in this case hard to design, but the artist could have fixed that problem pretty easily by putting shoes on her feet, or swim fins. The artist wisely hid her hand  from the viewer by having it tucked under her side, had the artist planned ahead he/she could have tucked those difficult feet behind one of the city stars.

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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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