Trip Journal - København




København - 12 June 1998

The next morning, Paul and I took the flygbåt (fast boat) to Copenhagen. They had a special deal, 69 Skr ($9.00) for a round trip ticket. We're speculating that they have the special price because they fear competition with the Öresund Bridge. But it was great for us. It takes 40 minutes to get to there. The first thing we did was go to the tourist office to get a city map. (We have found that all you have to do to make a city your own is get a map from the tourist office, find out where the public bathrooms are and then you're set. Of course, in Sweden, the big frustration is that public bathrooms can cost from 1 to 10 Skr. I'm perfectly willing to pay one crown, but I think 10 is highway robbery. But I digress...)

Naturally, we had to go to Tivoli, the famous amusement park and garden from 1843. I had been there once before at night and only remembered all the gaudy, bright-colored lights. This time, I was much better able to appreciate Tivoli's time-honored dignity. It's really lovely in a hodge-podge sort of way. Everything is painted in bright colors, and there is a mix of different cultures and styles. There are beautiful flower gardens, rollercoasters, a lake with a pagoda at one end and a restaurant on an old sailing ship at the other. Some of the booths are a bit worn, but charming nonetheless. Georg Carstensen, the man who created Tivoli, was a dreamer and a visionary, but not very practical. He saw Tivoli as a place where all the social classes could come together in an egalitarian way. But he came back from being abroad 12 years after Tivoli opened, having lost all his fortune, and wasn't even recognized at the gates and so had to pay to get in. But Tivoli is still a nice place to visit, a little tired, as all the Danes seemed to be to me, but well-kept and proud.

From Tivoli, we walked to Strøget, the famous series of pedestrian streets (no cars allowed). When I was last here, there were all sorts of street musicians and puppeteers, but these were sadly absent this time. I wonder what happened to them. The entertainment this time was Scandinavian fashion. The most interesting thing we've seen are the shoes. The tallest people on the planet (yes, it's true, Denmark and Sweden have surpassed the U.S. in height) wear shoes with 6 inch platforms! We've seen this all over Sweden and Copenhagen. At first I thought it was just the "Extreme" fashion but it seems to be fairly common with all young women, and Jacob, whom you will meet in Göteborg, said that his ex-girlfriend has several such pairs of shoes. Apparently these platform shoes have been in fashion for about a year now.

In the middle of Strøget is the Trinitatus Church complex with its Rundetårn, or round tower. The tower is a brick spiral ramp that serves as the only way to get to all the parts of the Church complex, which included a students' church, an observatory (the oldest functioning one in Europe), and a university library. I don't know why they didn't just build stairs. I believe they had already been invented in 1642 when the tower was built. Maybe King Christian IV was just being creative. After the spiral ramp, you climb a narrow flight of very steep stairs to a round lookout at the top of the tower. The beautiful wrought iron railing around it is from 1643 -- I'm sure that would never pass U.S. safety codes but it looked sturdy enough. The view is terrific and you really get a lot of fresh air thrown at you at great velocities.

Next, we walked in the Botanical Gardens, which were really gorgeous. There are tiny little paths everywhere that wind their way through the neatly labeled trees and plants. You come around corners and find couples on park benches and have the distinct impression that you have interrupted a marriage proposal, if you are romantically inclined, or perhaps some other types of more intimate contact, if you are are more cynical. At any rate, there were no free benches. The huge, glass Victorian greenhouse closed at 3:00, just as we put our hand to the door (more museum conspiracies). Our intention was to walk through parks all the way to see the famous Little Mermaid (den lille Havfrue) but we were only partially successful. The Østra Anlæg was kind of disappointing after all the lovely parks in Malmö, it was just a regular park, with swings and grafitti. However, at the end of it, right near the station for the local trains, there was a rhodedendron maze that led to a small circular sitting area (the benches were liberally sprinkled with grafitti and some were broken) that looked out onto a pond. Just like Tivoli, it was wonderful because of its former glory.

We walked through the Kastellet, which was protected by not one but two moats. When I saw it on the map, I thought that "Kastellet" would turn out to be a beautiful old castle, but it seemed to be a military installation, one much nicer than any I've ever seen in the States. It has regal stone entrances that you reach from wooden bridges over the moats. Inside, there are a series of red-painted brick buildings, all uniformly rectangular, and separated by cobblestone streets. The WWII memorial out front is really the only clue that the place is a military installation. It seemed to be very quiet except for 2 or 3 soldiers and several joggers out with their dogs. There is a windmill high up on the berm, but you weren't allowed to walk on the grass so we couldn't check it out.

Our feet were getting tired at this point, but we carried on in search of the elusive little mermaid. Apparently, her head was stolen a few weeks ago. Everyone we've stayed with has mentioned it. An anonymous person called to say that he "just happened" to be photographing the mermaid when her head was being taken and he had photos that might help the police nab their culprit. Of course the helpful caller turned out to be the headhunter. Crooks can be so stupid! I had wondered whether we'd be able to tell where the mermaid's head had been removed, but her neck is smooth. They did a good job putting it back on. A tour bus had just arrived when we did, so it was packed. But of course, a tour bus is probably always just arriving. There were also some local rollerbladers for color. And there was a wacky scuba diver in full gear, wet suit, goggles, flippers, etc., who went down into the water near the mermaid with a bottle of champagne in one hand and a sign that said "Novo-Nordisk" in the other. He only went a little way out and then stayed under for several minutes. Then he came back out. While the diver had been under, the people on the tour bus opened many bottles of champagne and poured it out into little plastic goblets. Everyone toasted, and took pictures of the frogman. It was very strange.

After that, we were hungry and tired, and decided to walk back to Nyhavn, where we thought we might get some food, and possibly a beer. On the way, we passed a spectacular fountain, Gefionsspringvandet (I don't know what that means). The fountain was built on a hill, so it was terraced. The upper level had a man and several horses being drenched in a huge spray of water. The lower levels had men's heads coming out of the side walls and spitting water up toward the top. I have no idea what it was all about but it was great!

Nyhavn was exactly as I had remembered it, except that it is very hard to get food there. Nyhavn (New Harbor) is a canal lined with old wooden sailing boats and fisherman's houses. In the old days, it was the place where all the fishermen would dock their boats and came to spend the night. They would drink beer, and perhaps seek out some female companionship. Now it's the same egalitarian mixing of classes that Carstenson envisaged with Tivoli. Sidewalk cafes line the wooden pier, and well-dressed people come to sip martinis and other drinks. On the water side of the pier, those less able or inclined to pay the high prices at the cafes sit on the pier and bring in their own drink. Either way, the principle attraction is the atmostphere and the opportunity for both sides to see and be seen. Although we weren't very well-dressed, we were allowed a place at a cafe, and sat down to watch the 7 young guys across from us who each brought with them a six-pack of Tuborg beer. In the time that we had had one beer, they had all but one finished their six. Scary. Danes certainly know how to drink. And you can buy good (strong) beer at stores all over town, so it's much easier to acquire than in Sweden. There is a unique economic system set up around the people who congregate on the pier. Poor, or perhaps homeless, people come around to collect the "empties" which have a 1 Dkr deposit on them. The real professionals also have a bottle opener to help you out with your next drink. One enterprising young man, who seemed to have to walk with crutches, had a three-wheeled "trike" with a big compartment in the back, into which he could load more empties than any of his associates could carry, and then brought them back to the stores for the refund. I'm so naive, I actually thought that these people might be trying to make a living from this type of work. But Paul clued me in to the fact that all they really want to do is earn enough for their own six-pack for the evening. Ah well...

Check out the next section, which is our stay in Kalmar with the Holmberg family!