Sunday, June 19, 2011

DK - Copenhagen

June 19                 Sunday                                 Denmark                             Copenhagen                     


Oh how I wish the cleaning staff could be quieter out there.

From 10 until 11 in the morning, despite my best attempts it was a struggle to get that extra hour of sleep.  Granted, I should have probably just gotten up and gone out to explore and appreciate the city… but so far none of these Scandinavian cities really had that “wow” factor that forced me to get out of bed.  Like I said before: you can’t just wander and appreciate the streets like you can in the cities of the more southern reaches of Europe; it’s really just museum hopping more than anything.  That’s OK, but only if there are good museums… and Stockholm had somewhat jaded me on that experience.  Admittedly, there were a lot of places in Stockholm that I didn’t have time to visit; but all-in-all it really wasn’t a city that floored me with glee.

My first destination was the royal palace.  Well, there are like a dozen of those in Copenhagen alone, so I guess I’ll best describe it as the royal palace – the central castle of the city, Christiansborg Slot.  Its exterior was nothing exciting… just some generally unadorned stone facades and a rather drab tower, and like many European palaces: its internal grounds functioned as a parking lot.  So I went inside really not expecting too much.  So I was more than pleased when the interior proved to exceed my expectations.

The interior wasn’t necessarily the most beautiful, the more prestigious, the more luxurious, or the most absolutist.  But it had some pretty paintings and tapestries… with the former: I’m rather fond of the Danish style of painting portraits.  By and large I tend to cruise right past most portraits, but Danish artists seem to make them a bit more lifelike and less like they could fill in as a zombie in next year’s Halloween flicks.

I’d initially walked right past the tapestries of the main hall without hesitation, but as I returned: one of them caught my eye.  They all told the history of Denmark in rather colorful detail (I mean that literally: they were almost cartoonish; but in an aesthetic sort of way), but it was the one largely covering the 20th century which I found really interesting… it was ringed by various historical figureheads and the main portion of the tapestry largely covered WWII, the Cold War, and miscellaneous everything else… much of which still indirectly related to WWII or the Cold War.  As I stared at a snippet having to do with World War I – you know, the “War to End All Wars” which was a dozen wars ago – I drew a particular fascination with how the gas mask-wearing soldiers were depicted… they reminded me immediately of Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy series, leading me to wonder if the two spies are just depictions of these very soldiers.

Just beside the main hall is the Green Room, so-named because it’s green.  A sign mentioned that it functioned as a ready room for performers, speakers, and such who were about to enter into the main hall.  It made me wonder if this was the Green Room that gave name to such a term when working with events, used to describe the readying room.  Or maybe countless other European palaces already have such a colored room and the Danes were just copying that arrangement (if so, I’d envision Versailles as having inspired that trend… seems like a reasonable guess).

One other thing that really made me enjoy the castle’s interior was the signs for each room.  I’d mentioned this before: the manner in which you sign the history can really make a difference in how one appreciates it.  The Danes did a great job at concisely providing stories and interesting information for each room, whereas the Swedes were a bit to-the-point… the difference being something like “This is the Aquaman Room, built in 1901” versus “The Aquaman Room, built in 1901, was used as the bedroom for Aquaman’s father.  During construction, crews found crystals that would later be incorporated into the building of the Fortress of Solitude.  The room features a merfolk décor, with the mermaid on the far wall wresting Neptune’s trident from his hands, representing the rise of women’s rights among the undersea peasantry.  It was in the southeast corner where Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider.”

The signing was also generally spaced out across numerous small signs in each room rather than one large big sign, drawing all the tourists to crowd around it so that 3 people are reading and 20 people are staring at the backs of the people reading.  So the Danes got another win for smart signing arrangements.  However, the signing did miss a few things that I’d have preferred to get a bit more info on… namely: most of the paintings didn’t have any definition.  While most were just portraits & I’d soon enough begun to recognize most of the individuals from room-to-room, there were some lovely paintings of what I assume to be historical events or religious depictions, but I had little more to go off of except the occasional Swedish flag adorning a burning ship.

The nearby Teatermuseet – the Theatre Museum – was a place I accidentally ended up at as I attempted to find the entrance to the Parliament.  I’d colored the Theatre Museum blue in my guidebook, indicating a place I could stop by if I ended up there; but not a place I’ll go out of my way to get to.  Since I was there: I went in and checked it out.  Once again, I was pleasantly surprised… but again, I hadn’t been expecting much.  Whenever I approach something with low expectations: it’s easy for me to leave with a high opinion of something.  This museum was small – indeed, when I first entered I thought it was just a toilet until I realized I could go through the closed double-doors – but it was also an entire theatre up for exploration.  The theatre itself was tiny, with the stage & backstage seeming the same size as the entire seating area… but it was just neat to be able to roam about the area.  It was a fun diversion and free since I’d bought the Copenhagen Card… but unless you’re a Theater major with a strong passion for your work: it’d be tough for me to recommend it unless you have that card.

I next attempted to get in on a tour to see the Parliament – only viewable by tour – as I’d spotted a sign that said there was a tour at 2pm… I read the sign seconds before the churches began sounding off that the time was 2pm.  I inquired at the castle’s ticket office how to get into Parliament and learned that the entry is on the other side of the building… so yeah, thanks Lonely Planet.  I’ve always had amazing fortune with Lonely Planet, but their northern Europe guides have been… well, crap.  Places are incorrectly located on the maps, places that are tricky to find even with a map aren’t detailed well enough (or at all), and there are countless typos… a far cry from the great quality of their guides for southern and eastern Europe.

So around I go at a brisk pace, rolling in just as the tour was starting to move through the entry area.  I attempted to nonchalantly join in with the non-English tour, but one of the staffmembers at a desk spotted I didn’t have a sticker to join the group… bah.  Turns out the tour bookings are free, but you have to claim one & this group was full… and it was also the last tour until next week.  Bah.

So next up: Tøjhusmuset, the armory.  Half of it was closed off for remodeling – the portion dedicated to hand-to-hand combat – so admission had been waived… not that it mattered since, again, I had the Copenhagen Card.  What was still open was quite impressive – a collection of artillery spanning from medieval cannons to later artillery to modern rocket launchers.  I was amused at an American warhead which had the warning on it “Caution: before installing warhead or safe & arm device refer to maintenance manual.”  There were a number of Allied and Axis weapons; I bemused how many were pointed at each other before they reached their current positions side-by-side.

I made my way eastward into Christianshavn, grabbing what would function as my lunch for the day at Lagkagehuset – claimed within Lonely Planet to be the best bakery in town (well… a local bakery chain).  I got a danish (not the name they gave it) as well as cookie (the clerk gave me two because she said they were small… despite being the same large size as all the others).  The cookies had a bit of chocolate in the cookie mix in addition to chocolate chips and, I believe, almonds.  I’m really not a fan of chocolate in the cookie mix, so I was a bit repulsed by the smell of it… but it tasted quite good, nonetheless.  The danish was amazing… I’d say it’d be a very low number of those before someone managed to acquire diabetes.  The only problem of it all was there was really a lacking in tasty Scandinavian cuisine, leading me to seriously consider making dessert a staple part of my diet for as long as I’m in the Land of Danes and Danishes.

The Vor Frelsers Kirke was nearby, including a spire which is well-worth the climb.  You go around and around and around a spiral staircase, often pausing to work your way around those on their descent.  It’s a normal walk at first; then you start going through some rectangular bends as you traverse through the still-functioning bell loft (I managed to not be standing right next to them by about 30 seconds… win), then you go outside and start spiraling up again.  You keep going up right up as the staircase tapers narrower and narrower, literally running out of stair as you reach the top: it narrows to about a foot-wide when it just disappears into the spiral’s metal.  It’s an easy ascent; less so when you’re coming down.  As there were some drizzles roaming about here and there amidst the sun, the stairs were wet, narrow, and a tight fit past tourists – many bedecked with large backpacks.  Add in that a slightly low railing is keeping you from a faster descent & that I’m trying to protect my camera and you end up with an experience that certainly got my heart beating a bit faster.  I figured the higher blood pressure would help push through some of the clogs that my lunch had induced.

Nearby was Christiana: a couple decades ago – at the height of the beatnik / hippie movement – a bunch of that very subculture tore into an abandoned military facility and called it home.  They’ve been squatting ever since, largely functioning as its own government independent of the rest of Denmark.  With the government deeming it a “social experiment” and by-and-large giving it temporary status, it seems the government tends to keep its hands off other than the occasional presence of riot police.  Apparently it’s still a touchy subject, with increasingly conservative governments proposing to take a tougher approach on evicting and closing the community. 

I entered somewhat unsure what to expect, as I walked in shoulder-to-shoulder with khaki-wearing tourists: retirees with camera and goofy hats, families with kids in tow, and backpackers with dreads.  That last one seemed more appropriate: the type of backpacker where you’re not sure if they’re hosteling backpackers with day jobs or essentially homeless people who are in constant transit.

Christiana is decked out with large “no photographs” signs and graffiti amid all the other graffiti, which is really quite unfortunate considering there was some truly phenomenal work I’d have loved to capture.  But the restriction on photography wasn’t to protect the artwork – indeed, I’d wager that would go against the very philosophy of the residents – but to let the residents themselves remain as anonymous as they can.  For good reason.  The smell of cloves was strong in the air, with every single table in the town center being occupied by someone doing some form of drugs.  In most cases they were just rolling their own weed, but there were a few openly using heroin or cocaine, despite (per my understanding) all being officially illegal per Christiana’s local government… but I’d gathered police wasn’t something they put much effort into.

This was definitely the place that the teenagers and 20-somethings ended up at, joining alongside adults that never grew up; both genders sporting dreadlocks as the staple hair style and most people looking like they hadn’t bathed in years.  Bravo, peaceniks: way to push forward the peace movement by doing absolutely nothing with your life.  This is why I’m repulsed by peace… its seemingly most dedicated of advocates are such wastes of human life, rotting away day by day.

Later in the day I’d share my experiences with a dad from New York who wanted to visit the area with his ~10-yr old son, saying it’s an interesting place with some beautiful artwork & definitely a place to see, but you really have to be comfortable with your kid seeing a lot of drugs.  I have no idea if they ultimately made it there or if he opted to start their nighttime Tivoli visit a bit sooner.  I’m somewhat leaning toward the latter.

The rest of Christianshavn was OK.  Most of the streets were ho-hum, but the walk along the small canal was certainly a highlight.  I’d definitely suggest taking this route if you’re in the area visiting the church or Christiana.  I continued my canal tour by next crossing to the western shores and heading to Nyhavn.  When you see pictures of Copenhagen: you’re probably seeing Nyhavn.  For good reason: the canal’s frontage had undoubtedly the most scenic and colorful buildings in the city.  I’d definitely recommend walking the southwestern side of the canal: you get the best view of the prettiest buildings (the buildings on the northeast side) and have room to maneuver about (the crowds on the northeast side are thick and plentiful).

Continue northward I made it to Amalienborg Plats, site of another palace.  It was late in the day, however, and the palace had already closed.  The plaza itself was nice, with tourists nabbing photos of the patrolling guards and traffic periodically workings its way through the rotary.  I couldn’t help but laugh at how rigidly the soldiers moved… this is really true for pretty much all guards which have a bit more of a ceremonial role than legitimate defense (not to say they won’t defend if they need to): the guards all patrol such a stringent and timed march that a would-be invader could just time it so that they invade while the guards’ backs are turned.

One of the vehicles to traverse the plaza was a limousine.  I nabbed a few photos before espying the phone number on the side of what ended up being a rental.  I was duped, but learned otherwise with enough time to spare to watch the rest of the tourist hordes flock toward it, hoping to nabs photos of royalty or to at least say “look how close I was!” … no realizing that someone thought it’d be awesomely fun to screw with tourists’ heads.  It reminded me of our “Famous for a Day” prank back home.  At least the tourists who didn’t get it will get to go home with fond memories!

From the plaza I looked up and saw a massive doom cloud of angry gray doom approaching from the west.  Not knowing Copenhagen’s weather patterns, I decided it might be prudent to route myself a bit nearer to transit lines, just in case I might deem them necessary.  Fortunately it didn’t rain… even more fortunate because I soon became distracted and parted from my intended proximity to transit.  I ended up walking back along the Strøget shopping street, a pedestrianized area replete with brand name after brand name.  It’s the place to go if you’re addicted to shopping & want to buy things that you could buy in any major city, but otherwise it’s just a place to go to people watch.  Works for me: the sun was toying with the scattered clouds, I was armed with a cheap carton of tasty strawberries, and it was a very slow ambling back to my hotel room.  It was my most bel far niente sort of moment; the appreciation of doing nothing but appreciate the world.

As I strolled past the east side of Tivoli I admired a children’s playground within its fence.  There weren’t any playthings that were overwhelming different or unique, but for some reason I had this immense urge to run in and start playing… I just had this mental retroversion back to being a wee one.  Curse you, societal norms!

I’d gotten in touch with a friend of mine who was staying in Copenhagen, but having limited access to a phone (without paying an arm and a leg), I decided it’d just be easier to go out and try to meet her at the address she gave me.  I journeyed out there armed with my Copenhagen Card and the assumption that it let me ride the S-Bahn commuter rail for free.  No one ever checked, so that worked out well enough.  It was up near Nordhavn where I knocked on her door & learned she was busy… not wanting to distract her, I left back for my hotel room.  We later worked out that we’d meet up the next evening for dinner.  Finally- some socializing!

I returned in time to catch the music & light show at Tivoli again, noticing that both the music and lights didn’t change the slightest (other than being an hour brighter as it was now a work night; the park closed earlier).   Once again the music piece that they used – which I couldn’t quite place – ended with a string of notes that reminded me of E.T. or maybe Back to the Future; definitely a Spielberg flick.  It goes right up there with one of the churches playing almost the five notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind… except their 2nd to last note was a bit off and the last note was totally different.  But so close.

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