When I woke up this morning I had no idea where I was. As I stumbled out of bed I remembered when I stubbed my toe — hard — on the door jam of the bathroom. It seems like nearly every doorway in Denmark has a jam that’s at least 4 inches high. On average, I kick one about every 8 minutes. Yes, I am an idiot. Otherwise, it’s a marvelous place. The minibar is totally free here at the First Hotel Kong Frederick, which is nice. By 8:00 last night, I’d already downed four of the bottles of water. Anything else I drank is not fit for print.
After nursing my toe back to health, I headed down to breakfast. It was a lovely affair as we all sat around a large Nordic table. No one had the nerve to say anything so we stared at our food. I felt like, if I’d started the conversation, everyone would have said in unison, “Not yet. I haven’t finished my first cup of coffee.”
Finally, a woman who was at least 8 feet tall broke the silence. She was reading a newspaper and cracking a hard-boiled egg when she suddenly shouted an expletive that I would happily include, but my dear mother reads this blog. Upon hearing it, none of us looked up from our porridge and orange juice.
Was it the news or the egg that caused her consternation? We’ll never know. We were too afraid to ask. I think she merely hadn’t finished her first cup of coffee.
Before going to bed last night, I arranged with the hotel for a driver to take me around a few highlights in the area. This was a wise move because it’s the slow season. That means there aren’t any bus tours of the city. At least none that I can find.
The driver, Michael, was the owner of the company. About my age, he grew up planning to be a police officer like everyone in his family (his grandfather had been one of the King’s bodyguards). Then, one summer, he got a job as a hotel concierge. He loved it and he hasn’t looked back. He was a wealth of information.
- 40% of Danes ride bikes to work (even in the snow).
- The Parliament is comprised of 179 elected representatives.
- Many Members of Parliament ride their bikes to work, too.
- Denmark is home to the oldest Monarchy in the world.
- The Queen prefers one of her 39 Bentleys to a bike.
- Noma – voted the best restaurant in the world – has smoke, grass, and live ants on the menu. We decided that sounded more like a science experiment on a plate than a meal
Copenhagen roughly translates to Merchant’s Harbor. The entrance into the harbor from the city is flanked by a statue of Mercury (Roman god of Merchants) and Neptune (Roman god of the Sea). Evidence of the industriousness of the people here is impossible to miss. From the Maersk shipping line to the Lego company to Michael’s Copenhagen Concierge service. Commerce is everywhere.
It’s not all been happy times here, though. They’ve been invaded a lot, according to Michael. The most recent was between 1939 and 1945 when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany. There’s a small museum dedicated to the resistance. Michael told me — sadly — it was not worth seeing because, “We didn’t do much.” I think if he’d been around, he might have had something up his sleeve.
“I know, I’ll send those Germans to Noma for some live ants. Surely that will save the day!”
Hippies Make Me Nervous
Quickly moving past that part of the history, our tour of Copenhagen took us to an unusual place called Christiana. Now, the waitress last night — you remember? The one who knew both Greensboro and Corpus Christi — told me Christiana was “totally a must-see.” Her words, not mine. Do you think I’d describe something as “totally a must-see”? On second thought, don’t answer.
Back in the 1960’s, the Danish Military vacated a facility on an island called Christianshavn. A few weeks later, a bunch of Hippies occupied the area. They refused to leave. Since they won’t pay taxes, the government has attempted to remove them, unsuccessfully. The police have tried – also without success – to get them out because they unlawfully sell marijuana (i.e., an illegal drug that you shouldn’t have anything to do with unless you’re in Amsterdam or medically authorized in certain U.S. states) along Pusher Street. You can’t make this stuff up.
There are three rules in Christiana:
- Have Fun
- No Photos (because selling marijuana is illegal and photos would reveal their “secret” industry)
- No Running (because it causes panic)
There was a lot to see. For example, there was this tree. On the tree, there was a little house. On the little house was a balcony. On the balcony was a railing. On the railing stood a dude. I’m no expert, but I’m 78% sure he was high (having illegally acquired and consumed one or more unlawful marijuana cigarettes) and I’m 84% sure he was contemplating a jump. Michael and I decided the fall of about 4 feet would merely break a leg. Nothing to worry too much about because even though he pays no taxes, the guy qualifies for the free Danish healthcare system.
Now, if you’ve ever seen “Locked Up Abroad,” you’ll understand my concern about being in Christiana. On exiting, you are greeted by a sign that says, “You Are Now Entering the E.U.” I was relieved to be back in a government my own government recognizes. I checked my pockets. Clear.
Vikings are Freaking Awesome
On we went to Roskilde! It’s home to the Viking Ship Museum, which was something I’d wanted to see ever since some friends in Greensboro told me about it. In 1957, archaeologists discovered 5 sunken Viking Ships in the same spot in the harbor. The ships had been scuttled to make a kind-of Viking speed bump in the harbor.
The museum is great. They’ve reconstructed the ships and tell the story of how they tested them. Fascinating! They also talk a lot about the archaeology behind it. According to tree-ring analysis, one of the logs was cut down in Dublin sometime between May and June of 1042. Come on! Do you really think they can figure that out? Well, according to the placard they can.
Look, Ma! It’s Sweden!
From there, we headed to MalmÃ¸. Yup, you read right, friends: Sweden. It’s a whole different country. We took a 5 mile bridge, which was connected to a 2.5 mile tunnel. That’s crazy big. I had lunch at Harry’s Pub, Casino, and Restaurant in MalmÃ¸. I think Harry was the big, hairy, tattooed guy who yelled at the waitress when she didn’t see me waiting for a table. You’ll be relieved to know that the “wife-beater” t-shirt movement is alive and well in Sweden. Harry wore one with pride.
After a quick lunch of apple juice and pyttipanna (delicious mix of potatoes and meat with a side of beets), it was time to head back to Copenhagen. For the sake of time, I chose to miss Harry’s Casino and Pub. I’m sure they were pleasant, but — with my history in Vegas — I’d do well to avoid casinos in foreign lands. I need cash to get home and I was still a bit nervous about being “Locked Up Abroad.”
Back in Copenhagen, I headed to Tivoli Gardens, which is the second oldest amusement park in the world (the first oldest is just north of here). It’s in the heart of Copenhagen, across the street from my hotel. It was exactly what you’d expect a Scandinavian amusement park to be like (i.e., filled with the unmistakable waft of frying fair food).
So now you see why I love Scandinavia: Royals, Crazy Hippies, Vikings, and an amusement park. All in the same spot! Come to Copenhagen already. Won’t you? Michael can help you out!
Tomorrow, I’m going to try to see the National Museum and Parliament.