We are getting back up to speed around here, having traveled home for the holidays and now getting back into the swing of things here. Here’s my post from a trip we took back in December.
For Amy’s birthday this year, I got her the best present that anyone could ever give: me! She had to be in Copenhagen for a conference on her birthday and I tagged along to ensure that she wouldn’t be lonely and depressed on her special day. Her parents were in town for a visit, which meant we left Malcolm behind and visited a new place by ourselves. This is Copenhagen:
If you are like me, you probably don’t know where Copenhagen is. It is in Denmark. If you are still like me, that probably doesn’t help all that much. After looking it up, I found that Denmark is the land mass that connects Germany and Sweden. If you can look at a globe, you’ll see that it’s about as far north as Alaska, which is about 1,000 miles farther north than I ever want to be, especially in December. It is far enough north that the sun goes missing for long periods of time. Seriously! In Copenhagen, the sun comes out at 9 and goes away at 3, meaning it keeps the same hours as a 20 year-old dog. Most of our visit there was shrouded in darkness.
Despite their unfortunate relation to the sun, we found the Danish (the people, not the pastries) to be warm and welcoming. OK, maybe the pastries are that way too. While the official language is Danish, most people spoke English. (Not that I minded. Danish is quite an interesting language to listen to, sort of a hodge-podge of soft German and other Nordic languages. Imagine Hitler hushedly doing an impersonation of the Swedish Chef, with less table-pounding and more fish tossing.) We went to dinner at a small casual family restaurant the first night and it felt less like a place of business and more like we had been invited over to someone’s house for dinner. The Danes are indeed great.
On our only full day there, Amy went to her conference and I set out to see some sights. I had coffee and a danish at local coffee shop, mostly because I had see what Danish danish were like. Anytime the name of the food specialty matches the name of the town, I have to give it a try. (Except of course, when I am in Dirty Pig Testicle, Texas. There, I skip it.) The pastries were good, yeasted, and therefore light and airy on the inside, crisp on the outside and deliciously sweet and cinnamonny all through. My pastry experience here was like waking up on Christmas morning, in baked-goods form.
My first stop was Christianshavn, a residential area known for its bohemian atmosphere. After seeing a lot of things described as “bohemian,” in my life, I have come to the conclusion that this is really just code for “crappy looking.” From what I could tell, the chief attraction in this part of the woods was Christiana, a commune set up by squatters in some old army barracks. There, residents have attempted to set up an independent autonomous collective, complete with its own government charter and lax attitudes towards leashing your pets. As I wandered the paths of Christiana with 20 mangy looking dogs, I saw the “Green Light District,” which is where everyone in Copenhagen goes to score weed. I usually don’t like getting high, but, like urge to sample a Danish danish, I really wanted to see what it would be like to smoke out with squatters who thumb their noses at the rest of the country (pot is illegal everywhere else.) My curiosity only goes so far, though, and as the area was totally scuzzy and it was 10 am, I kept going. Half of the dogs in town followed me.
My next stop was the David Collection, the largest collection of Islamic art in Northern Europe. I discovered that Islamic art was quite different from other culture’s artistic expressions and mainly consisted of things like tiny picture books, clothing, pottery, calligraphy and coins. Mildly put out by the name, I filled out a feedback form telling them they should change the name of the place to “The David Collection of Old Clothes, Cursive Samples, Tiny Pictures, Pots and Loose Change,” so as to avoid any confusion. The “art” they did have was indeed interesting, although there were so many docents in the museum and so few patrons that the scene inside was pretty uncomfortable. The docents practically begged me to engage them on the exhibits, but I really had nothing for them. Every once in a while, I would note, “Wow, this picture book is really much smaller than the rest” or “I like the way this ‘T’ is crossed,” but for the most part, I was useless. The inside of that place reeked of desperation.
I decided I needed a little blood and guts. Anywhere situated this far north has to have a long and glorious history with Vikings, right? I made my way to the National Museum for what I thought would be an extensive history of the vikings in this part of the world. I was initially intrigued by the early Danish penchant for making tributes. Essentially, in the old days, if you had something you really liked, you tossed it in the bog in the name of good fortune. Got a really nice silver pot? Toss it in the bog! Hey, nice carriage, you should totally toss it in the bog! Where’s your sister? I threw her in the bog, and now my rash is nearly gone! Researchers have had a field day going into the bogs and looking for stuff that people threw in for good luck. I was amazed. I was not, however, amazed at the Viking displays at the museum. There were two rooms, and there was no glorification of violence anywhere. There was no carnage or tails of getting drunk and invading far off lands. I didn’t get to see stories of Eric-The-Red, Eric-The-Mad or even Eric-The-Guy-Who-Just-Tossed-His-Favorite-Shoe into the bog. I was quite disappointed.
One thing that I noticed walking around town was how trustworthy the Danish are. Everywhere I went, I saw bikes parked on the street without so much as a lock on them. Being from Oakland, my first inclination was to steal as many as I could, but upon a bit of reflection, I realized that 100 Danish bikes would not fit in our carry-on baggage. This point was really driven home when I saw a sleeping baby in a stroller parked in front of a store, its owner nowhere to be found. That baby would last 10 minute tops in Oakland before being sold to overzealous infertile San Francisco parents. Perhaps they should include stuff like this in promoting tourism in here: Copenhagen, a place so safe you can leave your baby alone on the street!
One thing that did not disappoint was the weather. While we were there, we saw a steady stream of people getting the hell out of town. A major storm hit there area with temperatures plummeting and winds howling near 50 miles per hour. They closed all the bridges in town, the train station and the airport, leaving downtown Copenhagen a veritable ghost town. No wonder the docents at the Davis Museum were so hard up!
Of course, no birthday celebration would be complete without a crazy decadent meal. We booked a table at a Michelin starred restaurant and arrived to find that the storm had chased away all the other diners. We had the place to ourselves, meaning the entire wait staff and kitchen was there to dote on us. It was pretty awesome. We had 12 courses, complete with wine pairings, and it was one crazy dining experience. We ate cod skin, beef jerky, sweetbreads, deer tartare, burned artichoke and everything in between. They even made us a nice cake for Amy’s birthday. Amy didn’t remember it though, because we drank enough awesome wine to make us want to invade a neighboring country and pillage the shit out of it. While we normally prefer simpler fare, it was quite an experience to see what fussy food can look and taste like.
Copenhagen was definitely not on my list of places to get to while we are in Europe, but I am really glad we went. I can imagine going there in the summer, when the weather is nice and the sun shines all night long, and enjoying some good beer at a nice outdoor restaurant without having to worry in the least about where I had parked my child. We’ll have to go back.