The second day in Copenhagen started out great. By the evening, there would be lessons learned, chips would nearly be our downfall, and we would get nasty and gross.
After sleeping late and enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the hotel, Mike the Martyr announces he will not play a round of golf on the Jack Nicklaus course we saw on the train ride from the airport. I encourage him to go and play but he claims there is not enough time. Okay, joined at the hip we will be.
The last of the City Sightseeing lines beckons. We have done the red and green lines. All that is left is the yellow. The off-season schedule is limited and we miss the first tour, so, after a little juggling with the green line, we are off to discover the secrets behind the walls of the free city of Christiania on the island of Christianshavn. In 1971 about a thousand squatters took over former army barracks and refused to leave. They declared themselves a free city, flew their own flag and claimed separation from the city of Copenhagen, free from Danish rule and eventually the European Union.
Today, its trash strewn dirt streets bustle with kiosks selling everything from T-shirts and scarves to hashish and drug paraphernalia. On the main drag, aptly named Pusher Street, one kiosk displays at least fifteen blocks of different flavors of hash, each the size of a cigarette pack. I try to listen in on the sales pitch but can’t get close enough because there is quite a crowd. That, and the pitch is in Danish, a language I don’t speak. I don’t know what hash sells for these days but I’m pretty sure there was a lot of money lying on that table. As someone who lived through the ‘60s and ‘70s, if memory serves, a marble-sized chunk of hash going for $5 – $15, was enough to get several people high for a night or two. So, what is on display here could probably keep a whole roomful pretty stoned for quite a long time.
Drugs are illegal in Denmark. The authorities would love to shut this place down but for some reason can’t or won’t. They did manage to shut down the permanent hash stands in 2004 but this temporary one is doing a brisk business. No cameras are allowed so I can only snap pictures from the sightseeing bus or just outside of the gates. My guess is that with the no-camera policy, there’s no evidence of the hash kiosk for prosecution.
Of the very few rules in the commune, one is no hard drugs. Others include no stealing, guns, knives or biker colors. In addition to the ramshackle kiosks on Pusher Street, there are two surprisingly well-stocked hardware/gardening stores – think Lowe’s in a barn – several restaurants, theaters and other businesses. The smell is a mix of trash and food with smoke emanating from drugs, cigarettes and fire pits. The saying “dirty hippies” comes to mind. Back in my “flower-child” days, I always appreciated cleanliness. So, a half hour visit is enough.
As we walked out of the main gate, a sign tells us that we are now entering the E.U. The implication is that the laws of Copenhagen, Denmark and the European Union will be enforced once we step outside of this protected zone. So if you think you are going to bring drugs out and not be arrested, think again.
We hustle back to the bus stop to make our rendezvous with the yellow line tour. The bus driver who dropped us off here had told us the next bus would come in a half hour. I want to believe but sense that since they are running on a shortened schedule that isn’t going to be the case. Sometimes I hate it when I am right.
As we wait a second half-hour we are ‘entertained’ by the people coming in and out of Christiania including a drunk/high trio out for a liquor store run. One free spirit is so trashed that he is apparently oblivious to his soiled pants. Although repulsed, I snap a picture.
From Christiania we catch the yellow line that goes out past the zoo to the Carlsburg Brewery. The narration on this tour is by far the worst. The description of the brewery goes on for a few minutes prior to the stop and we don’t see anything the narrator talks about. Those sights are all after the stop and well after he had talked about them. While I realize that he couldn’t fit everything after the stop but it would be nice to point out that the brewery is up ahead on the right on a street we won’t be on. It’s the little things that help.
Back at the main stop we hop on the red line for a short jaunt to the Rosenborg Castle where the crown jewels are kept. The jewels aren’t what attract us, though. It is a lovely, crisp fall day and a walk through a monarchy’s gardens seems a royal idea. First a much-needed warm-up. It’s a mystery, but a foreign caffe latte always tastes so much better than one bought in the States.
Maybe it’s the water or the grass that the cows eat making the milk so good. Or maybe it’s just being on vacation that makes everything better. Whatever the case, we grab a couple of delish lattes to go from the tiny restaurant just inside the gate and amble across a small bridge behind the castle.We pause to admire the restful garden, to gaze admiringly at the artful plants and to frolic with the sculptures. Rare is the time we pass up an opportunity to take goofy pictures in touristy surroundings. But these idyllic park pics are small potatoes compared with what lies ahead.
Next stop is the Rundetårn or Round Tower.
After a surprisingly easy walk up a fairly gentle 880-foot ramp, two short staircases and one tiny spiral staircase we are rewarded with a panoramic city view from approximately nine stories above street level. Along the way up is a museum store and new bathrooms.
Throughout Copenhagen there are small, ornate kiosks that sell everything from ice cream to coffee. They look like original town square guard houses. In a square near Nyhavn, one of these beauties stands in front of a massive white building. A perfect picture waiting to be taken. Mike asks the barista if she will raise an awning which will expose the sign showing that this small ancient structure is now a coffee bar juxtaposed against the white building. The woman turns slowly and says nothing but wears a horrified expression. Mike, in his typical Three Stooges fashion backs away apologizing excessively. As we wait for traffic, the barista comes running up and loudly and angrily tells Mike that he should have waited for her response. Mike’s response to this is to egg her on. I jump in and calmly tell her that she looked horrified by the request so we didn’t want to impose. We simply wanted a picture of her beautiful shop. Not soothed, she tells Mike that she came over to teach him a lesson in manners. He responds by chastising her for leaving the kiosk unattended. Before it got really ugly the light turns green and we walk away, dare I say, leaving her foaming?
Even now, months later, we discuss how maybe he shouldn’t have walked away so quickly. I submit that maybe her English wasn’t that great and she didn’t understand. I am being very generous because her English, really, was just fine. We theorize that maybe she just has one of those unfortunate faces that looks permanently horrified.
In our haste to get away from her, we take a wrong turn and get a bit lost. After reading what happens next, you might think that karma has stepped in to punish us. You decide.
We turn the corner on a deserted street and happen upon a closed business with the best name ever. Nasty and Gross. For some reason, we thought it was an art gallery but research shows it appears to be a hair salon.
My husband excels at taking advantage of such opportunities. At first I pose him with a finger up his nose and snap several shots. (With its immediate results and near endless storage, a digital camera is a wonder, isn’t it?) Nope. Not quite right. Not quite enough. Picking one’s nose is only gross. Something nasty is also needed. Working hard to get it just right. Checking results. Going back several times.
I am determined not to leave a rare opportunity with regrets for what could have been. Tears of laughter streak my face, Mike shares my determination to get it just right, one last time delicately inserts a finger up a nostril and then, the money shot, fans his lower backside with his other hand indicating his need to “clear the air.”
Looking at the results of the final shot sends me over the edge and to put it delicately, I relax certain muscles which should only be relaxed when the knickers are below the knees. I struggle not to giggle and thus add to what feels like a calamity. We walk as quickly as possible back to the hotel so I can change. In the privacy of our room, I am so relieved to discover that what felt like a gigantic accident is little more than a dribble.
Comfy in clean clothes, we walk to the train station to buy tickets for tomorrow’s early morning trip back to the airport. Tickets for future use are handled differently. Just prior to boarding we will validate them in a machine on the platform near the track. With that task done it is time to focus on our last supper in Denmark.
We wander into a place called Café Oscar. I am oblivious to the fact that there are only two women in this crowded place and I am one of them. Nor do I notice that there is something called “Golden Showers” on the drink menu. After thoroughly perusing the dinner menu I find nothing that strikes my fancy. Only after our departure does Mike finally get through to me that it is a gay bar and, frankly, not the dinner establishment that we were looking for so we continue on.
The evening is chilling just as we wind up at Ristorante Italiano near the Round Tower that we had seen earlier. Outdoor heaters warm sidewalk tables. This will work. A bottle of the house wine – a red Sicilian – it’s a bit sweet but tasty nonetheless. We share an order of penne all’arrabiata. Fresh peppers add a nice crunch.
Along side is good bread with olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar.
I enjoy a filet with green peppercorn/cognac sauce, roasted potatoes and very fresh veggies. Mike savors the veal con fungi. A delightful meal.
Then the bill arrives. It is a sobering 826 DKK – a little less than $150. I whip out our travel debit card and it doesn’t work. Nor does the regular debit card. Again declined. Mastercard? Nope. Visa? Nada. None of our cards have a chip in them and it seems that Denmark has switched over to so-called smart cards almost exclusively so a card without a chip, is a problem.
I wait while Mike hikes over to the closest cash machine. As the minutes tick by, I worry what we will do if none of the cards work, or if the accounts are drained by us (not likely) or by a criminal. Since that damned Amber at AT&T screwed me with my iPhone and I’m not about to type my passwords into a computer at an internet café, I cannot check our accounts until I land in the States. As scenarios roll through my head, Mike returns with enough cash to spring us. Phew.
Now the problem is that we need to dump the excess cash before we fly away at 6:55am. We have to get rid of a little more than $60 in Danish cash at the airport and/or train station. Hmmm. I might be forced to buy one of those chic scarves that everyone has. I’m always thinking.
One way we will not spend the extra cash is on the Tivoli Gardens. We just can’t plunk down $20 each just to get in the gate for what is ultimately an amusement park. Our last night in town happens to be the last night for the Tivoli’s season. At 10:45 they close with a bang, shooting off fireworks for about 15 minutes. We are on the wrong side of the hotel, sleepless, watching the sky light up with fireworks we can’t see. Instead, our show was the people in neighboring apartments watching the show. We got a small glimpse of those surrounding apartments and some were quite nice. With vapors of the finale drifting by we close the curtains and climb into bed.
The next loud noise would be the alarm clock at 4:00 am signaling the end of our stay in Copenhagen. With our soon-to-be useless $60 in Danish kroners, we pay for breakfast and splurge on a taxi for the short ride to the train station. Onward to Oslo!