Copenhagen: Actually Quite Cool

Admittedly, Copenhagen was the city that I wasn’t expecting to spend much time in: I was advocating another day in Stockholm and just kind of briefly touching Copenhagen before heading off for home. Thankfully I was overruled.

As previously mentioned, we took the train to Copenhagen and arrived at central station at 7:30am. On a Saturday. Our first order of business was to locate the dorm, hopefully drop off our stuff, and go explore the city ASAP. After crawling along at a very slow pace, we ambled into a neighborhood that was very lacking in open coffee shops that we so desperately needed. Eventually stumbling into a bakery that advertised lattes, Tracey and I rushed inside for some tasty pastries and coffee. It was here that I first thought up of the idea to pronounce Danish words very poorly, and when the shopkeepers switched to English (which most people fall back to), I would speak in poor English. The purpose was to have them think I wasn’t American and that English was my second language. I’m not sure if this actually worked, but this was my thought pattern at 08:00 in the morning while getting sick and running on little sleep.

Outside, Brian and Justin said that they had been “shot at” and that we were in the “ghetto of Copenhagen.” Noting a surprising lack of commotion for a gunshot, I expressed disbelief. Apparently, so they claim, a “very scary looking man on a bike” stopped next to them, pulled out his hand, made it in the shape of a gun, aimed it at them, and said “bang!” before peddling off.

Where Oury and Brian were "shot" at.
Site of the fingerbanging.

Eventually, after going through some increasingly “scary” blocks, we made it to “Sleep in Heaven” where we were able to stash our bags and take a moment to rest before heading off downtown to catch a history tour. We managed to be in a 90 minute tour with a local resident who walked us through the old down while focusing on the locations and history of Hans Christian Andersen.

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On the tour, next to the Danish seat of government.

After the tour, Brian was fading fast. We went on a scramble to find some suitable place to eat near the City Hall before eventually, out of desperation, went to “The Brooklyn Deli” or something like that. Oury and Tracey got the buffet, which was pretty good, while Brian and I opted to order some dishes. Brian was feverish at this point and not feeling well *at all*, so it was particularly maddening that the restaurant had forgotten to submit our orders to the kitchen. After about an hour of waiting and bugging them, we finally got our food before quickly booking it to the hostel to meet the Hamricks, check in, and get some rest. The rest of the day was basically a bust. Brian was in bed for the rest of the day, and I took a long nap before most of us decided to go wander and find some dinner.

The next day, however, we had to make up for lost time. I had a full two days of touring planned, and gosh darn it, we were GOING TO DO IT ALL. And that will start with a harbor tour. Leaving our hostel, we immediately run into a massive run of some sort.

There was some kind of massive run going on that morning.

This complicated things as they seemed to be going where we wanted to go, and there was no real way to cross the runners without actually getting up to speed, running with them, and slowly cutting over to the other side of the lane before disengaging. Anyway, we made it across and started on the harbor boat tour after eating some breakfast.

Opera house.
The (in)famous Opera House.

There are a few awesome buildings we saw on the tour that I’d like to highlight.

These are condos that were made from the frame of a WWII-era torpedo facility.
This was a former torpedo storage facility during World War II, and as you can see, they renovated it into condos. A very cool idea of urban reuse.

These blast points are too accurate for sandpeople...
A black Jawa Sandcruiser. Or the “black diamond” library. I prefer the former.

Maersk Headquarters
The Maersk headquarters.

After the refreshing and relaxing harbor tour, we went to Rosenborg Castle, which was a former royal castle that featured a lot of period relics, artwork, and the Danish crown jewels.

Rosenborg Castle.

The castle had a lot of propaganda inside: especially the large murals in the throne room that all featured Danish forces defeating the Swedes in battle. Literally every mural featured a sinking Swedish ship, surrendering Swedes, or otherwise the destruction of Swedish forces in some form. To top this off, the four corners of the room had designs and scenes from each of the four known continents. America was still young at the time, and it featured, of course, a decapitated head with an arrow going through the eye of the skull. Wonderful.

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Travelling back down to the waterfront, we stopped by to check out the current Royal Residences (above), before taking a small ferry to the other side of the harbor to visit Freetown Christiania.

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Harbor Ferry

Christiania, if you haven’t heard of it, is a semi-autonomous nation of hippies that broke away in the 1970s, and somehow have managed to keep up a free-living society unbound by modern laws and building code. They took over abandoned military barracks and have been there ever since: with the Danish government either unwilling or unable to evict them. It was the day before their 40th birthday, so things were in full swing when we arrived. I didn’t get too many pictures inside, but I think these are fairly representative of the area.

Freaking hippies.
Typical backyard.

Building codes? Who needs 'em.
Want a deck? Just build one, man.

They banned hard drugs.
Hard drugs are forbidden, but they have a “green” zone that features, well, you know what. And selling it openly for all who wanted it.

After getting our fill of freedom-loving hippies we took the metro back to downtown and had a nice and relaxing dinner at an all-you-can-eat Mediterranean place. We hung out for a while before going to bed early in preparation for awakening at 6 for the bus and train back to the airport. My public transit planning was perfect and we made it well on time to the airport and begin our journey out of Scandinavia. Three flights and 16 hours later, we were back in Seattle!

Copenhagen, despite not seeing as much as I would have liked due to Brian and I being sick for day 1, was a really cool city. They had a lot of different things to see, do, and experience, and overall it had a very “Seattle” feeling to it. In a sense Copenhagen was what I want Seattle to truly be, a calmer and more cultured beacon of civilization. I’ll leave you with this graffiti.

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Interlude: The Train of Hate

Continuing the trend of taking transportation+ accommodation trips, Brian and I took it upon ourselves to find and book the train from Stockholm->Copenhagen that was an overnight trip. Rick Steves claimed it existed, but we weren’t so sure.

This train seemed to be some mystical creation that didn’t actually exist on any site. After fighting the Swedish train website for hours and clicking different things in a manner in which we still don’t fully remember, we finally found this train of lore and booked it, jokingly making references to the fact that it may all be made up and we just handed the company cash for no particular reason. While booking, it claimed that we had something called “couchettes,” which seemed to be what we were looking for. There weren’t any options to downgrade or upgrade our seats, and since the name of the seats matched our expectations of a cheap sleeper car, it all seemed okay.

That is, until I actually looked at the receipt. In Europe. It said “chairs+table.” This might have thrown up danger signs, but I didn’t fret too much. The couchette myth seemed too prevalent. Come 2200, we went to Stockholm Central and printed our tickets before going to the spar that held our awaiting chariot. We checked in and started walking past car after car of sleepers.

It’s at this point where I should point out the collective mental state of our travelling group. Brian was beginning to get what would be an extremely high fever, and his energy level was slumping fast. Tracey had the misfortune of sleeping in the bunk below me the night before, and as it was a squeaky IKEA bed, my constant tossing and turning meant she was up most of the night and somewhat pissed at me. Oury, well, Oury was just looking for a bed to sleep in. I was pretty full of energy, and was planning on spending most of the time on the train planning our Copenhagen adventures.

We come to our car. Which looks different then the rest. It’s a little more dilapidated than the others, and as we enter the main aisle, there comes the sinking feeling that we may not be in a car like the others. There were no sleepers here, only chairs. Red chairs. Dirty red chairs from the early 1990s. And an interior that could have come out of the Soviet Union. As we approached our assigned seats, I felt the red hot glares of death upon me.

I make some sort of explanation about how it said couchette, and there were no upgrade options. This did little to placate Tracey, who was leading the charge of hate at this point, with Oury right behind her.

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Less than amused.

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Brian is pleased. For these were cheap tickets.

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Oury immediately falls asleep.

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I spent most of the night planning while everyone else had fitful and wholly unsatisfying sleeping experiences.

Brian and I, fighting the inevitable battle towards illness, were popping cough drops like they were candy, and tried to remain nonplussed at the situation which we now found ourselves in: a good night’s sleep which we all needed was no longer an option, only the train awaited, and our transfer at 6:00am.

The Aftermath

Stockholm: Swedish Fortress of Awesome

I had high expectations for Stockholm. Despite being at most 1/8th Swedish, it was a country I always identified with due to our still having family roots back “home” and a strong agreement with their culture and politics. Clearly Stockholm is a utopia for all that is good and right in the world, and I would be immediately be swept away by its grace and charm. Perhaps this strong build up led to a bit of disappointment.

We arrived at around 0800 to Stockholm and had to walk about an mile to the nearest subway station, where we were immediately forced to use a new currency and try to figure out how to get on a train and pay for it so we wouldn’t spend the night in a Swedish prison. We got us some nifty 24-hour passes and wandered downwards to the train, which proceeded to take us precisely to where we wanted to go: central station. There was only one, slight, teeny problem: we had no idea what to do after we arrived there.

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Subway station.

After much hemming and hawing, we figured that we’d go to the hostel super early and see if we could drop off our luggage. Tracey then proceeded to whip out a map and get us rallied up and travelling.

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The streets are rough, yo.

After dropping off our bags and settling in, we hit the streets hard, and went to the old town metro station to go on a walking tour. Except we got lost. And went somewhere else instead. Such as the city hall.

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And then walked along the waterfront to the Vasa.

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The Vasa was a stop we all knew we’d be taking, and it was an absolutely stunning experience. She was beautifully restored and documented, and I often found myself staring at this piece of history sitting a few feet in front of me.

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After leaving the Vasa Museum, we took some more Subway trains and mistakenly went to a suburb before quickly finding a train back to downtown and dinner.

The following day, we were determined to actually go on the old town walking tour that was our original destination the day before. Stumbling upon one of the royal palaces, we snagged a view of the changing of the sentries, which, while not quite as awesome as the changing of the guards, was still a fairly impressive ceremony.

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Guard them buildings.

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Exploring streets that often resembled Rome in their nature, we soon found signs that trolls were afoot. These were just figures that were set in random alleys and on fences.

We had a reservation for the Stockholm Ice Bar that evening, so after killing some time viewing some local churches, we booked it for a very cold drink. The ice bar was at a nice and toasty 23F, and we all got gloves and jackets to protect us from the all-ice decorations and cups. It was an interesting concept, but I’m not sure if I’m a fan.

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Stacking the used ice cups. The best thing is, no cleanup! They just melt away.

After the ice bar we went to a rather fancy pants restaurant to spend the rest of our Swedish cash money. I decided to get a rather interesting sounding fish dish that came with a little extra surprise: a whole crayfish was also on my plate when it arrived. Now, there are two things that I have nightmares about: zombies, and crustaceans. Their crunchy exoskeletons, their creepy walking, and their eyes just freak me the hell out. AND AN ENTIRE ONE WAS JUST CHILLING ON MY PLATE. FREAK OUT MODE ACTIVATED WHAT THE HELL IS THIS THING DOING HERE. I DON’T EVEN REALLY LIKE EATING FISH IN THE FIRST PLACE. Finally some nice soul took it away from my plate and I was left to eat my food in relative peace. If anything, this really reinforced why I don’t like eating meat, and now that I’m back from Scandinavia, I’m going to start cutting back on my twice-a-month fish allotment

Stockholm was a very intriguing mixture of classical elements of the old city with the ultra-modern styling of downtown. Yet the overall effect was cluttered. Everything was mottled and crammed together, and there was no real cohesive architectural element.

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We hung out at the hostel with the Hamricks before getting on the train, which shall be the subject of my next post.

Interlude: “The Ferry”

When travelling “Hardtke Class”–which often resembles “Rick Steves Class”–we’re always looking for the best deals to save time and money. Part of this strategy is to book overnight travel arrangements so you pay for travel and accommodation combined, which is often cheaper. Following this strategy, we booked us a 4-person cabin on the Silja Serenade, a cruiseferry that travels overnight between Helsinki and Stockholm. Brian had billed this as the “booze cruise,” but I wasn’t so sure about that. Yes, it did contain the mythological theory of tax-free hard alcohol, but we were travelling on a weekday. With the duty restrictions for arriving with liquor, I didn’t really think people would pay the fare, mostly because they would probably break even at best.

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A ferry like ours.

Regardless, we went to the terminal with high hopes and quickly boarded the Serenade. These were some of the first ships that featured an internal promenade that is common in cruise ships these days, and it was a weird mixture of restaurants that seemed to be “fake” pubs and the large duty-free store that opened promptly when we departed. We got a cabin overlooking this promenade on a friend’s recommendation, and everyone else started taking a nap the minute we left, despite my announced plan of going above deck to watch the star fortress and Helsinki pass us by on the way to the Baltic. It was, of course, pouring on the upper deck, but viewing the fortifications from a higher viewpoint (and the viewpoint of a ship that could easily be shelled!) was a fairly cool experience. I went back to the cabin and fought the slow internet connection for the next hour or so before giving up and did some light dozing while waiting for them to wake up. I’m pretty sure the internet was a single satlink of dubious quality, but WHATEVER.

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Island in the harbor, as viewed from the ferry.

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View of the promenade.

Finally, after about ever, they woke up to the door knocking. We all promptly went to the tax-free store and spent far too much time picking out what finally resulted in a milky mango-like liquor and some lingonberry vodka. We went to the protected middle section of the upper deck and started sampling these fares and hanging out. After some card games and planning for tomorrow, a few of us went back to the cabin to go to bed.

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Hanging out on the upper deck.

Not so. An hour later, a very tired and hastily dressed-to-party Nikky found himself sitting next to similarly deposed Stephanie while the others went to the 14th level, and the “Club New York” to dance.

This club was a weird mixture of American brands such as TGI Friday’s and European techno music. There were the stereotypical girls with short dresses wearing angel wings who were dancing just about as poorly as possible. There was this mid-30s woman who was very clearly hitting on a hipster-looking dude who wasn’t really having any of her, but she kept dragging him to dance. Hilarity ensued. It almost seemed that business people took this ferry to go to meetings and offices, and during the night took advantage of the club and cheap booze to just party it out in the middle of the week. Weird.

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Inside the cabin.

Anyway, the rest of the evening was uneventful and we woke up in a new time zone and stood on the front deck as we went through the archipelago to enter Stockholm.

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Hello Stockholm!

Helsinki: City of Ladders

Over a series of blog posts I will be chronicling my trip to Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.

The Trip There

It always amazes me the sheer incompetence and theater that TSA puts travelers through. No other country forces you through such baseless pat-downs, the weird requirement of taking off your shoes (yuck), and other nonsense that they use in order to somehow protect us from terrorism. Despite their efforts to ruin our day, we passed through security and get on board a Boeing 737 for the long trip to Reykjavík. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand long flights. The seats are cramped, the air is stale and dry, and I quickly run out of productive things to do before my brain starts melting from the inside out. I’m pretty sure I was driving Tracey absolutely bonkers before we finally land eight hours later.

My first glimpse of Iceland only solidified my plans to go back and visit there in the future. Of course, all the crap we go through with TSA is repeated in Reykjavík, because the US doesn’t comply with the EU’s safety regulations. I suspect this is because the EU is actually sane, and is trying to punish us for the shoe requirements. Regardless, after getting some quick snacks which we don’t really understand, we’re on the way to Finland.

Helsinki

I only had somewhat of a vague idea about public transportation and where we needed to go in order to get to downtown Helsinki, but I managed to get us to the proper bus and on our way with some bus tickets. We arrive at the central train station only to find the skies extremely dark, our international sensors disoriented, and in serious need of coffee.

Wandering around for a bit, it begins to pour. We stumble into a coffee shop, power up, and figure out that the hostel is about a 20 minute walk. We saddle up and charge outside, where we promptly get soaked. Finding the Eurohostel, my hair is dripping water as I try to check in. Successfully doing this, we all go take long naps and then eat dinner downstairs. Not very original, but I usually forgive that offense for the first evening in a new continent. After dinner we headed off to explore Helsinki in the twilight. The streets were oddly quiet and empty, even for a Monday evening. Exploring the outsides of a few churches, we wander back and sleep off the rest of the jet lag. As if in competition with the Orthodox church, the Lutheran cathedral was brightly light up in the night sky.

The following day I navigated us to the small ferry to the Suomenlinna island fortress. Our ferry was absolutely adorable and carried one car in the back of the ship. As it went through a quick trip, we passed numerous small islands that had a multitude of houses and sheds in various shapes and sizes. The fortress was a great journey and a lot of fun to explore: the island was basically open and there were a lot of fortifications, beaches, tunnels, gun emplacements, and buildings to explore. One of the highlights were the star fortifications and the old church that now served as a lighthouse. The complex was made up of a few different islands, and there were buildings of various types and ages spread out among it. The Finnish Naval Academy resides on one of the islands, an old 1750s era drydock on another, and fortifications are spread out among all of them.

Coming back from the fortress, we went to the Temppeliaukio church, which is a mostly underground modern church built out of rock and contained a copper dome. It was a stunning building and provided a nice contrast to the other traditional churches in the area.

After this we met up with my friend who lived in nearby Espoo and he took us to a Finnish dinner where we partook in extremely delicious foods of different types. He introduced us to salted licorice and explained a bit about the local customs and behaviors.

Interestingly enough, he said that small talk is an unknown in the Finnish custom. We noticed this when we were walking in the streets or in the trams or metro: everything was silent. Unnervingly silent. Another odd thing about Helsinki is that EVERY building has an external and permanent ladder to its roof, almost without exception. We’re not sure why…

On Wednesday we did some more sightseeing, rode the underground metro to satisfy my public transportation curiosity, and ate a lovely crêpe by the Helsinki waterfront market. That afternoon we went to the Olympic Terminal and boarded the Silja Serenade, an extremely large ferry that would take us on an overnight cruise to Stockholm.