We woke up at 4 a.m., well before the crack of dawn for our two-hour flight to Copenhagen (no wonder I still feel off, sleep-wise.) I made lattes on the cappuccino machine (which we now covet…self-Christmas gift perhaps?) and downed a blueberry Skyr drink. Skyr is one of the few Icelandic foods I ventured to try (After that hot-dog situation, I wasn’t too keen on sheep’s head, cod chins, raw puffin, shark-piss ceviche, a shot of “black death” or a whale steak. Strike that, before that hot-dog situation I wasn’t keen on such things either.) It’s this creamy, delicious yogurt, served in solid or drink form, and I bought one each day we were there. I’d put it worlds above this whole Greek yogurt bandwagon everyone’s jumping on.
With the time change, we arrive in Denmark shortly after noon. We both buy Copenhagen cards at the airport, which is around $85 and get us free rides on public transportation and entry into more than 60 museums and popular attractions. (We more than get our worth out of it). Then we hop on the train and ride it for 20 minutes to Christianshaven, where we’ve rented an apartment through a guy who listed it on AirBnB.
I knew we’d been spoiled by the last apartment. And it seems that this one served as the great equalizer between the two. It was in a great location, overlooking a canal and central to the Metro. But it wasn’t exactly Xanadu. The beds, in fact, were made from hardened ogres. And the towels were constructed from cats’ tongues. And the kitchen was stocked with nothing except for what past guests have left behind–saltines and hot sauce. (I’m not looking for a four-course meal, but maybe a little coffee to get us through the first day?). And the wifi didn’t work. Other than that….well, it was quite clean.
Not that we planned to spend much time there. We immediately set out and found a great spot for lunch. In fact, I think we consumed the first vegetables we’d had since leaving the U.S., and it was a welcome change. I had a salad with goat cheese and Neil had a ridiculously good veggie and hummus sandwich. Recharged and reinvigorated, we set off for Christiana.
I was so curious about this free town, established in 1971 by a group of hippies/squatters who moved into a vacant military barracks and turned it into a sort of commune. There are some strict rules here–population is capped at around 900. To move there, someone has to die or leave (they reportedly place ads in the newspaper when there are vacancies) and the interested party must go before a committee to be approved. No photos are allowed (hence, the light photo show above on this particular day) and rules are much more lax here–which is why there is a “Green Light District” brimming with open-air pot and hash stalls along “Pusher Street.”
Walking in here, I felt like I was returning to Oberlin College–i.e. an artistic and crafty commune that smells like pot and garlic. The sprawling grounds are filled with beautiful flowers, plants, murals and cute cottage-like homes—far more charming than a US military barracks. There are a couple of cafes, a cool bicycle shop and a metalworking studio, all for public consumption. But, from what I saw, that, the pot sellers and the few Renn-fair/hemp bracelet/pipe-sale stalls were pretty much it. I was hoping to find an area brimming with arts and crafts, cool jewelry and other items, but, unless we were looking in the wrong place, there wasn’t much to keep us here.
We spent about 10 minutes downing a Tuborg at a bar just off Pusher Street. Inside, aside from the heavy presence of smoke, it felt like a normal, boisterous bar. Outside, where we stood, I felt like I’d joined a casting call for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” One guy kept walking in circles, staring off in the distance, a few were slack-jawed, some bawdy, pirate-like women gave me the evil eye. It was not a comfortable place to be.
So our next stop was the polar opposite: Tivoli Gardens. This old-school European amusement park also had beautiful flowers and sprawling grounds, but filled fantasies of a different kind than Christiana. We wandered here for a bit, but didn’t want to spend a paycheck on food, so after about an hour we called it a night, heading back to our neighborhood.
Walking around Copenhagen was truly a highlight, and continued to be over the next two days. Christianshaven felt much like Amsterdam, with gorgeous old, attached homes, cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes. And the presence of bicycles–nothing can prepare you for a Copenhagen rush hour. Thirty-six percent of people here commute to work on bike–that’s higher than anywhere else in the world. Just watching the herds of bikes go by was entertainment. Add to that the fact that a world-championship road race was going on, and all of the city seemed to be into it. It was pretty amazing. Chicago–and the rest of the world–could learn a lot from this carbon-dioxide neutral, clean-energy country.
Almost there! Read about day five of the Nordic adventure here.