Sunday, August 30, 2009


In Hamburg, we caught the train to Copenhagen. It was a little bitty ICE (fast train) with only three cars! Why so small? This train has to fit on a ferry!

The train goes to the little town of Puttgarden on an island that is still part of Germany. There are tons of train tracks at the Puttgarden station, but most of them looked weeded over and disused. Then it rolls right into the bottom level of the ferry. The ride takes around an hour, then it rolls right off and back onto the tracks in Denmark!

We didn't really know the procedure for the whole ferry thing so we really tried to listen while the announcer went over it on the train, but ran into one of these odd aspects of human behavior. While the announcer was going over everything in three different languages, the people on our train car were yapping, yapping, yapping. We couldn't hear anything. When the announcement stopped, everyone got quiet. We decided to follow the old ladies sitting near us because they always know what's going on. ;)

On the ferry, everybody has to get off the train and go to the upper decks. It's a madhouse - you come out of the stairwell into a narrow hall full of perfume shops - the hall packed with other people who don't know where to go. It's like being in Heathrow. Damon got a little seasick (oddly enough...usually it's me) so we just sat out the ride in one of the cafeterias.

After the ferry ride, it's two more hours to Copenhagen. The train station there is really cool (see the pictures). It's all maroon and looks like it's completely wood. We were so tired when we arrived, and wanted help figuring out our best transit option to where we were staying, so we went to the tourist info office, which is only about a block from the station. There, when we asked, she gave us the brilliant answer, "Take the train." Then she just looked at us like that would be all we needed to know. We pried for more information and got an idea of which train to take and which stop might be best.

As it turned out, it was totally the wrong train station. The station was close to our place, but there was no exit on that side of the station. It took us about half an hour to walk there. At this point we were already feeling a bit crabby with our hostess - we were staying in someone's house to save money because Copenhagen's accommodations are revoltingly pricey - for not putting directions to the place on her website. So imagine how we felt when we finally arrived, as it was starting to rain, and no one answered the door. We called and no one answered the phone. We were in what felt like a suburban wasteland and now we didn't know what the hell was going on with our room! We tried the door one more time before I started to cry, and finally she answered. She was genuinely surprised we were there - apparently there was some confusion about the time and she thought we were coming later. (It was already past 8pm.) Then she asked us to wait outside in the rain for a few minutes while she did something. Unglaublich!

I think she was simply inexperienced. The room was nice (except there was no bathroom rug) and she gave us helpful information when we asked. We got the idea that her mom also does this and was encouraging her to do it too. It's a great alternate market for accommodations in Copenhagen, and when we had the right information about public transit, it was only a 3 minute walk to the bus and 10 - 15 minute ride to the heart of the city (about 3 EUR per person). Still, the location was really awful. We were really hungry by the time we got there and she recommended one of the closest restaurants. It took us half an hour to walk there through an industrial area. Note: tap water was free at this restaurant, and I took that as a hint to order just water on the rest of the trip to save money. We each had a bowl of pho, a beer for him and a water for me for the equivalent of 21 EUR.

We spent the following morning walking around a route suggested by a map we picked up at the tourist office the day before, with a diversion here or there to get a bakery snack or look at something that seemed interesting but wasn't on the route. Lunch was 14 EUR for tiny bits of really bad Chinese food and for Damon, a beer. I was using the dehydration policy to keep us from spending the whole vacation searching for clean toilets.

In the afternoon, we took a boat tour from Nyhavn. A friend recommended this and it was the best thing we did. At 8 EUR each for almost an hour and a half, it was also the best deal we got the whole time. A guide talked about everything in Danish, English, and German. The tour covers the canals in Christianshavn (a neighborhood across from the main part of Copenhagen), boats and modern architecture around the harbor, plus some other things. You can see a lot from the water and the views from there are especially nice. Copenhagen really is an attractive city overall! It's also fun to go under the bridges, which are all very low, and at high tide, you might have to duck!

København Aug 09

After the tour we went over to check out Christiania, a supposed commune in Christianshavn where the laws of the EU do not apply. Honestly, I had some reservations about going to look at a freaking commune that bills itself as a tourist attraction, and alas, it was approximately as lame as I expected. There's one section where they don't allow photos, purportedly to protect people who are making drug deals there, but there was nothing to take pictures of except them hawking Christiania t-shirts to tourists. Yay? Damon's assessment was that it looked like a "party that went on too long". If you imagine an outdoor music festival that just sort of never ends, and starts to get kind of boring and dirty, that does sort of describe it.

At this point, despite my dehydration efforts, I really had to pee. We tried a bakery and they had no toilet, but the ultra-friendly workers there told me there was a public toilet in the library across the street. We went over there and waited 10-15 minutes while someone locked themselves in the restroom and shot up. NICE. The library just ignores it because there is nothing they can do except install a needle drop box in there.

We then searched around for my usual souvenir - a name book for my collection. Another ultra-helpful girl, this one running a coffee kiosk, told us where to find the biggest bookstore. She also assured us that "Everyone speaks English" in Copenhagen, thus beginning our dilemma. Is it more offensive to ask someone if they speak English and insult them because they think only an idiot wouldn't, or to not ask someone if they speak English and be a presumptuous asshole native English speaker? Three years of experience says: You can't win.

At the bookstore, they only had one name book. It was hardcover (read: expensive) and focused on babies rather than being a good dictionary, but since it was all they had, I got it anyway. When we asked for help finding the book the guy looked at us like we were nuts and kind of tossed it at us when he found it. Then the girl at the desk was rude when she discovered I didn't speak Danish. I guess next time I should pretend the book is for a friend who speaks the local language.

We walked around some more, through some pretty gardens and to Kastellet, a well-preserved fortress north of the center. In the gardens, we saw a bunch of guys, too old to be doing this, very obviously and continuously mocking a woman who was doing yoga stretches there. Then on the bus on the way home, two girls (again, too old for this) were loudly, obviously, and continuously mocking Damon for looking at the bus map.*

For dinner, we walked around until our feet were sore looking for something affordable. We saw a Mexican restaurant. A burrito was 20 EUR. At another, chicken cordon blue was 25 EUR. It came down to deciding between paying 4 EUR each for soggy old convenience store sandwiches, or 12 EUR each for the most basic dish at a Thai restaurant. The sandwiches were so utterly depressing that we went for the Thai. They charged us extra for rice and tap water. Yeah, tap water.

In the morning, we stopped at a place called Cafe Bjørg's because they advertised free wireless in the window. We really needed to find some internet access because I'd forgotten to print out our flight itinerary for our return to Germany and didn't even know the time of the flight. Before ordering Damon confirmed with the waiter that they had free wireless. Guess what? It didn't work and we paid 15 EUR for two bagels and a coffee and tap water. Again, they charged us for the tap water. The waiter argued that the tap water price went to charity. Also, it turned out that around the corner in the restaurant was a terminal with free internet access, but he never saw fit to tell us about it, even though we had been asking him for help with the connection since it wasn't working. By the time we saw it, some regular had settled in for a long morning of staring at the screen.

At this point, we were not pleased with Copenhagen. Every moment we were worrying about paying for food and trying to find something cheaper rather than just enjoying ourselves. People like this waiter and the people at the bookstore and the jerks in the gardens and on the bus were not helping. Our next destination was going to be an expensive Scandinavian one too and we were getting pretty cranky thinking about spending three more days like this. I feel terrible about it. Copenhagen is a beautiful city, and would be a great place to live if you were rich (really nice shopping). Also, it seems it's a great place for kids. Kids and shops selling kid stuff were everywhere. But our experience was seriously mixed.

We walked around some more - walking is free - and had 10 EUR left to spend on lunch before getting on our train out of there. We got some horrible thing called a "French hot dog" at the train station, along with a drink.

Then we got the hell out of Copenhagen.

*Lesson: In Denmark it's okay to be a total dick. Is this true? Of course, it probably isn't. These people never asked to be representatives of their country, but it turns out, that's what they were anyway. People should really always be thinking about who might see their shitty public behavior. We modifed the lesson to come up with this Danish experience: the nice people we met - as an example, the helpful bakery and coffee ladies, but there were more - are the nicest people you might ever meet. And the jerks are the biggest, most pathetic and miserable jerks you might ever meet.


  1. Ugh. That sounded thoroughly uncool (except for the ICE on the ferry, of course).

    Looking forward to seeing you in Munich soon.

  2. Regarding the junkie in the library, that used to be a problem for the public library in Heidelberg too - until they installed blue lighting in all the restrooms about 10 years ago. Makes for a very eerie experience for the regular customer and supposedly causes real bad trips for junkies, so they avoid it.

  3. So sorry you had a not-so-great experience in Copenhagen! We were there in April and loved it- found people to be very friendly and helpful. Of course, we are accustomed to the Northern Germans, who would rather cross the street than say "Hello!" It's all relative, I suppose!

    We were also in Stockholm in July and enjoyed our visit there, but Scandinavia is definitely expensive. We bought food and beer/wine at the grocery store and picnicked quite a bit. Not a bad way to go to save money!

  4. Cliff: It was bad luck, I guess. The ferry was cool. :)

    Kato: Ooh, freaky!! I should go use the toilet at the library sometime to check this out.

    Merley: We'd jus spent most of the previous days in Northern Germany and had no such problems, but that could be because we can speak German. (Although language had nothing to do with some of the bad Danish behavior we saw.) Bad luck I guess. Stockholm was heavenly and way cheaper!

  5. The "French hot dog" sounds like the highlight of the century.

    I specifically took the train to Copenhagen in 1990 so I could watch how they put it on the ferry. Thanks for the wonderful chance to relive that!


I love commenters!