Sunday, October 22, 2006

Weekend Trip to Copenhagen

Day 1, Friday, January 7, 2000 – Keith Johnson, a friend of mine from the U.S. who worked at Oberhausen with me asked me if I would go with him to Copenhagen, Denmark for the weekend. He had to go up there to buy some special shoes for a dance class he is taking, and he wanted someone to go with him.

He had bought tickets on a train leaving Germany at 11:10 p.m. on Friday and arriving in Copenhagen at 10 a.m. Saturday. We were going to catch a local train from his apartment to the main train station, and then transfer to our overnight train. Keith said there was a 10 p.m. train that ran by his house, but when we went out to the train stop, we saw that it actually came by at 10:30, and didn’t arrive at the main station until 11:11, or 1 minute after our night train left. So, we had to run back to his apartment and drive his car to the main station. At the main station, there was no parking to be found anywhere. We ended up parking about 5 blocks from the station on a side street. The sign said no parking during work hours, but we were hoping that didn’t apply for Saturdays and Sundays.

We got to the station and found our train car. The conductor took our tickets and passports (I almost didn’t bring mine because I didn’t think I would need it) for the border crossing. The last three cars of the train were going to Copenhagen, but the rest of the train was going to Berlin. Somewhere during the night, the last three cars would be unhooked and transferred to another train. There were four beds in our compartment, but we were the only ones in there. The beds were very narrow and hard. I stayed up until about midnight, and then put a pair of earplugs in and went to sleep. Sleeping was difficult. I tossed and turned all night, and probably woke up 10-20 times. The train made lots of stops and starts, and it passed through lots of stations where the light would shine brightly into the car. I also had the sensation that we were moving backward at one point. The next morning we were still moving backward, and I realized that our new train had connected us from the opposite end.

Day 2, Saturday, January 8, 2000 – I woke up around 8:15. We were in a very wooded area of Denmark. The countryside looked exactly like southeastern Oklahoma or northeast Texas. At one point, the train got a little bit ahead of schedule. Whenever it would do this, it would just stop on the tracks for a while. Once, when we were stopped on the tracks, I looked out and saw that the land was very swampy and wooded. It looked exactly like lots of areas around Hugo Lake, near where I grew up.

There were some Russians and Germans in the car next to us. They were speaking in English, and they were headed for Moscow. I heard them say that they had at least another day and night of travel before they would arrive in Moscow. I couldn’t imagine two nights in a row on the train.

We pulled into the train station a little bit after 10 and headed straight for tourist information. It was very cold (we were as far north as northern Canada). We picked up some information on what the attractions were, and booked a hotel. After dropping our things off at the hotel (Hotel Savoy), the first item of business was to go get Keith’s shoes. I almost didn’t go with him, because I wanted to start exploring. But, I finally decided to go. It was a 30 minute train ride from the main train station. I saw a pizzeria as we were pulling into our stop, and we went and ate there. I had a huge pizza, and I finally had some caffeine (I was very tired). I have yet to go to an eating place, service station, or food store of any kind in Europe that didn’t have Coca-Cola. Most places don’t have Pepsi, but you can find a Coke anywhere.

After Keith bought his shoes, we headed back to the main train station. We talked about what we wanted to do. I wanted to see the National Museum. It was open until 5, so we would have almost three hours in there. So, we walked there and paid about $5 to enter. Keith and I split up so we could each see what we wanted to see. The museum covered Danish history for the last 10,000 years. The exhibits started at the end of the last ice age. There were exhibits on the kinds of houses people lived in, what they used to hunt and fish with, and some of their artwork. There were also a number of gravesites reproduced, with the actual bones that were uncovered on display. There were a number of young women with infants across their chests. I assumed they died during childbirth, but it didn’t say for sure. It just made me think about how many things we take for granted today with the improvements in medicine and science.

There were also a number of weapons on display. There are large deposits of flint all over Scandinavia, so most of their weapons were of flint. Along this same theme, they had on display the bones of people who had either been murdered or killed in battle. They showed a couple of skulls with holes in them, but the most disturbing was the skull of a young man that still had an arrow sticking in his face, right under where his nose was. He had another arrow stuck through his breastplate. The caption said that this was the fatal wound. Incidentally, all of the captions were in Danish and in English, but no other language.

From there, the displays continued through the dark ages up through the Viking times. There were a number of Viking artifacts on display, but there wasn’t a whole lot that I hadn’t seen in the Viking museum in Oslo, Norway. Most of the displays were of weapons, coins, and a few of those Viking hats with the long horns.

Upstairs were displays on the pre-Renaissance and the Renaissance periods. These displays focused on Danish royalty and the development and spread of the Church in Denmark. There were a number of religious artifacts on display. Also on this floor were exhibits on Greenland, which Denmark owns. On the third floor were Egyptian and Greek exhibits. There were a number of actual Egyptian mummies in their burial boxes. But, by this time I was a little worn out so I rushed through these.

After we left the museum I decided to explore a little. Keith was a little tired, so I gave him the hotel key and he went back to rest. I roamed around Copenhagen at night. The downtown area has several huge squares where people gather. Surrounding the squares were enormous displays of neon lights like you might see in Times Square or in some of the photos I have seen in Tokyo. There were signs for Sony, Fugi Film, Air China, Turkish Air, and hundreds of others. There were also jumbo television displays around the square just like in Times Square.

After walking around for about an hour, I started getting pretty tired and cold and headed back to the hotel. Keith was asleep, and after warming up a little, I decided to go back out and try to find us a place to eat. I roamed around a little more and found a place with a Chinese/Thai buffet. I went back and got Keith, and we had dinner there.

Dinner was excellent. I stuffed myself with calamari and shrimp, and then we decided to explore a little more. Keith wanted to see what I had seen earlier, so we went back to the square. I had walked many miles, and my legs were really getting stiff. There was a huge movie theater there, and we considered seeing a movie and resting a little. There were lots of American movies playing that we hadn’t seen, including The Sixth Sense, End of Days, Bowfinger, and American Pie. But, the lines were very long, so we decided that we would see a matinee the next day if we had time. Instead, we went into a mall for a little while and just hung out and warmed up. We found out that Smashing Pumpkins were playing in Copenhagen on Sunday night. If it had been Saturday night, we would have tried to get tickets. After that, we walked around a little longer and went back to the hotel for the night. It was about 11 p.m. I was asleep within 5 minutes.

Day 3, Sunday, January 9, 2000 – I woke up early and we went down and had breakfast. Our plan for the day was to find some bicycles, and see the rest of the city by bike. My legs were also extremely sore, and I didn’t think I was up to walking around all day. Copenhagen has a public bike system where you can get a bike for the day. There are bike racks around town that are supposed to have public bikes. You put 20 kroner (about $3) into a slot, and the bike is released from the lock. When you bring the bike back, you get your money back. Well, we walked all over the place looking for these public bikes. All the racks were empty. We decided that they had either been put up for the winter, or someone had stolen them all (we did see a few at the bottom of some of the canals). I guess for a bike thief, $3 is not a bad price to pay for a bike.

So, our next plan was to go to a place that rented bicycles for the day for $5. There were two locations: One at the train station and one in the Red Light district. We opted for the train station first, but it was closed. Our guidebook had said that it was open on Sundays. There was a Chinese guy there also wanting to rent a bike. So we headed for the Red Light district, with the Chinese guy following us. This location was also closed. So, despite the fact that our legs were very sore and that we had a long distance to cover, we started walking.

After covering about a half mile, we came upon an art museum (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek) that had free admission on Sunday. We went in there and spent a couple of hours. There were lots of sculptures (including some by Rodin) and Greek and Egyptian art. There were also a number of paintings, including some Van Goghs, Monets, and Renoirs. We spent a couple of hours in there before we continued walking around Copenhagen.

Me at the Little Mermaid Statue

We passed a number of very impressive, old buildings, including the palace where the royal family lives. There were old mansions and castles everywhere. Many of them were topped with copper domes. We came upon an outdoor ice skating rink, and watched the people skate for a while. We walked along the waterfront and passed the ferries headed for Norway and Sweden. Further along the waterfront, we came upon the most famous statue in Copenhagen, The Little Mermaid. We walked passed many canals, and then walked through an old fort that had some canons lying around. Once we stopped to look at our map, and a woman immediately asked us if we needed help. As I learned last summer in Norway, the Scandinavian people are very friendly, and very fluent in English.

By this time, we were getting tired and cold. We decided to check on a movie. On the way, we passed a KFC. We decided to check the movie times and then come back to KFC for lunch. Before we got to the theater, we saw a gathering of several thousand people outdoors in a square. We decided to investigate, so we joined the crowd. Someone said something on a loudspeaker, and the whole crowd started jumping up and down. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen. I told Keith that I had to find out what was going on, so I turned to a woman behind me. She started laughing because I looked so bewildered and said, “You don’t understand, do you?” I told her no, that my friend and I were Americans. Several of her friends gathered around to explain it to us. It was some kind of outdoor comedy relief, where there were people telling jokes and putting on skits for the crowd. The crowd had just been asked to jump up and down to keep warm. So, having figured that out, we continued.

We wanted to see End of Days, but the only movie that would fit our schedule was The Sixth Sense. It started at 4:30 p.m. and ended around 6:20. Our train back to Germany was to leave at 6:48. We bought the movie tickets, and had about an hour in which to eat. There was a Hard Rock Cafe near the theater, so we ate there instead of going back to KFC. I wasn’t very impressed with the food or the prices, but I bought a couple of shirts there.

After buying a couple of souvenirs for my daughter (a little Danish doll) and my son (a Superman shirt; not very Danish, I know) we went to the theater. This was an interesting experience. There were around 18 different screens. There was a huge crowd that we had to wade through to get to our screen. When we entered the theater, we realized that we had assigned seating, just like at a sporting event or concert. They showed several Danish commercials that I didn’t understand, but I think one was for the Armed Forces. They showed previews for Stigmata, Joan of Arc, and Double Jeopardy. The previews were just like the movie. They were entirely in English, but there were Danish subtitles at the bottom. I guess none of the Scandinavian countries have a large enough population (population of Denmark is 5 million) to economically justify dubbing the movies in their native language. In Germany, for instance, all actors would have been dubbed over in German. I have seen this plenty of times, and it is hilarious to hear Eddie Murphy, Clint Eastwood, Julia Roberts, or even Bart Simpson speaking German. But, this is a major reason the Scandinavians have such a high English fluency (even the panhandlers spoke English to us, and street musicians were singing in English). Almost all of their movies and music are in English.

The theater was packed. The subtitles didn’t bother me at all. I learned a few Danish words; many of the words are similar to German. I knew almost nothing about the movie; just that some kid saw ghosts. Keith and I both thought the first half of the movie was a little slow, but when the first scary scene happened a girl close to us let out a blood-curdling scream. The whole theater started laughing. Towards the end of the movie, I thought it had been a decent movie. Fifteen minutes before the end, I would have rated it three stars on a four star scale. But then the ending stunned me. I never saw it coming. It had the most shocking ending of any movie that I have ever seen. Keith and I both just went “Wow! That was incredible!” Final grade: Four stars, and one I definitely recommend. A little creepy and sad (especially the ending) but overall, very, very good. I doubt anyone who has seen it has guessed the ending if they didn’t already know something about it.

Well, after the movie, we headed to the train station. We had a 6:48 train scheduled to arrive in Germany at 5:58 a.m. This would give me just enough time to rush home and get ready for work. Keith gave the conductor the ticket, and was told “I am sorry, this ticket was for last night.” Keith told the guy that there must be a mistake, but the conductor said there was room for us. We finally figured out that Keith had given him the wrong ticket, and that we did indeed have reservations for that night.

After the train started out, I headed toward the front to see if there was a dining car. After walking through about 10 cars, I finally found it. But, it was pretty much a restaurant, and I was just looking for snacks. I worked my way back to our car (again we were the only two in the car) and read until I got tired. I was reading German Grammar Rules, which put me to sleep pretty quickly. I went to sleep about 9:30, but once again slept poorly. I think I woke up every time the train stopped all night long. Once, when I thought it must be time for us to be there, I looked at my watch. It was only 12:30. Needless to say, it was a very long night. I kept waking up and thinking about the movie. Finally, at about 5, I went ahead and got up. When we got back to Keith’s car, he had a parking ticket on his windshield. But, I did make it to work on time.

Overall, Copenhagen was pretty interesting with some very nice museums and lots of unusual buildings. But, it is so far from Düsseldorf that I will probably not go back while we are here. There is a large amusement park there, and we may take the kids next summer, but only if we are on our way to Norway or Sweden. There are too many other interesting cities, such as Amsterdam, London, Paris, Berlin, Munich, and Prague that are much closer.

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