I arrived at my new destination in the usual way, sweaty, confused but happy to be there. I flew from London to Copenhagen, then Metro into town from the airport. The hostel was supposed to be a 1km walk away, do-able, even with luggage. Except the directions were horrible, my phone had no wifi (so no googlemap), and I walked for 20 minutes (about 1.5km) in the wrong direction. I finally stuck my arm out to hail a cab, I was just too tired to figure things out. I ended up spending all the money I had saved by taking the Metro from the airport, on the cab ride to the hostel. I am really hoping that eventually, I get better at this.
My first impression of Copenhagen was “ghost town” compared to the packed, non-stop action of London. The station area was crowded, but as I continued walking further away, there were fewer and fewer people. Except for the ones on bikes. There were literally hundreds of people on bikes-men, women and children, in suits, dresses, every manner of outfit. Each street had a wide bike path, and each bike path was crammed with people on their 6pm evening commute home. And woe betide the pedestrian that tried to cross their path-or stop them for directions.
Copenhagen was on my list because we had gone when I was a child and I had seen Tivoli Gardens, an ancient theme park, and the Little Mermaid, a bronze statue perched on a rock in the harbor. As I drove through the town in my taxi, there were less people, no one in the cafés, very few on the streets. Then we pulled up to my hostel and there were dozens of young people inside and out. I was staying in the Copenhagen Downtown Hostel, a six story behemoth, with the reception area on the first floor, in a bar/dining room/ living area, full of life and noise. I checked in and was told my room, a four bed female dorm, was on the 3rd floor. I went to get settled in, going outside next door to the entrance to the hotel part of the hostel. I had to go up a flight of stairs to get to the elevator, which didn’t work. Someone coming down the stairs, said the elevator door on this floor was broken but I could go up one more flight and catch it there. A nice Japanese couple that spoke no English took my big backpack and together carried it up another flight, where the elevator still didn’t work. They carried it up two more flights to the 3rd floor-the first floor doesn’t count so I was technically on the 4th floor. Thank God I had gotten rid of my extra carry on in London,and for the really nice Japanese couple.
I had been assigned a bed number when I checked in, Bed 3, which thankfully was a bottom bunk. As usual, there was zero room to maneuver and if all four of us had been in the room at the same time, we would not have been able to move. As it was, I was alone and able to unpack what I needed to, prepping for next morning, then shoving the backpack out of the way and under the bed. The internet here was free but only worked downstairs. The only community area was the bar, and it was loud and noisy. I just ordered a beer and some dinner, tucked into a corner and checked email and Facebook.
The next morning, I went on a free three hour guided walking tour of the city. Two other hostel residents were on the tour with me, Manuela, a beautiful 25 year old medical student from Brazil, and Colin, a 27 year old bio-chem PhD student from Australia. We stuck together throughout the day and became fast friends. My favorite part of the tour was seeing the palace where the royal family lived, and watching them drive by on the way from the opening of Parliament to their Palace. I didn’t even know Denmark had a royal family. The palace was not that impressive as architecture, but what impressed me is that I could have walked up to any of the doors and knocked on them. They had a few guards with the fancy tall fur hats, who probably would have stopped me, but our tour guide said that the prince is particularly approachable. Last week, she had a group in the square, where we were, and the prince, who will be the next king someday, came out of the house with one of his young daughters, riding his bike with her on a bike next to him. They rode around the square for a while, then went back into the palace, just like any normal father and daughter bonding moment. The prince met his future wife in a bar in Australia, when he was attending the Olympics there. They had a few dates before he told her, “By the way, I will be King of Denmark eventually…is that going to be a problem for you?” She had no idea he was a prince. This family prides themselves on being approachable, while the Danish people pride themselves that the family can live normal lives without being approached.
Another tidbit the guide taught us was a Danish word, hygilly, pronounced hyu-gully, which is sort of untranslatable but basically means really cool as far as I can gather. It’s kind of an all-purpose word. She used it throughout the tour but I don't think it's going to catch on in the States....
Colin told me that the hostel offered a free meal every night, at 6pm, so I said I would see them for dinner, then I peeled off from the tour for a lunch date with an American woman, Lara, married to a Dane, who was introduced to me through Facebook friends. She was a wealth of knowledge about the Danish culture and idiosyncrasies, and I spent a delightful two hours visiting with her. When I returned to the hostel, I sat at one of three long tables with Manuela and Colin and about ten other people. Everyone stuck their hands out to shake and said, “Hi, I’m ____, from _____. Where are you from?” It was a fantastic way to spend an evening. The food wasn’t fancy, but it was good, filling and free and from 8-9pm there was a 2-for-1 happy hour serving two pints of Carlsberg beer on tap for 40 kroner or about $6.50, which for Denmark is a steal. When happy hour started, Colin even said to me, “It comes in pints?” which is a line from LOTR, so I seriously considered asking him to marry me if he would have me. He even used the right accent. We all sat at the table and talked until almost midnight, people of every age and background. This is why people love hostels and this one really did a lot to promote the social aspects of travel, more than any other I’ve stayed at. It was a good thing they did have so much going for them though, because it was by far the noisiest hostel I’ve stayed in so far. Along with the single travelers, like nearly everyone I’d met so far, there was a group of about 20 teenagers from Germany, whose chaperones had apparently abdicated any responsibility for the behavior of their charges. The young hooligans slammed doors, shouted down the hallways, and ran up and down the stairs until about three in the morning. I was ready to pull out my full blown teacher can of whoop ass but finally fell asleep without hurting anyone. The next morning they were at it again by 7am. Unbelievable.
Colin, Manuela and I were going to hang out together all day the next day, with plans to see Christiana, a funky hipster neighborhood, and then the National Museum. Manuela was in Copenhagen because she had to present a paper, a study she had done on some neurological disorder, at a medical conference. She came down to meet us, in a panic, and said, “I just can’t go, I am so nervous, I need to prepare and study for my presentation tomorrow.” We agreed to meet her at 2pm for the Museum visit and Colin and I took off with Brent, Colin’s roommate, a cheerful young man from Capetown, South Africa.
Before we went into Christiana, we stopped at the Church of Our Savior, which had a spiral tower, supposedly up 400 steps, that we paid to climb. Another little victory for me, because the last 50 or so steps were outside the tower, with an open metal railing. I hugged the wall of the tower as I climbed and only looked down when I got to the top. I am not really afraid of heights, just afraid of falling off of them. My legs shook for about 30 minutes after we got down, Colin said it was due to the height, Brent said it was because of the climb, I think it was a double whammy.
Christiana is a neighborhood that broke off from Copenhagen some years ago, because they didn’t agree with the 45% tax rate that every citizen has to pay. They took over an abandoned military base, and as a community, they refused to pay taxes, so they have no services-no police, no trash pick-up, no water or electricity. It looks a little like a homeless squatters camp, filled with dreadlocked white people, the smell of body odor only overpowered by the smell of weed. Colin swore he got high just off the fumes in certain places. Pot and hash were being openly sold in little stalls, along with all kinds of handicrafts and art. The first thing we saw when we entered the area was a big sign that said, “No photo’s, No running.” Colin was fascinated by it, but Brent and I were ready to leave after about 15 minutes. We stuck it out and walked around for about an hour before we could gently convince Colin there was nothing else to see and that we were hungry. They had a few little cafes around, more like open stalls, but there was no possible way I was eating anything prepared in that place.
We went back to get Manuela and took off for the National Museum, and a Viking exhibit that I really wanted to see. It wasn’t clear where the exhibit was, so we just started on the first floor and worked our way up. This museum had the best history of man I have ever seen. It wasn’t just about artifacts and fossils they had found in Scandinavia, it was a comprehensive study of the origins of man, with displays of whatever artifacts they did have, coupled with pictures and explanations of where these things had been found and what they meant anthropologically. It took us through each age of man, right up to the present, although we ran out of time on the second of four floors. We found the Viking exhibit on the second floor and I wished we had started there, but as it was, we got kicked out at closing time after only 30 minutes with the Vikings. The others were going back the next day but I was leaving very early in the morning. Oh well, next time.
Colin and Manuela headed back to the hostel while Brent and I took off to find the Little Mermaid. It was supposedly a 25 minute walk and we would really have to hustle to get to her then back to the hostel in time for our free dinner. I very much wanted to see her, because out of the two things I remembered from my childhood visit, Tivoli was closed until Halloween, so the Little Mermaid was all I had left. We rushed as fast as we could, made a couple of wrong turns which we quickly corrected, and finally saw her, perched on her rock on the edge of the water in the harbor. I remembered her as being farther out in the water but other than that, she looked exactly the same. I felt a strong presence of my Mom and Dad when I saw her, and was glad I’d made the effort to come. Brent was a wonderful walking companion, very easy to talk to, and so positive and happy. It was a really good day.
That night, we stayed up late and visited with some new people and some that we had met the night before. I didn’t really want to stay longer in Copenhagen, but I was sad to say goodbye to my new young friends. I didn’t feel older than them, we all blended together so well and that is why the hostel world can work well if you’re willing to be open. Age doesn’t matter, friendship is ageless.