Denmark 2012: Copenhagen Day 1

Today started quite early, about 5am, when I gave up trying to sleep in my pod, which had transformed overnight from cute, cosy and futuristic to an annoyingly purple hot airless shoebox. I packed up and fled, trying to find cool fresh air outside, failing even at 6.30am and instead checked in and went to get breakfast – toast and apple juice in Giraffe as I generally do if I’m at Gatwick fairly early.

It was ridiculously early to go through to departures so I had another Transit trip over to North Terminal to see what they had on offer for breakfast and then back to pace around South a bit more. There were a lot of armed police around. I watched for a while, then decided I didn’t really want to be around if they started using those rifles, so i fled to the safety of Security. I did not get searched, for once and I hardly had time to get a drink before my gate was announced.

Flight was ok. I was a couple of rows from the back, by the window, with an empty seat between me and my neighbour. There was indeed free wifi at 39,000 feet but it was more miss than hit. It refused to let me upload my flying photo, it demanded that I use a picture from OffExploring’s library and only one picture loaded, which is why that entry came with a photo of an Armenian church. It did give me a nice Welcome to Norwegian page though, which included flight info, like our altitude and time to destination.

Getting through the airport at the other end was easy enough and my bag arrived on the carousel the moment I did. I managed to buy a train ticket from a machine and got a ‘kort Togo’ (short train, even my non-existant Danish could work that out) to Copenhagen H.

The next bit was harder, finding my hotel. I stepped out into Copenhagen and the first thing I saw was a half demolished building and lot of roadworks. It was like being back in Bucharest but not quite as hot. The second thing i noticed was that the Tivoli is right opposite the station. I got myself to the Tourist Information and got a map and headed off into the wilds of Copenhagen.

It soon became quite apparent that i was in the red light district and when i saw my hotel’s OTT gold WAG-style front I began to wish I’d been a bit more picky than ‘cheap and near the station’. Inside was a bit dark, with non-straight floors and stairs and inhabited by a man watching three laptops simultaneously. I was very glad I’m only staying two nights.

So to walk into a huge airy white and gold Royal suite-style room was quite a surprise. In fact, I stopped in the doorway, wondering if I’d walked through a portal into another world. And on top of everything else, it has free toothbrushes in the bathroom, as well as the usual soap/shampoo etc.

No time to enjoy it. It was 1pm by then and i had a map with a three hour walking tour of the sights.

Stop one was the station again, via the shorter and more direct route, avoiding the red light district. Stop two was the main gate of the Tivoli. Stop three, the Town Hall, which is a huge thing and which has a fantastic fountain out the front, covered in mythical beasties and also surrounded by drunk men sprawled on the floor. I followed my map up through the main shopping street, along a canal, past the new shiny Playhouse up to the Danish Royal Residence, which is a quiet square, surrounded by nice palace-like buildings and patrolled by miserable-looking guardsmen in furry bear hats. I was getting hungry by now but the constant stream of supermarkets had very suddenly dried up. I continued. Past a lot of embassies, playing Recognise the Flag and getting stuck on Ukraine. Then I was in the Churchillparken. This was nearly the turning-back point of the walk, featuring the most important part of being a tourist in Copenhagen. The walk took me round the edge of a lake, along the harbour front. Past a church. A church with a lot of Union Jacks and a picture of our Queen. I stopped and stared before it finally registered that this was St Alban’s Anglican Church. Next to it was a fountain, a woman driving four cows. It set off a bell in my brain. I knew I should recognise that. And then it hit me and because I’m an idiot, I gasped out loud and pointed at the fountain in triumph. As i had a mouthful of crunched up polo fragments at the time, this nearly turned out to be fatal. I’d been reading the Prose Edda – an Icelandic manuscript from the thirteenth century, the definitive work on Norse myths – on the plane and even though I’d only got to part 34 (Loki’s Monstrous Children) I recognised this fountain as a scene from the Edda, the first scene in the Gylfaginning:

“King Gylfi ruled over the lands now called Sweden. It is said that he offered a travelling woman, in return for the pleasure of her company, a piece of ploughland in his kingdom as large as four oxen could plough in a day and a night. But this woman, named Gefjun, was of the Aesir. She took four oxen from Jotunheim in the north. They were her own sons by a giant, and she yoked them to the plough, which dug so hard and so deep that it cut the land loose. The oxen dragged this land westward out to sea, stopping finally at a certain channel. There Gefjun fastened the land and gave it the name Sjaelland.”

Or as it’s now known, Zealand, the island on which Copenhagen stands. It was both weird and amazing to see this scene which I’d read only a couple of hours earlier right there in front of me.

I continued on my way to the main attraction. The Little Mermaid. Easy to find, as it was surrounded by tourists. It’s very cute, yes. But it has this lovely industrial warehouse backdrop now and there’s always someone standing next to it.

My feet hurt by now and I was about to collapse from lack of food. I went back via the Copenhagen Citadel which is on the star-shaped island surrounded by a moat right behind the Little Mermaid. It was a haven of peace and quiet. I felt like I’d been there before because it’s very similar to Helsinki’s citadel, Suomenlinna. All cobbled streets and red-fronted buildings and quiet and seemingly deserted. I climbed up onto the ramparts because I spotted a windmill, and a beautiful if unexpected one it was too.

I didn’t bother following the walking route back to my hotel. Back in Churchillparken, I retraced my route but missed out detours like Nyhavn because my feet hurt a lot and i was literally dying of hunger. At long last a supermarket appeared. I got some supplies and when i reached Hojbro Plads, I sat under the statue of Bishop Absalon, city founder, and ate plastic cheese sandwiches and ate chocolate.

This means I’ve already covered most of Copenhagen, most of the major sights. There’s still Rosenborg Castle, Slotsholmen and the Tivoli for tomorrow as well as maybe getting out to Helsingor to have a peek at Kronborg Slot, better known as Hamlet’s Elsinore and then I’m off to Odense Saturday morning.

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