Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Denmark diary - day 1

We flew out of Toronto around 9 pm on Monday night, only slightly behind schedule. We both slept for maybe half of the seven and a half hour flight; the rest passed by easily. Copenhagen at 11 am might have been the easiest semi-major airport we’ve ever flown into – we were at and then through immigration control in a few minutes (no line up and no silly information card) and the bags arrived a few minutes after that. And the centre of the city was only a ten-minute cab ride away. If things were always this easy, life wouldn’t seem serious.

We’re staying in the Scandic Front hotel, right on the Inderhavnen river, which on the map holds up the main slab of the city; in terms of the guide book partitions , we’re in North Copenhagen. The hotel is part of a Scandinavian chain and shows a few signs of aging – I’m surprised there’s anyone still alive who remembers how to service the elevator – but otherwise it’s all good: the wireless Internet worked easily, the bed is comfortable (for me that’s the right order of priority), there’s a Nespresso machine, and so on. It would have a good view of the water and surrounding events, but that’s hampered a bit by scaffolding outside the window. Anyway, none of this is a problem, and the location is terrific. We took a few minutes and then went right out and started walking, around noon.

We started going north along the river, following the natural visual pull of where we were. The initial impression reminded us of somewhere like Bermuda’s dockyards, with the feel of a reclaimed industrial heritage, although I expect the difference here is that it never had to be reclaimed because it was never lost; the harbor is filled with ships, both functional and decorative; the stone landscape is immaculate, mostly long-established but with various grandly isolated new buildings visible on the other side of the water as we walked along, as if from the legacy of a past Olympics (that’s a topical reference). Before long this opened out into an initially rather confusing deep-green pattern of circling trails and water, which eventually resolved itself into the Kastellet, the former site of a 1600’s fort surrounded by a moat, now seemingly a prime location for joggers. But before that, just through beginners' luck, we ticked off what’s apparently the city’s prime tourist attraction, the statue of the Little Mermaid, on the rocks watching the water. It’s a beguiling sight, because it’s unusual to see a statue in such an informal location, but obviously, as aesthetic wonders go, you’d have to limit your scoring.

We walked around the Kastellet, and then wandered away from the water, through streets which evoked some parts of Paris - the elegant parts located away from the action, on a very slow day (we often wish we were more attuned to architecture, and better able to detect something of a city’s history from the contrasts between one block and the next). We passed a lot of art galleries and a lot of restaurants – no sign that anyone living in this part of town needs anything more than that. The streets were largely deserted until we were close to the hotel again, and then suddenly we came round a corner and there were hundreds of people eating and drinking and hanging out. There are versions of this in every city, like the tourist equivalent of the drug dealers who never leave the block where they do business. We’d found the Nyhavn, a canal crammed with boats and atmosphere, where it seems every building on the north side is a bar or a restaurant (and where I guess the owners have coordinated their paint jobs to present a relative colour explosion – Stockholm was like this throughout, but what we’d seen of Copenhagen so far had been muted by comparison), and I guess we had it at the peak of a summer lunchtime. The south side of the Nyhavn has some restaurants too, but it doesn’t look like anyone eats there.

We continued walking south, towards the square on our map containing the word “CITY” in red upper case letters, past the Magasin du Nord, a huge department store of the kind most notable these days for being in financial trouble, and then we stopped for lunch on a little side street, at an elegant place called CafĂ© Zeze. We had a glass of wine, Ally had a chicken salad sandwich and I had a smoked salmon sandwich – it was very good, and cost around $60. Finance-wise, it’ll just get worse from there, but we always knew this wasn’t a budget destination (or at least, we knew that if there’s a way of doing it on a budget, we wouldn’t worry about trying to find it).

It was a warm day, but several degrees below what we’ve had in Toronto recently, so very comfortable. We walked a little further, finding the Danish cinematheque (screeing a Nicholas Ray season, among other things), and then getting drawn into the large park that surrounds the Rosenborg Slot, a royal palace containing the Danish crown jewels. The park was surprisingly full of young people, as if they were waiting for a concert or something, although there was no sign of one – I guess we’re not used to seeing people simply enjoying their parks in such numbers (random observation – the Danes definitely seem to smoke more than the Swedes, and to engage in more open air drinking). We passed through the palace without going inside it, and walked back into the city, surely finding the shopping heart of it now – more brand names and quite a crush of people at various points. That was just about enough for an initial expedition, so we walked back to the hotel by following the water, passing through the Nyhavn again and getting back around three thirty.

We were both asleep within minutes, although I did of course check the webcam at Urban Dog where Ozu is staying. He was lying in his favourite spot, on the platform in the middle of the room, conserving energy while almost all the other dogs run around trying to use it up. We went out again around seven thirty. By then the area was a bit noisier – there’s some kind of festival going on nearby with a makeshift stage – although tonight's performance sounded merely like banal sing-along stuff. We walked fairly randomly in the same area where we’d left off earlier; again, the Nyhavn was buzzing but everywhere else was heavily winding (or already wound) down. We passed a big group of student types with makeshift sailor hats and a big beer supply, but that was mostly it. We wandered into a residential area and past a store displaying things like pencil kits in the window, always a sure sign you’re in Europe.

We got a bit lost on the way back, trying streets in the right general direction without seeming to get anywhere, and then one of them opened out onto a huge, traffic-free octagonal square, bringing us almost face to face with a guard in a fuzzy hat (I momentarily thought he was clicking his heels at me) – it was the Amalienborg Slot, consisting of four royal buildings, another kind of sight you only stumble across in Europe. At this time of night though the guards outnumbered the other people. From there we could figure out our way back. We had dinner at the Restaurant Kogt, the kind of quiet tasteful place that could be in any city, if you’re in a good city: a perfect place for our first night. It wasn’t very busy, but an adjacent table held a group of four who got increasingly louder as the night went on, in particular because of a visiting Australian who talked about his achievements and his money in such detail that he should have been easy to track down on Google (I couldn’t subsequently find him on there at all so it was probably all lies and embellishment). The hotel was only a few minutes from there – the sing-along was over, and a group of performers on a boat was putting on a show involving languid choreography, plaintive music and a video projection conveying the sense of being underwater. It finished soon after we started watching; we had another drink in the hotel bar and called it a day. And I don’t mean just any old run of the mill day.

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