Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Denmark diary - day 2

We slept for over nine hours – I can’t remember the last time I did that, regardless of the night before. It meant we didn’t get out until 11 but hey, this trip ain’t a sprint. We walked back into the central shopping district, much of which is pedestrianized, and just explored up one street and down the next, all of this interspersed with a huge number of restaurants and cafes (it feels comparable to anywhere we’ve been in Europe in that regard) and occasionally yielding to a beautiful old church or other artifact. We only went inside one place – the Lego store! You can still get the classic blocks of course, but the bulk of the inventory now consists of spin-offs from The Green Lantern or suchlike, or of weirder creations like a kit that yields a model of New York’s Guggenheim museum (I wonder how many kids would place that high on their Christmas lists). We stopped in a pastry place for a snack – a spinach focaccia and some kind of tart with a multi-syllable name (Danish seems a lot like German that way).

We walked past the Central Station, which seems to mark the outer boundary of what tourists need to know about – beyond there it dispersed into office buildings and, I guess, more places where people just live and work. We kept walking though, and went all the way to the end of a big long street called Sonder Boulevard. The buildings are about a hundred years old, mostly apartment blocks it seems, separated by (working in from both sides) a very wide sidewalk, a bike lane, a car parking strip, a single lane for cars, and a wide space in the middle consisting of grass, or basketball courts, or little sitting areas with actual waitress service (a long way for servers to keep going back and forth across those four lanes). It looked like a lot of people might leave their apartments, cross the road into the middle and spend a big chunk of time sunbathing or reading or, in one case, playing backgammon: an apparent model of a pleasant, coherent neighborhood (based on an allocation of space which would be blasted back home as a “war on cars”).

We noticed afterwards on the map that if we’d kept going once the Boulevard ended, we would soon have arrived at the Carlsberg plant – a prime tourist attraction, but probably not one we’ll go for. Anyway, we walked back and entered the Tivoli, an amusement park dating back to 1843, and another of Denmark’s premier attractions (apparently an inspiration for the original Disneyland). It contains a large number of carousels and classic-type rides - nothing based on The Green Lantern or suchlike - ranging from things that raise toddlers about four feet into the air to others that swing adults around like bags of sand. It also has very nicely maintained gardens, casinos, performing spaces (mostly active only in the evening I think) and – this apparently being the number one activity in the Tivoli – countless places to eat and drink. It was a nice place to walk around, but didn’t detain us for much more than half an hour – presumably at the extreme low end of visitor duration.

We walked down Hans Christian Andersens Boulevard (much less fairytale-like than it sounds) and crossed the Inderhavnen to the Christianshavn district on the other side. We walked south along the water, with a huge number of young Danes sunbathing on boardwalks by the water to our right, or swimming in roped-off sections of the river, and an equally huge number of young Danes hanging out on the grass to our left. I don’t think we’ve ever been in a city where so many great-looking young people were just lying around looking happy – it had the ambiance of a beach resort, but with no sand and no cocktails with little umbrellas. Even stranger, virtually no one seemed to be texting or otherwise staring at smartphones – if not just sunbathing, then they were generally talking or reading. Beyond strange.

We walked all the way to the end of that and then back again (you know, to make sure we didn’t miss any nice-looking young Danes the first time) and then continued on, through areas which have apparently been recently reclaimed through urban development programs, and have that kind of feeling about them – one strip, alongside a canal, felt distinctly like Amsterdam. We’ll do more on Christianshavn another day, but by now we’d walked over four and a half hours with only that brief break in the pastry shop. So we walked back to the hotel, trying again to take a slightly different route: it becomes clear pretty quickly that Copenhagen is a good city for exploring, with every new street yielding something , whether it be an antique shop, another café, or the “Angels Gentlemans Club.” Although there’s not the sense of a huge number of foreign tourists here, English seems to be established as the logical language of interchange – many of the restaurants have translations posted outside, and we’ve yet to encounter anyone who didn’t speak it much more than adequately. It  was a wonderful, varied day, entirely trouble-free, and even better, while we were gone they removed the scaffolding from the hotel, so we now have an unimpeded, multi-faceted view.

Later on we walked along the water again in the direction of the Little Mermaid, then walked a few blocks deeper in to find a restaurant. We ate in a place called the Sommelier, with the overwhelming wine list you'd expect from that name, and very good food again. We ended up with a further bottle of wine at the Salt bar, attached to the hotel adjoining our own, overlooking the water,bordered by several old-style sailing ships which you can charter for trips. At around 10.30 pm, a bare-chested man started climbing one of the masts, faintly highlighted in a blue beam from above. You couldn’t initially tell whether or not this was a functional activity that just happened to be eye-catching, but suddenly there was a woman up there too, both of them in harnesses, and they started swirling round each other, painting body patterns in the night air. The man kept going for a long time, maybe an hour, with his partner changing twice; they didn’t do anything more to announce their presence, and indeed only a handful of people noticed them, which made it all the more mysterious and beautiful. They stopped just before we left, and people seemed to be arriving at the boat for a party, which must at the very least have had possibilities.

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