I’ve been devouring Copenhagen in bite-sized pieces over the past few years. Right now, the piece that I’m devouring comes in the form of a ham and cheese toasty in Kobenhaven Airport. As always seems to be the way with the Danish capital, I’m only here on my way to or from somewhere else. Maybe someday I’ll stick around long enough to see some of the country itself. (I’ll spare you the “Aarhus, in the middle of aarstreet” joke I’ve been working on for the last few days.
This time, I was actually here long enough to stay overnight, in the Generator hostel in the heart of the city. After navigating my way through a Friday night crowd that was notably better dressed and less drunk than their Dublin equivalents (they had to be – lots of them were cycling), I made it to a comfy bunk in a dorm room, if not quite so quickly to sleep, due to a combination of music reverberating through the building and snoring from the bunk below.
The day that followed, I decided to focus on Christiansborg Palace, or rather on the ruins underneath it. It’s honestly a bit of a shame that the ramshackle old castle (a model of which is pictured below) was flattened to make way for a Versailles-aping edifice during Denmark’s golden age of trade, in a particularly expensive form of keeping up with the Joneses. In a turn that the Monty Python troupe would have appreciate though, the new palace burned down not once but twice in the next century and a bit. The third one though, that’s stayed up (so far).
Next to the palace are other sights worthy of your time: the delightfully strange Exchange Building, one of whose gargoyle-like decorations can be seen above, and the Thorvaldsen’s Museum, a celebration of Denmark’s greatest Neoclassical sculptors (and of the few nearby buildings to survive the second burning of Christainsborg intact).
Sadly though, it’s another flying visit for me to this city. The airport, Thessaloniki and Greece are calling. This particular odyssey has a long way to go yet.
There’s a certain set of rituals to be undertaken before a long holiday. Eating the last of the perishable food in the house. Considering what clothes to take with you (there may be shorts, and the baring of milky-white leg flesh). Making sure that no one gets left in the lurch at work (inevitably, though, the clock draws the eyes more and more strongly as the end of the last day approaches). Reminding yourself not to forget your passport (which has absolutely no effect on whether or not you do eventually forget it).
I’m in the middle of all of this right now—in two days I leave Dublin for Greece (via Copenhagen for reasons of cheap flights and the prospects of a pleasant layover). On this trip, I’m staying true to one of my main reasons for travelling. There are many things that can drive one to visit distant places—time in the sun, adventure in an exotic locale, a new cultural experience, encounters with natural wonders—and over the years I’ve resorted to them all, either solo or in company. The draw that most informs my list of “must visit” places though? History.
Experiencing history is something like floating on an ocean. There are depths below you, all around, and every so often you can catch glimpses of what lies below. Back at home, familiar sights included a schoolhouse more than a century old, a ruined church more than a thousand years-a-crumbling and a stone circle dating back to the Neolithic period. Being surrounded by all of this as a child made me feel like I could reach out and touch the people who shared my homeland, no matter how separated in time we might be. The same feeling hits me on my holidays too, whether in the Colosseum in Rome, Tycho Brahe’s observatory in Copenhagen or a temple in Kyoto.
Greece has been on my top-ten list of places to visit for a long time. In fact, in the current political climate (which rules Egypt and Iran out) and in the absence of a long sabbatical from work (ruling out much of the southern hemisphere), it’s probably the most desired unvisited destination I have. Ten days won’t be near enough to see everything that I want to see (I’m focusing on the mainland rather than the islands) but they’ll be a packed ten days.
Why Greece? Look back to a childhood dominated by myths and legends for the main clue. To travel around Greece is to step back through time: from Ottoman rule to Byzantine domination, beyond that to the time of Imperial Rome and Macedonian kings, then to classical Athens and archaic Mycenae and Knossos. To return to the ocean metaphor, travelling through Greece is like floating above a wonderful mix of coral reefs and abysses. There’s always going to be something to see, layered everywhere you look. It’s a beautiful country too, full of wild mountains and deep valleys.
My basic plan is to start in the north, near Thessaloniki, and make my way south through the mainland, visiting Delphi, Athens and Mystra before hopping on a ferry to Crete, from where I’ll fly home again. Unlike my last long journey through Russia and beyond, there’s no need to exhaustively plan everything out, so I’m happy to wing it to an extent. That’s another benefit of travelling solo, I suppose: you can indulge your own whims without worrying about the impact they might have on your travelling partner. Of course, the drawback is not being able to share your enthusiasm and experiences, but that just provides a reason to repeat the journey again in the future.
All of which is to say that there should be, before too long, another travelogue appearing under the long-neglected “Travel” tab above. Between now and then, there will be reports from Greece whenever I get the chance to add them (not having planned out my accommodation to the last detail, I have no idea when and where I’m going to have Internet access—again, on the bright side, it’ll be nice to get away from LCD screens for a while).
In the last couple of days, I’ve realised all the things I’m going to be missing while I’m gone: a comics convention, Dublin’s Culture Night, the Ryder Cup and two weeks of rugby, West Brom and Doctor Who. For all that though, it’s been too long since I travelled. The excitement is just starting to kick in now, and it’s a nice, unfamiliar feeling. When I finally head to the airport, it’ll be in my preferred fashion, with a bag on my shoulder, a passport in my pocket and history in my future. I hope, in whatever I come to write about it, I manage to share some of that excitement with you.
The last day of the holiday is usually the occasion of the shortest report in these records. So it will probably be again, but this holiday was a little unusual. For all that it’s a short break, it’s really three holidays in one: a day trip to Copenhagen to meet some friends, three days in Iceland with another travelling companion, and today: one last solo trip to Copenhagen as I return home. As always seems to be the case when I travel solo, a good portion of the trip involved climbing very tall things.
Dr. P and I would have been up at the crack of dawn in any normal country, but this close to the Arctic Circle in summer, dawn is hard to nail down. The grey clouds had returned overnight though, and sleepy as we were, we had packed and prepared well enough to have time for breakfast before heading down to BSI for the bus to the airport again (the tickets were a promotional gift as part of the previous day’s car hire).
Once again we passed through the lava fields that led to Keflavik, glimpsing the steaming geothermal plant beside the Blue Lagoon, a reminder of where all this had begun. In Keflavik Airport though, there was none of the relaxed vacancy of three mornings previous: the place was jammed. Unsurprising really: Monday morning has the cheapest flights, so everyone was leaving while the price was right.
Having bags to drop, Dr. P joined the queues, whereas I, with my carry-on, browsed the shops and changed my money. We met again before too long—Scandinavian efficiency is the same everywhere—but having already eaten there wasn’t much to do but say our farewells and head to our separate planes. After the briefest period of waiting, I was once more aloft, once more solo and swiftly asleep.
I snoozed for half the flight, timing my waking to coincide with the first view of western Norway. Site of another trip, some years back, this was a view I hadn’t previously enjoyed: the now-clear skies revealed a landscape of deep fjords, rocky mountains and distant glaciers. That and a few episodes of Journey’s End kept me going until we touched down safely in Copenhagen Airport.
Once again, the plan was to spend my four-hour layover in Copenhagen, so I passed swiftly through the airport, hopped on the Metro and into town. It was, if anything, even warmer than it had been on my previous visit, so I needed a plan. Stage one: return to Norreport station and find myself a pastry shop. One caramel-filled, nut-encrusted fløldebolle later, I was ready to go and still making my plan up as I went along.
Second stop: the round tower that once served as Tycho Brahe’s observatory. Even with my luggage in tow, I had no problem making my way to the top and decided I’d well deserved some ice cream as I lounged on the upper parapet, doing some observing of the city myself. It was only about then that I came up with a finalised plan: make my way south across the river to Christianshavn, using up the remainder of my time in the city in exploration and then jumping on the Metro back to the airport.
It all worked out very well, despite the heat and the efforts of city cobbles to destroy my luggage’s wheels. The palace and the stock exchange with its wonderful dragon steeple passed by on my right, and hordes of cyclists passed me on my left. By the time I got to Christianshavn, I had added one last item to the agenda: the spiral tower of the Church of Our Saviour.
This time, I dropped my luggage at the ticket desk, and just as well. To get to the base of the steeple itself, you have to climb 65 metres up steep and narrow wooden steps, dodging tourists going the other way. All this in stifling, non-air-conditioned heat. It didn’t get any less hot once outside either, just sunnier. The steps that corkscrew around the steeple get narrower and narrower as they ascend, so much so that there was a queue to see the very top. Not that anyone can reach it—in the end, the climb is too narrow for anyone to fit. The view, though, is spectacular.
Having worked off my pastry and ice cream in sweat, I descended briskly, picking up my luggage and heading for the Metro. After that, it was pretty smooth sailing, to the airport, through security and onto the plane, pausing only for a hotdog to keep my spirits up. Then, as always, the very last trip of all, into the air and back to Dublin, another journey at an end.
Further to my mention in the previous post: the reason I had only a quarter of an hour in Copenhagen first time around was due to a mix up on my part with regard to the efficiency of German trains. Specifically, I missed my connection in Cologne because I didn’t realise that German trains can go in several directions at once. Seriously. While I was sleeping, my overnighter train would have split into multiple parts, each heading in a different direction (in my case Copenhagen). Sadly, I missed this momentous event due to my confusion and instead had to doze on an uncomfortable bench seat and get into Copenhagen with just enough time to buy a sandwich before heading on to Stockholm.
Still, it’s an ill wind that blows no good, and my first real experience of Copenhagen had two major advantages over the one I would have had two years ago. First, it was longer, at eight hours instead of two. Second, it was in the company of two of my friends, who were coincidentally at the tail end of a week-long stay in the city and had just enough time to meet me off the train and show me around a bit.
Copenhagen Airport is as sleek and clean as any Scandinavian public service, though the odd choice of mingling arrivals and departures meant that a seemingly empty airport became very crowded where the two streams met. Still, despite not having any Danish and not knowing what I was doing, it wasn’t long before I was in possession of a Metro ticket and speeding my way into the city proper.
First admission: the big child trapped in my even bigger adult frame wasn’t about to do anything other than sit up front on the Metro, where a huge windscreen provided a view of, well, not much really. Copenhagen’s suburbs are neither high rise nor particularly interesting, and one subway tunnel tends to look much like another. Still, I got to sit up front, and that made me (and the other kids who joined me there) happy. Isn’t that what really matters?
Disembarking at Norreport Station, I was swiftly taken under the wing of my friends, who had the advantage of six days of exploring the city and proceeded to regale me with stories, many of which involved dogs or bicycles, and occasionally even dogs on bicycles. Under a sun only slightly less torrid than Dublin’s we headed south east through the main shopping area of the city, pausing only to grab some local delicacies, eventually landing ourselves a cafe table by the Nyhavn, or New Harbour, which is, in true European fashion, the oldest harbour in the city.
As an opening chord to a holiday, that kind of experience is hard to beat, and I wasn’t about to disagree with my friends’ determination to some day return to the city, either for a visit or a longer stay. We cooled ourselves off with cold beverages, then trekked the length of Nyhavn to the waterside theatre, where we sat again, watching the boats, kayaks and water taxis go by. I also broke open the confections we’d bought earlier and helped myself to one. Shamefully, I can’t remember the name, but it was a mass of marshmallow and caramel, heaped on a thin waffle and coated with chocolate and chopped nuts. Utterly delicious, dreadfully unhealthy and very, very sticky on a hot day like that.
My friends had their own flight to catch, earlier than mine, so too soon I was bidding them farewell with as much thanks as I could offer for their hospitality. After that, I hopped in a canal tour boat for a one-hour trip around the canals of the city. Copenhagen may be short on canals compared to Amsterdam and Venice, but it does okay for itself. The Little Mermaid might have been less notable than the crowds surrounding her, but the city had plenty else to offer, with the highlight for me probably being the twisted dragon-tail tower atop the old stock exchange. It looks like something out of a fantasy novel, and it seemed like a good omen for my trip to a land of myths and sagas.
When the tour was over, I was deposited back at Nyhavn and then roamed the city for an hour or so. The shops were closing up, but the summer spirit was keeping everywhere else alive. Food was needed though, and when an al fresco restaurant proved too expensive, I found myself something a little more to my pocket’s taste: Sunset Boulevard, a Danish spin on fast food, offering sandwiches and herby fries. The bread was very tasty, if a little rough on the soft palate of someone who wasn’t brought up chewing shingles, but for the price (Denmark is not cheap in any sense) it was very welcome.
After that, more roaming, before I headed back to the airport. Perhaps earlier than I needed to, but I had the advantage of knowing that I’d be coming back this way in a few days. The airport’s free wifi having been cracked, I at least had the opportunity to see if anyone had missed me (of course not) and check the status of the world while I was gone. Oh, and write this, of course.
It’s been a while since I’ve written once of these. Getting on for two years, in fact. Recent times have not been kind to my straying feet. Still, the fact is that I’m back on the road, or rather in the air, once more, and not just for a quick hop across to London—my only other overseas destination in all that time.
The opportunity to finally make it to Iceland, a long-desired travel destination, was too good to pass up, and I consequently raided my piggy bank to pay for the cheapest flights I could find.* Which brings me to this point: up in the air, on my way to Copenhagen as stage one of a two-part trip to the land of ice and fire.
These days, the act of travelling doesn’t excite me half so much as the fact of being somewhere new. I have an eight-hour layover in Copenhagen between flights, which is something of a bonus arising from my pursuit of value. On an earlier trip, I had intended to spend a few hours in Copenhagen on my way to Stockholm, but train-related misadventures turned those few hours into around 15 minutes. Barely enough to peek outside the train station (the view consisted mainly of bicycles) before catching the next overnighter on my itinerary.
It’s an odd time to be leaving Dublin too. The sun was baking the airport tarmac as we boarded the plane, granting a Mediterranean feel to a nation more accustomed to rain and climatic misery. I should feel right at home in Iceland, it seems: While Copenhagen is sunny at present, Reykjavik seems to be under a cloud right now. Rain-bearing, that is.
This isn’t entirely a solo trip either, for all of my use of the first-person singular thus far. I have friends to meet in my brief tour around Copenhagen, and while I may be arriving in Iceland on my lonesome, and close to midnight, I’ll be meeting my travelling companion the next day. Hopefully, at least: he’s coming from a lot further away than I am, and his travels have been much, much wilder.
*Not a metaphor. At the tail-end of my second college career, my piggy bank is more fully funded than I am.