Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nine to Five

Just like Dolly Parton (or was it Doralee Rhodes?) I'm working nine to five.

Up out of bed at 8:00 – the rest of the hostel seems to be still asleep, despite the sun flooding through every available window. Time for a shower, a change of clothes, and thank you very much sir, but it's time I got a move on.

Last night I planned myself the master tour of Copenhagen on one of the many free maps available at the hostel. This would be the 11km walk that should take me past all the major sights, sites, and attractions. 11KM – that's not so bad. You could probably walk that in what? Two to three hours, with stops. Not a bad start to a city.

So off I went. And then it started to rain.

But this was, once again, much less of a problem than one might think. You see, Copenhagen seems to suffer from Reykjavik rain. Sure it drops now and then, but a few minutes later it will be gone, your clothes will be dry, and you'll only remember it having happened if you think back really hard on it.

Bikes of Copenhagen
I had a flatmate once, in the before times. The long-long ago. He would find any girl attractive so long as she had one thing – a bicycle. Now when you combined an already attractive girl, with a bicycle, it became nearly too much for him to handle. Finally, if you add an attractive girl, on a bicycle that is also somehow magically attractive his mind would be blown, and one could only assume he would be reduced to a pile of drivel slowly seeping on a downward slant, wherever the floorboards directed him. He should never come to Copenhagen.

You see, Copenhagen is a bikers city. And not in the way that Helsinki was, bent on my destruction. Copenhagen is a place where few people drive, but everyone has a bike, and the city is set up for just such an occurrence. It's fantastic really – so long as you aren't walking down narrow roads, with dozens of bikes parked on the side. To be fair, I only knocked over one. Oops?

There are bikes here – bikes the likes of which you've never seen, unless you have... In which case, good for you. There are bicycles, tricycles, penticycles. There are bikes with baskets, bikes that seem to only be basket, bikes with babies attached through all sorts of wonder and technique. There are low riders, high riders, bikes that seem to be missing a beam or two. There are old people bikes, young people bikes. Just about every type of bike you can think of – it's here. I would like to see how this city functions when it snows.

After clearing this labyrinth of two wheeled heaven/hell I headed to my first stop of the day.

Look at this stuff, isn't it neat?
In Copenhagen the home of Hans Christian Anderson? I think it is. I think it is! So what do they have out in the harbour, perched upon a rock? Is it my first true love? The one, the only, the little mermaid?

Now, to be fair, this is not the red headed harlot you may recall from Disney. No this is not the naïve waif who brought Disney into their first era of sexualized cartoons (about which I have read, and taught, much feminist philosophy.) This was the original little mermaid who bled from her feet with every step she took, she wanted to walk on land so much. This was the one whom ended as sea foam floating free. Never the less – there I was, with the little mermaid, or as much of one as you could expect.

I had been told that the statue was tiny. I had been led to believe that it would be microscopic, barely visible. Every tourist brochure and pamphlet prepares you for this. One even states that you should try to hide your disappointment at the scale when you see it. I don't know what people expect, or what they desire, but it was the perfect statue. It wasn't towering high above. No, it was simply there – life sized – on a rock in the water, as it should be. Not all that dissimilar from the statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

Fortifications overlooking the harbour
Near the harbour was a fortress. A five pointed fortress, allowing for the best possible defense of the time. Not all together unlike the one in Halifax. Although I will tell you the difference between historical military locations in Canada, and in Europe. In Canada they are all run by historical actors. In Europe, if you see someone in uniform – they are in it for a reason. All the old forts are still military outposts to this day. Through the windows you can watch the soldiers eat in the mess, if you should desire. In Canada fortresses are so few and far between that we charge exorbitant prices for entry. In Europe they are everywhere – and mostly they are free.

I walked the ramparts, and then out through the main gate, continuing on my journey – which would take me to the Royal Palace. Here I would see more of the military in action, as they performed the changing of the guard at noon. Noon? It had already been three hours? Waiting at the Little Mermaid statue for the hordes of people flocking, like locusts, too and from their tour buses certainly didn't help speed anything up. But clearly I was in no hurry. Which was good – because there was still a lot of my day left.

Having seen more impressive changing of the guards, I decided to leave when they hit the “everyone stand still and confuse the tourists for ten minutes” part. Sadly I'll forever be confused. Perhaps some stealthy recon will be in my future. You see, wearing my Scotland Rugby sweater, I blend right in. Indistinguishable from the enlisted men.

A Time of Divergence
Walking the colourful, Halifaxesque, canals of the city, I realized that I would need to change my plans. Certainly I had planned a grand walk around the city, but I had neglected one crucial place. Christiania.

Freetown Christiania flys a flag of three yellow circles on a red field. Trying to explain Chrsitiania is a big ol' cluster fu... Well, you know what? It's better if you just read the wikipedia article on it:

Basically it's a commune. A hippy zone. A place where laws, aren't quite the same as they are outside of it. This really is a special zone. You enter through gates that say Welcome to Christiania on one side, and Now Entering the EU on the other.

This is a place where people roam free – literally - there are free range teacup humans stumbling around bringing themselves up here. Dogs also walk the streets at their own leisure.

The graffiti is fantastic. Unfortunately, most of it is found on Pusher Street. There are a large number of signs and paintings saying No Photos on pusher street, and a lot of heavies there to make sure you keep to this. While it seems mostly peaceful, the last few years have seen shoots, grenade attacks, and Molotov cocktails hurled about. And while these are isolated incidents, walking around the compound you certainly do get a sense that things could break down into mob mentality very quickly.

I fit in. Physically I look the part. Mentally, I do not belong. To be honest, the whole place was terrifying in a Mad Max / Escape from New York kind of way. It's nothing more than a bunch of cafes, shops, music halls, and open air markets – but I am not a fan of hundreds of potentially undereducated people living by their own laws. I could honestly see the peace ending in an instant. And as such, I decided I would make my exit, having toured around the area.

As I neared the gate, sirens burst out, and a dozen police rushed by me with dogs at the ready. I turned around, trying to leave another way – more police rushed by blocking my path. At this point I figured, hey – why not follow them? Back in the centre of town, the police had some of the residents on the ground, searching them, and yelling at others to stay still. Some of the officers were filming the actions. From five directions parades of officers flooded into Freetown, and started grabbing people, and searching them.

Next thing I knew, people whom I thought were the uneducated masses, walking with their unwashed baggy jeans, and hoodies – hemp scarves, and homemade skirts, started taking out concealed yellow vests, and putting them on. Aside from the forty uniformed officers, there were nearly two dozen more who had been wandering undercover waiting for this moment to act. (There's a lesson here about judging the education level of someone by appearance. You'd think I'd know that already.) This was a raid on a scale of which I had never seen before. There must have been one officer for every ten residents. Off through bushes, paths, and buildings they ran.

After a few minutes things started to calm down. The immediacy was over, and a slow search began. The police chatted with residents, searched garbages, and patrolled the area. My fear was dissipating. I took a moment to snap a picture of Pusher Street, and the going ons. I then promptly left, and returned to my planned itinerary, quite glad that I had chosen just those moments to visit Christiania.

Through the Green
My way home took me past some shopping areas, and pedestrain streets, and allowed me the opportunity to step in some dog poop – but what was most important was the Kings Gardens. This is a park that would have been most impressive, had I not recently been in Oslo. Apparently during the warmer months men and women sunbathe topless here, and enjoy delightful picnics. Today – it offered me a water pump, with which I could clear the aforementioned dog poop from my shoes. Most important indeed.

The second green area worth exploring was a large cemetery. Apparently during the warmer months men and women sunbathe topless here as well. Good for them. What made this cemetery worth the walk was that it houses the tombstones of Hans Christian Anderson, and Søren Aabye Kierkegaard. Both of the tombs were easily spotted from proper signing and markers. Oslo, if there's one thing that Copenhagen has on you, it's the cemetery navigational system.

Then, with bottle of pear soda in hand, and what I thought was potato salad, even though it didn't say potato salad on it, in hand – I headed back. Time to crash for the evening. The salad, which was more like peas carrots and onions mixed with margarine was thrown away. I should have bought another hot dog instead (point of order: good, but not Iceland good.)

What will tomorrow bring?

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