Thursday, June 14, 2018

Footing it around Copenhagen

En route to Silver Spirit Norway cruise
Photos to follow when the wifi is faster

Mia boasted that she's done her training and can wear high heels anywhere; but she did also then go on to admit that she pays for it afterwards with five days of foot pain. Today she was wearing trainers for our Urban Adventure around Copenhagen, and I wish I'd done the same. Ballet flats simply do not cut it, on cobblestones. And boy, does Copenhagen have cobblestones!

And church spires, and canals, and cyclists... The latter, at around 8am, have tunnel vision and are a danger to pedestrians, so fast and auto-piloted and earphoned as they are: seriously, a careless wander into the cycle lane would result in a very painful pile-up. So I took it carefully on my long walk this morning to the meeting point for this Intrepid-supplied Urban Adventure with guide Søren and his boss Mia. The *ahem* selling-point of this operation is that locals take you to see places you might otherwise miss, and give you the background and insight on them that only they can supply. It's a very workable concept I've enjoyed in several locations worldwide.

So we started with a statue of King Christian IV, who was good at building but bad at wars (he bankrupted the city three times, funding various conflicts) and then genuinely admired the neat and lovely rows of terraced houses he had built in Nyboder, a district of the city near the botanical gardens and art gallery (why do those two go together so often around the world?). Painted a warm shade of yellow (more serviceable than the first choice of white, it transpired), there are currently roses and hollyhocks outside and the overall picture is, er, picturesque. Though you wouldn't have wanted to live inside those houses originally, when each naval family had just one window's worth of room.

The theme for this tour is Hygge and Happiness, and Søren was conscientious about trying to explain the concept of the first bit: being present in the moment, basically, with elements of cosiness, and obligatory candles. A programme of social welfare helps, too, in the grander scheme of things. But we started more practically, by eating classic Danish pastries which are off-puttingly called 'snails' here but are genuinely much more delicious than pastries I've eaten anywhere else. And I have had my share of pastries, I will admit.

There were other indulgences: a visit to a chocolate shop to taste Weißbier truffles (far more delicious, even though distinctively beery, than you can possibly imagine) and a bottle of elderflower bubbles; as well as the real business of history, politics, culture and the answers to our random questions. So, I learned: Denmark is in charge of the Faroe Islands and Greenland; there's a Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles scenario happening here too; rubbish bins have shelves around their outsides where bottles can be left by lazy people, then to be collected and recycled for 1 Krone each by anyone who values money more than laziness (ie homeless people and kids) (and me); Denmark invented the wind turbine (proud) and the compartmented plastic bag for making ice cubes (these days, less proud); and they were the first to legalise gay marriage - but, disappointingly, neither of the guides had heard of Sandi Toksvig. Though, annoyingly, they did nevertheless know about Stephen Fry.

After the tour ended, and we - the American girl, the Indonesian guy and the free-loading Kiwi - had been given all the answers, advice and recommendations we asked for, I moseyed on back to my hotel, taking the scenic route via Nyhavn (pronounced 'noohowen', btw), the KIssing Bridge, a food market, and Christiania. Now, this suburb, when I first went there by bike in 2011, was full of spaced-out hippies, was edgy and a bit unnerving - alternative, unofficially sanctioned pro-drugs, but not so confident that they allowed photos, and easily making someone as straight-laced as me feel very out of place. Today, though? It's been gentrified and commercialised, and officially no longer (openly) selling marijuana. It's still scruffy and the graffiti/street art is still there, but there are heaps of cafés, bars and restaurants, there's bunting, helpful signs and masses of tourists. People blatantly still smoke weed freely there, but there are also establishments that forbid smoking of any sort. It really does look as though it's not that far away from being ordinary - though I did see six policemen walking through together.

The Church of Our Saviour from yesterday was open today, so I went in to admire the beautiful chandeliers, the elaborately carved organ screen, and the stars on the ceiling, though not so much the altar screen with all its predictably (!) religious claptrap, and no sign of the puffin that the video in the tower yesterday had encouraged me to look out for.

And then, at last, seven hours after leaving it, I returned to the hotel, sat down and took off my shoes, and was grateful for the downtime - but also, naturally, guilty about being felled by fatigue and jetlag just halfway through a sunny afternoon with a fabulously accessible, rewarding and bustling city right there, just 26 storeys below my window.

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