Day 5 – Copenhagen
Monday 9th August 2021
Tiredness, and possibly even exhaustion, are now starting to set in a bit. It took us both a while to get moving this morning. Today is the first of what is currently planned to be two consecutive day trips to Copenhagen. I had to give Jae a few nudges before I got a reaction. I got a groan, two grunts and a sliding of the blanket over her head while simultaneously rolling over. Inspecting my teenager translation chart, this apparently meant ‘sod off, I’m not yet awake’.
Our first-class weather has since left the compartment and idled towards third class. The drizzle emanating from the overcast and grey clouds seemed rather depressing. This didn’t bode well for a comfortable day of walking around one of the world’s major cities.
I tried to put the weather out of my mind for a bit and concentrated instead on whipping up our packed lunches for the day. We had ham sandwiches, cheese sandwiches and salami sandwiches to look forward to, with a bottle of orange-coloured liquid to wash it all down with.
By the time we had loaded ourselves into the car, the light drizzle had developed into a full-blown rain shower. We’ve left third class and are now hanging onto the outside rails of the train. I’ve given up trying to predict the rain situation from my weather app but was a little buoyed by the slightly lighter shade to the grey skies in the distance to the east, which would be our direction of travel the next couple of hours.
So far, parking has been a bit of an issue here in Denmark. Just about everywhere you go, it seems you have to pay royally for the privilege of getting out of the car when you get there. This was weighing on my mind this morning, since we plan to depart from the train station in Nyborg. Surely that would also cost me a couple of semi-redundant body parts. Could I miss my spleen, I wondered to myself as we drove the 25 minutes or so towards the island’s eastern-most town.
Shortly before we arrived at the train station, Jae spotted a Maccas. This immediately triggered two separate thoughts. The more basic of these was the opportunity to grab something for breakfast. Neither of us had thus far eaten anything. The more devious was the idea I might surreptitiously leave the car in the back of the Maccas car park for the day while we walked the remaining few hundred meters to the train station. I mulled the later over while we were inside cramming some fries and a sausage & egg McMuffin down. Dotted around the Maccas car park, and indeed just about everywhere else also, were posts topped with black or blue [no] parking signage. I couldn’t understand the writing exactly, and the translation app was clearly not doing it justice either. Suffice to say, the warnings of leaving the car here were quite dire and ominous. Hmmm. Perhaps I’ll learn to manage without the spleen after all.
Jae and I eventually agreed that a further 700 metre walk back to the car from the train station after having spent the entire day plodding through the streets of Copenhagen was perhaps not such a stella idea after all, so we piled back into the car and found our way to the train station. As luck would have it, there didn’t appear to be any obvious need to pay for the parking after all. There were no boom gates and no machines spitting out tickets. I also couldn’t see any white tickets on any other vehicles’ dashboards either. Either parking is free at Nyborg strain station, or there’s some less-than-obvious mechanism for paying for parking at play here that we tourists are just too stupid to comprehend. If the car is missing, clamped or the windscreen is adorned with a parking fine by the time we return later today, we’ll know for sure.
The next major hurdle to overcome was the purchasing of two return train tickets. This is a train station. What could be simpler, right? Alas, there was no actual manned ticket booth. This meant there was no human being with whom to exchange the customary I’m oh so dumb and can you please repeat that one more time pantomime with. Despite the convenience you just can’t ask questions to an automatic ticket machine. Well, you can, but I’ve found this tends to solicit strange looks and mothers clutching their kids close to them as they scurry away from me. This ticket machine turned out to be more of a challenge than you might imagine, as a number of basic questions seemed unanswered by the English version of the text displays on the screen. For example, there didn’t seem to be any way to book a return ticket – only one way. Was I in the wrong menu or something? Surely it can’t be that hard. Isn’t it customary to come back from a place once you’ve been there? Isn’t that the fundamental idea being commuting, for example? I backed out of the menu and tried to find another path but kept finding myself in the same predicament on the screen. Looking around, there were no staff members anywhere to be seen. I eventually found the option, which was a small icon I had to press. The only problem was that the tickets are all assigned seating. One of the help screens explained this was due to the Corona pandemic and the need to ensure no overcrowding in the carriages. Unfortunately, we didn’t know how long we would be in Copenhagen and thus couldn’t commit to a specific return time and seat assignment. The only remaining option was to buy one-way tickets and hope we could do the same for the return journey later tonight.
Ok, so with that hurdle now cleared, the next was to get onto the platform. Child’s-play, right? The ticket machine had spit out three pieces of paper with lots of numbers and words on them. Looking at the departure screens, I determined that we needed platform two, which was easy enough. The corridor leading to the stairs up to the platforms, however, were guarded by several pillars on either side with lights on them. Clearly, this was where we had to validate our tickets…or so I assumed. I held our tickets to the lit panel, but nothing happened. I tried holding them against different parts of the pillar, then in different orientations – forwards, backwards, upside down, with one finger in the air, etc. Nothing. Nothing I seemed to do triggered any kind of reaction form it. Inspecting the pillars further, there didn’t even seem to be anywhere for me to slide the ticket into either. How does this damned thing work? Eventually, I resorted to asking a passing passenger. It seems that we were supposed to just walk through. The pillars are for passengers with electronic travel cards. We had a physical ticket instead. Doh!
We did eventually make our way onto the platform. The next train would arrive in about 20 minutes, which was just enough time for me to study the ticket further and figure out the next part of the process. The nature of our seat assignments meant we had to board the correct carriage and then find the right seat. As it turned out, our carriage would be the one at the front of the train.
Once the train arrived and we boarded, I was then confronted with another minor dilemma. The sign directing us to the correct range of seat numbers indicated a carriage labelled ‘Quiet area’. When I was choosing the various options on the ticket machine, it offered the option of ‘normal’, ‘quiet zone’ and something else, which I presumed to me the most expensive and so didn’t see the need to commit to memory. I went with ‘normal’, thinking this would be the cheapest one. The last thing I wanted to do now was to go and sit in the wrong compartment. Knowing my luck, the Danish secret police would be there in waiting and I’d be given an eighteen-hour grilling followed by 20 years in the electric chair for my troubles. With some trepidation, I asked a fellow passenger if I was in the right place. The woman didn’t seem to speak any English but her 8-year-old son seemed insistent we were in the right place. We went in and took our seats.
The train seems modern, and the seating is comfortable enough. Jae and I have two facing aisle seats with extendable tables between us – perfect for me to sit and write this portion of today’s blog post while we while away the 90-minute train journey across Denmark. This 22-seat compartment is about half full. The passengers here are seated approximately equidistant from each other – testament no doubt to the efficiency of the Danish train booking system.
A ticket inspector did pass through doing the rounds. He seemed to inspect our tickets quite closely, which was a little nerve-wracking, but was evidently satisfied in the end. No torture for me today after all.
Our journey in the train was largely uneventful, save for the one passenger who seemed to annoy some of the others occasionally due to their mobile phone ringing or playing loud music. This is, after all, supposed to be the quiet compartment.
We pulled in at Copenhagen central train station and made our way out onto the street of Copenhagen. Before we knew it, we were soaking up the atmosphere of a new major European capital city.
At first glance, Copenhagen looks much like any other major metropolis in Europe. Directly in front of us was the main entrance to Tivoli Gardens. This is consistently presented as one of the must-see attractions in Copenhagen. Some websites even claim that many people travel all the way to Copenhagen just to visit Tivoli Gardens. It’s essentially a carnival theme park with lots of old-style rollercoasters and other such fairground attractions. This was always going to be one of those ‘shall we or shan’t we’ type of things. On the one hand, it’s an expensive addition to the agenda given we’re supposed to be on a tight budget.
On the other hand, we’re only likely to be here once and would we forgive ourselves for missing up the opportunity and forever wondering what could have been? I asked Jae whether she wanted to go in. As if there was ever going to be any question about it!
We didn’t have to wait long before it was our turn at the Tivoli Gardens main entrance ticket booth. I think there were a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, the weather wasn’t especially pleasant this morning. The other major factor would be that kids are back to school from today here in Denmark, so there are precious few Danish tourists in town.
Apart from paying for the privilege of entering the rather compact theme park itself, you also have to decide whether to purchase individual ride tickets as needed or to go with an unlimited all-you-can-eat option. Both are separate tickets from the entrance price. The teenager working the locket we landed at explained that it works out more cost-effective if you plan to do four or more rides. With little time to process this, I went with the all-you-can eat option and duly depleted my bank account further by some amount of Krone. I wasn’t actually sure how much. It would be whatever it would be.
First impressions once we were inside the turnstiles was that this was a very compact little amusement park with lots of rides all crammed together. The entire park has an extremely small footprint. In places, the superstructures of the rides even overlapped with each other. There weren’t a lot of people around, so there were no queues to speak of. The on-again off-again nature of the rain made it a bit of a challenge negotiating the park without getting wet. We managed to stave off most of the water by trotting from one covered area to the next but while on the rides, we were subject to the full force of the downpours. Indeed, on some of the rollercoasters, it felt like we were being lashed by the rain as we were propelled around the track at high speeds.
I guess this place would appeal more to those with nostalgic tendencies. It’s the second oldest theme park in the world. The oldest happens to also be right here in Copenhagen. Essentially, there were three categories of things to do in the park.
Go on the rides, buy and eat food, or play carnival games of chance. We avoided the latter, as those things are expertly designed to part you from your money, which we have precious little to waste on this trip.
The first ride we braved was the Himmelskibet (Star Flyer). This is a tall steel spire around which a structure rotates as it rises (corkscrews) into the sky. Dangling from this structure are a dozen or so clusters of long chains, attached to each of which are simple metal frame chairs you sit in. You’re basically spun around and lifted high into the sky. The resulting views of the park and the surrounding parts of Copenhagen were a treat for the eye.
What was a nice surprise was the fact that you were able to park your possessions (backpacks and mobile phones and the likes are not allowed on the rides for obvious reasons) in special lockers or other temporary holding bins while you ride: and you were able to do this for free! There was no need to pay extra for lockers or anything like that. This is a pet peeve of mine in many other theme parks we’ve been to around the world.
After we finished our chair lift ride, we next took on the Dæmonen (Demon). This was a full-on rollercoaster, albeit not a huge one. It had a loop the loop, a corkscrew and a few further twists and turns. By the time we were strapped into this one, the rain started to come down hard, so we really felt like we were passing through a storm as a result.
We meandered around the park a bit taking in a few other rides here and there throughout the course of the morning, all the while trying to take refuge from the heavier bouts of rain as and when we could. By now, our clothes were starting to get quite damp. In one section of the park, there’s a covered area where there were a range of food options available. One of these was a Wagamama’s, which piqued Jae’s interest especially. Despite all my hard work this morning slaving over a load of bread with some ham, cheese and salami, I had to admit that the prospect of the warmth of a hot meal inside a restaurant was also looking quite appealing in contrast. Once again throwing caution to the wind and resigning myself to a depressing future attempt to balance the books when get back home, we joined the small queue at the door to get seated.
When we got to the front of the queue, about five minutes later, the waitress did actually ask us whether we have something she referred to as a Corona Pass. Jae and I both opened our Corona app on our mobile phones, which shows that we have been vaccinated and/or have recently had a negative PCR test. The app shows the items it knows about and then you click each one as needed to show a QR code associated with that item, which can then be scanned. I asked whether she needed to see the QR code and she said yes. So, I clicked on my vaccination item, as did Jae on her phone, to display the QR code, and presented the phone to her. I was expecting the waitress to then scan the QR code with some sort of scanning device, but she simply looked at it and then said, “Ok, follow me to your table.” Either she had super-human abilities to understand that complicated series of seemingly randomized block of pixels on the screen or the whole thing was little more than a farce.
The last time I ate at a Wagamama’s was in London. It was in fact a favorite treat for me and some of my colleagues who indulged there once in a while. I quizzed the waitress on whether they served the same signature Chicken Katsu Curry dish I was familiar with from the London branch. Sure enough, they did, so that’s what I ordered. Both Jae’s and my meals each came to around 70Kr, which is about €10 each. For the amount and quality of the food received, I actually thought that was reasonable. A soft drink, by comparison, was around 35Kr, or about €5. I’m willing – if not enthusiastic – about paying extra for things in touristy destinations like this but I thought that was too much of a rip-off, so we sufficed with our mug of complimentary green tea instead. We could still have some of our orange-colored liquid once we were out of the restaurant as well.
We left the restaurant with full bellies and ventured back into the park. The near persistent drizzle was still putting a damper on things, so we weren’t really enjoying ourselves that much anymore. Jae’s mood lifted when she spotted a churros’ kiosk, so we both partook and found a covered area to sit and wait out the remainder of the rain that was pushing through the area. In the meantime, I whipped out the laptop to start getting a head start on my blog duties. While I had the laptop out, I checked the weather radar. The good news was that the rain was actually about to stop, and the skies would clear up for the remainder of the afternoon. True to its word, not fifteen minutes later, the rain did stop, and the skies did clear. The glorious sun we’ve become so accustomed to was once again able to shine through. With a little luck, this would help dry out our now damp clothes.
Because of the weather, I was starting to really get worried I’d miss out on the couple of things I especially wanted to see and do here in Copenhagen. One of these was a shopping street called Strøget. I’d spell this phonetically so you can understand how it’s pronounced, but the bloody Danish scarcely ever pronounce any of their consonants, so it’s really hard to explain – and doubly so to actual say. The closest I came to getting the pronunciation correct was with ‘Strawl’.
The other thing I especially wanted to see here in Copenhagen was an area called Nyhavn. Again, there are hardly any consonants to be heard with this one. The closest I can come is with ‘New’holm’. Nyhavn is a canal about 25 meters wide that dead ends on one end. Wooden sail ships and other vessels adorn the sides of the canal. On either side are a series of terraced buildings with a very distinct Danish style. Each one is more colourful than its neighbour and there are dozens of these buildings along the length of the canal. The bottom floor of each building is a café or restaurant. It’s an extremely vibrant place to be and often the first image that comes to mind when people think of Copenhagen. It surely must be one of the most visited places by tourists to the city.
Once we left Tivoli Gardens, we made our way towards Strøget, soaking up the Copenhagen atmosphere as we walked. We eventually found the thoroughfare and took it all in, popping intermittently into this shop or that as we went.
Jae was enjoying herself and we were continuing to get to know each other more. I won’t reveal all we discussed or did. Some things are best left just between us.
Having reached the end of Strøget, my excitement was building, as this most famous of shopping streets ends shortly before Nyhavn begins. The sun was now out in force and my anticipation was every bit worth it. I was in photographer’s heaven. We walked along the banks of the canal up and down in both directions taking it all in, finding as many photo opportunities as we could, taking lots of selfies, etc. At one point, we found a place to sit to rest our weary bones just where a street musician happened to be playing a clarinet. The atmosphere was very cosmopolitan European. It was just really nice and relaxing.
There were open top canal tour boats operating on the waterways and I did offer Jae the option of getting on board one for a one-hour cruise around the city. Alas, she wasn’t interested. There were plenty more shops along Strøget to be seen and experienced, so we decided to double back and re-walk the length of that street again. It would take us naturally back to Copenhagen central train station again anyway, which is where we needed to be, so it worked out well.
Jae has taken to something called Bubble Tea, which can be found in numerous places around Denmark. It’s a mixture of various flavoured liquids with small jelly-like balls containing sweet viscous flavoured jams. You drink it with a wide straw big enough to suck up the jelly balls and bite them open in your mouth. We spotted one such Bubble Tea kiosk just at the mouth of Strøget, so we stopped, and Jae had her fill. It was at this point that Jae noticed the jacket of hers that had been wrapped around my stomach since the sun started shining was no longer there. At some point, it and I had become separated but without either of us knowing it.
While Jae was polishing off her Bubble Tea, I trotted back towards Nyhavn to see if I could find where it had fallen. Much to my surprise, not ten meters from where we had stopped and listened to the street clarinettist, there the jacket was lying in the middle of the street with people just walking around it.
Now repatriated again with Jae, we set off together to explore [this time the full length of] Strøget. We passed through numerous shops and had lots of fun together. Jae eventually came away with a new t-shirt and a new pair of jeans for her troubles. For my part, I did an absolutely fantastic job of not revealing my usual dislike for the sort of aimless shopping that the women in my family seem so at home with. Truth be told, I’d rather remove my eyes with a rusty cheese grater than spend time wandering aimlessly from shop to shop in the vain expectation that you’ll actually buy something. However, this was Daddy & Jae bonding time, so I was on my best behaviour – even though my legs, feet, hips, back and assorted other body parts were all screaming at me to stop and somehow get horizontal.
By now the shadows were starting to lengthen and the clouds again starting to form. We made it back to the train station just as it started to rain again, so the timing actually couldn’t have been better. I think it fair to say we were both very tired. Jae pondered how far we had walked today. Then I realised we could answer that very question by inspecting the pedometer app on my phone. My app showed no fewer than 16,300 steps and 11.2Km walked, including eleven floors traversed. Quite an achievement, I thought.
With the assistance of one of the train station staff, we navigated the ticket purchasing process without the same anxiety from this morning’s attempt. I was able to ask questions this time around. One question the good lady was able to clarify for me was the price difference for normal, quiet and family sections of the train (family was that 3rd option from this morning that I couldn’t remember). Apparently, there is no price difference – it’s all the same.
Noting I was with a minor, the good lady chose on my behalf the family section in the train. I was too tired to even notice, much less have any preference for either way. It wasn’t until after we were on the train that I was thinking we should have insisted on the quiet compartment again instead. We had the misfortune to have directly across the aisle from us a couple of rowdy guys each with a couple of sixpacks they were consistently making their way through. They spoke raucously to each other constantly for the entirety of the journey, even though all the other families with small children in the compartment were, ironically, relatively silent. As if to rub salt into that wound, they ended up getting off along with us in Nyborg, so we were with them the entire ninety minutes of the journey.
For the second time this trip, my phone battery lasted literally until the end of our day when we arrived back at the car for the last twenty-five-minute drive back to the guesthouse.
All in all, today was a hugely successful day. Did we do everything we could have? Of course not. There’s just too much to do here and too few hours in the day to do them. Regardless of what we did or did not do, the most important thing is that Jae and I did it all together. This child is much more grown up than I realised. This trip has brought that home to me in no uncertain terms.