One of the reasons we travel is to learn about the world. The other reason is to learn about ourselves. Or be reminded, as the case may be – and certainly is for me on this trip to Copenhagen. Faced with a week on my own, I decided on a whim that a quick trip to Copenhagen was a good way to spend a couple of days. I’ve never been here, I’ve heard from many people that it’s a nice city and hey – it’ll up my country count by 1. So, why not? I made my bookings and then did nothing to prepare, thinking I’d just go with the flow when I arrived. Which is a nice idea, however as a natural planner, it resulted in a semi-panicked state-of-mind a few days before my flight. I starting googling. And ended up with some suggested 3-day itineraries (for my 2-day trip) and the really good suggestion to get a Copenhagen Card. I was thrilled! I had no idea that there was so much to see and do in Copenhagen. Why didn’t I plan 3 or 4 or even 5 days?
Now, twenty-four hours after checking into my hotel, I know why. The trip started out great, as I enjoyed the airport lounges and took flight delays in stride, remaining very relaxed as I sipped champagne and felt all happy about being on the road again. I really do love to travel. Arriving in Copenhagen and waiting to pick up my CPH Card, I engaged in a nice chat with the guy ahead of me in line (in front of whom I inadvertently tried to cut ahead). I retrieved my card, changed some money into Kroner and followed the signs to the Metro, thinking all the while, “This is IT! Travelling is great. It’s invigorating. The people, the hustle and bustle, and newness and unknown-ness and figuring out how to find and ride the Metro to my hotel.” I almost giggled out load when the Metro turned out to be a little train that looked a lot like an inter-terminal transfer vehicle – with very few people on it, slipping along rails almost silently and eventually actually even going underground. I changed lines, got off and re-emerged at street level, and realized that I had no idea which direction to walk the “few minutes” to the hotel. Hmmmm. Kind of thought it would just be there, or have a sign I could see, or something. I walk back and forth a few times between streets (really – hoping the cyclists were progressing fast enough to not notice me and my cluelessness), consult a few different maps that were handed to me with my CPH Card, and shortly enough find the right building and check in. The view from my room is fantastic – too bad it’s beginning to get dark. I look down on some little lakes surrounded by a park, at Christianshavn and across to the City. I drop my things down, consult my map and set a general direction, and go out for an evening stroll.
I love the idea of cities with canals. There is a romanticism about them that can hardly be beat. The downside is that the city is cut
by canals – without necessarily having lots of bridges to cross when one might need them. And so it came about, that my evening stroll took on the form of a cardio session as I hoofed it over kilometers of unintended territory, all the while thinking I should just stop somewhere and have a drink, but not quite finding the right somewhere. Eighty minutes later and after traversing the park in the dark, I was re-entering my hotel, frustrated with myself and acknowledging that my solo-travel-legs have not been exercised in a while. Determined that tomorrow, I’ll be ready, I fall asleep perusing my tourist information booklet and maps.
Okay quick aside at this point: licorice is definitely a thing here. I have seen it as an ingredient on restaurant menus, sold in all varieties, forms and functions at literally every retail outlet I’ve entered (from 7-elevens to pharmacies). So finally I’ve purchased a small pack and it is not the licorice I ate as a kid. Powerful is the adjective that comes to mind. A bite of this stuff makes my mouth pucker and water at the same time and virtually brings tears to my eyes. Good news is, the danger of ingesting too many excess calories is quite low. Something more to research – what is it with licorice in Denmark?
And so the morning dawns early and I’m anxious to be on my way. Sorting myself out from the maps and booklets all around me on the bed and floor, I take a quick shower, remind myself of my attack plan, and head out the door. And the learning begins. The thing about a Copenhagen Card is, it gives you free admission to no less than 74 attractions, unlimited use of public transport, and discounts for some other stuff. If you like to be a tourist, this is the deal for you! And so I thought I was super-smart, spending only 67€ for 48 hours of non-stop tourism pleasure. I jumped on the metro, transferred to a train, and an hour later was walking into Hamlet’s castle, Kronborg Slot.
And since it was there (and covered by my Card), I dashed through the Award-Winning Danish Maritime Museum. So busy with touring that I skipped breakfast and lunch, I finally grabbed a sandwich before boarding the train back to CPH. Then switched to the metro, walked a dozen blocks and boarded a boat for the Canal tour, wishing I’d worn more summer-like clothing (but it wasn’t very warm when I left in the morning). But am I ever getting my money’s worth with this awesome card!
I liked the canal tour, but that’s also when things started really disintegrating for me. A boat full of people taking pictures of everything the tour guide talks about, floating past real people lounging on the sides of the canal just basking in the sun and chatting with friends, I came to the realization (not for the first time): I am a sucky tourist. I don’t like being a tourist, and I don’t really like sight-seeing all that much. My afternoon list of Christiansborg palace, the Hans-Christian-Andersen museum and a few other things suddenly seemed absurd. All I really wanted to do was don shorts and flip flops, find the nearest café/canal setting and order a glass of wine. And some real food.
I also then exited the metro one stop early and climbed up the spire of Our Savior’s Church – which was really cool and maybe the part of the day I enjoyed the most. How often do you climb 400 steps, with the final 50 or so an external staircase wrapping around the very top of the spire? It was cool, believe me. No netting or anything toobstruct the view, the wind blowing maybe just a bit more than some might find comfortable, the staircase ending in a last step that was 20 cm wide – I loved it.
I decided that it was a fitting finish to my manic-tourist-behavior of the day. Flip flops, bar around the corner and a glass of rosé with a book in hand and the truth in my heart: I’m not a tourist. I’m a traveler. It’s the journey, the being somewhere, the watching and interacting with people, the soaking up of a foreign atmosphere (heavily supplemented by enticing or exotic food and drink), that draws me. Today taught me that again.
Oh, I’ll still go to Tivoli gardens tomorrow and maybe something else touristy. But I’ll also go for a jog around the lakes, find a place I can grab breakfast before my shower, and hang out in the park for the afternoon – watching the locals, and life, go by.