Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Graveyards and Gardens: Monday in Copenhagen

My sister is spending part of her summer in Europe and I was very happy and excited for her to visit me in Maastricht for a couple of weeks. She chose a great time to come! I almost don't even want to say this aloud because I'm afraid of jinxing it, but the weather has been perfect lately. Dare I say, it's even HOT here. It's not that the temperatures have soared higher than they do in Florida, but air conditioning is a rare commodity so it makes the heat feel stronger when there's hardly any reprieve. I'm not complaining though; I'd much rather be hot than cold and I'm soaking up the Vitamin D as much as possible because I know the long, sunny days are ephemeral.

After my sister's two-week stay in Maastricht, she returned to Copenhagen to be with her boyfriend. I decided to tag along for a few days!

It was a quick (and cheap) plane ride from Eindhoven to Copenhagen. Thank goodness the ticket price was fair because everything else in Copenhagen is extremely expensive! I'm so grateful I was able to benefit from a complimentary stay at someone's apartment rather than having to pay the exorbitant price for a hotel. Even groceries are over-priced in Copenhagen! I was constantly comparing the Danish Krone to the Euro, and then to the U.S. Dollar. It really blew my mind. So my first piece of advice when traveling to Copenhagen: Find a Danish friend and crash at their place.

Lots of areas in the city's center are currently under construction or renovation. I didn't find this too surprising because it seems like bulldozers and cranes always pop up in Europe during the summer. I suppose it's the most logical time for that type of work since the weather is (hopefully) a little nicer and more reliable than during fall and winter. My sister's boyfriend did tell me that there are always lots of projects going on in Copenhagen, very frequently lasting years before completion. It certainly keeps people employed, and that's always a good thing.

We began my Copenhagen tour with Hans Christian Andersen, of course. His final resting site is Assistens Cemetery. It's a beautiful, peaceful place serving not only as a final earthly destination, but also a gathering spot for students, joggers, and young parents with their babies.

Hans' grave was flanked by literary worshipers so I only took a few snapshots and we moved on to other famous residents.

Hans Christian Andersen's Grave

Before my visit to Copenhagen, I had no idea Niels Bohr was Danish. I was never very good at math and science but my 11th grade Chemistry teacher was obsessed with Niels Bohr and his atomic model. I certainly don't remember how to balance a chemical equation but I'll never forget that man's name because it was always the answer to at least one question on each exam. I paid my respects to Niels and wondered whether my teacher had ever made it to his grave. Just in case, I thanked Neils on Mr. Veal's behalf.

Niels Bohr's Grave
Next up was Soren Kierkegaard. He was a Danish philosopher known as the "father of existentialism."

Soren Kierkegaard's Plot

It was interesting to see resting places of the famous but one of my favorite sights at Assistens Kirkegard was all of the living, breathing people enjoying a serene space in the bustling city. Among the headstones and Hans-seekers, there were sun worshipers, picnickers, and, as previously mentioned, young families.

It isn't uncommon to see young mothers gathered to gossip while cradling their babies but I was really surprised to see so many fathers. I supposed the Danish are pretty progressive when it comes to co-parenting. Three dads in particular really stand out to me. They were very trendy, sporting neon sneakers and chic haircuts. They took up the whole pathway, walking side-by-side. We stayed behind them for a while because we were so amused. At one point they came across another hip dad and asked him to take a photograph of all of them. Maybe things like that happen regularly in America but I've never seen it.

The rest of the day passed quickly and before we knew it the evening was upon us. We went for a pre-dinner drink at Ruby Cocktail Bar. Its location is inside an old apartment building and the bar boasts an affluent neighbor: the Embassy of Georgia. The cocktail list is inventive and the staff are friendly and attentive. I enjoyed the "Jack Sparrow," a concoction of cachaca, Wray, and rum with pineapple and lime juice, and ginger beer. It was delicious-- thank goodness because that one cocktail came with a price tag of $20 USD. Steep!

Dinner that evening was at Namnam, a Singapore eatery with an imaginative and mostly affordable menu. The restaurant has only been open for a little over a year but it was crowded even on a Monday night.

An exciting thing happened while we were dining. The table next to us was a group of 8 or 10 people. They were laughing boisterously and having a grand time. At one point we heard one of their party say, "I really miss Georgia!" Even though we were just in close proximity to the Embassy of Georgia (the country), I know this man, with a slight southern drawl and American exuberance, was speaking of the Peach State. My sister and me were intrigued, but just for a moment. After all, it isn't uncommon for Americans to visit Copenhagen. We joked that we should try to initiate conversation with the table by shouting, "Go Dawgs!" At this suggestion, I saw a flicker of uncertainty pass through my sister's boyfriend's eyes. We never did make contact with the table but, as it turns out, we regretted it.

As soon as the party left, my sister's boyfriend (let's just call him Anton), turned to us and said, "Do you know who that was, sitting at that table?"
"The American guy?" we asked.
"No, no, the other one. The one with white-blonde hair," Anton breathlessly replied.
"I didn't notice anyone with white-blonde hair," I said. My sister concurred.
"Well, for your information, that was Peter Schmeichel."

This was met with blank looks from us. Anton continued, "Peter Schmeichel! You don't know who that is?! He's a very famous soccer player, not just in Denmark but in all of Europe. If you said his name anywhere in Europe, people would know who he is!"
"Really?!" my sister exclaimed. "He's like Pele?"
"Or David Beckham?" I asked.
Anton was becoming more and more flummoxed. "He's Peter Schmeichel! He doesn't need to be Pele or David Beckham!"

By now, of course, my sister and me were wondering why Anton didn't approach Peter for an autograph.

"You don't understand," Anton explained. "Denmark is a small country so it isn't uncommon to see celebrities often, especially in Copenhagen. I'm sure he didn't want to be bothered."

We looked at each other incredulously and said, "So what! He would've loved to talk to us! And there was even a guy from Georgia sitting with him so we definitely had an in. Why didn't you let us say something?!"

This whole conversation happened within a minute and I looked outside to see Peter standing on the sidewalk, saying a long goodbye to his dinner partners.

"Anton," I anxiously whispered, "He's still outside. Do you want me to go out there? Because I'll go out there right now and get his autograph for you."
"No!" he cried, terrified, "I don't want his autograph! I don't want to bother him! This is exactly why I didn't tell you two!"

I was really just teasing anyway. It isn't like I really would have ran outside and jumped on the ivory-haired football player. I mean, I didn't even know who he was until just that moment. I just found Anton's fear of embarrassment amusing but I admit it would have been nice to share a photo of Peter with you. If you're a soccer fan, I'm sure you care about him very much. And now you know that he hangs out with American southerners and enjoys Singaporean food. You're welcome.

After the excitement of Peter Schmeichel died down, we ended the night at Tivoli Gardens, the world's second oldest amusement park. I'm really glad we saw it in the evening; the darkness made it all the more magical. It was like a cross between Willy Wonka's Chocolate Room and a more mysterious Disney World.

We were there just in time for the light show, which the admissions agent charmingly referred to as a "lightning show." It was a beautiful waterworks display set to a soundtrack of musical theatrics. Thousands of lanterns and fog machines cast an eerie glow throughout the park. The scene was made even more dramatic by gusts of strong wind blowing the illuminated water every which way.

Tivoli was whimsical. Walking through was like stepping back in time. It was nice to go with Anton since he has fond memories of going there with his family when he was a boy.

From a graveyard to a garden, my first day in Copenhagen was unique! The fun continued for two more days. Next I'll take you to the palace, on a boat tour, and to Christiania. But don't get your hopes up too much-- we never did run into Peter Schmeichel again, much to Anton's relief.

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