Off the Beaten Track

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of Denmark  ,
Tuesday, October 3, 2006

After four nights in Copenhagen followed a week and a half in Holland I was starting to fall in a real trap. Like the Dutch, the Danish (all Scandinavians really) speak exceptionally good English and it becomes really easy to be lulled into the expectation that everybody speaks English. This can be a real problem once you leave those places and English isn't as common. Fortunately I'm at the stage now where I'll finally be getting back into native English-speaking countries.

My time in Copenhagen was actually spent in the suburb of Skævinge, about 40 km away, with Morton, a Danish guy I had met at the Pickled Frog in Hobart back in February. I was forced to spend a week in Hobart then, and as I wrote at the time, that's easier said than done. Since then I've met plenty of Tasmanians who are astonished that I would spend a week there. The unbelievably friendly atmosphere at the Frog was the only reason I survived and the time I spent hanging out with Morten in particular filled many of those voids. Aside from being one of the guys I've gotten along with the best in these 10 months, he might be the most exceptional traveler I've met. The more we talked and swapped stories the more curious I became about his age because he looked fairly young but had done unbelievable amounts. Normally, I don't ask other travelers' age because I don't care. If you're 18 or 28 it doesn't matter, if you're cool, you're cool. But once everybody knows each other's ages things start subtly changing. As it turned out, Morten is 23 as well -- I just couldn't believe he had done so much in so little time.

My first full day in Denmark I didn't even go into Copenhagen until evening time. Instead I spent it in the suburb of Hillerød. It's a small place, an hour by train from Copenhagen so it's not exactly on most tourist paths. I felt pretty confident that when I was walking around that I was the only non-Danish person in the whole place. The reason to go to Hillerød is it's large castle on a lake. Since my unusually warm weather was continuing, it was an excellent way to kill a couple hours while Morten was at work. Wander around a Danish castle that few non-Danes see, hang out in the expansive Royal Gardens right next to it -- easy living. That night Morten gave me my introduction to the Copenhagen nightlife, and let me just say this -- I'm glad I had free accommodation in Denmark because it is as expensive (maybe moreso) as everybody makes it out to be. It was explained to me that prices are so high because taxes are so high (because of all the social benefits the government supplies) and therefore wages must be high. So because people are making more money and stores also must use more overhead to staff their places, every price gets jacked up. A tank of gas in a minivan, for example, is the equivalent of roughly €80. We spent that night sleeping in the kitchen of the university dormitory where Morten had some friends. Classy classy.

The next day the weather -- and our heads -- had taken a bit of a turn so we had every excuse to be lazy. We found a cozy restaurant that supplied backgammon boards when you buy drinks and sat around playing game after game of backgammon and nursing along a couple drinks while watching the world go past us. Part of the reason why I liked Morten so much back in Australia and why I was glad I was seeing his country through his eyes is that we see things similarly when it comes to traveling. He's also one of those people who thinks that one of the best ways to see a country is to not move at all, just sit around, have a drink or two and watch the country walk by. People watching is an excellent way to gauge a place. And I can say this much, Denmark has some of the best people to watch in the whole world. So it was a good day. By about 4 we were sick of backgammon and it had also occurred to us that I hadn't really seen the city, so we went for a quick walking tour. We passed all the main highlights, the government buildings, the palaces, all that good stuff. Since I was just going for a walk with a friend I didn't feel so much like a tourist so it felt a little awkward when I pulled out my camera, so I instituted the tourism in 5 seconds or less policy, not stopping to take pictures, just taking walk-bys and carrying on. The highlight of the city is its famous canal. The canal is lined with restaurants and cafes, all painted in different pastel colors. One of the homes used to belong to Hans Christian Andersen. Speaking of him, I did not go see the Little Mermaid. I realize it's the most recognizable symbol of Copenhagen but I heard it was entirely overrated. Basically it's just a small statue, the equivalent of the crap clock procession at Prague. Plus Morten didn't know where it was, so it wasn't a problem.

It so happened that night that one of Morten's good friends was throwing himself a housewarming party. Normally when I would go to a party with a friend in which I didn't know anybody I'd wind up attaching myself to that person's hip and following them around for the evening. But partly because the Danes are overall friendly people and partly because I was the only non-Dane in the place (that's not entirely true -- there was one girl from Stockholm, but she'd been working in Copenhagen for five years, so that doesn't count) I had the exotic factor working for me and actually didn't say a word to Morten the whole night aside from when I told him I was going off to a club with a few of the people I had just met. It was great, spending the whole night talking to Danes (who of course all spoke fluent English) who were just as interested in me as I was in them. Because it's more fun, I managed to help stir up some 'trouble,' like when a girl from Jutland (the mainland section of Denmark -- Copenhagen is on a separate island) started talking about how Jutlanders are the real Danes, with their broad backs from long days toiling in the fields as opposed to those pansy, white-collared, cosmopolitan weaklings from the big city. Then once I started talking to Martina, the Swedish girl, she naturally started in on how Swedes were better than Danes. Therefore I then starting going around proclaiming the superiority of the Swedes.

Since our only option (really) was to party until 7 before we could get a ride back to Morten's home with his brother, Sunday was a bit of a quiet day. In the evening we were watching a movie and occasionally I would try to pick up some Danish words that they wouldn't teach you in schools, thanks to the subtitles, and realized I would never be able to speak Danish. Dutch is a language that's impossible to comprehend because you read it and they string together letters that you never thought could possibly be put next to each other unless you were mashing the keyboard. With Danish, however, there's absolutely no connection between the spoken language and the written language. There are silent 'd''s and all sorts of other mind-boggling things going on. Morten had made the comment earlier that it was pretty sad he couldn't spell (he was grading tests at the time -- he's a teacher). I made fun of him up until the time I started watching that movie, reading the subtitles and trying to pronounce the words. Then I could understand.
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