I did by far the worst job preparing for the first leg of this trip—to be completely honest, I’ve put more effort into preparing a grocery list than I did getting ready for Copenhagen. So while I had a hostel lined up when I deplaned, I had basically no idea how to get there. I got on the Metro, which took me to downtown Copenhagen at least, and managed to snag a Wi-Fi signal long enough to Google map my way from there to the hostel. Google predicted it’d be about a two mile trek—luckily I’m from San Francisco and no stranger at all to walking.
The walk gave me a chance to gather some first impressions. The city is beautiful. Everything is patina’ed in a milky mint green. Spires twist and turn into the sky like strands of pulled taffy. The sky is huge and high and seemingly endless—and at 10:00 pm the sun was resting comfortably on the low-slung roofs of the block opposite me.
The sidewalks are less crowded than the bike lanes, which bustle with vintage bikes ridden by well-dressed riders without helmets. Snatches of conversations drift by—Danish, German, English, Swedish. The style is neutral: olive greens, grays, navy, cream. Pops of neon and loud orange. Gauges in ears, tortoiseshell glasses with wide lenses, slicked back blonde hair, arm sleeves of beautifully inked tattoos. Improbably fashionable hats. Neatly laced Converse and New Balance sneakers. I’m dressed to fit in in skinny jeans, cream tee, and a TopShop jacket—but my SF booties give me away as an outsider as I stumble on the cobblestones.
I cross canals and wide streets. Flat faced buildings with ornate roofs and delicate weathervanes stand shoulder-to-shoulder in colorful blocks. The air is fresh. As I pass Tivoli Garden I can hear the whir of mechanical cars trundling shaking tracks, the delighted whoops and shrieks as a tower rises and drops and drops again.
My hostel, Urban House, is in Vesterbro, whose red light district history is still evident in the short slews of neon signs and mesh-covered mannequins. I’m told it’s becoming the trendy hood, but the streets I explore are lined mostly with Thai restaurants and liquor stores. My street dead-ends against København H (the train station I would have arrived at had a put in a modicum of effort towards research). Outside is a sausage cart that furnishes my dinner as I wander.
At one point I pass two incredibly frail old men who are engaged in a verbal spat outside a tiny bar. It quickly escalates into even frailer fisticuffs. A small crowd gathers, trying the wrench the two apart as they flail at each other—all spindly arms and shouted slurs. One of their wives, and equally fragile Thai woman in a pink track jacket, tugs her husband away, snarling insults in a high voice. The entire thing is being filmed by the black-clad bouncer of the establishment across the street, whose black, red, and orange signs proudly proclaim: All nude girls! Every show! He catches my eye and grins.
Back to the hostel as the streets pale to a blue-grey that perfectly complements the half-litre of Carlsberg sitting coolly in my glass. The hostel is incredibly hip, jam-packed with Brits and Australians on holiday. A German family with four children sits at a table across from me. Their eldest son wears a U.S.A. t-shirt and flips his hoodie over his head boredly. In other rooms, a pile of beanbag chairs below a sign reading: “Hangover Time?”, and endless loop of classic movies, two foosball tables, heaps of trashy European magazines and at least two full sets of Twilight—up for grabs.
The next day I hit the streets to soak in as much as I can. I start one of the free walking tours that leaves in front of Københavns Rådhus, the city hall. Our tour guide, Magnus, is nicknamed the “Scandinavian Jesus” for his flowing platinum locks and spends every other breath ribbing the Swedes in the group good-naturedly.
I duck out of the tour at the halfway point to head to the Carlsberg Brewery tour, slipping through the city via Strøget, the world’s longest pedestrian street and the main shopping area. I pause for a moment to tour the Lego store, awestruck by the intricate bricked compositions.
The Carlsberg tour is fairly straight-forward—plenty of placards explaining the brand’s history, and a truly impressive collection of international beer bottles. The tour comes with two beer tickets, one of which I enjoy while admiring the shining copper kettles in the tasting room, sipping the other languidly outside in the sunny courtyard next to the stables.
No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without a visit to Freetown Christiania, the self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood (read: hippie commune) and my last stop of the tour. Sitting on the edge of a lake, I take a minute to rest my sore feet. The smell of weed is heavy in the air, almost as intoxicating as the strength of this magnificent Danish sunshine. There are all kinds of bird calls—caws and shrieks fill the air, mingling with rock guitar from an outdoor stage and the far away honk of a train horn. Gravel crunches as people look for a rock or a clear space to call their own, careful not to crowd too close to anyone else unless they receive a vacant but not ingenuine smile of invitation.
Somewhere, church bells ring the 5:00 hour. The sun is absurdly high, and I’m glad I caught the weather in an upswing—it had rained for weeks before I arrived. The city is lovely in the gold, sparkling cheerfully, as if lifted from a fairy tale.
Like Cinderella at the ball, the time catches me off guard. I rush back to the hostel to gather my bags and jump onto a train (this time at the right station) to head to the next leg of my trip: Hamburg!