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Back from Denmark

I'm back from Denmark! I'm very tired but I want to write up a report just so I can go back and look at it later. In the absense of a decent memory, I'm gonna need a written record. In fact, the first couple of days are already becoming a bit of a blur.

Last time I was in Denmark, I kept a detailed journal in the forum. This time, I'll jot down my memories here as they pop up in my head. I did have internet access thanks to the hotel and Sven's iBook, but unlike that time, I had very little time or inclination to type up long posts. You'll have to make do with a reconstruction of events after the fact!


Ricky, Barbara and I left at ten AM on Monday morning, in Ricky's beat-up Seat Ibiza. It's not quite old enough to count as a vintage car, and not quite bad enough to be the sort of coughing-fit-on-wheels that can add charm to trip reports like this one. Think spartan but dependable. One thing that car isn't is airconditioned, and that was a bit of a problem because it was a warm, sunny day out. Also, Ricky was a bit under the weather and couldn't handle the draught if one of us opened the windows (BTW it's a two-door car so only two windows could open). So it was a bit of a struggle for us to keep comfortable. Ricky's cold wouldn't clear up fully until Saturday, and he spent much of the week wearing jackets when the rest of us were in our T-shirts.

By the way, Ricky's in-car music collection is pretty amazing. He collects what he calls "hillbilly social music" which includes a lot of Bluegrass (a genre that I was generally familiar with) and Cajun (which I thought I was familiar with, but what's on his tapes is very different from what I'd heard). The Cajun was especially fun; the material on Ricky's tape has an almost punk rock feel to it. The musicians didn't much bother about tuning their instruments or playing in time, and the singers were selected on the basis of their volume and drunkenness. The results weren't always pretty but must have been great fun on a drunken saturday night out in Louisiana.

Despite the sickness and the heat, we arrived at the hotel after only eight hours, one less than the online travel planner had suggested. We settled down at the hotel, which Sven had arranged for us to stay in free of charge because he works there. The Schaeffergården (picture on linked site does not show real location) is a conference hotel founded by the foundation for Norwegian/Danish cooperation and as such has smallish rooms but large common areas. They're good rooms, though. I was very happy with the beds and had rather less trouble keeping my room cool at night than I have in my own house.
Once we were settled in, we contacted Sven (who wasn't on duty at the time - he does three night shifts a week) to meet up in the center of Copenhagen and have a meal somewhere. After the meal, we hit the pubs. A good start for the week.


On Tuesday we did... what, exactly? I remember that we went into Copenhagen, saw Sven's house, admired his ever-growing toy collection and talked about his plans for the future. It was warm and sunny as it would be all day, and we took it very easy. The last time, our travel group was busy as a swarm of blue-arsed flies, but that was in midwinter when the cold weather was more conducive to doing many short trips quickly and efficiently. This time, we just lazed about, really. We spent the later part of the evening at the hotel, with Sven, trying our hands at rowing in the pond and later having a few drinks in the bar room. We met some Norwegian students there, two women about our age who combined cramming for a presentation on Wednesday with drinks and darts. The four of us hit it off really well with the two of them so we talked, drank and took silly pictures (which you won't ever see no matter how much you beg, cajole or bribe, so don't bother, thank you very much) of one another until we were about to collapse. Come to think of it, that explains why Tuesday has become so blurred in my memory. We were invited to the group's farewell party on Wednesday evening.


On Wednesday morning, we got our first bit of cycling in! Using bikes rented from the hotel, the three of us went to a large national park near the hotel. The Jaegerborg Deer Park is a former royal hunting ground converted into a public game reserve. You're not allowed to hunt the many red, fallow and Sika deer in the park, but you can get quite close to them and observe them from specially-made spots with a rather fetching view of the landscape. Ricky was unhappy with his bike and went back to the hotel early, but Barbara and I stayed in the park until past noon. The park is also the site of the world's oldest amusement park, Bakken, but we only took a few steps into that place before deciding it was a little bit too tacky and crowded. The afternoon was spent in Copenhagen center again, with me taking some time to visit Faraos Cigarrer, a good comics store, to check on new developments in Danish comics. There were some, which I'll review later. In the evening, we went to see War of the Worlds which we liked so much we still found ourselves talking about it days later. I'll review it in a separate post, but don't wait for that: Go see the movie. It's great. Finally, I rejoined the Norwegians after Ricky and Barbara retired to their room. The two we'd met earlier had had a bit of a falling out that day, which was a big pity. The party was OK, though.


On Thursday, Barbara and I stayed in the hotel until around noon. Ricky went out on his own for a short trip to some alternative shopping locations, but returned quickly because he got bored with shopping on his own. Meanwhile, I prepared for a longer trip on the rented bike. I went to Louisiana; not the US state where the drunken Cajun groups came from, but the modern art museum in Humlebaek, 35 kilometers north of Copenhagen. Despite the indifferent quality of the rental bike, I found the trip over hilly terrain along the coastline very pleasant; a bit heavy on the muscles, but the more satisfying for it. The museum itself initially disappointed me though. Nearly all the art in it is from after 1950, and a lot of it was frankly not very good. I don't subscribe to any Grand Theory of What Art Should Be; in fact, I'm very distrustful of such theories and always start working on disproving them the moment I hear them. You've got a pet theory of art? Take it elsewhere or prepare for an acrimonious discussion. And don't even think of telling me categorically that this or that kind of art is rubbish, because I'll be looking for counter-examples. My approach instead is to consider individual artists on the merits of their individual work, taking into account their stated intentions, their place in art traditions that I know about, and most importantly my own visceral reaction to the art. That said, a lot of the material I saw during the first hour of my visit to Lousiana was rubbish, on the merits of the individual artists' individual works, yadda yadda yadda. Maybe it's because a lot of it was local; I certainly haven't been impressed by Danish art in the public space during this visit. But there were late Picasso paintings in there as well, and much as I like a lot of Picasso's work, most of the selections in this museum weren't very good either. Maybe it's because work of such recent vintage hasn't been filtered yet through the continued judgement of several generations. Or maybe Lousiana couldn't afford the good stuff. Or maybe, I realised as I finally figured out that there were two entire wings of the building I hadn't been into, I just hadn't seen the good stuff. There are some fine paintings and audiovisual works hidden in that maze. The museum compound itself is rather splendid as well, with a huge garden containing (admittedly not very impressive) sculpture and a great view of the sea. Generally, Denmark is all about the great views. I don't think I've ever seen so much open space in a capital city. Later, I would find out that the center of Copenhagen has been burned down repeatedly, allowing the absolute monarchs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries to rebuild the medieval town according to their own grand designs. As a result, streets tend to be wider than in, say, London or Amsterdam, and important buildings tend to be situated opposite a lake at the end of a boulevard. On my ride back I went through the game park again, taking yet another opportunity to look at the deer. I paused by a building inside the park called the Hermitage, where after a few minutes I realised I was standing right under a bird's nest. I heard a squeak above me, looked up, spotted the nest, then looked around me and saw one of the adult birds, a kind of finch, patiently waiting for me to scram. So I got out of the way a bit, until the bird warily flew up to the nest, from which a brief, high-pitched chatter could be heard. That was cute. Evening at the hotel, with Sven who was now on his night shift. The hotel was very quiet so he had the time to hang out with us.


On Friday, we took the car to Frederiksborg. Frederiksborg is a 17th-Century castle outside Copenhagen, now used as a portrait gallery and museum. It's exceptional because it has its little lake at the back. The back yard is in baroque style and very large. I envy the Danes for the space they've got available for themselves to live in. We spent at least as much time in the garden watching the waterfowl and in Ricky's case being laughed at by Thai kids as we did looking at the portraits inside. It must be said that an art collection consisting of nothing but portraits gets a bit monotonous although there were some exceptional pieces there that really caught the character of their subjects ... or so it seemed. Again, the contemporary art disappointed - some early 20th-Century portrait art was very good as were the handful of political cartoons that were shown, but the post-World-War-Two stuff was of pretty poor quality. The collection includes a self-portrait by a very young Lars van Trier and it's a good thing he went into filmmaking instead. A quick shopping expedition in the town of Lungby (now part of Greater Copenhagen but still recognisable as a small town in its own right) finished off the afternoon's proceedings. Barbara's quest for an army surplus sweater similar to her old one was a failure, unfortunately. The evening was spent having pancakes at Sven's place.


On Saturday, we experienced the one big downer of our trip. Public transport in Copenhagen is pretty good - timely, frequent and covering the city well, but we weren't prepared for the spectacular displays of petty officiousness that Danish bus drivers are capable of. What happened was this: we made the apparently appalling mistake of getting in at the bus's rear entrance. Shocking, I know. Getting in at the back is just not done. However, we had seen people, including Sven who acted as our guide, do this, and we hadn't spotted any notice saying we had to get in at the front. We sat down, the bus didn't leave, the driver said something in Danish which another passenger translated into English for us.
Danish passenger: The driver says you have to get in at the front. Ricky: Okay. I'll go to the front to clear this up.
Ricky went to talk to the driver, showing him our tickets. Then the driver said we had to get out, and get in again at the front. At this point, we thought he was being more than a bit silly, but not wanting to make a fuss, we went out through the back door, and as we made our way to the front, the driver closed the doors and rode off! I'm still kicking myself, really. This guy treated his passengers with valid, paid-for tickets like small children over a simple mistake, and we allowed him to. We should have made a fuss, told him that our tickets entitled us to a ride on the bus, and stayed in our seats until that idiot driver stopped being such a petty, nannying, wannabe bureaucrat. Sidsel has since assured me that this is not in fact normal behaviour for bus drivers, but the incident has ruined my otherwise good impression of the service, and if I'd been traveling alone I'd have avoided the buses from that moment on. I can ride a bike, you know? We spent the afternoon at a park in Copenhagen, just lounging. In the evening, we went to Tivoli, Copenhagen's other amusement park - not for the rides, mind, but to take a look at the place itself. Tivoli is also a very old amusement park, to the point where it's become a bit of a generic name for amusement parks and fairgrounds in Scandinavia. It was built in the mid-19th Century and by now is as much a monument as an amusement park - as interesting for its architecture and tone as for the rides. That's a good thing because nothing in the world is going to get me into a rollercoaster. I have to say though that my first impression of the place was that it looked like a giant Chinese restaurant, and it wasn't until after I'd had a good look around that I started to appreciate the look of it more.

The most interesting thing about Tivoli were the begging carp in the pond, though. And the gulls and ducks who would steal food right out of the carp's wide-open mouths. Ensuring that the food ends up inside the carp took us some practise and effort.

Sunday and Monday

Sunday was spent at the grassy knoll overlooking the beach near the game park, doing nothing and not feeling at all like we shouldn't be, and on Monday morning we took the 8-hour drive home. The first 6 hours, the heat in the car was pretty bad. By the time we reached Oldenburg, though, the weather was taking on a distinctly Dutch feel, and we reached the Dutch/German border just as the rain was starting to fall in earnest. Perfect.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 4, 2005 8:44 PM.

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