Monday, November 28, 2011

The Night Bus to Copenhagen

For my next Scandinavian capital tour, I decided to take the night bus from Stockholm to Copenhagen. My rationale was that it would save me the cost of one night in a hostel and would give me two full days in Copenhagen. Online, the tickets seemed cheaper than the train as well; however, the website does not like my American credit card so I had to go to Central Station and buy my tickets in person. For some reason, buying bus tickets in person is a lot more expensive then the listed price online. Since I went to buy my tickets before I had to be at the hospital one morning, I didn't have time to re-think my plan, so I went on the bus...and I will never take another night bus again if I can help it. The ride to Copenhagen was uneventful but terribly uncomfortable. I had two seats to myself which was nice but they were not ergonomically situated well for lying down comfortably in any position. I woke up about every 1-2 hours after some limb fell asleep and had to re-position myself. By the time we got to Copenhagen around 8 on Saturday morning, I was sore and felt like I needed a shower. Unfortunately I could not check into my hostel until 2 pm. I went to København H (Copenhagen's central station) and paid 5 DKK (slightly less than $1) to use the sink in order to brush my teeth, wash my face, and in general get ready to tour the city. 

My first stop after getting ready in the train station was to the tourist information center to find myself a map. I had made a list of places I might like to see while in Copenhagen, but it is always better to tour a new place with a map. The tourist center had a wonderful free map that highlighted the major tourist sights on it. It also gave a suggested walking tour route that hit most of the major tourist sights. I bought myself a coffee and a delicious Danish pastry while looking at the map and making my decision of what to do first. My pastry was amazing and so far I think Denmark is leading in my personal evaluation of the best Scandinavian pastries. After my delicious (but not so healthy) breakfast, I headed off on my walking tour of Copenhagen. 

The first sight I passed was Tivoli Gardens - an old amusement park and one of Copenhagen's major attractions. I had read about Tivoli Christmas in National Geographic Traveler who recommended it as one of the best Christmas lights displays in the world. It was on my list for Saturday night. I continued on my walking tour and saw a beautiful Town Hall with an "Occupy CPH" demonstration happening outside. From there I made my way to a few churches - Copenhagen Cathedral and St. Petri Church - and walked past the University of Copenhagen. Many of the roads were cobblestone and the buildings were large but very tasteful and fit in well with the neighborhoods of Copenhagen. The next stop on my walking tour were the King's Gardens and Rosenborg Slot - a 17th century castle with an actual moat surrounding it. Like Versailles near Paris but on a much smaller scale, the gardens were symmetrical in design and had many walking paths winding their way through the garden surrounding the castle. I then made my way to the Frihedsmuseet - a free museum about the Danish Resistance against the Nazis during WWII. It was a small museum but very well done with explanations in both Danish and English. After visiting the museum, I walked to the nearby Kastellet - a pentagram military fortress that is very well preserved. The grounds and the buildings were beautiful including a windmill and a church. From here I made my way to the Øresund strait where the famous Little Mermaid sculpture sits in the water. Walking along the strait, I saw the impressive Gefion Fountain as well as a statue of King Triton. Continuing along the shores of the strait, I passed the Museum of Art and Design, a Russian Church, and the Marble Church situated directly across from Amalienborg Palace where the royal family lives. I had a gorgeous view of opera house and the playhouse before I wound my way along Nyhavn and the Nyhavn Christmas Market. I bought my first glass of gløgg - a popular Scandinavian Christmas traditional drink of warm spiced wine. As it was nearing the time I could check into my hostel, I followed the map down one of the main shopping streets in Copenhagen that was decorated beautifully for Christmas with street decorations and window displays. I arrived at my hostel in downtown Copenhagen, checked in, and took a long awaited shower. I was comparing my map with the list I had made and discovered I had crossed off several of the sights that I had listed as wanting to see in Copenhagen. It was just starting to get dusky outside and I wanted to wait to see Tivoli for when it was completely dark and the lights were fully illuminated against the night sky. I walked to Christiansborg Palace and the Royal Library before making my way to Tivoli.

Tivoli Russian Christmas
National Geographic Traveler did not disappoint with its description of the Tivoli lights. Even though the entire gardens was bathed in Christmas lights, it was far from being over-the-top and gaudy as some of the light displays at home can be. Before I wandered too far, I decided to eat some dinner. I had decided on a place and was looking forward to having Varm Kakao and Risengrød - a traditional Christmastime dish that looks a lot like cream of wheat. Unfortunately, the man who took my order did not understand my horrible Danish pronunciation and instead of giving me Risengrød, I ended up with a glass of varm kakao and a glass of gløgg. Knowing that this would not help my hunger and instead would likely make me slightly tipsy, I walked to the neighboring stand and ordered some kind of burger. There were at least 3 different sauces put on the burger and typically I balk at any unrecognizable sauce since I have an extreme aversion to mayonaise, but I was so hungry I didn't care and scarfed down the burger. With my hunger satisfied, I started to wander through Tivoli in the misting night. I'm sure the light display is incredible any time of year, but there is something about Christmas that brings light displays to a whole new magical level. The entire gardens was decorated for Christmas and the special Tivoli Christmas theme was Russian Christmas. Beautiful stands and restaurants and rides were decorated in the theme of Russian Christmas and as I wandered through the gardens (twice), I couldn't stop taking pictures. Pictures do not do it justice and again, I must highly recommend that all of you make a trip to Copenhagen to experience a Tivoli Christmas. In fact, I have been quite impressed with all of Scandinavia's Christmas celebrations so far. They do so much with lights which I am sure stems from the fact that it is dark...all the time. But it's so beautiful and one can't help but feel joy and full of a Christmas spirit when surrounded by these beautiful lights. 

Copenhagen is a very green city as is most of Scandinavia from what I have seen so far. Tivoli has a policy of only serving beverages in re-usable cups. They charge an extra 5DKK up front when you order your drink and then have cup recycling machines in the gardens. When you return the cup, you get your 5DKK back. Genius.

I left Tivoli a little before 8 and made my way back to the hostel. I was exhausted and the weather was damp so I decided to head in and try to finish my book - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I didn't finish Saturday night, but I did finish by the time I left Copenhagen - one week to ready the 563 page final novel in Stieg Larsson's series. 

I slept hard and didn't wake up until my alarm on Sunday morning. I repacked all my things and ate breakfast at the hostel and planned my day before checking out. The weather was forecasted to be quite gloomy, rainy, and windy on Sunday - perfect weather to visit some museums. When I left the hostel, it had not started raining yet, so I decided to head towards the cemetery where Hans Christian Andersen is buried. It was a good long walk, but well worth it. I passed by a church near the cemetery and saw families biking up with their children in tow to go to church. Copenhagen is one of the bike-friendliest cities in the world and they do a lot to make it bike-friendly. The even have free public bikes - you insert 20DKK to take out a bike which you get back once the bike is returned. There are bike parking lots everywhere and bike lanes on nearly every road. The cemetery was beautiful - each grave was like it's own small garden. I have never seen such decorative graves. While Paris was artsy-decorative, Denmark was a much more natural/green-decorative and I enjoyed wandering through the cemetery to see all the graves.

I made my way from the cemetery towards Denmark's National Gallery which I mistakenly thought was free on Sundays. Even though I didn't go to the museum since I didn't really want to pay when there were free museums to visit, I was glad I wandered that way because I discovered another lovely park - Ørsted - that also doubled as a sculpture garden. By the time I arrived at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek - an art museum that was free on Sundays - I was quite wet and cold and ready to be inside. I dropped my stuff off in one of the lockers and wandered through the museum. After being to the Louvre in Paris, all art museums seem to be so small in comparison (which they are). Still, it was a very well done museum with a good mix of time periods, geographical regions, and genres of art. I spent around 2 hours wandering through the museum and stopped to eat a picnic lunch of trail mix and water before I felt ready to head back outside. Thankfully by the time I got back outside, the sun was out and the sky was clear. Instead of going to a second museum, I decided to walk to Christianhavn and visit some of the churches and Christiania (otherwise known as Freetown). I first went to Christianhavn Church and as I started to walk inside, a gentleman opened the door and informed me that there was a concert that had just started but I was welcome to come in and listen. I had forgotten that it was the first Sunday in Advent and I had stumbled upon an Advent Concert - a tradition in the Scandinavian countries. The concert was small but the singers were quite good and I really enjoyed listening to a combination of Danish and English Christmas music. About an hour later, the concert finished and the sun had just set. I stopped at a pastry shop that caught my eye and enjoyed another very delicious Danish. I wandered to Christiania and was at first impressed by the beautiful graffiti art on all free space within the commune. I didn't stay for long as it was getting quite dark and starting to rain and the winds were picking up. I made my way back across the bridge and had decided to head back to my hostel to eat dinner and check my email before heading to the night bus. The winds were blowing so strong, it was difficult to walk in a straight line across the bridge. The rain started coming down harder and by the time I got back to the hostel, I was quite cold and wet.

I finished my book and ate dinner at the hostel then got all ready for bed and changed into some comfortable traveling clothes before walking to the bus stop near København H. The first bus to pull up was an overnight bus to Oslo traveling through Göteborg, Sweden. I found out from the bus driver that my bus to Stockholm was not coming because the Øresund Bridge from Copenhagen to Malmö was closed due to the weather. When I asked what I was supposed to do, he told me to get on his bus and we would get to the bridge and "see" what happened next. I didn't feel like I had much in the way of other options so I borded the bus to Oslo. Thankfully the bus was equipped with free WiFi and I used Skype on my iPad to call my parents in panic. I knew it would be fine - I've managed this far in foreign countries and Sweden is quite easy since many people are bilingual with English as a second language. I was more concerned about getting stuck, missing a day at the hospital, having to foot the bill for a hotel room and possibly a train ticket. When we arrived at Kastrup Airport, we found out that the bridge was still closed. The new plan was to take a train from Kastrup to Malmö and then buses would meet us there to take us to either Oslo or to Stockholm. The bus driver had us wait until the train came then we all rushed to the train station where we then sat and waited because the train was delayed due to the weather. We finally borded the train and arrived in Malmö where the winds were even fiercer and I could not at all walk in a straight line to the bus. I finally did board the bus and had two seats to myself. I updated my parents that indeed I would make it back to Stockholm at some point and decided that I was done with the night bus. I slept similarly to my way to Copenhagen - waking up every couple of hours and needing to reposition. We made it to Stockholm about an hour after we were originally supposed to arrive and I got back to my dorm at 7:45. I took a shower and got ready probably faster then I ever have before and somehow managed to get to the hospital on time at 8:15. Now I am looking forward to sleeping in a bed and catching up a little on sleep. Next weekend I am headed to Helsinki so I need to rest up for my final Scandinavian capital city tour - this time traveling by boat :)

Christianhavn Church & Advent Concert

Christmas Market

Tivoli Christmas

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