A Castle and a Commune: Copenhagen, Denmark

Much to our chagrin and surprise, Hannah and I met some of our first real difficulties with public transport in Copenhagen. Upon arrival, we proceeded to a ticket machine and typed in the name of the small township suburb in which we would be staying. What greeted us was nothing short of shocking, the one-way ticket for 2 was about $30. To add insult to injury, the machine would not accept any of our debit or credit cards, so we then had to find an ATM. Once we had cash, we then realized it only took small bills and coins, so we then had to break a bill at an expensive train terminal food stand. By now, tensions were high and we were both tired and sore, and we eventually realized our mistakes.

The first thing we figured out is that there are 2 areas in Denmark called Soborg, and one is on the complete opposite side of the country, hence the $30…. In our defense, there was no way to discern this on the machine. It turned out the tickets to get in and out of the city cost about $5 per person each way, which was much more reasonable. The second factor that contributed to our agitation was the extra cargo we had in tow. We stuck to a pretty tight budget and shopping at LIDL in Germany prior to entering Scandinavia was part of that plan. This means my backpack now weighed 50+ lbs, stocked with canned ravioli, tuna, tortillas, and salami. Adding this extra weight on already heavy packs made for more impatience on my end. The third problem regards Airbnb. The listing for our stay showed 2 different addresses on Google Maps. Naturally, we had chosen the incorrect one, leading to a mile or so additional walk encumbered by foodstuffs.

Rested and ready to tackle the city a day later, we landed beside the Copenhagen fortress, Kastellet. It served as a good metaphor for my perceptions of Denmark. It is a strong country that truly enjoys simplicity and nature. The fortress was shaped like a star, with a winding water trench at the bottom and elevated grassy ramparts at the top. Unlike most “fortresses” I hardly saw any stone on the outer limits of the boundaries, just natural obstacles. The area still houses government offices and each star tip still holds a heavy brass cannon and mortars. My favorite piece was the dark wooden windmill that stood tall among the other buildings. We descended the steep green hills and made our way to the palace and other major tourist draws.

The strip Nyhavn was a hive of tourist activity. $25-$40 entrees from canal-side, umbrella covered cafes eagerly greeted customers. The canal contained interesting passenger craft. The boats were wide and very low to fit under the encroaching bridges and overpasses. Tugboats bobbed up and down beside small personal boats while owners and friends brunched or sunbathed on the bow. Rows of brightly colored businesses and homes lined the waterway. With the consumerism and tourist path behind us, we made our way onward to a more earthy experience.

One of the most interesting places to see in Copenhagen was Freetown Christiana, a commune among one of the canal neighborhoods. My first glimpse of the commune outskirts showed ill fitted houseboats tied together by walkways made from derelict junk. Graffitied shipping containers and old campers stood on land, seemingly there for shelter and occupation. It looked sketchy, that I cannot deny. I would have been more hesitant to investigate further if it was not for the occasional unaccompanied mother pushing her stroller or solo cyclist assuredly navigating the junk strewn boulevards. With a pinch of curiosity and tinge of reckless abandon, we walked further into the commune.

My first inclination was to be impressed. One description of the community is a nod to sustainability. By this, it means recycled material and “junk” is re-purposed to create homes, shops, furniture, roofs, restaurants, and playgrounds. The community seemed to appeal free spirited types living a dreadlocked, bohemian lifestyle. The commune city center was busy and full of people. Within a few feet, I was quickly admonished for trying to take a picture and told they were forbidden here. We shortly found out why. Small tables about chest height dotted the square, filled with small glass jars, staffed by vendors selling cannabis.

After leaving the grittier side of Copenhagen, we walked along its famed plazas with rows of buildings in the characteristic European pastel colors. We commonly stumbled across street performers and musicians during our travels, but one caught my ear that time. He was playing a song from one of my favorite artists, Ludovico Euinaudi. The piece was certainly not an easy one, and the walk was even more pleasant with a familiar sound to accentuate the experience.

Due to some less than optimal weather and reluctance to spend $20 a day on roundtrip transport, we really only had 1 full day in the center of Copenhagen. This does not mean we did not still pick up on the Danish culture and enjoy immersing ourselves in the meantime. The remainder of our time was spent watching consistent streams of cyclists navigating the country’s bike paths to various destinations. At one point, we saw that gasoline was 11.50 danish kroner per liter. After some quick math, we surmised that Hannah’s car would require $150+ for a full tank if the prices were the same back home. Buying a good quality bike absolutely is a sound investment in Denmark!

One afternoon we took a long walk to a nearby nature reserve. Inside the reserve, we set up on a small dock inlet protruding into the marshy wetlands. Cranes and egrets squawked loudly in the distance. The still water was only punctuated by the occasional drift of wind. Tired of Rummy, we tried some Crazy 8’s from childhood. After a few games, we started to proceed to the next stop when pellets of rain began to hit us. Knowing that the forecast called for thunderstorms all afternoon, we elected to end our nature walk a little early.

In some ways, Copenhagen did not get the fair chance it deserved. Our struggle with the public transport system and remoteness of our Airbnb in relation to downtown made the experience less than we had hoped for. Frankly, we used some of that time to do much needed planning and get some rest.


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