Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Return to Copenhagen (Part 2)

Oh God, I am really behind in updating about Copenhagen, right? I suppose I've been especially lax because it didn't feel like a holiday: it felt like a weekend trip home. I wandered around places I knew with people I knew. Even the new places I visited were safely within the realm of a people and culture I am learning to understand more and more, as I am studying the language and reading about the country every chance I get.

I am turning in to a real Danish otaku.

So, I woke up Friday morning, and took myself sightseeing. Iason had class, so I hopped on the metro at Sydhavn (pronounced close to "sue-how-en", not the equally Nordic-sounding "sid-har-ven" - so you see what I mean about Danish being insane?) and went into town. I visited my favourite ramshackle record shop near the Town Hall Square (Raadhuspladsen), had lunch in the Living Room, one of Copenhagen's delightfully cosy (hygge) cafes, revisited the National Museum (Nationalmuseet), which is
one of the best museums I've encountered, and the Royal Library (Den Kongelige Bibliotek), stuffed myself with pastries on Christianshavn and made my way to the Carslberg Brewery. I've seen a lot of breweries in my recent trips and, as enjoyable as they were (especially the samples at the end), I'll excluse them from future itineraries: I feel I've learned all I can about beer at the basic tourism level. From there, I made my way home to Iason's on foot with nothing more than a gut feeling. That's one thing I love about Copenhagen: although it sprawls, it's quite ordered, and I can now usually navigate without maps. Cheryl came over for dinner. I say "dinner", but it was really a large helping of dessert: rice pudding served with a big knob of butter and cinammon and sugar. Now we're talking.

Saturday involved more sightseeing: the Round Tower (Rundetaarn), which has views over the city, the shopping street of Stroeget, the colourful canal of Nyhavn, and the King's New Square (Kongens Nytorv), which is currently being heavily renovated. I then wandered along the harbour to Amalienborg Slot, the palace where Princess Mary lives, and the Little Mermaid (Den Lille Halvfrue) statue. The Little Mermaid is one of Copenhagen's most iconic tourist attractions. This is a little outrageous. The statue is small, boring and of little artistic importance. The despondent titular fishwoman looks sadly over her shoulder as she perches on a rock. It's quite a walk to get there (a pretty one, at that) but it's a pretty paltry little sculpture, especially considering the enormous Gefionspringvandet (Gefion Fountain), which depicts the goddess Gefion driving a team of bulls through a waterfall, is just around the corner. But I'm glad I went to see the statue: after feeling a little bad for ridiculing the tourists who go to visit it, I can now do it with no feelings of guilt!

That night, Iason cooked up a big dish of creamy meat and amazing mashed potatoes to feed a horde of Americans, Danes, as well as a lonely Brit and a Spaniard. I'd unfortunately exhausted my camera's battery that day and so, once again, neglected to take photos of my dear Danish friends, but it was so wonderful to see them again. Charming, funny, intelligent people. I'd love Copenhagen without them there, but their presence makes the city even better. Once again, I wussed out of a night out, and got a restful sleep for a day spent at the Glyptotek. This art gallery slash museum has relics from all over the world and replicas of ancient artworks. It also houses an enormous indoor tropical garden, which felt out of place in wintry Copenhagen, to say the least. I wandered around the last few streets and churches I wanted to revisit, before heading back to Iason's. We made cake - dream cake! spongey vanilla cake! topped with coconutty toffee! - to take over to his friends' place, where much vegetating was done. An excellent end to the weekend!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Malfunction! Malfunction!

Okay, so London can be great. The other week, something that I really, really hoped would happen while I was in London happened (please ignore that poorly-constructed sentence): I saw HK119.

London's music scene has been way drier than I expected. I have seen some great acts - Alphabeat, Mew, Pet Shop Boys - who would probably never tour Australia. However, several acts who I thought would never tour Australia - Frida Hyvönen among others - have toured Australia while I've been gone.

However, i can say with some certainty that HK119 will never make it to Australia. She is a 44-year-old Finnish woman who spends part of her time making ceramic art and another part of her time making abrasive electro-pop about a futuristic dystopia in which consumerism has gone mad. Of course, that doesn't sound too original, but I feel HK - Heidi Kilpeläinen - approaches the idea with much more humour than others. There is great wit and playfulness in some of her lyrics. But that wouldn't count for shit if her tunes didn't stack up. I adore her music
and was so stoked to see her live. It was the only weekend in five weeks that I was going to be in London, so I was really lucky. I was counting down to the show the way I did when I was a teenager.

She played in a tiny club in Old Street (formerly Trash Palace
, a London venue I dreamed of visiting back in Sydney). There were thirty, maybe forty people in the audience. She came onstage in a gold catsuit at about 1AM, and put on an absolutely insane seven-song show. Here I am, looking on, bemused, as she frolicks in styrofoam snow that tumbled out of the cardboard hat she was wearing until a few moments earlier. Other highlights of her performance included a hat made out of discarded garbage bags and the final song, in which she stood on a stool in the rear of the stage, quaking in the corner and shrieking into the microphone as she shone a flashlight into her eyes.



I'll remember that night for a long time to come. (I also enjoyed the bit afterwards where I thanked her in her civilian clothes and she squeezed my arm and thanked me for coming. IT WAS BETTER THAN MEETING KYLIE MINOGUE.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010


How silly to write abut Salzburg before I've even finished my Copenhagen update. But I'm still in the town, and thought I might as well use the last of my hostel internet credit up to write about my adventure before getting an early night in preparation for my morning flight tomorrow.

This is a lovely city, and it has been the perfect weekend (okay, long weekend) break. I arrived on Friday afternoon, and was stunned by the beauty of the region. Flying over the city, the pointy mountains that surround it were piercing the clouds. It was gorgeous. After arriving at my hostel, I wandered around the old town. It's such a small city that, in those two hours, I really got a handle on the local geography. I wandered through back alleys and market squares, before eating a schnitzel the size of a baby for dinner. I tried to get an early night, but the American girls sharing my room had other plans. They were lovely girls and we went out for a drink the next night, but man, you can tell they're brand new travellers. When I get in late at night to a hostel, I can unload my stuff, have a shower, get changed and climb into while causing minimum disturbance to my new roommates in about fifteen minutes. These girls took OVER AN HOUR. Ridiculous.

But anyway. I got up the next morning and took myself on a trip around the old town. I was avoiding doing the Sound of Music tour (I should probably have mentioned that this is where that was filmed, and what prompted my decision to come here - that, and Ryanair's five pound airfare sale) because it was quite expensive, so took myself as many places as I could. Not many of the filming placess are right in the city itself: Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria was a novice (although only one scene was filmed there, the rest back in Hollywood); Mirabell Palace, where the kids do-re-mied up and down the stairs, and a few sidewalks and such by the river. So I splurged on the Sound of Music tour today, which was great: it took us into the mountains surrounding Salzburg, blanketed in snow. (I finally understand that phrase, after the pitiful dustings of England.) We visited Mondsee, which houses the cathedral where the Captain and Maria were married in the film, as well as the houses they used for the front and back of the von Trapp mansion, the lake that the children fell into and the gazebo where Liesl pranced around like a common whore. And there was tasty apple strudel.

(OH MY GOD. THE FOOD ON THIS TRIP. SO AMAZING. I've had cappucinos made with cream instead of milk, ham and cheese sandwiched between an eviscerated pretzel, and more chocolate and pastry than I usualy consume in a month. Oh, and beer. Lots of beer. It is doing things to my digestive tract: my rectum provides a non-stop commentary on my day. Thank God I'm returning to London and a normal diet tomorrow.)

Anyway, I distracted myself. Yesterday, I discovered that the Sound of Music is the least interesting (okay, maybe not, but it's definitely not the most interesting thing) about Salzburg. The old town is over 1300 years old, and I visited a doZen churches and some ancient catacombs dug into the mountain wall. I climbed up to the enormous clifftop fortress squatting over the town and visited Mozart's birthplace (mainly as an excuse to scoff Mozartkulgen, a delicious chocolate, marzipan and pistachio ball that is a speciality of the town). I visited the excellent Museum of Natural History (which would have been more excellent had the signs been in English and had they not dismantled their display of deformed human foetuses) and mimed what I wanted to eat with the old lady in the market stall.

Then, after the tour today, I went to Salzburg's biggest bier hall. None of my THREE guidebooks mentioning Salzburg mentioned this place. Thank God the tour guide did. It was enormous and bizarre and amazing. The building is about 400 years old. Ýou fetch your own pottery stein and they pour your beer straight out of the barrel: nothing propels it but gravity. You select food from a few stalls (I had some wurst, which I forgot to eat in Berlin, and pretzels) and you sit in one of the three big dining rooms and eat at communal tables. It was grand.

And tomorrow, I fly home. It's been just the weekend I wanted: interesting and historical, but relaxing. I've finished two books, had a nap this afternoon, and took it generally easy. Sweet.

Stay tuned for more Copenhagen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Copenhagen Again (Part 1)

Til København,

Jeg elsker dig.

Fra Liam.

It's been nearly two weeks since I left London for Copenhagen. Life has been busy and exhausting since then, so I haven't had a chance to update. But I really should, because, in case I haven't made it very clear, I LOVE COPENHAGEN. Man, what a city. I can describe or explain how happy it makes me to just be in that city. People ask me why I love it - and, by extension, the bit of Denmark I've seen - so much, and I have no answer. The people I encounter there are nice, but so are the residents of Canada and Holland. The food is good, but no better than in Sydney.

Anyway, I flew out the morning after my first Danish lesson (so my Danish skills extended to "How are you?" and "My eyes are blue!"). And when I say the morning, I mean it in the most horrible sense of the word: my flight left at 7.15, so I had to be at the airport by 6.00 at the latest, and getting to the airport involved getting to Marble Arch tube station to get on an hour-long coach trip. Hence, my alarm began shrieking at me at 2.30. I do not recommend it.

But I flew out, and nature delivered a metaphor you'd groan at if it was in a Hollywood movie. The plane rose above the clouds of London, and emerged into a gorgeous, blood orange-red sunrise. And then, flying in over the city, I couldn't stop smiling: it's beautiful in a way no other city I've encountered is. It seamlessly blends its gorgeous old apartment buildings with futuristic structures. And all the streets were white, white, white! White with snow, unlike the grey slush of London. Boo hiss, London; boo hiss.

I got from the airport to the city with no problems, and began a game I played the whole week: looked at the name of the upcoming station, pronounced it in my head with my newly acquired Danish skills, and then paid attention to how the computer announcer said it. I was nearly always right! I just have trouble pronouncing the first "s" in "Islands Brygge" after decades of considering it to be silent. Anyway, I successfully (okay, I got lost for a bit) found my way to the Kunstakademiets Arkitektskole, where my friend Iason studiess. It is an architecture school in some gorgeous old military storage units right behind the Opera House. Copenhagen tends to hate its Opera House, but I like it more than ours. Although it isn't quite as striking: it looks like a fish bowl with a large, thick book sitting on top of it.

Anyway, it was so good to see Iason. So, so, so good! He took me for a walk around the school and the Opera House (wait, Operahuset, I should practice my Danish) and then we went back to his house via our friend Cheryl's office. Fortunately for me, Thursday is Cake Day in Cheryl's office. The walk to Iason's was long, but it took in some of my favourite sights in the city, and mostly took us along the partly-frozen harbour. Very different from the last time I was here in the dying days of summer. We got back to Iason's, and...made a Lego spaceship. I shit you not. Then I had a nap, and then we went to the gym.

Rock and roll, right? I'm sure keeping the image of the hedonistic backpacker alive. But although my trip this time was much more subdued, I loved it - I felt I lived a little like a local for a few days. The gym was particularly interesting. Iason and his friend Pelle did their weights routine, while I did my little old lady cardio and stretches. We went for a swim, but first, we had to shower, and so Iason and Pelle just whipped off their gear. Bwah? This was quite foreign to me. Although Australians pride themselves on being laidback, we can be quite hung up (in my circles, at least) on nudity. In Australia, I would not strip off and shower in a communcal area with my friends unless absolutely necessary. So it was nice to force myself into a culture where nudity is kind of "meh". Iason and Pelle did some proper swimming, while Cheryl and I enjoyed the hot pools. Bliss. Then we rugged up for the chilly walk home.

And now I have to go and learn some more Danish, so I will update with part two next time.

Hej hej! Vi ses!