Denmark, Day Eight: Adventures With Public Transportation

Saturday, June 11th 

Before I begin on my account of Saturday’s escapades, I just want to take a moment here to reiterate something. I’ve already mentioned that I am unequivocally not a city girl. I don’t know that I can really claim to be a country girl, because while I do live out in the country, I spend most of my time inside playing video games, but the important point here is that I am not used to cities. And one of the many things about cities that I am consequently not used to is public transportation. It’s simply never been a presence in the places I’ve lived, or not one I was in any position to use. I’m used to scaring possums off the front porch, listening to a more or less constant barrage of gunshots in the fall, and absolutely nobody being able to find the road to my house on the first try. I don’t really think anything of having to walk half a mile to get the mail, drive half an hour to get to a store bigger than the Dollar General market, or having an entire pack of coyotes start howling in the back yard. I know to avoid poison ivy, check for ticks if you’ve been outside in the summer, keep an eye on the sides of the road for suicidal deer, and save compulsively over as many separate save game slots as you can get away with, but before I went to Denmark the closest I had ever gotten to making use of public transportation was riding the college shuttle that goes down to Wal-Mart three days a week.

I say all this just so you can understand the background behind that day’s adventures. It felt odd to be struggling over something that I know to be an ordinary-to-the-point-of-beneath-notice part of very many people’s lives. On the other hand, that’s a feeling I get pretty often when I’m freaking out over talking on the phone, or buying something, or some inconsequential bit of homework, so in a way it was also pretty familiar.

Anyway. Saturday was a free day; not just a day with some free time like Wednesday and Thursday, but completely open for everyone, no classes, no excursions, and an awful lot of places with free admission thanks to the Copenhagen Cards. It was rather overwhelming, actually, the amount of places the Card could get you into, especially considering we only had four days left to use it. I, and I think a fair few of my groupmates, felt a certain pressure to do as many things as possible while we had the chance.

Back in April, there had been a required orientation for all upcoming KIIS programs at the program’s home campus. The orientation for the Denmark trip had been pretty short, but afterwards I had a rather long wait, as one of the other students I had carpooled up with wound up having an extremely long orientation. All the campus restaurants were closed, so we sat around outside the gym to wait, and to kill time I perused the website for the Copenhagen Card. On the long, long list of places the card would get you into, something at the very bottom caught my eye: the Copenhagen Zoo.

In retrospect, it seems pretty weird that, in the midst of being promised trips to castles, museums, historical sites, hell, a whole other country, the thing that got me excited was thinking, hey, I can go to the zoo! But all that time, as I did the paperwork and talked to people and tried to psych myself up, I’d been way more nervous than excited about the trip. I was determined to go, for all those reasons about international travel and whatnot that I mentioned way back in the first post, but the whole thing was so intimidating that it was taking all my energy to keep going. I didn’t really have any left for actually being happy about it. I’m not really sure why the prospect of going to the Copenhagen Zoo was what inspired that first spark of excitement, except perhaps that I just like zoos and the idea of being able to up and take myself to one was quite the novelty.

So, when it came time for our first free day, I had a good idea what I wanted to do. But I didn’t really have any idea how to do it. The Copenhagen Zoo was well outside the areas of the city we’d been in so far, and the only metro stop near it was still a considerable walk. By this point I wasn’t worried about making the walk itself, but the farther I had to go, the more likely it seemed that I would get lost or run over or some nonsense like that. There was a bus stop literally right outside the zoo entrance, which would seem to be the perfect solution…but while I had just about gotten comfortable with the metro by then, the buses were a whole other story. I’d only been on a bus once, on our trip back from the Bohr Institute, and all I’d had to do then sit until Dr. Dupont told us to get off, but that was still enough to give me the impression that the buses were a great deal more complicated than the metro.

I was willing to make the effort, though. The stop outside the zoo was for the 6A city bus, which also stopped very close to one of the metro stations. I’d been hoping someone else would be interested in going to the zoo so I didn’t have to figure all this out entirely by myself, but while some people were, none of them were that particular morning. I was, however, invited to join them later that afternoon to go on a canal tour, which I accepted. Then I took myself, my map of Copenhagen, and my extremely wobbly confidence up the metro to Nørreport Station, where I quickly realized I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I could find the stops for the buses, but I didn’t know which one to take. Each line would have buses going in either direction up and down it, and the direction would be demarcated on the bus and schedules and whatnot by the name of the last stop on that end of the line. I was missing this information at the time, though; the directions I’d looked up had just said something along the lines of ‘take bus 6A to Zoologisk Have’, and my hopes of finding a list of destinations somewhere around the bus stop were quickly dashed. It didn’t exactly help that Nørreport was extremely crowded and busy. I felt like everyone there must have been looking directly at me and thinking to themselves how obvious it was that I had no idea what I was doing.

I sat on a bench and thought about what to do. I didn’t feel like my free day would be best spent getting horribly lost in Copenhagen. Plus, it really wasn’t all that long until I’d said I’d meet the other group, and I had no way of contacting them if my plans changed. Even if I did make it to the zoo, would I have enough time to see everything I wanted to? But on the other hand, there was too much time left to not do anything, especially when I had that card burning a hole in my pocket. Then again, did I have much more chance of getting to any of the other places I wanted to go than I did getting to the zoo? I had even less information about the other locations on my list.

Except, there was one place I wanted to go that I could get to easily: Den Blå Planet, ‘The Blue Planet’, Copenhagen’s aquarium. It was only a short walk from the last stop on the M2 line, and so clearly marked on my map that I figured even I could get there without too much trouble. One of Dr. Brown’s classes had gone there on an excursion a few days before, and I’d wanted to go with, but hadn’t had my Copenhagen Card yet. This seemed like as good a time as any. So, with new determination, I scurried off back onto the metro.

I needn’t have worried about getting lost this time. There were signs marking the way to Den Blå Planet immediately outside of the metro stop; all I had to do was follow them a little ways up a quiet street, and the very distinctive shape of the aquarium quickly revealed itself. The only trouble I had at all was some mild confusion over navigating the parking lot, and finding the right line to enter, but that lasted barely at all. The counter guy accepted my card very cheerfully, and, suddenly, there I was, standing in an aquarium.

The one concern I had now was that no one knew where I was. Dr. Dupont had wanted us to make sure someone always knew where we were going when we went out, in case, say, we didn’t come back, so I had dutifully told my roommates that I was going to the zoo that morning. But I had no way to tell anyone about my change of plans, since I still didn’t have cell service. I could go back to the hostel, but I had no guarantee anyone was even still there. I mired in guilt over this for a while, before finally getting a strong enough grip on the aquarium’s guest wifi to send an email to Dr. Dupont. It didn’t really seem likely that anything was going to happen now that I’d actually made it to the aquarium unscathed, but at least if I got eaten by sharks or something there be word on where to start looking for me.

With that settled, I set about trying to actually enjoy my visit. The morning’s events so far had left me feeling extremely rattled and wound up. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, or that I was doing something wrong, or that something bad was going to happen. But as far as places to have an anxiety attack go, the aquarium turned out to be a pretty decent one. It was dark and calm- save for the occasional excitable child-filled with the soothing movements of fish and dappled water patterns reflecting on the walls. I roamed about for a while and slowly started to feel better.

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Though admittedly ‘calming’ isn’t usually the adjective I would choose to describe a tank full of piranhas.

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I appreciate this hypothetical show of concern for the aquarium staff.

I appreciate this hypothetical show of concern for the aquarium staff.

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That’s the most terrifying bathroom sign I’ve ever seen.

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After walking through the rainforesty area and seeing a few things I recognized primarily from Animal Crossing, I found myself in front of a huge tank with a seating area in front and, miracle of miracles, a little cafe counter tucked away in the opposite wall. I ordered some tea and a chocolate muffin treat, and sat down in front of the tank. It seemed like an ideal place to sit, drink tea, watch fish swim around, and calm down.

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Except, as I sat there trying not to burn my tongue, I couldn’t help but notice that the number of people around me was increasing at more than the usual rate. More and more visitors were making their way toward the seating area. I started getting crowded, and then started getting more or less unable to get out. Before too long, the whole area was packed, and people were leaning on the railings.

It turned out that the sharks in the big tank were about to be fed. I had sat myself down in the middle of an apparently quite popular show. I was sitting in the back and kind of crammed in there by this point, so I figured rather than make a fuss getting out I might as well enjoy it. An aquarium employee came out, introduced herself, and began doing a commentary as the shark feeding commenced. Unfortunately (well, for me), it was entirely in Danish, so I had to figure out what the sharks were doing on my own.

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I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a shark feeding show, except maybe that severed limbs might be involved. They weren’t-in fact, I couldn’t even see whatever it was they were being fed-but it was still pretty cool watching all the sharks, rays, and assorted fish swirling around, even if I didn’t have a play-by-play. By the time the commentary ceased, though, I was ready to go, and left as soon as I could get an opening. I was enjoying my solitary stroll through the aquarium too much to stay in its most densely populated area.

The rest of my stay was fairly uneventful, unless you count my wrestling with a jammed penny-press machine (well, a 50-øre piece machine, more accurately; an uncommon enough coin that I had to go back to the cafe counter to get change) and spilling tea all over the place in the process. Luckily I found another, more functional, such machine later on. (I did clean up the tea. I’m not a barbarian.)

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WELL THEN WHY DID WE CALL IT A WOLF EEL

WELL THEN WHY DID WE CALL IT A WOLF EEL

It was getting towards lunch time, and I briefly entertained the idea of visiting the aquarium cafe, but abandoned that idea as soon as I saw it. It was more like a full sit-down mini-restaurant, and, prices aside, I wasn’t interested in that kind of commitment. I did spend a not inconsiderable time in the gift shop, though, agonizing over whether to buy a stuffed shark. It was tempting; I have not particularly grown out of my love of collecting unusual species of stuffed animals. On that note, I was surprised and amused to see the exact same stuffed octopus being sold there that has sat on top of my aquarium back home for a year or so.

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And, briefly, on my head.

And, briefly, on my head.

I put way more thought into buying or not buying that shark than I should have, but when it came down to it I figured I could about talk myself into buying one largeish stuffed animal for the entire trip, and the zoo would probably have a better selection. So I contented myself with a tiny keychain version of it, and also a walrus pirate…because, frankly, that seemed obligatory.

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That was a dumb decision. I should have bought that shark.

But then, it turned out to be something of a moot point, because when I got to the counter I discovered that I did not, in fact, have my card. I stood there for a minute and stared at my wallet in total shock and indignity that, having thought my money problems over at last, this had actually happened. For a horrible moment I wondered if it had been stolen, but had to concede that the likelihood of someone lifting a single card out of my wallet while it was in a zippered pocket inside my bag was fairly unlikely. Then I realized that I did know where that card was, and it was embarrassing.

I had enough kroner to cover the purchase, at least, so social injury was avoided for a moment. It probably wouldn’t have been enough to get the shark, though. Ah, well. I had an appointment to make, so I put the matter aside for the moment and headed back to the metro.

Another one of the many opportunities offered by the Copenhagen Card was free passage on the canal tours that went through the city. It offered an appealing opportunity to get in some sight-seeing without having to actually move around, plus a chance to ride on a boat, so I was all for it. Despite my initial trepidation I managed to make it to the previously agreed-upon meeting spot without getting particularly lost, and before too long we were all settled comfortably on the barge.

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As we toured, a woman at the front of the barge gave us an ongoing spiel about what we were looking at. I wasn’t as intrigued by the spiel itself as I was by the fact that she gave it in three languages: Danish, English, and, for some reason, Spanish. She would rattle off the information in one, then the other, then the third, back-to-back. I only speak one of those languages, but judging by her unerring speed and confidence she seemed perfectly fluent in all three and switched between them in the space of a breath. It was quite the impressive display. Also impressive, in a different way, was the number of people on that barge who apparently could not understand the very simple instruction of ‘don’t stand up when we’re going under a bridge’.

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Among the many sights that were seen was the famous Little Mermaid statue and, I have to say, it was pretty anti-climactic. For some reason I’d pictured it being out in the water, but it was right up on the shore. It was also completely swarmed with tourists. I was glad to take pictures, but found myself grateful that I hadn’t walked all the way out just to see it.

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After the canal tour had concluded, our group split up for a time. We had plans for later in the evening, and everyone else intended to walk around Copenhagen and shop a bit until then, but I went back to the hostel first. After all, I had to get my credit card.

The previous night, I had gone out to the lobby to get tea again; the vending machine method wasn’t the best, but it was the only one I had. So I had taken my card with me, and put it back in the pocket of my shorts after using it. And…left it there. Sure enough, when I got back to the room, there it was safe and sound. I felt suitably abashed.

Since there was a bit of time left, I grabbed a shower and a snack, then tried to figure out the best way to get to the meeting place. We were going to Tivoli Gardens, and planned to meet in front of the main gate. I don’t quite remember the thought process that led to me decided to get a bus there, considering the incident earlier that day, except that it was far enough away from any of the metro stations that I figured I would get lost trying to walk, and felt insecure about taking a train, though Copenhagen Central Station was right there. I did put a bit more research into the route this time.

I’d thought I’d had it figured out. There was a bus that went from right outside the metro to right outside Tivoli, and I’d at least worked it out well enough to figure out which direction to go in. But when the bus pulled up outside a stop that sure as heck looked like Tivoli, the name of the stop that the bus was showing didn’t match the name of the stop that had been on my directions. I hesitated, and just as I had about decided to get out anyway, the doors closed and the bus moved on. And moved on…and moved on.

To my abject horror, the bus just kept going and going. I became more and more certain that I had missed my stop, and more and more desperate to get off, but it wouldn’t stop. Copenhagen got increasingly unfamiliar outside the window and I sat there twisting my flannel shirt around and becoming convinced that this bus was going to carry me halfway across the country before I could get off.

Thankfully, not only did the bus eventually stop while still within Copenhagen city limits, but it stopped at the same time as a bus on the exact same route going in the opposite direction. I scrambled out, dashed across the street, and flung myself onto the other bus. Once I started seeing the same landmarks we had just passed I was able to calm down a little, but now I had another problem. We’d agreed to meet at five, but it was past five now and going on five-thirty. I had nightmare visions of my group calling up Dr. Dupont to report me lost and emergency services being deployed. When I got off (at the correct stop this time), I couldn’t find them, and my panic doubled. Maybe they’d gotten tired of waiting and gone on without me. Maybe they were somewhere in that park talking about how annoyed they were at my tardiness. Or maybe they were back at the hostel giving my last known location.

Actually, they were getting food. I found them at a kebab truck outside the train station, with one of the more powerful feelings of relief I’ve experienced in my life, and no one was mad, just glad that I had made it at all since they’d been getting worried about me. I explained what had happened and then, feeling pretty wiped out by the whole affair, gestured my way toward some food from the truck. We went inside the station to eat, since there were some free tables and chairs in there. My sandwich/wrap/hell-I-don’t-know-what-it-was was spicier than I prefer-which is to say, it had any distinguishable trace of spiciness-but it was otherwise good and I was too hungry to protest. Once all that was out of the way we were ready to meander over to Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world.

I used to go to Kentucky Kingdom once every summer for a few years, and to a small local park for a couple years after that, courtesy of my dad’s work. That and one rather odd school trip to King’s Island in sixth grade are the entire record of my experience with amusement parks, and it had been years since any of those trips, so I was pretty keen on going to Tivoli. But, while the Copenhagen Cards got us into the park free, they didn’t do anything about the rides, which all required tickets. Tickets were about the equivalent of seven bucks each, and most rides cost two. It seemed kind of sad to go to one of the oldest amusement parks in the world and not go on any rides, but at the same time none of us were enthused about paying fourteen dollars a ride. We all wound up getting two tickets and figuring we’d just have to spend the rest of the time looking around the park.

In any other of the parks I’d been in, that would have been a rather pointless and frustrating endeavor, but Tivoli had a very different atmosphere. True to its name, it felt more like a very large garden or, well, park, that just happened to have some rides in it. It was open and relaxed with a sort of old-fashioned carnival feel to it. I wish I had been able to get more pictures, because it was a really lovely place, but by that point in the day my phone had very nearly given up the ghost, and for whatever reason I didn’t have my camera with me.

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I chose to use my tickets on The Flying Trunk, a Hans Christian Andersen-themed dark ride. A bit of an odd choice, maybe, but I’ve always been enthralled with dark rides and never really got the chance to go on one before. I had to go alone, though; two of the other girls spent their tickets on a coaster, The Demon, while the third was not interested in going on a creepy doll ride. Can’t say I really blame her, in retrospect.

It was a weird ride. The car went past a long series of tableaus of various Andersen stories, composed of doll-like animatronics with about one movement apiece, while a frankly rather sinister narrator gave synopses of the stories. Rather heavily edited synopses, I might add, which tended to leave out certain things. My favorite was the Little Match Girl, about whom it was simply said that “fortunately she will soon be in a better place”. Yeah. Sure.

Then, right at the very very end of the ride, after that long series of cartoonish, toy-like figures, there was suddenly a totally realistic animatronic of Andersen himself sitting at a desk. So that was startling. If it hadn’t been for the safety bar I might have about jumped out of the car. (I have a love-hate relationship with animatronics. I’m fascinated by them, but they also terrify me.)

I didn’t take any pictures on the ride because, well, it didn’t occur to me to take pictures on an amusement park ride, honestly, but you can see some pictures of it here as well as here, along with a shot of creepy animatronic Hans Christian Andersen.

Once we had all been on our rides, we set off to have a proper meander around. We’d heard that there were some amazing light shows at Tivoli after dark, so we wanted to stay to check that out, but the problem was that “after dark” in Denmark in June means “after eleven”, and that was a pretty long time to stall. At least there was a lot to look at.

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We spent some time enjoying the gardens, discussing the rides (general consensus on the 260-ft tall Star Flyer swing ride was “no way in hell”), and, at least in my case, slowly suffocating from truly incredible amounts of cigarette smoke. I thought it was bad enough having a tobacco allergy in Kentucky, but we ain’t got nothing on Denmark in that regard.

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noooooooooooooope

There were, of course, plenty of gift shops-it wasn’t that much unlike the parks I’m used to. We went through a few of them, but the only things I was interested enough in to pay gift shop-level prices for were a couple of postcards for my mom that had some pretty dang adorable mascots on them. Not that I was actually going to send the postcards. The night before, I’d gone to test my new PIN by buying a postcard from the hostel counter, and thereby found out that postage back to the US was about nine dollars. I was willing to do that once, but the rest of my postcards were just going to have to be delivered by hand. (Fun fact, that postcard made it back precisely one day before I did. So sending any more would’ve been a bit pointless anyway.)

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We were all getting pretty tired, but it was still not anywhere near eleven, so we opted to hang out in one of the park restaurants for a while. I got some frozen yogurt. It was perfectly acceptable okay frozen yogurt, which made it the worst frozen treat I had over the whole trip. I was tired enough to nearly fall asleep right there on the table after I’d eaten, but it was still quite light outside. Damn you, latitude!

By this point everyone was getting a bit punchy, and somehow we wound up going in search of cotton candy. We found a stall, positioned unnervingly close to a tilt-a-whirl sort of thing, which much to my glee made the candy right in front of you. Everyone chipped in a bit to get two cones, which we figured would be enough for everyone. At least, in theory; I didn’t have much cash left so I didn’t contribute much, but then I’m not a huge fan of cotton candy either so I figured it evened out. I think I enjoyed watching the cotton candy magically accumulate on the cone as it was swirled around in the machine more than I enjoyed eating it.

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Regardless of the breakdown of funds, there was one much larger miscalculation made. No one quite anticipated the size of those cones.

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And we had two of those. Well, there were four of us, we’d just have to manage. We sat on a nearby low wall and worked our way through it. We were in no rush, after all.

Sitting there in the very slowly darkening twilight, eating little bits of cotton candy, watching the carnival lights and the lush gardens and the people going by in this country I didn’t know but was feeling alright with at the moment, worn out from the spells of panic scattered around the day and out past my bedtime, I very clearly remember having, for some reason, Grace Cathedral Hill running through my head.

And the world may be long for you,

But it’ll never belong to you

But on a motorbike,

When all the city lights blind your eyes tonight,

Are you feeling better now?

I decided that I was.

Even after we had taken our time getting through those two enormous cones of cotton candy, it was still not full dark. It was becoming clear, though, that, like little kids on New Year’s Eve, we just weren’t going to be able to stay up long enough to see all the excitement. So we rambled our way back out through the park, past the first few lights starting to glow against the mild dusk, and onto a train, and then onto the metro, and onto our sore feet for the long walk back home.

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