Denmark, Day Four: In Which Copenhagen Is Painful

Tuesday, June 7th

Here’s a travel tip you can have for free: if you’re going to be spending four weeks walking miles over uneven ground, make sure your shoes are broken in first. Otherwise…


I did realize this was something I needed to do before I left, that just didn’t necessarily translate into actually doing it. My old hiking boots were starting to disintegrate on the inside, but it having been a few months since I needed to trek across a slushy campus quad every day, I didn’t think about replacing them until pretty soon before the trip. And summer in Kentucky just doesn’t present you with a lot of reasons to wear hiking boots (at least, not if you spend your summers basking in the air conditioning like I do). I would think, “Oh, I need to break these shoes in,” and then promptly put on my sandals to go to the store because it was 90 degrees outside. So my boots were still pretty much brand new when it came time to go walking for hours across streets with a high percentage of cobblestone, and the results were predictable.

Still, unlike the credit card problem, this one at least pretty much resolved itself, given a few days and a lot of band-aids. More than once I wondered if my feet were going to start bleeding halfway through one of those treks, but nothing so dramatic ever happened. I did have an Abney Park song with a lyric mentioning ‘crimson cobblestones’ stuck in my head for a few days though.

My blisters were inaugurated along with our excursions, the first of which was a walking tour of Copenhagen. That is, a walking tour of a relatively small percentage of Copenhagen, but plenty big enough for us to be getting on with that morning. We stopped at the birthplace of Niels Bohr…


…and that of Niels Stenson/Nicolaus Steno, father of modern geology, which was rather less well looked-after. In fact it was a clothing store.



That one was a little anti-climactic. On the plus side there was this giant raven sculpture across the street from it. I’ve no idea why.


En route, we passed by this statue of Frederick VII, king of Denmark from 1808-1863, pictured here next to a statue of an impaled bear.


This confused us all greatly, and we spent several minutes wondering if this was perhaps supposed to be some famous bear that Frederick killed or something. It was a few days later that I finally got close enough to read the plaques and found out that actually the bear was part of a recent series of sculptures about global warming and had nothing to do with Frederick at all. It was a little disappointing, and very depressing.

We also passed this electronic tree. We never quite figured out what the deal was with the electronic tree.


Once we’d filled our morning quota of birthplace plaques and assorted non-sequitors, we went to the Rundetaarn, or Round Tower. As the name suggests, the Round Tower is a big round tower, 34.8 meters tall, attached to the Trinitatis Church as part of the Trinity Complex, altogether a combination of astronomical observatory, church, and university library. It was built in the 1600s by Christian IV after he kicked Tycho Brahe out of Denmark and then found himself without either a famous astronomer or famous astronomer’s observatory, since Brahe’s got demolished after his death. Despite this, there was a prominent bust of Brahe outside the Tower. Maybe it was an apology of some sort.

In all his noseless glory.

In all his noseless glory.

The Tower itself is basically a 34-meter helical staircase (well, actually a helical ascending corridor-no actual stairs involved) with an observatory stuck on top. The observatory’s open to the public now, but we made no use of it, since, in astronomical terms, you can’t see crap in Denmark during the summer. We did climb all the way up to the top, though. Having some tendons that were twanging even before I got on the plane, I will admit I had a pretty hard time with that climb. It hurt. A lot. But I did make it eventually, and was rewarded with a pretty sweet view of Copenhagen.


On the way back down I stopped to look in on some of the tower’s attachments. These included the university library and the church, neither of which I actually went in, and the Bell Loft, which as the plaque says was used for a lot of stuff other than bells since the bells didn’t actually take up much space. Currently it mostly seemed to be used as a mini-museum and home of one definitely haunted rocking chair.


I would save my game before approaching that rocking chair.


Other vaunted features of the Tower included a privy with a shaft reaching the entire length of the tower (which, admittedly, is kind of impressive in a disturbing sort of way), and a hollow core with a glass plate you can step on (I didn’t), 25 meters above the tower base. One of the many pamphlets I picked up assures me that a choir boy fell that entire distance in 1880 and ’emerged relatively unscathed, only scraping his arm and losing a couple of teeth’, which I’m not entirely sure I believe.


Following the Round Tower we took a brief foray into a church. I’d actually completely forgotten which church it was and had to do a bit of research based on the pictures I took. Turns out it was Copenhagen’s Cathedral, the Church of Our Lady, which is…kind of important. So, uh…my apologies to my 310 professor.


After that it was finally time to head for lunch. On the way I stopped to take an admiring picture of some gorgeous Harry Potter cover art in a store window.

Man, I'm jealous.

Man, I’m jealous.



We went back to Ørstedsparken to mull over our madpakke. Feeling tired out from the long morning I took the opportunity to stretch out in the grass (after carefully checking it for any cigarette butts or duck leavings) and read. I’d brought two books with me to Denmark; I just couldn’t stand the thought of going for a month without at least one companion from my library, but I was also quite paranoid about potentially losing things (a paranoia that turned out to be unfounded; the only things I lost on the whole trip, as far as I know, was a plastic zoo cup that got left behind on a train, and a bottle of holy water) and didn’t want to bring anything that absolutely couldn’t be replaced. And of course there was the simple matter of luggage space. So after some careful pondering, I selected Spock’s World by Diane Duane for the job. There were several reasons for this: it was comfortable and familiar enough to be soothing but also very engaging and entertaining; it was a Star Trek novel, which have been my go-to impromptu therapy for two and a half years and counting; I had a back-up hardcover copy and it’s a popular enough book to not be too hard to find, so as much as I would have hated to lose it, it wouldn’t be irreplaceable; and, most importantly, it’s a damn good book. Then at the last moment I tossed in Carl Sagan’s Contact, which had none of the same careful reasoning behind it, but all the reading for Foundations had made me want to watch Cosmos and that was the closest thing I could get on short notice.

Look. These things are important.

Following lunch, our group split up. The walking tour had been for the entire group, but the next leg of our journey was only required for the Foundations class: we were going to the Niels Bohr Institute. I was quite excited about this, an excitement that admittedly was somewhat dampened by the incredibly long walk it took to get there. Actually, a rough estimate of our route on Google Maps puts it at only about a mile and a half, but it felt a lot longer, given the early afternoon heat (mild compared to Kentucky, sure, but still a bit wearing when you had to be out in it all day) and the rapidly worsening state of my feet.

It was worth it, though. Dr. Dupont had arranged for us to have a tour of the Institute; we saw Bohr’s personal office (I sat in Niels Bohr’s chair), the lecture room where he, well, lectured, and some of the ongoing work in parts of the Institute that looked remarkably like every other university science department I’ve been in, down to the cartoons on the doors.

At one point, we were outside looking at an engraving on one of the buildings, and our guide struggled to remember the name of one of the gods in the engraving. I identified it as Ceres, and then, standing as I was in a hugely significant and influential center of science, as a member of a science class, had a really hard time not yelling “POINT FOR HUMANITIES!”

Sadly, very sadly, although I took a lot of pictures of the Institute, only two of them remain. My best guess as to the reason for this is that my phone ran out of space but let me persist in the illusion that I was taking pictures without actually saving any of them. Jerk.



Once we were done with the Institute, our group splintered further. The history class had an assignment to go to the National Museum, so the three of us, plus one of my friends from the night before who had no obligation to go but was just interested, made our way over there. The rest of the group went, I dunno, somewhere else. We were able to get a bus most of the way there, which came as a huge relief at that point. It took the four of us a while to find the museum, and then another while to find the entrance to the museum, but we got there in time to have a couple hours to visit before it closed.

Upon (finally) entering, we walked into a large entrance hall with staircases going up on both sides, a large gift shop at one end, and a general impression of blank whiteness. There was some decoration, some signs, a lone and somber display of a refugee’s life-jacket, but nothing particularly big or flashy or attention-getting; no, for example, T-Rex skeleton.


After stopping to catch our breath and visit bathrooms, and some perusing of the gift shop (rather sadly, in my case), we unanimously decided to stop in the cafe on the second floor before investigating the exhibits. Since I was still cash-strapped, our fourth party member wonderfully offered to buy me a drink. I don’t know, and probably never will, if there was something in the composition of that Pepsi different than what I’m used to, or if it was simply because I was so hot and tired, but at the time it tasted like the best damn soda I had ever had, or have had since, or possibly will ever have.

Finished with our refreshments, and our discussion of the Scandinavian sun myth painted on the walls of the cafe, we entered the Medieval History exhibit on the first floor.

The National Museum of Denmark is the largest national history museum in the country and also, I think, possibly some form of TARDIS. Because however unassuming they look from the outside, once you get into the exhibit rooms, they just don’t stop. We went from room, to room, to room, without seeing any sign of an end to the place. I had a brief moment of panic at one point when I looked up and realized I had no idea how to get back to the entrance. We eventually left because it was closing time and we were tired and hungry, and certainly not because we were anywhere close to near to having seen everything even in just that one segment of the museum.

If I uploaded all of the pictures I took there this page would be a few miles long, so here’s a small random sampling:


A sculpture of St. George slaying the dragon.

A casket that gave me one heck of a surprise when I walked around it.

A casket that gave me one heck of a surprise when I walked around it.


A reproduction of a medieval clock.

A reproduction of a medieval clock.

A really dang big shield.

A really dang big shield.



An extremely literal interpretation of the story of St. Eustace.


A reconstructed room.


Some snazzy guns.




Whatever this is.

Our assignment had been to find two items that stood out to us, take photographs of them, and discuss them in class. I opted for the medieval clock and the really big shield. Full up on history, we staggered off back to the hostel.

But the day’s trials were not over yet. When I tried to get into my room, I was confused to discover that my key wasn’t working. While I was struggling with it, one of my roommates opened the door and explained the situation to me: the hostel had deactivated our keys because three out of four of us apparently weren’t following the rules regarding the linens.

In retrospect, some of this seems rather obvious, but all I can say is I had never stayed at a hostel before and just wasn’t used to how they worked. We had been told at orientation that we needed to bring our own linens because there wouldn’t be any at the hostel, but nothing more than that, and the way I had understood that was ‘you need to bring your own linens if you want to have linens to sleep on’, not ‘you need to bring your own linens or the hostel will lock you out of your room’. And I had brought my own sheets. I just didn’t have a pillowcase. I almost had a pillowcase, but rather than being in my suitcase it turned up in the living room a few days later. Packing was hectic, okay.

The only way to get my key reactivated was to prove to the hostel that I had rectified the situation. Conveniently, the hostel rented out sets of linens, but only in sets, so there was no way to get only the one thing I needed; and of course, I had no money anyway. I confess to being rather irritated over all this. I went to dinner (we didn’t always have dinner from the hostel, but that night we did; plain but perfectly serviceable pasta) and explained the situation to Dr. Dupont; she lent me some money to use until my card started working, but, to be honest, at the time that didn’t make me feel a lot better.

In retrospect there were alternative solutions. I could have covered my pillow with a spare t-shirt like I did at the second hostel, but that didn’t occur to me. I could have run to Bilka and bought a cheap pillowcase, except that at the time I was mistaken both about the Bilka’s hours and my being allowed to go to the mall on my own. And in general I was tired and stressed and irritable and couldn’t think real well. So I took the money Dr. Dupont gave me, went to the service desk, and rented linens. They were 50 kroner, or about $7.50, and if I was going to pay for all of them I was going to use all of them, so I decked out the bed in crisp new sheet, pillowcase and duvet cover. Then, strongly feeling the need for some quiet time alone, I took my sketchbook and headphones out to the park behind the hostel, found a fairly flat rock, and sat for a while drawing, just me and the magpies and the occasional cyclist. I really would have liked a good cup of tea to go with it, but you can’t have everything.

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