When some people travel, they enter the scenario with the somewhat understandable attitude they may never visit their destination again. Armed with research done over a number of months, and activity filling every waking minute of their trip, they hit the nearest and furthest tourist attractions they can manage between the rising and setting of the sun.
I understand the reasoning. But to me, nothing could be more wretched. I don’t understand being exhausted and drained by work, just to then be exhausted and drained by a trip. When do these people stop? What’s more, I have never felt particularly enriched from standing in a throng of tourists, all staring and yammering, taking pictures they will probably never look at again.
On my first day in Copenhagen this time round, I almost felt obligated to start with this nonsensical pavement pounding.
Tourist attraction number one in Copenhagen – The Little Mermaid.
As we stood amongst the other tourists, gawping at a small metal statue of a fish princess on a rock, and the standardised handpan busker thwacked his metal drum bowl, I stood trying to find a handle on the moment and how little I felt about any of it. Rest assured, the story of the little mermaid has little to do with Ariel and singing rasta crabs. Check it for yourself.
Hans Christian Andersen. Terrorising little children since 1805.
We had been late to rise, and late to tourism, and we were now hungry. We swung by a pizza place with the plan of sitting on Pernille’s balcony for a quick lunch break with a beer.
Four hours later with the sun still beating upon our faces I was going nowhere. Vitamin D makes people happy. Alcohol makes people happy. Rest makes people happy. Staring at famous sights, at best, makes people feel like they’ve achieved something. Personally, I have come to find achievement overrated. And so, any thoughts of tourism and sight seeing went out with the empty beer bottles and plastic recycling. We napped, ordered takeaway food and watched horror movies.
The heroic traveller I had met the year before would have disapproved. She would have been horrified. But this was nothing to do with her. This was for me.
Over the next few days we lived with no purpose or direction. And yet, I had a first rate guide to the heart of Copenhagen, and Denmark. One day, Pernille said she wanted to take me swimming where she grew up. We caught a train up to the north coast of the island to swim in the Kattegat sea.
When a Danish Viking wants to go swimming, you say yes. But I remembered jumping into the North Sea on the Scottish side when I was a boy, which when you’re five and an idiot can be fun for about three minutes, then a cold and shivering nightmare for the next hour.
We got to the beach and put our towels out. To be fair, the Spring sunshine was warm on our backs, which filled me with some courage. Pernille went in first and I watched as she made it look like she was dipping into a paddling pool. So I followed.
The North Sea is still the North Sea. I paddled out for a minute or two, and realised that not only were my legs cold, but a strange ache had begun to grip them. Two minutes later I was back on the beach sitting in the sun again cursing her Danish name.
“It was pretty cold today.” she eventually confessed.
Like any other week off in a city, we filled our time going out for dinner and drinks, watching films and TV and lazing about in the sun. But what made visiting Copenhagen worth every minute, was the company I got to keep. The only time me and Pernille were silent with each other was in our sleep.
Eventually my final day in Copenhagen came, and again, suddenly, I faced the sadness of having to leave someone great.
I love going places, I detest leaving.
I got up the earliest I had ever felt necessary on my trip so far, and began to repack my life into three bags. I had a ten hour journey ahead of me; a bus to Roedby, the ferry then train to Hamburg, and the connection to Cologne.
Before I had set off on this new adventure, I had remembered the nostalgic joy of being in Europe many times before. What I had forgotten, was the stress and anxiety that travelling actually causes.
With every item I stowed away, a dull sense of nervousness grew.
Pernille ordered the taxi and we sat waiting for its inevitable arrival. I checked my pockets; wallet, phone, passport. I was ready.
I don’t measure my travelling in terms of destinations. I measure it in terms of the people I meet. And on this sunny Wednesday morning, even the charm and the humour of the taxi driver made me question my decision to leave Copenhagen.
“We say here in Denmark – the USA used to have Kennedy and Bob Hope. Now they have Trump and no hope.”
A killer line and now my favourite cabbie in Denmark. An ambiguous morning. As we drew up to the train station I re-checked my pockets. And with the cold sweat and panic that only such a discovery can create, I realised my tickets were sitting safely and purposefully on the coffee table in Pernille’s beautifully decorated home. There was a lot I could have done without that morning, and having to immediately take another taxi round trip to our point of origin was top of the list.
We raced against the clock, and my teeth, hands and bottom were clenched in fearful excitement. The worst thing that can happen to an idiot is they are rewarded for stupidity. We made it back in time to find the first coach had been filled to the brim and had already left, leaving a second coach for the last five of us to take to Roedby in luxurious space and comfort.
I didn’t know how to say goodbye to Pernille, but we hugged. I boarded the bus, put on my headphones and prepared myself for the jump into Germany.