Gothenburg started improving for us yesterday evening when we went out to dinner. In the first place we had the absolutely best meatballs of my life (in another gay bar with a restaurant, as fate would have it) and then walked around a nicer part of the city that was wonderfully shown off in the evening light. Today we decided to visit the archipelago of islands just south of Gothenburg (there is a northern collection as well, fyi). The weather and the islands were absolutely gorgeous, and this is one of those things that (surprisingly) you can do cheaply here. We bought a day pass on the metro system that included unlimited rides on the trams and busses, as well as on the ferries. So we spent the day hopping from island to island and enjoying the natural beauty. The islands are really lovely, and at least at this time of the year have the most fragrant lilacs and other flowers all over the place. We walked around, enjoyed the scenery and weather, and finally made it back to our hotel a short while ago. We are so glad we came to Gothenburg, because it seems off the beaten track a bit, and the trip to the islands was really a treat.
Although I am unable to pinpoint the source (and thus unable at this point to assign blame) I do remember reading and hearing that Gothenburg (Sweden’s 2nd largest city) was a lovely and interesting place to visit. And it is interesting, in the same way that, say, Columbus, Ohio is interesting. It so far seems a rather amazingly bland place. Here are some of the things we have noticed so far:
– There seem to be very few crosswalk signs. Everyone just stops for you when you cross the street, whether they are a car or motorbike or one of the huge number of trams oro buses that swarm the city.
– There are gay flags everywhere. There is apparently a big gay festival happening this coming weekend, despite the fact that there are seemingly very few gays that actually live here. (We will try to check out a bar tonight to verify this, slow-monday-nights-everywhere-the-world-over notwithstanding.)
– The architecture is amazingly bland throughout the city. Nothing is especially offensive, but neither is anything especially beautiful.
– At many points during the day, the city felt like some sort of stage set, or ghost town, with spotless streets completely void of trees, vehicles of any kind, or any human or animal life whatsoever. (check out some of the pics below to see what I mean)
– Our hotel is actually really lovely, despite overlooking nothing but the railroad tracks and being at the edge of the city.
– There are more hair salons per capita than any other place in the world.
As we bid goodbye to Copenhagen (and head to Gothenburg in Sweden), here are a few notes on things we noticed:
No entry to any church: Just about every church we came across was closed. In most cities, you can enter the nice churches, but not so in Copenhagen it seems.
Rose windows – There seems to have a been a hugely successful church window salesman who passed through town not too long ago, because every single window we saw in any church was the exact same, a kind of small metal frame with a metal rose at certain intersections.
Carlsberg – Denmark’s most famous beer (hell, most famous export I think) seems to own this town. Their logo is on practically everything.
No umbrellas – Although it was raining a lot during our time here, sometimes quite heavily, there were very few people carrying umbrellas, and all of them seemed to be tourists like ourselves. What is it about Danes that make them so accepting and steadfast in the face of cold rain?
Fruit basket children – Everywhere we went, there were parents carting around their children in a kind of large produce box attached to the front of their bikes. Sometimes these would be hermetically sealed with some plastic cover, I guess to prevent the children from spoiling.
Friendly people – Everywhere we went, people were exceedingly helpful and friendly.
Dark bread – The dark bread is everywhere and delicious.
Food quality – I am not sure why, but I guess I expected the food to be of rather low quality, but this was not the case at all. Even when we were purchasing simple (yet expensive, like everything here) sandwiches, they were really very delicious and fresh.
Among the many things Josh and I saw in Copenhagen today was the Danish Jewish Museum. The logo and concept of the museum contains the word “mitzvah” (in hebrew) which means “good deed”, which by the end of our tour I was convinced was entirely ironic. The architect for the museum was Daniel Libeskind, who seems to have made a career out of being the architect of Jewish monuments, memorials, and misery. Libeskind likes to claim that his work is meant to challenge the viewer. Although the interior is beautiful to look at, the collection was small and badly organized, the displays set at odd angles that one had to stoop to see, and the typeface on the exhibits excruciatingly small. If the point was to reproduce in the viewer some of the misery of being Jewish in Denmark, then bravo, mission accomplished. The museum cost about 10 dollars to get into for its rather insignificant collection. I was especially taken aback being informed upon entry that the architect “retains copyright” on all images related to the museum, and therefore pictures were prohibited. Mitzvah, my ass, Mr. Libeskind. I took a couple on the sly anyway, so there:
My advice, should you visit Copenhagen, is to give this shonda museum a miss.
Josh and I made an epic walking tour of Copenhagen today, seeing many things we did not in our first go-round yesterday. I made a map below with a line that shows our 8 mile path through some really fascinating and beautiful parts of the city. Click on it to see it up close and look at the whole album of today’s pics. We are a bit exhausted, but it was well worth it for all we saw.
Josh and I had an amazing dinner experience this evening here in Copenhagen. I was looking on the web at gay life in the city, and there was a listing for a bar called Jailhouse that also had a restaurant attached to the upstairs. And this restaurant had pretty good reviews, so I thought it might be kind of funny to have dinner in a restaurant attached to a gay bar, and besides, it was a fairly short walk (in the rain) from our hotel. The previous notes I had read said that it was Danish/Swedish cuisine with a prix fixe menu, but when we got there we quickly noticed something rather odd about the menu: it was all soup. I am not kidding. The starter courses, main courses and desserts were all soup. When we asked about it, we were told that this was their new concept since last month, an all-soup menu. At first I have to admit to not being too thrilled by the idea, but then thought what the hell, and in any event the rain outside and our natural laziness worked to convince us to stay and try it. I am thrilled that we did, absolutely everything we had was truly fantastic. Josh and I both began with the fennel and brie soup, pared with a wonderful white wine offered by our charming waiter. Next, I had a Danish lamb stew that was as good as anything like it I have ever had, and Josh had a mussel stew that he absolutely loved as well. Finally, we had a strawberry soup for dessert, dressed up with vanilla ice cream, Pernod, mint, and white pepper. It was incredible. We were not expecting anything like this, and it was a truly amazing meal. I was a little worried for the place as they didn’t seem to be all that busy, but they certainly should be with this kind of quality and service. If you are ever in Copenhagen, I highly recommend it. It was a unique and delicious experience that we won’t soon forget.
We finally made it to Copenhagen, where it is apparently still winter. It was very easy to get in from the airport on the train and make it to our hotel. We slept pretty well and got up, bundled up, and headed out to see the city, which is quite lovely. It reminds me a lot of Amsterdam, except that the scale is much bigger, and it seems a lot newer, and somewhat more dull, and well, it isn’t really like Amsterdam come to think of it, except for a canal here or there, and something ineffable. The people have been very friendly everywhere we have been, and it seems as if the beer has a much higher alcohol content. I feel almost certain I have seen Robyn about 30 times. This must be an exceptionally safe city as well, because everywhere we have been, people seem to leave their bikes about without locking them. Click on the image below to go to the whole album of today’s pics.
I left New York, as scheduled, on an over-booked Iceland Express flight Wednesday night. It was so booked because it is a cheap flight and because the previous few days of volcano disruption had led previously canceled voyagers needing to book the next possible one (i.e. my flight). I was calm as I checked in, content that I had paid extra to reserve an “extra legroom” seat in advance. When I got to my assigned seat, I told the flight attendant there had to have been a mistake, this seat in no way had extra legroom, to which she responded with a smirk “You should see the other seats”. So after squeezing myself into my space, and trying unsuccessfully to sleep during the next 5 hours, we arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland for the change of planes. A strange thing about Iceland is that they apparently don’t think our American security screenings are up to snuff, because even though I was never leaving the airport and just changing planes with the same company to catch the next one to London, we still had to go through another security line just like the one before leaving Newark. What extra precautions might they be using? Who knows, because the procedure was exactly like the American one, except that they didn’t have the fancy new full body scanner thingies or alternative junk touching (show me on the doll where the bad man touched you) procedures. And after an hour wait in the rather small but lovely KEF airport, we boarded our plane for London. I met a nice guy from New York on the way over, and we took the same train into the city, first getting on the wrong train that the booking agent had told us to (“the next one on track 4!”) before getting re-routed by a helpful conductor at a station down the road. When I finally reached Josh’s place in London, everything was hectic and harried with his last minute errands for this or that hair product before our car arrived to take us to Heathrow to catch our flight to Copenhagen. I should stop here and acknowledge that yes, it IS insane to take red-eye flights to London and only a few hours later take a flight to Copenhagen, but our planning got screwed up (I had originally planned to stay a couple of days in London) and so we would be flying out that same evening. Josh had helpfully arranged a car to pick us up and take us to the airport, so at least we would be going in leisure and style, courtesy his employer. Or so we thought. As we checked the flight status, the time kept changing, and London, which apparently for the entire three months before my arrival had unprecedented sunny weather bordering on drought, was experiencing incredible and violent storms which were forcing the cancelation and delay of many flights. Our last check showed the flight departing a couple of hours late, so we headed for the airport girding ourselves for a bit of a wait. The traffic was unbelievable on the way there, resulting in an almost two hour ride before finally arriving. Once there, it was total pandaemonium, with thousands of passengers from all over Europe trying desperately to reschedule flights and/or book hotels for the evening. Our flight had been cancelled. After asking around and waiting in line for a bit, we realized we would have more luck booking online and left the airport for my friend Arnaud’s house. We were quite lucky he was in town with a place to stay for us, especially since he was leaving for 4 days in the morning. It then took a harrowing couple of hours on the phone with the airline before we could get rebooked on a flight out today. By the time I finally went to bed last night I was completely spent. On the bright side, we got to share a lovely dinner with my friend Arnaud and hang out in his neighborhood for a day. I feel lucky that we had a place to go (unlike many of our fellow travelers no doubt), and hopefully we will be on our way to Copenhagen tonight (fingers crossed). See below for a minor pictorial of the trip experience so far.
And this one is a biggie. It all started several months ago, when my parents called me to say they has reserved a villa in Italy for a week in July and wanted everyone in the family who was able to share the rent and come there. Initially, I was hesitant, because outside of the cost of the villa itself, which was somewhat negligible, you really couldn’t pick a worse time to travel to Europe. July and August are bar none the most expensive times to fly there. A quick look at the airfares and I really just couldn’t justify it in any sensible way. Then my parents laid on the guilt about getting older, and how this might be one of our last trips together, blah, blah. And the Jewish guilt in me rose up like a wave and I agreed to figure out how to get there. I had been talking for some time with my friend and sometime client Olaf about updating his website. He is based in Hamburg and I have twice before spent time there working with him on it. Working back from the late July timeframe, I proposed being in Hamburg for a month working on his projects and some of mine, and he agreed. Originally my cousin Josh, who I do yearly trips with, had agreed to meet me in Italy. We would spend time with the family and then take a week or so to road trip in Italy and visit some friends. But alas, Josh then got a gig working in China at exactly that time and had to back out. Since he was in London working until late May, he proposed that we travel before I went to Hamburg, and looking to see something new and close to that part of Europe, we hatched a plan to see Scandinavia. So tomorrow I will head over to meet Josh, and we will spend the next two weeks traveling, and then I will head to Hamburg to work, then a month later to meet my family, then through the cheapest route I can find (probably London, Reykjavik) back to New York sometime in early August. Whew.