10:50, 15/6/2012. I am on a train from Stockholm, Sweden to Oslo, Norway as I write this. I am making my way to the Sogndal fjords, where I’ll stay with friends-of-friends for a short while.
I woke up before 8:00 on the 12th, because I had planned to spend the day with the two Canadians from Toronto. They had unenthusiastically permitted me to tag along the night before when I realized I wanted to go the same places as they did. Within the hour, though, I decided to go it alone: the guy, Steve, was rubbing me the wrong way, and I sensed that I would rather be lonely than be ticked off at him the whole day.
I hopped on the subway and went to a town north of Copenhagen called Helsingør, to see Krönberg Castle, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet is supposed to be set. (I was missing my sister, and I thought she’d be pleased that I went!) It took a long time to get there, since the train was delayed by a half hour. Luckily, I met a young Cambodian woman who was making her way back to Sweden where she lived, and I asked her about her country as we waited for the train. When we reached Helsingør, she caught a ferry that would take her to Sweden in twenty minutes (I could see Sweden from the coast of the town!)
I walked over to the castle, and asked a nice old man for directions along the way. (Then I happily listened as he told me of his nephew in California who sent him hats.) I walked to the castle and paid for an unguided tour of the royal chambers. It was rather unexciting, honestly-- some pretty rooms, some old furniture, some slightly informative signage. I snapped pictures and rushed through it: I wasn’t really enjoying it. However, I’m content to say I’ve been there! After the museum, I made sure to get some smørebrøt, classic Danish open-faced sandwiches, each one with a unique combination of seafood toppings. It was okay, but not great-- but I’m glad I tried it!
I took a different way back to Copenhagen in the early afternoon, and headed to the National Museum. It was probably one of the greatest museums I’ve ever visited-- and it was free! It was full of interesting and bizarre old things, ranging from prehistoric dildos and gynecological tools and an ancient transgender, to remnants of a giant Viking canoe and long, spiraled battle horns, and a lot of medieval and Renaissance church art, including propaganda for Luther and Erasmus. Not to mention it was very informative and well-organized! In a city full of museums, I was happy to have found the best one.
Now that I’m in Scandinavia, everything has become outrageously expensive. Despite my efforts to conserve money, I was running low (I underestimated how much to withdraw in order to pay for the hostel and for food and other expenses.) So I was thrilled to find a Chipotle-sized naan and falafel wrap for 35 Danish kroner (about five dollars) at a Pakistani joint near the museum. On the way back to the hostel, I walked through the Rosenberg Palace Gardens, a beautiful large public park next to the royal palace with hundreds of people dotting the lawn, talking in pairs, playing lawn games, reading, having a picnic, and watching the soccer games in the public viewing area. I was amused to see an adorable little kid with his grandparents, holding a pail and happily chasing a duck.
I briefly returned to the hostel before leaving to see my final destinations in Copenhagen. On the way to the train station, I encountered the two Quebec kids from my hostel dorm, who informed me that I could use a public bike for free to get around town faster. (How did I not discover this before?!) I excitedly found a junky public bike, and felt awesome riding along the busiest streets in Copenhagen. Despite the junky bike, it was an awesome ride: since every major road and most other roads have their own bike lane, it’s really easy to get around town safely and quickly. I rode all the way to Christiana, where I was in for quite a surprise.
At first the neighborhood looked perfectly quaint and typical-- cafés lining the tranquil harbor, a boat with an eighty-year-old men’s chorus singing sailor hymns in Danish passing by, a few other cyclists-- the usual. But as I rode a few blocks towards the other side of the island, I noticed dozens of young adults walking quietly and purposefully down a narrow concrete path, and under an arch that led behind a colorfully-graffitied wall. I was curious, so I followed. What I discovered was like another world-- an entire neighborhood of ramshackle buildings, trailers, and shacks covered in vibrant graffiti art, plants growing everywhere, music playing, and people sitting around everywhere. I wandered around taking pictures, until I discovered an entire message on a sign:
There are three rules in the Green Light District:
Don’t run-- it causes panic
No photos-- selling hash is illegal
I laughed incredulously as I wandered inside, the distinct odor of marijuana invading my nostrils the moment I passed the sign. What I saw then were plenty more buildings covered in beautiful vibrant graffiti, but now dozens, perhaps hundreds of people walking and sitting around, smoking weed. Not only that, but there were five or ten little booths around a square, with vendors selling copious amounts of cannibis, in several different varieties. One vendor invited me to buy some, but I had no interest in purchasing illegal drugs. I think I heard him mumble “No fun” as I continued exploring.
After a few minutes I stopped to ask for directions out of this hallucinatory dream world from two young guys, and I asked them a few questions about the place. One guy told me that the police could do nothing about it-- that they had tried before to shut down the district, but it was large and powerful enough that the people kept the police out by assembling rebellions and throwing things, etc. He said that if necessary, a riot could start within minutes to protect the business of the dealers. The potheads told me that people came from miles around every day (the guy who was talking lived forty kilometers away), and that the action began in the morning and went until late at night, every day. Then the guy left, living me with the Italian visitor named Vito, who mostly answered my questions with incomprehensible gibberish. I biked off the island, still completely astounded that such a wacky Woodstock world actually existed.
I headed over to the scenic harbor of Nyhavn, where I bought a sugary belgian waffle topped with my favorite pistachio ice cream, and walked a short way up the harbor where the local public EuroCup viewing was situated. I sat on a wooden deck, splitting my gaze between the big screen and the ships floating by as I munched on my snack. It was a quality experience, if there ever was one! I finished off the night by biking to the citadel, a star-shaped landmass surrounded by a water-filled moat near where the harbor met the sea, stopping along the way to snap a photo of the Little Mermaid (from the famous story by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen), sitting by the seashore wishing to be part of my world. I don’t blame her: my world has been pretty good lately.