Tuesday, March 17, 2015

CNY 2015, Denmark & Sweden: Herring is Evil, and Danish Curry is a Lie (Part 1)

We'd run into trouble before even getting there. First of all I had some reservations about the choice of flights- one that would require us to fly to Singapore first, followed by a 15 hour flight to Copenhagen, with one day lost in the process. I had trouble with the booking itself too- with the bank sending it's the verification password too late to be of any use. One call to customer service rewarded us with a ridiculous response- 'go ask Singapore Airlines', which I rubbished immediately. A second call to someone with more sense got us a more helpful answer- 'we're having some issues with our server, please try again'. It worked this time, but the delay cost us an extra three-k, and we lost our choice of seats. Our choice destination worried me greatly too- Denmark. I'd have preferred to go to France- we initially planned on going  to both countries, but that plan got shelved along the way due to lack of time, even before the terrorist attacks in Paris (Charlie Hebdo, and another shooting elsewhere). Don't get me wrong- I have nothing against Denmark or Danes- it's just that I know next to nothing about Danes. Or did I mean Dutch? No, "Danes" is correct. Isn't that plural? Do you say "she's a Dane", or "she's Danish"? I'll ask one when I meet one.

With our flight booked and paid for, the next hurdle to cross was our itinerary- though at that stage, I'd hesitate to call it that. It was more of a "today we shall be here, and tomorrow we must be there, and the day after, there, regardless of whether a freak earthquake thrusts Copenhagen all the way North to Oslo". I doubted that I'd run into trouble like in my month long trip in China years ago- where I traveled during peak travel season across the country and found myself in a packed overnight train without a seat. There being seven of us on this trip as opposed to just myself, I was still fairly worried, though in retrospect I shouldn't have worried (Note: retrospect is a lie, because at the time of writing this paragraph, it is only 15th January and we are nowhere near Scandinavia) as seats were plentiful (Even if I'm wrong, I'm not going to correct this paragraph). In the end I unilaterally (because I had no help in planning) on one night in Copenhagen, followed by two in Aarhus, another two in Copenhagen, the next two nights in Malmo (across the sea in Sweden), and one final night in Copenhagen. Where to go? I had no idea and not much inspiration.

Having decided where to be at the very least allowed myself to decide on another important factor- where to stay. This wouldn't be a worry if I were traveling alone- I could sleep while sitting ramrod straight on a park bench if necessary (this achievement unlocked in Singapore), but February being Winter, and with 6 other heads to care for, I didn't have time to spare. Initially, I worked in reverse- I decided on our last night first- we'd stay at a hotel near Copenhagen's airport. I settled on Park Inn by Radisson, as our stay in their Viennese branch was quite pleasant. After that I went back in time and chose Hotel du Nord for our first night. I have no recollection as to why I chose it. For our next two nights in Aarhus, I got slightly more budget-conscious and went with a hostel instead- Hostel City Sleep-In, though they do of course charge a fee if you sleep-in past check-out time. After that I jumped ahead in time again, and picked Scandic S:t Jorgen for our two nights in Malmo. The remaining two nights in Copenhagen had me stumped though. I thought of staying at the Dragor Fort Hotel, but decided against it due to the location (far from civilization), and because the rooms looked drab and decidedly un-fort-like. While blundering around Booking.com I stumbled upon CPH Living- a boat hotel. I casually mentioned it to our sponsor (aunt) over a phone call and her interest was roused- though I was interested in spending a night there the cost put me off a little (double the cost of other nights in most of the other selected hotels thus far), and each room could only accommodate two persons max- not an issue if there weren't 7 of us. Her solution? "Well just get 4 rooms then". Alrightey then... For the last remaining (but not final) night, after much agonizing, I eventually picked the Kong Arthur. I was troubled over how Chinese the name sounded and/or evocative of a certain giant ape, before seeing the word Kong all over Google Maps and finally coming to the conclusion that Kong is Danish for King. Probably. It could mean 'smelly ass on a big potty' for all I know. In retrospect (actual retrospect this time), our stay in CPH Living should have been done on the first night, so that we wouldn't have to check out and check into another hotel in the very same city the next day, never mind that it's a 20 minute walk away. Ah well. No free cancellations.

Well where and where am I now? It's now 11th March, or to be precise, 13 days since we got back from the Nordic lands. About time for the actual trip then, now that all the photos have been posted online? Nah. There's more trouble to cover. Probably the biggest screw up of the year, the aforementioned trouble with the payment for the flight tickets led to some lax editing on my part, and I mistyped one surname- 6/7 of the participants on this trip shared one surname, the exception being one cousin whom I just renamed without any red tape involved. I only noticed the error a few days before the flight when he requested for a copy of the tickets to use as evidence that he would actually be flying off for a week instead of playing hooky. A few emails bounced over to Singapore Airlines' Customer Service fixed things up, though we had to pay a fee of USD 50. Some confused and panicked calls came in the day everything was settled, as the airline had to charge (and refund later on) the cost of one replacement ticket- and I had a meeting to attend out of the office and couldn't be bothered to call and report back until I got home.Well. At least that was the end of our troubles. On to the meat of the story, then? Is what I'd like to say (that last bit looks grammatically wrong, but do indulge me), but I'm suffering from a lack of creative oomph and the energy to type (i.e. plain sloth), so let's spice things up a little by switching to point-form instead. Less words to read! Less time to get through the entire trip! A smaller cheque to write if you're a penny pinching editor who has to pay by the word! Carry on.

♥Day 1: Torsdag, 19th February♥

  • Hearts because I'm feeling trashy. ♥♥♥
  • Well let's see what I can prod out of my fading memory. We landed at Copenhagen's Kastrup airport early in the morning- it was still dark outside. First impression- the airport, when devoid of people, at least, looks like an empty IKEA. Later on I would get the feeling that Denmark (and Sweden, the actual home of IKEA) is like walking through a country-sized IKEA where nothing is for sale.
  • Some fumbling around before we figured things out and got tickets to Copenhagen Central Station. Train tickets here are pricey (comparatively- before and after converting back to RM). I'm not sure about buses- we didn't take any buses during our stay. Copenhagen Central, still dark and lonely, was illuminated in a purplish blue tint. It looked rather sweet.
  • Our hotel (Du Nord) was just a short walk away. We were told that we could have one room ready, but it was a smoking room... I asked if it would smell, to which the lady at the reception said 'probably not, we have good xxx." Fans? Cleaners? I can't recall. Either she was lying or Danes have a bad sense of smell. 
  • We dumped our bags, rested for a bit, and headed out for breakfast. The aforementioned lady's recommendation was a place called Andersen's, just beside the Tivoli theme park, one of Copenhagen's main attractions- which is closed during winter. Bah. It turns out that Andersen's is or was Japanese owned, though I didn't really sense anything Japanese about the place. Nicely done up, but the pastries were much too sweet for our taste.
  • Onward we trudged. We passed by the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek- an arts museum owned by Carlsberg, but it was still closed. I'd considered going back on a Sunday when entrance is free, but we didn't get the chance. Fancy looking statues propped outside though. One lion made for a good photo.
  • Randomly bouncing from sight to sight. We passed through a grand old stone library before ending up at the Black Diamond, a modern glass library by the river (wait, sea?). We huddled inside to regain some warmth and for the group to make use of the (free!) pissoirs. Wait, auto-correct isn't coming up? That word is considered English?!
  • We stumbled upon Christiansborg Palace and didn't even know it at the time. Danish palaces... don't look very palatial. If you're thinking of something pretty like Neuchwanstein in Bavaria or Himeji in Japan... you're in for a major disappointment. 
  • Outside, there was a stand with some news clippings, proclamations and articles pinned to it. Anti-war stuff, denouncing the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and those yet to come. An eager looking lady came along and I panicked a little- I wasn't in the mood for a lecture. Too late- she didn't really lecture much, but asked if we would like pamphlets. "Japanese? Chinese?" She ran off for a bit, but mistakenly came back with Russian pamphlets (I've no idea how a mistake like that could occur). To her credit she did notice the mistake. She did provide one good piece of information- that it's possible to go up to the top of one of Christianborg's towers, for free (!).
  • We fooled around for a bit before heading into a- pseudo-Asian fast food chain, Wok-On, for a quick bite. I didn't eat much (why in blazes would I go for fake Asian food in Europe). They had cute little bonsai trees inside- I quite liked them.
  • After a quick x-ray scan we were on our way up over Copenhagen. Two elevators up- the first to the mid-point of the tower, where there's a restaurant (fully booked!) and a second, separate, elevator to go to the top, named "Kongeelevator" (i.e. The King's Lift). I suppose peons and chattel have to take the stairs. Some small exhibits on the last steps up- a few large weeping stone statues, and a scale model of Christiansborg. The view from the top was pretty good, despite the fog. We couldn't withstand the cold wind, and scampered off after a short while.
  • Moving on- I think we headed back to the hotel, as one of the group wasn't feeling well. On the way back out again we discovered that our hotel may have been in a slightly, ah, trashy area- there were two storefronts with large pictures of ladies with almost-bare tits posing sensually. To be fair, Denmark isn't as stiff as us Malaysians when it comes to showing skin, so they could have been normal pubs and not prostitution dens. We didn't check.
  • I nearly forgot- we had our first brush in with a Danish hot dog stand. It wasn't pleasant, mainly because the one went too only sold pork sausages, which I don't really like. I prefer the IKEA hot dogs back home. 
  • Torvehallerne Market. Copenhagen's prize food market. It's a fancy place, but sadly rather small and pricey. I'd like to say it's overrated, but Copenhagen probably doesn't have anything similar that can top this place... I have to say that the Smørrebrød there is undeniably pretty, though. Not all of us liked the Smørrebrød though, not being used to cold food. Speaking for myself- I don't think it's something worth raving about, or having for lunch every day like some travelers suggested- or did- but to each her/his own.
  • Stumbled upon a church. We ended up resting on the pews for a bit. I now think it might have been the Marble Church at Amalienborg, though I denied it when asked a few days later. I could be wrong, but who's fact checking? If it is indeed the Marble Church, it's really funny how I didn't notice that we had passed Amalienborg, which says a lot about what the majority of Danish castles and palaces look like (from the outside at least)- unnoticeable. They're stealth castles.
  • Picked up our pace and stormed the Kastellet, a star shaped island fort. Nothing much to see there.The Little Mermaid- said to be among the world's "top 10 disappointing tourist attractions" was nearby, so we walked over to have a gander.
  • It was getting dark and one of us (the same one as before) was acting up again- and hunger struck a double blow too. Without much of a choice, we headed in the direction of one seafood restaurant I'd starred on Google Maps. I couldn't find it, and tried to ask someone for directions, but got brushed off before I could get beyond 'excuse me'. Arse. That's all I can say. The restaurant was a short distance off, but it was closed. Oi!
  • At the very least, we ended up in what was probably a much nicer place for dinner- Kjøbenhavn. The waiter was friendly and patient enough to explain the menu, and even took something out from the kitchen when I didn't understand his explanation- though even after seeing it I didn't really understand (though I pretended to so as not to waste time). The food itself had everyone pleased- most of us ordered the fish main and liked it, though the tapioca (?) stick was a little too strange for some. I went with a beef steak, while one cousin went with pork. No complaints from anyone.The meal was topped off with a surprise serving of a chocolate something (ganache?) on a big lump of cold rock... I think it was on the house. A lovely end to the day.

So much for less text while typing in point form! Total word count, not even taking this paragraph into consideration, is past 2,400 words. If anything, I think bullet points just give me more freedom to run wild, with less consideration for establishing actual connections between paragraphs. Oh well. Get ready for yet more text, then.

♥Day 2: Fredag, 20th February♥

  • For our 2nd day in Denmark, I'd planned for us to leave Copenhagen for Aarhus. I think it's pronounced Ah-hoos. I had to warn the others not to unpack too much- I have no idea if they paid me any attention. Breakfast in the hotel restaurant before checking out. Standard European fare- bread, cereal, salami, cheese- stuff like that.
  • Stuffed, we headed over to the train station, and bought out tickets. Transportation is- excuse me- bloody expensive here. That being said, you can save a bit by getting 'pair tickets'- i.e. one ticket for two persons, or perhaps even group tickets, where all seat numbers are printed on one ticket. With tickets in hand we stocked up on Froosh and other junk from the station's 7-Eleven. Speaking of which, 7-Es here are lovely and better stocked than those back home (Malaysia) especially when it comes to food, but Danish 7-Es can't hold a candle up to Japanese 7-Es.
  • 3 hours to Aarhus, going past small towns, tall white wind turbines, and rolling fields that look uncannily like that of the default (and famous) Windows XP wallpaper.
  • It was raining when we arrived. Not a torrential downpour, luckily, but a steady pitter-patter that wasn't light enough to be a drizzle, but not heavy enough to force us indoors either. Nevertheless, it was annoying and most unpleasant. 
  • A spot of trouble once we reached the hostel- reception was closed. I'm not sure if I'd failed to notice this in the fine print when making the booking- but anyhow- after the rain, I wasn't in a good mood. I had to convince the others to dump our bags in a locker room and come back later. It wasn't easy, but dumping my bag in a corner and walking off helped. Monkey see monkey do.
  • One white haired chap, another guest there, came down and saw us- he asked us where we were from. I told him "Malaysia", to which he went "ahh" and made snake-like motions with one arm. It took some time for me to realize that he was talking about the missing MH370. It's a lot better than "Malaysia? Where's that?"- a question which I usually answer "South of Thailand, North of Singapore".
  • We stumbled back out into the rain, which was lighter by then. We walked for a bit and ended up having lunch at a place called Cross Cafe just opposite the Magasin department store. Most of them weren't very daring and went with Fish & Chips (which meant that we had a lot of chips to pass around). I was slightly more daring, and went with a beef burger... well the menu wasn't particularly wild. The burger was pretty good, though.
  • Our first stop after lunch- the (free entry!) Viking Museum. It was rather small, and rather hard to spot, being located underground, with the entrance located beside a bank. There was a diorama of a town during the Viking era (Aarhus?), a skeleton, and a bunch of stuff here and there. I couldn't tell if they're real or replicas. The most interesting part for me were the markers on the staircase showing where ground level was at every other step. I'm not sure if the markers are accurate though.
  • We headed back to the hostel after that, to check-in. One of us wasn't happy that there were no electric kettles in the rooms. I was rather irritated at this point- "it's a hostel, what did you expect?" I quite liked my room though, which had a nice view of a clock-tower in the distance.
  • The rest of the day (and night- it gets dark early here) was spent bumbling around random stores along the pedestrian shopping street; asking without luck if we could get a table for 7 at what is probably (well- is said to be) Aarhus' oldest pub, Café Smagløs (Friday night- the place was packed), supposedly some 400, or 600, years old (though I suspect that the year posted on the signboard only refers to the age of the building itself).

♥Day 3: Lørdag, 21st February♥

  • OK so yesterday wasn't very productive. I decided to force my program down their throats. Time, as usual, was against us, though I think we did well enough.
  • First item on the day: to search for breakfast. None at our residence- it being a hostel, after all- an 'organic' buffet was available at a price, but must be paid for the day before. Tsk.
  • We settled for a joint called Baresso. There was charming blond who attended to us (I missed the chance to ask her for a photo). She recommended the carrot cake, saying that it's "mom's recipe". That surprised me- "your mom's?" to which she explained that it was their founder's mother's recipe. Baresso is pretty much the Starbucks of Denmark.
  • It was raining again. Screw that. I had a mission to accomplish. We made our way to the ARoS Museum of Modern Art, passing, on the way, street art (free to gawk at), suspicious looking clumps of mold-suspects growing out of a doorsill, discarded cardboard boxes belonging to one of my clients from back home, and a buffet restaurant which they were sorely tempted to enter, but I solved the problem by walking off and saying later on that I had forgotten where it was (I really did forget)- we didn't have time for a leisurely buffet anyway.
  • At ARoS. Once in we bought our tickets and headed to the very top, planning on working our way downwards. At the top was the Rainbow Paronama- a pretty sight. It felt like we were walking through a series of camera filters- though it might have been more striking if the sunlight was stronger.
  • Downstairs, there was a restaurant (which we managed to stay out off), and more normal exhibits- paintings and sculptures. I'm not entirely sure what constitutes 'modern art'- the items on this floor, for the most part, seemed rather innocuous and traditional.
  • Things got slightly crazier further down though, with a black room lighted up only by an unreadable fluorescent word and globe; another room filled with what looked like jars of meat, an old red TV set set to constantly repeat a video of two women scrubbing something with dead expressions, amongst other weird crap; a room filled with coloured fog, probably meant to simulate a drug trip (like the effects in the Yogi  & Reggie missions in Far Cry 4?)...
  • Further down we were greeted by Ron Mueck's Boy, or to be precise, his back. We walked around him as we went down, and were gradually exposed to the rest of him. Surrounding him were smaller dark rooms with random musical exhibits- a 'death machine' that played music while jagging (dammit auto-correct, that is a real word) around neurotically; a whirligig that, well, played music as it spun around; a musical cabinet; a studio with lots of junk inside and a tired old voice narrating something completely unremarkable... the next floor below was smoke and mirrors- and I mean that literally- and other stuff that I cannot recall because I didn't take any photos.
  • It was still raining when we got out. I took  the time to snap a shot of their whalecopter anyway. Our next destination- Den Gamle By, basically an open-air historical museum with recreations of old buildings from Denmark's past. It did look a little odd with a modern glass building visible in the distance, though. We had to pause before sightseeing though- it was already around 2pm and their stomachs were rumbling. I headed in the direction of the first restaurant available.
  • It was here that we had our first encounter with the accursed Danish herring. Each of us ordered chicken tartlets, which were fine, if rather bland- but we were curious as to how Danish 'curry' tasted. We ordered two Simonsen Herring Platters, which were described in the English menu as 'Heering w. curry salad". We were expecting some sort of cooked fish in hot curry. We got this instead. We cringed at the mere sight of the word 'curry' for the rest of our trip. I did have my first encounter with 'Elderflower' juice, which was surprisingly rather nice.
  • Still raining, but what the heck. Walking through mini-town was pleasant enough, despite the constant downpour. Old looking houses filled with stuff- a printing house, a photo studio, a replica of a mayor's residence, a toy museum filled with toys from over the ages, a poster museum, stuff, stuff, and more old stuff. An interesting walk which would have been nicer without the rain getting in the way.
  • Time for dinner. We walked around town for a bit before making our way back to Café Smagløs. No trouble finding a table this time. I had a raging headache from all that rain though, and just ordered cider and soup. The cider went down easily, but the soup wasn't very cooperative. It was still raining when we left.
♥Day 4: Søndag, 22nd February♥
  • Back to Copenhagen. Luckily for me my headache had faded away over the night. It was still raining outside though. We ran into a spot of trouble at the train station though- the tickets just wouldn't accept some of our cash. We got one station attendant to try and help out, but it didn't work, and we ended up waiting at 7-E stuffing ourselves with chicken sticks and other stuff until the Ticket Office opened. I got ticket 001.
  • 3 hours later and one long walk to our next hotel- CPH Living. We'd actually seen it on our first day while walking through town. The 'Captain' happened to be on deck checking our rooms. I had a brief chat while checking in. Turns out that the hotel was started as a 'hobby' by he and 4 other friends, but they have their day jobs as well, and just drop by to look around on weekends to chat with guests. Not a bad life.
  • Back to the rooms- the view was pretty sweet. I'm not sure I can say the same of the view from the bathroom though- there's no curtain on the windows. Cap' said that they meant to simulate an open ocean view to make the space feel wider- an idea I can empathise with, though having enjoyed fooling around the the now-you-see-me-(in the tub dammit look the other way before I scream sex offender on the loose)-now-you-don't windows at the Mitsui Garden Hotel in Tokyo, there's definitely an easy (if expensive) way to solve the privacy issue.
  • After some coffee we trundled off through another part of town- close to Christianshavn, I think. We passed through Nyhavn on the way, a pier lined with colourful pubs- I got what I think is my best photo of the trip- though I now find it rather dull (that's what you get for setting it as your wallpaper and looking at it every day).
  • Onward to Amalienborg. We got there just before 4.00pm- closing time. It's really frustrating how everything, with the exception of pubs, shuts down so early. What do they expect tourists to do, sit around in the cold and gawk at pigeons?
  • Though we didn't get to go in- Amalienborg does look rather pretty from the outside. There were a bunch of royal guards on patrol, though unlike the Brit ones we're used to seeing in TV shows most of them looked rather... puffy. Not to mention bespectacled- I've nothing against that, I'm four-eyed myself, but theirs looked rather dated. I wonder if there are restrictions on what they can or cannot wear. I suppose that those caught wearing half-frames will be sentenced to a week of latrine scrubbing. They were rather stern though- one shooed off a giggling tourist when she tried to get beside him to take a photo. 
  • Time for dinner- a place I'd wanted to go on our first night, the food trucks at Papiroen Island. It was quite a long walk there and by the time we'd arrived it was starting to get dark. The place itself is called "Copenhagen Street Food", if you're interested.
  • I hadn't seen any photos of the place. I thought we'd run into a square or a road lined with food trucks and tables and chairs out in the open- instead we found a large warehouse-like building- with food trucks inside. There was a section filled with sofas surrounding a large fireplace for リア充 (riajuu) people to snuggle up together- or hygge, as the locals say.
  • There was some interesting food around- burgers, Mexican, Korean, Japanese, Chinese... not enough variety, though it was a pleasant change from the restaurants we'd been frequenting. The rest of them (excluding my sister and I) headed straight for the Chinese. I knew they'd regret it and openly sneered at their choice- "we're some 6500km away from home and you're still going for fried noodles?!" They didn't listen.
  • Sis and I decide to go for Italian and Greek- one Greek spinach pie with lentil soup, and a cheesy pasta (Sicilian style? I can't recall). We split the food. The pasta was good, though not mind-blowingly awesome. The pie, on the other hand, was new and exciting. On the other side of the table, they found themselves hating their 'Chinese' fried noodles (much too salty) and needed glasses of 50 DKK beer to wash down the muck.
  • Pitch black when we stepped out. The night lights were pretty and the moon was full, but it was cold and they lacked the determination to linger. Without much else to do we headed back to our ship. I believe the elder ones conked out upon arrival, though I ended up watching a beeb documentary on performance artist Marina Abramović. I can't recall clearly, but I think I had a fairly odd dream that night.
OK. Total word count is now 4822 words (excluding this paragraph)- which is really rather ridiculous, considering the attention span of the average net surfer. How many of you made it up to this point in one sitting? One? Two? If you did, you're probably in a very small and elite club. Good job. Now give yourself a pat on the back and wait for Part 2 along with everyone else.

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