Backpacking Europe 2015- Copenhagen Part 2

January 14th, 2015

11AM CET

Central Copenhagen, Denmark

The air is cool, crisp and chilly today. A grayish haze hangs over the city, making it feel a bit like this hamlet is sleeping under a thick blanket. The streets are damp but still cheerful feeling. I amble through the streets and admire its beautiful architecture. The city makes me feel a bit like I’m wandering through the pages of an Eastern European fairy tale, like I may bump into a character from the Brothers Grimm around the corner of a neat little brick row house. I wander down towards the canal and admire its postcard-like rows of houses and shops yet again. After a time I set off towards Vesterbro to meet Lars at a cafe for coffee.

2:30PM CET

Bang & Jensen, Vesterbro

I hop off the bus in Vesterbro and walk a few blocks towards the cafe. I haven’t seen Lars in a bit and I wonder how he’s been  or what he’s like outside of work. We got along fantastically when we met on set but we’re all different creatures once we step out of the land of make-believe and back into our respective lives, lives we’ve often abandoned for months at a time in favor of our craft. Many of us don’t exist very well in reality, living largely secluded lives between jobs. As I turn the corner, the first thing I see is his tall, lanky figure sitting on the steps of the cafe. His long legs are tucked underneath a red plaid blanket and he holds a quarter-smoked cigarette in two fingers as he sips an espresso, his light brown hair tucked underneath a wool cap. As I approach, he gleefully springs up and greets me with an enthusiastic embrace, reminding me how much he dwarfs my 5′ 5″ figure. He has an ear-splitting smile and is one of those humans that possesses genuinely happy eyes. I pop inside the cozy cafe and get an espresso of my own, then join Lars on the steps, sharing the blanket as I pull out my own cigarette and he kindly lights it for me. We begin to chat and catch up, he asks about my trip and complements my desire to travel and learn. I ask about his family and he begins to happily describe the accomplishments of his sons and wife as they excel in their own ventures. Our cigarettes burn down to the filters and Lars emphatically states “What are you doing later? You must come see the family!” I tell him I’m a vagrant child and therefor free indefinitely and he says “OK, we’ll go over now!”. He makes a quick phone call to his wife to warn her, speaking rapid Danish with the all-too-familiar and truly universal inflections of telling a partner that company is coming. He then carefully folds up the blanket and returns it to the stack of blankets just inside the door of the cafe, specifically there for those that would like to tuck into a cigarette and a coffee on their steps just as we have, and we head off to his flat.

3:30 PM CET

Lars’s Flat, Vesterbro, Copenhagen

Nestled down a quiet residential street, we walk up to his second floor flat and are greeted by his beautiful wife Anette. Lars and his wife are both actor/actress respectively. Lars greets her with a kiss and then hustles to the kitchen for a bottle of wine. The flat is clean and decorated in modern Scandinavian style but feels very welcoming and cozy, the kind of flat where you can feel that a real family lives there. I take a seat at the dining room table and Lars returns from the kitchen with a bottle of white wine and glasses. We all sink into our chairs and begin to just chat. Intermittently, I see Lars texting discreetly under the table. Soon enough, a young man arrives, about my age, blonde and attractive. He’s a young actor that Lars has befriended and is mentoring. Another glass appears and he also grabs a seat at the table. Soon, we are also joined by Lars’s sons, Lue and Thor. Lue takes his seat at the table and tells us he is getting ready to go to university and study acting and we talk about the monologues he’s been working on.

Somewhere in this the first bottle empties and the second one is uncorked. We begin to ramble on about literature, music and the film industry as a whole. The afternoon begins to fade into evening. Anette begins to get ready to head to a performance of hers that night and reminds Lars that he’s on babysitting duty. With a sigh, he then begins to describe the great nightlife in the area, and tells his young friend he MUST take me out, and that he wishes he could join too. Then, Lue quietly says something to Lars in Danish and his face lights up! Lars then turns back to myself and his friend with a grin and says triumphantly “I have a grown son! He’s happy to watch his brother so we can go out!”. And with that, we finish the second bottle and rise from the table. Before we step out the door, Lars vanishes for a moment and then returns holding a small, black case. To me, it looks something like a clarinet or oboe case; slim, rectangular and textured with little brass latches and a small handle. His friend chuckles but no one says anything more about it. And with that, we head out into the night.

Now, before I continue, I have, until this point, been able to well-document the locations I have visited throughout this trip. However, you will note at this point into the story I have already tucked into several glasses of wine. Therefor, the finer points of the location details will be absent and will be only noted in the general sense.

Approx. 7:00PM CET

Vesterbro, Copenhagen

Our trio begins quickly group-stepping down the dark streets of Vesterbro. Lars is laser-set on a location, I can tell by the focus of his steps. He turns to me and says “Have you had kebabs in your travels?” To which I respond “Absolutely, I’m a poor backpacker, I naturally love kebabs!” He smiles again and in moments we’re at a tiny hole-in-the-wall kebab shop on a street corner. It glows with the familiar neon sign and behind the counter the giant cylinder of meat slowly rotates, glistening with fat, probably the most welcome sight to be seen to those who are many a drink into their evening. Lars orders for the three of us, and I watch as they slather my delicious meaty sandwich with the sacred white and red sauces, pickles, and veggies. We grab a small circular table in the front corner by the window and begin to gleefully devour our evening sustenance before we rally for the real drinks ahead. Conversation is minimal, and the focus is to consume. It is a quick harken back to many a drunk-meal throughout college, an almost prayerful ritual between companions that fortifies and rejuvenates the party. Quickly, our meal is complete and we set off for the next location: Lars’ favorite pub.

A Pub

Vesterbro, Copenhagen

We enter a spacious corner pub, dimly lit with the warm glow of hanging stained-glass style billiard lamps over well-loved and worn billiard tables. Thick cigarette smoke hangs in the air as older gentlemen loiter at the bar in the center of the room or around billiard games being played in the corner. Lars takes our order, I surmise the night will be lengthy so I order a Carlsberg thinking I can pace myself with the light ale. Lars returns from the bar with two drinks a person and I begin to get the inkling this night will be developing rapidly. A short man with a thick beard comes over and greets us with an enthusiastic “Hallo!”. Lars introduces him as a music writer/composer friend and he sits down and joins our table.

After a few minutes, Lars stands up and with his small black case walks over to one of the billiard tables, greeted with smiles and warm welcomes in Danish. His friend nudges me as Lars opens up the case to reveal a billiard cue in two pieces. He gently screws the two together and closes the case. His friend leans in and whispers to me across the table “That cue costs around $1200”. My eyes widen and that’s when I notice the old chalk scoreboard on the wall next to the billiards table. Sitting in 1st place for overall scoring is, of course, Lars’ name. His friend grins “He really likes this game”. They begin to set the table up and that’s when I notice strange wooden pins being arranged much like bowling alley pins in the center of the table. This game is called kegelbilliard or Danish five-pin billiards. His bearded friend leans in “Do you know how this is played?” I shake my head. They then begin to attempt to explain the rules to me at length. Now, I could google the rules and attempt to persuade you that I actually understood anything they were saying to be, but immediately prior to this explanation, Lars’ bearded friend had gone to the bar and ordered a “Copenhagen” shot (later to discover this was the traditional “Snaps”). The little shot looked unassuming at first, but the sly smile on the faces of the party gave away that there was more than meets the eye. I dutifully tossed it back, to be met with a liquid that I would only describe as someone lighting a stick of English black licorice candy on fire and liquifying it. I cough on the finish and they all cheer excitedly and laugh. Meanwhile, while I still don’t quite understand the rules, it’s clear that Lars has a deft focus on the game and appears to be doing well judging by the concerned faces of those around them. There’s playful ribbing going on in gruff Danish as each player takes his shot. The friend with the beard begins to tell me about his work in the music industry, telling me he even wrote a song for Katy Perry. I have no idea if its true or not, but it makes for fascinating bar stories.

The drinks keep flowing and the night continues on, Lars happily bouncing between the game and our table, more stories of the film industry and of traveling being swapped. At one point a song breaks out and all the men at the bar join in a happy chorus. It’s one of those nights that just seems as if the world stood still for a bit so that the people in this bar can enjoy the simple points of life for a few hours. Soon, it is very, very late and we are all very, very drunk. We all embrace, now feeling the best of friends, and then begin to depart.

A Bus Stop

Vesterbro, Copenhagen

At the bar, I was confident that I would be able to easily get home, smiling and waving away efforts to help me get back. Now, I am alone at a bus stop realizing I’m probably more drunk than I should be to navigate public transportation. But like Magellan, I press on. The first bus is no issue, I jump on and it takes me straight to Nørreport no issues. Then things get a bit tricky. I board a bus in Nørreport and the bus driver begins to yell at me in Danish, telling me something along the lines of my ticket not being valid. I’m drunk and very much not understanding so I lean against the bar of the bus and attempt to argue back in English. This goes on for several minutes, neither of us having a slightest idea what the other is saying, until clearly the driver relents to the drunk girl on the bus not getting off and just tells me to sit down. I plop down and watch as a somewhat fuzzy version of the city whizzes by. I’m too ready to just rest my head.

Suddenly, the scene changes to something I’ve never seen before. We’re in a little suburban village, nothing like what I’ve ever seen. Shit. I got on the wrong bus. I hurriedly pull the stop chord and we pull to a small, secluded bus stop along a narrow road. I jump out and the icy night air sobers up my senses quickly. I cross the street to the bus stop for the opposite direction and wait. I have no idea when or if a bus will be coming and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was quietly panicking. I begin to whisper soft reassurances to myself (my drunken personality is quite self-comforting). After what feels like an hour, another bus comes into view. Thank god. This driver has no issues with me and soon I’m back at Nørreport. By this point, the alcohol is beginning to wear off and the cold is cutting in. I light a cigarette and triple-check that I’m standing at the correct bus stop. About twenty minutes go by before the next bus finally arrives. I hop on and am soon whisked away back to the flat, where I exhaustedly stumble back upstairs and collapse on the couch.

The final days in Copenhagen are up next and then the Germany stories! Thanks for reading!

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