Beer! Mermaids! Jazz! The grand Copenhagen birthday-meet of 2009

On Thursday I was hung over so I was grateful for the opportunity to slouch on the sofa by the window enjoying the sun and recuperating for some time. Wntrmute discovered that, while The Labyrinth had no toaster, there was an old-school upside-down grill (or perhaps it would be better described as an electric barbecue) on which we could toast toast. We headed out annoyingly late, intending to visit Tivoli Gardens, which is the centuries-old garden-cum-amusement park in the middle of Copenhagen. While waiting at the Metro station I figured out exactly what the ugly brown boxes nearby where. The wedge-shaped box had a door at one end - it concealed a set of stairs leading down underground, and the other low brown boxes were ventilation and possibly covered skylights from the room underneath the sandy area where they were situated. What's down there? Probably electrical or sewage stuff.

Not modern art, then.

Since I wanted to do some wandering and get the lay of the land, so to speak, we started from Christianshavn station on the crown-shaped Christianshavn island and worked our way west towards Tivoli along the canals or rivers or whatever you want to call those particular bodies of water. It's wholly unclear whether Copenhagen is built on a river or not, because there are so many artificial islands and waterways around obscuring the natural geography. Still, I'm not complaining. We found lots of entirely inoffensive, non-touristy buildings which I considered to be worth photographing and photographed them. When we reached the main bridge we found a preposterously expensive boat-restaurant and an amusing conceptual effort at a boat-hotel. Or rather, a hotel-boat. A boat-hotel would probably be a hotel for boats. We crossed the bridge (Langebro) and worked our way down Hans Christian Andersen's Boulevard, past the Københavns Rådhus which is the Copenhagen city hall, and then reached the Rådhuspladsen which is the main city square.

Tangent. It's about at this point that I realised what was bugging me about the Danish pedestrian crossings. Not the fact that there's no button and they just turn green automatically if you wait long enough, at any time of the day or night. Not the fact that they beep continuously (in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of a cardiac monitor), and the beep speeds up when it's time for you to cross. Not even the fact that right-turners (Danes drive on the right) will attempt to turn the corner even as you're crossing, but it's okay because you have right of way and they'll stop for you. No, it's the fact that the little green man is facing the wrong way. He's walking right to left instead of left to right as in the United Kingdom.

Danish roads are also slightly treacherous because a cycle lane is an actual separate lane of traffic, not a lane painted on the pavement, and bicycles are often to be found driving down those lanes. Sometimes there's a drop from the pavement to the cycle lane, then a full-width lane for bikes, then another drop to a row of parked cars, then two lanes of motor traffic, then all the same again in the opposite order on the far side. Danish roads are extremely wide compared to, say, British ones, and I really like this about the country. Even if there's loads of traffic, it makes everything so much less... fraught.

We made a brief diversion to a coffee shop and a Seven Eleven (the latter of which positively litter the city) for food, which we munched down in the square while listening to pointlessly poppy (that is, "of or pertaining to pop music") versions of traditional ethnic music being played behind us. I had what amounts to a kebab, a wooden skewer loaded with chicken, which was pleasing in terms of the perfect meat-to-non-meat ratio, being one to zero. Wish I'd had more though. One of those would be good right now, actually. We made a brief stop at a design shop where we discovered a small statue of a reclining fat white stick figure, labelled "noder". How did they know?

Copenhagen is the place where Carlsberg lager is made, hence the "so good the Danes hate to see it leave" slogan. In the UK, Carlsberg is marketed as "Probably the best beer in the world", which I found highly amusing because at Rådhuspladsen it is much less trumpeted, as merely "Probably the best beer in town". How many other beers are made in Copenhagen? At least it's more likely to be true.

I have very little experience with amusement parks, so when I say that Tivoli is my favourite so far, you should not be especially impressed. I have only ever visited The American Adventure near Nottingham, which was mediocre at its peak and fell into a decline whose amusing/depressing story is charted well on Wikipedia. At the time I travelled to Denmark, the Danish kroner was worth almost exactly one-eighth of a British pound, making mental conversions extremely easy to judge (just divide by 2 three times), so I was painfully aware of the high cost of entry and then of the equally high costs of rides and restaurants (of which there were more of the latter than the former). The park had apparently only opened for the season the previous day; on our way in, we saw several rides under tests, running without people in them. According to Dimview there were very few people in the park compared to the heaving summer season, which was nice. DTal and I decided to make a bee line for the Himmelskibet ("Star Flyer"), on which you sit in a plastic seat not much more substantial than a child's playground swing, are raised up on chains to about 80 metres in the air and swung around at high speed. This was a pretty great experience because of the view it offered - we could see the Middelgrunden wind farm off the coast, and all the way to the Øresund bridge-tunnel crossing linking Copenhagen with Malmö, Sweden. (If we ran out of things to do in the week we had planned to take a one-off trip to Malmö, but we didn't. Well, maybe we did, I wasn't the last to leave.)

Tangent. Bridge-tunnel crossings are awesome. In a situation where a bridge is the most financially sensible thing to build, you may find that the water passage you are crossing must also allow water traffic through it, or, in this case, that it's illegal to build a bridge so close to an airport. What do you do? Build half of the crossing underwater, then add an artificial island where the tunnel surfaces and becomes a bridge to the other side. In this case, the artificial island is called Pebelholm ("Pepper Island") which is a cool name chosen to go nicely with its big brother to the north, which is called Saltholm.

The others elected to simply hang around and wait until DTal and I came back, then we headed off for the other tall object in the park, which was the Golden Tower. We deliberately opted for the side of the tower which faced east so we could get a better look at the Øresund Bridge, but unfortunately I was required to remove my glasses so I couldn't see anything. Glasses were placed in handy buckets positioned on the ground next to each seat. Not the best location-- aren't those buckets for throwing up into? I guess that's an incentive not to throw up then. The Golden Tower was a personable, chummy ride; it was possible to have fairly low-volume conversations at the top of the tower before being dropped mid-syllable. The only real question is what, exactly, is the best thing to be caught saying when you drop?

Speaking of wind farms, at the centre of the park near the fountain was a huge, full-scale wind turbine, except oriented to point upwards, and turning some ten metres above everybody's heads. This was a monument to Danish use of renewable energy, which (DTal and I noted) was turning at a constant speed and had its blades oriented vertically to push as much air out of the way as possible, meaning it had to be powered by other, real wind turbines. Perhaps it was mechanically coupled directly to one of them.

We stopped off to try on some patently ridiculous sunglasses and to buy food. Evil Catullus bought fried chicken of some description, DTal, Wntrmute, Dimview and sloebertje bought ice cream, and I got noodles and sweet and sour chicken in a miniature tub, being the healthy one. The booth where I bought the latter was pretty smart; instead of waiting around for my food, I was handed a chunky red disc with a LED and a miniature buzzer inside it, and allowed to wander away, with instructions to return when the disc beeped at me that my food was ready.

We toddled onwards and discovered a lake and a pirate ship, complete with diners eating on the deck (so I guess it was a restaurant) and a frankly terrifying animatronic movement-triggered pirate who welcomed landlubbers aboard. Nearby was a clam and a sign; the sign read "This clam spits water into the lake every five minutes", but was positioned so that you could only read the sign if you were standing right where the clam would spit water at you. This seems to me like a hilarious idea for a trap. I wonder how many of the park staff just spend all their days waiting for the next sucker to get showered with water. It's probably the highlight of their week. As we circled around the other side of the lake, we discovered that a small decorative boat was moored to the pirate ship, and some kind of launch on the far shore, so I hypothesised that these were used during shows, with some guest of honour crossing the lake and boarding the ship as part of it.

Crossing a bridge over the lake, we discovered that it was full of seabirds, swimming around, waiting patiently to be fed from the nearby dispenser. But, on closer inspection, the dispenser appeared to contain "fish food", for the huge, beautiful, gawping carp which swarmed just below the surface where the birds were sitting. Thus arose the question: how to feed the fish without feeding the birds? Several tactics were pioneered. Evil Catullus threw food far away to distract the birds, then hurriedly fed the fish while they weren't looking. I experimented with throwing small bits of gravel into the water where only the birds would go for them, in order to irritate them, but they caught on to this tactic pretty quickly. I found it interesting that through all of this we had coloured the fish as the heroes and the birds as the villains. Had the dispenser read "bird food", our opinions would have been completely reversed.

By this time it was close to the point where BaronWR was going to need collecting from the airport. We managed to hang around for long enough for the many and various lamps, lights and lanterns dotted around the park to light up, and then we had to leave. I was sad about this, because I think Tivoli probably looks amazing at night. Overall it's an enjoyable experience as long as you treat Danish kroners as funny money and try not to let the ridiculous cost matter too much.

On the way out of the main Tivoli gate, we passed a row of large copper urns marked with old-fashioned names of various planets on them. It was apparently some kind of attempt at a scale model of an old-school nine-planet solar system. At least, I claim it was to scale; others disagree.

We returned home via the surface train and then the Metro. By this point DTal's and my decision to fold our clip cards (10-punch tickets for Metro use) in half and store them in our wallets was proving to be a mistake, because many of the machines could not be coaxed into punching them. We only rode the surface train (which runs down what is effectively a canal in the middle of the city, only instead of water, there are train tracks) for one stop, which was enough to establish that the wheel base on Danish trains is much wider than on British ones, making the trains themselves incredibly spacious and comfortable. BaronWR was retrieved in time for dinner, which was pasta and meat/mushroom sauce cooked in a tureen bigger than the kitchen sink. I know this, because I washed up. If you leave me in charge of something I will automatically tidy it up, so I automatically tidied the kitchen up afterwards.

Wntrmute whipped out his tripod and we made a panorama which, due to cunning quick-change artistry straight out of old-school plate photography, featured BaronWR and Dimview twice, and myself thrice.

And then we drank, and sank into bed.

Not together.

Nodermeets aren't as debauched as you've heard.