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2003-10-16 - 7:05 p.m.
Grab yourselves a cup of java and a comfy chair, loyal readers, this serving of Warrior Geek drama is super-sized. Here you'll find out everything you ever wanted to know about northern Europe but were afraid to ask. OK, maybe that's an overly ambitious promise for this issue, but I can promise you a compelling saga of Scandinavian adventure, that may or may not make you want to go check the place out for yourself.
First Stop: Copenhagen The Skinny -- Friendly people; city appears eerily utopian; dilapidated hippie theme park kind of a disappointment; bonus points of Danish-style dollar store with weird post cards and cool cheap shot glasses
After a long grueling flight my travel companion Bang Olufsen and I arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark on Saturday, September 20. Upon arrival I was famished since Iceland Air neglected to order the vegetarian meal I requested and the flight time was about 9 hours including a stop in Reykjavik. The other bad news was that the airline got our luggage dirty and wet so when we unpacked we found our clothing to be damp and smelly. Finally, Bang and I discovered that Iceland Air Holidays had booked us in a 3 star hotel. Bang and I purchased our hotel and travel arrangements through Iceland Air and paid extra for 4 star hotels so we were a little disappointed to see that not only were our accomodations not what we requested, we hadn't been refunded any of what we paid or even told about the change.
Bang and I were both too tired to function once we got to the hotel so we napped for a couple of hours before foraging for food and cocktails. Unfortunately we didn't nap long enough, but more on that later. We woke up around 5pm and ended up eating at an Indian vegetarian place. I felt a little bad about this since it happened to be Bang's birthday and I was hoping we'd find a place more to his liking but we seemed to be having difficulty finding restaurants.
After dinner we went to Stereo Bar for vodka tonics. The liquor portions in Scandinavia are tiny so if you are looking to get hammered this is not the travel destination for you. The Stereo bartenders were very nice and friendly and had acceptable taste in music so I wholeheartedly endorse that venue. After Stereo we went to Rust, which is supposed to be a famous Copenhagen dance club. There wasn't really any dance action and the DJ wasn't all that impressive. Bang and I were so miserably tired that we ended up just going back to the hotel which is unfortunate since that was our only chance to check out Copenhagen night life. The even bigger bummer is that we later learned the Donnas were playing at another club in town and if we'd known about it we could've gone to see them.
Sunday morning I woke up at 5am. I just couldn't sleep, despite being tired. I walked around a little by myself lamenting having arrived in Copenhagen a day late. Having the stay in Copenhagen shortened and being jetlagged for half of it made for a really disappointing experience. To make matters worse it was cold and rainy the entire day and since I woke up much earlier than I wanted to I was pretty groggy all day too.
Feeling compelled to take in as much as possible with the short time left in Copenhagen, we checked out the National Museum. We saw a Danish history exhibit and a viking exhibit. The history exhibit was OK. The viking exhibit didn't really have enough focus on pillaging for my taste. My favorite display was the case entitled "Christian Booty". The attached plaque described how the items in the case had been stolen by vikings raiding the UK coast.
The history exhibit mentioned that Danish law prohibits parents from hitting their kids. I actually did notice that in spite of seeing tons of people out in public with kids, at no point did I see anyone roughing them up.
After the museum we thought about checking out Tivoli but the weather was too horrible so instead we got coffee and I worked on postcards. We wandered around Stroget after that but I wasn't too impressed by it, it's pretty much a generic shopping district. We went back to Tivoli in the early evening but that was pretty much a waste of time. I know it's a famous Copenhagen attraction but unless you like amusement parks my advice is skip it.
We made the mistake of going to a pub near the hotel. Drinks were $15 per beer so we didn't stay too long. We wandered back to the neighboorhood Stereo was in and found another cool bar with friendly bartenders and less obscenely expensive drinks. We met an American from San Francisco and a few other locals in the bar. Bang got hammered but I was too tired to do much of anything so I just went back to the hotel.
I feel I should note that at this point in the trip Bang and I discovered that the guidebooks lie about tipping policies in Scandinavia. While it is true that smaller tips are expected in Sandinavia, tipping is still common practice. If you're planning a trip to northern Europe keep this in mind.
Monday morning I woke up at 6:20 am, my body was just rejecting this whole European time thing. Bang's snoring wasn't really helping my sleep schedule either. Once he finally got up we went to check out Christiana, it was not very hippie like, there were no long skirts or dredlocks or anything, it was kinda bleak and there was lotsa dope to buy. It was pretty much a dilapidated hippie theme park for tourists. It is also worth noting that Christiana is conveniently situated right near the schools. Bang and I caught sight of some saw some 13 year old boys heading out of the place with their "purchases".
Being on a hippie in Copenhagen seems kinda pointless, the entire city is like a hippie commune, doesn't seem like they've got much violence or even many homeless people. Everyone's hugging trees and riding bicycles. I think if you wanna rebel in Danish society you have to be a facist or something. Maybe roll around the city in an SUV chucking McDonalds wrappers out your window.
Any way, the weather was gorgeous and perfect. After snapping some pictures and exploring the commune we got some coffee and enjoyed the sun. I took a photo of this bank ad (I think it is a bank ad, any way) with a picture of this pregnant woman and her partner, who is sitting behind her kinda cuddling, the parnter is either a man or a lesbian, can't tell which. It has hairy legs but that provides little indication in the Man vs Lesbian debate. The Danish guys aren't all that butch so this could go either way. What do you think?
I also noticed, during my stroll around town, that Danish strollers are oddly shaped like vending carts so when people are taking their tykes for a walk it looks like they are peddling babies -- especially when they have like 3 kids in 1 cart. I am guessing the kids aren't actually for sale though. The Danes seem pretty progressive about child rearing. I read in the National Museum that they've even outlawed hitting them. I mentioned this to my friend NordicG, my tour guide in Norway, and he said he's never seen Norwegians hitting their kids either. If you're wondering what the Scandis do when their kids act up, here's what I saw: At a park in Norway I saw this woman with her kid and it was pitching an enormous fit, the mother set the tyke down (it was maybe 3) and just let the kid cry and she just stood there waiting for it to shut up. Seemed to be effective, the kid stopped after a few seconds.
Before leaving Denmark I tried to get rid of the last of my Danish currency. I went to what appeared to be their version of the dollar store and got some shot glasses, tiger striped sunglasses and some weird postcards. I still wound up with about $1.50 in Danish money left over. Going to Europe is like the video arcade. You know how you win those little tickets with each video game you play and then you go the prize counter and you can trade your tickets for stuffed animals and gummy bracelettes and crap. At the end you always wind up with like 2 tickets left and you are going "What can I get for 2 tickets, um, I'll take two of those plastic spider rings." There is nothing you can do with 10 kroner, it is useless, not even worth the trouble to change back to US money. The good news is that the Oslo Raddison has thought about this and I like their idea, they have a collection set up saying you can toss your leftover currency in there and it'll go to charity.
Second Stop: Oslo The Skinny -- Beautiful well-dressed people everywhere; spectacular scenery, including mountains, fjords, water, and skyline; Vigeland park is gorgeous, probably my favorite sight in all of Scandinavia, bonus points for wacky Norwegian hip hop club night.
Going from Copenhagen to Oslo involves taking a cruise. I know that sounds like it'd be really fun but actually it turned out to be the worst part of the trip. The only good part of it was that the views out of port were lovely and finally got good panoramic photos of Copenhagen.
When we arrived at the boat we had a moment of terror as the boat staff told us they'd never seen a voucher like ours before (the one Icelandair gave us) and we were worried we had no boat tickets and would have to buy some or worse yet, if tickets were sold out, we could have been stuck in Copenhagen with no place to stay. After some scrambling we got it all sorted out and got on board.
Any way, The Cruise:
First of all there was not a thing to eat on there. I settled on a dinner of overpriced vodka tonics and dutyfree candy for dinner and passed out at 8pm. I got off much lighter than Bang. He couldn't sleep so he wandered the boat in search of amusement, there was none to be had. He woke me up, outraged, trying to convince me to come survey the horror but I was too tired. First of all some 600 year old drunk Danish woman was trying to get into our room thinking it was her's. Bang went and opened the door and she asked him to help her find her room, she was too wasted to remember which was room was her's. As he wandered down the hall with her and she stumbled around telling him how she loves Americans and used to live in America and how she loves him and started kissing him. Bang told her to try asking the concierge for help finding her room. I guess he missed out on his big chance for some hot action with a Dane.
He said he later saw the same woman hanging onto the edge of a piano and weaving (still drinking) while a man in a tux played a syrupy version of 2nd street in the piano bar. He checked out the "nightclub" and said there was a live elevator music band and some old people bobbing to it. He also said the so-called "pirate bar" was neither open nor full of pirates. He came into the cabin throwing a fit about the entire thing and saying how we were the only 2 people (aside from the staff) under 70.
He tried to persuade me to check out the scene for myself, insisting I wouldn't believe what was going on out there but I told him I was quite sure I'd seen stuff like it before, afterall I lived in Florida when I was a teenager.
In our extreme boredom we came up with the following thoughts:
- Perhaps Oslo was some kinda retirement community.
- We wondered what the age of consent laws are in Denmark and Norway and if they apply to the cruise ship since it is technically in neither place.
- We also wondered how Scandinavians tip strippers, their equivalent of a $1 bill is a coin and you cannot throw coins at strippers.
We considered asking the bartenders on the boat about these pressing questions but decided against it on the off chance that there was a jail cell of some sort on the boat that they might throw us in as a precautionary measure.
The following morning I had an $18 bowl of oatmeal for breakfast before arriving in Oslo. (The oatmeal came from an impressively unappealing $18 breakfast buffet). It was raining when we arrived so we were worried that rain truly was following us but luckily it cleared up later and turned out to be a gorgeous day.
NordicG met us at the boat and showed us some of the city. We rode the subway to this lookout point and could see the entire city -- the buildings, the water, the fjords, the mountains. It was really pretty. We also saw Vigeland park which was absolutely fantastic. After that we went back to the hotel and checked in, we got an exceptionally a nice room and terrific view. If you ever go to Oslo, stay at the Raddison. It's the tallest building in Oslo and the views are spectacular.
That evening we went to a couple of bars and wound up at this fantastic hip hop night. The best part was the kids were rapping in Norwegian. It was sort of an open mic type set up. Different MCs came up to spit rhymes. A lot of them were big on the gangsta rap -- imagine white blond kids in Norway rapping about the cops chasing them and shooting people. Keeping in mind police brutality isn't really a hot issue in Norway and they have very strict gun control there. NordicG decided he wanted to rap about vikings. He was disappointed to see the Norwegian rappers rapping about things American rappers rap about. He says his first single will be entitled "What the Vikings needed was a Gangsta."
Overall I was not impressed with the Norwegian cultural pride. All of their shops sold American and British stuff. The record shops had American records, American band t-shirts, everything was printed in English.
Also it is worth noting that the Oslo folk are very into fashion. The Norwegian guys would definitely be assumed to be gay if they were walking down the streets in the States. Everyone in the city looks like they just stepped out of Vogue. NordicG, says he gets teased for his jeans and t-shirt look, but he's just not having this whole GQ thing. (NordicG grew up in the States so his sense of style is pretty American.)
On our second day in Oslo, NordicG took us to the best bar I've ever seen. It was called Gamle Major and it was a Halloween themed bar. The floor was see through and you could look down into a mad scientist lab with a Dr. Frankenstein like experiment in progress. To get into the bathroom you lift a book on a bookshelf, like in a haunted house. Lot's of pharmacy stuff around. Test tubes for shots. Very creepy and cool.
Then NordicG and I went to this art exhibit:
It was not as porntastic as the ad seems to imply but it was still pretty good. On artist had all these dioramas of apartments and stacked them all up so it was like looking inside an apartment building. It was pretty elaborate and cool looking.
After that we went to Carl Johansgate and saw the palace and the resistence museum. The resistence museum was depressing but interesting and it is up on this hill so you can get some pretty good pictures of the city.
Our last night in Oslo we had cocktails in the swanky hotel bar that overlooked the city. Then we went out to see a DJ and ended up at another bar with live musicians. The group we saw was really interesting, they had a scratch DJ and jazz musicians. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before and a pretty interesting idea.
On the way out of the last bar last I saw anti-USA grafitti on the ground. It was a USA and the S was shaped like a swastika. During my stay in Scandinavia I talked to a lot of people about their perceptions of Americans. The ideas really varied -- from pity to loathing, but no one was particularly nasty to me or Bang for being American.
NordicG and his friends taught me two words (which I am sure I am misspelling):
forshpeil - in German it means "foreplay", to Norwegians it means pre-party. It's very expensive to drink in bars in Norway so the Norwegians drink at home before they go out for the night.
nochshpeil- in German it means "night play", to Norwegians it means after-party. NordicG says it is common to go back to someone's house after going out for the evening to finish drinking. We toook part in this Norwegian tradition back at the hotel -- NordicG had some weird french liquor that tasked like licorice.
Third Stop: Stockholm The Skinny -- Expansive impressive looking city with breath-taking architecture and winding streets that go on forever. It's exhausting to walk around but there are a million things to look at. Bonus points for hipster night club and friendly Finnish kids that took me out on the town. (Hmm, does Sweden deserve bonus points for friendly Finns? Well more on that below...
We took a train from Oslo to Stockholm. Bang envied my ability to ball up on the seat on the Eurorail and nap. When we finally arrived at the hotel he immediately passed out. I went to explore. The first thing I needed was some Swedish money so I went to look for an ATM. I saw all these hugely long lines on the street. I didn't realize it at first, but these were ATM lines. I asked one of the people in line if it was normal for ATMs to always have insanely long lines, he said it was. You would think the machines were dispensing free money. Clearly the Swedes need more ATM machines. They also need less difficult-to-use ATMs. The cards go in upside down and backwards. There aren't even any helpful signs indicating how to insert your card so if you've never used a Swedish ATM you just stand there like an idiot trying to figure out how to get your card in there while the mile-long line of Swedes behind you threatens to riot. The guy in line behind me finally ended up helping me get my card into the machine. That the height of me feeling like a retarded American tourist.
Stockholm turned out to be the most exhausting, expansive, humongous, overwhelming place I've ever seen. A person could walk and walk for hours and hardly get any place. The city goes on forever. The buildings are giant and ancient and elaborate. The streets are cobblestone and winding and narrow. It all made me feel like Alice in Wonderland. Just getting dinner was tiring. It wore Bang out so much that he fell asleep immediately afterwards. I took a nap but Bang's snoring woke me up a few hours later.
I ended up heading out of the hotel to explore. The nice thing about Scandinavian cities is that they are fairly safe, so you can wander around alone at night without having to worry too much. I didn't have much of a game plan but I remembered seeing ads for an electroclash night when we went out to get dinner so I was sort of hoping to figure out where that was. Coincidentally I stumbled right onto it before I even got a chance to try to track down the flyers I'd seen earlier.
I saw all these hipster looking kids walking out of some club I passed called Debaser and thought "well it's named after a Pixies song and appears to be attracting an interesting crowd I should check this place out" I went up to it and realized it was the electroclash party. The kids were all dressed 80s -- lots of heavy make up, mohawks, glitter, black, bright colors, etc. The music was mostly 80s new wave and some swedish band performed that looked and sounded like Siouxsie and the Banshees. At the bar I was watching this punk girl tip the bartender (because I was trying to figure out what's appropriate tipping behavior) and she caught me looking at her. She said something to me in Swedish that I didn't understand, I replied with a blank look and a "huh?" Then in English she asked me "Do I look scary?" I told her I was sorry to have confused her with the look and that I was just trying to figure out tipping and that I'm visiting from the US.
"Visiting here? Why on earth would you do that?" she said sounding surprised. We chatted a bit she was completely drunk and a little loud but friendly. She told me how she expected Americans to speak, doing an impression right out of Valley Girl. I guess they don't see a ton of Americans in Stockholm.
Later by the bar 2 guys from the UK started talking to me. They were the only two black people in the bar. They said they were goinbg to leave for an African bar around the corner and invited me along but I said I was going to hang around the club a while longer.
A few minutes later some guys started chatting with me. They turned out to be Finns. They were from an island called Aland -- which belongs to Finland but it Swedish speaking. The Finns asked me if I wanted to go to some other bar they expected was open later so I said I'd go along. Around then the Swedish girl I met earlier came back to chat so I invited her to come with us. Some drama ensued in Swedish that I didn't totally understand between the girl and the 2 guys. The aergument was apparently about how she didn't expect the two boys to know their way around Stockholm since they weren't technically Swedes. Then I think she wanted to borrow money from them and she wanted to give them her ID as collateral. All very bizarre. It became a moot point because the bar the boys wanted to go into wouldn't let us in. The bouncer at the door told them they were too drunk to come in. (They were not at all drunk.) Then the bouncer told them they were not dressed for the place. One look in the window made it clear what the real issue was. The patrons inside were all casually dressed and they were all black. As we left the boys told me that around Stockholm there are bars that do not let you in if you are white. They seemed a little miffed. We wandered around a bit before deciding to go back to Debaser, the drunk Swedish girl decided to go home.
I went into Debaser with the 2 guys and got another beer. We talked a bit longer and apparently some famous Swedish rock star was sitting with us. They were all excited, he was from a band called Melody Club. The two boys told me they expected the band to become known in the US and told me I should go meet him before he got all famous so I went and said hello. The Finns were very interested in hearing about what bands are popular around the US indie rock scene, I told them to look for Postal Service albums and Notwist. They knew about Interpol.
After Debaser closed on the the boys caught a bus home, the other walked me back to the hotel's neighboorhood, where he was going to catch his bus. He and his friend gave me their numbers so I could call them later to hang out.
The funny thing about talking to the Finns was that they warned me to be careful around Stockholm because in the paper they read people get mugged sometimes. It sounds almost silly to me since muggings don't even make the papers in the States. We have so much absurd violent crime that I'm just not worried about Swedish muggers. The other thing that struck me about the people in Stockholm is that they seem to be scared of black people. They sounded like little kids talking about monsters in the closet. They all seemed to think the black people are rapists or killers or something. It's this really weird variety of racism because they are apparently also fascinated and want to get into black bars.
The morning after my night of clubbing Band and I went to the City Hall and saw the Vasa ship. It all really wiped me out, it was hours and hours of walking and we only covered a speck of the map with all of it. We were so worn out we ended up going back to the hotel for a nap. Later that evening I met up with the two Finnish guys I met the night before and we went to a bar in Gamla Stan (Old city). The bar had seating in the basement which was like this insane labyrinth of caves. A person could really get lost in there. The Finns said there are a lot of bars and coffee shops using old cellars for space in Gamla Stan and they are all like this.
After the bar in Gamla Stan we went to some crazy viking bar. The Swedes love 80s hard rock -- like Slayer, Manowar, Twisted Sister, ACDC, etc. -- so this bar was playing that sort of music and the patrons were all viked out biker people! If vikings had heard hard rock I bet that's what they would have been into.
Fourth Stop: Iceland The Skinny -- Strange looking, cold, gray country. Overrated night life scene. Bonus points for impressively gorgeous people everywhere.
Apparently we were on the take-your-retarded-kid-to-Iceland flight. The kids behind us kicked my seat all the way from Stockholm to Reykjavik but you cannot yell at retarded kids I suppose. When we arrived at the airport we notiuced some ad warning about STDs. The next ad was for beer and it said "brewed for Icelandic circumstances". Hmm, Icelandic circumstances, what does that even mean? Does this beer have penicillin in it or something? Icelandic circumstances, STDs, hmm...
Riding from the airport to downtown was wierd. Iceland looks like outer space. The only signs of being on earth were the manmade structures like the roads. The landscape is brown and gray and jagged and rocky with a few patches of murky green that resemble mold more than grass. Mountains all disappear into grayish blue swirls of mist that blend with the sky. There are also slate gray/blue bodies of choppy water but mostly there´s lots of grayness and rocks. You can see lots of fog and mountains and water from downtown too.
Bang wanted to nap when we got to Reykjavik so I decided to wander. I found some bizarre "net cafe" full of nothing but 13 year old boys playing video games. The entire downtown was closed up by the time we arrived even though it was only 5pm.
The one thing I noticed was that everyone everywhere was strikingly beautiful from the drugstore clerks to the 13 year old boys to the people walking down the street. Everyone was slim and tall with bright blue eyes and flawless skin. I saw a lot of pretty people around Scandinavia, but the people in Iceland were by far the most attractive people I've ever seen in my life. I saw a lot of young parents walking around too (people who were probably well under 25). I guess that's what happens in a counry full of hot people.
I went to our hotel to take a nap before venturing out for a taste of the famed Icelandic nightlife. What I found turned out to be hugely disappointing. The bars were all rather generic mainstream scenes. The sort of thing you'd see in any frat boy bar in the US. I couldn't find any bars playing music I was into so after wandering around in the frigid weather for a bit I decided to just head back to the hotel for some sleep. I was kind of worn out from travel at that point any way so I wasn't really complaining.
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