Friday, August 17, 2007

The potential tourism killer question: Is Denmark Safe???

Ahh so I can imagine this question is on my Mum’s mind but it really is a topic you should all ponder if you are considering visiting me in the near future (don’t react – just read on – I have to have these little day dreams about my friends coming to visit me – makes me happy so don’t burst the bubble). Aaanyway… It is best to start in my immediate environment and branch out from there.

My bedroom is a war zone (which is not at all safe!) I know what you’re thinking – that its messy, sorry to disappoint you but it is fairly tidy surprisingly enough. What I am referring to is the body count. The smeared bodies of oversized mosquitoes creating a spotty effect on my white walled bedroom. It’s pretty gross really so I won’t show you the picture I took. They are huge! Its crazy and boy do they suck your blood if you’re not fast enough to squash them. Every night no matter how early I close my window or how dark the room is, I am having to go on a killing spree before bedtime. My trusty address notebook is the weapon of choice (flexible and light) My highest body count in one session was 18. I must get on to wiping down the walls. I just thought that maybe the display of dead bodies would deter other mosquitoes from making my room their home. It seems however while they are very capable of finding human flesh to suck they are not so smart and sit on the wall right next to their dead buddies unaware of the warning for their own fate. So you ask, ‘why is this such a threat to ones safety?’ SLEEP people. The very important necessity of life (reminds me of a jungle book song). The constant buzzing of mosquitoes and sucking of blood isn’t really conducive to peaceful sleep, so after a few nights of getting up at 2am to kill the suckers (he he) I now attempt to get them all before sleep time. No mercy.

Just outside the bedroom door, down the hallway we discover a new threat to safety. The dark cavern of the Danish house/apartment. Believe it or not, lights hanging from the ceiling are a rare sight here in Denmark. It seems the Danish love the dark, candle lit atmosphere over the brightly lit interior of a NZ home. They even go as far as to have whole outside walls with no windows! I know – strange but the brick houses are very warm, I am told, in the winter when it snows – the less glass the better. So they have a few lamps here and there in the corners and candles which I must say is lovely but potentially dangerous in the dark unlit corners!

Outside the house is the most dangerous backyard threat here in Denmark. The ‘Killer Slug’!!! Don’t laugh! It truly is very poisonous. God conveniently designed it in a bright red colour to warn us – danger, danger I’m poisonous! So you think I’m kidding? Not at all, it’s been on the news and in the papers that we must all wear shoes. No one has told me yet what touching it does to you but I have seen brave adults reduced to squirming, jumpy, frightened human beings at the sight of one of these beasts so I guess the stories are quite horrific. They are easily dealt with, due to their slow moving bodies (I am told 9 meters in a day for the average killer slug). Simply shake salt over their bodies and before your eyes they foam and shrivel up like the wicked witch of the west. This however requires you to get quite close which seems to be a revolting task for the average Danish adult. I must admit after being ridiculed for my fear of creepy crawly evil beasties all my life – it is quite refreshing to walk up to such a dangerous mini beast and smile with absolutely no fear whatsoever while others around me are less composed – is it wrong to feel empowered by such an event?

We leave the comforts of home now to the dangerous suburban streets of Copenhagen. Helmet-less bicycle riders are everywhere! Always look twice before backing your car out of the driveway, around a corner or through an intersection because these cycle enthusiasts always have the right of way. If the light is green, this does not mean go, this means ‘feel free to go as soon as all the helmet-less riders have gone.’ This is however less of a safety problem than it first appears to be. The convenience of separate raised bicycle lanes (at least two cyclists wide) is entirely fantastic (I have crossed over I am now a helmet-less proud owner of an old style second hand bike). Also the miniature traffic lights for the cyclists makes life much safer! Do be warned though – pedestrians have the right of way so if you’re biking and you hit someone randomly walking out onto your cycle lane – you will be charged!! I like this smallest rules rule.

We move now, finally, from the suburban streets to dangerous inner city Copenhagen. The dirt you have all been waiting for. The horrible truth. OK, so I tend to exaggerate from time to time (I know you do appreciate this though for the purposes of making these blogs more interesting – photo evidence is provided however for most unusual occurrences where possible). Copenhagen is pretty safe – definitely more so than Auckland anyway (not that I‘d ever want to compare the beautiful Copenhagen with Auckland!) I am told it is totally safe to walk home on your own at all hours of the night. The city is what you would call ‘alive’ constantly. Dark abandoned alleys are not that common and the presence of millions (ok thousands) of apartments really lessons the feeling of walking through an abandoned inner city. Every block you are surrounded with doorways which lead to stairways beyond, which wind up to many small dimly lit apartments. You are basically walking through thousands of peoples front yards on every side walk. It is easy to feel safe with people living all around you. You may have heard about drugs and Copenhagen. It is true the drugs and drinking scene is pretty full on here. Apparently the police can’t do anything but fine you $125NZ for possessing a small amount of hard drugs. If you are selling, it is a different story. But it isn’t uncommon to see people shooting up in broad daylight, syringes can also be found around sidewalks in some areas too which is pretty nasty. Basically make sure you can trust the people you are with and you are fine.
Don’t worry about getting lost in Copenhagen, Danish people are very friendly and are always willing to help – I have experienced this friendliness on several occasions (most younger Danish can speak English really well). Unlike some European nations, you don’t feel like your foreign status here is despised. People seem genuinely interested in helping you and understanding where you are from.

So in conclusion I rate Denmark (Well I really only know about Copenhagen) as fairly safe. So book your tickets, let me know when you’re coming and I’ll sort out your tourist itinerary!! Ha!


PS: Danish checklist is coming along nicely:
1. Own an old style black ladies bicycle – CHECK!
2. Move into an inner city apartment with a good room-mate – CHECK! (we move in on the 30 of August)
3. Find an English speaking church with lots of neat people my age - CHECK!
4. Get a job – still working on this one – hopefully it comes before the apartment moving in date or there may be a minor problem

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Day The Sky Hit Me.

The thunder is rolling across the sky from one side of the house to the other. The lightning still giving me little frights even though its now been a regular occurrence for at least an hour. The rain hit three hours ago. I say hit because the only warning we had was a hurriedly approaching dark sky. It literally hit us in a torrent of massive sized, super powered raindrops. We were in the car driving home from IKEA (ahhhhh IKEA the most beautiful home shop in the world, more on that later).

So we were in the car and noticed the ominous black cloud. It wasn’t long till we saw the wall of water we were approaching. We drove from dry ground to sodden ground in seconds, sending waves of murky water onto the side walk on one side and lane of cars on the other. This is what I’d call a downpour without any exaggeration whatsoever. I’m told that apparently, this is very unusual for Denmark – especially in the summer. I’m nodding my head in agreement but wondering if it isn’t perhaps a well kept secret that Denmark is in fact experiencing sub tropical weather and thinks us foreigners can be diverted from this possible threat to summer tourism with a quick excuse. Hmm, I feel a conspiracy theory coming on.

By the way New Zealanders, it was a huge downpour, with considerable flooding and yes we do still have power.

So you think, "yes Rachel that’s interesting but we know all about rain." I know, I know but if you know me then you’ll know I always prattle on before I get to the juicy stuff. So we’re driving along in the rain (Dina's driving, I’m helping), windscreen wipers totally ineffective, our faces are up close to the glass trying to make out what’s ahead of us and the air conditioning has been set to the cleary, hazy, windscreeny selection (forgot what its called). We arrive at Christian's apartment complex to drop off goodies we got him at IKEA. A quick call from the handy dandy cell phone and he’s at the entrance to the large brick building. I’m looking out the window of the car and notice the water level on the road is literally rising by the second. Every inch of me wanted to jump out of the hot car and splash through the now ankle deep river turning my face to the skies and stretching out my arms to let the rain water glide off my skin and onto the ground. It just seemed too childish – you have to have another nutter with you to feel more at home with these things. So we turn the car around to make it easier for Christian to retrieve his goodies from the boot. Then I see my opportunity to disguise my childish behaviour as an adultish gesture. I jump out of the car to help Christian carry his things into the apartment (he definitely needed help – the stuff was heavy!) ha, I was soaked in seconds, what a great feeling. Twice I jumped, landing perfectly with my feet locked together in a rather deep puddle on the way back to the car just in case any of me was still dry – the child in me lives on.
What an exhilarating experience (eek, got the car quite wet, hadn’t thought about that – this is a characteristic of childish behaviour though so all is forgiven, as we do with children, hee hee).

Anyway, the good bit is still coming. We are trying to make it to Fertex, a general store in Herlev a lot like Kmart I guess. We pull in out of the crazy weather and park in a covered car park where an underground tunnel goes under the busy road and up into the mall where Fertex is (very convenient these underground tunnels) . We clicked off a few silly photos of me out in the rain before making our way to the tunnel. Half way down the stairs I notice an unusual ripple reflection coming off the tiles below. On closer inspection we realise the tunnel is flooded! Now I know some of you are thinking, whoop-die-doo a flooded tunnel. But honestly, this was very cool. Each man hole was bubbling over with the water having absolutely nowhere to go, its intended to drain out around the man holes, not rise up through them. With the child in me revived I jump in the tunnel and splash around gleefully for a few blissful moments until I notice the water coming up out of the manholes is now a blacky browny colour, I decide most things these colours are unpleasant and stinky, the adult in me takes hold and I remove myself quickly. The story would end there but I have to say quickly that Dina called the police to report the flooding (there are shops in the tunnel – one is an electrical place, hee hee) we waited for them – they came – lovely guys, said a bunch of stuff in Danish, talked on their walkie talkies and did other boring policey stuff so Dina and I decided to go through the black tunnel water to Fertex after-all. It was fun (who cares about what black water means) the water was probably up to between my ankles and knees at the deepest part so it wasn’t so bad – but totally fun and memorable. We giggled all the way through Fertex knowing that on our exit we could splash our way back through the tunnel again. I’ve got some great pics to prove the whole thing really happened and am sitting here grinning stupidly with my wet hair hanging in dreads around my shoulders while I recall the events of the last 3 hours.

I can still hear the sounds of fire trucks and police cars blaring their sirens as they drive to emergencies all around us. But I am home, warm, about to eat dinner, and still ‘soaking’ up the good feelings of acting childishly and feeling great about it. If I have gained one thing for sure today that would be the reassurance that letting the child in me out is not such a bad choice now and then.

So as promised earlier… IKEA…. I’m sure some of you have heard of it. I’m not sure if we have any form of it in NZ but if we have then I didn’t know about it and that is a hideous crime to keep something so excitingly good from the peoples of the nation!! Ahhh IKEA. The land of the affordable yet classy homeware, furniture and fittings. I know! Classy and affordable, its hardly a thought we’d dare to consider in good ole NZ but there you are, it does exist. There’s so much to choose from in so many colour and design choices. It wouldn’t be hard to look like a professional interior designer in your own home if you’re secretly armed with an IKEA catalogue and the nearest super IKEA store! They have absolutely everything!! I’m not kidding. I just can’t describe it adequately so have a look at the photos and imagine what you see being all around you, in every category (eg. Glassware, candles, pot plants, linen, rugs, cushions, pots, art, storage….) We didn’t even go upstairs where all the furniture is this time as we spent too long downstairs with the homeware and storage systems! Ahh if/when I come back to NZ you can be sure I will be sending a container of IKEA stuff – It will be worth it for sure!!!

Gotta go comb out the wet dreads before they dry into masses of impossible tangles.
Remember, don’t be afraid of that child inside you screaming to get out. Let it free every now and then – you’ll be grateful you did, I promise!


Friday, August 3, 2007

Remember to Breathe Rachel…

Why Denmark isn’t on everyone's list of places to see is beyond me. This place is absolutely stunning, breathtaking to be precise. If I had to return to NZ tomorrow I would be satisfied with the sights I have seen in the last two weeks (that’s a lie, I want a job, an inner city apartment, a black bicycle with a basket on the front and way more memories than I currently have but it did sound good).

Currently the most impacting aspect of Copenhagen for me is the historic buildings and their beauty. I know it sounds odd talking about old brick buildings being beautiful but if you were here you would understand what I’m getting at. It’s the arty decorative features, the way the buildings continue off beyond your line of sight. The fact that they don’t tower over your head like a modern sky scraping city is refreshing. The bicycles lining the sidewalks and quaint street lamps are like ornaments on a mantle piece, the cobble laid streets like an elegant hallway rug. I was warned about the rubbish in Copenhagen – that it tarnishes the backdrop, honestly, there are cigarette butts lining the gutters – but it fits the scene for some reason and adds to the atmosphere (speaking of adding to the atmosphere – if theres smog here I’d say it has a strong connection with the amount of smokers - non smokers are the minority by far!) You will find bottles in the bushes and food wrappers gathering in the corners but I’ve only noticed this occasionally – it certainly does not lessen the impact of this beautiful city!

Coming from a country which is so young I am in such awe of the age of everything around me. Any building, art, statue or land feature younger than 80 years is considered new around here. Every town and suburb is surrounded with beautiful old houses with so much character it makes our Mt Eden houses in Auckland look entirely bland. I am definitely a fan of the old - give me a character house in Denmark over a flashy modern one any day. I am also totally blown away by the amount of apartment buildings. I guess they would need a lot considering the local law of being no more than 6 stories high (to preserve the historic skyline). Even the 'new' buildings have been designed in a traditional way blending in seamlessly with the historic ones. I still find it amusing seeing flash cars, traffic lights, people riding bikes with their ipods or talking on cellphones in amongst the history. I knew I wouldn't find horse drawn carts but that would definitely complete the experience!

I’m trying desperately not to be an obvious tourist. My camera is hidden away in my handbag (not around my neck). When it comes out, it is swift and precise and disappears straight back into the bag again. I don’t know why but it’s a big deal to me, to look the part. I strongly believe that the best travel experience is the least obvious one, the best memories made when mixing with the locals doing totally ordinary things. In saying this there is no other way to record these memories than to be a snap happy tourist so it’s a balance I'm working on. I must say though, I am fully enjoying the advantage of being blonde and blue eyed in a largely blonde, blue-eyed culture. Finally I feel like I belong somewhere. I’m not the whitest person by far and my freckles are a common trait here YAY!!!

As you would expect in Denmark, home of the Danes, everybody speaks Danish to me in the shops and so far I haven’t given away my foreignness, a few well placed and well practiced Danish words and the knowledge of Danish numbers (to understand how much I am being told to hand over at the counter) have helped me escape identification so far. In saying that though, I made a minor scene on my first bus trip yesterday. I asked for a ticket to Herlev (said heirloo – my suburb) you're meant to ask for a certain number of zones but I panicked and forgot how many zones it is to the local town (one, duh!) when the little machine pumped out my change, I dug around for a bit trying to retrieve it when the bus driver showed me to knock a lever and the change fell into my hand. “you’re not Danish are you” he comments with a smirk. As if his smirk wasn’t bad enough I turned around to several more quickly diverting away out the windows. So I lied, I have been detected but I'm getting better. I discovered that if you wear your ipod earphones no-one talks to you at all, even though half the time I don’t actually have any music playing (I still want to know what's going on around me I just don’t want anyone to ask me any questions). I walked home from town that day. It’s so weird walking past such old houses, on an old cobbled sidewalk, in an old town with people riding past on old cycles. The ‘old’ thing is new (ha ha – ok it’s a lame joke but its so true!) I took lots of footage of my local town which I'll post here when I figure out how.

Anyway the photos are finally uploaded. I won’t say anything about them here but eventually I will add a label to each one so you can get an idea of what they were/are about. You can click the link on the right (Rachel's photo albums) to go to my picasa website to peruse through at your own pace.

Danish Lesson for today…
DANISH: Jeg forstar det ikke, SAID: yigh fourstaw de eager, MEANING: I don’t understand

Farvel! (farewell)