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Copenhagen wrap-up

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

On day 3, the final day we had in Copenhagen, we decided to head to Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.  This is an art museum housing many of the private collections of Carlsberg of beer fame.  There’s a huge section of Scandanavian (particularly Danish) art at the fore of the building, particularly sculptures like Rodins, as they’re obviously trying to push more of the local things.  It took us quite a while to find the “international” section which is sort of down a poorly marked hall and then up a flight of stairs, but once you got there, there was a fantastic selection of Picassos, Renoirs, Monets and others.

Dahls, Eckersbergs, Købkes and Lundbyes abound as well

Once you get up to the top of the building, there’s a great view of Tivoli as well.

Fin

As I was sitting at a cafe in the morning sipping a delicious coffee, I reflected Copenhagen was a really great city that I think can teach Americans a lot.

Sipping a coffee on the sidewalk

They’re some of the happiest people in the world (statistically), and it came across as that almost everywhere I went.  I can’t think of any other place I’ve been where just about everybody I encountered seemed as happy.  I believe our “H.C. Andersen tour guide” explained “why” very well (loosely quoted):

Many people ask me why Danes are so happy, and I really don’t think it’s so difficult.  We know that having a fulfilling occupation is one of the most important aspects of being happy, so we make sure that everybody is educated [for free] and can stay educated so that they never feel like they’re falling behind.  We don’t work overtime to try to gain money because we recognize that happiness doesn’t come from material things but from the shared experiences you have with your friends and loved ones, so that’s where we spend our time.  Everybody knows this is the best way for people to spend time so we don’t expect unreasonable things of our employees: lower your expectations a bit and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised more often than not.  With all of this, don’t pay anybody too much or too little.  Jealousy and want makes people upset and causes them to commit crimes, so we have heavy taxes to make sure everybody is taken care of and treated fairly and doesn’t feel “cheated” by fat cats.

Everything he said truly seemed accurate while I was there.  And with the recent battles of the “1% vs 99%” here in the US and increasing frustration between “non-techies” and “techies” in SF (which seems to me to be a proxy for really what amounts to the same thing), it really rang out as something with quite a bit merit.  I’ve heard people say “yes but if you’re a socialist welfare state like that, nobody is inspired to do their best work to advance in their respective company” which is something I used to believe in a lot more.  But in seeing Copenhagen, I think really misses the point.  That is, just because you aren’t doing everything you can to “climb the corporate ladder” doesn’t mean you’re doing poor work or taking advantage of welfare.  People inherently want/like to do good work, so if you educate them in a field they like, they will do that and they’ll be happy perhaps even without that Lamborghini.  In fact, maybe they’ll be perfectly happy on a bike.

I’m a believer

All of the photos I’ve taken from Copenhagen along with descriptions can be found by clicking here.  Bear in mind there are multiple pages of albums and photos, so look for the “next” and “previous” links on each page.  Once you’ve navigated to a particular photo, you can click the photo (or change the size drop-down) to view it in its full size.

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Copenhagen day 2

Walking Tour

Our first real touristy event was to take a walking tour.  It was given to us by a guy who dressed as Hans Christian Andersen, who is something of a national hero in Denmark.  Statues bearing his likeness and name adorn many of the parks in Copenhagen.  Throughout the tour, “H.C.” as he’s known around the city, stayed in character, pointing out sites along the way that likely influenced bits his writing.

H.C. gave us a great tour

Have you ever heard the story of the old Street Lamp? It’s really not very amusing, but you might listen to it for once.

We started off at the City Hall Square (“Rådhuspladsen”) which we had visited the previous evening, and he gave us a brief overview of Danish history as a peoples, starting with the Vikings and then moving up through the modern era of the peace-loving folks we find now occupying the city hall.

This statue commemorates the Viking history of the nation. They’re blowing lurs — a type of horn found in the bronze age through middle ages in Scandinavia

We continued down to the City Court of Copenhagen as H.C. recounted history of government in Copenhagen and was really exhaustive and fun in doing so.  It helps that many of the statues, buildings, and obelisks around the city are dated (typically either in Latin or modern Danish but with Latin spellings) and many of them have reliefs to tell the historic story.  Interestingly, when I went back through to review the photos and translate the original Latin found on some of these monuments, I found discrepancies between the dates on them and the dates in other places like Wikipedia articles (at least the ones in English).  Often they were discrepancies in things like completion dates, so I suspect this is just another time when “the definition of done” (as we often refer to in software development) may have been a bit ambiguous.  Even software has century-old problems; history does, indeed, repeat itself!

An obelisk recounting the history of reformations in Denmark. This inscription reads “The Nobles in Copenhagen adopt the reformation in 30 October 1536”

We continued down to the Church of Our Lady, which is a beautiful church with a wonderful marble Christus statue inside.

Church of Our Lady interior. The apostles line the outside, but the designer decided to omit Judas Iscariot (the betrayer) and substitute a statue of St. Paul in his stead.

We learned of the religious history of Denmark, which I found particularly fascinating coming from the United States.  Here, we’ve separated church and state, yet I find that we’re constantly fighting rather religious battles in this country, often citing morality or the definitions of particular aspects of language which seem frankly antiquated to me.  73% of Americans claim to be Christian in the most recent polls.  However, Denmark has had a state church (Evangelical Lutheran) since 1848 and over 78% of its population are members yet they’ve passed laws allowing gay partnership (later changed to “marriage”) some 25 years years ago.  Somebody in our group seemed astonished by this and our guide elaborated a bit on the Denmark legal system as (loosely quoted):

We figured out abortion, gay marriage, health care, gun laws, capital punishment, women in the work force, and warfare decades ago, and at this point, there’s really no debate left in the country as to whether the decisions were right or not.  The only thing we really haven’t figured out yet is immigration, which is still a hot topic.

Anyway, we moved out of the church which was adjacent to the Niels Bohr Institute… an interesting meld of church literally right next door to science.

Statue of Niels Bohr next to the Institute which he founded in 1920

We went on to talk about Nazism and post-Nazism in Denmark, particularly the modern economy, which is almost entirely service-based with very little reliance on natural resources.  As a result of this “human reliance,” Denmark makes sure that all of its people are extremely well educated and happy workers in the workforce.  This, to the extent that if convicted of a crime, many prisoners are granted and encouraged leave of the prison on a frequent basis for educational programs (or educated directly via the prison system).  I know some people I’d talk to in the US would say “that would never work,” but only 71/100,000 people in Denmark are in prison (compared to over 10x that in the US at 731/100,000) and with a lower overall crime rate than the US.  And people are much happier in Denmark to boot according to polls.

We ended our tour near the Round Tower, which is an appropriate end to this tour as it combines government, education, science, and religion.

The Round Tower, which is part of a complex which contains a church, a library, and an observatory (which is in the Round Tower) all wrapped up into a historical monument commissioned by King Christian IV

Additional photos of our walking tour along with descriptions can be found by clicking here.

Rosenborg Castle

After our H.C. Andersen walking tour ended around noon, we decided to continue walking to get to some of the other sights.  We headed off to the Rosenborg Castle.  The castle is surrounded by a large garden, which is neatly kept.

Rosenborg Castle from the gardens

The castle is guarded by 2 large bronze lion statues, a moat, and the Royal Life Guards, a regiment of the Danish Army.  The inside hosts the Crown Jewels and Crown Regalia, which we decided to skip past for a shortage of time.

The linked words contain photos and additional photos along with descriptions can be found by clicking here.

Marble Church

As we were leaving the the Rosenborg gardens and starting to get hungry, we decided it would be wise to work our way toward the famed “Mermaid Statue” (more on that later).  This took us past a large church known as the Marble Church.  Rick Steves and friends of friends hadn’t mentioned it at all, which in retrospect was a big mistake!  We saw they were doing a tour at 1pm, and given it was 5 minutes to, we sprung for it.

The outside of the Marble Church

The interior of the dome with beautiful painted frescoes

The inside is painted wonderfully and has pipe organs and inlays throughout.  We were greeted by a sprightly man who was apparently (one of?) the sexton(s).  We were taken up very thin spiral staircase with not so much as a handrail and then led up to some stairs which really looked like they shouldn’t have been anything more than temporary scaffolding.  That, in turn, then led up to the domed entry.  There were a few elderly folks coming with us and I was terrified that one of them was going to slip and create a human avalanche with plenty of broken limbs for that Danish health care system to attend to.

Kem climbing up the stairs leading to the dome

The entry/exit from the stairs to the railing which lines the dome

Once out on the top, as with the interior, boards whimpered with almost every step.  It didn’t help ease my mind when the sexton mentioned some bits about earthquake analysis requiring some retrofitting.  But in any case, we were there and holy cow what a view!

A panoramic shot over Copenhagen

Amalienborg: the winter home of the Danish royal family. On the horizon in the right side of the image, you can see a piece of a bridge, which leads to Sweden.

You could see the tops of just about every building in Copenhagen and even out to Sweden.  It was great to get this aerial view which helped settle in where we had been during the day and simultaneously where we were planning to go the rest of the day.  The sexton gave us a really great and really energetic overview and history of the building and some of the other buildings that we could see.  We were told that this was the third largest church dome in Europe.  Neat!

There are a lot of additional photos from the dome, along with descriptions of the buildings and public spaces which are seen from this vantage.  These can be found by clicking here.

Continuing to the Little Mermaid

After leaving the Marble Church, we headed toward the Little Mermaid, a bronze statue by Eriksen, stopping first to grab lunch at a wonderful cafe and get some Smørrebrød — a sort of open faced sandwich special to Denmark.  We walked through Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress built in 1662 and still actively patrolled by the military, though it is used as much (perhaps more) as a public park as a military installation.

Passing by the Gefion Fountain, just outside the Kastellet

Just outside the Kastellet is St. Alban’s Church, which is next to the Gefion Fountain seen above.  The Gefion Fountain is another reminder of the norse history of Denmark.  Gefjun is the Norse goddess associated with agriculture, which is why you see her driving oxen at the top of the fountain and why water is pouring forth.

Finally, we ended up at the Little Mermaid statue, and I have to say I was unimpressed by anything other than by how many people seemed to find it fascinating.

People come in droves to see what ultimately amounts to a fairly small statue on a rock. Woohoo

Ok, so we saw it.  I took a picture of it.  It’s still there.  And with that necessity fulfilled, it was time to move off to more interesting bits.  Namely, Christiania.

Christiania

We took a ferry from near where the Little Mermaid statue was to Nyhavn (one of the administrative districts in Copenhagen).  The captain of the boat was oddly reluctant to take our money.  Indeed, just about anybody that boarded seemed to get a nonchalant shrug.  We managed to convince him to take our money and got off at Nyhavn, which sits right on the water and acts as a sort of mini-harbor where many of the tour boats leave.  We had heard that there was no open container law in Copenhagen and indeed the drinks were out in full force.  Kem and I didn’t want to feel left out, so we stopped in a corner store and crabbed a couple beers and partook with some street musicians playing nearby.

When in Copenhagen, drink a Carlsberg by the water with the locals!

After fully sated, we moved to Christiania.

The entry gate to Christiania

Christiania is an interesting self-proclaimed autonomous region of Copenhagen.  It used to be a military complex, but since the military left the island, it’s ruled by what sort of amounts to elders which see to it that the place is both interesting and has the ability to maintain its self-governance.  It seems like a sort of permanent Burning Man with better weather and easier access to the rest of humanity.

Art installations are everywhere in Christiania, often of reused trash and the like

The self-imposed rules are the following:

  • No weapons, bulletproof clothing, or violence
  • No fireworks or flashbangs
  • No theft or possession of stolen things
  • No cars
  • No biker gangs
  • No hard drugs (marijuana is openly sold despite it being illegal in Copenhagen)

I don’t have many photos of Christiania, as much of it has one additional rule: no photography.  This is imposed because even though Christiania may have these self-imposed laws, there’s little other than public distaste for it to keep mainland-Copenhagen police from coming into the area and arresting for otherwise illegal activities.

It was interesting to explore Christiania, but ultimately we had to get back as it was starting to get late.  I particularly liked the  somewhat tongue-in-cheek exit gate

End of the Day

At the end of the day, we had one last thing to see: Christiansborg Palace.  This is the primary location of Parliament, Prime Minister, and Supreme Court of Denmark.

Christiansborg Palace was unfortunately closed for the day by the time we arrived.

Even though the building was closed and was fairly quiet, I got a few photos before my camera started flashing that it was about to drop dead of battery.  It is quite an impressive building from the outside!

Finally, somebody had given us the recommendation to stop in at Ruby, an inconspicuous cocktail bar on our way back to our hotel.  I had their Heather Martini, pictured below, and a “Summer and Ale” which was a neat gin drink made with jasmine tea, Cynar, elderflower, lemon, and then topped with Mikkeller IPA.  As we had experienced with the rest of the Copenhagen food and drink scene, both drinks were fantastic, though pricey: the 4 drinks between the two of us added up to over $90 USD.

The Heather Martini: a martini with an IPA reduction to add hops along with chamomile infused vermouth and anise

Evening

We wrapped up the evening with some dinner at a British style restaurant and then moved to catch some live music.  As we were listening and having a beer, a couple looked like they were trying to find a seat, so I offered the 2 remaining seats at our table to them.  We shared some drinks, stories, and laughs with them: a great way to round out the city with some locals.

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Norwegian Air: The Worst Thing to Come Out of Europe Since the Black Plague

So to kick off our European travel experience, it’s worth going through our planned itinerary first.  We found a flight on Norwegian Air one way to Copenhagen from Oakland with a layover in Stockholm for about $520 per person.  Summer in Europe, like the US, is peak travel season so this is very cheap indeed.  I’ve flown a variety of airlines, both cheap and otherwise, so I knew to be wary but nothing could have prepared me for this mess…  It was great timing because it would leave Oakland at 7:30pm and arrive in Copenhagen at 6pm, which would leave us 3 hours time to get out of the airport and downtown to watch the World Cup final in Copenhagen

July 12, 5:30pm

Arrive at Oakland airport.  Go to check in and find that my bag is 11 kg — 1 kg too heavy to be considered a carry on.  Now the reason I was carrying this on in the first place was that Norwegian nickles and dimes you for every little thing you do…  And by that, I mean not only is there no free meal on the 9+ hour flight, there’s also not a single allowed free checked bag.  So here they charge me about $50 to check my bag and that $520 ticket is now $570 after this expense.  I get that the overhead bins only are rated up to 34 kg (75lbs) which typically holds 3 bags, but I’ve never had a problem with this thing before.  I later noticed that their scale wasn’t tared and showed 0.4kg when nothing was on it but didn’t throw a fit.  Looking back, maybe I should have…  But the small print does say 10kg bags max, so maybe my fault.  Who knows.

July 12, 7:10pm

Norwegian starts boarding families with small children.

July 12, 7:30pm

Flight is supposed to have left by now.  For some reason, it’s taken them 20 minutes and they still haven’t even finished boarding families with small children.  Kem and I both wonder why it takes 20 minutes to load less than 40 passengers and begin to get concerned about how long it’ll take to board everybody.

July 12, 7:50pm

Families with small children are fully boarded just in time for Norwegian’s automated text service to text me that the new time for departure is 8:30pm.

July 12, 8:00pm

The gate agent informs us all that the plane is delayed until 8:20pm.  Not sure why it took 10 minutes for the gate agent to tell us what their service texted us nor why he has announced 10 minutes earlier than the text did.  Agent tells us it’s something to do with the radar tests and they think they know how to fix it.

July 12, 8:25pm

Norwegian’s automated text service texts me to inform me that plane is delayed until 9:30pm.  Families with small children are offloaded from the plane.  I feel bad for them because they had to get on the plane and left their seats, which are now fully taken.  Now these families with small children are forced to sit on the ground.  About 20 minutes after the text, the gate agent lets us know that maintenance is going on as they think it’s something wrong with the radar cables, which “should be a quick fix” and leave us out in “less than an hour.”

July 12, 9:45pm

Norwegian’s automated text service texts me to inform me that plane is being delayed for overnight repairs.  The new time is July 13 at 9:30am.

July 12, 10pm

Norwegian’s gate agent announces that plane is being delayed for overnight repairs.  The new time is July 13 at 9:30am.  “Show up back at the ticket counter at 7am” the gate agent suggests.  Now here is where the real crapshoot starts.  Before we can do any of this, we apparently have to:

  • Return our boarding passes to the gate agent
  • For those that need hotel accommodations, get a voucher
  • Get our checked bags from the bag carousel, which they will offload from the plane

Let’s go through each of these, in order…

Returning boarding passes

First, why we have to do this at all is beyond me.  Are they going to give our same boarding passes back to us the next day?  Is there some other reason they need them back?  I can’t figure it out, but at this point I’m so angry I don’t really care.  In order to give them back, the gate agent asks us to just walk up and return them to him.  Of course, this is a madhouse as there’s no order whatsoever as everybody goes to return their boarding passes at the same time.  5 minutes into this madness, the gate agent then makes a correction and says that, actually, if you want a hotel accommodation, you shouldn’t give your pass back to him yet but instead should wait to the side.  I’m sure the people that had already given him their passes but also wanted a hotel were quite happy about this change.

Getting hotel accommodations

Given I live in San Francisco and the flight was leaving out of Oakland, I did seriously consider getting a hotel from them, as it’s usually a 45 minute / $100 taxi each way.  But one look at the line for the people waiting for a hotel told me that would be a bad idea and the taxi was cheaper and would take less time than getting through that line.  I’m glad I went with this decision, as I spoke with somebody the next day that did wait through this line and they said they started “halfway through the line” and it was 2:30am before they got their hotel.  There were other passengers behind them.

11:45pm: getting our checked bags back

Yes, we didn’t receive our bags until 11:45pm — almost 2 hours after the gate agent announced the flight was delayed to the next day.

July 12, 11:15pm

I call customer service to let them know of our flight situation, knowing that we’d be missing our connection to Copenhagen.  At this point, all hopes of watching the World Cup final there are completely gone.  It takes almost 30 minutes for anybody at Norwegian’s customer service to pick up, but otherwise, the experience was fine.

July 13, 12:30am-5:30am

Get home from taxi ride and go to sleep.  Kem and I both decided that we should get to the airport early the next day because everybody showing up at 7am trying to get their tickets all at the same time sounds like a recipe for disaster, so we leave SF in a taxi at 5:30am to get there early.  $100 taxi each way leads the overall cost to $670 each.

July 13, 6:15am

Arrive at the airport.  Show up at the same counter we had received our tickets at the previous day, but today it says “Hawaiian Airlines.”  We decide that we should go scour the airport for a Norwegian employee to ask what’s going on, but alas, after half an hour of searching, we couldn’t find a single one.  Other passengers had the idea to show up early and they all look just as confused as we do.  I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ve been pushed into some very real-life version of The Game.  Eventually, we find another Norwegian ticket counter and decide to hang out there until a Norwegian employee shows up.

July 13, 7:20am

Norwegian’s automated text service texts me to inform me that plane is being delayed an additional 2 hours.  The new departure time is 11:30am.  Kem calls our hotel to let them know that we we’ll be delayed by a day due to this mess.  There’s another $150 lost.

July 13, 7:45am

First Norwegian that we’ve seen employee shows up and goes to the ticket counter.  Shortly joined by a second.  They spend over half an hour there organizing the lines, chatting to each other, and changing the flight number.

July 13, 8:45am

They print us new boarding cards, so now I’m doubly confused as to why we had to give our boarding cards last night.  Kem and I think longingly of our intoxicant of choice and both decide we should get a Bloody Mary at the airport bar to avert yelling and people.

July 13, 11:30am

Flight is supposed to have left by now.  They start boarding passengers now.

July 13, 12:30pm

Flight departs Oakland to Stockholm.  17 hours late.

July 14, 6:00am (Stockholm time)

We arrive in Stockholm and wait by the baggage carousel for our bags, somewhat uncertain as to whether they’ll show up here or be put on a flight to Copenhagen.  At this point, because our flight was so delayed again, we’ve now missed the connection which we were rebooked on.  We decide to wait and see if they come off with the rest of the bags of the flight.  When they don’t, I decide we need to talk to a Norwegian employee to ascertain two pieces of information:

  • What our bags are doing and where they may be/be going to and when
  • What flight we can be booked on next to Copenhagen, as we’ve missed our connection once again

I call up Norwegian customer service for this information.  I give my reference number and explain the situation to one employee.  He transfers me to somebody else.  The next customer service rep asks for my reference number again and asks what my situation is.  She transfers me to somebody else.  The next customer service rep asks for my reference number again and asks what my situation is.  He transfers me to somebody else.  All this time, being bounced around I’m paying international rates on my phone.  Finally, an employee (“Dessi”) finally books me on another flight.  Unfortunately, everything is booked full until 5:15pm, which means we’re spending the next 11 hours in the Stockholm airport.  We begin to wonder about how long a train would be from Stockholm to Copenhagen.

Unfortunately, Dessi is not able to tell me where our bags would be or if they’d be going to Copenhagen without us or not.  Fortunately, while I’m bleeding money through my cellphone rates, Kem finds our bags spinning around on their own carousel.  One of the metal zippers on mine has been broken and one of the handles shredded in transit.

July 14, 6:15pm

Arrive in Copenhagen, over 24 hours after when we were supposed to show up and an additional $400 down the drain.  And we missed the World Cup final.

August 5, 5:16pm

I apply for a refund on my flight, which should be granted under Regulation 261/2004.  For those unfamiliar, this is a regulation that is out there to help ensure that passengers aren’t subject to this type of behavior without having to pay for it.  It provides cash rewards for long delays, which are treated as though they were cancelled.  In our case, because we were delayed >4 hours, we should be entitled to up to 600 euros in compensation.

August 6, 6:47am

Norwegian says they will not refund under Regulation 261/2004.  No reason is given.  Instead, they state

We are not able to prepare detailed reports of each case to our passenger and, unfortunately, cannot send the requested documentation. If you do decide to take this case to a National Enforcement Body then we must send this documentation to them.

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