TRAVEL SCRAPBOOK: The Littlest Mermaid
Another update from the Travel Scrapbook this time it’s about my first sleeper train and an adventure in search of a mermaid….
Sleeping Carriages and Mermaids – February 2nd 2007
I left Amsterdam at 6:34pm (along with two Australian girls who were heading the same way) on the IC international train to Frankfurt (yes, yes I did go south first… our is not to wonder at the logic of international train travel) and I got off at Duisberg Bahnhof (which is just a bit north of Düsseldorf from what I could gather) where I had a long wait (from about 20:30 until 23:19) for the sleeper train to Copenhagen, I passed the time alternating between listening to Douglas Adams “The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul”, which had some amusing anecdotes about airports and travel, and chatting to a German lady who had done inter-rail before and a young lady from Chile who was on a Eurrail ticket.
I have to confess to being more than a bit tired by the point the rain turned up. I found my bunk, one of six (five occupied by the end of the journey) in a little cabin. It was a little cramped but actually fairly comfortable and I scuttled along to the toilet at the end of the carriage and changed my top for my PJ top and snuggled up. After the first 15 minutes of “this is utterly strange I’m in bed on a train” it actually becomes fairly soothing (though this might have been because I was utterly exhausted). I slept pretty much through the night though was awoken at about 7:30 by the sound of passport control knocking various doors – like a dutiful little traveller I dug out my passport – though it seemed somewhat pointless the German police officers opened the door asked for passports, most people groaned and they asked where we were from I said English (not wishing to have to explain welsh, yet again that evening – if we go back to Duisberg Bahnhof I had to explain exactly where Wales was using maps and such to both the Chilean and German ladies, mind my grasp of European geography is far from fantastic) and held out my passport, which they didn’t really look at. c’est la vie. I chatted to the Australian girls afterwards in the morning and they said that they’d just said they were Australian and the guy had said not to worry, certainly an interesting version of passport/border control). Breakfast consisted of a mug of tea courtesy of the very lovely conductor (proper tea too – yes it was in a bag but they were proper leaves and there was milk and it was good – indeed so good I had two cups) the remainder of my raspberries a banana and one of the croissants (leaving me with just a croissant left of my Dutch picnic), the train arrived into Copenhagen late at 11:20 (rather than 10:00).
A bit bewildered and wandering with the bag of heavy heavy doom (I did a little mental arithmetic and believe it to be just under a 1/3rd of my entire body weight) towards the tourist information (which was thankfully close). The tourist info lady (when asked about accommodation) directed me to a set of boards with info of hostels (or rather she directed me in the vague direction of the boards and I had to ask her again where the hostels stuff was as it was actually on a board marked “sites and attractions” (I’ve paraphrased the title a little as I’m certain it said something about history and culture, I was tired and not really paying attention). I couldn’t find any information on the boat place, so plucked for the nearest (the HUGE youth hostel international place (with swipe cards instead of keys) that’s about 15 minutes from the central station; it probably is 15 minutes from the station, but it’s an arduous 15 minutes with a giant rucksack on your back). The hostel is ultra modern, and very clean and rather spacious – I half unpacked, made the bed and dived into the shower pretty much immediately which made me feel distinctly more alive, I then wandered downstairs got a padlock for a locker (dressed obviously in case that isn’t self evident from the previous sentence) and vowed to head out on my mission, to find the mermaid!
Looking at the city map (free and everywhere) it seemed t be a fair walk from the hostel to the mermaid – however tired as I may be, I’d already done serious international travel to find this statue and a bit of a walk was not going to put me off. I headed out back towards the station, my stomach rumbling to the extent that I decided a minor detour via a cash-point to get some kroners (the coins are emblazoned with hearts and have holes through them, there’s also about 10.8 kroner to the pound) and some sort of food. This fortuitously (more by accident than design if I’m honest) actually led me more in the direction of the mermaid than away from her. I found a cash-point fairly quickly and wandered down and incredibly long shopping street (stopping to get some hot sugary almonds). Copenhagen manages to convey this idea of absolute vastness and space, even in the old central parts of the city, great tall building and wider than you’d expect streets. Unlike Amsterdam where the cyclist rules supreme (though there are a fair few cyclists all the same) this is a city of cars of great wide thoroughfares and space, lots of space. The buildings are tall and loom grandiosely and even the manikins in the shops are abnormally tall (all at least 6ft, maybe more).
What seems most alien about the city is the fur. Fur, fur everywhere; fur shops filled with fur coats – fashionably dressed young women with styled hair and jeans and designer tops with fur stoles around their necks (complete with slightly startled looking heads). The contrast with the British high-street where fur seems utterly incongruous is marked. Personally I don’t have anything more than a general moral ambivalence to fur (I don’t like creatures being treated cruelly but I like wearing my leather coat, and generally don’t consider a meal a proper meal unless some creature has died for it, so objection to fur on a moral basis doesn’t come into it – mind the stoles with animal heads just look tacky) as an accessory modern fashionable clothing and fur seems really out of place. If you’re wearing a fur stole you should be wearing a huge cloak or a dress with rather more fabric than is needed, pearls and be a countess or something.
After one long shopping street followed by another long shopping street I found a square (with a mini ice rink in the middle) and bought my still rumbling stomach a hot dog. It was actually rather damned good. You know how when you’re in the cinema and they have those hot-dogs spinning slowly on a grill (the sort that would sometimes accidentally look just a bit too cooked and just have to be damaged off and it’d be a waste for it not to fall into a bun with some ketchup and mustard and some onion when I worked in the UGC many years back now) and you kind of feel compelled to eat it? and you’re almost always disappointed in the flavourless watery concoction of (if you’re lucky) named meat. Well this was different the compulsion was the same but it actually tasted good, the sausage had flavour the sauce oozed just as it should and it was eaten and satisfied… admittedly this might be because eating hot-dogs in the cold of a Scandinavian city is really the only way hot dogs should be eaten… perhaps. that or I was just very hungry.
I asked the gentleman at the hot-dog stand and he pointed me down yet another very long street to walk down. However at the end of this long street was a park (with some very nifty sculptures) and a path that wound around the park and along the seaside to, yup the mermaid.
Now this all may seem like rather a lot of effort, and a great deal of insanity, all to see a mermaid, but I assure you it was worth it. I got pictures (courtesy of myself and one with me in it courtesy of some very helpful Japanese tourists, who I lefty delightedly posing in almost burlesque poses next to the statue where I had stood). I wanted to see the little mermaid and get this far north and I did. This part of my travels is all about the journey, the destination is just the briefest glimpse and sight, a place to take my journeying towards.