Getting the Dope on Copenhagen

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Northern Exposure, Day 3:  Copenhagen to Riga.  With our flight to Riga not scheduled until this evening, we had a few hours to begin getting acquainted with Copenhagen.  After withdrawing some local currency (Danish krone) from an ATM at the shopping center next to our hotel, we boarded the clean and efficient Copenhagen Metro at the nearby Ørestad station for a ride to Christianshavn.  Our destination was Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous area that occupies former military barracks near the center of Copenhagen.
"Official" entrance to Freetown Christiania
In the aftermath of the Danish government's abandonment of the structures in 1971, a group of free-thinking, counterculture activists moved in and asserted what they termed a civilian takeover of the "forbidden city of the military."  They proposed to build a society from scratch, and surprising no one, the community embraced the hippie movement and—obviously—the squatter movement.
A few of the dozens of kiosks selling marijuana on Pusher Street, Christiania's main drag
Cannabis was "legal" in the free-wheeling neighborhood and remains widely available today though community rules prohibit hard drugs, as well as stealing, violence and weapons.  Photography is also strongly discouraged.  With its unique character, Christiania has become one of Copenhagen's leading tourist attractions, especially for those seeking to purchase a little weed.  Both curiosity and a newly planted letterbox (by an American tourist) drew us to visit the rebellious enclave.
As we were wandering the pedestrian-only streets of Christiania, we couldn't help noticing a nearby church with a corkscrew staircase running up its steeple.  Church of Our Savior, a Protestant congregation of the Church of Denmark, was founded in 1639.  Construction of the current church was begun in 1682, but funding deficits delayed completion of the interior and the spire until the next century.  By the time funds were available—thanks to King Frederick V—a new architect had been hired to complete the spire.  Abandoning the original design, the new architect won the king's approval with his spiral steeple.  When construction was complete in 1752, the king ceremoniously climbed to the top himself.
Since the king initiated the activity, climbing the 400 serpentine steps to the top of the spire (the final 150 outside) has been a popular pastime in the city.  Though we made our way to the balcony at the bottom of the spiral, we decided against continuing the climb as it was just too crowded and required a long wait for one's turn to ascend the narrow steps.  Even from the balcony, however, the views offered a splendid scenic vista over the city to reward our climb up the first 250 stairs.
Copenhagen from the steeple of Church of Our Savior
Following a relaxing and tasty lunch in a little Christianshavn cafe, we hopped on the Metro and returned to our hotel to claim our luggage and report to the Copenhagen airport for our 7:35 flight to Riga with AirBaltic.  Being a small low-cost carrier owned by the Latvian government, AirBaltic was operating from a hardstand position some distance from the terminal rather than a contact gate.  Since the aircraft was a small Bomabdier prop plane, a typical jet bridge wouldn't have been feasible anyway, so the bus-to-plane solution made sense.
Arrival in Riga  (Note the platform to bridge the gap between the ground and the last stair.)
The plane's cabin was cozy enough to observe most of the other passengers from our position on row 6, and we were quite entertained by the antics of a sly seat shifting grandma on the flight.  With her 8-year-old granddaughter in tow, she boarded the plane and looked around for a seat she found appealing, selecting 3C and directing the child to 3D.  When the actual ticket holder for 3C arrived, she tried to persuade him to look elsewhere.  Befuddled but insistent, the young man politely refused.    Dragging her overstuffed tote bag and granddaughter with her, grandma—whose seat had already been established as 7A in her conversation with the young man—toddled off to 8C and 8D.  When the rightful holder of her new seat arrived, grandma again cajoled the other passenger and this time was successful, with the other older woman finding a seat in the next row ahead.
A cargo cart just for Grandma?
Upon our arrival in Riga, grandma had one more trick.  At the bottom of the plane's stairs, the ground crew had parked a platform to shorten the distance between the final stair and the ground.  Reaching the ground, Grandma assumed it was a luggage cart placed there just for her.  As she had on the plane, her long suffering granddaughter tried to help by explaining that the reason the cart wouldn't move was that it wasn't meant for that purpose.  Meanwhile, grandma—crazy like a fox—had managed to muscle the platform away from its position so that the remaining passengers had to make the 15-inch step to the ground on their own.
Busy area near baggage claim
Finding a taxi stand inside the Riga terminal, we decided to take the path of least resistance and prepaid the fare for a ride to our hotel.  "Just get in the first green car you see," the Baltic Taxi dispatcher smiled as we walked away clutching a receipt that explained where we wanted to go.  That turned out to be our ticket to ride with The Reluctant Cabbie.  He seemed very distracted, and we got the impression he'd rather be anywhere else.  The first indication was when he asked where we wanted to go and his total puzzlement at our reply, even after we provided the street address.

As too often happens, we ignored this first clue and climbed right in.  With a prepaid fare and no motivation to jack up the meter, we figured we were on safe ground.  But the driver just didn't seem to be paying attention.  Inexperience may have also been a factor.  From the back seat, we watched for the hotel.  About the time we saw it—and mentioned that it was just ahead—our driver turned off onto another street.  When we brought it to his attention that he had just passed the hotel on the next street over, he demonstrated his ninja driving skills by reversing several hundred feet on a major street, blundering the wrong way down a one-way street, and delivering us to the back parking lot of the hotel.  The route to the front wasn't clear, but our repeated requests for him to drive us to the entrance (on another street) were refused.  Welcome to Riga!

Of course, it didn't take long once we made our way inside to encounter genuine Latvian hospitality, so we were convinced that the young taxi driver was an exception, not the rule.  By the time we reached our room, it was after 11:00 pm, and we were thrilled to have a bed in which to lay our tired, still jetlagged bodies.

Tomorrow we'll take a taxi—but not that one—back to the airport to pick up a rental car and drive to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.  Then we'll return to Riga for a few days after the Lithuanian leg of our Baltic road trip.

    •  Countries visited:  2  (Trip total:  3)
    •  Miles flown:  450     (Trip total:  5,245)
    •  Miles walked:  5.8  (Trip total:  12.37)
    •  Weather:  64° to 75°, partly cloudy to clear
    •  Cannabis dealers in Christiania:  37
    •  Steep steeple steps:  400
    •  Bicycles parked at metro stations:  823
    •  Tourist-filled boat excursions on Copenhagen canals:  38

Loved: The entertainment of watching the antics of the seat swapping grandma. We were convinced that she knew exactly what she was doing. 

Lacking: Flight crew guidance for the seat shifter. There was only one flight attendant, of course, but the cabin was too small for her to miss what was going on with the grandma. Yet she never intervened. Perhaps she was as amused as we were. 

 Learned: Hippies are alive and well and living in Christiania.

What's That Shutter Speed?  When the novelty of riding a propeller jet combined with a window seat, I couldn't help playing around with the camera on my iPhone to see what it could capture.  I couldn't have been more surprised to learn that its shutter speed was fast enough to allow me to photograph the individual blades of the propeller in flight.  Even more surprising was the fact that I could see this when I looked at the propeller through the camera.

More Photos from Today
Bicycles are as popular in Copenhagen as in Amsterdam.  These were parked at the Ørestad Metro station. 
Christiania has eliminated bad vibes from its neighborhood.  Awesome!
Colorful decorations adorn most of Christiania's former military buildings.  
Steps in the church tower narrowed and became steeper as we neared the steeple.
Church of Our Savior's interior with ornate Dutch baroque adornments 
More bicycles outside the Christianshavn Metro station.
Embracing the local food:  a "salad with pie" (actually quiche) at Cafe Oven Vande in Copenhagen.  Delicious! 
As we walked around Christianshavn, we saw boat after boat filled with tourists cruising the canals.