Imbibe Hour

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 6 of ?

For once the weather forecast in Denmark seemed to hit the mark.  We awoke the next morning, getting our bags ready, one last foiled sandwich wrap from Katerine to go, and a train to catch to Germany awaited.  The sun was out, hardly a cloud in the sky.  "Well so it does show up here in this country once in awhile huh?!" I thought. The one good time the light will shine on this great country and we happen to be leaving it.

We were scheduled to head to Germany through an early morning departure Friday, change trains in Hamburg, and arrive in Berlin late afternoon.  We said our goodbyes, reminisced, and I made sure to of course, pack the few beers for the trip and ride.  One thing I always remembered when travelling in Europe, was that you could drink on the train ride, and it was a great way to enjoy a tasty beer.

If there is one thing I love and miss about Europe while living in the United States it is taking the train through the country.  It's efficient (most of the time, Romania being a very clear exception in my experience), relatively affordable, and just a great way to get around.  Looking at the map though I was a bit confused perhaps of our route.  Our train was to go to Hamburg, and the only land direct way I could see with Denmark's connected islands and flat geography was to head West from Copenhagen towards Kolding, and then take a sharp turn South through a small border perhaps passing by nearby Flensburg in Germany.

This was not to be.

We settled into the train at our assigned seats, and took stock of our neighbors.  Fairly quiet so far, but two gentlemen got on and stuck out like a sore thumb.  Two big Danes got on with bags in tow, large patched heavy metal badged jean jackets, ripped disposition, and shimmering bald heads.  My first reaction and concern was they might actually be skinheads... ugh.. this could get ugly.  My analytical disposition is always going into overdrive in situations like this, but if anything I knew that this couldn't be the whole story.

Checking around the guys just seemed to be having a good time, they smiled to all the passengers who came and went of all races, and I noticed that instead of hatred they were filled with a love and talk of metal music.  I was to be surrounded by some other metal head brethren.  "Look honey! METALHEADS!!"  I tried not to point to my wife and be like some jerk but I couldn't help wanting to somehow be part of their conversations.  Perhaps we could swap stories on what we thought of the last Soilwork album or something, or if the Tool album will be released someday, but with a language barrier in the way and the possibility one of these guys might get pissed and take a swing at me being some arrogant Yank I may just want to just listen first.

It was mid to early afternoon as we hit through the sunny countryside.  What a gorgeous day it was. As the green landscape passed by, the odd canoe in the water it seemed from a distance, it became quickly yet beautifully familiar.  I was getting thirsty, but also a bit bored.  My thoughts turned to a cold one, but I never want to be the first on a train to pop a brew cause I am never 100% sure it's allowed.  Luckily my Danish metalhead clan quickly made me aware of this rule within 15 minutes of arriving.

Shortly after they arrived, one guy rammed his iron ringed skull fist into his duffelbag, and with a fury pulled out 2 plastic solo cups. Then he pulled out a big box of bitters, a container full of Underberg, I am talking.. the equivalent of a case of these things, as they got their chasers going and then pulled out a 2 liter of Absolut vodka.  And then they began drinking...

"Well ok, this seems legit!" I said to my wife but I could only partake in one brew on the train, I had a full day, but pacing was everything... unlike my horned brothers sitting across the isle.

I grabbed a Kriek I had found in Copenhagen from Girardin, a Belgian producer.  I of course for this trip had planned my own solo cup, a curved plastic wine glass which works beautifully in instances just like this one.

I found a great stash of Belgian brews while in Copenhagen and was ready to partake in them.  However, shortly after trying the first one we had come to what appeared to be the end of the road.  Actually it wasn't so much the end of the road, but the end of the railway line as the train made it's last stop in Denmark at Rødby, with only the small body of water between us and Germany/Puttgarden on the other side.

"So are we going to be wearing life vests now?" I asked my wife.  With a gleeful smile she knew what was coming as she had read about how the journey was supposed to continue.

 The passenger train actually goes on a ferry.  The train tracks went right to a harbor and onto a ship underbelly, with its line continuing right inside the boat.  All passengers are then asked to disembark the train with any proper safe belongings, and then enjoy the 45 minute ferry ride to Germany on the other side.

I am always nervous about boats, because I get horribly sea sick.  If it's really choppy weather and water, it's a disaster every time.  I have had lots of practice at this because growing up my father had a sailboat, and still does.  I spent many a youth on that boat, doing things as a "family together" should be (sic) which meant me being forced to get on that thing and barf a lot.

However, some things help.  If the boat is big, or the weather is calm, and more importantly if it's motorized I am usually good to go, no problem.  A large ferry such as this one fits the bill nicely, so I wasn't that concerned (but maybe just a little).  Sometimes it has not helped.  When my wife and I honeymooned in Croatia, we had to take ferries through the islands from the mainland to Hvar and later to Korčula.  For the Hvar to Korčula trip, the ferry was a tiny motorized catamaran, and it was seriously windy and choppy seas.  The ferry bounced like an out of control carnival ride.  It was pure 45 minutes of torture for me and I nearly hurled into a plastic bag which was the only thing I had that would of "assisted" in such an accident.  This was while the on-board movie being played on televisions around me was, no joke... "The Perfect Storm".  All of this was happening while groups of small kids kept jumping and climbing over my seat constantly.  I am NOT making this up...

Somehow I lived, and somehow my wife is still married to me.

I easily lived through this ride as well, with the gorgeous clear skies continuing, sailboats in the water, calm sea breeze, and lots of people travelling and going who all looked in great spirits.  I lost sight of my metalhead brothers, but I think I saw them at the bar.  Which reminded me more importantly... It was truly time to savor another tasty beer.

We sat out on the open deck and I cracked open a bottle of De Cam, a very tasty lambic/gueuze brewery out of Gooik Belgium whose beers are pretty much "nearly" impossible to find in the United States.  This is how to live baby! I said to my wife.  She was very excited of the journey so far, the big winds coming off, and the sights as she snapped more photos.

We had to return to the train as we were now approaching the German side.  It finally dawned on me that I was at once going to be in Germany for the first time ever, we would be in the land of Euro for once and leaving the Krones behind. Still I would have to leave not without making a classic cultural faux pas, one of those awkward situations which gets lost in translation that still has me scratching my head when I think about it today.

I had finished my beer and of course wanted to recycle my bottles.  Did I say bottles I meant cans too?  Did I have more than one beer? I am not sure, but the point is my wife and I wanting to be proper and not slobby American tourists were trying to figure out where to put our recyclables.  I looked all over the ship and couldn't find any blue bins, or places to put them.  The only thing I did see was a bin on the ship deck that people were putting stuff in, but I never saw people place the recycling away.  If anything people were leaving their cans and bottles just lying around and not picking up after themselves on their tables, ledges, chairs, everywhere.  It looked like the aftermath of a frat party.

"What is it with these people?" I thought, "why can't they put this stuff away?"  Everyone was leaving all their garbage behind. "What do I do?" I asked my wife.  We couldn't figure it out and she said just put them in that bin over there.  I think that's trash though? I said.

Why was this so hard I thought, how hard was it to put up signs telling us what to do, heck I was looking just for logos or something blue on the ship.  I sheepishly took the bottles and cans and dumped them in that bin.  As the passengers were leaving, others went up to that bin.  One guy another passenger looked in and started shaking his head, and pulled out the 3 recyclable items I just put in there, all well conversing with his friends about what he just found, and no doubt probably saying something like, those stupid frikking Americans.

In the end I think what happened, was that you left the recyclables out, and ship cleaning staff picked them up.  I guess??  I have no idea... like I say this whole incident completely baffles me.  It's all one of those things where we as individuals through language and culture just want to do the right thing but somehow end up upsetting each other for no reason at all.  But in the end... it's all just trash.  No big deal.

We returned back to the train and headed to Hamburg.  We had to disembark and transfer, it was to be my first time experiencing Germany, the land where my mother grew up, the place were most of my family had already been before.  A land I was real excited about visiting.  My wife had been before to Berlin back in 1994 of the Spring during college.  She was happy for me but I also was very aware of her experiences there which she remarked saying she didn't always enjoy.  There was excitement but also those thoughts kept coming back sticking in my craw.

The train pulled out, we got off, I stepped on the platform in Hamburg.  We were back in a somewhat bustling city, in the main train station.  There were lots of people running around, I noticed a sizeable Turkish population which gave me great memories of visiting Istanbul.  It was crowded, there were cops all over the place, It was... loud as hell it seemed.

This was my first impression...  I sat a little slack jawed, I knew about the country, I understood a little bit about it's history (yeah ok more on "that thing" later), and as always I brush up about foreign places as much as I can before arriving.  You make yourself as prepared as much as you can, but now matter how much you study, now matter how much you try, that very first step and your first glance your eyes see, you are never fully prepared.

I stood around, listened... and looked and surveyed the scene briefly.  I turned to my wife a bit stunned and unexpected.  I said...

"This is not Denmark..."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 5 of ?

Train station in Helsingør
The breakfast went down quick.  Everything though as expected went like clock work.  We ran down the street, bolted to a bus stop.  It was there on time.  Then the bus raced out as Friday morning commuters bustled in.  Speeding away, we were dropped at the Østerport station to figure out how to get tickets for the train to Helsingnør.

"Well that was easy", I remarked but my wife who was furiously looking at the time knew our train was coming shortly and we had to quickly get tickets.  We had maybe 10 minutes.

"Well that shouldn't be a problem.. let's go to the ticket office."

As always when traveling, you often rely on the friendly desk counter, a human interaction, the ability to meet your fellow human being face to face to give you the answer that you need.  A simple stroll to the front desk would do, and as we knew from experience being here for awhile everyone spoke English pretty well.  We find the ticket office... it's about 9 in the morning... and..

it's closed...

..

on a Friday morning... in a train station... with hours on the door that say it should be open like... what 8:30.

"what the hell?!?"

Katerine had mentioned later when I told her this story that one thing that had been cut in public areas were services.  I just figured that in a major train station on a Friday there might be just one... just ONE human being working there.  Hours on the door said the times they were open, which meant... right now... but as always in Europe like I've always said... opening hours are only a suggestion.

"Well it's time to play spin the wheel then on the kiosks... lets go!"  We hit the electronic machine and were trying to figure it out with maybe 5 minutes left before the train was to arrive.  It was like being on a game show,,, spin that wheel!  Ok English... YES that one.. ok first question easy!  Push that button!  3 minutes before your window closes... tick tock tick tock...

With a few backwards and forwards screen selections, our lucky new credit card for Europe at the ready, we got it done...  clock time...

1 minute...

RUN!!!!  and of course don't drop anything, get your receipts, and then figure out how much you paid later with the conversion... heck this short ride could have cost us $400 bucks... who knew?  (it of course didn't)..  but you can not keep a good plan down from us!

The train would head North from Østerport station, and arrive in Helsingnør where the plan was to visit a famous castle named Kronborg, or as it also known as Hamlet's Castle.  My wife had the idea for a small day trip, and then a museum later.  I was perfectly fine for this as another day of beer drinking/visiting could come later.  Some new scenery and some other interests was totally the right thing to partake in now.

We ran on to the platform... clocks everywhere I seemed to notice.  Very quiet strangely, a few people.  Everything in this country seemed to shuffle and work orderly, but sometimes it also appeared very empty.  I thought back to the kiosk how we could at least find any combination of times and schedule for the train we wanted, but had to navigate a certain way.

It was eerily quiet.  Where was the bustle?  The hustle? the noise even?  The excitement?  Is this Friday?

It occurred to me while I stood for only about 30 seconds before the train came that this country had an almost Orwellian like feel to it.  There were almost no surprises, or at least very few ones and they seemed like they could easily be explained.

The train pulled up, we got in, and headed to small town Denmark for some sight seeing.

The town of Helsingnør is tiny, but we wanted to explore the castle first.  The train station is small, and as soon as you get out, the Kronborg castle appears just to the North which you can see easily.  You certainly wont get lost, and you can't miss it. However, our first impression wasn't the castle from a distance, nor the water that separates Denmark from Sweden, but a piece of artwork that was hard to miss.

I quickly nicknamed it... the Frankenfish.

Sitting just outside was this statue of a fish made out of trash.  The trash was surprisingly colorful, and made me wonder if it were items that were recovered from the actual nearby waters.  It was really cool, I love public art things like this, I wish more cities had them.  This one was particularly creative, large, visually appealing up close and even from a distance.  Another passerby took a glance and seemed horrified, not sure what to think.

Kronborg castle known as Hamlet's castle is the main attraction and draw for the town.  Shakespeare referred to this famous castle as the setting for his play Hamlet, and for centuries one of the most famous plays still gets performed here.  The castle also has history going back to the 1400s, as a strategic location where for years the country collected taxes for any passing ships known as the Sound Dues, thus making the surrounding town a magnet for international shipping, and extremely wealthy.  Also every year actors perform Hamlet here on location, festivals are held, and many famous actors have graced its presence.

We worked our way into quite a cavernous tour.  They were broken into themes, One was about the early history of the castle, guided by a Swedish historian which we took.  Another was about the history of the play of Hamlet, accompanied by of course a tour guide draped in poofy pants and garb of the era.  Still on this somber rainy day, our enthusiasm remained, and there is lots to explore, including my favorite THE SLEEPING VIKING WARRIOR WHO WILL AWAKE SOME DAY AND KICK YOUR ASS!!  Otherwise known as Ogier the Dane.  So fucking metal....  \m/...

We had a blast.  It was also during times between tours in the courtyard I found a surprising rare animal.  A free Wi-Fi connection.  While we waited between tour times, my email and Untappd check-ins were coming in at a furious place about the Cantillon beer I had the previous day.

"I am so friggin jealous" one follower wrote, another wrote "HOW MUCH DOES IT COST!".  Beer fans can't keep boundaries and enthusiasm down, and rightly so I might add!

 The castle was poked and prodded from as many angles as we could, another rainy day, tankers coming through the old strait that separated us from the municipality of Helsingborg, only by an icy breaths touch.  Turns out there is a side that is appealing to Swedish citizens to Helsingnør that surprised me.  Katerine told me that many Swedes come to Helsingnør because the tax rate on alcohol is cheaper and flood the town to buy lots of cheap booze.

Really?!  As a good imbiber this had to be inspected and verified with a walk through the small town's shops.

We made a break from the castle to check out the small berg.  It was obvious that stores were advertising prominently in places for their alcohol selection.  However, compared to what I saw in Copenhagen the selection wasn't considerably different, or for that much fact, even cheaper from what I saw previously. What I will remember though is that for one fleeting glimpse the sun was breaking out.

Holy shit, it's the sun! What is this rare beast that I haven't seen in such long as it suddenly squeaked in between the small nooks and crannies of this small town?  It did seem like it was toying with us, but it made an unbelievable scene between the alley ways, colored painted walls, and wood angular frames of the houses nearby.  It made this place look beautiful. Then there was the hunt for lunch,

My god what was that glorious smell?  We were still taken back by the costs of food, and coveted our packed sandwiches still through small little quiet streets, and few citizens present.  There were though a few out, one who was also quite enthusiastic, but it was the memorable walk into what looked like a small market stall, filled with fresh baked bread and cheeses that took our breath away.  Oh my god the aroma that came from this place was indescribable.  Fresh baked bread and dough punctured the air, and the ripe smell of soft warm cheese and earth was smashing you straight in the face.  We still didn't purchase anything, once again... sticking with our grocery manufactured aluminum foil wraps of goodness to get us by.

We made our stamp of approval, and took our next adventure to one of the most impressive places I've ever visited.  I've been to many museums in my life but have never seen one as spectacular as Louisiana located in the area of Humlebæk.  A quick distance between Copenhagen and Helsingnør stands this incredible museum.  While I haven't been to many grand ones in my life, I have been to some spectacular ones, and this place by far, is just a mind blowing experience in it's design aspects, location, and presentation of art that I have ever seen.

A wonderful building nestled on the coast, it is full of sculptures, excellent paintings, hallways that cascade with light and wood beams that mimic the forest surroundings.  The location and rooms are in themselves works of art them selves, and provides a sensory melancholy viewing experience that just can't be duplicated.

Walking around outside and finding the numerous amount of sculptures and even hidden artworks is like a fine treasure hunt of modern weirdness, quirky, and wicked finds that you wont find anywhere else in the same way as your ordinary museum.  Exhibits of course come from time to time, and while we visited we got to see quite an interesting one.

We entered the exhibit, neutral white for the template of course then ready for the artists colors ready to put their stamp of approval on.  Or in this case, a chance for the artist to unload the dump-truck.

Situated in the museum, and cascading room to room, where piles of rocks and gravel.  It was an indoor expression I guess of "land art" perhaps, within the confined spaces of what should have been something very familiar.


Holy crap what is this?  The rooms were filled to the brim with gray stones and gravel, an almost lunar landscape and a cutting stream that ran between the exhibit punctuated the rooms from end to end.  It was very hard to figure how this was planned, but it obviously was in some fashion that seemed hard to fathom.

This was a piece called Riverbed, that was made by Olafur Eliasson.  A homemade inside outside version of a neighboring brook or perhaps desolate area, one that rips your eyes with it's whitewashed and bleached appearance, it breaks your ideas of normalcy, perception, and beauty.

It was also a complete blast to walk through.  Normal doors were crunched with 3 feet of gravel, forcing you to actually duck between rooms to see the continuing piece at times.

"Wow" I said to my wife, I can honestly say I have never seen anything like this before, and as a younger brother of an artist, having watched my sister go through art school, gone to numerous openings, I have seen lots of obscurities.

The museum as far as I am concerned is an absolute MUST see, if you are visiting the country.

*-*-*

We made it back to Copenhagen to spend one last night with Katerine and Magnus.  We had to take her out to dinner, there was no way we were not going to thank her for her hospitality and at least give her a break in the kitchen.

It was a little later that we set out, I forget why, perhaps because we were packing, but we ended up searching quite a bit for a restaurant, Magnus in his pram ride in tow. our stomachs ready.

We found a good busy place nearby (Cafe Bopa), lots of outside tables, very busy, which were good for Katerine to sit aside with her pram, and an unforgettable experience involving Magnus that I must retell here in its full glory.

Magnus was a little restless, he was out running around a bit, and playing with two other slightly older kids with a soccer ball.  This sort of had me nervous, since it was dark out, and I felt we were loosing sight of him at times.  Still it was a good way for him to burn off energy, and give Katerine a break.  This way at least he would get good and tired, after all we all love our kids but you just want them to sleep so we can have some quiet adult time.

My wife and I looked over the menu, noticed it was filled with a kind of French bistro like items, Cassoulet, Steak and fries and so forth.  I nestled a Bohemian Pilsner, but she wanted wine and couldn't figure out which one to order per glass.  The great waitress we had, actually came out with a few ounces of each three in tumblers for her to try on the house.  Excellent above the call service, especially for Europe might I add...

While we had an appetizer of sorts, and waited for our mains, Magnus came running back to the table. Without missing a beat, he grabbed one of the white wine tumblers, probably thinking it was apple juice while Katerine was distracted, and took a big two handed gulp.

These are the moments that you know in life you will never experience again, so you dare not miss  them.

It wasn't long until we realized what was happening, and that meant we were too slow and powerless to stop it before it started.

A clunk hit the table as Magnus clumsily put the glass back down. No! Katerine said, but it was too late.

The look on his FACE.. after that sip was unforgettable.  His eyes literally BULGED out.  He stood there completely motionless, in utter confusion, as if paralyzed by a combination of stupid and just out right fear.  All that energy and fidgityness suddenly evaporated as he stood completely motionless like a frozen statue for once, in a state I have never seen before.

My wife and I just burst out laughing really hard.  I can only imagine what must be going through that kids head right now.

"Well someone I think is going to sleep well tonight!"

"Yup sorry kid that is not apple juice!"

I am sure this is going to be a story Magnus is going to here later in life, over and over again from his elders.  That story... remember way back when... sort of thing.  I guess we got him started off young like a true Dane you could say.

It was our last time in the country, and we were getting on a train to Germany tomorrow.  The forecast actually called for once a clear sunny day, but we would not get to experience a full one in the country anymore.  After tonight the journey and good drinks were going to be held elsewhere, but sorry Magnus..., you wont be coming.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Imbibe Hours FAVORITE beers in 2014

2014 was once again filled with lots of good and memorable new beers for me.  It always surprises me the amount of incredibly good beer that is out there year after year.  As for the beer slayer in me, I was also lucky to get in a lot of travel, which gives me the opportunity to be surrounded by many beers I never have access to.

There was also quite a bit of online West coast purchases last year as well, and interestingly enough I almost wanted to get a Bourbon barrel scotch ale in my favorites this year, as it seemed there were many that I had this year.  Still as good as those beer were, there didn't quite always make the cut in greatness.

So here it is in the video below, my favorite beers of 2014.  Cheers and Enjoy!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 4 of ?

Cantillon Blåbær Lambic at Ølbutikken
I awake once again,  It's the morning and the jet lag is at this point gone with the trials and pains subsided of sleep deprivation, but I feel my place of time is lost.  I look outside.  The sky is gray... the pavement is ... gray... the rain comes down again.. it is... gray... the colors are.... gray... where in the HELL is the sun I ask myself in this country?  I turn to my wife... "are we in Seattle or something?"

"What are you doing in bed?!  Get UP!  We have plans to take care of!" she said to me.

Ah yes I said to myself, for today was the day I almost forgot.  Today was the day to go search for that elusive beer, the one that is seemingly on the mind of many beer fans. One that is quite obscure and one that deserves special attention, sold only once a year in Copenhagen, from Belgian brewery Cantillon.  It is simply... Blåbær.

"Yes today we go get Blåbær!"  I said with big satisfaction. "It was like I dreamt of it!" I remarked with a shit eating grin bigger than a Chesire cat.

"No actually you didn't dream of it" my wife said with an annoying look, hands on her hips and poised as to why I still hadn't gotten out of bed.

"What? What do you mean I didn't dream of it?  I had dreamed I tasted it, then we went to some other places like Mikkeller along the way too, and it was great!"

"Yeah you did that yesterday remember?!" at this point she was getting frustrated.

"I did?! you mean this was real?!"  I sat up in bed stunned while Magnus flummoxed his lego pieces and tossed them around with reckless abandon.  "Oh my god this really happened!".

It turns out, when I sat up I realized I had already slayed the dragon the previous night.  In between times, we managed to make our way down to Ølbutikken and also the passing Mikkeller bar to partake in the glorious beer suds that this city and country offered.

"You were right!  Absolutely right! Wow I remember the journey like it was yesterday."

* - *- *

Somewhere between our cavorting and travelling we made an effort to make our way down to Ølbutikken where Cantillon Blåbær was to be sold.  There were a few things that were also on the radar though that got taken care of first.

"Where's the licorice!?" I said to myself.  It was a food item I really wanted to explore here while we visited.

I remember reading about how there were really good licorice shops and that it was very popular in Denmark.  A quick Google search popped up one maker who had a series of shops of what one might even call "artisan" crafted licorice.  His name was Johan Bulow and he makes a product simply called Lakrids.

We set out to try and find his store, and discovered after getting easily lost that we had to actually go underground, into a basement department area to find it.

The result was incredibly satisfying, if not a big hit on the wallet.  Licorice here is not what you think it is back in the United States.  Forget about Twizzlers and ropes of over sweet plastic.  The items here are of a completely different vein.  Chocolate coated, numerous fruit flavors, dustings with other sweet confections, and of course an old classic that is quite jarring to many North Americans which he made that I fell in love with, simply black and salted.

Licorice seemed to be everywhere we looked as well and we picked up several different makers.  So far after having tried many others in various price ranges, the Johan Bulow items were becoming favorites of ours but they were all really good. We did seem to prefer them over the other cheaper brands.

Licorice didn't just seem to be candy, it was also in other products and most surprisingly, it was in beer.

I found quite a few local breweries, and lots of beer that had licorice as an ingredient.  Most of them were stouts, and to some extent darker beers such as brown ales.

You can actually see me review a licorice beer here along with some Blåbær and Copenhagen highlights below.


Getting back on course though was needed.  The plan of attack was set in motion.  We headed to the Vesterbro neighborhood which was also home to the Mikkeller bar.  The path to be traveled would take us past Mikkeller but we would definitely have to go to find Blåbær first.  There was one address though on Vesterbrogade street which was along the way for Mikkeller that had me a little confused.  They do have a bottle shop in Norrbero, but this address was not the bar on Viktoriagade.  I wondered if this might be another bottle shop and it could be worth checking out some goodies.

I arrived in a staircase apartment like entrance completely confused after I got buzzed in.  Still I figured I was here so I might as well check it out.  I opened a door to what was obviously an office situated in a loft, beer posters on the wall, benched tables, and lots of neck bearded workers sitting behind laptops.

It was one of those situations of awkwardness, the one where you think you are making probably the wrong decision, but think that a slim chance is worth checking out.  Then you open the door, and you have the error of your ways staring you back in your face, and then you have to explain yourself.

"Can I help you?"  a nice gentlemen said in very good English.

"Uh... hey... I was looking for a possible Mikkeller bottle shop?"  in which I knew I was already at the wrong place and interrupting a bunch of people who had work to do, than to deal with some beer guy who at times wasn't aware of how to get around Copenhagen sometimes.  

I had actually stumbled upon what appeared to be one of the companies corporate offices.  The staff was actually very nice, and they mentioned that there was no beer here to be sold, but that the bar was just around the corner.  Uh I knew that.... just not and smile I said to myself,,,

"Oh thanks!  I'll be on my way, I'll probably see you there too!", to which they replied with much thanks.  Turns out I would run into these group of merry workers again, but more on that story later.  The hunt for Cantillon Blåbær would now continue.

The store that sells it is not far from the Mikkeller bar, but the plan now was a full on hit for the bottle shop Ølbutikken where the item is sold.  One thing I had to keep myself aware of was there was a "very" good chance though, that the beer may not even be there.

The beer is released once a year at the shop, and sold as a special release with lots of demand for beer fans.  That release happened about 2-3 months before I had arrived.  I had sent a couple of emails to the store owner before the trip, and was told that he did keep some bottles for future customers who could not attend the release in person and take a bottle home.  There was though some very important stipulations about purchasing this beer from the store.  First, only one bottle could be sold to a customer, and secondly, the bottle had to be consumed on the premises when you bought it. You were not allowed to leave the store with a full bottle.

I had no issue with this at all, in fact it's a great way to make sure that the beer is available to more people who want it.

Finally, the destination was staring me in the face.  A giant black letter sign lead me to the basement of a store, with a nice thick wooden bench and rows of bottles on shelves and coolers sitting around.  Inside I was already loving the variety and the availability of beers I normally can't get my hands on.  Still I had to stay focused... FOCUS ... look for Cantillon!

A cooler off to the corner contained some decent Belgian beers, and there was a particular top shelf filled with various Cantillon bottles.  Classic Gueuze, Kriek, Brucosella, Iris, and a few others.

But I didn't see any Blåbær.

So damn close I thought.  But I wasn't going to give up so easily.  It was time to introduce myself to the shop owner and inquire about this mysterious beast.  I spoke with the proprietor of the store, a younger guy who seemed like a very enthusiastic beer fan.  We had chatted a few times in email, but he said he actually had some problems setting up email and his Internet connection in the store.  "You're actually lucky I just got this setup today! It's actually working!!"  he said with a huge excitement under his breath.

"Well that's great, but do you have any Blåbær?"  I nervously asked.

"Of course it's in the cooler over there!"

"Huh?!"  I swear I looked it up and down, but then he pointed to the bottom far right corner of the rectangular door, the spot where discerning beer hunting eyes often fail to look over and over again, the place that disappears often in the recesses of the mind of a beer shopper like me, barely lurching over the tips of your feet where your eyes don't reach.

There it was.  In the corner were about a dozen maybe 16-18 bottles.  Their dark blue and almost gray like appearance almost made them invisible, and they were not close to the glass.  It was almost as if they were hiding from me.  The beer came in two sizes, a large 750ml and a smaller 375ml.  This was a great option, I would have killed a larger bottle but I knew it would cost more and I had more beer to drink at the Mikkeller bar I wanted to check out as well.

When beer hunting and slaying, know your plans, and stick to your guns.

My wife is also a big Belgian lambic fan.  She is often not a fan of beer in general but really likes these styles of beers having spent a semester in Brussels during college.  To her the beer doesn't taste like regular "beer-beer" as she likes to refer to it.  I would buy a small bottle and we would share it.  It would allow me enough to judge it, and leave room for more beer to consume down the street at Mikkeller, and save a little bit more money as the bigger bottle was more expensive.

Speaking of price, this was not cheap either.  Once again things in Copenhagen were not just an easy pinching, and this 375ml beer cost me with conversion rate close to $28 US dollars.

The sale was rung and it was going to happen.  Two glasses were given, the proprietor popped the cork, a perfect sound not excessive, and no gushing, a great start.  I slowly carried everything, sat myself at the table and readied myself to document the experience.  Before I even tasted this beer, first giving it a look and examining it's bouquet, I realized I probably made my first mistake.

I should have bought the bigger bottle....

One sip confirmed it...

I REALLLLLY... should have bought the bigger bottle...

People like to hype up rare beers, and to some extent it is justified and other times it isn't.  This of course also had me concerned about whether this beer would live up to expectations.  Still I've had several of Cantillon's products luckily and they are wonderful brews, so I was looking for some of that magic, but had also read that other people didn't care for this beer either.  

Even with all these thoughts in my mind, I always go into a new beer with no expectations.  It could be amazing, or it could be ordinary, or it could be downright terrible.  Luckily for me, the experience was the former.

The first thing that struck me about the beer was it's appearance.  A slow decant and simple pour showed off one of the most impressive colors on any lambic I've seen.  It was a perfect ruby gem red.  Shiny.  Virtually no hues and just a little bit of pink fizzy head that dissolved to of course nothing, to let the beauty of this color shine.  It literally looks like you are cradling a ruby gem in your hands.

The aroma and bouquet provides a plethora of fruit experiences.  Classic earth funky tones come with blueberry, cherries, raspberries, even a peach like fuzz note on the nose.  

Then there is the taste.  Drizzled lightly sweet balsamic vinegar over fresh fruit in a glass, poured over peaches and blueberries, with big earthy notes of fresh tiled soil and almost fungus mushroom quality.  Great sweet acidic like tones, complex flavors but wonderfully balanced.  Light mouthfeel with some playful carbonation.

It's easily the best blueberry beer I've ever had to date.  

My wife who grew up in Maine around wild blueberries was enjoying herself as well.  She really enjoyed it too, as she got caught up on the free WiFi in the store over her email.

It was at this point I wish I could drink more of this, but the die was cast.  The hardest part about drinking a brew that is amazing is the experience comes to an end.  There is a pathos knowing that this experience will never again happen, amongst the joy of having an amazing drink.

We then made our way to the Mikkeller bar down the street.  A fantastic spot, with a downstairs like entrance, subway tiles that cling to the wall, and a giant chalk board with the latest menu beer items ready to be slayed.

Mikkeller - AK Alive
Oh yes this is going to be good.  Interesting saisons and wilds given were ripe for the taking, and then they even serve beers from 3 Floyds here.  Dear lord this is like nirvana.  There was even more than just that, as I glanced over a bunch of silver dollar sized rye bread pieces for sale, their green watercress tops licking at my face and attention.  "Hello there!" said a young familiar Dane, a guy who I had already met earlier who finally got away from his desk, and was now off his shift.  "Yeah this guy came in earlier!  Hope he likes the beers!"  Guess I was making a name for myself already, as a big tattooed bloke poured me a saison.  I didn't take long while glancing around that the ambience here was different from many of the other spots we had visited in Copenhagen,

This place is filled with Americans.  It was hard not to notice.  So this is where they all end up huh?  Why can't I escape these people when I travel?  But then it again it was a fun familiarity as well all recounted our trial and tribulations adjusting to a new place.  "I can't figure out how much money I took out of the ATM!"  bellowed this hilarious guy from Kentucky, wads of Krone bursting from his hands eager to be spent.  Another bearded young bloke, who wouldn't be out of place at any craft beer bar, neck beard included then asked me, "HEY have you ever had any Two Hearted!?"

why yes young man... yes I have.... oh boy have I ever had lots of that excellent brew.

This was all taken in as the staff free of charge poured us a bottle of AK Alive, suds and brett funk enveloping the room in a hazy cloud, passed hand in hand, glasses clink at the ready, merriment unleashed.

Another great treat about this bar is the giant chemistry flask the size of a watermelon, filled with a cherry like wine, that was cheap, simple, and easily devour-able..  one that my wife enjoyed and partook in while the conversation ebbed and flowed all late afternoon, Danes still stuck at work... us tourists drinking and plundering their wares...

This ... is ... so awesome...

"Yeah that was really cool! wasn't it!?"  I remarked to my wife who was probably wondering about my sanity at this point.

"And oh yeah we also went to that really cool bar, ya know!  The oldest one in the country!"  Katrine had taken us their as I recalled with much vigor.  Founded in 1723, it's interior is warm, inviting, filled with love and stories that I wish the walls could tell us.  The beer selection though was rather pedestrian, but was served with care, and what did look like locals who were very old who had been coming here for ages.  Simple Tuborg Classic was offered, it might have been even from a beer engine (cask), and simply hit the spot.  Even Katrine's pram fit in the place, with Magnus fitting in well.  

"That was so AWESOME!! when we did that too!!"

By this point my wife had that look on her face, the one that was hovering over me as I was still nestled between the sheets in rapture of beer and drink bliss.

"Can I ask you a question?" she said matter of factly...

"Why yes darling... say... anything..."

"ARE YOU STILL FUCKING DRUNK?!  Cause we went to that bar on the FIRST day we arrived DON'T YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS?!?"

Oh.... .. I guess when you put it that way... I uh... kinda remember it a little differently.

It's one thing when memory is so detailed... but the days go by and times seem to be a blur...

She was right though.  Cantillon and Mikkeller was the previous night.  Our first evening we arrived, Katerine took us to a real cool bar spot, and there I was awake, luckily with no hangover, but with a sense of completeness, and heavenly in rapture of the memories while still nestled and nuzzling the bed sheets.

"Yup that was great".

"Good I am glad you enjoyed it."  At this point my wife seemed at least content with my memories.  But before I could hit the pillow and take in another great morning of coffee and tasty wares, she had one more thing to belt out.

"Now get your ass out of bed we got 15 minutes to catch the train to go to Helsingnør!"

....

fuck...

* - * - *

POST NOTE:  The above events did occur, but not in the exact times as the blog chronicled (which is mentioned).  Also my wife didn't really yell at me... but believe me she can...  also we really were late for that dam train...  more on that later...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 3 of ?

I feel like a million bucks! I said to myself as I awoke from a blank induced long sleep.  I was just about ready as I heard the thump thump of the morning call.  Ah Magnus the alarm clock has gone off and the beginning of the day is to be taken advantage of.  I awoke to the morning rush of a toddler ready to eat, a couple of wooden block play-toys being rumbled across the hard floor, and some whining Danish words.  Perfect timing, as my wife and I had not much time here and lots to explore and we definitely wanted to get out and going.

I pulled the blankets off like an orange peel, slowly sauntered to the bathroom once my wife finished and made her way to see Katerine.  One pant leg nestled tightly, a quick glance out the window to check the weather report...  yup cloudy and slight drizzel,  I then made my way to the breakfast table and awaited the morning news.

"I have got our day all figured out" my wife said enthusiastically.  "Oh ok sounds good" I replied, as my eyes gravitated toward a bread basket, cheese, and a French press container of coffee.

"We'll make our way to this park!"

Uh huh... (beer).

"Then we'll see if this museum is open."

Yeah... (beer).

View of Copenhagen from the Rundetårn
"Then there's the tower, and that gives us time to check out this area which I wanted to see"

K.... (beer, food,)

"then we go here...  that should give us time for lunch and some shopping, which you can figure out"

I just nod uh huh yup sounds great we're rolling... where is the sugar anyway?

It's often like this when I travel with my wife.  Everything is planned before I even get out of bed.  I roll with the punches, and make a note of anything before hand if it's something I really want to see and do, but for the most part when travelling together it works out perfectly.  My mind drifts towards drink and food, aside from the fact my wife digs the eating spots I pick, dragging her to the beer spots and shops is not something I wish to put anyone through if they are not really into beer.  She doesn't mind some of it, and does like some beer, but she is not into drink like I am.  No I am not a beer geek.  And yes I have been called one, but my life and tastes dictate more than just that.  But if Blabaer and a plethora of new beers are around the corner, it's going to be hard for me to stop thinking about it.

I sometimes think about what she must go through with me and my beer journeys.  However, someone perfectly summed it up here, so I'll leave it at that.  I am probably not as crazy as that guy for the record... but I did drive my wife crazy dragging her around Montreal so I could get some decent bagels.  "If you don't stop talking about these dam bagels, and just get them, I will murder you right here.. " she said to me once.

We were sitting down while Katerine was working to get us breakfast.  It was quite obvious that the morning meal in Denmark is different than it is back home.  First off I could barely figure out where the fridge was since it was so small.  It was ground level, which was perfect for Magnus so he could walk in at eye level, and grab his own glass of milk.  Pretty cool.

The table was simply filled with bread, cheese, and sandwiches to make at your own pleasure.  I loved the simplicity of this, the fry pan never went on, and there was no bowl of cereal to spill (although it could be done).

I was pouring myself coffee, while Magnus occasionally sat with his toys and nibbled here and there.  He was a typical two year old, but was very well behaved.  We also noticed that he was easily entertained at times with his toys, which compared to most toys parents buy their kids back home didn't require batteries for starters.

While taking some coffee, I was hoping that Katerine would at least get a break from us on top of the usual dealings of a busy two year old.  I always get nervous in situations where hosts are handling a lot even though Katerine was extremely grateful to have us visiting.  We would be heading out on our own as I mentioned to Katerine and I asked what she was up to.

“Oh well Magnus has to go to daycare shortly.  So I just take him every morning and drop him off.”

Really?

Yes.

You’re unemployed and the state gives you free daycare?

Yes?

Well I also have 2 years of unemployment, but the state handles it.

(me with my jaw dropping)  Really?

Yes

And you have a 2 year old?

Yes

I turned to my wife, “So can we move here?”

It turns out that there is an interesting flipside to Denmark’s high taxes, which includes a bonanza of social services that are available to its citizenry.  Health care, day care, unemployment insurance, maternity leave, free tuition at universities, it is quite fascinating.  Katerine like some Danes is looking for a job while occasionally doing some temp work.  There was no sense here at all, or with any other Danes that they are just “trying to game the system” or milking it, but are in a cycle that happens to many in the country.  But man if you are unemployed with a kid, Denmark is the place to be I say…

If I am reading this right and from what I saw, Denmark has an economic model in which a good portion of the population go through a period of job unemployment and transition.  The model is called “flexicurity”, where if I understand this correctly, a portion of the working populaces jobs are overturned so that others can move up the ladder or into the workforce.  The flipside is there is a longer social safety net for those who are removed from the labor pool, giving them enough time when the cycle goes around and they can get rehired.  About 25% of Danish private sector workers change jobs each year.

I think that’s the theory and how it is supposed to work… “In theory” of course.

I find this absolutely fascinating, and more so having a harder time believing that this actually works.  Unemployment is higher in Denmark than it is in the United States, but what would you care if the government then seems to provide you everything?  I grew up in Canada, and it has social services which are far better than the United States, but it has nothing on a Scandinavian country like Denmark in comparison.  Heck in the United States we’re still struggling over health care even now.

But somehow this is how their society functions.  Where does the money come from?  They got lots of oil right?  Right?  I dunno..  But when you take one look around and see how people are living it’s no wonder Danes like to remark they are the happiest in the world.

Before we headed out Katerine had already put out more lunch meat, spreads, and bread on the table.  “You must pack a lunch!”  she blurted quickly while trying to get Magnus’s shoes on.

My wife and I hadn't thought about this, and I know often in Europe lunch can be the biggest meal of the day, but we were just normally going to grab a bite during our lunch period while out on the town.  That’s pretty much what we do anytime we travel.  So taking Katerine’s word, we grabbed the aluminum foil, made a few metal tin softballs and headed out.

*-*-*

Copenhagen’s pulse is astounding.  It’s a city that breathes and moves in a fashion unlike any other I have witnessed.  It’s incredibly clean, the buses, trams, subway, rail cars all seem to arrive on time, the wet populace gets around on bike paths with the sounds of a slithering wet snake moving at high speeds.  The city has a quiet hum, there aren't a lot of car horns, just a lot of soft wet footsteps splashing against the cobblestone gray pavements.  Even walking around many of the areas, there didn't seem to be anyone loitering around.  There were no panhandlers, street kids, homeless people?  I couldn't even find any.

It’s a pretty ridiculous assumption that Copenhagen doesn't have homeless people, or things that happen in any city, drug problems, crime and the like.  But speaking of crime, I never even saw any cops or police cars once we left the customs desk at the airport.  What the heck did they even look like? I probably couldn't tell the difference between them and a bus driver at this point.  Sure there’s some graffiti not unlike most cities, but if anything people stealing bikes appeared to be the biggest problems.  I would look at all these granny bikes, rides that half of America wouldn't be caught dead riding or let alone owning one, with the most sophisticated locking systems for frames, wheels, and so on all over.  Your bike truly is worth its weight in gold in this city apparently, and they make this city run like a well oiled machine.

We worked up an appetite checking out much of the area and the surrounding boroughs.  Flat, easy to get to, well connected, walking a lot really stoked up our hunger.  I had already done a minor beer run in the few grocery stores I passed.  Even here it was the most reasonable, but large prices still stood out.  Shops and windows my wife and I walked by sort of had us in disbelief, but none so much as the furniture store we just had to take a look at.

Once again my wife saw a couch and mid century like modern furniture in a nice corner window store of a building.  So of course… we had to go in… right…  who am I kidding?

“Like we look like the kind of people who are going to actually buy this stuff right?” I joked with my wife

“I just want to take a look” she said. "Besides we have bought this stuff once before hmmm??"

“Yeah that’s what you always say”.

A well dressed Danish blonde woman came out and said in perfect English if we needed any help, her designer shoes cascading and with a slow click on the perfect hard wood practically pointing right at us.

“No we’re just looking” my wife said.

It was one of those classic downtown to joint edge stores, the ones that exist in trendy neighborhoods filled with young singles who have more money than they know what to do with or something.  The ones where the price of an item is on some tiny folded card, or little cute wood block, apparently made as small as possible so that it won’t detract from the furniture’s appearance or something.

“I’ll be waiting outside,” I said to my wife after I looked over everything in the store in about 5 minutes with a circular walking motion.  Which really translated into “The hell I am buying anything in this place so I aint wasting my time looking around at it” kind of response.

My wife came out shortly afterwards and remarked with a sly smirk on her face, “That tiny end table was $2200 dollars”.

“Yeah… no kidding…”  (groan)  “I am sure it would probably cost another $1000 to ship it to our house… makes sense to me…”  I sighed.

Who in this country is buying this stuff, or can afford it?  I kept asking myself.

The feeling of cost never seemed to escape us shortly after we arrived.  All the food places I had marked out on Google maps in my preparation, many we passed along the way seemed like nobody was eating in them.  Off season?  Lunch plate items seemed to translate into 20, 30 dollars per person for just simple items.  We found a great market, with awesome shops, and a smørrebrød place I was keen on.  But one look at the costs and we just sort of wondered how the heck do people survive here?  Gone were my smørrebrød places, walking to cafes with killer Danish pastries in the morning with coffee, no seafood dinners in the Southern end of the city I was so highly excited about.  It all went up in a puff of smoke before my eyes.

“Let's eat our sandwiches,” I quickly remarked as I pointed to a park bench that looked comfy to my wife.  “That's a great idea” she said.

We sat in a park bench, and admired that we didn't seem to be alone in our solitary lunch of wrapped ham and cheese.  As I looked around, I saw many a tinfoil carrying people eating sandwiches.  Families on park benches, women pulling them out of their purses, kids and parents bunkered down around wrappings.  It seemed like this was par for the course for Danes when it came to eating out.  We were fitting in nicely.  Sitting with the Danes in a sandwich break seemed like a communal bonding experience, making for one tasty ham and cheese sandwich.

After more cavorting and sightseeing, we made our way back to Katerine's place.

"It's so good to see you again!  Would you like a beer, I have some?!"

"Oh hell yes" I said, even though my bag was filled with a few interesting beers I was keen on digging into, the old adage never escaped my brain,,,

NEVER TURN DOWN A DRINK FROM YOUR HOST..... EVER!!!!

Katerine provided me with a well known brew from Carlsberg that I was not so aware of that they make called Tuborg Classic.  It's a pretty easy drinking brew, commonly available, but I have never seen it locally where I live from them unlike their regular brew.  It's surprisingly reminds me very much like Yuengling stateside but better.  Inoffensive, nothing crazy impressive, but a solid drinker.  Sort of the Danish go to of Sam Adams Boston Lager, in my opinion that's what I think.

Katerine had much of this and I started pounding these with reckless abandon, since after all... there was a job do to here for me and I was not going to do it half ass.

Still there was still many goodies of my own design I was destined to jump into. One that I grabbed was a Limfjords Porter.  This porter has one of the ingredients that I was quite surprised to find in many beers.  That ingredient simply was black licorice, a treat that seems to be pretty common in Denmark, and that perhaps they take pride in.  (Although when I landed in Germany and told people about Danes and licorice they had different ideas about where the best was made... Germany... Holland... pick your battles...).

The heck you say there isn't enough great tasting beer to go around.  Limfjords manages to maintain a mild porter quality with just a hint of black licorice.  Tongue stained?  Not so much.

A simple haul at a grocery and a specialty store.
Good Belgians too!
Denmark's other non mass produced beers seemed quite abundant.  There were beers from Nørrebro Bryghus, Svaneke rounded out some other interests as well.  We settled down with a simple meal, and Magnus' fascination with some Lego and a carving knife.

"Can I have the knife?" my wife asked Magnus with the touch of delicateness that only a fine woman can wield.

Magnus almost stopped in a trance and handed her the blade, transfixed by her gaze and delicate words.  The acknowledgement of the English language was not lost on this young warrior.  English is much used in Denmark and taught in schools, even Katerine spoke English around Magnus the entire time we were around.  It was obvious many times that he sort of knew what we were saying at times, but never once in English did he respond to us.  However, his touch and gaze gave us a wink and comfort that somehow we were both on the same wavelength.  We understood each other, in this crazy beautiful world.

"It's like he knows what we are saying!"  my wife mentioned to Katerine in astonishment.

"I am going to put together some of these Lego sets!" I said to Katerine, delicately proportioning the oversized younger blocks into an aeroport that could mimic a tarmac longer than the biggest bike path in Denmark.

However, as much as we enjoyed ourselves, my wife could see I was getting anxious, and we didn't have much time left in town either.  I told her we absolutely had to go to Ølbutikken tomorrow, to see if I could find a bottle of Cantillon Blabaer.  She agreed, and she knew this meant a lot to me, but for now we nestled into bottles of wine, and fists of Tuborg Classic as the rain never seemed to end.

I had other stops along the way too... but the hunt would have to continue in earnest tomorrow.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 2 of ?

Copenhagen Airport - Googled Image taken from Internet
I did not take this photo.
Before I headed off on this trip I met up with a good friend of mine who had some rather big news.  He not unlike myself was heading to Europe as well, although while I was off for a vacation he was making a big change.

"Me and Valerie made up our minds, we're moving to Barcelona."

"The hell!!??"

I was sitting down with my good friend at the Quarry House Tavern, a good simple watering hole that I pick as a meeting place for us both on occasion. A solitary place of middle ground, it's sort of between our houses in the area.  I grab something Belgian, or perhaps a local on tap brew, he nestling his Guinness in his hands is satisfied.

This came out of nowhere, but I could sense his unbridled enthusiasm and his eagerness to move on, son in tow, quit his job, it was what they wanted.  He even decided to write about the transition which you can read on his blog here at this link: 6 Degrees of Anticipation.

"Wow" I said, crinkling my hands around a tulip of St. Feuillien, glancing around at the younger singles who have time to pass and less heavier stuff to deal with than us it seemed.

"Funny you say that, I am heading off to Copenhagen and Berlin soon"!  I mentioned.

"Copenhagen huh"!  he said.  "Yeah I been there...." his thoughts trailed off slightly with me wanting yet another glimpse into anything that he could tell me more about this place.  Perhaps a cool spot, a neat piece of scenery, a real great tip..  he beckoned with one simple note that he didn't hesitate, as if it was the most important thing I should know.  Without missing a beat, the first thing that formed out of his lips to say to me was:

"That place is expensive as hell."

So there it was, stuck in my head all that time.  The commute to Dulles airport, making sure I didn't forget to pack anything, keeping the ideas of the trip in mind, but with that all, the time had past.  It was October 1st, and there we were, in a daze, jet lagged, in the wrong time zone, was it October? what day of the week really was it?  All I knew was that it was about 8 AM and we were to wait here for Katrine to come pick us up, with maybe her son, and somehow our trip would begin.  But I should hang on to my wallet.

The first footstep even seemed memorable once we entered the airport.  Copenhagen's airport is spacious. Wooden.  Architecturally impressive.  Filled with glass and open skies to see.  Half the time walking through it seemed like we were in a museum.  Chestnut colored planks of wood everywhere, I wanted it in my house.  Interesting inviting chairs and places to sit down in.  This place looks better than my living room I thought.  It's also no surprise that Copenhagen's airport ranks as one of the top airports for travelers in the world, for numerous reasons that become obvious once you step foot in it for the first time.

It is truly beautiful.

We entered customs, my head still glancing down to wood planks, that I wish I could pilfer for my living room floor.  A simple customs officer sat behind a glass cabinet, perfectly angled.  A few simple questions for us both, and then one more.  His demeanor while extremely professional, without a touch of malice, faint uniform pressed intricately through a collar, was my first experience dealing with someone from Denmark.  One last question, almost said with a smile,

"Have you ever been to Denmark before?"

In all my life, this has NEVER been a question asked by ANY customs official in any foreign country I have ever stepped into.  It was almost as if they were asking me to enter the kingdom of make believe.

"No" I said, beaming with huge enthusiasm, as if I somehow just won some great prize, trying hard not to make the smile on my face seem too large.

"Enjoy your stay", and with that his hand reached out, handed us back our passports, and we walked past, to a perfect set of plexiglass doors, that pulled sideways in a silent but glorious ballet like movement, to welcome us to the land, and which we saw, the beginning of this country and its citizens.  In all my life I have never had made an entrance to a country quite like that.

Still, we had to wait for our friend.

It was at this time I noticed, I should probably take care of one of my standard desires, and that is to have a cup of coffee.

I don't drink regular coffee, per se... I actually drink espresso.  This isn't some chi chi foo foo habit, in fact I never drank coffee at all growing up, but that all changed when I spent a month in Portugal with a good friend and his family.  I picked up a cup of espresso with sugar in my late 20s and that habit has never stopped.  When this habit is not taken care of, BAD things can happen (Physically and mentally).

"I see there's a Starbucks over there, so I am going to go take a look and maybe grab a shot," I mentioned to my wife.  We were going to be sitting I was sure for awhile, after all Katerine had to deal I am sure with traffic or whatever, and we still had lots of time before she was to arrive.

I walked over to the Starbucks menu, to look for the cost of a double espresso.  Something I order every day, often twice (one in the morning one in the afternoon) to keep my mind at ease while I work.  Where I live the cost of a Starbucks double espresso with tax is $2.48 US dollars.

I took a glance at the menu, and stayed out of the line, not a large one mind you, but it was good to get away from consumers who haven't had their morning cup of joe yet.  I had to make sure I was reading the menu correctly, it was however nicely presented.  One side had the items, and the prices were in 2 columns.  One contained Danish Krone, the currency of Denmark.  The other contained the price in Euros.  Denmark is an EU member, but it does not use the Euro in the country, it uses it's own currency called the Krone (which translates as crown).

My eyes had to double check to make sure I was understanding what I was reading.  Denmark's language barrier really isn't that bad for native English speakers.  English is often spoken, and its often presented throughout the country.  Krones are not similar in terms of value to say US dollars, the denominations are higher, so I wasn't used to seeing items to gauge their value at first by looking at things that might be 100, 500, 1000 krone.  I looked again at the Euro column, something that I could quickly calculate a US dollar value.  The price for a double espresso in Euros ... was ... roughly....  six Euros.

6 Euros?!?!?  That's nearly 8 friggin BUCKS FOR AN ESPRESSO WHAT THE HELL MAN?!?!

I could suddenly feel my wallet burning...

I came back to the bench where my wife was keeping an eye out for our luggage and waiting.  "Where's your coffee?" she asked.  "Forget it I don't need it."  I fumed.  "Does this mean I am going to hear all day how bad a headache you have on this trip?" she said.  "Don't worry we'll figure something out." I retorted.

* - * - *

We waited a little bit for Katerine.  Come to think of it I didn't think of backup plans so much if she didn't show up, but that's what an adventure is for.  Eventually we knew to probably look for someone with a child, and suddenly a woman appeared pushing the biggest stroller (pram) I have ever seen in my life.  Strollers I discovered in Europe are larger, with these giant Humvee style wheels.  You can keep and store everything in them.  Katerine had everything she could need in there, blankets, bottles, groceries, napkins, probably even a giant battle axe for Magnus too.

"Katerine!" my wife said.  I recognized her as well after a quick look I remembered her features from the time we once met in the DC area.  She was with her son Magnus, a true viking blonde young looking warrior, a little cranky, but also full of spunk.  He was fairly quiet at first, but that was all to change.

It made sense that we should head to her apartment and get centered, so a quick trip on the subway line and some transfers and we should be on our way.  I had concerns about having Katerine taking care of us along with a two year old.  I assumed this was going to be too much for her to handle but one thing I quickly discovered is that if you are an unemployed single parent Denmark is where you want to be.  More on that later...

While standing on the subway/train platform I noticed it was overcast and raining pretty good.  It was gray, and a little cold, and more so quite wet.  This however couldn't dampen my enthusiasm on first arrival, but it also reminded me of the second thing that spilled out of my friends mouth when I asked him about Copenhagen.

"The weather sucks!  It's always cold gray and raining." he said.

My eyes peered into the observance of the population as well while sitting on the train.  Danes looked different than Americans.  They were dressed in dark woolen like jackets all the time, scarves as well, and the populace seemed to be bathed in colored darkness.  They unlike us Americans though, didn't look huge.  However, their somber appearance seemed to blend into the gray skies and puddles like a greased oil painting as if it was a perfect match for the scenery that we traveled through as the raindrops hit the side car windows.

Speaking of huge my mind boggled at how the hell was that stroller going to get on the subway?  Katerine did obviously get here with it, a feat I thought that would be impossible using public transportation back home in DC.  That's when I learned the other great thing about Copenhagen.

It has an amazing transportation system that is one of the best, if not THE BEST I have ever experienced anywhere.

The train pulls up, youth and adults pile in and out seamlessly.  The doors are large, and there is a section that opens what seems like the parting of the red sea, to let anyone with a stroller or bicycle walk on to the train.  There is even room for bike and strollers on the buses!

Boy they know how to do things right here I thought.  Suddenly the large stroller didn't seem out of place.  The streets and sidewalks are often large cobblestones, which makes sense for large wheels to go over them.  Ah... Danish design... but it was more of a reality to see how Europe does things differently.

We ended up in the Østerbro neighborhood where Katerine lives.  A side street, bicycles parked EVERYWHERE, led us to the entrance to her front door.  It was small.  It was cozy.  It was a place she purchased years ago, and it was an old building.  The 220 volt outlet was barely hanging on the wall. sporadic lighting was dotted around the rooms, the tiniest kitchen I had ever seen, the wood floors... god I would never stop thinking of wood on my visit to Denmark, the wood was worn and filled with decades of past tenants scuffs and wears, uneven planks of cut timber, and history of the feet that crossed its path.  It was small, full of history.  It was old.  The walls painted simple cream white, to make the wood more obvious it seemed.

It was perfect.

We dropped our bags off, and we were fighting to stay awake.  Jet lag is just a fact of long distance travel.  It's the first 24-48 hours that are the worst.  You put up the good fight, and in the end are rewarded with a long sleep, but you have to be pummeled and hit what feels like a marathon of punishment as the sun and day still exists before you.

My wife already had ideas once we dropped our bags.  There were museums and sights to see, which would fill up our time.  Fine with me, but first we needed lunch.

We were simply taken care of by the goodness that Europe brings to the table.  Bread.  Does any other place in the world make bread better than Europe?  No... and no nobody in the US comes anywhere close.  We sat down at a tiny table, Magnus on hand, as a giant piece of duck pate was spread across the rye loaf like an ocean wave.  I took some myself, while watching him gobble his down ferociously in amazement.  I tried the same, took one bite... and its richness went straight to my arteries and deprived sleep brain.  I am going to have a heart attack right here I thought.


Danish Museum of Art and Design
For the remainder of the evening and afternoon we would head out to a museum my wife wanted to see and some other sights.  She wanted to see the Danish museum of Art and Design, which contains a lot of classic furniture.  We've actually taken some real nice fondness for this type of furniture since we bought a mid century modern house a few years a go.  We bought a few pieces of Danish styled furniture through the years that really fit well with the aesthetics of our home, and of course my wife was looking for ideas.  Plus it seemed interesting.

I was barely staying awake.

How long have we been up now straight? 30 hours?  When was the last time I had a drink?  I lost track.  I stopped caring what day of the week it was.

The museum was true to name. There was lots of furniture.  Some of it honestly really dam nice.  There was lots of chairs.  Funky chairs,  Swiveling chairs,  Weird ass shaped chairs.  Womb chairs.  Chairs that were wood.  Chairs with string and rope.

This is some... well... uh... ok it's a lot of chairs.  Then as these thoughts crossed my mind, the walking through the neighborhoods and seeing Nyhavn (the quintessential Denmark tourist stop, only a trap if you eat at the overpriced cafes and restaurants there), still filled with scaffolding since it was now past tourist season, my mind was saying....

You have been up for 40+ hours and you need to sit down.

What time is it?  Oh it's only 5:30 PM.

Boy I have a lot of time to kill, never mind my stomach doesn't understand what time it is supposed to be eating.  After all, dinner hopefully is coming soon.

After witnessing chair after chair, the perfect chair, a thought crossed my mind, the one that happens just before your sleep deprived brain tells you, you are going to pass out...  A thought that was horrifically a constant torture reminder while visiting this museum.

I ... really... need... to sit... the fuck.... down...

Here are all these historical chairs.. and my sleep deprived brain... and I can't sit on them...

If that's not torture I don't know what is.

I was desperate to catch my breath. While walking through this treasure of angles and linear degrees of comfort, I finally found an employee as I noticed only a few of the chairs had signs that said or translated into any persons language, do NOT sit here.

"Can I sit on these chairs?"  to which the employee said... OH YES YES absolutely, just not the ones that are on tall stages or have signs. he said back.  We strongly encourage you to experience them, in their design and aesthetic and feel, he said.

Oh Valhalla thank god!  My aching tired, sleep deprived muscle of a brain was BEGGING me to take lounge upon these incredible creations.  It was like Goldilocks in the bears house.  This one's too hard, this ones too soft, this one baby... is just right.  And when you have been up for more than 40 hours with no sleep... these chairs will make you catatonic.
The museum has also historical period pieces of wood carved items that are extremely ornate.  It's a museum worth checking out if  you are into design, furniture and the like.

We sauntered out finally after my wife had finished reading every placard on the wall, and seen everything there was inside.  We caught the local bus right outside, and headed home.

When was the last time I had a beer?  I thought to myself...  Why can't we have bike lanes everywhere back in DC I thought?  I could get to work so much more easily on my bike than I did if I lived in Copenhagen.  Here the bikes have their own traffic lanes, and even stop signals, and the paths go everywhere.  There are more bikes than cars, and everyone seems to be on one.  This was just a sight to behold.  I ride 7.5 miles to work back and forth on my bicycle to D.C. and back to Maryland where I live.  I do have some bike paths, but there are areas where there aren't any, and sharing the road is often dangerous.  If that's not bad enough, sometimes it seems like we are at war with automobiles and the attitudes of some others.  In Copenhagen you don't even have to worry about any of that stuff it seems.

"I thought I should tell you something, that I think would be a good treat for dinner tonight." said Katerine, while she kept an eye on Magnus, who was actually very well behaved in a large museum.  Often I felt I was going to have tackle him before he knocked over a priceless antique or something, but he did fine... mostly.

"I was going to make for you what we Danes call Christmas lunch, it's not really the time of year for it, but I think you'd like it.  It's sort of a combination of breads and courses over the evening."

We absolutely said yes, and awaited the thoughts of what might come.  We were served a healthy dose of smørrebrød, which is something I had read about and was very keen on taking in for my visit.  It really is something that at first glance looks real easy to prepare.  All you need is some good amounts of quality breads, and great items to put on them I figured.

I really love the simplicity of this.  As a food nut I get into preparations, and spices, and textures and all the like.  It's often work, and fretting over how much or how little of something I added, or if something was overcooked.  Not here with this dinner, the ingredients just do the talking.  Pickled herring, a simple cut hard boiled egg a spread called remoulade? (other times just great flavorful butter), incredibly chewy and flavorful baked pieces of rye bread.  The dill... oh god the dill, my wife and I LOVE dill, so much so that we practically cry every year trying to grow it in my herb garden and it NEVER takes (our climate seems too hot for it we think).

This is great example of simple form and function in the kitchen, so much so I am going to make it for Christmas Eve myself for family.  I was looking at pictures of this before I left fascinated by the look of smørrebrød.  Bright green leaves, cured type fish of herring and/or salmon, it's veins and curves glistening, topped with the brightness of egg white, splashes sometimes of dill, watercress, and those incredibly flavorful breads.  I had picked out a couple well reviewed restaurants and lunch places that served this, then also looked at what an open face piece of bread costs at these places.

Once again my wallet caught fire.

But here we were, sitting around a crowded table, bottles of wine at the ready, a somewhat fidgety  two year old, plates awaiting, eagerly wishing more.  We were told there were traditionally several courses.  Ravenously hungry and totally out of it, I thought it would be just what I needed.  I find myself at times when I am jet lagged often having one last meal before I go to bed so I can get my body on a regular pattern.  What I always remember, is that I can't hold on to my food because my body physically starts shaking.

We were served a second course of smørrebrød, and before I could grab a piece of herring, I nearly dumped my wine glass on the table reaching for it in a quiver. Luckily I just caught it before hand while my wife nervously looked on.

After the second course, and was it 3rd? 4th? glass of wine I had, I suddenly realized something.  I was feeling full.  Wait a second, how is this possible?  I had what 2 pieces of bread and I am getting full?  How is this happening?

It was true though, I remarked "Boy this is tasty, how many courses are there usually?"  Katerine replied back, "Sometimes about 5-8".  "Gee I am actually... kind of getting stuffed strangely."  To which my wife also said, "Yeah me too!", as we said with some nervous laughter.

How the hell can you eat 2 pieces of bread and be this full?!  but that was what was happening.  How in the heck are we going to finish this meal I thought looking at my wife who had the same sleep deprived look on her face, and same whimpering drawl that felt too ashamed to not say, please no more...

Plates kept coming, and as good as it was, we couldn't take it in the state we were in.  I closed my eyes while Katerine assembled in a clatter in the kitchen for maybe 10 seconds.  I think 5 minutes passed after I opened my eyes, and I am not sure what happened.

We were not going to survive this I thought...

Finally Katerine announced with much bridled enthusiasm, NEXT COURSE!!  Boy we were being treated well, so much so we were going to die.

SCHNAPPS!!

Oh dear god no...  Finally I am not sure if it was me or my wife who said it first, but someone, or maybe it was both of us at the same time who just said, "I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE!!  NO MORE DRINK AND FOOD!"

Katerine burst out laughing.  At first I was really concerned if we were on the same friendly ground, after all I never turn down good food or drink, and we were invited guests.  We were extremely thankful to have room and board, and not sleeping on a wet sidewalk somewhere instead. But the hours, the convulsing, the wine, the belly stuffed inexplicably with a bunch of herring, we needed to go to bed.  We also had lots to do tomorrow to get on schedule, as did Katerine.

"It's so funny" she laughed, to which my wife and I weren't sure if she was serious or not.  Without missing a beat she simply said, "See now you actually sound like Danes!".

We were fitting in perfectly.

I think we got in 4 plates, and just polished off the last bottle of wine.  I realized I never had a beer yet, but I was to go hunt for some tomorrow.  "Oh I have some in the fridge" Katerine said, to which I replied great I'll have one tomorrow.  Probably two.  Right after I nestle a jet lag induced hangover, I'll be right there.

But for now, our first day was concluded.  Somehow I got myself into a shower, it's a very blurry memory, and passed out into a restful quiet slumber.  The rain drops nestled the windows, as the circles and wheels of leaned up bikes pressed themselves against the side concrete grey walls of the buildings outside, as if they were to hug beside me and nestle me into sleep.  It was an unbelievable first experience, and it would continue tomorrow.

It was like sitting in the perfect chair.

And tomorrow.... there would be beer!

Night night all!