Imbibe Hour

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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!

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