Slovakia

Now, from Munich we enter the mystical former-Czech-Soviet-Habsburg-etc-etc land of Slovakia, beginning at the capital Bratislava, a mere (seemingly) infinity hours by train from Munich.

I had to catch the train, you see, because I missed the overnight bus on Saturday night (losing 40 Euros in the process). I had forgotten to ask where the bus left from when I bought the ticket and upon inspection the ticket didn’t mention the point of departure. Knowing this, I deliberately cut short my final day of drinking (9am – 6pm. Really, 9 hours of drinking should be enough for anyone) and went to central station, reasoning that the information booth staff would be able to tell me where to go.

At this point, as a sidenote, I will attempt to convey a picture (in words) of the situation that I witnessed upon entering Munich Hauptbahnhof at 7pm on the last big Saturday of Oktoberfest.

Carnage. Total human carnage. Roaming gangs of teetering Germans (and a minority of other nationalities) shouting folk songs in food-splattered lederhosen. Staring bloodshot men slumped unshaven on their bags next to comatose friends whose only pillow is their steaming vomit. Beaming women, bounteous breasts overflowing from white peasant tops, skipping gaily towards a future of short hair, strap-ons and IVF.

Showing my bus ticket to the information booth staff resulted in a collective shrug the height of the German Alps, but one helpfully waved his hand towards a sign that said “Bus” and an arrow pointing out the door. Following the arrow revealed a bus terminal, but a very limited one and none of the signs displayed enough information for me to find the one I was looking for. I started asking people waiting at the stop. I found one who spoke English, but he wasn’t a huge help (despite trying). I asked a bus driver who pulled up, “Is this the bus to Bratislava?”. A yes-like grunt. I profferred my ticket. “Can I get on?”. A very no-like grunt.

Hm. Being the forceful type that I am, I did nothing for about 5 minutes, while my brain leapfrogged itself trying to reason how my bus ticket labelled “To: Bratislava” wasn’t good for boarding a bus labelled “Bratislava”.

Finally, in desperation, I asked a nearby taxi driver. “Oh, no.”, he said, “Other bus terminal. Ten kilometre.”.

I looked at my watch. 10:43. My bus was due to leave at 10:45. I did a few quick calculations in my head, but none of them led me to believe that I could make it through 10 kilometres of city traffic in under 2 minutes.

It turns out, incidentally, that the bus I tried to get on was run by another company.

So, knowing I wouldn’t get to Bratislava tonight, I trudged to the (closing) Internet and Phone joint across the road and tried to convince them to stay open 5 more minutes so I could call Lachlan. Success! Not only were his friends able to put me up, the whole bunch of them were standing inside the station I had just left, waiting for a train home. Such perfect, perfect timing. So that night I stayed with Lachlan, Antal (Belgium, Logistics Manager), Simon (Aussie, friend of Lachlan’s, Project Manager at Toyota) and Annelien (Belgium, Advertising person) at Anja’s house (everyone on the loungeroom floor). Lachlan was somewhat worse for wear from his 14 hours of drinking, but certainly had paced himself better than a few nights previously when I almost had to get him airlifted home.

The next morning sleep ebbed away like a slow tide, and my brain was a pile of washed-up seaweed slowly baking in the sun. After some small amount of fussing, we headed out for a pleasant and lazy late Sunday breakfast of Pizza (!), after which the guys found me an internet cafe and I sorted out an afternoon train to Bratislava. At 4:22pm, I was finally on a train to my next destination: Slovakia.

After leaving Munich, the train rumbled through some fairly ordinary German countryside before reaching Austria, at which point things started to get really seriously spectacular. One day, I must return to the mountains of Austria – gleaming white castles, rolling greener-than-green countryside, towering churches. I felt like I was in a pop-up fairytale book.

I had to change trains at Vienna, and almost missed connecting train after deciding to run into town to grab some McDonalds. The part of Vienna that I saw looked distinctly boring and commercial, but I’m sure it’s not all like that.

I arrived at Bratislava, exhausted, at midnight. Thanks to a helpful local I got off the train one stop early, as the Central Station is currently under contruction and not served by public transport. I met a middle-aged Italian called Gas who had come to Bratislava alone for a short holiday, so we kept each other company on the way in to town. Once we were in there, he couldn’t be bothered finding his own hotel, so I led him to mine (in a roundabout, not-entirely-sure-where-I-am-what-is-it-with-these-people-haven’t-they-heard-of-STREET-SIGNS kind of way). Once I got there and checked in (Patio Hostel – fantastic place, helpful young staff who speak great English), I reasoned that I would immediately go to sleep and not wake up until my body had forgotten about Munich. This was God’s cue to send some sprightly young American backpacker called Barak and various other energetic characters to talk me into bar-hopping with them. After wandering the deserted streets (and why shouldn’t they be, it was 1am on a Sunday night for Chrissake), we found an open place called Aztec Bar and had a few pints before returning to bed around 4 or 5am. Phew!

I thought I escaped the drinking when I left the orbit of Planet Munich.

The next day, I eased myself out of bed and met Robin and Matthias downstairs. Together we walked for about 15 minutes to Bratislava Castle, perched upon a prominent rocky hill just next to the Danube. Nearby, a huge space-age bridge (with a flying saucer on top, see photos) joins the quaint and beautifully preserved old-town with the dehumanising Soviet-era tombstone-apartment suburbs south of the river. In the distance, we could make out the collossal and ancient factories that make the Danube such a great river to drown in – if the lack of oxygen doesn’t kill you, heavy metal poisoning will.

After walking around the castle and failing to find decent food, we headed back into the Old Town and found a great cafe where I had an antipasto that totally failed to compare with the one at Sahara in Melbourne. We spent the afternoon shopping and checking out the town. There’s a lot of brand-name stores to shop at if you feel like spending just as much money on the same clothes as you could buy at home, and clearly a lot of people are up for that or they wouldn’t exist. But just behind the main shopping strips are great little markets and second-hand stalls that sell almost the same stuff for 1/5 of the price. Bought a second pair of long pants and Jumper Number 3 – I had left the second jumper at Anja’s place in Munich.

At this point, I must make a special mention of Robin, among the most interesting and intelligent people I have met on this trip. My first impression was of a typical laconic Queenslander, but there is much more to him (as there is to most people, if you get to know them well enough). He works at an investment firm in London, brokering investments between funds and traders, I think. I didn’t quite catch all of the specifics, but it was really interesting and inspiring talking to him. He’s probably moving to Melbourne in 2007, and I hope to see him again. A really lovely guy.

That night (Monday) involved, if I remember correctly, a whole lot of drinking and dancing with Robin, Matthias, some Slovenian girls and more aussies from the hostel. We started at a supposed-university-bar that actually turned out to be a yuppie bar with expensive beer and horrible music (Worst of the 90s on constant rotation). Next we found ourselves in a Slovakian restaurant/pub that we forced to stay open at least an hour longer than they wanted to while we loaded up on beer. Then we headed to our final destination: a nightclub inside a boat moored on the Danube. No entry fee, and gorgeous locals dancing up a storm. I did my best impression of an idiotic nerdy foreigner looking completely out of place. I think I had them convinced.

The next day, I excavated my creaking, poisoned body from my bed one more time to face what I hoped would be a nice easy day of not much at all. I walked with Matthias (German) to find some breakfast, eventually discovered a great Irish breakfast (I know, I am a terrible tourist sometimes) and scoffed it heroically. Matthias and I talked politics and economics (he’s an economics major), and he’s a really fantastic, intelligent guy. I learned a lot.

Then I headed back to the hostel to do some washing. That night we all went out again, with some more Aussies in tow – two long-haired hard-rocking Queenslanders, and two older and slightly dodgy Sydneysiders (one now based in London). Initially we walked up to the castle to catch a concert (what sort of concert we weren’t sure). I headed in with the Sydneysiders after one of them scored a ticket on the cheap, while the others split for a bar called The Alligator. The concert turned out to be the Slovakian equivalent of Status Quo and, while the lighting of the castle exterior was amazing and the mostly family-oriented crowd was really into the music, we decided to head to the pub to meet the others.

Oh. My. Freaking. God. We got to the Alligator bar to find the place jumping, mostly thanks to the MOST AMAZING COVER BAND I HAVE EVER SEEN. There was an Eddie Vedder lookalike on Lead Guitar, a Neil Young lookalike on Other Guitar and Bass, and a skinny young guy with a short mohawk pounding the drums like a mad-man. Vocals were shared among the three, with notable highlights including the drummer singing Firestarter, and oh crap too much else to mention. Many pints were drunk, much dancing was had (the keenest dancers were in their 60s, clearly having a ball and putting the youngsters to shame). The new Aussie additions turned out to be absolute gems, head-banging and giving rock-n-roll hand gestures to the band as they worked through four magnificent sets. I left before the end, knowing that I had to get up in the morning to catch my train to the High Tatras.

The train trip to north-eastern Slovakian town of Poprad was relatively uneventful until the last few kilometres, when the scenery started to impress with broad blue rivers and untouched hills. Occasional towns varied between a collection of tumbledown shacks with market gardens, to brutal industrial landscapes rusting away before my eyes. Closer inspection would reveal people still inside these Soviet death-traps, working away on creaking machinery.

After some 6 hours I arrived at bizarre-looking station at Poprad, and after much mucking around and language-based confusion I managed to miss my connecting train to central High Tatras town of Stary Smokovec, catching the next one instead. I noticed some huge piles of lumber on trains and pallets at station, and grumbled to myself about them cutting down all their forests. Little did I know the real story…

(Side note: I met an Englishman from a town near Bath called Paul on the train to Stary Smokovec, and we spent the rest of my time at the High Tatras together, both in the two pensions and walking to the peaks)

Stary Smokovec looks nothing like the photos on the web. Sites like that of the Grand Hotel Smokovec show pristine hotels surrounded by lush forest, but the reality was like something out of a war movie. Levelled forests, hardly a tree in sight, and buildings clamped by scaffolding. The balcony of my first-night’s room (an ultra-70s-kitsch apartment in Pension Vesna) overlooked a valley that was stripped of almost every living thing.

Then the real story emerged: A hundred-year storm swept through the area some months ago, completely flattening the vegetation on one side of the mountain. Check it out.

I should mention at this stage that I had actually booked into the Grand Hotel Smokovec for my stay here, in the hopes of chilling out in the pool and sauna and enjoying a little bit of luxury before diving back into the grimy world of hostels, but my reservation mysteriously didn’t make it onto their books. Curse you, Internet!

The next morning, Paul and I headed out to the information desk and found the most advisable walk – an electric tram up the hill, followed by an easy couple of hours walking, then another cablecar to the second-highest peak (the highest being only slightly higher, and completely inaccessible). The walking track turned out to be made of large, angular rocks whose jaggedness made itself well known to my aching feet through the paper-thin soles of my Dunlop Volleys. I thought the idea of walking tracks was that they are a more even, comfortable walking surface than the surrounding terrain. Not so in topsy-turvey Slovakia! Don’t believe me?

The walk took us through some stunning autumn scenery. The deciduous trees are just beginning to turn, mottling the green mountain sides with red and gold patches. The scene reminded me of some of Mum’s old 1000-piece puzzle scenes (“Another piece of sky? Ah crap.”).

Eventually we reached the cablecar station that would take us to the top of the hill. Can you spot the cablecar in this photo? That’s a thousand meters of rock you’re looking at.

After a hot chocolate and a banana, our cablecar arrived. Thank goodness, we were beginning to think we would have to ascend the hill on an item of food or drink.

The ascent by cable-car was one of awe mixed with increasing terror as the rocky ground dropped away but, unnervingly, didn’t look any softer or friendlier for the distance. After about 10 minutes we docked at the peak, some 2600m above sea level. It was cold up there, I wished I’d brought my gloves. It was an amazing view, but unfortunately marred by excessive cloud cover and haze, giving it a Mordor-like appearance. On a clear day I am sure it’s completely mind-blowing, but unfortunately when I was there it was merely stupefying and exhilirating.

To get down, we took the same cablecar, and then another to a town from which we caught the bus back to Stary Smokovec.

After I used the ‘net for a while, Paul and I spent a pleasant evening eating pasta and having a few beers. We arrived back at the penzion to find a bunch of Czech lads playing ping-pong, so we challenged them to a round robin which was so much fun that we kept playing by torchlight through a couple of blackouts. At the end, they brought out some delicious cheese and spicey sausages which I scoffed before heading to bed.

Life and Love

As you all know already, I am coming back to Australia at the end of November. My journey to this decision, and state of mind, has been a long and difficult one.

The first part was easy. I recognised that I am in big-L Love. I want to be with Sally and I think I am a much better person with her. We balance each other, we are both crazy and she keeps me grounded while supporting my ridiculous and often mutually-exclusive goals. She listens to me and understands me. She is evil in the most fun sense. She is also quite staggeringly beautiful. I could go on and on.

The second part was very difficult. I recognise that this is the fourth, maybe fifth abortive attempt and getting the fuck out of Australia, a country that I love and want to settle in but whose suffocating bureaucratic grasp (at least in the Computer Programming industry) makes me long for the fresh pastures, abundant venture capital and big ideas of London, New York or San Francisco before I come back ready for the long haul. On some level, I feel lame and embarassed for coming back early again, having failed to fulfil whatever potential I have.

But sometimes, you have to make the hard decision. And what I realised was this: I don’t think that I can do the other things I want to do without Sal. Or that I want to. I have always felt that self-reliance and independance are among the most important character traits one can have. But if that’s all you have, life at the top would be pretty damn lonely. There’s more to life.

So I’m coming back. And I am sure that it is the right thing. It is not the easy thing. It’s hard to explain to people, and some days it’s hard to explain to myself, but it’s my decision. Happiness comes from within, so wherever you are in the world, you have to do what makes you happy.

I don’t normally inject emotion into my blog, but now maybe you know how I feel.

Oh, and I’m having an absolutely WICKED holiday. Time of my freakin’ life, meeting loads of wonderful people and learning a lot. So, regrets? None.

Dan

More pictures! Norway pictures!

I have begun the long and arduous process of uploading all my photos. Yes, there are many duplicates and crappy pictures and boring pictures, but that’s what you get with digital photography. I haven’t had a chance to go through and rate them or cull the pointless ones yet, but I hope you find them interesting anyway.

Some more in Scotland, and a new one called Norway.

Love,
Dan

Marked improvement

The more observant among you may soon wonder why the quality of my photos has suddenly improved. This is because FOR THE ENTIRE TRIP SINCE THE VERY FREAKING START I HAVE HAD MY CAMERA IN LOW-QUALITY MODE for some reason I can’t fathom (but which I strongly suspect is my own stupidity).

On the bright side, I was able to fit LOADS of them onto a single memory card.

Bah!

Scandinavia

A slight fleshing out of the former brief update. Please excuse occasional swapping of Y and Z – they have been switched around on German keyboards. The effort of typing correctly is making me bleed through my ears.

Norway

I arrived in Oslo on a Wednesday evening, just as the sun had set. The flight from Edinburgh was uneventuful, but we did pass through some very aesthetically pleasing clouds.

Oslo airport is a typically modern Scandinavian construction – a soaring structure of glass and wood, with stylistic references to Viking longboats and North Sea fish. And another typically Scandinavian touch: a kiosk selling ham sandwiches for about AUS$14. I think they should rename this place “Scamdinavia”.

I located the hostel (and, to my relief, my cousin Lachlan) and went to bed.

The next day, we ventured out to central Oslo, 24-hour public transport ticket in hand (the public transport in Scandinavia has been universally amazing. On-time, clean, frequent, comprehensive and well-integrated. Compare with, for example, Dublin’s new Tram system where the two small tram lines don’t even meet).

After a certain amount of dazed wandering we located the Nobel Peace Prize Museum, opened just two months earlier. It is a technological marvel. From the moment you walk in the door, you are surrounded by flowing curved information screens that display information on current and past world conflicts in both textual and iconographic form, as well as quotes from both great and despotic leaders on the subject of people not getting along. Including one from Homer Simpson. Nice.

The exhibition also includes a book whose text is projected onto it from above. When you turn the page, the camera projects a different image. But that’s just the start. When you wave your hand over the page, different parts of the text and images expands to reveal additional information. So, for example, there may be a picture of Alfred Nobel holding a beaker and some text that says “Inventions”. Waving your hand at it (which also triggers the movement of a kind of swirly mouse pointer) will open a text box describing how his invention and refinement of devastating military-grade explosives enabled him to fund an eternal peace prize. If the world ever stops waging war, the loss of revenue for the Nobel Foundation would probably also mean the end of the peace prize. At this stage, I’m seriously considering re-reading Catch 22.

Another series of screens enabled the user to browse the biographies of every prize winner in incredible detail. A metal slider at the side of the screen enabled you to browse the list mechanically, while a chunky joystick-switch at the bottom allows you to switch languages.

In the afternoon we caught a boat across to… some place whose name I forget. Byg Doy I think. There were many museums – Vikings, old homes, fishing – all of whose foyers we explored meticulously after discovering there was no way we could afford to go in. Finally, we snuck into a boat museum just after closing time when they forgot to lock up.

In the early evening we caught a boat back to central Oslo, ingeniously leaving my only jumper behind on the dock. We were haphazardly making our way to the ritzy eat-out suburb of Grunne Lokke when we bumped into an American lady who had seen us on the boat and recognized my cornea-scarringly-bright orange coat. Her name was not Leanne, but that’s what I’m going to call her in this blog and, continuing the Peace theme, she works for the US Association for Peace (or some such thing) in sunny downtown Baghdad. That’s right – she’s trying to bring Peace to Iraq. Likes a challenge, this woman.

We hung out and had a few drinks – Leanne bought us both Ice Teas of the alcoholic variety, myself the Long Island and Lachlan the Jamaican. Very very nice, as indeed they should be at $20 a pop. Leanne told us things about Iraq, the US and the UN that would make your hair curl and bookcases fall over. The brain-damaged incompetence of the UN, the late-night editing of Iraq’s constitution by one of the interested local parties just before it went to the UN for printing, the US forces ignoring all the NGO’s advice and pressing ahead with timetables for nation-building that are simply unfeasable in a last-ditch attempt to get the Hell out before the domestic political damage becomes too great.

Yes, actions like that deserve a long and brutal sentence. Bdm-tish.

Leanne herself participated in gathering evidence and lessons from every other nation-building exercise in recent history in order to provide instruction on how to avoid, for example, civil war. In her words, they have now done “absolutely everything wrong”. Until a month ago she saw the process as salvageable. Now, she believes the scales have tipped in favour of all-out civil war and the descent of Iraq into a haven for terrorist cells, Islamic fundamentalism and anti-western sentiment.

In a happy coincidence, she caught the same train as us to Bergen the next day, and we all sat together snapping photos out of the window of the train as it snaked its way across the top of Norway’s fjords and plains. It was a spectacular train ride, and introduced us to the full range of Norway’s practically-uninhabitable landscapes.

Once at Bergen, we trekked around for a while before finding a hostel with spare beds, at Montana, a few km’s out of town on the side of a beautiful mountain. In the morning, we climbed the mountain to a height of 645m and took loads of photographs of the spectacular landscape. Bergen is surrounded by 7 mountains and 7 fjords, and at the end of our trek we caught the cablecar from the nearest mountain back into town. During the day we wandered around town trying to find the Hurtigruten (it was misplaced on the map – not the first time we would find the Lonely Planet maps wanting). By chance they were having an open day, so we were able to explore the boat and snag some free shit, including fruit and icy poles. By this stage we had already become accustomed to stealing and exploiting our way through Norway, as it’s the only way to survive when your currency isn’t worth spit on the ground.

In the evening we met up with a Special Friend of Lachlan’s, with whom he disappeared to places unknown once it became clear that she was bang up for it. I spent the evening hanging with her rather cool friends, whom I drunkenly created arguments with in a way I normally wouldn’t enjoy so much. I slept on their couch.

The next day we recovered, shopped, and groggily made our way to the Hurtigruten Coastal Passenger Ship, OVDS line. This. Ship. Is. Awesome. Then again, it’s my first and only experience of passenger ship life, but there’s nothing like quaffing Cuban Rum while sitting in a spa at the back of a ship watching the fjords roll by to get things off to a good start. We also availed ourself of the gym and sauna facilities, helped a Norwegian salesman called Eirich with the English in his PowerPoint presentation. We spoke to a teary elderly American whose wife died 9 months ago, as they were planning the trip together, and he has taken it anyway in her memory. The passengers were almost all elderly or middle aged, and the only 20-somethings we saw boarded just as we were leaving in Trondheim. Nevertheless, it was great fun.

We spent a few uneventful hours in Trondheim looking at a spectacular medieval church and attached museum, and I got my head shaved. Then we caught an overnight train to Stockholm via Östersund.

Sweden

Stockholm is huge and beautiful. Spread over, I think, 14 islands and teeming with art and history. One of our first finds was a shop full of old Soviet war memoribilia. I bought a few badges and some poster prints that I thought would be of interest to friends and relatives, but have yet to send them to Australia. We wandered up the main street and saw the changing of the guard at Europe’s largest Royal Palace. Lachlan discovered the Design center, to his delight, and we checked out an exhibition called Extra Ordinary, which reinterpreted common household objects in interesting ways. It included some amazing electronic carpet whose textures changed as you walked over it (rather like the book at the Oslo Nobel Peace Museum). Also, we saw:

– A table that contained a display in the center that showed aerial view of England, at street-level, that moved according to the pressure from objects sitting on the tabletop.
– A one-person disco with mirrors, music and strobe that gave the impression you were in a room full of copies of yourself. Malkovich malkovich malkovich, Malkovich!
– A mirror with a 3-second delay, constructed using a small camera and a large LCD display. If you were quick, you could get a photo of yourself arguing with your own reflection.
– A fantastically stupid Japanese collection of nonsense machines, mostly based around the theme of Fish. For example, there was a fish-operated toy car. No, really. And a mallet used to smashing a fish to death, which opened to reveal a casket for the fish, and a fish-eye lens through which you could stare your newly-deceased fish friend in the eye. And they demonstrated it. With a live (then dead) fish.

Lachlan also obtained the details of a woman called Camilla who organised a visit for us to see an energy-efficient hotel on the Swedish island of Gotland. The next day, we caught the train-and-enormous-boat to Gotland, found ourselves some bicycles and a tent, and started riding to the North of the island from the port of Visby. That night we camped on a beautiful, isolated rocky beach and made ourselves a small fire, just big enough to see the still-unfinished bottle of Cuban Rum by.

The first day we rode 56 kms, the second we were to ride over 100 kms, the remainder of the way to the North and then all the way back to Visby to have a drink with Camilla. The scenery was beautiful, the air clean, the roads and towns well-maintained, and I almost died of exhaustion.

As a side-note, Gotland is covered with wind turbines. We saw dozens, and apparently the southern part of the island has many more. It makes sense – it’s a flat place in the middle of the sea, so I expect they get pretty consistent wind. Since then we have seen countless wind farms through Denmark and Germany. Europe is pretty keen on them, it seems. It’s good to see!

After one night spent camping next to a road in Visby, we caught the boat and train back to Stockholm, expecting a connecting train to Copenhagen but… we had misread the timetable. No train. We eventually found a bus that would take us, but as a result I hardly slept (though Lachlan did quite well).

Denmark

That brings us to Copenhagen.

Arrived 8am Sunday on overnight bus, walked around but not much happening. Watched fantastic Viking games and the Sun Chariot and Star Wheel display at the Danish National Museum, and checked out some fascinating exhibits of the history of civilisation in Scandinavia.

Next, we went to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, the biggest collection of Greek and Roman sculpture outside Rome. It was under renovation, but the parts that we were able to see were lovingly put together and we spent a lot of time there. As well as the sculptures, they had quite a few paintings by Monet, Picasso, Matisse etc. and a really extensive collection of mummies and sarcophagi from Egypt.

That night we found the hostel, Vandrehjem, a few kms out of town on the very new (2002) computer-controlled Metro. Lachlan was fascinated by the way it was put together, and we both took quite a few photos and debated how it was powered etc. It’s a lot like the Singaporean system, with doors along the platform lining up with the train doors, and plenty of natural light in the underground stations during the day.

The hostel was great. We played some basketball with a ball that wasn’t round on a surface that wasn’t flat, shooting through a ring that was too high. We were ably umpired by our roommate, Chris, who was the least interesting person we have met on this trip. He’s a perfectly lovely English lad of 26 who came to Copenhagen, complained there was nothing to do, saw the Madame Tussauds and Guinness World of Records exhibits and drank himself stupid and went home. His favourite films include Stealth and Pearl Harbour, and his least favourite include Team America World Police and basically anything else that I like. We were absolutely polar opposites in taste. The only way in which were were similar is that we both frequently complain that other people have no idea about anything.

The next day (Monday) we went to the very beautiful Louisiana modern art museum, which is on the way North to Helsingor, about 30 minutes train ride out of Copenhagen. They had some great exhibits: Matisse’s “new life”, featuring correspondance and art from the period following Matisse’s long illness in the early ’50’s, including the original cut-outs for the “Jazz” book and some HUGE montages. There was also an installation called “Louisiana Manifesto” by French architect Jean Nouvel (sp?), who has won awards all over the world for his buildings, notably including the amazing Centre for the Arab World in Paris. The centerpiece of the exhibit was the manifesto itself, a decree that basically public structures need to be more responsive to the will and environment of the people for whom they are built, rather than imposing themselves on the environment. It was accompanied by some huge cartoony murals that depict Nouvel’s recent projects. It managed to make a profound statement without teetering into a huge puddle of wank, despite threatening to do so several times. Finally, there was the standard Louisiana modern art exhibition, which was brilliant.

We never made it to Hamlet’s Castle at Helsingor, because we got caught up all day at Louisiana. Instead, we caught the train back to Copenhagen and headed out to a blues club called Mojo. Local blues musician Paul Banks was playing, a brilliant and virtuosic guitarist. Apart from the first and last tracks, they were all originals from his almost-40-year career.

The next day we headed into town to catch an early screening of SteamBoy. Unfortunately they only had one ticket left, so I let Lachlan take it (I’ve seen it before) and I went off to finally buy myself a replacement for the jumper I left at the dock in Bygdoy. I also bought some shoes that wouldn’t destroy my feet (up to this point I had been trekking around in stylish but ridiculously unsuitable loafers, which left my feet an abraded, peeling mess) and a belt to hold my trousers up. This led to fewer arrests for inadvertent public indecency.

Lachlan and I met up again at 12:30 and walked several kilometers to Christiania, an experimental hippie commune that has been around since the early 70’s. Until recently, it had a reputation for being a haven for drugs, both soft and hard, and one street earned the name “Pusher Street”. In the last two years, a crackdown by police has removed the visible criminal element, but it was still no trouble to walk down Pusher Street and score a handful of high-quality hash. Christiania has been built on the remains of an old Naval base, and takes up both banks of a scenic river. There is a lot of natural scenery and it feels a world away from the density of the city right next door. There are a few really impressive experimental house designs among the heavily-graffiti’d tumble-down shacks, and around 1000 people live in the area full-time. They run their own schools, maintain their own infrastructure, cars are banned in favour of bikes and walking. Rent there is extraordinarily cheap for Copenhagen, about 1500 DKr/month, or AUS$350 (in fact, it was originally conceived as a cheap place to live, a huge squatter’s paradise – the organisational structure arose naturally from that).

We walked a full lap of Christiania before heading off towards the Little Mermaid around dusk. I was keen to find the English Church where my Dad sang as a child, and I think we did finally get there – Dad, check out the photos to see if I’m right. It was very picturesque, right next to the island castle.

We took a few photos of the Little Mermaid (the guide said most people are disappointed by her, but I thought she was lovely, perhaps because my expectations were set so low) and walked back into town. After grabbing some all-you-can-stand pizza, we walked to the red light district south-west of the central station, where we passed just a handful of hookers before reaching one of those used-to-be-dodgy-so-lots-of-hip-bars-suddenly-appeared parts of town, where we settled into some conspicuously heavy drinking and chatted to a few lovely foreigners.

One of them was an Aussie guy of Indian extraction whose accent was very much 70’s Australian – to us, he sounded Aboriginal, which is probably a naive thing to say but these days it’s true. The Australian accent has definately changed, but after satisfying himself that we weren’t complete wankers, he told us his story, which was a fascinating one. He makes documentaries (he’s been to 103, 110 or 118 countries, depending on how much he’s had to drink) and has opinions on just about everything. He has been living in Copenhagen for 14 years, and currently associates with a clique of young lesbians who all seem to be planning to move to Berlin because “that’s where it’s at now”. I had a long chat with a Somalian girl who spoke with a Washington DC accent but had lived in Copenhagen for a few years. She’s a designer of some sort, it all got fuzzy around that point, but she somehow manages to live very well without having a regular job. Good for her!

After decorating the footpath for a good half-hour, an equally disabled Lachlan bundled me into a cab and we made our way back to the hostel.

Germany

The next day we boarded a train for…

Berlin!