Crown Jewels & Rags vs. Riches: Copenhagen Denmark

I am not sure what kinds of images stir in your mind when you hear the word Copenhagen, but let me tell you that here is a city to love! It’s expensive, apparently the most expensive in the world, or next in line. Ashlee will be living in Copenhagen next January, so maybe I will be back sooner than later, but for now we are going to try to cram in some of the main sites in the traditional Beishline “travel ADHD” style. My one major goal of this day is to try to find the crown that contains a very special freshwater pearl!

Our flight to Finland is at 8 pm tonight. We are making good time heading into the city from Esbjerg due to our early start. Our rental car is due back in Copenhagen at 9 am, and we have a 3 hour drive ahead of us. Our car is packed full with luggage because we have all Ashlee’s stuff as she moves back to Finland. We catch the sunrise over this rather expensive bridge we have to cross. I didn’t realize it costs almost $50 to cross it.

The SiXT car rental office opens at 8 am, so as we are driving into Copenhagen Ashlee calls them to verify at what time we must have our car returned. The woman on the other end says it’s not 9 am as I had earlier thought, but rather 5 pm. What a relief! It would have cost us $50 just to take the metro into downtown and back if we have to return the car now. And another $30-40 to store our luggage. Unfortunately, we also find out if we keep the car it costs about $8-10 per hour to park in downtown Copenhagen, so either way we aren’t winning. Well, having a car is more convenient from the standpoint of the luggage especially since we have extra bags with Ashlee moving back to Finland. We head straight downtown with the car.

We decide to drive over by the mermaid statue first in downtown Copenhagen, which ends up being our absolute lucky break! Behind this building we find a small lot with 3 hour free parking! That’s unheard of in this world’s most expensive city! We are just about to jump out of the car after parking when there is a sudden and quite violent downpour. If we had left the car just a moment earlier we would have been completely soaked! The rain literally only lasts about 5 minutes.

When the rain ends we set our timer for 3 hours and set off to explore the city. The mermaid statue is famous and surrounded by tons of well heeled tourists. When we walk up to the statue I hear a thud and a splash simultaneously, and I thought, wow, one of those high heeled tourists fell into the water! I look over and, lo and behold, it is Kristoff who fell in. He had slipped on a rock on the water’s edge, smacked his knee and got a good soaking of one foot. Thankfully he didn’t fall all the way in and didn’t injure himself worse. I don’t know if you are familiar with the story behind the mermaid statue, but it was written by a famous Danish author called Hans Christian Andersen. It’s actually a pretty sad story in which the mermaid ends up dying, after the prince she loves marries another woman.

Morning coffee, that’s what we need! This little shop, Kafferiet, beckons us from across the street. It just so happens to be that we find the best coffee shop in Copenhagen! Our lattes are absolutely incredible!

It seems like this is a pretty popular statue. There are many tour buses stopped here. We elbow our way through the crowd to get our photo ops…..just kidding.

Next to this statue there is a really beautiful stone Anglican Church. This was apparently the first Anglican Church in Denmark.

Right in downtown Copenhagen there is an active military training base right in the middle of the city called Kastellet, which is a fortress built in a pentagram shape. Okay. Maybe I don’t know what a pentagram is, do you? Of course we do! After all, what is The Pentagon in the US?  There is a moat around the fortress and it has a berm built around it in kind of a star shape. We take a brisk walk around the star shaped berm. This is one of the best preserved star fortresses in Europe, constructed in a pentagram shape with bastions at each corner. Not all areas are open to tourists.

Next we head over to the Christiansborg Palace. Honestly, I don’t really think it is worth the money. We don’t get to see much of the castle, and what we do get to see is not that impressive. If I was a more familiar with Danish royalty perhaps it would be more interesting.

I find myself looking out the window gazing snootily at the commoners below. How dare they hang around my palace and try to stare into my windows. I will have to get my slaves to build a gate so I can control when they can enter my courtyard.

When we step outside of the palace we notice a row of people gathering, and come to find out that the changing of the castle guard will be happening soon. Some of the tourists from, shall we say the east, keep trying to step out of the line and right into the path of the marching guards. A couple policemen are kept busy pushing the tourists back out of the way. A woman standing next to us is super excited to see our kids and gives us a box of strawberries to eat while we wait for the guards to arrive. Once the marching guards have passed, the police motion that it is okay for the row of tourists to step in closer to observe the changing of the guard. Some of the tourists start to rush forward, so I break into a dead run straight to the new line that is drawn in the sand by the police. I literally sprint as fast as I can. Well then, that creates a stampede of probably 200 people running forward to the new line. I think we made the cops nervous that a true stampede was about to occur. I guess I got my kicks for the day!

Looks like a bad hair day in Copenhagen….

Just down the way is the marble church. I do have to say that this is the first time I have been inside of a round church. Literally the whole church is a dome. It’s really neat.

We venture down the most famous Stroget walking street, perhaps most famous in the world. It is beautiful, and it would be lovely to find a nice cafe and sit down to enjoy the moment……but we have to go quickly to add more time to our parking dial…, run, run…..

I snap a photo of David as we run past….I am pretty sure this is a replica….

One thing that I have noticed in Denmark is that there are a lot of moms pushing baby prams. I love the European baby buggies. They are so awesome. Somehow I don’t understand why they have such large prams when cars and apartments are so small, but they are beautiful. Incidentally my observation about there being a lot of babies in this country is correct, since I found an article about how the Danish government has an advertising campaign ongoing to encourage people to have children. Apparently this summer they are expecting a record number of children to be born.

Another interesting thing is that often schools will have these bicycles with a big container in the front where children can sit. Teachers sometimes will drive kids home from school with these bikes if the child is unable to ride a bike themselves. Or sometimes they take the kids out to the park on a whim if it’s a nice day, and the kids will ride their own bicycles and the kids without bikes will ride with the teacher. Here is a picture of push buggies, too.

We make it back to the car just in time before our 3 hour window is up. We grab our lunch bag. Ashlee has stopped at a store to buy some sandwich fixings and ice cream. I almost forget to reset the parking dial when we leave the car again for our picnic lunch! It’s an interesting picnic. The wind is cold when the clouds cover the sun, but when the sun shines it is really hot! It’s hard to eat ice cream when it is so cold…..oh wait a minute it is hot again. We FaceTime dad as we eat.

We see many pretty sights as we walk along. How about this house? Maybe this could be my home. Nah, maybe I would rather take the row house with the beautiful roses.

Our next order of business is going to see the Danish Crown Jewels at the Rosenborg Castle. I will tell you a little story about them. When my father’s father was a young man he went with a friend to dive for fresh water pearls. My grandfather had to leave after a while, and just after he left his diving partner found the world’s largest fresh water pearl! Now, I don’t know if there has been larger ones found since then, but this particular pearl ended up on a crown of the Danish royalty.

As we walk around the vault we look at the crowns trying to decide which one has my grandfather’s friend’s pearl on it. It is kind of crazy to think about the value of these items in here.

I find myself thinking how would it be if a person had been born into royalty. Would I feel myself to be far superior to others? Would I be repulsed by the commoners? Would I fight for the weak ones in society, or would I hoard as much for myself as possible? Would I justify the extravagances in my life as my right simply by birth? Would I think it’s okay for my carbon footprint to be many times greater than the average commoners?

Maybe I would never even have the sensibility to think about these things. It might never even occur to me that there is something inherently wrong with my grandiose riches in comparison to the ragamuffin scruff life that people in the streets are living. Perhaps today the differences are not so stark in Denmark, but my guess is that there was a day when the general population was living in abject poverty as compared to royalty. As I stuffed my face with cakes and creams and delicacies would I ever have a twinge of guilt for the man begging on the street for a scrap of food? Would I lend a helping hand to the homeless mother with a small child, a child with dirt smeared across his face, and rags for clothing?

I guess not. Perhaps such vast wealth desensitizes. Unless you have been there yourself, perhaps you might have no understanding or appreciation for the daily struggle of the less fortunate in society. I remember when I  used to have a cleaning business years ago. I was pretty poor. I had virtually no marketable job skills and could make about $5 per hour working in a Mervyn’s store. It cost more per hour to pay for a babysitter.  My sister came up with this plan to deliver fliers to homes in wealthy neighborhood to see if we could get some cleaning jobs. On our first interview we appeared on the doorstep of this gorgeous home. I looked at my sister. She looked at me. We both voiced our feelings at the same time. We felt like little church mice standing in front of this magnificent large door of this beautiful home. I had never seen such a beautiful door on a house before.

We knocked meekly on the door and a woman of about 40 years opened it. We peeled off our shoes in the foyer. I remember I could almost feel her eyes scrutinizing us as we did a tour of the house and offered a price for our weekly cleaning service. When we returned to the door I suddenly noticed how out of place my shoes were in the foyer. They were ragged. My mouth opened in my dismay, and I remarked, “WoW! I need new shoes!” 

As soon as the words escaped my mouth I realized how wrong they were. Here I was this raggamuffin young woman inside this opulent home, begging for a chance to clean the house. The woman clearly didn’t like the looks of my shoes, or my begging for work, or whatever it may have been. Perhaps she felt uncomfortable with such a low life maid whose very shoes screamed out the word poverty. We did not get the job, much to our disappointment. As we walked  down the steps from that opulent doorway with the haughty housewife clicking the door locked behind us, perhaps peering scornfully through the window, we felt almost an immense sense of relief that we would not have to be locked into that prison each week when we went to perform our maid service.

We ended up getting several other jobs where we were greatly appreciated. In fact even to this day I receive complimentary cards and letters from one of my customers. She is approaching 85 years. She gushes up and down about how wonderful I am and how wonderful my family is and how I should write a book on how to raise kids and on and on…. Of course I don’t feel like I am deserving of such praise, but perhaps if I were a royal I would raise my employees up to such high regard. Who knows.

Or maybe I could be the opposite extreme, like one of our other customers. We cleaned house for the wife of the highest paid executive in Arizona. I am not kidding. He was in the paper one day where it was revealed that he made $25 million per year! Well, if that isn’t ridiculous, I don’t know what is, but who am I to judge? Maybe he was worth it? They were neighbors to the woman who is so complimentary of me. 

I cleaned for this executive’s wife myself for many months. She was pleased with my work, but very sticky about the time. I could not leave 5 minutes early even if the work was done. She never gave me any tips or Christmas gifts or anything the whole time that I worked there. She kept her blinds in her living room drawn all day long as not to fade her silk sofas. She complained about how when her grandkids came over they were not allowed on the silk sofas. She had literally hundreds of artifacts that she had brought home from her world travels lined up on the bookcase that took up an entire wall. While I cleaned she would sit in the kitchen and smoke cigarettes, her long legs crossed and a TV blaring nearby. Sometimes she would open mail while I was cleaning, and then she would come and point out things  that she wanted done in some special way or another. I was always on my toes there, but eventually built up a good rapport.

Now you may or may not know that my sister suffered a terrible illness called aplastic anemia where her bone marrow stopped functioning at about this time. It nearly took her life, and I kid you not. At this time I had been working as an LPN in a geriatric ward where many of our elderly patients passed away, and I don’t mean to be morbid but I can’t tell you how many lifeless patients I placed into body bags. Every time I had to do this I feared my sister dying from this horrible disease and being rolled into one of these horrific bags.

She lived for a year on massive blood transfusions and steroid doses that disfigured her face beyond recognition. Fortunately, praise the lord, she got a bone marrow transplant finally and was on the road to recovery. However, she had been unable to work and so she was very broke. Just a few months after the transplant we decided that she could start coming to work with me. This is how she ended up at this executive’s home.

When we were done cleaning on this fateful day, the woman of this fancy home came to the door to pay me and say goodbye. Now, I told you that my sister’s face was disfigured, and at this point she also had very little hair due to the recent bout of potent chemotherapy, so we told the woman about the transplant and illness. Her first question was if my sister had insurance. Well, we told her the truth. This may not make any sense to someone who does not know the American medical system, but I will proceed with the story anyway. We told her that my sister had the transplant under the medical insurance system for the indigent and poor, which in Arizona is called AHHCCS (pronounced ACCESS).

You would think that we had hit her in the face with feces. This woman who lived in her dark dungeon with the blinds closed all day so that her furniture would not fade, became visibly agitated. She was absolutely horrified and angry that my sister had her bone marrow transplant under the AHHCCS insurance program. She started squawking about how she has so much money and she wants to give it to her kids, but they get taxed so much that she feels like she should just take a wheelbarrow, fill it with money and go dump it in their front yard.

She started yelling about how much taxes she has to pay, and how my sister’s bone marrow transplant was paid for by “my tax money!!” Like she is the only person in Arizona paying taxes!! Like my sister’s life is not worth saving! I was dumbfounded. She was getting increasingly agitated and ranting and raving about people who use AHHCCS for their healthcare and how much taxes she pays and on and on and on. While she was doing this we were putting on our shoes, and backing up towards the front door. When it seemed like this selfish rich woman was going to become completely unglued, my sister looked at her calmly and said in a quiet voice, “Excuse me. It says in the bible to be kind and loving to the sick and the poor.”

With those words we left this callous woman standing there speechless in her opulent foyer, her silk couches just behind her and the blinds drawn shut so that the furniture might not fade. We left her there to count her riches, and to fill her wheelbarrows with money, and to rant and rave about how someone’s life was saved with her tax money. We left her there to plan her next trip around the world to buy little trinkets and trunkets to add to her already overflowing shelves. We left her there to smoke in her kitchen with her long legs crossed.  We left her there with her cool $25 million dollars per year, back to our little place in nigh poverty. Back to my little 950 square foot clapboard house. Back to my beautiful family, my little children whom I loved dearly and who loved me in return. It didn’t matter that we were poor, that we didn’t make $25 million per year and live in a gigantic house. What mattered was that my sister was healthy, that she had a new life to live, that she had people who loved her and who didn’t care that their tax money was used to save her life.

We never went back to clean for that bitter and selfish woman. As I walk around in this castle this day in Copenhagen somehow I think that perhaps this woman depicts precisely what a so called “Royal” would be. Full of themselves. And honestly, I think that is the human condition, as harsh and sad as it may be. Each one of us might be hard pressed to remember and give enough of ourselves to those in need.

I shrug aside such heavy thoughts. I need to enjoy these moments. It’s okay to admire the treasures in this vault here in Denmark. I can believe that the Danish royals were always good to their people, and even if they weren’t there is nothing that I can do about it.

I am convinced my grandfather’s friend’s pearl is on this crown.

I turn the corner and my curious it is piqued by this game that was made for a prince,which is pretty cool. The soldier figurines are made out of gold! Well, who knows. Maybe it is made of fool’s gold.

I decide that I like Rosenborg Castle better than the palace, at least the parts that the public has access to.

We are lucky because we get a chance to listen to this ginormous music box play. It is an orchestra music box.

Now I would be remiss if I did not tell you about the Danish King’s prank chair. I believe it’s from the 1600s, but I could be wrong. I tried to google it, but I can’t find any information on it. 

Anyway, the King would have a dignitary sit in this normal looking chair. Then the king would have a servant pull a lever on the side of the chair, and these metal arms would wrap around the person sitting in the chair so that they could not get up. Then another lever would be pulled that would squirt water from a big bladder built into the seat back onto the person trapped in the chair, making it look like they peed their pants. Some water would also drip on the floor so that other people could see that the victim peed their pants.  After everyone realized that the person had indeed peed their pants, the arms would be released. When the person stood up the chair cushion would release a loud noise resembling expelling of gas. What a great sense of humor at the expense of others. Luckily there were not cell phones back then that could get ruined by water.

The architecture is stunning in this city. I am excited to think that our Ashlee will be living here next January. Maybe we will have a chance to come again and stay longer then.

It is time for us to rush back to the airport. We make a quick stop at a bakery to buy some delicious Danish bread to bring as a gift to our host family in Finland. If you want a good idea for what to bring as a gift when you visit someone’s home, think bread… I mean delicious Danish bread.

Now we have a problem. The traffic is terrible downtown as we prepare to leave to the airport. I need to be back at the car rental return by 5 pm, and traffic is at a standstill. There are literally thousands of bicyclists all around us, presumably people getting off work and on their way home. I am driving a stick shift, which I can do fairly well, but the heavy traffic and unfamiliar road rules always makes for an interesting situation. I zip ahead of a line of traffic in the bus lane. Honestly, I did not know it was a bus lane, but it makes sense because there are no cars in it. If I don’t get back to the car rental place by 5 pm I don’t know what will happen! I had read earlier in the paperwork that you need to make prior arrangements if you want to make a late return. Plus….we have to get gas.

Needless to say I get a little agitated, but we make it with literally five minutes to spare. Then the agent tells us that we actually have until 5:59 to return the car, so we rushed for no reason. Almost took out several cyclists, and broke all the traffic rules of the city to get here on time! 

Now, I have to tell you that when I booked with SiXT car rental company I had second thoughts. Or actually I had a lot more than second thoughts. I had heard that this company charges low rates, but then they mess around with you and accuse you of damaging their cars, or add other charges onto your bill. I am a bit nervous wondering if the agent will accuse me of damaging the car, or add other hidden fees.

I don’t tell the young man that I had been on the autobahn in Germany. Who knows? Maybe they have a speed tracking device on my driving machine, and I am going to get charged for breaking the speed barrier! He just looks at the mileage and marvels about how I drove 2400 km around Denmark – that’s a lot for Denmark is all he has to say. Then he says that the car looks great and thanks us for our business.

Now as for the BMW…….is it a driving machine like the company claims? Yes, yes and yes! It was incredible to drive. I love this SUV! I would move to Europe in a heartbeat just to get to drive this car! Well, I would move to Europe even if I didn’t own a car, so that’s irrelevant. But anyway, I will tell you that my little BMW was the ultimate driving machine, and I am happy to say that SiXT gave it to me to drive with no upcharge, which is incredible! Thank you SiXT.

We make our way into the airport. So for all of you who might be concerned about terrorism and/or illegal immigration status, let me tell you something. There are no passport checks anywhere along the way as we leave from Denmark and arrive in Finland.

And Finland…..what a beautiful place! I am so happy to be here!