The day before I leave the States I buy a brand new pair of Chucks. My old ones are starting to fall apart and I think it apropos to start this world tour with a new pair. Donning these fresh shoes (A little too fresh for my liking actually, I like my All-Stars broken in, a little faded, and dingy) I board the plane in Richmond, Virginia. From there I head to Boston and after a short layover I fly on to Iceland. The Reykjavik airport is my first taste, minuscule as it may be, of what the year holds in store. I don’t understand the language and strain to calculate from Icelandic Króna to Dollars the cost of the snack I’m trying to buy to keep me sated until I land in Denmark at 6am the next day.
Landing in Copenhagen, I attempt to buy a pre-paid SIM card to use in my phone, but all the vending machines in the airport are out of order. I buy a train ticket to Copenhagen Central Station. Once I get to the platform I realize that I have no idea which train to get on. After much deliberation and pacing, I jump on a random train. Finding one worker aboard, I ask her if this train goes into the city. She says it does. Then I ask “Did I buy the right ticket?” stupidly holding my ticket out for her to examine. She nods. I take my seat and watch the early morning Copenhagen sky roll towards me.
At Copenhagen Central I walk up the stairs to the street level and I’m flabbergasted. Rows and rows of bikes as far as the eye can see. There are a few cars driving around but there are streams of bicyclists overwhelming the streets. I take a few pictures. I walk on awestruck by the multitude of bikes careening to and fro. I wander like a zombie through the city. I haven’t slept in twenty hours at this point. Around 8 am I finally find a coffee shop as it’s opening. Sipping on an Americano I log onto the WiFi there. After checking emails and sending out more couch-surfing requests, I hit the streets again, wandering aimlessly. It's a great town but I'm beat. I try to sleep on a park bench to no avail.
At 4pm I'm falling asleep as I check into the Urban House hostel. I head up to the room with hopes of getting a quick nap in. This doesn’t happen. As soon as I lay down, I am wide awake.
I go buy a Danish SIM card to use in my iPhone only to find out apparently the unlock I requested from AT&T didn’t go through. I can’t use any foreign SIM cards in my phone. Fuck.
That night I have a few beers in the bar down in the lobby of the hostel before calling it a night after 36 hours of being awake.
I awake on Wednesday and check the time on my phone. Holy shit! I slept well past noon. I hop up quickly to make use of what’s left of the day. I stumble down to Christiania, a little enclave in the city that doesn’t really consider itself part of the city, or Europe for that matter (As you exit the enclave there is a sign that says “Welcome to the EU”). An interesting place.
That night I go out drinking with these kids from England. I say kids - they were 19, about to go back to University - really cool guys and we connect despite the age difference. We hit up a bar named Tørst and meet some interesting characters. I talk with one danish guy who I swear could pass for a young Christian Bale (circa Velvet Goldmine). It’s uncanny.
Friday night I meet up with my friend and his wife for dinner in Lyngby, a northern suburb of Copenhagen. Jeff and Melinda have just relocated here for Jeff's work. I haven't seen them in a few years - probably the last time they were climbing at the rock gym in Virginia Beach before moving to Texas. It’s great to catch up with them.
Heading back to the train station to get back to Copenhagen Central, I find that the train I’m supposed to take is not running due to technical difficulties. I talk to a girl who speaks english and she tells me that the sign I’m standing right next to, but can’t comprehend, says that I have to take the Tog Bus. I head out of the station and find a bus that I assume is it. I’m about to board when a guy comes up and asks me something in Danish. I shake my head and say something in English. Then he says “Oh, you’re not from here so I guess you can’t help me”. He's in the same boat as me. Finally he asks a man, in Danish, about the buses and then translates the answer for me. We head to the correct bus and take it to the next working station and catch our train. It’s a pretty long ride and I chat with Rasmus for quite a while. At my stop I thank him, tell him I’m not sure what I would have done without his help, and exit.
Saturday morning I hastily run around the city looking for an umbrella because the forecast for Hamburg, my next destination, is calling for rain all day. I’m thinking I will show up, not know my way around and I will get soaked. I need to get one in Copenhagen before my bus leaves. I finally find one at one of the larger grocery stores called Føtex. After that I grab the bus to Hamburg.
At about the halfway point the bus boards a ferry to cross over to Germany. It’s mandatory that you exit the bus during the crossing so I go buy a coffee and pastry and devour it in a cafe before going up to the top deck. For some reason this sticks out to me as one of my favorite moments of the past week. I sit there, the sun warm on my face, the wind buffeting my skin, and a slight drizzle from a languid and lonely cloud just above patters down. I close my eyes, breathe deep the brisk air, and realize this is it - I'm finally doing it, I'm exploring, I am out in the world, alone, self-reliant. These brief ecstasies, where I’m awake, I mean fully awake, are what this trip is all about.
In Hamburg it isn’t really raining like was forecasted and I don't even use my umbrella. I check into my hostel and decide to get caught up on my planning for the next couple weeks. I book a train to Amsterdam, a hostel for three nights, and secure a couch for both Brussels and Bruges the following week.
I message a girl named Neele who couldn't host me this weekend in Hamburg because her couch was occupied but had offered to show me around the city nonetheless. I tell her I’m in town and she invites me to a party she’s at. I jump on the metro at Altona after an eternity of not being able to find the ticket kiosk and fearing Neele, who is supposed to meet me at the Königstrasse station, is going to give up waiting for me. I finally meet up with her, apologize profusely for taking so long, and we head to the party. I meet a ton of cool people there. Everyone there sees I speak English and switch over to speak to me. It’s very nice of them. I fell bad.
I feel a bit ashamed that everywhere I go people have to speak English to me because I know very little Danish or German. But I feel fortunate that most people have no problem speaking English and speak it well. I have encountered very few language barriers so far. I wish learning second and third languages was more of a priority pushed in the United States school systems and culture in general.
Sunday Neele shows me around Hamburg. We head out to Hafencity, a section of Hamburg on the Elbe, and then climb the tower of St. Michael’s church for an amazing perspective of the city. Actually we cheat and take the elevator. It's a very space-age elevator for such an old church. Like out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. A weird juxtaposition really.
Later that afternoon I pull out my train ticket to Amsterdam to see what time I leave the next day. Neele points to the ticket and asks me why the ticket says the 8th of September. I answer “that’s tomorrow”. She pulls out her phone to show me: no, today is only the 6th. Shieße! I booked the ticket for the wrong day! On top of that I had already booked the hostel for Monday night in Amsterdam and it was too late to get a refund. And of course I have nothing booked for tomorrow night in Hamburg but Neele comes to my rescue and tells me I can crash at her place. Her couch was only occupied on the weekend, it’s free Monday night. I dodge being homeless for the night thanks to her hospitality. I owe her big and offer to cook for her the night I stay there.
Monday, my bonus day in Hamburg, I finally get my phone unlocked after visiting the Apple store, chatting online with Apple reps, and chatting online with AT&T reps for more than 4 hours. Jesus. What a goddamn racket. Turns out that AT&T “authorized” the unlock but never “finalized” it. I finally get ahold of someone who is smart enough to realize - and admit - they half-assed it. They fix the problem in the end, I restore my phone and get that blessed "Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked" message. So be warned, if you are getting a US phone unlocked for world travel, make sure your phone company actually goes through with the authorization and doesn’t just send you an email saying they have. Bastards. Granted, I should have checked my phone with a different card before I left the States, but come on!
That night I stay at Neele’s and cook her a Margherita Pizza (or an American bastardization of it apparently). We watch a French film with German subtitles (no english ones available) and she narrates it for me. Tuesday morning I catch the train to Amsterdam and open a little bon voyage gift from my first (albeit impromptu) couch-surfing host.
I am humbled by the amount of hospitality I have been shown over the past week as I venture out into a wider world. From people offering to help navigate a bus and train system when the normal train is put out of operation last minute to opening up their home to a weary traveler who's made an asinine mistake. They all do this with no expectations except maybe some friendly conversation with a stranger.
This new pair of Chucks has already walked a hell of a lot of streets in two countries, racked up untold kilometers, and seen and done a lot things. It’s only been a week. I’m interested in seeing how far they’ll make it and how much of this world they are going to tread before they finally give out and I move on to the next pair...
The Photo album of Week One: