“Kids, I have a plan that I would like to hear your feedback,” I gathered the family together for the announcement. “Because the cost of public transportation in Copenhagen is very expensive, I came up with a creative solution.”
“Oh boy, what crazy idea do you have now, dad? Are we going be carrying our big backpack all over the city? Or sleep in the airport?” Joani half joking, half serious asked.
“Don’t worry, we will do that as well. But that is not why I need to talk to you now,” I replied also half joking and half serious. “I am thinking of buying and using the 24-hour City Pass in a way that allows us to see the city for two days instead of one!”
I continued with a twinkle in my eye, “On the first day, we will walk 5 kilometers from where we live to the city center, tour the city, then wait until we are ready to come back home to buy the 24-hour pass. This allows us to use it for the the first day and until around 6pm on the second day as well! What do you think?”
“There is no way I can walk so far with my backpack,” Joani objected.
“This is after we had already settled down in our AirBnb apartment so there is no backpack to carry,” I explained.
“How expensive is it?” Olivia asked being most business minded of the children.
“It is USD 13 per person or around USD 60 for five persons just for the 24 hour pass. This is purely for the cost of the public buses or metro within the city,” I explained. “In comparison, it was only USD 20 cents per person in Georgia for a metro ticket.”
“Oh…I see…” Olivia muttered to herself quietly also realizing the big cost difference.
“So what will we do exactly for the two days?” Nathan asked.
I explained further, “On the first day, we will join the free city walking tour in the morning and if we are still up to it, there is another free walking tour of a another part of town called Christianhavn. That will give us an idea of what we want to see for the second day when we can still use our city pass.”
After few other questions and answers, everyone agreed to go for my proposal.
So the next day, we walked through the suburb of Copenhagen to the city center with a shoulder bag containing a loaf of bread, biscuits, a caviar tube, and a can of herring for lunch. It was refreshing to see the normal daily routine of the local residents in the morning as we walked through the parks and residential buildings. We were surprised at the the large number of bikers on the streets, even more than China, known in the past as the land of a billion bikes.
“I guess since the city is fairly flat and there are bike lanes on pretty much all the streets, people like to bike,” Olivia observed.
It took us around an hour and 15 minutes to walk to the starting point of the free city tour. It was long but relaxing so we were all still in a cheerful mood. Our tour guide was Caroline from Canada originally. It was such a coincidence that she was born in the same hospital in Toronto as Annie.
“Welcome everyone to the free walking city tour,” Caroline shared as she gathered around fifteen of us tourists from different parts of the world. “The tour is free so that no matter your budget, you can join the tour. But I do not receive a salary. So at the end of the tour, if you are happy with the tour, please tip me for whatever amount you think the tour is worth.”
With that understanding, from west to east part of the city, we walked for 3 hours through various famous landmarks: the City Hall, Stock Exchange, Parliament Building, the Harbor, the Palace, and the Opera House. Along the way, Caroline also pointed out many interesting statues, houses, and hotels and their stories.
“What do you see when you look at the roof of the City Hall?” Caroline pointed to a corner of the rooftop. “That’s right. It’s a polar bear. Even though the building has a Dutch architecture, the polar bear was added to give it a Scandinavian feel. But at the time, it was quite a controversy!”
“As we go through the tour, you will hear a recurring theme…Fire,” Caroline shared as well. “Copenhagen went through several devastating fires that destroyed a third or a fourth of the city so many of the buildings were rebuilt after each fire.”
“To use the bathroom in the cafe, you need to enter a four-digit code, 3578,” said Caroline, midway through the 3 hour tour as we took a twenty-minute break at a cafe during when Caroline gave us a very important piece of information given our experience with expensive toilets in Scandinavia.
For the rest of the tour, we got to know more interesting facts and stories, such as how personable were the royal families and the fairy tale story of how a regular Australian girl, Mary, met in a pub Prince Frederick, the next in line for the throne of Denmark.
At the end of the tour, Caroline concluded with what she felt was the most important fact, “Why were Danish people ranked the happiest people in the world?”
“Some said that it was because Carlsberg Beer was founded in Copenhagen, some said because Denmark’s social welfare is very good, and some believe it is because Danish people live life with modest expectations.” Caroline explained. “There is a common term called, ‘Hughgli” which means ‘cosy’ in Danish. On a cold day, Danish people like to go home, sit down in a sofa, next to warm fire place, put on a blanket, and enjoy a hot cup of coffee. That’s why I believe Danish people are so happy!”
The three hours tour was very pleasant and we got to learn a lot of things we never would have learned if we just walked by ourselves. We all agreed that it was worth it. But the children were hungry and tired so it was not clear whether everyone wanted to go for another tour an hour from now.
“Look at that ice cream shop. Doesn’t it look so homely and traditional?” I pointed out to the children.
“Can we go in and just take a look?” Joani asked, half knowing that the restaurants in Scandinavia are all very expensive but half hoping that some miracle might happen.
So we went in and were in awe at all the delicious flavors, especially the licorice. The 2 scoop price was around USD 6 but the four scoop price was only two dollars more. The ice cream shop was very warm and ‘cosy’ compared to the cold wind outside, so I gave in to the price and bought the four scoop ice cream for the whole family! We were surprised at how the store person gave us such large scoops such that the ice cream cone was cracking under the heavy weight of the four scopes. We ended up having to eat with spoons because it was so massive, but none of us complained, of course!
After warming up our bodies in the restaurant and filling up our tummies with sweets, we were all in a better mood and everyone felt okay about joining another free walking tour to see Christianhavn.
“I will be your guide today,” said a person with orange fluffy hair. “My name is Jarod.”
“Oh, watch out for the ‘biking Vikings’,” Jarod reminded us as we crossed the ever present bike lanes through the city.
Maybe it was the way he smiled or the way he talked with an Australian accent, we liked him right away. Although he showed us some sights that we already saw earlier in the day, his stories and the way he presented was much more captivating than our tour guide in the morning. The children looked at me and whispered, “Aren’t you glad the you decided to come?”
The most poignant part of the tour of Christianhavn was walking through the “green light” district or also called the “pusher” street, Copenhagen’s infamous semi-legal 25 million dollars a year marijuana trading hotspot. Here, marijuana are sold in open daylight! The place used to be an abandon military base which became occupied by utopia idealists 50 years ago. Copenhagen’s famous bike carts were invented here. Now, most of the ideals has been lost and instead drug lords rule its grounds instead.
“For you Singaporeans here, no worry. The pushers are ‘cool’ with you having chew gums,” joked Jarod, who is very knowledgable and good at making a connection with different nationalities.
“So remember, don’t take out your smartphone camera and don’t run, unless you want a sun tan.” Jarod warned us in a light-hearted way after he told us a story about a journalist that didn’t listen and his camera was returned but all his clothes were stripped.
For several hundred meters, we saw ‘shady’ booths after booths lining the street. Each booth had mesh curtains over the counters such that one is only able to see the hands of the drug dealers. Next to many of the booth were rough looking guys that appeared to be drug gangs.
“Joani, since you are only 14, please hold your breath while passing through. For the rest of you, relax and breath deeply,” Jarod joked while demonstrating by taking a deep breath with outstretched arms.
Reflecting back, I am amazed how an enthusiasm and humor can make such a difference. Before the 2nd tour, the children were complaining about being tired from walking to the city center in the morning and going on the 1st walking tour. However, during the 2nd tour, they were all so enthralled by the humor and content of our tour guide Jarod that they forgot all the tiredness. In total, we walked 20 kilometers for the day!
Afterwards, we bought our 24 hour City Pass to rest our tired legs by taking the metro and bus back home. It meant that we could use any bus, metro, train, and harbor boat in the city until sundown the next day. But it also meant that the Cinderella clock started to tick. After 24 hours, our ‘carriage’ would turn back to ‘pumpkin’.
Hoping to take advantage of our “Cinderella carriage”, we started early the next morning and went first to the Botanical Garden before meeting with Chester who gave us spiritual tour of Copenhagen to help us know how to better pray for the city. Then we went to the National Museam, which presented very captivatingly how Denmark as a country was able to rescue the Danish prisoners from the concentration camp during WWII. Unfortunately, we had to cut short our time at the National Museum to enjoy the city view on top of the Parliament Tower and to admire the famous mermaid statue in the harbor next to a grand fortress. Coming back, to save time waiting, we changed buses three times and got off the bus once to shop for dinner at a large Fotex Supermarket.
“Hurry up! We only have few minutes left,” I called out to Joani as we ran out of the supermarket.
Sometimes I wonder whether I went too far in trying to reduce our travel expenses in the Scandinavian countries. During our 11 nights in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, we only paid for 4 nights of accommodation. We slept on the bus one night, on the train one night, in the airport one night, and in friend’s house 4 nights. We mostly only did the free things. But thinking back, the children still had a great time with friends, got to try some very exotic Scandinavian food, and laughed a lot during the tours. I also got to exercise my mind to think creatively on how to get the most out of a buck.
When we got back to our AirBnB apartment, we only had less than five minutes before our City Pass expired. What a way to live out our Su Family’s version of the Cinderella story on that memorable 24 hours in Copenhagen, the fairy tale city of Hans Christiansen.