September 2, 2010

Whiskey Shots, Danishes, Big-Haired Models and Yoga in Denmark

On August 10 I took the red-eye to Denmark. We started our descent around 9 am – just in time for the Delta flight attendant to serve a breakfast of, that’s right, danishes.  I was pretty pleased by my astute observation of the cultural  metaphor here. However, like most Americans, my knowledge of the place is confined mostly to an awareness of tasty pastries, abundant bicycles and that eco-conferencey sorts of things happen here.

It was 3 am my time and after several hours of cat-naps interspersed with mostly ineffectual insomnia pranayamas, I just wanted to lie down flat. Nonsense! My inner sightseer argued, Too much to do! You get to see Copenhagen – the greenest city in the world! Clean streets, happy people, castles, churches, quaint little houses with flower boxes, brightly colored wharf buildings!

I’ll be fine, I rationalized, I’d had enough rest for a day of exploration before catching an evening train to the retreat center in the countryside where I would conduct yoga teacher training for a week.

The first thing I witnessed on the train platform waiting to go to the city center from the airport was a middle aged-ish man in a tweed suit pulling a duty free bottle of whiskey out of a plastic bag and wrestling the cap off. His wife plucked shot glasses out of the bag she was carrying and they went to it. Skaal! Velcome to Scandinavia!

Quiet. The people were quiet waiting for the train – even the partying couple. The train was quiet. Everyone was contentedly quiet. So I quietly asked a stranger if I could borrow his cell phone.

My cell phone company is small – and they don’t travel to Europe. Not too interested in helping me out over my two week stay. But I had to call the wonderful woman who had invited me to Denmark and let her know I would be there at some point after my sightseeing, and payphones in Denmark are sooooo 20th century. He very graciously and quietly obliged.

When I got to the city center I found a place in the basement of the train station to lock up my embarrassingly enormous, why-don’t-you-just-broadcast-your-exceedingly-obvious-nationality suitcase and backpack. Did I really need to tote 6 pairs of yoga pants, a European voltage fire-hazard hairdryer, all my electronics and the largest bottle of moisturizer in my medicine cabinet with me to Europe? Sigh. The only thing I left behind was any sense of aparigraha (simplicity).

When I lived in Japan, I had an American friend with a very Zen approach to traveling. “Walk out into it,” he would encourage. “Just go, don’t worry about where or what or who, just experience.” His words echoed through my mind as I thought about my ensuing adventure.

Freed from the burden of my material possessions, I happily set out in the wrong direction to see sights. Nothing but cheap hotels and office buildings for the first 20 minutes. I went back to the train station and reluctantly conceded to a map.

I walked past Tivoli, the oldest amusement park in Europe and found some churches – which I tend to find much more amusing as they offer fantastic opportunities for sitting down.

Wow, spotless streets and stunningly beautiful architecture. Copenhagen truly deserves its reputation.

There were some Hari Krishnas chanting in front of this fountain – which made me feel all warm and yoga fuzzy. So of course I asked one to take my picture.

You can see his buddy behind the bicycle on the right. “Say Krishna!” I’m all about Krishna in Denmark – he would’ve been so at home here! The cows, the danishes, the gopis by the city fountains. Oh, and it rained every day I was there – off and on, never knew when. It is very soggy and green.

I found a park in the middle of the city with an amazing castle surrounded by a moat. Seriously, a moat. Which I suppose is still something of a deterrent to any potential medieval miscreants eyeing the crown jewels housed inside.

On my way out I ran into the Copenhagen fashion show. No, I am not making this up. Big haired models, hoards of photographers, disco music, et al.
I guess the garden house in front of the medieval castle seemed like a good place to hold this festive event.

Oh yeah, I’m here to train yoga teachers. Got on the train at 4:30 pm to go to the retreat center and it efficiently took me back to the airport. I suspect that, in spite of the fact that most Danish people speak English quite a lot better than I do, knowing how to read Danish would’ve been an advantage here.

I went back to the central station and obsessively asked many people to confirm I was on the right platform and train before letting my mind sink into a relaxing ride to Holbaek – a little town by the North sea where I would spend the next 8 days.

Stay tuned for part 2…

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