A horrifying discovery that the writer makes upon her arrival in Copenhagen does not prevent her from savouring this Scandinavian city — and having lots of sinfully gooey Danish pastries
I arrive in Copenhagen all thrilled to be meeting my best friend after ages. We've been planning this reunion for a while now. “Tomorrow afternoon at 3,” we decide on the phone. I am so anxious I can barely sleep. But the next morning doesn't start too well. I spot my first grey hair. A solitary shiny strand of silver coyly settled below streaks of straightened hair. My days of youth flash in front of me; I am being a touch overdramatic, but grey hair at 26? “It's a sign of wisdom,” says my mother, first comforting, then indulgent, and finally snapping at me as I continue to brood before the mirror. But the tour bus beckons and the sights, sounds and street food of Copenhagen await us.
Half way into the city we are greeted by baby elephants in myriad hues. Not real ones, but life-sized ones made of fibre-glass. Each one's chubby, colourful and sporting a cheerful expression. They're a part of the Elephant Parade Copenhagen 2011, an open air art exhibition of decorated elephant statues and some of the city's streets and parks are lined with them.
The bus rumbles to a halt and we disembark at our first stop — the Christiansborg Palace. “This is also the national parliament of Denmark and the Queen is here at the moment presiding over a meeting,” our guide tells us. A couple of excited tourists hurl a volley of questions: “Where? Can we see her? When will she step out?” Just then a royal guard comes up to us and announces that he brings a message from the Queen. “She is happy to have you here and wishes you a wonderful stay in Denmark,” the guide translates for us. The presence of Royalty never fails to excite.
We then visit the Amalienborg Palace — the residence of the royal family — and the Marble Church. But contrary to its name this church isn't all marble. The story goes that after the foundation stone was set by King Frederic V in 1749, the construction slowed down due to budget issues and the church stood incomplete for almost 150 years. And finally the original plan to build the church in marble had to be shelved and it was completed using limestone. As we drive away from there, the church's splendid green dome becomes visible even from a distance. At 31 m, it is said to be the tallest dome in Scandinavia.
After all the heavy history and stories of the financial crunch, the guide decides to take us to the cheerful district of NyHaven. It's a stark contrast to the place we were in just 10 minutes ago. NyHaven is young, energetic, and a must visit if you are here. In spite of its laid back ambience, the place is bustling with activity. Rows of tall houses, cafes, bars and restaurants in dazzling tones stand facing the canal, their reflection colouring the water. A lot of people, we are told, come and sit by the canal to de-stress or seek that moment of divine inspiration. That explains why the writer Hans Christian Andersen lived here. “The red house with a white open window on top is where he used to live,” the guide informs us. Out come the cameras and everybody is busy clicking. The only thing that distracts me is the smoky whiff of sausages. Right across the road is a Hot Dog vendor swiftly dishing out parcels. The menu is in Danish so I just ask him for his specialty. I haven't an idea what he conjures up for me, but it's an awesome mishmash of chunks of meatballs, sausage, olives, mayonnaise, mustard and indefinable sauces. It's already 2 p.m. and I can barely wait for my appointment with my friend. But before that it's time to meet The Little Mermaid.
Most of us have been longing since morning to see this icon of Copenhagen. For me it's one of the most beautiful tales of unrequited love written in an endearingly simple way by Hans Christian Andersen.
Each one of us has different images of the statue. I expect to see a huge sculpture of the fictional character. But when we get there, what we see disappoints us. A small unassuming metal figurine of The Little Mermaid, surrounded by water, sits on a rock with a glum countenance. That's not much of a deterrent though and like true tourists we jump over rocks and water to pose with the famous lady from the pages of fairy tales.
Finally, the time is nigh to meet my friend. I see her at Tivoli Gardens, a famous amusement park. Not particularly known for her punctuality when I knew her back in Chennai, she is surprisingly on time today. We shriek, we hug, and do all the silly things that long-lost girlfriends do on reunion, making a perfect spectacle of ourselves.
I am glad to meet her and even gladder to spot a few silver strands hidden in her curly tresses too. She cycles me to a nearby cafe and as we bite into the famous and sinfully gooey Danish pastries, I am overcome by the lasting longevity of our relationship. I tell her as much. She laughs and says, “It took you a white hair, and a trip across the Arabian Sea to realise that!”