Baltics Day 3: My taxi guardian angel

Day 3: Monday, September 5th, 2016

5:20pm -- my current state is bliss, relaxation, and excitement

3:59pm – my current state was anxiety, frustration, and fear.

Here’s the story about the trip that almost didn’t happen.

Before I dive into the story of “rush hour at rush hour,” let’s rewind things back to this morning, when all was well.

I woke up before my alarm yet again, this time at 8:50am to the sounds of jackhammers out the window. I gathered my things and showered, and since the hostel said they’d be “Super thankful” if I brought down the bedsheets upon checkout, I grabbed the comforter and pillow on my way down to the lobby.

So here I am walking down the back staircase to the lobby with my backpack, my purse, and two arms full of fluffy comforter and pillow material. I peer over the top of the pile as I walk past the ten-person deep line for checkout and ask where to put them. The receptionist directs me to the hostel’s alley outside. I struggle through the front double-door, put the linens in the hamper, and come back inside to see three people behind me doing the same thing, only they removed just the duvet cover and the pillowcase. They each hold a small, neatly-folded pile of sheets that isn’t towering over their heads. I guess I didn’t get the memo?

After breakfast at the hostel, Stewart and I decide to go to Tivoli, the beautiful gardens and amusement park nearby. To enter the park (there is a separate fee if you want tickets) it’s 110 dkk, or about $15. The park, which once served as the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Disneyland, is beautiful. There are gorgeous gardens everywhere you look, surrounding fountains that shoot water in coordinated patterns and designs. In one closed-off garden we saw what was essentially a lawnmower version of a Roomba decorated with ears and a painted rabbit face, picking up fallen flower petals and keeping the grass a precise one-inch tall.

The most basic of rides are brought to life with vintage or antique designs. There is a ride for toddlers consisting of cars that slowly ride around a track, but the cars are detailed model-T replicas. There is a merry-go-round with intricate mosaic designs comprised of colorful, sparkling tiles. Speaking of sparkling, even the bathrooms are fancy, starting with a long hallway lined with mirrors and water-bubble lamps that eventually leads to the sinks and stalls. Tivoli isn’t without its faults, however, with the super racist depiction of a pirate ship that contains cartoonish slaves on the Himalaya ride. The ride strangely played a slightly-off version of what resembled Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant song.”

Stewart and I were so lured by the wonders of the rides and games that we had to partake, spending $15 each to ride only two rides (the Himalaya and a small wooden rollercoaster) and $7.50 each on a total of five games of skeeball (one of those games where the horses move across the track according to how many points you are earning in the game). I proudly beat Stewart in every round, even winning four of them overall, with the loss attributed to some elderly Scottish people who joined us for one round. The host of the game put on a show, providing a running play-by-play in English for us on the loudspeaker, thick with her Danish accent. Our first round, which was initially showing very little progress, found our host shouting “and the horses aren’t moving at all, maybe they stopped to eat a granola bar or something.” I was laughing at her commentary as Stewart was barely paying any attention, too busy focusing on getting 3-pointers (again, though…I still won).

The Himalaya
We also tried a game of basketball, with Stewart getting two of the three balls in the hoop, and me failing miserably, one of the balls not even reaching within a foot of the front of the hoop. Not wanting to spend more time (or money) at the park before Stewart’s departure, we walked around downtown Copenhagen for a bit, popping in and out of shops. Eventually, around 1:30p, Stewart had to go to the airport, so we parted ways at the metro station.

I continued walking around downtown, eventually settling at a café for Smørrebrød, a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich. I settled on pickled herring (also traditionally Danish) with a poached egg and dill and slices of apple on rye bread. I am not a fish person usually…and this didn’t make me much of a fan. I couldn’t get over its appearance, with the silvery scales and entire head still intact. I cut myself a piece and the fish was sweet and sour, like bread and butter pickles, but…you know, fish. I think I may have enjoyed it blindfolded, but cutting into that little silver fish with a mushy red interior grossed me out a bit too much and I had to scrape that part off. The poached egg, toast, and dill were good, though!

For the trillionth time I got super lost in Copenhagen, but again, everyone thankfully speaks English and seems genuinely happy to help. I was eating lunch in a plaza slightly northeast of my hostel and for whatever reason felt like east was where I needed to go. I asked for directions and found I was now in a completely different direction than I wanted to be, but successfully found my way back with help from some young Danish couple.

By now it was just about 3pm, perfect timing to catch the bus to the ferry. The person from the hostel told me this morning that the bus ran every 7-8 minutes, and took only about 20 minutes to get to the ferry dock. And after hearing multiple times that the Copenhagen transit system is the best in the world, I trusted her. I picked up my luggage from the hostel lockers and off I went. On my way to the bus I quickly dipped into a Tiger store to get a foldable hairbrush (I’d only packed a comb and this humidity was making my hair a blue cotton candy mess) then made it to the bus stop by 3:15pm. I had to be at the ferry no later than 4:15pm, as the ferry left the harbor at 4:30pm and that’s when the doors of the boat shut. No worries, right? Plenty of time!!!


3:30pm rolls around. 3:45pm rolls around. I’m hearing each ominous ring from the nearby Copenhagen town hall bells and them being a different tune than back home is grating my nerves. There’s no bus #23, but plenty of the other two buses at the stop. No, I wasn’t at the wrong stop. I’d decided that once it hit 3:45pm that I’d need to hail a cab to be safe. I asked the woman beside me where I could get one, and she told me up the street. I started jogging, then running to this supposed taxi stand. Nothing. I ask another woman. “You can get one at central station” and she points to an old looking building that I presume is the central station. I start walking a block around it and realize it’s definitely not a station. I look at the time. It’s 3:55pm. I NEED A TAXI.

I stand on a busy street corner and desperately wave at the taxis riding by. None of them stop, either because they have a passenger or, I don’t know, they just want to make my life miserable. Panic sets in and I fight back tears. Am I going to get in a cab, get to the ferry, and find out the doors are shut? I’m going to miss the ferry, the thing I was most excited about. I’m not going to be able to book the ferry again until at least Friday, and then it’s too late in the trip. Does my Copenhagen hostel have vacancies for tonight, since I’m probably staying here? Or do I take a train to Oslo? Do I need to get another night in the Oslo hostel for tomorrow? Finally, as the light changes for the third time, I see another taxi coming from the side street, stopped for the traffic light. I run across the street, dodging a thousand bikes in the bicycle lane that have the right of way, run up to the taxi in the middle of the road and wave at him like a crazy person. He waves me inside. YESSSSSSSSSSSS.

I get in and don’t even bother asking if he speaks English, instead choosing to shove my map in his face and pointing “I NEED TO GO HERE!” Of course he speaks English and it’s no problem that I’m breathing heavily and shoving my bags in the car without even greeting the driver hello. He asks me to open the map for some context, as I was showing him a 3x3-inch square of the corner of the city, then happily drives me to my destination. He asks if I’m taking a cruise, and I say no, it’s a ferry, but from the cruise port. We’re off.

As we get closer, he tells me the ferries depart from one port and the cruises from another (both within blocks of each other). I worry that he might take me to the wrong port. He claims he knows the right one (he even pulls out what may be a time table for all the cruise lines…if so, good on you for being prepared for any passenger ever) to take me to. I pull out my ship info and tell him it’s departing from Dampfærgevej, however you pronounce it (I, for one, pronounced it ‘dame-pher-ghee-vej’), and he said “I think that is the best you could pronounce it,” he replied. This guy was great. He said that was the one he was taking me to.

The whole time I decided to not look at my phone for the time. It’s beyond help at this point…either I make it or I don’t, and panicking about the time when I’m already en route won’t help. When we’re a couple blocks away, he asks me if I’m paying cash or card. “Cash, and I only have a 500.” As he drives with one hand, the other hand is rifling through his change, getting it ready. We arrive, the total is 115, and he shoves 350 in my hand, then grabs more small change to total 500. I thank him profusely and race out of the car, dropping coins along the way, jog up the stairs and get to the check-in desk.

No one is in line, and I shove my passport and ferry itinerary in the man’s face. He calmly swipes my passport and issues me a paper keycard and gestures me toward the ferry. I show my passport and keycard to another woman, walk up a ramp toward the boat, grinning ear to ear. After showing my keycard to yet another young man I’m ON THE SHIP. I go to my private room (with a window! I splurged) and shut the door and almost immediately the pre-recorded message comes on the loudspeaker saying the ship is departing. How did I make this? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!? I have a room to myself, so I immediately take this as an opportunity to do my laundry and hang wet clothes everywhere.

I explore the ship and just as Calvin had mentioned in his blog, there are 11 floors on this ferry and five of them are filled with some amazing stuff. I walk up from my floor, the fifth, and pass the multiple restaurants, duty free store, casino, nightclub, and end on the upper deck with the bar that overlooks all the beautiful scenery al fresco. I order some ice cream and take in the views, relieved that I somehow magically got here.

Not pictured: Utter relief
I explore the ship some more and use their wifi, which is almost as bad as dial-up…the sites would crash if you had more than one tab open, and the tabs you had open HAD to be in simple mode or else they would never load.

After dark I ate in the ship’s Italian restaurant, since it’s one of the few you don’t need reservations for. I ordered a $20 lasagna and when the massive thing arrived I was sure I wouldn’t finish. Yet I ate the entire thing in about 10 minutes. My hunger on this trip has been a complete mystery to me.

After dinner I wandered to the Bubble Zone, aka the pool area with a small swimming pool and four Jacuzzis. I considered going, but it cost about $8 to use, and the whole place was closing at 9pm, which was shortly

Next I went to the nightclub, which featured live music after 9pm. The live band played to a mostly 60-something crowd, with two tables of people in their early 30s. I ordered a virgin strawberry daiquiri for $6 and listened to the group play “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Cheap Thrills” by Sia, “You’re the one that I want” from Grease, “I will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and a wealth of other songs that would never be played back to back in any setting other than a cruise ship. I watched as two amusing 20-something girls did exaggerated ballroom dancing to “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole, or an elderly 80-something couple consisting of a man in slacks and a shirt and a woman in a tight chili-pepper-patterned mini dress with black heels did a quick foxtrot to Shakira’s “This time for Africa.” It was really quite an experience.

After a dude sat next to me and looked like was about to chat me up, I grabbed my bag and left, deciding to explore the ship. I have never been on a cruise, so I imagine this is similar but I was simply amused by how massive the whole place was and how many rooms there were. By now it was around 1am and I went to the level with the lifeboats in case, you know, something bad were to happen. The instructions for the inflatable safety rafts were so difficult to comprehend (they had it in English) that I cannot even imagine trying to figure it out in the panic that accompanies a sinking ship.

I went up to the upper deck, assuming it would be closed. Nope! There was not a single person up on the top deck, so I of course made weird videos of me dancing. It was so cool to stand up there with complete darkness surrounding you on all sides.

I took a shower in the bathroom, which is similar to that of a private train car bathroom or RV bathroom: you shower right next to the toilet and sink, but this one had a little curtain so it didn’t get everything completely wet. I’ve actually been lucking out with the bathroom situation so far, since everything has been private.

Eventually I went to sleep, dreaming about my next destination where I arrive tomorrow: Oslo.