Travel writing* seems to have many of the same hangups as autobiographical writing and then some. The key element here, I think, is that good travel writing is a somewhat introspective pursuit since, saying anything of significance about a place one visits for a short period of time may be an empty gesture, and the credibility of the writer is highly suspect. ‘Good’ autobiographical writing is more about the growth and development of the writer at the time of writing than it is a historical account. Given memories can’t really be trusted, it seems irresponsible to say that a collection of memories strung together via narratives, which may not really have occurred, and edited by various people intent on selling said work, is anything more than ‘based on true events.’ The fundamental difference, however, is that when one is writing autobiographically, one is mining meaning from their history, but when one is travel writing, one is mining meaning from other histories: that of other people, places, and cultures. In this way, it appears, somewhat disturbingly, to resemble a kind of colonial practice. Go somewhere else and take what you can for yourself for when you return.
Acknowledging that, I am going to write a bit about Copenhagen, a city which I have spent some time in now. Back in October, I enjoyed my first few days there with some friends and a few more alone. Two of us, Fran, a fellow exchange student and I, arrived in the early afternoon via bus and took most of our time getting our footing and walking through the massive and crowded shopping streets, searching through a used bookstore, staring agape at stunning works of architecture, while slowly milling our way through the crowds to properly begin our journey in Nyhavn. Frantically we tried and failed to figure out how to get to a friend’s place near the city for dinner with frozen breadsticks from the grocery store in hand but ended up, after not a little bit of panic and frantic map app and time-checking, bailing and getting pizza right near the hostel where I was staying. The hectic but whimsical day was then topped off with a drink back in Nyhavn and then parting ways wherein our very sad, now unwanted and frozen-with-no-way-to-cook-them breadsticks were to go find their final resting place in a hostel in Nørrebro.
The next morning — and I’m pretty sure about the dates here, given my previous assertions I’m not going to double check the chronology of all this — I took a walk down to the Royal Library, an immensely cool-looking glass building attached and built upon the former building. I spent some time walking around there, bought a few postcards, and continued on to the Christiansborg Palace (Danish parliament building). This was essentially my first proper palace/castle experience, and as such, it was a bizarre and also amazing one. The era of European castles, knights, and feudalism never interested me much past Monty Python, the history of the first World War, and fantasy, so it was very strange to see fairy-tale features manifest. I continued then walking to the local goth/alt shop to pay my subcultural dues (Black No. 1 and Sex Beat Records; would totally recommend).
Our aforementioned immensely wonderful Copenhagen-native friend, Mie, took us on a long walk starting at Østerport Station and then walking to Langelinie, where The Little Mermaid stands, and all the way down by Amalienborg and up again through Christiania. It was a fantastic time and a substantial walk for the three of us to get to chat about our travels, the city, and Denmark while covering a lot of relevant ground. Christiania, as is probably no surprise, captured my imagination and reminded me a little of East Jesus, a mind-blowing habitable art collective in the California Badlands not far from some of my other favourite sites including Bombay Beach on the shore of the Salton Sea, and Salvation Mountain. Christiania is, of course, something very different from those places as well and I won’t get into its history or politics very much here, but safe to say it is an exciting place full of people with different and interesting ideas about society, living, and cooperating smack in the middle of one of Europe’s capitals. You can learn more about all of these places on their websites linked above, and watch a video which kicked off my desire to go to the Salton Sea. We walked through the day and into the evening where we stopped off for a dinner and some much-needed rest at Kafe Kys before returning to our respective lodgings.
The following day I met up with Fran again, and we further explored the city, grabbing a meal at Copenhagen Street Food (now sadly closed) on Papirøen. Then we went to see the fascinating exhibit called “Skibet” by Eske Kath and Nanna Fabricius Øland (Oh Land) at Nikolaj Kunsthal, a church turned contemporary art gallery. The premise is that they turned the building into frozen waters with a massive container ship in the middle, all of which is interactive and visitors can explore the whole thing. It was wild and mostly bright pink and damn good art-fun. Not long after this Fran headed back to Aarhus and I made my way to the GL STRAND, another art gallery, for their utterly amazing Stanley Kubrick exhibition. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of my favourite films, and I have been slowly working my way through Kubrick’s catalogue the past couple of years and so felt a very recent connection to the exhibit. It took visitors through every film in Kubrick’s career including his very early documentaries all the way to his plans for A.I. Artificial Intelligence based on the short story, “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”, by Brian Aldiss which I read last year. I haven’t actually seen the final film, but I endeavour to do so. Apart from cameras and lenses, for me, it was all about Kubrick’s handwritten notes as well as the models, props, and costumes, especially, of course, for 2001. I then used this blog post to find a cheap and delicious meal at Samos Greek both of which I highly recomend.
On the full last day (I think) of that first trip, I went to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek an amazing, sculpture-oriented art museum but not lacking in paintings. The building itself is worth seeing alone, primarily naturally lit and sprawling out from an indoor “Winter Garden” featuring various new and old segments and architectural styles. The ancient and modern sculptures are freakishly timeless, and the museum is alive, host to a small anachronistic city of resident gods and warriors among all kinds of other spectacular beings taken out of time and space. But as mentioned, the museum offers more than sculpture, namely in the way of French-Impressionist, post-impressionist and — what had me most excited — Danish golden-age paintings — most excited because I am here, and have a grotesque lack of art/art history education; as illustrated by the fact that I had to go to the Wikipedia page for the museum to get the names of said art styles. In the evening I made my way back to Papirøen and visited Copenhagen Contemporary, a fascinating art gallery working with new and innovative media, including several trippy VR experiences and tonnes of amazing audio-visual experiences. Finally, I finished the night off with an evening at the Copenhagen Studenterhuset and saw a number of great musical performances, namely from a band called TrailerPark Jesus. The next morning I had breakfast, across Gothersgade to Torvehallerne for lunch and to explore that part of the city before running to get my bus home.
Since then, I have been back to Copenhagen a couple of times, much of which I talked about in my sensationally titled post from last month. And these visits have mostly included some initial exploration of the bustling creative Nørrebro area Northwest from the above-mentioned spots. This is the area I am most excited about hopefully visiting when I return next to Copenhagen if nothing else for the street art and for another walk through the beautiful Assistens Cemetery. But also, for the various interesting and exciting places to eat and hang out at such as Depanneur, this totally wacky (that’s honestly the best descriptor word I have for it, sorry) convenience store/coffee shop thing inspired by their Québécois name, or this ramen place which felt like Blade Runner to me.
Finally, because I can’t write a blog without going on a meta tangent, do you like my long-form, more or less monthly posts, or would you rather something shorter? I imagine these might be cumbersome for you to read and know they are to edit. Thus far, the main posts have been from about 1000-2000 words, and while I think that’s an alright length, I am always listening to my internal monologue anyways, and may thus be a poor judge. Also, speak up if you want more or less of anything, like pictures or, seriously anything that you think would improve this whole thing. Oh! And final question, when I return to Canada, inspired by my love of audio, how would you feel about audio recordings of me reading these? Finally, were there to many links here or not enough or just right? Comment below! Anyways, thanks for reading and I hope I’ll see you again soon!
* When I talk about “travel writing” I am referring not to anthropological texts, archaeological texts, travel guides, etc. but basically, these blog posts. Drawing a bit on my very limited knowledge of 18th Century anglo-European travel writing and trying to produce a through-line with contemporary travel bloggers and essayists. I’m winging it sort of, but I also think my ideas/opinions are valid here. I have a vague, non-committal explanation for every occasion.
Edited by Mie who also helped me do some much-needed site design.