It’s raining outside as the last light of the day fades into darkness. I’m sitting at the little IKEA desk of my room at The Grand Hotel in Struer trying to decide if I really want to venture out and explore the town or if I just want to stay in the room writing. Since I got here around 5pm, the small city has been creepily quiet. There’s hardly anyone walking the streets and all the shops closed at 3 or 4 o’clock. I felt like I was walking through a ghost town at first.
I awoke this morning from another night of disturbing dreams. For some reason, the past few nights I’ve slept in Copenhagen, I’ve had dreams of thoughts that are a source of anxiety or turmoil for me. I woke up after being ripped out of the dream world feeling confused and jarred. In those first moments of being awake, I honestly had no idea where I was. It took a moment for the room to settle around me.
I needed coffee.
Malle had suggested checking out the cafes in my neighborhood around Jaegersborggade and Blågårdsgade. I found a coffee shop on Google Maps named The Coffee Collective. It appeared to be a fancy café along the lines of Blue Bottle back at home. I was sold.
I made an itinerary in my head: get coffee, go to the post office in the supermarket to send postcards, return bike, and check out. The café sat on the corner of Jaegersborggade and Stefansgade across from a park where kids climbed on the ruins of an old broken 1940s airplane reclaimed as a playground structure. The stark whiteness of the walls stands out to you when you first walk in the café. Then you see the aeropress, the artisanal coffee books, the printed hankerchiefs, and all the staples of a hip coffee shop. I ordered the limited selection Panama blend and a cinnamon bun. The barista with round tortoise shell glasses and a biking cap suggested that I drink the coffee before enjoying the bun so that the spiciness doesn’t overpower the coffee’s favor.
While waiting, I perused a Danish newspaper with a Game Of Thrones caricature on the front where the cast rode a dragon with Daenarys at the front and John Snow behind her with his hands wrapped around her breasts. The coffee arrived in a delicate small glass pitcher along with a cup, saucer, and the cinnamon bun. I thought the cinnamon bun looked like the ornately piled hair of a redheaded princess. The barista told me to pour a little at a time because the flavor changed as it cooled. She was correct. While hot the coffee had a tangy flavor, but as it cooled the fruity flavor became more apparent and sweet. I’m glad I did not just eat the muesli I bought from the grocery store for breakfast. I sat there sipping my coffee and looking out the window at the other people chatting over their meal or passing by. I felt a sense of tranquility being there in that moment. I held onto that as long as my food lasted.
After taking care of all the things, I checked out without much fanfare and followed Amanda’s advice on how to get to Kobenhaven Central station by taking the 5C bus rather than the 66 as Google Maps described. I had grown weary of Google Maps’ roundabout ways. The blue bus dropped me off right in front of the station. Even with all the errands I ran this morning, I still arrived early. I had plenty of time to catch up on writing from the previous day.
First, I had to figure out where the train would come in. The problem was my ticket was in Danish so I could decipher only part of the information. Suddenly a man who looked like a reporter came up to me holding a microphone and a camera. He asked me something in Danish.
“What?” My usual reply.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were Danish,’ the man said.
“Sorry,” he said as he walked away.
Just then it occurred to me to ask him how to read my ticket. He told me that “Vognnr” stood for “Section” and “Pladsnr.” for seat, but he always just sat wherever. Then he showed me the “Departures” screen where it listed the trains and what tracks they would arrive on. I thanked him kindly for his time.
An hour’s worth of furious scribbling later, I got on the train. I learned later that I made a good decision sitting in the right section (not necessarily the right seat) because parts of the train came apart as it moved further and further into the countryside. The next few hours I sat writing about the last few days as I watched the green farmlands roll by taking the white houses with red tile roofs along with them. People came on and off the train: students, businessmen, and then only I remained. Struer was the last stop on the route. Towards the end, I kept catching the sideways glances of a man with a wispy comb-over looking back at me as if I was some strange anomaly. I felt glad when he went a different way off the train.
The train station had several platforms despite being small. My phone told me to follow the street out front named Østergade to The Grand Hotel Struer. This is where I began noticing that all the shops seemed closed. When I finally found the hotel, nobody was there even as I walked through from the back entrance. Only at reception did I meet a young woman who handed me the key, which was an actual key with an engraved metal tag. The elevator to the second floor reminded me of a scene in the movie “Nightwatch” with big clunky buttons that appeared stuck in the 80s. The layout of the hotel struck me as odd too. There is only one elevator for the whole hotel and my room was all the way at the other end, up half a flight of stairs passed a spiral staircase masquerading as an emergency exit.
The room itself is very simple. So simple that I do not have a safe, which I had been really looking forward to so I could stop lugging around my passport and sweating all over it. The overhead light does not work, but the view from the window looks over a pleasant courtyard in between an apartment building, the side street, and the hotel.
I decided to venture out to find a laundromat since my clean stash was dwindling rapidly. When I went back downstairs, a man in a chef’s apron came to the reception desk. I told him about the broken overhead light to which he apologized and said he would go up and fix it. I also asked him where the nearest laundromat was. He said there was none close by. He offered to have the hotel do it, but I did not want to spend money on having someone do my dirty work. I figured I would wander the area and maybe find something. Perhaps he was telling me that so I would pay the hotel to do it.
Alas, he was right. I wandered down the street, disturbed by the fact there were so few people walking around, so few that a man in a motorized wheelchair rode down the street taking up a whole lane similar to a car. I even stopped a woman on the sidewalk to ask if she knew where I could find a laundromat. She had no idea. Well, I thought I might as well find a place to eat while I’m out. I headed back to the hotel taking in the matching red brick buildings. It felt like a country town in that way. I decided to take my chances at “The Orient Express” Chinese buffet by the hotel. The kitschy Asian decorations made me already suspicious, but I was hungry. This is one of those times when I realize how spoiled I am with our cuisine in California. The chow mein was pitiful! Like little spaghetti strings of failure! At least the Danish coffee game is on point.
I don’t think the waitress liked me very much because when she realized I spoke English, her warm greeting turned into a flat “Oh. English.” Hopefully I won her back when I used one of the few Danish words I know while paying my bill.
“Tak,” I said, which means, “thank you.” She smiled, though it seemed forced, and replied in kind.
After dinner I headed back to the hotel to wash some laundry by hand. I listened to “Ride” by Lana Del Rey as I wrung the socks and underwear until my hands were red.
That pretty much brings me to here: writing at my desk at 23:00. As soon as I finished the laundry it started raining so I didn’t really want to go outside though walking in the rain certainly has its appeal. Instead, I’ve been sitting here trying to save the moments of this trip in words. I realized after looking at the AES program in more depth that registration does not begin until 17:00 tomorrow. I really could have spent another night in Copenhagen.
At least I will have some time to walk around the town tomorrow before it all begins. I think I’m going to go check out the Japanese Garden and walk down to the water. It’s funny. I don’t know if I really will have any “crazy” stories to tell my co-workers when I get back. This trip has been more about introspection for me. It’s amazing the things you learn about yourself when you spend a lot of time alone.
I have been trying to navigate this disconnect between who I think I am and my body, how to feel confident without needing the constant approval and appreciation of others, and how to be happy with myself instead of reaching for things I cannot have. I remember when I was a teenager I did not care what other people thought of me, but now perhaps there is more at stake with all the comforts I have built for myself that I am afraid of losing. Yet what really gets lost when other people disapprove of us? Does anything really change inside of us? Or do we just feel that the alteration of another’s perception is a reflection of our self, but really nothing has actually changed?