Copenhagen and the Vikings

In three weeks it was going to be her birthday. It would be her first one spent in Europe and she was determined to celebrate by going on holiday. She already had the time booked off work; she just needed a destination.

It had been several weeks since she and the Viking had parted ways in Berlin. Though she was back in London and he in Copenhagen, they were emailing and texting almost daily.  Despite the distance, she was still enraptured by him.

She messaged him for advice knowing he was well travelled. The man had backpacked across Australia, gone on Safari in Africa, taken boys trips to the United States and for fun, was a ski instructor in Austria. The Danes notoriously loved their holidays and he was no exception.

She had narrowed down her list of choices to Lisbon, Paris and Reykjavik when she cheekily suggested he should accompany her. When he explained he couldn’t get the time off work as he had a month long trip to Brazil already booked in the near future, he surprised her by suggesting she should visit him in Copenhagen instead. She hadn’t even thought of that.

At first she was hesitant. While it felt like she had known him forever, in reality she had known him for just a few weeks. For all she knew he was trying to lure her to a strange country and her impending death, something mother and father would certainly frown upon. Then she thought; what if he didn’t kill her and they had an amazing time just like their one night together in Berlin? The thought of regret was greater than the fear. Plus she knew it would make a good story so long as she lived to tell the tale.

“What’s in Copenhagen?” she wrote to him.

“Me and a warm bed” he replied.

She booked her flights right then and there.

Later that night she was at work cocktail waitressing for an upmarket steak restaurant in the heart of the city. It was the kind of establishment where the guests were an eclectic mixture of suits, celebrities and tourists.

She had gone to fetch a bottle of wine from the store room only to return to the cocktail lounge and find three young men had sat in her section. There was something about the way they looked and their accents that reminded her of the Viking.

As she approached the table to introduce herself as their waitress she discovered they were not only Danish, but they were also from Copenhagen. They were living in London for a semester studying as part of their Business Master’s degrees. All three were tall, blonde and handsome. Bloody Scandinavian genetics she thought.

She was enjoying their drunken banter and dirty jokes when they asked if she’d been to Denmark before. She told them she had literally just booked flights to Copenhagen that morning to visit a man she had recently met, and that it would be her first time to the Nordic country.

“You know it’s just fucking right?” the drunkest one blurted, triggering the second one to chortle.

“Excuse me?” she replied, half shocked and half amused by his bluntness.

The third and more sober of the three interjected.

“Excuse my friend, he just meant dating is super casual in CPH. You might start sleeping together quickly, but you’re usually not exclusive until after a very long time”.

“Well been there, done that” she said with a wink.

“Girls make most of the moves as well”

While she wasn’t sure what it was that she had with the Viking, she didn’t like the thought of beautiful Danish women pursuing him while she was stuck in London.

“If he’s invited you to Copenhagen then I’m sure he must really like you” the third said kindly, almost as if he had read her mind.

There was something about this particular Viking that she liked in a platonic way. He was warm and well-mannered and she felt immediately at ease around him. The company he kept however, now that was slightly questionable.

She thanked them for the advice and walked back to the bar to organise their drinks. They stayed for only one round before saying goodbye and moving on to the nightclub next door. Though only sitting there for a short time, they had planted a tiny seed of doubt in her brain.

A few weeks later, she was working her final shift before her holiday when the same three Vikings reappeared.

“Oh no! Not you guys again!” she joked and feigned concern.

“Have you been to Copenhagen yet?” the previously drunk-now-sober one asked.

“The day after tomorrow!” she replied excitedly.

“We need to teach you a few words for your trip” the second exclaimed.

“Tak! Means thank you” the third advised.

“But the one thing you really need to know is how to say “Cheers!” which is…”

Skål!” they all yelled in unison and clinked their beers together.

“Ok! Tak!” she responded, and they all laughed with approval.

She left them alone and continued serving other tables only to be waved back over a short time later. They were going to a house party later that night and invited her to join them after she finished work. She was interested but didn’t know what time she was finishing. She exchanged phone numbers with the third Viking and promised to message him when she was done.

“I don’t even know your name sorry” she said.

“I’m Jacob” he replied and they left.

By the time she finished work it was 1am and she was exhausted. She messaged her new friend to let him know she wouldn’t be making it to the party. He responded it was ok and to have a great time in his home city and that they should go for a beer when she was back so she could tell him about her trip. She agreed about the drink, thanked him and told him to have a good night.

The day finally came for her to see her Viking. It was 4am, she was packed and patiently waited outside her Stoke-Newington flat to be picked up by the private car she had booked to take her to the airport. She was so nervous with anticipation she peed nearly ten times in the space of an hour. When there was no sign of the car she started to feel sick in the pit of her stomach with anxiety. She called the car company barely containing her frustration when the man down the other end of the line informed her that daylight savings had ended overnight. She was ready an hour early and wasn’t going to miss her flight. She felt like an asshole and an idiot.

As promised the car arrived on time and delivered her to Stansted Airport. After a one hour and fifty minute flight she arrived in Copenhagen. She loved the proximity of everything in Europe, especially compared to back home where one can fly for two hours and still be in the state of Western Australia. It was still morning, but the sunlight somehow made everything look like it was 5pm as if the sun was just about to set rather than rise. It was the end of October and she was in Scandinavia. Apparently daylight was a scarce commodity in that part of the world at that time of year. She couldn’t imagine what it’d be like in January. Vampire country maybe she thought. The Viking had told her to bring gloves and she was grateful for the recommendation. It was also so cold her nose was burning.

He couldn’t meet her at the airport because of a party at his apartment the night before and he wanted it clean in time for her arrival. She followed his instructions and caught a train from the airport to the suburb of Svanemøllen where he promised he would meet her outside the station.

As soon as she arrived at the final station she was overcome with nerves. What if he’s nothing like the man I met in Berlin? What if it’s really awkward for the entirety of the next two days? What if he doesn’t show up and this is all a sick joke? On top of the legion of possibilities that plagued her, her phone had refused to pick up any signal. She had no way of calling him or even checking maps for his address. She was about to have her very first panic attack when she heard a beeping noise coming from her bag. Her phone had finally connected to the country’s communication service and she had received a message. It was from him; Look up.

When she did she saw him across the road walking towards her. Everything she had been feeling just moments before faded away.

She met him half way at the median strip in the middle of the road. He was just as attractive as she remembered him, even rugged up in a not so flattering navy duffel coat. They exchanged hello’s and kissed for a solid minute in the middle of the road. He took her luggage in one hand and her hand in the other and walked her to the other side of the road. She was telling him about her flight when he stopped her in front of a bakery.

“Have you had breakfast?” he asked with a grin.

“No I haven’t actually” she replied.

“Well, seeing as you’re in Denmark now you should start with a Danish pastry, or as we say here “Wienerbrød”, although they’re maybe not as popular here as overseas” he said with a wink.

He began conversing in Danish with an elderly lady behind the counter and as she watched she found herself immediately turned on by him speaking his native tongue. Accents had long been her kryptonite. She watched as four different types of pastries were placed into a brown paper bag whilst he paid the lady. Having purchased the pastries they continued down Østerbrogade towards his apartment.

When they reached his building, they went up to the top floor in potentially the world’s smallest elevator. What’s this, an elevator for ants? She mused to herself. It was so tiny they were squished against each other, not that she was complaining. She made a joke about getting to know the neighbours well in it and he admitted to her he had to carry all his furniture up the stairs when he first moved in because it was too small to use. She was impressed since he lived on the fourteenth floor and also glad she wasn’t around for move in day. He was inclined to not move again for quite some time.

His apartment was delightful and the definition of Danish Design. The space was bright thanks to large windows, natural lighting and plain white walls. The furnishings were minimal but modern and appeared to be hand crafted with great attention to detail. The appliances in his kitchen were in various pops of colour and the shelves in the living room weren’t cluttered. He seemed to have only the things he needed and she liked that. She was drawn to a peculiar 3D box shape mounted on the wall. It was a Snellen eye chart that also doubled as a wall lamp. He noticed her looking at it and explained his father, who was a Doctor, had given it to him.

He ushered her out onto his balcony while he made her a coffee. The view was breath taking. In front of her was a sea of red, brown, orange and charcoal coloured roof tops and just beyond, the autumn trees marked the beginning of Fælledparken. It was a Sunday, so the streets below were extremely quiet. Only the occasional ring of a bicycle bell, the chirping of birds and the laughter of children broke the silence.

The Viking joined her and they sat eating pastries and drinking coffee, catching up on each other’s lives. She learnt he lived with a police officer who she would meet sooner or later and by all accounts was a little crazy, especially when he drank. What was it about Danes and Alcohol she wondered, although being Australian she was the pot calling the kettle black.

She was please to find he was just as kind, witty and intelligent as he was the first time she met him in Berlin. Her stomach couldn’t stop doing somersaults.

After an hour of settling in and several make out sessions like they were teenagers again, he decided to give her a tour of the city. They visited the Little Mermaid statue based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale which she found to be sad and lonely, followed by a walk of the grounds of the 17th century star-shaped fortress Kastellet, where he gave her a Danish military history lesson.

From there he took her to see Frederik’s Church, a beautiful 18th century Evangelical Lutheran structure which happened to be the oldest in Scandanavia. They walked down the street away from the church and its near Tiffany-blue dome and past the various embassy’s until they came to Amalienborg. It was known as the Four Palaces and the home of the Danish Royal family including Australian born Princess Mary. She was surprised by how open to the public it was and how few guards there were. She took the opportunity to document the moment with her camera, asking a passer-by to take a photo of her and the Viking.

The final stop on the personalised tour was Christiania, the former military barracks turned self-proclaimed autonomous hippie commune in the heart of the city. It was started in the 1970’s by artists and squatters and she had never seen anything like it before. The buildings were coated with different styles of art, the air smelled of marijuana, and tiny DIY homes surrounded a lake which was sat so still it reflected the sky. At one point a Rastafarian on a bike cycled past them with a heart shaped rainbow speaker blasting reggae. It was one of the more surreal moments in her life.

He took her home and cooked her dinner. While he cooked she drank red wine and curled up on the lounge to watch a Premier League game. He was impressed she liked to watch sport. The rest of the evening was spent getting to know each other further; verbally, as well as in the bedroom. At some point late in the night she awoke to hear his housemate come home but immediately fell back asleep.

The next time her eyes opened she was officially twenty five and she couldn’t think of a better way to start it; in bed with a handsome Scandinavian. It was 7am on a Monday and the Viking had work. He didn’t have curtains so the sunlight pierced through the window like a sword through flesh. As he got dressed, she hid herself in the darkness and warmth of his covers.

He wished her a happy birthday, told her to make herself at home, wrote down the address of his work for her to meet him at later and left. His elusive housemate had already snuck out before meeting her, allowing her to potter about alone to check her emails and Facebook. Australia was six hours ahead so she had already received a few birthday messages.

After a few hours she gained the courage to leave the apartment and walk solo around the city. The weather wasn’t as pleasant as the day before. The morning had started sunny but the day gradually progressed into wet, grey and gusty weather. The artic winds were excruciatingly cold when they found their way to her. She managed to locate Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world. It was way too dangerous to go on any of the rides so she just wandered about the park and people watched.

She stumbled across Strøget, a pedestrian shopping strip where she fell in love and wanted to buy almost every item on display in the windows. She loved the fashion in Copenhagen. Everyone looked effortlessly stylish using a predominant combination of black, white and grey. Flattering and hardly ever out of fashion she thought to herself. She had always preferred winter clothes to summer so she thoroughly enjoyed seeing the array of scarves, boots, coats and hats worn by the gorgeous Danish women walking or cycling past.

She was nearly struck down by a young woman on a pale blue bicycle, after accidentally walking across a bike path. She knew Amsterdam was famous for being the biking capital of the world without having been there, but Copenhagen must have been a close second. Cyclists reminded her of bee’s buzzing about a hive, which was the city. If she wasn’t careful she was going to be stung by one.

She found it was a pleasure to see a city so “green” and environmentally conscious which helped her understand the Viking’s thinking a little better. After all, he was an Environmental Planner.

After a quick bite to eat in an empty restaurant she found Nyhavn, the picturesque port with blue, green, yellow, red and white house’s lining each side. It was probably the most photographed part of the city. The sight of the coloured houses contrasting with the grey sky was astounding. She was interested to see what it would look like in summer with tourists spilling out of the bars and restaurants as well.

She headed towards where the Viking worked which was opposite three large rectangular lakes. By the time she got to his office she looked like someone who had been standing in front of a wind machine after a bucket of water had thrown over their head. She was extremely embarrassed to meet him in front of his colleagues who stared at her from their desks. They all wore matching expressions on their faces as if to say who is this Australian mess? The Viking didn’t seem to care though, scooping her up and kissing her for all to see.

They said good bye to his co-workers and walked for twenty minutes down Fredensgade, past the hospital and across Fælledparken until they reached his local supermarket to buy groceries for dinner. Even though it was her birthday she decided to cook dinner for him to say thank you for having her. Luckily the weather was perfect for her signature dish; lamb stew with mashed potato. The saying ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ was not wasted on her.

Once home they jumped immediately into the shower together to warm up. It was like Berlin all over again. Once they were finished she began preparing dinner. As she busied about the kitchen, he answered work emails at the dining table, all the while explaining how he was going to save the world one environmental policy at a time.

He introduced her to the Danish artist Agnes Obel who played on loop in the background, setting an equally romantic and melancholic mood. The fact she had to fly back to London in less than twenty four hours was already on her mind. If she could of, she would have stayed with him in that apartment forever.

She had her back to him and hadn’t realised he had temporarily snuck away from the table. As she was stirring the stew he surprised her from behind, placing his left hand on her hip and dangling a gift in front of her with his right. He kissed her neck and whispered Happy Birthday into her ear.  She hadn’t expected anything from him and it was the first time she had ever received a present from a man.

It was a Danish designed fish mobile. The wire was gold and the four fish, each varying in size were made of differing coloured cardboard. It was simple and delicate and she loved it. He told her it was identical to the one he had bought for his soon to be born first nephew.

“It’s for above your bed, so you’ll always think of me while you’re lying in it” he added.

“Tak!” she said, followed by a kiss.

Two minutes after they had sat down for dinner his housemate came home. He had just finished a shift and asked to join them, bottle of wine in hand and looking ready to party. She remembered the Vikings warning. They had thrown a party for his birthday the night before she had arrived, but his birthday was actually the day after hers, so they decided to celebrate both with red wine, white Russian cocktails and anecdotes.

“Skål!” she said as she initiated a clinking of drinks. They seemed impressed with the few Danish words she knew.

The stew was a hit and both men helped themselves for seconds. When their bellies were full and the apartment ran dry of alcohol they decided to don their coats. They walked down to a pub two blocks over where they taught her Danish Billiards and she played ACDC songs on the jukebox.

It was around 2.30am when they called it a night as the Viking had to work again in the morning.

Along with the sunlight came the ringing of his alarm and the reality of her impending departure that day. Both of them were a little sombre, though neither tried to show it. The night before she recalled how they had talked about when they were going to see each other again. In a week and a half he was off to Brazil for a month. By the time he’d get back it’d be nearly Christmas and there was no way she’d be able to get work off again until after New Year since December was a ridiculously busy month for the hospitality industry in London. They toyed with the idea of him visiting her in January, or meeting on mutual territory somewhere else, but nothing was set in stone.

He went to work and she spent the morning on the balcony drinking coffee. The weather had improved from the day before and was once again sunny and cold. She was impressed with what she saw of the city and Danish people but wished she had more time to explore it further.

His housemate didn’t wake until close to midday, but offered to drop her off at the Carlsberg Brewery on his way to work. She took him up on his offer and spent the first half of the afternoon there before meeting the Viking in the city centre.

He took her on a romantic stroll through Kongens Have, also known as The King’s Garden, which would become her favourite place and memory of the city. It was enchanting in the autumn. They went back to his and spent one last time together in his bedroom before he drove her to the airport.

It took at least ten minutes for her to leave the car and for him to allow it to happen. They were both a mess. Finally, she confessed to him she had left a present for him in the apartment, but didn’t tell him what it was or where he would find it. She kissed him one last time, thanked him for letting her stay, got out of the car and walked into the airport without a glance behind.

On the return flight to London she fought back tears the entire way. She had a gut feeling she wouldn’t be seeing him again.

She was on a transfer bus home from the airport when she received a text message from him

‘I miss you already too’

Before she had left his apartment to head to the brewery she had placed a pocket sized Portuguese dictionary on his kitchen window sill. She had studied it for fun a few years earlier and thought he’d get some use out of it in Brazil. On the inside cover she had written ‘Eu sinto falta de voce’ which translated to “I miss you”. He had found it.

Over the next few weeks they talked, even while he was on holiday in South America. He asked her to fly down and join him and as much as she wanted to, she didn’t have the funds or time off work to do it. As the weeks passed communication between them slowly faded. Christmas and New Years went by. She booked flights to Prague and Stockholm in January while he went to Austria.

By the end of February he admitted he had started dating someone else in Copenhagen. What could she do? Damn those beautiful Danish women she thought when she learnt of the revelation. A year and a half later she would hear he had become a father. She knew he’d make an incredible parent.

She concluded she wasn’t in love with the Viking; she just loved the way he had made her feel. She had been broken for a long time before she had met him in Berlin. He had somehow not only healed her, but also brought her back to life just by showing her kindness and respect, giving her the knowledge that there were decent men still out there. He was a brilliant, sexy, smart and funny man in a different stage of his life compared to her which she happily acknowledged and accepted. She knew deep down even if they had seen each other again she could never make him happy long term and only hoped he had finally found it with the other woman.

From there on, her standards in men would always be higher because of him and the way he had treated her. She would always remember turning twenty five as her favourite birthday.

Though the Viking was never truly hers, he had done something for her that no man in her life had ever done before; he had given her hope. He enabled an ever growing chain of events to unfold before her and brought about the endless bound of opportunities she would soon experience. No matter where she was in the world, she would be forever grateful for meeting him.

A few days after her trip to Copenhagen she walked into a bar in Soho. At a high table with a pint in hand Jacob was patiently waiting for her. He had messaged her to see how her holiday was and if she had liked his home city and she agreed to discuss it over beer. He would become one her dearest friends and the reason she’d go back to Copenhagen over and over again until she eventually fell in love with the city and its people.

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