In our first and second days in Lisboa, we ended up being invited to birthday parties that we didn’t know were going to happen in the first place. We just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Diana had her birthday celebration at home with a few friends. Simple and delicious salmon pasta went around, garnished by guacamole. Books were passed around and shared and taken note of. Germany won its match against Algeria
The next day found us snacking snails, bifanas and beers, then crashing another birthday dinner party and following after the small crowd to a house for drinks. I for one was delighted that the Márcia, the birthday girl (plus a few of the guests) was from Portimão – the town right next to my home town. This way I got to hear that heavy accent they have over there and enjoy regional booze from Monchique: the notorious medronho and the less known (unknown even to me) melosa. The former is strawberry tree moonshine, bitter and warm, which Márcia explained that it is expensive to acquire, but almost every household has a bottle and that it is customary to be offered a drink of it as a guest in the standard Algarve home. The latter is liquor, sweet and mellow, distilled out of honey.
One place we had never been in on our previous visits to Copenhagen was The Black Diamond, the modern extension to the Royal Library of Copenhagen. As a public building, it catalyzes people’s relationship with the water, as it provides an outdoor living room under its protruding black glass volume. It was late in the afternoon, and having wandered the gigantic hallways of the library and having checked the exhibitions that were there, we were just about to call it a day and return to Lund. Outside we were approached by two friendly characters: “Are you enjoying Copenhagen? Would you like to tag along and party with us?“. “Yes” on both counts. We tagged along!
Turns out we had just met the two most friendly men of Copenhagen that were on their way to meet the two most friendly women in Copenhagen. We sat on the cobblestones by the canal in Christianshavn, drinking Danish beer and getting to know our new Danish friends, waving hello to the canal tour barges.
When we got hungry, we walked. We walked until we had to stop in another canal to alleviate ourselves from some beer by-product. I distinctly remember a rickshaw being involved in the affair, but that’s another story. Along the way, the beer buzz made us the best of friends. There was a grocery store, there was hurling boxes of cookies like a frisbee, there was chilli con carne and guacamole. There was good music and funny stories. And then it was midnight. Fearing our two-day ticket wouldn’t be valid for the return, we rushed to the subway, then to the train, then we were home, yet another layer of Denmark revealed.
There is a great way of travelling around the strategic waterway known as the Öresund: the Öresund Rundt ticket. It gives access to all the trains around the strait on both sides, subway in Copenhagen plus two trips across the strait, one through the Öresund bridge that connects Copenhagen to Malmö, and one via the Helsingborg-Helsingør ferry. For the westbound trip, we chose the latter.
After crossing the gate from the huge access ramp to the deck of the ferry, we gasped, and then we wondered whether we were already on the boat or if we had one more gate to cross because that didn’t look like any boat we had seen before. It was nothing short of a food court in a shopping mall. Mind you, it was not that impressive of a food court, but we were on a friggin’ boat, not a mall! It seemed all the more surreal since the trip would only take about fifteen minutes. I tried to imagine finding the time to place an order, get the food, find a spot to sit, chug the meal and wash it down with coffee before ropes are thrown to the pier. Plus, an ad read: alcohol sold in Danish waters, tobacco in Swedish waters.
Feeling that our memories of an actual ferry experience, filled with the stench of diesel fuel and enamel paint rusting away from steel joints and bolts were being washed away by that glorified image of super-sized lattes and crispy sanitized hot-dogs, we rushed to find an outer deck! Didn’t stay long though. Too cold outside. Wind was blowing from the Skagerrak. But at least, it took us back in touch with an actual ferry experience – the bottom deck loaded with lorries, the seagulls hovering, the old customs buildings and the horns – all things that the inside of the boat was designed to obliterate from perception.
On the Helsingør docks, we proceeded to Kronborg, a 16th century fortification with a knack for drama. It is better known as the source of inspiration for the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But in a more prosaic perspective, it was the fortress responsible for charging dues from passing ships inbound to the Baltic and a great source of wealth for the Danish crown – going as high as two-thirds of the crown’s income at times. Around the fortress, a short strip of rocky shore surrounded by green grass, was home to idlers and leisurely fishermen. We settled, had our picnic with some Portuguese wine, harboured from the winds by the rocks.
One of my favourite places in Lund is Ariman, a bar that goes back at least one generation. For the young people, it’s one of those places that has always been there, with reliable rock n’ roll and cold beer. For the elders, it’s a landmark and a meeting place for open discussion that goes back to the revolutionary 70s. It caters for both young and old, swedes and foreigners, in seemingly equal parts.
It has prime location both in commercial sense and in its exposure to the sun. When the vitamin D is pouring down upon the Earth, Ariman’s tables outside in the narrow walking street are the place to be.
The easter holidays gave us a few days off to visit old friends and family in Lisboa. Dinner parties become so much cheaper in the local joints, and you can wash the food down with abundant wine without the need for declaring bankruptcy. Of course then you have to dissolve the thin film of oil that coats your oesophagus with aguardente, but by then, your senses have been numbed enough that you tolerate it quite well.
Lisboa has a knack of surprising us with semi-secret places such as Park, a lounge bar sitting on the terrace atop a multi-story parking lot, right in the middle of the night action. The elevator was broken, so a 5-story climb up the emergency stairs was just the thing we needed to digest all the greasiness from the dinner.
The price of the booze was above average, still, it was a privileged view over Lisboa by night coupled with some fine music. I was beat after 15 minutes, but the girls they just kept going for what seemed to be hours.
Taxi rides home in Lisboa are a lottery. You get all sorts of taxi drivers: grumpy, happy, drowsy, political, racist, eloquent, nonsensical, you name it. Very few are women, and this was one of them. She regaled us with stories and anecdotes of her years as a taxi driver and as a Lisboeta. The most impressive memory was of the fire in Chiado in the 80s, where she was working back then. Something I was not around to witness, but was indeed one of those dramatic events that determine a turning point in a place.