Search This Blog

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Travel Writing – Cities- Copenhagen (I)

Copenhagen is an easy city to love. Maybe it’s the fact that I went in June when the temperature approached 27°C and the sun shone so brightly that several of my colleagues were the colour of London buses by lunchtime on the first day. But as I’ve never heard anyone who’s visited the city say they dislike it, no matter when they’ve gone, I’d be inclined to city it really is just a lovely city.
London is a hard city to love, even if you live there. In fact, it’s hard to love especially if you live there. Paris is either loved or hated by everyone that has visited it. These cities bring about strong emotions in people. But Copenhagen, when I was there, brought a general feeling of calmness and comfort.

The pace of the city was very slow which probably had a lot to do with the weather but also the lack of crowds in the city. We stayed less than 10 minutes from the central station and there was none of rushing and general busy attitude one would expect from such a central location. Even on a Friday morning when everyone would be expected to be at work.  Maybe a lot of people were on holiday. Many Scandinavian companies have summer holidays. The logic is understandable since the winters and long and people would want to make the most of it.

It is not a cheap city. Perhaps on par with London and in some cases more expensive (though an exchange rate of 9 Danish Krone to 1 GBP definitely aids in the expensive nature since the currency seems to be a bit overvalued).  But for the expense of the meals, the quality was very high. One weekend isn’t a large sample size and perhaps we were lucky in choosing our restaurants but I did not have any bad meals in Copenhagen. Every meal exceeded expectations to the point where the price seemed apt or even undervalued. 109DKK for a brunch that was almost large enough to be two meals and easily managed to be one of the best breakfasts I’ve had all year seems like a solid investment.
Cover charges are a point where the expense can be a lot (but I don’t go out to bars and clubs that much in London so maybe it’s on par) since I think 100DKK without a drink included is quite a lot for entry. Especially compared to Lisbon on last year’s trip €12 for entrance came with 4 beers. But considering we found places close to Nytorv, which seemed to be popular amongst a younger crowd, it’s not surprising the prices were hiked up. There’s no exaggeration on it being a younger crowd. Most people in bars on the first night we arrived in Copenhagen were wearing the studenterhue hat signaling graduation from high school.

On the first morning in Copenhagen we awoke to the news that the U.K. had voted to leave the European Union. This was hardly the most auspicious of beginnings and due to the divisive nature, the entire topic was agreed to not be discussed. To not discuss such an important event could seem willfully ignorant but really it was impossible to know what was going to happen (it is still impossible) and discussion would just cause arguments and disrupt the holiday. In another city it might have proven difficult to stay away from the topic. In Copenhagen, there was more than enough to keep everyone distracted.

Unexpectedly for the majority of us, Copenhagen’s waters were warm enough for swimming. Even more unexpected was the fact that Island Brygge baths, located right in the harbor, was a popular spot for swimming. Located in the narrow channel of the harbor, with a backdrop of industrial buildings as well as stylish Danish architecture, it seemed an area that would be more inclined to riverside activities but not actual water sport. Many residents could be found sunbathing on the lawns as well as barbequing and drinking beer.

Beer seems to be popular in Copenhagen. It might just be a summer thing but pubs were open as early as 9 a.m. and people were already having pints on a Friday morning.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Travel Writing- Constanta

Constanta lies around two hours east of Bucharest, on the Black Sea. With a foundation date of 800 B.C., it is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Romania. Formerly one of the largest ports in Europe, the container traffic has reduced since its heyday in the 1990s but it remains the largest port on the Black Sea.

Conversations with locals have confirmed the suspicion that the population of the city varies greatly with the season. In the spring and summer the population of Constanta swells significantly, especially on the weekends, by people flocking to the beaches and boardwalks.

When I visited in March, the presence of tourists was not immediately obvious. The rail station lies about 2 km from the waterfront (about 7 lei by taxi) and has the feel of a building that has seen no changes at all for several years. This is a building which doesn’t feel neglected or unkempt in any way but one that’s static.

The largest building on the boardwalk of Constanta is the casino. The most noticeable thing about this building is not that it’s impressive size but how much more impressive it must have been when it was in its prime. Now, the building seems more like a ruin from ancient times than anything as modern as a casino.

The entire city seems to exist in a state of decay. Not ruins but the sense that the best days had gone and were never coming back. Almost as if the city had stopped caring enough to update itself after it realized things were no longer going well. I might be reading far too much into a quiet spring day in the city and it’s possible coming in summer would mean visiting a vibrant waterfront. But even if so, it just means the decay of the city is just stasis. That it only comes alive in summer.

At the end of the boardwalk are a multitude of restaurants built near the docks which specialize in fish and seafood dishes. These are one of the only places in Constanta that I’d found to be new and updated. With menus in English as well as Romanian, I imagine that they also cater to tourists. All the restaurants were housed in tiny shacks that reminded me of Scheveningen in The Hague.

One of the most noticeable buildings in Constanta is the Grand Mosque. With its tall minaret and distinct Byzantine architecture, it certainly seems like a relic from the past eras of Ottoman rule. Hence I was very surprised to learn that the mosque was only built in 1911.
Romania does not have a large proportion of Muslims. Despite more than 700 years of Ottoman rule in the region around Constanta, there are very few symbols of the Islamic influence.  The inscription on the plaque at the Grand Mosque state that the building was built as a gift for the Muslim workers in the region. However, there is also the Hunchiar mosque in the city, which is also regularly used by the Turkish minority there.

The communist era in Romania prioritized secularism and atheist beliefs, leading to decline in the religious heritage of Romania. Despite this, in Constanta as in Bucharest, several striking religious monuments remain. The St. Paul and Peter Orthodox Church stands near to the boardwalk and is distinctive with its pressed brick walls and metallic domes.

Ovid Square is the main square of Constanta and is flanked by the Archeology museum and several other impressive buildings. Matching its name, the archeology museum seems to be approaching a state of ruin with several signs around stating to beware of falling debris. Despite this neglect it remains an impressive sight.

Off of Ovid square are many smaller streets which are packed with bars and pubs which seem to cater more to tourists.Even the everpresent Irish pub can be found. 

Continuing in this direction brings one again to the Black Sea albeit on a sandier and wider expanse than on the side of the port. Also overlooking the black sea is a Greek church, which is worth viewing despite its small size.