My return to Northern Europe marked the beginning of another end. My European leg was coming to a close and I had nominated Copenhagen as the place I would wait out my visa application for India. This was largely due to the fact that my cousin lives there (and the visa office’s murky responses about how long it would take to process my application). His inevitable offer of a place to crash was a welcome respite for my increasingly destitute bank account and I accepted happily.
As chance would have it, his housemate had just found an old bike, abandoned through no failure of function and ready to go. So I was the happy recipient of a large orange single-speed, free to take my place in the well-populated cycle lanes of the Danish capital. The old Dutch habits came back easily and, with my visa application lodged, I was soon speeding my way towards Christiania and all it promised.
For those yet to visit, Christiana is a self-declared autonomous region in central Copenhagen and the result of historical squatting in a disused military barracks. I’d been told by numerous people that you could buy weed there and wasn’t disappointed, on that front at least.
The rules of the “Green Zone” were clear: have fun, don’t run, and no photos (evidence, man). Despite regular crackdowns, the weed trade continues on largely unabated with what seems to me to be a similar approach to the Dutch: its legal status is left squarely in the grey and tolerated, for the most part. Stalls in the Green Zone openly peddle a variety of strains of weed and hash while more permanent stores display the less controversial paraphernalia and stoner bric-a-brac.
The rest of Christiania left a bit to be desired. Maybe it was the grey weather that reigned for the duration of my stay, or the classic spectre of over-expectation, but it wasn’t the community utopia I had envisioned. The buildings seemed tired and empty, and the only visible inhabitants were your usual combination of weathered dreadlocks and Turkish vendors, with a few drunk (and historically marginalised) Inuits thrown in to round out the mix. There were plenty of tourists though, giggling at the ease of buying weed, and I couldn’t help but wonder if its time as a counter movement had passed.
I headed back to my cousin’s apartment on Jagtvei, and, in what I consider to be one of my finer stoner moments, smoked some of the Pineapple Express I had purchased and watched – you guessed it – Pineapple Express. Nick would have been so proud.
Although I spent 10 days in Copenhagen, I did very little of the tourist circuit, preferring to spend my time on the bike and in Toby’s apartment. What I did do consequently felt organic instead of forced, and I enjoyed it all the more. I quickly became an honorary housemate and was treated to some very welcome home-cooking, stealing Toby’s place at the table while he clocked the first of what would no doubt be many late nights at the architecture studio.
I felt as settled as I’d felt since Utrecht – most likely due to the similarities between Denmark and Holland: cycle lanes, brick construction and stylish denizens (not to mention the easily accessible buds). The Danes took this a step further than their southern counterparts – the style, not the sativa – and every day saw a new combination of sartorially savvy locals. Particularly amusing were the bearded dads, balancing their Converse-wearing offspring on the front of the ubiquitous wheelbarrow bikes, while their own New Balances powered them round the city.
Despite this familiarity, I was still without routine and couldn’t help feeling like I was killing time. It’s a maladaptive tick, to be constantly seeking purpose, but try as I might to ignore them, feelings of nihilism lurked in the background. It was the same ghoul of Morocco, calling to see if I remembered him. I’d had my break, had things I needed to finish up in New Zealand – who was I to ignore the pull of time?
Fortunately I was not without willing ears, and both Toby and his flatmates were keen to provide distractions. We ate kebabs (always, more kebabs – although a special mention must go out to Toby’s nascent but as-yet unborn Danish Kebab blog – a logical response to the wealth of choice on offer. What ever happened to those ambitious plans?) and as we ate we talked: about being from New Zealand, and how our global experience might help inform our lives back there.
Toby’s flatmates were well travelled themselves, and knew much about the value of time on the road. Whenever I would shrug and explain, again, that I wasn’t sure what I would do with my life, they would applaud (although I might add, not literally). There are enough plans and expectations in this world and their experience had taught them the benefits of a relaxed approach.
In a night of reefer and real talk our conversation turned to those who lament their age, and I was offered a solution to my inner niggle. Those who bemoan the march of time only do so out of dissatisfaction with their past choices; those who accept what has been and strive for the Good have no reason to fear the accretion of age. Far better to be, than bemoan – in my circumstances at least.
Before I knew it, my time in the North was up and I bade the Danish capital and my now familiar cycle farewell. My final stop was Paris and still more friends. I spent a couple of nights in Blanche at the home of my housemate from Utrecht, practising my rudimentary French on her dog before moving to Passy for the weekend’s events, where red wine and reefer again took centre stage as we roared round the city. My fears of the unfriendly chaos large cities can engender were never realised and it was with a warm reflection that I waited for the airport train.
Europe was finished, India awaited and then, still far enough in the distance to be a nice dream, was New Zealand. I still had a long time to go, but as my plane lifted off it felt indelibly like I was heading home, and I was simultaneously glad and disheartened.