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From the heart of England to Finland: Day 4 / 3 August 2009

Paul Darke blogs a day in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Having a shower was not too difficult. I put a chair in the room (as it would not fit a wheelchair) and then slide from that on to the loo and had another hosing down whilst on the loo. Ain’t accessible hotel rooms great!  

We wandered in to the city of Copenhagen, quite a walk in fact (over 2 miles). It was raining (and would continue to do so for almost the entire day in varying degrees of intensity). But, thankfully, it was warm rain. As we got to the centre it was nearly 12 noon so we decided to eat in one of the few cafes that was not either up or down six steps. Thankfully, it was a nice choice: Flottenheimer at 20 Skindergade (www.cafeflottenheimer.dk). We had lasagna, fete tarte and a pesto salad between the three of us. Plus a coke - my main addiction, coffee and an orange. The cost was a cool 397 kroner. 

This was just what was required before the exertions of the Rundetaarn - a round tower that contained a 209 meter spiral, ramped, walk-way. It was built in 1642 by Christian IV, to be an observatory, library and church for scholars. The Rundetaarn was a deceptively accessible tower that was not quite all I had hoped.  It was ramped up to the eighth level, that lead to - yes - a final flight of steps (narrow and spiral at that).

At 25 kroner each adult (5kr for Walker) the Rundetaarn was a reasonable price but I was given no concession even though I could not get to the top. A ridiculous state of affairs. The ramp up was, to my surprise, brick rather than wood. Near the centre it was very steep and less so on the outer wall. We made it after three attempts (I am after all a pretty fat guy). 

I looked out of a window whilst the ambulant walked up a steep flight of fairly ordinary stairs followed by a narrow spiral stairwell to a fenced-in flat roof top. I suspect they had not ramped to the very top to prevent the horses it was designed for from throwing the king (or his lackeys) off the roof in a fit of horse anxiety. I will put a YouTube video link here soon to show you the exact nature if the beast.

From the Rundetaarn we walked to the pedestrian areas of the city centre. Large sections of any walkway off the main parts is very cobbled, with vast gaps between each cobble.  They were not that bad in comparison to the very irritating cyclists in the cycle lanes.  Incredible strides have been made in public transport but it was still not very disabled friendly. Neither were the people particularly - a fact which surprised me. 

Staff in hotels and restaurants were very nice but there was little smiling or eye contact. I presume in a society where many are very healthy and fit (almost everyone seemed to cycle) - that those who are not are less welcome. The main paths were not very level and the use of a wheelchair in the cycle lanes was not welcomed. They were intolerant of the slower paced. Traffic lights had a visible countdown of how long you had to cross the road - and it was not long. The danish drivers revved up to let you know they were planning to go on zero!

On our journey we did pass a model of a disabled man. He was the tallest man ever recorded (an american whose name escapes me). Yes, we had passed the Guinness Book of Records Museum. The model of the giant had quite a sad look. Eventually we ended up at the National Theatre - a new building sticking out in to the waterway - opposite the New Opera House - an equally new building also sticking out of the opposite walkway. A ferry runs between the two and up and down the waterway.

It was all very high tech with no opening doors in the loo; just buttons and sliding doors. In order to get out of the rain we decided to ride the ferries. The ferry between the National Theatre and the Opera House was very accessible and you could get into the main under cover area. It was possible to get on and off the other ferries, but in a wheelchair you had to wait in the main entrance area (the steps down were almost perpendicular). The ‘accessible’ boats cost 60 kroner. We got 4 tickets - two Zone 1 and two Zone 2 - which we punched in once and that was enough. We then rode on three boats between the various places. 

We were told were told could have rode the buses too but they did not look that accessible. We ended up at the Little Mermaid (all this is in the pouring rain). We also passed the famous fountain of Copenhagen. It features bulls and a Bodecia like character, but it was too wet to get the guidebook out for more information. Anyway, Walker climbed on the little mermaid and we took a few photos. The statue is only original in parts. Vandals had chopped her head and arms off (a few times each I suspect). This iconic statue is only a few feet in to the water and is easily accessible if you know the way. 

We took a final ferry trip down the waterway back to the city centre and stopped at the end of the line outside the equally new National Library and Archives. Modern, large, black and glass. It was on the waterside but acted as a modern facade to the grander old library behind it (linked by a bridge). Thousands of panes of glass are obviously cheaper than millions of red bricks. I presumed the polar bear in the connecting passage way across the waterfront was there to highlight the Danish link with its territory Greenland.

I was a little cold and wet by this point, so we headed back the two miles to the hotel, after one more stop. Outside the Town Hall we passed Tivoli Gardens - another disappointment for Walker as we did not go in - and had a look at the sculptures of frogs and Hans Christian Anderson!

Stripped naked and laying bed I was at last dry and warm. As the sun set across the city the view reminded me of two other instances in my life. When I was four I went into a coma as the shunt in my head failed and had to be replaced. I was rushed to Great Ormond Street hospital where I was on a very high floor without curtains. The night-time view across the City of London was - for a child from a small council house - quite magnificent. The next time I saw a similar view was when I went as a judge to the first Munich Disability Film Festival in 1997. We were put up on the 15th floor of a five star hotel with a spectacular view across the city.

We watched a film on the tv - American with Danish subtitles - about the murder of four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama in the early sixties. Very little is dubbed in Scandinavia (unlike France and Germany) - one presumes because it is not considered worth it. The negation of ones own language in favour of another - many adverts on tv, newspapers and billboards use english only - is a little disturbing in the move towards the globalised homogeneity that is US culture. Television off and we went to sleep warm and snug.

Keywords: disability art,