Lost in Europe or How to lose weight on vacation – part 1

I’ve been working on this blog item for a long time but was prompted to whip it into shape after reading a story on Lance’s Travels, another travel blog, about getting lost in Fez even while using a map. I know the feeling! Here’s what happens to me…

My ability to calculate distance refuses to work overseas. A second problem, which aggravates the first, is that my sense of direction goes absolutely haywire when I’m in a new country. These skills work perfectly well when I’m at home or in familiar surroundings where my mental archive has filed away accurate information. When I’m in a new location overseas, though, my brain goes off on its own and I can end up spectacularly lost.

Now I’m sure other people have had similar experiences but I keep expecting that after more than 20 years of traveling around Europe, relying mostly on my own resources, I would have recognized the problem and solved it. To quote the King in The King and I, “is a puzzlement”.

Here’s an example of the distance calculation thing – when I walk around a European city for the first time, it takes longer to get to a spot than I think it should unless it’s right across the street and I can actually see my destination. Maybe I’m assuming the maps are drawn to a larger scale than they actually are. I’ve never checked. Driving a car isn’t much better. I once started driving to Dijon, France from Brussels in Belgium, figuring it would take 5 or 6 hours even after calculating the distance as 400-odd miles. Why? No idea. If I had a 400 mile driving trip to make in the U.S., I would assume the time to be more like 8 hours. It probably doesn’t help that, even after I’ve done the conversion from km to mi, I assume I’ve overestimated the result. What’s up with that?!

It would help if I could get this sorted; it would make my plans for a given day much more likely to be accurate, especially now that I’m generally slower than I used to be.

Another example was the amount of time it took to reach the Little Mermaid on foot when I was in Copenhagen. Every tour guide I’ve listened to or travel book I’ve read says that the walk is a long one and there’s not much else of interest along the way given the walking time. There are some very nice, upscale-looking apartment blocks and a perfect view of the new Opera House across the waterway, but still. Time versus cultural bang for the buck. A pier for small tour boats is near the Mermaid (a petite life-size statue), so those folks don’t need to care about the walk to city center. There is also a sightseeing boat year-round, but I didn’t pick up on this during my pre-trip research. The popularity of cruises and the availability of sightseeing boats may explain why the distance and walking time from, say, Central Station or Strøget, isn’t stressed often enough or spelled out in actual time or distance. Tour groups on buses are deposited about 50 yards from the rock and I suppose any locals who want to pop up will just go by bike. On a side note, that bike riding thing is something I’d have to practice at home before adding this skill to my travel portfolio. I’ve walked into my share of bollards and injured ankles just stepping off curbs so I’d rather not add flying over handlebars or falling over sideways à la Arte Johnson on Laugh-In to my list of unhelpful travel skills.

All that said, lots of people must walk all the way and then realize they don’t want to walk all the way back to wherever because a cab was parked nearby the day I was there. Maybe he had a fare who was taking a quick photo and was gonna hop back in the cab in a few. Or maybe he was just hopeful based on  past experience. I should’ve asked if only for the record.

In the end, with time growing short – I was flying out of Copenhagen that afternoon – I consulted my map for the nth time and saw there was a train station very close by. So I skipped the cab idea and headed for the trains. My internal compass managed to get fouled up again but, luckily, the train station was close enough that I got sorted in short order and did ultimately get the correct train back to Central Station, arriving at the airport in plenty of time.

FYI, the fastest, cheapest way to reach the finny lady on the rock, is to take the S-train. Then, if you want to, you can walk back and make whatever stops appeal to you. Visit the Citadel, a large, five-pointed earthwork behind the train station with a still-active military fort inside the earthworks which, unlike similar installations in other countries, is open to the public. There are museum exhibits in the buildings and memorials on the grounds, not to mention some very cute, Nordic-type soldiers strolling the grounds with their rifles.

The S-train (orange line on the metro maps) station nearest the Little Mermaid is Østerport. Central Station is called Kobenhavn H on the train maps. From Østerport, walk along Folke Bernadottes Alle and keep the Citadel on your right as you head towards the water. If you see signs for Den Lille Havfrue, follow them. It should only take about ten  minutes.

So much for my non-functioning distance calculator. Next post – my whacked out mental compass.

This entry was posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, Copenhagen travel, Czech Republic, Denmark travel, Prague travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Lost in Europe or How to lose weight on vacation – part 1

  1. lanceleuven says:

    Hah ha! Oh, I can very much sympathise. Particularly the 5-6 hours for 400 miles bit. I’ve done very similar things myself. It all made perfect sense when I worked it out…

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