I think we just hit a duck. Turbulence is usually shaky and kind of flowing, not a sudden jarring thud and then all of a sudden pâté is on the menu. Sorry duck. Your sacrifice has made it possible for a bunch of Ukrainians to wreak Balkan havoc on staid little Denmark, so you’ll always have that. I mean, whatever skidmark you left on the plane will always have that.
Ukrainians are fucking nuts about carry-on luggage. Of course, I can completely understand how you can’t trust the baggage handling chimps with your precious 17 bags full of bronzer and Axe Body Spray. Believe me, we’ve all been there.
On my flights into and out of Kiev, every overhead bin on the plane looked like a pregnant tick about to explode, crossed with a gypsy wagon on Black Friday. And every time the stewardess heaved an overhead bin shut with every ounce of oompf she could wrench from her tiny frame, because the entire bin was about to collapse onto the people sitting underneath it and kill them all, within 20 seconds someone would inevitably undo that frankly miraculous latching of the bin so they could try to tear physics a new asshole by stuffing their eleven bags into the densely packed space already occupied by 39 other bags.
I only had a two-hour layover in Kiev, but I’ve never let that stop me from making some kind of half-assed trip out of it. Everybody has their own personal definition of what qualifies as visiting a country. Some say you have to sleep there overnight. Others only count countries where they’ve eaten a meal, or taken in a cock fight. Or bought a black market baby and took it to a cock fight. Whatever, it’s a personal thing.
I only have one rule, and it’s that airports don’t count. This is a generally accepted maxim in travel circles, though there are probably some maniacs somewhere who think they’ve been to Belarus because they drank an $8 Pepsi at gate 74B during a layover. Whatever, that’s on them. Airports are unreal no man’s lands, I don’t count them. If you go through immigration, get your passport stamped, walk outside, break wind, turn around and go back through immigration again, well that would be weird but at that point, to me, you’ve visited that country.
I guess a more poetic way of putting it is to say I believe you have to breathe the air of the country to have been there, but I don’t get to make a fart joke if I say it that way.
It’s a 35-minute drive from Boryspil airport into the actual city of Kiev, so there was no realistic way for me to do that and get back to the airport in time for my connection to Copenhagen. Was it even worth going through immigration? I’m planning on coming back to Ukraine next year to visit Chernobyl anyway. But… plans change, and what the hell else am I going to do for that hour, sit at the gate and drink an $8 Pepsi? Let’s go.
Zip zip zip through immigration and I was out on the street before I knew it, batting away an endless tide of taxi drivers insisting that I needed their services. Nyet nyet nyet. If I’d been in an English-speaking country I probably would have negotiated with a driver to just drive me around in a $10 loop ending back at the airport so I could see a little more of the country, but it was nighttime and my lack of Russian meant this shenanigan was probably going to end with me missing my flight and starring in Taken 4: Keep Him, I’m Retired Now.
I walked up the sidewalk in one direction until it petered out into a freeway. Huh. I think I’m technically off the airport grounds now, right? Hard to tell. I walked back the other way, passing some soldiers in camouflage who were wandering through the night for no apparent reason.
I paused at a brief smattering of woods and walked up to one of the trees. Wow, cool swirling bark. I put my hand on the tree and tuned into its presence.
I felt the awareness of the tree descend down below the ground into its roots deep in the earth. And up into the sky above me. I felt, in a brief little whirlwind of awareness and emotion, what it felt like to be a tree in Ukraine. What it was like to stand in this very spot for years and years as the world whirled on around you. The tempo of the sunrise and the night and the singing of the birds and the people streaming by, engrossed in their own world.
I stepped back in a daze. Huh. That was definitely a taste of Ukraine.
Turning back toward the airport, I ran the gauntlet of taxi drivers again and came out the opposite side. The sidewalk in this direction was more committed to actually having a purpose, as it led to a hotel a mile away and beyond that another terminal, parking lots and a police station. Cars drove by in the night. I’m out of the airport now, right? Who the hell knows. The police looked over at me suspiciously and I looked at the time on my phone. Okay. Time to go to Denmark.
Buses in Denmark are less punctual than I had been led to believe by my completely uninformed imagination. I was in Copenhagen for one day and I spent almost all of it watching the bus I needed merrily zip away from the stop five minutes early, leaving me to sit and wait in the rain for the next bus, which was off somewhere getting lubed. Every bus was either five minutes early or twenty minutes late, whichever version would maximize my waiting in the rain time. This surely requires massive computing power to orchestrate.
Also, if you’re planning on visiting Denmark in October, allow me to politely suggest you re-evaluate your understanding of seasons and geography. This factor honestly never occurred to me once, not even in passing, until I cheerfully stepped out of the Copenhagen airport and a ghost witch made out of ice tried to wrestle me to the ground and strangle me in the gutter.
Thankfully I had warm clothes I could wrench desperately out of my bag at a comically high rate of speed like a silent film character. And then I was free to take photos of Copenhagen’s famously colorful buildings through a gray drizzle that made colors theoretical and the difference between day and night academic at best.
Never, ever let it be said that I wouldn’t walk all the way across Copenhagen in the rain to take a photo of some stupid statue of The Little Mermaid.
I love that every other tourist photo of this statue crops out the smokestacks in the background.
The park nearby featured a bewildering assortment of vaguely ominous gothic monuments.
I walked through some kind of bizarre star-shaped fort complex that either wasn’t active military any more or else the Danish military is really mellow about drop-ins.
I assume this will be surpassed whenever I find my way to The Netherlands, but for the moment, Copenhagen featured the most people I have ever seen on bicycles. It was cool to see how normal this was, people of all ages biking to work, or school, or a cheese-smelling meeting or whatever they do in Denmark when I’m not looking. My favorite touch were the bikes with essentially a huge basket full of kids on the front. On some it was a fully insulated compartment, like the kids were hot pizzas, but others were just open child buckets.
I wandered through a wide swath of historic Copenhagen in my search for breakfast and the LEGO store.
Breakfast ended up involving me dropping into several shops and asking what they had that was vegan. A danish here, a bowl of fruits and oats there. A nice way to meet people and to walk around the city whilst eating things. So yeah, I basically turned Denmark into the State Fair.
I did eventually find the LEGO store, which was impressive and totally closed. Denmark is the home of LEGOs and they don’t like having visitors over to their house too early in the morning.
After finding my way back to and through the confusing and clean tangle of Copenhagen’s airport, I had a brief layover at Heathrow in London. Hustling through the terminal, I spied a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream vending machine. My stomach growled. I’d been living off of snacks for days. Oh man, wouldn’t it be incredible if that thing stocked one of Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream flavors? What a beautiful dream. But the chances of this actually happening were about the same as the odds of running into Ben & Jerry themselves in the airport and them offering to give me a backrub.
I walked over to the machine and wait- what? Holy shit, they have it! I fumbled to get my wallet out in the fastest way humanly possible without hurting anyone around me.
Scanned my credit card. BLERP. Card rejected. No. Scanned it again. BLERP. No no no!
It’s okay, I have another card. BLERP. BLERP. Oh no. No fucking way. I didn’t have any British paper money on me.
“Paging Sean Traverse. Mister Traverse, last call for your flight to Chicago.”
This has to be a dream. I looked down. I was wearing pants. It wasn’t a dream. Goddammit.
This was exactly like the scene at the end Heat when Robert De Niro sees Al Pacino’s cop coming and has to decide between abandoning his girlfriend or going to jail for the rest of his life. He reluctantly flees into the night, choosing freedom. God dammit. I gave the vending machine a dirty look and disappeared into the crowd.
I shuffled through the gate to the tune of sad Charlie Brown music as the gate agent tried unsuccessfully to shame me for being late. I slumped down into my seat, and prepared myself to cross the Atlantic without any vegan ice cream. This isn’t the end of this, England. I gave you a pass on the whole taxation without representation thing, but this is low. Once you get your Brexit shit worked out we’re going to have to have a sit down.