Friday May 23

 

After a late departure from Chicago and the usual long overseas flight, we arrived in Frankfurt a little after 11 am to rainy skies. We got train tickets for Osnabrueck, and opted for a slightly slower train (an IC over an ICE) because it meant we didn’t have to change trains with our three suitcases and three backpacks. The total train ride was about 4.5 hours, and Kai, who had slept least of us three on the plane was awake for most of it, reading the third book of the trip on the kindle. Mark and I took turns napping and watching the landscape fly by. This particular route goes along the Rhine for at least two hours, and we had a wonderful time watching out for castles, vineyards, and small Rhine towns nestled into the sides of the basalt river banks which make this region so good for grape growing. WE slowly drove out of the cloudy, stormy weather and the sun had come out by the time we reached Osnabrueck. We took the bus to my mom’s(the usual 20-minute ride) and walked our suitcases the 1500 feet or so to the house.

Imke was thrilled to see us, of course (we had no way of sending her any messages about our progress once we took off from Chicago). She made us a wonderful dinner–salad, soup, and German bread, plus fresh strawberries with ice cream for dessert; we toured her wonderful garden with her meadow full of marguerites and her lovely old apple trees, and while Kai finally crashed, we went for a little after-dinner walk to the cemetery where Hermann is buried–not in a traditional grave with a marker, but in a beautiful area of the cemetery with mature trees where degradable urns can be put in the ground in circles around the trees, and all that’s there are small brass plaques for each urn, affixed to the tree at eye level. It’s very peaceful and I completely understand why Hermann and Imke, who had talked about this many times, chose this part of the cemetery for the burial. Imke loves to come here, which is wonderful. After we returned home, Mark and I were truly tired and went to bed right after a much-needed shower. 

    

Saturday, May 24

 

 

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We both slept well, but woke early, around 5:30 am, when it was already full daylight and the birds started arguing outside our window. We stayed in bed reading the news, but got up at 6:30 and walked to the corner bakery for the customary fresh-baked rolls for our breakfast. Imke joined us just after I’d finished setting the table, and we enjoyed our very first German breakfast, with rolls and homemade jam and a lovely selection of cheeses. Then, Mark and I set out to walk to the city center, which is about a mile from my mom’s, since it is a lovely walk through parks and residential neighborhoods. We took care of several planned errands (getting cash, getting our phones and the ipad set up for the internet and for phones and texting) and strolled over the weekly farmer’s market, which has probably been held on Saturdays ever since the Middle Ages in the shadow of the cathedral (except it probably didn’t have kiwis from New Zealand and cheap cell phone accessories then). We also bought some bus tickets and a handful of other necessary items, and had a very simple lunch in an outdoor cafe right by a playground, so we had fun watching parents with their toddlers and some very well-behaved dogs.

We walked back to my mother’s house about 1 pm, and then had the customary coffee and cake “break” just around 3 pm. By this time, Kai had finally woken up and was having breakfast! His jetlag is clearly a lot worse than ours. Mark did feel like taking a nap after our snack, but I stayed upright–sat in the garden with Imke and started planning a bit more of our trips that we will take from here to visit friends and a few new sites that we haven’t visited before. We had dinner at home–European asparagus is in season, which, served with potatoes and German prosciutto, is quite a delicacy, so I was really looking forward to this meal–and then went for a walk with Imke that included the nearby branch of Osnabrueck’s university, where there are a few newer, architecturally interesting buildings that she wanted to show us. We didn’t get home until 8:45 or so, and we’re still not quite used to the much longer days, so I took us by surprise that it was still broad daylight then. It’s been a good first day! 

 

Sunday, May 25

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The jetlag we were not feeling on our first full day reared its ugly head today, and we both were lying awake for various portions of the early morning. Since the birds wake up around 4 am here, it might take a while before we fully adjust–we ended up sleeping until about 9:20! Then we had a lovely breakfast, and all of us walked to the botanical gardens, one of our favorite places within walking distance. Kai was being a classic teenager, listening to music on his iphone and walking off on his own, but he also sat down to sketch a gnarly tree and admired the little bonsai azalea exhibit that we came across. We were gone until about noon, and then had a lovely light lunch–cream of asparagus soup and cucumber/tomato salad, with a bit of ice cream and Imke’s rhubarb meringue cake for dessert. 

After a bit of a rest, Imke, Mark and I took off by car to go to the Piesberg hiking area, which I wanted to make sure Mark got to see. It’s one of the three slightly higher elevations around Osnabrueck, all three somewhat bombastically called “berg” = mountain, but the highest spot on the Piesberg was 200 meters above sea level (that would be about 600 feet). What’s fun about the area is that is is a partially still active rock quarry and coal mining area, so you can look down into the stripmined area and see the geology of the area really well. In recent years, the high elevation has meant that there are now several very large wind turbines on top, the largest ones standing 450 feet tall. There is a platform near one of them where you can see all of the region–on a clear, sunny day like today, we could actually see about 30 miles into the distance! The surrounding hiking area also has an old arboretum from the 19th century, which has a rather famous rarity–a 150-year-old giant sequoia (German term: Mammutbaum = mammoth tree), one of the very small handful one finds in Germany’s botanical gardens. While we were looking at it,there were two tour groups with guides that came to look at it! We had no idea that they would grow in Germany, given that they only grow in a rather small area of the US and are pretty finicky about the climate, soil, and light exposure they need!

We walked around in the Piesberg area for about 2 hours, and then came home; I finally got around to booking further legs of our trips and the hotels we need for a few nights that we are not spending with friends, and found some good bargains. But the process tried my patience a bit, and I was glad I got a break for dinner–we had pasta with mediterranean vegetables and some very fancy dark chocolate Imke had received as a gift. After dinner, I tried to wrap up being a travel agent, but there are still a few trips that I need to return to in the morning. This was a full but very fun day, and the weather couldn’t have been better–temperatures in the upper 70s, and mostly sunny. Mark won’t believe me that we should really be expecting mostly rain from Germany this time of year! 

        

Monday, May 26

Today was a busy city day! Mark and I got up around 8 (after having slept much better), went to the bakery for rolls, had breakfast and then, when Kai was up and ready as well, walked downtown with him (it’s about 2 kilometers / 1.5 miles), and went shopping. Kai had birthday money to spend and wanted to by art supplies for sketching and loose-leaf tea. We also needed to get more cash and sort out some ticketing issues for future trips at the train station. Again, it was very nice weather, and Kai clearly enjoyed walking around with us and visiting old haunts from the year he, Kati and I spent living here–including the comic/card shop and his favorite outdoor lunch place, “Bottled,” where we had salad and french fries for lunch. We walked all over the downtown area, visited many different shops, and finished off our day with fancy ice cream at an Italian gelato store that was also one of our favorites back in 2009/10. We walked back home, so that we’d probably walked about 5 miles, and we were pretty tired out when we got home. We took a brief nap, and then had coffee and some lovely pastries with Imke and a neighborhood couple, whom we won’t be able to see again while we are here. Then we packed a suitcase for a week up north that starts tomorrow, and had dinner (food seems to be a central focus of our holiday existence), followed by some basic art lessons for Kai and a slightly earlier bedtime than the last few days. 

 

Tuesday, May 27

 

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We had a very simple bread-and-jam breakfast this morning and then wrapped up our packing while Kai took his own sweet time to get ready for a week away from Osnabrueck. But eventually, we did get our start just before 11, and drove pretty much straight through to our destination, Laboe, a small resort town near the major harbor city of Kiel, on the Baltic. Imke drove us out of Osnabrueck (which is rather a labyrinth to get out of), but Mark took over about 30 minutes down the autobahn, with Imke providing the occasional directions. He had no trouble with the German traffic, and the trip was remarkable for being not remarkable at all: we all assumed we’d be in a traffic jam sometime along the way, because that is standard on Germany’s overloaded roads, but we didn’t have any. We got flipped off once for being too slow, though, by a very impatient driver! We arrived in Laboe a little before 3 pm, so we made the trip in less than four hours, and checked into our vacation apartment, which is fabulous–it’s two storeys up with a balcony and a lovely view of the bay of Kiel (Kieler Foerde), with the open ocean to our right, straight north. Unfortunately, it was very windy and gray yesterday (no rain though), and has gotten rather cool, so we just went for a pretty short walk along the beach promenade just to check it out. It’s about a five-minute walk down to the beach from here, which is very pleasant! Given the weather and the fact that it is mid-week, it was pretty deserted, but the beach is beautiful and the houses along the promenade are early twentieth-century villas, now mostly B&Bs and vacation rentals, so they were fun to look at as we walked along. 

By the time we got back to the apartment, our friends Uschi and Wolfgang, who were meeting us here, were just about to arrive, and we showed them where their apartment was–smaller and with a less impressive view on the ground floor, but ideal for them because Wolfgang has some major mobility issues. Uschi, Imke and I went shopping for groceries, and then we all had dinner together in their apartment–a simple bread, cheese, and cold cuts meal with tomato soup to go with it. Kai had a good time hanging out with all of us old people, chatting alternately in English and German, and we stayed until about 8:30. Then Kai went back on his beloved computer, and we ventured out for another brief walk in the wind, but we were back pretty quickly. We got to watch the sun set right across from the apartment underneath a thick layer of clouds, in one very narrow strip of clear skies right over the horizon. Even our teenager had to admit that that was very cool. 🙂 

Wednesday, May 28

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We started the morning with a short run of errands (still windy and still unseasonably chilly at 48 degrees) and delivered fresh rolls and croissants to Imke, Uschi and Wolfgang in the other apartment before having our own breakfast in ours. We then basically stayed put, puttering on our computers and staying inside watching the bay with a lot of sailboats and the occasional cruise liner or container ship coming or going. Imke and Uschi came by to have coffee with us around 10 am and chat (lots of catching up for Uschi and me, who hadn’t seen each other for 2 years), and the skies kept getting lighter, so we decided to venture out at lunch time for a restaurant meal at a Chinese restaurant–Imke, Uschi, Wolfgang, Mark and me (Kai was being a teenager again and stayed home). The lunch was a long time coming (partly because the restaurant was wrestling with a rather large 90th-birthday party) but it was really delicious, and we had a huge “lazy Susan”-style round table, so we all tried each other’s food and made a really wonderful mess. By about 2:30, we went back to the apartment, rounded up Kai, and went to tour the WWII submarine that is on exhibit here. That was really fascinating, especially since we had very recently seen the movie “Das Boot,” set in 1941 during the peak of the German submarine war, and this submarine, although built slightly later, is very similar to the U-boat in the movie. Then we walked a bit past the exhibit site and were in for a surprise. This is the area where people are allowed to wind- and kitesurf, and there were about a dozen people kitesurfing in the rather strong winds (and in wet suits of course, given that it was still in the 40s and not at all nice). But it turned out that in this kind of wind, the kites will actually lift the surfers up into the sky for short periods of time, so we saw people flying through the air! It was awesome. Mark even captured some of it in photos and videos. 

Kai had about enough of the cold by then and wanted to go back to his beloved computer, so we dropped him off and walked back to the beach and to a very cosy restaurant / cafe right on the beach for coffee, hot chocolate and cherry streusel cake to share. We were looking out at the water but from a nice, warm spot, so it was lovely. We did some grocery shopping on the way back, and also picked up a couple of fabulous little shopping bags that fold into a teeny 1×2-inch “pillow” and can be taken pretty much everywhere. Around 6:00, we went back to the apartment for a bit to rest a little, and by about 7 pm the sun had actually come out and we saw the bay with blue skies and sunshine for the first time! We had dinner with Imke, Uschi, and Wolfgang in their apartment–another lovely soup along with the standard evening meal of bread and cheese. Since it’s strawberry season and there’s German-grown strawberries on sale everywhere, we feasted on those for dessert. Imke and Uschi joined us for a stroll along the beach, and we watched the sun set over the other side of the bay again. While Mark processed the photo yield for the day, I took a nice hot bath, since there is a really nice bathtub in our apartment, and we called it a day around 11:00–a very nice day indeed! 

            

Thursday, May 29

 

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This day was off to a good start when we woke up between 6 and 7 and there was sunshine coming in through the bedroom window! We stayed in bed a bit longer, but then got up and had breakfast with tea and baguette and jam and butter (our butter consumption is rather scary) while looking out at the cruiseships and a whole bunch of smaller and larger sailing boats going out to sea. Then, we took off for a little morning walk, meeting up with Imke and Uschi about halfway, and showing them some of our discoveries from yesterday. At about noon, Mark and Imke gathered Kai from the apartment, and we all took a boat across the bay to the other side and back again, in about 50 minutes. This is a regular part of public transportation (since it saves quite a bit of time over driving all around the bay if you work on the other side), but also a popular tourist activity, so there is a surcharge for taking boats rather than buses. Today was a German holiday (ascension and German father’s day), so the boat was offloading a couple of hundred people all headed for our little resort town (many of them groups of young single men who were traveling with lots of booze and homemade boomboxes on little radio-flyer-type wagons; this is apparently a widespread custom that has come into being since I left Germany, although going on drunken outlings on father’s day is a VERY old tradition). But only a few people wanted to go across to Schilksee, the big marina that we can see across the way from our apartment. So the boat was pleasantly empty, and we had a wonderful time watching both coastlines and the many, many sail boats all over–by the afternoon, there were probably hundreds out there, from tiny one-man boats that looked no bigger than windsurfing board to a three-master and a viking-style ship with one big square sail. We assumed that some of the sportier-looking “schools” of dozens of similar boats were actually training for the big regatta / sailboat races that will be held here during the last week of June. This regatta, the so-called “Kiel Week,” along with its famous “parade of the big sailing ships,” is the biggest of its kind in the world, and the races start at Schilksee! Obviously, Laboe is a prime location for spectators that week, and I am sure that all the vacation rentals are booked years in advance. 

After we returned shortly before 1 from our lovely round trip, we went to the Spanish tapas restaurant right on the sea side where Mark and I had coffee and hot chocolate yesterday. We all picked a couple of tapas (mini meal samplers, some meats, some vegetables), and it was a very nice meal, although some of the dishes were much more interesting than others. Imke went home to rest for a little bit, Kai did the same, and Mark and I ventured back out for a long walk / short hike (take your pick) for the rest of the afternoon. We walked to the Marine Memorial first, a huge big brick structure with an exhibit hall and an observation tower about 60 meters (60 yards) up, with a fabulous view of the entire bay and most of the state we’re in, Schleswig-Holstein. The memorial is dedicated to all German navy/marine victims of World War I and World War II as well as the civilian casualties at seat during and after the wars, and it features a whole range of models and exhibits relating to warships and u-boats etc. We didn’t stay very long, but the view from the top of the memorial was certainly gorgeous! We then went on a 5-mile hike along the coast and back, walking on the beach on the way out to a pier in the next little resort town, and back on top of the (not very tall)sandy cliffs that overhang that beach. It was beautiful, and although we occasionally ran into some rather inebriated people, they all seemed harmless and fairly friendly (if loud). When we got back, it was already around 6 pm, and I was pretty tired, but I wanted to make sure Kai would spend some time at the beach, so I went back to the waterfront with him and sat around while he got acquainted with the ocean (by getting his jeans and t-shirt thoroughly soaked). We came back in time for him to rinse the sand and salt water off of himself, and then had dinner with Imke, Uschi, and Wolfgang in their little apartment. We didn’t stay very long today, because we were all tired, but Kai did go for a bit of a walk after dinner, since he really needed some more beach time. It was a busy day, but we sure took advantage of every minute of sunshine! 

           

Friday, May 30

 

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Again, we woke up to brilliant sunshine but nippy temperatures (45 at 7 am); we went to get some rolls and danishes for breakfast and some other groceries we had run out of, and then had breakfast at the apartment as usual. We puttered around for a bit, but made sure to take off just around 9:30 for our boat’s departure to Kiel at 9:50. The boat takes about an hour and makes about a half-dozen stops on the way, and we sat outside on the top deck and had a wonderful time watching both coastlines, to the west and to the East. We could even see the entrance into the Kiel Canal, which starts just above Kiel harbor, and some ships, including some old submarines, in the docks. In Kiel, we started exploring the general downtown area, with the help of our friend Lane, who facebooked us some good tips–he is currently a graduate student here, but as luck would have it, is visiting his wife in Bulgaria right now, so he could not show us around in person. He did guide us via Facebook instead, and we saw two lovely parks on his suggestion–the Schlosspark and the “Old Botanical Garden” right next to it. Then we found our way to a shopping district called Holtauerstrasse, which was a bit noisy because it is not a pedestrian-only area, but we still found a nice, simple lunch place with outdoor seating and watcheed the people around us. We then made our way to a couple of “dead” (unused) arms of the Foerde, i.e. lovely bodies of water in the middle of a busy downtown, and to the other, quieter shopping district, which also featured Kiel’s main church, the Nikolaikirche. It was destroyed and restored multiple times, so its architecture was boring, but some of the individual artefacts were from the 15th century,and we learned that another church nearby, part of a former monastery, would give us a good idea of the city’s history. We looked at the founder’s gravestone from the 14th century. There is not much left of this old medieval Kiel, because it was built on many times over, and then for the most part destroyed during WWII, so the city itself is really not very charming. But the waterfront and the sunshine made the city and the day really lovely, and we thoroughly enjoyed our day in Kiel–we took the boat back at 4 pm, together with many other vacationers who all seemed to want to come to Laboe with us, and were back “home” at 5 pm. We stopped by the apartment to see how Imke and Kai were faring (well) and to drop off most of the cameras, waterbottles, etc. that we had with us–but then went back out for a walk by the seaside to watch the kitesurfers one more time. There were nearly 20 kites up in the air at the same time, and even though there was really no more “flying” like the other day, it was fun to watch. And although it’s been quite chilly lately, the water was warm enough to wade through, which always makes a seaside visit more fun. We came home at about 7:15 pm, in time for dinner with Uschi, Imke, and Wolfgang. Then we wrestled with laundry for a bit and went through Mark’s photos for the day before we called it a night.

     

Saturday, May 31

 

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We woke to overcast skies, but since it was our day for leaving, that wasn’t such a big deal. We woke Kai early, and while he was getting himself ready, we went to get rolls and stopped by Imke and Uschi’s for some extra breakfast ingredients. Everyone, even Kai, was dressed and ready to go by 10, with Uschi and Wolfgang taking off a bit earlier than the three of us. We took the country roads from Laboe to Ploen, the county seat for the county that my sister lives in, which was totally adorable. It is right on a lake, has a very cute downtown with vie of the lake, winding cobblestone roads and paths, and a baroque-era palace on top of a hill that overlooks the whole town. We took a leisurely walk around, including the banks of the lake for about a half a mile, and although it was windy and a bit chillt, we had more sunshine than clouds and a very nice view. To Kai’s great delight, a jazz and dixieland band played on the market square, and it even featured a soprano sax player, so he had a lot of fun listening to them. We had dinner in a side street that was more of a walkway, with stairs, and just enough room for the restaurant to set up a row of tables outside, booth-style. We had soups and pasta and really enjoyed ourselves. Then it was time to drive to the place where my sister lives, a teeny village called Schoenboeken, at the center of which is the manorhouse and grounds that the Zen Center where she was ordained as a Zen Buddhist nun runs as a retreat and organizational center. (Her husband, Michael, works there full time, although most of his time is volunteered; she volunteers many of her Fridays, since she does not work on Fridays, and many weekends as well.) This entire weekend, though, was set aside for her and her wedding guests, and I cannot imagine a more beautiful and peaceful location, and although it wasn’t very warm, we had mostly sunshine and it was gorgeous for little walks as well as some outdoor chitchat. We were shown our rooms (Mark and I and Kai shared one, my mom shared a room with her two sisters, who arrived from Hamburg with another family friend from Hanover). The other guests trundled in bit by bit, but Judith’s zen friends were already there for the weekend and had helped set up coffee, tea and cookies for everyone on the lawn. We were about 50 people, from all over Germany; I probably knew about 15 and Mark probably 10, but we made friends quickly and everyone was rather eager to speak English with him and hear more about America. He was also kept pretty busy because he and one other woman, Christine, were the only “official” photographers with cameras rather than cell phones. At 4 pm, we all went over to the part of the center where religious ceremonies and zen meditations take place, and had a Zen wedding ceremony–that is, all of Judith’s Zen friends put on their robes, performed some of their regular rituals, and we heard some “sutras” or chants in Japanese that sounded very festive, and then there was a very brief ceremony that basically blessed the couple; they shared some white and some red wine that was supposed to represent the good and bad that they would experience together, and then they signed a beautifully scripted document with Japanese words on it that we later all got to sign. All in all it took about 30 minutes and was very nice. 

Afterwards, we all had some time to rest or walk around or sit on the lawn some more, to get ready for the evening, which started at 6 pm with group photos on the staircase of the manor house, and then moved directly to dinner. With some sous chef help, Judith and Michael had made all the food in the center’s great big kitchen; thankfully, they have plenty of experience cooking for 20 – 50 people, but of course, this was especially festive. There were two big pots of soup, salads and dips and fresh bread, and we had two wonderful desserts. Everything was delicious, and everything was also very simple–nothing was crazy, overwrought luxury food, and yet, all was fresh and homemade. We ate and talked, with no speeches after an initial “prost” with champagne or juice. There was also no formality to starting the dancing (to playlists my sister had put together), or to the opening of the very simple “side gifts” (they had asked for donations to the Zen center instead of gifts), which happened right there and then. At about 8, there was a special performance of Judith’s friend Britta, a belly dancer and Judith’s long-time dance practice partner, and then, at about 10, a surprise in the form of a special wedding cake that the zen friends had made at a cake specialty store, with a big Zen cloth and a lotus flower for a design. I didn’t think the flavor was that great, but the effect was great, and since it isn’t that common to have these here, Mark and I had to give some tips about cutting and eating the first piece of cake jointly, American-style. Kai turned in about 10 pm (poor Kai–he was very, very well-dressed in suit and tie, but also the only person under 20, and quite a bit bored at times). We lasted until a little after 11, but then also went to take showers and go to bed. It was a truly lovely wedding party! 

         

Sunday, June 1

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We got up pretty early, a little before 8, and while Kai was running through the shower and getting himself ready, we helped clean up last night’s drinks and dishes and set up breakfast. I ended up cutting avocados and lemons in the kitchen, with other people working on cheese and cold cut platters, getting pre-ordered rolls from the baker, taking dishes up to the big dining room, etc. We had just enough time to pack up our stuff and put it in Uschi’s car before breakfast was ready at 9; while the others stayed, Uschi took us to the nearby train station in Neumuenster at 9:30, for our 10:22 train to Copenhagen, and we had a fairly uneventful trip, even though we had to stand for the first two hours or so of our five-hour trip through a very pretty Danish landscape, because the train was overly full and we hadn’t been able to get reservations for it. But once we were on the train from Fredericia to Copenhagen, we had seats and a very pleasant journey, which included several stretches across the ocean between Danish islands, and even a tunnel under the sea for a while, before we arrived in Copenhagen around 3:30. Our hotel was really close to the train station, and once we had scored a free map at the tourist information center, fairly easy to find. It’s a funky place called the “Annex” which is really the annex to the “Absalon Hotel” and features minimalist rooms in bright colors. Ours has a double bed, a single bed, a sink, a weird thing that doubles as a desk and a wardrobe, one bright orange and one bright green wall, and is perfectly acceptable. What makes it cheap (for Copenhagen) is that there are showers and bathrooms at the end of the long, rabbit-warren hallways for all to share, but they are all individual shower stalls and bathroom stalls, and that’s worked well, too. We dropped of our stuff and then went exploring for a few hours, initially without more than our paper map. Everything seemed very urban and under construction, but once we got a slightly better sense of directions, we managed to find the waterfront with a very interesting modern building, the so-called “Black Diamond,” a 2000s addition to the royal library. Kai thought it looked fascinating, and we decided to come back when it was going to be open the next day. We then walked along a canal to one of the many castles, and eventually managed to find the main pedestrian shopping district and something simple to eat–shawarma with salad and bread for pretty exorbitant prices, but we really needed food! We then walked around some more, watched a street performer and established that the main museums were (as I suspected) going to be closed the next day, and came home to the hotel at about 8 pm, pretty beat and in need of some quiet time and some planning time for our one full Copenhagen day.