Friday, January 28, 2005

Naked in Copenhagen

It is as if a city formed in the middle of a sea. In the pre-dawn hours, one can look through a Boeing 767 window and for hours see nothing bust vast expanses of splotchy nothingness. The video screen in the back of the seat in front of you will show that you've passed Iceland and that Scotland is a bit to the south. The screen, I sense, is supposed to be some sort of comfort that one is not alone in the darkness, that one has not slipped into a realm where only the steady drone of the jet engines breaks the monotony of one patch of darkness after another.

And then, as the video plane icon on the map starts to shift southward, lights pop up from the blotchiness and suddenly a city has grown from the darkness. It is the city of Copenhagen.

View of Copenhagen from Radisson SAS Scandinavia

Once the traveler finds his way through the airport and fails to find his baggage where it should be, there is little left to do but go in search of the city's only casino, aptly named Casino Copenhagen. It sits in what could be the tallest structure in all of the city, the Radisson SAS Scandanavia. It's only 8am and the casino doesn't open for another six hours. Business-travel-weary hotel guests are rushing to check out and make their plane trips home for the weekend. In a second floor ballroom, a poker room sits ready for the weekend's Scandinavia Open, the fourth leg on the European Tour.

It's a quiet Friday morning and with the casino closed and the poker players still hours from arriving, a jet-lagged poker correspondent has but a couple of choices. He can sit, wait for his baggage to arrive, and hope not to be naked by Saturday. Or, he can cast off the internal, infernal begging for a nap and go in search of something to wear. And a way to brush his teeth. And something to keep him from smelling too badly.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against being naked. But, if you were to peek out the window at the digital thermometer that runs up the side of one of these ancient buildings, you would, too, note that we find ourselves in the sub-zero Celcius category. And even if you're not one to make the conversion from C to F in your head, you can probably understand. In layperson's terms, "It's cold."

A walk though Copenhagen

And so we walk, our shoeleaces perpetually untied, out of the Radisson SAS Scandanavia, into the wind, across the draw bridge that spans the inner-city water way, and toward the center of town and its business center. The concierge indicated with a smile that it was only a 15-minute walk. I note as a I walk the inordinate number of bicycles on the road. This city has embraced, either by necessity or dersire, the concept of self-motivated, self-perpetuated, two-wheeled transit. From elderly men with crackled faces to Nordic beauties fit for a Milan runway, hundreds of people zip alongside traffic on bikes.

And I now know why: It's quicker and easier than walking.

Just a few of hundreds of bike riders on the Copenhagen streets

The walk, it seems, takes longer than 15 minutes, but the waether is brisk and there is no shortage of ancient beauty to spy. For the moment, I can pry my eyes away from the blondes on bicycles and look around me. The architecture is by its nature inspiring of awe. As much as the city is cold, it is old, a mixture of medievel homes and Renaissanceage castles. It is, despite the incessant walking and stiff breeze, a sight at which one will just want to stop and look.

Many folks likely know the is the home of Hans Christian Andersen and Soren Kierkegaard. It's hard to walk around town without seeing homages to Andersen. And while they are homages the tourists are certainly quick to embrace, it seems the locals are wrapped in some sort of election fever. Nearly every streetpost serves as a stage for the ongoing election battle. And, fool yourselves not, friends in other counties, the mudslinging has found its way into this kinggdom, as well. By accident, I nearly found myself caught up in a small Greenpeace rally that I didn't quite understand, but had something to do with PVC piping. Fortunately, I still had poker and fighting nudity on the brain and moved on.

One of many election signs in Copenhagen

I stopped in "Everything's a Kroner" (not the real name, but folks from the States will recognize the little strip mall dollar stores with the same theme). It's the kind of place you can buy a loose bag of oregano, a ten-pack of razors, and a religous candle in the same trip. When I walked out, I realized I had made it to the center of the city. A group of school children sat outside the Louis Toussaud Wax Museum, begging to be let in a few minutes before the official opening time. Across the way, through the birds, is another touristy place, A Ripley's museum. Beyond those exceptions, though, this doesn't look like a tourist trap. Worker bees buzz in and out of the alleyways. Shopowners push through the cold to take the bars off their shop windows.

Children feed the birds in the center of the city

When--three hours later--I had finally had enough walking and assembled a suitable oufit to carry me until tomorrow (surely to goodness and mercy SAS will find my bag by Saturday), I stopped into an Irish pub for a pint of Guinness, A row of older men sat in chairs near the windows, enjoying a pint or two, smoking their pipes, and reading the daily news. A man stepped up to me and said something in a language I didn't understand.

The bartender, a friendly woman that must be killing time in the fashion model off- season, said "He's asking you if it's good" and nodded to my Guinness. I smiled at the man and indicated it was. Before I could warn him that I was just a poker correspondent who doesn't have the good sense to pack an extra outfit in his carry-on bag, he'd ordered a couple of pints and moved on with my recommendation.

Friendly, trusting city.


A little while ago, I wandered through the bar area of the hotel to see if any of the poker players had arrived. When I stepped off the elevator, I immediately recognized young Justin Bonomo (aka ZeeJustin) standing in the lobby. Turns out the 30th place finisher in's Caribbean Adventure has qualified online for the Scandavian Open as well. He lamented that he'd missed the sign-up for tonight's side tournament. I wished him luck for tomorrow and moved on.

Justin Bonomo

European poker pro and songster Marcel Luske zipped by before I had a chance to say howdy. Last time I talked to Marcel we had a lengthy discussion about his penchant for singing at the poker table. He explained to me, it's something he does everywhere, not just at the tables.

A little while later, I wandered back through the bar and found none other than Caribbean Adventure champion, John Gale, sitting at a table by himself, smoking and smiling at passers-by. I shook his hand and asked if his success in the Caribbean had reached his home in England yet. "I've been accosted in toilets," he said, laughing. He said, though, that the word had not yet spread wide. In the meantime, he said of this weekend's tournament, "I'd like to make it happen again. When the poker gods are on your side..." He trailed off and took a drag from his smoke. I find myself happy to see him here. It's good to find genuinely nice people in poker rooms.

Caribbean Adventure champion, John Gale

I've heard word, as well, that WSOP champ Greg Raymer is in Copenhagen this weekend. I'll keep an eye out for him and the rest of the players for you over the course of the weekend.

In the meantime, I'm in search of food. And apparently, a local TV station will be showing the European Poker Tour tonight. Gotta keep an eye out for that.

If you happen to be in Copenhagen this weekend, track me down and say hi.

I'll be the guy in the black jacket who never seems to be changing clothes and who will smell something awful come Monday.