Thursday, January 03, 2013

My first trip as a diplomat: Copenhagen

To kick off the new year, I got to take my official first trip using my diplomatic passport. It was somewhat short-notice, as I started the trip approval process just as the holidays were kicking off. And while while I've been to Denmark a couple of times, I still found myself researching some things up until the last minute. With all the chaos of the holidays, it soon became apparent that I hadn't thought everything through, given the fact that I actually knew what to expect.

Collect them all: Diplomatic (Black), Tourist (Blue), Official (Red)
While getting authorization for my trip, I forgot to identify that I was going to use my government travel card at an ATM. So rather than misuse the GTC, or withdraw cash from my personal bank account and pay the conversion fees, I figured that it's a short enough trip that I can probably go cashless and survive on credit cards alone. I should have known better, as I'd found myself in this exact position in Denmark before.




When I'd visited Legoland in Billund many years ago, one of the most stifling realities was that a majority of places in Denmark that take credit cards require them to have a EMV chip/pin. It cuts down on credit card fraud, and for those of us with credit cards installed without a chip...it cuts down on the ability to purchase things like, say, food, gas, and public transportation. I was reminded of this as I tried to buy a metro pass at the airport. While they do take credit cards, those accepted cards must have the chip or they won't work. Fortunately, US currency is also accepted at the airport metro station and change is given in Danish kroner. So, at least I have $5 in Danish coins along with my metro card.

After leaving the metro, the first thing my rolling luggage brought to my attention was the cobblestone sidewalks and the sandy grit that typically fills in between the stones. Unless it's just rained, in which case the grit works its way out of the cracks and into the wheels of my baggage. To be fair, the Danes are really practical and installed large strips of stone that cut through the cobblestones and make for a much smoother experience. Even so, my bag's wheels were intermittently jamming, causing it to slip and slide on the smooth, wet stone strips.

Arriving at my hotel, I was somewhat proud of myself for having remembered to pack the two-prong plug converter so that I could charge my computer and phone. I even remembered that the sockets often have a switch right on them, so that you can turn off the power to the individual socket. Feeling like I had a good handle on things, I headed out for my meeting. What I'd forgotten was that there is common feature in European hotels: the keyed light switch. When you first come in to the room, you put your key card into a slot on the wall and presto! the lights all come on. This is extremely convenient. Conversely, when you're leaving your room, you take your key and voila! all the lights go off. Which is also convenient, unless you were leaving your phone or computer in to charge...those plugs also turn off. I came back from my meeting to find my phone almost dead. But that's not a problem as I can charge it while I write this post because my body doesn't feel the need to accommodate a time change for just a few days.

Anyways, when I left for my meeting, I walked over to the bus stop. Well, at least I was walking until I saw the bus I wanted drive past me and pull up to the line of people a block away. Then I ran, dodging Danes on the cobblestone sidewalks until I got to the bus. Luckily, I made it on the bus just as the last person in line boarded, so it wasn't like I was causing unnecessary delay. And since my metro pass was good on all city transport, I was feeling pretty comfortable with my travel planning so far. Then I got off the bus a little before I thought I should (I didn't want to go past my stop, since that would have taken me off my map), but I didn't know exactly when my stop would be.




Based on the map I had printed out earlier, I could tell the stop I departed the bus from was easily within walking distance to my destination. As it turns out, even my hotel was within walking distance, but the weather was wet and cold and I was tired (so the bus was a completely valid option). But I got off the bus just before a major road that was having all sorts of construction being performed to it, so instead of taking a straight line right along the road I had to zig and zag halfway up several blocks to follow the sidewalk through the construction area. But I made it to my meeting on time.

After the meeting, I joined some of my European coworkers in a cab back to their hotel lobby to finish up some preparations for the next day. When I was ready to go back to my hotel, I realized that there were really no convenient public transport options. After checking with my colleagues that the cabs take credit cards, I hopped into one and it took me back to my hotel...where it became clear that I should have asked my colleagues if the credit cards accepted by cabs also required a chip and pin. In a work: Yes. They do. Fortunately, the cabbie allowed me to pay him in USD and give me the change in DKK. So I now have even more coinage and have only been able to use my government travel card for my hotel.

This has turned out to be a longer post than I'd planned, so I'll wrap it up here. While it's always good to challenge your assumptions ("they take credit cards nearly everywhere"), sometimes just remembering what you already know ("credit cards" refer to a specific kind of card I'm not carrying) can be more useful than relearning it. One thing I know for sure though, is that the hotel has a breakfast buffet included in the price of the room, now if only I could get some sleep before then.
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