We know this is a very long time coming, but oh well! Work and school have begun and so have the fond memories, so we’re determined to finish the blog. Now jumping back a few months…
We had to switch around our Scandinavian itinerary a little bit so we eliminated some smaller destinations and stuck to the bigger cities, like Copenhagen. Neither of us have been to Denmark so we were very excited for a brand new city. It was a nearly eight-hour trip from Berlin that incorporated two transfers. Though rather uneventful, the highlight of Mark’s train trek was when we passed through a town called Middelfart, which provided him several minutes of giggles and amusement.
Copenhagen was originally a Viking village and today remains the capital and most populous city in Denmark. When I’m not craving Italian food, I’m craving Asian food, so I dragged Mark next door to SSAM, a Korean restaurant just down the block from our hotel, with K-Pop posters and designs plastered all over the walls. We were positively famished and the menu looked great, yet for once, we actually under-ordered (anything is possible). Five small pieces of their Korean fried chicken bites to share was more than just a tease, it was unfair (For the record, Mark let Isabel have the fifth). Mark went with the bibimbap, and I enjoyed a Jiggae, a Korean stew. Naturally, because we were all to aware that our long and glorious trip was coming to an end, we indulged in some deserved ice cream to settle our stomachs.
After dinner, Isabel felt like relaxing in the room to decompress from the day’s train trip. I needed to walk around a bit and took advantage of the long daylight hours (it doesn’t get dark until after 10pm this time of year). After a quick online search, I found a brewery with a large outdoor patio that hosts free live music on Sunday nights. I figured I could walk there for some tunes, then check out Nyhavn, and head home just as it was getting dark. On my walk to the first destination, I came upon a bridge over a small river that I needed to cross. I noticed a lot of people hanging around the edge of the bridge, drinking; it looked like a party was going on. As I got closer, I heard music. I found myself sticking around long enough to get engulfed by the Danish locals drinking and rocking out with this impromptu jam band session on a small pier in the water.
Since I now had my music fix, I decided to nix the beerhall music stage (as it was considerably out of my way), and instead headed straight for Nyhavn. You definitely know of Nyhavn, even though the name might not ring a bell. A small harbor with multi-colored townhouses sitting next to each other, this is often the image depicted of København itself, or even Denmark as a whole (but more on this later).
I found it to be absolutely beautiful. It’s incredible that after nearly six months of travel, I can still come across a sight that takes my breath away and makes me feel alive. Everyone was out, the place was absolutely packed. Restaurants with outdoor seating had every table full, and people lined the streets overlooking the harbor with bottles in hand. A large group had staked their spot by lining a large square with empty wine, beer and liquor bottles (that obviously weren’t empty when they first arrived). There was even a band on a stage, though not nearly as good as the previous. Must be those summer Sunday nights, I thought. Having walked up and down on both sides of the canal, I felt I had gotten the gist of it and started to walk back home.
At the last second, it dawned on me that maybe there was something special going on tonight that had this place so crowded. A quick Google search (thanks, modern technology!) filled me in that tonight was Sankt Hans night. With Denmark lacking a true national holiday, Sankt Hans fits the bill. Marking the summer solstice, or Midsummer to locals (not to be confused with the recent Swedish horror film), Saint Johns Eve is a celebration of the shortest night/longest day of the year. The highlight of the evening’s festivities is the burning of a straw witch.
A straw witch was constructed on a floating plank of wood and pushed out in the middle of the canal. A couple of guys took a boat out to douse her in gasoline. Then came the fire:
For breakfast the next morning we headed to a Mikkeller establishment, Hyggestund. Mikkeller is a popular Danish brewery that has bars and restaurants all over the world. Hyggestund specializes in waffle breakfasts, specifically a fried chicken waffle dish. Neither of us ordered it because it comes smothered in cheese sauce and we weren’t ready for that nonsense. The name of the restaurant comes from Hygge (pronounced hue-guh), a Danish word meaning cozy, content and relaxed. This is one local custom we could definitely get behind!
The next order of business was to work off our giant breakfast by exploring Copenhagen on foot. Our self-guided tour started by walking toward the shopping district and checking out Tivoli Gardens along the way. Opening day was all the way back in 1843 which make it the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world! Mark and I love amusement parks and rollercoasters but #weonabudget so unfortunately we did not get entry tickets. Next time!
Just past Tivoli Gardens is the stunning, totally instagram-worthy neighborhood of Nyhavn. This harbor front dates back to the 17th century and is known for its colorful houses and historic ships that line the canal. It’s a real life picture-puzzle! We walked along the canal, taking the views, people-watching, and enjoying the beautiful weather.
We continued along our walking tour and stumbled upon some Danish beaches. All along the water are large docks filled with sunbathers of all ages (despite the glaring lack of sand). Past the docks are more gardens, sculptures and adorable paths meandering along the water. We walked slowly, probably engaged in some heated discussion over Marvel or the merits of ketchup versus mustard (answer: BOTH), and spotted a crowd at the end of a path. We noticed a lot of bus tours throughout the city so maybe it was a parking lot crowd? Maybe it was a meeting point? As we got closer though, we realized what everyone was looking at: The Little Mermaid.
The statue was a gift to the city by Carl Jacobsen, the Danish brewer most famous for Carlsberg beer. Based on the popular children’s tale by Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Mermaid is a Copenhagen icon. Why? Who knows…why is a statue of a boy peeing the icon of Brussels? But still, the tourists flock. Despite sitting upon a rock a little off the shore, this deterrent doesn’t stop people from climbing on the statue (nor did the “please don’t touch” sign). You would have to stand with a tripod and camera, take 100 rapid photos to get just one with no person or part of a person in the photo. It is a pretty statue, if you care to wait in the queue.
The weather was perfect so we continued our walking tour along the water. We looped back to Nyhavn and admired the view once again, it really doesn’t get old (for those keeping track at home, this was Mark’s third time in less than a day)! The buildings along Nyhavn possess this fantastical look, what you see on postcards or puzzles – you keep forgetting that it’s real and you’re standing right in front of it!
Still high off the beauty, we decided to stop by another place to potentially get legitimately high (just kidding!) – Freetown Christiana. It’s an intentional community and commune with little shops and murals around. For future visitors, keep your phone and camera hidden as a portion of the community is off-limits to photography. The use and sale of cannibis and hashish are tolerated but not legal, and the policy between vendors and tourists is centered around “I didn’t see nothin’, I don’t know nothin’.”
I was really excited to check it out, but it was a bit grungier than I had envisioned, kind of like when I first went out to San Francisco and descended upon Haight-Ashbury for the first time. Guess the natural evolution of fifty years on from the hippie dream is dirty vagrants. Ah well.
If hippietown isn’t really your thing, just nearby is Church of Our Savior, known for it’s famous helix spire. The spire rises to about 90 meters and gives the brave climber a stunning view of Copenhagen. We didn’t climb the spire because #toomanystairs and #mylegsareweak but Zoe and Zach did it and they loved it!
After a much needed nap, we headed out to dinner to a place recommended by our friend Jeff – WarPigs! It’s a brewpub established by Mikkeller and 3 Floyds that features delicious American-Danish style craft beer (22 taps!) and some Texas BBQ. The employees all look like they are in the metal bands and the decor hovers around an all-black, darkness, biker-gang aesthetic. I loved it! In typical BBQ fashion, we sat outside at large picnic tables, sharing the sauce tray with strangers. Copenhagen is stunning in the evening, and we grinned ear to ear as we stuffed out faces with ribs and watched the sunset.
Our stomachs full, our smiles wide, we headed back to our hotel for the night. What more could Copenhagen offer us? What’s a new city without watching a changing of the guard?
Copenhagen’s guard change, in all honesty, is a tad longwinded. Personally, I like a bit of show – drums, loud marches, maybe a canon. Here, the soldiers march out to a large square and slowly made the rounds replacing each soldier in each corner. One by one. But not after doing the rounds in the four houses that mark each corner, totally out of sight of the adoring public. It was a little tedious, but still glad we saw it because, in case you’ve been sleeping through reading this post, Copenhagen is beautiful!
We felt we needed a little bit of a spark after a slight snooze fest, so once we left the square, Mark turned to me and said, “wanna go see the trampolines?”
‘Scuse me, what now? Trampolines? I thought we said no to Tivoli…
No, not Tivoli. Turns out, there are trampolines in the middle of the city!
When we were in London and had dinner with my English relatives, my cousin Laura was telling me she had just been to Copenhagen recently, and passed along a laundry list of ideas, recos and things to do. On the list was trampolines, just around the corner from Nyhavn. When we were here yesterday, we went off in a different direction. I had passed by it on my solo walk that first night, but didn’t dare have fun without Isabel. So we walked through Nyhavn yet again, and there they were: four trampolines built into the sidewalk. They could easily be confused for underground grates if you weren’t looking for them. If you’re reading this then there’s a 99% chance you’re an adult. So let me tell you: nothing will immediately slap a smile across your face and make you laugh uncontrollably like jumping on a trampoline for the first time in years.
Free activities are the best activities, especially when you visit an expensive city like Copenhagen. Most cities have free museum days (I’m lookin’ at you Madrid) and sweet, sweet Mark knows I love free museums so off we went! The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek was built around the personal collection of Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of the Carlsberg Breweries. The curation is splendid with sculptures and paintings spanning Danish history, but my favorite pieces were the mummies and Degas’ Little Dancer sculpture.
I often forget that mummies are real, so it was pretty cool to be able to see some here. The exhibit was accessible via a long set of stairs that slowly took us down towards basement level (because where else would you keep your mummies if not deep, deep underground). Similar to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the further we ventured down to the exhibit, the colder it got and the more dim the lights became. I was spooked for sure, they definitely succeeded in setting the tone.
Even though my dreams of getting caught up in an adventure with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz didn’t come true, I was still happy because we got to see some stunning Degas pieces.
I’m not a dance fan and I’ve never seen a live ballet, but I find myself moved by the dancer series by Degas. One of his most famous pieces, Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, was highlighted in a room full of his collection of bronzes. The movements of the dancers are beautifully captured in smaller bronze figures, a true study in figure drawing. I love the expression on Little Dancer, he captures a great snarkiness in a young woman.
Our last meal in Copenhagen was also near our hotel (naturally, we stayed in a trendy up-and-coming neighborhood). If a review has the words “excellent” and “dumplings” in the same sentence, I’m there. Noodle House Vesterbro is a tiny restaurant that routinely runs out of dumplings because they are that delicious. We tried some dan dan noodles (my fav), some dumplings, and some mapo tofu – all were very delicious!
Copenhagen was beautiful and a wonderful peek into Danish life. It’s cool to see the city on a postcard, but it’s a whole nother realm to see it in real life. We’ve said it before, but it truly felt like we were constantly walking around in a real life puzzle. It is incredibly expensive though, the lone yet major downside. Everything is expensive – food, lodging, admission prices, etc. Regardless, Copenhagen and the rest of Denmark are high on our list for a revisit!