Friday, July 8, 2016

Copenhagen


My stay in Copenhagen was part of my Baltic Adventure. I booked my flight three days prior to sailing the Baltic, but did not book my hotel at the same time. When it was time to book my hotel, I was surprised at the hotel rates going for $450.00 - $700.00 per night. Unfortunately, I could not use my Starwood Hotel points because the company has 0 (zero) property in Copenhagen. My other option was to stay at a hostel and share a room with four strangers or stay outside the city. I opted for the later.

On my first day in Copenhagen, I thought I would take it easy and spend the day just visiting one site. I made plans on going to the Kronborg Castle, the home of Shakespeare Hamlet. When I asked for direction from the hotel reception desk, the clerk looked at his google map app and printed a copy of the direction complete with the number of train stops and estimated time to my destination. The trip would have taken 1 hour by train to Helsingør. But after three metro stops, I changed my mind and got off at the central station. I thought I would find Nyhavn, the iconic view of Copenhagen seen in travel magazines, there. However, when I emerged from the central train station, I immediately saw the entrance to Tivoli Gardens, another famous tourist attraction in Copenhagen. Right beside it was Andersen Bakery, a familiar bakery chain in the US, so I went inside the restaurant just to check out the original store. I ended up having my first "smorrebrod" in Copenhagen at Andersen's.

After lunch, I went next door and paid 110 DKK or $17 USD admission to the Tivoli Gardens. I was curious to see the amusement park, dubbed as the second oldest amusement park in the world. I immediately went in line to ride the roller coaster without realizing that I needed to pay extra for the ride. I gave up on the ride idea. I walked around and took photos of the rides and the gardens instead. The rides were updated and modern - nothing that you could not find in other amusement parks. However, I could not pass up on the ride that's an homage to Hans Christian Andersen, one of the greatest children's book writers. So I paid extra to ride the “Den Flyvende Kuffert” (the Flying Trunk) which took us through 32 fairytale scenes and the characters from 'The Little Mermaid", "The Princess and the Pea", "Thumbelina", "The Tinderbox", "The Snow Queen" to name a few. Then I spent the rest of the day enjoying the beautiful gardens and trying Scandinavian food at one of the many restaurants inside the park. I stayed to watch the outdoor show and the colorfully lighted park at night.

The following day, I decided to go to the Rosenborg Castle - a 400 year old castle built by Christian IV in the early 1600 and transformed in the 1700s into a lavish repository of the Royal’s finest collections – crown jewels, tapestry, venetian glass collection. The castle has many gilded rooms like Princess Sophie’s Lacquered chamber, Christina’s chamber, Regalia room, the Bronze room. Since I'm not a big fan of the Royal lavish trinkets, I finished the tour inside the castle in no time (Glad I did not get the 2-castles-for-1 admission price that included the Ameliaborg for 145DKK). But I lingered outside and enjoyed the castle ground that included the park and the King's garden. I got some decent  photos of the castle, the park and the formal gardens. I continued strolling through the park and found more gardens at the edge of the park. From there, I saw the dome of Frederik’s Cathedral. I thought it would be a short walk away, so I continued walking along the gardens until the end of the park and on to city streets. I passed thick-walled buildings like an industrial area and old buildings converted into housing units.  My walk ended at the backside of the Frederik’s Cathedral, it was under construction. I could not find immediate access to the Cathedral main entrance. I left the area disappointed.

I resumed my walk and planned to find Nyhavn when I passed a sparse-looking cafe and decided to stop for coffee and to ask if there was a metro station nearby. One of the customers was sporting a hat with a "Giants" (the San Francisco Baseball team) logo so I started to strike up a conversation and found out he was local. The other customer was an expat from Boston. As I ordered my coffee, I noticed the 'organic' label on the bread and pastries. The owners joined in the conversation and told me that they have only been in business for a month in that industrial part of town. I gathered from our conversation the fundamental shift in Copenhagen's restaurant boom. While they offer traditional food like smorrebrod, they only use organic ingredients because the customers demand fresh and local produce. They talked about the influence of Noma, hailed as the best restaurant in the world.

I walked from the industrial part of town all the way to the town center where I found heavy construction equipment and cranes, and the city center landmark (fountain) boarded up. There was, however, a crowd and an open market on one side. I continued walking towards the open market to check out the colorful fruits and vegetables, cheeses and sausages, etc. To my pleasant surprise, the market ended at Nyhavn, exactly the place I was looking for.  It was packed with tourists and characters that came with such tourist attraction.

I quickly bought a ticket (80 DKK or $12.00) to ride the tour boat through the canals. The boat ride started at the historic Nyhavn with colorful vintage townhouses along the harbor, then on to the open sea where I saw new buildings that shimmered along the bank of the waterfront. Our guide started naming the buildings: the Royal Danish Playhouse, the modern Royal Library also called the Black Diamond for its black granite walls, and the Opera House. After the open sea, the boat went back to navigate through the smaller canals and crossed smaller bridges, while the guide continued to describe what we were seeing like the residences of famous Danish writers and artists, Christianhavn area and historical buildings like the old Stock Exchange. I found the boat ride a great way to explore the city.

Thinking that I had another day in Copenhagen before sailing the Baltic, I thought I would take it easy. After the boat ride, I went to a Department Store cafe to have coffee but I found myself relaxing and using the wifi for a couple of hours. I started to head back to my hotel around the same time as the city was leaving work. However, the parade of cyclist in the rush-hour traffic fascinated me. It seemed that everybody was leaving the office to hop on a bicycle. I wanted to take pictures of the scene that I never witnessed in my home city, but it felt as if I had no right to do so. I took photos of the historical buildings instead. I continued to walk along the cyclist path until I found myself in the Christianhavn area by the Church of Saint Savior, the church with a golden spiral spire that I saw from the boat ride earlier.

I decided to explore the church. It was closed, but the entrance to climb the bell-tower/spire was open. So I paid the admission fee of 45DKK or  $7 USD to climb the bell-tower. I wanted to make sure I had the energy to climb after walking for miles, so I asked the clerk for informational guide about the tower, how many meters or steps to reach the top, but they did not have any information and told me it should be on the their website. I started climbing the very narrow steps inside and saw the 'campanile' and the equipment use for cranking it up.  It was kind of eerie.  I climbed farther up and realized I was near the top when I heard some pitter patter and saw a tiny door that led to an open-air viewing area. I found informational postings about the views I was seeing. I went around the viewing platform to see a 360-degree view of the city then started firing my camera. I continued to climb the stairs that tapered to an open spiral staircase until I reached the very top, the cold air blowing my hair. Copenhagen is quite a small city (not just from seeing the whole city from my vantage point), but I was able to do and see most of the tourist sites on my second day in the city.

The climb and the cold air blowing my hair, gave me renewed energy that I decided to stay and have dinner in Christianhavn before returning to my hotel. The place was vibrant with young crowds hanging out, drinking beer and eating pizza by the canal banks. Having eaten a few smorrebrod (open-face sandwiches) earlier that day, I wanted to have a nice sit down dinner, but the restaurant that looked appealing had a long wait and I noticed that the outside tables from the other restaurants were all taken. I ended up having dinner at a sushi place called “Letz Sushi”. I thought, “why not…after all Copenhagen is surrounded by water, there must be plenty of fresh fish here.” I ordered sushi roll and salmon teriyaki. The salmon teriyaki dish had a texture of a risotto. The Japanese food was a big disappointment. I thought back to my conversation with the restaurant owner earlier.

 I headed down to the metro to return to my hotel.  I missed the transfer point so I decided to continue on to the airport, the end of the line, as I knw what train to take from there. During the long train ride, I was surprised that I wasn’t tired from all the day’s activities and from covering almost all the tourist sites. The scenes I saw in the last two days kept replaying in my mind. I have crossed oceans enough times and visited many places that were on many people’s bucket list. There’s nothing in Copenhagen that would make you say, “OMG”, yet there’s something special about the city that drew me to it. Perhaps the ride to “The Flying Trunk” the other day jogged some pleasant childhood memories or perhaps it was the relaxing effect of the boat ride from the canal to the open sea. Perhaps it was the refreshing site of seeing young couples strolling with baby carriages that you would see only in the Mary Poppins movie or walking along idyllic gardens or family biking together or commuters in bicycles who seemed to be in no hurry to get home after work. It does not have the hurried life of New York City nor the sophisticated elegance of Paris. Then it occurred to me that Copenhagen has plenty of traditional trappings – thick-walled buildings, the century old townhouses of Nyhavn and the old boats in the canal – a Northern European city that I saw in movies. At the same time, it’s very much a modern city, with innovative restaurants and buildings like the Black Diamond and the Opera House. Then I realized that it’'s also the people of the city like the guy at the reception desk and the restaurants owners I talked to earlier and their willingness to embrace the future that made Copenhagen a vibrant city.

I arrived at the hotel late in the evening. I went straight to my room thinking that I could always rely on the guy at the front desk who willingly goes into google app and print me a copy of the direction complete with the number of metro stops and estimated time for the next day's destination - direction that I may or may not follow for I'm good at getting lost and finding my own way to discovering a place.

PHOTO GALLERY
Tivoli Gardens
Vintage houses line Nyhavn or New Harbor



Part of the King's Garden at Rosenberg Castle
The Opera House

Old and New Buildings along the waterfront


The Church of Saint Savior
The view from the top of the Church of Saint Savior with the imposing dome of Frederik's Cathedral

Another view from the top of Saint Savior Church




NOTE:  All photos by the author
 

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