Sunday, 30 July 2017

Cramming it into Copenhagen

What did I say in my last post? That three days was the optimum time to visit a city? Obviously, I hadn't been to Copenhagen yet. After two days, I'm already wondering how we can possibly fit everything we want to do in and we're here for a little more than three days. Still, we've managed quite a bit already.

How? No 1: get an early flight. This has the disadvantage that you have to get up correspondingly early, but means you have a full day at your destination and if you're really exhausted from the early start (like I was), you'll suddenly find you can even sleep on a plane.

No 2: Pick up a Copenhagen Card before you leave the airport. You can pre-order online, so it's waiting for you, which means you don't have to pay anything additional to ride the 12-minute train journey to the center of the city because that's included. You might think, 'What? 659 DKK (€88) for three days? That's crazy money', but believe me, you'll make enough use of it. Besides the train, it makes all bus – including waterbuses – the metro, 79 museums and attractions (including Tivoli Gardens) free to enter and you get discounts on plenty of other things. It turns that, 'Should we or shouldn't we?' when you're passing somewhere into a 'Let's go in!' You can, of course, buy it for 24 hours and 48 hours too.

Tip No 3: Eat dinner at Mielcke & Hurtigkarl. Yes, it's expensive (from 800 DKK [about €110]) for the daily Experience menu, plus drinks, but again, you won't regret it. It's one of those meals that aren't just about the food – though that's pretty amazing, with all sorts of interesting flavour pairings (birch ice cream and celeriac chips, just for instance), plus it's in the most beautiful setting, in a city park that's really more of a garden. The building is the old Royal Horticultural Society's orangery and there are interesting arty touches, like tiny little lights strung up on the ceiling that become brighter as night falls outside.

What to do with the rest of your time? Take the canal boat cruise (included in your Copenhagen Card) for an overview of the city and, also, a way of catching some sun. If you're into food (and who isn't?) get yourselves to Papir√łen (Paper Island), which is a temporary thing – the food stalls only have leases until the end of 2017. After that...? – for a hall full of just about any nationality's signature dishes: Thai, Mexican, Turkish, Moroccan, plus pulled pork, bbq-ed chicken, wraps. And, also, the Meat Packing District, where there are lots of year-round restaurants and a food-truck-market thing every Saturday and Sunday.

You also need to at least walk through Tivoli Gardens (remember that Copenhagen Card) and it's easy to do because it's bang central. I know, it's 'only an old theme park', as someone described it before we left, but it has a certain charm for being old and if you're a ride person (I'm not, but don't let that stop you) there are plenty (you pay for these separately to the entrance fee, which was free with your Copenhagen Card. Have I mentioned the Copenhagen Card...?)

Another place to take a look at is Christiania. We were going to take a walking tour of this self-proclaimed 'Freetown', but didn't make the meet-up time, so we just wandered in, which the public is welcome to do, so long as you follow the rules (no photographs without permission, no running – it causes panic – and a reminder that buying or selling hash is illegal). Christiania is a town within a town, an area of mostly old army barracks that was squatted by hippy types back in 1971, that made up its own rules - or non-rules, depending on how you look at it. There were a lot of riots and clashes with the Danish police for 40 whole years, mostly over things like marijuana and hash being 'legal' within Christiania. Finally, in 2011, a peace agreement, if you like, was drawn up and now there's a Foundation which runs Christiania and things have settled down.


It's interesting - for instance, no one owns their home here, they are given them for free to live in - and there is a lot of street art and you'll see hash stalls on Pusher Street, but...? It has an edgy feel. When we were there, on a sunny afternoon, there were very few women. I don't know why this was, but there were definitely plenty of men. It's also fairly comprehensively dirty – I guess the local services don't come in to clean – and it has the look of what I imagine a city would look like if everyone just left and nature started to take over again. Shaggy bushes and trees, pavement slabs coming up, very large dogs roaming around. We went in a couple of the shops, just to have a look. One, which sold hardware and postcards and was staffed by an older woman, was fine, but the other two – a food store and an art gallery – smelled like a teenage boy's bedroom.

I like the idea of people being free to do as they like, without a controlling governmental hand – it appeals to the hippy in me – but I didn't feel entirely relaxed there.

Here's another thing to do with your time: leave. Yes, really. So, Tip No 4 is: go to Malmo, over the bridge in Sweden. It's ridiculously easy to do. Buy your bus ticket in Central Station, walk out the main entrance, turn left and wait at the 999 bus stop. Do not be alarmed at the large crowds of people who wait here: lots of buses stop here, not just the 999.

While we were waiting, I had an interesting experience. A perfectly reasonable-looking young chap came over and asked if he could borrow my phone so he could make a call to Sweden. I said yes and handed it over, he made his call - which lasted maybe a couple of minutes - and then he handed it back. We then had a chat, during which he said he had been living through a tough time, mostly in the train station and that's when I realised once again that, when you're outside your culture, you don't necessarily pick up the clues about people. I hadn't guessed that he was homeless. His comment at some point about living as a Buddhist had answered my unspoken question about why he didn't have his own phone. Anyway, the 999 came and we said good-bye and that was that. Nothing unpleasant happened, but it was just... odd.

Malmo is lovely and the trip over really enjoyable. Lots of views of the amazing Oresund Bridge (a winner even if you've never watched The Bridge. However, if you haven't seen this Nordic noir TV series, you've got a treat ahead of you) and it only takes about half an hour. Then, hey presto, you're in another country where fika rules.

Fika is something sweet, like a pastry, and – traditionally – coffee, though no one thought it odd when I asked for tea instead.

So, of course, you must stop for fika somewhere and you must take the little canal cruise here as well, and then you'll want to wander down the main shopping street and probably buy something. I know Denmark is meant to be the home of good design, but I loved the Swedish clothes and homewares even more.

By now it will be time to catch the last bus back, which leaves at 4-something in the afternoon.

You'll do plenty of walking in Copenhagen, as one does in any city, but with your (wait for it!) Copenhagen Card, you can always jump on a passing bus – or, the one thing we didn't find time to do – hire a bicycle, which seems to be how at least half the city's population gets around.

Where to stay? That's Tip No 5: the Andersen Hotel. It's about a five-minute walk from Central Station, where the train to and from the airport comes to. It's reasonably priced, breakfast is included, and it's very convenient to most things. We were told it's in the red-light district, but a few sex shops and a few sex workers weren't threatening in any way and it was all very relaxed, so don't let that put you off. It also has nice touches, like 'Wine Hour', where you can sit in the lounge and drink wine for free between 5-6pm; the reception desk operates on karma - that is, they're nice to you, you're then happy, which makes them happy... No wonder the Danes are the happiest people in Europe! Such a nice ethos.

Our final sightseeing visit was the Carlsberg brewery. Once again, free entry with that card, and after you've had a good look around, you get a free drink (either one of their beers or a soft drink), plus a free gift. What would this be, we wondered? Ah, a little lapel pin...









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