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A week in Denmark!
Rating: (4.7) (4 Votes)

Copenhagen, Denmark
July 12th, 2004

Pros: Stylish and elegant with cheap flights!.
Cons: Christiania, the infamous "free state"

A long but enjoyable day today.

We flew EasyJet from Bristol, and it was fine. There was less pushing and shoving for seats than we had been led to believe. The flight itself was smooth and arrived ahead of schedule. Not bad for 17 quid!

The Danish design credentials are right in-ya-face as you enter the country, as Copenhagen airport is a triumph of contemporary design: dark wood floors and long clean lines turn the most utilitarian space into the center spread of a glossy, chic design magazine. Everything from home that is ugly, clumsy or barely functional is stylishly elegant in Denmark. A good example would be their airport luggage trolleys, which silently glide through the halls like stainless-steel swan sculptures.

Similarly the train station was well designed with wide platforms, clean natural colours and clear information on the trains. We did, however, have to wait an age behind some dim-witted couple who were trying to complete what appeared to be a fiendishly complex ticketing transaction, involving most of the European train network!

The city (at least the small part we have seen so far) has been very pretty. ( Lots of cyclists, no cycle helmets! Our B&B is charming, as is our host, Anders. He has put together lots of local information for us. Hopefully we will get to spend some time with him later on this week.

We had dinner close to the B&B at Skurks bar - a bit trendy, but quite relaxed.(www.skurks.dk) Chris had the veggie option: a selection of salads, gazpacho soup, braised artichoke and an extremely phallic piece of what we think was white asparagus! I went for the swordfish with risotto & mussels... Yum! Oh, and Chris had a delicious Hot Chocolate, which he is currently sleeping off! Our choices were only slightly hampered by the menu only being printed in Danish, but our waiter obligingly translated everything for us.

Tomorrow? Not yet fully decided. Probably a lazy exploration of the center of town, and a mooch around Tivoli gardens. Whatever happens, the morning will definitely start with Danish Pastries and coffee: Chris has been very excited to find two excellent bakeries within spitting distance of our front door! Oh well, looks like the diet starts next week!

Day 2

Our first full day here in Copenhagen started in a most decadent way: wonderful choc-nut pastries and strong black coffee from emmerys - the bakery round the corner.(www.emmerys.dk)

Afterwards, we walked off a (very) few of the calories by strolling up to Strøget - Europe's longest pedestrianised street. We began our retail therapy in Magasin du Nord (or just Magasin as it seems to be known locally) This is a department store, but it really stands out with its selection of beautifully designed Danish homewears, and a huge Lego section. My nephew will have the benefit of their huge range on his birthday in a few weeks time! We managed a snack of chips and remoulade before hitting the rest of Strøget. We both bought bargains in the Filippa K sale, and enjoyed the bohemian Latin Quarter's book and comic shops.

We ended up at the Town Hall and it´s Square - Rådhuspladsen, very close to Tivoli gardens. We have put off going into Tivoli until tomorrow, when we believe there is a free firework display. Instead we had a beer (large!) in a friendly nearby bar called Oscars.

We then returned to Nørrebro for dinner at Sushi and Sticks - excellent Japanese cuisine.

Tomorrow, we will probably try to visit some of the cities museums, and end the day with the fireworks in the Tivoli gardens.

Day 3

We awoke to sunshine today, but it looks like we'll be going to bed with the rain lashing down outside! Never mind - we had a good day, with plenty of photos taken. When we get to put them up next week, it'll take ages to download the pages, so for now, enjoy the text!

We began with our usual trip to emmerys bakery for breakfast, then took the 5A bus back to Rådhuspladsen, where we ended our explorations yesterday. A short walk away is the Nationalmuseet - one of a handful of Copenhagen's museums that open for free on a Wednesday.

The museum foyer is - like so many of Copenhagen's public spaces - impeccably designed, open, light and airy. The guidebooks say it has been extensively renovated, but judging by the amount of plastic sheeting covering the exhibits, it looks like it's still in progress.

The Nationalmuseet is one of those museums (like the Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) that you could easily spend all day in. For reasons of time, we restricted ourselves to the Danish prehistory section, encompassing everything up to and including the Viking period. Even though we "cherry-picked" we were not disappointed: the collection had some good pieces, including: a selection of lurs - paired over-the-shoulder horns blown to attract the sun-god; coins, brooches and swords; golden horns; a statue of a horse pulling the sun across the sky and some suitably horny helmets! Ancient Vikings had the sense to make sacrifices to their gods by chucking their precious goods into the local bogs, where the anaerobic, acidic conditions were a perfect preservative for pretty much everything including wooden coffins, skeletons and clothing, as well as the usual metal relics. Consequently, all these 3000 year old artifacts are in remarkably good nick!

We had lunch in the museum cafe: a segment cut from a huge chunky sandwich - not cheap at 4 quid, but good quality and very filling. We also liked their coconut covered truffle ball cakes! You just don't have to be put off your food by the over-looking totem poles, brandishing their large and intricately carved genitalia!

We returned to the tourist office just opposite the main entrance to Tivoli gardens to purchase Copenhagen Cards: free travel on the excellent, efficient buses and trains and free or discounted entrance to many attractions is now ours for 72 hours! The first thing we used them for was a foray into the Town Hall for a look at Jens Olsen's Astronomical Clock. The clock has three sections, with various clocks and calendars in the first two, and astronomical instruments including a star map and an astrolabe in the third. The clock itself has elegant stainless steel dials, and beautiful polished brass workings, all visible through the glass case.

Next we took the bus to Christianhavn to visit Vor Frelsers Kirke (Church of Our Saviour), with it's amazing black and gold spiral spire. We opted not to climb the 400 stairs (the highest 150 of which are on the outside of the structure!) due to fear of heights and already-aching limbs, but instead went inside. The church has some amazing features, not least the altar, dripping with statuary, and the huge carved wood organ loft, seemingly supported by two elephants (they come from the Danish royal family crest, although so far I'm not entirely sure why!). The church itself had an amazing sense of space and light, and seemed a bit TARDIS-like in that it seemed much bigger on he inside than the outside.

We walked further down the road into Christiania, the infamous "free state" which extols alternative virtues, and is a haven for pot-heads and dealers alike. The contrast to the rest of Denmark is striking. The roads are unmade-up, no window is unsmashed, every surface is graffitied, and derelict vehicles litter the unkempt verges. I'm afraid Christiania did nothing to change our existing view that this wasn't some radical counter-culture, it was incapable of culture at all. This community wasn't revolutionary - drugs render it utterly incapable of revolutionary thought, indeed of anything useful or productive or creative, just dope smokers with empty eyes and worthless, meandering dronings fixated on one thing: the further availability of their drug of choice. It's neither big nor clever.

Day 4

Thankful to be leaving, we made for Nyhaven, which made for a stark contrast. Where Christiania is chaotic and purposelessly lost in it's haze of pot smoke, Nyhaven - with it's pretty harbour and painted buildings - has the single minded function of removing as much cash as possible from the many, many tourists who flock to it's bars and restaurants.

We undertook a fantastic tour of Copenhagen's canals from here. Not cheap, but our Copenhagen Card got us a bit of a discount. We cruised past the new Opera building (opening 2005), the Little Mermaid (operative word: Little), back into Christianhavn and back. Spoilt only by the drizzle, it was an excellent tour and gave us a real feel of the city's waterfront. Dinner at a little Italian restaurant (virtually the only one with a vegetarian option on the menu!) was warm and pleasant and not too hideously expensive. The rain postponed our evening trip to Tivoli, and the tourist bureau told us that there are no longer fireworks on a Wednesday evening. So we headed home, via a really nice little coffee shop for a hot chocolate.

A full day, I'm sure you'll agree. Tomorrow we head out of town to Roskilde to see Viking longships... can't wait!

Day 5

About 20 minutes by train from Nørreport station is the town of Roskilde. The first capital city of Denmark, it boasts a wealth of history, far surpassing its first appearance as a small sleepy market town.

The main reason for our visit was the Vikingeskibs Museet (Viking Ship Museum). Housed in a listed late-60's concrete brutalist building are the well-preserved remains of five Viking ships scuttled at the entrance to the shallow Roskilde fjord around 1060 AD. These were carefully lifted off the sea-bed in 1962, after which the timbers underwent a long series of treatment and conservation processes. Five different types of Viking vessel are represented from the massive 30 foot longship - capable of transporting a force of 80 Viking warriors across the sea to the UK, the rest of Europe and beyond, to trading ships and fishing boats. The excellent guided tour was conducted in English by an enthusiastic student from Copenhagen University. All aspects of the boat-building process are documented in the galleries, from selecting the correct timber, the tools that were used in construction and the sails and rigging. There is also a temporary exhibition detailing the Vikings relationship with Ireland.

Across a small bridge is the Museum island, where a collection of replica boats is on display. The team there are currently building a replica of the 30 metre longship, due to be launched in September 2004, and they are planning to sail it to Dublin in a couple of years time. For an additional charge you can join a group for a sail out into the fjord, and so far this has been the highlight of our trip. Skippered by a kiwi called Dylan, who instructed us in Danish and English, we rowed our Viking vessel out into the fjord and then raised the large linen square sail. Even in a slight breeze, we got up to about 8 knots. It was an amazing experience: you could really feel how a Viking ship could function, and we would thoroughly recommend the whole experience to any visitor to Denmark.

We were so enthralled by the Viking ships, we left little time to explore the rest of the town. The Domkirke (Cathedral) is worth a visit: it is the burial place of Danish kings and queens since approximately Viking times. Unlike in the UK, the Danish monarchy seem to go in for big flashy coffins (black velvet seems to be a particular favourite!) and marble mausoleums.The cathedral itself looks huge outside, but the main nave is surprisingly narrow. The external appearance is due to the addition of numerous chapels to house the bodies of the royals.

This evening we will be heading to Tivoli to see what all the fuss is about!
Last night we went to Tivoli Gardens - one of Copenhagen's best known attractions. We decided to go at night, as our guide book said that it was at it's most enchanting when lit up with hundreds of thousands of bulbs.

I had been expecting a traditional park with a funfair, but the whole area is packed with shops, sideshows, stages and rides. There isn't that much in the way of a parkland, although there are some large lakes.

Neither of us are really into funfair rides, so most of what was there wasn't much to our taste, but we enjoyed walking around in the soft glow of the lights, just people-watching. What we did enjoy very much was The Tivoli Illuminations, which took place over the Tivoli lake, just before the park closed. Smoke poured out over the water from the bank and under the bridge we stood on. Lights, lasers, flames and fountains played out across the lake in time to a modern, slightly Bjork-like soundtrack. A really magical experience, that seemed to pass much too quickly. Not sure what the ducks and huge carp who inhabit the lake made of it all, though!

Day 6

Another really hot, sunny day allowed us great opportunity to complete our sightseeing. Today we ventured south-west of the city centre.

The Tycho Brahe planetarium is housed in a modern, cylindrical brick building. The observatory includes a helioscope (telescope for looking at the sun) as well as a number of computerized displays (none of which carry English information, sadly). They also have some excellent models (the black hole model is particularly mesmerising!) A guided tour was only available in Danish. I like visiting planetariums (planitaria?!), but I felt that the Tycho Brahe had some more unusual exhibits, and I could have learned a lot had there been more English information available.

We took the metro S-train out to Enghave. The train is wonderful: efficient, clean and light, with fantastic information boards updating in real time. Why aren't all metropolitan transport systems this good?

The reason for our trip was to visit the Carlsberg brewery in Frederiksberg. The visitors centre is very interesting, documenting the history of brewing techniques from the 1800's (when the brewery was first opened) to the present day. A little like the quakers who were industrially active in the UK around the same time, Christen Jacobsen the founder of Carlsberg, had a strong social conscience, and the way he provided social support and healthcare for his work force, and his philanthropism is also documented. The museum is a little static, but well captioned in English and Danish. It's a bit sad that most visitors rushed blindly through the exhibits in order to claim their two free beers at the end of the tour! We paced ourselves, and looked at everything before we got to the bar! We can recommend the Carlsberg wheat beer, which I haven't seen in the UK.

Whilst in this area, we visited one of the most unusual art galleries I have ever been to. Cisternerne - the museum of modern glass art has opened in the old water cisterns of Fredericksberg palace, underneath Søndermarken park. A museum of stained glass without any natural light might not seem the most obvious choice, but the museum has collaborated with theatrical lighting designers to create a weird and otherworldly experience. The museum is dank and slightly damp underfoot, with stalagtites dripping from the ceiling. It was noticeably colder inside (especially on a warm July day), and the conversations of other visitors echoed around the vaulted chambers like a Stockhausen symphony. In the first gallery, modern stained and painted glass mingled with statues and masonry dating back to 1700. The second, larger room had coloured glass by many different artists. A unique experience, for sure!

We finished our day with some popular culture: Spiderman 2 at the Imperial Norsk cinema. The film itself was disappointing, but the cinema was amazing: deep comfy reclining seats and a very impressive sound system. Not cheap, though!