10 Reasons to Return to Copenhagen

There is just too much to do in Copenhagen and I only had 2 full days. I loved every minute so it is a matter of when, not if, I return to Copenhagen.

Here are the 10 activities I look forward to (and with my grandkids someday):

  1. I really hoped that I could have rented a bike and searched for the Giants in a scavenger hunt. Next time.
  2. The Resistance Museum was closed due to fire damage in 2013 and will reopen at the end of 2018. Next time, or the time after that.
  3. I drooled over the royal horses training in the arena and in the future I will visit the Royal Stables.  IMG_1132
  4. Denmark has made such a big impression for a small country of 5.5 million people on the world of design. In the future I will check out the Design Museum Denmark.
  5. I only lightly sampled the world of desserts and pastries. In the future I will try the Bertel‘s cheesecake.
  6. When my grandson Calvin is old enough, we will go to Tivoli Gardens amusement park for the day. IMG_1295
  7. Several people suggested taking the boat tour through the canals and rivers of Copenhagen. I opted for the bike tour. Next time.
  8. I’m fascinated by the history of Denmark. In the future I will visit the Museum of National History Denmark.
  9. The oldest sweet shop in Copenhagen awaits. Must taste La Glace.
  10. Finally, and it is a two-day trip, I will take my grandson (and any other grandkids) with my new LEGO VIP card to Billund to the Danish LEGOland!

P.S. What I won’t be doing is using these two guide books to plan my future visits. They were both very disappointing and the maps particularly frustrating. TripAdvisor provided my most useful information.

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To be fair, I first read about the Louisiana MOMA in the Analogue Guide.

Father Denmark Defines Danishness

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One of the early stops on Bike Mike’s tour of Copenhagen was at the statue of NFS Grundtvig, often called Father Denmark. Mike took the opportunity to share with us a little history and how Denmark developed the socialist democracy and earned their title of world’s happiest people.

Grundtvig wrote histories reintroducing the Norse gods to the Danes. He also studied English society and appreciated the contrasting freedom of thought and pragmatism. He was also a Lutheran pastor who spoke out for separation of church and state. All of this combined to the philosophy Grundtvigianism. He also participated in writing the new constitution and articulated the sense of community that is now a hallmark of the Danish life.

Mike said, “We don’t mind paying high taxes because we get free education, elder care, health care and day care.” He laughed and pointed out that since women ruled Denmark there have been no wars, they work less and earn more, and they enjoy the smallest gap between the poorest and the wealthiest citizens.

Denmark is not perfect, but one of the things I love about travel is learning about other cultures and seeing how things can be.

If you want to read more about Grundtvig you can in Knud JV Jespersen A History of Denmark. (in English)

 

 

Experiencing Hygge in Copenhagen

I heard about hygge (hoo-ga) before I went to Denmark. Every year Denmark and Norway compete for “happiest people on Earth” and a big part of that is attributed to this value for hygge. I was looking for a book on Denmark’s history when I discovered Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge (in English of course). I bought it because I loved the design and thought my daughter would like it.

IMG_1833Wiking is the head of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen where he studies living well. I learned quite a few things about hygge from his book. First, unscented candles are critical to creating hygge, best translated in English as “cozy togetherness” Most Danes use lots of candles, lots of sweets and lots of ham and bacon, washed down with coffee or hot chocolate. The ideal number of people to enjoy this cozy time is 3-4 so it is perfect for introverts. The dress code is comfy/casual and often everyone watches “box sets” (think binge watching on Netflix) or plays board games.

I did find it interesting that the book compares the idea of Danish “hygge” with similar words/ideas in Norway, Netherlands, Finland and even Canada, but ignores Sweden. And yet the one place I experienced hygge was at my University chum Susie’s home in Malmo, Sweden. Whereas my hotel, The Absalon, and restaurants were all about Danish modern design. They were stylish but more formal and un-hygge.

My friend Susie explained the competition between Sweden and Denmark. The Danish are smug about their superiority to Sweden. Swedes don’t seem to spend much time thinking about Denmark. It reminds me of the competition between NorCal and SoCal, with NorCal the Danes with a little bit of a chip and SoCal as Sweden too absorbed with its own business to give the other much thought. Susie and her family explained that they enjoy Friday evening television watching with the family, Saturday family time when children get 10 pieces of candy, and Sunday cozy time with family. It’s a lot of togetherness with family.

Work/life balance is very important to all Scandinavians and remember that when you are headed somewhere in a car. People with children knock off work at 4 and others at 5, so rush hour starts early!

I definitely came home thinking I’d like to incorporate more hygge in my life. And you can too. I was in Avid Reader bookstore in Davis, CA and lo and behold, there was a copy just like mine. So I didn’t have to lug it all over Denmark and England and you don’t have to go to Copenhagen to get the book.

Stunning Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen

IMG_1223 (1)It did seem odd that the name of the most visited art museum in Denmark is called the Louisiana MOMA. It is actually named for the villa that looks like a Louisiana plantation house and it was named after Alexander Brun’s three wives who were all named Louise. It has been transformed over the years into an exquisite sculpture garden and gallery all hugging the shores of Oresund Sound in Humlebaek.

IMG_1215 (1)The train takes you to within a 10 minute walk of the Museum. The museum has a permanent collection both indoor and out, plus 2 special exhibits. When I visited I was able to view the retrospective for Danish artist Tal R and a fascinating exhibit of South African artist William Kentridge. I was disappointed because the Marina Abramovic exhibit was due to open the following Saturday, but then I’d have missed Kentridge. (I know, first world problems.)

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Four powerful paintings by Danish artist Tal R

I wandered the grounds looking at the sculpture and then stopped at the cafe to eat lunch. I’d been told by a fellow plane passenger that the smorresbrod at the Louisiana Cafe was delicious. I can confirm that the salt-cured ham, North Sea cheese from Thise, mustard mayonnaise, and pickled cucumbers are yummy over bread. I ate on the patio and enjoyed conversation with the people around me. One woman overhead me say I was from California and she and her husband came over to introduce themselves. I bumped into them a few more times in the galleries and we compared thoughts and they encouraged me to see some things that I had considered passing by due to time.

I enjoyed my afternoon at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art so much that when I return to Copenhagen I will make time to go again. I also wondered if we have anything quite as spacious and beautiful for sculpture in the USA. My art dad Jim says that there is something like it in New York on the Hudson. I will have to explore!

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The William Kentridge show made a big impact on me.

 

LEGO: Denmark’s Most Popular Export

IMG_1185If you love Danish butter or cheese, you may take issue, but ask any kid and they’ll pick LEGOs out of a line-up and agree that this, more than any other claim to fame, puts Denmark on the map. The headquarters of The LEGO Group is in Billund; and there is a LEGOLAND a 6 hour bus ride from Copenhagen, also in Billund.

If you are only touching down in Copenhagen, there is a wonderful store dedicated to LEGO at Vimmelskaftet 37, on the main pedestrian shopping street. You can get or use a LEGO VIP card. You will find a great variety of LEGO toys. It is an energetic, happy place.

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There is a saying in Denmark, “You learn best when you play.” Lucky for the rest of the world that LEGO founder Ole Kirk Christiansen took that and founded his toy company. If you love these colorful building blocks, you’ll thoroughly enjoy A LEGO Brickumentary.

If you have children or adults in your life who will be thrilled to receive LEGOs from DK, get thee to the store! Plus they are light to carry back.

Dining Out in Copenhagen: a city of great food

Thanks to Bike Mike, I had two great places to eat dinner and two nights available. The “Paper Island” is a warehouse filled with lots of street food. (A lot like the Portland street food but with a roof and lots of picnic tables.) And the other recommendation was for 108, a bistro started by noma alumni Kristian Baumann. The front desk staff at Absalom Hotel called 108. A table for one was available at 5 or 9 on either open evening. The restaurant also said they only take reservations for half their tables so I could try walking in at another time.

Noma shut in December 2016 so the team could reimagine the restaurant and menu in a new location. Meanwhile, 108 continued to serve up great food at a fraction of the price in a lively atmosphere at Strandgade 108. I am not a foodie, so I was a little nervous. It was the best food adventure I have experienced.

The wait staff worked as a team so I was never left long without something new to try and they all spoke English and were very interested in how I received each dish. They recommended I order three small savory dishes and one sweet. Then I also ordered a glass of bubbly and a cup of coffee with dessert. The couple next to me ordered two savory small plates plus a large plate to share (the monk fish), then after I gave them a bite of one of my dishes, they ordered it too. They also each ordered a different dessert to share. We were all enjoying the atmosphere and the tastes, each more incredible than the last.

I cannot do justice to the various dishes, except to say that I didn’t know that fresh, fresh peas and fresh, fresh caviar with rapeseed blossoms could taste so amazing. And that after eating the shaved truffles on the dumplings of braised pork, I thought I could smell truffle for the next 24 hours. All of this super adventurous eating and drinking for about $75 US.

IMG_1190At the opposite end of the cost curve was the street food, just down the way along the waterfront to a warehouse called “Paper Island” in English. I circled the various vendors twice and decided on the toasted sandwiches at Spoon. I asked the young man making my sandwich where he would recommend for fries. He said the best were at the place across the hall–the only place that fries them in duck fat. They were both delicious. I also bought a local beer at the “bar” in the middle that allows you to stay and dine at the tables while you go back and forth fetching more food. I also got a recommendation for a cheesecake place, Bertels, on the way home. My intention was to walk home and stop along the way, but the rain was lashing and I hailed a cab once I crossed the pedestrian bridge.

Mike’s recommendations were both super. So you may also want to try one of the traditional Danish restaurants known for smorresbord, but only if open-faced pickled herring sandwiches chased with a shot of schnapps (snaps) sounds divine. It sounds like a fast track to a nap to me!

Mike’s other recommendation was to rent a bike and cycle to both Paper Island or 108. This is a very good idea because it is a long way to walk and the taxi ride is about $30 from the central station. Remember rush hour starts early in Copenhagen as most people begin their commute home between 4 and 5 p.m.

Breaking into Copenhagen

I arrived late on a Monday night and then I took the train early to Malmo, Sweden on Tuesday, so my first full day in Copenhagen was Wednesday and I had not yet seen anything besides the train station and a pastry shop. I had reserved a spot with BikeMike Tours after hearing about it from Rick Steves. After witnessing just a little of the bike traffic, I was glad I booked a tour and would have a guide for my first foray into the city.

Copenhagen is a 1000 years old and committed to keeping their streets cobbled and their footprint much the same. It was not designed for cars. Yet it is a dynamic, economically vibrant place. Bicycles allow them to move people without sacrificing the quality of life that their history offers. The cycling culture is such that people ride everywhere in all weather and with cargo bikes if they have children or a load. As one fellow tour rider from the USA noted, “No one is wearing lycra bike shorts or riding a fancy bike.” It is part of the fabric of life and very utilitarian.

I digress, I want to tell you about this fabulous tour.

Mike is a bit gruff when you first meet him at the shop. His website can also be offputting to some:

i am not just another #$@%&*! bike tour guide. I am bike mike.

I appreciated that he was being very forthright about what his tour was and was not. What it is: an exciting tour of the city at a good pace with a guide who LOVES Copenhagen and Denmark. I ride my bike as my main source of transportation and I “kissed” the curb; my bike went down but thankfully I did not. So the city cobbles and curbs can be challenging especially to riders from the USA. It is so worth the risk.

I arrived feeling very jet-lagged and hoped that the fresh air and exercise would revive me. There were about 18 of us in the group with a mix of Europeans and Americans. Mike leads the way and expects you to follow, and we did. People in my group did a great job of keeping up.

Mike does stop often to share information about this beautiful city and its culture. He is unabashedly proud of their socialist welfare state and the monarchy. He is a real enthusiast and he will infect you with a love of Copenhagen.

He also gave good tips on restaurants along the way. Although his description of a typical Danish lunch–open faced sandwiches of pickled herring followed by a shot of snaps (schnapps)–sounded like a fast track to a nap!

He said we would ride through whatever weather came our way just like a local. However, when a particularly nasty bit of rain and wind came through he let us grab a coffee at the national theater and then ride on. This added an hour to our tour but no one complained.

In fact, we were all full of good will toward one another at the end. The tour was well worth the DKK 299 in cash.

I also learned about these really groovy Danish locks that fit onto your bike as a permanent fixture. Mike uses them as do most people in Copenhagen. I walked across the street to the bike shop and bought 2 to use at home.