travel: Copenhagen, Denmark
Once upon a time, in a small land in the Northern parts, was a fair tribe who were said to believe in equality and justice and who were excellent unrestrained partyers as well as being remarkably clear-thinking about matters of sex. This extended to include those whose sexual preferences were outside the common male/female thing. And as well as all that, these fair people had a nice aesthetic sense which enabled them to make beautiful things and clothe themselves attractively. The forbears of these people had been hardy seafarers and had plundered and raped and murdered and had run a sort of protection racket where the payment was called Danegeld.
Is it all true? Can this be? The editor picks up the story ... and the Executive Summary is, well, yes, mostly, in outline ...
What comes into your mind when Copenhagen is mentioned? Those who are interested in musicals might recall the song Wonderful, Wonderful, Copenhagen. Some might think of Hans Christian Anderson and his tales. Others might think of egalitarian social systems and a political fairness which seems completely beyond most other Western politics. Still others will think of Liberalism. Some will just think of blondes.
Denmark is a wealthy country which is so far getting through the recession quite well with unemployment being about 3%. In contrast to somewhere like Ireland, where child beggars still operate in the streets of Dublin, the EU wealth in Denmark has been spread quite widely and there have been many improvements in public infrastructure. Education is also first class for just about everyone. This all makes for a relatively happy society.
Copenhagen's history can be illustrated in a way by the history of the cathedral - built around 1185, burnt down by big fires about seven times, and built in its present form in 1840 or so and remodelled in the mid 1900s. The earlier cities were mostly built of wood and there is no trace. The present city is a mix of 1700s and 1800s brick and stone, early modernist, and more modern buildings.
Flying in, you get to the super-clean and nice airport and below is a train station with, you guessed, a super-clean and nice train which will scoot you into Copenhagen Central station in about 15 minutes and cheaply too. Paying for your ticket (you need a 3 zone ticket or you can buy a clipcard which gives a 50% reduction on normal fares) is no problem if you have a credit or debit card which uses a PIN number). With a clipcard, you need to clip it twice. I forgot to clip it at all. You can get local currency at Copenhagen Central more cheaply than the airport.
From there to most hotels is a short taxi ride. There is no such thing as a dirt-cheap hotel in Cph but packages can be had. There are hostels as well. There are a fair few hotels here. A different sort of holiday can be had by joining the likes of couchsurfing.org or the hospitality club.
The language here is Danish. It is a Germanic language but is really not much like German at all being much simpler grammatically for one thing. Swedish people will tell you that their vaguely sing-song way of talking is nicer on the ears but I found Danish to be quite nice, and more friendly sounding than German.
Some helpful words ... Hi (hello) and with a different intonation which I haven't got to the bottom of yet, or Hi Hi, and something else as well which I didn't catch (goodbye).. Tak (thank you) and (please)!
Almost everyone speaks very good English and are not so nationalistic that they don't like to use it.
Copenhagen is a quite compact city with an excellent public transport system which is clean, safe, and mostly on time. It is a bike friendly place as well, being fairly flat with proper lanes everywhere, and not too far to go. There are free bikes available as well where you put 20 dkr into a slot and get it back when you return the bike.
Downtown - Stroget and Surrounds
If you go out the right side exit of Copenhagen Central, turn left and then right at the first road you'll go past the entrance to a big, quite tasteful amusement park called Tivoli. Keep going and you'll get to a big square in front of the Town Hall and on the other side of the square is the entrance to Stroget (pronounced something like "Struhl"). You are now at the low rent end and it gets less low rent as you amble down the pedestrianised street. At the end is an open area with an art nouveau fountain that's a general meeting and hanging out spot. The shops around here include Royal Copenhagen pottery, and Georg Jensen the jewellers, Continuing into Ostergade there is Illum, and fashion outlets such as Urban Outfitters, Topshop and the ubiquious Swedish H and M. The back streets have many interesting shops and bars.
Keep going at the end of Ostergade and you'll end up at Kongens Nytorv. Below that is a pretty canal with many tourist restaurants along it. Before the canal is Bredgade with expensive shops and restaurants and a vaguely St. James, London, atmosphere. Here also is the Arts and Design Museum along with the Roman Catholic cathedral which has an undistinguished exterior but the interior is very nice and actually seems like a real Catholic church as opposed to the quite Protestant-ised versions which are around. There is also a nice, and imposing, Protestant cathedral there.
snippets - graffiti - found in the toilet at the bibliotek in Krystalgade 'shalom, salaam, peace' and a heart. There should be more of this sentiment.
This is a multi-ethnic neighborhood with pockets of trendiness and some prime territory beside a big lake. Locals like to say it resembles Berlin's Kruezberg but it has a fair way to go in terms of cafe, bars, restaurants, and night spots before that will be true. One promising area is in Blagardsgade which has a few cafes and eating places and attracts a funky crowd. It also has a guitar shop with the best collection of vintage Fender Telecasters that I've seen in Europe.
A little up the road from there is a very large cemetery that is so pleasantly done that people use it like a park. Hans Christian Anderson and Sooren Kierkegaard are buried here amongst many others.
Snippets - dancing in the streets and park - While I was there, there was Carnival in a big park and the free part of Distortion which consisted of various sound systems being set up around town. Carnival was free as well and had all sorts of tents including reggae, electro. and even a rave area. And lots of Samba bands! Dancing in the park and in the streets with big crowds of happy people is extremely nice!
When I first arrived and I was perusing the map with people seeing where I should go, this area was dismissed by people as being 'somewhere rich people live' and they might have added 'very uncool'. It's not in any way cool, that's for sure, but it does have some interest. For example, there are a great many of what the French call 'maison bourgeois', and some even complete with Mansard roofs. These were the Macmansions of the day although hugely better built than today's. A short walk from the train station takes you across the 'high street' and onto the harbourside. There's a cute marina there, a boat club, and a tiny but very nice beach. I had a super lunch at the boat club (see the food section) and had a little beach time as well.
Snippets - don't have to be a God or Goddess - a local was saying that with all the very attractive people in the God or Goddess style, things could be fairly tough for one of those who wasn't exactly top class. Things are a lot better for people who look a little different. Nice to know.
... continues below ...
Well past it's prime and a bit of a shadow of its former self, this large commune with its dusty lanes and pretty lake out the back was of interest to me mostly because of what it was. It could still be interesting if one met and talked with people but on the Saturday I was there it was hot, dusty, and deserted. I was told later that Sunday was a better day. The canal at nearby Christianshavn was teeming with life and was much more fun.
Snippets - smokers and drinkers - it's fairly like Berlin here with alcohol being available most everywhere (and hardly a drunk in sight) and smoking being OK in some bars and night spots but not all.
There are many, many beaches close to Copenhagen. I chose Amager Strand and Oresund which are right next to each other and each has its own Metro station. Get on at Norreport and you're at the beach 15 minutes later.
I went on a beautiful sunny day on the 1st of June. It was a Bank Holiday Monday and throngs of people had the same idea, and what's more, the Metro system was able to cope with seats for most everybody. What a concept.
Streaming down the road - families in t-shirts and shorts, some people on bikes or inline skates (there is a beautiful long asphalt path along the beach), we cross a bridge under which is sparkly clear water. In front, to the left are a line of wind driven electricity generators, then the wide bay with speedboats whizzing around, and on the right the bridge to Sweden. There is the sandy beach - well populated but not crowded, and a wooden structure with a swimming area inside as well as sunbathing areas and places to change. Given the local reputation you might expect that half the people would be without clothes but that's more a German thing. Here, the children are all clothed and the only people missing bits are a few topless females with nice bodies..
There is a small boat club nearby where moderately priced food and drink is available and along the road towards Amager is a beach bar serving icecream, beer and cocktails with DJs later on.
London? Paris? Berlin? Copenhagen? And the winner is ... by a country mile ... *fanfare*.. Copenhagen!
Not in terms of what you can get in shops but what you see people wearing. There are plenty of shops of course with a wide range of goods. Generally speaking, the more interesting ones are in and around Ostergade towards Kongens Nytorv. There's also a vaguely Harvey Nicks-like department store called Illum which has an interesting 4th floor and the usual designers with a Scandinavian twist elsewhere plus the usual department store things. It also has a far sized English language section in the bookshop.
The reason I've given my fashion award to the people of Copenhagen is because of their adventurousness and their use of colour - they do actually use it! And patterns and textures as well. And males too, and not just gay ones. This is perhaps a byproduct of the local attitudes towards gays (see the Sex section!). In other words, if no-one cares what your preferences are, there is less reason for the sexually insecure to worry about such things. This is true in Berlin as well but, generally speaking, conformist pressures win.
Copenhagen has a few Michelin-starred restaurants but I didn't get to any of them - another time! Apparently, the hot thing is the rediscovery of local dishes along with a bit of fusion. I'm told there can be a waiting list for these places.
My eating was mostly of the convenience variety, or the receipt of kindness. The latter is priceless and the former was relatively cheap!
Some random meals -Ristarante Pompei close to Norreport: rude and aggressive waiter. Nice food but stingy servings (and I'm a light eater) made this a ripoff at 220 dkr - Bagel shop in Studiestraede: nice bagels and coffee for a nice price and a little further down the road , the Living Room with organic/bio bread sandwiches and nice atmosphere - Sunby Sejl: a restaurant in a boat club just by Oresund beach where I had sliced pig's heart in a cream sauce with a pile of potatoes. This is a traditional Danish dish and was quite fine. Matching it with a nice drink was harder. Looking out the window onto the boats amd bay made up for any other slight hardships. It cost 100 dkr with a big glass of dark beer - misc hotdogs etc from the likes of 7eleven: ok, ok, they're just cheap snacks - Brunch in Valby: at a place in the shopping street was a plate of salmon, artichokes, eggs, little sausages, bread, juice and coffee for around 129 dkr. A nice pitta-bread wrap in the nearby mall at Wayne's coffee was about 60 dkr.- Cafe Illum in the department store on Ostergade a few times for afternoon coffee and cakes. Expensive but nice quality and a pleasant place to sit - Several cafes in Blagardsgade just over the lake in Norreborro. These are more funky and cheaper.. more of a Berlin feel - The Hellerup Sejl Club was helped by having an absolutely perfect day for sitting on the patio with a wonderful view onto the harbour. I had a three item Smorrebrod which were three Danish open sandwiches with pate and bacon, nice eggs and one with some sort of meat, and all with various salad things. A glass of white washed it down. It was a light lunch suitable for walkies afterwards, was delicious, and cost about 80 dkr. I had afternoon coffee and a strawberry-topped delish thing back in town at Illum.
Copenhagen works. And it works very nicely. No wonder Danish people are amongst the happiest on this planet. It is living proof that Liberal policies of social justice coupled with a high class education for most everyone produce something close to an optimal outcome.
There is lots for the tourist both culturally and scenically. Lovers of dirty funk will, however, be disappointed as the place is generally clean and well maintained and there seem to be fewer people than elsewhere who like to sh*t in their own nests.
There are a couple of glaring deficiencies in this report. One is some kind of coverage of places to go regarding design and architecture, and the other is nightlife. There is a lot to see regarding the first two and there are plenty of places to go for the second (but not many really alt places). I'll correct that on a subsequent visit.
page 2... Sex is Wonderful, etc.
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