Sunday, November 27, 2011

Copenhagen and a Dane in Sweden

It was actually just as cheap to fly from Bergen to Copenhagen (on SAS) and much more convenient and timely (1 hour flight) versus an overnight ferry or a 12+ hour train ride. I had spent several days in Copenhagen just two years ago, as a prelude to our vacation in Eastern Europe (Greg was still working and couldn't take as many days off so we met up later in Berlin). Despite liking the city, I was less keen to spend much time there. However, with our now-limited travel schedule, we agreed to spend four nights in the capital so Greg could get a taste of Denmark.
The Little Mermaid - overrated tourist attraction in Copenhagen
The only budget accommodations in the city center are around Istedgate, the main street near the central train station, where a private room with shared bath goes for about $100 per night. However the area is particularly seedy, with multiple porn shops & erotic dance clubs as well as hookers and drunks sharing street corners. While I never felt threatened, I probably would not recommend this location to anyone other than world travelers like ourselves, who, having been exposed to just about everything, can more easily turn a blind eye.
Istedgade looks pretty tame from here
The one positive aspect of Istedgate, other than its convenient location within walking distance to all the sights, is that it offers many budget dining options, especially of the Turkish kebab variety. You can find doner cafes on nearly every block, along with a large number of Asian restaurants, interspersed with an interesting mix of trendy cafes & higher-end eateries. Amazingly, one of the best beer bars in town, Mikkeller, is also located here (at Viktoriagade No. 8).
taps at Mikkeller
Our hotel's breakfast buffet, while only featuring cold items (meats, cheeses, pate, boiled eggs) was still of very high quality. We maintained our routine of eating a big breakfast around 9:30am, thus allowing us to skip lunch and just eat an early dinner. Food & drink, as elsewhere in Northern Europe, is expensive. Ethnic foods, like the aforementioned Turkish kebab platters, are much more reasonably priced (~$10), so that is generally what we ate, saving our kroners for good beer.
chicken platter at Konya Kebab
There are actually some very good Danish microbrews so Greg & I included a few "sessions" on our self-guided walking tours of the city. At Norrebro Brewery we had the Westlev 4 Grain Stout & Ravnsborg Red. At Olbaren (a tiny beer bar) we drank Beer Here's Ammestout & Ra Urt. And at Mikkeller Bar we had the Monk's Elixir & Sorachi Ace IPA.
Norrebro Brewery
Having spent all of our money on beer (just kidding!) we limited our Copenhagen sightseeing to only what was free. Thankfully, the excellent National Museum fits this criteria. You can easily spend several hours exploring the museum, where the exhibits are organized chronologically and feature good English descriptions. Another interesting detour is Christiania, a "free city" established in 1971. The hippy, laid-back atmosphere is a window to another world but note that there is a strictly-enforced no photos policy because marijuana is bought, sold & smoked out in the open.
Nyhavn - harbor area of Copenhagen
We also took a side trip to Roskilde, 30 minutes by train from Copenhagen. The town was deserted at midday Sunday in late October but we were there for the UNESCO World Heritage List cathedral. However we were shocked when we discovered admission was 60DKK ($11) per person when all of our research had indicated it would only be 25DKK. Since we had already spent $48 for our train tickets we reluctantly coughed up another $22 to enter the cathedral.
Roskilde Cathedral
While the history of the Roskilde Cathedral goes back to the 12th century, it is primarily known for housing the tombs of 38 Danish kings & queens. Unfortunately, the free brochure provided with our admission had little in the way of explanation of the history of the church but simply mapped the location of the tombs. Still, we spent over an hour examining the royal burial chapels. I was most intrigued by the modern design (in contrast with the rest of the cathedral) incorporated in the recently (c2010) installed Chapel of St Andrew and King's Door as well as the sarcophagus that has been designed for the current (living) queen of Denmark.
a tomb fit for a queen - Margrete I
The following day we traveled across the Oresund Bridge to Malmo, Sweden where my friend Henrik greeted us at the train station. Henrik and his wife Birgitte were both born & raised in Denmark (and still maintain their Danish citizenship), but actually live in Sweden with their two children, Emma & Emil. We spent the first afternoon exploring the area near their home in Vintrie, picking up a few groceries for dinner along with a requisite stop at System Bolaget for an assortment of beers. We then enjoyed a long and relaxing evening of drinking, music and great conversation.
many spreads come in tubes in Sweden
On our final day in Scandinavia, Henrik provided some historical background on how Sweden took the land around Malmo from Denmark, with stops at Holy Cross Church in Dalby and Lund Cathedral, followed by lunch and a walk around the newly developed Western Harbor area of Malmo, topped off with a quick stroll around the historic city center. Too soon we had to say goodbye at the train station, where we caught a train back across the bridge to the Copenhagen airport for our flight to Amsterdam.
Calatrava's Twisting Torso and the Western Harbor area of Malmo, Sweden
It is always nice to visit with friends when we travel. After weeks of being together 24/7 with little interaction with other people, I am thankful for someone else to talk to. Plus we learn so much more about the place we are visiting by staying with people who live there. Henrik & his family were wonderful hosts and it was the perfect way to wrap up our travels in Northern Europe. It also set the tone for the week to come, when we would spend seven out of eight nights with friends in two countries.
view of the Oresund bridge from an airplane
Here are the links to my photos:
Copenhagen & Roskilde
Malmo, Sweden

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