THREE WEEKS IN COPENHAGEN
About Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, sits on the coastal islands of Zealand and Amager, linked to Malmo in southern Sweden by the Öresund Bridge. Indre By, the central district, contains 18th-century, rococo Frederiksstaden, home to the royal family’s Amalienborg Palace. The city's center also has the Christiansborg parliament building and the Renaissance Rosenborg Castle, which has a museum of royal artifacts and a popular garden.
Almost everyone was on their decks helping us in, hand over hand, boat to boat. A beautifully-varnished flag pole loomed in our path; but on that boat nobody was on board. There was nothing I could do except lean down, remove it and place it as carefully as I could in their cockpit, whereupon a little dog, apoplectic with rage that I would dare to touch ‘his’ boat, leapt from his hiding place to admonish me noisily.
We, on board Chanticleer, were making our way, with much help, into our allotted place in a tiny side canal in Copenhagen’s Christianshavn. It was a reservation that had been made many weeks prior. Without a reservation there is no hope of staying in this popular, centrally-located Copenhagen waterway; the alternative is a modern marina quite a distance from the centre of town.
Soon we were in our space in the tiny canal, tying up and then taking in our surroundings. About five paces to port there was a bistro with a little patio, ahead a small bridge and across the canal to starboard a fine-looking restaurant with a tree-shaded terrace. We’d made it to Copenhagen, our most northerly destination, and we were in a great location. We were happy!
Copenhagen was to be our home for the next three weeks. Family were due to join us from Canada and then friends from England. We were soon busy learning the town’s layout, exploring the area close to us and dealing with practical matters such as markets and grocery stores, public transit systems and transportation cards. Nearly everyone we encountered spoke good English.
But first things first. We registered with the Christianshavn Harbourmaster, hooked up to the electricity supply and introduced ourselves at our neighbouring bistro - the Forgecafe - whose WiFi connection we were invited to share. From the tourism brochures handed to us by the harbourmaster we discovered that the Christianshavn section was sub-headed “Sailors, bohemians and gourmets”!
The ‘sailors’ description was evident … the Christianshavn canal and its tiny off-shoot canals were packed with boats from all over Europe, but we seemed to be the only Canadians. Our maple leaf flag attracts a lot of attention wherever we go and provides a good introduction to many interesting conversations.
The ‘bohemian’ adjective applied to Christianshavn is mainly due to the fact that this area is home to Christiania, a largely-green area where, long ago, stood a group of deserted barracks and other military buildings. In the 1970s the flower-power generation moved in to ‘squat’ and declared the area an independent zone free of the laws governing the rest of Denmark. Attempts to remove them either failed or fizzled out, an agreement of some kinds reached, and Christiana became a permanent home and, eventually, a tourist attraction. Today it is still home to some ancient hippies as well as their descendants … some middle-aged residents have lived there all their lives. Marijuana is openly available, there are fast-food kiosks, a marketplace selling hippie stuff and open-air concerts. But times they are a-changing even in Christiania … today there’s a large hardware store and the shabby old buildings are slowly being renovated. I’m sure the old hippies don’t like the word, but ‘gentrification’ is on its way, even here!
And then there are the ‘gourmets’.
Christianshavn is, indeed, home to many restaurants of all types, from the great ‘Street Food Centre’ beside the river to bistros with sidewalk tables to cool fine dining establishments in riverside buildings.
But the application of this word to the tourism literature is probably due, more than anything, to the fact that this area is home to Noma, voted for several years as ‘the world’s best restaurant’. A long stretch on the waiting list and very deep pockets are needed for this ‘tasting menu’ experience, to which I would add ‘patience’ (not that we went!) as their menu consists of around 18 courses, much of the food - apparently - foraged. Imagine having to listen to the waiter describe each of the minuscule offerings!
We were soon to discover that much of the city centre over on the mainland was ‘under wraps’ due to construction of a massive new subway line due to encircle the town. In addition, a new sliding pedestrian/cycle bridge was due to link Christianshavn and old Nyhavn, but when the two sides were first activated and expected, obviously, to meet seamlessly in the middle, it was found they were out of alignment. More construction necessary. None of this, however, affects one enjoyment of the city … all work will be complete soon and getting around town will be even easier than at present.
And what a lot there is to see and do here. Canal cruises are popular (though there was no room for these boats in ‘our’ canal, so all was quiet for us) and the ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus is, as always, a good way to get orientated at the beginning or your stay. Here it should also be mentioned that this is a great city for cyclists, even for those not too experienced, as there are designated cycle lanes everywhere. Many hotels offer bikes and there are many rental outlets all over town.
The heart of Copenhagen is without doubt the Nyhavn Canal, a designated heritage harbour since 1977. Although its name means ‘new harbour’ it is anything but, having been dug in the late 17th century. Today it continues its ancient maritime traditions with old schooners and vintage sailing vessels moored along its sides. But today there’s a new twist … where once the canal would have been lined with cluttered ships’ chandlers and seedy sailors’ bars it is now home to popular restaurants whose wide patios catch the late afternoon/evening sun. They are justly popular and part of the Copenhagen experience.
(Also part of the ‘Copenhagen experience” - though exactly why remains a mystery to me - is the trek, cycle or bus ride along the harbour to see the famous statue of the Little Mermaid. No doubt there was a quieter time when seeing this underwhelming little statue held some charm, but today the lines of tour buses, the crowds, the people scrambling over the rocks towards her for a photo seem out of all proportion to what is on view. We had passed this circus as we’d sailed into the harbour. However … each to his/her own taste. Just don’t expect a photo alone with her!)
With our family and friends we explored the city’s different areas, often on bikes; paid a visit to the fine Royal Palace Amalienborg; enjoyed a free music concert along with a picnic in the beautiful Frederiksberg Gardens; wandered for several hours in the SMK (the National Gallery of Denmark, home to 700 years of Danish and international art); experienced a sound-and-light art installation in Cisternerne, the 140-year-old former city water cisterns Cisterns; enjoyed many Danish-open-faced-sandwich lunches and few fine dinners out; browsed the famous design stores and tempting boutiques and much more. For those following in our footsteps an early visit to the large Tourist Information Centre opposite the Tivoli Gardens is highly recommended.
Copenhagen itself is, however, not the only attraction in this region. There are numerous wonderful out-of-town trips that can easily be taken via public transit or with a rental car. We enjoyed both modes of transport and I’ll tell you about our many experiences beyond the city in my next column.