4am starts are never my favourite, but it’s not so bad when there’s a new country to explore! Copenhagen – one of Europe’s oldest capital cities – in November was several degrees colder than Brighton, but that was to be expected. We met our Airbnb host at the airport to grab keys, got the cheap and convenient train to the Central Station and dragged our wheeled bags across the cobble stones to our temporary inner city Copenhagen apartment, still with plenty of the day left to explore.
The city is small enough to walk nearly everywhere, so we ambled through town and down Strøget – the world’s oldest and longest pedestrian street system. It was in 1962 that the City Council decided to make the busy and narrow streets car-free, with much success. There was less pollution, happier pedestrians, more restaurants and shops. Today it is a bit of a tourist trap, dotted with a few nice stores.
We walked through the tree-lined King’s Garden towards Rosenburg castle, built in 1606 as a summer residence for the Royal family. It is now open for public tours and houses many royal relics, including the Throne Chair of Denmark, and the stunning Crown Jewels.
Afterwards we went to Tivoli Gardens, a huge amusement park that opened in 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world, after another one in Denmark. It contains everything from roller coasters to theatres, gourmet restaurants, cafés, bars, magnificent flowers and outdoor stages. It is a seasonal park and we were lucky enough to be there on Halloween; the decorations were giant, elaborate and orange! Huge pumpkins and spiderwebs everywhere. We had a mulled wine and wandered the park looking at the rides and treats. It is rather pricey, at £9 entrance fee plus nearly £7.50 per ride.
After a bird pooped on my head, we decided to head home. The advantage of staying in an apartment meant that we could cook our own food, so on the way home we stopped at a local supermarket to get some ingredients, including Danish cheeses and meats. We made a giant batch of vegetable soup and ate it with some of the dark and sour local Rye bread. The Danes are world famous for their love of rugbrød. What makes this bread so special is that it contains no oil or sugar, however it is very high in whole grains, so doesn’t count as primal!
After a nice sleep in the next day, we had to brisk march towards the Amalianborg palace to witness the changing of the guards, which happens every day at noon. The well-behaved tourists stood well away from the guards without a single barrier in sight. The palace is actually four palaces that flank a square, built by four noble families in the 18th century. The changing of the guards was similar to London, with much fewer tourists to get in the way.
Our walk continued all the way to the number 1 attraction in Copenhagen, the bronze Little Mermaid statue, constructed in 1913 in honour of the fairytale written by Hans Christian Anderson. According to a legend, the home of all mermaids was the Mermaid Banks in Øresund – exactly where the statue is now. We failed to see any real ones, much to my disappointment. Apparently her head gets chopped off fairly regularly by locals, and replaced just as regularly.
Starting to get rather cold, we decided to cross over into the Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress (one of the best preserved in Northern Europe), which turned out to be a great decision because we happened to see the Queen of Denmark! We waited in the cold for nearly an hour outside a well-guarded door, and were just about to leave when the Queen came out! Kastellet is shaped like a pentagram with bastions at each corner, and a number of buildings located within the grounds. The area houses many military activities, as we soon discovered. After being scared half to death by some loud cannons and shot gun fire, we realised we had stumbled across a battle re-enactment of the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807.
Our plan to thaw out during lunch backfired, when we ended up dining outside under a thick blanket and a weak heater in the canal and entertainment district Nyhavn. It is lined by brightly coloured 17th and early 18th century townhouses and bars, cafes and restaurant as well as many historical wooden ships. Nyhavn was constructed under King Christian V in 1670 as a gateway from the sea to the old inner city at Kongens Nytorv (King’s Square), where ships handled cargo and fishermens’ catch. It was notorious for beer, sailors, and prostitution. Hans Christian Andersen lived there for 18 years. It was in this lovely setting that we dined on Smørrebrød – a Danish open sandwich that comes in many different styles. Not brave enough to try the pickled herring, I had a serving of traditional pate, and a probably slightly-less-traditional baked brie, both served on Rye bread.
To get our blood moving again, we walked stiffly over to Christiania and briefly explored the free town – a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 residents, covering 84 acres in the borough of Christianshavn. Entering Christiania feels a little bit like entering a commune. It has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971, particularly because of the use of soft drugs. Hard drugs are strictly prohibited, but they allow others, even though they are illegal in Denmark. For this reason, you are not allowed to take photos on Pusher street. We didn’t feel all that comfortable around there, so we walked around quickly then headed back towards home.
On the way, I suddenly remembered that Copenhagen has a Paleo restaurant! Lucky I remembered before it was too late. We visited Palæo cafe and had a coffee and a paleo muffin. I was disappointed I wasn’t hungry enough for a bigger meal, because the food looked amazing! Instead, we went home and had leftover soup for dinner again.
I remember watching a documentary a long long time ago, about a bridge that crossed between two countries – half bridge and half tunnel – the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe. I had always wanted to see it. Well, the next day I was travelling on said bridge, the Øresund Bridge, even though I didn’t realise it immediately! The reason it is half tunnel (actually named the Drogden Tunnel, as it goes over the Drogden Strait) is to prevent interference with the nearby Copenhagen airport, to provide a clear channel for ships, and to prevent ice flows from blocking the sea in the winter. They must get a lot of ice! The island where the tunnel enters is entirely man-made.
We took the train to visit our friend Hiromi in Malmo, the third largest city in Sweden (originally part of Denmark) and one of the earliest and more industrialised towns of Scandinavia. It was in a rather sleepy state since it was a Sunday and nothing opened till 12, so we didn’t stay long.
Hiromi drove us to Lund, a university town founded in 990, where she had studied. We visited the towering Lund cathedral, built in 1090-1145, and saw the ‘giant’ holding the church up in the crypt, and the astronomical clock: Horologium miracle Lundense.
We had lunch, including a beautiful Swedish Princess Cake (picture below from loves cool). This traditional (but definitely not primal) cake includes several layers of sponge cake, whipped cream, custard, and raspberry jam and is topped with a thick layer of green marzipan and often decorated with a flower. A bit of a treat!
Back in Copenhagen we went to Palæo again for more of a dinner this time. I had pulled pork with Palæo-coleslaw, spring cabbage and homemade parsley pesto – served with a delicious stone age bread and a freshly made vegetable juice. Alex had something similar, but in a egg omelette wrap. It was so good, I wish I had a cafe like this near my work! I would be there all the time.
To walk off the meal, Alex and I climbed up the Round Tower – an astronomical observatory built in the 17th century. It is most noted for its so-called “staircase”, a 7.5-turn helical corridor (it is a continuous ramp, rather than stairs) leading to the top, and for the expansive views it shows over Copenhagen. It was dark by the time we were there, but the view was still beautiful.
Our final day we spent in Copenhagen museum followed by a traditional lunch at Restaurant Sankt Annæ with another friend, a Copenhagen local! It was absolutely delicious. We finally tried the local delicacy of pickled herring, in three different flavours. Although I didn’t eat all of my herring, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. We also had traditional meatballs, both lamb and beef, with potato salad and pickles, and sampled some of the local beer and traditional liquor, Akvavit. We left for the airport feeling rather tipsy!