Denmark Diaries: Flying Home and Final Thoughts

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Our morning consisted of getting coffee and breakfast, packing our suitcases, saying goodbye to our friends, then taking the Metro to the airport. After a brief layover in Reykjavík (and a skyr for the road), we chased the daylight home and landed in Chicago at 6 p.m. local time and  1 a.m. Denmark time, blergh. It was sad to reach the end of our adventure–and have to return to work–but I was grateful for two things: my own bed and cuddles from our dog and cat.

Goodbye Copenhagen, you were lovely

A lot of people have since asked me what our favorite part of the trip was, and it’s impossible to pick one thing. Overall, Kurt and I both really enjoyed the experience of spending most of the week in one city, fully immersing ourselves in the various neighborhoods, culture, food, and scenery.  We had plenty of time to see everything on our to-do list and also explore, wander, and make our own little discoveries. The only thing that we ended up skipping was the Little Mermaid statue, mostly because a). our friend Zsolt told us that there’s not much else in the same area to make it worthwhile, and b) we saw exact replicas of it all over the place anways.

woman next to Little Mermaid statue

Little Mermaid replica at Carlsberg Brewery

Copenhagen had been on my wish list for years before we made this trip. I tend to be drawn to northern places over warm beach destinations for some reason I can’t quite explain, other than I must be half Wildling. Besides Denmark and Sweden, Kurt and I have been to Alaska and Iceland in recent years, and I am itching to travel to Norway, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Svalbard (Kurt thinks I’m crazy re: that last one). But I owe Kurt a few tropical vacations next, and I definitely want to someday visit the third country of my heritage, the Philippines, now that I’ve seen Ireland and Sweden. After being home for a few weeks, I find myself already looking at maps, daydreaming about our next adventure.

Denmark Diaries: Red Pandas and Hot Dogs By the Meter

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Is there anything sadder than being on the last day of an amazing vacation and getting an email saying that your flight is ready for checkin? All of the crying emoji.

In the morning, we got coffee and a breakfast sandwich from a nearby cafe and noticed that there was a large flea market going on in the parking lot right by our friends’ apartment, so we went to check it out. Kurt picked up a few various odds and ends, including some Scandinavian candlestick holders and a wall hanging. Since it was such a nice, sunny day, we decided to go to the nearby Copenhagen Zoo. I will fully admit that one of the reasons I was interested was because my friend Dani had a Game of Thrones celeb-sighting there once; she saw the actor who plays Euron Greyjoy while he was there with his kids. While we didn’t end up spotting any Danish actors, we saw something I was possibly even more excited about.

red panda on a log

red panda!!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a zoo and the red pandas are hiding in the indoor part of the exhibit, out of sight from the crowds. I’d never seen one in person before. When we reached the exhibit, we were super lucky to see two red pandas actively exploring their habitat, climbing logs and using the fenced-in walkways that went over the paths like a habitrail. The up-close red panda viewing made my day.

Denmark is big on protecting personal freedoms, and as I joked to Kurt, this carries over into how close they let you get to kangaroos in the zoo. To our shock, people can actually walk into the kangaroo enclosure where  you’re kept on the trail by an ankle-high fence that the kangaroos obviously cross all the time. In the picture below, that’s me in the green shirt.

woman standing in kangaroo zoo exhibit

Me hanging out in the kangaroo exhibit, no big whoop

As an American who struggles with conversion to the metric system, I now have a new guideline: a half-meter-long hot dog is roughly equal to one-and-a-half feet of hot dog.

a man eating a half-meter-long hot dog

half-meter-long hot dog

After exploring the zoo, we took a leisurely last walk through the Frederiksberg Gardens. Plenty of people were spending the day outside, laying on blankets enjoying picnics while their kids ran around and played by the ponds or on the rolling grassy hills. Copenhagen is an idyllic place to raise a family, a fact that our friends can attest to.

For dinner, Kurt and I returned to Torvehallerne and ordered a charcuterie plate and a bottle of wine. Dani was able to meet up with us for our last night, and we had a nice evening out.

woman standing at Torvehallerne

last night in Copenhagen

As the night grew later and we said goodbye to Dani, Kurt and I wanted to make one final stop. We used our 24-hour Metro pass to return to Nyhavn to see the row houses lit up at night. The colorful buildings reflected onto the surface of the canal, and people sat along the banks, drinking and socializing.  Boats rocked idly on the water. Kurt and I found some open chairs in an outdoor seating area just outside the bar (I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet one of my favorite things about Copenhagen, which is the blankets laying on all outdoor seating in case of cold weather). Live music poured out from the nearby bar, and we had a last round of beer as we took in the sounds of people laughing and dancing to a cover of “Purple Rain.”

From the perfect weather to the amazing scenery, fantastic company, and fun music, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect final night.

Nyhavn sign

❤ Copenhagen

 

 

Denmark Diaries: Freetown Christiania and Nyhavn

Friday, April 20, 2018

In the morning, we went out with our friend Dani to a place called O’s American Breakfast. When traveling, in addition to trying new foods, I’m also usually curious to see the local interpretation of American staples. Since moving abroad, Dani had been in search of American-style pancakes, and the ones at O’s were big and fluffy, just like what you’d get at a diner back home.

After breakfast, Dani met up with a friend and Kurt and I headed for the Metro to Christianshavn. We were spending our day exploring Freetown Christiania, an autonomous district in a squatted military area. The area is probably most notoriously known as the “Green Light District” because of the proliferation of people buying and selling marijuana on Pusher Street. Weed is not legal in Denmark and the prevalence of dealers in the Freetown area ebbs and flows, depending on whether the community is currently putting pressure on forcing them out. One humorous observation Kurt made was the long line at the ATM next to the Christianshavn Metro stop, as people planning to visit Freetown loaded up on cash.

Christiania street art

I’s frowned up to take pictures of people and the activity in Freetown, so I only snuck a few snaps of street art

The area is filled with stalls and vendors selling t-shirts, jewelry, food, and drinks, so Kurt and I looked around for a little, dodging errant skateboards and unleashed dogs, then grabbed an outdoor table and a round of beers at Cafe Nemoland. Freetown draws lots of tourists and the people-watching was highly entertaining. While much of the crowd consisted of hippies who smelled like Otto’s jacket, I was approached by a 70-something English woman in a skirt suit who politely asked me where the loo was. The other best thing about Nemoland was the bathroom, which was an all-gender room with many stalls and a large aquarium full of fish next to the sinks, and I am sure I am not the first person to see it and want to reenact the scene from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

We got a second round of beers then took a walk around until we came upon a large pond. The banks were lined with people relaxing, smoking, drinking, and enjoying the warm sunshine. Someone had a jam box playing music. We sat in the grass, watching swans swim in the sun-dappled water. Denmark, I’m in love with you.

As we walked past the pond, we saw more of the residential area including houses, art studios and a preschool.

We eventually passed over the canal that acts as the Christiania border, then walked over to another iconic area we hadn’t visited yet, Nyhavn. The colorful row houses along the canal are possibly one of the most famous postcard-friendly views of Copenhagen. In the 17th century, the ‘potato rows’ were built to house shipyard workers, and the canals were notorious for heavy-drinking sailors and prostitutions. The writer Hans Christian Andersen lived there in the 1800’s, and nowadays, it’s a popular tourist destination filled with restaurants and stores.

couple standing in front of the row houses in Nyhavn

Nyhavn selfie

For dinner, we went back to the Nørrebro area for burgers and liquid nitrogen ice cream at Istid. I got banana ice cream with chocolate chips and vegan bacon pieces.

a cup of ice cream

yummmm

It had been a long but perfect day with plenty of sightseeing and food-tasting packed in. I was slightly in denial that we only had one more full day of our trip left, as I could easily stay in this city for much longer.

 

 

 

Sweden/Denmark Diaries: The Best Milkshake in the World

Thursday, April 19, 2018

*clickbait title

In the morning, we packed up our things and called an Uber to Centralstation (something good to know: Uber is legal in Sweden but not in Denmark). At the station, we wandered around the large foodcourt figuring out what we each wanted for breakfast. I opted for a muffin, yogurt, and coffee from Espresso House and grabbed a table. Kurt’s food took longer to prepare and when he sat down with sliders and a milkshake, I thought he was nuts (it wasn’t quite 11 a.m. yet). But I had immediate regrets when I took a sip of his TIRAMISU MILKSHAKE which was the greatest thing ever. If there is anything you take away from this blog, and you find yourself in Malmö someday, go to Sliders and Shakes and order a tiramisu milkshake and a birdie num num slider. I’ve never been more sad about yogurt.

Oresund bridge

this is awesome as a video and terrible as a still photo

The train between Malmö and Copenhagen is pretty rad because it takes you over the Øresund bridge, which at one point tunnels underwater. There’s a Scandinavian crime show called The Bridge that begins with a scene in which a body is found on the Øresund, halfway between two countries (there was an American remake a few years ago, set on the U.S./Mexico border).

After we arrived back in Copenhagen, we went back to our friends’ house and relaxed for the afternoon. The last few days had been go-go-go, so it felt nice to sit around and hang out in the sun on the balcony. Our friends had gotten a babysitter for the night, so we got to go out to dinner together and socialize. After the kids were settled in, we took the Metro to Nørrebro, an area known for being young, hip, and multicultural. We also got to see the lakes for the first time, which are three manmade features lined with walking and biking paths. On a Thursday night, tons of people were out, sitting on the bridges socializing and kicking off the weekend early.

Copenhagen lake

We had dinner at a restaurant called Alabama Social, which was excellent. It was a great night of catching up and hearing all about expat life, plus I discovered burrata–wins all around. After our meal, we walked along the lake then into the neighborhood, stopping for beers at Mikkeller & Friends.

man in bar with three glasses in front of him

Another round at Mikkeller & Friends

Kurt and I ended up staying out for a few more rounds after our friends went home to relieve the babysitter, then walked the 2.6 km back to Frederiksberg. Between the milkshakes, Southern-style dinner, desserts, and craft beers, we had lots of extra calories to burn.

Domino's food truck

Q: what do this truck and I have in common? A: so much cheese inside us

Denmark/Sweden Diaries: Helsingør to Helsingborg

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

We set an alarm to wake up at 8 a.m., then each packed a small backpack with clothes for the next two days. We were back on the move. With helpful directions from our local friends, we took the metro to Nørreport, then transferred to the train line that goes north up Denmark’s east coast. We ran into a brief, humorous hiccup at the billeter machine when the couple in front of us asked for help buying their tickets in French. Unable to to assist, we tried asking the man standing behind us, who turned out to be Dutch and was equally confused. Between three languages and a lot of fumbling, we all eventually figured out which tickets we needed to purchase.

Kurt and I took a 45-minute train ride along the coast while lounging in comfortable seats and charging our phones. European trains are so fast, smooth, clean, and efficient. Our stop, Helsingbørg, was at the end of the line. It was a short walk from the station to our destination, Kronborg Castle. The Renaissance-era stronghold, situated on the Øresund Strait, was Shakespeare’s inspiration for Elsinore, home of Hamlet.

a woman stands in front of a Danish castle

Elsinore

We started with a guided tour of the dungeons, at the statue of Holger Danske near the entrance. Holger is a Danish historical figure and icon whose likeness rests below the castle until the day he must rise up to once again protect and defend his Mother country. The statue is really cool and it made me wonder how many young Danes have tattoos of it. During the Swedish siege of the castle, the Danish infantry were forced to hunker down in the dungeons for  6 weeks. They lived in squalor and cramped quarters, and their only rations were salted herring for every meal and 8 liters of beer per man per day, made from kitchen scraps.

statue of Holger Danske

Holger Danske

We did a self-guided tour of the rest of the castle, exploring the King and Queen’s quarters, the ballroom/banquet hall, the chapel, and the courtyard. An exhibit showed all of the live shows of Hamlet that had been performed in the courtyard; the 1937 production on the grounds of Elsinore starred Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.

castle courtyard

castle courtyard

We walked 206 steps to the top of the castle tower, where we could walk onto the rooftop and get an aerial view of Helsingør and Sweden, just across the water.

a man stands on front of a view of the Oresund strait

Kurt on the rooftop

After we finished the Castle tour, we walked around Helsingør and found a small bar that served a traditional Danish lunch. We had curried herring, liver mousse, roast beef, mushrooms and bacon, and rye bread. The sun had come out, and the seaside town looked picturesque next to the sparkling water. We walked back to the train station, where we bought our tickets for the Scandlines ferry to take us to Sweden.

After a brief 20-minute ride across the strait, we arrived in Sweden! We showed our passports at the gate and walked into Helsingborg. It turned out that many of the attractions we were interested in seeing closed at 6 p.m., so we dropped off our things at our hotel and headed right back out.

Kärnan is a medieval tower located in the heart of Helsingborg, the sole remains of a larger seaside fortress. After hearing all about the “bloodthirsty Swedes” during our Kronborg tour, it was funny to read the depictions of the war from the Swedish point of view where they bemoaned the many times the Danes had occupied their side of the strait. Kärnan was surrounded by a large park with a hilltop view of the sea, so we took a stroll and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

Karnan tower

Kärnan Tower

As the afternoon grew later, we took a walk along the water and stopped for a glass of wine at a seaside restaurant. Most of the people we saw walking along the water were tall, blond, and dressed in head-to-toe black; the local lewk was Scandinavian goth realness.

seaside view of Helsingborg, Sweden

Hej Sweden!

One thing I noticed in both Sweden and Denmark was that as soon as the sun came out, people flocked to outdoor spaces to drink in the rays. The waterfront path became packed with joggers, walkers, and groups of friends grabbing chairs or patches of grass to lay out and enjoy the beautiful day. In that way, Scandinavia reminded me a lot of Chicago. After a long, dark winter, we flourish in the longer days of late spring.

It had been a long day of walking and sightseeing, so we made it an early night with a quick shawarma dinner and a shared bottle of wine back at the hotel.

Denmark Diaries: The Word of the Day is “Beer”

Monday, April 16, 2018

We woke up feeling the effects of our impromptu bar crawl, and a hefty breakfast was in order. Luckily, a delicious brunch place, Sokkelund, was in easy walking distance–and even better, they served coffee refills. I had scrambled eggs with salmon and avocado.

After fueling up properly, we were ready to start our day. The Carlsberg Brewery was a 20-minute walk away, most of it through a scenic park. One of the many things I loved about Copenhagen was the amount of green public spaces. The path wound its way past ponds filled with swans and a tree onto which dozens of people had tied handwritten cards and pacifiers with ribbons. In Scandinavian traditional folklore, once a baby gave up their pacifier  they would write a note thanking it for its service and tie to a tree in remembrance.

tree covered in handwritten notes with pacifiers tied to branches on ribbons

pacifier tree

The area where the Carlsberg brewery is located is currently being developed into a whole village complete with apartments, restaurants, and shops. We arrived at the brewery just in time to miss the tour, so instead, we bellied up to the bar for some samples. Our bartender told us that Chicago was his favorite U.S. city (second time in two days!) and it reminded him a lot of his hometown Glasgow.

plate of oysters

We ate most of these oysters before we took a photo

For dinner, we went to an area called Kødbyen Meatpacking District, or “Meat City.” As the sun slowly set, we sat outside and ate oysters from Kødbyens Fiskebar, then crossed the plaza to check out Warpigs  Brewpub and their BBQ selection. As soon as we walked into Warpigs, I felt like I was in a Chicago bar (which makes sense, given Mikkeller’s partnership with Three Floyds). We got a few different beers, the pork shoulder, pork and beans, and pecan pie, and everything was fantastic.

plate of BBQ pork and beans

We also ate most of this pork before we took a photo

After two back-to-back meals (don’t judge, we’re on vacay), walking to our next destination sounded heavenly. Too bad we stumbled onto the next place we wanted to check out within 400 meters: Fermentoren Beer Bar. We descended the steps into the small, packed bar and knew that we’d struck gold yet again. The bar had an excellent selection of craft beers on tap, so we found an open table where we could squeeze ourselves and camp out for a while.

beer

beer

On the last leg of our walk home, we made one final stop at a bar that totally intrigued us from the outside with its Western-themed motifs and obscured windows, a place called HH Ranch. As we stepped inside, I could swear we just transported to rural kitschy America. The bar was decked out in wood paneling and log cabin decor, and the barstools were made out of western saddles. There was even a Johnny Mnemonic-themed pinball machine(!!).  The place was a total trip. We had one final lager and then called it a night; we had big plans for the next day.

 

Denmark Diaries: Towers, Roller Coasters, and Beer

Sunday, April 14, 2018

I woke up around 3:30 a.m. local time to the sound of chirping birds (apparently, the title of Happiest Country on Earth includes wildlife because those birds sounded chipper all night long). After tossing and turning for a bit, I managed to fall back asleep until…11:30 a.m. Oops! Kurt and I didn’t want to sleep away half of our first full day, but so it goes. We rose and showered, then met up with our friends. The kids were ready for lunch and Kurt and I for breakfast, so we took the Metro two stops over to Nørreport, in the heart of the city. Right by the train stop, we went to Torvehallerne, which is a large market with indoor and outdoor vendors and tons of food stalls, booths, and wares. I went for a traditional porridge breakfast made with fresh organic ingredients from Grød along with my morning (noon) coffee, and Kurt got a Danish sandwich, coffee, and a beer (a.k.a. vacation mode). After lunch, we said goodbye to our friends who had family errands to take care of, and Kurt I headed out to sightsee on our own.

Our first stop was Rundetaarn, or Round Tower, an architectural project of Christian IV built in the 17th century. The tower consists of a 209-meter long spiral ramp, built because the King wanted to be able to ride his horse all the way to the top. I love horses and tales of extreme hubris, so we needed to check it out. About halfway up the tower there’s a coffee shop and art exhibit, and then on the observation deck, you get a fantastic 360-degree view of Copenhagen. Selfies were taken.

skyline view of Copenhagen

Not a selfie.

We wandered around the shops of Strøget for a bit, then found a sidewalk cafe to rest and enjoy a beer. The table seated next to us consisted of two British men around our age, so we ended up chatting with them for a bit, commiserating on the rough state of our countries. When we told them where we were from, they got really excited and told us that Chicago is their favorite U.S. city, which is always nice to hear.

We did a bit more walking until we saw the top of the swing ride at Tivoli Gardens, so we headed in that direction. Tivoli is the second oldest operating amusement park in the world and our friends mentioned that it was a ‘must’ for our trip. We bought entrance tickets, then strolled the grounds and checked out the incredible gardens and classic rides and games. We saw the swing ride that lured us to the park like a beacon, and I couldn’t get over how high up it went. Definitely put the dinky swings at Six Flags to shame.

swing ride at amusement park

a hard nope for me as an acrophobic

There’s an extensive food court adjacent to the fairgrounds, so we got some desserts and hung out inside until a light rain passed through. As the evening grew later, the lights throughout the park turned on, revealing colorful lanterns. I tried getting a picture of Kurt under the lights using his fancy camera, but struggled with the shutter for so long that a random passerby approached and said to me “I can’t take it anymore; go stand next to him and I’ll take the photo.”

couple stands on walkway under colorful lanterns

photo taken by a man tortured by witnessing my ineptness

After leaving Tivoli, we continued our walking streak, burning off the calories from the schnitzel and chocolate mousse I’d consumed. We realized two key facts: we were less than 2 miles from our friends’ house, and there was a Mikkeller bar located on our direct route home. Wins all around! Our nighttime stroll turned into a lowkey pub crawl as we stopped for pints at Mikkeller, followed by a German bar, and ending at a neighborhood bistro.

man sits at small bar table attached to wall

Table for two

We returned home by midnight, the pints helping lull us to sleep (and onto a closer proximation to local time).

 

Denmark Diaries: Arriving in Copenhagen

Friday, April 13/Saturday, April 14, 2018

On a lovely Friday the 13th evening, Kurt and I embarked on a trip to Denmark to visit some friends living abroad and explore Copenhagen. We wrapped up a hectic work week, then took a quick Uber to O’Hare Airport where we’d be departing from on IcelandAir. On the plane, I watched The Greatest Showman  and tried to nap, then we had an hour-long layover in Reykjavík (oh hai Iceland!) before landing in Copenhagen around 12:40 pm the next day.

At the airport, we ran into some confusion when, after picking up our bags and reaching the exit doors to outside, we thought we missed Customs entirely and accidentally snuck into Denmark. (Later, we learned that since we went through Customs in Reykjavík during our layover, we didn’t need to show our passports again in Denmark because both countries are in the Schengen Area.)

We bought train tickets at the billeter machine, then took the Metro to Fredericksberg, a residential area within Copenhagen where our friends live. Once we arrived at the correct Metro stop, we ducked into a Starbucks to get some free wifi and find the directions for the 5-minute walk to our friends’ home.

image of Copenhagen street and a bicycle parking area

Copenhagen!

After settling in and then catching up a bit in our friends’ living room, we all took a walk together around the neighborhood for a tour of some local food, coffee, and bar options. With their two young kids in tow, we grabbed a hot dog and coffees and sat in a park where the kids could play and draw for a bit. I observed two young girls taking turns rollerblading on a 4×8′ apartment building balcony.

For a late lunch/early dinner/whatever meal was closest to mine and Kurt’s whacked-out internal clocks, we went to the Laundromat Cafe. Kurt and I instantly recognized it because we had had a drink at their Iceland location a year earlier. The great thing about visiting friends with kids is that everyone’s up for getting ice cream after a meal, so we followed lunch with a trip to Social Foodies, a dessert shop with philanthropic interests in helping marginalized communities in Africa. (Even more of a reason to eat ice cream every day!)

IMG_9437

Fredericksberg, Copenhagen

The sun was setting by the time we got back to the house, and Kurt and I said goodnight to our friends who began their bedtime routine for the kids. We did some light unpacking, then passed out pretty quickly ourselves after a long day and night of traveling into a time zone 7 hours ahead of Chicago.