Thursday, July 19, 2012

Copenhagen, do you mind if I call you "home"?

There is something about Copenhagen that I really identify with. Whether it's the eco-friendliness of the way of life or the beautiful architecture or the surrounding waterways, there is just "something" about it that pulls me in. We could have spent more time there, heck, I could quite frankly LIVE there and be quite happy for a very long time. Our quick 26-hour whirlwind visit of Copenhagen was enough for us to mark it on our map of favorite places.

We were in Copenhagen for a mere 26 hours. It was a very quick visit, and we filled it with as much exploration as we could possibly handle. This was our first intercontinental European flight, and it was interesting to note the differences between flying in Europe and flying in the U.S. They have security here, obviously, but they are much more relaxed about travel. On our entire trip, including all air, train, and boat travel, the only time we showed a passport was to get the souvenirs tax free at the airport. I am not kidding. And by passports, I mean any identification whatsoever. At no point in time did anyone question that we weren't who we said we were. It was a somewhat bizarre feeling to be taken at face value. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but then again, what does it really matter?

The flight was quick. It took us longer to drive to Frankfurt International Airport than it did to get from Frankfurt to Copenhagen. We drove to the airport because although convenient, the train fare is quite expensive for that route. Also, although the airport has a holiday lot where you can save some cash, it's a little bit of a hassle. We were all versed on how to get to this parking lot and prepare ourselves for the adventure when Big R made the last minute decision that it wasn't worth it to save 30 EUR. Sometimes the little extra money is worth the convenience. As it was, we parked in the garage and walked right into the terminal - no buses or getting lost on the way to the parking lot. It removed an incredible amount of stress from our vacation.

We were in the Copenhagen city center by noon after our flight and a quick train ride. The weather all through central and northern Europe was forecasted to be nothing but rain and colder than normal temps. We had prepared ourselves for a chilly and wet visit with layers and raincoats. Much to our happy surprise, our time in Copenhagen was mostly sunshine. How did we get so lucky?! The only thing we dreaded is that we left our sunglasses behind. That is something we will surely not do again. And holy cow do they have a lot of sunlight in Scandanavia right now. It's fascinating that the sun shines all but about 5-6 hours a night, if that.

We arrived in Copenhagen without any plans. In fact, we barely read anything about the city before we arrived. Before entering town, we bought our train tickets to Gothenburg for the following day, and then quickly and effortlessly found the tourist information office across from the train station. It was one of the more helpful and clean tourist offices we've experienced. They clearly want you to enjoy their city, so they offer so many guides and maps for free. It was great! Armed with a city map and a loose plan, we started our adventure through the streets of Copenhagen.

Radhaus - first introduction to Danish architecture
More medieval architecture as we made our way through town
Amager Square -
The Jazz Festival was in Copenhagen during our visit so the streets were alive with music!
We walked through the Strøget pedestrian zone full of shops, restaurants, and people enjoying the beautiful day
We grabbed lunch and kept walking - little r had a hot dog wrapped in a croissant and Big R and I both had quiche - YUM!

Our room reservation was at Hotel Bethel in Nyhavn. We knew we were early for check-in, but we were relieved they let us leave our luggage behind. We packed light considering all things for the three of us for the entire visit was in one backpack, but that backpack was heavy and we were ready to enjoy the day less encumbered. Arriving in Nyhavn on this sunny day was almost magical. The colored buildings along the beautiful canal were breathtaking as we turned the corner.

After we dropped off our bags, no time was wasted finding a canal cruise to enjoy the city from a water's view. This was also when we quickly realized that such beauty comes at a small price - the canal cruise was inexpensive, but we paid the equivalent of $8 for one beer! Ouch, it was as if we were in Yankee stadium. Ah well, it was a good beer, and one greatly enjoyed before our water cruise. My little man absolutely loved the cruise, and Big R was able to get some incredible photographs from the water's view. I've shared a few of them here, but I had a hard time picking my favorites!

All smiles!
Large sailboat parking inside Nyhavn - we're still not sure how it got there!
The Marble Church and Amelienborg Palace where the Royal Family lives
We loved all the boats anchored along the canals
Big R is going to buy this one for me :)
Sea kayaking through the urban center - very cool idea
Børsen or stock market building where all of the fair trade used to occur
Noma (building on the left) - the No. 1 restaurant in the WORLD - no joke, you have to reserve a table at least 3 months in advance

Our canal cruise was followed by a quick break at our hotel after we got ourselves checked-in. Big R picked the hotel for this part of our trip, and we couldn't have been more excited about his gem of a find. Copenhagen, no Scandinavia, in general is expensive, but we got our hotel room in Nyhavn with a small balcony, a view, and a sweet breakfast for the equivalent of $180 for the night. Not too bad considering most of the hotels in the area were over $250. I'm sure we could have gone cheaper, but it was worth it for this view, don't you think?

And this one...

Yep, totally worth it...

Our agenda was loose, so we just set out to explore all that we could see. We knew the daylight would be on our side since it wasn't going to set until probably midnight or later, so we tried to fit in as much as we could. Initially we were going to head to Trivoli, which is the second oldest amusement park in the world. We didn't really have time for a day at the park, but both of us really wanted to see it just to experience such a place. Instead we found ourselves wondering over to Christianshavn. A first look at the map, and we thought it would take us far out of the way. Truth is, Copenhagen is not very big, and before we knew it, we were walking along the canals of Christianhavn.

Christianhavn Kanal
We found ourselves next at Our Savior's Church, which has a beautiful spire that is visible from most of the city.

Our Savior's Church in Christianhavn
It turns out, that at the top of that spire, you can SEE most of the city as well. How do we know this? Well, we climbed it, of course. Climbing to the top was something we had to debate somewhat. The spire looked a little risky with little r in our arms. We knew that one of us was going, but quite frankly, it wouldn't be a proper visit without us climbing the dome of a church with little r in tow. It's a prerequisite that I carry my little man up at least 400 stairs, if not more, on each trip to make the adventure complete. So our minds were made up, and we all started the climb. This particular climb included 400 steps with the last 150 being outside, and the spire reaching 95 meters into the sky. The ascent to the top of the spire followed a wooden staircase that at times became more of a ladder. When we got to the spire, we decided it would be safer to take turns going up because it didn't appear quite safe enough for little r.

The views from the top were spectacular! This goes down in history as the absolute coolest and most beautiful church "domes" we have ever climbed. As you go around the spire, you get a 360 degree view of Copenhagen and beyond. Just stunning. I was incredibly impressed with Big R for climbing to the top with his overwhelming fear of heights. I suppose his most recent single chair lift excursion in the Alps might have helped him overcome some of those fears? Here are a few photographs from the top:

If you look closely, you can see me waving from the top to Big R down below.
Christianhavn is also home to the freetown of Christiania. Christiania was founded in 1971 when a group of hippies took over old military barracks and developed their own town with their own set of rules completely independent of the government - it even has its own flag and currency! Things have changed over the years, but it still exists including its rules such as: no cars, no guns, no bullet-proof vests, and no hard drugs. Hash is sold and smoked openly in cafes throughout Christiania. I would have loved to have taken pictures of this freetown full of artists and hippies, but no cameras or pictures allowed within its walls. Instead, we took a quick photo at the entrance.

Entrance to Christiania
Trivoli didn't happen that night. We decided instead to grab a pastry snack and walk back through some of the crowds watching the jazz musicians, and eventually end up back in Nyhavn for dinner. We could sense that little r was running on empty and was ready to crash, but I, of course, forgot the Moby or any other means to assist in carrying him. So, instead we used a raincoat and my scarf to create a little cocoon for him and he fell asleep on my chest. Somehow my arms held out and carried him that way for another couple of hours until I fell into a chair at a canal-side restaurant in Nyhavn. Man was I happy to take that seat!

Dinner was lovely, especially since little r slept through the entire meal. We took our time enjoying our meal, and then walked along the canal. Finished off the evening with an Irish Coffee at another canal-side cafe, and then walked across the bridge to our hotel. Little r didn't even wake up while I dressed him for bed. Poor kid was whipped. We were pretty darn whipped ourselves. Big R woke himself up just after midnight to get some pictures of Nyhavn in the dark. Even at that hour he said there was still a touch of light in the sky.

Nyhavn at night - so pretty
Good-night, Copenhagen. It was a full, fascinating, and marvelous day. I'll share more about our morning adventures in Copenhagen before we got on the train to visit family in Sweden in my next post.

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