We went to Copenhagen for Christmas for a lot of reasons but the best reason of all was probably because if you can visit three countries in a trip instead of one, why not? There were other reasons too, like I had wanted to visit Copenhagen in person ever since I visited with Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown a few years ago. Copenhagen is after all, the happiest country in the world, a direct flight from San Francisco, close to our destination goal, Sweden, and there is Glogg everywhere. Maybe it’s the Glogg that makes everyone so happy, that or Hygge, the Danish philosophy of coziness. I wanted this trip to be so GOOD, because the kids are getting older and I want them to have fun on my trips because I want them to want to go. Maybe I should have slipped them some Glogg.
Glogg may make some happy but for others, there is Tivoli Gardens, open in 1843, and the creation of Georg Carstensen who told King Christian VIII that the park would take peoples’ minds off politics. The king must have thought that a good idea because he granted Carstensen the use of fifteen acres to build the still evolving amusement park and inspiration for Disneyland. Tivoli was the highlight of Copenhagen for us. It was the perfect place to shake off our hours of travel and post arrival nap grogginess. We felt fine letting the kids run loose; it’s a small place with happy people. It’s also a very romantic place…strolling around the twinkling paths with a warm Glogg. We visited the park multiple times during our stay in Copenhagen and it was always fun (I only wish I would have bought the annual pass).
The lights at Christmastime are beautiful and take your mind off of the cold. I’ve read that the park is something to see any time of year though and there is a lake in the middle of the park which adds to the ambiance with the even prettier reflections of the lights.
This was the first ride of Tivoli and the kids loved it. It looked very cold and beautiful.
I went on this trip with my inner tourist firmly in check. I had a very short list for Copenhagen that included zero museums and no expectations. I wanted relaxed, spontaneous and quirky fun (see where I’m headed down a slippery slope here?) and so first on my short list was The Royal Copenhagen, a historic department store, world famous for blue and white patterned dishes.
Blue and white porcelain found its way to Europe from China in the 17th century. Europeans were crazy about this stuff created during the Ming and Qing dynasties and couldn’t get enough of it and so in 1775, a chemist by the name of Frantz Heinrich Müller was given a 50-year monopoly by Queen Julian Marie to create porcelain in Denmark. The first pieces manufactured were dining services for the royal family thus The Royal Copenhagen began its illustrious journey.
This information was not all that intriguing, but at Christmas time five or six designers are invited to create unique “table settings” that are exhibited throughout the flagship store (www.visitcopenhagen.com). That sounded easy, interesting enough with the added quirky factor bonus, and it was right next to the Nyhavn area and Christmas Market, both on my unambitious tourist checklist.
Imagine lasting through a meal at this table.
This table looked like it came right out of Miss Havisham’s house!
This was my favorite table setting…if you look carefully in front of the teapot is a saucer designed to hold a teacup and a treat…genius!
This was one of the more traditionally set tables…
…but the view from the windows of the Nyhavn Christmas Market and the woman blowing giant bubbles in the square below was much more intriguing.
Nyhavn was originally a bustling commercial port with a motley cast of characters roaming the streets and visiting the pubs and alehouses. It was also where Hans Christian Anderson lived at No. 20 and wrote the fairy tales, “The Tinderbox,” “Little Claus and Big Claus,” and “The Princess and the Pea.”
The area is no longer notorious, but famous for the beautifully refurbished town houses lining a picturesque canal filled with wooden boats. It’s a nice shopping area with many restaurants and cafes and Glogg kiosks about every ten feet or maybe I should say every three thousandths of a kilometer. According to my research, Nyhavn is traditional Danish Christmas at its best and according to my eyes, it is just a pretty place to stroll.
This blog so far is in chronological order of our visit to Copenhagen and we find ourselves at Nyhavn in the early afternoon of our first full day and it has already been a struggle to get everyone out of the room in time for the “breakfast” ending at noon. Nonetheless, the tourist attention of my travel companions was fading like the northern winter light.
Scott and Ashley decided they would Uber (Uber has made my public transportation loving husband soft) to a climbing gym. Grant agreed to wander with me for a while as long as he could focus (ha ha) on getting some epic film footage of the city. But first, the food stalls were beckoning to me, and Grant unlike Scott, is always game to sample his way through the local food with me. Aebleskivers, or pancakes disguised in spherical form (no apples, contrary to what the name may hint at) were first. We stopped at the stall above and watched our order turn a golden brown as we chatted with the girl preparing them.
Two young boys and their mother stopped to watch and the mother started speaking in Danish. The girl responded, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Danish.” The mother replied in English that she was telling her kids that the pan was very hot and then they moved on. So I had to ask where she was from and what language she spoke. She was from Albania, spoke Albanian and was in Denmark to get her master’s degree in Biochemistry. Interesting people you meet at food stalls.
For me it is usually the little things and sitting on the quay in the cold, sharing aebleskivers and watching people walk by against the backdrop of old Danish buildings, just tickled the inner tourist in me to death.
So back to the food; it was good, warm and the added Nutella did wonders (it always does). These little balls of yumminess are traditional around Christmastime and served with Glogg, but are eaten all year long. And speaking of Glogg, Grant said, “You should get some Glogg.” It was a little chilly…and it was here in Nyhavn that I learned about Glogg “add-ons” (and this becomes both funny and interesting in Sweden). Oh yes, there are all kinds of hard liquor additions and if you don’t like Glogg, you can have coffee or hot chocolate with the same special ingredients.
A funny story here and a bit of homework. I had my annual physical just a couple of weeks before our trip. My doctor has kids the same age as mine and we were talking about winter break. I told her about our trip and she told me a story. She had a patient that worked for a Danish company and traveled to Copenhagen often. She mentioned to him that she was intrigued by Denmark’s reputation for being the happiest country in the world. His answer was that the Danes are happy because they are drunk all of the time. She told me that I would have to report back to her. Well, drinking may be a factor, the only other place I have seen that kind of alcohol and attitude about drinking is Las Vegas, but the people do seem happy and everyone we encountered was friendly and very nice and the feeling was more “hygge,” and nothing like, “Vegas party.” And if you’re interested: Denmark is Considered the Happiest Country. You’ll Never Guess Why (the article does mention alcohol).
Grant and I wandered along the canal and enjoyed seeing new sights all around us.
We just kept walking until we saw a big sign for an art exhibit in the North Atlantic House, a cultural center dedicated to “preserve, promote and communicate culture and art from the North Atlantic area.” We decided to go look at the exhibit.
Ironically, the exhibit (a powerful illustration of our natural resources, time and power) was located in the same building as Noma, the world renowned restaurant that had been featured in the Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown that I had watched about Copenhagen. I had actually looked into reservations just for fun when I was planning our trip, but I think the bookings were full through February 2017, at which time the restaurant will reopen in a new location. It was fun to walk by and look at the menu anyway.
Meanwhile, Ashley and Scott had fun climbing.
Polar Bears and more treats at Tivoli. Bite-sized churros were another delicious pastry-themed delicacy to be consumed.
Day number two was our Christmas Eve and the Dane’s Christmas and after another late start I drug my little tourists out for an adventure of sorts, following me through the city with a real map to find The Little Mermaid. It was cold, rainy and windy and a long walk but a good one with something to see around every corner. I highly recommend picking up a walking tour map and just wandering around the city. We walked through Rosenborg Castle Gardens and past Rosenborg Castle in an attempt to take a shortcut since it was starting to rain. It was a beautiful detour.
Another sight, as we passed through central Copenhagen, Rundetaarn (The Round Tower), a 17th century architectural project of King Christian IV. It was constructed as an astronomical observatory to continue the work of the famous Dutch astronomer Tycho Brahe after he died in 1601 and now it is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. We didn’t climb the stairs and check out the view of the city but it’s still impressive to just walk by and it was conveniently on the way to our destination.
We did make it to The Little Mermaid, a sculpture given to the city of Copenhagen by Danish brewer, Carl Jacobsen. Jacobsen was so inspired by a ballet performance that he saw at the Royal Danish Theater based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson that he commissioned the sculptor, Edvard Eriksen, to create the Little Mermaid for the city of Copenhagen to enjoy. The Little Mermaid was unveiled August 23, 1913 and just like her character, the statue has not had it easy, enduring decapitation among other forms of vandalism over the years. The Little Mermaid is one of Copenhagen’s top tourist attractions and I can attest to that because it was cold, rainy, windy and the 24th of December (their Christmas) when we visited and there was still a selfie-stick, picture jockeying crowd. I love what that says about us humans…amid all the uncertainty of this crazy world, The Little Mermaid is still important to us and important enough to visit from all over the world in horrible weather on a holiday.
Our city tour continued…The Gefion Fountain and St. Alban’s Church near Langelinie , the pier, promenade and park where you will find the Little Mermaid. A gorgeous walk with a lot to see, even on a cold and wintry holiday.
Scott’s epic photo of the afternoon sun on the cobblestone streets of Copenhagen as we wandered.
We found coffee in a little shop owned by a family from Beirut. The woman making our drinks asked us where we were from and then told us she lives half of the year with her family in Lebanon. She told us she didn’t mind the cold because the weather was so different in Beirut. This is Frederik’s Church, a Lutheran church and home to the largest church dome in Scandinavia (in case you were wondering).
We walked back through the the charming streets of Copenhagen where we found burgers and pasta for a late lunch. I loved all of the lights that brightened the dark days of the northern winter. The lights were usually hearts, stars or candles in the windows, and really added to the feeling of hygge (coziness).
Scott and I took a midnight walk on Christmas Eve. The Danes celebrate Christmas on the 24th and the city is very quiet on the 24th and 25th. So here is some real travel advice which I try and avoid (because there is just too much advice in this world) but since I struggled with information on the subject during my trip planning, I’m going to spare you.
According to my research, we were going to go hungry on the 24th and 25th, unless we were able to manage a reservation at one of the very few restaurants that would be open for Christmas. This was a lot of research too because I didn’t want to add hunger to our jet-lagged travel adventures in Copenhagen. I was convinced that everything would be closed and so I booked a family style dinner at our hotel for the 24th and booked another restaurant for the 25th with the help of our hotel, both rather expensive and challenging experiences and ultimately unnecessary. I worried a lot about it too, but you don’t have to! You won’t go hungry without a reservation in Copenhagen during Christmas, but you might not laugh as hard as we did at the expensive Danish restaurant our hotel booked or be ignored by the couples from Texas and Singapore that we sat with for the “family style” dinner at our hotel. There were cozy cafes, coffee shops and restaurants all open for business and the very well-stocked (with both real food and junk food choices) 7-11 right around the corner from our hotel.
I love goofy signs and this one was definitely worth a look. It was posted in the train station, but what does it mean? I am guessing it has something to do with helmets, but who knows? I finally Google translated it (and we all know how well that can turn out) and it says, “Have not his head under his arm for your safety.” I’ll go with that.
My friend suggested a visit to Roskilde Cathedral. It was open on December 25th and it meant taking a train (both positives), which is how we learned about “not carrying his head under his arm.” We do like a train ride out of the city, any city, because a train ride always gives you a different perspective and so off we went.
This train ride was no different and after twenty minutes of city, suburb, and a little bit of countryside, we alighted in the picturesque town of Roskilde, home to the Roskilde Cathedral, a quaint town in a beautiful setting with a lot of cultural activities. I’d love to stay for a day or two, especially in the warmer months. There is the highly rated Viking Ship Museum in town too, sadly closed on the 25th of December.
It was beautiful in the cold and rain too and very interesting. The Roskilde Cathedral has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995 and the Royal Family’s Mausoleum since the 1400s. It is the first Gothic church building in Scandinavia to be built of brick and it all started with King Harald Bluetooth, son of Gorm the Old (these names make me want to study Danish history), who converted to Christianity and along with him, all of the Danes. He supposedly built a wooden church in the 900’s which he was later buried in on the site of what is now the cathedral.
Bluetooth also united Denmark and Norway, and for this reason is the namesake of “Bluetooth,” the wireless technology used to exchange data over short distances like your headphones and computer or your car’s audio system and your cell phone. And why was King Harald called Bluetooth? Well, one theory is that he had a rotten tooth that looked like it was blue. Thank you blog, for teaching me all of these fun facts!
The present brick church was started in the 1170s under bishop Absalon (1158-1201) and was so cool back in the day that it started the brick building trend in northern Europe. The construction lasted for over 100 years with many changes along the way, right up to the construction of King Frederik IX’s burial place in 1985.
According to the cathedral’s own website, it has impressive bragging rights to the “most royal graves in one cathedral” in the world as it is the final resting place of thirty-nine Danish kings and queens (http://visit.roskildedomkirke.dk/) and they are some tricked out resting places.
The photo above is the sarcophagus of Christian IX and (his) Queen Louise. The three marble statues (from left to right) are “Memory,” “Grief,” and “Love.” Do they look familiar? Yes, they look familiar because Edvard Eriksen carved them shortly after he created The Little Mermaid and his wife Eline was the model for all of them.
In the very back of the church there were portraits of the bishops over the years. This was just one section, but we did find the upper right portrait rather humorous. It was the only one like that (we made a point of checking) and if you know the story, please email me because I would love to know what is going on with that portrait!
The Sarcophagus of King Frederik V (above) with female statues representing Denmark on the left and Norway on the right. There is a lot to see in the cathedral and even if you don’t know a thing about it or want to learn anything in your tour, it is interesting, entertaining and impressive to wander through.
Waiting for our train back to Copenhagen at the Roskilde Station… After a busy Fall, the kids enjoyed their time together. Ashley was so happy to have Grant’s undivided attention that she even pretended to be interested in his explanation of something involving his camera. Someday he will appreciate her devotion.
Hey kids, remember that crazy Christmas dinner? I guess Copenhagen has a pretty happening foodie scene in part thanks to Rene Redzepi’s world famous Noma and the creativity spewed from within its hallowed kitchen. It is called New Nordic Cuisine and forgive me because sometimes I like to pretend that I know everything, but after two meals of “New Nordic Cuisine” I have decided it’s not all that, although upon a three week reflection, it could have been the kids. Ashley is two months into braces and is unable to chew, so she survives on mashed things and yogurt. I literally begged the waitress to ask the chef if someone could mash a potato for Ashley and after looking at me like I had spit on her, she never came back to our table…and upon further reflection…the chicken pâté on fried chicken skin did nothing but remind me of the smell of a sick hen in a warm Epsom salt bath soaking in my laundry room sink.
After our Christmas dinner, we walked back to Tivoli to watch the fireworks and wander among the happy, Glogg infused people one more time.
This was our hotel neighborhood…we walked by the train station every day and night and the “Erotic Corner” which is what the neon sign behind the kids announces. Sometimes I like to go back to TripAdvisor after I make a choice based on the advice there and compare it to my actual experience. I did this after my hotel choice in Copenhagen…it was everything I want in a boutique hotel; great service, comfortable, fabulous food, cute and cozy…but our room was so loud it was like the walls were amplifiers instead of barriers. Thank goodness for jet lag because we did sleep, but I wanted to see if anyone else had noticed. As I scanned through the reviews that didn’t have five stars, I noticed one that made me laugh…”great hotel but very close to the red light district.” Yep.
Copenhagen was a lot of fun for me and a great lesson (the lesson turned out to be a bit of a theme for the trip…more on that in future blogs). I’ll start with the family. The kids are by nature good sports and so they had a reasonable experience in Copenhagen despite being tired from a busy Fall, voting “no” on a winter break trip, actual travel and the jet lag that comes with flying from California to Europe. Once they had no choice and the travel was over, they seemed happy to take a break from life as usual and spend time being each other’s best friend in a brand new place. I’m lumping Scott in mostly with the kids here because his idea of winter break travel was very different from mine but he had agreed to take my trip. Their collective lack of enthusiasm did not worry me though, nor did I feel guilty (yet) for spending every day of winter break on a trip I wanted to take and so I just simply enjoyed the moment, kept my crazy tourist in check, stuck to my short list and had a good time while they came along for the ride. This would have been impossible for me in the past, pulling the trigger on a trip that only I wanted to take and adventuring ahead of my slightly mutinous family, but somewhere along the last year I must have developed some thicker skin or some bigger shall we say…”skills.”
I loved the simpleness of being somewhere different for a holiday that I usually endure. Travel is supposed to give the gift of a different perspective and it worked for me. Of course, the Danes know what they’re doing with the twinkling white lights, tradition of hygge and the Glogg certainly helps. For the first time in a long time, probably since the kids were little and cuter than quaint Danish streets strung with Christmas lights and more fun than Glogg in Tivoli Gardens, I felt like Christmas was fun and pretty and magical instead of well, just read my blog on traditions…I must have been good in 2016 because Santa gave me just what I wanted for Christmas this year…Christmas in Copenhagen!