My mom has had Scandinavia on her bucket list for quite some time. Her admiration/enthusiasm for the region is so great that she talks about their politics, lifestyle, and design aesthetic as if she was a born and bred Dane.
She arrived in London last Friday for an extended visit and in less than 24 hours I did what any sweet daughter would do….
I (along with Joel) forced my sleep deprived, jet lagged mother onto a flight to the “happiest country in the world”: Denmark.
First things first - we scoped out our Danish digs, i.e. our Airbnb with these dizzying plank stairs, which I loved.
Even though we were staying in the city center, our spacious flat overlooked this quiet courtyard. It was pure serenity and a reminder that Airbnb is the way to go when traveling.
Our first activity was a late morning stroll through Torvehallerne, a glass/steel food market surrounded by more bicycles than I’ve ever seen (did you know 50% of the population commutes on bike?!) and brimming with all sorts of local delicacies…..
Including Smørrebrød (open faced sandwiches on rye bread)…..
Heaps of seafood (especially one of my favorites, herring)….
And, of course, danish pastries.
There was no doubt for my mama - it was love at first sight with her cinnamon + cardamon danish.
Her face literally froze when the flaky, doughy pastry hit her mouth.
We sat down to slowly enjoy our breakfast and people watch. A couple things we observed immediately:
- Copenhagen is super expensive. As in, I still can’t wrap my mind around it. I’d been warned about this, but I figured since I used to live in New York and now call London home that I’d be of numb to the sticker shock. I was wrong. $8 for a coffee? $5 for a pastry? $12 for a basic beer?
-I’ve never seen so many children in my life. I don’t know what the deal is, but there was 1 child for every 3 adults. This stroller is one of the 1,000 I saw in a couple hour period. I asked a local about this and he simply stated that it’s not that Danes have more children, it’s just that the recent generations are very ‘inclusive’. This extends through to their children, which they bring with them everywhere. He also noted that this is the reason for all the playgrounds around the city - there are a ton. But I’m still going to go with my impression that they must have a significantly higher birth rate :)
-Not only are there a lot of children, but they’re also tremendously well dressed in folksy outfits and full body puffer onesies with furry pointed hoods that make them look like gnomes. I wish I paparazzi’d the little kids for you to see….absolutely precious.
-Danish people are quiet (which, again, I had been ‘warned’ about). Torvehallerne is Copenhagen’s version of Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel, which I visited last month. Both food halls are extremely similar (lots of wine drinking, local food eating, socializing, etc), but the volume level at each couldn’t be more different. I guess it’s a good reflection of each country’s culture?
We then set out on foot to see as much as possible. Copenhagen is fairly spread out, so we had a ways to go.
Our first stop was Christiania, a commune of sorts that currently has around 850 residents. The neighborhood’s heyday has obviously come and gone and the result is weathered and run down. People stood in long lines to buy their marijuana and then sat outside at picnic benches to relax. I was expecting an oasis of sorts….I was wrong. Photos aren’t permitted, but you can get a sense of Christiana here.
While walking along the river, we passed one of the many playgrounds. This one was the best I’ve ever seen because it had…wait for it…..trampolines!
I tried to challenge this little girl to a jump off, but she was too adorable to be bothered with my shenanigans.
We stopped for lunch at Bodega, a cafe recommended by the head chef at Noma (the world’s #1 restaurant). I had a herring craving that needed to be filled and Bodega knocked it out of the park with their “Herrings 3 Ways” dish.
It has to be said that their $8 latte (still can’t get over that $) was the best of the weekend.
We wrapped up the afternoon in Nyhavn, the 17th century waterfront/what everyone expects all of Copenhagen to look like (myself included).
The colorful buildings really are straight off of a postcard. It’s easy to see why Hans Christian Anderson called this home….must’ve sparked so much fairytale creativity.
The wool blankets sitting on each cafe chair was a warm reminder that, brrrr, Denmark is chilly! But likely only for us. Most everyone else soaked up the sun and slightly above freezing temperature, the best weather they’ve seen for months.
Following a much needed nap (that 4:30am wake up call was not lovely), we had dinner at Madklubben, which I had found online in a comparison review to Noma since they have a multi-course, elevated gourmet dinner, for a severe fraction of the cost.
The place was PACKED (in a good way) and was buzzing, literally. Somehow we managed to score the one table with a window overlooking to chefs, who we watched like a hawk for the remainder of our evening.
I can’t recommend this spot more.
Sunday in the “City of Bikes”” started in an obvious way…..with a 3 1/2 hour city tour with this colorful guy, Bike Mike.
I had read that seeing the city through his eyes is “unique experience”, but nothing could have prepared me for his over-the-top personality, fascinating stories, and quirky insight into Danish life.
Did you know that Denmark leads the world in meat consumption?
Or that they have a significantly high number of smokers (even by Europe’s standards) and they’re the cancer capital of the world?
Or that in the 1940’s, plumbing still wasn’t standard for the general public.
Or that the water quality is now SO good that many locals swim in their city harbor (can’t even imagine doing that in the Hudson or Thames River).
Or that their public bikes are free?
The palace was one of my favorite stops on the tour. The royal courtyard is surrounded by several mini palaces (maybe 3-5?) and each royal member has their own.
And even though Mike told us that it was the nicest/warmest/sunniest day of the year so far, I was still freezing and couldn’t comprehend all the convertibles we passed with their tops down.
It was also love at first (orange) sight for Mike and my mom.
Well, for him at least.
At the end of the tour he informed her that although he is married, he believes people fall in love instantaneously with several people in a lifetime and after having met my mom, he had met his life match. (Don’t worry, Michael - she brushed him off easily.)
P.S. Watching my mom get awkward when a man hits on her is one of the most amusing things I have experienced.
We certainly earned our lunch at Aamanns, a smørrebrød restaurant created by the former chef of, where else, Noma. (Side note, we didn’t know this beforehand. They’re simply really well known for their smørrebrød and actually recently opened a restaurant in Tribeca. If you live in NYC go and report back.)
A walk in the park and another nap later, it was time to eat again.
Seeing as it was Sunday night, the streets were pretty much empty. As were the wool covered cafe seats. To say this city shuts down on a Sunday would be an understatement. (Still can’t get over how empty the streets were in the morning, too.)
We dined on morels, boar, and profiteroles at Peder Oxe, a restaurant that instead of caving to modern Danish design pressure, celebrates the country’s, well, countryside and farm roots.
Even the waitresses sport the region’s folkish attire.
Did Copenhagen seem like the “happiest” place on earth? I’m not sure, but I do think it’s a city you have to live in vs visit to even begin to somewhat understand and appreciate. Plus, it’s really clean.
With adrenaline pulsing through our veins, clear air filling our lungs, and a true sense of quiet and calm, we enjoyed one last slumber in Copenhagen before saying “Farvel”.