We flew 5064 km from Dubai to arrive in Denmark and it’s capital Copenhagen, believed to be the happiest city in the world (according to Lonely Planet). My goal was to shoot some street photography and get footage for our next visual memoir. We also wanted to go and see what the fuss was about. After a pleasant flight and some rest on the plane, we took a 20-minute, slightly confusing train trip and arrived at the beautiful Copenhagen Central Station (built in 1908).
The old train station is gorgeous, made almost completely out of wood. Doves cuddle in the large, warm, sun bathed windows and the light is perfect, all day. The grandeur of the station created this sense of historic nostalgia and you cannot help to be a little overwhelmed by the beauty of it. For a while we soaked in the atmosphere, drank a coffee, ate a Frankfurter on a bun with all the trimmings (a large Frankfurter, very small bun, crispy onions, ketchup, gherkin and mustard) while we listened to the rain. What I love so much about travelling are these moments of complete stillness in what seems to be such an insanely chaotic, bustling place. The unfamiliarity of it all, forces you to find some comfort in the smaller things, those things that you take for granted every day.
From the station we walked to Hotel Du Nord (a hotel in Vesterbro with a great deal of character and very friendly staff, especially Daniel, who made some suggestions where we could go for a drink and some local cuisine). Vesterbro is in the red light district of the city but even this presumably rough area seemed safe and trendy. Daniel suggested a pub around the corner called Jernbanecafeen or The Railroad Pub that is situated opposite the Central Station. It is owned by a lovely lady called Agnes Bjørlig and she is the proud third-generation owner of this family business that has been around since 1933. The railway-themed interior is beautiful and ornate; with handmade flags to commemorate their 81 years of existence. There is so much character in the small space it’s unreal. They also have this value card where you can win a medal if you drink 10 of their local beers, so we said we would absolutely try to do that…we never managed 10, only 7.
We finished the day off by going to a lovely local restaurant Frk. Barners Kaelder where I had some fish, potatoes and white wine and Nic had a rich traditional stew with red wine. The service was great and the food even better especially because it was cold that evening.
On Day 2 we strolled through the streets of Vesterbro, with its cool clothing stores and hipster hangouts, where everyone, even pram-pushing-dads look like hipsters – happy hipsters with hot hairstyles. What is interesting about Copenhagen (from what we have seen) is that even though it is super trendy, it is not at all pretentious. You don’t feel like a tourist and on day two we already said we could live there. We still do. The day was spent fooling around parks, taking small beer-breaks (Øl) and lying on the grass or wherever we could find some wild flowers, graffiti or take pictures of random old buildings.
Celeste joined us late that afternoon at Agnes’s pub, Jernbanecafeen and after that we decided to take another stroll around town and go to the free town Christiania, the largest hippy community in the world, with their own governing system. It is not allowed to take photos (due to the substances sold there) so we had a drink, said farewell to Celeste and hit the streets. We took a picture at the Hard Rock Café for our friend Werner who collects caps from each Hard Rock that he visits and we had yet another late night exploring the streets and the late night street food (schwarmas).
On Day 3 we took a bus from Central Station to Nørrebro and got off in the main street with it’s awesome oriental and antique shops. Not far from there we decided to go visit Hans Christian Andersen’s grave – possibly the most amazing Assistens cemetery I have ever seen. It is so beautiful that lovers spend their afternoons soaking up the sun on the grass, amongst the graves, the delicate flowers and the willow trees. We spent most of our afternoon there and spoke to people who knew the cemetery and some of the symbolical meaning behind some of the iconography they use on various stones. They where so generous with their knowledge and gave us a free map of the cemetery. We also visited the grave of Hans Christian Andersen, which was an unpretentious, simple grave with some fresh roses placed on it.
On our way back we stopped at the beautiful Palads cinema ( a three-story mansion with crystal chandeliers and a fabulous popcorn selection). Due to the incredible selection of sweets and popcorn they have, it is not advisable to take children there because they will end up crying! This was heaven for us as we are completely movie-and popcorn obsessed and they have a massive selection of both. After the freak-out session we walked over the street for a light lunch and some latte, served in a normal glass (something everybody does in Copenhagen and I really don’t know why).
The light was beautiful so we strolled some more through the alleys, towards the Round Tower (built in 1642), to go check out the view of the city. The tower itself has a completely hollow center and there is a space at the top of the center where you can go and view the hollow, while standing on a pane of glass….eeeek! Besides the hollow center and the steep spiralling walk up and around the tower, they also had an amazing hat exhibition, consisting of a 1000 hats, not to mention the most incredible 360-degree view of the city, once you have reached the top of the tower.
The city center is bustling and beautiful with buskers making music and life is everywhere on the streets. One barista told us that the street in Copenhagen is ‘sacred to him; because there is so much life happening there” and he also spoke about how the street is their livelihood. I have to admit I miss this street life in Dubai, because other than Satwa there are very few places where you see that kind of interaction.
What I also really like about Copenhagen are all the specialty stores, for instance we went to one that only sells maps and world globe maps (some with lights in them and we were tempted to buy one) or various hat shops, book shops or a pub that only sell speciality Rums.
After another snack we headed to Nyhavn, a harbour not far from the Round Tower. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening sipping icy drinks, taking photos and watching people with their Nikes passing by (everyone wears them). On our way back we met two musicians, Dave and Jean Paul and their fabulous friend Michella who said we should join them for a drink at a small blues bar nearby. We met some more amazing people there and listened to some inspiring Tom-Waits-but-not-Tom-Waits-like tunes by Jake Green. It was one of those great nights and it is always awesome to make new friends.
Day 4 was spent strolling in the Botanical Gardens where each and every shrub, plant type and flower is named, labeled and carefully looked after – so incredible to see. It was the hottest day since we got there and everyone was out to enjoy the sun around picnic baskets and games in the park. This day I thought about how balanced the city seems with everyone, even elderly people, being active (everyone is either on a bike or walking or running) and I could see why they say it is the happiest city on earth.
On the way to the Rosenborg Castle (1606-1607) I was taking photos of a wall (just some stock texture) when a lady abruptly stopped on her bike, walked over and pointed to a cannonball in the wall. At first I thought she might be a bit mental but then she explained this was a cannonball dating back to the 1808 British Bombardment of Denmark. The ball is still embedded in the wall of the now University of Copenhagen. It was so surprising and so cool that a random stranger took the time to show me that. At the Rosenborg Castle we had a fabulous lunch with sandwiches and some marvellous coffee (again, served in a normal glass) with the hundreds of years old castle, as our backdrop. You would think it is something out of a fairytale with swans cruising in small ponds and beautiful light. It is no wonder Hans Christian Anderson was so inspired to write those wonderful children’s stories.
Inspired by all this magic of the castle we decided to go back to Palads (the amazing cinema, mentioned earlier) to see a Wes Andersen film (one of my favourite directors). On the way there, we stopped at the Dutch Film Institute to check out an exhibition of some local filmmakers and browsed through some film books. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film I can completely recommend and I could not think of a better place to watch it than there, in the heart of the most magical European City, in a building that resemble the Budapest hotel in the film. If you haven’t seen the film, it is perfection.
From Palads we almost walked pass the Tivoli Gardens but because we were still in that Wes-Andersen-movie-mode we decided to go in and explore. Tivoli Gardens is a theme park, with an old-school-fairytale-flare. We played some games, won some tokens and got a pink, kitsch frame to put a photo in and put in my grandma’s cupboard that I inherited from her.
It was such perfect day and the perfect way to end the first leg of our 3 leg trip to Copenhagen and Reykjavik, Iceland. (We were in Iceland for the following 6 nights (Day 5 – 11) and one more evening in Copenhagen, but more on this in my next post)
All images in this post were taken by Karien and Nic Mulder, apart from the poster of The Grand Budapest Hotel.