We arrived in Copenhagen to cold, high winds, and smattering rain. Unfortunately, our apartment was not close to a train station which resulted in a chilly walk through desolate streets past barren parks and buildings that looked remarkably inactive. Throughout our weekend it proved to be an act of courage to step outside knowing how windy and cold it would be. But despite this less than warm welcome to Denmark, I came to like Copenhagen very much and had a lot of fun.
Richard and I made several observations during our weekend and the first of those was how dark it was. We arrived just before midday on Saturday to a stormy grey blanket of thick clouds covering the sky. We rented a serviced apartment and even with all the lights and lamps on, we still felt the dimness pushing in. By early evening all natural light disappears and I had to get used to the idea that after walking around in the dark for a few hours, it was still only 8pm. From this experience, I can understand why Christmas brings such warmth to your heart in the northern hemisphere. As the daylight fades away the grey dreary city is replaced by one of twinkling lights and glowing Christmas markets.
Cycling is a dominant form of transport and we saw first-hand how the local government has created a city which accommodates pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles effortlessly. The roads are sufficiently wide to accommodate vehicle lanes, a bike lane and footpath all separated by raised curbs. It was nice to also see that even in areas where construction was happening, a lane was preserved for cyclists as well as pedestrians so everyone could move safely through the city. The population of Copenhagen is less than half of Auckland but I still believe these measures would work back home and make more sense than cyclists sharing a lane with buses!
We all know I’m a castle and palace lover so it shouldn’t surprise you that we went to see Rosenborg Castle. As far as royal abodes are concerned, Rosenborg Castle seemed humble and homely compared to the extravagant grandeur of Madrid’s palace. That is probably a reflection of its original purpose as a pleasure palace rather than a seat to rule from. Built in the beginning of the 17th Century for King Christian IV, the interior and furnishings exude elegance and a deep appreciation of local art. On the ground floor is Christian IV’s winter and writing rooms which had dimly lit, dark wood interiors. The walls were lined with Netherlandish art and there was a spectacular writing desk by the window.
Further along we came across the marble chamber which is as wonderful as it sounds. It is decorated with Italian scagliola with the Swedish, Danish and Norwegian coats of arms lining one side.
The first floor contained a number of opulently decorated rooms used by succeeding monarchs including Frederick IV (and his sister Princess Sophie Hedevig), Christian VI, Frederick V, Christian VII, Frederick VI and Frederick VII. From the 18th Century monarchs no longer lived in Rosenborg Castle and it became a place where they stored their greatest treasures. Throughout the rooms we were delighted by amazing objects displaying outstanding local craftsmanship and incredible gifts from abroad presented to members of the royal family.
The most spectacular room, as is the case with many castles, was The Great Hall. This is where the king and queen’s thrones are, guarded by three silver lions from 1670. The lions are a grand gesture of wealth and pomp but they actually looked rather adorable at the same time.
Despite the castle no longer being a residence, some rooms and items are still used today. All royal children from 1671 up to today are baptised in front of the thrones using a gold baptismal dish, pitcher and two solid gold candle sticks housed in the basement treasury. It’s so cool that these traditions live on today, although I would be almost too afraid to touch anything myself!
In the basement levels of the castle was a room full of turned and carved ivory produced between 1575 and 1850. The Danish royal family certainly had an affection for ivory! The level of detail and amazing craftsmanship confirms why the Kings’ turners and carvers were usually considered among the best in the world. Model ships were something we saw a lot of during our time in Copenhagen and in this room was a magnificent one made of ivory!
Another eye catching item was a collection of gold military figures. They were made for a young Prince Frederik V to help him practice military strategy.
The treasury held an incredible collection of beautiful crowns, decorative swords and stunning jewellery. I walked around in silent amazement and particularly favoured an emerald tiara – a girl can dream!
Our trip involved only one other museum oriented stop at the National Museum of Denmark. I can readily confirm reports that Denmark is an expensive place to visit so Richard and I were surprised to learn that entry to the museum was free.
Spread across four levels, the museum covers prehistoric Denmark to the middle ages and renaissance along with a great collections of royal coins and medals. There is also a portion exploring the interiors and history of the Prince’s palace. With limited time, we wandered through two floors and thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits. Some highlights included a metal ornament depicting the sun being drawn across the sky in a carriage in accordance with ancient mythology, early experiments with optical illusions and art, and another incredibly detailed model ship.
Something that’s a must in Copenhagen is to visit their amusement park, Tivoli. It’s unlike any amusement park I’ve been to before and I think it’s even more magical due to the Christmas decorations. It has a huge array of stalls in Nordic huts selling snacks, beverages and housing typical fair games. There are also proper sit down restaurants and plenty of souvenir shops. You can pay an entry fee to go in and look around without going on any rides, or pay an additional fee to go on any and all rides throughout the park – what we chose to do. None of the rides are particularly extreme but that’s not to say there isn’t a certain charm and enjoyment to be had. Soon after we arrived, the sun had set and the temperature dropped so everyone was surrounded by the cloudy mist of their breath. Before this, my experience of theme parks has always been in hot weather (particularly in the searing Gold Coast!). Going on a rollercoaster in the cold made my face lose feeling which was a totally new sensation. The craziest ride for me was a plane themed one where we were spun in giant circles and then the seats rotated us around as well. Through the main portion of the ride I never knew which way was up and where I was; lights just flashed by and I clung on for dear life as the force of the spinning took my breath away and the cold air froze my hands to the handles. It was completely exhilarating! I would have to say that the best part of the park was actually riding one of the oldest roller coasters in the world. It was so ridiculously childish but sometimes you need to enjoy that in life!
The food we had in Copenhagen was always good; good enough for us to even enjoy lunch at the museum café! The city holds the highest number of Michelin stars – 18. The “new Danish cuisine” emphasises natural produce in restaurants and also for cooking at home which has resulted in most food being sustainably sourced and organic. People tend to eat seasonally and emphasise freshness and simplicity which are all the things I aspire to when it comes to food. A great place to get away from the cold and stuff your face with great food is Papiroeen. Vendors have set up in a large warehouse on the waterfront to serve up a huge variety of food and beverage. We had the most amazing pulled duck burgers, a delightful mushroom pizza and a sticky sweet raspberry square to round it off. The atmosphere is warm, noisy and convivial. I am led to believe that this is only temporary however, and that after 2017 the area will likely be changed to provide housing and/or offices for public service institutions – get in there quick!
Copenhagen was good to us in the end. It is a place I could imagine living (if it were possible for me to master Danish!) because it feels incredibly safe and friendly. I’m definitely glad we went and look forward to returning to Denmark soon – perhaps in the warmer months!