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Denmark

Around the World 2017: Odense and trip conclusion


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On a cursory inspection of the map of Denmark, the island of Funen (Fyn to Danes) might not appear to be an island at all. The Little Belt strait that separates Funen from the mainland is barely a kilometer wide for most of its length. On closer inspection, rounded Funen looks a little like a soccer ball being kicked between the mainland father and his son Zealand. We had chosen Odense as the last city for the trip mainly because it was close to the midpoint between Aarhus and Copenhagen, but it also had the advantage of having a famous zoo. We arrived in Odense in time to have a few hours at the zoo before it closed, so we made it our first stop. There was a diverse selection of animals that were in very natural enclosures yet were still easily visible. One of our favorites was the manatee, a testimony to the amazing power of natural selection to fill environmental niches. There was a pretty cool playground for the kids as well.
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We had planned on visiting Bazar Fyn, another Middle Eastern mall, for dinner after the zoo but unfortunately the opening hours didn't coincide with what I had researched. Instead we made our way to central Odense but found most restaurants closed on a Sunday evening. Eventually we settled on a gourmet burger restaurant and ate as well as we could, considering there was nothing on the menu whatsoever except burgers and sides. Our Airbnb proved to be a disappointment as well. It was on a second floor that could only be accessed by a ladder-like staircase, so I had to haul up our bags and then the kids one by one. Once inside, we locked and barricaded the door to prevent any chance of the kids wandering back out and falling down the ladder. We also discovered that almost none of the lights worked and the host had only provided us with one stained dish towel for the shower.

In the morning we headed to the pedestrianized center for brunch. We soaked up that familiar Scandinavian atmosphere of cobblestone squares walled by rows of dissimilar townhouses and countless sidewalk cafes. Unfortunately, a large area in the very center of the old town was undergoing some extensive reconstruction and was completely dug up and blocked off.
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Slightly away from the center we found a pretty residential street that led us to the Hans Christian Andersen House. Outside the small museum dedicated to Denmark's most famous author was an outdoor theater with a castle-like stage next to a shallow pond. People had started to gather on a grassy embankment in front of the stage. We were just in time to see a beautifully-performed play incorporating several of the famous fables. After the play, the characters came out and mingled with the audience. Naturally, Cleo's favorite was the princess from "The Princess and the Pea".
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It was time to say goodbye to our last new city of the trip, but fortunately Denmark had one last amazing castle for us to see before our return to Miami. Egeskov Slot is also on the island of Fyn, half an hour south of Odense. We had seen several beautiful castles in Denmark but this 16th century creation was the closest thing to a fairytale that we'd seen since Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. The surrounding moat was filled with lily pads and carpets of bright green algae. The castle itself was just part of a huge complex including the gardens, an extensive collection of vintage automobiles and airplanes, and an adventure playground for kids.
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The gardens provided quite a workout as we herded the kids along the paths through the rolling landscape. In one area the hedges were trimmed into the shape of squirrels, peacocks, and spirals that Cleo immediately identified as poop.
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We skipped the interior of the castle and spent our remaining time in the play area, where the older kids tried out the canopy walk and the zipline.
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We arrived back in Copenhagen in time for dinner on the patio of a Thai restaurant in the center of town. The meal was good enough to help us forget our misadventure with Thai food in Gothenburg.
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We'd selected an Airbnb in the southern district of Amager, close to the airport, to avoid any risk of traffic on the way to our flight home the next morning. I still had to drop off the rental car in Malmö as there wouldn't be any time to do it in the morning. We settled in to our last Airbnb and I took off at about nine fifteen to return the car. I was under a little time pressure because the rental agency had told me their garage would be closing at ten. I filled up the car in Amager and then headed for the Øresund Bridge for the last time. Just as I approached the bridge, my heart sank as I realized I had neglected to bring my passport. Even though Denmark and Sweden are both in the EU and theoretically passports shouldn't be necessary to cross the border, they had checked ours the first time we entered Malmö from the bridge. I believe the policy has something to do with attempts to stem the flow of Asian and African migrants. I only had a few seconds to decide what to do. Returning to the Airbnb to get my passport would lose me half an hour and eliminate any chance of getting to the auto rental agency in time. If I got turned back at the border, I'd lose an hour and also the fifty Euro toll. I'm not sure how my thought process went in the end, but I decided to go for it and took the bridge. I spent the entire time on the span trying to gauge my chances of making it through. I paid the toll and nervously approached the checkpoint. A female agent asked for my passport and I told her I'd forgotten it, and handed her my driver's license. She frowned and told me she'd have to check in the office, and I waited in my car for what seemed an interminable length of time. Finally she reappeared and told me they'd let me through, but next time to bring my passport. That was a huge relief. Returning to Copenhagen at that point would have been a terrible way to end the trip. I raced to the rental agency but the checkpoint episode had delayed my arrival until a few minutes after ten. They'd given me a passcode to use to get into the garage but it didn't work on the only keypad I could find. In the end I parked the car at the curb just outside their office. I still had to walk to the Malmö train station, take the train to the Copenhagen airport, and then a taxi back to the Airbnb. It was almost midnight when I was finally able to get to bed.

The following morning we had one final hurdle which was getting from the Airbnb to the airport. Uber had been banished from Denmark earlier that year. I had attempted to reserve a taxi on a local app I had downloaded the previous night but based on prior experience with European taxi apps I didn't have much confidence. I had also figured out the bus route, but it required a two block walk to the stop as well as a change of buses. Around seven in the morning we brought all our bags to the curb hoping to flag down a taxi on the street, but we hardly saw any cars at all at that early hour. Just as we were about to start schlepping all our belongings to the bus stop, a taxi suddenly pulled over. It turned out to be the one I'd reserved from the app. It was a tight fit since the app didn't have any option for requesting a larger vehicle, but we packed everything in and got to the airport in plenty of time for our flight.
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This had been our longest and most ambitious trip ever, but we made it through again without any significant adverse events. Looking back a year later, the most memorable parts were the night markets in Taipei and Shenyang, Copenhagen, and the Norwegian fjords. I can't think of anywhere we went that wasn't worthwhile, and the time allocation was perfect. Enjoying such a long trip gave me the confidence to plan our longest European road trip yet, a five week Odyssey through Iberia and Southwest France that begins two weeks from today.

Posted by zzlangerhans 05:04 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Aarhus


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Now that we were back in Denmark, I could feel the circle of our road trip beginning to close. However, I knew that there was still a lot for us to see and do over the last three days of the trip and I wanted to end things on a high note. We'd already seen Denmark's most famous and international city, but our route back would take us through the next three largest cities in the country. I was curious to see if these lesser lights had their own distinct identity or if they were just miniature versions of Copenhagen.

I had already cleared a late arrival in Aarhus with our Airbnb host, so we decided to stop for dinner in Aalborg. We arrived just as dusk was settling in and didn't really have time to drive around the city. We headed for the center of town hoping to find a historic old neighborhood but instead found a gloomy and mostly deserted area that seemed more like a red light district. What little activity there was seemed to be centered around the numerous Irish pubs in the area. TripAdvisor guided me to an Italian restaurant nearby that seemed like a good prospect. I parked the car and went in by myself to scope the restaurant out. We've learned from experience that we can't always tell from a TripAdvisor listing if a restaurant is right for us. Sometimes the place turns out to be more high end than we expected, sometimes it's overcrowded, sometimes they have tall tables and barstools. It's no fun getting all the kids out of their car seats, walking a block or more to a restaurant, and then figuring out we aren;t going to be eating there.

In this case the restaurant seemed to be fine. It was pleasant but not stuffy, half-empty, with a decent selection of Italian food. I confirmed with the owner that they had room for five and retrieved everyone from the car. Things started to go sour pretty much as soon as we sat down. The kids had their iPads and a waiter immediately came over to grumble that we were disturbing the other diners, well before anyone could possibly have complained. Now I'm as considerate as anyone of the restaurant experience, and we're very careful with the kids to make sure we don't spoil anyone else's peace of mind while they eat. Part of that process is letting them have their iPads so they won't play with the cutlery, fight with each other, blow out the candles, or do any of the million other annoying things that small children normally do when they get taken to a restaurant. We're very conscientious about the volume too, and make sure the kids adjust it to the lowest level that they're able to hear. That's usually well below the ambient noise level in the restaurant, so the only people being disturbed at that point are the ones who just hate to see kids. Well, tough luck.

We had a table well away from anyone else, and the noise level in the restaurant was pretty high. I looked around and none of the other tables were paying us the slightest bit of attention. It was clear that the only displeasure was coming from the owner and the staff. I guess they felt that iPads didn't belong in the best Italian restaurant in Aalborg's red light district. The waiter was fairly nasty about it as well. I think he told us "This isn't a McDonald's". Now, if we weren't already on track to arrive at our Airbnb well after ten PM or if there was anywhere else to eat nearby other than Irish pubs, we would have cheerfully walked out at that point. As it was, I much preferred to get dinner over with and get back on the road. I smiled and asked the waiter if he'd prefer us to put all the iPads away. He had the sense to recognize what the alternative was, shook his head and took our order. The kids couldn't have behaved better. They were as quiet as mice until the food came, then we put their iPads away and they ate very peacefully. I think the staff was actually a little abashed by the end of the meal. We turned down dessert and Ronald McDonald held the door open for us on the way out. "You're the rudest person I've ever met," Mei Ling snarled at him as we exited. She takes these kinds of things personally.

So that was Aalborg. Not the greatest stop, but at least we were full and we could just fall into bed once we got to Aarhus. A little over an hour later, I was rummaging in the dark in a planter outside our Airbnb for the house key. There was a bad moment when I thought it wasn't there and then my iPhone flashlight caught a glint. Opening an apartment door never felt so good.

I was excited to get going the next morning, as I had a list of markets to visit. The first was the Saturday farmers market on Ingerslevs Boulevard, just a short walk from our apartment. There was a good mix of prepared food, produce, and crafts that took care of breakfast and kept us occupied for an hour.
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When we retrieved the car I encountered a bank of large bins I initially thought were for recycling. On closer inspection I saw they were for donating clothes which are then sold, with the revenues earmarked for aid programs in Africa. Sounds nifty, but when I had time to research it a little I found the program is actually somewhat controversial. Is Scandinavia an altruistic paradise, or is it a haven for exploiters of human goodwill? It's funny how things are often not at all how they seem on the surface.
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On the western outskirts of Aarhus is Bazar Vest, a large shopping center mainly devoted to Middle Eastern and South Asian goods. It was good to get our mulitcultural fix, but overall the atmosphere was a little gloomy and sterile compared to real Asian markets. When I took a picture of Mei Ling in the food court area, I noticed there was a guy next to her bent forward in his chair showing his butt crack. Gross. He sat up but as soon as he saw me taking another picture he bent over again. Either he really didn't want his face to be seen, or he really wanted his butt crack to be seen.
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We got a quick bite to eat and stocked up on fruit at a Middle Eastern supermarket. On the way out we passed a barber shop, which was great because I love getting my hair cut when we're traveling. It's one of those experiences that always seems to bring me closer to the experience of actually living in the country I'm visiting. This time was no exception. My barber was from Kuwait and his coworker was from Ethiopia. We had a interesting discussion about their native countries and what it's like for them living in Denmark. I got a great haircut and Ian got to be an airplane.

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We decided to continue onward out of town to Rosenholm Slot. The 16th century Renaissance castle is majestic and beautifully preserved. We were the only visitors when we arrived so we didn't have the heart to turn down the tour, although we weren't particularly interested in the interior.
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Back in Aarhus we parked near the train station and walked into the downtown pedestrian zone. Our first stop was Aarhus Central Food Market, which seemed rather low energy compared to others we'd visited in Scandinavia. Or perhaps we just weren't hungry. Across the street was a pretty little Catholic Church.
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We continued north along Søndergade pedestrian street until we crossed the bridge over the Aarhus River. On the other side were the Aarhus Cathedral and the Aarhus Theatre. Just south of the cathedral in Bishop's Square there was a jazz festival and people were relaxing outside and listening to the music.
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The narrow river was lined with crowded cafes, and we followed the river bank under the bridge to the sounds of a party. Just after we found the band playing outside a cafe, the singer launched into a killer version of "What a Wonderful World".
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Our last stop of the day was Aarhus Street Food, another food hall a short walk from the pedestrian zone. The place was similar to the Copenhagen version if just a bit smaller, and it also had a play area for the kids. At this point we were used to the food court style of eating and we collected an assortment of dishes quite efficiently. The informal setting was quite a relief after our stressful experience the previous night.
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The next morning we had another delicious Scandinavian breakfast and then took a walk around a quaint older neighborhood we had seen from the car. We found a park with a great view of the rainbow panorama walkway atop the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum.
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On the way out of Aarhus we encountered a strange sight from the coastal road. A crane appeared to be hoisting a waterlogged small car out of the North Sea. Even though the car was in my sight for just a few seconds, some thing didn't sit right about what I was seeing. The car was suspended motionless in the air, yet water continuously gushed from its undercarriage. How much water could fit in one small car? At the first opportunity, I made a U-turn and doubled back to the crane on the side of the road closer to the shore. Soon it became clear that we had not stumbled on the scene of a bizarre accident. A quick Google search revealed that we were actually looking at an abstract sculpture, part of a program of art installations along that stretch of coastal road.
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Not much further, the road disappeared into a forested area and eventually brought us to Moesgård Strand, a scenic beach within the forest. A group of Danish kids in waders were milling around a rock jetty with nets. They didn't seem to be catching anything, but further up on the beach I saw a woman stirring a large pot. It turned out to be crab soup, but it wasn't ready to be tasted yet. They offered to rent us some waders and nets but the sky was overcast and the water looked quite cold, so we opted to drive on to Odense instead.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 05:57 Archived in Denmark Tagged aarhus aalborg Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Copenhagen day trips


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Malmö
After I decided to expand our Copenhagen stop into a Scandinavian road trip, I kept the Copenhagen stay at six days. This ended up being a wise decision because there were plenty of things to do within a short drive of Copenhagen as well as in Copenhagen itself. Our first day trip was over the bridge to Malmö, Sweden where we were picking up our rental car. If you're going to visit Malmö, the first thing you should know is not to ignore the umlaut over the letter o. The umlaut means the name is pronounced something like Malmeuh, rather than Malmoh. Of course, you'll be understood if you pronounce the name of the city wrong but it's somewhat annoying to natives. Imagine someone calling the capital of your country Washingtown if you're American, or Londown if you're English. It's not that big of a deal, but always better to get it right if you can.

Like Copenhagen, Malmö is a city with a lot of water around in the form of sea, canals, and ponds. Walking southward alongside a wide canal towards the city center, we passed the stately and ornate post office before a colorful structure caught our eye on the other side of the canal. We crossed to find something that seemed to be part sculpture, part jungle gym. As far as the kids were concerned, it was 100% a jungle gym. I later learned the sculpture is called Spectral Self Container, which was completed by the well-known Swedish sculptor Matti Kallioinen in 2013. It turned out to be quite useful, because it occupied the kids while I spent a boring half hour in 7-11 trying to determine why my Denmark SIM didn't function at all in Malmö despite the assurances of the Danish 7-11 clerk in Copenhagen. Eventually I gave up and bought a new SIM card for Sweden.
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We didn't have to walk much further to reach Malmö's picturesque center. There are two central squares called Lilla Torg, the little square, and Stortorget, the great square. We had lunch at a cafe called Moosehead in Lilla Torg whose menu offered an incongruous but satisfying mixture of Thai food and burgers. Stortorget was surrounded by tall, beautiful townhouses and had a monument to King Charles X Gustav on horseback in the center. The surrounding area was largely pedestrianised and filled with traditional Swedish homes which were now shops and galleries.
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Not far from Stortorget was Sankt Petri Kyrka, the most famous church in Malmö. The 14th century Gothic exterior is built almost entirely from brick, yet the facades and buttresses had a complex and sculpted appearance that was very appealing.
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A few blocks south we ran into the moat-like canal that surrounds central Malmö. We checked out the view of the canal from one of the bridges then walked along the canalside promenade to Malmö's premiere green space Slottsparken.
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We spent another hour circling back towards the car in Slottsparken, passing an interesting windmill and the relatively nondescript Malmö Castle, which is now a museum. After that, it was time to retrieve our new car and head back to Copenhagen for a well-earned dinner.
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Northern Zealand
Until I visited Denmark, I'd never realized how close the country was to being an archipelago. The largest part of the country is connected to the European mainland, but only by an isthmus so long and narrow that it might as well be an island. Aside from the peninsula there are several large islands including Zealand, the one on which Copenhagen is situated. Our destination for our first full day in Denmark with a car was the northeastern part of Zealand, home to legendary castles and beautiful scenery.

After breakfast we drove straight to Frederiksborg Castle, near the town of Hillerød. The design of the castle was breathtaking, an enormous yet intricate edifice of red brick with countless turrets and spires. The castle was set in the middle of a large pond with swans and other birds, and to the rear were expansive and lush gardens.

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The interior of the castle was equally impressive, especially the imposing and ornate Great Hall which is also an 18th century restoration after the original was destroyed by fire.
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On the way out I got a nice shot of the famous Neptune fountain framed by the archway of one of the outlying buildings. The current fountain is actually a 19th century copy of the 17th original which was taken by the Swedes as war booty a few decades after its construction. Are the Danes still pissed off about it? I never had a chance to ask, although I've heard there's not a lot of love lost between the people of the two countries.
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For lunch we drove up to Hornbaek on the northern coast of Zealand, where there's a fish restaurant with a small seafood market right next to the harbor. All the kids were sleeping and it was too windy to eat outside, so we ate our lunches on trays in the car.
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Ten minutes from Hornbaek was Kronborg Castle, famous for being the inspiration for Hamlet's castle Elsinore. The castle is located on a promontory at the narrowest point of the Øresund, just two miles from the Swedish coastline. Kronborg has a somewhat bleaker appearance than Frederiksborg, probably due to serving double duty as a fortress controlling entrance into the Øresund as well as being a royal residence. We decided to forgo the steep entry price and limited our exploration to the grounds and gift shop.
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Kronborg Castle is next to the midsized town of Helsingør, which has a well-preserved town center with centuries-old townhouses and cobblestone streets. The town was surprisingly busy and touristy, considering there hadn't been much of a crowd at the castle. We were excited to find a large epicurean market in the main square, although I'm not sure if it was a seasonal event or a one-off. We enjoyed the market and had drinks in a cozy cafe before returning to Copenhagen for dinner.
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Møn
The next day was the coldest and rainiest of the entire Scandinavian road trip. We started out at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, a town better known for its annual electronic music festival. Perhaps it was the drizzle and overcast skies, but the town seemed very dreary and plain. The museum wasn't very exciting either, with a few boat skeletons and other drab displays. It was too cold to participate in the craft workshops outside, which weren't included in the already hefty admission prices. The kids attempted a little hammer throwing and then we were back on the road to the little island of Møn just south of Zealand.

It was a long drive to Møn so by the time we reached the little town of Stege we were more than ready for lunch. Fortunately there was an excellent cafe called David's which had delicious salads and sandwiches.
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Our ultimate destination was GeoCenter Møns Klint, a geological museum at the eastern tip of the island. The largely underground museum is perched at the top of Møn's famous chalk cliffs. The last part of the drive took us through a very spooky and misty forest.

The GeoCenter was as delightful as the Viking Museum had been disappointing. It was much more than a geological museum, with plenty of interactive exhibits covering everything from erosion to dinosaurs.
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After a couple of pleasant hours in the GeoCenter, we explored the boardwalk behind the museum that ran along the edge of the cliffs. Unfortunately the mist obscured the limited view of the cliffs available from the boardwalk and descending the hundreds of stairs to the beach below was out of the question. Instead we packed everyone up and began the long drive back to Copenhagen for dinner.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 17:34 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Copenhagen part II


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Thanks to day trips and some rain, we didn't do our Copenhagen walkaround until our last full day. We had the additional advantage of Sunday being a free day for parking. Leaving the car for the entire day in the central Red Zone where our Airbnb was located would have cost us an arm and a leg any other day. We had another awesome breakfast near the Airbnb and walked a block to the botanical garden which had a large greenhouse and delightful paths to walk on.
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Just southeast of the botanical garden are the 17th century castle Rosenborg Slot and Kongens Have, the King's Gardens. Having just visited the enormous Frederiksborg Slot a few days earlier, we decided to pass up the interior of the castle in favor of a longer walk through the lush, manicured gardens. Mei Ling, Cleo and Spenser used the extra time to participate in a tai chi class on one of the lawns. The Danes were disappointed to learn we wouldn't be able to come back the next Sunday.
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A couple of blocks southeast of Kongens Have we found Frederiks Kirke, also known as the Marble Church, a beautiful 18th century rococo church with a distinctive green dome that is the largest in Scandinavia. We followed a small street to the octagonal courtyard of Amalienborg Palace, the home of the Danish royal family. We probably could have spent an entire day visiting and exploring all the churches and palaces, but in general we prefer to stick to the streets and markets.
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Continuing southeast from Amalienborg we quickly found ourselves at the shoreline of Copenhagen Harbor. There was a small park here called Amaliehaven with a central fountain. Across the harbor we could see the Copenhagen Opera House. Not far from the Opera House I could see a large number of people milling around on a patio. I thought at first it might be an outdoor concert then realized with a shock that I was looking at Copenhagen Street Food from a whole different perspective. It had taken so long to drive there I assumed it was very far from where we were staying, but actually it was just a half hour's walk away.
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Just a block south of Amaliehaven was Nyhavn, the center of tourist activity in Copenhagen. The short dead end canal off Copenhagen Harbor was built in the 17th century to facilitate unloading of fish and cargo at Kongens Nytorv, which is now a public square. Nyhavn is now mainly used as a port for tour boats, and is lined with chain restaurants and souvenir shops. The most distinctive feature of Nyhavn is the collection of brightly covered townhouses, some of which date back to the 17th century as well.
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Because of the high concentration of tourists, it wasn't easy to find a place worth eating at. The canalside restaurants seemed to have the usual selections of bland international food. We employed TripAdvisor and were able to find a decent meal a couple of blocks away, even though our table was in an active roadway.
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The kids were clamoring for a boat ride and the prices weren't unreasonable for a one hour tour, so we decided one touristy activity wouldn't kill our vibe too badly. In fact, the tour turned out to be quite worthwhile. As in Venice, seeing the city from the perspective of the water feels completely different from being on land. The boat took us around the narrow semicircular canal that forms the island of Slotsholmen, which is the site of the Danish Parliament. We also went to the north end of the harbor to see the Little Mermaid statue, which we never would have bothered with on our own. The most impressive thing wasn't the statue itself but the flock of tourists that were gathered around the unassuming little sculpture. It always amazes me how many travelers dedicate themselves to checking off every attraction listed in their guidebook at the expense of missing all kinds of amazing sights and experiences in the city streets.
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From Nyhavn we walked southwest to Tivoli Gardens, crossing the bridges into and out of Slotsholmen and passing Parliament and many other stately paragons of classic architecture. The area was largely deserted on a Sunday afternoon, and the imposing buildings and cloudy skies gave the area a forsaken atmosphere.
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The Tivoli Gardens was probably the most expensive amusement park I've ever visited, charging high prices both for admission and for the rides. However, we rarely pass something up that we want to do solely because of the cost, and the kids deserved some entertainment after a long day of walking. The park was beautiful in some areas, but the rides themselves were somewhat rudimentary and the place had the usual grit and smells common to amusement parks everywhere. Fortunately our kids are still young enough not to be too discriminating. They just love to be rewarded, and they know how to have fun.
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We decided to return to Kødbyens for dinner. My map indicated the walk wasn't every long, but we exited on the wrong side of Tivoli and it ended up being close to a half hour. We had noticed Kødbyens Fiskebar when we were at Mad & Marked the previous day, and the proprietor of the fishmarket at Torvehallerne had recommended it to us as well. We hadn't made a reservation because we didn't want to be tied to a schedule, so we had to wait a while for a table and eventually had to sit outdoors. The sun was already going down and the chill was hardly offset by the blankets they provided to drape over ourselves. Fortunately, we had enough warm clothes and scarves to keep the kids warm without burying them in blankets. It was our first real restaurant meal in Copenhagen and our gamble paid off. The tapas style restaurant lived up to its reputation with delicious and beautiful presentations of fish and shellfish, as well as amazing cocktails.
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Monday morning we had one last satisfying Copenhagen breakfast before heading back across the Øresund to Sweden.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 09:45 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Copenhagen part I


View Around the World 2017 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

Over the last few years, we've been rapidly knocking the remaining major European cities off our list of unknowns. The are still a few left in the East: most notably Warsaw, the great Russian cities, and Belgrade. In the West the only one that neither Mei Ling nor I had ever visited was Copenhagen. I originally planned Copenhagen as a simple stopover on the way between China and the United States, but when I realized we could spend more time on the trip I devised a three week road trip that would incorporate Gothenburg and southern Norway along with Denmark. I originally planned to include Stockholm with a more limited stay in Norway, but I reconsidered after more research into Norway's southwestern coast. I've been to Stockholm before and while it's pleasant enough, I knew Mei Ling wouldn't find it as awesome as the central European metropolises. The western fjords would provide some adventure and natural beauty, and also would be more compatible with my plan to see all of Europe in road trips by breaking it down into digestible pieces. If we didn't go to Norway's west coast on this trip, we probably never would. Stockholm could be incorporated into a Baltic Sea trip in the future.

We didn't have a rental car waiting for us at the airport. Auto rental costs are extremely high in Denmark due to taxes so I'd made our reservation across the Øresund in Malmö, Sweden for the next day. Instead we took a taxi to our Airbnb in central Copenhagen, which was on the third floor of an elegant townhouse a block away from the Torvehallerne market. The apartment had a classic style reminiscent of our lodgings in Vienna and Budapest. Our three-leg journey from Shenyang had left us exhausted, but we knew better than to let ourselves fall into bed in the mid afternoon. Instead, we immediately made a beeline for the market. I quickly realized that my attempts to memorize some phrases in Danish had been completely pointless. The vendors would give me a confused look when I sputtered out some garbled Danish and then respond in faintly accented, grammatically perfect English. I had an easier time being understood speaking English in Denmark than I did in the southern US. The same ended up being true in Sweden and Norway as well. My Scandinavian phrasebook ended up at the bottom of the suitcase for the entire road trip.

The market was superb, although we had to close our eyes to the prices which were multiples higher than what we had being paying for food in Shenyang. We put together an early dinner from various kiosks and topped it off with some luscious cakes, much to the delight of the kids.

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We spent another hour in the largely pedestrianized area around the Kultorvet, enjoying the energetic vibe of the cafe-lined square and taking in the 17th century Round Tower. I also bought a SIM card at a 7-Eleven which the clerk assured me would work without roaming charges in Sweden and Norway. Once we felt that we'd stayed up long enough not to have to worry about waking in the middle of the night, we returned to the Airbnb and crashed.
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We got up early the next morning for the mission of picking up our rental car. On the way to breakfast we cut through Ørsteds Park, a lush trapezoid of greenery with a beautiful central lake. South of the park was a quiet neighborhood with narrow streets and colorful row houses.
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I had a long list of places in Copenhagen to eat breakfast, which seemed to be quite an important meal. Once we arrived at Next Door Cafe we found it was quite busy although they had one table left that was just our size. We put together a very satisfying breakfast of sandwiches, salads, and pancakes. The proprietor was very friendly although somewhat eccentrically coutured.
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We had some difficulty figuring out how to get to Malmö as Google Maps was recommending a bus that didn't seem to exist. In the end we took the metro to the central train station where we could buy tickets for the train that crossed the Øresund. It was a stressful process given that we had the three kids and we were using one stroller to transport the three car seats. Eventually we made it to Malmö's central station, which was thankfully within easy walking distance of the auto rental agency. The pick-up proceeded uneventfully, although at the typical glacial pace I'm used to in Europe. We stowed the car in a lot and walked to the town center, where we spent a few pleasant hours that I'll describe in my Copenhagen day trips post.

We returned to Copenhagen in the early evening and drove straight to Papirøen (Paper Island) which housed the city's largest food court Copenhagen Street Food. Paper Island is one of several artificial islands that comprise the Christianshavn section of central Copenhagen. I was surprised to learn that this very modern-seeming layout was devised more than three hundred years ago. Paper Island got its name from warehouses that stored countless rolls of newsprint for the Danish press industry. Once the island outlived this function, the warehouses were abandoned until 2014 when restaurateur Jesper Møller took over the largest warehouse and most of the island for his international food hall concept. Outside of the warehouse, the island is so quiet that it's hard to believe that anything of note is taking place nearby. As soon as we walked through the doors, however, we saw a beehive of busy food kiosks and at least a couple hundred patrons. In the back was a lively patio with views across Copenhagen Harbor to the Skuespilhuset theater. The food selection was impressive with offerings from the Middle East, the Far East, and Latin America as well as Europe. We put together a meal that was delicious and fun to eat, although managing the three little ones at a crowded shared table was a little stressful. I've since learned that Copenhagen Street Food closed at the end of 2017 to make way for residential development of Paper Island, but it seems it will be opening at a new location in May 2018. I'm glad we all had the chance to see and document this unique gastronomic experience before it disappeared into memory.

We spent all day Thursday visiting castles in the northern part of Zealand, the large island on which Copenhagen is situated. In the evening we visited another Copenhagen food court called WestMarket, which was unsurprisingly located in the large neighborhood called Vesterbro just to the west of the city center. There were several good kiosks but the place didn't have the same high energy level or beautiful setting as Copenhagen Street Food. I'm not really sure why, but instead of making a walkthrough video of the food hall we made a video of me playing tag with my kids plus a Danish kid who joined in. See if you can spot which kid is the Danish one.
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On Friday we drove to Roskilde and the little island of Mon in the south, which I'll detail in my day trips post. In the evening, we went back to Copenhagen Street Food to try all the kiosks our stomachs didn't have room for the first time. It was much more crowded than it had been on Wednesday and the kids were falling asleep on the benches while we tried to shovel food into their mouths. We probably should have made an advance reservation in the central seating area. Somehow we managed to eat our fill while standing next to the tables our kids were slumped over.

Saturday we had an early breakfast at Torvehallerne and got to see the seafood market in its morning glory. There were beautiful examples of some of our favorites such as monkfish and turbot as well as some fish that were completely unfamiliar. One very unusual looking large fish was the wolf fish, which we would ultimately enjoy several times on the trip.

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We'd already been staying in Copenhagen four days and hadn't seen much of the city besides breakfast cafes and food courts. Now that we'd completed all our planned day trips, it was time to begin our exploration of the city itself. It was a rainy Saturday morning, so we decided to start the day at the Experimentarium, a science museum designed for kids that had just been renovated and expanded earlier that year. The first thing that one notices when entering is the enormous double helix copper staircase that begins in the lobby. The kids scampered up to the second floor where there was a seemingly endless selection of interactive displays. All three of them ran in separate directions so I tried to stick with Ian and prayed Mei Ling would be able to keep track of Spenser. It was virtually impossible to get Ian to leave a huge construct of wire tunnels transporting balls from one side to the other to simulate international shipping. By the time we made it to the second floor which had crafts and countless additional displays we were already starting to get hungry. I believe there was a third floor as well which we never made it to. It was by far the best kids' museum I'd ever seen. I'd recommend budgeting at least four hours for a visit, although even then it would take several visits for a kid to get everything out of the museum.
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By the time we finally were able to extract the kids from the Experimentarium we were starving so we drove to the last of the four Copenhagen food courts on my list, Kødbyens Mad & Marked. This two-year old market in the former meatpacking district of Kødbyens is best known for meats and other grilled foods but there was still plenty of variety. It's an outdoor market and only open on weekends between April and October, when the weather is just mildly chilly and rainy. We spent about an hour there enjoying several dishes, enjoying the Bohemian atmosphere, and playing a semblance of bocce with the kids.

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One Copenhagen landmark that seems to be visible from almost anywhere in the city is Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Savior's Church) in Christianshavn. The 17th century Baroque church is famous for the golden staircase that winds around the outside of the elegant dark brown spire. When I saw that the people were climbing the stairs all the way to the top of the spire, I knew I had to have that experience for myself. Both Cleo and Ian demanded to join me, so with some trepidation we headed into the church while Mei Ling and Spenser waited for us below.
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After a short wait on line, the three of us began our ascent. The first part was a few deceptively simple flights of modern stairs, but soon we found ourselves climbing very steep wooden steps that were more like ladders than staircases. It was a relief once we exited the inside of the spire and found ourselves on the shallower steps of the winding outside staircase. I was still rattled from the ladder stage and the view of houses and people far below us wasn't soothing my nerves. The vertiginous climb was too much for some people and every once in a while there would be a logjam as someone decided they couldn't go any further and started to reverse direction. The railing was way too high for the kids to climb over but I still found myself gripping their hands as much as I could. Fortunately I had my iVUE Horizon video sunglasses on so I was able to video the climb without letting go of the kids.

Back on solid ground, we found Mei Ling and Spenser who had just returned from a walk to the Christiania commune a block away. Mei Ling casually informed me that she had bought a hash brownie which completely confounded me. Neither of us even smokes pot at home, and I couldn't grasp what had suddenly possessed her to start experimenting with that kind of stuff in a foreign country with three kids in tow. Even though marijuana is de facto legal and sold fairly openly in Christiania, you really never know as a tourist when you might be getting set up for some kind of trouble. Not only that, but I can't count how many times I've seen patients in the emergency room with various unpleasant reactions to cannabis consumables. I had visions of sitting in a Danish emergency room with my hallucinating wife and three crying kids. I guess my partying days must be done for good, because I made Mei Ling toss the brownie in the trash.
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The weird brownie episode didn't put me off from wanting to see Christiania myself, so we did a quick spin around the colorful neighborhood together. The community was established almost fifty years ago by squatters in an abandoned military barracks, but the residents currently own the land through a foundation. The way things work in Christiania is difficult for an outsider to understand, but the community has its own set of laws and manages its own electricity and water supply. Probably the biggest attraction for visitors is the easy availability of cannabis, which has brought a great deal of controversy with it. The cannabis itself isn't the problem so much as the money associated with it, which has attracted organized criminal gangs to affiliate themselves with some of the residents. The main street of Christiania was once known as Pusher Street, or the Green Light District. The permanent cannabis stalls that once lined the street were destroyed by the residents after the shooting of a police officer in 2016, but today there was no shortage of small stores and kiosks openly selling marijuana. Naturally, photography in this area was strongly discouraged. We and the kids were more focused on the beautifully painted and landscaped homes and cafes that were ubiquitous in the neighborhood.
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We spent a little time walking around the pretty canals and bridges of Christianshavn before getting dinner and going home. There were cafes set up on barges along Christianshavn Canal as well as drinking parties on little motorized skiffs. People in Copenhagen certainly know how to enjoy themselves.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 02:59 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

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