Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

Copenhagen First Impressions


We’ve just returned from a very fast holiday weekend trip to Denmark, and what a weekend it was! Last year, we visited the Highlands of Scotland on the October holiday, and were unlucky with lashing rain and wind…what do you expect from Scotland in late October? Seeming to have not learned our lesson, we booked our October holiday this year to Denmark…what were we thinking?

Luckily, the weather cooperated this year, and we had a great time in and around the famous city of Copenhagen. As much as we’d have liked to visit some of Denmark’s great rural villages and natural wonders, short trips are often necessarily city trips.



We arrived on Saturday afternoon, and the light was already beginning to fade by our four o’clock landing. After buying our Metro train passes at the ticket agent—the automated machines only take Danish Krone coins, not paper notes…like the ones tourists get at the ATM upon arrival—and spent the evening walking around the Nyhavn waterfront. We wandered the various palace gardens, parks, modern harbors, and pedestrian streets before knocking back some shawarma and a few Danish craft beers. Maybe not traditional, but definitely local.



Sunday was Museum Day. We woke up early—easier thanks to the clock change on Saturday night—and walked to Christiania. This famous hippie village started as a small commune, and is now a flourishing counterculture paradise, in which…almost anything goes. We walked down Pusher Street—the official name on city maps—and saw the eponymous hash dealers’ stands. Drug sales are still technically illegal, so these kiosks are covered with camo netting the dealers themselves wear ski masks to hide their faces. Needless to say, this is a “no photos allowed” zone, but certainly a unique experience. The very air, scented with just the right balance of human urine and marijuana smoke, seems to say, “It’s all good, man!”

Whether it was lasting effects of this air, or simply the look of them in the window, we were irresistibly drawn to the flaky pastries at a very busy bakery nearby.

In the Christiania neighborhood, we were just in time for the opening of the Church of Our Saviour and its spiral tower. Like many such church tower climbs in Europe, the steps are rickety and many; unlike its cousins, much of the climb is on a shiny, slippery spiral staircase on the outside of the tower. When the wind picked up on the tippy top of the metal staircase, we both decided it was best to descend—taking pictures all the way down.

View from Our Saviour's

View from Our Saviour’s

We walked to the National Museum in the middle of the city, and what an elegantly presented museum it is, and unbelievably free to enter. We spent as much time as we dared looking at the collections, ancient and modern, before we had to eat lunch and catch a train to the southwest side of town.

Waiting for us there was Visit Carlsberg inside the Carlsberg brewery complex. North Americans might not see much of this label, but the lager lovers of Europe can’t get enough of the stuff. We saw the exhibits—not extensive, but nice—and enjoyed our two beers before paying a visit to the famous elephant gates and heading back to the city center for…more beer.

Carlsberg Bottle Collection

Carlsberg Bottle Collection

Most museums in Copenhagen are closed on Mondays, but the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde is not. We caught the train to this distant suburb at the base of Roskilde Fjord to see this fine collection of 1000-year-old Viking cargo and war ships, recovered in the waters of the fjord and reassembled at this purpose-built museum. The highlight for us was the battle cruising longship that was originally built in Dublin by Roskilde Viking settlers and made its way here.

Experimental archaeologists on the museum staff build and maintain replicas—with authentic materials and tools—on site, including a working replica of the Dublin-made warship that actually made its own voyage to our fair city in 2007. We watched the team at the boatyard hacking and hammering away at new projects with their primitive tools.

A Working Replica in Progress

A Working Replica in Progress

Following the Viking Ship Museum, we were determined to sit down to a lunch of smørrebrød—the classic Danish open-faced sandwich. This big, traditional lunch is served in courses: fish, meat, and cheese. With our fish course—pickled herring in curry sauce with rye bread—we toasted to our successful trip with dill-flavored akvavit, a Scandinavian schnapps, with a Carlsberg Elephant beer chaser.

As much as I love extended, rural adventures, short city trips like this are an efficient way to get a quick cultural primer on a new nation; an overview of the local food and drink, the entertainment options, and practice in handling and counting foreign coins. I believe both kinds of trips are part of a balanced travel diet, just as luxury vacations offset the self-imposed poverty of hostels and street meat. Next time in Denmark, the wilds of Jutland!

…or maybe just more smørrebrød and hot dogs in Copenhagen. Skaal!



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