ScandiBaltics Diary #5: The Time I Went To Copenhagen And Unwittingly Ended Up At A Japanese Festival (Denmark)

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

Land at Copenhagen Airport after an hour and a half of sleep over the course of the night, mildly disoriented and in need of a revitalising Starbucks. Have revitalising Starbucks. Admire how pretty Danish krone coins are (they have holes in the middle and little love hearts on them!!). Collect Copenhagen card. Train to the central station. Bus to the Norrebro district to find my hostel, Sleep In Heaven. Find hostel. Prepare to sleep – except I forgot that, in accommodation world, your room won’t be ready at 9am.

Christiansborg Palace

Christiansborg Palace

Exhausted, I idly played around with the WiFi, unsure what to do with myself until the room was ready in mid-afternoon. Then a man began gathering troops for the free walking tour – and, as regular readers will know, I can never resist a free walking tour. I got chatting to a Canadian girl, who frequently went on short trips around Europe and nearby climes, as she worked as a nanny in Ireland for a decent wage. If only I liked children, so I could afford to do that…

The Marble Church

The Marble Church

We got some decent rhubarb muffins from Lagkagehuset, near the City Hall at Radhuspladsen, and rejoined our hilarious Mancunian tour guide. Having been on so many walking tours, it’s quite some praise to say that it was the best walking tour I’ve been on. He took us around some of central Copenhagen’s primary landmarks – Christiansborg Palace (Denmark’s answer to the Houses of Parliament), Nyhavn (stunning, colourful district by the water), Amalienborg Palace (the home of the Danish royal family), and the Marble Church (a church made of, uh, marble) – while filling us in on Denmark’s history. Most impressive was the story of how in the Second World War, the Danes saved over 99% of their Jewish population by pulling together to send them over to neutral Sweden.

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Afterwards, seeking a bathroom, I found one near Amalienborg which featured a sign indicating how to use the toilet correctly. It does make you wonder why this was necessary.

Japanese festival at Langelinie Park

Japanese festival at Langelinie Park

Although my feet hurt and I very much wanted to sleep, I was near the Little Mermaid statue and thought I ought to check it out before calling time on my veeery long day. On the way I had to pass through Langelinie Park, which was packed with cherry blossoms and people in anime-themed costumes (including Pikachu onesies). Turns out this was the weekend of Copenhagen’s annual Japanese Festival. I do seem to make a habit of accidentally crashing local festivals (like this time and this time).

The Mermaid was a ten minute walk north of here, and was surrounded by tourists with cameras. Joining the throng, I waited for my turn… and, yeah, everyone was right: she is underwhelming.

Statue amidst the cherry blossoms at Langelinie Park.

Statue amidst the cherry blossoms at Langelinie Park.

Trying to avoid the bustle of Otaku at the festival, I took an alternative route back to Amalienborg, which involved going through Kastellet, an island fortress. ‘Fortress’ implies an imposing, heavily militarised stone behemoth, but the word that springs to mind when describing Kastellet is ‘cute’, with its bright red buildings and windmill. Across on the mainland you could see a lovely church – St Alban’s Church – which was particularly lovely-looking from afar, surrounded by water and greenery:

St Albans Church, near the Little Mermaid

St Albans Church, near the Little Mermaid

By this point I really just wanted to be back at the hostel, but with no idea how to get back to the station, I had to keep walking. Ending up back at Højbro Plads, where there’s a huge statue of Absalon (an ancient Danish bishop and hero), I gave my feet some respite by sitting down for some noodles at Wok On. It looks like a cheap noodle bar, but it’s so much more than that. The menu is simple: you pick your noodle base, choose your additions, then choose your sauce. They make it in front of you. Boom, a meal out for under a fiver. This is a big deal in Scandinavia. More to the point, it’s delicious. If Wok On ever expands to the UK, I will basically live there.

Voted one of the most underwhelming tourist attractions in the world.

Voted one of the most underwhelming tourist attractions in the world.

The buses are confusing but eventually, thankfully, I get back to the hostel alive and proceed to sleep for 13 hours. It is beautiful.

As my Copenhagen Card gives me unlimited transport in the Copenhagen region – including to the nearby cities of Roskilde and Helsingør – Day 2 is to barely be spent in Copenhagen, aside from my trip to Den Blå Planet (you get free entry with a Copenhagen Card), an aquarium near the airport. I hadn’t been to an aquarium in years, but watching exotic fish in the dark is incredibly soothing – but for one thing, i.e. the hordes of children scampering about. Oh well. The highlight is not fish, but the unbelievably cute sea otters. Unfortunately I was unable to get pictures of them, but trust me: THEY WERE REALLY CUTE.

Den Blå Planet aquarium

Den Blå Planet aquarium

(I’ve written about my trips to Helsingør and Roskilde separately in this blog.)

Nyhavn from the water on a canal tour

Nyhavn from the water on a canal tour

Day 3: time to take on the big guns in the city. I used my Card to claim a free canal boat tour, which took me round a similar route to the walking tour but, y’know, by boat (and the commentary is way less fun than the walking tour was). But being on a boat is always nice, and Nyhavn looked just as beautiful from the water as it did from the land.

It might not look much, but trust me: it was great.

It might not look edible, but trust me: it was great.

As the start and end point was near Wok On, I was hardly going to miss an opportunity for a cheap and tasty lunch of noodles, beef strips and teriyaki sauce. So much lime and teriyaki. Mmm.

View from the Church of Our Saviour spire

View from the top of the Church of Our Saviour spire

Part 2: climbing the spire at The Church of Our Saviour. This spire is huge and deliberately built with 150 steps in so you can walk to the top (and there’s a previous 250 steps inside the church for you to enjoy climbing). The spire looks like this, so it’s very pretty, but being at the top? TERRIFYING. I have no fear of heights and love a cheeky panorama, but this is something else. Check out my ‘no really I’m totally not freaking my nuts out oh god what if I fall over the edge’ face!:

OH GOD I'M GOING TO DIE

OH GOD I’M GOING TO DIE

Part 3: Christiania. This is what everyone wants to see in Copenhagen, right? It’s basically just a giant anarchist commune that calls itself ‘the green zone’, pretends not to be part of the EU, and is the stuff of Occupy’s wet dreams. Weed is sort of legal – deals go on right in front of you between buyers and sellers in balaclavas – and everyone despises the police.  I made a photoblog of what I was allowed to take photos of (i.e. not drug deals) here. This mural is still the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen:

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Part 4: Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is the most stunning theme park you’ll probably ever go to. Indian restaurants are done up to look properly magnificent like mini Taj Mahals, there are huge stages painted to look like peacocks, and – best of all, considering I really love peacocks – there are live peacocks just strutting around.

Casual Indian restaurant.

Casual Indian restaurant.

If you’re going to ride the rollercoasters, though, get unlimited entry for 20 krone: while I used my Copenhagen Card free entry to full effect, but you don’t get any rides included, and individual tickets for the best rides cost about 7 krone for one go. ONE GO ON A ROLLERCOASTER IS AROUND £7. Addicted to adrenaline, there was no way I was going to not have a go on The Demon – the park’s scariest ride. It is properly scary too, although not as scary as the looks I got from some of the youths riding with me. What’s so scary about a lone 22-year-old woman getting a rollercoaster with a load of children? …oh.

Påfuglescenen (the Peacock Stage), where pantomime is performed

Påfuglescenen (the Peacock Stage), where pantomime is performed

There was a pantomime going on at the Påfuglescenen (aforementioned peacock stage). Wikipedia informs me that much of the pantomime on this stage is in the “commedia dell’arte” tradition, but it’s basically a silent pantomime done in a ballet-like style, with plenty of slapstick and exaggeration. The story was about a man and a woman who love each other but can’t be together because of her father; the couple constantly find ways to be together while giving her father the slip. Although slapstick rarely does anything for me, I found it quite funny.

PEACOCK

PEACOCK

Although food was expensive at the restaurants, I was hungry and stopped off at Mazzolis, where I had a salmon lasagne. It was slightly dry, but otherwise pleasant; what was unpleasant was the fact that the staff forgot I was there, which meant I was unable to pay. After waiting for an hour I was so bored of trying (and failing) to make eye contact that I ended up playing a Tetris marathon on my phone for half an hour. Let it never be said I don’t know how to act in public. I did eventually pay, but was seriously tempted not to.

Tivoli at night

Tivoli at night

And that’s it. I’m not sure I’ve done this city justice in words, because it’s brilliant and a high new entry on my list of favourite cities. There’s so much to do and, while it’s perhaps not beautiful in the way that Tallinn or Vienna are, it’s so thoroughly charming and laid back that it’s entirely understandable why Copenhagen seems to be this year’s most popular city break destination. It’s rare that I feel a pressing need to return to a city I’ve been to already, but Copenhagen is one of those rarities.

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