After celebrating Mike’s birthday in Helsinki, it’s time to set our sights on our weekend in Denmark. With a less than two-hour flight on Blue 1, that includes doubling back over a time zone, we arrive in Copenhagen. Seven-thirty on a Saturday morning and Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport is packed.
We can’t blame fatigue this time. We’ve had a good night’s sleep. But we’re confused. As in Helsinki, Copenhagen lacks the usual maze of immigration and customs that international travelers are herded through. Did we take a wrong turn somewhere? (Later at home, I learn of the Schengen Treaty which waives interrogations and inspections among some 20 countries.) Instead, our arrival is more like a domestic flight and we are tossed into the chaos of the terminal without a new stamp on our passports.
It would be a lot easier for first time visitors to Copenhagen if they posted a few signs directing them to the Tourist Information desk or the trains. Instead we wander and backtrack and wander some more, until finally we find the information desk which is annoyingly located in a spot we swear we had passed at least twice already. Remember that we are lugging backpacks, with mine weighing in at around 15 pounds.
I had not booked a hotel for this stop yet. A friend had recommended the Hotel Alexandria. She said it was in a great location with nice rooms and reasonably priced. It had obviously gone upscale since she stayed there. When I went to book it, a double room was over $300 a night. I knew we would have to nudge the budget limit in Copenhagen I was hoping we wouldn’t end up pushing it into a canal.
In my pre-trip research, I found that weekends are usually less expensive than weekdays here. In an effort to make as many kroners as possible, hotels are reluctant to quote prices too far in advance, so I thought we would get the best deal by booking a room when we landed. There seemed to be plenty of vacant rooms available on the days we needed so I was confident that we wouldn’t have a repeat of the situation in Stockholm. For a nominal fee, the friendly people at the Tourist Information desk will help you find accommodations to fit your budget and luxury level. They also have the latest deals from hotels trying to fill empty rooms. We knew hotels were going to be expensive so any break we could get would be appreciated.
We opted for a 4 star hotel, not far from the recommended Hotel Alexandria. This one costing about $200 a night. When we travel we try to keep room rates around $100 – $125 if at all possible. Not this time. Still smarting from the Stockholm hotel debacle, we were ready for something nice. The rack rate on this room is normally around $280 so we were getting a nicer room in a great location for less money. And this included breakfast. These are the things I tell myself as I hand over my credit card while booking a two night stay at the Palace Hotel. The info desk charged about $60 to my card, giving us a receipt that serves as our confirmed reservation. At the end of our stay we will pay the hotel the balance.
Next, we need to buy train tickets. Since we were, once again, in another country we need different money. All Scandinavian countries have different monetary systems and only Finland uses the Euro. We didn’t have cash and the automated ticket machines don’t take credit cards without a chip. This became a big problem for us in Denmark. We first encountered this at an airport ATM in Finland where the machine asked if our card had a chip or no chip. It took either one so it wasn’t a problem there.
Cards with chips, or smart cards, are more secure because they require you to enter a PIN. Waiters will bring a device to your table where you swipe it and enter your number. They don’t take your card somewhere else so you are always in control of your cards. The enormity of switching over every machine and the cost of the cards seems to have stopped the switchover in the U.S.
We went in search of an ATM that didn’t require a chip. We wanted to withdraw enough cash to cover the fare and pocket money for the weekend. We found one next to the money exchange kiosk. Who cares what the exchange rate was. Our card worked. With cash in hand we went back to the ticket window and plunked down about $5 each for a one way ticket to the central station. The trains run every 10 minutes during the day. Fifteen minutes after boarding at the airport, we were standing on the platform at the central station.
It could not have been easier to get our bearings. The central train station is located across the street from the famed Tivoli Gardens
On the opposite side of the Tivoli is the square on which the City Hall and the Palace Hotel sit. That means it won’t be too far to walk with our backpacks and it would be easy to get back to early Monday morning for our train back to the airport.
We checked in to the Palace and were given the keys to room 423. It is on the back side of the hotel overlooking a street that has a few bars and restaurants topped with apartments.
The room was nice but, at a little more than half the price, the more luxurious room at the Helsinki airport Hilton was a better deal.
For location, though, this one couldn’t be beat. Besides being across the street from the Tivoli Gardens, the ¾ mile shopping street Strøget (translated, it means ‘the stroll’) is a couple blocks away and the City Sightseeing Hop On – Hop Off buses first stop is just outside the front door. For this princess, the Palace will work just fine.
We are major fans of the Hop On – Hop Off buses. It’s a chance to get our bearings as to which major site is where. It’s a chance to rest our weary legs with basic transportation. Sometimes less expensive admission to major sights is available on the bus. In London on the Big Bus we bought tickets for Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and bypassed the long queues of tourists waiting to get in because our bus tickets allowed us to enter through the group tour door. Since we travel off season, weather is a factor. In New York City we froze on the breezy, half covered second floor of the bus the week after Christmas. Dress accordingly.
First, though, we were hungry. We decided to check out the lay of the land by foot. A stroll down Strøget seemed to make sense. It’s a pedestrian street so this is one place we couldn’t access on the bus. Maybe we would find the souvenirs we were looking for while we hunted for a restaurant.
On a square where several streets angled away, there was a foaming fountain that brought great delight to the kids playing with the bubbles. On the far side of the square we found the two-story Café Norden.
We grabbed a table upstairs and sat for a while before we realized that we needed to go order our food at the bar. It took a while to figure out what to order because the prices where unbelievable. Since my iPhone didn’t work on WiFi in Europe, (damn you Amber at AT&T), I didn’t have the exact conversion rates but they couldn’t have changed too much since the last time I had downloaded them. I kept using my currency converter app and it kept telling me that the bowl of tomato soup was $20! No matter how many times I tried, that number wouldn’t change. Same with the club sandwich Mike was looking at. His choice was coming up at $25. Ouch.
Sticker shock aside, we were hungry. It was a chilly day and tomato soup sounded great. Mike ordered the $25 club sandwich.
We also got a double espresso, a bottle of still water and a Coca Cola Zero. Total tab? Just under $60 for lunch.
When the food arrived, we were blown away. A giant portion doesn’t begin to describe the vat of tomato soup that arrived. Mike’s deconstructed sandwich was more like a chicken breast in a light curry sauce, lots of veggies heaped onto a thick slice of bread and topped with another.
I guess you could call it a sandwich. After the shock of the presentation wore off, we dug in and I am ashamed to say that I ate every drop. This was the Cheesecake Factory of Denmark with similarly obscene portions but better food.
Fueled up and ready to walk, we set out in the opposite direction of the hotel towards Nyhavn (New Harbor).
This is the iconic area of Copenhagen that you always see in pictures. A long block of colorful buildings filled with outdoor cafes and bars nestled on the waterfront with boats moored along the sea wall. Since we had just gorged ourselves, the bars and cafes held no allure. We were in search of a bus stop for the Hop On – Hop Off bus. We were sure to find one near the tourist magnet of Nyhavn. We were not disappointed.
We bought two 24 hour tickets for about $20 each and hopped on for the Red Line tour. This is the longest of the 3 lines taking an hour and 20 minutes to wind through central Copenhagen. It takes you past the Rosenborg Castle, National Gallery and Botanical Gardens. The highlight is the other Copenhagen icon – the Little Mermaid statue. The 100 year old statue has sat in this spot atop a rock in the water since 1913. She depicts Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairy tale of the same name.
Of all of the times we had chosen to visit, the Little Mermaid had skipped town! She took her rock and went to spend a year at Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. Those Danes think of everything. In an effort to not disappoint people going to see her, they came up with an interesting substitute. In her place was a large video monitor with a live feed of her at the exhibition.
There she was on her rock in a big convention hall with people walking by. Still, an entrepreneurial guy set up shop on the spot selling Little Mermaid souvenirs. It was hysterical!
After seeing more noteworthy palaces, museums and churches we returned to our hotel. It was getting late but we still had time to take the shorter, 30 minute Green Line. It crosses the river to Christianshavn. This hip neighborhood is filled with shops, bars and restaurants. A little further down the road is Our Saviors Church where you can walk the staircase that winds along the exterior of the black and gold spire.
And then there is Freetown Christiania. Christiania is a former military base that was taken over by squatters in 1971. They proclaimed it a “free city” somehow making it exempt from Danish rule including drug laws. The tour narration emphasizes that drugs are illegal in Denmark. They repeat it a few times. No photography is allowed in Christiania but I take a few pictures from the bus. It looks like a shanty town but somehow our curiosity is piqued. We were on the last bus of the day so we will come back tomorrow if we have time.
Having woken up in Helsinki, it was a long day and we were getting tired. The bus dropped us off in front of the hotel. In our early morning travels we had seen the Bombay Indian restaurant around the corner. Tables were tucked tightly into 3 small rooms. I love Indian food and I’m a pretty tough critic. My favorite gourmet Indian haunt is called Copper, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
They have raised the bar quite high for my expectations. This place smelled good and that’s always a good sign. We ordered a couple of Indian beers to start, plus orders of shrimp and chicken Tikka Masala, some rice and naan. This was a respectable version and I was happy, that is until I saw the bill. This dinner rang in at just under $90! For a simple Indian dinner!
After dinner we walked back to the Strøget for some ice cream and souvenir shopping. Jackpot on both accounts. We shared a couple of scoops of homemade chocolate something-or-other while window shopping. In one store I found a hoodie with four Scandinavian flags (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Demark) on the front. At the time, I didn’t realize that there were larger versions with the words “Scandinavian Explorer” emblazoned across the back. My math skills momentarily failing me, I later realized I spent $65 on that sweatshirt. Oh well. I really like it and can’t get anything like it in the States. With cooler weather setting in I find that I am wearing it all the time so it wasn’t a waste of money.
A few doors down, we had our Eureka moment and found what we were really looking for – nicely lined windbreakers with “Copenhagen” and two Danish flags embroidered above the left breast. Two of those, green for me and orange for Mike cost about the same as the one sweatshirt. They are not in your face I WAS IN COPENHAGEN jackets. They are much more subtle and I like that. We were worried about the chipless credit cards but since these stores cater to tourists, it wasn’t an issue.
With souvenir shopping checked off the list, the day was complete. What’s even better is that there are no definite plans for the morning so we can sleep as long as we want and have a leisurely breakfast in the hotel.
In my next post, the chips are down and we get nasty and gross!