February Sun in Copenhagen
It’s late winter in Scandinavia. My weather expectations were not high. But Copenhagen is surprisingly mild right now. In fact, the sun came out this morning providing a completely different perspective on the city.
The old colorful waterside buildings along Nyhavn warmed to the light. People came out to enjoy the weather this Saturday and strolled along the pedestrian zones all over Copenhagen. There was almost a celebratory feeling in the air.
I’d set off this morning without an itinerary. I’m usually a meticulous planner so occasionally I force myself to go out the door without any route in mind. I just planned to soak up the atmosphere and go down streets that looked interesting.
In Copenhagen, there seemed to be something interesting around every corner. I walked along the waterfront admiring the ultra-modern Opera House that opened in 2005. It cost in the neighborhood of $370 million and made an impressive architectural statement in the harbor.
I then crossed the vast Amalienborg palace complex where the Danish Royal Life Guards parade. People were already gathering for the changing of the guard but I hiked on. Clouds were beginning to fill the sky and I was ready to duck into a warm cafe.
There seems to be a cafe on every street in Copenhagen. The best places are invariably small with just a few tables and tucked into older buildings. They exude a cozy, warm feeling as you look through the windows from the sidewalk. The Danes actually have a specific word for it: “Hygge” — pronounced hyoo-guh. It loosely translates to “coziness” or “comfort”.
After sampling a pecan tort and hot chocolate, I paid my bill and was back on the street. Soon I came across the entrance to Kongens Have (the King’s Garden). Laid out in the 1600s, pebble paths lined with lime trees crisscrossed the green grass.
At the edge of the park soared Rosenborg Castle. It was originally built as a country summerhouse in 1606 but intermittently served as the main royal residence. Now it houses the state treasury including the Crown Jewels and Danish Crown Regalia. That explained the armed guards manning the perimeter.
Back in the heart of the city I came across the Round Tower. It was built in the 1600s as an astronomical observatory. Inside was a wide brick path that slowly circled skyward, wide enough to be negotiated by horses.
In fact, in 1716, Russian Czar Peter the Great ascended the staircase on horseback while visiting Copenhagen. His wife, Catherine I, reportedly ascended behind him in a carriage.
After hiking to the top, I took in the view from the observation deck. Sometimes nicknamed the city of spires, Copenhagen stretched out in all directions.
Down at street level, I inspected what appeared to be a popular hot dog stand. These individual stands are special in Denmark because by law, the owner must be self-employed and apply for a permit to set up in a specific place in the city.
This green one was titled “Den Økologiske Pølsemand” or organic sausage man. As you can see by the menu, there were many different sausage options including vegan.
I later read that Denmark’s hot dog stands are a form of social care: people who have difficulty finding jobs are licensed to run these wiener-mobiles. As they gain seniority, they’re promoted to work at more central locations.
As I crossed one of Copenhagen’s many drawbridges, I noticed one of the antiquated towers that used to be manned. There was a sign on the door that invited passersby in for a beer.
Inside, I spoke at length with a girl from Norway who was handling the tiny tower kitchen. She encouraged me to read this post on the wall:
I sat in the top observation deck for a while nursing a beer and watching the world go by. It was just another one of those completely unscripted moments that help define great travel.
My last stop was the Danish Military Museum. It’s hard to associate peaceful Scandinavian countries with war today but go back a few hundred years and you learn the Danes and Swedes had a feisty rivalry.
In the past hundred years, Denmark attempted neutrality but was occupied by the Nazis in World War II and found itself on the front line of the Cold War. As a member of NATO, the Danes faced off against Warsaw Pact countries just across the Baltic Sea.
As a member of NATO, Danish troops joined Americans in Afghanistan after the attacks on 9/11. In fact, the Danes suffered the highest number of combat casualties per capita when compared to other NATO troop contributors. It was interesting to read perspectives from this side of the Atlantic and appreciate the sacrifices they made alongside the USA.