Scandinavian Surveys: Copenhagen

One of Copenhagen's several man-made lakes.

Remember that time I’d tell you all about my visit to Copenhagen? Finally, the time is now! Sorry for keeping you waiting.

My Marquette roommate, Angela, and I, left for Copenhagen on June 19. Once again, I had the distinct pleasure of flying out of the main Frankfurt airport, since no budget airlines fly from Frankfurt Hahn to Copenhagen. Darn!

This was a particularly fun trip for us, because we both had several friends in Denmark who we had met last semester at Marquette. We had talked several times, not totally seriously, about coming out to visit them all someday, but had no idea that we would actually be able to make the trip – or that it would be so soon! But  because we wre mostly visiting Copenhagen to see friends, as well as the fact that Angela was staying another week in Copenhagen after I would leave, sightseeing was not a huge priority on this trip. It was about the people.

Angela and I arrived at the Airport in Copenhagen late on Thursday night. We caught a train to the central train station, and there our friends Mark and Julie met us. It was so strange seeing familiar faces in an utterly new setting. Angela and I were tired, but the night was still young. Mark and Julie whisked us off to a couple of their favorite bars, and we had a great and tiring first night in Copenhagen. We made it to Mark’s apartment (where we stayed) around 3 a.m.

We were late risers the next morning and hung around with Mark and his friends a bit. When we were sufficiently rejuvenated, we decided to do some walking and begin to see the city proper.

We were staying in a northern part of the city, Østerbro, but the city was pretty walkable. Angela and I figured out a general idea of places we’d like to see, and set off walking. I immediately began mentally comparing everything I saw to Stockholm, since both cities are major Scandinavian capitals with somewhat of a (friendly) rivalry. The Østerbro district definitely had a sort of Portland or Seattle vibe to me–a lot of trendy shops and restaurants and trendy looking people. It was also very urban, so not necessarily aesthetically pleasing in the classical european sense. It didn’t look much like Stockholm to me, but, then again, we mostly stayed in the city center in Stockholm.

Our first stop was the Assistens Kirkegården, a cemetery where some notable Danes were buried. We saw the graves of H.C. Andersen, Niels Bohr and Søren Kierkegaard. The graves were all fairly nondescript, but the cemetery itself was quite lovely and very pleasant to walk around.

Rosenborg Slot

From there we worked our way into the city center, crossing one of the many bridges spanning the series of man-made lakes that ring the western side of the city. We then went to Kongens Have, the Kings Gardens (although on the way there was an embarrassing dumb tourist moment in which I tried to enter a restricted military compound. oopsies.). Located in the gardens is the Rosenborg Slot (castle). The castle was built in the 1600s and had been used periodically as a residence for the royal family. The crown jewels are located here, but the castle was closed by the time we got there. It was quite lovely to look at from the outside, though.

We then began traversing through the inner city, called Indre By. This was the historical hub of Copenhagen, with wide shopping streets lined with colorful wooden houses. And of course, canals! Our goal was to head to Tivoli, a sort of amusement park, in order to see a concert of a singer Angela liked (Teitur), so we didn’t wander much–just headed through to Tivoli, seeing whatever there was along the way. I didn’t think Copenhagen’s old town was as charming and pictureque as Stockholm’s, but it was still lovely and fun to explore.

The concert at Tivoli was a lot of fun. We met our friend Julie there and staked out a spot on the lawn to watch the concert from. I still can’t quite wrap my head around what exactly Tivoli is, because it’s not an amusement park in the way that we’re used to in the states. It has rides, but it’s also an eating, shopping and entertainment destination–there’s just a lot going on. We didn’t see a ton of the park itself, but it was quite pretty, and definitely had a focus on aesthetics in a way that’s not common for amusement parks in the states.

My buddy H.C. Andersen and I in Odense.

The next day, Julie had gotten permission from her father to use his car, so we decided to plan a day trip out to Odense, another city in Denmark, to visit another one of our friends from Marquette, Domi. Odense was about an hour and a half away from Copenhagen. I was quite excited for this trip for a variety of reasons–I would get to see Domi again, I would get to see a new city in Denmark, and I’d get to see more of Denmark it general. Usually when I travel to a new place, I’m confined to that location; it’s not easy to get out and see the surrounding areas when you don’t have your own transportation.

The trip over was uneventful, save driving over the Storebæltsbroen, a massive bridge that connects the island that Copenhagen is located on to the island Odense is on (Denmark is actually made up of several islands and landmasses – I didn’t appreciate this before I came there). According to Wikipedia, it’s the third longest suspension bridge in the world. Ooooh! It was pretty cool though.

Odense is best known as the birthplace of H.C. Andersen, and they do an extremely thorough job marketing this. Walking around the city, I would say we encountered no fewer than four statues of the man himself, as well as various statues representing characters from his fairy tales. It was a bit overdone, but still kind of cute. The city itself was not terribly noteworthy—not ugly, but nothing stunning. I’ve become jaded!

Still, it was great to see another Danish city and even more awesome to see an old Danish friend. It made for a long but very successful day.

The next day was my last full day in Copenhagen, since I would be leaving Monday morning, so I wanted to make sure I got in at least one day of serious sightseeing.  Our first stop was the National Museum, which was free. I went hoping that they, in particular, would have a great exhibit on the Vikings. They didn’t have as much on this era as I had hoped, but in general they did have some extremely well-done and interesting exhibits on the history of Denmark. Definitely a worthwhile stop.

From there, we hopped onto a canal tour, wanting to see the city in a way that was both fun and efficient. I liked getting to see the city from the water and going to some parts that we hadn’t been to (and that I wouldn’t have time to see otherwise), but the whole thing felt a bit rushed as far as actually learning about the city. Part of the problem was that it was conducted in four languages (Danish, English, Italian and Spanish) so the tour guide could only say a little bit about every sight, since he had to repeat it so much. Still, Copenhagen is definitely a great city to see from the water.

Nyhavn Canal

After the canal tour, we walked over to Nyhavn Canal, which is the one ultra-touristy thing to see in Copenhagen. It’s a canal lined with dozens of fun, colorful buildings and is full of upper-scale dining and shopping. It was crawling with people, but I enjoyed seeing it–the colors provide such a contrast from the more traditional earth tones that are so dominant in most German homes and buildings.

Our last stop was Amalienborg, the home of the royal family, complete with comically dressed guards who are not permitted to smile at you. I would have liked to have seen a changing of the guard ceremony there, but alas, there was no time.

My trip to Copenhagen was a ton of fun, but for reasons different than most of my other trips. All told, there is a ton of Copenhagen that I didn’t see because of time constraints. But I have no regrets about how I spent my time there. I got to see three people I had met at Marquette and whom I thought I might never see again, and I got to see a major European capital with natives as my guides. It was such a fun experience, and it made me realize how lucky I am to have so many international friendships!

Oh, and for the record, I liked Copenhagen better than Stockholm. This is sacrilege to some (mostly Swedes), but I just had to put it out there for the record. I think Stockholm was prettier, but Denmark just seemed more fun. So let the record state that Denmark wins this Scandinavian double-header!


Scandinavian Surveys: Stockholm


From May 29th to June 8th, my best friend from high school, Jenna, came out to Marburg to visit. Early on in our planning process, we decided we had to visit Sweden. For Jenna, it was visiting the home of her grandparents, and for me, it was just an opportunity to see a cool new part of Europe.

We departed for Stockholm on the evening of June 2nd, a Thursday. We had the distinct pleasure of NOT having to fly RyanAir, as we had waited so long to book the airfare that the price of the budget airlines was almost the exact same as that of the more respectable Lufthansa. Oh darn! Looks like we’ll have to fly out of a real airport on a real airline.

It was somewhat surreal being back in the main Frankfurt airport (recall that RyanAir flies out of the deceptively named Frankfurt Hahn Airport, which is in fact nowhere near Frankfurt), since this was the first time I had been there since I first arrived in Germany at the end of February.

The downside of finding reasonably priced airfare via Lufthansa was that our flight would not get into Stockholm until about 11:50 p.m. So we arrived in Sweden fairly tuckered out but still with a journey ahead of us. We hopped on a shuttle bus to the city center, arriving around 12:45 a.m., and then we tried to navigate to our hotel. It was really only a 20 minute walk from the central terminal to our hotel, but we quickly found that the directions from the hostel were less than precise. We didn’t end up settling into bed until close to 2 a.m. Yikes!

One thing that was quite weird as we were walking around was that the sun had not totally set, even so late at night/early in the morning, since Stockholm is so far north. The sky was dark, yes, but there were still bits of light on the periphery. That made the walk to the hostel somewhat disorienting, since our bodies were telling us we should be exhausted, but the sky itself seemed to be telling us the night was only beginning.

The streets of Gamla Stan, Stockholm's old city.

We roused the next day/later in the morning around 8:30 a.m. Upon waking up I was immediately startled to be greeted with a familiar exclamation of “Tori!” in my hostel room from my Marquette roommate, Angela. She was going to meet Jenna and I in Stockholm, but when she had contacted the hostel in advance, they had told her it was not possible to be placed in the same room as the two of us. But by some stroke of luck  we ended up in the same hostel room anyway!

Jenna and I rallied our stamina, having only slept about six hours, and began the sightseeing. It was quickly apparent that we had chosen well in our hostel—it was located right across from the water in Stockholm’s Old Town, called Gamla Stan. This put it firmly in the middle of Stockholm itself, making it easy to walk to the north or south, or to take a ferry to a neighboring island.

The city itself certainly lived up to any picture I had ever seen of it. Stockholm is a lovely seaside city. The old town was as picturesque and charming as anything I have seen in Europe, with the classic, winding cobble stone streets and brightly painted buildings. That was one thing that stood out to most in Stockholm—everything just seemed so colorful and bright.

Another aspect of Stockholm that also became quite apparent was that it is a terribly expensive city. Our hostel was not bad at 25 euros a night, but a standard meal at an average restaurant would cost at least $20, a beer $7-$10.  That can add up quickly!

Friday was just a day for general sightseeing, with an early bedtime. Saturday, we roused for round two. Our first main sightseeing venture was the changing of the guard at the royal palace—I had sort of forgotten that Sweden had a royal family to begin with, but Sweden clearly has not. There were souvenir shops full of merchandise bearing their faces as well as Swedish shopkeepers eager to talk to us about the king’s philandering reputation. But anyway.

Changing of the guard ceremony at the royal palace.

The ceremony was quite impressive, I thought, mostly because of the band. They sounded phenomenal and had excellent choreography. They played for nearly 20 minutes, which was much longer than I would have expected for a ceremony that happens every day. We arrived early enough to get great vantage points, and it was definitely worth standing in the beating sun for 40 minutes.

That evening, we did something quite different but equally touristy—visit the Absolut Ice Bar. If you’re not familiar with the concept, an ice bar is exactly what it sounds like: a bar made of ice. Everything, from the tables and chairs to the drink glasses, is sculpted from ice. Admission was about $25 for one drink and the parkas (it’s cold in there!), but it was worth the money, in my opinion. A gimmicky but still very cool (har) concept.

On Sunday, Angela and I took one of the hop-on, hop-off boats to Djurgården, an island that houses, among other things, Skansen, which was a sort of nature park/outdoor museum/zoo thing. The park serves as a window into Swedish history, with replicas of storefronts from the 1800s and 1900s, as well as mock settlements of the ancient nordic tribes, the Sami. They also had enclosures featuring native Swedish wildlife, such as reindeer and wolverines.

We returned mid-afternoon and headed to the Nobel Museum, where Jenna joined us. The museum was much smaller than I expected, but still very interesting. We joined a guided tour, which was extremely informative. One thing I learned that I thought was particularly cool is that each laureate receives a sort of booklet/diploma that is designed specifically for them and their award; the artwork on this is usually somehow inspired by the work that the laureate did to receive the award.

Beyond the basic information about the award and the ceremony, the rest of the museum was just a collection of displays featuring different items somehow relevant to specific laureates and their work.

Happy National Day of Sweden!

The next day, Monday, was our final day – we were flying back that evening. However, we were able to take a little time to enjoy the atmosphere, for we just so happened to be in Sweden on their flag day, which is their main patriotic holiday. Everyone was walking around with little Swedish flags (we acquired some of our own, naturally), and there were all sorts of ceremonies and celebrations happening. I do wish that we could have had more time to take it all in, but unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of time before we had to gather our things and head to the airport.

Despite how expensive everything was, I really enjoyed my trip to Stockholm. It’s a beautiful city that provides a nice change from the style and mood of the German cities I’m so used to seeing. Moreover, all the people we met were quite nice and spoke incredible English. They almost made me not feel bad for speaking English everywhere. Almost. That’s still something that’s hard for me to get used to though, since when I’m in Germany I’m at least marginally competent wherever I go.

Stockholm was a successful first foray into Scandinavia, but not my last. Tune in next week/whenever I have time to type up another blog post to see how my next northern European adventure went. Destination: Copenhagen!