God dag from Europe! Last week I told you all about my SAS flight to Copenhagen, and this week I will share with you my stay in Denmark’s beautiful capital before taking a 12-day Baltic Sea cruise.
ARRIVING IN DENMARK
I’ve been to a lot of countries, and so far Denmark has had the warmest welcome. First of all, there was no immigration/customs form to fill out, and there were no lines and no invasive questions from the agent. He just said, “How was your flight?” and then “Welcome to Denmark” with a huge smile. Why can’t other countries, especially America, do the same?
TRAVELING WITH MY MOM
It’s been a dozen years since I last stepped foot (besides transferring in the airport) on the land that produced my mom’s father. One of the main reasons is because Denmark is the country that holds some of my most special travel memories, as I traveled here twice with my Mom just before she passed away. I waited so long because I was afraid going back might erase those memories, but instead, it was just the opposite. I retraced our steps, which helped dig up old memories as well as created new ones.
SOME RANDOM GOOD-TO-KNOW FACTS
–Copenhagen is six hours ahead of New York.
-Copenhagen’s 10-Day weather forecast
-1.5 million Americans have at least one Danish ancestor (I’m one of them).
-In May 2009, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development stated that Denmark is the happiest country in the world.
-Most state-run museums in Denmark are free all the time. Some are free on select days (often Wednesdays).
-You can have dinner with a Danish family by booking with MeetTheDanes.dk.
-If you are 65+ you get a 50 percent discount on train tickets (Danish State Railway) and 25 percent off of train tickets on Friday, Sunday, and some holidays.
SOURCE: JourneyWoman.com -There’s no need to tip in restaurants, as 15 percent is automatically added to your bill.
-A link to book Copenhagen hotels
The first thing I usually do when I arrive in a country is hit the ATM and withdraw some local currency. Denmark has the Kroner (DKK), and at press time US$1 = 5.40 DKK or 1 DKK = US$0.18. But since I was only going to be in town for 24 hours and my meals had been pre-arranged, I figured I could get by using a credit card or even euros (I always carry some in my bag), and I was right. I didn’t have a problem because all the taxisI used and stores I went into took either credit/debit cards or euros.
I used to always use my United Airlines Visa card for purchases, but after they started charging me 3 percent on all foreign transactions I switched to a Capital One Visa, since they currently do not charge a currency-exchange or cross-border fee. I’m starting to notice that more and more countries are using credit/debit cards with embedded chips rather than our (U.S.) magnetic stripes. I did have some problems using ticket machines with my credit card, but luckily my debit card worked when my credit card didn’t. Read this excellent article by Joe Brancatelli on How Banks Bite Business Travelers.
AIRPORT TO CITY CENTER
To get into Copenhagen (locally spelled København), my girlfriend Natalie and I each bought train tickets. I didn’t have my itinerary handy, so the very friendly agent looked up our hotel and found the easiest train station (Copenhagen Central). It cost 34DKK (US$6) per ticket; a taxi would’ve taken 10 minutes longer and cost around 500DKK (US$86.94). FYI: This was one of the places I tried to use my credit card but it was declined since I didn’t know (or have) my four-digit pin. Trains leave often (every 20 minutes or so), and lots of locals got off at the airport but none got on. We made two stops and arrived in København at 7:35 a.m.
TRAIN STATION TO HOTEL
The hotel was a five-minute walk from the Copenhagen Central train station (note that Vesterport train station is only three minutes). It was a beautiful day, so the walk was welcome, and I loved seeing daily life in Copenhagen up close–especially all the parked bikes at the train station. The Danes sure are environmentally friendly.
RADISSON BLU ROYAL
The Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Copenhagen is one of the city’s most famous hotels, as they call it the world’s first designer hotel. It’s a Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) hotel designed by the famed architect Arne Jacobsen. SAS built it in the 1960s particularly for those travelers who’d just completed a transatlantic flight from North America.
The hotel probably looks much like it did back in the ’60s. What I loved is that the hotel lobby is filled with Egg and Swan chairs designed by Fritz Hansen and Arne Jacobsen. I’m part Danish, and growing up we had one of these chairs in our living room and all my friends would come over to spin around in it. I had no clue how special they were.
Arne JACOBSEN SUITE
The location of the hotel is ideal, and if you are a design aficionado you are sure to love it. Be sure to see if you can get a tour of the Arne Jacobsen suite, which hasn’t been touched since the 1960s. If you want to stay there, I think it goes for $5,000 a night.
RANDOM ROOM OBSERVATIONS
-The room was filled with lots of natural blond wood.
-The comfortable bed’s headboard has four lights.
-The curtains are blackout so you can sleep in.
-If you want to sleep in, put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, because the maids knocked at 8:20 a.m. to clean.
-The bathroom was sparkling clean.
-The views from the higher floors are the best in the city and the windows open.
-To operate the ironing board, one needs a college degree from Europe.
-There’s free Internet and an iron and ironing board.
-There’s a medium-size flat-screen TV with satellite TV and a minibar.
Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Hammerichsgade 1 – DK-1611, Copenhagen, Denmark; Tel: +45 33 426000
If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing, look into getting Copenhagen’s discount card, called the Copenhagen card. It gives free access to 65 museums and attractions around the city and in the whole region. It also includes free use of public transport by train, bus, and metro, as well as discounts at restaurants. FYI: You can now buy and use it on your iPhone.
The first place I was going to take Natalie was on a walk to see The Little Mermaid statue, just like my mom and I did. But unfortunately, the statue was still on display at the Shanghai World Expo. So instead we met my cousin Hanna and used our Copenhagen card to enter Tivoli for free. Tivoli, the city’s famed amusement park, was directly across the street from our hotel. We didn’t spend more than 45 minutes walking around, as we weren’t into taking the rides–we just wanted to see the gardens, shops, and architecture of the world’s second oldest amusement park in the world – it opened on August 15, 1843.
We then met up with my friend Martin Lumbye, who is one of the owners of the popular search engine Momondo.com. Martin met us at our hotel and we walked to his office, which is off Copenhagen’s main shopping drag, Stroget. Stroget means “the sweep,” and I was told that Stroget is the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. That’s right, it’s pedestrian only, so it’s relaxing to walk down even when it’s jam-packed with tourists and locals. It’s definitely great for people-watching, and there’s all kinds of entertainment. My favorite street performer was a guy who dressed up as a water fountain. On Stroget you can find everything: entertainment, fast food, chains, fruit stands, charming cafés, and a wide variety of stores, from your typical souvenir shops to ultra-high-end like Prada.
ROYAL COPENHAGEN STORE
One shop you don’t want to miss is the Royal Copenhagen store. It’s been around since 1775 and famous for its porcelain designs. But as Natalie wrote in her blog, they offer much more, including a wide array of tableware products in modern designs. Natalie loved the mugs with colorful ribbed rubber sleeves and bought one in pink. The mug was 199DKK, about US$35.
Did you know that Denmark has the most expensive sales tax (VAT) in the world? It’s a whopping 25 percent, but it’s already included in the price you see. If you spend over 300DKK at one time in one store, you can ask for a VAT form to apply for a tax rebate at the airport. I was told that one usually gets at least half the tax back and it arrives weeks later.
Right next door to the Royal Copenhagen store is the Royal Café (website), which is where Martin took us to lunch for some Smushi! That’s right–“Smushi.” It’s a modern twist on the traditional Danish fare of Smørrebrød (open-face sandwiches). Here they serve mini open-faced sandwiches that mimic sushi but are made with Danish breads and topped with an assortment of ingredients like eggs, fish, beef, potato, and fresh vegetables. My favorite was the chicken salad with bacon. Patrons can sit outside (like Oprah did) or inside (like we did) to marvel at its eclectic design featuring baroque elements that mix both modern and historical touches to create a truly unique space. It feels like something straight out of a fairy tale. FYI: All the dishware comes from the Royal Copenhagen store.
After lunch, we said goodbye to Martin and finished our walk down Stroget. We ended up in every tourist’s favorite spot: Nyhavn. The 17th-century canal and waterway is lined with brightly colored buildings that are now restaurants, cafés, and townhouses. The harbor is filled with old wooden boats, and tourists line up in the summer to take canal tours. Like everyone else, we stopped for soft ice cream and sat along the waterfront to eat it while listening to talented street musicians.
RESTAURANT ERA ORA
I wanted to take Natalie and my cousin Hanna somewhere special on our one night in town and Martin suggested Restaurant Era Ora (Overgaden Neden Vandet 33B • 1414 Copenhagen K). It wasn’t easy finding the restaurant, as there’s no name on the door–they wanted that private-residence feel. So I just rang the doorbell and held my breath, hoping I wasn’t disturbing someone’s evening. The restaurant is run and owned by Elvio Milleri, an Italian who grew up on a farm near Tuscany. In 1983 he moved to Copenhagen (where he later met his Brazilian wife) to open what is now Denmark’s best Italian restaurant. He imports everything but fish, as he says Denmark has excellent fish. But what surprised me the most was that he said most Danes don’t eat much fish–especially the older generation.
Our memorable evening began by touring around their stocked wine cellar, which has only fine Italian wines. When I asked about the unique glasses, Elvio said all the fancy restaurants have Spiegelau glasses, but Era Ora has an exclusive on their Eclipse theme. Elvio is very detailed with everything, and there’s no menu for the nightly meal of 14 small courses (880DKK per person). The waiters ask you what you like or don’t like and then bring the onslaught. The bread, made with just flour and water, has no salt or yeast. They don’t use butter, cream, or béchamel. Here’s our menu, including the wine pairings:
Mantecato of cod served with polenta and chilly sauce
Spumante Velenosi Cuvée – Marche
Roasted Scallops loving spicy melon and Pancetta “Croccante”
Pudding of red pepper topped with baked pepper fruit and chips of Ragusano cheese
Monk fish served with parsley mushrooms
2000 Brut zero – Manzoni – Piemonte
“MOZZARELLA IN CARROZZA”
Interpretation of Carpaccio in love with cardoon, watermelon, and tuille of pinenuts
Roll of Guinea fowl filled with “N’duia” served with marinated red onions and lentils
1997 Terre di Siena – Sesti- Toscana
Mediterranean “Guazzetto” of fish accompanied by a rosti of rice
Pasta, cannellini beans and “Lardo of Colonnata”
1999 Brunello di Montalcino Magnum – Talenti – Toscana
“Tagliata” of veal tenderloin in love with turnip and cherry
2000 Barbaresco Rabajá – G. Cortese – Piemonte
Combination of Taleggio and Gorgonzola
1999 Barbera D’Alba la Cresta – Rocche dei Manzoni – Piemonte
Dark chocolate ganache in harmony with sorbet and rhubarb
Panna cotta in love with raspberry variation
1999 Vinsanto del Chianti – Il Palazzino – Toscana
A Baltic Cruise!
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