Royalty and $10 ice-cream in Copenhagen (10/21/03)

Last updated 10/23/03                                                                                                                                

Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, goes down in my personal history as the place where I first saw royalty face-to-face. Or, at least, I saw the face of the Danish queen Margaret II, while she probably simply stared off into space, trying hard to ignore the waving crowd without appearing impolite to her people. That's certainly what I would do if I had to travel from my summer residence to the winter palace in a horse-drawn carriage, accompanied by over a hundred liveried horsemen plus some police, in plain view of street onlookers. Ah, the burdens of being a queen... Those of you who have never had the pleasure of meeting honest-to-God royalty, please feel free to gape at the pictures below: her Majesty, her guards, and her destination -- the royal palace on Amalienborg Platz.

While no price can be deemed too high for a queenly encounter, I cannot help mentioning that Copenhagen is singularly the most expensive place I have ever been to, and let us hope that it will keep the grand title forever. The price level is about double that of the United States; budget hotel for two runs at $90/night,  a cup of coffee can easily make your wallet lighter by $4, add $5 for a VERY cheap sandwich at a local pizza/shawerma/falafel dive, splurge $10 on a pint of ice-cream at the 7-11 store on the corner... you get the picture. A fifth of the price is the hefty 25% VAT. I sure hope that the Danes get some of that tax money back in form of cheap/free education, health care or maybe food stamps, otherwise I just don't know how they manage.

At least one thousand Danes must have decided that the whole thing about income redistribution through taxation wasn't for them, since they founded Christiania -- a "free community" in Copenhagen that has its own political structure, education system, commerce and thriving art, much aided by open (though illegal by Danish laws) selling of hash and other light drugs on Pusher street. Photography is prohibited inside the "freetown", so call on your spatial imagination to get a glimpse of Christiania: take a 2x2 blocks of city space, fill it with military-issue barracks, now paint everything in sight with hippie-style graffiti, plant a bunch of flowers, hang all sorts of new-age-voodoo-magic-enlightenment-neochristian-tacky-individualistic ornaments, remove the streetlights, and populate the lot with loveable, non-violent, mostly vegetarian (great food at the Morgenstedet, by the way), hash-smoking, child-raising, free-living people. Scary at first sight, Christiania can charm you and cause much soul searching in a normally law-abiding citizen without anarchic tendencies.

Both Christiania and the Queen were our accidental finds in Copenhagen, while the expected sights proved to be elusive. For instance, the famous sculpture of the Little Mermaid from H.C.Andersen's fairy tale (the writer lived and created in this city, in a nondescript house on Nyhavn canal, 67)... wasn't there! Apparently the bronze mermaid fell from her pedestal about a month ago and is still in the restoration shop. Similarly, we searched in vain for the "spectacular Gefion fountain" from our guidebook which appeared to be torn down for reconstruction (as engineers couldn't find the source of a substantial water leak, they just had to disassemble the entire thing, and it won't be back for another year). Still, we saw enough important buildings (the City Hall, royal palace, Rosenborg castle, Frederikskirken church, the national gallery, etc.) to arrive at a favorable opinion of Danish architecture and city planning. The buildings in Copenhagen are on the sturdy side, but still quite beatiful, and the down-to-earth look is often relieved by a quirky fountain (see Stork Fountain picture below), a pretty spire of a church, or a sparkling blue body of water. The city is also blessed with many public parks, of which we got to see the beatifully laid-out English garden around Rosenborg castle - check out the zen-like balls of stone lining the alley - and the Botanic gardens. Tivoli gardens, a much-hyped amusement park in the center of Copenhagen, was closed for the season, which was not a cause for disappointment since we got to walk around many other lovely places. Churchill Park gave us a surprise encounter with a couple of dozen ducks who were entirely unafraid and very friendly, especially Puneet's pet duck wanna-be whom you can observe in the extreme closeup snapshot.

One last note: Copenhagen in October is COLD. We didn't get to experience snow, but the air was cooled down almost to the freezing point, and even mannequins' noses in shopwindows appeared to be frost-bitten. Late fall is no tourist season in Scandinavia, but provided with warm clothes and glad heart, you can enjoy it nonetheless. Local wildlife, like the aforementioned ducks and jellyfish (the bay water is teeming with them!), seems to be quite comfortable in the harsh nordic climate.

No, wait, that was not the last comment yet: I completely forgot to relate our experience of getting from Berlin to Copenhagen by train. The thing is, Denmark is separated from the German mainland by water, yet your train supposedly takes you straight across. I expected a bridge or else an underwater tube, like the one under the San Francisco Bay between the city and East Bay side. Boy, was I wrong. The train goes on a ferry! Yes, the whole thing! The train tracks continue inside the ground deck of the ferry, so the train rolles right in and sits there while the ferry crosses over to Denmark. While en route (about 40 minutes), the passengers are free to walk on other decks, visit the duty-free shop, the cafeteria or the open upper deck where they stand a good chance of freezing to death. Then the survivors get back into the train which leaves the docked ferry and continues on its merry way to Copenhagen. Is this cool, or what?!

Hmm, seems that Daria has expressed pretty much all I'd have to say about Copenhagen in a more interesting tale than I could possibly hope to concoct, but I'll try to add a few tidbits of my own anyway. The Danes in Copenhagen are VERY big on cycling and we saw plenty of bikers braving the streets in near freezing weather, even well into the night. Not only do they have separate bike lanes (like the US), these lanes are actually separated from car and pedestrian traffic in some fashion and even have special turning lanes for the cyclists. It's surprising that cities like San Francisco, which have relatively milder climates in comparison to Copenhagen in October, don't offer their cyclists such friendly road conditions. I'd also like to second Daria's opinion on the expensive nature of this city -- I mean, where else would you find prices that make Disneyland look cheap? After having spent about 2 bucks for a hotdog and beer in Berlin, I thought 4 dollars for a liter of bottled water was a bit out of line...


                            Royal sight[ing]s in Copenhagen

                            Places of interest

                            Water views

                            A taste of Danish architecture

                             Local wildlife: ducks, jellyfish, storks... and Puneet at the train station.