January 2, 2014. Traveling to a new city seemed like a good way to usher in the new year. And we’d been told that it’s pretty quiet in Oslo, except for the crowds that gather in the parks to light sparklers. So we quickly booked a trip to Copenhagen, about an hour away by air. The trip from the airport into the city center revealed a landscape that looked — and felt — a lot like Chicago: few trees, pancake-flat terrain, lots of industry, and a cold wind that robbed us of our breath and threatened to knock us off our feet. Just like home.
But the similarities ended as soon as we arrived in the city center. Gorgeous gothic rubbed shoulders with sleek modern. Fountain-studded, people-watching plazas punctuated every main intersection. And the streets boasted bike lanes that could make a Chicago cyclist cry. Incredibly wide and often completely separated from traffic by big stone bollards, these boulevards sheltered throngs of cyclists, ensuring that they’d never become “street pizza” like so many of their Chicago brethren. (I can’t tell you how many business-suited cyclists I’ve seen go skidding across the pavement after having been dinged by car doors and weaving cabbies.)
We hurried to our hotel — once again somehow just down the street from several x-rated bars (what can I say? cheap price = questionable location) — where we suited up for a cold night at Tivoli Gardens. Nowhere near your typical shoddy amusement park or a fake “Disney-fied” experience, Tivoli is a true blast from the past. Its Victorian buildings, rides, and carnival experiences are completely authentic, having been pristinely preserved, like a ship in a bottle. And miracle of miracles, the kiddies really seemed to appreciate the trip back through time. The old-fashioned shooting galleries, balloon darts, ring tosses, whack-a-moles, etc. were hip-deep in laughing, screaming families, making me wish we had some youngsters in tow.
But even without kids, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves just exploring the park and gardens, which were dripping with seasonal décor — including fake snow since the weather hadn’t cooperated. Little holiday huts offered gorgeous traditional Danish Christmas decorations such as intricate paper cutouts, birchbark wreaths, and calendar candles for marking the days until the nisse had arrived. And for those with more modern tastes, the larger stores featured great Danish design from the likes of Georg Jensen and other famous names.
Along the way we stopped to nosh on traditional Christmas treats, such as glögg (hot spiced wine spiked with rum) and Æbleskiver (delicious golf-ball-sized donuts served with powdered sugar and jam). Had we had the forethought to make advanced reservations, we could have dined in one of Tivoli’s beautiful and highly rated restaurants. That being said, we still had a magical evening just strolling through park and taking in the fun fireworks and laser show.
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, dressed up in our finest, and caught a cab to Salon 39 for cocktails. Gotta say, their Gotham Old Fashioned (Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Plantation Dark Rum, and Islay Bitters) was fantastic, as were several other drinks with names I can’t remember now, for obvious reasons. We struck up a conversation with Rasmus and Maja, a Danish couple seated next to us, and by 2:00 a.m. we decided to pack it up with promises to meet for brunch the day after New Year’s.
The next morning, we prowled around town, taking in more fabulous architecture from the outside only — absolutely everything was closed due to the holiday. First we strolled through Nyhavn for a view of the beautiful and much-photographed harbor (see top photo) , then we attempted to snag a shot of the Little Mermaid sculpture, but the cruel wind drove us back indoors. So we headed for a perfect “day after” dinner and terrific “hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-us” cocktail at one of the few places open, a local chain called Madklubben Vesterbro. Then afterwards, we took a short nap that somehow turned into the next morning.
We rolled out of bed just in time for a nice walk to the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC) in Christianshavn, where we met Maya and Rasmus for brunch. They gave us a great overview of some of the fantastic architecture visible from our perch in the glass-wrapped balcony overhanging the harbor, while we held on for our lives as the stiff wind rattled the structure and made us hope that the water below wasn’t as cold as it looked.
After exchanging contact info with the goal that the four of us could meet up again and see more of Copehagen when the weather improved, Matthew and I headed back to Oslo, where heavy snow and longer hours of darkness awaited us. Um, yay!?