Hans Christian Anderson wrote over 150 fairy tales, launching him into fame and fortune, and into the company of royals and the writing elite. For a famous guy, he failed at just about everything else he attempted — theatre, playwriting, cobbling and university. That is, until he put his own experiences into the fairy stories we all know and love. If you’ve read The Little Mermaid or Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling or The Princess and the Pea, The Matchstick Girl or The Emperor and the Nightingale then you know the power of his pen. He gave us a tour of the city today. Well, a man dressed as him, anyway. Booking a local guide for a few hours helps us get a sense of the city and offers a glimpse into Danish culture we might miss otherwise.
Another glimpse on today’s agenda took us into Tivoli Gardens. Built in the mid-1800’s, Tivoli remains Copenhagen’s official amusement park with rides, games, cotton candy and mock-ups of Chinatown and the Taj Mahal. The gardens invited us to sit a bit, so we did. I sketched while Gord read. Temperatures feel cooler today and we’re grateful.
On our way home from the morning tour, we bumped into Soren Kierkegaard. Apparently, he hangs around in the palace gardens. I wanted to ask him some profound philosophical question around existentialism but he didn’t look well so I left it.
Copenhagen welcomed us with blazing temperatures. While the Danes swam in pristine canal waters for relief from the unusual heat, we observed with interest and laughed alongside them. They say Copenhagen is the city of smiles and we agree.
The language befuddles us, but almost everyone speaks English in a pinch, although I’ve had quite a number of folks address me in Danish, expecting a ready response. “Sorry, English,” is the best I can offer. I say “Tak” as often as I can. You can’t go wrong with “thank you.”
We heard Scandinavia is expensive and we thought, “okay, we’ve endured Switzerland’s prices, London’s too, not to mention Paris.” We were in for a shock! Lunch at a street-type vendor (a bit risky for me with my gluten-free requirements) easily costs $65 CAD. The wait staff don’t expect tips because their wage is respectable. Wine is out of the question while we’re here due to the initial price, plus tax. Danes “picnic-drink” their alcohol, meaning they don’t drink in pubs or bars because they can’t afford to. They drink curbside or in the park. How to cut food costs here? The guide book suggests eating the main meal midday. Markets and grocery stores are good as long as the items don’t need refrigeration or cooking. A quick snack of pickled herring, tapas or a sandwich works for most. We’re figuring it out as we go, listening to how the Danes do it and eating a little less.
Our accommodation here is a “find”! The Lutheran Church runs a guest house (Bethel Hotel) in the centre of the action at about a quarter of the price of other hotels in the neighbourhood. The room is a good size, clean, staffed with knowedgeable and friendly folks, and within a one or two metro stops of the major sights. The view from our room takes in the bustling canal-side shops and eateries.
Temperatures hit 29C today so we added a siesta to the day’s mix and made the most of morning and early evening for venturing out. Even so, taking in the canals by boat cooked us up good and the tram ride home baked us to a crispy state of done.
We’re in for the evening and the forecast promises torrential rain. I hear thunder. The skies open.
To recap: like most European cities, Amsterdam consists of a city centre along a major river, circled by concentric rings, serving folks who want to avoid traffic congestion. The tram system provides handy transport for foot-weary tourists — us among them. It’s an economic and practical way to get a sense of the surroundings.
The Dutch love their gardens, especially their flowers. The city’s flower market stretches canal-side, stall after stall after stall of bulbs and signs promising huge and dependable blooms. Residential doorways, window boxes and wrought iron balconies display red and coral geraniums, purple pansies, lavender, rosemary, honeysuckle and a whole host of annuals against a backdrop of red brick and cobblestone. Lovely!
We’re in for an early start by train tomorrow. Our final destination? Hamburg, Germany.
After a long, sleepless flight, and a bit of a wait for the Uber pick-up we arrived at our charming B&B to an early check-in. The biggest question of the day, should we sleep or eat? We opted for the latter and found a sunny spot canal-side at Greenwood’s where the server sat us at the best table in the house. A terrific start to 4 weeks of European adventure.
After a short nap we headed out to wander. Herring is in season so street-side venders offer it up on a plate with onions and pickles. My kind of food! Temperatures are in the mid 20’s Celsius and it’s Sunday so friends and family gather in open skiffs with all the picnic trimmings and putter up and down local waterways. Everyone else rides bikes. I read somewhere that Holland’s bike count is about double its population. That’s a lot of bikes. And cyclists own the road. No kidding.
Already we’ve walked a hundred miles, or so it feels, and jet lag descends like a storm so we’re off to bed and look forward to an artsy day tomorrow.