Monday, 20 October 2014

Copenhagen - Salty Old Queen of the Sea

Every time I say the name Copenhagen the line "Salty Old Queen of the Sea" as sung by Danny Kaye in the 1952 film "Hans Christian Anderson", comes to mind and I can't stop myself from humming it.  It wasn't until I arrived in Copenhagen that I realised how apt that title was. The sea is the life blood of this city which is built on a number of small islands and serviced by canals running right through its heart.  As a New Zealander it is also interesting to note that the city is in the province of Zealand, although New Zealand takes its name, albeit slightly corrupted,  from Zeeland in the Netherlands

It had been a long held desire of mine to visit Denmark, mainly because my parents lived there for a time after I was married and my mother wrote an excellent book about their experiences.  They lived in Aarhus, which I will write about in another post, but also visited Copenhagen and no one can visit Denmark without spending some time in this beautiful city.

I was thrilled to be finally going and fortunate to be travelling with my son, daughter-in-law, five year old grandson and four month old grand daughter.  When you travel alone a lot of the time it is fun to share experiences with others and especially to get a five year old's unbiased, and, at times, amusing, perspective on things.

The Copenhagen Strand, centre
Our hotel, The Copenhagen Strand, was right on the wide Chritianshavn canal which leads directly to Nyhavn, (new harbour)the picturesque and much photographed tourist centre of Copenhagen. It was an ideal location, being also in walking distance to many other of Copenhagen's attractions.

Our first night, arriving tired and hungry and looking for somewhere inexpensive to eat - be warned Nyhavn has tourist prices - we eventually found a hamburger restaurant called Hot Buns.  Great food at reasonable, for Denmark!, prices.  It took a wee while for the penny to drop re the name but drop it did once we noticed all the very attractive waitresses wore tiny, skin tight shorts.  Hot buns indeed.


Hans Christian Anderson's home, narrow building, centre
Next morning, I arose early and did one of my favourite things, an early morning walk.  I love this time of day. I enjoyed watching Copenhagen wake, seeing fishermen preparing their boats, business men heading to work, still sleepy people clutching take away coffees, parents carting their children to day care or kindergarten on specially modified bicycles with child carrier carts attached either back of front, strolling beautiful, quiet Nyhavn before the hordes of tourists descended.  The golden early morning sun striking the tall, ice cream coloured, town houses lining the canal made Nyhavn the stuff of fairy tales, appropriately since it was home to Hans Christian for18 years. Historic wooden ships, yachts and fishing boats line the canal and their crews were sitting on deck enjoying coffee and the morning paper. 

Light house ship, XVII Gedser Rev

 I was intrigued by the light house ship, XVII Gedser Rev, now a museum.  I have to admit I had never before heard of these ships which were anchored permanently in locations where it was too dangerous or unsuitable to build a lighthouse. 

Nyhavn at dusk, lined with cafes
But Nyhavn wasn't always so beautiful, sweet, pretty and calm.  In the 17th and 18th centuries it was a notorious sea port with inevitable drinking, gambling and prostitution rife. Now it's trendy cafes and bars are packed, for lunch and dinner, with well heeled tourists. We found it far too expensive to eat there, however, acting on the tip of a friend found Nyhavn Pizza, a matter of 10 yards from the canal front, a cheap and cheerful pizzeria which we frequented on 3 evenings.  Not Danish cuisine, I know, but the perfect place to take children and feel relaxed, comfortable and welcome. And we made up for it at breakfast with the superb hotel Danish spread of cold meats, cheeses, boiled eggs and pastries.

Fresh fish smorrebrod on a fishing boat
Another evening we enjoyed a delicious fish smorrebrod (Danish open sandwich) on a
fishing boat anchored in the canal outside our hotel.  The fish was caught that day, so fresh it was almost jumping.

Nyhavn became our local spot during our stay in Copenhagen.  We walked it every day at least once, usually more often, and came to love it but there was much more to explore in Copenhagen.

Footnote: My mother, Joyce Reid's book, now out of print, was called  "It Was better in Winter"