Thursday 21 September 2017

Copenhagen: In love with the capital of cool

Nyhavn was Hans Christian Andersen’s old stomping ground, but is better known as the ‘world’s longest bar’
Nyhavn was Hans Christian Andersen’s old stomping ground, but is better known as the ‘world’s longest bar’
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

LET me start by confessing that I've had a total crush on Scandinavia for ages. To me, those Nordic countries seem to have it all; gravlax, cutting-edge TV thrillers and cable-knit cardigans.

Oh, and then there's the men. Those beautiful, beautiful Norse men with their broad backs, sallow skin and green eyes -- what more could a girl want? So the prospect of spending a weekend in the Danish capital really, really appealed.

We touched down in Copenhagen on a dark, wet Friday evening. "This is Swedish rain," our guide gestured toward the heavy clouds, "it's as thick as soup."

Thankfully, as we shuffled towards Nyhavn, the sun broke through the sky and the rain started to lift. A small port packed full of tall ships -- Nyhavn is postcard-perfect; with rows of mustard and baby-blue buildings and roses clambering up walls.

This used to be Hans Christian Andersen's old stomping ground. But nowadays, Nyhavn is better known as the 'world's longest bar', thanks to the stretch of pubs and restaurants lining the old cobbled streets.

We were staying near the Admiral Hotel, an old granary building that's right in the thick of it -- moments away from the impressive Amalienborg castle and the main shopping stretch, Strogot Street. Here, we met Henrick Thierlein, an ambassador for 'Wonderful Copenhagen' and an absolute scream.

Henrick immediately whisked us off to Vesterbro, the meat-packing district and the trendiest area in town. Unlike in New York, this district still lives up to its name -- 75 per cent of the buildings are used to package bacon and smoked meats. The rest is filled with trendy underground bars, art galleries and restaurants.

"During the week this place is dead," Henrick informed us, "but at the weekend it comes to life." He was right; everywhere you looked achingly cool scenesters pushed packs of tobacco under their lips, slugged beers and shuffled in their kicks.

"This way!" Henrick announced, marching towards Kodbyens Fiskebar, a steel-and-concrete fish restaurant with navy deckchairs outside. Copenhagen's restaurant scene has exploded ever since the establishment of the New Nordic Food Movement in 2005. This movement is all about using home-grown ingredients rather than imports -- less garlic, more dill. Copenhagen is also home to the world's best restaurant; Noma, run by Rene Redzepi. "They have Noma, and we have Nama," one of my travelling companions sighed as Henrick told us about Noma's year-long waiting list.

Inside Kodbyens Fiskebar, we met owner Anders Selmer. Anders used to be the head sommelier at Noma and poured us glasses of delicious Danish Riesling while serving plates of raw razor clams. Aside from the emphasis on local produce, the most striking element of New Nordic cuisine is the presentation. The food is not pressed or stacked into neat, tidy shapes -- instead everything looks tousled and windswept. As if a gentle breeze lifted the ingredients out of the kitchen and scattered them across your plate. "It's a sort of bed head look," one of the chefs explained.

Denmark is known for what is probably the best lager in the world, but Copenhagen's cocktail scene has taken off in a big way. There are tons of retro speakeasies and sleek lounges offering up Old Fashioneds and Woo Woos. We made our way to Ruby's, a 1930s-style bar where drinks are rattled together and the Crown Prince hangs out. "We know how to have a good time," Henrick exclaimed while drinking whiskey through a cinnamon stick, "the Danish are the Latinos of Scandinavia!"

They're certainly the best-dressed people I've ever seen. Forget London, Paris and New York -- Copenhagen has style in spades. There's a restraint and quiet confidence to their dressing; the more you look, the more you appreciate. Think Breton stripes, undercuts and Schiesser vests.

The next day, we set off on a kayaking tour around Copenhagen's canals and harbour. From the water, it's possible to view the city's eclectic mix of buildings; from the Rococo-style Stock Exchange to Schmidt Hammer Lassen's Black Diamond, alias The Royal Library.

Nearly everyone in Denmark owns a bicycle, so if kayaking in the open waters seems a little too strenuous, hop on a bike.There are more than 380km of cycling lanes in Copenhagen, and plenty of sites to see. But be careful, on average one bike is stolen every eight minutes so bring a lock and keep your eyes peeled. We peddled towards the Round Tower in the centre of town. Built by King Christian, this is the oldest working observatory in Europe and offers great views of the city. Unfortunately, poor King Christian was too fat to scale stairs, so he had the tower built with a gradual sloping walkway in lieu of steps. This way he could ride his horse all the way to the top.

From here, we raced on to Rosenberg Castle -- a stunning red-brick castle that houses the Danish Crown Jewels. It's filled with thrones carved from narwhal ivory, silver chandeliers and delicate Danish crystal. But I was most impressed by the Mirror Room; a fancy dressing-room with mirrored ceilings, walls and floors -- making it possible to view your ensemble from every conceivable angle.

I loved almost everything about Copenhagen except Christiania; a hippy commune just outside the centre of the city. Best known for its laid-back attitude to drug dealing and infamous Green Light District, Christiania attracts 500,000 tourists every year. The 900 or so inhabitants of the area will welcome you with open arms providing you stick to the three rules; no photos, no phones and no running (it makes the drug- dealers edgy). I'm not a big fan of hippies. Or free love. Or wind chimes. So Christiania wasn't exactly my scene. In fact, the whole area reminded me of the tail end of a four-day music festival; filled with smoke, makeshift houses and bull mastiffs.

But perhaps I'm giving Christiania a hard time. After all, it had a lot to live up to; the previous night I had visited Tivoli Gardens, or as I prefer to call it: the most magical place on earth. This amusement park inspired Walt to set up Disneyland, and with fairy lights twinkling in the flowerbeds, weeping willows listing beside lakes and the smell of candyfloss floating through the air, it's easy to see why. "I feel like I'm in Avatar," I whispered to another journalist, who answered: "If you think it's beautiful now, you should see it in winter. You can wander the food markets, warm your fingers over coals and drink glugg." That's mulled wine to you and me.

We finished our trip looking around Torvehallerne Food Market on Israels Plads. Filled with speciality chocolate stalls, artisan bakeries and butchers selling cured meat, you can quickly burn a hole in your pocket. I loaded up on sticky meringue-filled flodeboller and butter cookies before setting off to the airport. As I sat in the SAS airport lounge waiting for my flight back home, I sighed. I no longer had a schoolgirl crush on Scandinavia; this was now a full-blown love affair.

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