Saturday, January 8, 2011

Walking in a Winter Wonderland (part 1)

After an amazing Christmas with Joseba and his family, we headed towards Scandinavia to spend the last few days of 2010 and start 2011 off with a bit of snow and cold temperatures.  After stuffing ourselves with croquettes, shrimp, steaks, desserts (I even made NY Cheesecake) on the 24th and then again on Christmas Day, we took the 26th to relax a bit and then on the 27th we flew north. 

We had known it was going to be cold, with temperatures around -8ºc (which is about 16º or 17ºF) being the regular for this time of year.  Our guide book from the library shared the shocking news with us that the average high in January is about 2º (about 36º).  We also knew we were in for some snow from the European weather forecasts.  A few days before we came, Scandinavia was stormed with a cold blast of snow which cancelled many flights (not ours!).  When we got there, a lot of that snow still blanketed the ground - to the point where the coastline of Denmark when we flew in was just a progression of snow-covered land, to ice-frozen shores to the sea filled with chunks of ice.  Even from the plane it looked chilly! 
After deboarding the plane and getting our suitcases (warning if you ever fly into Copenhagen, we waited for our bags for about 40 minutes!) we headed towards the metro.  We lugged our baggage onto the metro car and went one whole stop and then the metro reversed and dropped us off at the airport again, accompanied by a Danish announcment which barely anyone understood.  Luckily, there was a nice Danish woman (blonde of course) on the train who translated for us that it was too snowy for the metro to run and that we needed to switch to the regional train!  I couldn't beleive it!  Such a snowy city, it must have been a LOT of snow to shut down the metro.  Eventually we made it to the hostel, called Sleep in Heaven.  It is the same hostel I stayed in when I went to Copenhagen solo in Spring.  Not only was it cheap, but it made a good impression on me, so Joseba and I decided to save some euros and lodge at a hostel for our Danish stay.  We arrived at the hostel around 4:30pm and the sun had already set, but that didn't discourage us from hitting the street and seeing the town. 
I remember on my last visit being in love with the rows of colored buildings and this trip, the bright white snow brought that out even more.  Even in the dark, the glowing street lights lit up the road and made it possible to distinguish a gorgeous soft peach building from a warm mint green one.  Even better was watching Joseba observe them with new eyes - each building was his new favorite!  The streets, being cleared well by the fancy snowplows, were easily walkable and we spent the first evening wandering the cobblestone streets.  The main artery streets were decked with hanging lights and on Stroget (the world's longest pedestrian shopping street), the lights were jazzed up even more to include red hearts, just like the Danish coat of arms.  With three lions and nine hearts.  Supposedly based on the seal used by King Canute VI in 1194, the hearts of now are said to have been sea leaves but although a 1972 decree specifically states them so, the Danes carry on for thier love of hearts -which not only decorated the Christmasy street but also thier coins!
We started off our week full of eating with a hotdog from a street cart, which seem to be as ubiqutous to the streets as the hearts that run above them.  Here we asked the man how to say thank you  in Danish and were told it was Tak, so from then on we started to show off our extreme Danish speaking abilities and were very politem, saying tak  to everyone!  After strolling the shopping street and getting lost on the side roads, we eventually realized our tiredness and popped into a restaurant named Sultan's Palace for a Turkish style dinner.  Normally Joseba and I speak in English, but seeing as that almost everyone Dane speaks it perfectly, we switched to Spanish while in public places when we didn't want everyone to hear and understand what we were saying.  However, in this little restaurant, we did a little talking in...BASQUE!  Obviously not a lot, but some! 

The next morning we were up bright and early, which is quite necessary when the sun rises at 8am and sets around 3:30pm!  Blessed with good weather, we retraced our steps from the night before to re-experience all the buildings in daylight.  Making sure to walk carefully, we were constantly avoiding parts of the sidewalk, blocked off for threats of falling snow from the roof.  Even scarier than the clumps of possible snow falling were the size of the pointed icicles hanging from the gutters!  Without getting plummeted by snow nor icicles, we safely made it to Cafe Paluda for breakfast.  What looked like a small café / bookstore from the outside turned out to be an old house that had morphed into a massive bookstore with rooms and rooms full of bookshelves and café tables.  We chose the room next to the windows to watch the passing people as we ate our chocolate croissant, cheese and bread with grapes and our two café lattes.  At leaving time, we bundled up again, which felt more like putting on a fat suit!  Each day I wore at minimum, a tank top, a t-shirt, a sweater or long-sleeved shirt over, then a fleece (sometimes two), a scarf, a big jacket, a hat, gloves and tights under my jeans.  Sometimes it was so many clothes that I could barely lift my arms up because I was too much of a stuffed sausage in my coat!  I never complained though - happy to be warm, and sometimes shocked that even with all these layers, I still managed to get cold.

At the time, I was toasty and we headed off to do some more walking. With no museums on our list, our main goal was to stroll around and see as much of the city as possible.  We finally reached the end of Stroget, which empties out into Amagertorv (Amager Plaza) which holds the world famous Georg Jensen shop along with the Royal Copenhagen store in two 17th century houses.  Having heard about a 'Christmas Tables' exhibit in the Royal Copenhagen store, we entered the red-bricked building.  The company, founded in 1775 is most recognized for thier iconic white and blue porcelain that is oh-so-Danish.  Here there were six rooms decorated like dining rooms for the Royal Family.  Each year a different theme is put in place and for 2010 it was Royal Traditions - so tables were set up to feature Royal Stables, Royal Lifeguards, the Royal Porcelain Factory, the Royal Library, the Royal Horticulture Society and the Royal Orchestra.  As elaborately detailed as Macy's Christmas windows, each table setting was precise and magical, each featuring a set of dishes available to buy at the store.  Here are two of my favorite tables (the Library and the Stables).  Although you cannot not the extreme precision, the Library table is decorated with old books as the feet of the table and the napkin holders were crafted from yellowed book pages.  The Stables table was decorated with hay under the table and saddles atop boxes for the seats, along with pinecones to hold the napkins in place.  It was at the store I learned that while this company used to make porcelain dishes, it's Christmas plates became collectors' items when the Queen liked one set so much she bought some for herself.  Since then, the Royal Copenhagen makes a set of Christmas dishes each year.  Georg Jensen, next door, makes collectible silver dessert serving spoons and forks.
Next stop on the self-made walking tour was to the Nyhavn Canal - a canal lined with a rainbow mix of houses from the 17th century and boats to match.  Designed to make it easier for fisherman to get thier catch to the market, the canal now is a hubub of restaurants, bars and a general people meeting place.  The northern side of the canal boasts colorful townhouses designed with bricks and plaster, one even dating to 1661, while the southern side sports more mansion-like estates in duller but still eye-catching shades.  In summer people hang out along the canal, but being 17º there weren't many people out for socializing and we didn't hold out for too long either.  Walking in inches and inches of snow to get the best view of the buildings that just ooze character along the canal, we eventually made our way back to the center where we stopped off for a kebab sandwich - the next meal in what turned out to be a very international eating vacation.  As I had started to notice, no table in Denmark was left untouched by either a flaming candle or a small poinsetta.  Even at this kebab shop, we had a miniature christmas flower to add to our meal. 

With full tummies we wandered back down Stroget for what we called 'fake shopping' - which includes walking into a shop and pretending to shop while we warmed up.  We became professionals at it!  At the end of Stroget, we ran into Tivoli Gardens, the amusement park set up in 1843.  Entering the Park was something I had been dreaming about since we started planning our trip - not for the rides but for the Christmasland the Park turns into in December.  San Sebastian, while beautiful, is defintiley lacking in Christmas spirit, and although over the top, I was elated to be in a Winter Wonderland, even if just for a few hours.  Paths leading from Christmas light decked cabins to ice sculptures dotted with real pine trees covered with snow was the exact dose of Christmas spirit I needed.  With a smile like a 6-year old the entire time, I sang Joseba the carols as we walked around the holiday heaven.  When it was created, the founder convinced the King to give him a 5-year charter by explaining that when people are having fun, they aren't thinking about politics, and so began the Gardens, and it's true - I didn't think a second about politics, just about happy holidays!

While the lights were glowing throughout the park, the air was still chilly and we decided to pop into a café to do some postcard writing and warm up with a warm drink.  Joseba ordered one of the many teas they offered and I opted for a locally bottled juice called Anton's, which in the end I thought tasted like flowers.  The dark-wooded dining room was lit mainly by candles, and I now have fallen so in love with candles in every room that two days after we got home, I went shopping and bought a bunch of them!  They are lit as I write this blog!

When we left the little café, we were shocked at the sounds and sparks of fireworks being lit by the people in the street.  Don't get me wrong, I love fireworks, but I don't like them going off right next to me!  To evade the booms we crossed the street and wandered until we found a vegetarian restaurant for our dinner dining pleasure!  Tired and full we headed back to the hostel quite early, with a busy day planned for the next day, we wanted to make sure to wake up rested. 

While only a day and a half spent so far in Copenhagen, we were enchanted by this beautiful Danish city and although we were leaving for 5 days, we were looking forward to coming back for a few more days before we headed back home.  More to come soon, as we ventured to Sweden next!


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