Sunday, June 7, 2015

Castle Hopping in Copenhagen

Friday, March 27th

Copenhagen, Denmark

**Guest Blogger, Kimberly Marolda**

The famous phrase from Shakespeare's Hamlet (Act I, Scene 4) appears at line 90: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." However, a lot has changed in the 400-plus years since the character Marcellus made his royal observation; Denmark has consistently been placed in the top three slots of the World Happiness Report, published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, if not topping the list entirely.

After having spent a long weekend of leisure there myself in March, it's not hard to see the reasons why the Danes are so happy. A simple sampling of the culture in Copenhagen is more than enough to fall prey to the charms of this historical city... Copenhagen is the coolest kid on the Nordic block. Edgier than Stockholm and worldlier than Oslo, the Danish capital gives Scandinavia the X-factor via modern mixology, chic design and fashion scenes, and culinary revolution. This is where you'll find cuisine pioneer Noma, (once again) voted the world's best restaurant in 2014, and one of 15 Michelin-starred restaurants in town.  Not bad for a city of 1.2 million.

Yet Copenhagen is more than just seasonal cocktails, cuisine, and design. A royal capital with almost nine centuries under its belt, it's equally well-versed when it comes to world-class museums and storybook streetscapes. Its cobbled, bike-friendly streets are a cozy concoction of colorful town houses, craft studios and candlelit cafes. Add to this its compact size, and you have what is possibly Europe's most seamless urban experience.

The Öresund Bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark

My newlywed husband and I decided to take a few days in the city after he had spent a week working abroad in Sweden. Since the two countries are connected by the Öresund Bridge, he took the train over to Copenhagen to meet me at our hotel, The Admiral, which rests upon the waterfront of the city. I had flown in from Boston on the red-eye to join him for a weekend of castle hopping and smørrebrød sampling.

Our lodgings for the weekend were stunning and steeped in history. The Admiral Hotel is built in a grain-drying warehouse that dates back to 1787. This building has born witness to the Copenhagen Fire of 1795, which destroyed half the city; in 1801, the Battle of Copenhagen was fought just outside the windows. Six years later, the English began their bombardment of the city on the shores just steps from the main entrance. The scars and burns on the massive Pomeranian pine beams lining the lobby still bear witness to the British naval attacks of the early 19th century.

Waterfront exterior of The Admiral Hotel

Main entrance to The Admiral Hotel

Interior lobby of The Admiral Hotel

After freshening up from our journeys, the first order of business was to explore our surrounding neighborhood. Centered mainly around the harbor and the beginnings of the city's canals, Nyhavn is a 17th Century waterfront and global seaport, infamous for its long-forgotten beer-swigging sailors, tattoos, and prostitution. The port was established between 1670-1673, dug by Swedish prisoners from the Dano-Swedish War, and was originally a gateway from the sea into Old Town. The small ships handled cargo and fish, but as ocean ships grew larger, Nyhavn was taken over by internal Danish small vessel freight traffic. After WWII, land transport took over this role and Nyhavn became largely deserted. The neighborhood was revitalized and gentrified in the mid-1960s and is widely considered to now be one of the most photogenic spots in Copenhagen.

Newlyweds in Nyhavn

Nyhavn Port

Hans Christian Anderson lived in townhouse No. 20, and this is where he wrote "Tinderbox", "Little Claus and Big Claus", and "The Princess and The Pea"

Nyhavn Port

After exploring the harbor, we took a walk up the nearby Langelinie Promenade which is a pier, esplanade, and park running alongside the waterfront. The Langelinie quay was erected in 1894 in connection with the expansion of the Nyhavn harbor, and boasts a very deep basin. Thus, large oceanic ships can dock here. On average, a new cruise ship arrives almost every other day to explore the Copenhagen coastline.

Cruise ships docked along the Langelinie Promenade

First up was a visit to the Amalienborg Palace, which sits at the very beginning of the promenade only a few steps from our hotel. We didn't buy a ticket to enter, as it was a beautiful day and we wanted to enjoy the fresh air after having been cooped up in various vessels of transportation only hours before. However, the palace grounds were more than enough to acquaint ourselves with the architectural influence the royals have had on the city. The building consists of four identical classical palace façades around an octagonal courtyard; in the center of the square is a monumental equestrian statue of Amalienborg's founder, King Frederick V. Amalienborg was originally built for four noble families; however, when another of the city's castles, Christiansborg Palace, burned in 1794 the royal family bought the palaces and moved in. The complex still houses the Royal Family in the winter months.

Amalienborg is guarded day and night by Royal Life Guards (Den Kongelige Livgarde). Their full dress uniform is fairly similar to that of the Foot Guards regiments of the British Army: a scarlet tunic, blue trousers, and a navy bearskin cap. The guard march from Rosenborg Castle at 11:30am daily through the streets of Copenhagen, and execute the changing of the guard in front of Amalienborg at noon. In addition, post replacement is conducted every two hours. 

The octagonal courtyard of Amalienborg, with King Frederik V's statue in the center

After exploring the castle grounds, Mike and I began our stroll alongside the Langelinie Promenade, stopping for photos along the way.  There is much to see in terms of statuary, fountains, and architecture and we were fortunate enough to find ourselves relatively alone on our walk, free from the throngs of tourists that often clog the area.  

The Gefion Fountain (Gefionspringvandet)... Folklore declares that Norse goddess Gefion (goddess of plowing, foreknowledge, fertility and virginity) was promised as much of Sweden as she could plow in a night.  Story goes that she turned her sons into oxen and used them to portion off what is now the island of Zealand.

The Gefion Fountain (Gefionspringvandet), first activated in 1908.  Largest monument in the city, unfortunately not in full use as we were visiting off-season.

The Old Citadel and ramparts from 1626, located directly behind the Gefion Fountain.

The Little Mermaid Statue (Den Lille Havfrue)... Folklore declares that every morning and evening, the mermaid swims to the surface to perch upon her rock on the shoreline. She stares longingly toward land, hoping to catch a glimpse of her beloved prince.

The Little Mermaid Statue (Den Lille Havfrue), installed in 1913. She has since been twice decapitated and rehabilitated.

That evening, we made our way to Aamanns Etablissement, a restaurant famous for its take on the local delight known as "smørrebrød", which is an open-faced sandwich.  This treat starts with a piece of buttered sourdough rye bread as a base and is topped with a variety of "pålæg" -- toppings ranging from cold-cuts, fish, vegetables, cheese or spreads.  While we dined, we took advantage of a great prix fixe option that treated us to a four-course menu.  A terrific introduction to the best of Danish dishes!

Interior of Aamanns Etablissement... We had the cozy table right in the front window.

Examples of smørrebrød from Aamanns Etablissement

Examples of smørrebrød from Aamanns Etablissement

Here's a great link that digs a little deeper into the Danish cuisine of smørrebrød.


Saturday, March 28th

Day Two in Denmark

After a whirlwind day of international travel and exploration, the husband and I decided to venture deeper into the city for Day Two.  First step?  A guided canal tour, as it's reported that Copenhagen looks its best from the water. The city is criss-crossed by a network of canals, and though the clippers and tall ships have long since sailed into the sunset, the waterways are still an integral part of the city's character.  In the well-heeled canal quarter of Christianshavn, yachts, barges, and houseboats jostle for space along the granite quays, while small boats laden with sightseers like ourselves putter past the elegant townhouses.  Coasting past the multiple palaces in the city also provides you with an otherwise overlooked view of the castles.

Beautiful cameos adorn the bridge by Christiansborg Palace

A tour boat exiting from the bridge tunnels

Tight squeeze under the bridges for the canal tour boats

We hopped off the boat near the downtown shopping area called Strøget, which is the Danish version of Boston's Newbury Street or NYC's SoHo district. Strøget is one of the longest car-free, pedestrian streets in Europe, lined with a collection of both boutiques and chain stores. Many of the buildings date from the late 19th or early 20th century, though the oldest storefront is from 1610. Even though the street is less than one mile long, you still come across many little "squares" where cross streets meet, often adorned with statues and fountains.

One of the many Strøget squares

A view of Strøget -- Round Tower (Rundetårn) can be seen in the background

As we walked Strøget, we came upon the Round Tower (Rundetårn). The Round Tower is a 17th-century tower, and was built as an astronomical observatory by King Christian IV in 1642.  It is most noted for its equestrian staircase, a 7.5-turn helical corridor leading to the top, and for the expansive views it provides over "Old Town Copenhagen".  There are no stairs leading to the top; instead, there is a spiraling ramp, which is formed around the hollow core of the tower.  This design was chosen to allow a horse-and-carriage to reach the library, and helped to move books in and out as well as transporting heavy and sensitive instruments to the observatory.  That... and because King Christian IV was supposedly quite fat and preferred to be carried up and down instead of walking.  According to gossip, anyway.

Along the observation deck at the top runs a wrought iron lattice made in 1643 by Kaspar Fincke (the court Artist in Metalwork).  Woven within is Christian IV's monogram with the letters RFP, representing the King's motto:  REGINA FIRMAT PIETAS ("Piety Strengthens the Realms").  

The Round Tower is part of the Trinitatis Complex, which provided the scholars of the time with an academic library, and the Trinitatis Church.  The church is beautifully adorned on the inside with vaulted ceilings, lofty aisles, and gilded altarpieces. 

Trinitatis Church Altarpiece from 1731

Trinitatis Church Pulpit

Trinitatis Church interior

Mike in the Round Tower spiraling ramp

The top of the Round Tower... a view older than America!

King Christian IV's monogram woven into the latticework atop the Tower.

From the Round Tower, it was only a short walk to Christiansborg Palace.  Christiansborg is the only building in the world to house all three branches of government (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial power), and is the seat of Danish Parliament, the Prime Minister's Office, and the Supreme Court.  Needless to say... it's a very large building.  In addition to government, there are several parts of the palace still used by monarchy for more common activity.  On the grounds are the Royal Reception Room, Palace Chapel, and the Royal Stables.

Christiansborg Palace Tower, the highest point in Copenhagen

Christiansborg Palace Main Entrance

The castle hopping couple in front of Christiansborg

Before entering the palace, we had to cover our grubby "pedestrian" feet with protective booties

Entry stairwell leading to the Royal Reception Rooms, as well as the Prime Minister's Office

Royal Reception Room leading into the Throne Room

Corner of the Royal Reception Room leading into the Throne Room

The Throne Room -- The parquet floor is made of oak, walnut, and Cuban mahogany laid in a special pattern which forms a line running from the thrones to the door.  In earlier times, guests weren't supposed to turn their backs to the monarch but had to walk backwards as they left.  Having a line to follow was quite practical.

Gotta get me a cloak like that

One of the many Royal Reception Rooms

One of the many Royal Reception Rooms

One of the many Royal Reception Rooms

Elevator of one of the many Royal Reception Rooms.  This one led only to the second floor tier of the library directly above the door.

After touring the lavish rooms of the palace, we ditched our beautiful blue protective booties and headed outside to the Royal Stables, which were immaculately kept and filled with some of the friendliest and most well-trained horses I've seen.  The horses are Kladrubers from the Czech Republic, and were brought to Copenhagen in 1994 at the request of the Prince Consort.  Kladrubers are gentle and intelligent and have drawn coaches for the European princely families for centuries.  They are born dark and turn white when they are between 6 and 7 years old.  These royal horses are trained daily on the riding ground and in the city streets.  From the middle of June until the beginning of August, they are put out to graze until the training season begins once again.

Diagram of Christiansborg grounds, with the Royal Stables in the foreground

Also on display in the Royal Stables are carriages of the Royal Danish Family, dating back to the late 1700s.  Many were small pony carriages, made more regal by lavish ornamentation and gala harness dressings for the double rows of horses.  The oldest coach in the stables was made in Sweden as a commission from Crown Princess Louise, who was born a Swedish princess.  She then gave the carriage to her mother-in-law, Queen Louise, who was married to the Danish King Christian IX.

The oldest coach in the Royal Stables. This little pony carriage has room for four passengers (two double seats set face to face), a driver in the front, and a footman behind. There are upper and lower sections of gilt, with panels painted of angels with regalia and the national coat of arms.

A state coach must be driven in style!  Eight iron horses are dressed in gala harness to showcase the regal nature of a carriage procession.

Another highlight of the Christiansborg Palace grounds are the ruins of previous castles built on the same site.  Located underneath the current buildings, visitors are free to walk the pathways around the crumbling stone walls that lie below.  Explanations and diagrams of the previous castles help guide you through decades of royal history, and it's a truly remarkable experience to see such well-preserved ruins. 

Timeline of the many castles both built and destroyed upon the Christiansborg grounds

Mock-up of the ruins on the grounds, which are still intact and on display beneath the current castle

Medieval depiction of the first building onsite, Absalon's Castle.  Built in 1167 to house Bishop Absalon until his death in 1201.  Eventually the castle was demolished due to political unrest between the church and the crown.

Model of the second building onsite, Copenhagen Castle.  Built on top of the Absalon ruins, and demolished in 1731 to make room for the first Christiansborg Castle.

The First Christiansborg Castle, which burned down in 1794.  The Royal Family then went to live at Amalienborg Castle on the waterfront as construction began on the new Christiansborg.


Model of the Second Christiansborg Castle.  While the royal family lived in temporary accommodations at Amalienborg Palace, the master architect Christian Frederik Hansen was called to Copenhagen to resurrect the palace.  Hansen started building the second Christiansborg in 1823 in a French Empire style.  By the time the palace was finished in 1828, King Frederick VI had decided he did not want to live there after all, and he only used the palace for entertainment.  King Frederick VII was the only monarch to live in the palace, between 1852-1863.

Yes, the SECOND CHRISTIANSBORG IS BURNING!  After the opera house caught fire during a birthday party, the second castle burned to the ground only a few decades after the first met the same fate.  This made way for the third (and current) version of Christiansborg.

Mike reading about the ruins before him underneath the current Christiansborg Palace

Ancient kitty prints found amongst the ruins of the first Christiansborg

After Christiansborg, it was time to retire to our hotel to ready ourselves for a night out of gourmet hot dogs and champagne at Foderbrættet in the trendy Vesterbro district.  Vesterbro used to be known as a seedy neighborhood of sex shops, pornography, and prostitution, and you can definitely still see the remnants on certain streets. However, the area has come a long way in terms of revitalization and safety. Even though it has certainly been cleaned up, there's still not a lot to do aside from eat, drink, and shop as it's much more residential than the downtown area in which we had previously been exploring. Carlsberg Brewery is located here, which perfectly sums up the industrial-cum-trendy vibe of the neighborhood. Our chosen restaurant was an excellent choice to begin our sampling of what Vesterbro has to offer, setting the stage for a fun night out in Copenhagen.


Sunday, March 29th

Day Three in Denmark

We once again hit the ground running, as it was our last day in Copenhagen and there was still much to see.  First things first was a visit to the last castle in the city, the gorgeous Rosenborg and its surrounding gardens. Rosenborg was built in 1606 as a "summer house" in the newly established garden zone of Copenhagen by King Christian IV, who designed much of the castle himself. The next three generations of kings lived here, until King Frederik IV erected Frederiksberg Castle in 1710 just north of the city. From then on, Rosenborg was only used for occasional visits and official functions.

The gardens of Rosenborg Castle, alongside the palace moat

The gardens of Rosenborg Castle, alongside the palace moat

The gardens of Rosenborg Castle, alongside the palace moat

The original ground floor arrangement of Rosenborg comprised of private apartments; the king was given the northern part, the queen being given the southern. The central area was a “tranverse” entrance hall, which held a spiral staircase leading to the second floor "Red Hall" ballroom.  Later, the tranverse hall was separated into the “Stone Passage” and the “Dark Room”, which the king designated as a conjugal bedroom.  In 1849, absolute monarchy was abolished and all castles became state property... except for Rosenborg, which is still passed down from monarch to monarch.  The various rooms have now been given the museum treatment, with exhibition space showcasing early period royal lifestyles including the Crown Jewels.

Frederik IV's Cabinet, used by his sister Sophie Hedvig.  The ceiling painting is originally from Frederiksberg Castle.  Eventually, Rosenborg became a sort of storehouse, where royal family heirlooms (including regalia and thrones) were kept.

Frederik V's Room -- "The Rose"... paintings, furniture, and other objects from the Rococo period of Danish design.  Most furnishings were salvaged from the burned rubble of the Christiansborg castles.  

The Porcelain Cabinet... sets of royal porcelain, including Flora Danica.  A product of the Age of Enlightenment, Flora Danica is a comprehensive atlas of botany, containing folio-sized pictures of all the wild plants native to Denmark dating 1761-1883.

Ceremonial arms of the Royal Family

Barrels of Rosenborg Wine, dating 1615

Corked bottles from 1615, filled with Rosenborg Wine

In the spiral stairwell of Rosenborg Castle, leading up the second floor ballroom

In the spiral stairwell of Rosenborg Castle, leading up the second floor ballroom

Botanical drawings lining the walls of the spiral staircase of Rosenborg Castle

Doorway to the Long Hall on the top floor of Rosenborg Castle, which now houses old thrones and tapestries but was once the Red Hall Ballroom

The throne of the king (1665), made of narwhal tusks, and the throne of the queen (1731), made of silver... guarded by three silver lions from 1670

The Long Hall on the top floor of Rosenborg Castle, formerly the Red Hall Ballroom... The tapestries were made in Copenhagen and depict battles from the Scanian War (1675-79).  The ceiling dates back to 1709, and depicts main political events of the time.

Christian IV's crown, 1596... used by Christian IV and Frederik III

The Crown of the Absolute Monarchs (1671), used by kings from Christian V to Christian VIII, and the Queen's Crown (1731)

Crown jewels, sceptre, orb, and annointing rapier from the Order of the Elephant and the Order of the Danish Flag

After exhausting the morning touring Rosenborg, it was time to explore more of the culinary delights of Copenhagen.  Luckily for us, a food market was only a few blocks away.  Torvehallerne has over 60 stands selling everything from fresh fish and meat to gourmet chocolate and exotic spices, as well as small places where you can have a quick bite to eat.

Kartoffelkage -- "Potato Cake" is the name of this pastry created in the early 1900s.  It doesn't contain any potato; the name comes from it's shape.  Made of Choux-pastry with vanilla cream, a top of marzipan, and covered in coca.

 With a full belly, it was off to the neighborhood of Christianshavn to visit the "freetown" of Christiania.  Christiania was founded in 1971 when students and squatters occupied abandoned army barracks.  Now a peaceful, safe, and car-free community of about 850 people, Christiania is known for street art and the infamous Pusher Street.  

All tuckered out from a full day of roaming the city, we headed back to our hotel in Nyhavn to rest up for our final night out in Denmark.  Mike had made reservations for us at the trendy pescatarian restaurant, Fiskebar.  Rather ironically placed under a giant cow statue in Kødbyen, the old meatpacking district in Copenhagen, Fiskebar offers some of the best fish selections in the city. Whitewashed walls have replaced the once carnal red hooks in this converted warehouse, which now looks like a proper wet room with white-tiled walls and rough concrete floors. 

After all that eating, it was time to retire.  We were (sadly) departing the following morning to return home to the States.  We certainly took advantage of everything the city had to offer, aside from Tivoli Gardens which were unfortunately closed due to seasonality... our long weekend took place only two weeks before the park opened for the season!    

All in all, Copenhagen is a very beautiful, very charming, very manageable city to visit.  The citizens of Denmark love it so much that, as mentioned at the beginning of this blog, it has been consistently voted one of the happiest places to live in the entire world.  Experiencing it firsthand -- the top-notch cuisine, the architecture, the history -- is most definitely worth the trip.  Trust me, you will fly away with the longing to someday return to this seemingly magical little city.

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