Copenhagen Experience – Part 1

København

It is difficult to summarize life in Copenhagen as a local, or should I probably call it København? It’s about healthy habits, protecting the surroundings, keeping everything neat and in place, staying fit and cycling to work, traditions, education and generosity – in one expensive place to live in. It is about trusting the authorities and living in peace and respecting on another by obeying the rules. It is about not mattering whether it is cold or raining, dark and cloudy, but about enjoying what you can do with simple things. If I would have to describe a perfect city, I would start with Copenhagen.

Practicalities

Understanding the basics

The national currency is the Danish Krone (Dkk or Kr). I use XE Currency app to make conversions. 1 Euro is about 7.45 Kr. Cheapest way to make payments is by debit card. You can pay by card absolutely anywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised to a see a beggar with a POS. Don’t try cash exchange, they charge expensive commissions; it is safer to withdraw money from a Danish ATM. The 20Dkk coin is useful in museums when locking your personal belongings. Don’t worry, you get your coin back when leaving.

As for the language.. it is a weird combination of everything you have in Europe; you get to see both Latin and Anglo-Saxon words, but the pronunciation is not that intuitive.

The “y” is usually pronounced as an “u” / “ew”. The “v” is pronounced as an English “w” in some situations, like in “havn” (København, Christianshavn). “Havn” means port. You have to pronounce all syllables very quickly – the Danes don’t take time to pronounce all letters and usually they have a rapid way of speaking. The “g” between vowels is very often omitted and treated like a short pause (like in Amager or in Strøget, pronounced Ama-er, Strø-et), or acts as a “y” – “mig” is pronounced as “my”. You do not hear the final consonants – e.g., you don’t get to hear the “v” in Nytorv, pronounced more like Newtor.

The “ø” is pronounced as an “oe”-sound, the same as the o-umlaut Swedish or German ö (like in “könen”), or the “eu” in the French “beurre”.

The “å” is pronounced as you would read an “o” instead of å.

The “æ” is pronounced as a clear “e” or as the “ea” in the English “dead”. This is also the a-umlaut “ä” in German or Swedish.

The “d” is often pronounced like an “L” with the tongue stuck to the palate (“soft d”). Or it isn’t pronounced at all (“silent d”).

The “j” is always pronounced as an “y”. E.g. read “vej” as “vey”.

“Vej” means small street, alley – it is actually a street in the country side, but for historical reasons they weren’t updated together with urbanization. E.g. Kapelvej, Strandvej. Vejen means a larger road.

“Gade” means main road, boulevard. Remember it is pronounced as “gale”/”gail”. E.g. Gothersgade, Bredgade.

“Nytorv” means square. “Bro” means bridge – the bridges are also used for naming neighborhoods. E.g. Nørrebro (North Bridge/ North neighb.), Vesterbro (Western Bridge, Western neighb.), Østerbro (Eastern Bridge, Eastern neighb.).

“Ensrettet” means one way street. “Undtagen” means “except for”, e.g. “Undtagen cycles” – except for bicycles.

I was very surprised that you can find very large and clean free public toilets, right beneath the square on Amagertov, in front of the Georg Jensen jewellery shop.

    

Getting around

Download the Guidepal Guide iPhone/Android app. I think it costs about 2.5 Euros, but it includes an offline map of Copenhagen! All the nice places are already pinned with descriptions. You can also buy a mobile offline Danish dictionary if you plan to learn some words.

The only way you can get a phone number as foreigner is by buying Telia’s prepaid cards from 7-Eleven shops. Starter kit is 29 Kr. When recharging, ask the seller to help you all the way – you need to know Danish.

Don’t be scared to ask for help – everybody is very nice here. And if you ask for something tiny, they don’t charge you at all! Once I visited a phone repair service to get a sim cut to microsim. He didn’t charge me anything, although I haven’t bought anything in his shop! You don’t tip. If you buy something for the bike, they can do the labour for you, for free.

Eating cheap

The three cheap markets are Netto, Fakta and Irma, by price order. Food is not that expensive in markets. However, eating in the city can be an issue for your pockets. A cheap place a friend showed me is King Tut; try the no. 120 sandwich (39Kr) or a pizza (60-80 Kr)!

Tap water is fine to drink; you are also protecting the environment by doing less waste. Never throw or damage bottles (aluminium, glass, plastic, it doesn’t matter), you are supposed to return them to special machines in the markets and get money back (1Kr each).

Getting dressed cheap

The only way to dress nice and for a reasonable price are the Zara and H&M stores. A lot of them, for women, men and kids can be found in the center, along Strøget street. They have the same prices as in other European cities, maybe 10%-20% bigger or so.

As for the expensive, luxurious stores, the offer is very generous: Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Hermès, Second Female, Geox, The North Face, Ole Mathiesen (famous Danish watches), Gucci, Louis Vuitton and many more, all on the expensive end of Strøget (towards Køngens Nytorv). Not to mention the Bang og Olufsen media store – exquisite TV sets, home cinemas, but also affordable stylish headsets.

Transport

Don’t use the ticket machines at the airport – they’re too crowded and you also find some at the Metro. To and from the airport you need a 3-zone ticket, while for traveling in the city, a 2-zone ticket is enough. You are allowed to use them shortly after you bought them, on any mean of transport (metro, bus, train) until they expire (usually one hour). You can also buy tickets from bus drivers, but they expect you to have change.

A 3-zone ticket is 36 Kr, while a 2-zone is 24 Kr. The best deal are the 10-ticket strips (klipperkort I think they call them), 10 tickets for 150 Kr (2-zone) or 200 Kr (3-zone). You will have to insert them in the yellow taxing machines (in the bus or before going by train/metro). They will stamp you the current time – you can travel for one hour since that time. Always take the bus by using the first door and show the ticket to the bus driver. There are also 24h and 72h tickets (need to be stamped for the first time in the same yellow machines). The 24h ticket is 75 kr. The A-buses stop at all stations, the S-buses don’t. The most popular are 1A, 3A and 5A, they cover quite a distance. Check current prices for transport in Copenhagen here: moviatrafik.dk

   

Renting a bike is about 50-70 Kr/day at repair shops, usually owned by Arabs (probably more expensive at official renting places like Baisikeli), but they close on Saturday at about 13-15:00. You can also rent from hotels – a bit more expensive and unavailable during winter. Everybody bikes here! The bike lanes are very large and available in the whole city. Avoid the rush hours (8-9 and 16-17 in the working days) if you are not an experienced rider! Always signal changing direction or stopping, never ride a bike without lights in the evening. They ride bikes regardless of weather – be it rainy or heavy snowing. The trains have special wagons for the bicycles – but you need to buy a bike ticket in addition.

Denmark has huge fees for breaking the law as a driver, so all the drivers respect the law. All the taxes for using a motor car are very high, while an electric car is basically free of any tax, parking included.

Buying gifts

Their traditional alcoholic drink is the Gammel Dansk. A common habit is to pour a little in your coffee, in the morning. Another traditional drink is the Norwegian aquavit (akvavit). I tried the Linie aquavit, about 200 Kr for 1 liter. It is mainly served during the first course – herring with butter/fish-fat on bread. It is said the drink was accidentally shipped to Australia; no one bought it there, so it had to be carried back home, in Oslo, by ship. The round trip gave the drink a special color and flavor, so the trip became part of the recipe. On the back of the label you can see the name of the ship that transported the drink and the two dates the Equator was crossed. But again, remember it is Norwegian, not Danish!

There are also some cute reindeers magnets you can stick onto your fridge – once more, reindeers only live in Norway, Finland and Greenland (which, in a way, is Danish).

The Danes are also good at making Marzipan – look for the Odense one in markets. They also fancy making sweets and candies  which are both sweet and salty.

   

   

What I like most about Danes is that they know how to do sales. They know business. You will see a lot of specialized stores – in liquors, in pillows, in knitting etc. and they do it good. And present their products in a staggering manner. Take a walk through the ground floor Magasin du Nord. Very stylish food products. In one of the pictures you can see a knitting shop that made covers for the poles in the building site just in front.

Things I loved in Copenhagen

There is this chain of Danish pastries called Lagkagehuset which serves excellent deserts. You can eat them inside or take them “to go”. The one in Hellerup has a cosy lounge in the basement. Most of the snygl-s contain cinnamon; they are made with plenty of tasty butter and home-made chocolate. Although it doesn’t look that impressive, the 20 Kr Brownie is the most tasty thing in Scandinavia! Definitely something you shouldn’t miss. Largest offer is at the one in the center, just close to Nørreport station, by the pedestrian walk to the center.

A more classy place is Emmerys – I didn’t try it yet – but it seems suitable for a nice warm Sunday brunch meeting with an old friend or a business pal. In Hellerup it is just next door to Lagkagehuset.

   

The Danes don’t produce wines, but have very exquisite wine bars or bistros. One I went to was Le Sommelier – be careful, it’s hard to find a spot there (so I heard) and the menu is highly expensive – a glass is about 200 Kr. The food is divine, and not that expensive as the wines are.

As for the beers, I enjoyed the offer of Belgian, German and Danish beer at Bishop’s Arms, although the locals don’t have such a good opinion about that place – well, I liked it. Try the Westmalle 7% or the Christmas Tuborg (much more tasty than the one you have in your shops) and definitely try a Weiss Beer (beer made out of wheat). If you are hungry, a giant beef burger with chips is 150 Kr; you can’t really finish that alone. As a friend told me – I will never want to drink beer again in my country – too watery and tasteless.

The Design Museum is not that impressive as the name suggests, but entrance is free for students and you might like the vinyl covers exhibition. It is very close to the Amalienborg Castle.

The guards at Amalienborg Castle have their turn shift at 6 and 12 hours. Before 12, on Saturdays, they are accompanied by fanfare as they walk by Strøget street, Bredgade, and then turn left to have their ceremony. A lot of tourists walk by them. This was very touching for me, since I come from a country where we have no such royal tradition, nor recent royal history.

The second touching moment I experienced was crossing the Denmark-Sweden border by train. The Øresundsbroen bridge looks out of this world – very west-Asia-like, I felt like traveling in the future! It’s 8 km long, underground and over the Baltic Sea. All you see is the sea on both sides, with wind farm “forests” in the horizon. A train ticket to Malmö is about 100Kr.

   

About the same price is for a train ticket to Helsingør, where you can visit Hamlet’s castle, Kronborg. It’s actually an all-zones ticket: 9 zones * 12 Kr = 108 Kr. Don’t miss the maritime museum if you like ships; they also recreated ship cabins in real size. Bring yourself a flashlight or make sure you use can use your smartphone’s flashlight; you will need it for the castle’s underground cellars.

If you take the train towards Helsingør, you can stop at Humlebæk station for the Louisiana Art Museum. The ticket is about 90 Kr and you get to see two or three modern art exhibitions – paintings, architecture, out of the box art pieces. The staggering one is the self-portrait gallery. You will be impressed by self-portrait caved in blood, 360 projections on walls, but also Scandinavian specific works, which you would find a bit difficult to grasp as a foreigner.

You can see the ongoing exhibitions here. I will include a beautiful quote i found on an inside wall of the museum. It’s by Martin Parr – you can visit Artsy’s Martin Parr page to get a hint of his works:

My theory is that the act of photographing ourselves at tourist sites becomes so important because it makes us feel reassured that we are a part of the recognizable world.

If you liked it, you will also enjoy the Moderna Museet in Malmö, but more about the latter in a separate post.

   

I’ve lived closed to Tuborg Havnepark, so I made plenty of walks around the neighborhood. You will be impressed by the surroundings and the perfection of the neighborhood. If you come from a dirty, crowded communist country, these establishments are a must see. They will inspire you. The inhabitants don’t have car parking lots – instead they have ship parking spots in the ducts between the blocks. There are also plenty of office buildings – they look very science-fiction, basically each office building is inside a bigger glass building carved inside.

   

Oh, there’s also the Tuborg old brewery – however, I don’t think you are allowed to visit it.

Very close to Østerport Station is Kastellet. It is a very fine place to jog (another one is around the central lakes, between Østerbro and Vesterbro). There are a lot of birds, swans, and vegetation similar to a delta. You’ll definitely want to take a picture of yourself with The Little Mermaid. A true symbol of the city, it is actually a copy – the original is held hidden. It was an object for vandalism for many times. And when I say many, I mean a lot! You can read more on Wikipedia, quite a fabulous history for one statue :).

The best time of the day to visit the mermaid is at sunset. And I mean at the exact time the sun sets. You can use Accuweather (itunes / google play) to find that out for the current day. On the other side of the port, the army use the canons to fire once at the sunset, in the memory of the Battles of Copenhagen (1801, 1807) – to be confirmed this is correct. Anyway, it is a good opportunity to laugh at your friends that don’t know about this custom – the sound is very impressive and frightening.

From the mermaid you can walk along to the center, with the water on your left side. I had the fortune of being able to actually visit a German coast military ship (GE 1st corvette squadron) and see the amazing Pacific Orca parked in the port.

   
You will pass by the theater, see the new Opera on the other side (purple lighted in the evening), and then you’ll end up in Nyhavn (pronounced “Newhawn”). A lot of hip bars serve drinks at the tables in the street, in the summer, or so I heard. In the winter they offer you blankets. Yes, you got it right. You can have a blanket to cover yourself and stay outside, if you wish. Probably smokers will opt for it, because smoking is forbidden in about any indoors club/bar. Smokers are constrained to smoke outside only; although they are less than in other countries, you get to see them more often for this reason. And I somehow believe there is a higher level of education regarding this sensitive topic.

The clubs are pretty dirty and full of teens. I went to Culture Box which is indicated as a top place for clubbing – but I was deeply disappointed, it was all very messy – the walls, the tables, the toilets. Maybe I shouldn’t generalize. Anyway, instead of dancing on very loud music, people here prefer to go out somewhere they can chat like friends at a table, with low-volume music, or no music. This is a hint that Danes enjoy their close friends or family and are not that opened to new comers. No Latins in Scandinavia!

   

   

Cycling. Cycling in a city is at its best in Copenhagen. You have one way separate bike lanes all over the town, bicycle parking spaces, bicycle lights, even bicycle lanes for direction change. All are experienced cyclers, so watch out especially on rush hours! Signal every direction change, raise hand when stopping. Always lock your bike; don’t worry, locked bikes are never stolen. I usually also leave my detachable lights on the bike (lights are mandatory) – no one stole them. Copenhagen is a safe city. Maybe the services and the labor is very expensive, but no one has the intention or the need to steal.

Things to avoid

The Christiania island is known for the hippie-like bars and concert halls. The places look a bit dirty on the outside. It is not a good idea to take pictures here – drug sale is tolerated by authorities, so you don’t want the drug dealers to see you taking pictures; they can steal your phone for doing this. You can meet crazy, drunk people and stinky tramps. Not quite a pleasant place for such a capital – if you ask me – but some visitors enjoy it.

Avoid Istedgade and the surroundings at night hours – prostitutes and their pimps are all over the place and you don’t feel that comfortable walking the streets while they yell at you or invite you for their services. I would name it the red district of Copenhagen, as this street is full of sex shops and prostitutes.

Nørrebro, or Nørrebronx as some laugh at it, is a neighborhood inhabited by all sorts of minorities, students and poor people. Some of them start being messy when they drink at night, vandalizing cars or shops. There are also some stories of Danish Mafia shooting gun fires in open street. I have lived there for two weeks – nothing happened to me, but I indeed saw traces of street vandalism – a car, a bank and some cash machines were damaged and painted with white paint. This also a pretty animated place in the night, with a lot of bars and night clubs that you probably shouldn’t miss inspite of these stories.

This is all for now. See you in the second partNot sure what that one will be about, but I can tell this city has far more to offer! Any comments and corrections are appreciated.