The opportunity to travel to Scandinavia presented itself as a business trip to Sweden to see some state of the art laboratories. As I was to shuttle between 3-4 cities including Stockholm within 5-6 days, I really did not think it would be possible to squeeze in enough time to see another city, let alone visit another country. But as luck would have it, one of the laboratories we had planned on visiting was closed for Christmas – yes, we were traveling in the 3rd week of December, which of course is not the best time to travel to Scandinavia.
WORDS & PICS COURTESY:
Kunal and Tamanna Patel – www.worldwidewandererz.com
Quickly deciding to club the spare day with the weekend and booking my return journey and hotel online, I hopped on an overnight train from Stockholm to Copenhagen via Lund.
The route passes over the Oresund bridge – the longest combined road and rail bridge in all of Europe, connecting Malmo on the Swedish side with Copenhagen on the Danish one. The train pulled up at Copenhagen Central Station at 7.28am but I was surprised to see that it was pitch dark outside.
I guess the few days spent in Sweden earlier in the week, were not enough to come to terms with the 2-3 hours of daylight of the Scandinavian winters. A brief walk from the station exit, in the cold, wet morning led me up the street where my hotel was located – right in the historic city-centre and from where it was easy to traverse most of the city on foot.
After a quick shower and breakfast, armed with my camera, an umbrella and a wind-cheater, I was ready to explore the charming Danish capital. Founded in the 10th century as a fishing village, Copenhagen was established as the capital of Denmark and Norway in the 15th century.
The 17th century saw its development as an important regional centre of Europe and it was during this period that important institutions, palaces and fortifications – most of which still shape the city – were built. Nyhavn one such 17th century development constructed by King Christian V and consisting of a waterfront, canal and entertainment district, was where I decided to go first.
The brightly colored 17th & early 18th century townhouses, lining up the stretch from KongensNytorv to the harbour, are now converted to house bars, restaurants and cafes.
The great Memorial Anchor, commemorating the Danish sailors who sacrificed their lives during World War II, is a major tourist attraction at the start of Nyhavn. The canal also harbours historical wooden ships, most of them owned by the Danish National Museum and a few which are even privately owned.
Copenhagen is a waterfront city with a network of charming canals and one of the best ways to see its sights especially the harbour area, is to take a ride on one of the glass roofed boats. Passing below the 14 bridges across the network of its canals, with barely an inch to spare, the ride offers a unique perspective of the city especially Copenhagen’s former industrial harbour at the Island of Brygge which has experienced a huge development in recent years – the harbour bath, new waterfront apartments and a pedestrian bridge are a few of the elements that have brought vibrancy to this part of the city. The harbour-front developments also showcase unique re-habitation experiments which include conversion of storage silos and torpedo halls of World War II into high end apartments.
The ride takes one past the Christiansborg Palace, the Black Diamond Library, Copenhagen Opera House, Amalienborg Palace and onwards to the city’s yet another icon – the Little Mermaid. This bronze statue depicting a mermaid on a rock by the waterside at the Langelinie promenade is based on a fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and has been a major tourist attraction since the early 1900’s. This famous statue is amongst the few iconic statues including the MannekenPis in Brussels, the Statue of Liberty in New York, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, that symbolize the cities they are located in. From my boat, I could see the hordes of eager tourists that thronged to take pictures – including a few posing for `selfies’ – of the unimposing figurine as it sat on the rock with its back to the water. The harbour also includes the neighbourhood of Christianshavn located on the island of Amager. Founded in the early 17th century by Christian IV, it was laid out as an independent merchant’s town but soon incorporated in Copenhagen proper. Located within the Christianshavn borough is the Freetown Christiania – a self proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of about 850 residents and covering an area of 34 hectares, it has a unique status and is regulated by the special Christiania Law of 1989.
The 4th largest tourist attraction in Copenhagen on account of its supposedly progressive and liberated Danish lifestyle, Christiania is used by Danish businesses and organisations as a show place for their foreign guests and visitors.
After a couple of hours of cruising the canals and the harbour front, I chose to hop off from my boat and onto one of the regular Harbour Buses. The Harbor Buses form part of the public transport system of Copenhagen. Operating 3 routes and serving a total of about 20 stops, the Harbour Buses are integrated in the city’s public transport system and you can have free transfers to the regular buses, metro or DSB trains – all on the same ticket.
As I meandered through its cobbled streets, many of them alongside its network of canals, I realised that like many other European cities that I had walked in, Copenhagen too was extremely pedestrian friendly. After sampling the local fare for my supper, in one of the many café’s, I walked back to my hotel, taking a street that led me through another part of the old town. Back in heated room of my hotel, I read up some more details on the city – Copenhagen has a reputation as one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world. More than 45% of all its citizens commute to work, school or university by bicycle ensuring that the city’s bicycle paths and cycle tracks are well used.
It came as no surprise as I continued my explorations the next day and noticed double tiered bicycle stands at a lot of places, especially outside the main train and bus stations. As if this was not enough, I gathered from the public signs that the municipality was developing a system of interconnected green bicycle routes – Greenways – aimed to facilitate speedy, safe and pleasant bicycle transport throughout the city. As a global recognition of Copenhagen’s bicycle infrastructure planning, Jan Gehl one of the city’s leading urban design consultants was hired by the New York City Department of Transporation to re-imagine New York City streets by introducing designs to improve life for pedestrians and cyclists. Much of Copenhagen’s young citizens consist of students enrolled in its many famous universities and educational institutions. The University of Copenhagen, the Technical University of Denmark, the Copenhagen Business School and many such prestigious colleges account for a student population numbering close to 100,000.
I realised that Copenhagen is a modern urban designers delight – With an aim to be carbon neutral by 2025, new regulations mandate all new construction according to low energy classification ratings, 75% of trips to be made on foot, bicycle or public transportation. Civic priorities include sustainable drainage, recycling rainwater, green roofs and efficient waste management solutions.
Most streets and city squares are designed to prioritise non-motorised transportation modes. And it was not as if the city had developed over a long and peaceful period. It was difficult to imagine that this city had suffered from several major disasters – two major setbacks in the 18th century – a huge fire that burnt down most of the city and it was also hit by plague, like many other cities of Europe in this period.
The latter half of the 18th century saw the redevelopment of Copenhagen. The prestigious district of Frederiksstaden, Royal Academy of Art & the Royal Theatre, were some of the important institutions of this period. However the early 19th century again saw the city devastated by battles. But thereafter, Copenhagen experienced a long period of intense cultural and economic growth, leading to its 20th century status of a thriving industrial and administrative city. I passed by the Tivoli Gardens, a famous amusement park and pleasure garden, one of the oldest operational amusement parks in the world and also the world’s second most popular one. Continuing onwards to the City Hall, the classical building designed in the National Romantic Style by architect Martin Nyrop in 1905, was an impressive structure. With its slim form, its clock tower is one of the highest points in Copenhagen, towering 105 meters from the ground. I too had planned on getting an aerial view of the city but from the Christiansborg Palace. The seat of the Danish Parliament, the Palace is also the seat of the Supreme Court of Denmark as well as the Prime Minster’s office. The Palace is thus home to the three supreme powers – executive, legislative and judicial. It is the only building in the world that houses all three of the country’s power centres.
The Palace also hosts a tower with a viewing platform that is still the tallest in the city. In June 2014, the tower was thrown open to the public and its interior was refurbished to also house a restaurant on top. Though it was terribly windy, I was lucky to have the sun shining over the tiled roofs of the inner city core of Copenhagen. The tower afforded brilliant 360-degree views of the city and I was able to add to my collection of aerial shots of different cities of the world.
Back on the ground I continued exploring more areas of this `friendly’ city, I reflected on Justin Davidson’s note on Copenhagen “On a warm afternoon at the downtown harbour, Copenhagen feels like an ancient city enjoying its youthful vigour. Students, professionals and retirees wheel past on bicycles banged-up enough to be parked on the street without fear that they will be stolen.
Canalside cafes are full of people drinking Tuborg. There are bike racks and benches everywhere and extensive bicycle lanes separated traffic and equipped with their own signals. This is famously a pedestrian and bike friendly city…..Copenhagen has been an urban laboratory for at least 40 years, exporting to the rest of the world its slow simmered wisdom about the basic unit of urban life: the street.”
(WorldWideWandererz.com is a travel advisory, offering customised travel itineraries for leisure, adventure, sightseeing, romantic, luxury or backpacking travel to exciting destinations across the world).