Denmark Delights

Find Your Inner Viking, Have Some Danish And Visit 'The Little Mermaid' In Copenhagen

April 12, 2009|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Special to The Baltimore Sun

The winsome statue of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, perched on a rock in Copenhagen's harbor, is hardly the only attraction bidding visitors to Denmark. There's also a place where you can see how you "measure up" to royalty over the centuries. Not far away, you can don Viking clothing and take a seat, oar in hand, in a replica of a Viking ship.

My husband and I traveled to Denmark recently to visit my stepdaughter, Julie, when she was spending a semester in Copenhagen, studying at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad as part of her senior year at Goucher College.

Julie stayed with a host family, Bjarne Hansen and Linda Jensen, and between her familiarity with the area and the family's hospitality, we were treated to a fascinating range of Danish sights.

One of the most delightful ways to get your bearings in Copenhagen is to take a canal boat tour. The canals date to the time of King Christian IV, a Renaissance monarch who reigned from 1588 to 1648 and was noted for his architectural projects.

We boarded one of the low-slung, glass-roofed boats at Nyhavn ("new harbor"). Our guide cautioned those seated outside to mind their heads when the boat passed under bridges.

Because of heavy rainfall the day before, the water level was too high for us to navigate the canals of the Christianshavn district, best known for the bohemian community of Christiania. But this didn't prevent us from getting a good view of Copenhagen, old and new. Across the wide Inderhavn canal, three landmarks, spanning four centuries, are perfectly aligned. To the south stands the Opera House, a stunning glass-sheathed building that opened in 2005. Designed by award-winning Danish architect Henning Larsen, the Opera House is directly across the canal from Amalienborg, a rococo complex of four palaces that still serve as royal residences. Visible just beyond the complex is the Marble Church, whose dome is based on St. Peter's in Rome.

After disembarking, Julie took us to her favorite bakery, Skt. Peder's, a short distance from the Danish Institute for Study. Would genuine Danish pastry (weinerbrod) live up to its billing? Skt. Peder's buttery, almond-flavored confections definitely did.

Although we were disappointed to discover the famed Tivoli Gardens closed (the park reopens in mid-April), we found thrills of another kind on the Stroget, the Rodeo Drive of Copenhagen. On this pedestrian-only shopping street, the exquisite porcelain company, Royal Copenhagen, has a shop cheek by jowl with Georg Jensen, whose beautifully sleek merchandise - from jewelry to Christmas ornaments - exemplifies the best of Danish design. But - and here's where the thrills come in - the price tags in both shops will make you catch your breath as readily as any Tivoli amusement ride.

We dined that night at Restaurant Cassiopeia. Located in the Tycho Brahe Planetarium, named for the 16th-century Danish astronomer, the restaurant overlooks Skt. Jorgens Lake, where you can see reflections of the stars that captivated Brahe. We then returned to our no-frills, but centrally located hotel, the Norlandia Mercur.

Quaint Dragor

On the advice of a native who dubbed it "not to be missed," we decided to spend our second full day in the quaint fishing village of Dragor - a short train trip to the airport station, followed by a brief bus ride. Dragor's cobblestone streets are lined with red tile-roofed houses, and though more and more have become trendy residences of upscale commuters, they have retained their old-fashioned charm - in large part, no doubt, because many are listed with the National Trust.

We lunched on the outdoor terrace of the Dragor Strandhotel, where - as we saw often in Denmark - blankets, placed on each chair, and a generous array of gas heaters make it possible to dine outdoors even in chilly weather. Here we had our first taste of the country's famed open-faced sandwiches (smorrebrod), which consist, essentially, of whatever you've ordered - fish, cheese, etc. - placed on top of a slice of bread and eaten with a knife and fork.

The next day, we experienced Danish sightseeing the way the Danes do. Bjarne Hansen, my stepdaughter's host, took us on a road trip to nearby Roskilde, the capital of the country during the Middle Ages. The tenth largest town in Denmark, Roskilde boasts two extraordinary sights.

The first is the Viking Ship Museum, which has five original Viking ships on display. Hauled up from the bottom of the fjord, where the Vikings sank them to serve as blockades, the reconstructed skeletal remains are awe-inspiring and haunting. In an adjoining room, visitors can get a firsthand sense of what sailing in one of these vessels was like. There you can try on Viking costumes, then board two full-sized reproductions and heft an oar or shield.

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