Or, as it’s known to the English-speaking world, Copenhagen; I just liked the funny language and letters they use here.We came to Copenhagen for the strangest reason. We had six days between our visit with Ajay and Ann in Dublin and meeting up with my brother and sister-in-law for 10 days in an apartment on Lake Como in northern Italy. What to do? Well, Mark & I both track the number of countries we’ve been to in our lives. In the 1970s I’d been to 11 countries because of my time in the Navy, so I was ahead of Mark. In 1984, though, he pulled ahead while on a college backpack trip. I’ve been trying to catch up ever since. With the stop in Ireland, though, I was just one country behind Mark, my 91 to his 92. So if we head up to Denmark for just a few days I could catch up, making it likely that some time late this year or perhaps early next year we would hit 100 together.
How’s that for a reason to go to Copenhagen? The strange thing that Mark pointed out is that every couple years now we’ve been coming to Scandinavia for a long weekend. We went to Stockholm in 2010 we spent a long weekend in Stockholm, and the next year we went to Reykjavik for a long weekend. Then in 2013, early on in this adventure, we spent four days in Helsinki. Some day we have to go to Scandinavia for more than a weekend in a capital city.
The bad news was that the weather stayed pretty much true to form. We came to Europe some six weeks ago to escape the cold, damp weather we were experiencing in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, but, wow. It’s continued to rain pretty much every day since we got here. And, as you might expect this far north, it’s pretty cold, too.
So there we were, up in Scandinavia as the summer solstice was approaching and yes, it stayed light really late and got light really early. We were there over the weekend and partiers were loud enough to wake me up at 3:00 AM, when it was already pretty much daylight. And all that partying noise would typically keep going until around 6:00 AM. Strange lifestyle; they would be going to bed as I was getting up for my morning run in one of the city’s several beautiful parks.
We played the tourist card pretty handily in Copenhagen. On our first full day we took a boat tour of the canals and then a couple days later took a train for a day trip up to Helsingør in North Zealand, about an hour north of Copenhagen. The big deal there is Kronborg Castle, one of Denmark’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The castle is impressive in its own right but it’s real claim to fame is that under the town’s English name – Elsinore – it was the home of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And believe me, they really play up the Hamlet connection in the castle even though he really was a fictional character.Another big hit in Copenhagen, though with an asterisk, is the food. For several years the restaurant Noma was routinely rated the top restaurant in the world, though we didn’t go. Apparently you need reservations months in advance, which we didn’t have. Oh, and you need about $1,100; it runs well over $500 per person for dinner. The good news is that, as we saw in San Sebastian in Basque Country, the presence of a great restaurant or two can really up the game for others. The bad news is that, unlike in Basque Country, the other restaurants in Copenhagen were really expensive, too. Good food, sometimes outstanding, and not $500 apiece, but still surprisingly expensive.
And then there was the strange thing with the credit card. In the first place, restaurants add on the roughly three percent fee that Visa charges them. We see that sometimes in developing countries but almost never in wealthy countries like Denmark. VISA has a policy prohibiting vendors from passing on those costs but my guess is that Danish laws override that prohibition. If the restaurant just swallows that cost, as in the U.S., they effectively pass some of it on to those paying cash. Thus it’s a pretty smart consumer protection act to allow vendors to pass on the cost. That’s my theory, anyway.
The bigger credit card deal, though, was with tipping. When we checked in to a cute boutique hotel the guy at the front desk told us “I see your American passport. Just so you know, unlike in the States, we don’t tip here, so no need to do that.” Great, and really appreciate the tip, so to speak. But every single time we used a credit card to pay for a meal the waiter would give us the option of adding a tip. Our guess is that Visa encourages them to do it since everyone (except us, of course) gets more money that way. Had our hotel not warned us away we would have wasted a lot of money and contributed to the spreading sense that tipping is reasonable and even expected.
That was Copenhagen, then. Good food, great parks, at least one good museum, rowdy partiers. And I’ve finally caught Mark in the great country chase.