How exciting to explore a new city! I’m staying on the north end of Copenhagen’s city center (Osterport), which meant I was not that far from two of the things I wanted to see first: The famous Little Mermaid statue, and the renowned Design Museum.
The walk to the mermaid took me around a 17th Century fortress that is now a lush green space perfect for a Saturday morning run.
Before long I found the tiny siren perched on her rock in the harbour. She’s a lovely little statue (modeled by the wife of the brewing tycoon who commissioned it); she portrays the moment in the story when the little mermaid comes to the surface to watch hopefully for a glimpse of her beloved prince. Only with the hordes of tourists clambering about her feet (tail?), it seems just as plausible that she’s climbed up there to try and escape.
From there a short walk past some lovely flowers, an English-style church, and a bust of Winston Churchill (a convenient spot to pause for some Vietnamese spring rolls and read a few pages of Churchill’s Birth of Britain) . . .
. . . and then over to the Design Museum.
Denmark is famous in the design world for a strong tradition in the applied and decorative arts. Danish furniture (particularly chairs) are iconic — and, some would say, sets the standard for good design — around the world. The Design Museum corrals the who’s who and what’s what of Danish and international design into a suite of exhibitions that, ironically, aren’t all that well designed. The rooms don’t lend to a natural flow through the exhibits (so there’s lots of doubling back), and the amount of wall text is overwhelming (I finally stopped reading and just looked at the objects). But museum design aside, the collection was amazing.
With my growing interest in blue-and-white porcelain, I enjoyed the small section devoted to that very topic. Apparently China has been making blue-and-white porcelain for well over 1,000 years. Traders on the Silk Road brought the first examples to Europe in the 1300s, and it has been a huge hit since then. But the Europeans weren’t able to figure out how to make it until the 1700s. Germany was the first to crack it (at the Messien factory in 1710), and then the Danish got into the game when Royal Copenhagen produced its Blue Fluted collection in 1775 (more on that later; I’m obsessed).
After leaving the museum, I wandered through town. The sun was out and so were the crowds. It was fun and convivial but sometimes unpleasantly crowded — and it was near impossible to find a place to eat. Finally I found a spot where I could get a sandwich and a slice of carrot cake and read for a while.
After lunch I pursued my design theme by visiting some of the best shops in Copenhagen for Danish design. Some of the shops were great. Royal Copenhagen, in particular, has some gorgeous pieces. I’ve never until now understood the appeal of having a set of china — I’d always thought of it as something stuffy you get as a wedding gift and then never use. But this stuff! It’s beautiful and simple and usable (I’ve noticed that many restaurants here use it as their standard service) and I aspire to have more of it in my own kitchen. I picked up a few small pieces and plan to gradually acquire more over time . . .
As I went, the clouds rolled in and we suddenly had a downpour. Fortunately I found shelter in a shop just in time. But the rain did put a damper on the day (literally and figuratively). I felt tired and hungry and although I was enjoying most of what I saw, I found I wasn’t really loving the city. It felt small, expensive, over-full of tourists, and a little unfriendly. In customer service, for example, there’s a sort of bipolarity where once its your turn to be served, the person is very helpful and attentive, but until then you’re flatly ignored. The problem is that it’s hard to know when it’s your turn to get service — in more than one instance I never figured it out and finally left when no one would pay me any attention.
So I went back to the hotel to call Justin, have a short nap, and figure out a plan for dinner. This time I did my research and picked a neighborhood that I hoped would be less full of tourists. Fortunately I picked well and was able to get into one quickly. I ordered the smorrebrods — open-faced sandwiches — that are so famous here in Denmark. They were delicious and surprisingly filling.
Then I strolled through this new part of town in the late evening light until it was time to turn in for the night.