Denmark’s Must-Do’s: Winter Bathing

Denmark’s Must-Do’s: Winter Bathing

 I’m starting a new blog series called “Denmark’s Must-Do’s” which dives into all of my bucket list Danish things that I will (hopefully!) be doing with my remaining month here in Copenhagen. The idea is not only to do these things but recommend to others how to do them. Is the activity worth it? How can someone get the best experience out of the activity? As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.

According to the Danes, winter bathing has serious health benefits. On the long list of benefits, winter bathing boosts metabolism, improves blood circulation, boosts libido, clears and brightens skin, builds a stronger immune system and works to detox your body. Not only that, but Danes, the crazy people they are, actually find enjoyment in jumping into freezing cold water. They go “winter bathing” then warm up in a sauna and then do it again. AND they do it multiple times during the winter season. 

Winter bathing had been on my list since my friends jumped into the ocean as an Outdoor LLC activity in early February. They then complained to me how they lost all feeling in their toes walking barefoot on the rocky shores of Amager Beach. They told me about sprinting into the icy waters, about the feeling of paralysis and shock, about the brisk walk back to their LLC. But I heard their horror stories and thought, “Honestly, sounds fun.” I might be as crazy as the Danes. 

Skip forward to Friday night. A group of my friends signed up for “CopenHot,” which is a hot tub experience along the shores of Refshalevej. Copenhot uses the concept of New Nordic Wellness, or wilderness facilities in and urban setting. They use all natural materials — sea water hot tubs heated with firewood — to create a luxury experience (for 40 dollars a pop).  

 

On the right: Tori, Kristen, me and Claire enjoying our hot tub with a view experience

The worker told Kristen that if we get too hot, to just walk through huts 9 and 10. “I thought, ‘Oh, maybe there’s a temperature dial to turn down the heat,’” Kristen said. “Nope, that’s just the path to the ocean …” The FREEZING ocean to be exact…

Then it’s time …

Claire and I (check out her blog) step out of the warm cocoon of the hot tub and climb down the ladder. I am suddenly aware of the icy metal from the ladder, the coolness of the breeze, the shivers and the goosebumps. We walk through huts 9 and 10 all the while trying to pump ourselves up. Claire has done this before so she knows what’s coming. She’s more hesitant to do it than I am, fearing the cold, or the “paralysis” as she describes it, she will soon be leaping into. We step to the edge of the dock and grab hands. I plug my nose — an old habit — and we count to three. 

I have a moment and pause, gazing down at the water, black and thick like oil reflecting the sunset. Suddenly, we are leaping into the air and into the water. I feel the shock, the “paralysis” Claire mentioned, as if my body was submerged in icy needles. A moment in the water passes and then I break the surface. I scream loudly and mutter a few swears under my breath. My mind is only thinking of one thing — the ladder. I want OUT. I climb the ladder and step up to meet Claire, who is hopping up and down, yelling for warmth.

We go back to the hot tub to enjoy our fizzy pink champagne in plastic glasses and watch the sun set over the harbour. When we finally warm up enough we decide to do something crazy …we go winter bathing again. 

Denmark Must-Do? I would 100 percent recommend. DO IT. Pay a little extra money for the luxury experience (instead of just jumping in the ocean in February on the beach) and know that you’ll have to walk home so pack some warm clothes I’d also recommend doing CopenHot and going when the sun is setting as the breathtaking view is part of the experience.

Denmark’s Must-Do’s: Pickled Herring

Denmark’s Must-Do’s: Pickled Herring

I’m starting a new blog series called “Denmark’s Must-Do’s” which dives into all of my bucket list Danish things that I will (hopefully!) be doing with my remaining month here in Copenhagen. The idea is not only to do these things but recommend to others how to do them. Is the activity worth it? How can someone get the best experience out of the activity? As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. 

If you would have told me a month ago that I would try pickled herring, I would have laughed in your face. I would have told you that, no, I’m not a crazy person who likes to subject herself to the torture of eating such a disgusting, revolting food and that I’d rather spend my time eating pastries (see my post on pastries for context). The only type of pickled food I would choose to eat would be actual pickles and only if they’re dill. However, I tried pickled herring and … and I didn’t hate it. 

 

Apparently over a thousand years ago, Vikings would preserve the herring they’d find in abundance in the fjords in salt and vinegar. This was pre-refrigeration so, even though I hate vinegar with a PASSION, I’m going to cut them some slack. Herring was a huge part of their diet back in the Viking Age, through the medieval period and beyond. We know because there are plenty of pictures (one featured here) of fisherman scooping herring out of the water in heaps. And today, Danes keep herring in their diet, serving it out of tradition and, for some, taste.

 

I tried pickled herring first at my visiting host family’s house. It was my first time meeting them so I didn’t want to turn it down when they offered it to me. Plus, I was truly curious about the taste. My Dad, a huge advocate for pickled herring (and olives and sardines and many other “gross” foods), has been slurping pickled herring from the jar my entire life. It hasn’t EVER appeared appetizing. I’d look at those poor, silvery dead fish floating in that mysterious liquid and think, nope, never trying that …

and then I try it with my Danish family (sorry, Dad) …

Kirsten and Jens, my visiting host family, served it on rye bread — brown and dry but a complement to the meaty fish — with a layer of a white cream (perhaps mayonnaise?). I took a bite fully expecting to spit it out and then I kept chewing … and then I finished my piece … and then I go in for seconds … who is this crazy person and what have you done with the vinegar-hating person who usually inhabits my body and controls my tastebuds?!

The pickled herring was sweeter than I expected and the vinegar was not present. It was a bit sour in flavor and meaty in texture. The fish were small and grey and part of me felt guilty for consuming an entire life form in a single bite. 

Tip: Eat this fish with BEER. Please, I’m begging you. It’s apparently the best way to consume herring as the hoppy, liquid gold balances out the sourness of the fish. 

My second herring experience was, fitting, with my dad. I was lucky enough to have my family in Copenhagen during the second travel week. I was even luckier to have my Dad, who was traveling to Scotland for work, have his layover in Copenhagen. This meant that I got a morning with my Dad all to myself. So, naturally, I took him to eat some herring.

We walked along the Nyhavn canal, asking every shop that was open to serve us herring. “Herring?” they responded. “That’s a lunch dish! It’s still morning!” as people sat along the canal drinking pints of beer … but eventually, we got our herring. I told my Dad that I would sit out on this herring eating experience, and I would let him enjoy the dish all by himself.

My Dad told me that this was the best herring he had ever had. His face just lit up eating herring — a food that his dad loved before him. Seeing him happy as he ate it made me love the food (even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of the taste). He said that eating herring with me, sitting on an outdoor patio chair along the colorful Nyhavn buildings, made his trip. And honestly, mine too …

Denmark Must-Do? If you like fish, I say yes, why not try pickled herring. If you don’t like fish, know that it will be a bit fishy, slimy and likely very cold. Not enough beer could wash down that flavor … BUT if you often enjoy fishing pickled herring from glass jars filled with liquid (as my Dad does), then trying this food in Denmark is most definitely a must do.

 

Denmark’s Must-Do’s: Wednesday Snails

Denmark’s Must-Do’s: Wednesday Snails

I’m starting a new blog series called “Denmark’s Must-Do’s” which dives into all of my bucket list Danish things that I will (hopefully!) be doing with my remaining month here in Copenhagen. The idea is not only to do these things but recommend to others how to do them. Is the activity worth it? How can someone get the best experience out of the activity? As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. 

In my last post on the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, I talked about Wednesday snails, also known as “onsdagssnegle.” They’re these delicious cinnamon rolls that St. Peder’s Bakery serves at a discount on Wednesdays. Well, I decided to go back to St. Peder’s and write about the experience for the “Denmark’s Must-Do’s” series I’ve started. These pastries are a classic here in Copenhagen, a “Must-Do” some may say. And I decided, for no other reason than good writing experience, that I would eat these delectable pastries … oh, the sacrifices I make for this blog … #doitfortheblog

A little background on St. Peder’s Bakery before I write the food critique … according to Lonely Planet, “Sankt Peders Bageri” is the oldest bakery in the city, dating back to 1652. It stands on a cute corner near St. Peder’s church in the Medieval District of Copenhagen, only a 3 minute walk from DIS. The building is even protected by the city because it is such a vital historical landmark (I have a theory that the city wants to keep the shop around just for their cinnamon pastries). They sell their snails daily but on Wednesday, with their special deal, they sell an average of 4000 pastries.

So back to why St. Peder’s Bakery is a “Must-Do” in Denmark, let me just paint a picture for you. On St. Peder’s street sits the little sunshine yellow bakery with the giant pretzel sign reminiscent of a German postcard. The storefront window, inscribed with the words “Sct. Peder’s Bageri,” lures you in with the glimpse into the rows and rows of freshly made pastries. Stepping through the front door, you’re immediately overtaken by the sweet, yeasty aroma of baked goods. “It reminds me of Easter,” my friend Sarah told me. The shop is small — not a place for studying but for long conversations sitting on the black and white checkered cushions along the wall — but cozy with its golden chandeliers and wooden accents. And what better way to enjoy a conversation than with a pastry in one hand and a coffee in the other?

 

Sarah (pictured) woke up this morning with a text from me saying, “Wednesday snails?!” which, according to her, is the BEST way to wake up. So here she is, excitedly waiting for the best pastries in all of Copenhagen. 

Tip: I’d recommend getting to St. Peder’s early in the day as they often times run out. I’d also recommend waiting for a freshly made batch of snails. We waited ten minutes for our pastries (worth the wait!). 

The first bite is … well, I’m the type of cinnamon roll eater that only mildly enjoys the outside — you know, the crispy, breadier part that, while coated in cinnamon, sits dryly on your tongue and forces you to take a sip of your drink to swallow it down — but I’m really here for the inside of the roll. I’m here for the doughy sugar explosion, the under-cooked melt-in-your-mouth, doused in frosting center part of the pastry. Well, for those of you out there that feel the same as me, that patiently eat the outer ring of the snail knowing that it will be worth it the further into the spiral you get, I have a pro-tip for you … well, Sarah has a pro-tip for you. Sarah is my best friend (she is my roommate back at St. Olaf) and she lives in the Culinary LLC here, so I trust her food judgment. She recommends dipping the outer bready ring into the center dollop of frosting. Coating the dry bread in the creamy sweetness makes every part of the pastry a part to look forward to. I recommend accompanying your Wednesday snail with a cup of coffee. The sweet and the bitter complement one another perfectly. 

Pictured: The snails are affordable at the low price of 18 kroner (that’s under 3 USD) and filling! Of course, if you get them every single Wednesday (@me), the cost starts to add up.

My favorite part of the experience was the atmosphere of the bakery. Sarah and I, in Danish Hygge fashion, took our time eating our snails and enjoying the Natasha Bedingfield album playing. During that time, waves of people entered and exited the shop. Groups of teenagers, DIS students, couples and even a dog came in to St. Peder’s bakery to grab a bite of a cinnamon roll (the dog was particularly interested in my snail). And by the end of our meal, the entire tray of freshly made snails was empty. 

I would highly recommend St. Peder’s Wednesday snails if you plan on coming to Copenhagen. After my cozy, Hyggelit, DELICIOUS experience, I would place these cinnamon rolls high on my “Denmark’s Must-Do’s” list.

Denmark’s Must-Do’s: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Denmark’s Must-Do’s: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

I’m starting a new blog series called “Denmark’s Must-Do’s” which dives into all of my bucket list Danish things that I will (hopefully!) be doing with my remaining month here in Copenhagen. The idea is not only to do these things but recommend to others how to do them. Is the activity worth it? How can someone get the best experience out of the activity? As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. 

For DIS Students, we travel with our class one of two weeks in March. The other week, we get as a break. Most students choose to spend the break travelling — to Italy, to France, to Spain, wherever — but I wanted to spend my travel break here in Copenhagen. I was travelling with my family the week before (to Greece!!) and wanted to explore areas around the city that I haven’t been able to during the usual school week. The top place on my list? The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art!

Last Wednesday, I started the day off eating cinnamon rolls from St. Peder’s Bakery with my friend Kristen and her parents. St. Peder’s Bakery is a go-to in Copenhagen with their pastries and specialty Wednesday cinnamon rolls, or “onsdagssnegle.” I’d say this is the perfect way to begin every Wednesday (or every day for that matter!). Then, the four of us took the train to the Louisiana. 

Tip: You need to take the train that ends up in Helsingor (although you get off Humblebaek) to get to the Louisiana. This is the same train that you take to the Kronborg Castle! So, you can easily see both the coolest museum in Denmark and the Hamlet castle in one day.

On the right: ALBERTO GIACOMETTI sculpture. These Slender Man – like sculptures stand all throughout this area of the museum

We started our museum experience with the buffet. Now, I usually am not a buffet fan. I’ve seen way too many soggy, cold dishes served with the spoon from the dish next to it … HOWEVER, this buffet was exquisite. I ate pumpkin soup, brie cheese with jam and bread, artichoke quiche, and the most excellent salmon. The tray was a bit expensive, but if you choose to eat at the museum, it’s worth it to pay a few extra dollars for the buffet. You get way more food.

Onto the actual art …

The Louisiana is an experience. It’s interactive and the current exhibit is an exhibit of lights. Below you will see photos of what I call the jellyfish room (I lived out my Finding Nemo dreams of swimming through jellyfish) and the mirror room. The mirror room, also known as the KUSAMA INSTALLATION, is probably the most instagrammable spot in the museum. It is one of their only permanent installations. 

 

 

Beyond these two installations, which were my favorite in the museum, the Louisiana houses a whole series of modern artworks. The cool thing about the museum is the way it works with light, specifically the natural light let in from the beautiful oceanside view. The museum is set up on a hill near the shore and uses its interesting architecture (the building is like a large “U”) to complement the pieces. So, you have to walk through artwork to get to other exhibitions. You can immerse yourself in the art, walking through it and even sitting on couches or laying on beds under the ceiling, which features some pretty trippy films. Many people say they can spend the entire day at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. I would totally agree (I plan to go back at some point and do the same) because you can easily get lost and lose yourself within the exhibits. 

Why is it called the Louisiana? It has absolutely nothing to do with the state of Louisiana! According to the website, “A nobleman and his three wives. Knud W. Jensen chose to “take over” the name from the country house he subsequently converted into a museum. The property was built and named in 1855 by Alexander Brun (1814-1893), who was an officer, courtmaster and married to three women, all of whom were named Louise. Here at his Louisiana he became a pioneer in beekeeping and fruit tree cultivation.” 

Tip: My tips for a day to the Louisiana would be allow yourself to get lost. Give yourself enough time to explore and, if you love art, read all the descriptions. Take some coffee! Lay on the beds or couches and let the art wash over you (it’ll be an out-of-this-world experience, I’m sure). And enjoy the art that is the beautiful view outside the museum. Take a walk! My biggest advice though would be to slow down and enjoy it. 

The Little Mermaid statue and her way cooler sister

The Little Mermaid statue and her way cooler sister

Beyond the old warehouses of Østerbro, before the sea meets the sky, the water shouts louder than the people. The waves crash into the shoreline, vengeful that the land’s presence interrupts their flow. A golden ship passes, a pop of color against the gray sky. It draws my attention to it as it cuts through the water. I note how the cold dewdrops of the park bench seep through my jeans, how the seagulls fly freely above, how the dogs bark and play as they gallop by, leashless and full of life. The weather is surprisingly pleasant; the air is warm but the wind lightly plays with my hair and whistles in my ears.

A bronze mermaid gazes out from her perch, oblivious to the waves, the wind, the birds, the dogs and the gaggle of tourists, who openly gawk at her from the shore. They lurch toward her with their screens to catch a glimpse, a snapshot, a selfie to be Instagrammed or Snapchatted or Facebooked. Sirens roar, tires screech, horns blare, voices shout, bikes rattle — the inner city overflows into the harbor. The statue is inspired Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid and is the most famous statue in Copenhagen.

 

I desire to get a closer look so I climb down the granite rocks and stand fully to see her. She sits with poor posture, curling her body toward the shore. She’s longing, apparently, for a prince she will never have. Her once completely bronze body has oxidized into a deep mossy green, corroding into multi-colored patches all along her skin. Her mournful gaze is painted with bird droppings. They streak down her cheeks like tears. My first thought? ‘Huh, I thought she’d be bigger.’ It’s not that she is disappointing, but I am just disappointed by her underwhelming size and lack of pizazz.

Later, I stand on blacktop beside a different harbor a few hundred meters away. The wind on this side of the harbor rustles past the warehouses; the February chill bites through my puffer jacket. The lack of people here creates the serenity I longed for observing the Little Mermaid. But here I can see a new mermaid, a cooler more interesting mermaid: the Genetically Modified Little Mermaid.

She perches on her own rock, crouching in a similar posture as her “older sister.” But her figure is disfigured and warped like melted metal. Her neck bends toward her chest, her legs spindle out under her body, her hips crack, her arms knob. Her face is blank and empty, erased and smooth. She’s nothing near beautiful.

A woman with hair as red as Disney’s mermaid tells me the story behind the grotesque figure. This story is even more tragic than that of the crying mermaid. The Genetically Modified Little Mermaid lives in a postmodern world, a world where the factory smoke has so polluted the sky that it becomes toxic. In this place, the people shout louder than the sea and the city overflows with litter and waste. The boats scatter trash in the harbors. The figure reflects this horrid world.

The sculptor, Bjørn Nørgaard, wrote in his artist statement:

“The form of genetic alteration we are confronted with is possibly an existence that will radically change the ways we perceive ourselves as people. The strange rudimentary human figures, that have come into being here, constitute a way of discussing what kind of an entity the human being actually is, what it looks like – and what it will look like in 100 or 200 years.”

The red-haired woman points her finger to the other sculptures in the series. In the stone plaza behind us, the metal statues stand just as warped as the Genetically Modified Mermaid. The woman points out Jesus, who contorts his body. Adam and Eve are unrecognizable. Mary Magdalene twists and turns, her figure more spindles than human. All of them are the products of a postmodern world, the woman says. This is our future if we don’t do anything. She lists statistics, passionately preaching of the somber reality our climate is facing, that we are facing.

“Even the deniers of climate change can all agree they don’t want the Little Mermaid to look like this,” the woman tells me.

I note the lack of people here. No tourists gawking. No pictures snapping. No children playing. Here it is silent. And yet I’m far more impressed with this sculpture and the series of art pieces by Bjørn Nørgaard than I was with the “Top tourist destinations in Copenhagen” Little Mermaid statue. 

Church of Our Saviour: A Tourist Spot Worth Seeing

Church of Our Saviour: A Tourist Spot Worth Seeing

The Church of Our Saviour is one of the top tourist destinations in Copenhagen. The view from the top of the serpentine spire is said by many to be the “Best view in the city” and after my visit, I can confidently agree.

My friends, Kristen and Ann, and I made our visit to the Church yesterday for its Spring opening day (read: it was free admission for the grand opening). We waited in a long line eating our Lagkagehuset pastries until we checked in. Then, we began our 400 step hike to the top of the spire. The slow journey up was a view in itself. The stairs were steep and creaky and the trek seemed to go on forever. Each turn led to another wooden crevice hidden deep within the church. One flight up, we discovered an old organ, metal and rusted but preserved within a casing of glass. The next flight led us to a giant silver bell. I wondered to myself the last time it rang over the town. We climbed up a ladder and followed the people ahead of us. It brought me back to my childhood days playing in the wooden castle playground in my hometown. I felt like I was a little kid crawling through secret passageways and discovering fun, new hideouts. I pushed open a heavy door and light flooded toward me. Stepping into the light, I audibly expressed my surprise. 

The city unfolded before me. The entire city of Copenhagen seemed to have shrunken down and spanned out like a toy town or like the backdrop of a travel commercial. “Go visit Denmark” the banner of words would read in the corner of the television screen. Standing on the outside of spindle tower, the air felt crisp and my ears longed for a hat to protect them from the wind. My calves felt tense from the stairs and my hands felt icy against the yellow-painted railing. But I ignore these complaints. The cold, the tight corners and the winding stairs were part of the adventure. The upward battle became worth it the moment the view came into focus.

I glanced back at my adventure buddies, Kristen and Ann, in excitement. I could tell by their awed expressions that they were just as amazed as I was.

We gripped onto the railing and continued our ascent. The path became narrower and, as the rusted stairs creaked under my feet, I had the crazy thought of, “Hmm.. this has been closed all winter … are we the first group of people to test it out?” But don’t worry, we reached the top without falling off the side of the spire.

After a brief photoshoot (see pictures below), we all stood and took in the beauty of our new home. It was absolutely incredible. The sun glowed over the town, showering it with gold. The city looked how autumn feels with crisp orange and white buildings. I could not have imagined how the moment would get more awe-striking until the clock tower rang in the distance.

The bells are one of the things I love the most about this city. They bring to mind my Grandma Phyllis. This past week would have been my grandmother’s birthday and so I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about her pastel house, her sneaky smile, the way she always called me “Kailey, Love” and how her entire house chimed every 15 minutes. At the time, I thought it was eery the way that every clock rang at the same moment. Now, I miss those clock bells. One chimed Beatles songs, another the deep hum of a grandfather clock, another a simple bell. In Copenhagen, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear the bell tower chime on the hour, ringing out loud and clear over the town. As I stood at the top of the Church of Our Saviour taking in the travel commercial view, the bell went off and I just kept thinking of my grandma. The moment couldn’t get more perfect.

 

After the bells stopped, it was time to begin our descent. My euphoria from the bells and the view was quickly broken as I pushed through the tide of tourists and trekked down the creaky, oxidized metal stairs. A man who looked remarkably like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones) clung to the side of the building near the entrance. He was holding on for dear life and I just keep thinking “Is it him? I know the actor is Danish but this guy looks too afraid to be the Kingslayer.” My friends and I snapped a few more pictures and then we were off.

If you’re coming to Denmark, go to the Church of Our Saviour. I would not recommend climbing 400 steps in any scenario if it wasn’t worth it. I guarantee you’ll be a little out of breath, your calves aching, your patience failing and your mind drifting to all the ways you could accidentally slip and fall off the edge. Maybe you’ll be like Jaime Lannister and scared out of your wits. But the view at the top? Worth every step.