Thursday (Holy Thursday /Skærtorsdag ): Arrival in Copenhagen
Interesting fact: the Thursday before Easter is also a public holiday in Denmark. The traditional Skærtorsdag meal was Skærtorsdag søbekål: “Nine Cabbage Soup”, made from cabbage and pork or mutton. You can find a recipe for one variation here.
We arrived in the capital city of Denmark, Copenhagen (København), and after picking up a rental car we headed into town to check into our Airbnb. Kitchens close earlier in Copenhagen than in Berlin, so we had trouble finding a place to eat, but eventually we found a pizzeria that was still serving food. After a fairly long walk there and back with a bitterly cold wind blowing, we were relieved to arrive back to our apartment and stagger into bed.
Friday (Good Friday / Langfredag): Copenhagen-Malmö-Copenhagen
Interesting fact: In Denmark, flags fly at half-mast on Good Friday. Traditionally, people ate porridge on this day.
Copenhagen lies near the border of Denmark and Sweden, and the Øresund bridge, a combined road and rail bridge, connects it to the Swedish city of Malmö. As we had a full day and night in Copenhagen, we decided to use this day to take a trip across to Sweden. This was mostly because we’d never been to either of these Scandinavian countries, and we were interested to see if we would notice any differences between the two. The bridge itself apparently features in a popular Danish TV series, “The Bridge”, and it is quite a striking construction, being 4km long and straight across the sea. It’s quite expensive to drive across with the car, so we took a train across and arrived at Malmö railway station.
Winter in cities can be rather un-beautiful (unless there is snow). We started our visit in Malmö by taking a walk to the Turning Torso tower, which led us through a rather concrete, spartan part of the town. Some people like modern architecture, but I have to say that in general I prefer pretty, traditional villages. Nevertheless, I did like the Turning Torso building, gleaming against the deep blue sky, and the hotel where every room comes with a bicycle.
Afterwards we walked further on to a sort of waterfront type area, with a cafe opposite the sea. I should mention that the sea here is very flat, at least it was when we were there. No wonder the Vikings got into sailing, as there are plenty of easy waters to practice on. The wavebreakers indicated that there must be waves in some weather! From here we also got a good view of The Bridge.
After enjoying the sun at the water’s edge, we wandered over to look at Malmöhus fortress. I would have liked to visit the museum there, but our travel-mate is not a museum person and we still had more of the city to visit, so we skipped it this time. There were some signboards to read outside, and apparently this part of Scandinavia used to belong to Denmark before it fell under Swedish rule in 1658 – the fortress was original built by the Danish and later renovated by the Swedish.
We also took a wander around Malmö’s old town (Gamla Staden), which had some typical brick buildings and half-timbered houses. The old Apothecary was a particularly nice building to visit. Unfortunately as it was Good Friday, most places were closed (this would turn out to be the story of our Easter weekend trip), so we saw most buildings and shops only from the outside.
The churches were luckily open and a good place to escape the cold. St Peter’s church (Sankt Petri kyrka) is well worth a visit, with beautiful medieval murals in the Merchants chapel section of the church. Apparently the church is also the oldest building in Malmö, with construction started in the early 1300s. St John’s was another striking church we came across.
We did find some shops open, including a chocolate shop where we bought some Easter eggs and a licorice shop. Licorice seems to be surprisingly popular in Scandinaviva – I thought it was just a Dutch thing. They even sold licorice ice cream in the shop (which was unexpectedly tasty, having a dark-chocolate/licorice shell, vanilla ice-cream and some strips of liquid licorice inside). At the chocolate shop they had chocolate coated licorice balls alongside the chocolate coated nuts. Apart from visiting the few shops that were open, we also did some window shopping.
Finally it was off to Folket’s park, as our friend had found a restaurant online called Far i Hatten. As it only opened at 5pm, we wandered around the park for a while beforehand, and enjoying the atmosphere. They have a “bicycling safari” where kids can practice riding the bicycle, mini-golf, some interesting sculptures, a Moorish pavilion (we thought it was a Mosque but apparently it’s a restaurant), and even a terrarium which got very good reviews (unfortunately it was too late to visit). The restaurant Far i Hatten was a cosy place with wooden walls, and the food was very tasty – even our friend who is picky about food raved about it. The small dishes had combinations of ingredients that somehow just worked really well together.
After that it was back to Copenhagen, and after a long walk through the city we headed to a cafe for Smørrebrød, a Danish open-topped sandwich on dark rye bread. My husband went for very traditional herrings, my friend for chicken, and I had roast pork with crackling and red cabbage, which was delicious. In the cafe, people around were sitting at small tables playing backgammon, and it was very cosy. Copenhagen reminded me a bit of Berlin in that although it might not be filled with tourist attractions and beautiful scenery like some other European cities, it seems like it’s probably a nice place to live.
Day 3 (Easter Saturday / Skidenlørdag): Copenhagen, Roskilde and Stubbekøbing
Interesting fact: Skidenlørdag means “dirty Saturday”, because this is the day that people traditionally began spring cleaning. The traditional meal was hard-boiled eggs in mustard sauce.
Denmark is an archipelago, consisting of the peninsula of Jutland (bordering Germany) and 443 named islands, the largest of which is Zealand. There are many more smaller, unnamed islands. Many of the islands are joined together by bridges, so travelling between them is easy by car. On Easter Saturday we decided to spend the morning exploring Copenhagen and then head through Zealand to the connected island Falster, stopping on the way in the former Viking settlement of Roskilde.
We started the day with a hearty porridge at a little place called GRØD. Yet again Copenhagen impressed me with food. I was already a porridge fan before going, and the creamy oat porridge with caramel sauce, apples and roasted almonds was so delicious that I’m still dreaming about it. I’ll probably go back to Copenhagen just for this porridge. Failing that, the restaurant has a recipe book, so I might try and make it myself. The good thing about porridge is that it keeps you full for hours, even on a cold, windy day like the one we faced that Saturday.
After breakfast we went for a walk around the city. Unfortunately I totally forgot about visiting the round tower, which had been on my list. Apparently you get a good view from it, and instead of stairs you walk around and around up a ramp. However we did get to see the postcard view of Copenhagen at Nyhavn, with its brightly coloured houses and boats. We also saw the guards in furry black hats outside the royal palace, the rows of yellow houses that used to be navy barracks at Nyboder, the star-shaped citadel (Kastellet) and the little Mermaid, a statue built in honour of Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic tale (much sadder than the Disney version).
Then it was off to Roskilde, one of the oldest cities in Denmark, an important Viking centre, and the previous capital city. Walking around Roskilde was enjoyable as the shops were open because it was Saturday, so there were lots of things to look at. We also ran into shops to keep warm, as the wind was very icy. The huge brick cathedral in the town is particularly striking and worth a visit. Unfortunately we arrived too late to visit the Viking ship museum, but we popped into the city museum, which gave us some insight into the history of the town. The Reformation, war, plague and fire led to a decline in the once prosperous city, and Copenhagen took over as the new capital.
Finally it was time to head off to Stubbekøbing, where we would be staying for the next two nights. Our accommodation was an Airbnb outside of the town, and we immediately fell in love with the cosy wooden house. After dropping our luggage and relaxing for a while, we went to the shops to buy breakfast for the next two days, suspecting things might be closed on Easter Sunday. Then we went for dinner in the local restaurant, which surpassed all our expectations. They offered a three course menu, of which you could choose as many courses as you liked. My friend and I shared the starter – salmon – and the dessert – a chocolate cake – while my husband just went for the starter. We all had the main meal, a delicious steak with crispy vegetables and baby potatoes. It was a real treat of a meal and a great finish to the day.
Day 4 (Easter Sunday / Påskedag): The white cliffs of Møn
Interesting fact: An unusual tradition in the run-up to Easter is the sending of Gækkebreve (translated variously as Fool’s letters or snowdrop letters, as snowdrop in Danish is vintergæk, and the letter is normally decorated or sent with a snowdrop, the first flower of spring). A poem is written on a piece of paper that is decorated by cutting little shapes out of it. Instead of signing your name on the letter, you write as many dots as there are letters in your name. If the person who gets the letter figures out you wrote it, the you have to give them an Easter egg. If the guess is incorrect, you receive an egg. The Danish Easter tradition is an Easter lunch, usually with boiled or pickled eggs, rye bread served with herring, salmon, chicken, crab or meatballs, or sometimes roast lamb. Danish breweries brew a special beer for Easter. God påske! (Happy Easter).
We opened the curtains on Easter morning to a big surprise – a white and sparkling scene. The world was coated in about 15cm of fresh snow. The grey, bleak landscape of the previous day had been transformed. Happy Easter!
We thus realized that an Easter bike ride was out of the question, apart from the fact that we’d realized early into the weekend that it was too cold (our friend had forgotten her gloves) and that we wouldn’t be able to find anywhere open to rent bikes over the holidays anyway. Instead we decided to venture out into the snow for a walk. We’d heard about the chalk cliffs of the island Møn, so after a leisurely breakfast we headed out to take a look at them.
After driving through the wintry landscape, our first stop was a snowy walk near some viewpoints. The forests looked beautiful coated in snow, and it was surreal to walk through thick snow, which I thought I’d seen the last of for the season. The air was clean and fresh, and the turquoise sea next to snow was a colour palette I hadn’t seen before in nature. We had some fun with snowball fights and also managed to walk to the top of one of the highest points in Denmark – all 143m of it. In case you are interested, the actual highest point is Ejer Baunehøj, at 170.89 metres above sea level! Denmark is a flat-as-a-pancake country.
After our walk we continued further to the famous Møns Klint itself. After our exercise we were hungry, so we stopped at the museum café for something to eat before tackling all the steps of Møns Klint – this was a bad idea as the quiche we had was awful, but at least it answered the question as to whether all food in Denmark is good, since up to then we’d only had delicious meals. Energy restored despite the dissatisfied taste buds, we walked down the many steps to the beach below Mons Klint to view the cliffs from below. It took longer than it usually would have, as the steps were covered in snow and we had to tread carefully so as not to slip.
The chalk cliffs apparently formed from the remains of calcium carbonate plates of coccoliths (tiny, unicellular sea creatures, a kind of plankton or alga) which lived over 70 million years ago, pressed together and upwards by moving glaciers. Across the Baltic sea in Rügen, one of my favourite German islands, there are similar cliffs, and apparently these were formed from the same layer of coccoliths.
Having explored the cliffs, we headed to Stege, the largest town on Møn, which has stood since as early as the 12th century and developed around the herring trade. Being a bit wind-blown and having wet feet from walking in the snow, we were in the mood for sitting somewhere inside warm and cosy. We found a lovely little cafe, Cafe V’sit, which was celebrating it’s first birthday, on the same day that our friend was celebrating her birthday. We all celebrated with mouthwatering little cakes and coffee while we played Ludo at the table. There is a Danish word that has become popular these days, Hygge, which means a feeling of cosiness and contentment, and we certainly felt the Hygge while sitting here tucked away in the cafe while the cold wind blew outside.
It was time to head back across the bridge to our island, Falster. As the restaurant in Stubbekøbing wasn’t open for dinner, we took a drive to the bigger town of Nykøbing in the hopes of finding somewhere to eat while having a look at the town. We were hoping to find some Danish food but the search turned out to be fruitless, probably because on Easter Sunday everyone has a big meal at lunchtime and stays at home, so most of the restaurants weren’t open. The streets of Nykøbing were also almost empty, and lined by closed shops. It was our unlucky day for food (apart from the lovely teatime) as the meal we finally found at an Italian restaurant was not very good. I felt bad that we could not celebrate our friend’s birthday with better food, but we were lucky to have eaten well on previous days. Probably we would have fared better if we’d looked for a big Easter lunch, but of course we were also keen to see some sights.
Driving back to our Airbnb in the dark, we had a little adventure as the GPS sent us through a muddy field on a path that looked like a tractor route. Our car got stuck but eventually managed to free itself when we turned off the balancing system – however the spinning wheels sprayed mud all over the entire car! At least we didn’t have to call a tractor to free us.
Day 5: Easter Monday /Anden påskedag
Interesting fact: Chickens lay less eggs in winter in northern countries due to the lack of light. The start of spring is therefore associated with the arrival of eggs.
After visiting a number of the Danish towns, we noticed that they all looked very similar, with the same red brick buildings and churches, and the occasional half-timbered house. You could say, it’s a very specific style. Because of this, by the Monday we weren’t so anxious to see as many different towns as possible, and we approached the day with the more relaxed plan to just drive back to Copenhagen and stop wherever we felt like it along the way to see a bit more of Zealand. It actually turned out to be a very nice day (helped by the bright sunshine and blue skies that had made an appearance).
Our first stop was at the ruins of Vordingborg Castle, the biggest royal castle in Denmark during the Middle ages, ruled mostly by a series of kings called Valdemar. The original castle was built of wood around 1160, and later upgraded to stone. The medieval tower (the Goose Tower) survived in pretty good condition, and outside they’d set up a series of Viking games for kids to play (we were tempted too).
We continued driving through Zealand, next stopping for a quick look at another castle, constructed of the typical red brick, called Vallø Castle. This was followed by a short walk in the sun and an ice-cream for my husband – he found another licorice ice-cream.
For lunch we stopped at the harbour of the town of Køge, going for a walk to look at the boats before having some Smørrebrød in one of the nearby cafés. I couldn’t leave Denmark without trying the herring, so I ate the Smørrebrød with salted and fried herring, caramelized onions, mustard and beetroot, which was tasty. After lunch we went for a walk around the old town, which has many charming half-timbered buildings as well as red brick buildings. During the Middle ages, Køge was an important market town, and the first written record of it is from 1288. There is a Køge museum, but unfortunately it was closed the day we were there.
It was getting to the afternoon, and we felt like a coffee. My husband found a coffee kiosk at a beach somewhere near Roskilde (he always looks for places on google maps), and it was a very pleasant stop to sit on the wooden pier drinking coffee in the sun.
There was one spot left on my Danish wishlist, and as we had just enough time to go there, we went for it. On the outskirts of Copenhagen are the “Six Forgotten Giants“, wooden giants constructed by the artist Thomas Dambo. While we did not have time to do the full walk and find all the giants (see map here), I was determined to see at least one of them, so we went to the Hilltop Trine as that one seemed the easiest to find. This last moment in Copenhagen was funnily enough one of the favourites of my trip. After that it was off to the airport and to return the rental car and fly back to Berlin. Not without one last Smørrebrød at the airport!