CHICAGO TO COPENHAGEN, DENMARK VIA Reykjavik, ICELAND — Talk about a world of extremes. Arriving at O’Hare in Chicago on Friday, it was all we could do to avoid looking like we just stepped out of the shower as we hauled half a dozen bags through the 100 degree heat and unbearable humidity.
But, after a handful of delays, a hurried layover in Reykjavik, Iceland and a few hours of fitful sleep, we dreamily stepped off the plane into cold, rainy and downright beautiful Copenhagen.
Following a scare with our luggage and what seemed like a half marathon dashing between turnstiles in the long and crowded baggage claim, we were finally whole and found the unbelievably clean and efficient tram into town. It was midday but it might as well have been night, outside the grey clouds and drizzle made the flat landscape and dim houses seem even more dreary. We didn’t care, we had our feet in Europe and were halfway through with our travels.
Arriving in Copenhagen Central Station — a vast brick hall with iron rafters and stain glassed windows — we soon found our bearings and made our way the couple blocks to the Saga hotel, snug between a dozen whitewashed row houses. Our room was clean and small, with a shared WC down the hall. We dumped off our luggage and trekked through the winding cobblestone streets, looking for a place to finally fill our empty bellies.
We chose a little cafe among a row and settled in outside next to a toasty heater and wrapped ourselves in wool blankets, watching the rain fall. A couple Carlsbergs and plates of Smorrebrod — a signature Danish dish of hearty, dark bread piled high with toppings such as roast beef, potatoes and horseradish — and I could see the color come back into Molly’s face. We munched happily and awaited the hour when we could make our way back through the misty streets and put our long travel behind us in dream.
In the morning, our heads were clearer but the skies were unfortunately not. Nevertheless, we made the most of the rainy weather and hiked through the winding streets of the Latin Quarter, finding our way over a wide canal to Slotsholmen, a little island at the city center that is home to the royal palace.
Begging for indoor excursions, we took a self guided tour of the ruins of Absalon’s castle, located literally below the current day palace. The caverns were dark and eerily empty, but it we had fun winding our way past the broken down turrets and ancient latrines, learning about the history of this salty old country that inspired Hamlet.
Afterwards, a tour of the present day palace, Cristianborg, was about as bright and colorful as the former was damp and dark. Wading our way through the throngs of German and Russian tourists, we explored the palace’s Victorian halls and libraries until we were brave and dry enough to venture back out into the drizzle. Walking home, we passed the famed Tivoli Gardens — the world’s first amusement park — but the glittering lights and carnival sounds were not enough to keep us out in the rain.
Dinner in a little Thai restaurant — about the only thing open on a Sunday night — and flipping through Danish TV stations in bed was about the extent of our nightlife.
Copenhagen was a pretty, though quiet and wet, way to begin our European adventure. Clean, dignified and quaint, it seemed more like a living dream than a bombastic European capital. But for our weary travel legs and foggy heads, maybe it was the best way to set our feet in Europe and prepare for the adventures ahead.