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A Tale of Two Cities – Copenhagen & Stockholm

We went to Norway a few years ago with good friends Sam & Annie, but that had been my only Scandinavian adventure in a lifetime of travel.

Until now.

Secret Escapes deal to Copenhagen and Stockholm – travelling by train between the two, via The Oresund Bridge-Tunnel – was too tempting to pass up.

Oresund Bridge-Tunnel –
Image courtesy of TwistedSifter

But with just 2 nights in each capital city, would we be able to do justice to them? Which would we prefer? And would the Swedish Krona travel any further than the Danish Krone?

Copenhagen:

We stayed at the perfectly located Absalon Hotel, a few short steps from the Central Station and in the regenerated Vesterbro neighbourhood. Once the seedy red-light district, it now aches with the hipster vibe of cool designer shops, cafés, bars and restaurants. We especially loved the Meatpacking District, and enjoyed a spectacular meal, propped up at the bar in popular Paté Paté.

Other highlights:

  • the brightly coloured and renovated old houses of Nyhavn, lining the canal which was once a busy commercial port. Buzzing with energy – and waterside restaurants – but a little too touristy for our liking 
  • cross the new walk-and-bike Inderhavnsbroen bridge from Nyhavn to Christianshavn, but turn north to explore quieter Holmen, where old naval buildings have been carefully converted into waterfront homes and offices
  • walk south from here to turn back the clock and escape to the remarkable Free State of Christiania. Once an abandoned  military site, it was occupied by a group of free-spirited young people at the end of the 1970s, and remains a haven for a hippy lifestyles and culture. Soft drugs are sold openly – but illegally – and you are encouraged to respect this alternative community, rather than gawp at it 
  • back in the centre of the city, we loved the Rundetaarn. Completed in 1642, the Round Tower was built by King Christian IV. Its original purpose was as an astronomical observatory, but the most striking aspect is the unique spiral ramp, 209 metres long and  twisting 7.5 times around the hollow core until you reach the tower’s platform. Here – at 34.8 metres high – you have a spectacular view of Copenhagen’s rooftops, both ancient and modern

Stockholm:

Hats off again to Secret Escapes. We stayed at the Elite Hotel Adlon, perfectly located for arrival at the Central Station, return to the airport via the Arlanda Express train and a pavement-pounding exploration of all corners of this beautiful city. And with funky decor, friendly service and a superb Scandi breakfast buffet, it’s hard to imagine anywhere better in Stockholm, at a reasonable price.

Other highlights:

  • I guess you have to explore Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s beautifully preserved Old City. Stroll through its cobbled alleyways, poke your nose into the many churches and museums….but don’t eat or drink here, unless you want to make your eyes water
  • go further south instead, to Södermalm and especially to SoFo – south of Folkungagatan – for a cool enclave of shops, bars and restaurants where the locals hang out. We shared a beer and an interesting conversation with a couple of friendly Swedish guys, in the lively Nytorget Square area
  • you must get onto the water during your stay in Stockholm. We opted for a 1/2 day trip out to one of the 32,000 islands making up the city and its wider archipelago. Take the Stromma tour out to idyllic Vaxholm, and explore this quaint community for a few hours before heading back to the city

  • and back in the city, allow a few hours to wander around the peaceful oasis of Djurgården, a separate verdant island which was once the royal hunting ground. Today, you’ll find plenty to do here, including walking and cycling trails, the Gröna Lund amusement park, the Vasa Museum and – get those sequins out – the ABBA Museum 

These are just a few personal off-the-beaten-track highlights from our whistle-stop tour of these two wonderful Scandi cities.

We walked a blistering 83 kilometres in the 5 days of the trip, which I think is always the best way to see a city properly.

We found the Marco Polo guides to both Copenhagen and Stockholm perfect for these short breaks.

Both Gill and I preferred Stockholm slightly to Copenhagen, perhaps only because it felt slightly more alive and edgier than its cool, calm, compact Scandi cousin.

But whether you’re spending Danish Krone (roughly 8 DKK = £1) or Swedish Krona (10 SEK = £1), neither will travel as far as you have.

Movie review – The Danish Girl

Imagine a life so confused that every day you feel estranged from your very self.

Imagine knowing – with unerring certainty – that you’ve been born inside the wrong body.

Imaging being married to a loving, caring, sensitive wife but knowing – beyond any doubt – that you’re emotionally a woman too, and not the man she needs you to be.

This was the painful reality for successful landscape artist Einar Wegener and his struggling portrait artist wife Gerda in 1920s Copenhagen.

The Danish Girl is loosely based on Einar and Gerda’s story, allowing the movie free rein to explore the central characters and to weave in others.

When Einar sits for Gerda, dressed as a woman, his alter ago Lili Elbe begins to take over. Gerda’s own career takes off, ironically succeeding from the confused sexuality of her own husband.

The story evolves through lavish, atmospheric scenes in dockside Copenhagen and bohemian Paris, as husband and wife wrestle with the changing dynamics of their relationship. It shifts to a more clinical Germany when Einar demands to become Lili permanently, in what will be the first transgender – sex reassignment – surgery, undertaken by pioneering Dr Warnekros.

Eddie Redmayne plays both Einar and Lili in another acting tour de force, conveying his love for Gerda at the same time as knowing he must become Lili. An Oscar nomination for Eddie as both Best Actor and Actress, perhaps?

Alicia Vikander, as Gerda, deserves an Oscar nomination for both Best Actress and Best Wife in a Supporting Role for your Transgender Husband. Her constancy – and love – for Einar and Lili throughout the painfully evolving tale is remarkable, and deeply emotional.

Ben Whishaw – how many films has he made recently? – plays Henrik, the first Copenhagenite (or whatever they’re called) to kiss a fully dressed and made up Lili. But does he know Lili is Einar….?

Matthias Schoenaerts – already a good actor, fast becoming great – is Hans Axgil, a childhood friend of Einar who is an art dealer living in Paris. He supports Einar, Lili and Gerda through their evolving relationship and the ultimately tragic dénouement.

Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech and Les Misérables), The Danish Girl is a slow paced, but always moving, film. It’s sad, but it’s somehow absolutely life-affirming.