We continued our day with a visit to the National Gallery of Denmark. I enjoyed the more historical art pieces, especially the exhibits on Nordic Art, European Art (1300-1800) and, in particular, this section on artwork that were basic objects but made to look 3D, like they jumped off the page.
Since you noticed that my favorite sections were the non-abstract art, I probably don’t have to mention that I’m not typically a fan of modern art. I think that side of my brain must not be firing all cylinders or something; a lot of it leaves me baffled. At SMK, the most oddball section was definitely the exhibit on Wilhelm Freddie. The short films were so bizarre that I had to sit through them twice. If you’re interested, here is one of the films:
I’m not really an art expert, so I can’t say anything particular insightful. There was a cool “tiny house” RV that we were allowed to go into and some robot-looking statues made from old TVs.
After our visit to SMK, we went to visit Rosenborg Castle. It was a nice castle, but I wouldn’t say it was anything spectacular. The castle had some nice artwork and furnishing, but it was a bit drab and very dark inside. Frederiksborg Castle was definitely leagues above Rosenborg. Still, Rosenborg was pretty on the outside, it was in a central location, and easy to get to.
We ended our day at Tivoli Gardens, which was near our hotel. We passed it on previous days while out and about, so I was excited to visit. It was adorable! We didn’t ride anything, since it was pretty chilly and I’m sure I would have acquired frostbite. 😉 But the grounds were cute and fun to explore. The landscaping was nice, and there were a lot of flowers and fountains. There were also some pretty cool pavilions and mini-restaurants, with live music and theater shows. The staff was passing out new samples of Pepsi Ginger, too and some new flavor of Doritos. As a fan of ginger, I was excited for the Pepsi, but after trying it – I think I’ll pass. 😦
We saw an interesting mime show. I’m not exactly sure what the plot was, but it involved a bear, a man selling off his daughter, and two women dancing with a pig caracas in the woods. I’m must not be observant, because I have no idea what the plot was. 🙂 It did make for some fun photos, though!
Our fourth day in Denmark was quite busy! I’ll have to break it into two separate chunks – the first focusing on the initial half of our day at Torvehallerne and the city’s botanical gardens. 🙂
We started off the morning at Torvehallerne, a market with numerous high-end food stands – which patrons can enjoy either on the premises or as regular grocery shopping to bring home! Torvehallerne had a very modern, clean, and bright vibe (and why wouldn’t it? It’s surrounded by glass)! Bonus for us? Since we visited during the late morning on a weekday, the market was practically empty. Don’t you love this herb stand?
We toured around the stands, drooling over the options, before settling on the spicy fried egg Bánh mì. Yum! You’ll enjoy this if you love eggs and a lot of cilantro. Finding vegetarian fare wasn’t exactly easy in Copenhagen, so we were happy to stumble across this.
From Torvehallerne, we walked over to the University of Copenhagen’s Botanical Gardens. The gardens were free to enter. The campus had nice outdoor gardens and ponds, along with beautiful historic glass greenhouses. I was surprised at the sheer variety of plants growing outdoors; they were labeled with their native habitats and there were plants from pretty much every continent happily growing outdoors. I’m jealous of the staff’s green thumbs, because I can barely keep an aloe plant alive. 🙂
The narrow stairs in the Palm House are a little scary, especially considering the humidity in the room. I couldn’t take very many good photos, because the lens on my camera kept fogging up. We especially enjoyed the moss displays. I kept hunting around the gardens trying to find all of the poisonous plants, which all have signs outlining the hazards!
For our first full day in Denmark, we decided to take the 45-minute train trip up to Hillerød to visit the beautiful Frederiksborg Slot. It was really easy to get to; we left from Central Station and once we arrived in Hillerød, the Castle area was a short walk from the train station. We opted to take the scenic route around the lake.
We really enjoyed our day! The castle houses the Museum of National History; the first exhibit we walked through was a collection of knitted renaissance outfits created by the Netmaskerne knitting guild. The exhibit was cool and I liked seeing different outfit inspirations. The castle interiors were beautiful and visitors stroll through several hundred of years of Danish history; as with most castles, we found ourselves surrounded by ornate interiors, and intricate furnishings. My two favorite rooms were the Audience Chamber and the Chapel.
On the third floor, there were exhibits of photography and modern art. The interiors housing the modern collection were still beautiful, but not quite like the better preserved and more ornate rooms on the first and second floors. My favorite part of the modern collection was a room with hand drawn sketches and paintings of Danish Arctic explorers.
The grounds were definitely the highlight. The day was beautiful and we were welcomed by blue, sunny skies. We walked around the lake, saw the gardens, and enjoyed the view of the castle from the benches along the water.
Afterward, we explored Hillerød on a quest for lunch; it was difficult to find vegetarian options. We ended up grabbing some sandwiches at Kaffebar before sitting along the waterfront and enjoying ice cream from Tortes Vaffelhus.
We went back and forth a few times before finally deciding on our spring destinations. That’s the hardest part of trip planning for me – narrowing down exactly where we want to go. We almost committed to going to South Africa, but learned that my friend Joe was studying abroad for spring semester in Copenhagen, Denmark. We shifted our plans to visit him in Copenhagen, and decided to tack on visits to Stockholm, Sweden, and Vilnius, Lithuania.
Looking for hotels in Copenhagen was an interesting challenge. For one of the days we were there, the city’s hotels seemed to be almost full. Copenhagen is an expensive city to stay in and that is definitely reflected in hotel prices. We opted to stay at the Axel Guldsmeden, which is a Balinese-influenced self-defined eco-hotel. Yes, we travelled all the way to Denmark to stay in Bali. 😉 The hotel was nice, if a bit squeaky with the hardwood floors and wooden furniture. They offer eco-amenities, like shampoos and soaps in dispensers, toothpaste tablets, and reusable plastic water bottles to take along and refill. The location is great, near Copenhagen Central train station and we were able to get to most places on foot easily.
The hotel even had a bin of organic apples and pears for guests to take, as well as bicycles to rent.
On our arrival (half) day, we visited Christiansborg Slot (Palace) and walked around the area with the Danish Parliament (Folketinget) and the Royal Library Garden.
From there, we walked over to the National Museum of Denmark. The museum was nice, though a bit random in some places. They had an exhibit on Navajo blankets and textiles, Japanese manga and cosplay culture, and arctic lifestyle/clothing. The museum also had a very darkly-lit room with a bunch of vintage doll houses (side note: we also saw doll houses at Stockholm museum – is this a Scandinavian thing?).
The museum also had exhibits on antiquities (of course!). You can’t have a National Museum without an overview of Danish history, so luckily we found those exhibit types, too. I especially liked looking at the section with Danish culture in the past 100 years – 1950s consumer culture and a 1970s room layout – seems like hippies were everywhere! The post title comes from a pillow on display at the museum.
At Tivolihallen, I had my first taste of quintessential Danish cuisine, smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich) with eggs and tomato. The restaurant staff was very friendly and accommodating. The dish was not yet on the menu, but after learning that we were vegetarian, they offered to make the egg and tomato smørrebrød for us.
On that note, Copenhagen was definitely the hardest city on this trip for finding vegetarian cuisine, but we managed. 🙂
I would highly recommend the canal tour. We were even able to see the royal yacht, which happened to be in the harbor as we rode by. We also saw Papirøen (Paper Island) from the boat, which inspired a trip a few days later.
After the canal day, we had unremarkable Italian food in Nyhavn before heading back to our hotel.
Sorry for my delay in posting. I’ve had this post in draft for quite a while. I finally decided to go through my photos and try to finish it. 🙂 Above is a photo of Tjörnin, which is the small lake in the city center. While we strolled around the city, we spent some time by the lake, admiring the sparkling lights and the birds along the shore. I wasn’t crazy enough to walk on the frozen parts of the lake, but there were plenty of brave souls who did! Fortunately I didn’t see anyone fall through the ice.
By the way, how pretty is the twilight?!
Onto the things we did to escape the winter cold… 🙂 indoor Reykjavik activities!
Icelandic Phallological Museum
Find it at: Laugavegur 116, 105 Reykjavík, Iceland
I might be twisted, but The Icelandic Phallological Museum had been on my “I absolutely must do this!” list for Reykjavik. I had several friends visit and tell me about the absurdity of this museum, so I knew that I had to visit!
The Phallological Museum was right off of Reykjavik’s main strip, Laugavegur, so it wasn’t out-of-the-way. The museum is pretty small (and pricey – I recall it being around 10-15 euros per person); you can get through it pretty quickly unless you really study the museum’s goods. I didn’t necessarily catalog everything, but there were definitely more collective penises… peni?… there than any other place I’ve been (which makes sense, since it advertises itself as the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts). I particularly liked the collection of household decorations and goods that apparently numerous companies not only thought were a good idea to design, but manufacture and sell. A penis shaped landline phone – you bet! And oh, of course lighting fixtures.
If penis shaped household goods aren’t your style, you can also admire large whale penises (which were larger than me), various animal penises stored in mason jars with formaldehyde, and global artwork in suggestive shapes! Something for everyone!
If penile parts of the past aren’t enough, don’t worry! Previous visitors of the museum have helped to adorn the walls with photos of their members around the world, usually in front of sites of interest. If any men were arrested in their endeavor to flash their goods while taking a photo, I would also appreciate those stories in the display. I didn’t see any, but I imagine some of those photos had to be taken quickly, stealthily, and outside of police presence.
Hallgrimskirkja (Church of Iceland)
Find it at: Hallgrímstorg 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran Church and the largest Church in Iceland. It is also one of the tallest buildings in the entire country. You can see the church from most vantage points in the city, so it helps as a guide if you manage to get turned around in Reykjavik. The church was nice on the inside, but if you’re used to the highly ornate European churches in other capital cities, this one will be a bit underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, the interior is nice, but it’s very clean and minimalist. There is also a massive organ, which is nice if you visit while music plays.
My favorite part, though, was the observation tower. You can buy a ticket to take an elevator up to a viewing deck. The views of the city are really cool! You can admire the colorful buildings, the water, mountains, and for us during our winter travels – the snowy landscape. Highly recommended.
Afterward, we strolled down Skólavörðustígur, which was a cute shopping street with a lot of boutiques and food joints; there were a ton of jewelers, clothing shops, art galleries, and mom-and-pop boutiques on this road. It eventually intersects with Laugavegur.
National Museum of Iceland
Find it at: Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
To continue the trend of finding indoor attractions to save us from the cold, we spent an afternoon at the National Museum of Iceland. It’s a bit out-of-the-way if you’re staying downtown. Still, we managed to walk and enjoy the stroll to the other side of Tjörnin, through neighborhoods with colorful houses and twinkling lights.
The museum was really nice and a lot larger than I expected. You could easily spend 2 to 3 hours here. The museum has English signs throughout, which was much appreciated. The museum illustrates the life of Iceland’s first inhabitants and explained the changes in power dynamics throughout the centuries. I thought the museum was generally pretty logically laid out and the signs were easy to follow. I also liked the “airport conveyor” belt exhibit at the end that had more artifacts of modern Icelandic history and pop culture. Don’t worry – of course it had a Bjork album. I would have liked to have seen more about modern Icelandic contributions to larger Western pop culture. Overall, it was a nice place to spend an afternoon. If you’re like me and into museum gift shops, I should add that the gift shop and cafe are nice. 🙂
Overall, Iceland was a great destination in December. I am excited to return in the summer, when we can venture beyond the capital and the Golden Circle. Still, if you’re looking for a winter trip and want to admire the moonscape – I highly recommend Iceland. It’s a short flight from the U.S. East Coast, it’s not crowded, and nothing screams holiday spirit as sipping hot chocolate while walking through the winter scenary and admiring Christmas lights on snow covered, brightly colored houses. Did I also mention there were folks selling roasted almonds? Warm, toasty, sugar-covered almonds! Isn’t that reason enough?
One of the top things on our Icelandic “To Do” list was the Arctic Adventures excursion called Into The Blue. We met at the Arctic Adventures office and packed into a van headed to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) national park to snorkel in the Silfra fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Snorkeling in Iceland, you ask? No, it wasn’t in a hot spring or geothermal heated water. The water was glacier run-off, a nice 34 degrees Fahrenheit. We spent the first hour of the tour getting into our sleeping bag, bear-like suit material, topped with a dry suit. I had to have the tour guides hug me five or six times before my suit leaked enough air that I no longer looked like the Pillsbury dough boy and a condom had a baby – I just looked like a condom at that point.
The snorkeling trip was fun! While the suit protected us from the frigid water, our hands unfortunately were covered with wet suit material gloves. My hands were freezing and felt like they were being stabbed by pins and needles toward the end. Still, I enjoyed the adventure. The water was crystal clear, with long range visibility; it was amazing to be snorkeling, with the snow falling above us.
The Golden Circle
One of our favorites parts of the trip was our day trip around the Golden Circle. We rented a car from the main bus depot and headed out early, with our first stop at Þingvellir national park. The park was gorgeous! We drove to various parking lots and walked around, looking at the landscape. It was chilly, but definitely worth walking outside. The drive had a lot of scenic areas to stop and admire the view.
We headed to Geysir. It was cool seeing the boiling water coming from the ground and the geothermal field, but the geyser itself was a little underwhelming. It’s possible that we didn’t see one of the larger eruptions, but we definitely had to wait over 8-10 minutes to see the eruptions. Still, I’m glad we saw it! There was also a dining/gift shop area adjacent to the parking area. We warmed up with hot drinks and mushroom soup, so I’d call it a success. 🙂 Our last stop was seeing the Gullfoss waterfall.
It was definitely odd driving up to the parking lot. From the parking lot, you really don’t see much of the waterfall. We were questioning if we were even in the right spot! We had to walk past the parking lot, and on the wooden walkways for a bit before we finally saw the waterfall coming into view! The waterfall was really cool to see, especially the falls that seemed to domino into smaller falls. I’m sure this area is beautiful in the summer!
The famous Blue Lagoon! We knew we had to visit, after hearing about how it’s one of the top destinations in Iceland. We bought our tickets online ahead of time, since we hear that spots can book quickly.
The Blue Lagoon entrance was really cool – the walkway surrounded by black rock formations topped with moss.
The facility was really nice inside. The bathing areas were packed! We got bracelets that automatically secured our lockers, so we rest assured that our stuff was safely locked away. The showering areas were also decent – there were two areas, the open showers and the curtained showers for the shy American variety.
The Lagoon itself was awesome! If I could do it over (and maybe someday I will), next time I would bring cheap flip flops. The ground was freezing (of course, what did I expect? Geo-thermal heated concrete would have been nice :)) The Lagoon was undergoing construction, so some parts of it were closed off. Regardless, it was easy to find some less crowded places to escape. There were clay stations off to the side, so you can lather yourself in the famous white clay. I would recommend not picking up or looking at the clay at the bottom of the lagoon. You definitely don’t want to have a mental image of yourself bathing with other people’s hair and skin cells. Ignorance is bliss. 🙂
There were some rest areas inside with chairs and seating areas, but they fill up quickly! There is also a large dining area, so you can enjoy food while overlooking the lagoon itself. I would definitely recommend going, especially if you have time to kill before a flight out of the city. I think next time, I would opt to try a smaller, natural spa, but I’m glad I got to experience this one at least once.
When we told our friends that we were planning a winter excursion to an island, this statement likely conjured an image of a warm, tropical Carribean island with throngs of tourists all with the same idea – escaping the winter cold. Not exactly what we were thinking at that time…
“What is there to do in Iceland during the winter? Are you crazy?“
Iceland had been on my bucket list for ages; I’ve always imagined that someday, I would visit and take a long road trip in a rugged vehicle around the famous Ring Road to see the entire island and all of its natural beauty (I definitely plan to go back to do this!).
I started to do a lot of online research, and undoubtedly there are many more articles about things to do in the Land of the Midnight Sun during the summer months; the winter months even restrict tourists from certain activities and venturing to specific areas. It’s dark! It’s cold. Ice is in the country name! What could we possibly be thinking?
Still, we were determined to spend part of December in a winter wonderland. We wanted to go somewhere that felt like it was winter and perhaps even see Christmas markets. Iceland is also a lot closer than mainland Europe. All these factors helped us finally bite the bullet and book our tickets. We were headed to Reykjavik!
One of the first things we did in Iceland on our first night was visit the Tin Can Factory for its Meet the Natives session. We were able to walk from our AirBnB booking on the main street, Laugavegur. We booked the only reservations that night for the Meet the Natives session. We spent several hours at the Tin Can Factory, learning a bit about the history of Iceland, sampling Icelandic cuisine (which included fresh Icelandic butter and geothermal bread, pumpernickel bread, herbs and spices), and learning a bit about the language. We were even assigned our own Icelandic names!
Toward the end, we learned how to make Icelandic pancakes, and sat down to enjoy our creations. The pancakes with cream, fruit toppings, and homemade whipped cream were amazing. The classroom was dark, because the sun had long set by the time we started class. Here’s what the classroom looked like:
We also got to try some Christmas food and the Icelandic Christmas drink Maltgo Appelsín.
We headed back to our booked apartment, with stomachs stuffed and ready to spend a week exploring Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. So far, Iceland in winter was a winner!