Saturday 25 February 2012

Cool Copenhagen

I paid a visit to this lovely lady last week ...

... mostly because, thanks to some borderline-obsessive Danish TV-drama viewing over the past year (The Killing and, more recently the brilliant Borgen), Copenhagen has started to feel something like my virtual home and the sounds of Danish as familiar as a mother-tongue. I have learned to say yes, no, fine, thank-you, sorry, as well as swear quite fluently in Danish.

As it happened the latter skill proved unnecessary, since the Danes were all so perfectly nice and friendly, for helvede and for fanden ... and the former words never got an airing either, as it turns out the Danes speak English rather better than the English.

This is Nyhavn, the colourful port - a pedestrian area lined with restaurants and cafes with outdoor tables, the brightly painted buildings once the mansions of Copenhagen's wealthy citizens. Hans Christian Andersen lived and wrote here most of his life.

The boats, grounded in ice last week, were a reminder that Copenhagen goes back to the Viking era of traders-and-raiders and kings with completely marvellous names like Sweyn Forkbeard, Harald Bluetooth and Sigrid the Haughty

There were no traces of warlike behaviour in these congenial citizens enjoying the sunshine on a freezing winter day ...

Stretching inland from the sea, the canal of Nyhavn ends in Kongens Nytorv (the King's Square) ...

Yes, that's the French flag - their embassy occupies this prime bit of real estate in the fantastic Thott Palace.

... and the downtown shopping district beyond ...

Hanging out at the Storkspringvandet. (That means 'stork fountain', illustrating that so many Danish words are tantalisingly close to English, yet sound completely different spoken - the pronunciation, for fanden! Where do the syllables go?)

Copenhagen has been repeatedly voted amongst the top few cities for quality of life, is recognised as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world, voted 'coolest city' in Europe and city with the happiest people! It also has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in Scandinavia and is home to the 'best restaurant in the world' (Noma has topped the Restaurant magazine list for the last two years). Not too shabby for a little country.

Flower sellers on a square (the prices not quite as frightening as they appear: roughly 9 Danish kroner to £1)

Our restaurant ventures were rather closer to the 'cheap & cheerful' end of the range than the Michelin end, but no less appealing. Our very first stop, as we ventured down the road from our hotel in need of lunch, was a fortuitous find: the outside, with a bicycle and old wooden crate propped up against a zinc table was irresistible ... 

... and the inside even better. Told & Snaps turned out to be an authentic Danish smørrebrød (open sandwich of rye bread with various fabulous toppings) restaurant. On a week-day lunchtime it was bustling and busy (a good sign), with a clientele that was exclusively, apart from us, local (another good sign). Shrimps from Greenland and a cold beer, a local brew, really hit the spot and made us feel positively Danish already, despite being fresh off the plane.

Told & Snaps, Toldbodgade 2 1253 København 
(Note the photo of Crown Prince Frederik and his Australian wife, Princess Mary on the wall of Told & Snaps above. Images of the queen and her family are in evidence everywhere in Copenhagen, and it seems that the Danes genuinely like their royals, who generally seem to behave like mensch themselves).

More smørrebrød (and excellent Danish beer - this is after all the home of Carlsberg) was to be had at Cafe Europa, in a square in the heart of Strøget, the fashionable shopping centre of Copenhagen, where you can watch the world go by through huge picture windows ...

Cafe Europa, 1 AmagertorvCopenhagen

Danish pastries are more than a cliché in Copenhagen: every second shop seems to be a bakery, and in the streets your senses are assailed with delicious smells of fresh pastries from open stalls. At the stylish, friendly Cafe Royal you could indulge (and we did, going back for more) in ruinously good cake served (like this chocolate cake dusted with the royal family's crest) on classic blue Royal Copenhagen china, from their flagship shop which is right next door ...

Café Royal, Amagertorv 6.

At night, despite being mid-winter, outside tables are not stripped and stacked up, but dressed for dinner ...

warm blankets draped over the chairs ...

I loved how the minus 5 degrees C temperatures did not stop people gathering outdoors (below for warming Irish coffees after dinner) ...

... though everything conspired to drawing one inside ...

'Burning love' was on offer here, on an outside menu board, and a burning fire within ...

The cosy interior of Heering (Nyhavn 15), dates back to the 16th century.

Back to the iconic image of Copenhagen, den lille havfrue, aka the little mermaid, who apparently does not feel the cold, surrounded by remnants of snow ... Poor dear, she's been vandalised, had her head cut off twice, an arm severed and been knocked off her pedestal by explosives, yet she still manages to look so serene ...

and though that sea may look like it's moving, it was frozen solid ...

Sunday 19 February 2012

A feeling for snow

There hasn't been that much of it, this winter, so when it's come I've appreciated it all the more.

These were some of the scenes from my garden and surrounding areas a week or two ago.

I love the way snow transforms the most ordinary objects and views you've stopped noticing particularly ...

... into tones of monochrome beauty.

The kids haven't had a single day off school for snow this year - it seems England has got rather better at dealing with the stuff after the past few severe winters ... drat!

Church in Penn, Buckinghamshire, named for William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania

Frozen fields ...

Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (by Danish author Peter Høeg) is on my mind at the moment, as I'm in Denmark right now, where there is .... no, no snow anymore, either, but frozen seas and icy winds nonetheless. Pics and post to follow ...

Monday 13 February 2012

Year of the Dragon

Where in London do you find gigantic Chinese lanterns floating at chimney height ...

... and Mandarin on street signs?

Chinatown is vibrant with colour at any time of the year ...

but around the time of Chinese New Year it pops with the bright reds ...

This part of Soho has played host to lots of different immigrant communities - French Huguenots, Italians, Jews, Maltese ... and since the 1950s, Chinese. It's not only home to some of London's best Chinese restaurants, but also a thriving community ...

(Can you feel how cold it is just now?)

Dragon years are auspicious ones in Chinese astrology. Forget Western notions of the dragon as a dangerous, evil creature to be slayed; it is a benevolent creature, a symbol of strength, fertility, happiness and good fortune. Sounds to me what we all need right now.

My thoughts were not dwelling on dragons last week, but on getting inside to some warmth, delicious dumplings and fragrant Chinese tea ...

May the year of the Dragon bring us all good fortune ...

Sunday 5 February 2012

Snow came late this year

After a week of the Siberian deep-freeze, a lot of this finally came down overnight, turning the world silent ...

and leading to sights in the morning we'd been missing this winter ...

Let me back in, mummy, it's cold outside!

Thursday 2 February 2012

January Photo-a-day Challenge

For fun this past month I joined a photo challenge created here by fatmumslim. For each day in January there was a specified topic for a photo, which you could interpret as literally or imaginatively as you like. The idea was to take a more or less spontaneous snap of whatever represents the topic for the day, play with edits or filters if you feel like it, and share it on some site. 

All these were taken with my new, compact little Canon Ixus (see Day 31) that I got for Christmas and which lives inside my handbag (see Day 13!) ...

January 1. You

2. Breakfast

3. Something you Adore

4. Letterbox

5. Something you Wore

6. Makes you Smile


8. Your Sky

9. Daily Routine
Snapped in the nano-second before the tube door closed. Sometimes the most spontaneous of all produce interesting results!

10. Childhood

11. Where you Sleep

12. Close-Up

13. In your Bag

14. Something you're Reading

15. Happiness

16. Morning

17. Water
Manky bit of the Thames made to look more interesting than it is with some nifty filters.

18. Something you Bought
Lunch on my desk at work

19. Sweet

20. Someone you Love

Shot while driving in the rain. Don't try this at home, kids.

22. Your Shoes

23. Something Old 

24. Guilty Pleasure
Tiny but wonderful French café round the corner from my workplace in north London, where I sometimes pop in for lunch or a coffee, happens to be called Le Péché Mignon (transl: guilty pleasure), and so it is indeed.

25. Something you Made

26. Colour

27. Lunch

28. Light

29. Inside your Fridge
Yikes! This was almost as hard as having to expose myself. You're getting both soft-focus and a Lomo-ish effect here.

30. Nature

31. You, Again

This was fun to do. I might do the February challenge - check it out here if you're interested in joining in.  

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