Monday, July 18, 2016

Our Nordic Trip: Copenhagen in 4 Days

It was nearly impossible to take 15 days off work between the two of us, but we finally made it happen this late May. We spent just over 4 days in Copenhagen, then took a 10-day cruise to Berlin, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, and back to Copenhagen. 

Picture below: the obligatory tourist photo of Nyhavn. 

Copenhagen is the home of Smørrebrød, Scandinavian design and street names we can't pronounce. To thoroughly take in what this vibrant city has to offer, you will need a healthy budget (Copenhagen is undoubtedly one of the most expensive European cities we've ever visited) as well as a generous amount of time.

Similar to my other travel posts, I will summarize our Copenhagen trip into the following categories: weather, hotel, transportation, architecture, art, food and shopping

Thanks to El Niño, the heat wave persisted throughout our stay. It was unusually hot for Copenhagen this time of the year - the weather from the rest of our trip would attest to that as we nearly froze our butt off. It was sunny and high of 30 degree Celsius plus humidity every day. Thankfully it was quite breezy due to the fact that the City is surrounded by waters. So if you are visiting the Nordic in late May/early June, it could be quite tricky to pack because it could be scorching in cities like Copenhagen and Berlin, but as cold as 10 degree in others such as Stockholm. 

I found hotels expensive in Copenhagen. We spent over $500 per night at a reputable hotel but were quite disappointed at the quality of the room. It would appear the hotel gave up guests' comfort for the Nordic minimalist style: there were no towel rings/bars or hooks in the bathroom; there was no closet but rather a few hangers tucked behind a draped area; King-sized bed was essentially two twin beds pushed together. Call me spoiled but I am pretty sure $500 would get us a pretty decent hotel everywhere else in the world. 

Let's just say taking shots of the stylish Central Station was as far as it went for us in terms of public transportation. We found the multiple train/bus/Metro lines confusing (plus each street name is a mile long), so we ended up taking taxis all the way. We would've rented bikes if it wasn't for the heat wave. Copenhagen didn't earn the "City of Cyclists" title for no reason: there must be more bikes and cyclists than cars in this city. Forget about "text and drive", how about "text and ride" :) It's equally scary and entertaining to see some cyclists giggling while reading texts on their smartphones. 

Picture below: Copenhagen Central Station. 

Copenhagen has a wide variety of architectural styles, ranging from the Rococo late Baroque mansions and palaces, to the utilitarian residential boroughs, to the modern and futuristic Danish designs. 

Pictures below: views from the tower of the Church of Our Saviour. 

Picture below: the block with graffiti walls would be Christiania. It took me one full minute to realize it's a complete waste of time visiting there. 

Picture below: Grundtvig's Church (Grundtvigs kirken), known as one of the world's 10 most unique/famous/grand churches, among La Sagrada Familia, Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki, and Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, is definitely a must-see in Copenhagen. It's a typical expressionist style architecture so grand that it's guaranteed to give you goosebumps throughout your visit. 

Picture below: organ inside the church which inspired the exterior style. 

Picture below: Christiansborg Palace (Danish Parliament) from Ved Stranden perspective. 

Pictures below: a typical quiet and functionalist-styled residential block.

Pictures below: Rosenborg Castle and gardens.

If you only have time for a couple of museums and galleries, I would recommend Statens Museum for Kunst and Danish Museum of Art & Design. 

I was very much taken by the Danish artworks from the 1700-1800''s, in particular, the two paintings below by Jens Juel and Vigilius Eriksen: their techniques of depicting silk and lace fabrics was so meticulous that it's mind-blowing. 

Food and Shopping
Now this category probably deserves a post all by itself. 16 restaurants in Copenhagen were awarded 20 Michelin stars in 2016. My roomie from university, who moved to live in Copenhagen 10 years ago, was trying to get us into the none other than the world's best restaurant Noma. Sadly the restaurant was closed until May and the wait list after that was a year out. We also tried the 3-star Geranium but we could only get bar seats so we decided to go with Amass, a Michelin guide restaurant.

Picture below: the interiors of the Amass restaurant. I am still trying to track down those chairs - they were the most comfortable dining chairs I've ever sat in! 

Picture below: my friend and her husband treated us to the 9-course extended menu. It was an eye-opening experience dining at Amass. Each ingredient was fully traceable and as fresh as hand-picked from their own herb and vegetable garden. I also like the whole time-sensitive spontaneity concept as the restaurant uses the products at the peak of their deliciousness, so you can expect their menu to change or as least be tweaked on a daily basis. 

Pictures below: Royal Smushi Cafe, a Michelin guide cafe in Copenhagen. Smushi is short for smørrebrød + sushi. The ambience and food was amazing, but the service was a bit lacking. 

Copenhagen is not short of places to shop, and especially so for a home-decor aficionado like me. Illums Bolighus had me ooh and aah over some famous Nordic designers' latest collections. 

Picture below: I might just start collecting Iittala's Festivo candleholders. 

Overall we had a blast while in Copenhagen. I hope to come back to write about the rest of our trip shortly. Tell me, have you been to Copenhagen and how did you like it? 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Life in the Fast Lane

Life has been hectic ever since we came back from our 2-week vacation in the Nordic. Work kept me out of the house every day; summer-time get-togethers with friends and a family wedding set me way back home-project front. I miss the days when I had a quiet moment or two throughout the day to plan different home decor projects in my head, big or small. 

Picture below: pretty peonies I picked up for when my best friend Jessie and her family from Calgary came to visit. I forever wish these beauties would last more than a few days. 

Picture below: I was able to get this orchid to bloom for the third time! A miracle in my book for sure! 

I added this Rhododendron "Roseum Elegans" back in May from PC Garden, and only caught a glimpse of its most vibrant pink flowers before we left for our Nordic vacation. And of course the blooming reached its peak while I was away. 

I also missed the stunning peak blooms of the Wine & Roses Weigela in our front yard. The shrub was adorned with hundreds of small bell-shaped pink flowers. The picture below was taken one week since it started to bloom. 

And I missed the Lilac Miss Kim as well. Thankfully my kind neighbour snapped a couple of shots for me. I will need to make sure we don't go on a long vacation again in late May to early June. 

Now this specimen probably deserves a post all by itself, a Royal Purple Smoketree I added last year. When back-lit by sun in the morning, its colourful foliage shines like stained glass. The tree is still very young so it only issued a couple of large smoke-like blooms this year. 

Another big move we made this year was to have the blue spruce tree in our front yard removed and replaced with a flowering Dogwood Kousa. You know how OCD I am when it comes to symmetry. This blue spruce was not only growing sideways, but also out of control. The arborist we hired said it would eventually take over our yard if we let it. I saw the signs to call it quits - it's time to move on to something else more rewarding. 

So I selected this Dogwood Kousa from Tree Valley. Andrew from the Re:Leaf Group did an awesome job removing the old tree and planting the new one for us. The best part was, he didn't cut down the blue spruce tree but to completely dig it up. I was so relieved that our old tree may get a second chance somewhere else. Oh the best part was (did I already say that), there was absolutely no mess! Andrew and his crew cleaned up impeccably afterwards so all we were left with was this beautifully symmetrical and lush Dogwood tree. 

I will look forward to its elegant white blooms next Spring. 

Which fade into a faint shade of pink as in the image below. 

And eventually yield Lychee-alike fruits in the late summer. Flowering Dogwood Kousa is truly a specimen with four-season interests. 

That said, I'd go and get ready for the family wedding tomorrow. Last night I finally just got around to picking up a dress for the wedding reception tomorrow! But then, which pair of heels to go with? 

This blue number will be for the church ceremony. 

I hope to come back to write about our Nordic trip very soon. Enjoy the weekend everyone! 

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