playboy's travel editor
Copenhagen Has Been Called the city of four B's: beer, blondes, breasts and bicycles. And for quiet enjoyment, what's to match half an hour at a terrace restaurant with one cold B in hand, watching the other three B's wheel by?
You may even notice under the swirling skirts that Danish girls have wonderful legs. And we should add that a refreshing number of these Nordic naiads have a wonderful way of saying "yes." These girls – grim statistics on premarital pregnancies notwithstanding – are as choosy about sex as girls anywhere. But they're also their own mistresses in a grand land where there's genuine equality between the genders. So they can be a little more forthright. By the same token, don't feel too encouraged if you go to the beach and she decides to use a square of empty sand as a changing booth. Before you jump to conclusions, look around: she's probably not the only one. It just doesn't mean all that much here, but it's certainly one of the charms of Denmark – indeed, of all Scandinavia.
The first thing we pack for the trip is a can of bicarb. This is no reflection on the cooking, mind you; rather it reveals our weakness. We just never seem to stop eating, which begins the minute the Danish ferry pulls away from the German dock at Grossenbrode. Lunch – laughingly called a cold table – is $1.50 for all you can stack away. So most passengers start in early. After all, the crossing's only three hours.
The spread consists of chops and steaks and roasts of beef and veal and pork; cold meats by the score, smoked or salted or neat; fowl and game birds, hot and cold, in sauces and pies and aspics; vegetables in limitless combinations, hot or in salads; shellfish and swimming fish and crawling fish, fried or pickled or jellied or drenched in sour cream or mayonnaise; cheeses of a dozen kinds; a whole range of salads; eels in every disguise; pastries; fruit concentrates; custards ...
Trembling with gluttony, we find our plate impossibly loaded before we get half way 'round the buffet. So we lug it back to a table, where a waiter is ready with sparkling chilled Carlsberg and Tuborg beer. Also on hand is aquavit – a heady liqueur that tastes like caraway seeds and which custom demands must be gulped, never sipped.
Somewhere around the fifth aquavit, a Danish damsel with at least two of the four B's in stunning evidence will discover we're American, which is the best excuse she's had all day for an opening. Not that Danish girls really need an excuse; they just prefer to have one. A foreigner, like us, is a pearl among excuses, because that enables her to refer to the country's remarkable "lifeseeing tours," which concentrate on the everyday life of typical Danes rather than on "the sights," and to the grand system of private hospitality for foreign visitors set up by the Danish National Travel Office (and by comparable groups in other Scandinavian lands).
All of which ends up with our new friend inviting us to joint her next day in Copenhagen. Joining a Dane, of course, takes place at a restaurant. We usually suggest breakfast on Frascati's sunny terrace by broad Town Hall Square. Breakfast in Denmark normally ends with pastry. But not what we'd call Danish pastry: that's scorned here as "Vienna bread." Danish pastries . . . well, take lagkage: butter-rich pastry layers filled with custard and cream and preserves and candied fruit, topped with whipped cream and crumbled macaroon.
We stuff away under the accusing stare of 16 beggar pigeons and a pair of statues who are popularly said to sound their stony horns any time a virgin passes. They've been silent for centuries.
If we're up to anything after that breakfast, it's a digestive stroll past green trees and age-greened copper roofs, through crooked, narrow streets linking fashionable city squares (on one of which is our Hotel d'Angleterre), to little wharfs lined by sailing ships and along canal-side markets.
Further down at the fish market, by the famous statue of a fishwife, stocky older women (sometimes in national costume, almost always wearing bonnets of folded newspaper) ply wicked disemboweling knives while chattering busily with neighbors and customers.
Many's the morning we've spent browsing the canal banks and letting Copenhagen seep into us. Or taking the Langelinie motor boat through the harbor and past the famous Mermaid statue for a stroll in the wooded grounds of the old Citadel.
Sometimes, we amble to a vantage point for the noon parade of the King's Guards. You know it's coming long before you hear the brass band: the true tip-off is the growing sidewalk density of messenger boys with their delivery bikes. They never tire of the daily sight as the Guards pass in quick precision to relieve the sentries at the royal palace of Amalienburg. And it is quite a sight – specially on days when they're in scarlet dress uniforms and black bearskin helmets.
Any time after noon is already late-for-lunch for any self-respecting Dane. And lunch in Copenhagen means David-sen's on Aboulevarden, the place with the six-foot menu where the smørrebrød one-slice sandwich is a high and reverent Art. The place features 172 varieties. Our favorite – we guess – is a slice of dark rugbrod decked out with raw scraped beef, caviar, oysters and shrimp. Or for variety, one that pyramids no less than 200 (count 'em) tiny, delicately flavored shrimp on a single slice of rye, home-made mayonnaise on the side. And there's Hans Christian Andersen's alleged favorite: rye topped with tomato, bacon, truffled goose-liver pâté wine-flavored beef aspic and shredded fresh horseradish.
This sort of thing is not to be confused with the cold-table smørrebrød (or smörgsbord in Sweden). The biggest spread of this sort in Copenhagen is laid out at Glacis in Østerbrogade. Another more typical spot we're fond of is the restaurant of the National Museum, all done up in 18th Century style with waiters and waitresses ditto.
Once we've downed our final Cherry Heering – final, that is, for this meal – there are a good many things beside "the sights" that we enjoy doing in Copenhagen of an afternoon. Everything is available, from tuna fishing in the Sound, through golf and yachting and horse-racing, to swimming at Belle-vue or Charlottenlund beaches.
We try to get back in time for a swig of Tafelakvavit at Hvids Vinstue on Kongens Nytorv or a plain, friendly Gibson (of imported gin, to be sure, not the yellowish local distillate) at the excellent bar of our own hotel. We want to be fresh and rested for an evening that has to begin at the Tivoli.
Don't make the mistake of thinking of this as "just another" amusement park, although it does have Coney Island-type amusements, for sure (and a few Coney hasn't got, like the place where you can smash dishes and save a $25 psychoanalyst's fee).
The place has no less than 21 restaurants, for one thing. Among them the enormous Wivex, the glass-walled Belle Terrasse and Nimb, probably the best of them all, especially if you hanker for a little goose-blood soup and then perhaps a poached fillet of English sole, followed by grouse fattened on wild hazel.
After dinner, we like to stroll past the dazzling carnival lights, to quieter lakes where colored fountains play. We'll listen to a symphony concert or watch open-air ballet or vaudeville, we'll go dancing, but the one thing we will not miss is the pantomine theatre. It is not just a beautiful combination of ballet and wordless theatre; it's also something we can understand. Which is more than we can say for the rest of Denmark's theatres.
The trouble is that although most all Danes speak flawless English (with a Texas slur, to boot) the actors insist on speaking their lines in Danish. And Danish, to quote Napoleon, is not a language but a sore throat. (You just try ordering a fried fish sandwich – "A small stegt Frederikshavnerrødspaette-filet med citron, please." We'll go to Davidsen's and call for Number 21.)
Everyone in Copenhagen seems to stick around the Tivoli until midnight – preferably ending up across the street at Holberg Haven in the National Scala there, whose stage show would put Hellzapoppin' to shame. After that, it's nightclubs. Of these, the smartest – at least they insist on a black tie, the noble youth likes it, and it has a cover charge (28 cents!) – is Ambassadeur. But at 7-9 Allegade, there's quite a choice: the 7-9, where you must be a member (and a U. S. passport is a dandy membership card); Landsbyen, a boisterous beer-gardenish place: and Drachman's Kro, which goes in for lute-playing minstrels and such.
For rougher sport as the evening wears thin, there's Prater, specializing in bare torsos, and spots like Cafe Texas along Nyhavn, where Swedish seamen come to get rolled (you can expect the same courtesy extended to American tourists). Best stick here to Det Gyldne Lam, which also happens to be an excellent restaurant. And, come to think of it, it's just about time for another smørrebrød. Maybe two to keep us going till breakfast. Get it at a beer joint called Tokanten by the Court House, little frequented by tourists. A hangout for local artists and their models, it's not unusual for one of the girls to go into a spontaneous strip to the juke box music, or for two of them to get into a detailed whose-figure-is-best competition, illustrated, as it were, from life.
A good after-breakfast activity is a visit to the local breweries, where you can sample the stuff. Actually it's ale, spelled by the Danes øl and pronounced "oil" as nearly as we can make out. But if the evening before was wild we find a good recuperative measure is an electric train ride out to Klampenborg deer park and a swim at the nearby beach. And if it was a really jolly night, our remorse has even torn us away from Copenhagen long enough for the half-hour ride to medieval monasteries and castles on Zealand island, among them Kronborg where Hamlet agonized (though Shakespeare called it Elsinore) and actors from all over agonize today in arty stagings.
If we've dwelt at this length on Denmark, it's not just because we love the place. Fact is, you usually get there first, and much of what it's got, Norway, Sweden and Finland also have. But these three have some things Denmark can't match: the Far North country, a place of huge, treeless solitudes, of great cliffs looming through rolling mist, a craggy land whose short summers force a brief, vivid burst of color from lichen and other blossoms clinging to bare rock. This is the land of the Midnight Sun – a night-glowing red orb turning blue lakes to molten gold, blackening pine shadows on lonely roads. This is the land where Grieg's music takes on new meaning and the Sagas roll as they never could in your quiet library back home.
Now there's another thing to be said for Norway: they let you get away with pint-size smørrebrøds, called snitter. Which is probably just as well, since breakfast here – at least at one resort hotel we know – offers a choice that runs from cereals through salmon and herring and sausages in various forms, to chicken salad, pickled cucumber, ham and beef, not to mention goat's cheese money. Except for drinks."
She looked at him. There was no accusation, no leer. There was nothing in his face except the hope that that was all right.
"That's good," she said gratefully. Then she laughed, relaxed. "God! Have you ever though that just because you can't find any reason not to do something doesn't mean you have to do it?"
He grinned the way only some people seem to, from inside without barriers, with affinity.
And she thought, as usual, perhaps.
(which is nothing very special) and, of course, eggs, bread and coffee.
When it comes to drinks, however, the licensing laws are frankly beyond us. But if you go into a bar and order something jolting, don't be surprised if they throw a sandwich at you – and for God's sake don't attempt to eat it; the poor tired thing is doing its work over and over again by satisfying licensing inspectors.
Our "musts" on a trip through Oslo include a ferry ride from Pipervika wharf back of the Town Hall across the fjord to the Bigdoyn Peninsula, to see Ninth Century Viking ships – amazingly small and shallow when you think of the months-long voyages of these early people across the mountainous billows of the North Atlantic. And we'll drive just outside town for grouse or whale steak (try it – it's pretty good) at Frog-nersoetcren' Hovedrestaurant, decorated in old Norwegian style, with a really magnificent view over hilltop farm houses with grass-grown roofs in the foreground sloping down to the city and the shipbusy fjord beyond. Another meal at Skansen's and we're set for the railroad trip to Bergen – one of the most scenic runs in the world. The trip to the Atlantic coast starts through gentle forest land dotted with glassy blue lakes. Then there's an abrupt change as we cross the tree line into the highlands. The cottages and the pines have fallen away behind; here is barren rock, jagged, with roaring snow-fed rivers, mountain lakes still floating midsummer ice, tremendous chasms and foaming waterfalls.
From Bergen, we like to sail up Sogne-fjord – between great towering canyon walls, high and rocky and green in summer – a salt water river perhaps 5,000 feet deep of black and icy green mountain-shadowed water that turns sometimes to a glacier-fed milky white on its 100-mile journey inland. Get off if you can at the Jostedlabre Glacier that chewed this waterway out of primeval rock – move back through time to the wild, bare, terrifying Ice Age as you climb up this broad, motionless white river, look down into ice-green crevasses that never show bottom.
Also from Bergen there are coastal cruises, north – to Hammerfest, the northernmost city, on a latitude that just hits the top edge of Alaska, and on around hulking North Cape to Kirkenes on the Soviet border. From Bergen, too, there are cruises to the Lofoten islands of fishing villages and cliffside nesting places for ocean birds that never do come inland, and beyond to the great barren sweeping hills of Spitzbergen – and even beyond that, by cruise shiop or hunting ketch, to the edge of the polar packed ice where the seals and arctic foxes and polar bears play.
We prefer the coastal run around to Hammerfest because there's no back tracking. We can go on over the mountains to cross into Finland. Crossing the Tenojoki River between the villages of Karasjok and Kaamanen leads into the immense Arctic flatlands of Lappland, past colorfully kilted Lapp reindeer herders in their tents of animal skins.
This whole area is still pretty off-beat as world travel goes. Indeed, it's good for at least half an hour's spellbound silence at any dinner party back home, which is more than can be said for most places today.
Yet in that desolate immensity, creature comforts are not ignored. The tourist inn at Ivalo, for example, has two restaurants to serve the 50 people it can house in simple but modern and eye-appealing comfort. They tend to serve mostly smoked reindeer tongue, marinated reindeer steak, braised saddle of reindeer, reindeer pot roast and probably reindeer crunchies (they snap, crackle and jingle).
Ivalo was also the place where wefirst underwent a peculiar Finnish form of torture, the sauna ... a rural-type Turkish bath so hot it turns you purple. At this point, when steam off the nearly molten rock is so thick you can't see your aggressor, someone flays you with leafy birch twigs to "stimulate circulation." Then they drag you screaming or inanimate out into the cold air and dump the corpse into the icy waters of the nearest take. It's all meant to promote sisu – which is something more than guts.
Frankly, just writing about it would tire us out but for the fact that there's probably no greater joy than a fast aquavit from still quivering hands once it's all over. We embarked on it originally not because it's the fastest route to sobriety, nor because our host implied that any other course would reflect on our manhood, but because we'd heard it involved mixed bathing, stark. We guess that's just a fable fostered by sauna addicts to get new victims. The mixed business applies at private, family saunas, not public ones.
Helsinki is so close to Russia that we drink vodka there, with a craven eye over our left shoulder. Then on to dinner at Kalastajatorppa in a beautiful setting just outside town. We'd recommend salmon or, in season, crayfish, known as krapu. This is a sort of minor-league lobster that's a national addiction among Finns. Among its other virtues is that consumed together with snapps. – and the two go hand in hand, or foot in mouth later in the evening – it is said to leave you clearheaded next day.
Another great spot – preferably for lunch – is Valhalla in an 18th Century fort on one of the Suomenlinna islands 20 minutes away by ferry. We find its ancient vaulted interior rather sobering, though brightly costumed waitresses do add a touch of local color. We prefer to go for lunch because it's in the charming archipelago around Helsinki that's our favorite boat tour. Generally, as sights go, we're more inclined to this "lifeseeing" business. So that in Helsinki we tend to pass up park-dotted modern architecture for an amble through the primitive waterfront produce market swarming with shawled women, potato boats lining the quay.
From Helsinki, you can fly or sail overnight (which is how we do it) to Stockholm. Now, Sweden has magnificent countryside – but it can't compare with Norway's craggy fjords or Finland's forested lakes. Sweden has fine food and a first-rate city life in Stockholm: clean modern buildings shining in reedy city lakes; gnarled medieval buildings wavering in narrow, age-green canals; shops and restaurants and hotels with a true "big city" feel.
It's got sightseeing galore – for those who want it – and white tourist ships and water taxis to take them around in comfort. But Stockholm has two things that warm our browsing heart. There's the Old City Between the Bridges, on little midtown islands where the Middle Ages step forward to welcome you with outstretched arms in the mellow after-tone of St. Gertrud's chimes ... along narrow, twisting streets lined by artists' studios and antique shops, old taverns and old homes – including the Royal Palace. We can and do spend a lot of time there, notably in the cellars of the Golden Peace Inn – for dinner in the 300-year-old catacombs where the ballads of the 18th Century are sung now to the lute for a jet-age audience.
The other thing that's special for us in Stockholm's summer is the open-air life. We've never seen such fresh-air fiends. It starts with breakfast – along with half the town's citizenry – at outdoor cafes in a dozen parks. It goes on at all the island beaches of Skaergarden – where swimsuits are used if at all for sunning, but hardly ever for swimming. The suits might get wet! So most everybody wets only unshrinkable skin. And it continues until late at night – with concerts, for instance, in Kungs – trädsgarden or under the arcades of City Hall at the willow-shadowed edge of Lake Malären. Municipal theatre performances in an open city square off Junotäppan with 17th Century buildings for a lacy backdrop.
Part of this life is waterborne, of course. Perhaps an evening cruise out to Djurgarden – whose great villas are redolent of present wealth and 18th Century grace – and a drive in a horse-drawn carriage that ends with dinner at Djurgardsbrunns Wärdhus, a lovely old country inn where tradition garnishes every meal with special savor. Afterwards, we'll stroll up to the Skansen plateau for another concert under the midnight-blue sky or perhaps for folk dancing at the Skansen museum.
There's one other unusual "must" in the entertainment line in Stockholm: the "period" performances of classical opera and ballet at the charming Court Theatre at Drottningholm Palace, preserved intact since 1765. You reach the Palace – one of the King's summer residences – by boat in 45 minutes, and there's an excellent restaurant at the wharf.
Two other special things we try to allow time for in Sweden are the transit of the Göta Canal to Gothenburg, a wonderful slow excursion across the breadth of the land. And a trip to Visby, just an hour by plane from Stockholm, an ancient walled town that seems to be drowning in roses creeping up crumbling gray walls.
For the roving gourmet with a craggy taste in countrysides and a keen yen for "lifeseeing" in less spoiled corners of the world – there's no region to beat Scandinavia.
• • •
You get there by Scandinavian Airlines System (138 Queens Boulevard, Jamaica 35, N. Y.) for $438 first class, New York-Copenhagen, and by Swedish-America Line (636 Fifth Avenue, N. Y.) ships for $325 first class on the same run. For more information, write the above and the Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish National Travel Offices, respectively at 588 Fifth Avenue, 41 East 50th Street, 290 Madison Avenue and 630 Fifth Avenue, in New York.
Copenhagen: Nimb's Restaurant in the Tivoli
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