one part travel, one part home, one part DIY, one place to create


Day 11 – Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 – BLUE LAGOON

Our last day in Iceland started with more rain and snow. Oh, and coughing and nose-blowing and fever. Thankfully I was already improving but unfortunately for Nia she was worsening. I guess I should be thankful for the good immune system I have because I wasn’t near as bad off as Nia was  [I love you Vitamin C, even if your magic is all in my head].  The only good news about today is that we were going to the Blue Lagoon, and praying it would have healing powers!

We had some breakfast, or well not much of it since we weren’t feeling good, and made some sandwiches to take for lunch time. Then it was back up the baby elevator to pack up and check out. Checking out just involved turning in our giant key. And waiting for the bus to come pick us up for the Blue Lagoon, which was supposed to come around 9 or 9:15am but of course it was late because I don’t think Icelanders own clocks or care to own one. As a part of our hotel package we got transportation to the Blue Lagoon, admission, and transportation to the airport from the Blue Lagoon all included in our hotel rate. And it was a heck of a deal! When the bus showed up it was pouring snow and it was more like a big van that we had to stuff ourselves into with our 100lbs of luggage and 12 other people. Turns out the van was just taking us TO the bus, probably the same bus we were on the day before, and we were able to leave all of our luggage with the bus until it came back later to drive us to the airport.

We were the first group of people to make it to the Blue Lagoon that day, it was a little after 10am. This also meant we were pretty much the first people in the locker room. You got this bracelet that was a key fab (like this electronic thing that only worked for your one locker) and you could also charge stuff on it so you didn’t have to carry around a wallet. This was a great idea, except that mine took about 80 tries to get the locker to open and close. I warned Nia before the trip that we were going to have to shower naked in the open locker room before putting on our bathing suits and jumping into the lagoon. She didn’t believe me. And her and Dave just thought I loved nudity or something. Low and behold, the lockers had signs telling you to shower without your bathing suit. But to our delight they had made some shower stalls for Americans like us who weren’t down with being naked in a big room full of other people. The locker also suggested wearing a swimming cap and if you didn’t you needed to use special conditioner before and after swimming. We would later regret not wearing that swimming cap.

I was thrilled to be able to take advantage of my new waterproof camera for some sweet photos of the lagoon. We spent the first bit of time swimming around taking photos before putting the camera up and enjoy our last bit of time in Iceland while relaxing in the naturally heated, 105°F of heaven. We too advantage of the free silica mud stored in buckets around the edges and had an exfoliating facial and body scrub. It snowed nearly the whole time we were in the lagoon (notice the snowflakes in our hair!) which just made the experience even cooler. The huge difference in temperature of the lagoon and the air outside made for lots and lots of steam surrounding the whole place, so lots of the pictures were a bit foggy. As you may or may not know, one of the previous seasons of The Bachelorette was filmed in Iceland and one of the group dates was at the Blue Lagoon. Since Nia and I are big fans of the show, we were thrilled as we recognized many of the spots where scenes were filmed! Including a sweet waterfall and a sauna.

After swimming around for a few hours we sprinted from the lagoon to inside the locker room since it was so cold outside and showered and layered up again in our winter clothes. Conveniently, the locker room had hair dryers. Inconveniently, our hair felt like it had been soaked in a nice blend of olive oil, honey, and glue. Even after washing, rinsing, and repeating – about 3 times. Sick. Then we went out to the gift shop and restaurant area to enjoy our sandwiches with a nice hot cup of coffee. And made a few purchases to bring back to family and friends. Before long it was time to go and we took the 2:00 bus to the airport (thankfully our luggage was still with the bus). On the way out we took a few more photos of this unreal place.

Our flight didn’t leave until like 4:30 so we had a bit of time to kill at the airport. The airport decided we would kill some of that time by giving Nia extra security checks in private rooms. I’m still not sure what happened in there. After we went through all of normal security and headed into the gates, they stopped Nia and said, “oh, this is her, please come with us” and immediately Nia thought it was an emergency at home or something. Needless to say, it was just an emergency that required her to get felt up and questioned about who knows what. This once again proved Nia’s point that she has never once gone through security seamlessly. After all of those shenanigans we still had some time to walk around all of the airport stores (twice) to spend the last of our Icelandic monies. I’m pretty sure I also walked off at some point and didn’t tell Nia where I’d be and she wasn’t too pleased about that. But at least we wound up with some sweet souvenirs.

We agreed that on this leg of the flight I could have the window seat so I’d be able to get more sleep since I was going to be the one doing the majority of the driving home. This meant Nia got the middle seat – a middle seat that happened to have two messed up arm rests leaning in towards her seat – therefore, making the tiniest airplane seat possible. The lady on the other side of her kept leaning into the armrest making her seat even smaller. It turns out the row of 3 seats can convert into a row of 2 larger seats with a tiny middle for a table by adjusting the armrests. Our armrests were stuck in the “2 seat” position. Not long into the flight Nia asked the flight attendant about it and they made the lady on the outside of our row move to a new seat, leaving Nia and I sitting in two more spacious seats. And knowing airlines, that extra space probably would have cost us a few hundred dollars more. Too bad Nia was miserable the whole flight due to the cold/cough/sinus infection she had developed. I was at least able to get some sleep during the 6 hour flight.

We arrived at Boston Logan around 6pm and called the Red Roof Inn to get a taxi since our friend Rob wasn’t able to pick us up. The taxi man on the phone told us to wait at the departures zone. Turns out they are just too lazy to go through the arrival zone. So we waited and waited and Nia thought I heard him wrong about where to be or what color car – but finally he showed up to take us back to the Red Roof Inn. I said a few prayers that my car would still be there and not be destroyed by wind-blown scaffolding and buried in a blizzard. Praise God there were no problems! The driver helped us load up all of our stuff from his car to mine as he was suprised we were about to drive and not stay the night. Our original plan was to drive through NYC and stay the night with our friend Becca. It was now about 8pm – we got going a lot later than we thought we would since the flight got in late, the taxi man took forever, and Boston driving is crazy. First on the agenda was to grab a coffee and some double cheeseburgers at McDonalds. Then Nia and I decided to forgo staying the night in NYC and drive straight through the night home. Which really meant I would be driving us straight through the night home due to Nia’s condition. We made a pit stop at Walmart somewhere in Connecticutt for Nia to get some meds and I waited in the car. I got in trouble by the parking lot security twice for waiting in the fire lane. How was I supposed to know that it would take an hour to grab cough drops and Sudafed? I wasn’t aware that we were at the SLOWEST Walmart in America.

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning really blurred together since I was in the car driving for 14 hours; I’m not sure where one day began and where one ended. Well, actually I do remember that we were in NYC right at midnight, stuck in traffic. I didn’t know there could be traffic jams at midnight – traffic jams that consisted of me and about 100 tractor trailers – I guess we are the only crazy ones driving the Interstates through the night.


Day 10 – Monday, February 28th, 2011 – ICELAND

Today was a tough morning waking up because neither one of us felt good and there were no bacon, eggs, and pancakes to look forward to. We headed downstairs to the lobby of the Metropolitan, forced ourselves to have some breakfast and coffee even though we weren’t that hungry and made some sandwiches to pack for lunch. We waited around for the tour that we booked the night before to come pick us up, hoping that they did actually show. The weather was a nice mix of rain and snow with a big dose of cold. But knowing we were about to explore the beauty of Iceland and the Golden Circle made the cough, cold, and sketchy sandwiches fade into the background.

A van full of strangers showed up at the Metropolitan to pick us up and we disregarded all lessons on not getting into vans with strangers. The van took us to a tour bus and then began our whirlwind of a day tour with lots of waterfalls, geysirs, volanic landscape, snow, rain, sleet, hail, and even some sunshine. The tour guide told us the first thing to know about Iceland was that the weather can change in a heartbeat. They have a saying – “don’t like the weather? just wait 5 minutes and it’ll change!” And boy did we experience that!

The first stop on the tour was Kerio volcano crater. Ok, actually it was our second stop. The first stop was a pit stop at some tourist trap with souvenirs, snacks, and bathrooms – so that doesn’t count. We only stopped for about 2 minutes to get off the bus and take pictures of the water-filled crater because it was sleeting so hard. Oh and nearly everyone in the tour group was not cool because they were not into staying at places for a while to take pictures. Nia and I were the last ones back on the bus after every stop. Surprise? I’ve never been one for history, so I won’t be able to give you any details really about any of the things we saw. But you’re probably thankful for that because I already write too much.

Next up was Faxi waterfall. It was pretty cool and medium sized. Once again, we stayed long enough to take a few pics and leave. In between driving to all of the sights we saw some awesome landscape and crazy weather. Luckily Nia and I grabbed the front row seat of the bus to get the best photos and befriend the driver and our tour guide.

Next on the agenda was Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir is the geysir that all other geysirs got their name from! Unfortunately, it doesn’t erupt very often now since people threw too many stones in it. Another geysir nearby is Strokkur – and we got to see it erupt 3 times while standing there! Now we had frozen hands and soaking wet clothes, but it was worth it. There was a tourist shop here where we stopped to have lunch – the sandwiches and snacks we had packed from breakfast at the hotel.

The part of the Golden Circle I had been most excited about is Gullfoss (means “golden waterfall”). And it definitely lived up to my expectations! Although pouring snow the whole time, we got some awesome photos and even hiked down right to the edge of the falls. Hiking back up to the top was a little difficult since my cold made it hard to breath deeply without painfully coughing. I will have to go back to Iceland one day in the summer time to see all of these amazing things surrounded by green grass instead of snow.

Onward we went, our next stop was Þingvellir National Park. Alot of cool stuff here, most notably where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and are slowly shifting. The land has sunk down between the two plates where they have shifted. We started on the Eurasian side, hiking through the sunken center and up the North American plate – which was like a huge cliff when looking at it from the other side. It was pretty awesome. Of course Nia and I held up the back of the group, way behind everyone, taking lots of pictures.

We made the mistake of wearing jeans today. And you know once jeans get wet then they stay wet and cold all day. At least I had some good boots on so my feet stayed dry and warm but Nia on the other hand was not so lucky. Today was probably the main reason why she got so sick. Once we got back to the Metropolitan we dressed in some warm, dry clothes and rested. There was a cute little grocery store down the street, Petursbud, that we checked out and got some food for supper. The snacks included Skyr, some kind of special yogurt made in Iceland. I wanted to go out but didn’t think I should go alone without Nia, so instead we just went to bed early to rest up for the next day’s adventures.

Day 9 – Sunday, February 27th, 2011 – MORE AIRPORTS

It was our last morning in Copenhagen and what better way to say goodbye then one final bacon, eggs, and pancake meal with real maple syrup. We packed all of our things and somehow made room for all of our souveniors as well. We decided to take the 5A bus to the airport since it actually picked us up at the hotel and took us all the way to the airport for the same price as the metro Nia and I took on the way there which left us walking another mile.

Today was going to be a day with a lot of waiting. We waited at the bus stop for at least 45 minutes, waited in the long line to check in at the airport, waited in security (I think Nia still didn’t get it right and had to be patted down), waited at the gate until boarding time, waited in our seats on the plane until we finally took off, waited at baggage claim once arriving at Reykjavik (thankfully it showed up this time), waited in line to buy bus tickets to the hotel, waited on the nearly hour long bus ride until finally arriving at the Metropolitan Hotel. We made it to Iceland at last. And it wasn’t quite as beautiful as it was during our layover 7 days prior when I first fell in love with this country. It was rainy and snowy and windy. And we felt terrible – Nia definitely worse than me. [Unfortunately for Dave, he had quite a bit more waiting than we did. He was heading back to the US and not joining us in Iceland and his layover was in Canada. Turns out the flight he was almost late for this morning was delayed (surprise), causing him to miss his connection in Canada and ending with a night spent in Canada because the next flight to Charlotte wasn’t until the next day.]

The hotel was quite an interesting place. We booked it because it was the cheapest and still really close to downtown. I’m not sure if my favorite part was the tiny two person elevator that jumped each time you got off. Or the small bathroom where you could take a shower while sitting on the toilet – literally, the sink, toilet and shower were all just right together in a tiny little room and when you took a shower, well, the whole place got soaked. Or that everytime we went to the lobby their was a different person working the front desk. Do they have like 30 minute shifts here or something? Or the room key, which was a giant key on a giant wooden keychain; apparently you’re supposed to leave it at the front desk each time to leave. Umm yeah, probably because no one wants to tote around the world’s biggest room key all day. Or the fact that they were the most laid back people. EVER. [When we first checked in the girl said, “well, you can pay now, or later, or whenever really.” Oh is that so? Gah I feel like in the US they won’t even speak to you until you pay up.] Or when we decided to book the Golden Circle day tour and Blue Lagoon tour they just gave someone a call real quick and said OK, they will pick you up at 8:00. Really? Well I sure hope they show up because I have no idea who you could have called during your 10 second phone conversation.

We took a nap for a little bit and then decided to walk downtown and have some traditional Icelandic supper. Our restaurant of choice: Islenka Barenka – Nia picked it out after browsing google and some guide books we picked up in the lobby. Reykjavik is quite a bit smaller than Copenhagen, so it was much easier to find our way around walking. We even found some of the places shown in the episode Ali went to Iceland on the Bachelorette. Remember when the guys had to write poems in Icelandic for her and the crazy guy Casey sung to her in front of a statue? Yep that was right near the restaurant! This was an interesting meal. We ordered the “Journey Through Iceland” and split it. The menu said we’d be taken on a surprise journey through Iceland with an appetizer, main course, and dessert. And boy was it a surprise! We asked the waiter what we’d get and he said he didn’t know, just whatever the chef felt like making.

First course: extremely thin sliced pieces of lamb stretched out over the dish covered in melon and sauce and smokey flavor. I’m still not sure if this was even cooked or not. Second course: foal and catfish atop mashed potatoes. Yes foal, as in baby horse. Dessert: brownie with ice cream – this part was quite a disappointment. After cleaning our plates we walked back to the Metropolitan and headed straight to bed. A day of travel if exhausting, especially when you don’t feel very good. But tomorrow would be a better day because we’d be exploring the beauty of Iceland.

Day 8 – Saturday February 26th, 2011 – SWEDEN

Today we again took advantage of free transportation with the Copenhagen Card and took the train up to Helsingor. After breakfast we took the 5A bus to central station and figured out which line we needed to get on. We had about 15 minutes before the train left the station, which was just enough time for Nia to get a postcard and mail it to her Grandma. She had been wanting to do this all week but we weren’t sure where to find a post office, but central station conveniently had one inside. She picked one out, filled it out, and we waited in line until our number was called. She was pretty excited when it only cost 12 kroner to buy the postcard and mail it back to Reedy Creek. We had to wait in line longer than expected so then we had to run to the boarding dock to catch the train just in time. This was another 45-50 minute train ride, but this time it was hugging the coastline headed north instead of heading inland.

Once we arrived in Helsingor we made our way through the station to get to the ferry station. While planning this trip in the previous months we read about going to Sweden for the day if you’re in Copenhagen – so we just knew we had to make this a part of our itenerary to add another country into our adventures. We bought 2 round trip tickets to Helsingborg, Sweden with HH Ferries and boarded the boat. Now this was a heck of a boat for a 20 minute ferry crossing. I guess they use this for other routes too because you can’t possibly eat a sit down meal, play arcade games, and go shopping all in 20 minutes? We spent our 20 minutes on the top deck for the best view and picturing taking, although quite cold and windy. Since most of the canals were frozen so was the water nearest land, but this boat just sailed right on through the ice and out into the Oresund. There was a nice view of Helsingor’s coastline as we set sail and a nice view of Kronborg Slot – Hamlet’s Castle. We met a nice man from Denmark who was heading over to Sweden for the day just to buy some books at a bookstore sale. I think I’d like to travel to another country as well next time I’m looking for some good book deals. He did give us some good info about what all to see in Helsingborg and most importantly he told us about the heated benches. He said, “if you see a bunch of old people sitting down, then you know you’ve found them.”

Once setting foot into Sweden, we grabbed a map and made our way towards Karnan, an old tower that is the only part remaining of the old fortess towering over the city when it was under Danish rule. Since it was a sunny, yet still cold, Saturday things were a bit more crowded than we were used to all week. We made our way up all the levels of stairs to get to higher ground and Karnan and of course took lots of pictures of the view overlooking the city and Oresund. I think you could even see the coast of Denmark from here since they are only about 4km apart. Now to find the heated benches. As we headed towards the harbor, Nia made me sit on every single bench to see if it was heated or not. I sat on at least 5 benches, which all looked like a normal bench, but we were convinced they could be magically heated. When we had almost given up Nia spotted something in the distance; is it what I think it is? Yes, its a lot of old people… sitting down… just as the man on the ferry said there would be. BINGO! Heated benches! We were so excited we were almost running. We sat our butts down and instantly felt warmth flooding our bodies. The benches had hot water running through the bottoms to heat them. This made for the perfect lunch spot, and we got out our “window sandwiches” and snacks and relaxed. The harbor and boats were frozen and we laughed as the birds walked on the ice slipping around.

Then it was on to something a little more modern – the culture house – Dunker’s Culture Center, to be exact. The man on the ferry told us about this and we weren’t really sure what it was, but its basically like a museum, gift shop, concert hall, community center all in one. The strangest thing about it were the emo looking rabbit statues outside, laying in a pile of rocks. I guess its supposed to be artistic, but to me it just seemed weird. And even stranger than the emo rabbits, we stumbled upon some kind of event once we went inside. There was a small room with a crowd of women waiting to get in. Then all of a sudden I guess it was time and they all flooded the room. Time for what? I don’t know. But we sure were going to find out! So we also made our way into the room, which was filled with tables and hangers of random clothes and other things and people were going crazy snatching them up. So I figured out it must be some kind of rummage sale based on the urgency all these people had to grab the perfect item. We asked a lady at the door what was going on; she told us “you can switch clothes and you have until 5:00pm.” Ummm… ok? So I change the clothes I’m wearing and I have until 5 o’clock to wear them then switch back? After more watching we figured out what she meant was that you bring items of your own and trade them for different things – so in our words – a clothing swap. Well we didn’t swap anything since we needed the clothes we were wearing.

We wanted to check out one more place so we headed towards the biggest church in the city – the Church of St. Mary’s. Like all old churches, this was ornately and beautifully decorated inside and just as cool on the outside. Now at this point in the week I was feeling pretty exhausted and developing a bad cough. Must have been all the walking outside in the cold wind. I had a feeling Nia was feeling the same way when she agreed to head back to Denmark on the ferry even though our stay in Sweden had merely been a few hours. We got to the ferry just in time as we were the last people to load up. Not feeling up to par, we opted to sit inside this go around since we experienced the viewing deck on the way over. 20 minutes later we were breaking through the ice and stepping foot back into Denmark.

On the train ride back to Copenhagen I think we both fell asleep. But I woke up in plenty of time to make sure we got off at the right stop. Back at Hovedbanegarden, we took the 5A bus to the Radisson and met up with Dave in the Player’s Lounge. Since this was the last day of the poker tournament, not many people were still there. We told Dave all about our day and then decided we should go take a nap for a little while since we had a couple hours until it was time for more “free sandwiches.” It felt so nice to nap considering I wasn’t feeling very good. But we did of course wake up in time for supper! I must say, every single meal we ate with the PokerStars was delicious and such a great surprise that we weren’t expecting on the trip.

This was our last night in Copenhagen and Nia wanted to GO OUT! Meaning, stay up later than 10:00pm and go somewhere besides playing guitar hero and foosball with the PokerStars. The night before we enjoyed ourselves at Sari Restaurant and the ICEBAR. Tonight, we wanted a more local experience by heading to “the most elusive bar” in Copenhagen. I’m still not sure what this means, but my guide book described it as – so elusive, almost impossible to find. Perfect! That’s just the kind of place we like – and it was one of Peter’s recommendations for bars to check out. It is also voted to have the best cocktail in Scandinavia. After we put on our dresses we took the bus to the stop closest to the bar and started walking to find it. We had our map in hand with the little side street that it was on circled. Remember when I talked about how we had at least 4 maps but none of them were detailed enough? That made finding this place pretty difficult since it took us a while to find the street it was on. Now I know what they meant by so elusive almost impossible to find, because if it wasn’t for the line of people waiting at the door and the fact that we knew the address number we probably would have passed on by it. No sign, except in tiny writing on a door once you were already inside the hallway – “Ruby.” We waited probably 15 or so minutes before the guy at the door told us we could go in. And when we walked through those doors I felt at home, literally! Well not MY home, but someone’s home. It felt like someone’s house/apartment decorated very homey with big couches and chairs and artwork. I guess the only thing that gave it away as a bar was the actual bar. And it sure was crowded! We walked around the whole place to check it out and then decided to put our coats on the coat rack along with everyone else. Remember when I said the Dane’s are trusting people? No coat check at this place, just simply a rack where you hang your coat as if you’re at a friend’s house.

Here we learned a few more things:

  1. We can at least pass for Europeans as everyone first spoke Danish to us before realizing we didn’t understand them. Or maybe it was because this bar is more of a local spot and people wouldn’t expect American’s to be there in the middle of winter?
  2. Bartenders take their time in making drinks. They measure out every single shot that goes into a cocktail and make sure to have a taste using the “finger over the straw to get some out trick” to make sure it is just right. None of that super fast and messy slinging of bottles like in the US. Now we knew what the guy at the door meant when he said he had to wait until the bartenders were caught up with orders before letting more people in, because they were way slower than bars here! But I’ll have to say, the bartenders were much nicer and hotter. And hey, we were having the best cocktails in Scandinavia, who cares how long it takes?
  3. Europeans sometimes wear their wedding band on their right ring finger. This becomes quite confusing to someone who is used to only looking on the left ring finger. I ended up talking at least 30 minutes with a guy that was hitting on me before realizing that he was in fact married and then I felt terrible for talking to a married man. I vote the whole world needs to pick one finger and stick with it!

We had a really fun time feeling like locals and meeting some locals! We didn’t stay too terribly late, probably there a couple hours and then headed back to the Radisson for our last night in those tiny beds. I was glad Nia made us go out to enjoy an evening of Copenhagen’s night life!

Day 7 – Friday, February 25th, 2011 – HILLEROD

Another bacon, eggs, and pancakes morning [Nia and Dave may be the only ones finding this funny as I was trying to tell a story one morning at breakfast and said “bacon eggs and pancakes” at least 30 times] and then we were off. We got a little earlier start than the previous day since we wanted to see a couple things around Copenhagen before taking the train up to Hillerod for the afternoon. To get the most out of our Copenhagen Card there were a couple more things we wanted to see around the city: Carlsberg Brewery, Stables  & Elephant Tower, Copenhagen Zoo, Frederiksberg Slot and Have (aka castle and garden).

By this time we had mastered the buses and switching buses (and Nia didn’t get cussed out by anymore angry Danes). So we took the bus to Carlsberg Brewery Visitor Center. The bus didn’t go quite to the brewery, so we still had to walk a bit. And by walk I mean wander around confused trying to find where the visitor center actually was because it was seriously lacking signs. At least we passed by the Elephant Tower on the way. Basically this is just a tower over the road that has giant elephant statues built into it. And you know I LOVE elephants!! This made for a few good photo ops and then we found the visitor’s center. We debated on paying to do the tour but opted not to since we had already walked around some of the place by ourselves and we were allowed to see the stables for free. And we figured it was a bit early in the morning for beer tasting – the same beer we already had as a part of the “free sandwiches” in the evenings in the player’s lounge. Instead we spent our money on some souvenoirs for friends/family/ourselves. We purchased a few different types of Carlsberg beer and some nice glasses with the Carlsberg logo.  But the best part about this place – THE STABLES! Remember when the people joked around with me at The Royal Reception rooms about having cardboard horses? Well no worries, the horses in this place were the real deal. Pretty much Denmark’s version of the Budweiser horses. We petted the horses while they tried to eat my scarf, we took some pictures, and watched them get suited up to drive the wagon. We followed the wagon out and under the Elephant Tower as we were making our way back to the bus stop.

We opted to skip over the Zoo (what animals would even be out and about in the middle of winter?) and Frederiksberg Slot in order to make it to FrederiksBORG Slot in Hillerod. But first we needed to stop back by the Radisson to drop off all of our new purchases from Carlsberg. This was supposed to be a quick process – just hop on the 5A bus, brief stop at the room, then back on the 5A bus to central station to catch the train. Instead, stubborn me insists that we need to walk one direction to the bus stop when Nia was certain it was the other direction. So we ended up walking all the way back to the Radisson, in silence and frustration. Once we finally made it back and I apologized for not listening when Nia was right then we were on our way on the BUS, not walking, to central station. Remember when I said we had the bus system figured out? Yeah, I guess I meant NIA had the bus system figured out. My job was just to hold onto our Copenhagen Cards since Nia almost lost hers 3 times.

Once at Hovedbanegarden (Central Station) we checked the timetables to see which track we needed to be at to get to Hillerod. My guide book told us which line we needed to ride and which bus to take to get to Frederiksborg. The train ride was about 45-50 minutes long and Hillerod was the final stop on this line. We had some snacks on the train and this was the one place they did actually send someone through to check tickets. [Taking the metro just throughout the city, no one really checks, but remember my list of things we learned about Danes: they are very honest and trusting people. Imagine this system in the US – I’m sure nearly no one would buy tickets if they knew they probably wouldn’t be checked for because unfortunately too many Americans try to take advantage of things and cheat the system. I think we should learn to be a more honest and trusting culture.] Upon arriving in Hillerod we tried to find a bus that was numbered one of the numbers my guidebook told me, but none were there. So we walked around the station trying to find maps and routes and asked a number of people how to get there. I mean this dern castle is kinda the biggest thing in this town, surely everyone knows how to get there. So some nice teens directed us which bus to get on and which stop to get off to get there. And all of a sudden… there she was! In all her beauty! NOW we sure are glad we ditched the rest of our morning plans in order to make it to this amazing place in time. I mean look at this. Now tell me where I can find something this amazing in the US? And with this much history and detail and culture? Probably nowhere.

There was a lake surrounding all sides of this place, which of course was frozen, and a small bridge crossing over the smallest part of this “mote” to get to the entrance. It was nearing the end of the afternoon, around 2:30ish and the place closed at 4pm. That left us enough time to explore this gigantic castle (self-guided tour of course) thoroughly but quickly. We wanted to see all of it so we went pretty quickly through a lot of the rooms. The best room of all though – the reception room – an enormous room with marble floors and ornate walls and ceiling just screaming for us to take all kinds of self timer pictures. And with us as the only people there = a LOT of picture taking, self timer photos, jumping pics, and experimenting with shutter speed and exposure with Nia’s camera. Still waiting to see how those turned out. We ended up spending much more time than expected taking pictures, so we really had to speed it up through the rest of the castle and somehow we got turned around and left some places out. Before we knew it, it was closing time and we were somewhere in the middle of the castle trying to find the exit. No worries, a security guard found us and escorted us out a secret stairwell and luckily we still had time to take some pictures of the outside of the place. This is when I learned that if its too cold to have flowing water in your fountain, just fill it with Christmas trees. Instant gratification! Yes, I have an unusual obsession with Christmas trees, mainly the smell of Christmas trees. I’d even like my man to smell like Christmas trees [that is, of course, when I finally have a man…]. We didn’t want to head back to Copenhagen quite yet, so we walked around the “high street” for a bit. Apparently every city has a “high street” – a shopping street with no cars, only pedestrians – and still not sure WHY its called a HIGH street?? We did have some pretty good finds here. At an antique store we got these old glass bottles for super cheap, at a chocolate shop got some amazing chocolate flavored ground coffee [which scented our bags and hotel room the entire rest of the trip – it was that strong] and I found a beautiful scarf for Sarah at the coolest travel/outdoor store. We asked more strangers how to get back to the train station and walked our way back there only to have more confusion of which train actually goes straight back to Copenhagen. After asking some strangers and the information desk [which conveniently was inside the 7/11; not only was it inside the 7/11, but the 7/11 workers were the information desk. so strange] we hopped on the train they told us to get on, still unsure if it was right because this one didn’t have the route showing all of the stops.

But sure enough, the train took us back to Copenhagen and we got on another bus in search of Peter Beier’s Chokolade. For days all Nia talked about was hot chocolate and finding PB’s Chokolade to get hot chocolate and possibly sample all the different kinds of hot chocolate. The day before when we were with Dave we did briefly stop in PB’s but sadly there was no chocolate fountain flowing in the window nor hot chocolate samples, only chocolate treats for sale. We found out that evening that there are TWO PB’s and we went to the wrong one. So today Nia and I found the right one with chocolate fountain and all. Now the hot chocolate was not free samples, but we did each get a giant cup of different flavors to share with complimenary walnuts [maybe we weren’t supposed to eat those? but they were in a bowl on the table just waiting to be tasted] and free pieces of delicious chocolate. This place was surely worth the days of anticipation and searching for the right one. We also stocked up on some more souvenirs here: chocolate, coffee stirrers made of chocolate, hot chocolate, and a coffee mug. PB’s was right near Cafe Petersborg – where we planned to eat supper that evening after returning to the Radisson to get ready and get Dave. My friend Peter recommended Cafe Petersborg and we got a discount with the Copenhagen Card. To our disappointment, Cafe Petersborg closed at 6pm and we weren’t planning to go out to eat until 7:30-8ish. We found it quite difficult to find a restaurant that was open past 6pm that was an actual restaurant and not just a bar. And boy was it much harder than we thought! We finally decided on Sari Restaurant and headed there with Dave after we changed into our “going out” clothes. We couldn’t just eat those free sandwiches all week, we had to go out at least once!

We walked to Sari Restaurant and were seated right away. Being that we were in Denmark we had to order Smorrebrod (commonly known as smorgasbord) and herring – so Nia and I each ordered one and split. I don’t know why I ordered herring, but everyone talked about it. We were not a fan of the three types of herring nor the smorrebrod. Maybe if we had different kinds somewhere else it’d be better, but we were just not satisfied with our choices. So what else could we do after dinner besides go to an ICEBAR! We read about the Icebar online and in my guide book, so it was a must. Although a total tourist trap and quite pricey (at least the price included a drink) it was so worth it. The entire thing was made of ice – the walls, the statues, the benches, the tables, the bar, the cups! And you wear these giant blue parkas with gloves to stay warm since it clearly has to be kept below freezing or else it wouldn’t be ice now would it? We met some interesting people in there, but more importantly got to have some fun in our fur-lined snuggies. Needless to say, after less than an hour in that place it was time to get back to the Radisson and get to sleep in a nice warm bed.

Day 6 – Thursday, February 24th, 2011 – COPENHAGEN

Today we had a real plan. And Dave joined our adventures again as his time sadly came to an end in the poker tournament.  After bacon, eggs, and pancakes, we bundled up again with maps in hand. Nia’s hands that is. Now the pressure was all on her for navigating. We actually had everything we wanted to see and do that day circled on the map and ordered based on location, so that way we weren’t just wandering around aimlessly [like the previous day] in hopes of happening upon what we wanted to see.

Today was cold, really cold, and windy. So we utilized that free transportation with the Copenhagen Card and took the 5A bus up to Botanisk Have (aka botanical gardens). Not much to see here in the dead of winter. Next up on the agenda: the old observatory, aka The Round Tower. The Trinitatis Church and the Round Tower are built together. History was my worst subject in school and I got around even having to take a history class in college, so I’m terrible with remembering dates and important names and all that stuff. So this place was pretty old and is the oldest observatory still standing in Copenhagen, that’s about all I can say on the history side. To get to the top of the Observatory you walk up a long spiraling ramp. And suddenly I felt like I was walking to Calculus class in Harrelson Hall. [All you NC State grads out there should get my reference here!] It made for some pretty great pictures as did the awesome view of the city from the top! As I already said, it was a windy day, so we didn’t stay at the top for long or else we’d all have been blown over the side. On the way back down we stopped at the gift shop that also doubled as a gallery for an art exhibit about food of the world. This is where we discovered that somehow North Carolina translates into North Kentucky according to the Danes. This is also where we discovered that the US, England, and Canada eat all packaged, processed, and fast foods, where as every other country eats beautiful home grown fresh fruits, veggies, and grains. Oh wait, we already knew that because America is fat. But it was crazy to see it all in picture form based on how much families eat in a week around the world. We spent a while at this exhibit. Not necessarily because we were that interested, but because it was inside and warm and had a clean bathroom.

That’s two places checked off the list and now we’ve worked up quite the appetite. Remember that lunch meat currently stored in the bag hanging outside of our window at the Radisson? Well today we all packed lunches from the “window sandwiches” as we dubbed them and the snacks that Nia and I brought along from home. We decided it would be best to find somewhere inside to eat because eating in the cold is no fun. Where else could be go besides McDonalds?! So once again we made our way in, ordered a couple varm kakaos from the coinoffer menur for 10 kroner and set up shop with our bag lunches. It was also a perk that McDonalds had free wifi. I’m sure glad they offer that since none of the airports like to.

Then we went to Amalienborg.  Nia tried to just walk right on in since we weren’t sure where the entrance was. Then a guard with his gun in hand quickly stopped her when he realized no, we were not in fact royalty. So he directed us to the proper entrance and we explored. Another place that made you pay to take pictures inside, so we left the cameras in the lockers. Strangely there was random things that didn’t belong in each historic room (aka: an iphone, a camera, a laptop, etc.) and Dave and Nia quickly caught on that we found ourselves in the middle of a game for kids – to spot things that didn’t belong. I think we had more fun with it than the kids did. Next we headed to Kastellet. I’m not really sure what this place is, but basically its a little island in the shape of a star surrounded by a mote. I thought it would be great to walk around the trail on the edge of star island. We crossed the mote bridge and were nearly blown into the mote because the wind was so intense. Basically you then have to walk around most of star island to get to another bridge to get off of it. Thanks to me, we were stuck walking in the freezing wind for a while. When we made it off star island, we were then in search of The Little Mermaid.

Our hopes weren’t too high when it came to the Little Mermaid since my book said it was in fact LITTLE. But this thing was famous in Copenhagen and a must see. We were getting pretty miserable at this point from the cold and wind and of course, having trouble finding her. We did however first find what we dubbed the BIG mermaid. I have no idea where we actually were, but we came across and giant mermaid statue that had at least a D cup. Not sure why this statue wasn’t the famous one? After we realized we walked way too far we did some back tracking and found the real little mermaid. In all her tiny glory. We forced ourselves to smile for a picture after all the trouble we went through to find her. See all that snow she is surrounded by? That is normally water, the nice canal, but February means ice.

We walked a ways afterwards trying to find a bus stop that would take us home. Never had we felt so much joy to sit down in a warm seat. With Nia in charge for the day we had a game plan and checked everything off our to-do list (except sampling some varm kakao at Peter Beier Chokolade – but we opted to leave that for the next day) and maybe fit a few too many things in one day because we were exhausted. The rest of our evening was spent with more “free sandwiches” in the Player’s Lounge, watching some youtube favorites, and catching up on the latest episodes of The Bachelor and Modern Family. I think the Bachelor was Dave’s favorite part of the day.

Day 5 – Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 – COPENHAGEN

We awoke to a winter wonderland. Just the right amount of snow to make for beautiful pictures and beautiful places. View from our window:

It was another morning started by bacon, eggs, and pancakes. And real maple syrup. Today Dave would be playing poker all day, so it was Nia and I’s solo adventure in the city. Thanks to her googling the night before, we had somewhat of a plan. Thanks to the airport, the hotel, and my Day to Day Guide to Copenhagen, I had at least 4 maps. [NONE of which were good, or detailed enough, except for the one withthe 3-D drawings and store names. I’m pretty sure there were at least 5 H&M’s in this city. Whenever we weren’t sure where we were, we would get our bearings back based on H&M.] We strolled through the streets, ended up in the middle of a university area, and took lots of pictures. This time Nia was more allowing with my picture taking because she also was picture taking with that big-a camera. At one point she had gates shut in front of her because apparently the alley we were taking a picture of was the entrance to someone’s home. This city is so colorful and full of bicycles. Even in the winter time, the Danes love those bicycles.

We found the Royal Gardens while in search for Rosenborg Slot. It was beautiful covered in snow. This made for LOTS of self timer photo ops with Nia’s big-a camera. Of which featured many jumping shots. With trees aligning the walkway like so, how could you not stop for nearly an hour of photo taking? When our fingers were nearing frostbite we realized it was probably time to head inside of Rosenborg Slot (the Queen’s castle) and take advantage of our Copenhagen Card freebies. Somehow the birds were NOT nearing frostbite and wanted to go for a swim in the only non-frozen part of the mote around the castle. 

There is so much more history in Europe. All of the architecture is hundreds of years older than that in the US and probably took decades more to build compared to the standard building in the US. The detail is amazing! In order to take pictures inside most of the places, you had to pay an extra fee. So we opted to keep the cameras in their cases and just take in all of the detail. We also made up stories for any of the castles/museums/sights that didn’t have English info. I’m pretty sure some of our stories were way better than whatever was actually true.

After a morning/afternoon of walking in the snow the only thing that could possibly come next is ahotdog. The day before all I talked about was the snow and hotdogs but Dave wouldn’t let us stop forhotdogs. So on our day without Dave, what else could be do but eat hotdogs? And Peter said we had to have a hotdog on the street. It was delicious! Peter also recommended a Canal Tour. Unfortunately the canal was frozen. No canal tour for us. Our next stop for the day’s adventures was Christiansborg Slot. We checked out the Royal Reception Rooms. They also had stables at Christiansborg, which – surprise! – made me happy. The convo with the ticket ladies went a little something like this – me: “are the stables open” ladies: “yes, they are open to the public” “are there horses?” “yes” “real ones??” “no, we just put cardboard cut outs” – cue the sarcasm I talked about here. We didn’t end up having enough time that day to check out the stables, thats a shame. The good thing about visiting Copenhagen in February is that we were the only tourists there. Most of the sights we went to, we were the only people there. So the Royal Reception Rooms at Christiansborg Slot were a fun adventure being the only ones there. But this was yet another place you had ot pay extra to take pictures, so we left the cameras in their cases. After Christiansborg we wanted to make it over to Ny Havn before heading back to our temporary home. This was the day I was in charge of the 4+ maps and navigating. And throw in stops for door pictures, this equaled quite a bit of getting lost. We didn’t make it to Ny Havn until the sun was nearly setting, which meant we were going to have to find our way back to the Radisson in the dark (once again). I’d say it was worth it, look at this place.

This was the second time during the trip we wondered if Dave was even worried about us. It was dark and we weren’t home yet. We took the 5A bus back and got there just in time for more “free sandwiches”, soccer, guitar hero, and telling Dave about everything we did for the day. Nia did some more googling and planning for our next day’s agenda. I was no longer allowed to hold the 4+ maps because I lost all directional sense. I think I’m gonna need to work on this before I can make an appearance on Amazing Race.