Copenhagen (and Christiania), Denmark

Christiania canal; Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is a beautiful city: diminutive, approachable, and with canals not entirely unlike Amsterdam. The first thing I noticed about Denmark is that its people are more welcoming than Swedes, who can be a bit standoffish or introverted (although I was told this changes dramatically in warmer months). The second thing I noticed about Denmark is that it's expensive. I never did quite figure out the exchange rate, but nothing is cheap in Copenhagen.

I took a canal tour, during which I stumbled upon, "Den lille havfrue," or, The Little Mermaid, a statue honoring Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the same name. The statue was commissioned more than 100 years ago by the son of the guy who founded Carlsberg beer. The statue itself was underwhelming, boring even, but I don't particularly enjoy statues.

More interesting was my visit to Christiania (Fristaden Christiania, or Freetown Christiania), an autonomous neighborhood in the Christianshavn borough of Copenhagen. Christiania is more than 40 years old, and today there are less than 1,000 residents. Originally it was founded by squatters taking advantage of the military barracks in the region. Christiania is perhaps most famous for its open-air hash and marijuana markets, technically illegal but widely tolerated.

Christiania is nearly 100 acres, but the drug trade is small by comparison: less than a city block.

I explored the neighborhoods of Christiania for nearly two hours. I saw children playing on a homemade zip-line, a broken-down skateboard half-pipe, and schools, apartments and poorly painted but colorful structures used for who knows what. Christiania was both beautiful and sad. Most of the beauty was concentrated near where Christiania meets the canal.

Another thing that I found interesting: Danish culture is aggressively secular, yet nearly the entire city was closed for the Easter holidays, starting the Thursday beforehand. There was some sort of big football match that day, so instead of shops and restaurants for entertainment, there were scores of drunks in the streets, being babysat by Danish police who didn't seem to mind low-level burning. Small bonfires lined the sidewalks, fueled by empty beer cans and trash. On a side note, I drank some great beer in Copenhagen. I particularly enjoyed Mikkeler Green Easter (7%). I also ate at one of the better restaurants I've experienced in a while: Radio, where the ingredients were few and fresh. The menu was enigmatic, so I didn't know exactly what to expect. Just say yes, and trust the chef. To finish the meal, there was carrot ice cream with thinly shaved carrot garnish and some sort of sweet croutons with cream.

All of this may paint picture that is rougher than the truth. Copenhagen is a beautiful city, and one I'd revisit without hesitation, although I'd prefer to see it in the summer. The canals would be a wonderful backdrop for a picnic. Also, it's true: The Danish make wonderful Danish pastries.

"No hard drugs," one of the nine rules of Christiania common law.

Carrot ice cream, at Radio restaurant in Copenhagen.