48 Hours in Nice

Back in March I treated my Mum to a weekend away in Nice – for Mother’s Day – and have finally decided to write a few words about it (committing to the back catalogues of the internet that I did something generous once).

The idea came after reading this Emerald Street newsletter, and quite frankly being seduced by the extraordinary blues and hues of the art deco-esque Villa Otero. Upon discovering that rooms and flights were actually very reasonable (£90 for 2 return flights from London Gatwick with EasyJet), I spontaneously booked the trip and then had a whale of time withholding the secret from Mum.

The journey was really smooth. It was one of the first times I just had carry-on luggage and therefore didn’t have to fuss about at baggage claim (also ideal if you’re operating on 2 hours sleep and a hangover – a 7am flight seemed like a good idea at the time – and waiting around just isn’t in your current lexicon). Buses arrive regularly outside the airport and deliver you to the centre of Nice and the train station, near to where our hotel was situated.

The hotel itself was a delightful mixture of comfort and extravagance. The lobby slash dining area is strikingly decorated, a mixture between Parisian Jazz Age opulence and the alfresco cool of the riviera. And everything is polished to a reflection-spawning sheen. I was immediately won over by the free Nespresso and WiFi (oh to be an over-caffeinated, Instagram-obsessed millennial), and further enticed by the promise of free pastries and sweets in the afternoons.

The rooms are compact but well-equipped, and equally eye-catching in their decor. (The interior designer clearly loves a ‘focus wall’ as much as Anna Ryder Richardson from Changing Rooms, circa 2002). We stayed in the one below. Bonus points for the beds being really comfy, the bathrooms being super clean and modern and the full-length mirror in the hallway area being perfect for taking outfit selfies.

Unfortunately on the Saturday we arrived it was pouring with rain (the kind where you think the clouds are detoxing like Victoria Secret’s models or Brides-to-be, in a bid to get rid of their excess water weight), so our plans to stroll to the Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art were scuppered. Nothing a quick nap and some free coffee couldn’t fix however.

That evening I had pre-booked a table at La Maison de Marie, an upscale restaurant near the Place Massena. The food and drink were divine. I had gnocchi with pesto and something chocolate-y for dessert. I remember feeling very decadent and satisfied.

On Sunday, we kicked off proceedings with a bus tour, which is a convenient way to get yourself to all the town’s exemplary extremities, especially when you’re not there for very long.

At our behest (and according to the route on the map), the bus took us towards Port Lympia and up through the winding hills that offer stunning vistas of pebbled beaches and the azure blue of the Mediterranean SeaWe also passed Le Negresco, a palatial, antiquarian hotel on the Promenade des Anglais, which, if you can’t afford the price of its 5-star rooms or Michelin-starred meals, is thought to be a pleasant spot for an after-dinner tipple. Alas, we didn’t get to sample its sumptuous surroundings, but perhaps one to come back to once I’ve made my millions.

We hopped off the bus near the Ascenseur du Château, a brick and mosaic ensconced ascent to Castle Hill which boasts unfathomably scenic views across Old Town and the Port, as well as a surprise waterfall. It was undoubtably one of my favourite parts of the trip, if just for the sheer gorgeousness of the burnt-orange and terracotta tiled roofs, offset by the gleaming blue sea.

Post park-wandering, we then re-boarded our bus and travelled onwards to the leafy Cimiez quarter, home to the Musée Matisse. The building itself is reminiscent of an Italian holiday home, described by Lonely Planet as “a red-ochre 17th-century Genoese villa in an olive grove”. Inside contains a wonderfully broad retrospective of French artist Henri Matisse’s work, from oil paintings and drawings to sculptures, tapestries and his deceptively simple, riotously colourfully cut-outs. For art-lovers and collage-admirers, this is a definite must-see.

That evening we went for dinner at a recommended Italian restaurant called La Voglia, along an adorable little boulevard called Rue Saint-François de Paule near the Opera House, replete with perfume houses and olive oils shops. En route we strolled along the Promenade just as the sun was setting, which if you don’t do at least once each day, are you really even seeing Nice?

On Monday, we strode purposefully towards Old Town, or Vieux Nice, a sequestered part of the city offering shaded, serpentine alleys, boutiques of leather goods and silken fabrics and delis with mouth-watering delicacies. It was here we tried some fantastically fresh tomates provençale and debated whether they would survive the trip home if we stocked up. (The decision, much to my chagrin, was that they would not).

In the centre of the Old Town is the Cours Saleya market, a swarming hive of activity where traders come to sell fresh produce, fish, flowers and more. I was also delighted to discover that on Mondays, it’s home to a gargantuan flea market, where I spent a good few hours rifling through vintage Parisian posters and postcards. It was utter heaven.

To wrap up our trip, we took a stroll through the Promenade du Paillon, a highly manicured and verdant garden planted with lots of different trees and featuring a gorgeous water mirror in the centre. If you’re looking for a serene way to spend an afternoon after a morning of haggling, then look no further.

Nice is a brilliant place for a city break. With the breeze and beauty of the ocean on one side, and the historic charm of the old town, its pleasingly peachy architecture, quaint, cobbled streets and lively restaurants on the other, you can’t go wrong. Sure, it has its seedy patches (and there was dog poop everywhere), the beach is devoid of sand and with its well-monied clientele its not exactly cheap as frites. But whack on your rose-tinted sunglasses, and behold the jewel in the Riviera’s crown.

Finding peace in Prague

After my brief stopover in Leipzig, I caught the train by way of Dresden, to Prague, the attractive Czech capital just as desirable to holidaying couples as it is to rowdy men on stag dos. Since my return, the go-to question on everyone’s lips is ‘what was your favourite place?’ and it’s hard to single out one city as encompassing everything. But Prague comes closest. It’s easily walkable (you’ve been warned, I’m a reluctant customer of public transport, take easily with a pinch of salt) and feels inherently more ‘manageable’ or at least, negotiable than the vastness of Berlin. It also felt like the most ‘holiday’ destination of the pack, what with the extraordinarily good weather, alfresco dining and majestic ambience of the French riviera. Surrounded by castles, operas and fin de siècle cafes, extravagance turned out to be the name of the game.

On my first night I walked from Můstek, where I was staying (on the cusp of the main high street effectively, the central location comes part-and-parcel with the percussive disquiet of late night revellers and general congregations), along part of the River Vltava and towards Old Town. There were clusters of beer-clutching people sat along the river, feet dangling towards the water that immediately evoked those lazy halcyon summer days that it feels increasingly likely we’re going to miss out on in Britain this year. I made a mental note of my route as I passed the Charles Bridge (along with the Old Town Square, the place you’ll trap the most snap-happy tourists. Selfie sticks galore), which I planned to return to in the morning. From there, with my Vitamin D quota quenched, I relaxed into an outdoor seat at Mistral Café.

20160607_192300This modern, minimalist cafe offers a more refined menu than most of your traditional Czech eateries and I definitely recommend it if you’re in the market for something lighter. I had the tofu in coconut milk, red curry and coriander sauce and with vegetable and jasmine rice, which provided a sublime and gently fragranced respite from the pasta-based vegetarian offerings I had grown accustomed to. With an accompanying glass of wine, a mascarpone dessert and a shot of Baileys for good measure, it was here I discovered what good value Prague is. The meal came to 425czk which I promptly discovered equates to 12 whole British pounds. 12 quid! You’d pay that for an alright burger in London, let alone a fancy pants curry with a side of alcohol and dessert. I was so elated I immediately rang my mother. “I’m going to eat SO well” I declared.

Surrounded by castles, operas and fin de siècle cafes, extravagance turned out to be the name of the game.

I wandered home via Old Town Square, a thriving historical site, deemed to be the heart and soul of the city, whereupon iconic buildings such at St. Nicholas’ Church and monuments such as the Astronomical Clock fringe the cobble-stone interior; a venue for markets circa the middle ages. Milling around the square these days, you’ll find large groups of tourists and holidaymakers, soaking up the sunshine and eclectic architecture whilst sipping on some Pilsner Urquell.

I stayed in an Airbnb not far from the main railway station; a spacious private room that allowed me all the luxuries of living alone (5pm bath-time became a thing) for 4 nights for just £75. Plus (or minus, depending on your taste for risk) the complex where the flat was located had continually rotating lifts – no stopping, no starting, no doors, no floors – just hop in (be quick about it) and hop out at your desired destination. It became a game for me to launch myself into said lift and not wait for the ‘box’ to reach my level. Such are the lengths one has to go to for amusement when travelling by oneself.

My first proper day in Prague consisted of an early start, grabbing a Czech pastry (something in the shape of a stick, with a sweet-cheese filling) and a coffee to go, and walking across the Charles Bridges as the city stretched itself awake. I couldn’t recommend visiting the bridge before the crowds beat you to it enough. It’s distinctly less stressful and allows more time to luxuriate in the staggering views.

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Another advantage to the early start is that hiking up towards Prague castle becomes a much more pleasant endeavour when not done in the heat of the day. Prague Castle is a medieval fortress marketed as the largest in the world and potentially the basis for the Disney logo considering the fairytale comparisons it inspires. It’s no wonder you see handfuls of couples using the backdrop for their wedding photos. A ‘long tour’ ticket will set you back 350czk (a tenner), and includes access to St Vitus’ Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, Story of Prague Castle, Basilica of St George, Powder Tower, Golden Lane and Rosenberg Palace. The gardens were unequivocally my favourite aspect of the vast complex, offering unparalleled views over the city and a tranquil destination for some post-breakfast ponderings.

Once completing the circuit of the castle, I headed up towards the Strahov Monastery, which considering my disinterest in religion might appear a strange choice, but this Premonstratensian abbey also lays claim to a library housing 16k+ books, a stucco-panelled theological hall and generally just some very pristine interiors which deserve appreciation. I was one of about four people wandering around at the time, which made for a serene and slightly uncanny experience.

The other main attraction in Hradčany (the Castle District) is the Petrin Observation Tower, which is purportedly taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You have to pay 100czk and climb 299 steps (up a spiral staircase) for the privilege of panoramic views, but consider it your work-out for the day and it’s also located within a rather charming park, so unless you suffer vertigo, or have an aversion to awe-inspiring scenery, definitely check it out.

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At this point, I was deserving of lunch. I walked back towards Old Town via the Lennon Wall, a bohemian, peace-espousing mural inspired by the famously iconoclastic Beatle, which has become a prime spot for millennials to snap cute Instagram pictures of themselves. It was painted over in 2014, but has since been reborn with another generation of artists, resistant or otherwise, making their mark on the city.

I had lunch at Kafka Snob Food a darkly lit cafe-bistro with turquoise interiors, tan leather booths, eclectically-coloured chairs, exposed steel-ducts and brick walls. It wouldn’t look out of place in Shoreditch. The menu consists of Italian pasta dishes and a delectable array of pastries to satiate the appetite you’ve worked up after some hefty touristing.

Milling around the square these days, you’ll find large groups of tourists and holidaymakers, soaking up the sunshine and eclectic architecture whilst sipping on some Pilsner Urquell.

I then walked back towards Old Town Square and popped into the Prague City Gallery where they were hosting a retrospective of the works of David Cronenberg. Random, perhaps, but a dynamic and insightful overview of the Canadian director’s oeuvre nevertheless. The exhibition also included a cinema where they showed two of his films a day. I caught a middle section of Fast Company, a lovably hokey drag-racing movie that feels more Linklater than Cronenberg. There are plenty of other galleries in Prague to seek out if contemporary art is your thing.

That night I sampled a taste of extravagance at the opera. I booked a last minute ticket to see Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Estates Theatre or Stavovské divadlo, Prague’s oldest theatre and where Mozart premiered his magnum opus Don Giovanni. The surroundings are plush and as when entering a library you feel compelled to be on your best behaviour; spine straight, shoulders back, no yawning or rustling. Not that distractions or boredom are likely when the entertainment is this extraordinary. Classical music and operatic singing are unfathomable talents; otherworldly and transcendent. Even if I didn’t always understand what was going (a German opera being translated into Czech with additional English subtitles) the music was always there to elevate the simplistic plot – kidnap, love, betrayal e.t.c – into something enchanting. Even though I only forked out for gallery seats, the venue is intimate enough that you don’t require binoculars or too much strenuous craning to appreciate the onstage happenings. It was a pretty magical setting to experience the opera for the first time.

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The next day in Prague I visited Vysehrad, another castle on a hill. If historical buildings and ruins aren’t really your thing, I’d say do Prague castle and maybe skip this one. It’s slightly further out and not quite as extraordinary. That being said, the cemetery and basilica provide a beautiful spot for some vacation-induced contemplation; tackling life’s big existential questions etcetera and because of its subsidiary status in Prague’s castle-off is much more subdued place in which to do so.

Also factor the Dancing House into your strolls. I happened upon it after Vysehrad and it’s contemporary, jutting structures provided a striking contrast to the historical architecture in the city. Its avant-garde, deconstructivist style is the brainchild of local architect Vlado Milunic and US import Frank Gehry. Whilst fairly inconsistent with the rest of the city’s more traditional aesthetic, it makes for a diverting (in a good way) addition.

I then retreated to Cafe Savoy for an afternoon spent perusing English newspapers and reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Housed in a fin de siècle building with tall, light-beckoning windows, reflective chandeliers, and marble-topped tables spanning a fluid split-level seating arrangement, its glittering interior harkens back to the belle epoque. A.k.a. It’s well posh, innit. For food I had the foamy pea soup, a vibrant, almost offensive shade of green, which was divine if a little on the airy side, (and a side of fries) followed up with the guide-book recommended apple strudel (or Štrůdl, as it’s known in Czech), which is so well-renowned it takes pride of place on the counter – freshly baked – and is sliced upon request. Customers frequently popped in just to order that. The waiters were crisply-dressed and suitably attentive and fellow customers gave off an air of rarefied gentry. I felt a bit like Leonardo DiCaprio eating with 1st class guests aboard the Titanic, without the slicked back hair and tailcoat.

 

 

The next day I decided to take a brief respite from the city and catch a tram to Divoká Šárka, a nature reserve on the outskirts of the capital and trekked around the gorge. It was reminiscent of Slovenia, though not quite as breathtaking. Still, the cool air, bird calls and trickle of the stream that runs through the valley was an agreeable divergence from the sonorous city.

It being my last night I decided to sample even more of Prague’s ritzy cuisine and opted for Cafe Slavia, situated opposite the National Opera and overlooking the banks of the river Vlatva. In it’s heyday the cafe was said to the haunt of Kafka and his bohemian cronies, including Václav Havel, a play of who’s (The Garden Party) I was reading during my meal. It was a sprawling, resplendent affair, from the moment I spontaneously splashed out on a bottle of expensive Italian wine all to myself, to the three course extravaganza I proceeded to languidly devour. Considering its 300-seat capacity and penchant for being crammed, it was remarkably quiet, punctuated only by chit-chat and the piano player in the far corner. If good food and a little romance are what you’re after, Cafe Slavia isn’t to be overlooked.

Prague was sort of a like a lavish love affair that wined and dined me, but that I knew wouldn’t last. It was 3.5 days of picturesque idyll and kaleidoscopic sunsets, and Munich was the rainy reality that set in afterwards. However cursory, it became a symbol of my victory over solo travel. I never once thought about the oddness or awkwardness of my self-enforced solitude, I simply luxuriated in it. And for that Prague will be dearly cherished.

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48 Hours in Brussels

 The New York Times published an article in 2015 declaring Brussels the ‘new’ Berlin, a statement one can’t help but feel has been shoe-horned in to lure readers as opposed to accurately describing its supposed cultural revolution.

If Brussels and Berlin are related, the former is the adorable, well-meaning cousin to the otherworldly, exciting main attraction. The kind of relatives that would have others questioning said kinship.

“For decades, Europe’s buttoned-up political center had a reputation for stodginess and chilliness. No longer: Brussels has quietly emerged as one of the continent’s most exciting creative hubs”.

So The New York Times pronounced. I would proffer that whilst Brussels’ buttons remain firmly fastened, therein lies its charm. Berlin might be loose, hallucinatory and brilliant, but Brussels will quietly seduce you. Here are the sights and scenes that particularly caught my eye…

Parc de Cinquantenaire 

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Situated in the European quarter this large, manicured public park is the site of both impressive architecture, sprawling greenery and perhaps the best spot for views of the cityscape. If you head towards the arch and turn left you’ll happen upon The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces, step inside and ask at reception for entry to the ‘Arcades’ (4 euros), you then walk past the armour and artillery and a few floors up you’ll discover a platform upon which to revel in the unparalleled views of the city.

Châtelain Area; Parlor Coffee Shop, Le Typographe

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The Châtelain neighbourhood exudes an air of Parisian grandeur and certainly the businesses in the area speak to that well-monied reputation. Bespoke design and printing shop ‘Le Typographe’ is located on Rue Americaine and has a delectable array of stationary to peruse. Whilst Parlor Coffee is renowned for serving up some of the best caffeine in the Belgian capital, all in suitably serene surroundings.

L’Archiduc

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On Rue Antoine Dansaert lies an establishment with an exterior painted electric blue. It’s neon sign reads ‘L’Archiduc’, an intriguingly exotic name with connotations of eminence and majesty. Ring a bell on the street and you enter a steel bubble swing door like entering a bank, or an ornate hotel. This spins you out into an art deco room replete with high ceilings, a half-moon balcony, pillars to the roof, a piano in the middle and a tiny corner bar, a quixotic, beguiling establishment where jazz and cocktails coalesce. When you rotate once again through the door and reacquaint yourself with the pavement, you’ll be surprised to find yourself in the modern day.

La Grand Place, Café Aroma

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Like the Trafalgar of London or the Piazza San Marco of Venice, La Grand Place is Brussels’ central square, surrounded by ornately-gabled buildings and enlivened by the perpetual throng of tourists. After craning your neck towards the sky and doing the customary 360 intake of your surroundings head towards Café Aroma. You’ll pay astronomical prices for any beverage and pastry in this location, but head up to their third floor for a wonderful, window-side perspective of the ongoings down below.

Antiques Market at La Grand Sablon

3053693657_1b4dda450fBecause I really am 60 years old at heart, no trip is complete without a stroll through an antiques market and a search for some black & white postcards of wherever it is I’m visiting. Le Place Du Grand Sablon, a sequestered, cobble-stoned square is home to such an antiques market every Sunday. Though small and sedate, you’ll be charmed by the curious array of collectibles and if that doesn’t float your boat, the square is ensconced by chocolate shops, so you can search for treasure elsewhere.

Egmont Park, La Fabrique Café

egmontEgmont Park is a little-known haven not far from La Place Du Grand Sablon. Amid arches and ivy-lined pillars, compounding the air of seclusion, you’ll find a small patch of greenery, a statue, a fountain and a friendly cafe by the name of La Fabrique. Not that you really need an oasis in Brussels, the city in general has a somnolent atmosphere that perfectly accommodates Sunday brunches and brooding strolls. But were you in the market for one, Egmont Park has you covered.

Rues Haute and Rues Blaes

Flea-market-and-radio-equipmentOn a rainy Sunday in a Brussels, I couldn’t think of anything more enchanting than dipping in and out of the antique warehouses peppered along these two parallel roads. The shops are often multi-storied havens, packed to the rafters with kitsch paraphernalia like cigarette dispensers, typewriters, cassette players and brightly-coloured, curved sofas that could easily belong on the set of Mad Men. You’ll lose hours as well as decades as you pore over regalia of times gone by.

 

Amid handsome facades and refined gentility, its worth noting that there are small traces of the terrorist attacks that occurred in the city back in March. Etchings in concrete and soldiers bearing rifles standing watchfully outside choice Metro stations serve as reminders that despite the cobbled-streets and chocolate shops, terrorism penetrated a tourist’s paradise. It may have shaken the city out of its lackadaisical surveillance, but the air of calmness pervades.

Moderate, historic and the scene of pastoral loveliness, whilst the flourishing café/art scene has given fuel to its rebranding fire, beneath rumours of its hipness, Brussels remains the kind of place you’d happily bring your parents to. Whereas Berlin is still, very much, the bearded, pierced, tattooed boyfriend you’d rather they weren’t aware of.

 

Copenhagen

A sojourn to the Danish capital.

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A mere 90-minute plane journey away, Copenhagen is fast-becoming a savvy alternative to the Paris’, Berlin’s and Rome’s of the city-break posse.

Lonely Planet have labelled it the “coolest kid on the Nordic block” and certainly it manages to combine the quaint, cobble-stone feel of a historical town with the cutting-edge design and world class cuisine of a bustling metropolis, resulting in a delightfully urbane, whilst equally sedate, experience.

Day One

bicycleThe first thing you notice is the sheer amount of bicycles. They dominate every pavement, both in parked and transit form. There are wide cycling lanes adjoined to each pedestrian pavement, giving it a far more relaxed feel than the chaos that is London where cyclists basically merge onto the road and have to fight it out with buses, taxis and cars for the right to stay alive. Cycling appears to be more seamlessly assimilated into Danish culture, wherein – without resorting to hyperbole – literally EVERYONE does it.

In London you generally expect to see enthusiasts donning Lycra and trainers, whereas in Copenhagen whatever you’re wearing is deemed suitable bike-riding attire. It’s refreshingly unfussy. Their free-for-all, mixed ability attitude to cycling is decidedly appealing and it’s practicality as a mode of transport is something other cities could do well to adopt.

Our Danish digs came courtesy of Airbnb, and we stayed in a beautifully rustic, spacious and minimalist apartment in the Vesterbro area, a place I’ve come to refer to as the Hackney of Copenhagen.

Vesterbro is still shedding its former skin as a red-light district, and despite being named as Thrillist’s No. 4 Most Hipster Neighbourhood in the entire world – a result no doubt of the slow trickle of gentrification and artistry seeping into the otherwise seedy surroundings – is peppered with enough strip clubs, erotica shops and adult-themed bars to give the game away.

Still, there are some hidden treasures to be discovered amidst the sauciness. Many of which lie on the Værnedamsvej street;

  • Granola (more of which later)
  • Dola (vintage knick knacks, interior design adornments and adorable furnishings that make you wish you’d brought more spending money).
  • Blomsterskuret (flowers galore)
  • Playtype Concept Store (for fans of font and minimalist design)

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After our wanderings through Vesterbro, we visited the famed Tivoli Gardens.

Tivoli is what you get if you cross Thorpe Park, Duloc (that eerie town from Shrek) and a German beer garden. It’s essentially a theme park where you pay £9 for the pleasure of strolling around and seeing everything else you have to shell out money for. If you’re feeling frivolous and particularly youthful, Tivoli is fun to check out and in the summer there are fireworks and gigs to keep you entertained for longer than the length of a rollercoaster ride. However if you’re looking to remain within a tight budget and don’t have a lot of time in Copenhagen, I would seriously ignore the guidebooks that label Tivoli a must-see and instead carve out time for the more rewarding sights.

For dinner we visited an organic pizza kitchen and cocktail bar called Neighbourhood, situated on a higgledy-piggledy street called Istedgade which sees bars and boutiques nestled among the topless clubs and surprising amount of wig shops.

It’s a vibrant, buzzing hangout where rustic, communal tables give it the neighbour-y feel and the size of the pizzas will certainly make you glad of walking home. Everything is fresh, fair-trade and tasty as fuck. The cocktails also riff-off the history of the area, e.g. “RED LIGHT LIQUID fresh, fruity, sour like a pimp”. I sampled this incredibly potent bad boy:

EXPRESSO’D RUM smooth, boozy, caffeine kick
Coffee and vanilla infused organic golden rum, chocolate cocktail bitters, stirred the old fashioned way with an orange twist

After which I was glad of a lie down… 

Day Two

My superbly planned itinerary kicked into action, with a stroll to Torverhallerne Market; an indoor food emporium that caters to all kinds of artisanal and acquired tastes.

There are two parallel compartments, one which houses delicatessens, shops and eateries, and the other which serves and sells the fresh items (fish, meat, pastries, e.t.c). The glass and steel halls, which are surrounded by trees and benches, host about 80 vendors in total, and peddle everything from seasonal herbs and berries, to smoked meats, seafood and cheeses, smørrebrød (traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches), fresh pasta, and hand-brewed coffee. Think Borough Market only more sedate, structured and Scandinavian.

porridgeWe made a stop at a branch of famed porridge café (give me chance to explain), Grød, which translates as ‘gruel’ – or porridge if you’re not in the cast of Oliver! – in Danish.
It’s a haven of oat-based nourishment, and the furthest thing from bland you could possibly imagine. With a variety of toppings and additions, you can stick to the menu or create your own blend as you watch it stirred and served before your very eyes. I opted for the original porridge, accompanied by an Icelandic yoghurt called Skyr, apple compote and granola. It was nothing less than spectacular. The kind of hearty goodness that makes a crisp wintry morning (or an unseasonably warm day in a city) seem manageable.

With our souls and stomachs truly tended to, we headed to the Botanical Gardens, a beautiful expanse of greenery that boasts 10 hectares of exotic flora and fauna and makes for a delightful setting in which to relax and ruminate.

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The Round Tower was next on the agenda, which as the name suggests is a striking cylindrical building, offering panoramic views of the city. What’s more, to accomplish such a feat, you don’t to have ascend a ridiculous number of stairs, but rather meander up a slope. A win-win situation if ever I’ve known one.

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From the top of the tower we spotted the Rosenborg gardens and decided they looked particularly pleasant and deserved further exploration. We didn’t head inside the Rosenborg castle, but true to the view from afar, the surroundings were delightful.

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For dinner we headed back to the Istedgade to a local cafe called Bang & Jensen that serves cheap and cheerful comfort food and cocktails. I had the bizarre blend of a vegetarian curry with several white Russians. I’m not sure I sampled everything that Danish cuisine had to offer and this isn’t the kind of place that Noma-enthusiasts would care to frequent, but for a reasonably priced and substantial meal, I couldn’t recommend anything better.

DAY THREE

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If you like avocado, Copenhagen is well-equipped to indulge your cravings. Ours were satiated at a modern establishment called The Union Kitchen, famed for its breakfast menu and balls.

Yes you read that correctly. Located on a side street off the lively, cafe-ridden and somewhat touristy Nyhavn (a.k.a the picturesque, multi-coloured panorama that accompanies every mention of Copenhagen), this dark, dive bar-esque haunt belies the jolly atmosphere and spunky attitude.

I didn’t have the balls, nor the appetite to sample the cheekier offerings on their menu. However the avocado and poached egg on toast sufficed admirably.

We immediately hopped on a NyNyhavn2havn boat tour, which ticks off most of the capital’s landmarks and architectural highlights in the lean time of 1 hour. I’d definitely recommend taking the trip in the morning, as it avoided peak time and provided delightful respite from the city environment.

During the trip you get to see the playhose, the opera house, the library, the notorious Little Mermaid (small, but perfectly formed) and various other historical facades.

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Our jam (and what turned out to be avocado) packed day continued with a stroll past the Marble Church to the Amalienborg Palace (the winter residence of the Danish royal family, dahhling).

the-marble-church-in-cobenhagen-frederiks-kirke-marmorkirken-marianne-granum-blogThe Marble Church is a particularly impressive sight, known for its rococo architecture. Certainly, the golden and turquoise tincture of the building lent an air of opulence.

The nearby garden, fountain and sparkling view of the river make this a worthwhile place to spend some time, and we stretched out the experience even further by coinciding our visit with the changing of the guard. (Did someone say well-planned itinerary?!)

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Powering forth, we then paid a visit to the Design Museum, situated mere minutes from the Palace. A bit like London’s V+A, the Museum offers insight into a variety of crafts from illustration, jewellery and fashion to contemporary furniture design and ceramics. I found the lights on display the most striking, predominantly because it afforded me the opportunity to be really pretentious and arty with my photography.

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With our cultural thirsts quenched (I would have loved to visit the National Gallery and the more remote Louisiana Museum of Modern Arts, but alas I had to compromise with two philistines), we meandered on toward Kastellet – a contender for highlight of my trip.

Kastellet is deemed to be one of the most pristinely preserved fortifications in Europe, and still operates as a military facility. Cue lots of muscular army men jogging around the perimeter.

It was a very visually arresting place, with the vibrant red brick of the buildings contrasting magnificently with the blue skies and green grass. N.B. It was the kind of fresh, soft grass that I would’ve happily rolled down had I not been wearing white. (No doubt it would’ve made for a splendid Persil advertorial).

Kastellat2

From above, Kastellet forms the shape of a pentagram and much like the bird’s eye view of its layout everything here seemed ordered and uniform. It’s a beautiful place to take a stroll (in a city that offers a plethora of areas to complete such an activity), and when combined with the glorious sunshine, it’s fully deserving of all the superlatives with which I’ve labelled it.

Kastellat3    images-2

DAY FOUR

For breakfast we visited Granola, the aforementioned cafe that has it’s charmingly antiquated ambience down pat. What’s more, the breakfast is on point – offering everything from granola and yoghurt to omelettes and sausages. It’s very Parisian and perhaps not especially Danish, but it’s got a sterling reputation for a reason.

Our last day, I have to admit, I fluffed massively in the planning stakes. I mistook the buildings within Frederiksberg gardens for Frederiksborg Palace which unlike the latter you cannot visit. Secondly, the Cisternerne – an underground grotto, besieged by stalagmites was closed on a Monday.

We wondered through the tranquil grounds anyway and were rewarded with a peek into the elephant and flamingo enclosures of the Copenhagen Zoo, however there wasn’t much else here to particularly impress. N.B. the Carlsberg Brewery is nearby and offers a free tour and two free pints – also closed on a Monday. Never has a lesson in preparation failure tasted so bitter.

Frederiskberg2

Frederiksberg

Still, the trip wasn’t completely ruined.

Denmark took the top spot on the United Nation’s World Happiness Report, 2013 & 2014 and came in third in the 2015 report, following closely behind Switzerland and Iceland.

Copenhagen certainly gives you lots of reasons to understand why.