As the first snows of the season hit Volgograd, I made my escape on a long-planned one-week trip to Scandinavia. I had negotiated permission to go during the school’s busiest season as part of my new contract, and while my main focus was on a competitive event involving an ancient computer game (I won’t go into details), it was also an opportunity for a little tourism, and to gather fresh stocks of food not available in Russia.
My flight left at 8.00 am meaning I really needed to be at the airport by about 7 am at the latest. The problem was there was no clear information on when the buses and marshrutkas to the airport started, and if I relied on them I risked arriving too late. I’m not very good with taxis – I doubt I could order one over the phone in Russian and I don’t have the kind of phone where I can install an app, so in the event I made my way to the central station (keeping an opportunistic eye out for early buses) and tried to find a taxi.
I’m not certain the guy I found was actually a taxi driver, his car didn’t have any kind of meter, but he seemed willing enough to take me to the airport, and I was so anxious to get there I wasn’t worried about the charge. In the event he wanted 1000 roubles (about £10) which I was happy to give him.
I was travelling with my friend, Janna, who was having her own difficulties driving to Sheremetova airport (in Moscow) through heavy traffic, and hadn’t arrived by the time my plane from Volgograd landed. She got there just before the gates were meant to close and we finally got to share our first flight together. We had to transfer at Helsinki airport but there were many interesting shops and I found some of my favourite “Carl Fazer” Finnish chocolate that can only sporadically be found in Volgograd. I bought Janna a cheese slicer.
We arrived in Copenhagen and made our way to the car rental centre (which is a short free bus ride from the terminals) to pick up our rental car for the week, a black Ford Focus estate. Our next stop was our AirBnB host, Michael who lives in the Amager district of Copenhagen – it is a city made up of several small islands and Amager is the one to the south of the city centre, containing the airport.
It was my first AirBnB experience and it wasn’t unpleasant, we had an interesting room full of books, Michael was happy to furnish us with food and information about the city, and there were lots of nice little shops nearby, including a bakery. I was thrilled to taste proper crusty bread which doesn’t seem to be a feature of Russian cuisine.
In the morning we went to the nearby beach to look at Copenhagen’s new famous attraction, the Öresund Bridge connecting it to Sweden. It is actually a tunnel under the sea for part of the way, allowing shipping to go through the Öresund Sound, but there is a physical bridge connecting the mouth of the tunnel to Sweden.
Later on, we drove through the tunnel and over the bridge on our way to Malmö.
Michael had told us there wasn’t much to see in Malmö, but we wanted to visit the Ribersborg Bathhouse, a sauna and pool complex on a little island connected to the shore by a boardwalk. Front of house was a little cafe where you could buy tea, coffee and cakes, and tickets to the baths. The baths were strictly segregated; men on one side, women on the other and the only place they could meet was in one of the five saunas, the coolest one. Outside, there were pools where you could swim after a sauna, or if you were very brave, you could climb (or dive) into the sea!
Even after getting yourself well heated in the sauna, the cold sea-wind was too much of a deterrent for me to go into the sea. Janna eventually braved the pool on the women’s side, which still felt ice-cold, and told me about her invigorating swim. I tried to go in and only got waist deep before I decided it was too cold, but after one more session in the sauna I did eventually take the plunge and go all the way in. I “swam” about 3 strokes before getting out and hurrying back to the warmth of the sauna!
We dried off then warmed up in the cafe for a while, and then explored a bit more of Malmö. We saw the famous “twisty tower” and walked around Malmö Castle and gardens.
Our next stop was the university town of Lund. It is most famous for its very old two-towered cathedral, but has many other picturesque buildings and sculptures. We also found a produce market with multiple varieties of cheese, many available to taste, of which Janna took full advantage.
We spent 3 nights in Landskrona as that was where my competition was taking place, at the football stadium as it happened. On our first evening we had a very tasty meal at a restaurant called Fellini – one of my competitors said it was the best steak he had had in years. The strawberry cheesecake we had for dessert was also delicious (though the serving was rather small).
We stayed at the Hotel Öresund, which had an epic breakfast buffet available. The bread rolls were not so nice but they had tasty crusty bread, toast and marmalade, and for Janna a selection of hams and cheeses. If you were interested they also had traditional Swedish herring and mackerel based spreads. Happily they also had fresh, full cream milk. I had some of the best breakfasts of my life in those three days!
On the second morning we did some exploration before the competition restarted, and walked around Landskrona Citadel, like the one in Malmö it was also surrounded by a moat and raised earthwork ramparts. We also found some interesting sculptures in the park between the castle and the hotel.
After the competition finished we drove up to Helsingborgs to take the ferry back to Denmark, arriving in just half an hour or so at the similarly named Helsingør – known in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet as Elsinore. The castle there is actually called Kronborg, there is a legend that a sleeping king there will awaken one day when Denmark needs him.
We had a little walk around the town – we found another cheese shop and Janna bought some more cheese, and then made our way to the next castle.
Fredensborg Palace is the spring and autumn residence of the Danish Royal Family, and parts of it are only open to the public in the summer. The palace looks beautiful from the front and there is a long tree-lined boulevard around the boundaries.
We went to look at one feature called the Valley of the Norsemen – a circular garden containing about 200 statues of Danish and Greenlander figures from various walks of life.
Our final stop before darkness fell was Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød. This is an impressive red-brick castle, again surrounded by a moat, with huge courtyards, cloisters and clock-towers. In the main courtyard there is a fountain featuring a statue of Neptune.
Finally we reached our second AirB&B host in the north-western district of the city. This time we only had mattresses rather than a proper bed, but on the plus side, the house had two very playful and friendly (though not to each other) cats.
As soon as we unpacked we went into central Copenhagen and checked out Tivoli Gardens. I thought this was going to be actual gardens, but it was more of a large funfair park. Because it was Halloween the next day, it was heavily decorated, very crowded and more expensive than normal. We discovered the fee we paid at the gate did not include any rides, we had to buy additional tickets for those. It seemed a bit of a tourist trap. Unfortunately at the gate we had paid for 2-day tickets so we were committed to coming back again the following day. Janna was keen to ride one of the roller-coasters, me less so.
After an Indian meal (I do miss Indian food in Russia…) we returned to our cats. The following day we explored Copenhagen in daylight. We had breakfast in a bakery (Lagkagehuset), before looking at Amelienborg Palace, the colourful canal street Nyhavn (Noo-havun), the star-shaped Kastellat fortress, the Little Mermaid statue, and the hippie-druggy zone of Copenhagen, Christiana Freetown. We did go back to Tivoli and Janna rode on the roller-coaster, and then we went back for our final night in Scandinavia.
During my travels I picked up some tinned tomato soup – impossible to get in Russia but useful for me in cooking. I re-stocked on polo mints, and in Landskrona I even found some British-style salt and vinegar crisps, only in large-sized packets, however. At Helsinki airport I grabbed a whole load of Carl Fazer chocolate. It was a challenge to fit it all into my suitcase but I had chosen to fly with checked-in luggage on this particular trip specifically for this reason. It meant a lot more time waiting around at baggage reclaim, but it was worth it!