Before I embarked on a trip from my home in Cayman Brac to Denmark last July with my six-year-old son, Daniel, I planned a flexible itinerary for the two weeks away with the premise that things could change at any moment.
While I wanted us to experience a fairy tale adventure in the home of world famous Legoland and storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, I also wanted us to be prepared should there be any unwanted surprises but overseas travel with my precocious six year old always presents a truly rewarding experience.
It wouldn’t be our first trip abroad together.
I have travelled with Daniel to Maine, New York and Florida in the United States on numerous occasions, the Bahamas last year on a Disney cruise, and to the Czech Republic when he was 19 months old.
In Prague, I pushed Daniel in a stroller on the cobblestoned streets of Old Town and down the steep hill from Karlstein Castle.
We toured Terezin, the only concentration camp in Czechoslovakia in WW2, and we enjoyed a delightful performance of Don Giovanni at the Marionette Opera.
My greatest concerns then were his baby asthma, finding food that he would eat, and how I would change his diaper at a crowded restaurant.
But a little boy doesn’t fit in a stroller forever, and with his asthma better controlled and his need for diaper changes now being a thing of the past, our needs for meaningful, fun travel in Denmark were different.
Days are much longer in Scandinavia in the summertime than they are in the Caribbean.
People are out in throngs nearly around the clock.
Darkness does not set in until 10:30 at night and early morning light shines through cracks around the hotel drapes by 4:00am.
This time of year northern Europe also starts to experience its few weeks of warm weather.
The gargantuan Imperial Hotel in Copenhagen is located at Vester Farimagsgade, a couple of blocks from the Central Train Station and Tivoli Gardens, northern Europe’s oldest amusement park.
We settled into our room on the fifth floor that first day by 7:00 pm.
With the sun still shining bright, we decided to spend a few hours at Tivoli Gardens, 20 acres of beautiful flower gardens, quaint restaurants, duck ponds, Chinese street lanterns, roller coasters and fun rides, silly games, and hordes of ice cream, cotton candy and hot dog stands.
Elvis Costello was scheduled to perform at the Concert Hall.
We went on a few rides.
Buying a couple of Day Passes at 7:00 pm was much cheaper than paying for individual rides for three hours.
The next morning, after exchanging money at Forex at the Central Train Station, we had breakfast at one of the train station cafes.
Daniel ordered a cup of hot chocolate that to his surprise was not as sweet as hot chocolate at home, so he only took a few sips.
Considering the very high cost of food and beverages in Denmark (a small bottle of Coca Cola Light cost nearly US$5.00 wherever we went) I realized that we would have to forgo an indulgence in local cuisine simply because it was too expensive.
Even a Kid’s Meal at Burger King cost over US$10.00, and the ketchup was extra.
Luckily, a small grocery store next to the Imperial Hotel was a great source of fresh fruit, bread and cheese.
After breakfast we took a Quickshaw, a large tricycle attached to a covered carriage, to Nyhavn, a man made canal that was completed in the 17th Century to improve commercial opportunities for Danish fisherman.
Red, yellow and blue homes over 250 years old line the canal. Apparently in the course of his life, Hans Christian Andersen lived in three of them.
At Nyhavn we took a DFDS Canal Tour.
Daniel had many questions for me. So many that I couldn’t hear the tour guide as he spoke about the Copenhagen Opera House and something about the Danish Royal Navy celebrating its 500th anniversary.
Daniel had his own questions, mostly about all of the old, dilapidated fishing vessels lining the canals that no one else paid much attention to and the one I shall never forget, “Mom, how did they get all this water in here?”
That’s my Daniel.
None of the tourist books referenced the old fishing vessels lining the canal; Daniel appreciated the unappreciated.
After the canal tour we took a Hop On – Hop Off double-decker sightseeing bus from Nyhavn to the site of the famous Little Mermaid (she’s modelled after the fairy tale by the same name written by Hans Christian Andersen; this past summer she was on display in Beijing, China) and back to City Hall Square.
Most of the City Hall Square area was a construction zone.
I was disappointed until it was obvious that the maze of construction equipment and re-routing of pedestrian sidewalks and busy bike lanes was mesmerizing to Daniel.
I had doubted assertions in Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Scandinavia that kids actually enjoy statues until Daniel took great interest in statues of King Christian IV, Hans Christian Andersen, and the striking Gefion Fountain, a large monument of the goddess of Gefion donated to the city by the Carlsberg Foundation at the beginning of the 20th Century.
It was a particular delight for me to see the beautiful Hotel D’Angleterre, which happened to be where a few minutes of my favourite movie, Torn Curtain, were filmed forty years ago.
Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) stood in the foyer asking for directions to a bookshop while her handsome fiancé Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) was just getting out of the shower.
Just northwest of Copenhagen on the Jutland Peninsula (a 30 minute plane ride away) is the world famous Legoland Billund, a delightful park crammed with enormous replicas of animals and famous buildings made completely of Lego and a plethora of amusement park rides and games nestled in a beautiful forest.
Indiana Jones memorabilia was everywhere.
On the Jutland Peninsula, we lodged at the quaint Hotel Propellen located just beyond a cluster of evergreen trees adjacent to Legoland.
Serving a delicious continental breakfast of every imaginable European breakfast food from fresh yogurt to fresh whole grain bread to delicious scrambled eggs, the hotel was truly a child-friendly place to stay.
After we spent several hours at Legoland each day, Daniel enjoyed playing quietly on the swing-set in the back yard of the hotel while I had a chance to rest and read for a while.
At the Pirate Water Falls at Legoland Billund, Daniel played for only a few minutes before I demanded that we find something else to do.
The Pirate Water Falls is a colourful, fun play area for kids; it includes an old pirate ship and climbing equipment with water spraying out and a huge bucket at the top that fills with water and tips over soaking everyone around.
When he came up behind me at one point while I was very nervously trying to find him, I told him we had to leave.
I was surprised there was no fuss.
A few moments later he was sitting beside me in the Pirate Splash Battle boat laughing hysterically as I got soaked.
I was glad that I had sealed my camera, money, hotel room key, maps, pamphlets etc. in large Ziploc bags in which I had originally packed our toiletries for the flight over.
The day after we returned to Copenhagen from our trip to the Jutland Peninsula, we took a train to Malmo, Sweden for the day.
The Central Train Station in Malmo was rather run-down, but we found our way to the Tourist Office where we got a map of the city.
We crossed a bridge and down below floated a jam packed bicycle park that held up to 1,000 bicycles.
As in Copenhagen, the wide sidewalks in Malmo were crowded with hundreds of old-fashioned bicycles.
It is no wonder that Scandinavians are for the most part slender people; wherever we went people of all ages passed us gaily on their bicycles.
We decided to take a tour through the canals with Rundan Tours.
World War II buff that I am, my ears perked up when the Swedish tour guide explained that hooks on the underside of the bridge we were under were placed there during World War II for the purpose of hanging explosives to thwart an invasion by the Germans.
Fortunately, the invasion never happened, and today, people hang their coats on the hooks while ice skating.
Further into the tour we passed the Turning Torso, the tallest building (54 stories of apartments and commercial space) in Scandinavia, an architectural prize winning wonder.
The famous building is located in one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Malmo.
Back in Copenhagen I decided to go on a tour the Museum of Danish Resistance.
When the tour started Daniel was holding my hand, but within a couple of minutes he was impatient listening to the tour guide and started to wander.
When he disappeared down a corridor, I reluctantly excused myself and followed him.
To my surprise, he stopped at many of the displays and asked me to read the English translations.
I explained to him that the Germans attacked Denmark and Norway on the 9th April 1940 in order to establish naval bases on the Norwegian coast.
He took great interest in the torpedoes, the prison cell, the uniforms, and the maps. By the time we left I was actually glad that we explored the museum on our own.
Over the Atlantic Ocean the next day I remembered Daniel’s momentary disappointment when we left the Pirate Water Falls and his exhilaration just moments later riding with me on the Pirate Splash Battle.
Then I realized if it hadn’t been for Daniel’s appreciation for the overlooked fishing vessels right before us on the canal tour I would have missed their importance only to gaze at “famous” buildings that I could see in any tourist brochures.
Often the best travel experiences happen when a single parent looks at the world through her child’s eyes.