Denmark may be one of the lesser talked-about European countries compared to Spain, Italy, France, etc., but it should be high up on your list to visit. In late July 2010, I spent a week in Denmark with Sykes Wildford from SmokingPipes.com, and then a few days with my "Cuban Cutie". Sykes very graciously invited me to join him on his annual trip to visit pipemakers throughout Denmark.
We will have lots of articles and videos coming in the future where you can see tobacco factories in action, and pipemakers practicing their craft. However, this post, is about all the other stuff that doesn’t neatly fit into focused articles, but it should be informative and hopefully a little entertaining. I am taking off my journalist hat and putting on my tourist hat for a brief bit about Denmark.
Lots of people ride bikes in Denmark, or at least in the city of Copenhagen. Bikes are everywhere. Maybe not as much as in China, but way more than you see in U.S. cities. The hotels even have a cadre of bikes parked out front for guests to use. The city of Copenhagen is beautiful and the Danish countryside is spectacular.
The photos above were taken from inside pipemaker Peter Heding’s house. You are looking out over his backyard, and the small building on the right is his pipe making workshop.
Peter’s cat was guarding the briar blocks in the workshop.
Peter was our first stop after a quick shower at the hotel. Sykes and I arrived on separate flights at about the same time and bumped into each other at baggage right away. It’s a long trip to Denmark, about 17 – 20 hours door-to-door depending on layovers and how close you live to the airport. My first flight from Tampa to JFK was 3 hours, then a 4-hour layover, then an 8-hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean. We arrived at Copenhagen airport at 9:00 am local time, which was 3:00 am for us. I had about 2-hours of sleep, and desperately needed a shower. We checked in at the Clarion Hotel Copenhagen, threw our stuff down, took showers and were out of there in 30 minutes. We were rushing because we were already late.
Soon after we hit the road I discovered Danish Hotdogs! Sykes turned me onto one of my new favorite Danish foods. Hotdogs are a traditional American icon, but the Danish definitely have us beat on this one. After doing some research I discovered that the Danish Hotdog I like is actually the Danish version of the traditional French Hotdog. (The traditional Danish Hotdog is different.) The hotdog is a long, thin bright-red sausage, similar to a foot-long hot dog in the USA. Forget hotdog buns. They are awful as is most of the bread in the USA, except for in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. (The bread in Denmark is awesome, but more on that later.)
The Danish-French Hotdog is inserted into a fresh, warm French baguette along with mayo, ketchup, mustard, remoulade or a variety of other condiments you can choose from. It is amazing! I had one of these almost every day, and on some days I had two to make up for the days I missed.
(Note to any hotdog vendors in the USA: If you want to rake in a whole bunch more business, find a way to duplicate the Danish-French Hotdog and you will have a whole new hotdog craze shooting your sales through the roof. The challenge will be getting good French baguettes with a hotdog-sized hole drilled into the middle. Go for it hotdog entrepreneurs! I’ll be a customer.)
Breakfast in Denmark was a treat too. Pâté, Brie, Roquefort (Sykes says it wasn’t Roquefort, but it was close enough for me) and other cheeses with different varieties of bread were just delicious and we had them almost every morning and never got tired of them. I am usually not a bread person. I don’t eat bread even once a week, maybe 2 – 3 times a month at most. In Denmark, I ate bread every day. They know bread in Denmark.
Coffee is a great experience in Denmark too. I normally drink a cup or two in the morning at home. I am used to strong Cuban coffee which is mandatory in my house with a Cuban girlfriend. She says American coffee is like drinking brown water, and I have come to agree with her. Because of the time change, a busy schedule, and trouble sleeping, I was very tired several days. Instead of my normal habit of only drinking coffee in the morning, I drank coffee all day at every stop … not only because I needed the caffeine, but because the coffee was amazing.
Here’s some advice if you like coffee and you are in Denmark. Never turn down a cup of coffee. Every place we went, from hotels, to restaurants to every pipe maker we visited – the coffee was amazing – especially the coffee the pipe guys made at home.
Coffee, Bread, Cheeses, Hotdogs – All Excellent. Grade A+.
Martinis – not so much. Grade F.
If you are in Denmark and you see a "Dry Martini" on the menu, and you like martinis – don’t order it. Just get some gin (or vodka) on the rocks and be happy you got that. There were some very good food experiences, and there were some not so good ones.
On the last night that Sykes and I would be traveling together, we stayed in Frederikshavn the night before going to see pipemaker Johs. We went to an Italian restaurant that was the Danish version of an Italian restaurant. I had "Mexican Lasagna" (it was ok) and I ordered a "Dry Martini" since it was on the menu.
Ok, here’s the deal. "Dry Martini" means that the drink has Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth in it … A LOT of Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth. If you are a regular martini drinker, then this needs no further explanation. Suffice it to say, the measurements were way off, but that’s not all. I figured this part out later after my second interesting Danish Martini experience.
Getting back to the martini I ordered in the "Italian" restaurant, it had Sweet Vermouth! When I tried to explain that this is not what I ordered, I was told that it IS what I ordered. I asked her to take it back and just bring me a big glass of gin on the rocks.
But wait, it gets even better …
Grøften Restaurant inside Tivoli, (the amusement park in Copenhagen), had great food, but an even better martini-disaster story. This was after I left Sykes and was with my girlfriend Laura.
I noticed "Dry Martini" on the menu, but this time I approached with caution. I told our waitress of my past experience and concern for getting a martini the way it’s supposed to be. She assured me that it was made with dry vermouth and not sweet vermouth. I was still skeptical, so I decided to tell her exactly how I wanted it made. Basically, I said to fill a shaker half-way with ice, then cover the ice with Bombay Sapphire, then just put a small drop, as if it was from an eyedropper, of dry vermouth. Shake it up, pour into a martini glass and stick some olives in there. Very simple … at least I thought.
When the waitress returned without my drink and an answer that was so rude and absurd, I actually started laughing and looking for a hidden camera to see if I was on a prank-style TV show. She said the bartender refused to make a drink like that because it was stupid. It doesn’t make any sense to pour it in a shaker if you aren’t really mixing it with anything. Excuse me? She said if that’s what you want then it will be served on the rocks in a martini glass.
So I had her bring me three drinks – two glasses of gin on the rocks, and a "dry martini" the way they make it with a full shot of vermouth in it, and then I mixed them all together – so there!
That was near the end of the trip, so let’s get back to nicer stuff at the beginning of the trip. On the first day, after meeting with Peter Heding, Sykes and I went to see Lasse Skovgaard. The photos below are actually his grandmother’s house and garden in Praesto, which is where he moved his workshop to from Copenhagen.
Sykes and I stayed at the Clarion Hotel in Copenhagen, which is on the edge of the city and convenient to get to the highways for our day trips, while avoiding city traffic. While Sykes was explaining the many things that make a Danish Artisan pipe so special and different, the chairs in the lobby of our hotel offered a helpful illustration. He pointed out how a chair is a utilitarian object, as is a pipe, but these chairs had been made into art, as are high-end Danish pipes. (I was starting to get it, and later I learned so much more.)
On our second day we went to see Lars Ivarsson, a legend in the pipe world, and one of the men instrumental in starting the "Danish Pipe Revolution". We spent half the day with Lars and his charming wife. He has a beautiful house in the country, on the water with sheep grazing in the meadow. We smoked pipes, drank coffee, then had a wonderful homemade lunch of succulent Venison that Lars hunted himself, along with scrumptious poached Salmon. Later we hung out in Lars’ workshop and watched him work on a pipe.
Inside every grown man there still remains a little boy, and I am certainly no exception. "Boys will be boys", so I just had to take a picture of the "Fart Kontrol" sign that I kept seeing on the highway.
Even after Sykes told me it means "Speed Control", as in watch your speed while driving, I still snickered every time I saw one for at least three more days. As a matter of fact, I still wasn’t over the joke later in the week when I had to snap this shot of sign telling us which way to go to get to the town of Middlefart.
Hey, if you think I’m bad, what about the person that made a site with just a picture of the Fart Kontrol sign: FartKontrol.com. Now that is really silly.
Here’s a couple of scenic views of a lighthouse and a windmill. The lighthouse is as we crossed the bridge on E20 over the Snaevringen Channel, and the Windmill is in Svendborg, just down the road from the Mac Baren factory.
Below is a picture I have to send to The Wall Street Journal. When Sykes was interviewed for their article about young college guys getting into pipe smoking, the journalist was desperately trying to steer him into a quote about having an iPhone in one hand and a pipe in the other. This is pretty close. And don’t worry, while Sykes was answering his email, I was watching the road … and screaming "LOOK OUT!"
A little more than half-way through our trip we stayed at Peter Heeschen’s house in Odense. We spent almost 24-hours with Peter and every minute of it was fun. Peter has a beautiful house with a farm, chickens, and horses. There’s a grape vine and a fig tree, and of course a pipe workshop. Peter insisted that Sykes and I each make our own pipes while we were there. Here’s a little video interview with Peter where I do 90% of the talking.
(This is unedited, as I thought it was more entertaining that way, but the volume needs to be turned up a bit before you hit play.)
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Here are a few pictures in the courtyard in between the house and the workshop where we relaxed with pipes and wine.
Sykes and I also spent a lot of time with Tom Eltang, hanging out in his workshop, smoking, drinking coffee and watching him work. We even went to his house for dinner one night. His wife made home-made pizza outside on the grill. Now that was cool … and delicious. Check it out.
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They are real big on wind power in Denmark. You see these things everywhere. T. Boone Pickens would be very happy. The third picture is from the Orlik factory parking lot.
Sykes and I made several other stops and these will be chronicled in individual focused articles coming in the future. When we were done with business, (if this was really a business, one of us would have had a pen), I spent the weekend in Copenhagen with my girlfriend, Laura.
Tivoli Gardens is a famous amusement park in Copenhagen, and our hotel was across the street from it right on The Square. As a matter of fact, the name of our hotel was The Square. Tivoli opened on August 15, 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world, after Dyrehavsbakken in nearby Klampenborg.
Tivoli is currently the most visited theme park in Scandinavia and the 3rd most visited in Europe. They say that Walt Disney got his idea from them.
Laura discovered the joys of having a backpack and just cruising around as a tourist. You can’t see her face in this picture, but trust me that she is super happy right here. She is in her natural state. She wants to do this every day, forever.
Here’s some more pictures from around Copenhagen.
The middle, bottom picture above is our hotel, "The Square", which is on the Square in the middle of the city. We had a top floor with a balcony and a great view.
Did you know that Copenhagen actually spans across two islands? It’s the capital and largest city of Denmark. It is situated on the islands of Zealand and Amager. Copenhagen has repeatedly been recognized as one of the cities with the best quality of life. It is also considered one of the world’s most environmentally friendly cities. The water in the inner harbor is so clean that you can swim in it.
Hans Christian Andersen was one of the most famous Danes. He was originally from Odense, which is where pipemaker Peter Heeschen lives. Anderson also lived in Copenhagen, and you can see one of the apartment buildings where he lived in two of the photos above.
He was an author and poet noted for his children’s stories, which include "The Little Mermaid", "Thumbelina", and "The Ugly Duckling". Stanwell Pipes also has a Hans Christian Andersen Churchwarden pipe.
There is an interesting section of Copenhagen called Christiania, but I just call it "Weed Town". The photos with the graffiti, and the two after them are of Christiania. If you go to Copenhagen and you are looking for pot, this is the place to go. It is like the largest "Marijuana Mall" in the world, or more like a flea market.
I only like to smoke tobacco, but I think we got a little buzzed just walking around. We were really hungry afterwards. Imagine a giant flea market that never closes, and people live there, and every single booth and table has different types of pot and hash for sale.
The really interesting thing, that I thought was funny, but Laura took serious were the large hand painted signs on the walls that forbid the taking of photographs. The above photos were taken before we were fully inside the walls. I was about to take a picture of the sign that said "no picture taking" just to be a wise guy, but Laura was worried we would be beaten to death by the crowd of stoners.
I laughed and told her they were smoking pot, not crack. They would probably beat us with flowers, but I obeyed and put my camera away. Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of about 850 residents. It has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971. You can think of it as "Hippie Weed Town" that authorities don’t waste time dealing with.
Also above, the second to last picture shows that our hotel had a bar at the front desk. That was pretty cool, and it certainly took care of anyone that got stressed if their room wasn’t ready.
The last photo shows some awesome food we had at Il Peccato Italian restaurant, which was probably the best restaurant we ate at the entire trip. I got a martini the way I liked it too, and I didn’t have to beg or give instructions.
Above, you can see our hotel at night. In July in Denmark, the sun rises at 4:00 am and sets at 10:00 pm.
Now, I leave you with two short video clips of street performers in Copenhagen.
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