Tag Archives: tourist

A short break in Copenhagen

Say “Copenhagen” and everyone immediately thinks of the Little Mermaid.
And admittedly that was the only attraction I had planned to go and see, not having spent a single minute in planning my impromptu citybreak to the capital of Denmark. So unlike me. The TripAdvisor guide I have downloaded on my phone will come in handy once I reach Copenhagen, I thought. And I was right.

mermaid copenhagen denmarkSo back to the Little Mermaid statue. This icon of the city is definitely overrated. Placed on a rock at the far end of the main promenade, a good 25 minute walk from the main tourist sites, it is not as visible as I expected. Swarms of tourists surround it and cause huge amount of frustration to any photographers. Dislike.

But once you have overcome the mermaid disappointment, you will soon realise that Copenhagen is a great city to visit over a long weekend.
The majority of tourist attractions are within walking distance from one another, but if you get tired easily there is a fairly good metro network that will come to your aid. Boat tours on the canals that cross central Copenhagen are another good way to get around, offering a different view of some of the main sights.

Here are my picks, in no particular order:

#Nyhavn: the old harbour area, characterised by picturesque colourful houses and boats. And lots of nice (yet expensive) cafes along the waterfront. Great area where to hang out at any time of the day and night.

#Christianshavn: south of the harbour, this part of town reminded me of Amsterdam, with its canals, boats and colourful waterfront houses. Very pretty.

#Christiania: crazy place but interesting to visit (lots of graffiti and street art too). This is a hippie community that maintains some autonomy and is famous for its Pusher Street (no photos are allowed there!). A sign on your way out advises you that “You are now entering the EU”….

#Climbing to the top of the Church of Our Saviour: great views of Copenhagen from above. Only slim people can make it to the very top as the staircase gets very very narrow.

#Rosenborg Castle: up until 1710 this was the royal summer residence. Beautiful castle with interesting collections, including the Danish crown jewels.

#Amalienborg Palace: the winter home of the Danish Royal family, it consists of four palaces surrounding a central courtyard. The changing of the guard takes place here everyday at noon after a march across the city centre.

#Lego Store in Strøget (Strøget is the main shopping and pedestrian area): a bit of a childhood weakness, but I couldn’t resist entering and buying a little souvenir there…

#Happy Wall in Kongens Nytorv: this is a piece of interactive art in one of the main squares in the central part of town. Brainchild of artist Thomas Dambo, the wall consists of nearly 2000 wooden boards that can be flipped to change color. Everybody who wants can in this way create patterns, animals, words or statements. Great to watch as passers-by stop to let their imagination run free!

#Walking along the waterfront: great way to enjoy the laidback atmosphere (and the great weather I was blessed with).

#Smørrebrød and Danish pastries: yum! Smørrebrød is a traditional Danish lunch and is basically an open sandwich (try the one with smoked salmon and cheese!). Danish pastries are absolutely delicious and come in loads of different varieties. Unfortunately for all my readers, I was too busy eating and forgot to take photo evidence of the food ;-)

More about Copenhagen will follow!

Saigon – Talking with the tourist

It all started with a: “Are you English? Do you have some time to speak with us?”.
This afternoon I was strolling down Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker area in Saigon, on my way to Ben Thanh market when I got suddenly surrounded by a group of Vietnamese students, like I was some sort of movie star.
“Why not?” I thought. After my catch up with some Vietnamese friends in the morning I had no real plans for the rest of the day. So I sat on the pavement with the students and for almost an hour I was bombarded with questions about my job, my home country, my opinions of Vietnam. My not-married status, together with my age, (yes, these were some of the questions too) shocked some of the girls but I will survive….

With some of the students who interviewed me
With some of the students I spoke to

Although only a handful of the students around me actually asked me questions, there were at least fifteen of them eagerly listening to everything I had to say. They also showed me photos of Vietnam, told me about their studies and their hometowns.

“Talking with the tourist” – as these University students explained to me – is an initiative that gives students in Vietnam the opportunity to practice their English with tourists.  They even have a website (click here) and a Facebook group!

The Saigon group uses the Pham Ngu Lao park as its area of action. As I looked around while sitting with them I realised that there were at least another 5-6 backpackers in the same situation as me.

These students also hand out a self-made booklet with some Saigon travel tips, from price lists to how to find toilets, how to cross the road, some useful sentences in Vietnamese (which I was unable to pronounce properly…), and a small map of the city centre. And at the end of my ‘interview’ they even gave me a small gift – a handmade bracelet – to thank me for my time.

What a great idea from these kids, and what a nice experience for us foreigners too :-).

So if you are in Saigon and keen on spending some time speaking English with local students, head to Pham Ngu Lao!