Most people dream of warm, sunshine-filled holidays – vacations chock full of waves lapping the shore, cold drinks and tan lines. A little rest and relaxation, a little culture, a little sightseeing, a little luxury. But then, there are those who decide a holiday might be pleasant in a new place, on a new adventure, something a little out of the ordinary – and off-season.
A few years back, we traveled to Copenhagen for a week or so in the middle of winter.
Scandinavian countries can generally be a little more expensive to travel to, and so we had thought, what better time to go there than when the prices are so much lower? So we booked, and we flew and … we arrived.
Of course, Copenhagen is supposed to be one of the happiest places on the planet. The people are kind, the food is good, the city is beautiful. Denmark is simple to travel around, with a train heading to any destination you might want to visit. Seemingly everyone speaks English, the public transit is fantastic and the streets are clean and well maintained.
But, it was so cold.
And so dark.
Because Denmark is so far north, the sun didn’t completely show its face until around 8am, and would set by 4pm. There are so many hours of darkness, your body does not know how to adjust. Add some jet lag, and you’re basically a zombie. The days when the sun did in fact come out, it still was not sunny. Not in the way that we generally think of it. Instead, it was like having a translucent film stretching over the sky, obscuring some of the brightness and warmth. And in Copenhagen, it didn’t snow as much as freezing rain, making you a sodden, frozen misery. Our toes were frozen and wet inside our boots, the cold and moisture sneaking in craftily on the wind.
One day of our trip, we took the train north to Helsingør, or as Shakespeare called it, Elsinore. Hamlet’s castle, as the story goes, and goodness was it easy to see why the people in that play all go a little nuts! Kronborg Castle, in Helsingør, is perched on the northeastern tip of Denmark, and abuts the sea between Denmark and Sweden. It’s an old place, built in the 1420s, and it certainly feels like it. Beautiful, of course, as castles are wont to be, but cold. Colder than freezing rain in Copenhagen. The halls are vast and the frigid wind blows off the sea, straight into the stones that make up the castle walls. And then, the cold sits and collects, is stored by those stones, and the castle becomes an enormous refrigerator. We did not take off our winter coats for the entirety of our visit. We shivered and quaked, caring less and less about the history and the treasures displayed within every new room we discovered. Gloved hands stuck deeply into our puffy coats, wishing we’d worn another pair of socks, breath floating out in front of us like smoke. Freezing, miserable and only growing colder.
After a cultural day at the castle, we hopped back on our train to Copenhagen, and couldn’t be happier to see the back of the place. We resolved to stay in that night, as since it was after 4pm, it was indeed, already fully dark outside.
Back at the hotel, we shared our intentions with the concierge, and admitted that as beautiful and interesting as she had promised the castle would be, that we had frozen while there.
“Why not visit the sauna upstairs, then?” she asked in her accented English.
Oh. A sauna.
A sauna is a bit like a tropical holiday, isn’t it? A warm place to sit and relax, perhaps thaw?
And that was how we spent every evening thereafter in our own private sauna paradise, the only way to survive the cold of Denmark in the middle of the winter.