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RIDICULOUS, RIDICULOUS COPENHAGEN
By Michael Matthews
October 16, 2014 -- We recently discussed a terrific stay in Amsterdam and pointed out that travel--both business and leisure-- generally ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. Sorry now to report that Amsterdam was the sublime and what follows, Copenhagen, is the ridiculous.

Immediately on arrival in the Danish capital we wondered if Danny Kaye had ever been there. After all, his 1952 movie, Hans Christian Andersen, and his song, Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen, is what many of us think of when we think of Copenhagen. But, truly, fellow travelers, the movie and the song are the antithesis of what we found. We could find little that was wonderful. I can't imagine what songwriter Frank Loesser was thinking when he wrote it.

Copenhagen's streets? Dirty. Restaurants and attractions? Incredibly expensive. The locals? Nobody showed any love for tourists. Even the iconic statue of the Little Mermaid, and she is little, was covered in bird guano.

Our grandly named hotel, the Copenhagen Plaza, designated four star by the local tourist board, was one of the worst lodgings I've encountered anywhere in the world.

Surrounded by filthy streets with soft-drink bottles and cigarette butts strewn about, the Plaza has no welcoming doorman. There isn't even a front desk clerk with a friendly look. In fact, he didn't bother to bid us Velkommen or anything close to it. He assigned us to Room 203, then handed us off to the bellman.

When we reached Room 203, the bellman opened the door, got tipped and quickly disappeared. Darling Wife commented on a smell, opened the cupboard and nearly passed out. Somebody had vomited onto a blanket stored there.

We hastily returned to the front desk and the clerk grudgingly moved us to the fourth floor, to an accommodation complete with peeling paint and a view of the railroad yards. (The bathroom was nice.) We desperately tried to find another hotel, but no luck. The town was sold out.

We had a mediocre dinner in the hotel restaurant. We were the only ones in the dining room, which tells you something. Then a nightcap in the darkest bar I've ever seen this side of the old red-light district in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong. And so to bed, desperately hoping this ridiculous introduction to Copenhagen was an aberration and "wonderful, wonderful" delights awaited us.

No such luck. The next day we took a tour to see the changing of the guard at Amalienborg, the royal palace. (We were joined by throngs of excited visitors because Amalienborg is a tourist board recommendation.) What a joke: six guys with bearskin hats marching back and forth for five minutes. No band. Just guys with bearskin hats. Nothing like what you see on YouTube. If I were King of Denmark, I would be embarrassed. The Danes really should go to Buckingham Palace to see how it's done. There were hundreds of disappointed tourists.

We went to Tivoli Gardens, which seems to be mostly restaurants now. It's very nice if you're courting--or a child looking for a day at the amusement park. We had a couple of salads in one of the outlets. We were served by a delightful waitress--who wasn't Danish.

Want more ridiculous? We found a wonderful patisserie called Andersen Bakery. But it has nothing except the name in common with Hans Christian. It was founded in Hiroshima by a Japanese gentleman and now has branches and outposts in Tokyo, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Shanghai as well as Copenhagen. Regardless of provenance, it compares favorably with anything you can find in Paris.

And we did find a fabulous dining spot which we visited twice. Overlooking Tivoli Gardens, the Nimb Group operates a series of excellent bars, brasseries, wine bars and restaurants as well as a well-regarded boutique hotel, also called Nimb. If you are ever unfortunate enough to be stuck in Copenhagen, we heartily recommend Nimb.

Still more ridiculous? At some point, Darling Wife snuck out of the Plaza to buy some oranges in a nearby market. She promptly found herself hiding under a fruit cart while a gun battle took place on the street. We never did find out who was trying to kill whom. Possibly a disgruntled tourist shooting up the tourist board office?

After three nights in our hell hole, we checked out of the Copenhagen Plaza only to learn that our move from our vomit-scented room to the one of peeling paint had increased our bill by $50 a night. Paying by credit card added 3 percent more to our bill and the Danish government slaps a 25 percent fee on everything. They call that the value-added tax. I call it a misnomer.

Copenhagen must have some redeeming factors, but to us the city and the Copenhagen Plaza were a ridiculous and expensive experience.

However, I don't want to leave you on such a sour note. So one sublime experience from our recent trip: two days visiting the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

Despite what you may think of Vladimir Putin, the Russians we met were extremely nice and very helpful. You don't need me to explain the Hermitage Museum, but I will pass along some sage advice from our tour guide: Go in winter. Yes, it's cold in St. Petersburg in winter, but that also mean few tourists, no hideous cruise ships disgorging their masses and hotels half full at half price. You can then amble through the palaces and buildings that comprise the modern Hermitage at leisure.

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2014 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.