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Copenhagen - Are You My Motherland?

17 Nov 2013

In this on-going series I examine some cities I’ve visited and what I’ve experienced to be different about them in the hopes of finding pride in my old homes or discovering a new place to call home.

Copenhagen. Our next stop after Italy. I only wanted to check it out because my friend Anna was studying abroad here. I knew next to nothing about Copenhagen and hadn’t heard any talk of it, so I figured we’d just do a brief stop on the way to the ultimate travel destination: Amsterdam. Only just prior to departure did we google to find out they have an entirely different currency and language…

Airport

Prettiest. Airport. Ever. Look at that floor. I would not hesitate to drink chicken noodle soup off of that. If it weren’t for the gate signs I wouldn’t even be able to tell it’s an airport.

Dat immaculate flooring

Baggage claim was perfectly timed so that our bags arrived the same time as us. We even walked at a brisk pace – no mercy shown. The only possible explanation is that they have a teleportation device in the back. There’s no other way.

Architecture

Copenhagen used to be a Viking village. That’s why there are epic castle-esque buildings, beautiful canals running through the city, and people wearing horned helmets roaming the streets. Okay, the last one’s a lie and the other two’s existence might not have any relation to Vikings. I would still like to think it’s all somehow connected to pillaging.

At the same time the city has no lack of modern structures. Supposedly large parts of the city have been burned down and reconstructed (the city hall has burned down twice), so it must have been easy to make way for the new. Germans may be the most well known for design, but the Danish can’t be far behind in ranks. Some of the sleek architecture… especially placed next to the castles… Oof.

Signs

I don’t know what the exact system is for road nomenclature, but it seemed like even if you were walking straight on the same street, the name sometimes changed on you every couple blocks. For the smart phone-wielding non-Amish people, this could be convenient. Just mapping the street name without a number gets you close enough to your destinations.

Almost everything else about signs aligned with those of North America. Though here’s a strange pedestrian cross light I saw. I’m not sure what the separation means, and did not see any others in the city like it.

Food

Food is uber expensive, so we never ate at a proper sit down restaurant. Even a breakfast sandwich cost in krones what’s equivalent to roughly €8. Therefore I’m not sure if you actually tip or not at restaurants, or if you get served free tap water.

I also never found out what exactly Danish food is. I would have thought chocolate danishes were it, but locals had no idea what I was asking for. We ate almost exclusively fast food and street food, and they all happened to be from other countries. The diversity of offerings is great – we got some sort of Czech potato snack, non-Italian-style pizza, and Thai takeaway. At first I felt a hint of guilt for eating Asian food in Europe. All that went out the window as soon as the pad thai collided with my tongue. The surge of pleasure from the greasy, delicious noodles satisfied needs I didn’t even know I had. It seems if I want to live in a city, there needs to be good Asian food.

Not exactly pad thai, but still the best Asian food I've had in Europe so far

Public Transportation

Accessibility and the environment are key concepts incorporated in the public transportation. There are electric car charging stations all around, talking signs to help the blind throughout the metro, and other such nifty resources.

Even better for the environment, over 50% of people commute by bike. This may be a personal choice of the people, but the urban planners certainly aided in the adoption of such. The bike lanes are either raised up, or separated by medians or parked cars, allowing bikers to feel extremely secure. Even my friend who hates biking was willing to give it a shot because of how safe it looked.

Because of all the bikes, the city had an air of calm and quiet, yet busyness at the same time. Below is an example of the separated bike lanes, as well as what I mentioned before about the juxtaposition in the architecture.

Also, pretty colors in the sky!

On top of all that, the metro gave estimates for arrival times with 30 second accuracy.

Entertainment

There is no shortage of entertainment in Copenhagen. We didn’t go, but Tivoli, the second oldest amusement park in the world, is located right downtown. It’s also a pleasure garden according to wikipedia. That did not at all mean what I hoped it would. Christiania, the green light district, is just one canal south. That meant exactly what I thought.

There’s also several cool museums and gardens, and just in general biking around the city is great fun. If you want to take it easy, even lounging around is awesome because of how fast wifi is practically everywhere.

And don’t even get me started about the night life. Plenty of bars and clubs in the city and they’re all open til very late. Food is open too so if you need some munchies after raging hard, not a problem.

??-o'clock is my favorite time of the day

People

Everyone spoke near-flawless English. We didn’t meet a single person that didn’t, yet people constantly apologized for how “bad” their English was (yes they were also all super nice, rivaling Canadians). I don’t even speak Danish and I’m in your country. And my proficiency in the closest European language I know is nowhere near your level of English. Come on now.

The people-density was just the right amount as well. Tourist destinations weren’t crowded the way they were in Rome. I can deal with crowdedness in streets – I’ve been to China – but if I’m at a place trying to enjoy the sights, people being in my space doesn’t really work for me. Basically the fun I experience is inversely proportional to the amount of people there are, depicted here in a mathematically accurate graph:

'dates' could also be on this graph as a sine curve

Verdict

I learned after my visit that Denmark is considered the happiest country on Earth and Copenhagen the most underrated city in Europe. Guess I’m not alone in appreciating it.

If you couldn’t tell already from my fan girl tone, my verdict is very much yes. If I could make enough of a living there and my friends came with, I would move in a heartbeat. We loved it so much that we ended up extending our “quick stay”.

Since we stayed longer in Copenhagen, we weren’t in Amsterdam long enough to justify writing a post about it. I feel like a minimum of three days is necessary to “properly” judge a city. My bearings are usually calibrated by day three and I can find my way around without a map then. Clearly two just doesn’t work, the third makes all the difference.

To summarize Amsterdam, it felt like Copenhagen’s inbred cousin. It had similar appealing characteristics, but obnoxiously loud mopeds zipped through the bike lanes, removing the sense of calm and safety. The main upper-hand Amsterdam has is prostitutes. I did not pursue that adventure so I can’t comment. Don’t get me wrong, I could see myself living in Amsterdam too. But why would I when Copenhagen is so close by!


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