Viking. Part to.
You don’t really get to know a place until you’ve lived there and even then the reality of a place is only shaped by how you interact with it. For this reason there is no right way to know a city, as every viewpoint is unique to each individual person and their time spent there – however long, however short.
What is true is that any amount of time spent in one place is long enough to form a view, regardless of how accurate and valid that view would remain with a longer period spent hanging around – first impressions count for a lot. The difference between a good first impression and a bad one is what may ultimately decide whether you stick around long enough to scratch beneath the surface and discover a more rounded feel for that particular location, and indeed whether you’re likely to return in the future.
And so I’d been in Copenhagen – a city considered by Monocle to be the most liveable city in the world – for a little shy of 24 hours when I came to some of my own initial conclusions and paused to mull over what I’d seen so far. Here are five random thoughts on a few of the places I visited and some of the sights that I saw.
1. The National Museum – This was a great way to while away a few hours. Admission is free and there’s lockers for stashing bags and coats. On my visit, gaggles of very loud, rampaging school children made the pre-history exhibition a tad of a chore, albeit the topic was interesting. It was an anthropological journey charting early human life and its evolution, from early cavemen living in the Mediterranean – at a time when Denmark was covered by ice – through to the Bronze Age when the country was populated and humans first started their materialistic ways of hoarding non-essential personal property. By then our ancestors had the means and know-how to fashion decorative goods as status symbols which they’d be buried with.
On the second floor, after a coffee break sat on a bench in the museum’s cafe with an imitation fur rug on it – very Viking darling – and the rather cool hanging lamps (that’s me posing in the lamp’s reflection in the accompanying snap up top) I took in an instantly more captivating exhibition in my eyes; and not least because I seemed to have the run of it to myself. It told the story of the lives of Danish people in the 20th century and the post-war years were particularly interesting.
Danes lived, post-war and up until 1973, in a time of boon. For many, wages doubled and women broke free of their housewife role, much like most in other Western countries at the time I guess. But what left an impression on me was the forward-thinking liberalism that Danes are considered famous for – at least if you cast aside the strict immigration rules.
In 1989, Denmark became the first country to allow civil unions for gay couples. Twenty years earlier it was the first Western nation to legalise pornography. Denmark’s coalition government, the result of the 2011 election, has nine female cabinet ministers out of 23 (that figure is four out of 22 in England). Fighting the good fight.
2. Nørrebro Bryghus – There are about half a dozen microbreweries in Copenhagen and I chose this one, in a building dating back to 1857 about 3km from the city centre, for an early evening pint. Its basement bar, located right next to towering beer vats was rammed. There were about ten different ales on tap and overwhelmed by the choice and my unfamiliarity with the selection, I asked the barman for his recommendation. A fiver lighter (damn) I bagged one of the last remaining seats and supped away at a very tasty Imperial-style; in other words hoppy and with a high ABV of 7%, India Red Ale. All around me there was the buzz of young professionals capping off a long day at work with a pint or two.
3. A place to stay – One observation I must share was the behaviour of an odd chap sharing my eight-man dorm at the funky Generator hostel. I’d pounded the streets and the sights and after my first full day in the city I was chilling out on my bunk watching a few episodes on Netflix before heading down to the hostel bar to catch some football on TV, when this strange gent marched in, plonked himself on his mattress and proceeded to play Beat It by Michael Jackson from his mobile. Six times the song went round. He sang like a badly wounded squirrel throughout.
The only other guy in the room, lying on the bunk above me, was trying to catch 40 winks and, judging by the passive aggressive shifting and turning, he was not amused. A classic case of bad dorm etiquette my friends. And I don’t think he was drunk, just simple. Glad I’ve got that off my chest. Next.
4. Going Green – There were times when I felt ridiculous just walking down the street. Seriously, Copenhagen is bike crazy. Without two wheels outside of the pedestrianised centre, people travelling on their own two legs were in short supply. I’ve been to Amsterdam so I’ve seen a city where the bicycle is king but Copenhageners take it to the next level if you ask me.
More than a third (36%) of trips to work or school here are made by bike and more than 20,000 cyclists enter the city centre’s 249 miles of cycle tracks at rush hour. Bonkers, but brilliant, and just one piece of the puzzle as city planners aim to make Copenhagen the world’s first carbon-neutral capital city by 2025. This Guardian article is a good read on the details of that enviable vision.
5. It’s not so bad being trendy – We call them hipsters here, the cool young ladies and gents who aren’t afraid to break the mould in the fashion stakes. Sometimes the word is uttered with disdain at home. In Copenhagen I’d say any label is redundant. Cool is just what they do. I’m talking middle-aged women riding bikes dressed more boho than Sienna Miller in 2004 (so the Internet tells me, honest!). Those huge snoods appear to be staple accessories for every discernible citizen, and you know what, I’m down with that and I don’t care who knows it. Fit right in with my woolen blazer, skinny jeans and patterned bobble hat I did.
That’s the end of my wrap up on the ‘City of Cool’ for now. I’ll be blogging again soon about my first Couchsurfing experience and why I’d recommend it to anyone of like-mind.