KOBENHAVN (aka COPENHAGEN)
Friday-Friday, November 24-December 1, 2017
Back in the saddle in a rented steed we headed for Denmark where hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-gah‘/‘hue-gah‘) flourishes. This little Danish word comes from Norwegian meaning well-being; and, to create an English definition simply relax in a comfortable setting with folk you care about and share thoughts big and small. Delectable nibbles and drinks can add to the ambiance if you so wish. Ahhhhh… you’ve got hygge :)
Besides Hans Christian Andersen and Danish pastries, you may associate Denmark with being one of the happiest countries in the world. They’ve received this reputation thanks to reports published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) since 2012. With the emphasis less on a country’s monetary growth and more on the quality of that growth, a government focused on their citizen’s well-being generates a happier place to live. This social well-being leads to economic prosperity and greater trust in the government. If my taxes supported that equation, I’d happily pay more!
Although Norway took first place in 2017, Denmark is a close number two, along with numbers three (Iceland) and four (Switzerland). If you’re wondering, the US ranked 14th, down from its 11th spot in 2012 in spite of a rising per capita GDP. Because it appears the US is concentrating solely on economic growth the country is not increasing our subjective well-being measured by “income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government” (Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2017). World Happiness Report 2017, New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network). Fascinating report (http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2017/) of which I’m still reading as I write this.
But, let me get back to our getting to one of the world’s happiest countries.
Typically our road travel involves creating our own power grid…
stops for healthy (yeah, right) sustenance…
and, snapping out-of-focus landscape shots as we zoom past, this one being the T-Rex of shipping ports: Hamburg, Germany on the River Elbe.
We also crossed over the Kiel Canal, which we motored down four months ago to stage for our passage back to the Netherlands.
Speaking of last summer we actually cruised part of Denmark’s central coastline and some of its fairy tale islands; but, in lieu of sailing further east to Zealand, a large island so close to Sweden it’s connected by a bridge, we opted for a winter road trip there. So, we headed for some Danish highlights we missed last summer, Copenhagen being one of them.
For accommodations we selected an Airbnb apartment located in Sluseholmen, an artificial piece of land threaded with dug-out canals amidst building blocks of apartments. Small but convenient, we had access to grocery stores, an aromatic coffee shop, and public transportation via land and water. We happened to be at the ferries’ last stop in the Southern Harbor, formerly industrial docklands.
Since we can glimpse the ferry rounding the corner we found ourselves more times than not running out of the condo in hopes the captain and crew will take pity on two 60+-year-olds dashing to the quay. Fortunately for us the two guys handling the ferry evidently had a high dosage of that touted happiness factor. Welcome to Denmark!
Within thirty minutes and five stops we reached central Copenhagen, which is comprised of several neighborhoods all offering numerous opportunities for exploring this city founded in 1176 by Bishop Abalon. Instead of heading to any major museum or site we opted for conducting a self-guided tour, beginning with the Nyhavn neighborhood known for being touristy but a natural starting point. Walking along a canal dug by 17th-century Swedish POWs we later discovered Hans Christian Andersen had resided in the area, along with visiting sailors and women of ill-repute.
Growling stomachs and the need for a loo steered us into one of the waterfront cafes where we enjoyed a bite and some legendary Danish coffee. Can you hear me sigh with contentment? :)
With perfect timing we set off to explore the Christmas market dotted along the canal and sample our first gluewein of the season…
only to hear the sound of a marching band.
We watched the black-and-blue, furry-headed soldiers stride down the street on their way to Amalienborg Slot (‘Slot’ being the Danish word for castle). Because one of the royals was in residence at the Winter Palace (this palace being actually four, grand 18th-century manors) not only did we see the regular guards but heard the beating and blowing of the Royal Music Band.
We wandered off and on while following the outlined city walk, passing magnificent statues gracing courtyards and squares, from ax-swinging Bishop Absalon (1128-1201)…
to the father of existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).
The latter occupied a tranquil spot in the peaceful Royal Library Gardens. Constructed on top of a former naval port of King Christian IV’s, the grounds offered a respite from the crowded streets filled with Saturday shoppers.
In one corner of the garden the Danish Jewish Museum stood (off to the left where you can glimpse a white car). A sad sign of the times meant the entrance was guarded by the Danish police. Not the first time we’ve seen precautions taken at Jewish sites, another being one in Amsterdam.
From there we strode onto Slotsholmen, a small island housing the palace Christiansborg Slot and other government buildings. Quite a few iterations of castledom occurred here beginning with a fortress constructed by Bishop Absalon, followed by two demolitions of later castles and then fires ruining the first two Christiansborgs (1794 and 1884), ending with the current Christiansborg from the early 1900s.
Appropriately, a Christian namesake stood regally on the ground: none other than the ‘father-in-law of Europe’, King Christian IX (1818-1906).
How he acquired such a title began with his marrying his second cousin, Princess Louise, the daughter of Denmark’s Princess Charlotte and Germany’s Prince William of Hesse-Kassel. Due to his wife’s lineage and the reigning King Frederick VII’s lack of legitimate kids, the powers-that-be decided upon Christian as Denmark’s King. He and Louise had six children, and it’s those six who earned him the above sobriquet as they began populating Europe’s thrones: the eldest became Frederik VIII of Denmark; Alexandra married Britain‘s King Edward VII while Thrya married England’s Duke of Cumberland; Wilhelm became Greece‘s King George I; Dagmar married Russia‘s Tsar Alexander III; and, Waldemar married a Bourbon-Orleans princess. Not too shabby for a guy who wasn’t even slated to inherit a throne.
Christian IX stood in front of Folketinget (the parliament) while aptly facing the riding grounds.
From one of the archways we exited onto a bridge paved with Norwegian marble with Max checking out the waterway as we crossed back to the mainland.
We quickly walked onto Magstræde, one of the oldest streest in the city, reminding us of Stockholm’s old town, the Gamla Stan,
and continued to our final stop on our walking tour, the Rådhus or Town Hall (completed 1905) where we posed in front of a packed, bike parking lot. With Danes known for their healthy riding transports, it seemed likely we’d see quite a few of these on our city meanderings.
Heading back to our ferry ride home we spotted some great posters
and statues to mimic.
Chilled but thrilled with our first experience of Copenhagen we took the ferry home only to await one of the highlights of our trip: spending time with our friends Nina and Peter whom we just happened to meet (thanks to our mutual friend Steve Arndt) when we passed one another in a narrow Swedish waterway last summer. And, we not only toasted our reunion but Nina and Peter’s engagement!
The next night they invited us aboard their lovely boat treating us to typical Danish, Christmas fare including glühwein also known as glogg (which name I enjoy more:) and Dansk Aebleskivers (Danish Doughnuts). Ja, I was in heaven.
All in all, a pretty wonderful experience of hygge-ing in Kobenhavn, with more to come…