The novelty certainly hasn’t worn off of having so many countries at your fingertips here in Europe. With a little help from a beautiful ferry crossing, a bus had me in Denmark from Berlin in just over 7 hours. For a Kiwi kid the ease of crossing country borders without having to get on a plane is still pretty amazing!!
So here I was in Copenhagen reuniting with a very special friend who I studied at Broadcasting School with. It was there in pre-earthquake Christchurch that Emily dragged me almost daily to the Copenhagen bakery to share with me her love for all things Danish. When she moved back here a few years ago I vowed I would make it to the real Copenhagen with her before she left, and it was incredibly exciting to actually make that plan a reality!
Instantly I could see how the city had so completely stolen Emily’s heart. She described it to me as a big village, and I think that’s probably the perfect description. You get all the advantages and excitement of a capital city, without feeling daunted, intimidated or lost as everything is so compact and more intimate. The endless summer days seemed to go on and on, it’d be light by 4am in the morning, and wouldn’t really get dark until well after 11pm which meant you hardly felt like you needed to sleep at all! With the lack of sun light during the winter months, for the Danish summer means being outside as much as possible, which means there is so much going on all the time.
Now if I had thought there were a lot of bikes in Germany things reached a whole new level in Copenhagen.
I quickly learned EVERYONE in the city rides a bike, so after a day of watching the beautiful Danes roll along so gracefully, I decided I must get amongst it and experience the freedom of travelling in a city that was built for cycling. So I hired a bike and took to the road expecting a gloriously calming experience ……
But oh how wrong I was! I had never been so incredibly stressed/terrified in all my life!! It was literally like taking to the open road in a car without learning how to drive first. Not only were there rules and signals that I had no idea about, my brain also struggled to negotiate travelling on the right hand side of the road, my lack of knowledge resulting in a lot of Danish words that I couldn’t understand (probably for the best) being yelled in my direction, and angry bells following me around the street (like Germany cycling is a serious business here).
So needless to say my first day on two wheels was spent mostly walking alongside my bike!
But I’m proud to say that despite the stress and terror I persevered, and breathed a sigh of relief at the weekend ticking over so I at least had Emily to follow! With a bit of practice (and a better sense of direction) I even managed to spend Saturday night riding in heels and a dress, no easy feat, well for me anyway, the Danes seem to be able to do anything texting/talking on their phone/carrying children/carrying shopping etc all while cycling.
By my last day I felt totally at home on my bike and was so sad to have to give her up. It really is such a great way to get around, especially when the sun is shining (not so much when it’s raining which evidentally happens quite a lot during the Danish summer).
But there is of course more to Copenhagen than its extensive cycle ways! With some quality Little Mermaid time, a Canal trip, a visit to Christiania the hippy commune (where you can buy all things marijuana should you so wish, but more importantly in my view incredibly delicious pork sandwiches), a visit to Hans Christian Anderson’s grave, dates with Degas, Monet and Van Gogh at the Glyptotek art gallery, and so much Danish food in my belly, I quickly ticked off all the must do’s of such a vibrant, beautiful city.
But a stay with Emily McLean always means more than the normal. Thanks to a new friend she’d spent approximately 15 mins with at a BBQ the previous weekend, she had us on the guest list for work drinks at the United Nations Danish Headquarters. An incredibly fun night exploring the elaborate building (built for the UN by the Danish government), and meeting people from all over the world.
The next day Emily took me along to two birthday parties which took me behind the tourist hotspots and gave me an amazingly authentic taste of Danish culture. The first party started off with sports in the park, before a dinner party that included beautiful food, wine, and fabulous traditional Danish birthday singing.
For me it was such a privilege to be invited along and to be able to partake in such a wonderful cultural experience. Interestingly it also gave me quite the insight into how the Kiwi culture is perceived too, after spending quite a while talking to a Danish couple who’d recently returned from living in NZ for 6 months. While they loved their time in NZ they found kiwis to be very conflict averse people, beating around the bush rather than being direct and to the point, something Danes have no problem with!
They also hated the stock standard white tip top bread, which is completely understandable once you taste the delicious dark brown bread that’s full of seeds that the Danes are brought up on!
Which brings me to the Danish food … a cuisine I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t be too fussed about given my current daily calorie intake. But alas like everything else I found in Denmark, the food was divine! With the advantage of local knowledge, Emily had me at all the good coffee houses, dining on Danish pastries, Danish sausages, Danish liquorice, Danish summer fruit (which is super sweet thanks to all the sunlight), as well as traditional summer foods like a custard and biscuit concoction the name of which I wasn’t even able to repeat when Emily tried to tell me how to pronounce it.
Danes love their traditions, and are so proud of their culture and where they come from, I really appreciated their optimistic attitude and so enjoyed embracing everything about the culture.
Partying with Emily’s Danish friends also have me more of an insight into what life must be like for expats like her, especially when they move to a foreign country where English isn’t the first language. All around me conversations were going on with me not having a clue what was being said. It gave me a taste of just how isolating I’m sure it can be at times, and so much more admiration for those who take up the challenge to really experience the new and unknown. Emily can of course speak fluent Danish now, I can’t imagine ever being able to learn another language (especially Danish, which requires the use of a totally different part of your mouth) so well!
But Ems has found her fair share of cultural differences which was also fascinating to hear about – as well as her job running the social media for Maersk, she’s become a minor celebrity with her Copenhagen Post column outlining her experiences with dating the Danes (Carrie Bradshaw eat your heart out). For guaranteed laugh out loud moments check it out here.
It was another tough goodbye leaving Copenhagen and the incredibly beautiful Danes – Emily tells me the natural beauty gets even more extreme the further north you head, she said on a flight to Iceland once she felt like she was flying with a bunch of Elves back to Rivendell, an analogy I found completely fitting for the Scandinavian people.
Although not the cheapest part of Europe to explore I hope my travels can bring me back to this part of the world in the near future, I’ve heard only amazing things about Sweden, Norway and Iceland, and would absolutely love to see more of such a beautiful part of the world.