I smelled pot. Not like in Amsterdam but strong enough. In a few meters I saw where the smell was coming from. The street I entered was full of dealers with small stalls improvised where piles of different types of dry marijuana were waiting to make someone happy.
– Come, wanna try? It’s good stuff, come try and see. Here… said a loud voice.
I ignored the invitation. If I didn’t know I was in one of the safest capitals in Europe, I might have felt very insecure in that underground area. Was just one of the colourful sides of Copenhagen.
When there’s an avalanche forecast and terrible weather in Lofoten, Norway, good old Europe has always a treat to offer for a freezing weekend at the end of January. I got the ticket three days before the flight.
A chilly Friday morning in a city with deserted streets after the cold winter rain. The kind of welcome typical for the North that I so deeply love.
The icon, Nyhavn
With very little preparation since it was a last minute decision, I decided to see the city by going with the flow and see what happens. I took my camera and left the room from the hotel near by the Central Station. I took a cold deep breath before what was to be a whole day long walk, my favourite thing to do when I’m away. I followed the flow of people, passed by Tivoli Gardens, City Hall Square, Rådhuspladsen and found a pedestrian street that seemed nice to walk, filled with stores. I later found out it was the famous Strøget Street, one of the longest shopping streets in Europe, of 1,1km, also one of the most high-profile streets of “København”.
When a student doing a poll among those looking like tourists asked if I liked the city and why, I replied I still don’t now, it’s been 2h only. But I already felt I will.
I was quickly convinced a few meters in the front, where I smelled something delicious coming from on oven. I was hungry so I entered the place and bought a Kanelstang, a cinnamon rod. It was a bakery with an impossible name: Lagkagehuset. The next second I thought why didn’t I know this exists?! This famous, old and very traditional Danish delicious pastry, I’ve learned after, a cinnamon twist but much larger and cut in slices, is a wonder of taste with two types of filling, vanilla cream and cinnamon filling. From that moment I’ve found my obsession in Copenhagen and every day I had 2-3 slices, even bought a few pieces for home.
In King’s New Square, enjoying my street food lunch, a hotdog, (another reason why I like Northern Europe), I watched the sky getting clear and the rays of sun enhancing the colours of Nyhavn, the symbol of the city. A picture perfect view in a place where you’d wish your stroll to be a never-ending one.
I continued by the water, in a quiet area, crossing a bridge and arriving in a place where the Nordic architecture, perfect in its minimalism, was at home. I crossed a street following the indicator for the place I was searching for. A few steps further another world has opened: old buildings, abandoned warehouses with rusty walls covered in graffiti and impressive street art murals, little streets with cosy little eateries and bars – Freetown Christiania. An autonomous anarchist district and most hippie neighbourhood in Denmark’s capital. Placed in a once abandoned military base, where in the 70’s a group of hippies broke down the barricades and declared the place as their own, completely independent of the Danish government and laws. Since then it stays like this. Nowadays 1000 people live there, by their own rules, once published at the entrance: “Dear friends, There are three rules in the green light district: have fun; don’t run—it causes panic; no photos—buying and selling hash is still illegal.”
The so called Green Light District was that day ,as in most days when the police is not coming for a visit that ends in multiple arrests, covered in a cloud of pot smoke. Some were selling, some were buying, many were smoking. Everywhere. All in the open. In spite this taste of freedom, cannabis is illegal in Denmark and consumption, possession and selling will get one in prison if caught. If…but until then, freedom gets translated here is disobedience.
Besides the dizzying clouds lifting up in the air, over the roofs, the place is also known for adopting a way of living that discourages consumerism, mass production and many other sins of our modern world. Here those are replaced with a slow living garnished with its benefits: hand crafted products, bio foods and the serenity of those 1000 living far from the madding crowds working 9 to 5 and more to pay for what they, and myself included here, don’t even need. After all, Christiania has a strong point, besides being a controversial commune.
The blue hour in Nyhavn is magical. Has so much of that charm from the old times. As the lights in each of the coloured houses are turned on, the guests occupy their tables in restaurants, voices and laughs and kitchen noises begin and the scent of delicious meals fill the air of an almost there Friday night.
A light cold drizzle fell over the streets, the roofs and all those people wandering the city just as I arrived back at my hotel.
Learning Hygge in Copenhagen
Meeting new people is one of the best things that happen when traveling solo. So I got an invitation for a late drink that I accepted.
– Happy New Year!
I raised my eyes from my tom yom soup, in the Thai restaurant across my hotel where we met.
– It’s almost February, for how long are people going to continue make this wish? I said amused.
– Exactly why I said it.
It was almost midnight and I didn’t feel the next hours vanishing. I had a lovely night, with great company, conversation and beer, in a bar decorated as if for one main purpose: to explain to foreigners the principles of hygge concept. From the warm atmosphere as we entered the place, completely hidden in dark, with the only source of light from the white candles placed on black tables or by the large windows facing the street, were rare passers by were moving as shadows in the dark, to the low nice music. The minimal design inside, with simple yet smart chosen pieces, cozy pillows and candles everywhere, still maintaining a diffused light, was the perfect picture of the famous Danish way of life that took in recent years the world by storm, with books, classes and masters promising to explaining basically how to live slow and enjoy the moments of peace. Hygge is about enjoying the good things in life with dear people around, lighting a candle in a long cold winter night, have a glass of wine or movie. Candlelight is hygge, cosying up with a loved one is hygge, relax is hygge….
– What we are doing right now, this is hygge. Now you understand it.
By the end of that Friday night the drizzle stopped, the streets got empty and I have learned hot to pronounce the word HYGGE like Danish do. Somehow similar to the English word “hiccup” .
I took a long walk in that cold sunny day. Rød pølse (red sausage) from one of the the ubiquitous stalls selling hot dogs and kanelstang (cinnamon rod) from Lagkagehuset for my Danish breakfast.
Strøget Street was entirely packed with people, Nyhavn even more. The normal Saturday mood in any European capital, busy and madly crowded. A waiter was cleaning the tables outside the restaurant opened in the former St. Nicholas Church, just in case the sunny day will encourage anyone to eat al fresco. The oldest church in town is used now also as a gallery for a contemporary art centre. In the North, this kind of metamorphoses of churches is not rare.
I continued my stroll from Amalienborg, the home of the Danish royal family where the serious guards were the subject of tourists thousands of photos, to Kastellet, a star shaped old military fortress, with the near-by beautiful Anglican church St Alban, built in grey stone, with a high spire and gorgeous stained glass windows. I couldn’t decide which side is best, the one facing the green park, next to an old tree, or the one by the lake behind it. With its peace and green in the middle of winter, the white clouds mirroring the lake, this place is probably my favourite in Copenhagen.
Langeline Park for a little stop and then another long walk, by the sea, to Copenhagen most photographed stop: The Little Mermaid, inspired by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a mermaid who gives up immortality in the depths for the love of a prince on land. The rays of sun right before sunset were penetrating the heavy grey clouds and the little statue in bronze, caught in the middle of the scene, with the sea as a background, like the celebrity of the city, which indeed she is. It took me about 20 minutes to get a chance to take a single photo without having many people by the statue.
Known as the oldest and most beautiful street in Copenhagen, there is no wonder why Magstræde, with its coloured old houses and cobbled pavement is the most instagrammed, photographed, shared, posted and liked. Little adorable shops like one in the basement of an old building, with baby blue wooden old windows, where a woman was creating arrangements made of dry flowers while I stoped in front that pretty window and couldn’t stop watching her, the bar with in an old library, the shining old silverware shop. I went up and down the street a few times until blue hour covered again the city.
I waited 30 minutes for a bubble tea inside Tase of Taiwan just because I got convinced by the line in front. I got taro milk tea just because it was purple. And just because I wanted to try something new, I discovered my next crush. I fell in love with the taste of taro.
Tivoli, the 176 years old amusement park, right in the middle of the city, was closed for guests in those days. To see it just a little bit I entered through a restaurant, then access the terrace outside, facing the park. With cold hands in a freezing windy evening, I sipped my taro ice bubble tea in the most dreamy winter wonderland….of fake snow. The park was being painted in white for Winter in Tivoli, an event meant to bring the white winter in a city that so far that winter have seen no snow.
– In my first winter here, 8 years ago, it was snow starting November and lasted a few months. In recent years…global worming…and now, this year, no snow at all.
Was the answer to my silly question: does it snow in Copenhagen. Sure it does.
I met my good old friend from Nepal in a cozy 18th-century basement venue with ceiling beams: Puk restaurant. A place well known for the delicious traditional food it serves. We had the famous Smørrebrød, open-faced sandwich with rye bread topped with all kind of toppings, pickled herring, wild salmon, flæskesteg – Danish pork roast, Leverpostej – Danish liver pate, frikadeller – Danish meatballs and so many dishes in small portions so we can taste more. In the end, I felt like a balloon. but I knew the memories of this dinner will make me crave for it many times later.
We said fair well when the night was turning to morning, after 2 more bars and 2 more beers with long and pleasant conversations about Denmark, his life as a Nepalese in Copenhagen, about Nepal wonders and caste traditions and our more then 10 years friendship. I renewed my promise to visit his country. At that time we draw a plan for next year.
Nothing did I know in that weekend at the end of January 2020, with crowded streets, Saturday night out, dining in restaurants and so many travels on the list for the year that has just begun. That reality seemed forever. Copenhagen was wonderful in all means, was like a deep breath before a long dive. How much I now miss what I never thought I will one day: flying
Next: my favourite beaches in Europe.