Every time I come back from somewhere outside of the UK I’m generally filled with a very localised form of optimism, which overlaps with self-confidence without being precisely the same thing, and I have the urge to grab life by the front of its jacket and get on with stuff (progress so far: I have tided my room and started working on my go-to classy/international-woman-of-mystery playlist again). In the spirit of this feeling, I am writing a blogpost – partly because it’s a slightly more forgiving genre to channel this feeling into than the cover letter is, and partly to tell you about where I went and what I did.
I have been to Copenhagen, and I will tell you about what it was like.
This was my first trip to Scandinavia and I was mainly there because I was curious and because the flights were much cheaper than the ones to Budapest. I went straight after a crazy-busy time at work, and my pre-trip planning was sketchy to say the least. So this is me telling you things I found out first hand while I was there rather than before: partly about how to cope with Copenhagen and partly how Copenhagen helped me cope.
How to cope in Copenhagen:
Take a scarf. Honestly, the climate was like the one in the Tyne and Wear area. Nostalgic as I inevitably am about my home metropolitan borough, this is not a compliment. I hear the weather was actually better in Tyne and Wear that week. Denmark was emphatically not having the warm snap there’d been in London as I made my way over to Stansted – looking at the people in their summer skirts on the Underground and wondering if I should have put my shorts in. In Denmark I’d have looked like a pillock wearing clear tights never mind shorts. It rained and it blustered and a weak and watery sun came irritatingly out at the end of the day when it was time to go home. Following from the social mores of Tyne and Wear, a small cultural war ensued when I attempted to bring the time-honoured practice of taking your coat of inside to feel t’benefit to the self-professed world capital of cosiness. The population of Copenhagen wear scarves like no one else in the world, and they wear them as big as their face well into April. We trawled round and round, eyeing beautiful blue and grey wool accessories that would have cost us a good two days’ spending money, wishing we’d brought a damn scarf with us.
- Go to the free places. We went to museums, and saw an above average amount of sculptures and chairs and had crazy, classy Danish lunches that we could barely afford. We agreed it was worth it to eat lunch somewhere where we could see both a rollercoaster and a Rodin at the same time and we balanced it out by doing everything we could possibly do for free. We got takeout food and ate it by the Lakes. We walked round and around the Botanical Gardens exchanging “Tales of Outstanding Misogyny” (this kept us going for a long time and not just because the Botanical Gardens are vast). We walked around lowkey remarking passing-by beautiful cheekbones and kanken bag colours we liked. We played a roving game of comparative German and Danish linguistics through the medium of shop signs. We stayed in at our AirBnb and watched Frances Ha with 3 DKK early grey.
We went to possibly the best ever free exhibition I’ve ever seen. In museum terms, I’m used, in short, to getting collections of objects for free and having to pay for exhibitions which have lines of argument. The Danish Design Museum is a tiny, flat little building with a courtyard full of lines of knotty trees that proves that a design museum doesn’t have to be as grand as the V&A (I love the V&A but it makes me feel tiny and looking round it properly is unmanageable in one go because they close before you’re done). I left their Learning from Japan exhibition, which argues for the cross-influence of Danish and Japanese symbolism and design, absolutely blown away. The wave, the exhibition said, has been an influential symbol in both Japanese and Danish design, both countries being surrounded by the sea. It felt strikingly obvious once I’d heard it.
- Develop a keen sense for subtle colours. I’ve had the sense that there’s some talk lately about the lack of colour in Western architecture. I find this a reasonable point in relation to vast monumental or municipal buildings and structures – castles, cathedrals, bridges etc.- but I think it’s a much more challenging argument to defend when it comes to housing and other more domestic architecture. All over Western cities you see brightly coloured habitations, particularly by the sea. Nyhaven, the harbour in the middle of the city, is a very strong example of this, but Copenhagen as a whole, at the waterfront and away, was littered with colourful houses and red rooftops. We wandered round, pointing out facades we particularly liked, at times navigated by them (the matching blossom in the corner of Kongen’s Have makes the house a very memorable landmark), wondered if they made kanken bags in the same colour as them. Copenhagen is not dull if you’re looking for small swatches of colour.
- Read Hamlet! This is not really a coping thing but you will 10/10 have more fun if you do this. We had a day out of Copenhagen, scooting up the coast on a cramped local bus when the train broke down towards Helsingør/Elsinore in pursuit of a certain Shakespearen douchebag and his literal queen of a mother. (We were also going to go to Sweden(!) but couldn’t because of aforementioned crappy train).
Even if I didn’t have an English degree I still think I would have found wandering around in the setting of possibly the most famous literature thing ever pretty damn exciting. Like a lot of Danish design – like the curation of a lot of Danish museums – the exhibition is very simple, understated, immersive, allowing the scenes to speak for themselves. You can pretend you’re Gertrude and you know better than all of these douchebag male characters around you if that’s your thing (it’s definitely my thing).
Also the crap Hamlet misquotes you can make on instagram are endless.
- Go with one good friend. Contrary to widespread speculation that I’ve given up my dubious career of travelling alone (read, my family have made catty comments that I’ve finally seen sense) I originally booked my flights alone. I was over-excited at the thought of a holiday, told one friend, who asked if I’d mind if she booked too. I said I’d didn’t mind, I was in fact actively glad she came with me.
There are some places it’s great to go to in a group (Berlin IMO), and I’ve argued before that it’s fantastic to go to Paris alone. Copenhagen was perfect as a pair of prematurely old ladies. We nattered excitedly together coming out of the National Museum on the implications of the absolute monarchy in Denmark being founded in 1660 to readings of Hamlet. We sat crammed on a tiny bus discussing the possibility of Shakespeare having gone on a lads crew holiday and playing “Never Hast Thou Ever” (have you even read Othello, this defs happened). We lamented together on the enduring universal crapness of Tinder despite the irregularly high proportion of beautiful people we saw on the streets. I had a fantastic time.
On that note, it comes to the point where I admit that I had a staggeringly good time in Copenhagen, which was mainly a force for helping me cope rather than one to be coped with. I was there because I had rightly predicted, indeed quite underestimated, that would I need a holiday at this point in the year. Work in the weeks beforehand had picked up to the intensity of regularly working 12 hour days and weekends and my personal life had taken some spectacular belly-flops too.
It was good to go away to a country that prizes simplicity without compromising comfort, to a city by the sea where you can take a few minutes just to feel the air on your face and breath for a little bit.