......finding a new home for lutefisk lovers.

(ok we don't love it. or even like it. but we're supposed to.)

29 July 2011

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

With the exception of a few stories, I'll just share some photos to show you what makes this place special. One of our traveling companions (known as Grown Up Liam) is a frequent visitor to Copenhagen from the UK, and as we explored the city together, he explained the concept of "Hygge." The word has no literal translation but may come from the Norwegian word for well-being. It refers to the little things that bring us comfort and happiness.

A seaside picnic table and a path through a summer garden are very hygglig. So is huddling by a fire on a winter's night. Hygge is why you see simple jars of freshly picked flowers on window sills and restaurant tables. And when the sun starts to set, the flowers are replaced by the comforting glow of candlelight - even if you're just eating a haat dagg.

After returning home to the US, I've been trying to slow down and insert more hygge into our lives. Maybe it's stopping to add capers and fresh dill to my tuna sandwich. Or a slice of lemon to my ice water. Or finding a pretty bowl for the rocks I collect at the beach.

For Danes, hygge is their heritage. For me, it may be a new way of life.

Denmark has the highest number of urban cyclists on the planet. I'm sure bikes outnumber cars. Bikes probably outnumber people. We even found a playground that had every conceivable vehicle on wheels - just out for all to use. Completely free, no security, no waiver, just put it away when you're done. Apparently, theft isn't a big issue because the "bike garage" wasn't even locked. I helped a Danish park dad gather and put away the trikes, scooters, and other forms of rolling stock at the end of the day and he was very grateful. "Tak!" he said. "De nada!" is what I pulled out of my ass in response. Thanks to one semester of Spanish in 7th grade.

We did as the Danes do and rented bikes for an afternoon (that's a picnic in my basket! See photo below! Can you say Danish fantasy?!). We had hoped to get one of these front bucket bikes pictured above. A common sight in Copenhagen, the front bucket bike is the preferred method of travel for all kinds of passengers. Not reserved for children, you'll also see dogs, wives, girlfriends, colleagues and drinking buddies sitting primly in the front bucket.

But the rental shop was out of front buckets so Liam got his own bike. Copenhagen is beyond bike-friendly with wide bike lanes on every street - but it is still quite urban and trafficky. So we were happy to be biking with our friends Liam and Michaela. I liked having a 4 to 1 grown up to child ratio as we biked through the city.

That being said, there was still plenty of shouting and reprimanding as we biked. Like:

"LIAM! Get over to the right!"

"LIAM! Don't cross that white line!!"

"LIAM! No shenanigans! Bike in a straight line!"

And each time we yelled "LIAM!" our grown up friend Liam would obediently move to the right and do as he was told.


Before leaving for our trip, we read the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. At first Liam balked, thinking that princesses and snow queens were not really his thing. So...... I made sure to get the original versions of the stories - completely un-Disney-fied. Because getting one's feet chopped off with an ax because one can't stop dancing makes for a very interesting story to an 8 year old boy (The Red Shoes). So does getting one's tongue cut out with a knife in exchange for human legs (The Little Mermaid). "What kind of knife did she use, Mama?" he wanted to know. So sweet!

Liam's butter diet. (see previous post)

Legos were invented in Denmark
You can make anything with Legos!

Lego Copenhagen!

Lego Place Where We Just Ate Lunch!
Seriously! I think that's Liam eating butter!

Liam is allowed to drink Coke on trains, airplanes and in foreign countries.
So we have lots of pictures of him drinking Coke.
Perhaps not the best parenting strategy.

No, it's not perfect. But it's really close! There's nothing like seeing your name and all its variations on signs and mailboxes and name tags everywhere you look. It feels like being part of a special club - like my people were saying "There you are! We've been looking for you!" In fact, when I checked into our hotel in Denmark, I approached the clerk and spoke English (because she was speaking English to the guests in front of me). She asked for my name - and I answered - truthfully, this time: "Kristin Nilsen," I say.

And she said, "Would you like me to speak Danish?"

Why this makes me so happy, I have no idea. Maybe it's because her question implies that I look like I belong somewhere. Like.....there. Everyone wants to belong, right? (Hmmmm. Making some parallels to my current situation in which I seemingly don't belong. Note to self: call therapist).

Either way, I'm part of a club! Yay!

As we close in on 9 years old, I'm keenly aware of the decline of hand holding. I know hand holding isn't permanent. And when I do find his hand in mine - only occasionally now - I say a quick thank you, knowing that it could slip out at any time.

But.........Liam and I walked hand in hand throughout much of Stockholm and Copenhagen.

He would grab my hand and interlace his fingers loosely with mine, like we were girlfriend and boyfriend. He didn't clutch me or pull me. He wasn't anxious or unsure. He just wanted to keep me near, by his side, a physical reminder of my presence as we traipsed through these strange cities.

And I relished every moment, knowing that this was a special dispensation given to almost 9 year old boys who are traveling far from home.

As we boarded the plane for home, I said goodbye to the hand holding, assuming he didn't need me anymore. The trip was done. And given the proximity of airplane seats, my hand probably wouldn't be necessary for security purposes.

But as he settled in with his blanket and his iPod, he reached over and grabbed my hand for the plane ride home.


Colleen said...

Your photos and words are fab, but more importantly, you have some seriously great travel fashion-sense.

Tina said...

I just found your blog by total coincidense (well, actually I just bought a New England cookbook on Amazon.com and I was looking for the right translation of clams into Danish. Wanted to try out the clam chowder :-)).

Being Danish myself, it is a total joy reading your observations about my country. I have travelled quite a bit in the US, and worked for more than 15 for a US based company. And I have often discussed the similarities and differences between the US and Denmark with my American friends. I went to CT just a few weeks ago, and oen of the things I suddenly realized at my friends' house was that lamps which hang over tables are hung significantly higher in the US than here. And why? Probably because here we find that the light becomes more 'hyggeligt' when the lamp hangs at a lower level. Funny isn't it? But hygge really enters all parts of life here.

I have a daugher who is 10 and a son, 5. They both still hold my hand, and I can guarantee you that I treasure every moment as well. Total Hygge!

All the best wishes to you and I hope you & your family will come to Denmark again in the future.

Tina Andersen

Kristin said...

Tina! What a joy to read your comments! They make me all the more eager to return to your beautiful country. Just proof that much of what makes it a wonderful place is the wonderful people. :)