Hygge (and Hells Angels)

I knew I needed to get out of town when I found myself listening to Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away” on repeat for the few days leading up to my weekend trip to Copenhagen on August 9th. I would be visiting Chiara, a friend I had met on my travels in Thailand in 2014 and whose mom I had the pleasure of meeting in Delhi in May. Chiara had been living in Copenhagen for the past seven years and was happy to show me around her city, rain or shine (I quickly learned she was always expertly equipped for the fickle Copenhagen weather).

Reading at the airport with coffee in hand, intermittently glancing up from my book to people-watch is hands down one of my favourite pastimes. That familiar feeling I crave rises up in me: the anticipation of the trip mixed with the buzz of caffeine never fails to send my pulse racing and my mind soaring, imagining the adventure to come. Even though I wasn’t going far this time (at least compared to Asia), the change of scenery was overdue in my mind. Coincidentally, it was also my mom’s birthday, and reflecting on her sudden passing last year had stirred up emotions—good and bad. Seemingly in response to my mixed mood, a thunderstorm (fairly uncommon for this region) materialized only a few hours earlier, darkening the sky, amplifying the wind, and delaying the trains. It felt like a bit of an ominous way to start a trip, but I was lucky—my train departed from Mannheim only ten minutes later than scheduled, giving me plenty of time to reach my gate at the airport in Frankfurt. Sunlight had started to peer through the clouds by the time I boarded the train, and the rain had settled to a light drizzle.

I arrived at Copenhagen Kastrup late in the evening, catching the metro and then the bus to arrive in Chiara’s neighbourhood (Nørrebro) in the midst of what was basically a monsoon. It seemed I had brought the bad weather with me. Chiara met me at the bus shelter in rainboots clutching an umbrella, and we proceeded to get drenched (the umbrella quickly proved futile) in the two-minute time span of walking to her apartment. We spent the next few hours catching up on life, finally calling it quits after 2 am.

The next day, I awoke early (too early for the extra-late night, but such is my curse/blessing as a die-hard morning person) to the sun streaming through the curtains, stepped into the cool air of the balcony, and noticed that the relatively inconspicuous Hells Angels headquarters just so happened to be stationed across the street. Fun coincidence being close to the local badasses, and it turns out they too enjoy a summer evening BBQ on the patio like the rest of us common folk.

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After drawing out the morning with more rest and lingering over breakfast (including several mugs of strong black coffee), we headed downtown to Nyhavn, the picturesque, touristy waterfront, famous for its romantic “love locks” clasped along the canal bridge. The atmosphere (i.e., brutal, cold wind) and close-knit, colorful buildings evoked the nostalgic sensation of being St. John’s, Newfoundland (my home for five years and where I will visit in October).



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Walking along the promenade, we stumbled upon a lineup of food trucks (gourmet burgers and pizza, street-style Indian food, and other hipster–foodie faves), bleachers, and a stage. It turned out we were in the right place at the right time: an hour-long contemporary dance show, consisting of six performances with professional dancers from around the world, was about to start, and the three top rows of the bleachers were reserved as free for spectators. The choreography was spectacular and the dancers were phenomenal, perfectly in sync with one other and completely unfazed by the strong gusts of wind that rocked the bleachers periodically.

We then caught the bus for a quick visit to Christiania, home to a unique, alternative subculture of Copenhagen since 1971. Nestled in Christianshavn, the former military base is its own separate society—marijuana is sold here legally and openly in the “Green Light District.” Organic food stalls and shops selling skateboards, street art, rainbow hippie garb, and pot paraphernalia line the streets of the main district. We didn’t explore its entirety, but approximately 900 people live in Christiania, apparently.

We finished off the evening with vegan Ethiopian food (one of my favourite cuisines) from Ma’ed Restaurant, falling asleep soon after the heavy, delicious meal.

On Saturday, we headed out a bit earlier than the previous day, first to see Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” which in actuality is a pretty nondescript (and deceptively small, like the Mona Lisa) statue perched on a rock, but nevertheless attracts hordes of tourists. She actually looks a bit depressed against the backdrop of the gloomy harbour, but I would be too if I was subjected to selfie-stick-toting tourists 24/7 (tourist hordes tend to take me from zero to “fuck this shit” pretty quickly). After a quick and dirty (but to my credit not too dirty, as I have yet to whip out the Muay Thai moves) snapshot, we explored the surrounding area, including St. Alban’s church and Gefion Fountain (a Norse goddess steering a team of oxen), and a number of other charming monuments dedicated to war veterans, statues of Greek gods (Hermes), and interesting lampposts.

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The afternoon was spent kayaking in the harbour while picking up (or at least attempting to pick up) trash along the waterways with the long pair of tongs given to us by the The Green Kayak, which rents out kayaks for free in exchange for garbage collecting. A very cool, eco-friendly concept.

Although this sounds like a leisurely affair, it started off a bit harrowing. First of all, I hadn’t been kayaking in a few years, and even then, my experience was limited to a few outings on very calm water, with ample room for boats to pass by. Ditto for Chiara, who had done it only once. Here, the wind is powerful, the water is rough, and the narrow waterway is crammed with constant boat traffic (as well as parked boats). It took us a a little while (and more than a little profanity) in our tandem kayak to get the hang of things, but we were pros (okay, semi-pros) by the end of it. In our momentary distress (okay, longer than momentary), we met Hunter, calmly paddling along the water like a kayaking model in a tourism commerical. We learned he was studying in Copenhagen (from England) for the next little while (and was also a competitive rower, hence the ease of maneuvering a kayak), and we agreed to meet him again (purposely, not accidentally) before the weekend was over. We collected very little garbage due to our concentration on navigating, coordinating, steering, and conversing (okay, flirting)—not to mention the impressively clean state of the harbour—but managed to grab a few miscellaneous items (e.g., balloons and plastic).

That evening, we met with Lene, David, and Julia (the aunt and two cousins, respectively, of one of my close friends in Canada). I had met them before in Canada and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them while visiting their city. We had a nice supper and wine in a restaurant off Strøget, the famous pedestrian street.

The next day was relatively low-key, on account of the incessant rain and some fatigue setting in on my part. Despite this, we climbed the steps to the tower (Tårnet) of Christiansborg Palace to take in the panoramic views of the city and explored the grounds.

After our tower descent, we lounged around the comfy couches of the contemporary-style café where Chiara works. With hot chocolate in hand, we chatted away the rest of the afternoon to ride out the rain—very hygge (in essence, the art of warmth and coziness in Danish culture). Hunter joined us later for Thai food, then drinks at a charming bar on a cobblestone street in Christianshavn, and we parted ways in the mid-evening, given my early morning flight.

In other news, I’ve mapped out my near-future travel plans. I will round out the year with a visit to Munich next month, cross the Atlantic for a Canada visit in October, and possibly return to Copenhagen over Christmas (what I imagine to be the epitome of hygge). Next year will be big: I’m dead set on trekking in Ethiopia and Bhutan (or Nepal), and will visit family in Greece. The in-between, shorter trips will be spontaneous (oftentimes the best kind of trip).

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