27 October 2013

Learning to cope with all the bicycles in copenhagen

our reward for making it through the busy stress of daves first teaching semester was a short trip to copenhagen (or, as it is known in-country: københavn). it turned out to be a nice, relaxing choice.

the one thing that struck me right away, however, was overwhelming at first, and was certainly the most unusual thing for me, in terms of departures from my regular life, was all the damn bikes. we made it from the airport, to our first destination (the aquarium, see below), and a metro ride before we finally emerged in downtown copenhagen. we came up from the metro underground and there were bikes EVERYwhere! i mean rows and rows of double decker bike racks, too many bikes to even be contained in the racks, they were strewn everywhere. granted we got off at perhaps the most central (therefore busiest?) metro stop called nørreport so maybe this was the citys biggest concentration of bikes, but it doesnt matter. it looked like there had been a tornado and all the bikes in the world had been thrown here, or if there had been a plague that wiped out an entire nomadic bicycling community of thousands overnight. something like that is how it felt to have arrived on this scene. 

we mostly walked during this trip, or occasionally used the bus or metro, so we never first-person experienced this enormous section of society (cycling). however, i can say, that bikes rule that town. and its great that they win out over cars, but walking made me feel like a third class citizen. the cars were just an ignored group going about their business in the middle of the road while the bikers, in all their hipster gear and clothing and scarves and hair flowing in the breeze, were leaving pages of magazines to enjoy the fresh air and invigorating charge that was biking to work or pleasure activities. there were no people in exercise biking gear or helmets here, these were regular people going about their regular lives. the city, nay the country, is so darn flat that you neednt break a sweat when you get on your bike. its the fastest, most logical way of life. amazing, though ive never lived in a place flat enough to take up biking with any seriousness. but, back to being a 'walker' in this city...well, the bikers have such priority that by the time you get to the sidewalks, as a walker i felt sandwiched or pinned between the walls of the shops and the rather wide bike lanes. plus, bikes also had the ability to park on the sidewalks in front of the shops. so being a walker was challenging, but pushing a stroller almost made you feel like a damn idiot. 

anyway, not to continue to act so shocked about the bikes, i will say i was starting to accept them by the end of our 4 days. and nothing against them, i mean, if we lived there or were staying for a longer period of time i would love to rent a bike (the family/kid hauling bikes were SO cool!) and really do it right, but that wasnt in store for us this trip. the city is very lovely and i would like to come back, so perhaps there is hope of that becoming reality. or at least we will be better prepared should we ever visit the netherlands. :) 

(city-chic biking in the downtown)

thursday (10/24): we had an easy direct flight to copenhagen and since we hadnt seen food options on the map near our first destination (the aquarium) we decided to grab something in the airport before we left. wrong. we had a time-consuming shitty lunch at olearys pub. lesson learned.

then we had a short, easy metro ride to the brand new national aquarium of denmark (den blå planet). what a gorgeous place, it was laid out for ease of enjoyment without the pressure. im glad it wasnt crowded when we went though (it has apparently been PACKED since it opened in march 2013), we could see what we wanted and not feel crushed. i loved the reef tank, i think we could all have sat there for hours. it was a very relaxing space.

(at the aquarium)

afterward, we took the crowded metro to the city center. after getting over the shock of the bikes, we took a short bus ride over 'the lakes' into the hipster neighborhood of nørrebro. i would highly recommend this neighborhood to anyone who likes to visit citys and get more of the 'how locals really live' feel, rather than just the tourist experience.

anyway, we had rented a familys apartment for the weekend (from airbnb), so we checked in with them, unpacked and went to the nearby grocery store. it was jam jam jam packed with people because it was 20% off day (food is very expensive in denmark). when we finally got back for dinner, we were pooped. so we just ate and watched a movie.

friday (10/25): after breakfast in the apartment, we headed out for the morning. the bakery around the corner was a perfect place to stop each day. X chose a chocolate cream pastry while dave got his standard cinnamon roll. both looked great. they ate their treats on our walk through the nearby assistens cemetery, the burial site of famed author hans christian andersen, among other famous danes.

on this walk, in which our end destination was supposed to be a playground, we noted the large number of thrift stores this neighborhood had and decided to enter one. they were VERY kind to children here, and we found some lovely, rather inexpensive baby doll clothes. then we focused on finding our destination playground but had no luck so we took a bus across 'the lakes' to the edge of the city center. i got to choose some things from a nice bakery with gluten-free treats, oh man it was yum. i chowed down while we peacefully walked back across the bridge and along the water. we found another thrift store (with only kids stuff) and a small playground to finish off our morning. we had lunch at the very filling and tasty nordic noodle and headed back for a nap.

then we walked over to the gorgeous tower playground. what an awesome play space, the design firm apparently has designed tons of playgrounds in denmark, and i now i want to go find every one. i also liked that the playground drew in enough locals to really get a look at regular copenhagen family life. the weather was definitely damp on this day, like halifax, and the kids gear was rather different from helsinki (hat styles and the choice of outer layers). its so interesting how each nordic country seems to have its signature way to outfit kids against the elements (i noticed this in iceland too).

(walking up to the playground gate; family photo in a mirrored building at the playground)

on our walk back from the playground, we gave X her first bubble tea experience. dave chose the more traditional tapioca 'bubble' tea while X and i went for some weird burst in your mouth super sweet 'bubbles'. she loved both of them of course. then, in the short block or two walk from bubble tea back to the apartment, i was able to get some tasty gluten-free dinner take out (from beat root, middle eastern food), while dave and X had a bagel sandwich dinner. we had a really great afternoon together, and to finish his lovely day, dave went out to meet a friend (a colleague from dalhousie) for some drinks at the beer-enthusiasts dream locale: mikkeller & friends bar.

saturday (10/26): after breakfast in the apartment and another trip to the bakery and tea shop around the corner we made our way to the neighborhood library where we found enough english books to entertain us for a bit. then we dipped into another thrift store for baby doll clothes (this owner was also very nice and gave X some treats) before choosing a place called soupanatural for takeaway lunch.

(reading furniture in the library)

after lunch at the apartment, we decided it might be time to head across 'the lakes' and actually see the city center today. so we crossed the bridge, hit the gluten-free bakery for yummies for me and wandered into a dreamy gourmet food market. this place, called torvehallerne, is on a cobblestone square and comprises two glass buildings. every food stand is drool-worthy and the selection is wonderful, though pricey. the fish markets were gorgeous and caught our attention right away. seeing all the fish laid out in appealing ways was fun for X and the fish counter guys even passed her a lollipop. she was in heaven. as we walked around the market, she was even bold enough to try some samples that were out. i have to highly recommend this place, and wish that helsinki can create one of these some day.

(giant monkfish in the display case of one of the fish counters)

next, we took the metro to the neighborhood of christianahavn. we passed by the gorgeous shining spire of the 'church of our saviour' before stepping into the strange self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of freetown christiania. this place used to be military land but then devolved into kind of a squatters town where you can buy cannabis. we felt safe the whole time we were there, though im sure we arent the right kind of people to really 'get' the vibe and mentality of the 800+ residents who live there. there were signs inside the area that said photography was not welcome, though honestly, at least on the paths we walked, the place wasnt really as much of a spectacle as you might imagine.

(mural where we entered freetown)

after freetown, we decided to walk back into the city center. we stopped in to the huge department store called 'magasin du nord' for some of their chocolates and a smoothie at the 'joe and the juice' inside. the department store was enormous and fancy, something like londons harrods or paris' galeries lafayette. i still like finlands stockmann better, it feels much more user-friendly and accessible.

we left the department store and X promptly fell asleep so we peacefully strolled through parts of the more historic city center. many of the areas of the city center we had previously seen were clean, square, stone buildings that were nice but rather bland, but this part of the center had low buildings of many colors and much more character. we didnt make a circuit of the must-see things in the city (for example, we didnt even attempt to go see the little mermaid statue) but in this way our visit was more relaxed. we werent feeling pressure or like we were missing some essential copenhagen experience by not seeing these things. or maybe we did, but there is always next time. i saw enough to know i liked it and would like to come back. the city center didnt whip me into an excitement frenzy though, rather it was the things we did more on the outskirts of downtown that were memorable.

after our walk, we found ourselves back at the gourmet market for dinner. i got a gluten-free panini while dave and X got a great looking pizza from gorms pizza. she also dazzled the fish guys into giving her another lollipop. then we walked home and relaxed for the evening.

sunday (10/27): after breakfast in the apartment, we cleaned up the place. X and i went to the tower playground again while dave picked up tea and pastries. this time, the tower playground was even more interesting because the previous day we had seen, in person, several of the citys historic buildings the playground was modeled after. such a cool cultural gift for the kids of the city.

(this picture doesnt do justice to the true height of this slide. it was like sliding from the second story window of a house. very fun, even for adults.)

when we left the playground, dave pulled out a huge chocolate cream pastry for X to have a couple bites of, and when she saw it she paused, widened her eyes, and whispered "my eyes lit up!". we both busted out laughing. priceless. then we gathered our stuff and bussed and metroed it back to the airport. we checked in easily and grabbed some lunch. we had an easy flight home and were welcomed back by fog, drizzle and darkness. lol. (we had also experienced daylight savings time overnight today).

*click here for the full album of our trips pics.*

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