I recently returned from a 6 week trip to the UK, Ireland and Denmark. Denmark was the last stop on my trip and I found it to be quite surprising. I stayed at a flat in Copenhagen and really lucked out with the location. It was only a block from Torvehallerne (a huge market open 7 days a week), the metro and train station. This made it a terrific jumping off point for traveling around Copenhagen, the countryside and made finding provisions quite easy.
Here are the 7 surprises I found in Denmark:
- Bikes, bikes and more bikes. I have never seen so many bikes ever. When I got of the metro from the airport, I could not believe the massive amount of bikes parked at the metro station. There had to be upwards of 1,000 bikes within a one block radius. As I walked to the flat, I saw bikes leaned up against every building and, to at least my untrained eye, they looked to not secured in anyway. Most of the bikes were basic black with a large basket up front. Copenhagen has the most cyclists per capita, and the city with the most cyclists with 62% of the population using bikes for the daily commute. There are 6 bikes for every car in Denmark.
- Hej. I studied Scottish and Irish before arriving in each country. The thing is, while the signs might be written in Irish in Dublin, I never heard anyone speaking Irish. On the other hand, in Denmark, people greet you will “Hi” which is how “Hej” sounds to me (Hej means Hello in Danish). So I mistakenly thought that it was obvious I didn’t speak Danish but frequently, it was followed by something in Danish that I didn’t understand (although I did try to learn some Danish before arriving). The signs, the products, the menus are all in Danish although there is frequently a translation. Everyone flawlessly (I mean without skipping a beat and in perfect English) would transition from Danish to English and then back with another person.
- Baby strollers. They have taken baby stroller to new heights here. Babies are cocooned in a padded cover, head covered and swaddled lying flat on a carriage with four sturdy wheels. In the US strollers are valued for being convertible and able to move from stroller to car easily. When you don’t have a car (see number 1) you might as well have a Rolls-Royce for a stroller. Mom’s get 12 months of maternity leave (yes, 12 months) so why not make sure you can stroll with your baby in comfort.
- Green energy. As we took a canal tour of Copenhagen, we saw the very modern building called, Amager Bakke which is a combined heat and power waste-to-energy plant. It’s shaped like a hill (ironic since Denmark is so flat) and while it’s converting waste to energy, you can dry ski down the slope, go hiking or climb a climbing wall. Denmark has committed to being net zero on carbon emissions by 2025. I have to say that for as close as we got to the plant, I didn’t smell anything and, probably due to so many bikes, I don’t remember smelling exhaust the whole time I was there.
- Metro and trains. Getting a train or metro ticket in Copenhagen was easy and simple. There were kiosks at every stop and it was easy to buy a single or multi use ticket in English as well as Danish. The trains themselves are immaculate and most that I traveled on, showed each stop of a lit board and let you know where you were on your journey. Every train had at least a half a car devoted to bikes and and baby strollers (see 1 and 3). There was one point where I saw a man leave a stroller on the train and go sit down with his back to the stroller (through a doorway and about 10 feet from the stroller). I could not believe that the man sat with his back to his baby and anyone could have taken the stroller off at any given stop. I will say I saw a least one mother stand next to their stroller while en route.
- Driving. My dear friend Alison who is an American expat and has lived in Denmark for over 20 years. She picked me up at the train station with her car. The first thing is that every road has pedestrian side walk on each side of it, has a bike path (one in each direction with bike traffic lights) and a two lane car lane. This is found in the city of Copenhagen and out in the hinter land. Walking, biking and driving, are all equally welcome. The crazy part was that cars would park in the car lane in the middle of the street so as not to block the bike lane. It almost feels like the bike is number one, followed by pedestrians and then, last on the list, is the car. There is not right turn on red because of the bikers.
- Food. I had wonderful food while in Denmark. The highlight was probably the humble Danish which, as it turns out, they call “winderbrød” or Viennese bread. So some Austrias who settled in Denmark, made the beloved pastry. As opposed to what is called “danish” in the US, the flakey croissant like crust is amazing and the creamy rich center is divine. I also had a smorgasbord which is just an open face sandwich and they had many hearty breads on which they make the smorrebrød on. There is also something called Flødeboller which is a chocolate covered marshmallow puff although the marshmallow part is light and delicate. The food was amazing.
I should mention the architecture and the all the color buildings along the canals, but you most likely already think of that with Copenhagen, I think that in the combination of electric transportation, their focus on green energy and the use of bikes, it’s amazing how quiet an pollution free it feels in Denmark. That must be why it’s the one of the happiest places on Earth.