🇩🇰 7 Surprises I found in Denmark

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. 

The author and her friend Alison on the canal in Copenhagen.

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. 

😎An American in Belfast

As I write this, I am preparing to depart Belfast after a week of wanderings and discoveries.  Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which basically brought to an end “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.  

Northern Ireland  is situated on the island of Ireland and shares it with the Republic of Ireland (a member of the EU) to the south. Northern Ireland belongs to the United Kingdom with strong ties to Scotland. It is only separated by 13 miles of the Irish Sea. There were hundreds of years of traversing those waters for trade as well as religious reasons.  It also uses the British pound and is no longer in the EU due to Brexit. 

The author in front of the Palm House in Belfast, NI

I have discovered in my genealogical research (started by my father) that my father’s maternal family came from Northern Ireland and Scotland which is termed Ulster Scots or Scotch-Irish as it is typically referred to in the states.  The reason for the migration from Scotland to Northern Ireland and then onto Montreal in 1822 was for the right to practice their Presbyterian religion. Watts Cooke Sr. and Lavinia Donaldson Cooke (my 3rd great grandparents) traveled by sea in 1822.  The only reason I know it was that year, since I haven’t found any shipping records, is that Lavinia gave birth to their first child, Amelia Cooke, at sea. What a brave and courageous woman! 

Here are my musings on Belfast:

New city.  Belfast was established as a city in 1888 by Queen Victoria.  This is well after the American Revolution and the Civil War.  It was in the early 19th century referred to as Linenopolis because it was the biggest linen producer in the world.  There is an entire Linen Quarter in downtown Belfast and several of the larger older buildings are known for being a leader in the industry.  Most of the older part of the city is on landfill. Subsequently, the Albert Memorial Tower is actually leaning and has been shored up several times (it’s not as bad as the Leaning Tower of Pisa). The largest shipyard in the world was in Belfast and it was the home to RMS Titanic (yes, that Titanic) and the SS Canberra. After the Good Friday Agreement, tourism is becoming one its leading industries as well as financial tech and technology.  There are castles and fortresses outside of Belfast but the city itself is young and trendy

Eating out.  You can get breakfast until 5 PM in most restaurants that are open.  It’s like having brunch every day of the week.  The big dish here is called a Full Fry which is an egg, bacon, sausage, potato bread, soda bread, pancake, hash brown, mushrooms and tomato (yes…. ALL of that). I have found that if any food item has mayonnaise on it, it’s an obscene amount of mayonnaise; like spill all over your hands, need three napkins, amount of mayonnaise. And usually, you are given one thin napkin to keep yourself tidy.  In most cafes, there’s table service so a server will bring your food after taking your order; but you go up to the counter at the end to pay (so you have to remember your table number, or you might be buying someone else’s food!).  The waiters and hosts in Belfast have been greeting me with “Hey oh.” This is in juxtaposition to the Scottish servers who said “Hou’s it guan”.  Since I really like breakfast, this all day breakfast has been a pleasant surprise. 

Apartments.  I’ve been staying in Airbnbs for my stays as it’s easier to work and I can eat at home when I want to.  The heating in the flats is through radiators, which I haven’t seen since I left New York City in 1985.  It takes hours for the place to warm up but it’s not noisy which is nice. There are no electrical outlets in the bathroom and all light switches are on the outside of the bathroom.  I’m glad I don’t blow dry my hair but it’s still an adjustment. The shower is about the size of a small hula hoop which makes dropping a bar of soap problematic and I’ve had to open the shower door to lean over to pick it up. Every electrical outlet in the kitchen has an on/off switch attached to it; this, makes for a lot of switches for each countertop appliance. I scored at this Airbnb in Belfast because it actually had a coffee maker in this tea centric country.  It’s been a comfortable and interesting stay.

Walking around.  I went on an interesting walking tour of Belfast. That’s really when I realized how relatively young this city is. There are several alley ways in the middle of city blocks that have names like “Joy Way” and “Wilson Way”.  If my guide had not taken me down a few of them, I’m not sure I would have realized their existence. I’m pretty much dazed and confused when I’m walking around by myself and am always looking for crosswalks with “the little green figures” that tell me it’s safe to cross. Crosswalks are pretty confusing because the streets are not a grid, they come together at various angles and a lot of times they are one way. I realized coming home yesterday that I had thought the street outside my flat was one way but there were about 30% of the cars parked in the opposite direction on the same side of the road. This only affirms that I will not be renting a car.

There are tons of places to discover in Northern Ireland and I highly recommend coming to Belfast for a visit. It’s worth if for the museums, markets and gardens but there’s a whole world beyond that as well. I was able to go to the Giant’s Causeway on the very northern end of Ireland and it is a must see.  The fable is that Finn the Giant made a causeway to Scotland.  The stones and pillars are in perfectly formed hexagons and are amazing in that they are not man made.  Come to Belfast to see it all for yourself. 

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿6 Observations about Scotland

I’ve been in Scotland for the first time this past week.  It’s late March , mostly overcast, highs in the upper 40’s and low 50’s.  So, the weather has not been great but it hasn’t been a major deterrent either. When I set up this trip I planned to look for my roots in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Until about a week before I left, I didn’t realize that I had ancestors who came from Scotland.  I was gratified to find my 10th great grandmother, Isobel Glossop Gillies, was born in Bendochy, Scotland in 1554.  This traces back through my paternal grandmother.  So, on a very tenuous, long thin string, I trace parts of me back to this beguiling place.

My 6 observations about Scotland:

Left side.  This is my first experience with cars on the left side of the road.  It’s been quite disconcerting.  I feel like I’m in a fun house of mirrors most of the time and end up triple checking both ways endlessly before crossing a road, and for the most part, have learned to follow a local like a lost puppy.  It doesn’t help that so many cars are hybrid or electric so, I just can’t depend on hearing as a warning.  There were several times where I saw children pop into the front right-hand side of a car and thought, “What the hell? Is that 10-year-old driving?” If I realize anything, there’s no way I’m renting a car while I’m here.

Museums are free (for the most part).  I’ve been able to see several museums in Glasgow (where I’m staying) and I’ve been really pleasantly surprised that they have all been free including the Botanical Gardens, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and the ancient Glasgow Cathedral.  They all accept contributions and each one had a way to do so by credit card so it wasn’t critical to have cash.  The only exception was the Edinburgh Castle, which as a main tourist attraction and certainly the most popular place I went, makes sense if only to control the crowds. 

Hou’s it guan? I was seated at a restaurant on the west end of Glasgow and the server came to my table and said “Hou’s it guan?”. I immediately said just fine.  Then I realized she wanted me to give my order and she really didn’t care much about my state of being. I had to laugh at myself because I had watched a YouTube video about Scottish expressions and I recall that the woman said that this is just saying hello and you don’t respond with how you are actually doing. It’s funny when it actually happens to you and “Hou’s it guan” is really just a greeting and not a question.

Hairy Coos. I was so happy I planned a trip to the highlands and was able to see the Highland Cows.  They are everywhere in the gift shops, stuffy cows with big horns and a big shaggy coat.  We were able to see these gentle giants, as well has thousands of sheep, on the tour, but the Hairy Coos in real life grazing in a stone fenced field was terrific.  

On the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond with snow capped Ben Lomond behind

Dogs.  I was pretty surprised that dogs are allowed on the subway, busses and a lot of restaurants.  They are truly companions here.  The breeds are quite different than what I am used to seeing in the US.  Tons of Scottish Deerhounds, Shelties, Gordon Setters and Scottish Terriers.  I haven’t seen any pit bulls or Rottweilers in the week I have been here.

Weather.  My weather app might say it will just be cloudy all day but inevitably it will be raining when I walk out the door.  My first day exploring it was overcast, then sprinkles, then sunny and then rain followed by a rainbow.  If you don’t like the weather, just wait and it will change. I would take an umbrella but rarely bothered to get it out because then I would have to drag a wet umbrella around.  I’ve slowly adapted to take whatever comes.

I have to say that the ancient architecture is amazing, the history incredibly rich and deep and the highlands and its stark austere mountains by pristine lakes, is not to be missed.  I can’t wait to come back again.