S A R I S H A K U R U P
Copenhagen is such a juxtaposition of old and new, of water and pavement, of modernism and classicism. It's a city that feels vibrant and cosily slow at the same time, where family and wild youth seem to be able to coexist seamlessly. And of course, everyone bikes ferociously, which is perhaps why everyone there seems so young and beautiful (and blonde!). And there's a cafe at every corner, so many places to write and linger and watch the world (and bikers) go by. Amsterdam is a reader's city, I think, and Copenhagen is a writer's city.
Copenhagen captured my imagination long before I had ever set foot on Danish soil. It started from the moment that I watched the film Copenhagen in my sophomore year of high school. I developed from that film such a deep and powerful longing to see this Scandinavian city that it established a sort of travel fever within me. When my friend, Anahita, and I decided to spend June of this summer traveling in Europe, I made sure Copenhagen was on our list.
It was a ten hour flight, and we landed on the other side powerfully exhausted but bright-eyed nonetheless, ready for our first truly adult experience in this great, vast world. We bought tickets with little trouble and then we were bolting through the suburbs and into the heart of the city inside a sleek, distinctly Scandinavian train. I struggled to keep my overstuffed suitcase from rolling across the train car as I watched houses and trees blur past us like watercolors.
We emerged from Norreport station looking for our bus, congratulating ourselves for arriving in the city center with little trouble at all. A little premature, since only ten minutes later we were frantically scrambling off the wrong bus. It took us a while, but finally we were there: Peter Faber Gade. We rolled our luggage down the cobblestone street, eyeing each brightly-colored apartment number so that not to miss ours. Our relief at finally finding our building was somewhat dampered then by the realization that we had nine flights of stairs to climb, suitcases in hand, but at last we were at the doorstep of our Airbnb. Our host was a man named Sol, a muscular Dane with long, bright-blonde hair wound into a bun, a tank top and a pair of hippie-esque green linen pants that cinched at the ends. He gave us a map and a few recommendations, then slung an enormous backback across his back and was on his way, telling us to slip the keys in the mail slot when we had completed our stay.
His apartment was beautiful. Small, but filled with light and succulents. From it we were able to gather snippets about Sol himself. It was obvious from the way he dressed that he had certain hippie-esque tendencies, but as we examined the books that lined the shelves, all about yoga and Eastern philosophies, the little statuettes of Hindu gods that scattered on open surfaces, the pictures of the Dalai Llama and Vishnu taped to his refrigerator, it became clear that he was quite the character. It became a running joke between us throughout the trip: I wonder what Sol is doing right now. Probably nude yoga in the park. I wonder what restaurant Sol eats at. Probably the vegan smoothie place. As I wrote to my friend Andrew later though, "[It] was odd because the owner just gives you the keys and leaves you to their house, and you get to access such an intimate part of them, their space, without really knowing them at all."
That evening we took a walk down the main street, exploring this novel city. We walked all the way down to the set of rectangular lakes that divide the city, the søerne, and in the evening light it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, those grand old buildings giving way to the blue water, evening revelers gathering to watch the lakes and smoke. We had dinner that night at a little cafe called Cafe Klimt, named after Gustav Klimt, one of my favorite artists, and then came back to the apartment to try to sleep despite inevitable jetlag.
It was really the following day that things started to go wrong. First, my flat iron, which was advertised as dual voltage, not only didn't work, but broke my adapter and melted all the fuses in the apartment. Then, we realized it was a national holiday for the next two days, so we had no chance of going to any store to get a new adapter, or to buy any warm clothes to combat the utter barrage of rain outside. Having planned for a European summer weather, neither of us had even brought a sweater. Nevertheless, we put on brave faces. Nothing except restaurants were open, so we decided it was a good opportunity to simply wander the city without the temptation of shopping. It was an hour after lunch that I realized that I had left my debit card at the restaurant we had eaten at, but upon calling them, a very confused Danishman claimed they had found no card at all.
Still, we had seen some the most beautiful parts of the city that day. Nyhavn had been everything I had imagined and more, like walking into a storybook. Touristy, to be sure, but no part of Copenhagen felt excessively touristy because the number of tourists could not even compare to that of San Francisco, or New York, or Paris. The city, above all, was small, personable, a place that happened to have visitors rather than a place built for visitors. I loved that about it. We wandered from Nyhavn to a church that was enclosed by a park and an old fortress that still had soldiers patrolling, although now it was mostly for show as the most dangerous people there were a few overzealous joggers. It was drizzling continuously, turning the park into a shade of deep green, the sky a contemplative grey. My favorite kind of melancholy weather.
Despite that, we arrived back in our apartment that evening feeling slightly defeated from the day. I was determined to love this city and yet everything that could have gone wrong, it seemed, had gone wrong. My laptop had already died, and our phones were slowly reaching dangerously low levels of battery, and though Sol had come and helped us get the power back on after the fuses all broke, we still didn't have an adaptor to charge our devices with. At two o'clock in the morning we devised some half-insane plan to make our way to Sweden the next day to buy an adaptor, even writing out the directions in my notebook in case our phones died and we lost access to Maps.
The next morning I awoke at 5 A.M., exhausted but unable to sleep anymore. I made my way to the living room and created a small sketch of the dining table and the window behind it as the sun rose. When I had almost finished, I happened to look at the little space beside the couch and saw what looked like huge, chunky electronic device.
"What is that?" Anahita asked.
I opened it. "I think it's a laptop!"
And then suddenly we were scrambling for our iPhone chargers. We managed to plug them into this ancient laptop and then slowly but surely, they began to charge. It was a hard won victory, but it was exactly what we needed. We both grinned at each other and high-fived, the relief apparent on our faces. It was a new morning, the Scandinavian sun bright, and we spent an hour at Cafe Griffins, sipping coffee and writing. It was the most incredible little cafe, like many of the spaces in the city, because it was designed so well, little touches: well placed magazines and plants, unique mis-matched chairs. I loved the city so much, I think, because of this. There were so many beautiful spaces, so many beautiful things, and as a writer and as an artist, I often feel like I feed on that kind of beauty. To live amongst it every day seems like some kind of fever dream. Living here would feed my soul in some essential way, I wrote in my journal that day.
We took a bus to Christiania, a little independent province within Copenhagen that's essentially a hippie heaven, complete with communal living and legal marajuana. It was a fascinating jaunt through the tiny town. What it must be like, I thought, to grow up here, not knowing any other kind of life. We stopped for brunch in a little cafe outside Christiania, eating avocado toast as though we were back in California again, and then made our way to Christiansborg Palace for a tour of the building that holds the offices of the Prime Minister and serves as a reception for the royal family of Denmark. It was pretty--a room full of tapestries chronicling every century of Danish history was particularly notable--but we both agreed that the palace itself seemed rather culturally insignificant, despite the guide's assurances otherwise. Still, it was an entertaining way to fill an afternoon when it was pouring rain outside.
That evening we took a walk around another part of the city near our apartment, a place that seemed more local, utterly devoid of tourists. We liked it that way, getting to watch real life take place around us. Bicycles whisked by, manned by beautiful, fair-haired Danes, fit from walking and cycling everywhere. We laughed as we saw mothers and fathers biking home with their little children attached to their bikes by wheeled carriages. It was such a different way of life. We made our way back to the bridge over the lake to watch the sun set, and then we slipped back up to our apartment.
The following day we made it our mission to get on a canal tour of Copenhagen. We didn't know where the tours took off from, but we wandered the city center and happened upon a tour and that was that. Our tour guide, a young man dressed in all white with a sailor's hat, spoke and impressive number of languages, and as he guided us through the city he repeated each one of his remarks in four different languages, each time with the same joviality. The city by water was another experience entirely, somehow even more personable, beautiful, fascinating. It become now a city of old and new, old churches and palaces beside modern opera houses and eco-friendly housing. As we floated down a canal supposedly designed after Amsterdam canals at the request of a Danish king, we excited spotted the avocado toast restaurant we had been to the day before. It already felt like we knew this city.
After we disembarked we wanted to get closer to one church whose dome we had caught sight of on the tour. We found our way there and spent one blissful hour inside, sitting in the pews and admiring the architecture before pulling out our Moleskine journals and just writing. Something about churches--I always find myself writing best in churches, despite my utter lack of spirituality or religiosity. There's something inspiring about the knowledge that these beautiful feats of architecture, these paintings, these carvings, are all entirely man made. We have the power to create something so awe-inspiring.
This was also the first day we were in Copenhagen that there was no national holiday, so we happily made our way to an electronics store to purchase an adapter. The weather still strayed toward cold, so we also wandered into a thrift shop near our apartment in search of something warmer to wear. We both liked the idea of buying used clothes in this city, where people dress so well. It would feel like we were taking something truly special with us when we left, an article of clothing that had a history in this city.
We had lunch on a rooftop terrace in the city center and then made our way back to the apartment for a little siesta. We had planned to wake up at six o'clock and go to Tivoli, the famous amusement park, and then maybe venture to Culturebox, a night club that I had read about. But alas, so jetlagged, the moment our heads hit the pillow we were out, only waking up the next day. We were sad for what we had missed at first, but then decided it was simply a reason to come back. I knew that I would.
By the afternoon we were strapped into our airplanes seats, en route to Amsterdam, and though I was excited for the next leg of our journey, I couldn't help but feel a profound sadness for what we had left behind. A near-perfect city, I thought as it disappeared before me, growing smaller and smaller as we ascended into the clouds. No amount of time would ever feel like enough.
a little slideshow of more photos: