Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

26 Mar 2012

Copenhagen

Posted by Will

As I first cycled into the city centre I chatted to a local woman, also on her bicycle, and told her I was excited to see Copenhagen. She looked at me sadly and said: ‘I’m afraid you’ve chosen a bad time to come, the metro is being upgraded so the city is a real mess’. If Copenhagen is a mess now I can’t imagine how it usually looks. Yes, there are a few patches of roadworks but in true Scandinavian style they’ve managed to get everything flowing smoothly regardless. From what I’ve seen in the last 4 days, Copenhagen is about as far from a real mess as I can imagine. I’m going to spent the next few minutes trying to tell you why.

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The outward beauty of Copenhagen is a sight to behold. The city has grand royal palaces, a town hall which dominates the central square, historic churches scattered all over the place, canals so clean you can swim in them, colourful houses lining the harbour, lakes full of swans and surrounded by joggers, a designer opera house, an old-style amusement park slap bang in the middle of town and a multitude of perfectly-kept parks full of flowers and statues. Fantastic weather during my stay added to the picture and I spent many hours warming myself by lying down in the parks and sitting on benches beside the harbour. Like Amsterdam, Copenhagen has mastered the power of water to make things beautiful.

After first impressions, it quickly becomes clear how much there is to do in Copenhagen. If you have money there are hundreds of stylish little cafés outside which many residents seem to relax all day long. Chic eateries offer cuisine from Denmark and all over the world. One particular restaurant, Noma, has been reviewed as the best restaurant in the world in 2010 and 2011 (I didn’t eat there – didn’t like the menu). At night, pretty much all the bars are packed with people drinking beer. It’s all expensive (a beer is £8, a basic coffee £3.20, a plate of good steak and chips £30) but the great quality, atmosphere and design in most places justifies this. Here, you get what you pay for.

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If you’re trying to live cheap like me there’s a whole host of free museums and galleries. The National Museum takes you through the history of the Danish people from the prehistoric to the modern day. The Ny Carlsburg Glyptotek is an extraordinary gallery housing famous paintings by Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Gauguin as well as a big indoor jungle chill-out area where you can sit and comtemplate everything you’ve seen. It’s like a rainforest. There’s a free walking tour around the city, the National Gallery doesn’t charge, and today there was even a guy standing in the central square handing out Magnum ice creams (it wasn’t as creepy as it sounds).

Another interesting attraction in Copenhagen is the hippie community, Christiania. Founded in the early 1970s as an experiment in alternative living, this enclave considers itself separate from Denmark, has it’s own flag, doesn’t pay taxes to the central government, polices itself and has shops, bars and a music venue. It also has a ‘green light district’ with only 3 rules: have fun, don’t run (running causes panic) and no photos (buying and selling hash is still illegal). Here, ‘bakeries’ sell ‘bread’ to loyal customers (commas are inverted). The graffiti artwork in the community is amazing and statues made of old scrap metal stand rusting everywhere. The place made me feel both happy and sad at the same time: happy because they are giving it a go but sad because I don’t feel like they’re succeeding. The place is dirty and there’s a lot of drunk, drugged-up people staggering around. Well worth a visit though and the people who live there clearly enjoy it.

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Copenhagen owes much of its character to the country it sits in: Denmark. The city is always ranked at the very top of Mercer’s quality of life index and likewise, Denmark is ranked as one of the ‘happiest’ countries in the world when taking into account all kinds of economic and social measures. The Danish government is turning Copenhagen into one of the world’s greenest cities and the city is on track to become carbon neutral in 2025. That will be a staggering achievement. The welfare state is closest to its pure form in Denmark where health care is free and top-notch, tuition fees don’t exist and instead students are paid a wage to study, unemployment benefit is higher than the minimum wage and childcare is paid for by the state for the first 7 years of every child’s life. Of course this all costs the population in taxes with the lowest rate of income tax at 37% and the highest at a whopping 77%. Yet, it feels like these kinds of social policies are transmitted into the culture of Copenhagen and make for a genuinely friendly city. It’s impossible to quantify but one gets the sense that people care about each other here. I’ve never once had the feeling that everyone’s suspicious of everyone else like in most other cities.

To cut a long story short, the woman on the bicycle was talking nonsense. Copenhagen is not a mess. It’s a stunning city that will be admired in some way by everyone who visits. But now I’ve realized she wasn’t talking nonsense. She just has ridiculously high standards because that’s what being a native of Copenhagen does to you.

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4 Comments already on “Copenhagen”
  1. 4:20 pmpermalink
    26 Mar 2012

    Charles

    Did you ever meet our friend Nick Archer? He’s Ambassador in Copenhagen. If you’re short of comfort I’m sure he’d like to see you. Sounds as if you’re having a great time. We’ll miss you in Cornwall.xxx

  2. 5:30 pmpermalink
    26 Mar 2012

    Mumsy

    Love the sound of Copenhagen, want to meet up with you at every stop! xx Great pics too, so good you look like you have taken a camera man with you!! Keep going. x

  3. 5:59 pmpermalink
    26 Mar 2012

    James

    Im back and been reading all your witty blogging, it all sounds amazing. Mum has told me about the frantic pre-departure search for the Lanacane anti-chafing gel. Yes, I did take it to Morocco and yes, I know the stuff is gold dust to the sweaty cyclist, so apologies for that. But keep going and keep blogging, we’re loving reading it at home. x

  4. 9:04 pmpermalink
    07 Apr 2012

    Luke Newham

    ‘Didn’t eat there, didn’t like the menu’ – hahahaha. Great post mate, I enjoyed it alot and Copenhagen sounds amazing! I’m back from Philippines now (I had a great time out there – tell you all about it in an email or something) so I will be following you all the more closely now. Hope everything is still going well and keep posting!xx