The year was 2016, and it is wild to think about how that isn’t exactly recent anymore. I was on the brink of my mid twenties, a tumultuous time for most, and was five years into my relationship with Ben. We had been through our share of trials, moving states and meeting families. I was advancing in my career and learning a lot along the way, but I’d be lying if I told you I had found solid footing in the world of adulthood.
Reliving the story I’m about to tell is such a joy, in the context of what I know today. Looking back, I can see my time in Denmark as a turning point; both in my relationship and in myself. I couldn’t have picked a better destination for this to unfold, which is funny how that worked out because I didn’t pick this one at all.
It’s true. At that point in my life, I was intoxicated by glamour. Paris, New York and London were sitting comfortably at the top of my travel list. But Scandinavia? How much glamour could I expect from a place like that? I wasn’t upset with the choice, I just didn’t understand it. Once explained though, the excitement started to bubble inside my chest.
Our travel companions and the deciders of Denmark were, in fact, Ben’s parents. Though I had known and loved them for years, they showed me a new side of themselves with this selection. They said that we should all head to Denmark because they found a decent-priced ticket and life is short. There’s a whole lot of world to see, and if not now, when? I loved this logic.
Adventure is important, so it must be prioritized. We were going to Denmark because, really, there was nothing stopping us from going to Denmark. It was not a question of why, but of why not?
Sometimes those words - why not? - are the very best reason to buy a ticket.
The journey started with a flight from Denver to Frankfurt. In true travel foodie fashion, it was on this layover that I found the best hot dog I had ever eaten. Chasing down this German delicacy almost cost me my connecting flight, but I have no regrets.
Between parents, siblings and significant others, we were a party of seven. I am amused by the question of “party size” every time I make a reservation. How it presumes that every experience is a party. With Ben’s family though, it’s an accurate statement - we bring the party indeed.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived in Copenhagen. My hopes were set on good food, good sights and good conversation. I was about to get so much more than I bargained for.
Perhaps it’s the geography of the place that preserves it so. Copenhagen sits on an island between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. It is sandwiched between two land masses; on the West is the remainder of Denmark, and on the East is the neighboring country of Sweden. North by European standards, yet South by Scandinavian terms. Copenhagen balances precariously in the middle of all this. I felt like I had arrived in another dimension, an ultra-beautiful one.
How to describe the aesthetic of this place? My best try is “Wes Anderson Chic.” You could probably win a film festival by strapping a GoPro to a toddler, it’s that stunning. The sleek buildings, the clean streets that the sleek buildings stand on, the classy people who walk the clean streets that the sleek buildings stand on. Let’s just say Paris was no longer on my mind.
The air of sophistication left me immensely wanting to assimilate, so I resolved to spend my days pretending I belonged. Fake it til you make it, right? In this regard, my vacation and personal lives aligned, as I also hoped to one day join the family I was traveling with.
We went from airport to AirBnB without a hiccup. Though I’m no travel novice, these logistics cause me anxiety. Copenhagen’s seamless organization made it easy to show up and get around. Like the whole city is happy to help you find your way.
It was July, and Scandinavian summer was in full swing. The harsh weather of the North has conditioned locals to fully embrace however many summer days come their way each year. It was seventy-five and mostly sunny, though teasing clouds remained in the sky, hinting at rain. The in-betweenness of the weather only added to the otherworldly effect of the whole city. Several locals had told us we had won the weather jackpot, though I think the real winners are the people who call Denmark home.
My Copenhagen mornings were filled with delicious pastries and impeccable European coffee - the smell of which I am delighted to report permeated the whole city. I love experiencing a new culture through food, but this mentality goes beyond just restaurant dining. I love cooking, and having a kitchen while abroad is, for me, a must. Preparing my own food is one of my favorite travel pleasures, as cooking helps me feel settled in my home away from home. When you’re abroad, the act of grocery shopping is an adventure all on its own. I just love this peek into life as a local!
Don’t get me wrong, restaurants have their place. The way I see it, there’s plenty of room for both. I think Copenhagen is especially accessible in this way. You can keep it pretty affordable or scale it up to a lavish destination, the place makes itself available to anyone.
My little scheme of blending in was going quite well until one aspect of Copenhagen life got in the way…
Known as the world’s leading capital city for cyclists, commuting in Copenhagen is done almost exclusively on bikes. As you can imagine, the whole city is set up for this. A perfectly organized grid of attractive people zooming around on two wheels.
Cars are a rarity. Street noise in Copenhagen is not the cacophony of sirens and spluttering motors I am used to, but the pleasant sounds of polite conversation, bicycle bells, and the gentle whir of electric engines.
Now my idea of biking is taking a beach cruiser to nowhere in particular. Using an electric bike as a legitimate mode of transportation is a different thing entirely, but I gave it my best shot.
I managed my e-bike okay until we got to Copenhagen’s city centre. I was the last to arrive, so I dismounted in a hurry. While doing this, my foot hit the gas, and I had a spectacular topple. The bike sped forward while I was tossed back, limbs flailing. The next thing I knew I was sprawled on the concrete. This may be revisionist history, but I think I even lost a shoe…
All this right in front of Ben’s family.
Did I mention I was wearing a dress?
My bike had collided with the neat row of bikes nearby. I pulled my dress back down from around my face in time to witness about twenty-five bicycles topple to the ground, domino-style.
As mortifying as this whole ordeal was, I have to say this is where the people of Copenhagen showed me their true colors. Have you ever been to a dinner party where someone spills a glass of wine, and everyone is on top of it all at once? That’s what this was like, except it was strangers helping strangers, and that is a special form of kindness.
I had gotten used to the welcoming attitude and enthusiastic “hi hi!” that every shopkeeper uses in greeting. But the way I was helped after this bicycle spill takes the cake. I was swarmed with genuinely concerned people who immediately restored order to the fallen bikes and my own person. Five minutes later it was like nothing had happened.
There are two morals to this story. First, no attempt to coax me out of my comfort zone should include the phrase “It’s just like riding a bike.” Second, is that the people of Copenhagen take great pride in their city.
This pride is clearly displayed on every street and in every shop window. It’s evident in the architecture, fashion, cuisine and general attitude of class. Not to be mistaken with pompousness, this is a quiet pride; one that shines all on its own.
As the woman who had caused the disruption that day, my embarrassment was overshadowed by my awe of the kind locals and all their poise. I learned a lot of things from my time in Copenhagen, though it has taken me years to fully unpack them. I’ll do my best to rapid-fire the list:
- Glamour can be found in unexpected places. Some of them are internal.
- It is a beautiful thing to take pride in yourself and the place you’re from.
- The Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen are unmissable (read that blog post next!).
- An embarrassing moment is just that - a moment. A blip.
- I don’t have to be good at new things, but I should stay willing to try them.
- I have control to walk in the direction I want my life to go.
- I am loveable on all my days. Something Ben (my now husband!) constantly reinforces.
All in all, my time in Copenhagen was nothing short of lovely. If you’re heading there anytime soon, you will not be disappointed. Every corner should be explored and cherished, every inviting smile returned, and every pastry devoured. You can rest easy there too, knowing that should you fall, the whole city will catch you.
Sherpani Team Member
The above post is part of an ongoing segment of the Sherpani Travel Blog. We want to highlight personal travel stories from the women in our community. Would you like to share your travel story with Sherpani? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. We can’t wait to read about your adventure!