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Coveting Copenhagen

Envy comes easily looking down at the slick, shingled roof tops of Copenhagen, Denmark. They are so desirable in their delicately toned, film processed hues of slate, apricot, and mint. I imagine only good things are allowed to occur under those eaves. Coffee cups never break; morning toast is always warmly buttered; potted plants thrive next to minimalist furniture. All is calmness and decorum.

I yearn to have a pied-à-terre in Nørrebro to which I can saunter after late night drinks. Or an artist’s studio in Nyhavn from whose dormer I can wax lyrical about my muse: the canal. Surely I would be a better novelist if I had a regular café along Nordre Frihavnsgade to haunt? I’m certain I could achieve more if I were contemplating sunsets from my dock-side desk on Kongens Nytorv. After all, it worked wonders for Hans Christian Andersen.

Instead, I must be contented with glimpses into hygge accommodations from my lofty perch. I spy Panton chandeliers and Jacobsen egg chairs. My envy grows as I peer at sleek steel appliances and curvaceous wooden rails. I covet walls painted platinum and charming salon tableaux. Every penthouse vista Copenhagen divulges feeds my fever. Each chimney pot and tiled square fuels my inner comparison demon — the one that’s always eager to convince me life would be better if I were doing things differently.     

Climbing the spiral steeple of the Church of our Savior, I have to remind myself, “you don’t know what it’s like to live under those roofs, you can’t tell what goes on behind those paned windows.” Nose pressed against the grill, surveying the candy-colored townhomes shouldering one another, I shout back at envy, “Stop trying to trap me inside your false, constrictive metaphors!”

Still, when I read the plaque about Copenhagen’s contribution to the Danish Golden Age, when a passing tour guide praises the city’s commitment to urban design, when I peruse an article claiming this is the happiest place on earth, envy rears up to whisper at me, “See what you’re missing? You should be part of this. When will it be your turn?” I sigh in defeat. Resentment is triumphant. It has managed to demoralize me amidst a Danish utopia. I stop exploring. I don’t want to see Copenhagen’s rooftops anymore.

In an older neighborhood, I slip into a garden nestled between mansions. I rest underneath a tree by a lake. No one else is there. The light sparkles off the water for my amusement. The poisonous murk clears. I see the situation clearly. I don’t need lodgings by the canal. I don’t require quarters in a canary terraced house, under a slate roof, or along the Strøget. I am part of Copenhagen, I realize. I have tasted its delights. I’ve watched it from above, delved into its interiors, climbed its heights. I’m immersed in hygge at this moment. The petty monster has no response. I smirk. “It’s my turn now,” I say.


TRAVEL NOTE:

Copenhagen is a bicyclist’s dream city. It caters to their safety, welfare, and comfort through the use of bikeways, traffic preference in city planning, and integration into the public transport service. To experience the Danish capital like a native, rent a bicycle or sign up for a bike tour.


Has a city or an object ever made you envious? What is your remedy for getting out of the comparison trap?

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106 replies »

    • Hello Sherri, lovely to have you drop by and thank you for the kind remark. Indeed, bicycle riding in Copenhagen is an art form. It’s definitely not for hobbyists. They are serious riders and it helps to know the rules of the road and be adept at managing small spaces. I think what made it fun was that the city was planned around the bicycle which gives you confidence that a bus won’t roll over you or you won’t suddenly end up on a pedestrian sidewalk by mistake.

  1. Lovely post. I enjoyed my time in Copenhagen. Denmark, Sweden and Norway have beautiful outdoor museums with period homes to enter and explore. People were not as tall in earlier times so doorways are lower. Your photos are gorgeous.

    • Thank you for your kind words. What an intriguing historical fact! I have often noticed that older European doors are smaller. I’ve also seen giant entrances at castles which I’ve been told is so that people riding horses could enter without having to dismount.

    • I found Copenhagen locals to be more gregarious than other Scandinavians, but in general they too are on the reserved side preferring to keep to their own circles, very mindful of private space, and unpretentious. They are very into design ethics – whether it is in architecture or fashion or technology or urban planning. I don’t know that Danes themselves think of hygge as a concept, so the idea of a quotient would be strange to them. It is an organic part of their culture, like pickled herring or bicycling.

  2. I want to go there too. The pictures just made me want it so bad… And i thought about walking in flipflops, feeling lazy, probably licking at an ice cream con with the sun in my face. Thinking, the world has no problems at all.

  3. Beautiful post and I completely agree– seems like a wonderful place to live. We said that many times on our trip a couple of years ago. What a lifestyle. Love your photos which capture the elegant beauty of the city.

  4. This was an interesting read. I’ve been to Denmark several times. I enjoy the Danish peoples warmth, it’s different compared to the other Nordic countries, more like southern Europe. The beautiful houses are a treat for the eye as well. I really enjoyed your visit in this post!

  5. I was in Copenhagen last winter and I agree, it is a charming city. I have lived a lot of different places and each of them has had their charms, but I’ll be honest there has been no place that is perfect. I guess that is a bit freeing in a way, I can visit other places, enjoy their charms and then wander back to wherever home is for me at the moment.

  6. Hmm… interesting to envy a city. I can’t say that it’s ever crossed my mind, but I think that Copenhagen might be a little too orderly an atmosphere in which to create. Not to mention all that happiness going around. I will say that I was a little afraid of those bicycles when I was in Copenhagen. They sort of own the road and even the pedestrians play second banana.

    • It’s funny you mention that Copenhagen may be too orderly an atmosphere in which to create. Someone else also mentioned to me that the “happiest place on earth” can’t be very conducive to authors and we were chatting about how we need that angst for fodder. 😁

  7. Nyhavn is so very cute. Did you make it to gritty, grungy, counterculture Christiania? That was my favorite part of Copenhagen. I was also there during the world Santa Claus convention and parade, which takes place every July. Did you bring along your friend from your Solvang post of yore to try the real Danish food? (I sometimes have a good memory 😉) The comparison trap is difficult to escape. Whenever I find myself doing it, I bring my focus back to my intuition. If that makes any sense.

    • I like your advice about focusing back to your intuition. I assume it is a sort of trusting that your inner compass has done the right thing for your needs so there’s no reason to be envious? I did make it to Christiana. It’s no longer gritty or grungy. There was a lot of graffiti, a lot of tour groups, and a lot of cafés. Also a lot of signs in the “Green Light District” about not running or taking photographs. There is talk of new residential development in the area, to keep it from going economically “stagnant.” So cool of you to remember my Solvang post! Yes, I did bring my friend along and she LOVED Copenhagen. 🙂 She couldn’t stop ‘instagramming’ all the candy-colored houses from every angle. We also spent an entire afternoon staging pastry shots for her account. 🙄 She was, however, disappointed by the small size of the original “Little Mermaid” statue.

  8. Ahhh Copenhagen, a very special city to be sure and your photos do it justice. Friends from there complain of the endless gray days and high cost of living. Nowhere is perfect I guess. Everywhere has pros and cons. Beautifully written post. Love the description of the colors “hues of slate, apricot and mint.”

    Peta

  9. It’s many years since I’ve visited Copenhagen, but I was equally captivated. The last city to grab my heart was a warmer one though, Seville. It was impossible not to lose ourselves in the narrow winding streets, which had evolved without any possible input from a town planner, as a climb to the top of any church tower to look down at the rooftops revealed. Such different cities, but both with the power to inspire envy of those who live there. Lovely post. Thank you.

    • Thrilled to find out you also felt this way about Copenhagen. I have not been to Seville yet, but your memories of it make me eager to find out if I’ll feel the same way there. I appreciate your kind and thoughtful comment.

  10. Copenhagen is just so beautiful. It’s even better because it seems to be a small city with it’s own character rather than a huge international metropolis like a lot of capitals. So much colour in the buildings too, love your pics.

    • Thank you! I so enjoyed taking photographs of Copenhagen precisely for the reason you mention. The city was very explorable and without the ubiquitous skyscrapers or box-chain brands one sees everywhere. It has a community feel to it and even the modern buildings are erected with great attention to design and neighborhood aesthetic.

  11. Love these deep thoughts and your progression through the post. Travel can so easily paint a picture of beauty and perfection, especially when we’re only passing through a destination. But life is life, with all its issues, no matter where we are in the world. Wonderful photos and post!

  12. Once again your travel writing is sheer poetry. It captivates me everytime. The vivid descriptions, the range of emotions, and the stunning images are beckoning me to move to a place that had never even been on my list. A magnificent virtual experience.

  13. How I love this inner battle of yours, described in the most eloquent ways! I must tell you of this beautiful Danish woman I spent a week hiking with. She looked like she stepped out of the magazine covers of a hiking magazine. Perfectly groomed, colour matched, and glowing. And while I was stomping along, she looked like she was strolling along, perhaps one of Copenhagen’s canals, despite the fact that she was 20 years my senior, and I was not at all unfit. And, like you when looking down on the city’s rooftops, envy came easily . . . .

    • I’m so pleased that you thought my post eloquent and I relished your story! I too felt this about the way the Danes in Copenhagen dressed. Such confidence and grooming and personal elan! They had a knack for making everything look so effortless.

  14. Windows, doors, rooftops, and buildings always capture my attention. They’re like a passage into another world or moment in time. On this side: we can let go of reality — even if its only for a moment. As travellers we can make our own stories and live in a world of illusion. I guess that’s what makes travel so alluring! I loved this post! I can totally relate to it on every level.

  15. I can’t read enough about Copenhagen, a place I’ve always hankered after, and never visited… really resonated with your imaginings about the interiors… my favorite style of interior decoration, I have folders of white Scandinavian rooms I dream and drool over……

      • I know I would!… My file on Scandinavian houses is stuffed with pictures of those gorgeous interiors !!!
        And I love the light, and the way they manage light, and also the way they light candles on winter days… I do the same myself now…

  16. Exploring the city by bike sounds like a good way to indulge in its sights up close. Your canal shots with the colorful houses are my favorite – the scene looks like one I memorized from Curacao’s capital. The rest of town reminds me of Amsterdam and the rooftops of some cities in Belgium. Biking in Holland is popular as well. These Northern European countries did some things right! I have read before that the citizens of Denmark are among the happiest in the world. If only it would be warmer all year round… Beautiful account of your visit, as always!

    • Thank you Liesbet. Copenhagen makes it so easy to explore by bicycle, they even have multiple guided bicycle tours! I think it is because of the rough winters they have that the Danes relish the concept of ‘hygge,’ reveling in the coziness of the moment.

  17. Haha, this is making me want to go out and buy one of those Jacobsen egg chairs. I’m sure I would love Copenhagen; it looks idyllic. Although I live in a pretty nice place (except for the endless winter rain that I believe Copenhagen also deals with) I’ve certainly had moments of envy while traveling. Bamberg, Germany comes to mind immediately—I pictured myself living a fairytale existence..

    • Ah, good. It makes me feel better I’m not the only one to have place envy. I have never been to Bamberg, but I took a look at some photos and I can see why. Those houses on the river and the town hall/bridge are straight out of a fairy-tale.

  18. The first time I heard about hygge was probably three years ago and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since. Some say the concept is similar with Thailand’s sabai-sabai, to what extent I have yet to find out. To me hygge seems to be the key to why the Danish are like what they are today like how the Law of Jante has shaped the way the Norwegians (and the Danish) see their lives.

    • The concept of hygge has certainly taken over the western world. Hygge is a Danish word used to describe a particular feeling of comfort, coziness, and contentedness. It certainly is a large part of their culture, especially in the winter time. I think, more recently, the word is often used to describe objects or sell a certain lifestyle, which is not the intention of the original concept. I’m intrigued by the Thai sabai-sabai as I have not heard of it before.

  19. love it … beautifully written … obviously an enchanting place … i was hooked on it as a destination from reading Girl With The Dragon Tattoo … a place to visit, to drink in, and to write at while there …
    yes, your turn to celebrate … who knows what goes on behind those doors … the glimpse you see … laughter, happiness, contentment, creativity .. who knows how long that moment lasts … does it continue day to day or is it but a spec in time …

    • Thank you. It’s being able to enjoy those little simple moments that really defines Danish culture and is the concept behind their ‘hyyge’, a feeling of contentedness in the daily rituals of life. I don’t remember Copenhagen being featured in “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but I’ve been wanting to visit this city ever since reading H.C. Andersen.

      • Whoops … it was Stockholm where Girl was set …. arghhh … late night brain fade … but your words are so evocative … write on

      • Copenhagen was home to Bjarke Ingles of BIG … bjarke ingles group …danish architect who designed the Danish maritime museum in the old dry dock next to hamlet’s castle … He moved to New York and designed the via apartments … on Manhattan west side … an apartment block that looked like an open-sided pyramid with a courtyard in the heart to be enjoyed by everyone.
        Also improved manhattans flood resistance after hurricane sandy. His thought processes are signposts to anyone … in business or in personal life … film was called big … something .. I forget second word. Ahh, big time … that was the film.

    • At some point you’ll have to return to Europe to give Copenhagen a visit. It is definitely much cuter than Stockholm. While I enjoy Stockholm’s greenery and impeccable cleanliness, I found Copenhagen to be such a fairy-tale setting.

  20. It’s so easy to envy the life we think others live in these places that seem perfect at the time! I loved reading about your Copenhagen envy – I went there many years ago and it was the first step in me falling in love with Scandinavia – a place I’d had no desire to visit before then.

    • Ah, Scandinavia turned out to be such a beautiful solace for me. I too was reluctant to visit because I thought I had “done” Europe, but each city I have been exploring in this northern region has been so beautifully unique and inspiring.

  21. All sorts of memories spurred. I visited it one time for a few days only, as a journalist of sorts, accompanying high school students, and yet I hadn’t even known about Christiania before landing in it.They told us that the Freetown Christiania had its representative in the city council and that (s)he saw to it that the law was passed stating that the grids that cover the canal holes on the bicycle lanes were to be changed from vertical to horizontal. This has stuck to mind the most. And a certain Irish writer with whom I corresponded for years after (pre-internet) but never saw him again. A little sigh.

    I like it how you bring this home.

    • I love when the mention of a city stirs such particular memories of being there. The Danes are extremely fond of their bicycling lifestyle, so I’m not surprised that a member of the city council was thinking about the ergonomics of bicycle lane grates.

  22. I suffer this feeling too often for my own contentment. I always imagine life in X city being so perfect and productive and stimulating … but by now I’ve learned it not the place but the person (unfortunately, still me – haha)!

  23. Ahh, colorful row houses is a feast to the eyes. I reminisced sumptuous lunches across the river in one of your photos, indeed a beautiful city to visit.

  24. What challenges me is the realization that I will, in all likelihood, never visit and experience all the destinations in this world that I would like to see. This knowledge could be very depressing and destructive. I try to make the best of where I find myself, and get to know nearby places well. It does not always work, but I have found happiness with what is directly before me.

    • We each have our inner envy demons. I know I am very fortunate to even be able to visit so many places, never mind live in them. So, taking it all in perspective there should be nothing to envy, but that is human nature: it so often is not very logical. I love that you explore your own city and its local delights. So often there are treasures right where we live that we ignore for the larger, more romantic idea of seeing far-off destinations. You are fortunate that Colorado has stunning landscapes and endless wildlife which can satisfy your thirst for adventure.

      • I am grateful to be living in Colorado with its natural beauty and wildlife. Even if I tried, I could never explore everything it has to offer in my lifetime. I still hope to be able to get in a little travel here and there! 🙂
        Best wishes,
        Tanja

  25. Yes, there is Vienna the city which made me envious, because I haven’t had the chance to be born there. I have no remedy, I just come back in that city everytime I have the chance! 😉 Regarding Denmark, I also believe there is the heaven for every byciclist, firstly because of their cycle superhighways. Cătălin

    • My condolences that you missed out on being Viennese born. 😁 However, you have had the good fortune to visit multiple times, so that should ease the pain. I have yet to explore Vienna, but am hoping it will happen at some point.

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