More Copenhagen highlights

Before leaving Copenhagen, we wanted to share a couple other highlights of our adventure here.

Our stop at the 1847-founded Carlsberg Brewery was both educational and tasty, and it featured some very nice clydesdale horses.

Carlsberg Clydesdale

We enjoyed a slightly more refined evening at the Jazzhus Montmartre, a Copenhagen institution that was lost and brought back relatively recently.  We actually sat next to an older man who had used to come to the old Montmartre back in the day, and he said that it was almost the same today as it used to be.  He also pointed us to another more hidden jazz club in the middle of town that was open all night.  We made sure to check this other spot out as well, but unfortunately, they didn’t have any live music the night we were there.

Jazzhus Montmartre

We had a pair of very traditional Danish Christmas lunches complete with pan-fried filet of fish, slices of pork, smoked salmon, some pickled vegetables, and rye bread.  Although it may not have been our favorite cuisine of the trip, we were happy to be able to walk away from our journey having tasted traditional Danish foods.

Danish lunch

We visited Nyhavn, a 17th century waterfront, canal and entertainment district in Copenhagen.  The canal is lined with brightly colored townhouses that all have fun little restaurants on their bottom floors.  The best way to describe this area is cute.  We enjoyed some lunch, some shopping, and some walking around while in Nyhavn.

Us in Nyhavn

Nyhavn Copenhagen

Why are the Danes so happy

Since 2012, the UN has been publishing a World Happiness Report.  In the first couple years of its existence, Denmark has claimed the top spot, usually followed closely by other Scandinavian countries.  In 2015, the Danes are still near the top, but they are preceded by Switzerland and Iceland.

As I am with most things as subjective as a happiness rating, I was skeptical (even of the UN’s process) of how this was determined at a country by country level.  When I dig a little deeper, I at least understand what they are trying to get at, but I am still not convinced that something like a country’s happiness can really be measured.  The UN’s World Happiness Report used Subjective Well-Being (which they like to abbreviate as SWB), which accounts for 3 different aspects: cognitive evaluations of one’s life, positive emotions, and negative ones.  According to the World Happiness Report, Denmark’s happiness can be explained by it’s high GDP per capita, its social support, its healthy life expectancy, the people’s freedom to make life choices, overall generosity, and low perceptions of corruption.  But enough about the details here — if you’re actually interested, there is an annual 100-page document called the World Happiness Report.

Okay, so back to why we heard the Danes are so happy.  We almost feel that happiness is the wrong word, and satisfied would be more appropriate.  They are very satisfied.  They think that their government treats its people well, and that the population treats each other well. Taxes are extremely high (among the highest in the world), but people recognize that “free” healthcare, “free” college education, and other social services are not cheap, and they appreciate that their tax dollars are being well spent.  Folks also just seem comfortable in their own shoes.  Around the holidays this year, the biggest term that we kept hearing was Hygge, which is a Danish term for cozy.  I think Danes enjoy just being surrounded by family and friends and enjoying a glass a wine or a cup of tea.  It doesn’t need to be more fancy or more complicated than that.  

But does this actually make them happier than other citizens of other countries?  Neither we nor the Danes are completely convinced of this.  We surveyed many a Dane.  We talked to couples sitting next to us at meals, we talked to bar tenders, we talked to tour guides, and we talked to coffee shop baristas.  The Danes, being satisfied with who and what they are, don’t really need the label that the UN wants to put on them that they are among the happiest people.  On the other hand, I could almost imagine the U.S. making a national holiday if we were ever #1 on that list.  Ironically, this is probably why the Danes are the “happiest” and the Americans are not.

An important lesson here is that happiness is gratefulness for what you have.  It is being satisfied that you are relatively worry free and not in a huge amount of debt because of school or a medical bill.  It is being able to trust each other and trust the government.  Happiness might be simpler than I had originally imagined. 

2nd day of Christmas

Day 2 begins when two gloggy (that’s a Danish joke) travelers step out for coffee. We walk into the street and are struck by the silence. It’s 7am the day after Christmas in the rain, but still, I’ve never been able to hear the squeak of my sneakers in a city quite like I am along the water in Copenhagen. We duck into our coffee shop. I call it “ours” because even before trying the coffee, we decide to come every morning. The place is cozy. Candles are being lit and it’s empty inside. It smells of baked goods and the barista is welcoming. As we’re scanning the breakfast menu, fresh croissants are pulled out of the oven. Without consulting one another, we order two and sit while she makes our lattes. On a drizzly December day, it’s the kind of place you never want to leave.

Christianhavn Coffee Shop

We walk back to our Airbnb, shower, and slowly prepare for the day. Our first stop is  Our Savior Church. Closed for services. Our second stop is Carlsberg brewery. Closed for the second day of Christmas. (Yes, to our surprise, that’s a thing.) Our third stop is the one destination known for running 365 days a year: the Stromma canal tour. It’s heated and covered and we have extra tissues to wipe down the endlessly fogging glass. The hour long tour takes us under 14 bridges and through the canal of Copenhagen. The only time we step out into the rain is to take a picture of the much acclaimed and humorously underwhelming Little Mermaid statue. The city has few claims to fame, and Hans Christen Anderson is a hot ticket. The statue itself is tiny, perched on a rock in the shallow water, given to the city by the Carlsberg brewery, and one of the most commonly cited destinations in the city. After the tour, we head to lunch at a Cheesecake Factory style restaurant. (Mexican? Got it. Italian. Burgers. Sandwiches. Yup.) On the bright side, it opened our eyes to a new area of the city, and even though every other store in the shopping district is closed for the second day of Christmas, we enjoy the journey tucked safely underneath our umbrella and rain jacket. 

We soon find ourselves next at an incredible bar for glogg. It’s a spot our morning barista had recommended to us, open only in the winter and situated on a dock along the canal. It’s crowded, warm, and the definition of what I’d pictured as hygge (Danish cozy).

The Glogg

Exhausted from some combination of jet lag and rain, we rest at our Airbnb before dinner.  As expected of jet-lagged travelers, we sleep through our alarms and our 30-minute snooze turns into a 2-hour deep sleep.  We wouldn’t necessarily call ourselves refreshed upon waking up, but at the same time, we knew we probably needed the sleep.

At the top of many lists of why to visit Copenhagen, we find Ruby, a bar located in the center of town with a living-room-esque atmosphere and excellent bar tenders.  What better way to start our evening than at Ruby.  It lives up to expectation.  Okay, maybe not the best bar in the world as some sites suggested, but very homey, very welcoming, and with delicious cocktails.  We find ourselves comfortable seats at the bar and quickly befriend all of the bartenders.  Trying to find a dinner spot on this second day of Christmas turns out to not be trivial, but luckily, our new friends at Ruby’s are full of suggestions. We end up in a new neighborhood at a place called Falernum.  It’s probably fair to call this place a wine bar given its wine menu was the length of a small novel.  We had some perfectly prepared scallops, mushroom risotto, and a slow-cooked duck to pair with some great wines that they suggested.  On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is extremely unlikely and 10 is extremely likely, we would easily give this restaurant a 9 or 10 in terms of how likely we would be to recommend it to a friend or future traveller.  

Although the day started out a bit slow, it being the second day of Christmas and all, we didn’t let that slow us down and feel like we know Copenhagen and its Danes a lot better.

Copenhagen’s Tivoli Christmas Market

We’ve chosen to spend Christmas this year away from home.  Our works decided to shut down between Christmas and New Years, and we almost felt obligated to find a new place to explore.

We start in Copenhagen.  Arriving in the late morning on Christmas day, we figure out the metro and find our Airbnb in Christianshavn (still figuring out how to pronounce that).  It is a top floor small apartment overlooking a river, some shops, a couple churches, and mostly other residences.  The pictures on definitely made the place look a bit bigger than it actually is, but there is something homey about only having room for a large dorm refrigerator.

Copenhagen Canal

The Danes mostly celebrate Jesus’ birthday on the 24th, which meant we kind of missed Christmas.  However, we were determined to still celebrate.  How better to do this than to venture over to Copenhagen’s Tivoli Christmas Market.  We arrive to over 16,000 lights strung up over and around the Tivoli Market.  We end up inside the market by mistake.  I think there may have been an entrance fee, but after a bathroom stop, we exited the restaurant from a different exit and find ourselves within the walls of the market.  Once inside, we drink glogg (sort of liked mulled wine), hot chocolate, and warm cider.  It’s a bit chilly out, so these warm drinks are quite welcomed.  We pop in handful of stores, admire some nice Christmas ornaments, some nice tchotchkes, and lots of beanies, socks, and gloves.   We were about to leave and realized we’d just saved ourself a pair of entrance fees, so we turned around and decided we shouldn’t leave but instead, we should buy a waffle.

Tivoli Market

Around this time, we start to get very tired.  It’s late, but it’s early, but it’s christmas, but it’s Copenhagen, and thus we are a bit confused about the time and our level of energy.  We find a nook at a nearby coffee shop, and doze in and out a little while we snack and sip our caffeine.  We had a made a reservation for 7:30pm for dinner as motivation to stay awake.  We plan to keep that reservation and have about 3 hours to kill until then. What to do?

The first bar we stop in is called Jernbanecafeen.  Even though it’s only about 5pm, this very christmas-decorated dive bar is already full of drunk patrons.  We keep to ourselves on a couple stools in the corner of the bar, when some folks start approaching us (actually approaching the juke box, which is right behind us).  After being a part of a bit of scene and dancing with some of the locals in the bar, we find an opportunity for an Irish exit, and we make our escape.  The next stop is a a very quiet Scottish bar not too far from the first. Here I have a Christmas Tuborg beer, and Lindsey and I strike up another conversation with some locals (and some transplants), but this time everyone is much more sober.  One of them lived in Santa Cruz, California, just down the road from us — small world.  Before leaving, they give us tips of where to go and what to see.

Just making it to dinner at the end of our first day here in Copenhagen is considered a victory.  My energy level dictates that I order a Coca Cola instead of a glass of wine, but the meal is delicious and we talk of plans for the trip to come. 

The night ends with fireworks over the Tivoli Christmas Market, on the edge of which our restaurant sits.  We made it to 9pm and are more than ready to rest to see if we can get onto Danish time by tomorrow.  Day 1, complete.