I used to often wonder what makes the happiest countries in the world… so happy!
It can not only be accredited to GDP, social security or lack of corruption. It has to be more personal than the socio-economic terms we use for an explanation, it has to be an experience.
Whether you have travelled in Europe or not, it is equally enchanting for both kinds. I had been longing to visit this North Eastern continent for years, but never did I imagine I would begin with the ecstatic Scandinavia. Contrary to the 6 months long depressing deficiency of the Sun, Northern Europe is home to most of the top 10 happy AND innovative countries in the world.
A corporate event by a Swedish partner company of the other half conspired for us a trip to Sweden in September 2017, just a few days after my birthday. I have only spent my first birthday in Ahmedabad in the past 4 years of married life. We just put on our travel boots and go someplace new. It was an intuitive scream from within to give the plan an edge, so we added Copenhagen, Denmark to the itinerary. The selection and reservation of places-to-stay and things-to-do was my responsibility, hence I obliged. I do some research on every far-reaching trip that we take even though we never end up following my notes. I may be a bit of a dog’s tail in that regard, a tail that wags too much.
We landed in Copenhagen on the windy morning of September 11. We hopped on a train from the Aiport to Norreport Station near which I had booked us an Airbnb apartment. On the train, I saw old women with groceries, children and adults with their bikes, parents with kids and working people; all adults had the same calm expression of a traveller watching the Sunset. The children, of course, were playing with their toys, talking to parents or siblings in a low voice. While walking from Norreport station, I noticed how lively was Skindergade with its narrow lanes, open cafes and eateries, fashion and decor stores and water fountains with seating circles. Coincidentally, we were also in the vicinity of the iconic Tivoli Gardens. Partner said in a low voice, “Looks like we’ll be staying in the best locality of Copenhagen.” I am a level-headed person so all I did was secretly smile and wink.
Our Airbnb host, Sinan, runs a cute little cafe called Flottenheimer, right below the apartment we were staying at. We went to meet him and collect our keys. While talking we also quickly scanned the food on people’s tables, it looked and smelled great! Sinan was quite friendly and energetic and instantly made us feel comfortable. I like smiling faces, now you might think who doesn’t! We happened to have a meal at his cafe one night and according to my husband, it was the best chicken burger he had ever had.
We threw our luggage, freshened up and started strolling on the pretty streets of Kobenhaven. Drizzle called for a beer break and to observe more keenly the people around. I saw more groups, of all age and gender than solo pedestrians. Whether it be senior citizens catching up over a beer, a group of chirpy girls giggling around, colleagues discussing work over coffee or just any face, they all looked happy and content in their socio/personal lives. We boarded random trains and went to unplanned places instinctively. The first proper destination of the evening was a secluded lake with swans in Torvegade. It did have a cafe and some houses nearby, but peaceful nonetheless. We then headed towards the city to see The Church of the Saviour, Hostrupsvej and Falkoner in Frederiksberg. How sensitive are the people and infrastructure for cyclists is something known to people who have visited Europe. We came back at night to Kobenhavn for its vibrant streets, open bars and great music. It’s not surprising that one of the most renowned Happiness expert Meik Wiking hails from Denmark. His newly released book, “The Little Book of Hygge” explores a word he believes is central to happiness. He says “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah) has no direct translation: It means cosiness, intimacy, and warmth — but it means many more things than that. He further adds, “In all the work I have done within the field of happiness research, this is the point I am surest about: the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships,” Cake, coffee, hot chocolate can be hygge, so can be the warmth of candles and aromas. Danes are obsessed with lighting and it was more than evident in the city. The night was about some Danish beer, some wine followed by dinner and conversations. And then it struck 12. 🙂
My tail made sure I stick to the plan for September 12, to visit The Freetown of Christiana. It is a car-free, green neighbourhood in Copenhagen where people live on boats on a canal. It has a fusion of homemade houses, workshops, art galleries, music venues, organic eateries and beautiful nature. Some areas in the Freetown restrict photography as they are as free-spirited as a place with such a name should be 😉 It is also the only place in Scandinavia where you can find the hand-built Pederson Bicycle. The town has an independent, rebellious streak, that makes you find a purpose in every little thing you come across. At a cafe on Pusher’s Street, we had a long conversation with an American musician on a cycling trip from Los Angeles to Spain and back. We also had a homemade beer at a cafe run by an uber-cool, middle-aged couple. A group of musicians were playing instruments and singing right across the street while a glamorous Italian was cracking us up with his humorous mockery on possibly everything around.
It was a rainy ride back to the city and we proceeded to see The Little Mermaid, a statue commissioned by Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg as a gift to Copenhagen in 1913. It is a Copenhagen icon that receives more than a million visitors every year. Next was the Port, the beautiful street of Ved Kongeporten, Churchillparken ( a park) and Esplanade. The whole city has prolific greenery and is blessed with several water bodies here and there. We used to walk at least 15kms on an average every day, without feeling tired. The town planning of these cities is such that walking becomes a joyous activity! I always used to say that it’s my wish to live in places where walking is fun, natural beauty is abundant, people are friendly and you can randomly visit a bar alone, grab a beer, strike a conversation with a stranger without her/him feeling that you are ‘available’. My husband would laugh and say that I should move to Europe, he was right!
The next day we continued to Nyhaven, the heritage harbour with colourful buildings that line the canal and give a glimpse of boat traffic. Like other ports, this strip has a history with sailors, drinking and literary exploits. Its a lovely place for a stroll with buildings on one side and cafes/bars on the other. The walk was followed by a train ride for the legendary ‘Carlsberg Visit’. It was amazing to see the history, evolution and success behind something we just consider as a beverage company. It is so much more than that! The science and experimentation it took then to start the brand and the technology and strategy it takes now to market the brand is something we can consider as an industrial visit for students and entrepreneurs-to-be. What was captivating besides the journey was the environmental consciousness, art, contribution to the city and a touch of flamboyance. From some of the most handsome, healthy horses to cherry garden, the expansive museum to the beer tasting (including Indian Ale :-D), the place had so much to take pride in.
We concluded our time in Copenhagen by taking a train ride from the renowned Oresund bridge to Malmo, Sweden.
“I need to go because I have to grow
Filled with the desire to know
Where all these roads may go
You find me on buses and trains and planes
Walking for hours in the sunshine or in the pouring rain
Looking for the small things along the way
The details that make my day”