Copenhagen, the first thing that probably comes to your mind on hearing this name is the Climate Conference that was held here and caught worldwide attention. Sadly my trip was before these series of meets and otherwise too my knowledge of recent events falls far short than my knowledge of history (or maybe even the future). Anyways for me it was a convenient halt in my journey from Amsterdam to Gothenburg.
But having been there, I can perfectly understand why the city was chosen for a Global Climate Council. I’ve been to a few cities in my brief lifespan, and while they might just be a sprinkling of the wide world, I’m yet to see a city closer to nature than the Danish capital. Notice the word capital, cause one would never associate greenery and bonhomie with nature in ruthless, pragmatic and self-important capital cities. All that nature humdrum is better left to second rate cities, so that they have something to talk about. National capitals have much more important things like economy and governance to focus on, rather than the irritating and trifling issue of environment conservation.
Anyways, as I boarded the train from Amsterdam, which was supposed to be an overnight journey through Germany, I found that the 6 people compartment was just having me and two others (what inefficiency I say, would never happen in India). So I had to kill time with two pretty girls from Norway and US (needless to say who was more interesting). Both incidentally were backpacking too and it was great fun to exchange notes – isn’t this the best part of travelling, meeting random people and learning from them, its just what makes the whole experience unforgettable.
Since we were just the three of us, the Norwegian came up with a suggestion for two of us sleep on the bench chairs (these trains don’t have bunks like back home, they have padded benches as in a day train/local) while the third sleeps on the floor. Now I was a bit ambivalent as naturally I would have to be chivalrous enough to take the floor. But to my surprise the Norwegian insisted as she found the benches too uncomfortable! These Europeans I say. Good banter apart, I was also fortunate enough to share some great Norwegain (sort of) pancakes, which – might I say – were quite strange yet yummy.
Disembarking bleary eyed in Copenhagen I was immediately hit by the cold. I mean it was summers then and was pretty sure this was far cooler than any Mumbai winter I had known. The next thing to hit me (as I got out of the train station) was the number of cyclists. For a moment I thought I’ve travelled back in time as there were hardly any motorised vehicles to be seen. Thankfully though I could find some oil burning contraption in this nature hugging city to ferry me till my hostel.
Now everyone had warned me about the exorbitant prices in Scandinavia. But no one mentioned extortion. I got to experience this first hand as my hostel (which had already charged me a fortune to bunk my a**), asked me to pay extra for bedding. “Go to hell” was my initial reaction, which thankfully I managed to subdue just in time, and refused the accessories as I was carrying a sleeping bag with me. “No” was the stern reply as “guests are not allowed to use their personal bedding due to health concerns.” Being the principled person I am (???), I refused to bow to what I felt was plain extortion, and hence thought of declining the bedding altogether. But just in time a gust of cold breeze blew all my principles away with it, and I grudgingly swiped my card, succumbing to the corporate fleecing, not for the last time.
But soon I was to see the good side of the city. As I picked a few fliers and sat down to plan my day (with a wonderful cup of coffee), I found the the city council provides free bicycles (with an accurate map) for tourists to explore the city (not restricted to tourists, but locals have other options). The concept is that you walk to any of the several bike ATMs (my word, not the official jargon) and deposit a 20 kroner coin to unlock a bike. Thereafter you can use it for as long as you desire (within city limits ofcourse), and having finished you lock it back at the nearest ATM anywhere in the city, and out pops a 20 kroner (well not the same coin you deposited ofcourse).
Ironically it is the same corporate culture that I have vilified above, that supports this concept. The bikes are illustrated with ads, and the benefiting company in turn pays for the machine and its maintenance. It’s just such a beautiful concept, one step ahead of even the Paris Velo programme (which in itself is brilliant). To be able to explore a city on the sedate pace of a bike is far better than zooming from monument to monument in any public transport (I need not point out the extra cheese it helps you burn out).
I would point out though, that the comfortable (slightly chilly infact) climate and the small size of the capital do act as major advantages to make this concept a success. And the city does it’s bit by having one of the most organised bicycle traffic management system in the world. Amsterdam is generally more famous as the city of bikes (supposedly having more bikes than people), but there one is perennially under the terror of being run over by one. There are too many of them, going too fast and mostly with the singular aim of maiming an unsuspecting tourist. I have a strong feeling they have some sort of national league in Amsterdam wherein locals gather points for terrorising tourists by their bikes. Bonus points ofcourse if you run someone over.
Copenhagen has well defined, wide cyclists-only lanes, with their own dedicated traffic lights. And this is not on the sidewalks or for side roads, it runs all across, including all major intersections. Cycling in the city then, was THE experience for me, and I can’t wait for the day I would be able to do that in amchi Mumbai (in the so called winters atleast).
For all interested, yes I did visit (insanely popular) The Little Mermaid overlooking Copenhagen’s breathtaking harbour. Having read so much about it, in reality I was a bit let down. It’s really tiny and has a queer expression which is somewhere between bored and waiting (or do the two go hand in hand). But that’s understandable considering how long the poor thing has been sitting there watching ships sail in and out.
Copenhagen harbour incidentally is one of the very few in the world, whose waters are clean enough to swim. And not some small isolated corner, but a huge area literally metres away from the shipping channel. One can see lots of crazy Danes jumping in the harbour water and making merry. Quite a shocker for me, as our Navy divers think twice before jumping in to inspect a ship (and then come out looking right off the sets of an Indian Jones movie having finished the slush fight scene).
The visual treat does not end with the crystal waters though, and soon the visage changes to a lush green treat. Now I’ve seen beautiful and massive parks in cities (Munich’s vast and famous Englischer Garten comes to mind), but Copenhagen I felt is an average sized city – in a huge park. Everywhere I went I could see vast flowing greenlands, or tree lined boulevards. Water so crystal, you could drink, and no sign of any human caused pollution (is there any other kind). But I did have one serious (unanswered) question – don’t they not produce ANY garbage!
As I explored, I walked into their maritime academy – which was a shocker in itself, cause in any other part of the world I would not be allowed within light-years of it, and would be kept off bounds with multiple rings of perimeter fencing. Instead here I walked right in and enjoyed watching two academy teams play football (albeit guarded by an armed soldier). I also strolled near their barracks which were in the middle of achingly beautiful rippling green fields, adorned with windmills and little memorials. And it just wasn’t me, there were several other people jogging, cycling, reading; and all this at 4pm!!! back home I (and most) take a tea break at that time, preparing for another 2-3 hours of work.
The only blot (if I may use the rough term) that I found was the Tivoli entertainment park. Garish, noisy and totally out of place. It is extremely popular and must be great from the inside, but I hadn’t come this far to go into an amusement park, especially when there were much more interesting things to explore. Sadly I just had a day and needed to change after all the strenuous cycling. Reaching back I found a boisterous Brazilian in my dorm who had just arrived, also for the first time in the country.
We struck a conversation and I learnt she was on her way to Ibiza, to get drunk and party hard (as if Brazil is not good enough for that). So we thought of getting her a little practice and went to the local Hard Rock Cafe, which is unlike any other you would visit. It has an unmistakable European feel and most of the patrons prefer to sit on the sidewalk rather than the air-conditioned interiors. I do not remember much after that (I was tired you see), except that we had an amazing conversation and coupled with some great Danish beer (not Carlsberg though).
There is much much more to explore in the city, sadly I cannot bring it all out here – and frankly would not want to either. Safe to say that the day and half I spent there has left me hungry for more and if I were ever be given a chance to pick a city to live in, I would choose Copenhagen with my eyes closed. Don’t get me wrong, Paris is beautiful and a treat to visit, Rome is awe inspiring, London feels so alive, but if you wan to LIVE somewhere and enjoy your existence on Earth as god desired it to be, then Copenhagen is the closest that you can get to it.