Breaking into Copenhagen

I arrived late on a Monday night and then I took the train early to Malmo, Sweden on Tuesday, so my first full day in Copenhagen was Wednesday and I had not yet seen anything besides the train station and a pastry shop. I had reserved a spot with BikeMike Tours after hearing about it from Rick Steves. After witnessing just a little of the bike traffic, I was glad I booked a tour and would have a guide for my first foray into the city.

Copenhagen is a 1000 years old and committed to keeping their streets cobbled and their footprint much the same. It was not designed for cars. Yet it is a dynamic, economically vibrant place. Bicycles allow them to move people without sacrificing the quality of life that their history offers. The cycling culture is such that people ride everywhere in all weather and with cargo bikes if they have children or a load. As one fellow tour rider from the USA noted, “No one is wearing lycra bike shorts or riding a fancy bike.” It is part of the fabric of life and very utilitarian.

I digress, I want to tell you about this fabulous tour.

Mike is a bit gruff when you first meet him at the shop. His website can also be offputting to some:

i am not just another #$@%&*! bike tour guide. I am bike mike.

I appreciated that he was being very forthright about what his tour was and was not. What it is: an exciting tour of the city at a good pace with a guide who LOVES Copenhagen and Denmark. I ride my bike as my main source of transportation and I “kissed” the curb; my bike went down but thankfully I did not. So the city cobbles and curbs can be challenging especially to riders from the USA. It is so worth the risk.

I arrived feeling very jet-lagged and hoped that the fresh air and exercise would revive me. There were about 18 of us in the group with a mix of Europeans and Americans. Mike leads the way and expects you to follow, and we did. People in my group did a great job of keeping up.

Mike does stop often to share information about this beautiful city and its culture. He is unabashedly proud of their socialist welfare state and the monarchy. He is a real enthusiast and he will infect you with a love of Copenhagen.

He also gave good tips on restaurants along the way. Although his description of a typical Danish lunch–open faced sandwiches of pickled herring followed by a shot of snaps (schnapps)–sounded like a fast track to a nap!

He said we would ride through whatever weather came our way just like a local. However, when a particularly nasty bit of rain and wind came through he let us grab a coffee at the national theater and then ride on. This added an hour to our tour but no one complained.

In fact, we were all full of good will toward one another at the end. The tour was well worth the DKK 299 in cash.

I also learned about these really groovy Danish locks that fit onto your bike as a permanent fixture. Mike uses them as do most people in Copenhagen. I walked across the street to the bike shop and bought 2 to use at home.

Preparing for Denmark Adventure

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I am visiting Denmark this summer. I found my hotel on Trip Advisor. Thanks to Rick Steves’ I am taking a bike tour in Copenhagen with Mike. My chum Susie from University is going to show me her Malmo, Sweden on June 6–the national holiday to celebrate being Swedish. I have printed the instructions to find hidden Giant sculptures around Copenhagen on a bike scavenger hunt.

I am excited that I am going to be able to see two more Scandinavian countries (after Norway in 2013). Originally I thought I’d get into the countryside and see more of Denmark. Then I realized that second half of my trip involves a lot of travel through England, so enjoying one city more thoroughly and staying in the same hotel is appealing.

I discovered Helen Russell’s humorous memoir Year of Living Danishly at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. I read it to prepare for my trip. The culture in Denmark is similar to Norway in many respects. The author refers to Jante’s Law, which I experienced growing up with a Norwegian grandfather.

Aksel Sandemose outlines 10 rules for living Danishly in his novel, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, known as Jante’s Law.

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than us
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than us
  5. You’re not to think you know more than us
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than us
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything
  8. You’re not to laugh at us
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything

cod bookSome people think it is synonymous with humility and essential to maintaining the egalitarian Scandinavian society. Some people think it is about enforcing conformity. In another memoir, In Cod We Trust, by Eric Dregni, about his family’s year in Norway, he observes, “These ten commandments may have begun as a morality tale of how not to act, but over time these rules were adopted to teach kids not to be self-important narcissists.”

I am curious to soak up as much of the culture as I can for the relatively short time I am there, and to find out more about Jante’s Law.