Every few months I try to get away for a mini-vacation and this one was even more miniature than most but so, so worth it. As I was frantically last-minute packing I was also conferencing in Tom and my boss for a blah blah blah work call. August has been a month if you know what I mean and I think you do. I have been looking forward to this trip and it could not have come at a better time! Part of the happiness of traveling is the anticipation … each morning for weeks now I woke up and checked the iPhone weather in Copenhagen. Then I checked my countdown app (this is the one I use) and finally finally we were at zero days, zero hours. As soon as those doors shut on the airplane it was time to unplug.
The American Airlines flight was smooth on the first leg (LAX to London Heathrow) and our connecting flight on British Airways (LHR-CPH) was fine, too, I’m pretty sure I fell asleep while sitting upright and eating goldfish crackers so there’s that. We arrived in Copenhagen just as the sun was setting, something I would like to plan for all my future trips because the view out the airplane window was breathtaking.
Flights are so incredibly priced right now. Even with the stupid change fee, I managed to get a deal. If you’re itching to look out at your own airplane sunset, I got a flight alert today from WOW airlines for a $400 roundtrip ticket from LAX to Copenhagen. You probably have to bring your own tray table but heck, would be worth it.
We landed at CPH and breezed through customs. It’s so easy traveling to Europe, you wait in the immigration line in a beautiful, well-lit open lobby. The line is you and anyone else from your airplane and it moves quickly. A friendlyish person behind a bank-teller style window stamps your passport and that’s it, welcome to Denmark.
It would have been ridiculously easy to take the train into the city but we opted for a cab because there’s a certain level of exhaustion you reach in life when you know you’re better off reducing complexity. August has been nuts and I think both The Captain and I had reached our peak zombie states somewhere midair over Greenland. Traveling is often a trade-off between ease and price. The price of a taxi is about $40 more than a train ticket. But when I am that exhausted I am very likely to get lost, or lose track of my belongings, or get frustrated. To me it is worth $40 to eliminate that entire work stream and the paperwork that comes with a lost passport or similar.
Trade offs are good. It balances out. I am happy exploring the budget-priced hotdogs of Europe instead of the Michelin-star restaurants so let me have my cab rides from the airport.
Here’s a tip…
You do not need cash in most of Scandinavia. It’s a nearly cashless society, and your chip-enabled card should work everywhere. If you’re coming from the US, you most likely have a chip-and-signature card, so after inserting your card you will still need to sign a receipt. If you want to leave a tip, you can ask the taxi driver to add some extra to the bill. I get nervous about tipping so I read up on it so we rounded up for the taxi ride. Here’s a great site with advice about tipping globally.
If you feel more secure traveling with a little bit of cash, you can order Danish Krone (kroners? krones?) from your bank at home, or simply wait until you get to the airport and use the ATM. We passed at least three easy-access ATM machines in the airport on our way out. As always, it’s a good idea to call your bank ahead of time and file a travel notice so you don’t get blocked by your bank’s fraud alerting program.
The First Night
We made our way to the city center neighborhood where I had booked an Airbnb for our stay (about $160/night USD). The host was unable to greet us that evening so she used a Danish service called Keykeeper to leave the keys at a cafe near the apartment. It worked out great, I just went up to the bar and showed them my confirmation email and voila, we had the keys. We walked a few steps down the road to the apartment and opened the door and (once I figured out how to work the light switch) it was like stepping into a dream. It is exactly what I imagine Copenhagen living to be: clean, classic Scandinavian decor, a place for everything and everything in its place.
It’s no coincidence that I have felt called to explore more of the Nordics this year. Theirs is a quality of living that I admire and long for in my own life, a simplicity and beauty and orderliness that appeals to me and calms me. Hotels can capture this feel but there’s something special about staying in an apartment. Airbnb is such a great invention, too, because it offers you an opportunity to really marinate in someone else’s way of living and feel what it would be like to live in that city, in that home.
It was already getting late, so we dropped our bags and went out for a walk in the neighborhood to find some snacks. Getting out for a brief walk is a great way to get your blood circulating and burn off the little last bit of travel anxiety before tucking into bed. All the grocery stores in our neighborhood were closed but we found the warm, welcoming light of a 7-11 (!!!) and stocked up on local yogurt and beer and potato chips and began our sampling of the delicious wieners of Denmark at the 7-11’s boutique hot dog bar. Don’t judge. It’s not like 7-11 back home where you get a shriveled, meatlike product on an artificially spongey bun.
Hotdogs in Europe are a thing. Cross that ocean and you will discover there is a respect for the sausage that we do not uphold in the states. These particular gourmet-ish 7-11 hotdogs were served in a tasty hollowed-out baguette that was perfectly toasted on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside.
Wow, I just wrote a romantic ode to the hotdog. Go me.
During our layover in Heathrow I had purchased a bottle of wine from the duty free shop so we returned to the apartment and ate our hotdogs and toasted with a glass of wine and after a shower and some fussing with the windowshades we went straight into First Night Hibernation Mode. I believe the trick to avoiding jet lag is to allow yourself to sleep that first night as long as you need to sleep. If that means you wake up at 3 pm the next day, so be it. This time I tried something new, too — drinking a packet of Emergen-ZZZ right before bed. It’s just Emergen-C with a dose of melatonin. We drank it every night on the trip and there’s no control group so this doesn’t count as a scientific study, but I felt great every day with no jet lag and I slept like a bear. I’ll definitely be packing it for future trips.
The next morning was sunny and bright without a cloud in the sky (foreshadowing alert!) and the crazy touristing began in earnest with lunch and then a tour on the Red Bus Hop-On, Hop-Off excursion. We bought the combined bus-and-boat ticket (€35 before the discount) which was on sale and included all kinds of extras: two bus lines, a shuttle to the zoo, a walking tour option and a canal cruise. Each ticket was also valid for 72 hours of use. I LOVE the hop-on hop-off bus/boat experience and try to do it in every city. It offers a solid overview of the city and helps you get your bearings (and a little history lesson along the way).
However! If you are going to Copenhagen be sure to start your tour with the boat portion first. We started with the bus and the first few stops were a parking lot, another parking lot, and what looked like the back of a Costco. The main city bus tour was still worth the ride and I would definitely do it again, but the boat tour was a majestic revelation. We didn’t do that until Day Two so you have to wait and read about that tomorrow. (Exciting!)
For Day One, we took the bus. The city was hosting a marathon so a few of the stops were bypassed but no worries, we looped around and then got off near the famous Nyhavn canal and walked the rest. It was here that our beautiful, sunny sparkling day turned into a scene from an end-of-times movie about climate change.
As we strolled down the canal taking our pictures and holding hands and making moony faces at each other and the city, the atmosphere began to change. The literal atmosphere changed. One minute we were seated at a sunny cafe watching tourists stroll down the picturesque streets and the next minute we were witnessing a running-of-the-bulls style mass exodus as people fled from the streets during a downpour that appeared out of nowhere.
It was at this point in the day that I remembered I had packed my travel umbrella, plus the new marimekko travel umbrella I bought in Helsinki, and both of those umbrellas were safely back in the apartment, dry and warm, while we were on the opposite side of the city in what appeared to be a monsoon.
Living in Los Angeles does all kinds of things to a person. It makes you incredibly brazen and snotty about traffic. It changes the way you feel about valet parking. It frees you to wear pajamas at the grocery store. And it makes you forget that people of the world ever experience a thing like water falling from the sky and so you do not think a thing like this will ever happen to you, YOU, because you looked at the hour-by-hour iPhone weather forecast and saw sunny skies and believed in it. An umbrella is not even part of your consciousness. It is sunny and dry 359 days out of the year in Los Angeles. It is not an umbrella town. We are not umbrella people.
This is also how two dumbasses from LA watched a storm in action rise up from nowhere, recede into nowhere and thought it was totally safe now to leave the covered cafe and stroll far off into the nether reaches of Copenhagen looking for a hidden gem of a restaurant that an Instagram friend told you about in a DM.
This is the true story of how those two happy tourists found themselves trapped in the middle of a city with not even one single overhang to cling beneath while the universe turned a firehose on them and they got so soaking wet that all layers of clothing were dripping wet and someone’s bra had to be wrung out later in the bathroom.
I have lived many years on this planet and I have never experienced a downpour so hard and so unrelenting that came one in an instant, lasted 20 minutes, and then whisked itself away to some new land. Yay for new experiences!
But we found the restaurant. No thanks to you, Google Maps, who made us travel in weird circles until we finally got 15,000 steps in. And we sat there in the cozy, beautiful restaurant, soaking wet while my hair dripped down onto the floor, amongst all those good people in their fancy clothes and no one looked askance at us dripping on our seats. The drinks were potent and the food was delicious and the moony eyes returned, and we squeaked in our chairs and smelled a little bit like warm, wet laundry. We had a fantastic dinner and then we took a cab back to the apartment because we didn’t want to mildew.
And so ended our first day in Denmark which is both dreamy and wet but not at the same time. See you tomorrow for Part Two!
1711 København V
+45 3215 5656
Red Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Buses