Copenhagen Day One

Many people born in the USA consider themselves something other than just American. They may be Italian-American, German-American or Irish-American, even though their ancestors emigrated to the USA in 1878. They are still uniquely proud of their heritage. Try telling an Italian-American, who has never been within a thousand miles of Sicily, he isn’t Italian and you may wake up next to a horse’s head.

Madam had an ancestor born in Denmark. I forget the exact relationship but it was something like her great great great great grandmother’s cousin twice-removed was from Copenhagen. With all that Viking blood coursing through her veins, she is clearly Danish-American. Unfortunately, this sounds like a breakfast pastry.

“I’ll take a grande half-fat latte macchiato with an extra shot please. Oh, and throw in one of your tasty Danish-Americans. Make that to go.”

I hope there are no real Danish or Italian-Americans reading this, or I may be in trouble. I loved the Cannoli I had in Little Italy. Honestly. It was the best squirty pastry I’ve ever had.

Hoping that Madam will recognise a long-lost relative from amongst the crowds, off to Copenhagen we shall go. I have to admit it wasn’t high on my bucket list of places to visit but whatever keeps Madam happy. I suppose there is the off chance that I might find a Viking hat with horns.

The World Happiness Report has, for the last several years, had Scandinavians, including the Danish, rank as the happiest people in the world. Both the UK and the USA are much lower. The survey uses both objective data such as levels of crime, income, access to education and health care, along with subjective questions like “how do you rate your life?”

Scandinavia has, to put it bluntly, crap weather for much of the year. Snow carpets the ground throughout the winter with temperatures struggling to get much above freezing. It gets dark by 4pm. It will be windy and cloudy. Summer is better but seems over in the blink of an eye. Taxes in Denmark are amongst the highest in the world. Personal income tax rates can reach 60%. VAT (sales tax) is 25%.

So what is there to be happy about?

If we believe the media hype, it’s all about the Hygge (pronounced Hoo-gah). This is a difficult word to translate but means something like ‘comfort’ or ‘cosiness’. It’s a glass of wine with friends or a cup of cocoa in front of the fire. It’s being in, and appreciating, the moment. Treating ordinary moments as special.

Hygge has spawned an entire new industry. Retailers, never slow to jump on the fad gravy train, are offering Hygge Tealight Holders (£49), Hygge Stonewashed Blankets (£115) and Hygge Cushions (£40). Publishers join in the fun with more than a hundred books on the hygge lifestyle. Many of the books have only a few dozen pages. I sympathise with the authors. After all, how many different ways can you say “We have friends coming round, open a bottle of wine”?

If a packet of cocoa and a pile of firewood was the secret of happiness, we would all be in a state of eternal bliss. I think there is more to the Danes happiness than a cosy evening in front of the fire.

Every Dane, from the moment of birth, gets free high quality healthcare and education. They are paid to go to university. Public transport is widespread, efficient and affordable. They get ten months of maternity or paternity benefits. They retire with absolute security and a generous pension. Vacation time is around seven weeks. Denmark has one of the lowest gaps between rich and poor in the world with the minimum wage of around $20 an hour. In effect, they are all middle class. They do not celebrate ambition and the constant striving for promotion or more money. Danes believe it is more important to pursue a career you love rather than one with a larger paycheck. Time spent with family and friends is more important than the size of your car.

Some claim the Danish model is socialism but successive governments have committed themselves to free markets, private ownership and free trade. It has a low level of bureaucracy and encourages business start-ups. Perhaps it is socialism with a small ‘s’ and capitalism with a small ‘c’. Either way, it seems to work.

But enough of the politics. Copenhagen calls.

Our flight landed in Copenhagen airport just before 5pm. When we booked the flight and hotel as a package, they offered us a private car transfer from the airport to the hotel and back for £148 per person. Having looked at a map before booking I could see that the airport was only a few miles from the centre of Copenhagen so I declined their kind offer. The local train ran direct from the airport terminal into the city. From there we walked only a few minutes to the hotel and had completed check-in within 40 minutes. Cost for a single journey £4 each. Even a taxi from the rank would have only cost £35. A transfer for £148 leaves a tidy profit for somebody. I splashed out on a 48 hour city pass (£17 each) which gave us unlimited travel throughout the city, including from the airport.

Our room on the first floor overlooked the harbour. A pedestrian and bicycle path was below our window. A little further out into the harbour a section was partitioned off and swimming lanes and a diving board added. Several hardy souls were swimming. The water temperature was a toasty 19C (66F). I asked Madam if she fancied a dip but she declined. I’ve no idea why.

I sat and watched the bicycles passing below the window for an hour while Madam went through her extensive unpacking and checking routine. So many bicycles. So little Lycra. It is the chosen transport in Copenhagen for young and old. Businessmen with briefcases balanced on the handlebars. Mothers with children in a seat on the back. One man had an old wooden Carlsberg beer crate fastened on the front with his dog sitting in there watching the world go by.

By the time Madam had finished checking under the bed for dust and reorganising the pillows and towels to her satisfaction, it was too late to do much else but pop into the mall conveniently located next door to the hotel. As soon as we walked in the front door, Madam saw a Tex-Mex restaurant, so our dinner choice was set.

Whenever we spoke to people who had visited Copenhagen, they would tell us how expensive it was. We were mentally prepared for a week’s bread and water diet with just the occasional ice cream. You have to have ice cream. Prices were certainly higher in the tourist areas. A lot higher. Once you moved into the areas the locals used it wasn’t quite so bad. The first meal we had in the local mall, with two entrees and three drinks (Madam insisted on two margaritas) came to 327Kr (£39). You would struggle to pay less in London.

Other things were pricier. A cup of coffee in a chain coffee shop was 45Kr (£5.35). A non-chain cafe 35Kr. A beer in a bar or restaurant was 55Kr (£6.55). On the other hand a bottle of Danish pilsner beer from the local supermarket was 3.5 Kr (42p).

Would you like to know the cost of sending a postcard from Denmark to the UK?

I bet you would. I’ll need a small drum roll please. If you don’t have any drums handy just use a couple of pens on a desk.

Ready?

Good.

Sending a single postcard to the UK costs 27Kr (£3.21, or $4.35). Don’t expect any postcards from Madam.

Pictures from the trip can be found here

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