Like many Americans of my generation, I studied abroad for a semester in college. I stayed with a host family in downtown Copenhagen, went to school with about 50 other Americans, rode a bike every day, didn’t mix with the locals, discovered that urban living was great, and once the semester was done I packed up to backpack around the continent.
It has been 12 years since that semester, and when we began planning this trip, Copenhagen was at the top of my list. I wanted to show Nik the first city I ever saw outside of the United States. I wanted to retrace my steps and bike through my old neighborhood. I wanted to eat Danish rugbrød, “snails” (cinnamon rolls), bagel sandwiches, Fransk hotdogs, and shawarma. I wanted to browse through the Danish furniture and homewares stores for days. All of my memories of this place are precious, and I wanted them to all hold up.
Well, some held up, but many didn’t.
First, I wanted to find all the buildings and plazas I remembered from my daily life. Before we arrived, I starred everything on my phone to jog my memory, but I didn’t think I would need it once we were there. Wrong. The problem was that we came into the city from the west, and I used to come into the city from the east. Because of this, nothing was where it was supposed to be. We even found the Carlsberg brewery on our first bike ride, which I could have sworn wasn’t even in the city of Copenhagen. This made me realize that I missed a lot of the city even though I was there for 3 full months, so I was glad we decided to stay in two neighborhoods I had never heard of because it was a completely new-to-me city.
My second set of memories to recreate were food based, and I mostly failed at this. The rugbrød was exactly as I remembered and I ate a ton of it. I never found the “snails” shop I remembered, and the cinnamon rolls we tried did not live up. I never found the bagel sandwich shop, but I also didn’t look very hard because of my geographic confusion. I couldn’t bring myself to try the Fransk hotdog (a hot dog shoved inside a french baguette with mayo) or the shawarma, but the Døp classic organic hotdog was delicious. Luckily, all was not lost because Copenhagen has become a foodie town in the last decade. They now have local and international food trucks, great coffee shops, top-notch bakeries, several farmers markets, and beautifully designed restaurants with menus to match. We had our first Asian meals since we left the US, we had great coffee and pastries, and we had one amazing dinner at Sankt Annæ 8. I wish we could have taken more advantage of the food, but the one thing that has stayed the same about the food is that it was all very expensive. I’d say everything was at least 25-50% more expensive than San Francisco, so we weren’t willing to pay that.
The third memory I wanted to recreate was my adoration for Danish design. For this one, it was a complete success. Just as I remembered and better. Their homes are simple and well thought out. Their restaurants are clean with no fluff. Their parks are comfortable and well used. Their bike lanes are wide and safe. Their bikes are beautiful with all the kid seats and hauling capacity. Their fashion is sharp. They are just a notch above the world in so many ways. Of course, they know this and are proud and sometimes pompous about it. But they have a successful and creative country, so why not?
In hindsight, I put a lot of pressure on Copenhagen to be perfect, and when it wasn’t I struggled to not be disappointed. But the city has changed, and I have changed. I think both are for the better.
Places I missed the first time…
Aspects of the city that didn’t exist before…