I normally like to take a break in between travel series to catch up a little on what we’ve been doing in London and what not, but seeing as it’s already February, I figure I better go ahead and jump right into our Christmas trip to Copenhagen before it gets even more silly to be talking about the holidays when it’s almost spring!
Our trip to Copenhagen wasn’t a long one – just three days and three nights, the weekend after Lexie’s school let out for the holiday break – but it was long enough to encourage us to want to see even more of Scandinavia, which we will do in a couple weeks when we head to Sweden! But first, Copenhagen.
My goodness, what a beautiful city Copenhagen is, especially during the holidays. Not even counting Tivoli Gardens (which is in a league of its own, and one of the coolest places you’ll ever visit at Christmas-time), the entirety of the city is so chock-full of holiday spirit that even the frigid December temperatures can’t bring down the festive enthusiasm.
From the minute we exited the metro station, I knew we were going to like Copenhagen. Not every first impression I’ve had of a new place is correct, but as a general rule, I can usually determine whether I’m going to like a city within the first hour of being in it, and my first impressions of Copenhagen as we walked from the Kongens Nytorv station to our hotel were this –
Dang, it’s cold! But at least the skies are a beautiful, crisp winter blue! (That would be the last time we saw blue skies in Copenhagen, but hey, at least we got started off on the right foot!)
Everybody is smiling at me! (This could be partly due to the big grin on my own face. Smiling is contagious. Unless you’re from London.)
This city is so clean. I haven’t seen a city this pristine since Singapore where they’ll kick you out of the country if you’re found with a piece of chewing gum in your mouth. (Slight exaggeration in reference to Singapore, of course, but still – very, very clean streets and canals in Copenhagen.)
Scandinavian women are just as pretty as I thought they’d be. Must remember to wear make-up tomorrow so as not to feel like ugly, old crone by comparison.
We passed by the famous Nyhavn canal on our way to the hotel and I was struck, for just a moment, by how absolutely beautiful it is – the smooth waters of the canal, boats of all ages and sizes docked on each side, and then, of course, the multi-colored row houses that flank the canal and complete the scene. I had to stop where I was on the sidewalk and just look at it. It’s a setting I’ve seen photographed hundreds of times, but nothing beats actually seeing it in person. I wish I had stopped then to take a photo – the crisp, pale blue skies would have made the perfect backdrop – but I shrugged it off for later. Big mistake. The sun sets at like noon in December in Copenhagen (okay, more like 3pm), and since we were passing by at 2pm, it was dark before we made our way back after checking into the hotel. And to top it all off, the sun decided to wear her cloud-colored burqa for the entire remainder of our trip, so I never got that shot I wanted, but hey, at least the nighttime shots didn’t turn out half-bad.
After we got checked into our hotel, we had about 2-3 hours before dinnertime, but no real plans for how to keep busy in the meantime, so we just walked around the city looking at the twinkling lights draped over the trees and buildings, and lingering by every outdoor heater we crossed paths with. We eventually ended up back at Nyhavn where we were taking some long exposure shots of the canal using a closed canal tour company dock as a tripod, when a man walks up to us and says something in Danish. As we awkwardly fumbled through our usual apologies that we don’t speak the language, he effortlessly switched to English and asked us if we knew what was coming. We, of course, didn’t, so he proceeded to explain that today was Saint Lucia Day and if we waited another half hour or so, we’d get to see a pretty special celebration in the canal. Excited because we seemed to be, for once, in the right place at the right time, we decided to stay right where we were on the dock and wait. And man, were we glad we did.
We had a front row seat when, shortly after 5pm, a group of people in holiday costumes came running down the street by the canal and then not five minutes later, the first of 200 kayaks, completely decked out in Christmas lights and decorations, began making their way into the canal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite this festive in my entire life. The atmosphere was, gosh, I struggle to find the right words. Joyful? Electric? I think Danes could describe it better with a word from their vocabulary – hygge. There is no direct translation in English, but it seems to me to be a combination of cheerfulness and the feeling of warmth that you get from contentment and being together with others. Even though we were just bystanders (quite like the ghosts from A Christmas Carol – observers, but not participants), the feeling was contagious and I began to see why Denmark is always ranked so highly on lists of the happiest countries in the world.
Once all of the kayaks were situated in the canal, everyone began to sing in unison, even the crowds that had gathered along the banks of the canal without my noticing. This time I really do have no words. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had while traveling, and the fact that it was completely unplanned on our part made it just that much more incredible. We have a video of the whole thing, but since my knowledge of post-processing of videos stops at moving them from my phone to the computer, it’ll likely never be shared on the blog. But in the background of the video, you can hear me saying ‘This is so freaking awesome!’ at least a half a dozen times. We really felt like, of all the places we could have been in the world at that moment and on that day, we were exactly where we were supposed to be.
And then, just like that, it was over. The kayaks paddled their way out of the canal and we were left, still sitting on the dock, wondering how in the world the rest of the trip could possibly compete with how we’d started it. It didn’t matter that it was below freezing and our clothes were now soaked nearly all the way through from the dampness of the dock – nothing could get us down. We eventually left, still feeling the after-effects of the excitement, and got cozy in a nearby cafe and ate sandwiches bigger than the size of our heads, and for the next two hours continued to talk about how serendipitous our timing was. It is said that if one celebrates Saint Lucia Day well, they will carry with them enough light to get through the dark days of winter – given our experience, I’m pretty sure the light in our hearts could carry us through three!
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