I was proud of this stupid joke I thought of while standing in a cafe at the Copenhagen train station, eyes wide as they trailed over pink-frosted sweets and shelves piled high with pastries. After ordering a sommerkaffe (mostly milk with a shot of hazelnut flavor and just a splash of coffee that still left my caffeine-sensitive body jittery), my scouring eyes landed on a raspberry danish, whose Danish name I didn’t need to know to point it out and order eagerly. Flaky, surrounding a bright pinkish-red center, and topped with almond slivers, it was, as Chandler Bing would tell you, perfection. I tasted the language. And that’s when I laughed around a bite.

Copenhagen was a brief, passionate rendezvous that left me dizzy with sunrises at 4:30 in the morning and sunsets still lingering in the sky at 11pm; bicycles that rushed away in blurs and make crossing every street a challenge accepted; sea greens and golds and pastels that linked arms with the water glittering along the edges of the city. I was there for one full day, spread out over three days, and wished for more time. There wasn’t enough of it to get to the statue of the Little Mermaid, or to see the Christiania district. Still, I had an amazing time doing things I love.

Like walking.

My favorite way to unpack a city is to hit the pavement, sneakers laced up and camera in tow, and stroll. That’s what most of my time looked like: walking, twirling around on cobblestoned streets to gaze at the architecture from ground to sky, taking photos of bikes. And the Bostonian in me made the effort to wait at crosswalks, as everyone did. I wound my way into passages tucked away from the public, and stumbled upon really neat public art and local shops. Still, it is awing at every corner.

Bike Travel: A Lifestyle

I made it my mission to take photos of as many bikes as I saw, which proved all too easy.

See?

My first day was also the day I arrived in Europe, first in London, then taking a flight (that I amazingly slept through) to Copenhagen. I found my way out of the airport, my suitcase by my side and backpack weighing on my jetlagged shoulders as I boarded a train, then a bus, to get to my AirBnb. My lodging was in an apartment complex that spanned blocks of identical buildings, which I looped around hopelessly to find. A crumpled confirmation email in my hand and sweat dripping down my back, I scanned and rescanned the numbers on the doors, confused when the numbers skipped over mine, until my foggy mind gently whispered, “Try the courtyard.” It worked, by joe! My room overlooked the canal that ran through the neighborhood and caught some gorgeous light.

Before I went back out, I took a shower, used the guest shampoo for yellow hair–something you’d only find in a fair-haired country like Denmark–slipped into sandals, and made it to the bus stop, only to realize I was just shy of the change I needed. The buses operate on coin payments, so I popped into a gourmet grocery store to buy two teeny squares of dark chocolate that awarded me the coins I needed–and a splurge to get my through my impending hanger.

The city as it surrendered to dusk exercised my imagination wildly. It was entrancing in early summer, still on the cusp of low tourist season, feeling a secret all its own. It cut edges, balancing classical architecture with contemporary art murals next door. I glided through squares and down streets near Tivoli Gardens, and settled at The Hungry Dane for dinner. A sign out front featuring a cartoon dog and advertising Copenhagen’s best burger did me in. I went with the prize-winning recipe: chicken soaked in duck fat (their signature confit), and reveled in every flavor of the brioche, the special sauce, the peppers that complemented the main event. Sitting outside on a wooden-slatted bench, overlooking the comings and goings of people through the square across from me, listening to the squawks of seagull lookalikes, letting the warm breeze swirl around me like dreams, I embodied contentment.

In the late afternoon the next day, I meandered along Nyhavn, the strip of pastel buildings that most often come up when searching photos of Copenhagen. It is recognizable to locals and tourists alike, and though very bright and very beautiful, felt in rhythm with the city on the whole. Nyhavn was not my first or last run-in with fantastically painted exteriors, but it still took my breath away. And there was a funky installation across from it, a brick building whose large windows were stuffed with hundreds of orange and black life jackets.

Walking up a block found me by the water, and I sat among families and friends celebrating (nothing in particular it didn’t seem–life?) with open bottles of wine and Carlsburg passed between them. My host told me I arrived here at the optimal time, and I could understand why: long, long days and sunny weather that lasted the entire length of my stay. The feel of the season was palpable; the happiness was wrapped up in good food, good drinks, good weather, and good people.

From there I began a trek back down Nyhan and to the King’s Garden, also sometimes known as the Roseborg Gardens, where I found Rosenborg Castle, a narrow structure built up like an Amsterdam canal house. The park was a beautiful escape of tree-lined walkways, floral mazes, fountains and sculptures hidden behind walls of shrubbery, and magpies fluttering onto the grass.

Money: A Sad Reality

Let me tell you how expensive it was. For the two and a half days that I was actually traveling, I spent close to $200–no alcohol, postcard souvenirs, very few to no snacks. I spent the equivalent of $15 on a virgin ginger beer and two fish tacos smaller than the palm of my hand. I stopped for a liquor-infused ice cream on the walk to the bus stop after that meal, because I wasn’t fully satisfied and I just couldn’t not, you know?

Would I do it again? You bet your bottom dollar. I spent my hours in the presence of places that didn’t cost anything, enjoying the roaming and the observing. Though I want desperately to go back for the castles and museums, I think this introductory lesson in Denmark was an insightful (albeit pricey) one. I didn’t purchase it, but a Copenhagen Pass will do wonders for the wallet.

I didn’t need money to end up at this installation, a house of mirrors pulled open and spreading the length of a block, splashed with abstract shapes and designs. And, of course, finished off with parked bikes.

Heeding the advice of one of my dad’s coworkers, I made a beeline for Sankt Peder’s Cafe on my final morning, housed in a sunset orange building on a quiet side street, one block away from Ørstedsparken. The window display could have kept me pressed up against the glass for the rest of the day, but I ordered one of their cinnamon buns and had to measure it to my face to confirm that it was, indeed, the same size or larger. Frosted thick with icing and delicately rolled, I sat on a bench in the park under a canopy of leaves and unabashedly moaned in delight at the first bite. It ranks as one of the best pastry-eating experiences I have ever had. Seriously.

The thing about Copenhagen is that it was unexpected, the way I had planned (or, I guess, hadn’t). With nothing set in stone here, I wandered to invaluable moments. Like live musicians in a plaza. A pig pile of bikes parked on sidewalks, unchained, left trustfully to remain where its owner left it. An art installation mimicking lily pads, set over a stream of water, for kids to leap between.

Copenhagen doesn’t have expectations of itself. Instead, it is humble in its own wake, impressive outside of its big spots. The side streets dancing in colorful exteriors were my favorite ones.

And the thought of those pastries makes me hungry to go back.

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