Summer has arrived in Copenhagen and it is glorious! It may lack the scorching heat or consistent sunshine of more southern climates, but it brings with it a fragile northern beauty only made possibly by its contrast with Denmark’s long dark winters. Where other regions throughout the world take summer for granted, the Danes relish it and throw themselves into the country’s long summer days with near reckless abandon. Work grinds to a halt, the parks overflow with people, and the city’s open spaces are overwhelmed by a tidal wave of sun-burned, partially-clad Danes often found with a disposable BBQ, six pack of cold Carlsberg, and a beaming smile. This sight is usually set to the soundtrack of local Danish artists blasted from modified Christiania bikes with full speakers and sound systems (sometimes even a DJ turntable) jury-rigged precariously atop three standard bike wheels.…
It is currently winter here in Copenhagen. The weather is floating between 0 and 6 degrees Celsius and has me dreaming of summer. This week’s photo was taken this past spring in Copenhagen and showcases the gorgeous forms of a sea of tulips in the Danish national colors (red and white). In spring the city’s parks are full of people relaxing and soaking up the warm afternoon sun. Looking at this photo reminds me of afternoons spent in the park, nostrils bombarded by the scent of freshly blooming flowers and the heavy aroma of fresh cut grass.
Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.
For Danes and their expat guests alike summer is a special treat. It comes as a reward for those who have survived the long dark winter months and while Denmark is not nearly as cold as one might imagine, days with more than 17 hours of near complete darkness can be a hefty challenge. So, it is with an unusual zeal and zest for the sun that Danes embrace the spring and summer months where the opposite occurs. With less than four hours of darkness at the summer’s apex, there is ample time to bask in the warmth of the sun.
This creates an incredible sun-centered summer culture in Denmark where locals flood the streets for no better reason than spending a few relaxing moments outdoors. Visitors often note a certain level of surprise at the hundreds of Danes lounging along the city’s many bridges, wonderful outdoor cafes, and the thousands of Danes that add color, vibrancy, and the scent of BBQ to the city’s many parks.
I snapped this photo while meandering my way through Christianshavn’s back streets. The Christianshavn part of town lies in the heart of Copenhagen and is crisscrossed by a series of small canals. It is a wonderfully historic district, full of beautifully painted old buildings and sagging cobblestone streets. The building’s walls are decorated by thousands of leaning bicycles, while doorways are often framed by blooming rose bushes. In the photo above, I captured a Danish woman relaxing in the sun while chatting on her phone. Half lost in conversation and half distracted by the afternoon’s warmth. For me, it helps showcase the charm and spirit of summer in Copenhagen – something that everyone should experience.
Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.
This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.
This week’s travel question is from Stella H. she asks,
Q. “Most of your packing and financing tips seem to be for 2 week trips, which makes sense because thats generally the most time people can afford to take off. How do you find that these things change for longer trips?”
A. – Very true! While the majority of my travel has been in 16-20 day bursts the longest trip I’ve enjoyed in the last few years was a three month adventure that stretched from Scotland in September, to southern Greece in December. As noted in your e-mail, weather across a variety of different climates on a longer trip can be a significant challenge. These difficulties can also be found on shorter trips that hop hemispheres or cover large distances over short periods of time such as my Argentina trip which went from topical jungles to glaciers over the course of 21 days. From the experiences garnered during these trips, my discussions with ultra-long term travelers, and research into advice from veteran RTW (round-the-world) backpackers I suggest the following:
To start with map out the approximate route you will be taking while paying close attention to the time of year you’ll be visiting, altitude and latitude. Packing for an extended duration trip which has fairly distinct and non-repeating climate conditions is very different from a trip that will regularly alternate between hot climates and cold climates. If your itinerary is split between warm climates and cold climates, it is probably beneficial for you to pack predominantly for the first climate you’ll be encountering, and then set aside an additional budget to purchase the items you need for the second climate when your trip reaches that phase. Similarly, keep in mind what warm (or cold) weather items you are willing to discard or mail home when they are no longer needed. It’s common sense, but I find often forgotten (by everyone, including me) that clothing will likely be approximately the same price, if not cheaper in the destinations you’ll be visiting.
On the other hand, if you’ve planned a long-term trip that will be bouncing between hot and cold climates you’ll need to take a different approach, as the discard/purchase route is not economical or time efficient. In these cases I suggest focusing heavily on clothing that can be layered easily. Leave the Hawaiian shirts at home, and instead opt for clothing that is flexible and works well as a stand alone, or as a sub-layer. For me, this meant layering a t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, north face windproof vest, large scarf, and waterproof rain jacket with gloves for my trip to Argentina with silk underwear as a backup just-in-case. In the warmer parts of Argentina I stashed the layers and opted for a pair of jeans and t-shirt/swimsuit in the more tropical climates. Remember that a warm scarf, good gloves, and hat go a long way towards keeping you warm. I have also been told a good pair of tights is an absolute must for women. You’ll find that by following this approach, and avoiding absolutely extreme climates (eg: Northern Norway in winter), you’ll be in good shape pretty much anywhere you go.
When preparing for your trip, I encourage you to categorize the items you’re considering purchasing/taking with you into one of two categories. The first should be high cost items that also need to be good quality and have an expensive replacement cost. This list should be fairly short and will likely consist of little more than your backpack, your shoes, and your jacket. The second category should consist of more general day-in-day-out items: things like t-shirts, socks, a cheap sweater and underwear. Items in the first category are the types of things you typically want to purchase ahead of time and which you don’t mind hauling everywhere with you. Items in the second category can be replaced or supplemented fairly easily on the road and tend to have a fairly low replacement cost. For example, if you absolutely must have that Hawaiian shirt for the beach part of your trip, pick it up when you arrive at the beach and then discard it when you head on to a colder climate. Remember, a $12 t-shirt that you use for 1/4th of your trip isn’t worth hauling all over the world with you.
Lastly, people are often tempted to ship a drop package ahead with warm/cold weather gear (as is applicable) for the second or third leg of their trip. While this is certainly doable and a must for some travelers, I would suggest against it in most cases. Not only is there a significant cost associated with shipping things across continents – a cost that may ultimately be more than the simple replacement cost for the items being transported – there is also a headache and convenience element as you wait for delayed packages to arrive, deal with damaged or stolen packages, or try and find a location that is willing to receive the mailed items and hold them until your arrival.
If you review the packing videos that I’ve posted you’ll note that I tend not to change the basics much regardless of the climate i’m visiting. While most of the videos are tailored towards shorter trips my list for a multi-month budget adventure would not change significantly. For additional insights you can see the analysis of what I took for my three month trip back in 2007 here.
Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response? Let me know!
When was the last time you got up from your desk, stepped outside, stretched, paused and truly enjoyed a sunny day for more than a few seconds? I’m talking about heading down to a park, or out to your back yard to lounge in the sun like a cat on a lazy afternoon? If you’re like me you probably haven’t in a long, long time.
It’s no secret that Denmark isn’t exactly the world’s sunniest destination. Located at a similar latitude as Newfoundland, Edinburgh and Moscow the summer days are long and the winter nights are even longer. The city of Copenhagen is located on one of the many islands that make up the nation and like most coastal cities it experiences more than its fair share of rain fall. In winter the Danes battle the inevitable creep of depression as they break out vitamin D supplements and sun lamps to offset the extended periods of darkness. Despite these challenges they’ve regularly been ranked some of the happiest people in the world and with good reason!
I recently relocated from one of the sunniest places in the United States. In Phoenix, Arizona blue skies and hot weather are the norms. So normal that even the periodic white puffy cloud can be cause for conversation. Unfortunately, it’s something that I’ve only begun to realize we not only take for granted but also completely under utilize.
When a sunny summer day hits here in Copenhagen the locals are out en-mass. Streets are clogged by bicyclists, outdoor cafes filled past capacity, every park awash in half clothed bodies, and the harbor areas decorated by sunbathers and people out to enjoy the weather. In Copenhagen the sun isn’t something that is ignored or tolerated. It is something that is celebrated. When the weather is beautiful the people genuinely go out of their way to enjoy it. I’m not just talking about pausing casually here or there. I’m talking about putting on bathing suits and heading to the park or stripping down to bras and shorts to lounge along the docks or in the city parks.
As I found myself meandering the city the positive energy and general approach to the sunny weather was intoxicating. It truly WAS a beautiful day and the people not only knew it, but embraced it! I’ve spent years with more sunny days than I can count, but I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by people who made such great use of them. Oh, sure we’d have the occasional day on the river and pool party in Arizona but even those were more about time in the water than enjoying the sun. The real shame is that even though the summers are genuinely too hot to enjoy properly in Arizona everyone I know there lets that poison the chance to enjoy incredible weather when it does come during spring and fall. Arizonans aren’t alone it’s a similar mistake shared by people all over the world.
So, the next time you find yourself waking up to a bright sunny day don’t just hide inside or take it for granted. Smile, roll up your sleeves, take off your shirt and head somewhere where you can enjoy it. The sun and summer are things that should be shared so don’t just do it alone, make it a social outing and take a friend, a loved one or a family member with you!
For my part, now that I’m learning to slow down and smell the sunshine you’ll find me joining the Danes and relaxing in the sun. It’s time I made up for lost time – life is good!
The sight that greeted my bleary eyes was a frustrating one. I silently cursed myself for not spending more time taking photos of the city the night before. The previous evening’s blue sky had been replaced by a solid, overcast gray. I sighed. Oh well – nothing to be done about it. I could only hope that it held to the usual coastal pattern: Cloudy mornings burned away by the mid-day sun.
By 10:30 Sten and I were up and ready for our whirlwind tour of Oslo. I’d singled out a few must see points (the Viking Museum and an old Wooden Stave Church) which Sten planned to complement with a local’s insights into the culture and city at large. We set out from the house with a light spring to our step and quickly wound down towards the closest city tram stop. Along the way we paused briefly at a freestanding 7/11 so I could pick up a 1 day tram pass.
Our first stop was the Viking Ship Museum. Located on a peninsula with several other museums, the facility houses three large ships (two of which are mostly intact) as well as several smaller artifacts (carriages, axes, clothing etc.).
I was particular taken by the artistry evident in the ships’ woodwork. The image above highlights the level of detail and craftsmanship which went into every square inch of the vessels. The sweeping designs, inlaid nails, and carefully aligned planks made it easy to see why the Vikings developed such a powerful reputation as masters of the sea.
I was also somewhat surprised by the ship’s size and openness. While still sizable vessels, it’s an amazing thought to consider that Nordic explorers found their way to the Americas in vessels similar to the one’s I was standing in front of. A trip that even on a modern cruise ship can seem arduous at times. Truly their curiosity, dedication, and toughness was the stuff of legends.
Eventually we wrapped up our exploration of the Viking Ship Museum and set out to find the wooden stave church. The stave churches are a-typical in that their design is completely wooden and has a uniquely Scandinavian appearance. Our search led us down a gorgeous country lane (most of the island is still affluent/residential), before we found a small side path which cut along a fence toward what looked to be a church tower.
The tower itself ended up being a dud (just an odd, modern church) but it set us on the right path. Before long we’d spotted the roof of the stave church, but found our path blocked by a fence. A little more investigation revealed that the church itself sat within the Norsk Folklore Museum. It turned out that the Museum was a sprawling facility with a wide assortment of buildings from Norway’s history which had been dismantled, re-located and re-constructed. In fact the Museum was founded in 1894 and claims over 150 buildings.
We grudgingly paid the entrance fee, not sure what to expect, and then made our way into the compound. It was alive with a wonderful assortment of old/modern buildings, people in period dress, music and small era-centered museum spaces.
The church had originally been built in Gol, the Folklore Museum’s website notes, “The stave church at Gol was built in the 12th century. From the 1600s to early 1800s, the structure went through several renovations and alterations. In the 1870s, however, the congregation had become too large, so the old church was replaced by a new and bigger church.”
I’ve seen a lot of cathedrals over the years and while each one is unique in its own way, the Stave Church from Gol was one of the most unique ones I’ve seen in a long time. From the wooden materials used to build it and the Nordic ornaments on the roof to the unique internal layout, the church stands apart as something that was completely new and different from what I’d seen before. It was small, beautiful and definitely interesting. If you find yourself in Norway, make sure not to miss it!
As we explored the rest of the complex, I was constantly surprised by the a-typical architecture which marked many of the traditional buildings. The stone chimneys were of course to be expected as were the sod/green/live rooftops, but the buildings themselves were often quite unique. Most had the living quarters raised significantly up and off of the ground. Some (like those pictured above) used ladders to gain entrance to tiny doorways, while others (as the building below) featured large earthen ramps met by miniature drawbridges.
The design itself makes sense for a variety of reasons. Small doors to preserve heat which doubled as a defensive measure. A crawl space underneath to house livestock. The small draw bridge to keep the building up out of the snow while also providing an added level of defense/safety, etc. – and yet it was a fascinating design element. One which I’m surprised was never regularly used in the colder regions here in the US.
After an hour or two exploring the exhibits we set off to explore the city proper. Though our route back into the city would be a bit different – Sten explained that our tram pass was also good on the local harbor ferry, which left from somewhere nearby.
The ferry ride was great. The weather was cooperating – the sun had returned – the temperature was perfect, and the view of downtown Oslo from the sea was gorgeous. The City’s town hall is an odd building. It is massive, intense looking and austere in a way which should be ugly, but ends up growing on you. The end result is a memorable building which you can’t quite assign a time period or culture to.
The harbor area itself is great. An eclectic mixture of old and modern buildings with expensive yachts tied-up out front and a long waterfront promenade wrapping around 2/3 of the U-shaped harbor. The walkway is alive with foot traffic, outdoor cafes and bustling restaurants. Add a few outdoor musicians and the 10-15 tall ships (old sailing vessels) tied up nearby and you’re greeted with an absolutely delightful area full of life, history and a constant stream of eye candy.
We disembarked and poked around the old harbor before cutting in a few blocks towards Norway’s Parliament Building. As was the case with the City Hall, the Parliament Building has its own unique feel and style. The building had a very approachable feel, set as it was at the start of a long green which stretch down toward the old National Theater and which eventually ended at the Royal Palace. As is the case with just about any patch of green grass in Norway during summer, the whole area was covered with people relaxing and enjoying the sun. Sunbathers at rest, families eating and even, Sten informed me, a somewhat famous local girl recording a TV piece as she kicked a soccer ball around.
After a quick pause to enjoy the square, architecture and insights into Norwegian culture we began to make our way towards the main market street, pausing briefly along our way when we were approached and harassed by an American missionary. Annoyed, embarrassed and disgusted I rattled off a few quick questions, before we continued or walk.
The main market street was teeming with life and traffic. Every block or so a different street performer had set up shop. From the usual jugglers and musicians to a puppet master, the streets were alive with activity.
Starving we cut down a side street before pausing for lunch at a hip little cafe Sten recommended. The food was good and the view great as we sat on the front patio and watched the locals wander by.
From there it was another quick walk down to the College/Immigrant district, which had an entirely different vibe. Full of music and 2nd hand stores, the area was alive with fun little shops, students and a surprising number of muslim women in burka’s. We interrupted our walk briefly to pause in one of the local park cafes where we grabbed a beer, surrounded by blooming roses, sunbathers, and wandering street musicians before striking off towards our last destination for the day.
Our final stop was Oslo’s new Opera House. The building, located on the harbor, is a beautiful creation. Designed with maritime inspiration, the large blue glass and white marble facility is build on a sweeping angle which slides straight down and into the harbor in an unbroken line. The building which is completely accessible by foot offers fantastic roof top views from the of the city. Its views of the harbor are particularly memorable.
Footsore and tired we decided to head back to the apartment. It had been an incredible day. Truly, Oslo is a delightful city – an experience made that much more memorable by a local’s insights into city culture and history. My thanks to Sten for all he had shared with me throughout our walk.