Notes from Copenhagen
Spring arrived last weekend. Sort of. The wind still carried a chill, and we were all covered in dense jackets, but the sun was out finally.
After having lived in the Nordics for more than eight years, I am still surprised by how quickly the days change from long hours of unending darkness into beaming brightness. The transformation is a bit too sudden for my liking. My wife thinks I thrive in darkness. I do like the days that see no more than six hours of tepid light, no brilliant sun, but a cloudy greyish melancholic estimation of the daybreak. As an outsider who grew up in the heat and dust of Delhi, such inexplicably fascinating days do not lose their novelty to me. On these days, somehow I feel I become more productive, while people around me languish.
Around this time of the year, the light begins to spread though, penetrating deep into the day. It’s not dark till nine in the evening and soon, it will not be dark at all: one would wake to light and fall to sleep with thick blinds attempting to shield the bluish light that remains a constant outside. The indoor gatherings will move outdoors; some cafes have already begun to lay out wicker chairs on the streets.
It’s also time to bring out my running shoes and run long distances. Drive 30 minutes outside Copenhagen, and it’s all woods and wilderness - ideal for running 10 kilometres or more. Running outside is perhaps my favourite part about spring. After having run indoors and small distances for more than six months, escaping the gym into the barren bush generates a heady rush of stepping into a new life.
Spring is here!
One of the rituals that my wife has set aside is to spend a full day in Copenhagen on the first weekend of the spring - in bright sunshine. Last weekend, we walked the cobblestone streets of Copenhagen for hours despite the cold. We even queued up for an ice-cream!
On days like these, a walk on the Strøget, the pedestrian street of Copenhagen is a must. It runs through the shopping thoroughfare and ends at Nyhavn. At Nyhavn, which is marked by old pastel coloured buildings and a waterfront, the locals and tourists sit in open air cafes eating open sandwiches called smørrebrød. Till some months back, Nyhavn was the end of the street, but not anymore. A recently constructed bridge, called ‘the Kissing Bridge’ for its contour resembles two tongues meeting, connects Nyhavn to the other end of the canal, which once used to accommodate the world’s best restaurant, Noma. The bridge – a deceptively simple looking metal structure – took ten years to construct and was in the centre of a controversy due to ballooned up budgets and severe calculation errors, which forced the project to start over from scratch.
Noma has put down the shutters with a message asking us to be patient; it will open again at another place, perhaps away from the touristy crowd that has taken to lingering over on the bridge with a passionate zeal. Instead, an unfrequented island nearby, called Paper Island, has suddenly gained favour with the locals. The place is rented out to multiple small kiosks that serve street food and craft beer. On a sunny day, like it was last weekend, hundreds of Danes lined up along the waterfront sipping beer and eating chorizos while jazz played in the background. Squeals of laughter could be heard on the other end, beckoning more to come over and join the largest open air party on this island.
The Danes love to hygge . A difficult to translate word, hygge roughly means to cosy up. Hyggetid is a well-recognized greeting in this country meaning: Make yourself cosy and have fun.
My wife and I have also learnt to hygge. For us, it typically means going to one of the oldest bakery shops in Copenhagen, wait in line to get in, and down multiple cups of rich creamy hot chocolate. I realised that with the arriving summer, hot chocolate may not remain a preferred drink. Before taking a break from it for next five months or so, I wanted to have one last swig of my favourite drink. So we made ourselves cosy in a corner table at La Glace, a bakery in operation since 1870, ordered cakes and hot chocolate, opened our books and lazily read for hours.
What better way to say good bye to winter and welcome the spring!
A version of this story appeared in the The Hindu