There is a rather excellent tradition here in Iceland in which companies, organizations, clubs… actually any group with more than two people in it, hold this annual celebration called árshátíð [‘annual celebration’]. That means everyone in the group along with their spouses, dates, whatever, get dressed up in formal or semi-formal attire and meet for a gala dinner that more often than not incorporates entertainment and such.
Some companies take this árshátíð tradition even further and do something extra-special, like go to Copenhagen for the weekend and stay at the gorgeous Admiral Hotel [a renovated grain warehouse from the 1780s] and have a fantastic dinner on Saturday evening at the SALT restaurant. And some people like, say, EPI and YT, decide to stay an extra night to extend their superexcellent trip by one day.
It was my first time in Copenhagen and I thought I was the only living Icelander who had never been there until I went for my hair appointment the week before last and found that my hair stylist has also not been. So there are two of us. Copenhagen, of course, is the former capital of Iceland, as Iceland was a Danish colony for a couple hundred years. I was surprised at how much impact I felt from this common history while there. I hadn’t expected to feel the connection as strongly as I did, but realized that a whole lot of Danish culture and roots has seeped in throughout my life – even despite the fact that I’m a pseudo-Icelander.
For example. On Friday evening we went to a pub that is the oldest in the city I believe, 200+ years old. This was the hangout of the Icelanders that made such a great impact on Iceland’s sense of national identity – writers, poets, activists, idealists. I’m pretty sure my grandfather hung out there while studying in Copenhagen, although rather than feeding his nationalistic streak I think it probably only fed his alcoholism – but that’s another story. In short, Copenhagen really felt very familiar – and yet also different.
I can say one thing for sure – it is the friendliest city I have ever visited, and definitely one of the most charming. Every single person we met was totally easygoing and very very friendly, save for one jerk of a taxi driver who, perhaps predictably, was foreign. The service in shops and restaurants was top-notch, absolutely attentive and pleasant, without being the slightest bit pushy. I don’t think I met one single snarky store clerk the whole time, which must be a first for YT.
Oh, and all the bicycles! They have this very strong bicycle culture there, with bike paths everywhere, even along major arteries. And these are old-fashioned bikes, totally enchanting, most of them with baskets filled with stuff that people remove and walk around with inside the stores when they go shopping. Another fabulous aspect: from mid-April until December they have these ‘city bikes’ all around the city, that can be borrowed free of charge. It’s like the coin system they have in shopping carts in some stores – you put in a coin to release the bike and then get the coin back when you return it. Totally ingenious!
Apart from jaunts to pubs and restaurants, I kept very busy indulging my passion for shopping, in keeping with my personal philosophy that money spent on clothes in foreign countries doesn’t really count. [Although I hasten to add that this doesn’t quite work in Copenhagen, as it’s easily as expensive as Reykjavík; however, we’re not concerned with formalities.] There were the obligatory trips to Hennes & Mauritz for things like tops, socks, ‘smalls’, to-die-for accessories and whatever else caught the eye; there was a quick boo into Zara to see if they had different stock than the Iceland store [they did, hence one pair of pants purchased]; and the piece de resistance: a pair of gorgeous Italian boots of exquisite, supple leather.
These priorities left precious little time for sightseeing, although EPI [who surprisingly enough does not share my passion for braving the hoards in H&M] was able to take in a Rembrandt exhibition, and twice we jogged past the little mermaid and managed to catch a brief glimpse before she was obliterated by the permanent crowd of tourists taking pictures of each other with her. [She was lovely, though.] We also ate some a.ma.zing food, most notably in the most utterly gorgeous and enchanting restaurant I have ever had the privilege of eating in, called Laura’s Kitchen. It was located down in a basement and was typically Scandinavian, with white painted wood floors and panelling, walls hung with old-fashioned enamelled pots and pans, tables and chairs of white painted wood with blue-and-white chequered tablecloths. It was like walking into a storybook place from 50 years ago, all airy and clean and lovely. Even the little bathroom was filled with delightful, warm touches like a single lit candle above the sink. The food was typical Danish [amazing fillet of plaice with a crispy coating, served warm, and liver pate with bacon, also warm, plus pumpernickel bread… it may not sound like anything out of this world, but believe me it was]. We also went to one Italian restaurant – the oldest in Copenhagen – where the food was amazing and the service wonderful… on arriving, our waiter brought us a candle, then tore a bit of the rose that was in a vase on the table and scattered the leaves on the table between us, proclaiming: ‘Romantico!’
Anyway, I could probably enthuse about this weekend excursion a whole lot longer, but this is getting a bit too wordy so I’ll sign off. I’ll just say that it was wonderful and as you can tell I’m quite infatuated with the fair Copenhagen.
Meanwhile, back in Iceland the weather is ghastly at the moment, temps just below freezing and stormy. Roads have been closed in the northwest for fear of avalanches as the winds are 18-23 m/s. Went out for some fresh air earlier and it was a joke – my trek around the golf course, which normally takes around 20 minutes, took me around 40 because I had to fight against the wind [thank God for windproof clothing!]. Sunrise today was at 06.32 [daybreak 05.37] and sunset due for 20.31 [nightfall at 21.22]. And a very hearty congratulations to you if you managed to get through to the end of this post!