Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

copenhagen...experiencing a hygge kind of life

Spending a few days in Copenhagen, I was struck by an intense feeling of comfort, something akin to a sense of home. I'm not Scandinavian, and my roots do not trace back to this part of the world, as far as I know, at all. But I was intrigued by how Danish people live; where was their focus, what do they value, how do they spend their time? So, I looked into the culture of the Danes, and that is when I came across the word 'hygge' for the very first time.

The most common words used to describe 'hygge' are cosiness, kinship, togetherness, conviviality, simplicity, contentedness...but from what I've read and experienced, I would hesitate to limit the idea to a few words. Hygge is a lifestyle, a way of thinking...which increases calm and enhances sociability in order to recognise the many blessings that surround us in people, nature, food and comforts.

Hygge is candlelight. Hygge is standing at the window for a moment and welcoming the morning sun. Hygge is a set table surrounded by love and laughter. Hygge is getting back to basics. Hygge is about being kind to ourselves and each other.

Fellowship...being together

"Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." - Simone Weil

Copenhagen's Nyhavn district, translating into 'new harbour' even though the canal was dug in 1670, is full of opportunities to walk, eat and just be together. Not just tourists walk among the heritage sailing vessels and old schooners, or sit in the outdoor cafés sipping the beloved Danish coffee.

The idea of kinship and being sociable means being open to each other. You don't need to be superficially friendly to everyone and their dog, but be generous with time and energy, if you can spare it. The concept of hygge is to spend quality time with others, whether taking a walk or sharing a meal or a coffee...starting with family. Life is complicated, which we all know, but giving others time goes a long way to building relationship and thereby community.

At the end of Nyhavn, across a foot bridge is Paper Island, which is currently undergoing a complete renovation. It was a converted paper storage facility housing over 200 street food stalls, with so much easy-going energy that all you could do was enjoy laying out on a lawn chair or sitting on long beer tables, munching on delicious, simple food and loving life. But trust the Danes to have a great plan for this special will surely become a community of good times again soon.

Papiroen - Paper Island
Copenhagen's answer to New York's cool meatpacking district (was there a question?) is Kodbyen, literally 'meat town' in Danish. Here the vibe is a bit different than Nyhavn...more grit and fewer selfies. There are less tourists and more locals, imbibing together in spacious, converted industrial halls. cool, just make sure you go when it's open ;)
Breweries, organic restaurants, art galleries, performance art and event spaces make this place feel a bit more old SOHO to me, than meatpacking, but hey what do I know. There's a huge bull on one of the meat, it is.

Nature...being active

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom, 
and a little flower to love." - Hans Christian Anderson

A major component of hygge is to be active, no matter what the weather, and as much as you are physically able, to get outside during all seasons, inhaling fresh air and earning the rewards that will come later in the form of food and firelight and glögg.

Hiking, biking, kayaking, and just plain old playing are favourite activities of the Scandanavian people. Signe Johansen, author of, "How to Hygge" writes that it's not about looking good but about feeling great all year round. They don't let snow or rain or cold get in the way of a some good clean natural fun. Of course, as a Canadian girl from the Rockies, I know, as do the Danes, that you have to be smart, heed the elements and be prepared.

all-time best name for a club
What struck me about the concept of hygge is that it really isn't about show. It's not about buying the best sportswear, or workout equipment, or trying to look like Helena Christensen or Nina Agdal. It's about being healthy in mind and body, enjoying the many gifts nature gives us, and just getting outside and doing something.

Bringing nature into your home, in the form of plants and flowers goes along with that. Keep things simple, you don't have to break the bank, but soaking up the energy that plant life gives is rejuvenating and well, life-giving.

Come on, you can't tell me that seeing a bouquet of flowers like this, which you've treated yourself to in lieu of taking a few Starbucks runs, wouldn't help start your days with an extra boost of goodness.

Food...being hospitable

"Cooking is caring for others." - Olafur Eliasson

The Scandanavians are known for world-class cuisine, a love of pastries, and excellent home-cooked meals. Eating together and cooking for each other is a treasured and beloved routine, but from everything I've seen, it's not showy or boasty or touted. It's just done...and always has been.

In Copenhagen, coffee is more of a verb than a noun. I heard about a small café, called Mormors, that from the moment I walked in I never wanted to leave. I went each day I was in Copenhagen and each time I tried something new.

Aside from great coffee (of course) and delicious homemade treats and sandwiches, its whimsy had me hooked. Dolls hang from the ceiling (okay, sure, it's a little creepy), photos of the Queen (the Danish one of course) or Prince Charles or a clown fill what limited space there is on the walls.

Vintage tin boxes hold fresh cookies and muffins, ceramic margarine pots nestle barbie dolls from the 50's, and every sort of knick knack you can imagine line shelves and counters. It is fun fun.

But, Copenhagen can also 'do' finer dining. On this particular evening, I hopped aboard the night ferry to Oslo and enjoyed what my mood and wallet allowed...a bit of caprese, bruschetta and wine.

Simplicity...being thankful

"Beautiful is that which is practical, useful, informed by its purpose, and 
expressive of the soul of its user or creator." - Ellen Kay

Walking and getting lost in Mälmo (Sweden), Oslo (Norway) and also in Copenhagen on this trip, I was struck by how most of the small stores and boutiques looked and sounded local. All of us know and own Scandanavian furniture in some form, but the fashion and design industry, including lighting and architecture, are shaped by the underlining principle of simplicity and function.

Again, hygge is not about show or pricetag, but about getting back to the basics, lighting a fire or a candle, and not cluttering our minds or homes with unneccesary 'stuff'...making room for creativity, energy and a little light.

"In acceptance of the limitations that life imposes on us and in knowing that we can choose our attitude in any given circumstance and make the best of our situation, 
we throw open the window to hygge." - Louisa Thomsen Brits

This really is a special part of the world, and not for nothing do the Scandanavian countries top the 'best places to live', 'best quality of life', and 'happiest countries' lists year after year. If you get a chance go and visit, or better yet, incorporate hygge into your daily routine and bring a bit of Scandanavia to you. That's what I'm going to do! Skal!

If you go:

- consider a tour (as short or long as you want) with Authentic Scandanavia. They were really pleasant to plan with, helpful with recommendations and options, and my 5-day tour was perfect for what I wanted to do and what I could afford

- pop into's a wonderful treat (Bredgade 45, Copenhagen)

- read Signe Johansen's "How to Hygge"...better yet read it if you can't go and bring hygge to you!

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