The Only Map You’ll Ever Need in Copenhagen

The blue shows the various canals, the red is the city center (Latin Quarter) and the black buildings are (clockwise from top) the royal palace, the new opera house, and the Black Diamond.

On my third day in Copenhagen one of the architecture professors held up this picture to my orientation group and told us that it was the only map of Copenhagen we’d ever need. Now, I’m all for simplicity in design, but based on the amount of time I spent this week getting turned around, lost, or just downright having no idea where I was, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. To give you guys a little perspective, this is a little more like what my map looked like during my first few days exploring the city:

Please don’t try to study this map closely, it will only give you a headache (trust me, I’ve struggled enough for the both of us). It’s just to give you a frame of reference. Read on, and I’ll take you through the highlights!

On my third day here as part of our orientation program we had to go on an “urban scavenger hunt” with a small group of our classmates. Basically, this meant walking around to some of the main tourist sites in the city. Normally, I don’t really like stuff like that, but this was really set up well because we had to explore and find the places ourselves, but then there was someone from DIS waiting for us there to explain the significance of what we were looking at. I really ended up getting a lot out of it.

An oh-so-Copenhagen biker riding down Strøget.

We started off by walking all the way up Strøget, one of the main pedestrian streets in Copenhagen. Very simply, a pedestrian street is one that cars are not allowed on.  Copenhagen has several and so far they are one of my favorite things about the city. Despite the lack of cars however, they do tend to get pretty packed during the day and you are still likely to get run over by a bicycle.

Our walk took us through the King’s Square and then down Nyhaven, the most picturesque canal street in Copenhagen (I don’t have my own picture yet, but just google image search Copenhagen and it’s pretty much all you see pictures of). It is a beautiful street by the water lined with brightly colored row houses and packed with people walking, drinking, or sitting at outdoor cafes enjoying their day.

We continued to walk by the water until we came to the Amalie Garden across the canal from the new Opera House.

The Amalie Garden with the Opera House in the background.

A straight walk through the garden and we arrived at the royal palace. Really, it’s not what you would expect from a palace. It is a very modest square surrounded by four buildings, one for Queen Margarethe and each of her sons. Now I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Danish politics (although I expect to learn some since an election was just announced that will be in three weeks), but I do know that the relationship between the royal family and the citizens of Copenhagen is more relaxed than that between, say, the US president and the American people. For example, their homes are much less heavily guarded and they even fly a flag to let people know when they are home. The video below will give you an idea of what the family is like and how their “palace” is perhaps a little different than what you’d expect:

After learning a little bit about the royal family we hopped on the harborbus to head down to Parliament and the Black Diamond. The harborbus is a ferry that operates as part of the public transportation system and it was so cool to ride. The Black Diamond is the newly renovated portion of the Royal Library that is simply beautiful.

Boarding the harborbus!

The Black Diamond

Christiansborg Slot and Folketinget (Parliament)

The Spire

Finally, we hopped on a metro to zip over to Christianshaven, where we saw Vor Frelsers Kirk (Our Saviors Church). The church has one of the most beautiful spires I’ve ever seen. You can walk to the top, but we didn’t have time that day. I will definitely be returning. Inside, we got an interesting history lesson related to the religious and political underpinnings of the architecture of the church. I won’t bore you with it now, but I may later. Finally, we had the pleasure of getting to hear the organist practice on the beautiful, wooden, wall-sized organ. (Sorry about the guy talking in the background, but if you listen carefully you can pick up a bit of Danish history while you look at the incredible chapel.)


Finally, we stopped by the grocery store and headed back to DIS to enjoy a group lunch of Danish Smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches).

The next day after a more relaxing morning, my friends and I decided to hit a few big-ticket items we’d missed the day before. First, we headed back to Christianshaven to visit the commune of Christiania. Christiania is the “green light district” of Copenhagen (aka where they sell drugs) and has actually been a separate municipality since 1971. As soon as you walk into this place it really is like you’re in another world. At the entrance, visitors see a sign with only three rules: have fun, no running (it only creates problems), and no pictures. Even though Christiania is outside of the ruling of Copenhagen, it is still illegal to sell hash (or other harder drugs) in Denmark, so the Christianiaites have to take such precautions to avoid getting caught. However, I’m still not sure how they don’t get caught; there are carts with tons of pot just lying out in the open, and everybody seems to know this place exists (I’ve been here three days and already heard about it). In any case, interesting place. Unfortunately, I have no pictures (see rule #3).

The long route to the little mermaid statue

Finally, my friends and I took the metro up to Kastellet to see the famous little mermaid statue. We accidentally ended up taking the long route around to the statue, but got to walk through these beautiful wooded trails by the water because of it. The statue itself was small and there were way to many tourists, but the whole trip was worth it for those surrounding trails.

The Little Mermaid

So, after two long days, insane amounts of walking (and really toned legs), a few metro rides, and a harborbus ride, I think I have seen the majority of the well known Copenhagen spots. That’s not to say I’m done with the city! But now that I have my bearings a little better and have seen the obvious sites, it’s time to start to explore the next level of Copenhagen.

And with that, tourist Erin is signing out for now and expatriate Erin is ready to roll!


Hit the Ground Running

Okay, so I didn’t exactly hit the ground running. And no biking yet. But walking, so much walking.

Standard airplane shot... but there's always something so mesmerizing about them.

When I arrived in Copenhagen after a long day of traveling ending in a beautiful sunrise over the North Sea, I quickly got my suitcase, went through the non-existent customs (literally, I just walked out of baggage claim), and was shepherded to a nearby hotel where I met my host mom, Gitte (gee-tuh). This was at about 9 am.

The rest of the day was full of all Denmark, all the time. Gitte was so determined to keep me busy all day so that I would be able to stay up and burn off the jet-lag immediately. She began by bringing me home and introducing me to two of my host brothers, Rasmus and Jacob (yacob)–my third host brother, Jonas (yonas) was in France playing football (soccer) when I arrived. We ate a big Danish brunch, and then she gracefully let me unpack and shower.

Then we began the day of walking. First, we went and met Gitte’s friend who she has known for 30 some years and went and walked around Brøndby, the suburb where we live. I say suburb carefully, because technically that is what it is but it is different than the American image of a suburb. The houses are all different any many of them are very old with thatched roofs. There is also lots of green stuff: yards full of all number of trees, bushes, and plants. I learned about a lot of interesting things that you guys get to look forward to learning about once a do a little more research, from graveyards to “daycation” homes.

Then, after coming home and having a quick lunch we headed out to the city. Copenhagen has several different kinds of public transportation: regional trains, the s-tog, the metro, and busses. We took the s-tog, which is what I will take to class everyday. Imagine a really nice metro car with padded seats and free wi-fi (if I can figure out how to use it).

In the city we saw so much more than I expected on day one. Almost immediately after heading down one of the Copenhagen walking streets we came upon a guy playing piano outside of a big tower (watch through the whole video to see the tower).

There were windows every few feet up the spiral ramp of Rundetaarn and little niches in the center where "kids often hide , only to jump out shouting 'boo!'" as is described in the pamphlet. I love the Danes.


I never figured out how the guy got the piano there (especially since when we walked by later it had changed to an organ…) but Gitte quickly informed me that the tower is called Runetaarn (The Round Tower)  and that it was worth the 25 kroner to be able to walk to the top. I was a little wary of walking that many stairs on little sleep and jet-lag, but I agreed at the prospect of a good bird’s eye view of Copenhagen. The travel gods must have had their eyes on me, because I didn’t have to walk up stairs–the whole thing was a spiral ramp. The interior was so light filled and simple yet unique that the architect in me was just going crazy. I’ve refrained from posting a bunch of pictures here, but I must show you one. I still have a lot to learn before I understand the significance of these buildings, but apparently Rundetaarn was built by Christian IV in 1642. It is complete with a Library Hall that has been renovated and is now and art gallery and concert venue, a bell tower that guests (read: tourists) can look at, an old privy (read: tiny wooden toilet) for guests to see, a kyssebœnken (kissing place), and the obervatory tower. The view from the top was pretty incredible, especially since the weather was so nice that day. We walked around and Gitte pointed out main sights to me. They will all mean much more once I see them from the ground.

Then we left and did so much more walking, to places I’m still not sure of the name of (after seeing so many new things some of it just started to wash over me–I will have plenty of time to go back and really explore). We walked by the water where there were tons of people outside eating, sitting on the side of the canal, etc. We went to the square where all the houses of the royal family live and saw the old King’s Theater and the new Opera House. Gitte suggested that we should get some ice cream, so I enjoyed a cone with a flødeboller (a kind of chocolate covered, marshmallow-like thing) on top to perk me up as we continued to walk. Finally, Jonas called to ask for my help with his Spanish homework, and Gitte and I were exhausted so we decided it was time to go home.

Some of the view from Copenhagen from the observatory tower of Rundetarrn

There are so many things I want to expand on from this first post: the food, my family & house, the layout of the city, the food, first impressions, the language, oh did I mention the food? All in due time, because they each deserve at least a full post’s worth of attention and I have so much to learn before I feel I can explain them well enough to you. So, plenty of things for you (and me) to look forward to!

Into the Unknown

My flight leaves tomorrow. I’m currently sitting in an airport hotel, theoretically all ready to leave in the morning. Anyone who knows me moderately well probably thinks I’m excited, collected, and ready right now. Anyone who knows me really well knows I’m terrified. But it’s a good kind of terrified–the kind that means big things are about to happen. It’s go time.

Photo taken in Copenhagen by *Zephyrance - don't wake me up. via Flikr

Any last minute advice before I depart?

Copenhagen & All the Things to Come

I just finished my last day of work. After some seriously strategic and stressful packing (see more later) I think I’m done and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I’ve loaded up my ipod and ordered some Danish books to read on my journey over thanks to the suggestion of my fabulous traveling roommate Abbey Walsh, who said that reading South African literature during her time there has really enhanced her experience. All that’s really left to do before I’m ready to leave is get you all up to speed on where I will be and what I will be doing for the next four months.

Doesn't it just look beautiful? By B a m s h a d via Flikr

For those of you who didn’t know (or haven’t picked up on it) I will be studying abroad in Copenhagen for the next four months, through a program called DIS (The Danish Institute for Study Abroad). I will be taking classes with other study abroad students from around the world. My weekly schedule will consist of: Urban Design Foundations Studio, European Urban Design Theories, Virtual Worlds and Social Media, Danish Language I, and Contemporary Danish Art.

Outside of my classes, I will be exploring the city of Copenhagen and surrounding countries. My classes are all in the heart of the city, so I will have no excuse if I don’t get to know the city. The host family I am staying with lives in Brøndby, a suburb of Copenhagen that is about a 20 minute train ride from where I will be taking classes, so I’ll also have an opportunity to get a feel for life outside of the city. A good balance, if you ask me.

Through DIS I’ll be going on three trips. With my Urban Design program I’ll be going on a short study tour through Western Denmark and a long study tour through Germany and the Netherlands. I’ll also being going on a weekend biking and hiking tour of the sustainable island of Samsø. These are all adventures that you and I get to look forward to!

Outside of those, I don’t know much. I want to travel some around Scandinavia. I’m probably going to make one grand trip down to Madrid to see some of my friends from school, and maybe on my way there do a little bit of solo traveling. But nothing’s really set in stone. Some would call this poor planning (including a little part of myself). But, I’m deciding to smother that little voice and revel in how exciting it is. How cool is it to not know what faces you tomorrow, what you’re going to learn, who you’re going to meet, and what opportunities are going to come your way? Plus I know I’m going to meet people, learn about new places I didn’t even know I want to see, and stumble upon opportunities I never even dreamed of. I’ve gotta leave some space open for that!

So, join me in song to celebrate my upcoming adventures in beautiful, beautiful Copenhagen. I’m excited to have you along for the ride!

Disclaimer: This is not actually what I expect my arrival to look like. But wouldn’t that be awesome…

Adios Galapagos!

Photo taken by Tony Azios

Two months after my trip to Ecuador & the Galapagos officially ended, my fabulous production team (BlueFoot Productions) just finished our project for the class. And, not to brag, but I think it turned out pretty well!

Check it out for yourself here!

There you’ll find a fascinating video series about the aliens that are invading the Galapagos Islands along with some stunning photographs to take you on a journey through the islands. And you don’t even have to pay for flights!

I hope you enjoy. I’m aiming to upload the rest of my photographs onto Flickr in the next week or two, but much of my best photography is featured on the website along with photography of my other classmates and professors.

That should keep you occupied for the next two weeks until I leave for Copenhagen, although I am going to try and write a post or two about my upcoming adventures and pre-departure madness. Once I’ve landed in Denmark, I’m going to make every effort to get in a better pattern of posting. One of my classes is on social media and I think we have to keep a personal blog for the class, so that should help give me motivation (and maybe improve my writing and style too)!

In any case, I’m excited to take you all on this adventure with me!