Copenhagen: A Tiny Memoir

Updated: Apr 9

When setting out on a journey, never seek advice from those who have never left the home. Rumi

The light is just beginning to fade as I Iook up from my coffee and notebook out over Vandkunsten square. The cafe I’ve picked to hide in for the afternoon is on the second floor of a four storey building, with long ornate windows and cushioned seats that allow you to look out over the cobbled streets below. Comfortable and warm, I've been intermittently scribbling thoughts and people watching for a couple of hours.

I check my watch and drain the last of my drink. Pack my things away, leave ample cash on the table, and catch the waiters eye to nod my thanks as I head outside.

The last few days of my stay have been grey, punctuated finally today, my last day, with brilliant blue skies. There's something to be said for indecisive weather. Especially when it is perfectly matched with my own frame of mind. I’ve made a rushed decision recently, only to be left feeling foolish and out of sorts. I run my hand over my forehead slowly as though nursing a headache. A habitual action adopted when processing anxious thoughts.

As the sun nods away from my final evening in Copenhagen, I know where I want to go. I consider the time, aware that I have a bit of walk ahead of me but knowing the satisfaction will come only from my feet finding connection with the pavement as my mind makes connections elsewhere. I start making my way towards Nyhavn.

The city has warmed me. As is so often the way with solo travel, it was turned out to be exactly the trip I needed. I've never been one for doing over-zealous research before visiting a place, preferring to feel the weight of a place in my mind as a key deciding factor in whether I will go there next or not. I rolled the syllables around in my mouth for a few days, enjoying the rounding sounds, before checking flights and letting the 'o's drop from my lips at how ridiculously cheap they were. Less than three weeks later here I am, enjoying the calming quality of Copenhagen. An unpretentious harmony, blended with design, architecture, art and food. Touristy, yes, but not in the trashy ways I sometimes feel wary of when venturing to mainstream Europe.

There's an expanse to the city that has surprised me. I've kept a physical map, dotting and crossing the tiny printed streets with my aimless wanderings as I attempt to lay an internal map of the place in my own mind. Moving from one suburb to the next you can't help but trace the timelines, buildings moving gracefully and gracelessly from old to new. Peeling antique paint and shiny black glass.

I want to touch everything. Feel solid for a moment.

The temperature is beginning its descent with the sun as I reach Nyhavn, the one part of the city that visitors and non-visitors know the city for best. The square buildings line the canal with their rows of windows and their colours - the blues and oranges, yellows and greens. It’s happiness personified in architecture and I love it. It fills you. I pause and lean against the railings along the canal, taking it in for a moment. The boats and the bars lining the river, couples sipping on large glasses of wine at outside tables and clusters of teenagers supping from half-hidden cans of beer, sharing cigarettes down closer to the river edge, skulking in the shadows of a bridge.


I turn to head away from the city, walking along the river path, over small foot bridges and further still. It’s nearly dark now and street lights flicker on one by one, offering me their hazy orange glow. Waiters emerge from warm places to light candles on outside tables as lovers edge closer together and I continue with my stride away from them and the questions they draw me back to.

The recent decision I’ve made niggles relentlessly. A question mark, unravelling and re-coiling at the edges of my thoughts. It feels like all paths lead me back to that one question. I feel my hand reaching for my forehead again and shake my head. A lyric from an old love song sinks its hook in deep.

It's easy to call the whole thing off

it's easy to say it simply can't be done

'cause I hear time,

it waits for no one.

I’m reaching the end of the harbour, the main strip and groups of people, the end of the furthest I've walked so far on this trip. It’s darker here, there are fewer street lights and more commercial buildings, shut down for the day. My resolve begins to waiver and I'm unsure where to go. There’s a narrow unlit path ahead, an alley of sorts bending between two buildings, but I don’t know where it leads.

I start to think, maybe I should just go back. Back the way I came, the familiar route I've already walked. I could return to the cafe, or another place, enjoy a glass of wine on my last night.

Is this decision really worth the risk?

Just as I’m lingering, about to turn on my heels, a small boy comes whizzing through on his bike from the alley. He grins, cheeky and wide, before coming full circle and turning to look at the path he’s emerged from. I hear chatter before a man and woman, holding hands, also emerge. They smile politely at me before calling to the boy. The man gestures to the boy, mimics racing him. They head away from me without a second glance.

Deep breath. I turn and make my way through the alley and emerge to a well lit bridge. A well lit bridge that leads to a longer path with a row of perfect orange streetlights extending down. Not too bright, just the right amount of light to lead the way.

At the end of this path is the circular sweeping architecture of the Copenhagen Opera House, the national opera house of Denmark, acknowledged as one of the greatest architectural feats in the world. At night it is lit up magnificently. It looks magical right now, tall and proud, facing the river with the city lights in the distance.

I stand and take it all in for a few minutes. The sky has pitched a deep blue-black and I walk out across the wooden walkway in front of the building, meeting the river. Watching the pin points of lights on the other side, reflecting in the water, I notice points of light that don’t seem to have a counter on the opposite shore. I turn my eyes skyward and the deep, dark blue is bright with the points of stars.

It fills you up. Soft words return to me.

I am not empty, I do what I love and that’s what makes me full.

As I stand there in the silence, the question mark I've been trying to avoid begins to loom large once more. My eyes sting, from the chill wind that's blowing across the water and a string of memories. It’s time to walk back to my hotel.

Back in my room, I check my phone.

How long will you be here for?

I sigh. Lyrics dance, call the whole thing off, as I reply.

Just four days, after all travelling and time differences.

He replies immediately.

Four days?!

I feel the question mark writhing in my mind. I begin to feel defeated. Call it off is becoming my new mantra. Quicker than a heartbeat his next words find me:

We’ll make it work.

Copyright © 2020 Elaine Mead | Coffee&Books

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