3 min

Flying solo in Scandinavia

An unanticipated stop on the Parkdale to Prenzlauerberg Tour 2009

LETTING IT ALL HANG OUT. In Copenhagen there are countless sex shops that, unlike Canada, display their wares for all passing by to peruse from the street. Credit: Abi Slone

Last week I flew solo for the first time since January. It was me, my poor navigation skills and my amazing ability to convey even the most complex of concepts through pointing. That’s it. No one to rely on when my instincts naturally took me in the wrong direction. Silence on the other end of my questions that, despite my solitude, were said aloud. And in the evening, after a day of wandering the streets, only myself to rely on when trying to recall the name of that shop with that great coat.

About two and a half weeks ago I received an email from an editor offering me an assignment. Travel to Copenhagen and cover the city, its impact on design historically and its evolution from the Arne Jacabsen “formative years” to today, where a new crop of Danes are making their global design mark.

Needless to say before I had reached the end of the message, I was already composing my response. Yes. Yes. And yes.

The chance to go see a new city is always welcome since we’re on the Parkdale to Prenzlauerberg Tour 2009. And work is also well received since we’re limping home with a quarter between us and enough debt to qualify for our very own stimulus package. In our little studio apartment in Barcelona there was some hooting, some hollering and maybe even a high-five or two. It would be great to learn about Danish design, see the sights and we could both benefit from a week in a hotel with endless hot water and a breakfast buffet.

But, after a harsh reality check and two hours of searching for flights on the internet, it was decided that I would go it on my own. That the cost of my wife coming with me was steeper than we could afford at this stage of the game. And that perhaps we should, at least once, be more cautious than carefree.

Bags packed, I headed out on my own to catch the bus to the airport.

In my regular life I’m on a first name basis with most of the airport limousine services, but since becoming all continental I have grown fond of taking public transit into the city centre of most towns. In cities where public transportation is designed to meet the needs of the people that live there, transportation via bus, metro or train is affordable, fast and civilized. They make it relatively easy to navigate, provide most information in the native language of the country and English and it leaves money accessible for other things like cocktails and shoes.

The solo journey was successful, if a bit lonely due to the “Paul and Lynda”-like conditions my wife and I try to live our lives by, and six hours after leaving our little ramshackle apartment in Barcelona (where, from the safety of our balcony, my wife witnessed an old lady get purse snatched on the street below) I was standing on the wide-open, cool, crisp, fall streets of Copenhagen (which, by the way, is pronounced Coupinhauen, in Danish).

The details of the trip are as you would imagine. I stayed at a great design hotel called Hotel Alexandra where each room was furnished with vintage 1930-’50s Danish design pieces. I visited sites architectural like the Arken Modern Art Gallery and the Black Diamond (an extension to their library that juts out over the canal), educational like the Danish Design Centre and the Danish Architecture Centre and gastronomical like the Royal Café and the Library Bar. And I walked.

Self-propelled, whether by foot or bicycle, is hands down the best way to learn about a new city and the Danish capital was no different despite the cool temperatures and unfamiliar alphabet. It’s where you learn about the little things, find the local gems and get a sense of the city beyond what you read in guidebooks that can tend to jazz it up, or play it down.

Behind the central station I stumbled upon the Erotic Corner, across the street from the Spunk Bar — countless sex shops that, unlike Canada, displayed their wares for all passing by to peruse from the street and had an opportunity to purchase “treats” to make my time in town more pleasurable. I wandered through the “meat-packing” district which was, as most are, deserted during the day save for a café and a couple remaining businesses that give the area its name, walked through Vesterbro, the rough part of town well on its way to gentrification and hopped on the new metro system just to see what it was like. I took notes for my assignment, talked to people, met designers and café owners and did what I was there to do.

Now back in Barcelona, I would certainly fly solo again, but the next time I think I’ll do it with my wife.