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Monday, March 19, 2018

Travel planner Bicycle Diary

Travel planner Bicycle Diary

There are more bikes than people in this Danish capital and barely 30% of the Danes own a car. Reason enough to do a cycling tour of the city?

You are cargo,” says Christian Hougaard, my guide from Cycling Copenhagen as I climb into the comfortable Christiania bike, all set to explore some of the neighbourhoods of Copenhagen, that are away from the tourist circuit. If bikes are an emblem of Copenhagen, then Christiania bikes are virtually an icon of the city. They were created by the freewheeling community of Christiania as an alternative to cars and today I am Hougaard’s cargo as he wheels me around the city, narrating stories and snippets of history.
Biking through the neighbourhoods of Vesterbro and Norrebro, we pass through a montage of monuments styled with a touch of Baroque and Neo-classical. We head past warehouses and whiz past bridges connecting cultures and communities. The scenery changes from lakes and parks to cobbled streets lined with trees. The charm of Vesterbro lies in its atmosphere. There’s always some interesting story preceeding every transformation. Hougaard even quips that some of the old buildings used to be massage centres and brothels at one time but there is very little evidence of the seedy neighbourhood that it once was. We stop at the old meat packing district of Copenhagen that has morphed into a chic neighbourhood with gourmet stores, hip cafes and restaurants. Galleries and designer shops take over the erstwhile dingy warehouses adding a dash of colour. Next halt is Absalon, an old church that is now a bustling bar and a community cultural centre.

Biking is a way of life for the Danish as Copenhagen has over 450 kms of cycle tracks. It is often said that there are more bikes than people in the Danish capital and barely 30 % of the Danes own a car. We are back on the saddle, as Hougaard takes us through Soeme, biking along lake beds with tall trees for company. We cross a cemetery, where Hans Christian Andersen, the fairy tale author lies buried, and enter the eclectic and vibrant neighbourhood of Norrebro. There is a cafe Laundromat where you can do your laundry while browsing books. We lose ourselves in the designs of Scandinavia at the ceramic store of artist, Inge Vincents. My favourite stop is at The Stoppen, a hole in the wall liquor shop that is dedicated to uplift your spirits. We taste gourmet chocolates, meet designers and artisans and listen to stories of Copenhagen as we continue our journey.

The heart of Copenhagen lies away from the tourist areas as we explore the city with the help of locals who don the role of a guide for a day. Discovering lesser known and charming neighbourhoods of Copenhagen through the eyes of an Instagrammer is an experience by itself. I have Anne Bonde Oesterby, who works in health care, as my guide as we walk around a charming new settlement filled with apartments and canals. Oesterby loves exploring little nooks of the city and is passionate about architecture and street photography. Pottering around Sluseholmen, an erstwhile industrial locality which was once part of the docklands, I am exploring a different side of Copenhagen at the Canal District with over 1500 apartments. We head to the pier where a few colourful and quaint cabins draw our attention. The waters reflect the mood as the charming old harbour is juxtaposed with the towering apartments. As we head to a cafe tucked away in a book shop, I realise that I am seeing Copenhagen with a new pair of eyes.
“This is the first time I have a visitor from India in my home for dinner,” says my hostess Marie Vixo Smith as we sit in her cosy apartment in Copenhagen later in the night. I must confess it is one of my first experiences as well to have dinner with a perfect stranger in their home. It is an initiative called Comeat that brings travellers and locals together over dinner. Smith, along with her friend Sophie, give us a peek into their lives in Copenhagen. Lit by candlelight, there is a warm glow that radiates in the room as laughter echoes in the air. People indeed do make places.

Lakshmi Sharath
TL 11MAR18

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