Sights you unfortunately won't see in Denmark - but should!

the EU flag aflutter in the breeze...but not in Denmark

One thing that has always annoyed me is the Danish governments insistence on minimalising - which is to say entirely avoiding - flying the European flag on any official government buildings in the country. Anywhere. Pretty much every other European country happily flies the blue EU flag, alongside their own, in front of most government buildings - which is surely the way it should be.

It's a shame this doesn't happen in Denmark though. After all, Denmark has a lot to offer Europe, particularly the new members - the less developed countries.

And it's not like there is any risk that flying a few EU flags will ever overshadow the Dannebro, Denmark's own flag. After all, this is a country where families wrap garlands of Danish flags around the Christmas tree each year (thank goodness the Americans haven't caught on to that idea...), and on birthdays Danish flags are flown in front of homes, or little Danish flags decorate the table and the birthday cake, and the garden (or surround the 'birthday group' if they choose a park as the setting for a birthday gathering - which is a frequent sight in the warmer months).

But maybe this will change one day and EU flags will appear in Denmark...

Notable spots to grab a cup of java in Copenhagen...

...'Verdens Mindste Kaffebar' ('The World's Smallest Coffee Bar)

Copenhagen is at its best when it is at its quirkiest. And there are few quirkier establishments then 'Verdens Mindste Kaffebar' - 'The World's Smallest Coffee Bar'. Located on the little known street in Vesterbro called Tullinsgade (which runs of the more well-known streets, Vaernedamsvej). There's room for about 2 people inside (or 4 squeezed).

Drop by if you need a shot of caffeine. Or on a nice day, if you're in the mood for a game of table tennis - on a miniature table, naturally.

Bicycles here, there and everywhere...

As anybody who lives in Denmark, or has visited the country well knows, there are few places more bicycle friendly than Denmark. Not surprisingly, cycling is the primary means of transportation for a huge number of people in the country - particularly in Copenhagen.

But it's not just Copenhagen.

This past weekend I was out in the countryside, about 45 minutes north of Copenhagen - I'd brought along my bicycle on the train so I would have a means to get to where I was going once I reached the closest train station. I was amazed at what I found. Not only was there a sizable bicycle path taking me directly to my destination from the train station (this was not the surprising part), as I cycled towards my destination I couldn't believe my eyes when I came to a 'roundabout' in the middle of the cycle path, where the path intersected another. It was a 'roundabout' constructed entirely for bicycles!

A little visit to Eastern Europe in 1983...I mean, to a Copenhagen supermarket in 2007

...the inspiring fruit and vegetable section at Fakta, one fine morning quite recently

Imagine you are the manager of a grocery store. What, might you think, would be the single most fundamental aspect of your job?


Yes, you might say hiring staff and making sure there are enough people are filling all the necessary positions so the store will run smoothly, or something along those lines. Not a bad answer.

However, not quite right, I would suggest. Rather, after countless visits to various grocery stores in Copenhagen over the years, it struck me that there is something even more fundamental - making sure that the shelves are stocked with food. You know, so the customers actually have something to buy (and preferably what they actually came into the shop looking for!).

However, in Denmark there are many grocery store managers who just don't see things this way. And in truth, I have no idea how grocery store managers are assessed, but at this point I'm pretty certain that the ability to keep the shelves stocked with food from morning to night is definitely
not one of them.

Because oh so often there just seems to be rather a lack of it. Two things are probably occurring to you at this point.

Firstly, you are likey thinking it seems odd, even improbable that this could be the case, since selling food is, well,
basically their entire business. And in the case of places like Netto and Fakta, two discount supermarket chains in Denmark, that task is actually even easier since they offer a pretty damn limited product range - at least relative to 'normal' Danish supermarkets (who also aren't exactly superstars when it comes to keeping the basics stocked).

Secondly, you are also probably saying to yourself, 'then why shop at these place -
just go somewhere else!' And this would be a good point!! Well, except for one little problem. See, in some parts of Copenhagen (and elsewhere around Denmark, for that matter) they really are the most convenient places to get to, meaning it's not always so easy to just 'pop' over to another store.

Worse still, when you have a short time until the shops close (way to early, if you ask me) at 8 each night (and the even more annoying 5 PM on Saturday) sometimes you just have to run to the closest shop to make it. When the closest shop turns out to be a half-empty supermarket, it can be rather fucking annoying. And these discount grocery stores are pretty much the only grocery stores open most Sundays of the year.

Yes, apparently it is a challenging job managing a grocery store in Denmark. So for now all I can do is roll with it...and not to get too frustrated when it takes visiting a couple stores on the way home from work just to find a carton of milk or head of broccoli...

Below: a typical end-of-day picture at Netto or Fakta - they often look about the same for the first couple hours in the morning as well (since they often don't bother to stock the shelves until after the stores have opened).

and I'll just grab some milk and eggs from the fridge...oh well, never mind

Swimming in Copenhagen...and Blue Flags on beaches around the world

A Blue flag of the Danish Outdoor Council in at Kamares, Sifnos in Greece

After spending the last 2 weeks in Greece, I figured it was as good a time as any to write a little article about clean water and swimming.

You've perhaps noticed Blue Flags on beaches, both around Denmark and elsewhere around Europe and the rest of the world. During a trip to Greece this summer, I was surprised to discover that the organisation that runs this Blue Flag Program is actually a Danish organisation based in Copenhagen - The Foundation of Environmental Education (FEE), or 'Danish Outdoor Council' (seems they are a bit confused themselves about just what name they would like to be referred to as...)

An unlikely sign to find on a sunny Greek island...

Surprise, surprise. Denmark is light years ahead of pretty much any other (non-Scandinavian) country when it comes to environmental issues. It's not coincidence that cars in Denmark cost about 3 times what they cost everywhere else thanks to the incredibly high taxes they are subject to and cycle lanes exist on pretty much every street found in Copenhagen and in cities elsewhere around the entire country (not to mention countless cycle paths connecting cities and towns).

There are beaches and marinas in 40 counties around the world participating in the Blue Flag program, at this point.

To digress away from blue flags, Copenhagen is one of the few major cities out there, at least at present, where it possible to swim in the channel the cuts through it. In most European cities (as is of course generally the case elsewhere as well), if there is a major river or channel or other body of water running through them (or nearby), you can be all but certain it's too polluted to swim in. The list of such places is long - the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris, and so on. But swimming in Copenhagen is no problem.

The authorities in Copenhagen had the grand revelation a few years ago that if the channel cutting through Copenhagen was clean enough, people might actually enjoy swimming in it. Who would have imagined that people might actually like to swim when it's hot and sunny out? It's kind of embarrassing that the authorities in other cities haven't come to a similar conclusion. Perhaps one day, someday, they'll also get it...

It all began about 6 years ago now, following a lengthy series of clean-up efforts that improved the water in the channel, with the addition of a handful of swimming areas (havnebåd) in the Copenhagen channel, and since then the dynamics of life along the channel - particularly at islands brygge - have changed dramatically.

...the swimming area at Islands Brygge

People lounge on the grass in huge numbers, a number of new cafes have opened up, and on a hot spring or summer day (or even a warm one) the area swarms with life. In short, it's a fantastic place to be. A second swimming area is found on the other side of Fisketorv, the large and ugly shopping mall on the other side of the channel from Islands Brygge, and now connected by a pedestrian bridge.

It's pretty rare to find natural salt-water public swimming areas in the middle of a major city - in fact I can't think of another city where you find such a thing. If only there were more hot and sunny days in Denmark to actually use them.

...lounging on the grass at Islands Brygge

Yes, Cafe Tjili Pop...

Cafe Tjili Pop (Ranzenzgade 28 in Nørrebro) is one of those place just off the radar that shouldn't be though it's probably a good thing that it is. It's located in a rather unlikely location, one not known for it's cafe's and nightlife. As a friend of mine remarked as we wandered in on Wednesday evening, "I hadn't even considered that there could be an interesting place in this part of town". Indeed, there very much is.

Actually,, its not an entirely fair charge to make against the area - given that it's within walking distance or a very short bike ride from the central part of Nørrebro (Blågårdsgade and Sankt Hans Torv), an area very well known for its numerous cafes.

I must confess it's been at least a couple years, perhaps even longer, since I've dropped by. That is going to change. Finding these sorts of independent places with a kind of underground feel is both a worthwhile and a challenging pursuit. Frankly, there isn't a whole lot of them in Copenhagen - but there are a few around.

If you're going to check the place out, I suggest dropping by on Wednesday when it's singer/songwriter night, or on Friday or Saturday when the place is open late. Of course, with a decent selection of beers, really any evening will do just fine. Just tuck yourself into one of the cozy corners, be open to chatting with others - there isn't a load of space - and enjoy.

Or check out the review over at Something Rotten - apparently I'm not the only one who things it's worthwhile.

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