Mini one-day guide to Copenhagen for n00bs

I recently got this email out of the blue (identifying details removed, natch):

Subject: Copenhagen Recommendations?

Hi Ellen,

I hope you’re well. I saw your business card up on the notice board in the work hub saying that you’re a Danish translator.

Just wanted to see if you have any recommendations for what to see in Copenhagen. I’m going there on Thursday only for a day to a conference and it’s my first time I’m going to Denmark so I’m really looking forward to it.

Any tips for Copenhagen would be appreciated!

Now, I have never lived in Copenhagen, but I’ve visited on many occasions, and if you were to ask me what I did the last few times I was there the answer would genuinely be that I made the most of the time alone by chilling in my hotel room with pastries, occasionally going on the hunt for good vegetarian food (hunt is the right word).

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But this was a nice challenge. What would a Londoner with no experience of Denmark want from Copenhagen? How could I tell a stranger how to make best use (not even all of) one day there?

My reply:

Copenhagen is pretty compact and very walkable, so you’ll be able to wander and explore a lot, depending on how much free time you have of course!

Strøget is the main shopping street, it’s pedestrianised and runs from the town hall square (Rådhushaven) to the square by the theatre/the harbour (Kongens Nytorv). Incidentally there is massive construction work going on in both those squares (expanding the metro) so they aren’t very picturesque! You’ll mostly find high street shops on Strøget – the same as you’d find in London – so you might want to explore the streets parallel, for example Studiestræde and Læderstræde. You’re lucky as Thursday evening is usually ‘late night shopping’ meaning many shops which usually close at 5pm will stay open til 8 or 9pm. Nyhavn (on the other side of Kongens Nytorv) is the brightly-coloured harbour area with lots of pubs which you see in lots of postcards of Copenhagen. If you walk to the end of Nyhavn there is lovely view of the Opera House across the water, and then if you walk up with the water on your right you’ll reach Amelienborg (the royal residence). Walking through Kongens Have (a landscaped park with a view of Rosenborg castle [pictured above]) to the National Museum of Art (Statens Museum for Kunst) is lovely. If the weather is awful and you’ve had enough of being outdoors, the National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet) actually has a fascinating exhibition on the history of modern Denmark. Both those museums are free. You might need to check out these places on Google maps, I’m not necessarily listing in the right order! But that’s a rundown of the sights I can remember.

Best takeaway coffee is from Joe and the Juice, there are lots of them around. They do good sandwiches too, actually. A great bakery chain is called Lagekagehuset, there is one near the town hall end of Strøget and one at the main train station for example, so definitely get a Danish pastry or two from there! There’s one in the airport too – a few weeks ago when I visited I brought home some pastries for my partner, that’s a good souvenir! For other souvenirs, as you don’t have much time I’d recommend the department store Magasin du Nord (near Kongens Nyhavn) – the basement has foodie stuff (posh liquorice is very ‘in’ at the moment!) and the kitchenwares/lighting floor has a sort of trinket section with some lovely Danish design (I’ve bought some lovely mugs there as presents) and the kids clothing section is full of Danish designers too. By the way you can pay almost everywhere with a credit card so don’t worry too much about getting too many kroner in cash.

I’ll let my out-of-the-blue correspondent’s words round off the post:

Amazing! Thank you so much for this incredibly detailed description. You should really publish this as a tour guide!

Your wish is my command, stranger.

Meet a Mum Who Studies

I did an interview for the fab new Australian blog and website Mums Who Study.

Here is a link to the full interview.

EDIT: That website has been rejigged, so in case the link breaks again so I am replicating the interview here for posterity:

Tell me about yourself and your family?

My partner and I have been together for ten years – we met in London during my first year of uni – and in 2012 we had a baby daughter. She has just turned two. My partner works full-time during the week and is also studying via distance learning (Open University) for his first degree. We still live in London.

What are you studying at the moment? Was there any particular reason why you chose this course?

I am studying a PhD in Scandinavian Translation Studies, looking at the market and dissemination of Danish literature in the UK. The PhD studentship is co-funded by my university and the Danish Arts Foundation, and its public engagement element has involved creating a network in consultation with literary translators of Danish into English.

I completed my MA in the same field in 2010 after studying part-time and working (almost) full-time, and I always knew I’d go back to do a PhD one day, if we were in some way financially able. I assumed this would be when I was retired! When this studentship was advertised I leapt at the chance! In some ways the timing was perfect – a year earlier and I would have been about to give birth so unable to take the position, a year later I might have settled into my job or already moved elsewhere in my career.

 What are some the things that motivate you to keep studying?

I enjoy the lifestyle and balance this offers our family. I know it would be impossible in most full-time jobs: I spend most of my time with my daughter and fit in my studies around her. When my partner and I first talked about having children, a really significant thing we agreed on was that we wanted the majority of her pre-school care to be done by one of us (in fact, we originally assumed it would be him as I was earning more at the time) or close family – idealistic I know! But we have somehow managed it. Ultimately, studying generally makes me happy, and that is so important.

What are the most challenging aspects?

I never feel like I’m doing enough. It’s an extra layer of stress I could do without! I snatch time here and there to read, write, or study – during her nap time occasionally, evenings if I have enough energy, and the more formal arrangements with nursery and family.

But I constantly compare myself to an imaginary ‘other’ who is childless and able to ‘properly’ study full-time. I generally don’t need to be at university very often, so I find it frustrating when meetings or events are announced at short notice or at awkward times meaning I have to scramble to arrange childcare. Often I have to opt out of attending entirely.

Who or what supports your study?

We use a mix of solutions, better get comfy while I list all these! We have a fantastic combined nursery and work hub relatively nearby where we pay for a set number of monthly hours (my partner’s Childcare Vouchers via his work salary cover the majority) and they give us the flexibility to book the hours where we need them.

 For example, most often I book a 5 hour slot every few days where my daughter plays in the nursery while I work in the open-plan office upstairs. I’ve used them on a couple of occasions when I need to attend university in person as well – dropped her off and picked her up a few hours later (this makes my commute so long I can’t even bear to compare it with a child-free commute!).

I do a weekly childcare swap with another mum – she’s self-employed and, like me, most of her time during the week is taken up with childcare duties – our children are the same age and we found each other through a local parenting network. We alternate between each of our homes where we each take an hour or so to work at our laptops in another room while the other mum takes care of the kids, then we swap, and after both of us have had our shift, we all have lunch together.

When my parents visit, my mum is a fantastic and enthusiastic granny who loves taking care of her first grandchild! The plan when I started my degree was for them to visit at least once a month, but this has had its ups and downs owing to some unforeseen health issues. We’re extremely grateful for their visits; it’s hard for most families I know who live in London as close family so often live elsewhere.

My partner has recently started ‘compressed hours’ under a flexible working agreement with his employer, it’s brilliant and I wish we’d thought of it sooner. He works the equivalent of 10 days’ hours in nine days. This has meant adding on an extra hour (in the morning) to each workday – so he’s in the office 7.30am-5.30pm (Written down that looks incredibly long! But his commute is only ten minutes and he gets lots of good coffee). On day 10 he has a day off, so now every other Friday he is able to take over childcare while I study. Finally, my partner and I take a weekend day each as ‘our’ day for studying, but recently having every second Friday back like this has meant we get more family time, too.

In what ways does your study impact your daughter?

She is too young to know any different! She recounts back to us ‘daddy goes to work’ and ‘mummy goes to work’. It was important to us to ensure the terminology was the same, when I go to my desk or leave the house because of my degree, she should know I am going to work, just like daddy. She’s amusingly aware that we often do ‘shifts’ looking after her, though, for example when my partner comes home and she waves ‘bye bye mummy’ even when I’m not going anywhere!

What would you say to other mums considering studying and what tips can you offer?

It Can Be Done!

In fact, I was in touch with another student parent via a local parenting website recently and here’s what I said to her: I never manage to get any work done if it’s just me and the toddler, so I try and fill our time with playgroups and meeting friends and then I don’t feel like I should be studying, though occasionally I’m able to use nap time when I have the energy.

My partner and I use a shared Google calendar so we can easily see what we both have on e.g. deadlines, time allocated to work, weekends we’re busy, might be worth setting up something similar if you don’t have it already? Don’t be afraid to take your kid to uni for non-classroom-based things, for instance I’ve taken my daughter to the university library if I’ve had to return/pick up books from the issue desk and it’s never been a problem.

Maybe we don’t work as hard as you think we do

My mum told me she was very impressed with my partner and I for our discipline in both finding time to study: “I’d just spend those two hours sharpening pencils and colouring in study charts!”. It made me realise that people must think we’re more industrious than we are! I get a few hours here and there, he has a few hours here and there, but nobody gets down to work straight away when they sit at their desk, we are human! Yesterday morning (on ‘his’ study day) my partner spent ages researching TV stands for our new TV. I almost always open all my tabs/documents I’ll need for the day (currently: draft chapters, chapter abstracts, timeline, email) and then take a good while having a read of my Twitter feed. We pencil in time every week on our shared calendar for our respective studying, but sometimes that time needs to include some ‘me’ time as we get hardly any otherwise. I’m constantly battling to stay disciplined and do some reading or writing every single day. I let myself down a lot as some days I can’t manage it, especially after a long day of playgroups and soft play!

Books without baby in Copenhagen (again!)

I’m in Copenhagen for the Book Fair (BogForum) and the related programme of networking events for translators hosted by the Danish Arts Foundation. This year I’m even chairing a meeting for Danish-English literary translators (as part of my PhD I’ve been helping establish a network for translators).

This trip seems very symbolic to me as a marker of how far I’ve come since enrolling on my PhD last September. Last November’s trip to Copenhagen was my first overnight stay (4 nights, in fact!) away from my first-born. She was still breastfeeding so every morning while I was away I expressed some milk (for my comfort). It felt like a curious thing to be doing, waking up early and performing something so intrinsic to being a mother yet so far from home. When I returned we carried on for a couple more months.

This year and last year I undertook the same seismic shift from all-day childcare duties to being alone in a familiar foreign city within a few hours. The time alone was exhilarating, I got so much done every day and revelled in having the freedom to do what I pleased. My first blog post was about that trip, the sense of joy is tangible.

Now my daughter has just turned 2, it feels very different on a personal level. The context has changed. In my everyday life it feels like I get a little more time to myself, and taking care of her feels much less all-consuming than a year ago. Of course it’s still exhausting at times, but my PhD research has crept into the gaps in my days and my mind more and more. I’ve had many more nights away from her, mostly on trips related to my research. This trip to Copenhagen I have the headspace to feel a bit more like my “normal” self: nervous of having to speak a foreign language I hardly get opportunity to speak any more, nervous of the various events ahead of me this week… it feels less like a holiday than last year.

I’m worried the toddler will be more acutely aware that I’m gone, but she doesn’t yet have a great grasp of time and place so I doubt it’ll concern her, she’ll just be curious. I told her I’m going on a plane. She thinks planes are very, very small (she has only seen them in the air, far away!). We’re very lucky to have her wonderful grandparents taking care of her for two days, and my equally wonderful partner/her dad for the following two days, so she’ll have a great time. I’d like him to experience one of my more mundane days while I’m away doing something atypical – a morning at playgroup, for instance!