I have lived in eight different cities to date. Since leaving my native Riga (Latvia) six years ago, I have studied and worked in Kalmar (Sweden), Washington, DC (US), Helsinki (Finland), Edinburgh, London (UK) and Frankfurt (Germany). Oh, and I have also had a fabulous eight months of playing a housewife in Athens (Greece). I have certainly moved around.
Which city was perfect? Sadly, none of them. London is my current “working base”, but I am far from calling it a “home”. Riga and Helsinki, on the other hand, feel like home; I just do not see myself ever working there. DC has the most unbearable, humid climate and is miles away from Europe. Kalmar is obviously small and inadequately connected for a frequent traveller like me. Edinburgh is the most beautiful and historic of them all, but not necessarily the most central. Frankfurt is somewhat on the boring side. And Athens? Athens is a separate topic. Other than being a gateway to the idyllic Greek islands, the congested and chaotic Athens indeed impersonates everything I hate about a city.
Unwilling to give up easily, one day I embarked on a quest for a perfect city to live in. The map of the world in front of me looked overwhelming, but my perfect city was there somewhere! Where could it be?
For a start, it would have to be within a 3-hour flight from Riga – my historic home – as well as from London – my longest lasting base where most of my friends live. There is no way I am cutting off the personal links it took me decades to build. The geographical constraint neatly excluded most cities outside Europe, making my quest quite a bit easier.
My ideal city could only lie by the sea, too. And no, not like Riga, where you’d still need to drive for half an hour before reaching the coast. I wanted a city where I would see the sea, breathe the sea and feel the sea everywhere. A city like, Helsinki, say. Seriously, I will never understand how people even bother living in landlocked locations. My search further shrank to the coastal perimeter of Europe, leaving out the areas in-between.
Furthermore, my city would be cyclist and pedestrian friendly. Athens, for example, is a nightmare for both (read my thoughts on being a pedestrian in Athens here), and London is simply dangerous for cyclists. Still fresh is the wound covering my right leg – the part into which a smart driver opened the door of his car after stopping suddenly in front of me at green light. I love to walk and to cycle, period. My shortlist for a perfect city thus lost all of the Southern and Eastern Europe, and the British Isles. Good riddance.
Next in line came flight connections. I need to get away frequently. Every couple of weeks would be ideal – and the flights better be cheap, plentiful and easy to book. What regards the airport, it should be sizeable yet practical, well-organised and not further than a 30-minute drive from the city centre. By public transport, please.
Multiple other considerations came into play. My perfect city had to be cosmopolitan and open to a variety of ethnic groups. It would regularly host diverse cultural and musical events. Oh, and boast beautiful historic and modern architecture, an efficient public transportation system, as well as great places to eat – partly thanks to those varied ethnic groups offering their traditional cuisines. Inside, the city would have a good mix of broad avenues and cosy narrow streets, large parks and plenty of water-containing structures – fountains, canals, rivers and lakes would all be welcome. And, since I cannot take the heat very well, average summer temperatures should stay below +22C. In the sun, preferably.
Needless to say that, at that point, the quest for “anjči’s perfect city” was nothing more than a tie among Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
Amsterdam never really grew on me and was disqualified without much remorse. Copenhagen or Stockholm? It was not the first time I was asking myself that question. My friends somehow tend to pick Stockholm, and I was close to doing the same.
But then I remembered my first visit to Copenhagen in 2004 – my first look over the panoramic city from Vor Frelsers Church spire, my first pølse on Rådhuspladsen and my first bite of that unbeatably delicious Danish rye bread with sunflower seeds (rugbrød med solsikkekerner, mmm). I remembered the many cyclists wheeling through Copenhagen’s streets, the feel of the sea everywhere and the impressive yet compact Kastrup airport, 20 minutes from the city centre, by public transport. The charm of old historic buildings blended beautifully with the sleekness of the newer constructions, and traditional Danish bakeries neighboured the colourful ethnic eateries. Copenhagen was the city of contrasts, the city of tradition and culture, the city of the old and the new, the city of the happening. Copenhagen was unanimously The City. My perfect city.
My last weekend’s visit to Copenhagen may have only lasted 36 hours (view the full set of pictures). And it may have rained insanely for most of the time I spent outside. Disregarding all that, those were among the best 36 hours I have had this year. I will not bore anyone with stories – let the few rain-washed pictures I took speak for themselves!
Could it get more bicycle friendly than this?
The wonderful Nyhavn I
The wonderful Nyhavn II
Copenhagen’s colourful Nyhavn: the old…
…and the new: Royal Danish Playhouse
About as bright as it got on that rainy day
A windmill in Kastellet/The Citadel
St. Alban’s Church
A street on Amager. Apparently, “frokost” is Danish for “lunch”. Not to be confused with Swedish/Norwegian “frukost/frokost”, which actually means “breakfast”…
A yellow wall, red roses and a bicycle. Paradise materialised!
Vor Frelsers Church, my first ever sight of Copenhagen six years ago
A cheerful wall in Christiania
A view from Rundetårn
“I will miss Denmark. I will be back”, were my words when I was leaving Copenhagen six years ago. And today, I could not express it any better. Till next time then! So long to my perfect city.