Jaegersborg Dyrehaven in May feels like walking in an 18th-century landscape painting: soft hills, scraggly bare trees, and broken trunks scattered across yesteryear’s grass turfs and dead leaves. But a painting is silent. And if I stop to listen, I hear a twittering robin, a screeching jay, and a hawk calling down to all of us, hovering high above in circles.
This is where I go to escape the bustle of every single other Copenhagen city park. Biking here requires a bit of effort and time, but it is all forgotten when my Finnish soul finally finds a spot without a single car, bike, unknown person, or useless chatter.
(Jaegersborg Dyrehave, Copenhagen, Denmark; April 2021)
Got my passport, my Danish proof-of-address, my negative COVID test, and my ticket. I have now dropped bringing my rental agreement and employment contract, which I traveled with most of 2020 after hearing rumors of expats having trouble re-entering Denmark. Even in 2021 it is not easy to enter a country without a valid reason, and a lot of paperwork and planning. Looking back at over 50 years of borderless travel between the Nordics, it is quite the unimaginable future we live in today.
(Helsinki, Finland; April 2021)
The lapwings, chaffinches, and skylarks are already here. I do not know how they find anything living to eat, but I guess they are the experts, not I. Thankfully, the sun warms all of us during the day, and the snow is going to be gone in a week or two.
We humans may see another half-weird summer due to COVID, but when I take a walk in all this blue and blinding light, with birds twittering all around me, I forget about face masks and hand sanitizer, and just am, in the calm, in that space between COVID tests.
(Loviisa, Finland; April 2021)
A short hike from the road opened up to wild sights, unlike anything anywhere else in Denmark: white chalk cliffs with over a hundred-meter drop, tropically clear turquoise waters, and rugged trees exposed to wind gusts across the Baltic Sea. Møns Klint is a UNESCO world heritage site, a Dark Sky Park for stargazing (with zero light pollution), and one of those places where I feel the quietly and slowly but steadily beating heart of this age-old Earth of ours.
The white chalk cliffs stretching over the Eastern tip of the island of Møn are all made of creatures like us, alive a long, long time ago: tiny shelled mollusks and other animals sank to the seafloor when they died and, throughout time, were compressed into white mountains. Isn’t that a beautiful mark of a short life to leave behind?
(Møns Klint, Denmark; March 2021)
Who says we need to be locked-down in our homes due to COVID, when someone else’s summer home is just as good (and perhaps much better)? Thanks to a lovely gentleman and AirBnB, for a little while a lovely, modern, airy cottage by the beach on Falster was all ours. The fridge was full of food, the fire was blazing every night, and the days were spent in creative introversion: reading, writing, and researching, followed by late-afternoon walks on the beach.
Creative headspace does not require all this, but it certainly helps to be looking at the forest, the fire, or the sea, instead of the floor requiring scrubbing, or the desk where all Teams meetings take place. The wild screams of seagulls and the soft patter of rain on the roof help, too. Considering much of Europe, in 2021 it is a privilege to not have to be confined inside one’s own apartment. Oh, the times we are living in.
(Marielyst, Denmark; March 2021)
In the middle of a residential neighborhood towers a church comparable to the Copenhagen cathedral in size. A quick google search labels the wonky gothic-futuristic design as “expressionist”. It sure does express height, strength, and durability – all the opposites of the idyllic, sprawling cemetery across the road.
Resembling central European cities more than any other Nordic city, Copenhagen is populated with churches. Sleep-in mornings are impossible in my local Osterbro, as one of the churches commences a lengthy peal at 8 am, weekday or weekend, that frightens any traces of dream out into the daylight. (If you aspire to become a morning person I warmly recommend moving to Osterbro).
(Bispebjerg, Copenhagen; February 2021)
After weeks of unfriendly weather, the skies opened up and reminded us that the sun never really left us. Curving in to the bike park at Amager beach park, my idea did not seem so original at all: half of Copenhagen had tapped into the collective spark of spring energy and arrived before me. The only thing leaving was the ice (there is hope).
(Copenhagen, Denmark; February 2021)
Danes sure love deer, and deer parks are a thing in Denmark. So much that the three large hunting grounds in the North of Zealand have become a UNESCO world heritage site for medieval par force hunting of the nobility (where animals were worn out by horse and dogs and then killed).
Half an hour’s bike ride up the coast brought us to Jaegersborg Dyrehave (the Hunter’s Castle Deer Park). First created by King Christian in the 17th century, it consists of a network of roads and paths, unfortunately giving the animals little shelter from hunting parties – and today, visitors of the park. Perhaps, during 350 years, the deer have grown accustomed of this way of living, as today their headcount is more than two thousand.
The park is vast and best explored by bike or horse-drawn carriage. In the winter, the scraggly hawthorn trees spread out over the decaying ground like they were modeling for a gothic romantic painting, and the hunting lodge looks like Edgar Allan Poe’s favorite weekend haunt.
And yet, somewhere underneath it all lie yellow and white anemones and fresh green beech leaves in wait.
(Jaegersborg Dyrehave, Denmark; January 2021)
Flying in 2021 requires both a passport and a negative coronavirus test. Obtaining a certificate with a negative result with sampling no more than 24 hours before boarding turned out to be a challenge. Finland does not test asymptomatic people through its public healthcare system, and has not scaled up the antigen test alternative. And because the results are not entirely reliable, most private clinics who do offer antigen tests for a fee refuse to write a travel certificate.
Thus, my only bet was an expensive, express overnight PCR test in Helsinki, requiring me to leave Loviisa the day before departure and staying with my sister. With resistance, I forked out for yet another test, in addition to the 72 h post-entry test I paid for in another private clinic before christmas, after being turned away from the public clinics because I lacked symptoms,
Oh well, my holiday visit could have been worse: a family of four would have paid 2,000 EUR just for the tests (and then some for the flights). In the end, I was fortunate enough to find the choice between the money and investing in quality time with dear ones an easy one.
(Helsinki, Finland; January 2021)
In the middle of all the snow and cold I left quarantine for just 24 hours in Helsinki. Some potentially useful tips for getting through -20C or lower temperatures:
- Don’t buy fresh herbs or lettuce if you have to walk home. They freeze (and then wilt) within minutes.
- Don’t take your face mask off between shops, as the humidity condensed on your mask and face will freeze.
- Do put your smartphone and any other electronic device close to your skin. A handbag is out of the question, and even a jacket pocket most likely won’t do – the device will freeze and die very quickly.
- Four more words: technical wear, and long underwear (including long-johns and glove liners). Function before fashion, otherwise freezing is inevitable.
(Helsinki, Finland; January 2021)