Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Where to find fall in Copenhagen

So, the other day I went snooping around this restaurant, currently named the number one restaurant in the world or something like that. Now, I'm not too concerned with rankings, and if you've met me you know that I find most food to be quite delicious, including the cheapest hotdogs here in CPH. I can't afford a meal here, and I hear the reservations are booked solid for months... But, since the restaurant is in my neighborhood, I thought I might as well go peak in the windows and see what people were eating. (Turns out it was something like oysters and sea beans...hmmm)

Well, on the way I started to realize that we are well into autumn, yet the signs are not very apparent, at least not in the ways I've come to expect. Rain? Coming in stormy bursts, though I hear the weather has been miraculously clear this year, something I am grateful for. Autumn leaves? It turns out there are not that many street trees in Copenhagen. There are a number of parks, but they are mostly enclosed, meticulously groomed spaces. You can however, start to see colorful leaves floating down the canals.

Another place to find fall colors is on my almost-daily running route along the ramparts. I run in the evenings, and lately it is pretty dark by the time I'm up there, making it hard to see all of the colorful things happening around me. I went out early the other day, and this is what I saw:

Here's my cute little apartment.

Plenty of paths, for humans and their furry companions. The path is very crunchy with leaves these days.

The view out along the canal, full of water birds. They seem to be thinning out, they must be headed south for the winter.

Monday, October 25, 2010


I've been spending a lot of time working from the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, known as the Black Diamond. Recently, a new installation called 'Kolonihavehus' appeared in the vast open space next to the water here. It is a 'stained glass' sculpture designed by NY artist Tom Fruin, made from recycled plexiglass. You can't go inside, but it certainly livens up an otherwise barren stretch of cobblestone. The shadow effects are fantastic on a sunny day.

The whole thing was hand-welded together. Pretty cool. I won't show you the close-up pics where some gaps are filled with sponges that have been spray painted black. Oops.

Also, some great lighting effects at twilight (coming earlier and earlier) in the rain. The reflections are even better in real life.

For more info about the artist and installation, visit this designboom article.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Colorful Göteborg

This weekend my friend Ondrej and I went to Göteborg, Sweden for a quick visit. Neither of us really knew what to expect, especially on such a short trip. It turns out that we timed our visit just right because we found crisp fall weather, autumn leaves, blue skies, and an extremely beautiful and friendly city.

The city is built on the Göta river, several miles in from the sea. The city spans across both sides of the river which is still a very active, industrial port.

People get around town on the tram, which runs all the way out to the seaside, with connections to ferries out to the archipelago.

With a 24 hour tram pass, it is also possible to ride any of the ferries through the islands, which are quite extraordinary. They are covered in tiny cabins where I'm sure people spend entire summers, swimming in the clear water, kayaking, and sunbathing on the rocks.

This island is Styrsö, one of the largest and most populated islands in the archipelago.

Since it is very difficult to bring a car to the island (ferries are passenger only) islanders get around via these cute motorized bikes, with large trays in front for transporting children, food, supplies, etc...

The islands were covered in berry bramble, which was mostly a colorful combination of rose hips and blackthorn. We saw many families out picking blackthorn berries, and coming home with buckets full for making a special liquor. There were also many people scavenging huge bags of mushrooms, though I was never sure what variety they were finding.

One of the busiest places on the island was the recycling station/junkyard. It seemed like as many people we there to find treasures as were dropping stuff off.

We started hiking out to the unpopulated end of the island where there were brilliant views across the water. While we were hiking, Ondrej realized that our fellow hikers were also from his hometown, Prague, so we joined forces and made some new friends.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bathing in Malmö

I just came back from a fantastic weekend in Malmö with friends, and spent a sunny Saturday at the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus. In fact, it was so sunny that my plans to take photos of the bathhouse were foiled because there were so many people there sunbathing in the nude. I guess even the cool, fall air felt warm after a dip in the sea. However, I found some photos published in the newspaper, so I'm sharing them instead (if they can do it, so can I, right?).

The bathhouse is built out over the water, far enough out that it is quite deep. This is so that when you emerge from the sauna, you can plunge straight into the cold water instead of having to wade in slowly, losing courage with every chilly step. Women are separated from men, and each side contains enclosed access to the sea via wooden decks that are flanked by tiny changing cabins. At the very end are the saunas, with windows looking out over the sea towards Copenhagen.

The bathhouse is a listed building, constructed in 1898. Back then, it was actually a place where people cleaned themselves, as many people had no other means of bathing.

photo from

I was also able to meet up with Seattle friends in Malmö. Ondrej is going to school here for the year. We are not alcoholics, the wine was for a dinner party.

The evening was spent at Gustav's (a Valle scholar to UW last year) cozy apartment where we all made a giant, delicious dinner, and played with these gals: Posten and Kråkan.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tiny Gardens

Here in Copenhagen, I am finding an abundance of cute, tiny things. All of the teacups in my apartment can hold about two sips worth of a warm beverage, but they are so delicate that they are perfect. Ceramic shops are full of tiny candlesticks and bowls that can only be intended as salt cellars or egg cups. And everywhere I look, there are tiny gardens that, in the US, we might have said "What's the point? It's such a small space..." However, in Copenhagen, even the tiniest gardens posess a unique personality.

This garden is called Dufthaven (Fragrance Garden). It consists of stacks of old packing boxes, that are filled with colorful scented flowers. This garden occupies space along the main canal where the ferry from Sweden used to arrive, before the Øresund Bridge was completed. There is also a small lawn on a pile of dirt, with an indentation just big enough for two people to sit and have a picnic.

This little rain garden is at an awkward intersection where the sidewalk widens next to a blank wall. The small stone basins catch rain water, and hold tiny plants.

This small garden is one of many on a green roof above what I believe is a parking garage. People come out here to eat their lunch.

This garden is not that tiny from the outside, but I imagine that the individual experience from the inside of the building is. I love the way different colors of flowers were used to make a colorful pattern on the facade. It is hard to see in the photos, but in places where the plants haven't filled in, photos of flowers fill in the gaps.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bathing in Copenhagen

I've been wanting to write about the bathing culture here in Scandinavia. From saunas and bathhouses to public baths and beaches, people here are eager to jump in the water. And Copenhagen provides many opportunities to do so right in the middle of the city. There are several public baths right in the harbor and numerous others just outside of the city.

One of my reasons for coming to Copenhagen is to discover how it is possible for people to safely swim in a formerly polluted, industrial harbor. Copenhagen, like many other cities, has a largely combined sewage and stormwater system, which (as we know in Seattle) is a huge problem for surrounding bodies of water because of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). This means that during heavy rainfall, sewers are overloaded, and some of the wastewater must overflow into surrounding waterways. CSOs are not the only contributing factors to a polluted waterfront, however. There is also pollution from industry, incomplete sewage treatment practices that leave metals and chemicals in the water, fertilizer runoff from agriculture, etc.

However, Copenhagen set a goal in the 1990's of making its harbor a place where people can swim safely. By aggressively building reservoirs (often as a hidden accessory to large public buildings) that manage overflows during rainy periods, Copenhagen has reduced the number of CSOs in the city from 93 in 1995 to 38 in 2010. Only during extremely rainy days do they have to close the public baths due to poor water quality. And there is a modern alert system in place so the public can easily track bathing water quality. The DHI Bathing Water Forecast indicates conditions for bathers. There are also apps for iphone and facebook that will alert bathers when conditions are poor.

To find out more about water quality in Copenhagen, I've included some helpful links:

The Harbor Baths, by PLOT. This photo was taken out of season, but during the summer the place is full of bathers.

Here is another harbor bathing facility. The closest pool has a shallow bottom for small children (it gets kind of mucky by the end of the season) and the far pools are deeper.

This is an image of kids windsurfing at the Maritime Youth Center on the Øresund, also designed by PLOT. Although the warm season is very short in Copenhagen, kids like to get in the water year round.

This is a photo of the Kastrup Sea Baths by White Architects, also on the Øresund. I would like to add that I was wearing a jacket on this particular day as it was not that warm out, yet all three of these kids ended up swimming for a long time (after their dad finally threw them in the water).

And this is proof that even architects love to swim. The welcome party for incoming architecture students at the Royal Danish Academy involves a canal-crossing challenge in which most of the students end up in the water.

So, where am I going with this? Well, Seattlites love the water. I believe that if we sincerely made water quality a priority, we could expand our already lovely bathing facilities at Green Lake and Lake Washington to include the Puget Sound. If it's warm enough in Copenhagen, it's definitely warm enough in Seattle. Also, creating a 'bathing' destination is another way to program our waterfront with non-commercial activities as we are envisioning a waterfront without the viaduct. Using 'bathing-quality water' as a goal is a nice way to achieve better conditions for everyone, including the animals living in the Sound.