Caroline, a HomeExchange Member from Australia who found the community through the movie The Holiday, has now done 18 exchanges. She shares the story of her memorable trip to Copenhagen, Denmark in 2013.
What was it that attracted you to this exchange opportunity?
As I love to travel I listed my apartment on the HomeExchange website and started to receive offers from familiar places at home and abroad. Then one day I received an email asking if Copenhagen would interest me. It was a city I knew little about but that just added to its charm for me. All I knew of Denmark was that Hans Christian Andersen had written his famous stories there. I imagined it would be a magical place and I was right.
What happened when you arrived at your home exchange?
Our exchange home was a stylish, spacious, light-filled apartment in a quiet suburb ten minutes by train to Kobenhavn Central Railway Station. The accommodation was perfect and our exchange went smoothly. But my first day in the city did not go to plan as my attempt at a self-guided walking tour was not a great success. Perhaps it was jet lag, perhaps it was the strangeness of a foreign country, or perhaps it was all the construction going on that made the map difficult to follow. I could not seem to find my bearings and wandered aimlessly for hours trying to get back on course. At the end of the day my feet hurt and I was tired and confused. I felt like a fish out of water.
What did you see or do during your exchange?
The next day I persevered, deciding to ditch the map and take my head out of the guide book. I thought that surely if I followed my instincts then the magical places would reveal themselves to me. The Stroget seemed a logical place to start. A five minute walk from Kobenhavn Central is the entrance to this charming street that winds its way through the centre of the city. An amalgam of several older streets, Stroget is now one of the longest walking streets in the world. It is a shopper’s paradise where the stores and boutiques show their wares in beautiful window displays. There are no cars allowed in this old part of town so I was able to stroll quietly among the pedestrians and cyclists.
I soon came upon Nytorv Square, a peaceful open space where early morning shoppers were breakfasting in cafes. A little further along is Hojbro Plads, which features a statue of the Bishop who founded Copenhagen in 1167. Narrow side streets that run off Stroget lead you into the Latin Quarter with their cosy antiquarian bookshops and cafes. I found a flower market on one street appropriately named Rosengarden. At the far end of Stroget is The Royal Theatre, where you can see performances by the Danish Ballet and Shakespeare companies.
Leaving Stroget at last I turned a corner and came upon the breathtaking sight of Nyhavn Harbour, where dainty, brightly coloured buildings were reflected on the water. I knew that Hans Christian Andersen had once lived in this area so I walked around looking for a landmark. It was not hard to find the building at 2O Nyhavn Street where the author wrote many of his famous stories. There is a plaque below the window of his studio and right next door is the Hans Christian Andersen shop that sells translations of his books as well as toys and souvenirs.
I bought a collection of Andersen’s fairy tales and as I left the shop I could hear the music of a marching band. I was aware that the changing of the guard occurred at midday in Copenhagen but I did not realise that the Royal Guards actually marched through the streets. I quickly followed the parade around the corner and down the road that leads to Amalienborg Palace, the home of the Danish Royal Family. I watched, enchanted, swept up in the emotion of the spectacle. It was as if one of Andersen’s fairy tales had come to life. The Royal Guards looked just like the toys in The Brave Tin Soldier.
Afterwards, as the crowd dispersed, I crossed the palace courtyard and walked along the harbour foreshore past the grand new Opera House toward Langelinie to see Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid). This tiny bronze statue has become as much a symbol of Copenhagen as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Perched on her rock where the land meets the sea, she looks wistfully across the water as if caught between two worlds.
I read the story of The Little Mermaid over waffles and coffee at Nyhavn Harbour. In the beginning the mermaid lives happily with her sisters in their castle under the sea. But as she gets older she becomes curious about what lies above.
A shipwreck occurs and she saves a prince from drowning. Wanting to be with the prince, she makes a bargain with a sea witch to change her into human form. But first she must lose her beautiful voice and each step she takes on her new feet will feel like walking on knives. Knowing she must leave her watery home forever, she makes the sacrifice for love.
It was now late afternoon and there was one more place I wanted to see before my magical day ended. I walked up Gothersgade with its funky delis and retro shops to Kongens Have (King’s Park) where there is a statue of Andersen in the grounds. Sitting before the statue it occurred to me that many of his stories are tales of travel - to places both real and imaginary. I thought of Thumbelina floating on a leaf down the river, the Wild Swans taking flight to their island and The Snow Queen riding to Lapland in her carriage. I thought of The Ugly Duckling’s journey to become a beautiful swan and The Little Match Girl’s imaginary life as she walked the streets on a cold winter’s night.
Hans Christian Anderson was a great humanitarian and his many stories of hardship are met with love, courage and compassion. Likewise, I reflected, we have much to learn from the Danish way of life – their equal distribution of wealth, progressive society and impressive infrastructure. Every person I have encountered here has greeted me with an open heart.
I returned to our apartment that evening where my partner and I drank wine and planned the rest of our holiday. We shared a home cooked meal and slept like royalty. I was starting to feel as comfortable in Denmark as I would be at home in Sydney. A whole new world had opened up to me.
I thought again of the message behind Andersen’s stories and why they have endured for generations. It is human nature to be explorers, to reach for the stars and yearn for a bigger life. Sometimes the journey can be hard. Your feet will hurt and you may become lost, weary and confused. At times you will feel like a fish out of water. But taking those first steps is almost always worth the effort. For, unless we follow our dreams, we may never find our fairy tale ending.
What is your favorite memory from your exchange?
I returned to our apartment that evening where my partner and I drank wine and planned the rest of our holiday. We shared a home cooked meal and slept like royalty. I was starting to feel as comfortable in Denmark as I would at home in Sydney, Australia. A whole new world had opened up to me.
How would you describe HomeExchange to your family and friends?
Being part of the HomeExchange community allows you to discover more places more often and to expect the unexpected.