Travel, they say, broadens the mind. But I have found it also, in some cases, diminishes conversation. Listening to some recently returned travellers’ accounts of their marvellous trips can be about as interesting as listening to your partner’s account of their dream in the morning. You know that, out of politeness, you have to knuckle down and listen to their pseudo-Freudian analysis of what it could possibly mean. But that doesn’t mean you have learned anything or that they have really embarked on some legitimate act of self-discovery.
Well, I hope I’m not quite as bad as that when it comes to my travel stories. I laughed hard at Helen Razer’s piece though, which goes on to talk about other annoying things that returned travellers recount to patient listeners. I’ve probably displayed similarly insufferable behaviour at times, despite my best efforts to be interesting. To be honest, it can actually be quite boring telling people about a recent trip, probably just as boring as it is to hear about it. Perhaps travel experiences need time afterwards to be digested and turned into stories worth telling, with only the good bits left after the rest has been passed through the mental sieve.
It hit me the other day that it was just over a year ago that I left Nijmegen in The Netherlands to move to the third and final country of my program, Italy. In the first week of April 2014 I stopped by Copenhagen, which I hadn’t visited since 2006. I didn’t get around to blogging about it at the time, but it deserves a mention because looking back on my year away, it was a real highlight.
Travelling back to places you’ve been before, or venturing into unchartered territory? It’s a question I’ve touched on many times before here, and the question continues to guide the way I see the world. Aside from Copenhagen, some of the cities I revisited during my year away and didn’t write about were London, Paris and Amsterdam. The usual suspects when it comes to western Europe. I’m now old enough that my first visit to all four of these cities happened well over a decade ago so each of these recent visits triggered a lot of thinking about the past. I don’t remember too much from my visit to Copenhagen in 2003. I stayed with a friend I knew from online, and we’ve remained friends — she even came to stay with me in Paris during the summer of 2011. One moment from that first trip to Copenhagen, which is still a funny memory for both of us all these years later, was how terrified I was of cycling through the city. My friend thought it was hilarious because riding was second nature to her. Fast forward to 2014 and cycling through Copenhagen was a breeze — in fact, urban cycling is something I’ve greatly missed since coming back to Sydney where it’s possible but not nearly as easy.
It was lovely to revisit Copenhagen last year, a great city all round that’s noticeably changed since I first visited. There were lots of little things I really appreciated this time which I hadn’t seen before like the revitalised migrant neighbourhood in Nørrebro and the Kastrup Sea Bath. We also went on a day trip to visit Helsingør, which was a small town a little distance north of Copenhagen. It was on my list because I particularly wanted to check out the castle that was reimagined in Hamlet, one of the plays I studied for my finals in high school.
I’m totally guilty of talking about the differences between groups of people, making broad sweeping statements like “Scandinavians are reserved” — and on one level I still hold it to be true, yet on another level, I know that when you have some sort of common language with people from other places, so many stereotypes breakdown. Well, that’s stating the obvious, right? Ultimately, Copenhagen was a real pleasure because I finally got to spend time with two friends who are both excellent women and we picked up where we last left off. It was great just hanging out, meeting members of their families and sharing meals. A year later a lot of the sights have faded from memory and what’s left are the people, as usual.