Monday, June 6, 2016

Odense: Denmark's most sustainable city.

We decided to stay in Odense since it appeared on the map to be half way between Aarhus and Copenhagen. We booked into the Radisson Blue Hans Christian Anderson, named after the city’s most famous son, and it turned out to be a good choice in terms of location. However, it seemed quite modest after the Hotel Royal. The hotel is attached to a convention facility that was quite busy while we were there. I alos was impressed that the hotel has a guide to its impressive art collection found throughout the premises. We didn't make it to the nearby Hans Christian Anderson house and museum, (probably the only Odense tourists who didn't!)
The City Hall and its adjacent public space. Throughout Denmark, the City Hall is one of the most impressive buildings in the city or town. I wonder what Danes think of our City Hall!
Upon arriving in Odense  one quickly notices the efforts to create a sustainable environment. Some of the lights within our hotel room were on motion detectors (a bit of a pain when you have to get up in the middle of the night) and there was no air-conditioning in our hotel, or many other buildings. The eggs at the breakfast buffet (which was very good I might add), were prominently labelled organic, and so were many other items on the menu.

Odense is the fourth largest city in Denmark, but feels like a large town. It is an old city, dating back to the middle ages and located on the island of Funen, which has a more pastoral feel. In the 19th century a canal was constructed linking the city to the sea, turning it into an important port. The 19th century city hall is a very imposing structure.
The city's transportation goal is to limit the downtown to pedestrians, cyclists and those using public transit or taxis by 2025. No private vehicles will be permitted. I spent much of my time trying to dodge the many cyclists!
I particularly liked the way the new additions to this building related to the original roof shape. Danish design!
I took a picture of this highrise office building since it never should have been permitted in the first place. To add insult to injury, the top of the building is a continuous illuminated sign. Now how did that happen?

Heading out of the city one day we came across new waterfront condominiums along a portion of the port, as well as an interesting childcare centre constructed in part with containers. These waterfront buildings are much more in keeping with the city's scale.
While we went out for Thai food one night (you can only eat so many shrimp and flounder fillets), I particularly enjoyed traditional Danish fare at Klosterkroen, a restaurant near our hotel.
Perhaps it was the variety of akvavit (schnapps) that I tried in various spots before dinner that enhanced the experience for me.
One of the reasons I wanted to visit Denmark is that it’s regarded as one of the happiest, if not the happiest country in the world. At every opportunity, much to the discomfort of my travelling companions, I tried to find out why the Danes are so content with their lives. I chatted with some girls at a sidewalk cafe who said they thought many Danes were happy because they felt quite free to be themselves. 

While we were a bit shocked by the Aalborg Carnival scene, I was told this event is somewhat a one of a kind event, rather than a typical occurrence. While there’s no doubt there is a lot of alcohol consumption in Denmark, drugs do not appear to be a problem…either soft or hard drugs….both of which are illegal. (Interestingly, the last time I visited Copenhagen around 2003 we visited Christiania, the free town set up in an old army base where soft drugs were sold along the main street. Now this open market has been closed down.)

When I mentioned to a Danish woman I sat next to on a flight to London that I worried that some girls may have got pregnant after the Aalborg Carnival, she responded that this was not likely the case at all. She said the girls are brought up to take care of themselves; they are quite independent and self-assured. They generally feel safe with the boys and men they hang out with.

Denmark is a very interesting country. Residents pay a lot of tax (VAT is 25%) and you can pay 180% tax on a new car. I was told the only exception is an electric car, where the tax is a reported 25%. However, when I just checked this, I came across this news item:

Notwithstanding this news item, the country tries to be very green. In fact, I was surprised to discover that cars are modified so that the gas motors do not idle at traffic lights, sort of like a hybrid vehicle.  I don’t know how this is done and it will be interesting to see if this becomes the law in Canada in the not too distant future. (I have subsequently been informed that Germany and other European countries require new cars to stop idling at red lights, etc.)

We found Denmark to be a very expensive country (although I'm told Norway is even more expensive.) Danes find it much less expensive to travel. The country does not use the Euro. It retains the Krona or crown (currently about 5 to the CDN dollar). In most of the restaurants we frequented the wine list started around 500 kr or $100 a bottle). A typical starter was 125 to 150 kr and mains were usually around 250 kr and up; although fancier restaurants were significantly higher. (My last coffee at the airport was 45 kr or 9 dollars.)

While there is obviously some crime, as evidenced by our broken window, we did not see many homeless people or people begging on the street. Outside of Copenhagen we found the towns and cities to be spotless. We never came across any slums….indeed, I took a photo of one building in a small Funen village because it was the first unkempt property I had seen. Really!

However, within Copenhagen, as you will see in the following posts, there is not the same standard of cleanliness and the city is not that dissimilar to other world cities when it comes to graffiti and general maintenance and repair of buildings.